Cents& Sensibility with J. Bryant Steele

Let’s start by agreeing that being a bill collector is the worst job in the world, several rungs down from a general tele-marketer or hanging from the back of a garbage truck. Bill collectors have been reviled for centuries in literature, all the way back to the Bible. They are still fodder for modern satirists.

So why take the job? Cleaning restrooms is beneath you? Is it the lure of a huge commission when you collect the debt and the “guarantees” of success just by following a script?

I have a reasonable assumption that everyone who reads this magazine is intelligent and would never consider a job as a bill collector. But just in case you have a distant cousin or a desperate neighbor, allow me to reconstruct a recent phone conversation: 

Bill collector: “Mr. Steele, we don’t want to suspend your service.”

Mr. Steele (a/k/a Me): “Good. I don’t want you to suspend my service either. Have a nice day.” Bill collector: “But there’s this matter of a past-due balance.”

Me: “No, there’s not. I paid you electronically five days ago.”

Bill collector: “That’s not what I’m showing.” 

Me: “Lady, what you’re showing is between you and your boyfriend, and not something that interests me.” (I admit this dialogue would have been more efficient if I weren’t such a smart aleck, but low-wage idiots just bring it out in me. Like a tethered zebra to a lazy lion. Plus, I like to throw them off script.)

Bill collector: “If you can’t keep this conversation professional, I will hang up.”

Me: “I didn’t want this conversation in the first place. You called me, and, since you brought up professionalism, may I add that it’s not professional to interrupt working people unless you have a good reason.”

Bill collector: “I’m showing that you’re a writer?” (That was when it started feeling creepy.) Me: “Yes.” 

Bill collector: “Were you writing just now?” Me: “Yes.”

Bill collector: “What were you writing?” (That was when I went off on a long, expletive-filled rant that questioned the woman’s honor, education, lineage and possible progeny. Let’s just say that I curse artfully. I ended by saying, “Let me tell you what I’m showing. A f*&#!^*# text message from five days ago that says, ‘Thank you for your payment.”)

Bill collector: “I need to speak to my super-visor.” (Long silence. Then …) 

Bill collector: “Mr. Steele, nevermind.” Me: “That’s OK. Thanks for the material.” Bill collector: “The what?”

Me: “Nevermind.”

And I hung up, suspending further effort.


After years of attempts in several different spots across the country, a major city – Philadelphia – has approved a tax on sugary drinks. It succeeded there perhaps because the mayor didn’t promote it as a punitive measure against soda makers (which is what the health industry advocates), but as a revenue source (projected $90 million annually). The American Beverage Association immediately said it will take the city to court.

The tax will be levied on distributors, not individual purchases (a sales tax already covers that). But the cost will be passed on to consumers via higher prices, so there will be that additional outcry.

I wouldn’t expect this isolated victory for the health industry to signal a trend. First, similar initiatives have failed up until now. Second, I predict the ABA will win the legal battle, early on. Third, in Georgia anyway, there’s the weight of Coca-Cola, which tends to get its way when looking out for its own interests.

If we get nothing else from this presidential election year, we have a hot new word on every-body’s lips – “presumptive.” OK, the word itself is not new. But have you ever heard it so many times, daily, before now? Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the “presumptive” nominees of their respective political parties because they’ve secured sufficient delegates.

I like the word well enough; I’m just sick of its current overuse. Can’t we mix in synonyms like probable or likely? Or is everybody wanting to sound like they went to Harvard instead of Podunk U?

The next thing you know, some guy in a bow tie and blue blazer will cruise into a singles bar, pick out the best-looking woman there, and say, “It looks like you’re my presumptive date this evening.”

Her reaction will strike a blow for feminists and language purists alike.

Dizzy Dean, baseball’s Hall of Fame pitcher and iconic broadcaster, once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”

Decades later, Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer ever, repeated the same sentiment, but with better grammar.
That was what came to mind at the news of Ali’s death recently. I also remember the fights. Boxing hasn’t been the same since that era. (Side note: Once, when I was young, fit, and foolish, I was at a party while an Ali fight was on TV and I had a couple of beers. The next morning at work, my wrists hurt when I tried to type, and I wondered why. A colleague replied, “You dummy, last night you tried to demonstrate Ali’s punching style on a water heater.”)

I also remember Ali’s stand against the Viet-nam War, which cost him his heavyweight title. I have great respect for those who fought in Vietnam. Two classmates were killed over there. I have traced my fingers over their names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. But Ali’s stance, I think, did more to crystallize the wrongness of that war than the myriad protests on campuses and in the streets across America.

Tributes to the Champ poured in from all corners. The best is perhaps the eulogy comedian Billy Crystal delivered at Ali’s funeral. You can find it on YouTube.

Ali boasted about his prowess, but he said little about his humanitarian endeavors; he instead just lent his name.

I get it that some people still dislike Ali be-cause of his stance on the war and because of his braggadocio. But he always backed it up. 
J. Bryant Steele has won awards for business reporting, feature writing and opinion columns, and is based in Rome.

*The views expressed in this column are those of the writer, and do not represent the opinions of V3 Magazine.

J. Bryant Steele was first published when he was 14 and has made a living stringing words together for 40 years. But the main reason he writes is to avoid housework. He has won 50 or so writing awards. He is a graduate of the Grady School of Journalism (The University of Georgia) and of Education for Ministry (The University of the South). He also publishes poetry and fiction. He is the proud father of two magnificent adult children. He is also very opinionated.