Michaela Early, of Bethesda, hit the daily double when she called the other day. She offered a sure-fire method of getting rid of phone solicitors. And she took out membership in one of my favorite societies: The I Hate Strangers Who Call Me By My First Name Club.
The offer and the membership arose from the same phone call. The caller was one of those sunny-voiced souls who rang up one night out of the clear blue and said, "Is Gerald there?"
Gerald Early is Michaela's husband. He is 52 years old. He is a colonel in the Army. You don't call 52-year-old Army colonels "Gerald" unless you know them very, very well. And Mr. Sunny Voice obviously didn't.
But first things first. Michaela told the caller that she has an absolute rule about phone solicitors: She never buys anything from any company that "cold-sells" by phone. She told the caller that she realized he had a living to make. But she asked him to pass the word to his superiors.
The caller said he would. Then Michaela shifted to second things second. She told the caller that he really shouldn't assume Gerald-like familiarity with strangers. It's neither good business nor good manners, she said.
"If you met President Bush, would you call him George?" Michaela asked the caller.
"Yes," he replied. Truly a lost cause, this guy.
You may recognize yourself in this cautionary tale, whether you cold-sell for a living or not. First names are dandy, but respect is dandier. With strangers, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. is always best.
Amendments and amplifications to three recent columns:
A $33,000 phone bill: Nina Maddox, a 74-year-old reader of mine in Annapolis, received such a bill for long-distance calls she said she never made. After some negotiations, the bill was reduced to $3,000. But for months, Nina has been embroiled in a struggle over whether she owes the $3,000. After I published her story on Sept. 6, Al Burman, of Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., submitted a clarification of C&P's side of the story.
Al said that C&P never threatened to cut off Nina's service, although I reported that it had. Al said that Nina misunderstood a "pay-by" date on the front page of her bill and thought it represented a threat to cut off her service. However, Al did say that "customers are required to pay all undisputed charges on their bill. Should they fail to fulfill this requirement, then their service could be subject to interruption."
Al also denied that the calls charged to Nina's number could have been made by a computer hacker. (I reported that they probably had been.) "We have conducted numerous tests," but have found no evidence of such tampering, he said.
Al also noted that C&P is only the local collection agency for the long-distance companies through which the disputed calls were placed. Nina Maddox ultimately must work out the dispute with those companies, Al pointed out.
Finally, Al said that after further discussions with Nina, she has agreed that she made some of the long-distance calls that remain on her bill. She and the C&P business office are meeting to compile a list of which calls she made and which she didn't.
A D.C. ambulance that apparently misused its emergency equipment: On Aug. 6, I reported on an incident in Northeast Washington involving an ambulance that zipped into the parking lot of a McDonald's while using its siren and lights. My investigation showed that there was no emergency reported at the restaurant at the time. Was the crew using emergency equipment to speed its way to lunch? It sure looked that way.
However, John Cavenagh, director of the D.C. Ambulance Service, researched the case at greater length and discovered that a car accident had been reported at the closest major intersection seven minutes before Ambulance 4 was seen in the McDonald's parking lot. John said the crew took a peek into the McDonald's lot because crumpled cars, crumpled victims or both might have been moved there.
John says that in "37 percent of the incidents that we answer, no patient is transported." But that doesn't mean crews shouldn't use emergency lights or shouldn't look around nearby parking lots for injured people. And it very definitely means that I shouldn't have concluded what I concluded. Apologies to Ambulance 4 and to the entire ambulance service.
The underpinnings of cows: Once a city boy, always a city boy. I proved it in spades on Sept. 12, when I reported on Cleo, the almost life-size cement cow that was stolen from an Arlington yard.
I told the world that Cleo has "bright pink udders." As Robert Beahm, of Nokesville, Va., promptly and gently reminded me, cows have one udder each.
Thanks, Robert. Sorry, readers. And sorry, cows everywhere.