(Fortune Magazine) -- Okay, I'm an idiot. Credulous. Always looking for a good deal. Add to that a bit of corporate tedium and a free hour to cruise the online universe, and well, all I can say is that it's a good thing I have Beverly. If you don't have somebody like Beverly to untangle things for you, it's probably best to stay off the Internet.
This tawdry tale began about two months ago when I decided to go shopping. I didn't need anything. I have too many things already. But a while back, visiting friends, I saw an object in their living room that appealed to me. Large. Stupidly expensive. It woke the greedy troll inside me that pops up and growls, "I want." Once that voice speaks, I can put off the inevitable for a while, but eventually the troll must be fed.
So there I was, bored out of my skull on a bright spring day, with that cool thing on the screen in front of me. Next to it was a window with a picture of a Visa card from Chase and the words: 40% OFF YOUR FIRST PURCHASE! Forty percent off, I thought. That's a lot. That's almost half. All it would take to secure this boon was a few clicks of the mouse. I click the mouse a million times a day. What's a few clicks more?
I performed my mousely duty. An application screen appeared. Just answer a few brief questions, I was cajoled, and the branded Visa would be mine, and with it the promised 40% off.
The first hint that I was in trouble came when instead of getting approved immediately, I was told that I would have to wait until my application was evaluated. "The heck with these guys," I said to myself, not in those exact words. I called the vendor, which seemed frankly mystified by the whole deal and put me in touch with Chase. "I want to cancel the whole thing," I said.
"You can't," a guy answered, firmly but with tact. "You're in the system now. You have to wait to see how it works out."
Weeks elapsed. Then one day I got my new card in the mail, emblazoned with the logo of the vendor that held the object of my desire. Is there anything in the cosmos as bright and sweet and hopeful as a new, branded credit card? I ordered my item. The total on the screen came to $149.52 ... the list price. I called the vendor, which once again directed me to Chase.
"The adjusted price will appear on your first statement," said Chet, which I'm sure was not really his name.
Do I have to tell you the rest? Don't you know? Isn't it clear? The size of the bone in my head?
The bill arrived: $149.52. No 40% off. Calls to the vendor? Unavailing. A month went by. A second bill appeared: $149.52. Plus a late charge of $15! That is when I yelled out the door for the solution to virtually every problem of consequence.
What is an assistant, friends? It is he or she who makes life possible. If they were to go, we would be plumped down on the hard, hot beach of chaos without an umbrella or, indeed, a swimsuit.
"Beverly," I said, waving the bills. "I can't handle this."
"I'll take care of it," said Beverly.
Right off, she got on the horn the kind of person I never seem to reach, someone helpful. Call him Harold. She put him on the line with me. I explained the situation. "Gee," said Harold. "Give me a minute." I told Beverly to pick up the phone so I would not have to wait on hold and could sit at my desk and scratch my nose. After a while, Harold was back. "I took care of that late charge," he said kindly. "That's nice," I replied. "But what about my 40%?" This required another hold, which Beverly was good enough to endure while I played Minesweeper. Then Harold was back. The 40% was mine!
"Tell me, Harold," I said, getting on the line to thank him. "If we hadn't gone through all this, would I have gotten my 40% off?"
"Well," said Harold, "I've never faced a problem like this, but I guess I'd have to say probably no." He then told me to wait a week to ten days while my online account was updated to reflect the amelioration in my fiscal situation.
And that's where we are right now - in Day Three of this phase of the great experiment. So far, my bill online is the same as it always was: $149.52, with a $15 late charge that will be updated to $30 in about a week's time. Tomorrow I'm going on a two-week vacation and will be unable to check my account. But my absence doesn't really matter. Beverly will keep an eye on the site.
She has my password.