Tenisha, where are you? Everybody’s looking for you.

I know, because they all call me. I fielded my second misdial today at about 8:45 am. Thankfully I was already up, so it wasn’t quite the hassle it could have been. I was only at the DMV.

The wrong number calls, and texts have been pouring in since about Christmas time. That’s when I got my new phone, which came with a new number, and a bit of adventure. Back then I would get a call about once a day.

At 7 a.m., midnight, during econ or political thought class, I’ve been called by these people at all hours of the day. Usually, the calls start with a husky and somewhat disgruntled voice on the other end of the line asking, “is Tenisha there?” Unfortunately for the off-target callers, the calls end with me saying they have the wrong number. It wasn’t always so simple.

Fielding calls aimed at the previous owner of your phone number can open up some ethical dilemmas. For example, when someone I assume is a friend of Tenisha’s sends a text asking her to meet up, what is my responsibility? Do I have to get out of bed and send a reply explaining she has the wrong number? Or, should I accept the invitation and head to the bars myself? For the record I did neither.

Friends aren’t the only ones who call. They are the exception, like sprinkles atop a fountain ice cream cone from a machine that isn’t full of ice cream. I’ve learned a bit about the woman I succeeded from her friends, but it’s the other calls that explain why the number is mine, instead of hers.

It might offend some of my less pale friends, but the name Tenisha comes with certain connotations. Whether her name, in combination with the calls from friends and others denotes a definite lifestyle, background or physical traits is far from certain. But I am pretty certain of my picture of Tenisha, and let it suffice to say I came across few like her in the small Nebraska town where I grew up.

Despite any trivial differences, like the ones I just mentioned, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Tenisha. Fielding calls at all hours of the day is a bit stressful for me, and I can only guess at the reason behind them. Knowing that reason, I’m sure, makes the endless barrage of calls unbearable.

Now, I’m now Sherlock Holmes, but deducing how my new number came into my possession is still elementary. When people dump a phone number you can be sure of one thing, either they got a new one, or they didn’t. My guess is that Tenisha falls into the latter category.

The fact that her friends didn’t know she got rid of her number, and the string of calls from what I assume to be collection agencies aroused a theory that Tenisha was having some financial troubles. A few months after I got my phone, a text all but confirmed that theory. It was an offer for a paycheck advance loan.

In my intro to philosophy course we were asked if TV is good or bad. I’ll save you the debate and tell you the answer was no. It’s what we do with it that is good or bad. Technology is great, except when it’s not, and that text was far from great. It was a trap.

Paycheck advance loans are often handed out with few stipulations, other than the interest rates which typically range between 15 and 30 percent and are charged monthley.

Paycheck advances like the one offered in that text charge unbelievable interest rates, the kind of rates that are known to leave a shoeprint on your throat or guide you to the nearest bankruptcy court. It reminds me of sharecropping. Instead of working the land freely, sharecroppers worked another’s land, and often couldn’t make enough money to pay off the debts they acquired purchasing farming supplies or wasteful delicacies like food. The sharecroppers were trapped on the land, forced to work it for someone else’s profit without any hope of escape.

Tenisha’s in a similar boat. With a paycheck advance loan she will likely be charged so much interest she can never get out from under the debt. Especially if she already has debt to begin with, which I assume is the case for many lining up for these advances. So, she’s free to work and live but someone will be collecting a great deal of her money until the day she dies—then they’ll take the rest.

There was a time when Christian’s weren’t allowed to loan money on interest. In a moral world, despite your religion, this type of restriction would likely still exist. Instead we’ve made a business out of charity. The ropes people throw to those in debt don’t pull them from their hole, but instead bind them further.

I hope Tenisha isn’t bound like that. The normal line in this neck of the woods would be, you reap what you sow. She should have worked harder, and not gotten into this situation. Maybe that’s true, but in my experience wrongs like this are never the product of a single individual. Instead they represent the failings of a great number of people.

It’s funny how easy it is for a person to convince themselves they’re better than someone else (the kind of funny that brings tears to accompany laughter). Take the paycheck advance crew for example. After giving out a loan to someone they know cannot repay, they view the person with disdain when the loan is not repaid.  Even after the original sum is repaid the interest will balloon the debt, and the debtor will be viewed as a person of lesser character or worth.

Who is the wolf and who is the sheep in this scenario? Is the creditor the innocent sheep being cheated of his money, or the prowling wolf, hiding behind pages of fine print and collecting interest? Is Tenisha taking advantage and borrowing money she has no intent to repay, or the victim of a complex system aimed at sucking her dry when she is most desperate?

The old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” With all due respect to the many who have spoken this saying, and the valuable lesson it has to teach, I don’t entirely agree. If you fool someone once, shame on you, but fooling them twice is just as shameless. Victims shouldn’t be the only one to learn a lesson, even if the injustice is legal.

In Tenisha’s case, I hope she is the one that pulled the wool over her creditor’s eyes. I hope she escaped from the trap that snared so many others. I hope she’s somewhere peaceful, with a close group of friends and a warm smile for company.

As for me, I don’t care if those calls ever stop. Each time someone calls asking for Tenisha is just a reminder that they haven’t caught her yet.

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