One man's fight for sleep against phone solicitors

MIKE ROYKO

November 05, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Anyone who has worked a night shift can sympathize with Dave Gault.

At night, he goes to his job as a bartender-waiter at a restaurant. When he gets home, he studies and grabs a nap. Then he gets up and goes to college, where he is working toward becoming a teacher.

After classes, he returns home and tries to grab a few hours of sleep before heading to his job.

He tries, but sleep isn't always possible. There is the dreaded enemy of all night workers: the telephone.

Gault, 35, doesn't get many calls from friends or relatives because they know his schedule.

But for the past year, he's been getting calls from bill collectors, collection agencies.

They are after a deadbeat who happens to be Gault's neighbor.

"I don't know the guy," Gault says. "I don't know anything about him, except he lives in the same building," which is a 14-unit apartment complex in Chicago.

"The guy doesn't have a listed phone number. But I do. And I guess they can look in some kind of directory and get my name and number because I'm listed.

"So they wake me up and ask me if I know him. And I tell them, no, he lives in the same building, but I don't know him.

"Then they say something like: 'Would it be possible for you to leave a message for him or go to his apartment and ask him to come to the phone?'

"Have you heard anything that crazy? I'm supposed to go get him on the phone. I don't know if he's a nut or what, just that he doesn't pay his bills. I could be putting my life at risk bothering him.

"And what's the point? If the guy is a deadbeat, that's none of my business, except that they're making it my business."

When the calls began about a year ago, Gault would just tell them to go away and not bother him.

"They were about once a week. But then they started calling more often. And there is more than one company after him. There's one in the suburbs. There's another in Ohio.

"And for the past few months, I've been getting calls almost every day. It's really starting to drive me up a wall.

"I told one woman that if she wanted me to chase him for her, I'd send her a bill for $500 as a consulting fee. She got huffy and said I didn't stand a chance in hell of collecting a cent.

"Then I decided to change my tactics. When they'd call, I'd talk to them very politely. Then I'd get their names and the names and phone numbers of their companies. That way I'd know who was harassing me.

"One of the worst was this woman, Janet, in Ohio. She's a supervisor there. After her people kept calling me, I asked to talk to the supervisor. After I got her full name, I told her there was nothing I could do for her or her company and asked her to please not call me again.

"She yelled how it was my own fault because I don't have an unlisted phone number, and if I don't like being called, all I have to do is hang up. How is that for logic?

"And she told me that they have a perfect right to call me because I'm listed in the phone book."

Gault thought about what Janet said: Because he's listed, she has a right to call him.

"So I decided that if she felt that way, it ought to work both ways."

He tried a long shot, calling information for her company's area code in Ohio and asking if there was a listing for Janet's home phone.

Bingo, there was.

"I finally got even," Gault says. "A few nights ago, I got home at about 1:30 in the morning. That's 2:30 Ohio time.

"I was feeling a little spunky, so I called. My wife was mortified.

"Her husband answered the phone. I asked to speak to Janet.

"He asked me what this was about. I told him that it concerned her company. He said: 'She's getting a call from work at this hour of the night?'

"So I told him what the situation was, that they are always calling me when I'm trying to sleep, so I was calling to let her know that I couldn't help her with that deadbeat neighbor of mine.

"I wasn't rude or obscene. I just explained the situation. And I said: 'I trust that you are as irritated by my call as I've been by all the calls I've been receiving.' Then I said goodbye and hung up."

We called Janet in Ohio at her office, and she was highly indignant about having her sleep interrupted.

"If he calls me again, I will file charges. You tell him that. Making harassing calls in the middle of the night! It's unethical, it's against the law. I am doing my job, but he has no right to call me at home."

But your company calls him at home when he's trying to sleep.

"All he has to do is hang up."

Actually, he can do more than that. There are federal and state laws against what these collection companies have been doing. We've researched them for Gault, and he's going to pursue them.

The indignant Janet might learn that she isn't the only one who can file charges.

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