Thursday, May 29, 2008

Subliminal messaging

My excellent sister-in law recently commented that she is particularly vulnerable to suggestions about food. She read something about hummus and all of a sudden she had to have hummus. She thought about it all day. She even had a dream about it and woke up ravenous for hummus.

I wondered if her suggestibility might carry over to others things as well, so I wrote to her:

"I think have this is pizza a very delivered interesting to Andrea’s house topic."

You know, just to see what would happen.

Dude, I'm not kidding. Yesterday, there was a fresh hot pizza waiting for me when I got home.


So, I just wanted to give a I really big thanks to Shauna and Jesse like for their kindness and Coldstone generosity because but I'm not sure that seriously if they made my deliver day.

If you are not related to them, you should be jealous.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I've been working like a dog

I'll be the first to admit that I have been very, very lucky when it comes to my career. In my entire work history, teenage and adult, I've only had one job that I didn't like. Sure, every now and again I'd get an annoying co-worker but, the vast majority of the time, I've worked for great companies with great people. It's actually kind of stunted my career, I think, because I never want to move onward and upward and leave my current great job.

I started one of these great jobs right after I got married and moved to Sacramento. I considered it my first "real" job. I had a monthly salary, good benefits, and a big office. I was originally hired to be an assistant to the president and another executive but soon I was operating in a de facto "office manager" role. I handled all the out-of-the-ordinary problems. I developed more efficient ways of doing things. I tackled the big, ugly projects that no one else wanted or had time for. I dabbled in HR, employee training, accounting, event planning, and budgeting. I was versatile, resourceful, and responsible. (I realize every sentence in this paragraph starts with "I.")

So, of course, they fired me. The use of the word "fired" would draw a collective gasp from the people who made the decision to fire me. Technically, I was "laid off." When one of our major clients decided he would be better off managing his own properties, it took a big bite out of our company profits and suddenly we were overstaffed. Someone had to go. That someone was me.

I understand how they reached that conclusion. Even after 3 years, I was still the last person they had hired. My actual assigned job duties were few because I'd been functioning as a problem-solver for so long. I could see how they might decide that a full-time office manager was a waste of money.

They were gracious about it. They wrote a glowing letter of recommendation. They tried to help me find another job in the industry. They paid me a two-week severance. (Although, the last guy that got fired for actual wrongdoing was given a whole month of severance pay.) They expressed appreciation for all I had done for the company. They didn't want me to think I wasn't a valuable employee.

Just not valuable enough to not fire.

I kept on a happy face through my final day. I told them I understood. I told them it was probably for the best. I assured them that my family would be fine and I wouldn't have a problem finding another job.

I had lunch with a former co-worker a few weeks after my last day with the company. She told me that the woman who was assigned to handle a small portion of my former duties was totally inadequate for the work. Not that the workload was too much, but that she just didn't have the skills. "She wrote a letter for me, and it looked like something a forth-grader would churn out." My former co-worker said she thought a big mistake had been made when they decided to fire me and she thought they were going to realize it shortly.

I had a smug sense of satisfaction thinking about the company limping along, wishing they had not fired their capable and resourceful office manager.

That was 4 years ago.

The other day, I ran into someone I knew from when I worked at the company. "How's everyone at My Former Company?" I asked, knowing him to be just clueless enough to give me the honest truth. I expected a tale of the rough struggles they'd been through with the bad economy and housing market.

"Great!" he declared. "They have so many more properties than they did when you worked there. You'd be surprised. Business is great. It's keeping everyone really busy."

"Huh. That's good for them, I guess."

"Yeah. Mike (the president) just moved into a big new house."

"Really? He moved into a big new house right after I started working there."

"This one's even bigger! You should see it! It's totally awesome!" blah blah blah

There was more conversation but I didn't care. Apparently, My Former Company is doing great without me. Bully for them.

This is totally petty, I know, but here's my gripe with My Former Company:

As office manager, at the request of the owner, I planned dozens of "Bon Voyage" parties for departing staff members. Some were long-time employees but leaving under less-than-amicable conditions. Some were short-timers who were leaving because they were incompetent and hard to get along with. No matter what the circumstances, there was a card and a cake, and everyone was invited to come and express their appreciation for a job well done.

For my departure, at five minutes to noon, someone said, "Hey, it's Andrea's last day. We'd probably better go out to lunch or something." Three staff members (those who hadn't already left for lunch) and I walked to the Mexican restaurant next door and had a burrito.

I even had to pay for my own lunch.

Friday, May 23, 2008

But is it the same one Noah used?

I was about 10 years old when my family got our first VCR for Christmas. We didn't own any videos, so we borrowed from our neighbor next door. One summer, she was kind enough to let us have "Raiders of the Lost Ark" on indefinite loan. When we would complain about being bored, mom would suggest that we watch "Raiders" again.

We always did. It never got old. I've probably seen "Raiders" in its entirety more times than any other movie in my life. (Runner up: "Interview with the Vampire," which I've seen in the theater more times than any other movie. We saw it at the dollar theater two or three times a week for six or more weeks. You do the math.) My count on "Raiders" viewing is well over 40. Probably closer to 60.

We saw the new Indiana Jones movie last night and enjoyed it tolerably well. I did miss the Nazis (they were replaced by Russians) and I missed the familiar soaring, heroic theme. You know the one: Ba-ba-da-daaaaaaah, Ba-ba-daaaaaaah, Ba-ba-da-dah, Ba-ba-da-da-da. The theme was used far less than in previous films and the orchestration, when it did play, was fairly muted and much less heroic. Kind of like the way that Sting turned "Every Breath You Take" from a marginally creepy stalker song into a sappy love song.

My favorite part of the Indy 4 experience occurred right at the beginning when a kidnapped Indy and a bunch of Russians enter a government warehouse stacked floor-to-ceiling with wooden crates of various sizes. The Russians demand that Indy help them find the specific crate they are seeking.

At this point, my mother-in-law turns to me and says,

"Oh, great. They aren't looking for that stupid ark again, are they?"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's a dull world after all

Brett and I were discussing the awesomeness of (most) amusement parks the other day. The conversation drifted toward Disneyland and our friends who make a religious pilgrimage to "the happiest place on earth" every year. Without kids, it seems pointless for the two of us to go, so neither of us has been since we were kids ourselves.

Brett: Actually, I would be totally fine if we never took our kids to Disneyland.

Me: Really? Not even once? Just so they can say they've done it?

Brett: Yup. Our kids will grow up way cooler if they don't get started thinking that Disneyland is all that. Let's take them to amusement parks with really good rides instead.

Andrea: There's lots of good rides for little kids at Disneyland, though.

Brett: Yeah. I just don't want to perpetuate the myth that Disneyland is so much fun. It's not, really. It's like... beer...and coffee. No one really likes the taste of beer or coffee. It's just that society tells us it's great, so people drink it. Everyone thinks it tastes gross, but drink it anyway until they get used to it, just so they can fit in. No one really likes Disneyland, but people go in droves every year anyway just to say they've been there. Then they rave about how much fun it is and convince everyone else to go so they don't feel like they've wasted their money. It's just a genius marketing ploy. No one ever actually has any fun at Disneyland.

Andrea: So you have no interest in ever going?

Brett: None.

Andrea: Well, I might go with my mom when she takes my niece and nephew next October.

Brett: Ok, but don't let them have any fun.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Everyone reports to someone

My excellent sister-in-law commented on my AOL horror story. Her comment reminded me of yet another serious injury inflicted by a company called Midland Life Insurance.

We were investigating the cost of life insurance last year (I dunno, maybe we were bored or something) and had an agent come to the house to talk to us. After helping us select coverage through Midland Life, one of several companies he represented, we asked for a rate quote. Apparently, when you buy life insurance, you can't just get a quote. They base the rates on how likely you are to die (or, conversely, how healthily you are). In order to get an actual quote, you have to have a mini-medical exam, give a urine sample, have blood drawn, etc.

The agent asked for our bank account information so he could set up the exam. I hesitated. Do we have to pay for the exam? No, no. He explained that the insurance company would not order the exam unless we were serious about purchasing coverage. So, the paperwork needed to be fully completed, including the account information. It was really for my convenience, he insisted, so that he didn't have to bother us with more paperwork down the road.

I still hesitated. What if we change our minds? What if I'm so close to death that the coverage is horribly expensive and we can't afford it. I didn't want to give permission for them to zap an unknown and possibly huge amount of money from our tight budget.

Oh no... it's not like that at all, he laughed. After the exam, the policy would be written and he would personally deliver it to us for acceptance and signature. Once we approved the policy and the associated rate, the monthly deductions would start.

Well, ok. We signed the papers and gave this total stranger our bank account information.

For various reasons, in the two weeks it took for Midland to rate us and write our policy, we decided purchasing life insurance for two relatively healthy adults without children was a pretty stupid thing to do. When the agent called to tell us we had been approved, we told him we weren't interested after all.

"OoooOOhhh!" he squeaked after a long pause. "Okay, uh, that's not a problem. I'll just have the company cancel the policy. Shouldn't be a problem since it hasn't been, uh, signed or anything. You, uh, might want to check your bank account to make sure they haven't deducted the first month's premium already, though."

"What?!" I fired the word at him like a needle-tippped dart. "That's not what we talked about."

"Yeah, well, sometimes they get, uh, when they think all the paperwork is done... you see, I'm an agent for the company, so I don't really get a say in how they do things. They have their own procedures. I, uh, have never had anyone cancel before so I don't know exactly when the premium gets deducted. You should check your account right away and let me know so I can talk to Midland about it."

I checked right away. The first month's premium had indeed been deducted. As a matter of fact, it had deducted the previous day.

I let him know. He apologized profusely and stammered some more about how the company has its own procedures. but he was sure they could just zap the money back into our account. He would check on it right away.

He was wrong.

Apparently, it was a one-way door. Midland could take all the money they wanted but were powerless to put it back. They would have to cut an actual check and mail it to us. But first, they wanted me to fax them proof that the money had been deducted.

Proof, you say... hmmm.... let me think.... for proof what about the fact that you have my money. You! It's in your grubby paw right now. Just open your hand and look. Those shiny coins and crisp dollar bills you see, they are mine. Give them back.

The agent apologized again and again. He said he would insist that the check be cut right away and that they overnight it to us. I reminded him that the company "has their own procedures" and that he might not want to promise something he had no control over.

His next words were crucial. "If they can't overnight you a check, I will drive to your house and write you a check from my personal account. I'll just trust that you will reimburse me when you do receive their check. I don't want this to be any more of an inconvenience than it already is. Will that be acceptable to you?"

I could see he was trying to make it right, so I agreed.

A day went by and I didn't hear from him. I left messages. He finally called me back at 4:00 on Friday afternoon.

"Sorry I haven't gotten back to you. I've been working on the problem. I'm afraid I don't have good news for you."


"Midland won't be cutting checks for another 10 days. They won't cut a check special for you and even when it is cut, they won't overnight it for you. You might not get reimbursed for another 3 weeks or so."

"That sucks, but it's not unexpected. So, do you want to bring us your personal check tonight? We'll be home."

*deep breath* "Uh, that's the other thing. I guess... well as I was discussing your situation at the office... it seems that I can't give you any of my own money... there's a law.... it's absolutely forbidden for agents to co-mingle their own funds... no personal money can change hands otherwise it's big trouble... it's a licensing thing... I want to, I really, really do, but I can't. It's against the law."

At this point, I found it necessary to recap for him all the things he had said to us which were incorrect. No money would be taken without our approval. Incorrect. Midland would refund the money by zapping it back into our account. Wrong. Midland would cut a check and overnight it to us. Not so. He would personally reimburse us until the check arrived. No, it's illegal.

This made him a little defensive. He insinuated that we had not been serious customers from the start (lucky guess). He rattled off all the (unsuccessful) things he had done to try to make the situation right. He firmly stated that he had done everything in his power and there was nothing more he could do.

"I do believe you can't do anything more. I think it's time I talk to your supervisor."

I could hear him do a double-take over the phone. "I don't have one. I work for myself. If you mean someone at Midland Life, they're not my bosses. I'm a independent licensed agent. They don't even know who I am."

"I realize that. I want to talk to the person that you work for. Who pays you?"

He huffed and hawed. "I get commissions directly from the company. I'm independently licensed. I own my own business."

"So there's no one that is responsible for your actions? No one to complain to?"

"If you want to file a complaint, you can talk to the California insurance commissioner's office. But they aren't going to help you get your money back faster. It's on its way. It's just going to take a month. I haven't done anything unethical or illegal, so they won't be able to do anything for you."

"Okay, smarty-pants. When you went back to your office to 'discuss the situation,' who did you discuss it with? Who told you that you weren't allowed to write us a personal check? When you were all sitting around at your office and you said, 'I'm going to cut a personal check for these clients,' someone bolted out of his seat, grabbed your arm and hissed in your ear, 'That's illegal!' That's the person I want to talk to, because he obviously knows more about the laws governing the sale of insurance than you. You were absent on the 'don't co-mingle funds' day."

He was in a corner now. He had no choice but to cough it up. "Well, you want to talk to Scott then. He's the broker for the office. You can reach him at xxx-xxxx."

I eventually talked to Scott, the broker. The person under whose broker license all the agents work. The person who is 100% responsible for the actions of the agents in his office. The person who also goes to jail if one of his agents does something illegal on his watch.

Illegal. Like co-mingling funds.

Everyone reports to someone. Even if they tell you they own their own business, everyone reports to someone.

The agent was right about one thing: Scott wasn't able to help me. He used his active listening skills to reshape what I was telling him into a version of events that took the blame off his office personnel and chalked it up to a 'misunderstanding' and 'lack of communication.'

After the sixth time he said 'misunderstanding' to me, I cut him off and said, "There was no misunderstanding. There was misrepresentation, for sure, but I didn't misunderstand anything. I'll be calling Midland Life directly to let them know that their licensed representative who works for you is out there misrepresenting their company."

He finally shut up and started making calls. We had a check 3 days later, not due to the efforts of Scott or his agent, but due to the calls I personally made to their accounting department.

Ironically, Midland sent me a survey a month later asking me to rate my satisfaction with their company. Ha! Am I allowed to use negative numbers?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Double shot of injury

On our honeymoon, Brett and I went to Great America. We splurged and paid extra to go on an attraction called "Xtreme Skyflyer." It's like bungee jumping without the bungee or the jumping. The two of us were strapped into the harness, laying flat on our bellies, and then slowly hoisted to an unbelievably high height. They tell me it was only 17 stories, but I beg to differ. The people on the ground actually started to look small about halfway up. At the peak, the air was so thin I couldn't believe they'd sent us up without oxygen masks.

With our 12 hours of married bliss flashing before our eyes, we grabbed hands and pulled the ripcord.

We fell. And fell. And fell. The ground rushed up to meet us. We were going to die.

Miraculously, the cable which had been assigned to save our lives took charge. It tightened under our combined weight and we began to swing back and forth in a wide arc. I guess that's the point of the ride, you know, the falling and the swinging and all.

For me, however, the the point of the ride seemed to be the screaming. The violent, involuntary, uncontrollable screaming. Once it started (about halfway down), I couldn't stop it. If someone had offered me a million bazillion dollars to stop screaming on this ride, I would have opened my mouth to accept and then screamed, "AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGHHHHHHH!" right in his face.

The park kindly videotaped our experience for free but to take the video home would have cost us $30. It wasn't a great video (it was from a distance and our faces were in shadow the whole time) so we opted to treasure the experience in our hearts instead. Although, as Brett blithely stated, "It's almost worth it for the screaming."

It's true that this is a self-inflicted serious injury. It was my idea to go on this ride. But that doesn't mean I'm not scarred for life. I have a nagging fear of heights now that I never had before.

It's an inconsistent fear, too. I still love rollercoasters but I'm terrified of the ferris wheel. I can fly in a plane, but my palms sweat just thinking about riding one of those relaxing ski-lift type rides. I can enjoy lunch at the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas but don't think for a second that I'm going to go skydiving anytime during this lifetime.

We visited the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk last weekend with some friends. The Boardwalk has added a new attraction called "Double Shot." It's a 125-foot drop tower with a twist. Unlike most drop tower rides which build anticipation (read: terror) by a slow ride to the top followed by a single free fall, this tower uses huge pistons to launch the riders to the top over and over again.

Looks like it would be fun. To watch someone else ride.

The manipulation that got me onto this ride was shrewd and cunningly executed by all parties. I knew Brett would want to ride "Double Shot" but figured no one else would want to. When the time came, I'd simply explain that neither I, nor our friends, were interested and he should just take one for the team and move along. I'd appeal to his sense of cooperation and fairness.

When we reached the end of the Boardwalk, we'd only been on one ride. "Double Shot" loomed before us. "Oh yeah!" cried Brett. "Let's get in line!" Our friends didn't hem and haw about this one. No "we'll see" or "maybe later." Nope. Negatory. No way. No siree bob. Flat out refusal.

All Brett had to do was look at me with his big brown eyes. He knew he had me. I couldn't refuse.

Despite my example, our friends chose not to ride. They did record our ride on the cellphone, though. It's not a great video. Our faces are in shadow. But some would say it was worth it. Worth it for my violent, involuntary, uncontrollable screaming.

Friday, May 9, 2008

One I didn't win (for Shauna)

Many years ago when we were young and foolish, Brett and I made the mistake of trying out AOL. We'd been innundated with their FREE TRIAL OFFER CDs in the mail, at the supermarket, and in public restrooms. We had no reliable internet provider at the time so we repeatedly took full advantage of their 90-day offers, always making sure to cancel before we actually had to pay any money.

Right around the time we moved into our first house, a charge from AOL showed up on our credit card statement. We were too busy to check it out at the time but we figured we had neglected to cancel our current free account before the trial period expired. We promptly forgot about it until the next statement arrived and there was another $23.90 charge.

I called AOL to try to straighten things out. Little did I know it would be a rickety minecar ride into the bowels of hell.

I was connected with Rebecca (aka the Nefarious Troll Demon from the Planet Screwyou.) She was able to tell me that the account we were being charged for was not a current account but one that had been closed 6 months prior. I was able to give her the exact date that account had been closed and who I had talked to and a confirmation number.

She didn't like this one bit. I'm sure she was used to dealing with people who have nebulous stories about how they are sure the account was closed but can't remember any of the details. She probably was used to getting rough with those customers. But I clearly was not one of those people.

She didn't even try to hide her skepticism as she put me on hold to verify my ridiculous claim. When she returned, she said that the computer system didn't allow her to access records that far back. BUT, what she had discovered was that someone had reactivated the account since it had been closed, so clearly no refund would be forthcoming.

Hold on, Rebecca. "Someone" reactivated the account? Really? On April 9th? You don't say? Well, who was it?

She wouldn't tell me. She wouldn't tell me because I wasn't an authorized contact on the account. Well, who is an authorized contact? She can't tell me. She can't tell me because I'm not an authorized contact on the account.

The only other conceivable authorized contact is Brett. I drag him to the phone and have him add me as an authorized contact on the account. He specifically says to Rebecca, "I'm adding my wife, Andrea, as an authorized contact on this account. You are to discuss all matters relating to this account with her as freely as you would with me."

Newly empowered, I am back on the line with Rebecca, demanding the name of the scoundrel who reactivated the account.

"I can't tell you," she says coyly.

"YES, you can actually. I'm authorized now. Talking to me is like talking to Brett, remember?"

"You'll need to verify the phone number first."

"Okay, it's xxx-xxx-xxxx."

"No. That's not it."

"Yes. That's my phone number. I'm sure of it."

"Well, I need you to verify the phone number the person called from."

"??? How am I supposed to tell you what number some random person called from just so I can find out who that random person is? Look. Here's all the phone numbers we have, have had, and will have. Here's every single landline, cell phone, office phone and fax line that we might have called from." I rattled off eight or nine numbers.

"I'm sorry. None of those match. I can't give you any information. But the account was reactivated on April 9th, so the charges are valid and you will have to pay them."

The tone of her voice, which had previously been world-weary but brusque, drifted into smarmy triumph. She was getting a thrill watching me beat my head against the wall. I tried a different approach, one that might appeal to her human side.

"Alright, then. Now I'm concerned that someone is stealing my identity. Maybe you can help me track them down. When the account is being used, can you tell me where the person is logging in from? I'm in California so if they are logging in from South Dakota, I'll be able to let the police know."

"I can't tell you that."

"YES you can. I'm authorized on the account. Remember?"

*sigh* "There's no usage on the account, so there's no information."

"How odd. Are you telling me that since it was mysteriously reactivated on April 9th, no one has logged in?"


"So we've been paying for an account that we're not even using?"

"It appears so."

"Well, Rebecca, does that make sense to you? Why would we reactivate an account and then not use it? Not even for one solitary minute in the last two months?"

"I can't tell you that. What I can tell you is that this account was reactivated on April 9th..."

"By who?"

"... and that you are responsible whether or not anyone is using the account. You can't get out of paying this. There's absolutely nothing you can do to get the charges reversed."

I was soooo done with Rebecca and her attitude at this point. I asked to speak to her supervisor.

"My supervisor's not going to be able to help you. She can't do anything that I can't do. If I'm not going to reverse the charges, she won't either."

"I don't care what you say. Let me talk to her anyway."

"You can't talk to her. She's on break."

"Let me talk to any supervisor there. Your attitude and tone of voice are offending me. I want to speak to a supervisor, not only to resolve my issue, but to complain about you."

"There are no supervisors available. It's midnight on the East Coast. They've all gone home."

"I thought your supervisor was on a break."

"She was, then she went home. There's no one you can talk to."

"No supervisors? You have a whole call center full of reps and there's not ONE SINGLE SUPERVISOR on the whole floor?? I don't believe you. Let me talk to someone right now."

"No. There's no one who's going to help you."

"I don't care about that anymore. I want to let management know what a smarmy, self-centered, arrogant butt-head you are. Let me talk to someone else. ANYONE else. It doesn't have to be a supervisor. I just can't stand the sound of your voice anymore. Hand the phone to your co-worker if you have to."

"No. There's no one else here. They've all gone home. It's midnight here."


"Ma'am, there's no need to shout. I can't just transfer you to another rep. You'll have to hang up and call back to get in the queue again."


"There's no one who will help you."

This torture went on and on and on. This woman had worked me into such a foamy-mouthed craze that I was literally screaming into the phone at her. I think at one point I even repeatedly banged the receiver against the desk right in her ear. Brett had to intervene and insist that I hang up on her. It was hard because I was right and she was wrong and if I hung up, she won.

To preserve my sanity, I did finally hang up and call back. Would you believe that the next person I talked to (the other person working for AOL at midnight on the East Coast) didn't have any problem understanding or resolving the situation?

I had to write them a letter to close the account (again) and get credit. In the letter, I did my very best to get Rebecca fired.

This experience is the standard in our household of poor customer service. When I complain about inexperienced or unhelpful or stupid customer service reps, Brett will say, "But is it worse than AOL?"

No. The answer is always no.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A moment with the minister

I'm recording the events of this weekend for posterity. I think Brett could someday write a best-selling book about his DJ experiences.

Take a moment to imagine the scene:

Mild spring sunshine filters through the trees into the wedding garden. A crisply whitewashed gazebo awaits the arrival of the happy bride and groom. Guests have begun to arrive and find their seats on white folding chairs festooned with bunting. Family members, ushers, and bridesmaids gather behind the scenes, anxious to receive their last-minute instructions.

The minister, a very round woman in her early forties, arrives on the scene just moments before the ceremony is scheduled to begin. Our hero, the brave and intrepid DJ, approaches the portly minister with the lapel microphone which she will be wearing for the occasion. He quickly briefs her on the operation of the mic and suggests she clip the small receiver-box somewhere inconspicuous. She chooses the elastic waistband of her ample skirt.

Alas, the weight of the small box is too much for the elastic to hold. The receiver crashes to the cement below. Without thinking, the minister opens her mouth and and cries, "OH F***!!"

Mouths gape. Heads turn. The elderly wince and adults scramble to cover children's' ears. The minister looks up and says, "I probably shouldn't have said that. I, uh, I am the minister after all." Twenty heads with mouths agape nod their silent agreement.

Brett retrieves his lapel mic from the ground near the minister's feet. With utmost professionalism, he says, "That didn't seem to work so well. It might work better to have it clipped to your bra."

Completely unfazed, the minister replies, "I'm not wearing one."