A Little off “Balance”

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 23, 2004

Mary Ann Fitzmorris FAMILY TIES

Fresh off the Martin Luther King holiday, a lot of people are still talking about “The Dream.” I, too, have a dream. Unlike Reverend King’s dream, which had grave significance for millions, my dream has very little significance.

My dream is that one day I will walk into a video rental store, and the first thing out of their mouths after they pull up my account will be something other than, “You have a balance.”

This fantasy began as soon as we started renting videos. We might have racked up a “balance” on the very first rental. In this house, whatever money is spent on the original rental always pales in comparison to late charges.

After a few rentals, I forgot my membership card and they opened a second account for us. Whenever we were asked which account we wanted to use to rent the video, our answer was always the same. “Whichever one has no balance.”

This worked for a while, but soon we owed money on both accounts. It then became necessary to pay the balance on one of them before renting anything else. Finally, they eliminated one of the accounts.

The people behind the counter are always very understanding. They allow you to check out videos even when you owe them money from the last ones. I guess they don’t want to miss out on the late charges that will surely accrue on the ones being checked out.

Usually these aren’t too significant. But the last time we rented a few videos, my husband promised to return them and I found them in his car several weeks later. I have been too afraid to even see what I owe that particular video store, so we have become fugitives there.

Actually, we are fugitives everywhere. I have not been running in any back alleys a few steps ahead of the authorities. I haven’t changed my name and left no forwarding address. I drive the family van, but not in any high speed chase.

Nevertheless, I am wanted. Desperately. By every video store in the area.

Not long ago, my son had to get a birthday gift, and he decided on a video rental gift card. But I had to get cash for him to purchase these cards because I didn’t want our “balance” to pop up out of the computer. We have been on the lam for so long I didn’t want to have to clear up our account.

This condition was especially bad at the big rental giant. But other stores have been cropping up to give them some competition. We are grateful for the opportunity to spread our late fees all around.

One of the smaller stores which has been gaining ground on the giants just opened a new place. It was titillating to think that we could go into a video rental store and not hear “You have a balance.”

My daughter and I were calmly munching our free popcorn on this stress-free visit. Then the clerk dropped the requisite dreaded line, “Mrs. Fitzmorris, I see you have a balance here.”

I thought to myself, “OF COURSE YOU DO!!” Then aloud, I wailed incredulously, “But you just opened last week! I have never even been in here!”

The guy behind the counter smiled. “Yes, Ma’am. It was checked out at the other store in Mandeville.” The computer nabbed me. Big Brother knows all.

While I was still mentally cursing their records, he politely asked, “Did you want to pay that now? You can pay it here.”

“WHAT DO YOU THINK???” I snapped at him, but only in my head. To him I smiled sweetly, “No, I think, since I rented it there, I’ll just take care of it there.”

“IN SOME OTHER LIFETIME!!!” shouted the deranged fugitive only in my head.

I wondered, as any wanted person might, if he bought it. He did, announcing, “Okay, then, that will be $4.28 for a one-day rental.”

The credits were hardly finished before I snatched it out of the machine to return it. At one store we have no balance! Still!!!

I am determined to keep my dream from becoming a nightmare.