Saturday, March 30, 2013

Helpfully Unhelpfull

After eight years of faithful service, the motherboard on our home computer finally bought the farm. This placed me in the position of purchasing a dependable (yet cost-effective) replacement. Based on past experience with their desktop hardware, I selected Dell and had been perusing their website for several minutes when a small pop-up asked if I would like to chat with Dell employee. I was connected to April, who was undoubtedly a 55 year-old male inmate at a state penitentiary, but who nevertheless proved helpful and generated a quote for a tower and monitor.

It was several weeks later before we had the funds to order said PC, so by the time I plugged the quote number I was not sure it would still be good. Fortunately, everything went through fine and a few moments later I received an order confirmation e-mail and a promise that I would receive further correspondence once my order was on its way.

A few days later, I received an e-mail from a Dell employee identified as Shravani who seemed to be informing me that the monitor I purchased was not available. I replied that they could simply cancel the order for the monitor and send me the tower. Having waited until the next day and received no response, I called the customer service number and was bounced around between a handful of unfailingly polite employees before the matter was resolved and I was told that my tower was on the way and the monitor order had been canceled.

It was at this exact moment that Shravani responded to my e-mail to tell me that the tower was unavailable and they had shipped me the monitor instead. When I relayed this dismaying turn of events to the phone representative I was placed on hold after which I was informed that Shravani was correct and that the tower was no longer available. He reiterated the “good news” that my monitor was still already on the way. I replied that I am sure it will look amazing once it is “plugged into the imaginary computer I just bought.” I was immediately placed on hold while he conferred with the shift supervisor. 

When he reappeared and I pointed out the tower was still available according to their website, I was told that it was no longer available at the price on my quote (it had elevated $140). It was as if I was trading commodities instead of purchasing a computer. On top if it all, no one seemed to have any idea of who “April” was and how she had been given authority to perform arithmetic on behalf of the company.

A few hours (and three employees) later, Dell finally agreed to “do me a solid” and honor their own quote. I even managed to get them to send it next day shipping. Since it would require an adult signature, I asked them to ship it to work. When I received my shipping notification I noticed that FedEx was estimating that it would be delivered on President’s Day. Since the office was going to be closed, I simply went online and had the delivery redirected to the nearest FedEx/Kinkos location. I even took time to brag to my co-workers about how cleverly I had circumvented this logistical delay.

That Monday, I checked FedEx’s website and was chagrined to discover that the package showed undeliverable because the business was closed. I called the main FedEx number and spoke to a customer care specialist who told me they had attempted the delivery at my work address but that no one was there. When I responded that I had redirected the package several days ago for that very reason she replied that they would redirect it to the FedEx/Kinkos location tomorrow.      

I responded that this would defeat the purpose of the re-direct since I would actually be at work the next day thus making a Kinkos delivery less convenient than the original destination. She advised that I drive to the nearest distribution center and pick it up that day before they transferred it.

I arrived at the distribution center and informed the woman at the front desk that I was here to pick up a package. I gave her my name and tracking number after which she informed me that it was to be delivered to Kinkos tomorrow. I assured her that I was aware of the box’s destination and wished to prevent it from getting there by picking it up now. She grimaced and apologetically explained that I could not get the box now because she “was the only one here” and apparently FedEx has a very strict parcel buddy-system I was unaware of. She requested that I leave and come back in a half-hour.

On my return trip, I was finally able to procure the package. On the drive home it occurred to me that both FedEx and Dell had created an intentionally unhelpful infrastructure staffed by ceaselessly polite employees. This allowed each company to be as infuriating as possible without presenting the customer with anyone acceptable to yell at. At each and every juncture I was apologized to and reminded that I was a valuable customer just before being told that they were unable to accommodate any reasonable requests I made.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Narcissism Dating

I recently came across an article on The Huffington Post called “6 Ways to Recognize and Stop Dating A Narcissist” written by their Chief Love Officer Sandy Weiner. Normally I would avoid such a piece but the coincidence of locating a “Chief Love Officer” with a suggestive surname was too much to pass up. Plus, I have a natural affinity for succinct numbered lists that claim to decode complex psychological problems.

It turns out that narcissists tend to be “charming, exciting, intoxicating nice guys” whose emotional deficiencies are so well disguised they lure people into forming “soul connections.” I believe that Mrs. Weiner has succeeding in sowing seeds of discontent and doubt into even the most functional of adult relationships. No longer content dissecting actual negative behavior, we are now forced to undermine good behavior by casting suspicion on its origins. Sure Frank may be polite, charming, and treat you with respect, but what if he is simply playing the relationship long con and his behavior these last ten years are nothing more than a clever ruse? Before long I will be reading articles titled, “He may physically and emotionally abuse you with an unholy fervor, but at least you don’t have to speculate on whether or not he is a terrible person.”

The article advises that if your man exhibits even just one of the following symptoms you should “walk away, never to look back and hope for reconciliation”

  • When you express your needs, he gets defensive
  • When the going gets tough, he gets going
  • He gets angry when you discuss exclusivity
  • His actions and words don't match
  • He runs hot and cold

Some of these probably should be sticking points (such as flying into a violent rage when you request he stops sleeping with all of the hostesses at your local Olive Garden) but others are irresponsibly open ended. I am not sure you should run screaming from a first date because you perceive him as sending mixed signals. Sometimes guys are just nervous and imperceptive, a combination that doesn’t necessarily indicate chronic narcissism. Don’t get me wrong, there are early warning signs that should be heeded (he won’t stop asking when your little sister will be “legal” or he refuses to explain why his roommates call him “Patient Zero”) and could potentially save someone from wasting time and energy on a dead end. However, it appears we are now just penning articles because someone out there might actually be happy operating within an imperfect union between two flawed people.

More enlightening than the article was the comment section:

Rita admits that she dated a narcissist who “threw knives” and she had to “hit over the head with a pan” so that she could escape while he was dazed.
Robert explained that men’s self-absorption is simply “looking for cues from consenting females.”
Daliah credited the article with reminding her why she “would never get married.”
Mary knew her ex-fiancĂ©e was a narcissist when he objected to her spending money on a “pony-riding party for her daughter.”

I would like to address these individually if I can.

Rita-I believe you misread the article because the real danger is not that a man with a knife will say one thing and do another; it is that he will do exactly what he says he will do.

Robert -there is nothing creepier than a grown man admitting that he spends all his time “looking for cues from consenting females.” Also, I believe you owe Rita an apology.

Daliah - there are plenty of legitimate reasons not to get married, but the comment section of a Huffington Post advice column is not the place to locate them.

Mary – I can only hope that you did not end a long-term relationship over a disagreement concerning equine rental fees.  I dare say that it is possible to maintain a healthy monogamous relationship with someone who expresses a disparate valuation of short term horse leasing.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Liberty (or else)

It never fails. After each and every presidential election there are a group of citizens who announce that they can no longer, in good conscience, continue to live as Americans. Identifying the new commander-in-chief as inept or un-American, they head for Canada or dig holes in the ground and prepare for the inevitable siege on their liberties. For those that despise cold climates and do not wish to opt for a subterranean existence, there are two above-ground alternatives right here in the USA. While they are currently nothing more than websites and philosophies, ideas like this are gaining traction with a growing number of disenfranchised citizens.

The first project is called “The Citadel” and bills itself as a “Liberty-driven” walled community of 7,000 families who will agree to a lifetime lease to be paid over a 30-year period. All private homes must be comprised of poured concrete (for uniformity), are required to keep enough food and water on hand to sustain all members of the household for one year, and must participate in mandatory preparedness drills at predetermined times. In addition to several layers of defensive walls and towers, the site will feature a firearms factory, firearms museum (with reflecting pool), and a school system. Investors are reassured that a Citadel existence will be free from “Homeowner’s Associations, city ordinances, property taxes, and recycling.” 
Concept of "The Citadel"

Each resident over the age of thirteen is required to demonstrate proficiency with a rifle, handgun, and AR-15 on an annual basis. Furthermore every able bodied citizen is obligated to keep and maintain an AR-15 with at least 1,000 rounds of ammunition and always carry a loaded handgun in common areas. Prospective residents must agree to these conditions, complete an application, and conduct an interview via Skype. If approved you will then be responsible for a percentage of your monthly lease price (the money will be deposited in an escrow account controlled by an unnamed Idaho attorney). They hope to break ground later this year.

 As a fan of irony, I couldn’t help but notice how tightly controlled the resident’s experience of “liberty” is. They advertise freedom from city ordinances and homeowners’ association oversight but insist upon control of your grocery stockpile, refuse to let you own the land you live on, and conduct mandatory drills on weekends. If this place enforces any more liberty they will have to rename it “The People’s Republic of The Citadel.” The site indicates that although land has been allocated for a weapons museum with a reflecting pool, there is not enough space to accommodate “houses of worship” which need to be located elsewhere. I can just see one of the new residents bragging to a buddy:

“Well they might dictate the design and structure of the house I am not allowed to own along with its contents while forcing me to carry a pistol when I stop at the grocery to pick up a box of Golden Grahams, but at least no one asks me to recycle!”

Never one to be out-libertied,Glenn Beck recently unveiled his $2 Billion freedom utopia called Independence, USA. Like the Citadel it strives to be a self-contained community free from the oppressive socialism of our current governing structure. It will feature a marketplace (specifically barring large retailers like GAP) and a media center that will produce “news, movies, and documentaries” that “do not constantly assault the things that we all stand for” and adhere to “common decency.” The library, school, and archive will only contain books and manuscripts that contain “the truth” and they will offer “summer de-programming classes” for those attending secular colleges.  

While it will not have a “church” it will have a replica of The Alamo that will serve as a “non-denominational gathering area” that can also be a place to load trucks for disaster relief. All food will be grown locally and all energy will be renewable. Neighborhoods will be comprised of both rich and poor residents to break down “class barriers.” Homes will not be allowed to have backyards in order to promote community interaction.

I don’t know about you, but having an unnamed organization tell me what books and movies I should see because they may or may not adhere to what they consider “something we all stand for” is the polar opposite of freedom. At least the Citadel let me have a backyard. What if I am not particularly fond of my neighbor and would like the option of grilling a ribeye without being forced to make conversation? A classless, wind-powered, organically-fed community that doesn’t allow large corporations sounds more like a liberal utopia than libertarian haven.

The striking aspect of both projects is that they credit Disneyland as an inspiration citing it as a place to find “courage, inspiration, and hope.” Have these people ever been to a Disney theme park? I am not sure being forced to pay $6.50 for a 12oz bottle of water was exactly what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he railed against tyranny.

Even that comparison doesn’t hold water, because once in a theme park I have the freedom to ride every attraction or no attractions at all. These people don’t just want you to have the freedom to carry a gun or stockpile Pop Tarts; they are forcing you to experience that freedom exactly as they have chosen to. It is a good thing that they don’t live in a country that doesn’t allow that sort of thing.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Baby Story Part 9 (The Birth)

After much waiting and anticipation, the time had finally arrived for the birth of our son. Around eight o’clock one evening, my wife began having fairly regular contractions so the doctor advised that we come in to the hospital to be checked. Once there, a semi-enthusiastic orderly brandishing a wheelchair was assigned to take us to the Labor and Delivery department. As the nursing staff was connecting my wife’s abdomen to the fetal seismograph, we were asked who the last person to check her cervix was. I immediately replied that I had asked my mechanic to look at it but I would welcome a second opinion. This drew the first of many “now is not the time” looks from my laboring spouse.

After several hours, it was ascertained that while my wife was in labor and somewhat dilated she was not in “active labor.” We were advised to return home, take a few Tylenol PM, and reassess her pain level in the morning. On the way home, we stopped by Wendy’s for a late-night Frosty and jovially recalled the details of our “trial-run.”

Around 2:30 AM, I was awoken by the sound of my wife’s unnervingly-deepened voice informing me that things were progressing rather quickly. Weary of being sent home again, she requested that I page the on-call doctor to make sure she was in active labor. While I was on the phone with him she emitted a guttural moan so piercing that he stopped mid-sentence and asked “Was that her!?” When I replied in the affirmative he omitted the remainder of the checklist and told me to get her back to the hospital.

The labor progressed rather quickly and after her Frosty had made its reappearance it was time for the epidural to be administered. Even with the epidural, her contractions came so quickly that she was administered a drug to reduce them. This worked so well that she had to be given a drug to intensify them. During the entire process I held one of her legs and assisted the nurse in checking for our son’s progress through the birth canal. While the blood, fluids, and regurgitated ice-cream did not bother me, there was an incident during labor that caused me a great deal of nausea: my wife asked me to hold her gum.

This may seem strange, but the idea of holding someone’s pre-chewed gum in my bare hand is absolutely repulsive. Even the nurse felt the urge to chide me on the incongruity of my queasiness reflex since most men tend to check-out around the time they affix the placenta-pouch. Even as a child, inadvertently touching someone else’s discarded gum under a school desk was enough to initiate a round of dry-heaves. Say what you will, but I will take projectile vomit over Big Red any day of the week.

At any rate, despite my wife’s courageous effort our little guy’s head just could not seem to find its way clear of the exit door. It was at this time the doctor announced that it was time to break out the birthing assistance apparatus (colloquially known as the “coochie vac”). This mechanism attaches to the child’s cranium and allows the physician to guide (or redirect) the infant’s progress. When my wife asked what was happening, I replied that she was about to be Hoovered. I requested that the staff use a Dyson model if available and when the doctor asked why I was so brand specific, I replied that active labor was no time to lose suction. It was at this point I believe she contemplated having me wait in the hall.

Finally, after eight hours of labor, our son emerged into a world fraught with peril and reality television. He was cleaned and placed into what appeared to be an industrial food warmer for evaluation while the doctor stitched my wife’s newly traumatized nether-regions. All was deemed well and after a few hours we were moved to the post-partum floor.

It was here that I committed one of the greatest faux pas in hospital etiquette: I walked into someone else’s room. In my defense, we had just been visited by the “birth certificate specialist” whose limited mobility necessitates that she travels from door to door on a red Jazzy scooter. Once at your room she distributes pointlessly complicated forms that transform the question, “What is the mother’s maiden name” to “Please print the mother’s full name as it would have appeared before and after her first marriage.”

Her scooter was still parked outside our room when I was sent for towels and upon my return the uniformity of the hallways got me confused. So when I saw the red Jazzy parked outside a room in the same relative location as our room I naturally assumed she hadn’t left yet (after all, if she moved that fast why would she need the scooter). I even noticed a friend heading toward the door directly across the hall which also made sense because I knew that her grandchild was assigned the room direct opposite ours. Even the “Breastfeeding Mom – Please Knock” sign on the door was reassuring so you can imagine my surprise when I swung open the door and discovered a total stranger in a hospital bed holding her infant wondering why some weirdo just busted up in her hospital room while declaring that “Your baby daddy got some towels!”

I would like to think that I uttered an apology of some kind but it was likely just a string of incoherent nonsense followed by the door slamming. I turned to see my friend who I came to realize was also lost and had been following me under the assumption that I knew which room my wife and newborn had been assigned to. About the time I returned to the correct room, we heard an alarm that my wife quickly offered was probably a “code pervert” since word had likely spread that a creeper was roaming the halls looking for a sneak peek of a breastfeeding mother. It was so bad that when the birth certificate specialist returned she referred to me as, “that guy who walked in the wrong room.” I was tempted to reply that this still was not my room but that this woman was simply more open minded than the last girl I propositioned. For once, I made the right call and decided that my wife had already been through enough.