WE, THE PARTY OF THE FIRST PART…
If there is one form of writing that outshines the obscurity of academic writing, it is the legal document. Unfortunately, legal documents are everywhere. One can’t open a page on the Internet without being required to accept one contract or another. Worse are long term service agreements like the one I received in the mail a few days ago.
As I live alone, I’d decided to explore one of those home security services and called their 800 number for a copy of the sales agreement. When it arrived, I could make neither heads nor tails of it, so I called the company for clarification. Jack, the salesman who’d sent me the material, wasn’t working that day but a young saleswoman, eager for a commission, assured me she could answer my questions. As I had no real allegiance to Jack, I decided to give her a try.
”Okay,” I began, ”what does section XIII mean when it says…” I read off the gobbledygook and waited. The silence that greeted me was troubling. Was she thinking? Had I been disconnected? Or had she collapsed in frustration? I hurried on. “You see section XX seems to contradict section XIII, so that’s why I’m calling.” I read that portion of the contract without a pause, hoping that by the time I’d finished there’d be the sound of a heartbeat at least. I heard nothing.
I decided to take pity on the girl, whoever she was. For all I knew, she might by writhing on the floor in agony. “It is confusing, isn’t it?” I mewed. “Perhaps you should transfer me to the legal department and allow them to explain.”
My request was met with a soulful whine. “I don’t think we have a legal department.”
“No? I replied, doubtfully. “But somebody wrote this document? Couldn’t you transfer me to that person?”
By now the voice that answered sounded strangled, as if each word had to escape through water. “I wish I could but I don’t know who that would be.”
By now my own voice sounded edgy. “You mean you can think of no one who can explain this document? Surely, there must be one person.”
This time her reply was swift. “Oh yes, Miss Miller. I think there is.”
“I think you should talk to Jack.”