THE SPINE DECEMBER 18, 2007
I am all for globalization, and I believe that -- whatever disruptions it causes in the lives of peoples and in the conditions of their societies -- it will ultimately benefit all mankind.Of course, many individuals will pay for this progress with lower pay and fewer respectable jobs so that others elsewhere will get higher pay and real jobs that they had not seen before.There will also be some comedies.I am a co-signer for three student loan borrowers through Sallie Mae. One of them, a young man from Czechoslovakia, pays his debts on time, and he is also almost debt-free.The second, from New Zealand, is not so regular. But she catches up at the penultimate moments and has thus far avoided the punitive regimen that is applied to slackers.The third, a luftmentsch from Israel, is, well... a luftmentsch. An artist, too. He has gone AWOL. Actually, he was denied a renewal of his student visa and, doing what he had to do, left. The denial was preposterous, and the University of Michigan put up a game fight for him to stay. As you all know, the visa bureaucracy is an echo from Kafka. The statistics say that there are now more foreign students in American colleges and universities than in anytime during the last decade. Including Arab students who were the ones being targeted in the aftermath of 9/11.It's mazal or a lack of mazal for the young Israeli. He's reapplying, and his lawyer says the odds are good. But what about his Sallie Mae record?Oh, what I hadn't said is that for each of the last three days I've been getting phone calls from Sallie Mae. I return each of the calls. I have the name of the person who called. But no one -- you don't get anyone until you press "1" and "3" and "4"--knows the name you've been given or why you are calling. They ask me why I am calling. I don't know, and that's what I tell them.It occurs to me that I am speaking with someone in Bombay. The accent, and all that. The politesse. They (three of them) have tried to locate the three people whose loan I've guaranteed. The only one they can find in the records is the one who is not overdue anything.My third interlocutor has something serious to tell me. "If we call you it is serious. If one of the students is over due your credit will be adversely affected." "What can I do?" He answers gravely: "Do something."Try this Sallie Mae phone call yourself: 888-272-5543. Ask for Mia. Then give your social security card. They don't ask for anything really personal, like your mother's maiden name or the name of your pet. My pet's name is "none," that is, I have none. I used to have a horse. He was Prince Myshkin, the hero of Dostoevsky's The Idiot.