Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Company: We Appreciate Your Business, and Fuck You Very Much

I turned on the television this evening and received the on-screen message that our cable box was not communicating with the satellite dish, meaning no television.

The same thing happened about a week ago. I called customer service. The operator with whom I spoke via my cell phone, an electronic voice with limited voice response capabilities, had the effect of notching my humanness way, way down. DirecTV is saying, "We don't care who or what you are, if anything, or we'd provide a person to turn your TV back on." It's the equivalent of a Telephonic Finger.

"Please give your nine-digit phone number, starting with the area code," says DirecTV's electrohelper, who has all the charm of a gastroenterologist about to administer a colonoscopy. I say, "Do you have any idea how idiotic it makes me feel to repeat my phone number to my phone?"

She says, "Sorry, I didn't get that. Please say the nine digit telephone number associated with the account, starting with the area code." What, does someone really think I might give it backwards? I meekly comply, after which she says, "The number you gave was, (she repeats it numeral by numeral), is that correct? Please say, Yes, or, No."

By this time, we're about five minutes into a call to a number you worked hard to even find in order to get your fucking television to telecast, and you're no closer than when you started, except you're having a stilted, monosyllabic conversation with your telephone and you're being made to feel as inanimate as the phone, and the conversation isn't a conversation, it's something closer to a liturgy. Lord, hear our prayer. Lord, have mercy.

Voice, fix my TV.

The same catastrophe happened about a week ago. I called customer service. First, electronic Purgatory. The purported technician, when I finally reached her, told me nothing could be done, as Colorado was in the middle of a snowstorm. I told her it wasn't snowing yet, but this inconvenient factoid did not seem to compute.

I called again the next day. Same thing--service calls were shut off because of the storm. My wife called a few days later, and the tech guy walked her through a repair protocol involving actions on both ends of the conversation. "Anyone you talked to earlier could have done this," he said, getting three televisions on three floors to work. Gee, thanks. 

Tonight, it all happened again. Twenty-five minutes into the loosely-named conversation, a tech guy ropes me through yet another protocol completely different than the one my wife went through, which didn't work, and he offered to put out a service call. However, since we had elected not to buy DIrecTV's $6-per-month "Service Guarantee" or whatever the hell it's called, we were a few days past our installation warranty and the call would cost $49.99, or would we like to sign up for the Service Guarantee right now and they would graciously waive the $49.99? 

He went on to explain the benefits of the additional $5.99 per month, never once pausing to wonder how suspicious the offer looked to someone with half a brain: Oh, we declined the Service Guarantee. System Fail, just days after the warranty expiration. But if you pay $5.99 a month, THIS WILL NEVER, EVER HAPPEN AGAIN!

Isn't this called a protection racket, and haven't a few Gambinos or whatever gone down for this? Oh, I'm sorry your fucking window, which has never cracked, ever, just broke. Pay me six bucks a month and it will never happen again.

OK, I'm picking on DirecTV here, but it doesn't matter which corporation it is. If you're a customer, you're (a) so meaningless that you're only worthy enough to converse with your telephone, (b) game for being assaulted with sales pitches for stuff in which you have absolutely no interest, and (c) pretty much relegated to the slag heap once you've signed the bottom line.

The bottom line of the contracts which protects the company in case of a dispute, by the way (yeah, I read them) and fucks the customer. Don't like the part where they sell your personal information? Tough shit. Contracts are for signing, not negotiating.

And, speaking of the bottom line--have you ever read through the entire set of "Terms and Conditions" that comes with virtually anything you do? Download an iPhone update, and you have pages and pages of legalese you have to agree to sans discussion, let alone representation.

Don't like our Terms and Conditions? That's okay. This is America, after all, and we have choices if we don't like DirecTV. We can go to Dish, Comcast, Charter or whoever and be just as summarily fucked over if we prefer. Take that, Bangladesh.

Back to the precipitate issue. After, maybe, forty-six minutes of conversation, misinformation, useless information, put-on-hold and so on, the resolve is a service call five days from today--Sunday afternoon, to be exact.

Thank you DirecTV. You help make America what it is today.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Facebook Friends Pick Me Up

Facebook has become the social addiction we all love to hate, or, more to the point, hate to love, so let me give it a plug. One of my friends, on a whim, started up this group called Your Important Personal Project, exhorting folks to set aside for a moment, for an hour, for a day, for even a few minutes, their computer-realted tasks and focus on some kind of personal art project. Signers-on (Likees? Likers?) can post and receive degrees of exhortation and open themselves up to gentle accountability.

It worked for me. While most of the soon-to-become-a-page posts tends to be visual, a few of us creative writerly types are also in, although it's harder.

If you're a visual artist, you can post your Ur-work simply by saving to .jpeg or,maybe, .tiff, and upload (I don't recall what Facebook is compatible with). If prose or poetry is your gig, you kind of have to cut and paste and offer up a post that looks like a rant exchange on gun ownership.

But I still did it a couple of times. I'm working on a novel, and I've gotten to the really hard part. I'll summarize The Hard Part by saying I know where things begin, I know where they end, and I know who the people are. It's the part in the middle that's hard--keeping things interesting, remembering what happened before and after the middle. Like that.

Novel writing is not a linear progression, although the finished product makes it look like that. Once a character takes on life, you, as author, can't control what that person does, and if you do, the narrative becomes tedious, boring, or--the ultimate worst--contrived. 

When you go through the work of writing, your writing sometimes really bores the crap out of you in this middle part, and your resolve is severely tested. That you would really announce that you're writing a novel is problematic all on its own, since the mere fact of doing so is more marginal than starting up a restaurant: You mark yourself as a likely failure. Lots of people want to write a book. A tiny few actually do, and among those who do, the book, assuming it gets published, is often Meh squared.

I think most people who try to write a story, a book a memoir, whatever, has attended a "writers' seminar" or a "writers' group" or a class of some kind. I have. Lots of them, and my takeaway is that they tend to be support groups, where the members tend to whine about parents or bosses or whomever who were mean to them, and the instructor tends to make each aspirant feel that he/she has something valid in mind that really isn't the total crap the aspirant secretly thinks it is.

Writers' groups such as these have a place, but they can be (a) encouraging when none is deserved, or (b) destructive to the creative process. The why of these statements will have to wait for another post.

So, back to the Facebook group. It kicked me in the ass and made me get going. And that's enough, isn't it? I'm about ninety pages or so into a work that I kind of like, not counting the outtakes saved in other files, and I think--underscore think--it's going to get done.

And we're still asking for new members.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Quest for the Papacy: Number Nine of the Top Ten Things I'd Do

After a grueling first day, we're still in the running. Still black smoke. So, this announcement for Day Nine of my reign: I hereby announce the Doctrina Librorum Legentem, or the Doctrine of Book Reading.

Under this new rule, people who like to read will be commanded to do so during the day instead of at night, just before they drop off to sleep. Any employer who will not allow reading time will be violating church doctrine.

Editor's Note: This post was in progress before today's announcement of the election of a new pope was made, but I just figured, well, darn.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jack Johnson and Me

Disclaimer, here: I hate boxing. The only boxer I ever really liked was Mohammed Ali, and my respect and admiration had little to do with his boxing prowess. OK, I rode down an elevator in New York with him, once, but that's not it. To those of us of a certain age, and gender, Mohammed Ali was--is--a hero of iconic status, for reasons that need a separate post.

And George Foreman turned out to be cool with his grill-hawking and everything. He's so cute. And he named all seven of his kids George--even the girls.

But then there's Jack Johnson, whose Fight of the Century in Reno, NV, on July 4, 1910, altered my life, when he beat Jim Jeffries and cemented his claim to the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship. It's newsiness now, because of (yet another) movement afoot to pardon Johnson for a 1912 violation of the Mann Act, widely seen as racist because the women involved were white.

The fight was held in Reno, NV, pretty much my hometown, the place where I grew up, was married in and where my three children were born. Rootsiness. The Fight had been scheduled for San Francisco, but the governor of California nixed the event for political reasons, and it had to be moved. Nevada was an eager taker.

Reno, at the time, was a backwater's backwater. Gambling was not allowed, though it happened. The crowds flowing into town were so overwhelming that the railroad parked rail cars and charged rent for overnight guests. Jim Jeffries was termed "The Great White Hope" by none other than Jack London, something of a literary hero for me.

My father's family lived in Lakeview, OR at the time, and my grandfather, a teamster (because he drove a team, not because he was in a public employee's union) headed out for The Fight. It had to have been huge for him.

It was a seminal event because Grandpa neglected to return home. For years, as far as I know. My father told a brief story of being workless and homeless in, I think, Sacramento, when his father appeared from the shadows and bought him a steak dinner. This would have been in the early 1920's. But he (my father) would not elaborate.

How might my personal history have changed if my grandfather, who died decades before I was born, would have come home from The Fight and taken care of his family? Of course, there's no answer to this question.

But there's fun in thinking about what might have been, the memories that might have been created, the stories that might have been told.

If I Were Pope

I'm still waiting for my invite to the Papal Enclave at the Sistine Chapel. Since I decided not to renew my real estate license, I thought running for Pope would be a good fit for my skillset. I'd have to brush up on my Latin, but hey.

Anyway, today begins the Top Ten things I'd do if I were Pope.

Number Ten: Declare International Bacon Day. This suggestion came from my daughter, whose daughter status, I realize, may be challenged by these guys:

But as most anthropologists will tell you, the sharing of food is a major step to warring tribes negotiating peace. Sharing bacon with those who don't know about it and therefore hate us is a first step to peace.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

But Did They Go Dutch?

Your correspondent was pleased to learn of the intimate dinner President Obama initiated with twelve Republican senators who hate his guts. As any Anthropology 101 student will tell you, the sharing of food is critical with warring parties trying to negotiate a settlement.

To the attendees, this is how it looked. Barack, presumably, was taking the picture with his new Nikon.

But this is how it looked to the pundits.

To the rest of us, it looked like this.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Guns, Penises and Vaginas: What's Not Being Asked

What got me off on this post was the Colorado legislature and governor dealing with the issue of firearm violence reduction. They've done a really good job, actually, of getting views expressed. Are minds changed? Mine kind of is, in a nuanced way, but let's not get into that. Most people's minds are made up, inconvenient facts notwithstanding.

That said, the two most important questions are not making it into the discussion. The first: Why, in the United States of America, do so many people decide to solve their problems with mortal violence, or threat thereof? 

Far and away, the vast number of gun deaths are men whacking their girlfriends or wives, closely followed by bar or domestic disputes. When some guy gets upset with his woman, or the woman he wants to be his woman, why do guys think the problem will be solved if he shoots her? Or, if a guy gets pissed at another guy in a bar, why is the first impulse so often to shoot? 

Or road rage. Or whatever. Don't like my face? Boom goes the Glock.

I'm not hearing anyone, either in government or lay life, discuss this one.

The second issue, related, is this: Does having immediate access to a gun make an angry person do something he/she might not otherwise do? Say an angry person gets unreasonably cut off in traffic, and all he has is a a slingshot. Or nothing. What does he do vs. what-does-he-do if he has a gun?

My impulse is to suspect the answer is yes, that if he has a gun, he will behave differently than if he does not have one. But this very compelling article in The Atlantic makes me think twice.

The point isn't whether or not I'm right. The point is that no one's talking about these. And the no one talking about them is the one who will be making the law.

The part in the title about penises and vaginas? Loss leader, I guess.

And now, a word from our sponsor. Shopping for a computer? I am. I've been looking at Lenovos, for two reasons. The first is that I owned one, the world's coolest laptop, until it died after four years. The second is that I thing their new Ideapads are amazing.