Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Invitation Into Society

I have finally made it.

Socially speaking, that is. No, I'm ages beyond having a coming-out party. And no, I've not been invited to the Swan Ball, or asked to join the Belle Meade Country Club. And I'm still waiting for my invitation to the inauguration.

It must have been lost in the mail.

But I WAS invited to apply for the exclusive Visa Black Card.

Oh yes, I am among the elite one percent of the US population, according to the invitation, who are asked to join this exclusive limited membership. One percent! Now, THAT makes me feel special.

My normal response to credit card invitations and applications is to throw them haphazardly onto a special pile on the kitchen desk until that pile gets so big it tumbles over, and then I haul the shredder out from its little nesting spot under that same desk and proceed to make confetti out of all those humdrum offers. But this invitation was...intriguing. It was in an over-sized matte black envelope, with the words BLACK CARD printed in gold, and my name and address on rich cream showing through the window. Invitation enclosed, it stated on the back flap. I felt its satisfying heft, weighing it almost unconsciously, like a head of lettuce, in my hand. I pondered, turning it over again and affirming that it had not made it safely through the hands of the US Postal Service via first class mail; no, like all credit card applications, this one had been mailed presorted standard rate. But still, there was something...

The angel on my right shoulder whispered into my ear to add it to the pile on the desk, but the devil on my left (sorry, Willadean) encouraged me to open it.

I sliced into the envelope with no difficulty and withdrew the contents: a business reply mail envelope, the three page application, and my invitation, on heavy cream cardstock.

Dear Ethel Mae Potter,
By invitation, you have been PRE-QUALIFIED to receive the exclusive Visa Black Card. Limited to only 1% of U.S. residents, Black Card members are insured the highest caliber of personal service. Cardmembers enjoy a 24-hour Concierge Assistant, Exclusive Rewards program, and Luxury Gifts from some of the world's top brands. Made with carbon, the Visa Black Card is sure to get you noticed.

Concierge service? Luxury gifts? This might be worth looking into, I thought, as I ignored the muffled cry from my wallet, where my faithful old Disney Visa card lay trapped between my driver license and Kroger Discount Card. My right shoulder angel whispered urgently to put it down, but the devil, his voice now silky smooth, crooned, "read on, read on."

Now I looked at the application. It was folded into three pages, the page facing me a gigantic replica of the card itself. Impressive, tasteful, distinctive. Black and gold. My bright red Disney card with the Mickey Mouse ears suddenly seemed garish and ordinary. "But you love Mickey Mouse," the angel pleaded. "Yeah," I said to her, "but look at this..." "Luxury gifts, concierge service, one percent," the deceptive voice in my left ear murmured.

I flipped the application over. "For those who demand only the best of what life has to offer, the exclusive Visa Black Card is for you," I read aloud. "... ultimate buying tool...not for everyone...only 1% of US residents...
highest caliber of personal service...annual fee only $495..."

WAIT!! What was that? Yep, there it was...annual fee of only $495. $495!!!???? Are they kidding me??? There are still cards out there that carry an annual fee, a $495 annual fee??? Surely not. There must be a decimal point in there. It HAS to be $4.95. I peered more closely. Maybe my eyesight was beginning to go, after all. I carried the invitation into the bathroom, where I rummaged through the bottom drawer until I felt the cold brass handle of the old magnifying glass we'd had for ages. Holding it a few inches above the invitation in my hand, I adjusted the distance slightly and confirmed in huge bold white letters: $495.

Not only that, I discovered upon further investigation, but to add Fred to the account and provide him a copy of my card would cost an additional $195. Per year.

These people are NUTS, I concluded. The angel on my right shoulder assumed a smug expression and stole a look at the dejected devil on the other side. I felt my Disney card breathe a sigh of relief.

But I just couldn't get over that fee. I did a little online research and found that this thing is for real, and apparently a lot of people are falling for it. Not only that, but it's not the most expensive card out there: from what I could gather, the American Express Centurion Card, with a $5,000 initiation fee and yearly dues of $2,500 is THE card to carry for the uber-rich. Good grief. I hope I'm not stepping on any of my readers' toes, but...COME ON!!!! Why in the world would anybody pay that much money to carry a charge card?

Well, it's the benefits. The Centurion Card carries with it some real benefits, including a PERSONAL concierge, upgrades on flights and rental cars, access to airport lounges, and some hotsy totsy splurges like a limousine program, private jet services, and a discount on the Tour GCX13 membership, whatever that is. I even found one site that claims the Centurion Card permits you to schedule private shopping at high end stores, such as Gucci and Neiman Marcus.

There are forums where people tout the benefits of the Centurion Card the same way I rave about couponing and Disneyworld discounts. And other forums that have people wondering if it's really worth that ridiculous price, compared to the Visa Black Card.

I got to wondering just how exclusive the Visa Black Card really is; after all, if Fred and I have been invited...well, I regret to say, but the thing just can't be THAT exclusive.

Do these people not know that we don't have a six-figure income? Do they not know that I am a lowly postal worker and Fred frequently comes home sweaty, dusty, and covered with grease? Do they care that most of our clothes come from Walmart, that the nicest place we regularly eat is Logan's Steakhouse, and the closest we've ever come to touring other countries is a one-mile trip around Epcot's World Showcase at Disneyworld? Do they know about my car, my thirteen year-old Nissan Altima with the dent in the trunk and 400,000 miles? Or Fred's $900 Sentra and pick-up truck with the cracked windshield? Have they taken a look at my jewelry, like my engagement ring - 1/16 carat, with the set bent slightly from a direct hit on the flat sorting machine at work? Are they aware that we have only basic cable, a twelve year old 19 inch tv, and a desk door held in place by duct tape and chewing gum?

Wrigley's Spearmint. It's temporary.

The requirements allegedly state that one must have a great credit score, be a US resident and in possession of a Social Security number, and be able to pay the $495 a year.

...that's it?

And then I figured up what one percent of the US population actually is: 3,000,000 people. Doesn't sound quite so exclusive now, does it?

Well, I reckon I'll have to send my regrets to the Visa Black Card people. And if y'all get one of their fancy schmancy invitations, just remember it may not necessarily elevate you to a higher class, but you're in good company - with Fred, me, and 3,000,000 more US citizens.

Fred and Ethel Go to Disneyworld


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