The Western Union War
Her husband ran off to Las Vegas with his pretty blonde secretary. He took almost all the money and income, and left her floundering.
She was a struggling beautician, fresh out of beauty school. She had few regular customers, and barely made enough to feed her child and herself. Meanwhile her husband partied hard in Vegas with his secretary, and all that money.
A few months later the phone rang. It was him. The pretty blonde had run off with someone else. He was lonely. Could he come down for a visit?
She was about to hang up when her survival instinct kicked in. Instead she said, “Well, maybe you can visit. But the electric company is about to shut off my lights. I need $200 by the end of the day.” He promised to wire it right away.
In those days, if you paid a substantial surcharge, Western Union guaranteed the availability of funds within 15 minutes of the time they were wired. He paid the surcharge. So she promptly headed for the Western Union office, expecting to quickly have the desperately needed funds in hand. But when she got there the office was closed.
The owner of the Western Union business in our town also owned a taxi service. I won’t use his real name. Let’s just call him “Ace Hull.” Mr. Hull had closed the Western Union office so that he could make some money driving his taxi around for a little while. She had to wait until the next day.
She was upset by the wait, but was glad to finally get the wired money. She timidly decided not to cash in on Western Union’s guarantee. And she understood that Ace Hull was just trying to make a living, running two businesses, so she forgave him.
But a few weeks later her husband called wanting to visit again. This time she needed money for something else. Who remembers what it was? Maybe a car repair. Her financial challenges were endless. He wired the money via Western Union, and paid the extra surcharge for 15 minute delivery. And the Western Union office was closed again.
Throughout the next several months this pattern repeated itself over and over. Husband wired money and paid the extra surcharge. Wife tried to pick it up. Western Union office closed.
One day this timid woman finally stood up for herself. She went to the Western Union office early in the morning to pick up some wired money, and the door was locked. She waited about a half hour, then gave up and went to work. She returned in the evening, and this time it was open.
She informed Ace Hull that she had been there in the morning, but the door was locked and he wasn’t there. He blithely replied, “Yes I was, I saw you.”
Ace, in his laziness, had just not felt like opening the door to help her.
She felt outraged when she heard this. Her anger overpowered her timidity, and she pressed her case further. “My husband pays a lot extra to get this money to me in 15 minutes,” she sputtered, “but you’re never open when I get here!”
He glanced at her, shrugged his shoulders, and casually remarked, “Tough. What are you gonna do about it?”
There it was. The power differential between calloused business owner and helpless customer. Indeed, what could she do about it? Nothing, as far as he could see.
That’s because qualities like determination are not always visible. He also didn’t know that she worked at the beauty shop right across the street from his business. And he didn’t know about her grandmother.
She told her grandma about this bastard, and the two of them murdered him for a few minutes, with pejoratives. Then they conspired together against this uncaring, lazy blighter. Her grandmother had many friends. Old lady friends. Old women who had been pillars of this community back in their day, and who had known her since she was a little girl.
And these old lady friends were bored, sitting all alone in their little houses crocheting socks and sweaters and whatnot. They craved the action of the old days. And so they eagerly joined in on the plot.
The conspiracy circle widened.
Every day while she worked in the beauty shop, she kept her eye on the Western Union office across the street. She was watching for Ace Hull to put up the “Closed” sign, get into his taxi, and drive off. And whenever he did, she phoned her grandma and reported this fact.
Her grandmother then called all of her old lady friends and relayed this fact to each one of them. They in turn called Western Union headquarters and raised holy, old-lady-bitch hell. Headquarters became inundated with phone calls from angry elderly women declaring, “I was just at your Western Union office in my town, and it’s closed! Why is it closed? How can I wire money to my granchildren if you’re closed all the time? Why don’t you keep regular business hours? Who’s running that place anyway?” And so forth.
Two months later she looked out the window of the beauty shop and noticed that the Western Union sign had been taken down. Ace Hull had closed Western Union for the last time.
That’s because he lost the contract.
It reopened in an office supply store about a mile down the road. A new businessman took over the contract. A man who had no problem keeping Western Union open all the time, so that people who were desperate for money could run down to his store and pick up their wired funds on a moment’s notice. And this particular businessman had a caring attitude, also.
From then on, whenever she was driving in town and saw Ace Hull in his dirty old station wagon taxi, she would smile smugly and say to herself, “That’s what I’m gonna do about it.”
One day she saw him and thought, “now that I’ve gotten rid of that asshole, I’m gonna get rid of another one.” And she divorced her husband.
A few years later she gave me a haircut. I fell for her instantly. But I was very bashful and could not work up the courage to tell her. Until a voice in my head asked, “What are you gonna do about it?”
So I asked her out on a date. That was 30 years ago, today. Soon we were living together. And we’ve been together since.
That’s what I did about it.