Thursday, November 18, 2004

Don't Touch That Dial! Redux

Dear Esteemed Reader,

Please don't pursue this post beyond the second paragraph until you have read its predecessor, "Don't Touch That Dial!," dated Tuesday, November 16, below. It will remain "below" until I figure out how to put it "above."

I'm new. I haven't learned how to quickly reorder these blog posts yet. The warning is intended for the benefit of both audience and writer: This update will make no sense if you read it before the original post.

Re: the Mark Twain-like bitch-rant a few days ago about those pesky automated phone calls.

The number of calls rapidly increased to the point of once a day (always around 9:30 a.m., with no clever variation to catch me off guard). Finally, by Tuesday, there were two calls; one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with different "voices" and different "greetings," if you can apply that term to such non-human shams.

I missed this morning's call because I wasn't available. But I had decided that today I was going to put an end to this unconscionable travesty of courtesy, so when the phone rang again in the afternoon I was ready. At first, I just picked up the phone and said nothing for a full two minutes, but, surprisingly, it didn't hang up on me. Then I shouted, "Hello, hello, hello!" Nothing happened for a protracted time; then the electronic greeting came on and it repeated itself in rapid succession, just as I had. "Please hold. Please hold. Please hold . . ." Actually, as rude as this thing is, I'm surprised it ever learned to say "Please." That's right. You'd better beg me to hold! Then beg me some more!

Next a human voice came on. "Hello?" it said, smally. The contrast between the human and the taped versions nearly cracked me up, but I had developed so much anger over the many days of this onslaught that, instead of giggling, I, uh, shouted angrily, "WHO IS THIS??" Rude begot rude.

Small Voice answered, "[First name] with Midland Credit. May I please speak to Patrick?" Well, this was infinitely better-mannered than the impersonal machine. But I was still mad. "[First name] with WHAT?"

[Calmly and evenly]"Midland Credit. May I speak to Patrick?"

Well, now my whole fierce campaign, my entire conspiracy theory, was shot to hell. I was still furious over the unethical principle and method, but it wasn't really fair to this person. What a yucky job! Gag! I nearly had some compassion and almost told her she had my condolences.

Instead, I said, "I'm sorry. What number are you calling?" She related the number, which after all was correct. But we don't know any Patricks, with the sole exception of the next-door neighbors' hunting dog. We don't even have a basement where an unknown Patrick might be hiding.

Undone! It was nothing other than a wrong number day after day, week after week.

My tone and volume fell nearly to a whisper, and I said, "Sorry, there's no Patrick here, and we've had this number for X number of years."

Someone must have deliberately given Midland a wrong number. Because of the many calls we've received at other numbers--as well as this one--dealing with the same thing but addressing other parties, I'm convinced people do this frequently to throw creditors off of their scent; then the hapless legitimate-number owner gets stuck holding the bag. There were courteous thanks from Small Voice as I blushed profusely and hung up.

Someone should invent a Wasted Emotional Energy Meter with a dial like those on oven thermometers--only this would have a green indicator, a yellow indicator, and a STOP WHILE YOU'RE EFFING INSANE indicator. I would immediately have one permanently installed on my person. I suspect--no, let's be honest--I'm sure I'd be off the dial most of the time. And this tendency only gets worse as I get older and the hormones creep toward the edge of oblivion.

Heaven help the hapless people doing drudgy phone jobs. What further irrational ballistics await them from this quarter?

That having been admitted, WHATEVER possessed me to be so polite as to let Small Voice go without regaling the company's practice? Of course they don't want their targets to know who they are. If the target is running from a creditor, he's not going to answer a known creditor. But, by the same token, why would he wait around for a rude, anonymous hold machine? I still maintain that the premise is flawed.

I'll have to save the rest for another rant.


Curtis, the Birthday Buffalo: Part I

Yesterday's wordless post introduced you to Curtis, the Birthday Buffalo. This item entered our household in a flash of inspiration by my husband. It probably is the oddest birthday gift I've ever received. One of the kids was so excited about Curtis that he begged me to guess and nearly let the news slip several times.

"Why a buffalo?" you might rightfully ask. It's a long story. So I'll tell it, shall I?

When I was a small child, my parents took me on yearly visits to the Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles. I LOVED the whole place, especially the insect and butterfly collections. But there was one room that positively freaked me out: the North American animal hall.

I still remember the room through the eyes of a three-year-old child. It's huge and imposing, and the lighting is somewhat eerie. The vast empty floor shines in a scary way, and all around its perimeter are large cases that display the most impressive collection of taxidermy you can imagine. Each case is a convincingly rendered natural habitat with a mural background and, depending on the animal, a burrow or tree or river or grass. To my three-year-old sensibility, every animal looked thoroughly alive (though by now they must be pretty moth-eaten). I kept standing outside each display, waiting patiently waiting for the animals to change position.

At one end of the room is an enormous diorama of the plains, a showcase for bison. The first time I saw them, their size alarmed me to my very core. I could practically smell their breath. I looked at one bull, and was horrified to see that, as the light gleamed from his massive eye, he was staring directly back at me with a vengeful authority that rushed goosebumps over my skin. I had seen live cattle many times, and didn't trust their unpredictable gaze. But never had I encountered an animal of this scale, and the pictures I'd seen in books hadn't prepared me for actual size. I don't think I was old enough to comprehend that they were dead and stuffed. How quickly could my little legs run; how far away were the doors? I was certain that in an instant the bison bull would paw the native prairie grass, snort, and trample me to pulpy death right there in the hall. In a fit of instinctive terror, I momentarily lost my ability to breathe, as if I'd been struck in the chest by a boulder, knocking the wind out. I couldn't even utter a word to express this primal fear.

When I got my breath back, it was only to sob. I began to shake and weep, and demanded that my parents take me out of there. This was an emergency! At first they laughed and tried to convince me to stay (through pure reason--a pointless tactic to use with a small child), but when I couldn't be swayed they recognized my earnestness, and carried me away.

That's all I remember of my first museum visit--seeing a dead bison bull and high-tailing it out of there! And [almost forever]afterward, though there were many excursions to the museum, I could not be persuaded to enter the animal hall. (However, I will confess that each time I was overcome by a frisson of morbid curiosity. I just didn't ever act on it.)

In intervening years, my parents never forgot my "buffalo attack." It was a constant source of amusement to which they frequently alluded. Any time there was an opportunity to work bison into a conversation, it was taken. In an a joking effort to get me over my irrational fear of gigantic quadrupeds, my mother now and then brought in a bison-related item. It was her own zany attempt at "aversion therapy." A few times she bought buffalo burger at the grocery store. Perhaps if it were dead, couldn't stare at me and tasted good, I would enjoy and feel in control of it? Another time she found a sweatshirt that had a vintage flour-sack design with a buffalo on it. She gave it to my then boyfriend, thinking I would cosy up.

There's also the side issue that I like things that represent early America and things Native American. In fact, I'm part American Indian (but not of a Plains tribe). So introducing Curtis to our home was not a random act or a complete impulse buy--although, in truth, I suspect it was sort of an impulse buy. There was a funny logic behind the odd adoption of Curtis.

Yes, well, now that Curtis' legitimacy is confirmed, what about his utterly un-bovine name? Why not something more obvious, like "Buffy," as our small child suggested? Well, not Buffy! That sounds like a sorority girl or a vampire slayer, both inappropriate choices.

It had to be something evoking "big" and "solid." We looked at him for a couple of days, waiting for a personality to emerge that would tip us off. The only things that occurred to me were "Manfred" and "Artemus." I like "Manfred"--sounds ancient and powerful--but then I remembered that Byron's character of that name was kind of a self-destructive jerk, and this creature didn't strike me that way. "Artemus" came from a sculpture that is suspended on the exterior wall of the Rockwell Museum of Western Art in Corning, New York. It is a life-sized bison charging through the brick wall from the inside, seemingly into the street two floors below. It is beguilingly realistic, incorporating bricks that seem to burst out as the powerful animal breaks through. The local newspaper had a naming contest for the sculpture, and "Artemus" won. I decided against "Artemus" because it was too easy and unoriginal.

Then the gift-giver offhandedly suggested "Curtis." I laughed, thinking this sounded like something inane that Monty Python would come up with, like Eric the Half-a-Bee, Stig, and Doug. But I had to give it a chance just in case. As often happens when I'm in a quandary, I polled my best friend in London. Her definitive opinion, which I always trust, was, "Really, definitely Curtis. I mean Curtis the Buffalo, he is a square and honest kind of guy." So that settled it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

This is the newest member of our family, Curtis.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

This is sputnik enjoying the early reading program. By age 3, sputnik had learned to read upside down and backwards.

Don't Touch that Dial!

It happened again this morning, for the third or fourth time in a week.

The phone rings. I am always in the middle of something, so a ringing phone frequently signifies an unwelcome interruption. So I go answer the phone and apparently there's nothing on the other end. I had to say "hello" several times. I hate that. But sometimes it's one of my kids, who haven't quite mastered phone etiquette, so I stay on to give them (if it's them) the benefit of the doubt. Finally I hear a "click," immediately tipping me off that there's a machine on the other side that requires voice activation before it will "say" anything in response to your greeting. I play with these sometimes. I just answer the phone and don't say anything, and the system doesn't know what to do.

It is my policy always to immediately hang up if a live person isn't on the other end.

Of all things, this stupid system then goes to a taped message saying, "Please hold for an important message. All of our agents are currently busy." As if one of these systems is not enough, there's another of the same type that says, "Please hold. All of our representatives are on other calls." Well, then let them call when they're ready to call, not before so they can waste my time!

Honest to Pete! A friggin' MACHINE calls me up only to put me on HOLD, and whoever this system belongs to actually thinks I am going to wait around on THEIR non-human hold when I didn't even call them and don't even know who they are! Stand forth and identify yourself!

Of course, I'll never find out who they are and they'll never manage to contact me, because I'm compelled to hang up on anything SO RUDE. Screw 'em! I would never do any sort of business with such an inconsiderate entity. What kind of customer care is that? If you want to do business, you have to be considerate of your target market! Perhaps it is someone who doesn't WANT to be identified, because I might hang up . . . therefore, in turn, I definitely have no time for them. And I'm hanging up anyway.

So quit auto-dialing that phone and leave me alone. And, by the way, I'm on the national do not call registry. The only people who can call here must already have established business relationship with us. So you're in violation of the law, and I WILL report you.


Friday, November 12, 2004

Hot Air

"Blah, blah, blah blah Ginger." This is from an old but memorable Gary Larson cartoon. In it, there's a pet owner with both a dog and a cat. The dog hangs on every word his owner says and follows orders, but all the cat hears is its name and disregards all else. This is how I feel whenever I hear George Bush speak. The "Ginger" is replaced by the obligatory words "democracy," "voice of the people," "terr'zm," and "weapons of mass destruction." (Fill in the blank yourself--he has boatloads of them.)

I am personally devastated that we Americans failed to re-defeat Bush in 2004. Yes, I believe Gore defeated him in 2000, but fuzzy math carefully arranged by fuzzy marionetteers made it look otherwise. We are now well and truly up the creek without a paddle.

This man is the singular most dangerous weapon of mass destruction on earth. He is nothing but a mouth operating without a license. (He doesn't meet even the minimum qualifications for a license.) Everytime he opens the pie hole, he further mangles my beautiful language. He supposedly graduated from Yale, a school where many eminently qualified students of lesser means would shine. Yet the ability to speak standard English failed to rub off during that highly coveted "education."

We will never recover.