The war of nerves has just entered its sixth month. Look for six to become 16, because neither side is about to give.
In this corner, Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone. In the opposite corner, a 74-year-old Annapolis woman named Nina Maddox. The issue: $33,000 worth of long-distance phone calls. C&P says Nina made them. Nina says she didn't.
There were more than 4,000 calls altogether, all placed last February, most to 900 numbers in the Los Angeles area. I have just called several of the numbers. They're all matchmaker services or dial-a-sexy-story tapes.
According to Nina's February phone bill, which weighs as much as a small steak, the calls were made in rapid succession -- sometimes one after the other, for 18 or 20 hours in a row. Most calls lasted for one or two minutes. Nina says it's obvious that a machine made the calls, and not a person.
C&P agrees. Officials told Nina last spring that computer hackers have been "hanging" people like her for many months, usually with calls to sex tapes. Officials said they're sure that's what happened in this case. But C&P told Nina that she is still responsible for paying up.
The dispute has gone from preliminary discussions to testy discussions to "enough is enough" on Nina's part. She hired a lawyer. He wrote a letter. The only response from C&P was a threat to cut off Nina's service.
That produced more discussions. Finally, C&P reduced the $33,000 bill to $3,000 and changed Nina's phone number.
But her $3,000 balance represents calls that Nina Maddox still says she didn't make. She says she hasn't paid the $3,000, can't pay it and won't pay it.
"I'll pay what I know I owe," she told me. "But I don't own no house. I don't own no car. I'm on Social Security. I don't know how in the hell they're going to collect it."
That hasn't stopped C&P from trying. The phone company's position is that it has met Nina more than halfway. If she wants a phased payment schedule, that might be possible, a company spokesman said. But to the phone company, a debt is a debt, and no company stays in business by ignoring them, denials by Nina or not.
Nina Maddox feels she has met the phone company more than halfway too. When C&P assigned her the new phone number, Nina signed up for a $25-a-month option that automatically blocks all long-distance calls, all collect calls and all calls to 900 numbers.
"I am paying that $25 a month because of what someone else did with a computer," she says. "Isn't that enough for them to leave me alone? When you have as little money as I do, $25 a month is a lot. Besides, I don't know a soul in California. Not a single soul. I couldn't have made those calls."
The C&P spokesman said the company would not enjoy cutting off Nina Maddox's phone service. Since her number was changed in April, "we have been giving her a chance," the spokesman said. He wouldn't comment on how much longer the chance would be allowed to run, and he confirmed that C&P could yank Nina's service at any time.
Does it really have to come to this? If C&P has already forgiven $30,000, is another $3,000 so difficult? Can it really be worth it to cut an elderly woman off from her friends and her family in Tennessee?
Have a heart, C&P. It costs you more if you don't than it ever will if you do.
Two more lovebirds want me to announce their intentions to their dearly intendeds. I'm happy to oblige.
Lovebird Number One is Jim Singleton, of Arlington. He leaves today on a trip to Ireland, where he will visit Sarah, the object of his affections.
Jim never popped the question to Sarah while she lived in the United States. But he'd like to make up for lost time by letting Sarah discover the following poem in a Levey column that Jim will "just happen" to bring with him: Although far apart Across the blue sea; You're in my heart, Will you marry me?
Hard to say no to that, Jim. Good luck, lovebirds.
Same goes for Judith Overbey, of Columbia, and the man she'd like to re-snag, Mark Sellman.
The couple was engaged to be married on Aug. 18. "He decided that he wanted to wait and I am still unsure of the reason," Judith writes.
"I thought if he saw it in the paper he would know for sure how I feel . . . .I want him to know that I love him and am waiting anxiously to become his wife some day."
Any other lovebirds who want me to say in public what's sometimes so difficult to say in private? Send full details by mail to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.