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Monday, October 20, 2003

I am a Published Wacko 

I have officially graduated from the ranks of self-published wacko to published wacko. My two pieces have been printed within weeks of each other.

The first is an article in Kids' Holiday Crafts Magazine about children with back pain. Check it out in their October issue which is printed online in its entirety. Not particularly interesting or edgy, but my first triumph.

The other is a letter to the editor in the Times Union, a newspaper in Albany. The article is in response to a lady who is complaining about fibromyalgia, a muscular condition, and the government's reluctance to pay for Social Security benefits for people who are debilitated by the disease. I respond.

And the funny part is that my letter appears right next to a letter by some other crackpot (not me) who complains that waitresses put subliminal pressure on people to leave tips by asking "do you want change with that?" Why didn't I think of that one...It's a better topic than poop flinging monkeys!

Well, the links are above if you are interested. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Two Whacks with an Axe 

There are few things more therapeutic than chopping wood. I don't know why this is. Perhaps it's a primal thing, but there is something about holding a sharp object and whacking it against wood that cleanses the soul.

I had to split some wood this morning and I could not believe how much I enjoyed it. The cold air in your lungs, the challenge of splitting the logs down the planes of the grain, the risk of losing a finger (or a toe if you really miss), and the knowledge that you are going to soon be able to build a kick-ass fire to rival the best fires in history all combine to create a feeling that rattles a part of the soul that rarely gets touched.

I used a hatchet, an axe, a sledge hammer, and my log-buster. The log-buster is a "Hershey Kiss" shaped metal thing that you hammer into the end of the log. With a good whack, it bursts the log into four perfect sized fireplace pieces.

As I was swinging my large axe, it brought to mind something that I had not thought of in decades. Perhaps I had repressed it from my memory, but I am going to have to try to confirm the facts.

I remember being at my grandparents' condominium in Florida. I could not have been much older than five or six. I was sitting at the kitchen table waiting for my grandmother to bring me my OJ and toast with jelly. My grandfather was sitting to my left slurping the dregs of his cornflakes from his bowl. His cacophonous slurping is the most vivid memory I have of him and would often drive me from the kitchen holding my ears.

The other things I remember about him include: he often wore mustard color shirts that barely fit, his shirts were tucked so tightly in his pants that I feared if he undid his belt he would get whiplash, he had this notion that the British called the last letter in the alphabet Zed, and his glasses were the thickest glasses I had ever seen. But back to my story.

This particular morning he decided to tell me a little bit about our family history. He told me that back in Romania (Transylvania actually) his father owned a butcher shop. He said that when he was my age his father had trouble with some corrupt law enforcement officials. He told me that they demanded more and more money from him each month for "protection". On this particular date, they upped their price, started roughing him up, and began to trash the store.

Then my grandfather told me that my great-grandfather (who I never met by the way) took his butcher's cleaver and buried it in the skulls of the two corrupt law enforcement officials. Then, he put their bodies in the icebox, gathered his belongings and family, and fled Romania for England.

I fled the kitchen for the bedroom, toast still in hand.

To this date, I have no idea if my grandfather was telling me the truth or whether he was telling me a tall-tale. Tall-tales run in my father's side of the family, like the time my dad told me he met my mother when he was a California Highway Patrolman and he pulled her over for erratic driving.

So, if any family members out there know the truth, or at least a piece to this puzzle, let me know. I am curious. And if you ever question the therapeutic nature of splitting wood, put on a flannel shirt, don your work gloves, and whack a few logs.

However, I recommend leaving the slaughter of law-enforcement officials to the professional butchers.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Silly Things On Keyrings 

People put stupid things on their keyrings. I see this every day when I am standing in line at the store.

One person has a gumby. One has a little model of Undercover Brother (a short-lived crappy movie from about a year ago). Another has two beer openers (I suppose in case one fails).

I thought these weighty and bulky additions were ridiculous until I looked at my own keys.

I see little plastic tags from Price Chopper, Dick's Sporting Goods, GNC, and CVS (recently removed). Through the past several years, I have amassed an embarrassing amount of little plastic discount cards from retail stores. These cards, upon being scanned by the cashier, entitle me to outrageous discounts available only to exclusive membership (i.e. anyone).

Essentially, we are receiving a discount for carrying a 1 x 2 inch billboard in our pockets so that when the valet parks the car he looks down and says, "Gee, I really ought to buy my vitamins at GNC." I suppose it is also intended to remind us to pay visits to the stores that take the best care of us.

When I was a tot, I thought if someone had more keys on their keychain it meant that they were more important. I suppose to a four-year-old the more locked doors someone could open, the more power they had. I always imagined that the President of the United States had a keyring the size of a hula-hoop.

I wish these companies that offer these "outrageous member discounts" would just dispense with the gimmicks and give us the lowest price they can while still maintaining a reasonable profit.

So, those of you who have lucite encased copy of Footprints, or a mini magic eight-ball on your keyring, go nuts. I can't say a word until I toss my dozen or so plastic 1 x 2 billboard in the trash.

Monday, October 06, 2003

CVS Resolution and Telemarketing 

Finally, there is resolution with my film at CVS. My one-hour photo, from beginning to end, took two months. Now, you might say, "Whatever, it's just photos." But to that I say, "No, it is quite more."

My one-hour photo took 1344 hours.

This is the same order of magnitude as dropping your car off to get a tune-up that takes a day and not getting your car back for over three and a half years!

My issue is twofold:

1. If it says one-hour-photo, it should take one hour. If it is not likely that it will take an hour, the words should not be posted as such. It should say Same-day-photo or next-day-photo. Or in the case, TWO MONTH PHOTO!

2. Customer service, although they work hard to follow up once a problem exists, should be more concerned with proactive efforts to improve service, rather than accepting the low level of service that exists and picking up the pieces in the wake of problems.

Now, hopefully I will never speak of CVS and their photo developing again. Hopefully, I can move forward and experience better developing elsewhere. I hear Snapfish is pretty good. If anyone has used them, let me know.

Telemarketing. Three cheers for the Do Not Call List! I read in the paper last week that it was discovered the twelve owners of the largest telemarketing firms in the country are on the Do-Not-Call Registry. Thank god for public information! If this statistic does not say it all, then check out an article about Dave Barry's column. Kudos to Dave Barry!

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Historic Mechanicville 

This blog is dedicated to Mr. Mark Furnish, Esq., the man who led this horse to drink from the water of blogdom. Thank you, Mark, for sharing blogging with me. If you want to see Mark’s blog page, it is at: Jefferson's Spirit

Mark, and his wife, Kim, had a great Oktoberfest and karaoke party this weekend. Knockwurst and Bratwurst are great lipolysis fuels for the Atkin’s Diet and so I had a great time.

The interesting thing I noticed, however, was on my way to their house in Mechanicville. We were driving along a dark upstate road and came upon a fancy, gilded sign that said, Historic Mechanicville. I immediately wondered what was so historic about Mechanicville.

The funny thing is that once I got to the party, several other people were wondering the exact same thing. So, as a public service, I have decided to do the research. Here is a listing of what makes Mechanicville historic:

1. Settled in 1714 by the Dutch, who promptly built twelve houses and a schoolhouse. They called it “a Borough of Halfmoon.”
2. Home of the “Rambo of the American Revolution”, Captain Lemuel Roberts. He killed two bucks with his bare hands and beat a bear to death with the butt of his rifle.
3. Liberated its last slave in 1826, fifty years after most other northern territories emancipated theirs
4. The Champlain Canal was built in 1830 and brought large industry to the borough
5. On July 6, 1859, the city of Mechanicville was incorporated with 977 inhabitants.
6. Home of Elmer E. Ellsworth, believed to be the first Union soldier killed in the Civil War (1861)
7. Fifteen Mechanicville residents bought “exemption certificates” to get out of serving in the Civil War (why didn’t poor Elmer buy one too?)
8. Mississippi Jenkins, a slave from South Carolina, was purchased by Mechanicville in 1864 to help fill their quota of new recruits for the Civil War.
9. Through the 1920’s, Mechanicville became known for brickyards, paper mills, freight transfer, sash and blind manufacturing, and textile mills.
10. Population swelled to nearly 10,000 during its peak in the 1920’s
11. Was paved with yellow bricks for a time.
12. 1908 Birthplace of Ray Heimdorff, nominated for 18 Academy Awards as a musical director.

So, let’s see here. What is it that makes Mechanicville deserving of the title Historic Mechanicville? Two war heroes, reluctance to free their slaves, industries responsible for horribly polluting the Hudson River (no wonder they are opposed to dredging; they are probably afraid of what might churn up), fifteen draft dodgers, buying another slave in 1864 to let other folks dodge the draft, colorful streets, and a musician.

Whoop-dee-doo. Call me crazy, but I can think of a more impressive and laudable history from the kids who grew up on my block.

Perhaps the sign should be changed:

Barely Historical Mechanicville

Sordidly Historical Mechanicville

Take Our Word For It And Don’t Look It Up For Yourself That It’s Historical Mechanicville

Or maybe most appropriately, just change the sign to: Mechanicville, Home of Mark and Kim’s Kick-ass Oktoberfest and Karaoke Party.

To the folks who embrace Mechanicville as the cradle of Western culture, please make a case for that sign. Otherwise, tear it down!

Monday, September 29, 2003

First, an update on the progress of my CVS experience. I have been getting a lot of inquiries from readers on the status of my film.

Some customer service representative named Lily or Rose (or some type of flora), called and asked me all sorts of questions. I did not rat anyone out, but I made everything clear to her. She was aghast, most disturbed by the part where the woman told me that one-hour photo means one hour from when she feels like developing my film.

After a long while on the phone and numerous emails, CVS has finally assured me that they have rectified the problem. All I have to do is walk into the New Scotland Avenue facility and pick up my pictures and disk.

I hope it’s that simple. We shall see.

But, my larger issue here is that, rather than focusing on making customers happy to begin with, customer service has been reduced to a complaint line. Reactive, rather than proactive.

It seems that most retail stores nowadays employ marginal help. What I mean by marginal is that they are marginally above retarded.

I don’t want to insult anyone who has worked at a fast food restaurant, but there was once a time where this “marginal help” was only found at McDonalds. Fast food places are historically places where people who are at the register didn’t know how to count change, and the fry guy could not be relied upon to fill a cup with Sprite. The manager was superior to all the other walking zombies in age only, and only by a year or so.

Somehow this inept segment of the population has multiplied and infected other parts of our community.

Incompetence is now all over the retail industry. In an effort to cut costs, businesses have resorted to hiring workers (if that is what you want to call them) who only shuffle around and shrug. The ongoing attitude amongst these people is “Hey, if I get fired I will get a job at K-Mart or Best Buy. Who Cares?”

Well, I’ll tell you who cares. I care!

There is nothing more irritating to me than standing in a huge line at the only open register at Target while a half dozen “sales associates” hang out not fifteen feet away at the customer service desk giving each other noogies (sp?).

The manager’s opinion on the matter was, “By the time I get a register open, that line will be shorter, so why bother?”

Am I the only one who sees the tragic irony of this?

I would be happy to go to a store that charges a little extra and provides proactive customer service. However, studies show that financial incentive is not enough to keep morale and job satisfaction high. And, unfortunately you can’t pay someone to be less stupid.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

I remember getting our first answering machine back in the early eighties. I remember my grandparents (who were really old to me at the time and not very technologically inclined) getting one soon after us and putting Hawaiian music on it. The answering machine has been with us for decades.

It has evolved through the ages from one tape (which took dreadfully long to fast-forward and rewind to the right part of the tape to leave a message) to the two tape (much faster) to digital (where you can selectively delete or save messages) to voicemail (which has all sorts of funky options).

So, after all of this time, why do people still find it necessary to leave detailed instructions on what to do after the beep?

We know already.

After the tone leave your name, phone number, and a brief message.

Good god. We know already.

Being that I own my own business, I am on the phone a great deal. I leave a lot of messages. I figure that I leave at least five or six messages a day and each time I waste ten seconds listening to someone give me explicit directions as to what to do after the tone. That's one minute per day.

That's about six minutes per week. That's five hours per year. Over the course of my career, that's 150 hours! Think of it. I can expect to spend about five full weeks of office hours through my career listening to someone or other tell me something I already know.

When will the day come that people will come to understand everyone knows how to use an answering machine?

If you do not, here's how it goes:
1. Listen to some inane babble
2. Listen to tone
3. Speak pertinent information
4. Hang up

Pretty easy. So, next time you are fumbling with the buttons and getting your scripting straight, cut everyone a break and...


Monday, September 08, 2003

I contacted CVS via email and telephone complaint line regarding my experiences with their 1-hour photo service.

Mr. Bill Westerlind (or some such name) returned my call within a few days. He wanted to know my issue regarding the photos and I laid it all out for him. Pretty much how I told it to you in my previous blog.

He apologized profusely and seemed most concerned about the ultimate quality of the photos and photo disk. He assured me that if I were to bring the negatives back to the store, they would be sent out to the best CVS in the Capital District to be re-developed at no charge to me. He also offered to provide the photos on CD rather than on floppy, which would provide better resolution.

Hopefully, my family won’t be distorted beyond all recognition in these photos.

I stopped by my CVS a few days later and dropped off my negatives and floppy disk. The store manager was very polite and apologetic. She took the materials back graciously and told me that the services would be provided at no charge and that I should return to pick up my photos on Thursday.

Well, I wish I could tell you that my problems end here, but that is simply not the case.

My wife, Elaine, went to pick up the photos on Saturday afternoon. She handed the pick-up slip to the woman and she started digging through the “L” bin. When she came back to the counter they discovered “CANNOT PROCESS” written across the envelope in big black letters.

“Oh, my husband is not going to be happy about this,” Elaine said.

“Why not?” asked the woman.

Now, let me stop here and make a comment. There are a whole host of reasons why someone would not be happy that their photos were not developed and had “CANNOT PROCESS” across the envelope in big, black letters. It seems that this particular one-hour photo lady could not think of even one.

“Because he already had trouble with CVS over this same roll of film.”

“Well, let me look into it while you finish shopping.”

The woman did look into it while Elaine finished shopping and the end result was that there is no reason that the film should not have been re-processed and she was going to send it out to be re-re-processed.

Coincidentally, I received a postcard in the mail today from CVS:

Dear CVS Customer:

Our records show that you recently contacted the CVS Customer Relations Department to voice a complaint. We would like to gain your feedback about the way your complaint was handled. Please call toll-free at 866-559-8861 and answer a few brief questions regarding your experience with out Customer Relations Department. You may call any time, day or night, 7 days a week. Your input will go a long way in helping us better serve our customers in the future. Thank you.

Debbie Kelmel
Customer Relations Manager

I am about to call that number now.

Now, I will not fault CVS for poor follow up, but it seems there is a problem on the technical side of processing or with the actual floor persons.

Coincidentally, I recently saw the movie One-Hour Photo with Robin Williams. It is a dark comedy about an anal-retentive, depressed, psychotic one-hour photo guy [Williams] who obsesses about a family that brings their photos to him. He begins to stalk them and things get nastier and nastier. But, the truth is he was a really good photo guy! And obviously they are really hard to come by. I watched that movie and rather than being frightened, I became depressed myself, wishing CVS had a guy like that behind the counter.

I will keep you posted on the developments (pun intended).

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

One-Hour Photo.

What a joke. Don’t be fooled by this cheap lure. The CVS Corporation is simply using the words in their window to draw you in like a moth to the flame.

I went to CVS yesterday to get a disposable camera developed. I wanted double prints with a picture disk, and walked into the store at 11:35 am. This is a recount of our conversation to the best of my recollection (which is pretty darn good):

“Here you go,” I say, handing her the red, glossy envelope stuffed with the plastic camera.

“What time would you like it, sir?” I caught a glint from her tongue stud.

I glanced up at the huge sign in the window, thinking I had read it wrong. Nope, it still said One-Hour Photo. “How about in an hour?”

She smiled and shook her head with an “even-though-I-only-work-at-CVS-I-still-wield-power-over-the-likes-of-you” expression. “Can’t have it by then,” she said.

“Well, how about two hours?”

She wrote 1:35 pm on the return ticket stub and handed it to me. “I guess so. See you later.”

Fast-forward two hours. In case you are curious, during that time I mowed the lawn, weed-whacked, skimmed the pond, fed the goldfish (who have had scads of baby fish incidentally), replaced a few light bulbs, took a shower, and read a few pages in Artemis Fowl.
When I returned, a different “photo professional” was behind the counter.

“Can I help you?” he asked, barely looking up from the stack of photos he was shuffling through.

“I’m here to pick up my photos. The name is Luper.” As I said my name, I saw that my red, glossy envelope was still sitting on the counter where the previous “photo professional” had placed it hours before. My stomach lurched in aggravation.

He looked through the metal bin, but of course could not find it.

“It’s right there,” I said, gesturing to the edge of the photo developer machine.

The photo professional loped over, looked in the envelope, and told me what I already knew. “It’s not ready yet.”

“When will it be ready?”

“Probably about a half hour or something,” he shrugged.

Fast-forward five hours. In case you are curious, I went to work, treated twelve patients, wrote two narrative reports, emailed a bunch of people, sent out my second completed manuscript to eight publishers, registered for a writing seminar in October, went to Home Depot for crabgrass killer, picked up a few pairs of gym shorts at the Champion Outlet, and bought a bottle of bourbon (I had a feeling I would need it).

Back at CVS, I picked up my double prints and picture disk. $15.99.

“Here you go.” It was the same photo professional as when I dropped off the film.

“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “When it says One-hour Photo on the sign in the window, what exactly does that mean?”

She looked at me with a vapid look in her eyes as though the guy who pierced her tongue went a little too deep with his hole-puncher and pierced her frontal lobe.

I clarified for her. “When it says One-hour Photo why does it take two or more hours to get my pictures back? Shouldn’t it say Same-Day Photo?”

She puffed up like a blowfish. “It’s one hour from when I decide to develop your film.”

Not to be outsnotted, I asked, “So, if you decide to develop my film next Tuesday, I’ll get my photos back one hour from next Tuesday?”

“That’s right.”

When I got home, I popped the picture disk into my computer and discovered that not only were all of the photos on the disk upside down, but they were horribly distorted, turning my entire family into some horrid funhouse freak show. The fact is, my family does a pretty good job of being a horrid funhouse freak show on their own, without the assistance of my photo professional at CVS.

Not to mention that I also got a photograph of a dog in my stack of pictures. That would be okay if I knew whose dog it was. The dog is gray and black and laying on a couch next to an ottoman with grapes and trees on it. Someone’s foot is also in the photo. I recognize neither the dog nor the foot.

I wrote CVS a few emails regarding my service and I will let you know what happens.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a pretty reasonable guy. However, this is the third CVS that something like this has happened. CVS spends an awful lot of money to internally and externally market their photo processing. I can’t imagine that this is the service they wish to represent. Imagine a car wash putting circulars in the Sunday paper every week and when you go to get your car washed they dump a big bucket of mud on your Impala.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Someone once said if you put an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters, one of them is bound to write The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

I beg to differ.

Let’s suspend out disbelief here. Even if obtaining an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of typewriters were a reasonable task, there are so many issues regarding this idea that its enactment would be impossible.

First off, purchasing an infinite number of typewriters would make Smith Corona the biggest corporate entity on the face of the earth. Smith Corona would topple small countries and send the world’s economies into a tailspin. We would all be cast into poverty. Except, of course, for those few who owned stock in Smith Corona. Those people would become powerful warlords.

But don’t go calling your broker to buy stock with dreams of weiding unlimited power over your fellow man just yet.

We have the issue of all those animal rights freaks. Despite the profound scientific benefit this research would provide, they would be running around saying that chaining the monkeys to their desks is inhumane. Imagine the protests. How do they expect these monkeys to concentrate with all that protesting going on?

Of course, we could avoid the whole mess by paying the monkeys competitive salaries, retirement plans, and health benefits. Health benefits, another problem. Offering health benefits would bring up the issue of transgender monkeys clamoring for Blue Cross Blue Shield to pay for sex changes and the like. Do you see how this just gets more and more complex?

Now, anyone who’s been to Monkey Jungle (or any zoo) knows that monkeys can’t seem to stop touching themselves. They also hump anything that moves and most things that don’t move. Human resources (or in this case Simian Resources) would be mired down in sexual harassment suits. The monkeys would then have to go for sensitivity training, further hindering creative output.

Of course, all of this goes without saying.

Then we get into poop flinging. I would have to say if you put an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters, one of them is bound to fling its own poop, which would result in a poop flinging riot. An infinitely large room filled with poop flinging monkeys is not an environment in which The Complete Works of William Shakespeare could possibly be written.

And the smell. Good god, the smell.

So, lets leave the writing of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare to William Shakespeare. To the monkeys we can leave the poop flinging.

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