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I lost my cell phone the other day.

I fancy myself the type of guy who would never lose his cell phone. After finally succumbing to the inevitability of cell phones a couple of years ago, mine has become an ever-present appendage. Within a month of buying one, I disconnected my archaic home phone and took the cell everywhere. I'm not really a big phone talker, but I'm fantastic at leaving messages. My best friends are my associates' voice mailboxes.

But I've been staying on friends' couches for November while looking for the perfect apartment, and my life has therefore been in flux. A third of my laundry is at my girlfriend's apartment, a third is at a friend's place and the other third, well, I don't really know where the other third is. I'm fully


expecting a homeless man to go strolling past in a Mattoon Green Wave baseball T-shirt, any minute now.

So with my stuff all over the place, somehow, the cell phone was lost in the tumult. I scoured everywhere I'd been since I used it last, and it never turned up. So I had to buy a new one.

While I was complaining about this to a co-worker, he stopped me. "Will, losing your cellphone is a great thing. All you have to do is tell them you'll extend your agreement, and they'll give you a new, better phone. Just call customer service. They'll have it to you in two days." I told him thanks, sure man, but nevertheless I crossed the street from my office to our local Sprint store, armed with my sob story and my years of loyal service. I was greeted by a woman named Saundra.


My father is proud of many things. His basement, his family, his job, his Camaro. But my father particularly loves his ability to haggle with merchants to get a good deal. To my dad, Heaven is in the parking lot outside Busch Stadium, half an hour before a Cardinals game. He'll put on a pair of Oakley sunglasses -- "if you're wearing shades, he doesn't know what you're thinking, and you have the advantage" -- and start scoping out the area for scalpers. They're never difficult to find.

Once he's found his mark, he'll walk briskly up to the man, who, because he's taking part in an activity that, in theory anyway, is illegal, will look somewhat shifty and nervous. Dad loves that.

He'll see my father's looking for tickets. My father will nod at him. Yes. We are searching for tickets. Our meeting is impending. Let the festivities commence. The game is on.

Dad will first take the two tickets and look them over like a valuator inspecting diamonds. He'll hold them up to the sun, a pointless maneuver that implies he's aware they could be counterfeit and will therefore be accounting for that in the negotiations. He'll shake them sometimes, or flick the edges with his finger, thwip. One time he even held them in the air, stationary, and dropped them lightly, like he was a golfer checking the wind before a drive.

He'll then look the scalper in the eye. "Nice seats. What are you thinking for these?" Pay attention, Will. I'm letting him set the first price. Never set the first price yourself.

The guy, not aware he's in the presence of a master, will toss out an opening bid. Depending on the importance of the game in question, this figure, always for box seats, will range anywhere between $50 and $150. The importance of the game is irrelevant to my father. He has his price, and he'll make sure it's met.

When he says the price, without fail, even if the guy says "50 cents, and you can also have my jacket," my father will turn abruptly and walk away. Let him know you don't have to do business with him, Will. He's the one who has to get rid of the tickets. You don't HAVE to go to the game.

Someday, one would think, a scalper is just going to let my dad trot off without beckoning him back. It hasn't happened yet.

"Hey buddy, hey buddy, how much you thinking?" We have the advantage. He needs us more than we need him. We were willing to go somewhere else. Dad will just stare at him and say something stoic and Eastwood-ian, something like, "We were thinking something reasonable. Don't waste my time."

The guy will put up a fight. He will say that you won't find any tickets better than this at that price, that you're lucky you came across him, that he can't go any lower. Dad will nevertheless turn away. The guy will always, and I mean ALWAYS, call him right back.

"All right, what price were you thinking then?" Watch, Will. He has already lowered his price twice, and I haven't even given him a price yet. I'm testing his patience now. Time to lowball him. Dad will give him an offer that's about 20 bucks too low, a ridiculous offer. The guy will laugh at him, say "you're crazy," and buck up the price 10 bucks or so. Dad will grimace, scratch the back of his neck like he's about to do something morally repugnant, and relent. "Fine, but just because my son wants to go to this game." He has been using this trick since I was seven years old. He still uses it.

"So you know, we're paying too much." It still works. He'll get the ticket for less than the scalper had ever intended on offering in the first place. And we have box seats for the price of three beers.

It's really something to watch.

The last time we went to a game, Dad let me try. He even stayed back, so he wouldn't be tempted to join in. You've been watching me do this forever. Just be firm and stick to your plan. It works every time.

I walked up to the scalper.

"How much you want for those tickets?"

"150 bucks."

"That's fine! Thanks!"

Our seats ended up being in the upper deck.


I explained to Saundra my problem, and why I should have a free phone. She was sympathetic, for someone who didn't seem to be paying much attention. She snapped her gum, wore gaudy jewelry and had fake fingernails that were about four inches long. She was pretty, though, and had a classic profile. She looked kind of like Vivica A. Fox. She seemed like what I imagined a cheerleader at a Southern black college to be like.

She really wanted to help me, she really did. The problem, you see, is that you didn't have your last phone for 18 months, and we have a policy that says anyone who doesn't have their phone -- she called it a "handset" -- for 18 months is not eligible for the free phone plan. You'll have to pay the $90 for a new phone, our cheapest model, even if you extend your plan.

In spite of my co-worker's claims, I had prepared for this. My cell phone plan runs out at the end of November, and I pay about 65 bucks a month. I looked her dead in the eye.

"Listen, it just doesn't make sense for me to renew my plan if you're not going to give me a free phone. I might as well just let the rest of my plan run out, pay the 65 bucks and then just go to a different provider, one that will give me a free phone."

Then came my ace in the hole:

"It's a shame, too, because I really like Sprint and planned on remaining a loyal customer for a long time."

I had her. Beat that, Saundra!

Saundra frowned. She understood my predicament. "Tell you what I can do. Because you've been so patient, I'll see if I can enroll you in another deal, where you have to buy a different phone, extend your plan, and we'll credit your account $50 off your next bill. Is that OK?"

Of course it was OK. I never wanted to leave Sprint. I would have brought the phone had it come to that. But I had haggled, and I had won. Of course I had!

She went into the back room, where she conferred with her manager, who she said reluctantly approved the deal, because I had been such a good customer. She then brought out my new phone, which was a significant upgrade on my last one, with voice-activated dialing, more ring options and a cute little panda on the front of it. I loved it immediately.

She rang me up and put the phone in a bag.

Will that be cash, credit or check?

That'll be credit.

OK. Your total comes to $139.99.

That's fine! Thanks!


I came back to the office and told my co-worker of my victory. He was very confused, but then, when light dawned, he took much glee in pointing out I'd paid the exact same amount as I would have before my "haggling." He then picked up the phone and called Sprint customer service.

"Yes, I've lost my phone." He gave them my phone number. "Why, yes," he said, making sure I was in earshot, "I would love a free phone for my years of loyal service! I really appreciate it."

He waited for me to stop pounding my head against the desk.

"Wait … actually … I just found my phone. Thanks, though!"


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