417. Communication Breakdown

Image result for phone imagesIt’s a healthier option to write about one’s anger than to blow it all over the deserving others, especially when they are on the other end of a Verizon or Century Link phone. This is a modern saga of catastrophic communication. It has a back story that goes back a month or more. “Please hold. For English, press one. For Spanish, press dos.” Cheesy background music for free.

Image result for phone imagesMy wife wanted new cell phones. Not certain why, but we had outlived our previous service contract and so the deal of the day seemed pretty decent. If we bought new phones, somehow or other the monthly bill would be lowered by $20. Why it was not already lowered was a rude question that I did not ask. I know that in our capitalist economy the goal is to shake as much money as you can from the captive audience. And I realize that the competition is not really so robust as to present a truly free market.  What you say?  Consider this factoid: in Honduras every teenager I came in contact with had a cell phone, a modern one. This poor country had cell towers all around, even in the mountainous areas. Their service was fine. Here’s the rat in the apple bin:  they are unbelievably poor people, second only to Haiti. So how do they afford this modern luxury?  Simple answer is that they pay according to their meager economy’s standards not according to what we have been led to believe is the cost of doing business. Let’s see, Google tells me that the minimum wage in Honduras runs between $175-350 per month. Yet unemployed and partially employed teens have phones. How’s that work? My bill with Verizon is $126 per month for two lines. In Honduras this sort of charge is not possible to sustain. Oh, taxes and higher wages and uh, utility surcharges and 911 upcharges and the greed charge have to be added in the U.S., I guess.

Image result for router box imagesBack home I got my shiny new phone from the nerdy sales guy at Verizon and away we went, sort of. The nightmare nuclear winter of communication began that same day as Dirk the sales guy got my wife’s attention about how to save even more. (Funny thing is we were spending and spending and spending. These savings were promissory syllables on the way to technology hell.) Dirk explained incompletely that these black wonder boxes could circumvent my land lines at home and in my office, thus reducing my overall phone costs. “It’s quite simple (wrong!!!). You simply plug in the box next to your phone and dial 77. We port the phone over and there you go.” We left the Verizon affiliate store with two wonder boxes and a vague idea of what to do.

Image result for no dial tone picturesThe phones were cool, no doubt. However, we noticed in a day or two that our home internet was no longer working. Then our home landline went dead. The wonder box was not working as promised. Naturally we called Verizon and walked through the directions again. Same result. I got a bit panicked thinking that my office line and internet were next. I called Verizon to cut the order on the business line. I was assured by my new buddy Matt at Century Link that we had averted the danger and avoided disaster, however there would be a $59 charge to undo the portage that never happened. “Well,” I said, “that’s on Verizon.”

Image result for tech nerd picturesI called Alex at the Verizon store. He talked abbreviated nerdspeak and assured me that he would get CenturyLink to void the charge. “No worries.” I had lost faith in Alex by now. He had not authority, nor did his manager. Someone else in the cyber army officer corps ported the magic numbers over ether net. These guys only sold phones and broken dreams. That’s it.

“Seven to ten days,” we were told, “that’s how long it takes to port over a number, sir.” The internet-less days ground on slowly, drip, drip, drip at glacier speed.Image result for glacier speed images


‘Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?’ Joni Mitchell sang long ago. Her new verse should go, ‘Port out your number, get yourself a dead dial tone.’ That was a month ago. Over that time I thought my phone was not ringing so much, but it was the holiday season and I didn’t mind really. I knew my office internet was running, therefore the phone line was working, right?

In this case I was mistaken. Though I called my voice mail to check for messages remotely, I never thought to call my actual phone number. If I had, I would have heard, “We’re sorry, but the person at this number has not set up a voice mail account yet. Goodbye.” I cannot calculate how many phone calls I did not receive nor the many voice mails that could not be left for me. I just get angry thinking about it.

Image result for blame pictures finger pointingOnce I heard this useless message, I called Century Link to see what was up with my voice mail. I spoke to a low level customer service person who assured me that my unclear issue would be resolved by close of business that day. I called my office the next morning. Same message. It was Saturday, Christmas Eve.  On Monday the 26th I called again; explained my problem to another customer service rep and received another less vigorous reassurance that it should be good to go by the next day. Okay. Tuesday I was in my office.  I received an authoritative call from Mike at Century Link assuring me that my vague problem would be completely solved by the next morning. This morning as it turns out. I called again and heard the same message. Now I was thoroughly angry.

I called Century Link and spoke to another person. I insisted on speaking to a supervisor. I was transferred to the finance department. “Would I like to make a payment on my bill?”  “Actually, no. I’d like to bill your company for wasting my time.” Finance lady put me back in the cue. By the time Dave or Corey or Danielle or Michelle or Josiah or Truly answered, I was breathing deeply and trying to find a balance between my rage and my salvation.  I told myself not to curse them or to use heavy sarcasm. I waited and listened to the bad piano riff loop over and over again. My morning phone call to Century Link lasted 30 minutes. But wait! There’s more.  I was told that I’d be getting a call back as soon as they had news for me. By 2:30 p.m. I called back and raised some heck. “Stop the nicey nice talk. Give me a supervisor now.” Hold, ten minutes.

Image result for smart woman pictures“This is Truly, blah blah blah.”

I recounted my tale of woe for the sixth time. Being a supervisor, she had a brain instead of a script to read to me. She reassured me that the problem was on Verizon’s side. My business phone number belonged to them and needed to be ported over to CenturyLink.  [Meanwhile I’d called Comcast to port my CenturyLink number over as soon as it was returned from Verizon. Phone and internet package for less for the moment, according to Alan at Comcast.]  She encouraged me to call Verizon and have them release my number. Then she’d personally call me back in an hour.

Image result for man drowning imagesI called Verizon and spent 25 minutes on hold while Ivy or Vicki or Jeanette worked on my issue.  I insisted on a supervisor to start. After a very long hold time my Verizon lady informed me that CenturyLink had to request the number back from Verizon.  She had a brain also and managed to tell me back my tale of woe convincingly. Finally, around 4 pm I got a call from Ryan who assured me he had been working on this problem nonstop since Monday, but Verizon would not answer their port department phones. (Really Ryan?) He promised to call me back in five minutes with the way forward. It took all I had not to scream “FIX IT!!!”

Mercifully, around 4:30 I got a three way call between Ryan at CL and Mo at Verizon. We had a brief chat; those two talked nerdspeak briefly; Mo hung up; and Ryan told me it was over. I’d been on the phone over 90 minutes on my day off, trying to undo the fix that I never wanted that I had cut off a month ago, not knowing I’d been cutting off the wrong Hydra head each time. I called my office on my cell and got my own voice mail prompt at long last. Hallelujah, hallelujah. I felt like a beached whale no longer.

Image result for pinocchio washed up on beach picturesMy take away lesson for future reference is to know what you cannot know before the guy who knows nothing at all tells you all he knows and you are paralyzed in not knowingness. And then call a supervisor.


416. Joy Joy Joy!!!

Image result for christmas paintings

Happiness is one thing we all desire; it’s the great American compromise concept for property, which our founding fathers substituted as follows,  “the pursuit of happiness” for “the right to own property” at the last minute in our Declaration of Independence. It has a sexier and less materialistic ring to it. Happiness is, however, an illusion that cannot be sustained anymore than a snowflake on your fingertip can be preserved.  As soon as you get it, you begin to lose it.  So it is appropriate that we are granted the inalienable right to pursue happiness, not to attain it.

 Joy, on the other hand, is a sustainable state of the heart. It lasts in ways that include moments of happiness but supersedes happiness like jet planes supersede kids’ kites and birthday balloons. Allow me to explain further on this joyous day. If happiness is episodic bubbles which float to the surface of our lives that eventually pop open into wonderful moments, then joy is a constant photosynthetic relationship that steadily goes on and on. Happiness ends and must be pursued again and again. Joy is self sustaining.

Let me give you three examples of happiness and then three examples of joy in order to make the distinctions clear.

Image result for christmas applesHappy 1. My wife’s coworker gave her a battery operated galloping horse that lit up and played the tune you all know from cartoons, The William Tell Overture. The gift was not for my wife but our granddaughter, who was temporarily thrilled and mesmerized by the equine-amity of it all. However, like all sources of happiness, the thrill began to degenerate soon after is was unleashed. Today the horse is in the infirmary with an amputated back leg. Happily, it still plays the William Tell Overture, but, as B.B.King sang, the thrill is gone.

Happy 2. Two years ago we traded in my old white 2000 Honda CRV with 215,000 miles on it for a brand new 2015 ocean blue Honda CRV with 3 miles on its odometer. It was fascinating and fabulous to drive my cushy new car around, so quiet and sleek and modern and comfortable. Then I began to notice all the other new blue Honda CRV’s out and about. The cool factors slowly slipped into routine conveniences that depreciated over time. Now it has 26,ooo miles on it and my heart does not swell when I drive it. Truth be told, I need to have it detailed because I have not been a good car boyfriend. “The frill is gone,” as my youngest daughter Jess would have said twenty years ago.

Happy 3. The slick suit, the big screen television, the treadmill, the computer… all brought brief happiness over the past years. Now, however, they sit by idly unappreciated; used without any excitement. Not so long ago it felt glorious to chill with these things.  Now, like a broken down refrigerator, the chill is gone

Joy 1.  Last year at this same time, my daughter Grace, son in law Stu, and my only grandchild at that time burst through the front door weighed down with gifts and luggage. Darling Leah was given permission to make the Annunciation she was bursting to share, “Mommy has a baby in her tummy!” I was beyond happy. I think I fell to my knees and hugged my granddaughter as my heart soared at 30, 000 feet. Unspeakable joy began its fission in my mind/body/soul interconnections.  I felt lighter, gushing with optimism in the anticipated future. Somewhere in my memory vault this moment connected to Grace’s wedding years ago when I walked her down the aisle of Christ the King Cathedral in Atlanta as sister Jess sang an angelic version of “Ave Maria”. Gravity stopped for me that day, and it felt like I was ice skating through cream cheese. Wonderwurk. Weightless fluff. Beaming faced joy swept me up and up pas the elegantly carved ceiling.

Joy 2.  “I’m pregnant.” Four and a half years ago I heard those words over the phone and fell into my wife’s joyous arms. Our family was moving into another generation. My daughter’s marriage was fruitful. We were grandparents!! I had no idea what to expect, but the anticipation was intoxicating. Unlike a drug or alcohol it did not diminish over time.  Strangely I was the only healthy member of the East Coast family who could fly out to Arizona when little Leah came home from the hospital.  She slept on my chest for hours, so I dubbed her The Glowworm and hummed songs to her new ears.Image result for glow worm toy pictures

Joy 3. Last night Zach proposed to my youngest daughter and gave her the ring he had designed around my mother in law’s diamond. Once again my heart filled past bursting, even though I knew this moment was coming. Joy rolled in waves off of Zach and Jess, hitting each of us as we admired the beaming bride to be and her ring. No church bells rang out, but in my head a chorus of a thousand church bells pealed and chimed, resonating joy across the landscape. Once again the promise of many tomorrows breathed out deeply. Joyously I inhaled all the imagined moments that would come to fruition.

As I ponder all of these moments I am feeling the warm tug of joy pulling at my cheeks and my guts like a shot of propofol. I only had one dose of it for my colonoscopy a decade ago, but I woke up thinking I was James Brown inside Michael Jackson’s body. When the nurse asked me how I felt, I sang, “I feel good, butta butta butt butt, like I knew that I would now. I feeeel nice, like sugar and spice….” Then my wife put her hand over my mouth apologetically to cover up, “So good, soo good, I got you, bump bump bump bump!” But like all earthly based things, the propofol did not last. I went back to being a cleaned out old white guy without polyps.Image result for james brown and michael jackson together pictures

Ultimately, my good blog aficianados, joy is found in relationships that last.  And on this Christmas Eve I want to encourage you to look beyond happiness, beyond materialism, and into the Divine. Joy lives in mystery, the promise of a sustainable future, and, I believe, a ray of God’s love that infuses your heart.  Whatever you believe, I pray that you will have a blessed Christmas filled with moments of happiness and suffused with enduring joy.Image result for rays of light in space pictures

415. No Warm, No Sun, No Cry


It’s pretty simple:  if the sun is shining on your southward smiling pale face without a wind stinging your cheeks, well, that’s a good winter day in Central PA. If not, then you’re screwed. On days like today, the sky starts out as an endless limestone wall obscuring the feeble December sun that, like an old lost farmer, can’t find a break way through. Sleet pellets titter tatter on hard surfaces. You might think it’s birdseed being scattered for invisible birds since the visible ones are hunkered down for the day. Why fly through frozen bird shot if you have a choice? Then icy rain falls straight down on your head and neck, stealing precious body heat with each frigid drip. Drizzle fragments the wet world outside. “Pass the wodka, please, Feyodor. And tell me, please my longest and bestest friend, vaht is de meaning of dis meezerable life?”

The neatest neighborhoods puddle and sulk. Colors surrender to black and a thousand shades of slate. Trash bins seem like tragic refugees abandoned at the curbside. “The high for today is 39 degrees Fahrenheit”, says the turtle necked weather man, about the temperature where I like my beer. Any colder hurts my teeth. If you fell overboard into 39 degree F. beer or water, you’d be dead in minutes from hypothermia. Ironically if it were 10 degrees colder you could safely walk on that same beer or water. Tricky liquids change to solids as they yield up their heat. Humans do too. Ice mummies, anyone? They make great lawn ornaments in winter and special wolf treats in the Siberian spring.

There is no point in arguing with the weather, though. You can never win. I can, however, describe the weather in shiny whiny words. The only way I can justify such infantile verbiage is to rave about lovely days, which I do. I have tried to be fair to weather that is glorious or gloomy. My meteorological homages are not slanted either way, as long time readers of the blog will readily attest. An informal survey shows seven negative weather reports and nine positive ones. Counting this one in the whiny column brings the totals to 8 vs 9. Pretty darn close to even in the electrical college if not the popular vote. In any event the bleak calls out for bleak echoes back as if from the far off Ural Mountains.

Tom Waits is still alive, so he can sing the soundtrack for my melancholy day. “The Heart of Saturday Night” is an old favorite of mine. This year Leonard Cohen passed on to the Dead Legends of Music Hall of Fame. Leon Russell too. I’m running out of living cool old men to sing the blues, which makes the rain messier or are those tears? As I scan my Pandora shuffle, I realize most of my faves are deceased. What am I to think? Wonder what Tom Waits thinks. It’s a bloody rotten curse. Your heroes shrivel up and die. We are left with their unfinished wine and ashes. “Feyodor. More wodka.”

I read long ago that the air we breathe was once breathed by the ancient Romans and Greeks. It has simply recycled over and over again as folks die and decompose. Same with water. It’s all used. Truly there is nothing new under the sun. We just like to think we’re getting new air and water and food when in fact several molecules of the asparagus you ate last night once belonged to a mackerel’s dorsal fin. The chewy bottom end. Stuff breaks down and builds up again in new structures. That’s all. And there you are sucking coconut milk with traces of extinct triceratops through a straw that Gandhi once used. Sort of depressing if  you’re stuck inside on a rainy PA day listening to dead Blues players moaning about their special problems and difficulties. Still, it is comforting like a 12 step program can be during story time, and you realize that we are all in it together and no one gets out alive.

“What is the point, Feyodor?”


“My good friend Vladimir, no point there is. We live, we work, we drink, we die. That is all. Vanity, vanity. No more. Pass vodka back.”


“Surely, surely then, there must be some reason for our pathetic lives.”


“Nostrovia. Yes, ve live to die. No vone can die unless you have leeved. It’s de rules. Ask your voman.”


“But in between de birth and de death, Comrade, is not something like meaning, Feyodor, or purpose?”


“No, only wodka.”

“Then why we bother so with thees relentless drudgery? ”


“To keep our wives happy.”


“But they cannot be happy with such meaningless existence either, surely say so.”


“No, Vlad. Many wives enjoy vatching their husbands slowly expire in deepest misery. This gives dem purpose and a sense of beink in kontrol. So they can say, ‘See, I told you so, but you vouldn’t leesen!'”


“Dat is awful, Feyd. You are not telling me drunk joke, no?”


“No, Comrade, is truth.”


“So why do ve marry then?”


“Is simple:  marriage keeps our sodden minds off meaninglessness of our sodden lives, like de vet keeps your mind off of de cold.”


“Dat is very deep excrement, my friend. But so dark.”


“You vant breath mints instead? Go to Val Mart next to kiddie vitamins, Vlad. Maybe buy some Smurf Cough Syrup too while you are dere in pharmacy aisle.”


“How do you keep going into this pointless existence, Feyd? Tell me. Like pilot in thunderstorm.”

“Vlad, I search for finest wodka and roll in the deep Nostrovia.”

“Ah, Nostrovia, the reever of dreams!! My grandma Bebe Abuela spoke of thees mystical reever.”

“Yes. Pushkin said its vaters vere 200 proof. You could drink it or light it with match and smoke it. Like fracking vater in coal country.”

“Vell, to dystopia, my dearest comrade.”



“Life is full wodka bottle. Death is empty vone.”

“You are vise man, Feyd, but very depressing vone.”

“Yah, true. Put on the Tomas Vaits record again, Vlad.  And ve vill cruise for de heart of Saturday night, okay?”