Say Goodnight, Gracie

April 3, 2007

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When something that started out as fun begins to feel like an obligation, it’s time to put it to bed (as they say in my real-life business) for the last time.

To all of you who have read my posts, thank you.

To all of you who have read my posts and left comments, your validation has meant a great deal to me.

Goodnight, Gracie.

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Dear Comcast

March 27, 2007

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Well, since I wrote to them on March 2, I’ve heard from Comcast. About every three days in fact. There hasn’t been a response to my letter of complaint for their deceptive marketing practices (described in my previous post), but there has been an endless stream of advertising material, topped off today by the monthly statement. I opened it, not expecting to find that they’d knocked $15 off my monthly charges and–guess what–they hadn’t.

But I’m not done. I shall write again, pointing out that if they indeed want to “better serve [my] needs,” and really “look forward to providing [me]” with all my entertainment and communication needs (a lofty aspiration), and truly do welcome my “questions or concerns … 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” (as one of their effusive advertising pieces assures me), then they could start off by affording me the courtesy of responding to my letter.

Maybe I’ll suggest that if they were to cut down on their direct mail, the money they’d save by not sending me and everyone else glossy promotional materials several times a week would probably add up to quite a lot and they could certainly manage to let me have $15 a month of it.

I shall also print out and enclose my last post and this one, maybe (and maybe not) after I’ve allowed time for a few comments from my loyal readers–to whom, by the way, I apologize for the long silence.

So what about that long silence? My excuse is that April 15 is the deadline to file income tax returns, and I’ve been putting everything together for my accountant. Reality is that I have been failing to put everything together for my accountant every weekend since mid January because there has always been something far more appealing to do. I’m a writer, dammit not a book-keeper (although I actually keep very orderly books, thanks to Quicken, Excel, and my obsessively tidy personality).

Because part of any job I’ve had has been bailing out other people who didn’t plan ahead, so they don’t get stick from their various powers-that-be, I don’t want to put my accountant in the same position by being one of the clients who send him a year’s worth of information on April 10 and expect him to file the tax return on time. So I took care of it last weekend and sent him the stuff (thank you Federal Express) yesterday. Within the next few days, he’ll call me telling me what I forgot.


Deceptive marketing

March 2, 2007

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I used to have Verizon phone and DSL Internet services, but then I sold my house and moved to a highrise condominium. I planned to continue with Verizon, but after five weeks without even telephone service and with a large number of excuses for why not, I ditched Verizon and moved my phone service to AT&T. That left Internet. Verizon has somehow got the monopoly on Northern Virginia DSL service, so it’s theirs or nothing. And you can’t get Verizon DSL unless you subscribe to their voice service.

The only other broadband option is Comcast cable, which costs a whole lot more than DSL. Having no other choice, I went with that. I don’t watch TV and didn’t want the cable TV service, so up until a few weeks ago, I was a high-speed Internet customer only. Then I received a call from a Comcast telemarketer telling me that if I changed my service to the Internet and Basic TV package, I would pay $15 a month less than I was currently paying (which was a total bill of $61.10 a month).

“Wouldn’t you like to save $15?” the young man asked. The answer was obviously “yes,” and I agreed to change my service to the package deal.

Today I received my first “reduced” bill for Internet and basic cable TV services. It is for $62.91—which is $1.81 more than the total bill I was paying before.

I called Customer Service. The representative with whom I spoke gave me a bunch of double talk about how I was paying $15 less—$42.95 versus $57.95 for the Internet service, but when you added in the TV service and taxes, well … umm yes, he supposed it did bring the total to “about” $1.81 more.

So I have just written to Comcast protesting what I consider to be deceptive–or at best, misleading–marketing practices. When someone tells you that you will pay less and save money but doesn’t explain that it is for one component of the package only and that by the time you add everything together, your bottom line is actually going to be higher than it was before, isn’t the natural assumption that you are going to be writing Comcast a smaller check every month?

I suggested that an appropriate response would be a reduction to my Comcast bill of the $15 I was led to believe would be the result of my signing up for the package. I said Comcast could disconnect the TV service or not as they wished—such is my interest in it that I have not yet even bothered to connect a television set to the drop to see if it works.

If Comcast has an atom of customer relations savvy, their response will be to reduce my monthly bill by $15 and leave my basic TV service in place. We shall see what happens. I’ll let you know.


It all depends on how you read it

February 27, 2007

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Every so often, I come across signs that (through no intention of their authors) entertain, frustrate, perplex, or annoy me. I blogged about one such in November of last year. On my way home tonight, I stopped off at the grocery store and came across this one in the parking lot.

It was 10:20 PM and I was really tired, and when I’m in that state but trying to function normally, things tend to become a little surreal. That’s probably why I was never tempted to do hallucinogens—I could achieve the same effect simply by staying up late. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, that meant 3 AM. These days, it’s a good bit earlier.

So tonight, my chemically unassisted mental picture was of a parking space where customers could tether the kid so that shopping wouldn’t be accompanied by wails of “But I WANT … !” uttered as the embarrassing short person lay on his or her back and drummed heels on the floor in the cereal aisle.


Monochrome world

February 25, 2007

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From my seventh floor window, today’s snow looks beautiful, but I have no urge to join the two hardy souls trudging across the bridge into the park. I’ll watch from a warm distance.


Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

February 19, 2007

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I was going to write about spam (the e-mail kind) but since I couldn’t bring myself to put out my own money for a can of the stuff (the pseudo-food kind) to photograph, I went to the Hormel Spam(R) Web site to grab a picture and got sidetracked. You’re greeted with the Spam song (no, I’m not joking) and if you wait about 30 seconds, there’s animation. In fact there’s a lot of animation on the site and a veritable treasure trove of links. I decided against consulting “What is Spam?” It used to show up on the lunch menu when I was in elementary school (usually as rubbery pink slices but sometimes in fritters), and I’d as soon not know what, along with a week’s worth of sodium, they were inflicting on hapless children.

There is a whole Spam subculture, much of it tongue-in-cheek, but not all, I suspect. There’s a Spam Museum (admission free), a Spam Fan Club, and a Spammobile that tours the country giving out free samples. There are Spam festivals, most notably the annual Austin, Texas Spamarama, which has been going on since 1978. And of course there’s a Spam store with a huge variety of items with which you can show your allegiance to the product. A Spam pig clock or timer for the kitchen, pillows (think how nice they’d look on your couch), a mouse pad, a collector’s spoon, a Spam emery board, Spam wine glasses for the truly elegant table setting, a Spam three-legged pig (don’t ask). The link to the Adult category didn’t work, which is probably just as well, since the thought of a Spam G-string and pasties is not enticing. It was hard to choose, but my favorites were the glow-in-the dark Spam stadium cup, scrunchy, and boxer shorts. I always figured that the chemicals in Spam made you glow in the dark, and now you can accessorize to match.

The surprise for me is that Spam doesn’t stop at the pink rubber I was forced to eat at school, now known as Spam Classic. There are 11 other varieties, including Spam Garlic, for the more sophisticated palate; Spam Low Sodium and Spam Lite, for those concerned with healthy eating; and Spam spread (remember that one for your next cocktail party).

There’s obviously more to Spam than Monty Python skits. I’m not tempted to give it another try, though. I’m a vegetarian.


St. Valentine

February 14, 2007

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My father sent me a card on St. Valentine’s Day every year of my life up until his death. In the early days, he painted them himself. The first one, sent when I was 11 months old, shows my favorite things of the time: a clock that sat on the mantelpiece; a spoon; a box that had held 100 Player’s cigarettes (my parents smoked in those days); and a particularly gruesome rag doll made of pale green stockinette and named Gwynedd, which is the Welsh spelling—my mother was Welsh—of Gwyneth. My father’s cards were almost always unsigned because tradition, now lost, says that Valentines should be anonymous.

My father also sent Valentines every year to my mother. At the beginning, they were delicate pencil drawings or watercolors, sometimes with quotations and sometimes with original verse. My mother saved them and now I have them. Over the years, my father moved to commercial cards, but the very last Valentine he sent my mother—in 1996, the year of her death—is hand-made.

By then my mother had Alzheimer’s. Confused, frightened, and angry, she was no longer the gentle, loving person we knew. Yet she apparently had a vague comprehension of the significance of the card because I found it among her effects after she died.

A heart and daffodils are drawn (crudely by my father’s standards—the Parkinson’s disease from which he suffered was rapidly advancing) with magic marker. The message: “When we first began to think of such things as Valentines, it was some 60 years and more ago. But the feeling does not change. You are still all the world to me.”

I have many of the Valentines my father sent me. Somewhere I think—I hope—I have the very last one, but I can’t put my hands on it right now. The card is a leftover Christmas card. Apparently my father—by then well into his 80s and in a nursing home—had obviously left it too late to have someone buy a Valentine’s card for him, or maybe he felt that someone else shouldn’t buy something so personal. His once vigorous, sure handwriting on which I modeled my own is shaky. The message of love is not. He crossed out the Christmas greeting and wrote “Oops” followed by a message I can’t call to mind but that I know expressed my father’s love.

My mother and I are fortunate to have been on the receiving end of that unreserved love.