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  • FIDJEY:Or How to Spell “Community”
  • William S. Penn (bio)


The short version is "Fidjey."

The long version starts with my collapsing on my daughter's seventeenth birthday, substituting the word "collapse" for what really happened: I died.

I didn't have any near-death experiences, so I'm not about to try and do a Shirley MacLaine and give you tasty pieces of the wisdom I acquired while elsewhere. No, I died. Nonetheless, Miesha C. from Northwest Airlines wrote me to say that NWA was refusing my request for a refund for a flight to Barcelona because my situation was not "extreme" enough.

I tried calling, waiting what seemed like several minutes as the automated call direction played my umpteen choices (none of which came close) and then told me that the service representatives were all busy. I sighed, prepared to wait on hold for several more minutes only to be surprised. The phone line went dead. They hadn't put me on hold; they'd simply hung up.

I turned to letters. To Miesha C., I wrote,

Dear Miesha C.,

Evidently, I was not clear in my original request for a refund of my family's airfare to Barcelona. On 30 November, I did not contract the flu. I did not have a heart attack (how I envy the heart attack party!). I died. I am not sure how dying is not extreme enough for Northwest Airlines, and it is true that [End Page 127] by some "miracle" (my doctor's term) I was brought back to life, which cheered my family and friends (though I suspect it disappointed my enemies some). I am hoping that you will reconsider and decide that dying is, indeed, an extreme way to go about canceling a trip to Barcelona and asking for a refund of the full ticket cost.

Enclosed is a note from my doctor saying that because of dying, I should not travel, at least not as soon as this trip, which was scheduled for February.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Best always,

Bill Penn

After several weeks with no reply, I happened to mention my refund request to another Northwest representative while booking flights for six weeks later than the trip I was canceling. She was very helpful and friendly (I had her laughing about the apparent nonextremity of death) and told me to deal with her and she'd solve the problem. When I called back a week later, of course—of course!—I got a young man who helpfully explained that the woman I was trying to reach did not work in the refund department and therefore couldn't help me. Transferring me, I got yet another helpful person . . . and so on until I approached giving up.

I think that may be the point of the exercise: if you give up, you don't deserve a refund.

Anyway, another letter and several phone calls to Bangalore, India (where they speak perfect English), and I was still waiting. All the people were nice; most of them laughed. But I was getting tired of saying that although I had died, it was okay, they didn't need to feel anything about it. I only wanted a refund. Not sympathy or flowers.

Eight (ten?) weeks after I started the process, the day before my family and I would have departed for Barcelona, I got a letter from Northwest granting me a full refund, which "might take as many as two billing cycles to show up on the appropriate credit card."

It took two days.

Dying has its privileges. [End Page 128]

And they are many, as hard as it is for you and me to think so. When I told my mother-in-law that I'd gotten a full refund, she was upset. After all, she had gotten only a partial refund in the form of rebooking months later for Amalfi, Italy (we'd invited her to Barcelona, as to Amalfi, because we enjoy her).

"I only got three hundred dollars," she said.

"I'll trade you," I replied. "I did have to die to do it."

"True enough," she said, apologetic and chagrined. "It...


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pp. 127-142
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