420.To Blog or not to Blog.

 

Why do I blog?  There is no fame or fortune, no status or glory in the blog business. I have refused all pay that has not yet been offered. So why do it?  Uh, why speak to the new barrista at the coffee shop?  Let’s see– because you want to connect, maybe share some of your presence with someone else. Tenderize a brain or two. Learn something in return maybe. Though I don’t know all three of my blog followers, I’m sure they are nice folks with great tolerance and compassion. Why? Because I write some odd things in this blog, mostly for my own entertainment. My devoted followers have not cut me off yet. Maybe this will do it. However, if I’m laughing while typing, that’s usually a good sign. Furthermore, if I find just the right picture on my Google search, that’s even better.

Blogging beats billing or getting my accounts in order. You see, I write on my office computer 90% of the time. Like right now as Leon Russell sings through his nose, “There’s a slow train comin’.” It’s an enjoyable distraction after a few intense therapy sessions. Some days clients don’t show so I click on Pandora and zoom along with Van Morrison, Lou Reed, Dylan, Neil Young, or any of the 100 artists on my shuffle. Music is a big deal for me; it seems to free up ideas and help my stream of consciousness flow. Good therapy needs good therapy, I think. Otherwise the therapist blows. Blogging is one of my coping strategies that ease my blood pressure and stress. I’m not a fan of stress though I willingly engage it daily. Therefore, I need an outlet after ferrying anxious folks across troubled waters.

It used to be running a few miles back when I was young enough to absorb all that pounding. Nowadays my back and hips cry out in protest to jogging. I still hunt groundhogs for fun in the warmer months. Cold-blooded murder of vermin, so it is. And I enjoy it. Every so often I will draw or paint something, usually in watercolors. Chess, too, is a beloved activity when I can find a willing and capable partner. These are all healthy distractions and stress relievers. We can all use more distractions these days, don’t you agree?

The new administration is whirling forward in a dizzying blur. Not sure how things are going to play out. I do find it fascinating and terrifying how the media have been demonized. Sure, some are prima donnas, but the biggest prima donna of all is the Prima Donald.  And sure, he is being demonized as well. There has never been another Prima Donald to my recollection. His panties are in a wad over the silliest and vainest items. Don, buddy, you won. It’s true. Why the conspiracy theory to suggest that not dozens, or scores, hundreds or thousands voted illegally for someone else. No, for a man of your stature, the fraud must be millions. And those millions must be illegal, brown, unwashed criminals loaded down with diseases, eager to rape white women.

If you have ever talked to someone who is delusional, you will find that the delusions are never mundane, garden variety issues. If someone is stalking them or tapping their phone, it can’t be a local marketer or traffic cop or a disgruntled neighbor. Nope. That’s just not good enough. Delusions of persecution need to be big– the Mafia, the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, Interpol,  or the KGB. It doesn’t sound fierce enough if the delusionoid says, “The PTA are after me.” Or NASA. Or AARP. Or the SPCA.  These latter acronyms lack the dramatic serrated edge of the former referents. Go big, my schizophrenic friends, or don’t go at all.

So, why would a sane man want to entertain a conspiracy that undercuts the system that just elected him president? I can only speculate. The Donald has been a magician over the past two years. He has managed to toss firebombs  left, right and center that distract the public and media from his last firebombs. He’s good at this sleight of mouth. But even the Donald has to step back in awe of the verbal tornado woodpecker that is Kellyanne Conway. She is masterful at deflection and redirecting any narrative. She spews more cooked noodles than any Chinese restaurant ever could while breathing through her ears.  Please, folks, you were legally elected by the system . Believe it. No need to gild the outcome into something of an intergalactic victory of our species over the Death Star of the Leftist/ Media/ Demoproglibs.  Act like you believe in the outcome. It is impressive and historic. Stop talking like the prom king is a drag queen who needs an alibi. The new truth in our post factual world is that she looks fabulous, and that’s all that matters.

Oh, oh, oh. But controlling the truth is not the same thing as seeking and speaking truth. Whether that truth is your promised tax returns or climate change; emoluments or fraudulent universities; seeing jihadi Muslims dancing in Jersey City or millions of worshipful audience members on the national mall; there are ways of determining the truth via an abundance of proof. We do this in court and in science labs. But in the big stage of what was once known as news, our anchors, experts, and talking heads allow greasy soundbites to pose as truths. What results is a  paranoid environment of mythical beliefs and alternative facts. Hocus pocus hoaxes.

Instead of seeking and speaking truth, our society seems to have become allergic to truth. We break out in partisan rages rather than calmly putting forth the known relevant facts. So many tricks are used to move the tone over the substance. Today’s soundbite is that 3 million illegals voted not for Trump. Unidentified polling places all over this country were fooled three million times. And the evidence is… missing.

What will next week bring, I wonder? A new Sharknado that Kellyanne will explain away.

*** Please take a moment to rate this post. Thanks for reading.

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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.

 

393. Blues, Stay Away from me

Doug Sahm on the Victrola, well, Pandora on my laptop, but I like the old timey sound of the former technology. Long, long ago I recall hearing Doug sing “Is Anyone Goin to San Antone?” on an FM station, back in the day when FM meant more cool and less commercial. I liked his sound then when I was 16 or so. It fit with Dylan and the Dead. I bought his album Doug Sahm and Band, and lo and behold there’s Dylan and David Bromberg, and many other performers I admired all jamming together. They all knew Doug. I liked that they liked one another. It was a fraternity without Greek letters, hazing or keg parties… just good tunes.

But the point of this post is not fraternal good will nor the Blues; it is instead as old as the first book of the Bible…envy. Joel the intrepid lawyer of Coffee Nation is in Europe this week and next on a musical riverboat cruise. Not the Blues, mind you, unless you count The Blue Danube. No, he is cruising along the Czech waterways from Prague through thousands of sleepy waterfront towns whose names I am afraid to pronounce, following a very urbane schedule of classical music and gourmet food and drink along the way. He’s expecting Smetana, Dvorak and Mahler, champagne, prawns and caviar, but wait…

“Viking cruises?” I inquired.

“No, actually it’s another line that is smaller and caters to the boutique crowd, such as myself, who require the finer things in life. The ratio of guides to passengers is 4 to 1.”

“That’s amazing, Joel. So if your boat has 50 passengers, then you must have 200 staff, is that right?”

“Oh heaven’s no! I mean 1 to 4. Good Lord, we’d sink with your numbers.”

“Now I understand Viking uses drones and border collies to direct their passengers around Europe. It’s a big cost saver.”

“Well, I think you are exaggerating as usual. In any event I’ll be missing from Coffee Nation for the next two weeks. (Long silent pause.) What? No good byes? Not a single hug?”

“You are dead to me, Consiglieri. Go. Do what you must.”

Joel slinked away from the coffee shop like Judas on his way to the High Priest. (Well, that last sentence was for an overly dramatic effect and not in any way to be taken as truth.) He actually walked out like a man in suede Hush Puppies going on a wonderful vacation of a lifetime.

What he did not know was that I had managed to hack his email account with Par Excellence Euro Cruise Lines, PEECL, to switch him over to a competitor shuttler of schmucks, Angry Huns Adventures, AHA. It’s run by former members of Monte Python’s Flying Circus who create a lifelike atmosphere of pirate slave ships for the bored traveler who has seen it all. Milquetoast Masochists Magazine gave it five stars. Once the guests register they are taken into custody on false charges and shackled to an oar below the deck of an old R0man warship. It’s so real that often satisfied passengers rave that it is almost too real when their hands begin to blister and they must eat rancid food and contend with real river rats. Oh it’s great pistachio flavored panache for the discerning palette.

I can picture it now as a long black car meets Joel at the Vaclav Havel Airport.Image result for russian mafia driver pictures

“You are Joel, yes?”

“Why, yes, I am. And I am very eager to begin my all inclusive musical river tour of the Danube. It’s so exciting for a sousaphile such as myself. Do you play an instrument, Boris?”

“Shut up and get in car, Meester Viseguy.”

“But, but, there must be some mistake. I, I, uh, no need to be so hasty and rude, Big Fella. Hey, I paid a lot of money for this suit. Give me back my Panama hat!”

Once inside the shuttle limo, he is blindfolded and handcuffed. His human rights and all hope checked with his bags in the trunk for the next two weeks. Behind a double layer of duct tape he buzzes harmlessly to himself, “I am a United States citizen, a veteran and a lawyer. I know my rights.” But it’s only so much buzzing in the back seat of the newish Moskvich as Boris weaves into downtown traffic and finds the Lugubrious Lady Star just about to cast off from the ancient quay.

Bound hand and foot, taped lip to earlobe, Joel had to hop like Lowly Worm onto the Death Ship, Lugubrious Lady Star, flying the black and gold flag of the Angry Huns Adventures. He was forced under the deck into the dim and desperate galley of 47 other would be passengers; given the number 34; and henceforth ceased to be Joel.

All the other 47 wild eyed passengers were likewise duct taped and shackled to an oar. Clearly he needed to get to the U.S. embassy and file a complaint. He had to call his VISA platinum card representative and stop all payments. He had to find his way back to America and Coffee Nation. “Crack” snapped a moist leather whip expertly wielded by a large woman named Varushka in a forest green KGB outfit, short skirt and tall black boots.  Blood red lipstick outlined her snarling words.

“Comrades, you vill row or you vill taste the vip.”

Joel struggled to raise his hand.

“Number 34, you have question? Untape his disgusting capitalist mouth, Viktor.”

“Ouch. You don’t need to be so rough. Madam, I believe there has been some sort of mistake. I booked a musical tour of the Danube with Par Excellence Euro Cruise Lines and I think I’ve been somehow mistakenly placed on your loading list. Now, I’m sure it’s just a paperwork oversight… and what is a ‘vip’?”

“Silence, maggot. Ve make no mistakes. You vere mistake not ve. Viktor, tape again.”

The hopelessness was heavy  in the humid air below deck as 48 shackled prisoners began to row in unison. Viktor beat time on a conga drum.

Varushka called out the speeds, “Cruising speed, Viktor.” As Viktor pounded out the rhythm, Varushka cracked her whip above the shackled prisoners’ heads. “You vill keep the beat or else be the beat. Capichenakov?” she threatened.  As the old wooden ship creaked and shuddered against the river’s current, a strange music blared on the deck above. Joel thought he was hallucinating at first, then he realized he’d heard this song before. It was AC/DC singing “Highway to Hell”.

“Oh dear God, kill me now”, he buzzed into the back of the duct tape. “This must be the cruise ship on the River Styx. I should have stayed at Coffee Nation.”

–to be continued.