Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'll Be There For You

Blog coming, but I had a moment today I thought you'd enjoy. A friend and I caught up through Tweets. I 140 charactered the high points of life, and then it was her turn.

She responded, Part-time roommate is great (has a chain saw & removes dead mice).

Sometimes, Twitter makes us shallow. And sometimes it makes us even more brilliant than usual.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bad to the Bone

Today, we’re inaugurating a new column, Bad Advice from Aunt Quinn. On occasion, I will take reader questions about the frustrations of the modern age and I’ll answer them in a way all but guaranteed to get someone arrested or send their credit score into the 200s. For our first question, we hear from J, a charming and nearly solvent writer living here in Los Angeles:

Dear Aunt Quinn,
How many calls do you think it should take to the New York Times to get them to fix a bill that is four times too high?

a) 2
b) 3
c) 11 and counting
d) Who pays for news these days?

I received a bill in the middle of July for $198, because my half-off deal was ending. I promptly called and switched to Sunday only, because while I love the New York Times, since we now have a gate no neighbors can see that we receive it so we've forfeited all of the erudition points we used to get. I figure that the Sunday version lands with enough of a thud to alert those in the vicinity that the Paper of Record has been delivered, but that might just be hopeful thinking...

Since switching to Sunday only, I've received five bills, each approximately $10 less than the previous bill, each as far off the mark as Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell. The bill should be $45. How do I know this? Because I love math, and because Supervisor Lisa confirmed it to me three phone calls ago.

You know that sigh of relief you allow yourself when you've finally reached someone, finally Theseusly navigated your way past so many minotaur representatives in the byzantine labyrinth known as the call center and connected -- really connected -- with someone who instantly gets your problem, admits the company's error and -- and! -- can do the mental math confirming your calculation that your bill is 400% too high?

That was Lisa for me.

She promised me I'd get a new bill fixing everything. She gave me her private extension. I thought, "Won't this be an interesting anecdote, the 'How do you know Lisa?' question at your commitment ceremony once Prop 8 is overturned."

Then two days ago I got another bill, for $131. About $10 less than the previous one.

Oh, Lisa.

So I called her. Can you call an extension directly? No. I -- being a regular navigator of call centers -- know enough to press "one" to order a new subscription, because that takes you to the shiny desk where the pretty representative answers immediately -- but Lisa was out. Can I leave her a message? No. They have to do it for me.

Lisa would call me back. Which she did. Yesterday.

At 8:20 a.m.

Now I don't know about you, or Lisa, but I'm not ready to do mental math, or confront anyone, before 9:00. I missed the call. I left her another message -- through another representative -- an hour after she called. No call back. Though I should probably check the machine and see if she tried me last night at the witching hour, or sunrise this morning.

The thing that drives me most nuts -- since you asked -- is the mysterious "previous balance" listed on each bill. That's the number that's wrong, but that's the one all the discounts and corrections are being applied to. I don't have a "previous balance" of $168.67. I have a previous balance of $21.17.


Quinn here. Some of you will probably notice "J" didn’t specifically ask for advice, but that’s only because he didn’t realize he’d be the beta test for my new advice column. So here, unbidden, is my advice to J...
Dear I’m Just a Bill,

There is someone at fault here but it’s not Lisa, it’s you. This is the New York Times, straight from New York, where people are very up-to-date and do many things all at once and walk down busy sidewalks drinking hot coffee from paper cups with the Acropolis printed on the side. Yes, they are sending you the Paper of Record every week, but that doesn’t mean that, underneath their Gray Lady exterior, these sohhisticated and very busy men and women are not passionate about life's greater impulses. What I mean to say, J., is that you are participating in performance art. Please catch up.

Your first clue this wasn’t a real life experience was the fact that you actually talked to a living person who took responsibility for something. Think back to the last time you heard someone affiliated with a large company say anything like "Yes, our company bollixed that one up" or "Luckily, I am the person who can remedy that".

You were in short pants. People took pride in owning a hi-fi. Seriously, J, no one has admitted to understanding a legitimate customer problem since before potato chips came in tubes. I don’t know how much clearer the Times could have been with you. This was not a billing issue, this was ART. You were the inciting incident or the wacky sidekick or maybe you were the Macguffin, but you weren’t the audience and, candidly, everyone at the Times office was a little disappointed in your lack of strong character choices. Upon receiving the next incorrect bill, you called back and tried to talk to Lisa? I’m no theater critic, but that’s just flabby work on your part.

When Lisa called you at 8:20, everyone at the Times was hoping you’d waken from a sound sleep and grab the phone in a panic, assuming a loved one was dead (They already know you’re a writer who works at night. That’s why they chose you!) Everyone at the Times was a little sad you missed the heart rending scene wherein you struggled to wake up while Lisa revealed to you that she is, in poimt of fact, a replicant designed by time-traveling mutant chinchillas specifically programmed to empathize (or pretend to empathize) with humans. That was going to be sweet. Well, you missed the call and now you must make amends by upping the drama.

Starting Monday, and every Monday in perpetuity, you are to send the New York Times a bill. Monday, the “Previous balance” will be $71.24 or any other random number of your liking. The week after, you will add interest to that amount. The following week, you’ll add interest plus a “billing fee.” The week after that, it’s interest, the billing fee and “Chinchilla Food.” Any previous week's total should have no bearing on the current balance because while you might think you’re getting incorrect bills from the New York Times, what you are getting instead is a series of plaintive requests to please, please create a meaningful and lasting piece of performance art about the mulish stupidity of large corporations held hostage to their own billing systems.
And you, dear J, are just the man to do it.

And save the crossword puzzles for me.

Yours in bad advice,
Aunt Quinn

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

At the Library

Yeah, I'm back! Look at my tan! I'm very rested, thanks for asking. I hope you like the fall motif around here. You didn't notice? Look again, it's very subtle. Hint: I used a mallard and elk fabric print to cover the cushions on the couch. I like to keep it seasonal around the ole QC Report. Wait until you see the singing Santa I'm going to plug in at Christmas.

I wish I could say "And so much has happened since I last wrote, I don't even know where to begin." Many things happen each day, the car never fully cools down, and yet there isn't a fun anecdote or six to point at to prove I'm busy. Daughter is, at this exact moment, not entirely hungry, and I can say that with pride because it's nearly a job unto itself. The pets are well. The house is quietly decaying. Yesterday, Consort spent seven hours fixing something blindingly complicated on his work computer. Eventually, it was fixed but nothing appears to be different or improved. I'm glad this pleases him; if I spent seven hours working hard I'd want something in return besides "I've staved off entropy."

Wait, there is one thing. I currently hold feelings of wild distaste for someone who barely matters to me at all.

It all began a few months ago when I noticed my wallet weighed slightly less than a frozen Cornish game hen. Ruthlessly pruning out expired museum membership cards and "Buy 9, get the 10th free" yogurt coupons was satisfying but my wallet still remained in cold poultry territory. Harder choices had to be made, the first being "no redundancies", which resulted in removing my library card and keeping only Daughter's card -- an arbitrary call. Eventually, I got my wallet down to a small bag of coffee, weight-wise, and we all moved on. I moved on slightly faster, what with having a lighter purse.

Months passed. I'd pick up books from the library and because this is the library we have used since Daughter was born, the desk clerks would scan the card and hand me my books. Then one day, a new clerk scanned my card, paused a moment, examined the card closely, peered coldly at my face and clucked.

"This isn't your name" She said gravely.

"No," I said smiling. "It's my daughter's name. And these are her books."

"Those are books for adults. I think these are your books" she clucked again.

And yes, some of them were from the adult section, but it wasn't as if they were titled things like "Rafe the Virile IT Guy Visits Helen in HR." As it so happens, both Daughter and I enjoy Roz Chast cartoons and books about rare fatal diseases. We would both read these books and so what if we didn't? I didn't like her tone. I quickly established she had no authority beyond clucking, twittering and peering. I grabbed my books and my -- I mean Daughter's -- card and sailed off with a "You have a nice day, now!" whispered over my shoulder to her.

For the new few weeks, no matter what time I went there or what day, there was the Clucker, glaring at me over her glasses. She'd check out my books and hiss something about how I was breaking the rules. I'd grab my books and prance out, occasionally chuckling about how people with no authority who get all rule-tweaked are a little sad. As it turns out, I was right; she had no authority. But she did have a boss. Three weeks ago, I came in to pick up some books and there was the Clucker who, upon spying me, ran into the back room and got her boss, the actual librarian.

I then endured a five-minute speech while Clucker stood right behind her, carefully dusting an empty desk and scrutinizing everything in the immediate vicinity but me. To her credit, the librarian looked embarrassed to be even mentioning this. I explained wallet was a frozen Cornish game hen. She nodded in sympathy. I noted that anything on my daughter's card, since she is a minor, is my responsibility anyway. She nodded in agreement. Eventually, we settled with "Quinn, it would be great if you could bring your own card. You know, just to make everything easy on...everyone."

And you know? Until that moment, I might have even done it, found the card in my desk drawer and changed over. I feel great affection for librarians, because they do important work and make our lives better in so many ways. But I just couldn't give the Clucker what she wanted didn't matter! The very meaningless of this power battle meant I COULD NOT BACK DOWN. Because this person thought she could harangue me into doing something which didn't matter to me at all, I could no more give in to her wishes than I could fly. The Clucker was a wee little bully-queen, ruling over seven or eight electrons of the universe, the electrons which decreed whether I could use Daughter's library card and I couldn't give her the satisfaction. So I smiled at the librarian, thanked her for the hard work she does and watched her check out my books.

[Yes, they were mine. Daughter's not reading about the mosaics of Pompeii any time soon.]

I then grabbed my books, sneered at the Clucker and vowed to find a library with an automatic check-out. But I'd like the record to show I did show some restraint, some recognition that this situation wasn't so much inconsequential as infinitesimal.

At no point did I say "Cluck you."