Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Karmic Debit Card (In the Category of Be Where You Are.)

I believe in karma, the cosmic principle wherein each person is rewarded or punished in one incarnation based on that person's deeds in the previous incarnation. So when annoying things happen to me consistently, I assume that the Universe is exacting some sort of payment toward my karmic debt, whether it was accrued in this lifetime, or perhaps, the last one. If I’m right, then I cannot help but wonder what I did to deserve my checkout lane karma.

Picture this: It’s Sunday morning. Churchgoers are in church; I’m feeling smug about rousing myself early to go to the grocery store for the weekly shopping. My timing is good. I’m late enough to miss the good folks shopping for doughnuts and creamer to contribute to the church’s after Mass coffee service (two dozen glazed once a month...not too much to give in the coffee service of the Lord). I’m early enough to miss the rush of post-church shoppers. (“Oh, crap, Jeb, I forgot to get your Mucinex at the store yesterday…swing by and I’ll run in.”… “Dammit, Trixie, the race is about to start!”)

The grocer has recently rearranged all the shelves again, but I manage to find everything. (The pretzels are now next to bleach? Really?) I find, finally, the mascarpone cheese, the cat food (in gravy), the dish detergent, veggies, fruits, ground beef, goldfish food…I make my way to the checkout lane feeling pleased at having finished shopping so quickly. At this point, any number of things might happen, but they will all yield the same end result: the checkout lane in which I stand will stall.

The Universe enthralls me with the variety of ways I can “break” a checkout lane simply by standing in it. On a good day, it manifests as a simple outage of receipt tape that must be corrected before my transaction can take place. On a really good day, as I step up to the transaction area, the cashier will give me a meaningful look, flip open the cover, and swap the plastic spindle for a full roll of paper in less than four moves. On a typical day, at least one manager must get involved. Sometimes the register hasn’t been stocked with a spare roll of receipt tape, which requires the bagger to run to the customer service desk. It gets more involved if the ink ribbon needs to be replaced. Much more involved.

This also happens often: I get in a lane (any type of store) behind a person who is halfway through their checkout process. Invariably, the next item scanned returns an “item not found” error, leading to a price check. On a good day, a manager with a scanner resolves this in just a few swipes. On a typical day, a second manager is required to come up with a price and override the Point Of Sale system to allow the cashier to ring in a “general merchandise” charge.

I get the classic coupon stall pretty regularly. I’ll get in a checkout lane just in time to watch the person in front of me begin to argue with the cashier over a $1.00 coupon that the cash register refused to credit. Look, I clip coupons myself, and in defense of the woman, the cashier involved on that particular day is a total bitch about coupons that don’t just ring in. Should the cash register give the slightest sign of impropriety, she will launch a full investigation. (Are you sure you bought three cans? It says you need to buy three. I only see two.) I mean, she’s a real stickler, and she’ll stand her ground, even on a Saturday morning, and let the line back up while she argues with her customer about whether or not the $1.00 coupon is valid. When she does it to me, I let it go – I just want to get out of there. On that day, I came very close to giving the woman with the errant coupon a dollar just to get the line moving again. But I couldn’t blame her. Her coupon would have scanned just fine if I hadn’t chosen to stand in that lane.

I have had people ahead of me in line turn and apologize to me when the item they are trying to buy is missing a price tag. I get funny looks from them when I shake my head and say demurely, “it’s not you, it’s me.” My husband thought I was kidding when I told him about my checkout lane karma. He’s a believer now. His moment of conversion came when I…

I took down an entire K Mart – every register in the store.

It was December. The holiday shopping season was on. My husband and I went in for one item, one $350.00 dollar item (a digital camera, and I know that seems like too much to spend now, but that was low end in 2003). It took 15 minutes to get a sales associate to come to the electronics counter. Whatever. When the guy could finally be bothered long enough to pull the camera out of the display case, it was only a few minutes more before we knew we wanted to buy it.

As soon as he scanned the UPC, the display on his register flickered. He frowned, cleared the display and tried again. Nothing. Shrugging, he said, “Sorry. You’ll have to checkout up front.” I looked at my husband apologetically. He rolled his eyes and tried not to laugh. I knew he was thinking, “Crap, she’s broken the cash register again.”

The lines at the front of the store were three deep at each register, but they were still moving. We surveyed our options and selected Checkout # 7 behind three women completing their Christmas shopping – the cashier seemed to be making good progress on their order. As we took our place, the cashier suddenly scowled at the register, started punching buttons and muttering. Moments later, cashiers up and down the store checkout area began to do the same, as well as consulting with each other and looking frantic. At register # 5, an infant began to cry; its older brother (a toddler himself) comforted his sibling by patting its head, doing so with increasing vigor as the volume of the infant's cries increased.

As the line behind us lengthened, I looked helplessly at my husband. “I’m sorry,” I mouthed. He just shook his head; his unexpressed mirth was beginning to make his sides shake. Without speaking, we agreed on the course of action, removed ourselves from the line, dropped the camera off at the customer service desk and turned to leave. We overhead a harried-looking manager exclaim to one of his co-workers, “the whole system is down; it just crashed for no reason. It’ll take 15 minutes to reboot.”

“That’s enough shopping for today,” my husband said in his best Air Force Sergeant voice. “Let’s get a beer.” (Interestingly, I have never “broken” the cash register in a bar, not even when I tended one and spilled a glass of water all over the keyboard. It is always better to go drinking with me than shopping.)

Checkout Lane karmic force was strong with me this past Saturday. My husband and I encountered the run of the mill receipt-tape-replacement mojo in the grocery store, but Ethel knows her shit, and she had that swapped out in no time. By all accounts, I was having a good day. Things didn’t start to go really bad until we got to the gas station, our next errand (we meet there with both cars, pull into a single lane and take full advantage of the gas points). I pulled in behind a young man who was taking the time, while the gas dispensed, to scrub down his entire BMW 3 Series sedan with the squeegee provided to clean windshields. The gas pump stopped, and by now the line was two deep behind me (including my husband). The man replaced the pump handle and closed his gas cap, then he continued scrubbing his car all over with the squeegee. I watched this for three minutes (it felt like ten) and then couldn’t restrain myself. I rolled down my car window.

“There’s a car wash right behind us if you want to clean your car,” I offered, pointing to the drive-thru car wash and trying to sound helpful.

“I know. I’m getting a car wash. I just want to prep my car first.” He continued to scrub. Two more cars joined the queue.

“You’re really holding up the line.”

“Hey, fuck you. I had to wait too.”

I hope you wreck your car before the day ends, I thought to myself. (I rarely wish this sort of instant karma on another; it cuts both ways.)

My last errand was a quick stop in the drug store for a new pair of cheap sunglasses and a powder compact. The compact took no time, but I may have overlingered at the two racks of Foster Grants. After making a selection, I headed to the one open cash register only steps behind a lady who pushed a basket overflowing with cleaning supplies and all manner of healthcare products. She presented the cashier with a six-inch-high stack of manufacturer’s coupons, which she had pulled from the three-ring coupon organizer that perched across the child’s seat in the shopping cart.

Clearly, I was in the presence of a Super Couponer, and I say, good on her! She paid cash, less than $40 for two jugs of laundry detergent, a jug of fabric softener, one shampoo, two bottles of mouthwash, two boxes of hair color, three greeting cards, a bag of potato chips, and two two-liter bottles of Sprite. She then turned in another two-inch stack of in-store coupons and scored two candy bars, a pack of gum, and a lip balm for — best I could tell — free.

As I mentioned, I have no problem with couponers. I am one. I was actually impressed with how she worked the clipped coupons in with the store issue, most of which were merely receipts from previous visits. Had any other person gotten in that checkout lane behind her, she most likely would have stood quietly, watching to make sure each item rang in at the correct, advertised price (she had that week’s circular at the ready). But I got in the line, my karma kicked in, and she began to chat. Incessantly.

The cashier, bless him, did not demonstrate any knowledge of multitasking. As she jabbered away, he would only scan one coupon, look up and listen to her for a few moments, scan another coupon, look up politely once more. I’m not exaggerating when I say she had a six-inch stack of coupons, and I confess. I began to feel impatient. (To the Universe’s credit, it eschewed pulling the old coupon stall karma this time...not sure why, as that opportunity was low hanging fruit.)

Based on the body language, the same could be said for the man with two 16oz. Mountain Dews, the lady with the wrapping paper and the suited businessman with toothpaste. I think we all had the same thought at that moment: “Call for another cashier, you twit.” But they didn’t know what I knew — as long as I stood in the line, this was going to take awhile.

When I finally got home, I told my husband, “That’s it! No more retail checkout lanes for me today!”

I told him the story about the super couponer, yet another transaction on my karmic debit card. He had seen the guy at the gas station, too. He understood. In his best Air Force Sergeant voice he said, “Let’s get a beer.” 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Smitty Loves His Nip Fish

Not a proper blog post. Just the easiest way I could think of to get this on Twitter to amuse my Tweeps. My Smitty Kitty loves his cat-nip filled yarn fish. He is oblivious to all else. So grateful we just happened to be filming him with his nip fish. I could watch him roll off the trunk all day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My Thanks to Rush Limbaugh (In the Category of Say What You Mean.)

My Aunt Becky, who is also my godmother, gave me the above coffee mug as a graduation gift in 1992 after I received my M.A. in English from Virginia Tech. She joked that it would come in handy at my new job (technical writing intern for a manufacturer of fiber optic video links). “Show them this if any of the men in the office give you a hard time,” she said.

Aunt Becky knows me well. As a nosey child, way back in 1972, I believed Mom’s jewelry box was a treasure chest, and one day I explored, found, and “borrowed” my mom’s E.R.A. bracelet; I liked how the bracelet fit and looked (similar to a Vietnam POW-MIA bracelet, which we also wore in my house, my father having survived that war during his stint in the Navy). Mom explained to me what “E.R.A.” meant (equal rights amendment). She also explained about the National Organization for Women (NOW) who had made the bracelets. The idea that I did not already have the same rights as boys pissed me off. I was six. But I digress.

When I saw the coffee cup Aunt Becky had given me for graduation, I laughed out loud, and since I already knew my new job had a “bring your own coffee cup” rule (a friend who worked there had hooked me up with the job), I happily packed it along with my bag lunch for my first day at a “real job.” [Note to self for future blog post…how much I hate the term “real job”. God knows bartending my way through grad school was real!]

For lack of a better option – this was a small business with limited office space – my desk was located in the office of the company’s founder/owner/president, so I was already more nervous than the ordinary first day jitters. (The president didn’t spend too much time in his office, so it wasn’t too bad...they moved me into the hallway a few weeks later.) Around mid-morning, one of my new co-workers, I’ll call him Dick, sauntered in to meet the “new girl.”

(True story. Due to a severe lack of funds, the best interview suit I could cobble together from my existing wardrobe included a mid-thigh length black suede leather skirt that I, frankly, rocked at the time — it no longer fits. On the day of my interview while I was waiting in the front office, a parade of what I would later learn was most of the engineering team AND test department came through the front on some pretense or another. My friend told me later that word had spread about the chick up front in a hot skirt. I don’t recall seeing Dick that day, but he probably heard about it.)

Dick spotted my coffee mug and read it. A creepy grin began to form on his visage. “Ah,” he said, showing his teeth. “You’re a feminazi.”

“A what?”

“A feminazi. You’ve never heard the term?”

“No, but I can guess what it means.” I grinned back, showing my teeth. “Have a nice day.” Then I sipped my coffee.

He laughed good-naturedly and offered his name, Dick Head (well not really), his position with the company (Chief Engineer), and what he thought about the idea of hiring a technical writer to create installation instructions for the sophisticated fiber optic transmission links that the company manufactured. He said, “My engineering team won’t have time to help.” Then he left. Later, my friend told me that the engineering team secretly referred to him as the Schmed or Schmedley. If this was Twitter, not a blog, I’d have to go #norespect.

(This is also a true story. My friend only got me the job because he almost got stuck with it himself. The VP of Engineering, his boss’s boss, had developed the first draft of installation instructions and asked my friend for feedback. When my friend suggested changes, the VP of Engineering, said “Great ideas. Why don’t you finish this?” My friend, who was also a regular where I tended bar, came in afterwards moaning about it then realized he was talking to an English major who was about to graduate and encouraged me to write the VP of Engineering and ask for a technical writing internship. Several days later he suggested it again saying, “I talked to the VP of Engineering and he’s waiting for your letter.” Utter bullshit. The first words the VP of Engineering spoke to me at my first interview for my first “real job” were, “Your letter came out of the blue. Why do you think I need a technical writer?” Yes, the friend is actually still a friend, a very good one.)

Not until 2012 did I learn that the term “feminazi” was actually popularized by Rush Limbaugh, who I had never heard of in 1992 when Dick thought he should use the slur to describe me. I’ve heard of him since, and I thank him for this word. I actually love the term; I think it’s hilarious. I want to state right up front that I abhor the intolerance of the Nazis, and I fully appreciate that, by choosing that particular metaphor, Rush is being deliberately provocative, invoking an image of extreme, even murderous intolerance, but the hyperbole of it cracks me up. I mean really, Rush? Nazi reference? We’re just women…you know…the bitches that birthed you.

Wikipedia suggests that Rush only intended to apply the term to hardcore abortion rights activists, but I don’t believe it. I think he uses “feminazi” to describe any woman who thinks and speaks for herself about issues with which he disagrees. For example, Rush’s slanderous attack on Sandra Fluke after her remarks to Congress last Autumn about the need for accessible birth control made this clear — to me anyway.

The whole notion that a woman wanting insurance coverage for birth control=slut made (makes) me reel. This is the same dumb fuck that described feminazis as women “whose goal it is to allow as many abortions as possible.” At no time will he acknowledge that access to prophylactic birth control greatly decreases the need for abortions due to unwanted pregnancy. Instead, he calls an educated, thoughtful, self-described “preacher’s kid” a slut because she supports the idea of accessible birth control.

I actually got a small thrill of empowerment when Dick Head called me a feminazi, even though I had never heard the term. Without me even trying, he feared me. He feared hot coffee on his crotch. Twenty-one years later, I still have no qualms with being called a feminist, a feminazi, even a bitch, if used appropriately. (If it is the best you can come up with, calling me a bitch, you lack imagination.) For as long as I can remember, I have rebelled against the notion that I didn’t have a right to do all the things that the boys had the right to do. My innate sense of fairness has never allowed me to concede that point.

Rush Limbaugh, that bigoted, fat-mouthed dickhead, may have intended the word, “feminazi” as a slur, a way to invoke an image of militant, narrow-minded adherence to the ideals of feminism, but I take it as a compliment. Unlike the goals of the Nazis, who sought to exclude certain persons from their population, feminists are fighting for inclusion in what is still a male-dominated society (we’re making progress, but notice how America will vote a penis of any color into the White House before they’ll give the job to a vagina). It’s maddening that here in the 21st century; renewing legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act still faces such stiff opposition by some in Congress.

I take  heart from the knowledge that NOW is still around, the fight for women’s equality continues. We’re finding our way to the CEO’s desk, joining corporate boards, entering and winning congressional races, and I do believe in my life I will vote for the first female POTUS (seriously hoping it will be in 2016).

I no longer drink coffee; caffeine turned on me. But if you make a sexist remark to me I will call you on it, I will judge you by it, and you will be tongue-lashed until you see the error of your ways. Have a nice day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Her name was Martha (In the Category of Mean What You Say.)

I shouldn’t just tell Phil this, everyone should hear about my friend, Anne Cheney.  I’ll hook you all up with a copy of her poem, “They Speak To Me,” from Dead Snakes, Cats, and the IRS: Poetry of Rock and Rebellion.* (Mellen Poetry Press, 1995) as soon as I get permission from Anne’s brother John, her literary executor.  I can get #52Weeks of blog material out of my relationship with her, no problem. (I probably won’t.)
Anne (right) with Theresa Gillespie at what would be the last Grateful Dead Concert at JFK. Anne took her entire Literature of Rock and Roll class to the show as a field trip. 
I intend to write a memoir about her, and I need to quit stalling and get to work on it, because God knows my memory is not improving with age (although it is still damn good). Anne died on December 17, 2001 at around 9:00am. I was rubbing her feet at that moment, because I had heard that the soul leaves through the feet, and a good foot rub helps the passage. Anne had breast cancer (again), and it had metastasized to her lungs. We all knew the repercussions of removing the ventilator. I had not intended to be there when she died. I had said goodbye the day before. I kissed her (with permission…one did not just touch Anne Cheney); later, at home, I got stinking – I mean stinking drunk.

My husband let me sleep in the next day, and explained things to my boss (we worked for the same company then). I came to around 8:00am and called the ICU to basically see if we were done yet. Nurse Kelly, who had been with us for all 15 horrible days of this asked if I was outside the door…could she buzz me in? I said I was at home. She said, “you need to get here.” When Nurse Kelly says, “get here,” you get there.

Mike was already there -- had in fact been there all night (you’ll get to know Mike better another day…if you own a copy of The Wedding Crashers, he’s the handsome, tuxedoed wedding guest laughing in the background as the principle chick says good bye to some little kid at the end of her sister’s wedding). Pink Floyd was on the boom box. Sisters Edith and Rebecca were there too (Anne was the oldest of eight children). As Mike put it, “we’re nearly done here.” I started rubbing her feet (something she would never have allowed under any living circumstance) and told her it was okay to go. Hardest fucking thing I have ever done, telling my best friend it was okay to die. It wasn’t okay, but there was no other path away from the pain. The cancer had spread fucking everywhere.

Nurse Kelly called it, and I left for Anne’s house to finish the obituary I had started on her computer the day before (after saying goodbye, but before getting stinking drunk). On my way out of the ICU, I saw Anne’s ex-husband, and probably only true love, waiting to get buzzed in to the ICU to see her. He had just missed her. I did not have the courage to speak to him; I was barely holding it together.  I made it to my car, threw up, and got in. Ironically, Pink Floyd was on the radio, “Wish You Were Here,” a song I still love but who’s meaning for me has changed for-fucking-ever.

Anne’s brother John (who is Anne with a penis, and the world is a better place because he is still in it) invited me to meet him and a few other Cheney sibs at the church to help plan the funeral service.  The priest suggested the passage where Martha berates Jesus for not being there to save her brother from dying, and John chuckled. “Perfect,” he said in his slow, honeyed Alabama accent, “since that was her name.”

“Excuse me?” I didn’t understand. John’s eyes widened.

“You don’t know?” He shook his head, laughing. “I knew she hated the name, but I figured she’d at least told you.”

“Told me what?”

“Her name was Martha. Martha Anne Cheney.”

Have you ever had a best friend, one you’ve known for 12 years? Twelve. Years. Are you sure you know their name? Because I did. And I didn’t. And she actually lied to me about it once, the bitch. Everyone in her family had a middle name. Hell, brother, John West Battle Cheney has two, and it puzzled me why the firstborn did not have a middle name. “Mother didn’t feel like it.” That’s what Anne told me when I asked.

“She blacked it out of her yearbook, everywhere.” John said. “I can’t believe you didn’t know this.” (I checked this…she had…I had thought the black lines were ways to punctuate her name in the list of names for every club she was in.)

For the record, gentle reader, it was too late to correct the obit, but if I could have, I would have outed her as Martha, just out of sheer annoyance. I contented myself with knowing that before I knew her name was Martha, I had already gotten one up on her. When we could still talk to each other (Anne was intubated in the last two weeks of her life…our long history of heart-to-heart talks had ended early) she told me to put her in the black dress for her viewing, but I put her in the pretty turquoise blue one instead, buried her in it, and there was nothing she could do about it. (To date, this is the only perk I can find to losing one’s best friend to breast cancer…I got to win one.) And I overhead many visitors at the funeral home commenting on how glad they were that she wasn’t wearing black. In life, Anne wore black often, because she believed it was slimming, but she was a wisp of herself (all 4’9” of her, though she swore she was 5’) at the end. Cancer eats everything.

Anne was hilarious. I promise, the posts about how she lived will be much funnier, but even in death, that she could still surprise me -- is one of my favorite memories.

*Anne's entry in the Library of Congress leaves her birth and death date erroneously open ended, an error that none of us is in a hurry to correct. It's comforting somehow.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

One of the Best (In the category of Want What You Have.)

Technically, it's my fault. I could disingenuously blame the app that I installed, but I won't. It's a nifty app; it shows all sorts of weather maps in real time, allows me to set multiple zip codes to monitor weather and traffic conditions. And it runs a little status bar (by default) that shows temperature and current conditions in my selected zip code. It installed quickly, the radar map was really cool, and less than eight hours after installation (and a full battery charge) my smart phone (a two-year old LG Optimus S) beeped three times and went dead. Completely dead.

I'd seen this happen before, to my husband's phone (also an LG Optimus), last June, right after he purchased it. We had just checked into a Courtyard Marriott in Charlotte, NC, set to attend our first Jimmy Buffet concert. The venue wouldn't allow tailgating until only two hours before show time, but the manager at the Marriott was cool with us (we met up with a dozen friends) having a pool party until the parking lot at the show opened. We were putting together what we wanted to take to the pool when his phone beeped three times and went dead. Completely dead.So no photos of the show. No live tweets during "Cheeseburger In Paradise." Just a ticket stub, a tee shirt and a hangover to mark our first Buffet show. But I digress.

When we got back to Virginia, Greg (my husband) took his new, dead phone back to the Sprint store. We figured it was the battery. It was actually the phone, and (eventually) a replacement phone solved his problem. But my phone had been functioning just fine for years, so it couldn't be the phone. It must be the battery. We pay the for maintenance plan, and Greg decided to call Sprint and ask them to send a new battery.

Greg brings many gifts and talents to this world. One of them is the deftness with which he can work a customer service representative, any customer service representative, on a telephone. He's a Jedi Master at it ("You will give me free HBO for three months. *waves hand* "Yes Mr. Norris, we can sign you up for free HBO for three months.") He had his technique mastered before his stint at Echostar, but his weeks of training there honed his skills to a new sharpness. He knows all the tricks, he knows all the stalls, and he knows exactly what to say to get his request taken to the next level. Only a foolish customer service operator fucks with Greg, and not for long.

Greg can hear a newbie customer service rep through the phone (it's the quaver in their voice), and he had a newbie on the line when he called to request a replacement battery for my phone, which we both believed was a simple and reasonable request. Apparently, this is not the case. First, the kid wanted Greg to take the phone to the Sprint store for troubleshooting. We'd tried route that with his phone, and it was a painful and unpleasant experience that we did not wish to repeat.

"Can't you just send me a battery?"

"No sir, I'm not allowed to do that."

"Then connect me with someone who is." Customer service reps at all levels of experience hate this moment, but it makes newbies cry.

The next guy up the food chain wasn't much better. Greg was now 30 minutes into the call, and I began to feel bad that so much of his Saturday was being wasted trying to fix my phone. Maybe I should just buy a new battery? But once Greg gets started, that's it. He will get his way.

"Well if you won't send me a new battery, then I guess by the terms of the maintenance plan, you need to send me a new phone." *waves hand*

"We can do that, Mr. Norris. Just let me confirm your shipping address...."

I shit you not. Sprint would not, absolutely NOT send a new battery. But by Tuesday afternoon, I had a new phone, a new charger AND (really, I couldn't make this up) a new battery to put in the new phone. All I had to do was go to the Sprint store (ugh!) and have them transfer all my contacts to the new phone.

Here's the thing. While waiting for the new phone, and keeping my current phone plugged in pretty much around the clock, Greg noticed the status bar for the weather app that I had just installed.

"You can turn that off, you know, if you don't want to see it all the time." And he showed me how.

My phone battery suddenly had no trouble keeping a charge.

At first I thought I would just stick with the plan, keep the new phone, get Sprint to transfer everything, turn the weather app's status bar back on the old phone, send it in, plead ignorance when they discovered the real problem. But the idea of going to the Sprint store brought me to my senses. Honesty was the best policy here. I would just send the new phone back with a letter explaining what a dumbass I am, and asking them not to hold it against Greg.

For he has lost leverage now, with Sprint. His troubleshooting prowess has been debunked. And it's technically my fault. I should have disabled that damn status bar first, checked to see if the new app was draining my battery. I know these things are possible, but I just didn't do it. Instead, I got Greg to call customer service, work his Jedi mind trick and get a phone (and battery!) that I didn't need.

When he called Sprint back to let them know we were returning the new phone, he got a very understanding and experienced customer service rep. This is most likely not an accident. You see, when a customer service operator tells you the call may be monitored, you should know that, in fact, it is being monitored, mostly so management can screw with the service rep after the call, but abusive customers are a real thing, and this can also protect the service rep who is being harassed from being wrongly blamed and disciplined. Also, you should know that all customer service reps have the ability to put notes in your record, such as, "this guy's a dick" or "second time he tried to scam the company for free Cinemax this month." Greg figures our Sprint record says something along the lines of "this guy will not give up, prepare to make your supervisor deal with him." So when he called back so soon, they just handed Greg's call to someone with experience.

The guy chuckled a bit when Greg explained the situation. He then put Greg on hold. (You should also know that there are different types of "on hold" when you call a customer service center, and you can be heard by the customer service rep at all times even when you are on hold with them. Also, they have choices of on hold music with which to torture you. Good customers get a low jazzy sound. Troublemakers get really bad music that plays too loud. Greg got the second type, for a few minutes, punishment, he is sure.) When the guy came back on the line, he gave Greg the return instructions, and Greg asked him, "This incident won't go against me when it's time to upgrade, will it?" *waves hand*

"Not at all Mr. Norris. Thanks for being one of the best that Sprint's got."

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mid-life Crisis Part II: Unlearning to shut up and the line between self-examination and whining. (In the category of Say What You Mean.)

I started this blog as part of my process of coming to terms with the reality that I missed my career goal of being a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist by age 40. And while my aunt (a retired high school English teacher) assures me that blogging doesn’t count as writing, I disagree. My aunt doesn’t use a computer much, and I doubt she has ever actually read a blog (making it impossible for me to take her opinion of them seriously). I appreciate that she shares my disappointment in me for having missed that career goal (in a kind way, not judgmental). We both think I should write more, but she favors the more traditional tools and processes for getting published. It’s a product of the 30-year-wide generation gap between us. For her, publishing success involves a multitude of rejection letters (which I have), an agent, an editor, paper, ink, glue, and boxes of unsold books. I measure my publishing success based on how many people claim to have actually read what I wrote, something I don’t have much luck with. (Hell, I can’t even get my co-workers to read my emails. Instead I hear, “Saw I had an email from you; what did it say?”) By such measurements, I have failed.

I cannot pinpoint the moment when I realized I was experiencing a “mid-life crisis.” It’s been coming for a while, this nagging feeling that I missed something I was supposed to get. It has something to do with my career — it must, for my personal life is all I could have wished for and more (a fact that does not escape me, and one for which I give thanks every day). All I can pinpoint with surety is that my need to write, to be read and to receive praise (or criticism) for the work (even a bad review proves that someone read it) is in direct conflict with my failure to write with any regularity or acquire a readership beyond my husband and few friends who indulge me. It is my intention to resolve this conflict, and a blog seems like a good approach.

In order to better understand the medium, I began reading blog posts on all manner of topics: cooking blogs, literary blogs, industry blogs about packaging machines, political blogs, relationship blogs, feminist blogs, sports blogs and crafty blogs. I even follow a blog by a triathlete, which I will never be. It’s been an interesting foray into the blogosphere; I think my aunt would enjoy the quality of writing in most of them. But this research has been completely useless for me, as it doesn’t solve the fundamental question of what I want to write about. Which direction should I take? There are so many to choose from.

I could use my blog to whine; I’ve certainly encountered blogs that are used this way, but I dislike whining and whiners in general. It’s so self-serving — a plea for attention — “Look at me! My needs are unmet!” Welcome to the frigging club.

I could use the blog for self-examination, an on-line journal of sorts, where I explore the darkest places of my psyche, bring light to them and own them. I know of quite a few blogs that work this way. The successful ones (in my opinion) always maintain a fine balance on the knife edge between soul-searching and whining. But I don’t keep a private journal (which will disappoint my BFF, should she outlive me...she thinks I keep a journal, and I fear she looks forward to the day she can read all the awful things I wrote about her...). So I see no reason to keep a public journal. Who would want to read it anyway? It would go something like: “Feb. 4 Snowed today. God I hate snow. For a short month, Feb. always drags for me. I spend most of the month thinking about Theresa...” Even I don’t want to read that crap.

I could use the blog to express my political or religious opinions. I have a wealth of opinions about everything under the sun. I have a right to express those opinions, and some of them (I think) are even humorous, insightful, and profound. I wish I could be more like Jon Stewart or Lewis Black: funny, pointed, unafraid to say exactly what they think. Unfortunately, many years ago I became adept at shutting up, biting my tongue, keeping it to myself. It was the right thing to learn at the time, and it greatly improved some things for me: work relationships, family relationships, friendships. “Keep it to your self” became my mantra. Unless I was asked, I refrained from throwing in my nickel’s worth. I guarded the answers I did give, mindful not to be bigoted or judgmental, I resisted the urge to be negative, even when all I could think was, “holy shit, that is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.”

I am sure shutting up has served me well, but I’m bored with it. I’m tired of holding my tongue and turning my back on my God-given talent for sarcasm, my zeal for irony. The high road, always the effing high road, and what has taking that gotten me? I can’t say for sure. Perhaps it’s like light — meaningless unless one also comprehends darkness. Perhaps I will not find out what I gained or lost until I choose the low road, unchain my tongue, once again say what I mean, exactly what I mean.