I'VE NEVER BEEN very good with money.
Through sheer stubbornness and persistence, I have developed a knack for getting crotchety vending machines to accept crumpled-up dollar bills.
But that's pretty much the extent of my financial expertise.
So you can imagine the trouble I've had trying to keep up with the dizzying pace of corporate mergers these past few weeks.
I did my best to follow the flurry of news reports about the $67 billion merger of Citicorp and The Travelers Group.
Even I recognized that this was, as I think they say on Wall Street, a big stinking deal.
After giving it considerable thought, I drew the same conclusion about the merger that I'm sure many of you did--namely, "Wow, that's a lot of money."
Later, I read with a similar degree of comprehension the many news stories about the merger of NationsBank and Bank America, a $63 billion deal that will create the country's biggest bank.
I pondered what immediate effects this merger might have on my life. I pulled out my wallet and confirmed that, no, I do not have a high-interest credit card from either institution.
Then, I remembered I do have an entanglement with NationsBank-- my home mortgage, to be exact. At last count, my wife and I have made payments sufficient to secure ownership of the doorknob on our house. We now look forward to buying the rest of our humble abode from NationsBankBankAmerica, or BankBank, or whatever they decide to call themselves.
After these two megamergers, I began to lose track.
Somewhere between the multi-billion-dollar consolidation of Chrysler and Daimler-Benz and the union of Ameritech and SBC Communications, it became impossible to keep up.
Now, whenever I hear of the creation of yet another corporate behemoth, my thoughts drift to my dryer.
A few years ago, my dryer stopped drying.
No matter how many times I beat on its side or threatened to bring the washer over to teach it a lesson, it simply would not respond.
So I called up the store where it was purchased, and I asked to have a repairman look at it. (I will not divulge the name of the store here because I fear it may someday merge with my mortgage company and/or long-distance phone com- pany and seek retribution.)
I should have known something was wrong when the lady who answered the phone at the store quickly gave me a toll-free number to call. But I didn't give it much thought at the time.
The person who answered the toll- free number was helpful. You know the drill, Iím sure. She gave me a day when the repairman would appear. After some negotiating, I was able to extract from her a more specific time range--something within a 24-hour block, as I recall.
The day arrived, but the repairman didn't. As the hours slipped by, I grew concerned--not for my own INCON- VENIENCE, of course, but for the repairman's safety and well-being.
What if the directions I gave were unclear? Was he wandering the sprawling megalopolis in Virginia where I live, searching in vain for my house?
So I called the store, figuring someone there might be able to get in touch with the poor fellow.
The lady who answered the phone gave me the toll-free number again.
My, that's strange, I thought, a toll-free number for a local call. But I dialed anyway.
The lady at the toll-free number listened to my story and said "Uh-huh" and "Yesss" at all the right points.
I went over the directions with her again, in more detail this time, describing every landmark along the way.
Hours passed, and still no repairman arrived.
I called the toll-free number again and expressed my concern, not for my INCONVENIENCE but for the repairman's safety and well-being.
"Uh-huh," the operator said. "Yesss."
I expressed my fears, again, that the poor fellow might be lost.
"And what time is it where you are, sir?" she said.
"Beg pardon?" said I. "Where I am? Why it's 4 o'clock, the same time where...you...are. Hold it, where are you?"
I hung up the phone, called the store again and asked to speak to the person in charge of dispatching repairmen.
I was told this was impossible. I was again given the toll-free number.
Hours later, the repairman arrived. He took a quick look at my dryer, began gathering up his tools, and announced that he didn't have the necessary parts with him to make the repair.
He said I'd have to schedule another appointment.
Someone would give me a call to set a time, he said.
"Someone from Chicago?" I asked.
"Uh-huh," he said. "Yesss."
I shrugged. This was, after all, the new corporate landscape. Big and national is better. Small and local is no good.
I did my best to look on the bright side.
At least I'd be able to refine my money-management skills at the corner Laundromat.