It is my policy to have a policy. I am going to have one -- indeed, I already have several -- since I am sick and tired of being told by banks and restaurants and hotels that they have a policy and that their policy is to do something to me that I don't want done. So sorry. Nothing personal. It's just policy.
I enunciated my first policy the other day while having a conversation with the bank that canceled my charge card. The man said they'd done it because my payment was 30 days overdue and that it's bank policy to cancel after 30 days. I explained I had been overseas. I said I could prove it. No matter. I was canceled. Policy.
"Can we expect your payment?" he asked.
"I can't tell that," I said.
"You can't tell me?"
"No. Policy. It's my policy not to tell what bills I'm going to pay. I'm sorry. I'd like to help you. It's just policy." "I don't like your attitude."
"My policy is not to care if you don't like my attitude. That's my policy."
"Are you or are you not going to pay your bill?"
"My policy is not to repeat my policy."
You have to understand that all during our conversation, the guy from the bank said the word policy like it was not something made up by mere mortals, but something that had come down from Mount Sinai. He rolled the word out of his mouth, underlined it with his voice, said it like he was referring to a force of nature ("It's the mountain.") over which he had no control. And when you asked who set this policy, he said the words "board of directors" with such awe you would never know he was talking about lawyers, land speculators and dentists sitting around drinkng coffee out of plastic cups.
The reason for this has something to do with the word policy itself. It connotes a very high order of decision-making, something removed and unaffected by that most poisonous of all considerations -- sentiment.
Policy has to do with business. It is not personal and what gives it its force, its power, is the suggestion that it applies to everyone, not just to you, and like some law of nature -- gravity, for instance -- it cannot be amended or suspended by anyone.
In this sense, the word policy s a marvelous shield something to hide behind. The guy at the bank did not have to say that they were canceling my card because they suspected I was a deadbeat, that after reading some of my stuff they thought I was a raving Trotskyited who had no intention of paying bills and, instead, would use the card to send contributions to John Anderson. He simply said policy. Once you say policy, you never have to deal in personalities.
The highest form of all policy is the policy set by no one. At the bank, at least, the policy was set by the board of directors. At the hotel-restaurant where I frequently eat, the policy is set by no one. I swear.
I found this out one day when my lunch date and I asked to split a tuna fish sandwich. The waitress said she would have to charge $1 for the extra plate. "Why?" I asked. "Policy," ahe answered. "Whose?" I asked. She did not know.
She asked the assistant manager. He did not know. He asked the manager. He did not know. He asked the hotel manager. He did not know either and when the owner of the hotel chanced to pass by, it turned out he did not know either. He asked me to understand. It was policy.
A variation on this theme is what I call policy by sign. In this case, the policy is stated in a sign which is always signed "The Management," and if you should happen to question the owner of the joint about his policy, he will not take credit or responsibility for his policy, but instead point to the sign as if it has told him what to do.
This sort of thing puts all of us who don't have policies at a disavantage. We are always on the defensive, doing things for strictly personal reasons when the people with policies are talking the hard, cold and impersonal language of business. So respectful are we of this kind of thinking that when some gangster dispatches his close friend to the nether world and says "nothing personal" we accept it as such. Business, after all, is business.
So now I have policies of my own. My policy is never to appear as if I am in control, but rather to make it seem as if I am the captive of some policy. I would love to say it I'm going to pay the bill, but I can't. I would love to pay an extra buck for a plate, but I can't and even if the bank reversed its policy and reinstated my charge card, I still won't pay the bill. Lately you see, it's been my policy to be broke. i