Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Diary of a Broke Ho: Tips For Paying NSTAR With Cold, Hard Excuses



The majority of 'how to' blogs that I read online are completely useless. If I reach a point in my life where I need bulleted instructions from a Middle-American housewife on how to make my own hair dryer with an old fan, stencils, and a coffee can, I'll hit up church on Sundays and pray to God that he gives me less time to be so fucking dumb.

Most people I know need instructions for handling real life problems; like how to have a beer in your living room with your lights on when your unpaid electric bill has hit two grand.

Well it's your lucky day. It has taken me years of financial negligence to fine-tune my lies to NSTAR representatives and determine what pathetic excuses really work on these heartless assholes. And now, I present this invaluable information to you free of charge, furthering my status as a Broke Ho.

The first mistake people make when they call NSTAR upon receiving a shut off notice (or post shut off) is believing that the people working in Customer Service are actually people. Do not be deceived: these drones on the phones are a robotic force of unwavering and unsympathetic hostility.

And damn, they're good.

Their rigorous insensitivity training has provided them with the skills needed to control these phone conversations early on - from a variety of angles - designed to leave you in the dark, literally.

Let's go over the basics. NSTAR cannot turn off your gas (if it provides heat) from October until April. During this time you can technically not pay your bill at all, but rest assured that the first day they can legally take a giant shit on your life, they will. If you're like me and pay your gas bill twice a year, the month of April sucks harder than daytime television. Once you rack up an insanely high bill and enter shut off territory, in order to continue (or restore) your service you need to come up with 80% of the total balance.  For me this usually equals I Don't Have it Dollars and Fuck My Life Cents.

Since my idea of financial planning is hoping I have finances and planning on being broke, I have had to learn to successfully negotiate with these piranhas. Unlike the seasonal protection that's granted during the winter for gas (or electric) heat, the air conditioner in your bedroom window has no guardian angel. This is bad news for people who let their electric bill slide for months before the summer arrives; they won't think twice about shutting your electricity off during a massive, swass-attack of a heatwave in August. In fact, I think they get off on it. This miserable scenario is especially problematic, if not tragic, for certain groups. People who use clinical strength deodorant, people who have food in their fridge (you ritzy bitch!), or anyone who prefers to not live like a pilgrim, are most at risk of becoming homicidal.

Heading off a homicide is where one of my most impressive talents comes into play: the delicate art of bullshitting. If you've ever majored in English, Music, or Liberal Arts, you already know that bullshitting your way through life isn't just a recreational talent -- it's a critical survival skill. Not everyone is a natural bullshit artist, but with a little desperation, and a full-length mirror in which to practice your new lies, anyone can ensure that their utilities are kept on year round.

If you're unfortunate enough to have your electricity shut off during the summer and you owe NSTAR your first born child plus any additional first born children that you can successfully kidnap, you're going to have to come up with something better than 'I was laid off this year' to get them to turn you back on for only a couple hundred bucks and a payment plan. If you owe a G, they're going to want $800. They will remain firm with this dollar amount, and will use any lulls in the conversation to passively suggest that you're a deadbeat loser so that you're shamed into coming up with $800 immediately.

The real trick in these situations is to come up with a story that you won't be forced to prove, but a time sensitive one that they can't take the risk of not 'buying.'

Ok, so maybe you started off with telling them that you got laid off this year and you're destitute, but that will get you nowhere fast. You may as well tell them you got laid this year, because they couldn't give less of a shit about why you didn't pay.

Enter your fictitious 87 year old grandmother who lives with you and needs daily oxygen treatments that require electricity. Once you drop this bomb, the service reps go from a 10 to a 5 automatically. Unfortunately, being at a 5 means they're still dickheads and the chances of them 'working with you' remain low. Don't be surprised if they suggest that you take granny to someone else's house until you can pay your bill. When they suggest this moronic idea, quickly launch into a bit about her compromised mobility, failing health, and paranoid schitzophrenia.

Girls: If you're blessed with the gift of spontaneous fake crying, now's your time to shine. Hyperventilating at this point is an added bonus because you will force the representative to look away from their computer screen and temporarily stop speaking to you in tele-prompted scripted statements. Every second your phone rep spends removed from their 'power source' weakens their ability to make you pay what you really owe. In between tears, pull the phone away and yell, 'It's OK, grandma -- everything is fine!'  You may start to feel like a complete lunatic at this point, especially if you happen to catch a glimpse of yourself fake crying and hyperventilating in the mirror.  Dear God, do you look like an asshole.  And the fact that this is what you have to do to get a little air conditioning and a few episodes of Seinfeld reruns in your life is absolutely fucking ridiculous. But what do you want? You're a broke ho.

Remember people, stay_in_character. If you're finding it difficult to maintain this phone charade at an Oscar-worthy level, remind yourself of the $800 you don't have, your distain for prostitution and/or stripping, and that field trip to Plymouth Plantation that you went on in the 5th grade -- that's right, having no electricity blows, people.

Guys: This is the part of the conversation where you toss out the idea of Nonexistent Nana potentially kicking the bucket if she's forced to endure these inhumane conditions. Make sure you clearly express the following equation:

no electricity + no oxygen = dead grandma

Congratulations, folks -- your NSTAR representative is now at 2. At this point they will put you on hold while they 'see what they can try and arrange.'  Don't let them Jedi Mind Trick you with this crap. I've seen better acting at an elementary school play. They already know that they're going to present you with a minuscule payment offer to reconnect or continue your service compared to the one they were initially demanding. They're just putting you on hold to make you suffer with panic and fear because you've made THEM an offer they can't refuse: a dead grandma.

Good work.

It's important to note that these phone reps aren't suddenly willing to help you out because you've found their 'soft' spot; they're just corporate zombies avoiding a potential dead grandma lawsuit. Remember -- they don't really give a fuck about your fake nana.

Plan to be on hold for longer than it took the NSTAR rep to get their GED. Now when they take you off hold and inform you of the 'good news,' it's always a great move to be overly appreciative of their 'offer' with a self-depreciating verbal blow job thanking them profusely for their willingness to help a broke, working-class, worthless dirtbag with a defective grandma like you. The phone reps love that shit because they're deranged sociopaths who power-trip on being able to reduce you to a third world standard of living. 


Now if you're a woman, you don't necessarilly have to go the ailing grandmother route. See, NSTAR may hate you, but they love babies. And households with children under two years old are protected from getting their utilities shut off. But slow your roll, broke, baby-less ho. You must provide the birth certificates of your children and actually 'enroll' in this protection program, so you're not pulling this move off unless you can commit to causing an Amber Alert.  As luck would have it, I've discovered a gray area that eliminates the need for adoption or kidnapping: good old-fashioned pregnancy.

I tried this one out on a whim once and it was surprisingly effective. With this approach, may I suggest 'painting a good pathetic picture.'  Don't just be knocked-up. Be a knocked-up waitress. Even better, be a knocked-up waitress who is 'going back to school.'  This quickly elevates your status from 'system-sucking skank' to 'someone who is about to take a hot shower.'

I immediately got results with this approach and had my gas turned back on with only a $48 payment on a $650 bill when they were demanding $550, and with zero proof of my fake baby.  The pregnancy angle is pretty flawless, and required no bargaining with the phone rep. They may even give you the names of community resources that you can contact to help you be poor with your new fake baby. Don't let this gesture and fleeting glimpse of humanity make you feel guilty about bullshitting these bastards. They're just reinforcing a negative social value that only in utero babies deserve to have utilities. Just make sure going forward that you pay on time. Three months down the road when you're still doing the limbo under the poverty line, it's going to be hard to explain that you had a miscarriage 2 months ago but remarkably you're 7 months pregnant now.  

Now that you know what works, let's briefly review what doesn't:

1. The recent death of a parent
2. Car accident victim who is unable to work
3. Veteran who has just returned from a tour of duty
4. Recent lay-off
5. Victim of identity theft

Don't waste your time with any of the above. What I've learned over the years is that NSTAR  doesn't deliver upon hearing a quality sob story. Sure, these may seem like great excuses, but sympathy isn't the motivator that's going to get you back to microwaving your Hot Pockets or flat ironing your hair. They only become amenable to stop ruining your quality of life when there's a chance that they could be held responsible for indirectly harming debilitated geriatrics or unborn children. 

Trust me on this one,  because if I had a dollar for every time NSTAR has shut me off during my run as a Broke Ho, I'd be able to pay my NSTAR bill.

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