Quirkiness has its perks!
It wasn't a scam, exactly, but I also couldn't figure out how it would work, sounding too good to be true.
I saw the young team of two in the courtyard, looking energized and high-fiving each other before tackling a entryway: they looked fun, young, trust-worthy, with big smiles and like they believed they would do a good job. She went one way, and him I ran into when I got to the top of my stairs.
He was talking with my neighbor, and paid no attention to me. He looked official, and, as I'm on my tenants' association, I wondered if he was a new face in management – and so, as I entered my apartment and heard him leave, I turned around to ask, “You look official and I'm curious!”
He said he'd knocked on my door; I replied that I'd just come home – presumably he'd missed me. His hair was a joyous collection of little bunches, maybe fifty of them, and he still sported his big smile under his glasses. He must have been in his early twenties at most.
He also wore an ID on a blue emblazoned collar, which read “Family Energy”. He explained his presence as linking green energy savings with going door-to-door to see if we are eligible for a flat rate of $62.50/month, and said I'd need to check my utility bill for a particular code. It sounded like a great deal, and the lowest I've ever paid monthly and so I decided to check. Which, as I'm paperless, required trying to log into my online umbrella Con Edison gas-and-electricity account, which required knowing the password I invariably forget, so having it re-set, and so forth. He said he was paid hourly so no problem to wait – and wait he did, in the staircase. At last I succeeded, feeling rather middle-aged, and, lo and behold, we looked at my bill and found the magic code; he explained that I was paying too much and that the Con Ed charges on my bill were incorrect and would all be erased if I signed up with his plan. Hm, I said, I thought it was correct that I have both green energy and Con Ed charges additionally, as that's how I'd signed up previously. He glossed over this and said he could explain it all to me, could we sit somewhere perhaps?
He had another drink with him, and explained that another woman in the building had given it to him. “You females are so nice.” I didn't take well to the flirtation and reframed it, “Yes, the tenants here are in general pretty nice.”
He did try to flirt again, asking what I do. I said I'm a music teacher and he tried to guess what ages I teach, catching himself saying that I looked like I could be that. I think I frowned.
So I invited him in, and insisted that I needed to find an uncomfortable chair for him. Flirtatiously, he protested that, he was giving me a deal, shouldn't I be nice to him? I said, no, let me explain. You see all that white powder? My cat brought in a flying squirrel the other night, and, I took it in to rehabilitate it, and it was insanely cute, and I'll show you the pictures (and they were indeed insanely cute and he thought so too), and unfortunately the squirrel also had a flea or two or three, and so, everything in my apartment right now is covered in diatomaceous earth, including the upholstered chairs, and so, since I don't want to you get fleas or be covered in DE, I'm actually being very nice to you by offering you the uncomfortable un-upholstered chair, see?
His face was a little blank as he took in all this unusual information, but eventually brightened again. It was not warm out, and he mentioned he was cold; I offered him tea, incredulously, he happily said, “You would do that for me??” I said it's really no problem, what kind would he like? Available categories: fruit, herb, green? After some indecision he chose fruity and so I made hibiscus. It clearly hit the spot.
As we got back to the subject matter, I still couldn't figure out what the benefit to the company would be, was it that if enough people signed up the flat rate would be worth it? As he was talking, he began repeating himself, and occasionally touching me on the arm to make a point, which made me bristle more, and in particular I was unhappy about being told that I needed to sign up on the spot, rather than being able to take in the information, research it online, and then make a calm and studied decision. So I began looking up information as he spoke: googling “Family Energy” brought up a professional-looking website; posting on the Inwood Community facebook group brought a joking reproach from him “Checking facebook while we speak?” - “Yes, I want to check this out online before making a decision.” I hoped some of my neighbours would answer my query quickly. I wrote, “Has anyone used Family Energy (green energy) – they come door-to-door to promote flat-rate plans?” He insisted I call it “green energy” and seemed to prefer if I didn't write “Family Energy” in the group. He also suggested I could facebook him; I said that would be rather invasive of me, wouldn't it?
He kept talking about a phonecall I would receive; I said I didn't want to do it now, but he insisted it needed to be done as the sign-up was possible only with an agent in person, and seemingly suddenly in a hurry, he called from his phone, and there was some official talk between him and someone at the other end. He had already noted all my Con Ed account information on a detailedly official-looking “Family Energy” sign-up form. I kept checking my facebook, seeing that someone was typing. She replied to my query: “My understanding is they are a scam. I see posts on local groups online. Are they part of a group that rings your bell and says they are a subsidiary of con ed?”
He saw what was up, but tried to continue. Quietly, I interrupted the call, and slid the paper he'd written on out from undert his hand: “I don't want to sign up today. I want to think about it, research it, and then maybe get back to you.”
He could see that he'd lost but wasn't entirely ready to believe it yet. He tried, “Would I try to scam you?” and, “I'll have to tell the company to update their procedures,” and “Here, let me at least write down my cell number so that you can get in touch if you want. We'll be in the area for the next three or four hours,” and finally, “I know nothing I say is going to change your mind.”
And so I decided to explain. I said, “You see my cats, rescues. You see my diatomaceous earth, all over my apartment, for taking care of a flying squirrel. I am a softie, and I am someone whom it's easy to scam" - his eyes narrowed slightly, was it that he meant he wouldn't scam me, or was he disappointed to have lost easy prey? - "and I have been scammed previously. And so it's because of this that I need to protect myself: you could be the most legit company and person, and none of this is personal, and I would still insist that we follow proper procedure: I need have time to think about it and research, and a real company would let me do that.”
He looked positively crestfallen, and I felt pity. As I tried to make conversation to lighten things back up, I asked how long he'd been at the company: six weeks. I thought, what a lousy job. Likely he gets paid pittance, he's taught by his supervisors to do their dirty work and is versed in his pitch, which isn't his responsibility, likely he gets some cut from any sign-ups he snags. I'd detained him no doubt for the greater part of half an hour. He would go back out in the cold. I wondered, did I have a sweater I could give him?
I took my computer and the papers out of range, into the refuge of my room, leaving him to recover in the living room, and finish his tea. Perhaps he was wondering how it had happened – he'd been so close to a deal, how had it slipped away? Was it that he thought I was a bright-eyed twenty-three but actually I'm probably old enough to be his mother? Or was he thinking, why in the world was he doing this shitty job? Or was he taking in the disconnect of being involved in questionable peddling practices to finding himself in la-la land -in an apartment with hibiscus tea and diatomaceous earth and oversize plants and kitties climbing over the table?In any case, although I needed to get on with my day, I gave him a few minutes to find himself, and eventually saw him out the door. He still looked utterly dispirited, and, when I said thank you it was nice to meet you and extended my hand, he shook it only reluctantly.
I'm sorry to write that his day didn't look up from there. In yet another disconnect between the two worlds, I took my kitty Ernesto for a quick but long-promised walk ... At the bottom of my staircase resides a good-hearted but immensely gruff bull-dog-of-a-man, whom my parents have nicknamed “The Curmudgeon” from various stories I've told them, and, well, the kid had knocked on the wrong door. I exited to hear the Curmudgeon reaming out the Kid for having represented himself as being associated with Con Edison. No tea and cookies here ... no Friendly Females to empathize ... I've been on the receiving-end of such a verbal barrage, and it is not so fun ... the kid put on his smile again when he saw me exit, but there wasn't much I could do to rescue him. Was it an EDucation not to CON?
I hope he finds his smile again in a different job – one that's totally above-board, and gets him on a good track, and maybe includes a sprinkle of professionalism-between-genders training. Maybe I'll text him this link - or send a message via facebook ...
And I will remain with my current green utility, and dutifully continue paying my energy bill, which, according to further facebook posts, is correctly divided between Con Ed and the green ones, and would be just about the same more or less even if I'd made the switch (contrary to what he'd told me). And so my tree-house remains happy and safe, with kitties, flying squirrels, and, well, I've now vacuumed up the diatomaceous earth, so we look, at least outwardly, almost normal again ... May my next visitors, also, find true confidence in this newly-educated quirky refuge!