Friday, October 26, 2007

FLASHBACK: March 1982

She came from Planet Claire...I knew she came from
there. She drove a Plymouth Satellite, a faster than
the speed of light....Planet Claire has pink air, all
the trees are red. No one ever dies there, no one has a
head...Some say she's from Mars, or one of the seven
stars that shine after 3:30 in the morning...WELL SHE
ISN'T!...She came from Planet Claire...She came from
Planet Claire...She came from Planet Claaaaire!

Planet Claire - The B-52's

My throat would be sore for a day, and my ears
ringing for yet another day more, but it was well
worth it.

We walked out to the fresh, brisk early springtime
night air and breathed deeply. We were young and in
our prime.

We were B-52 fanatics that had just attended their
3rd live concert in Providence.

The first was at the historic Ocean State Theater on
Weybossett Street. By the late 70's/early 80's, the
theater was in quite a state of disrepair, but was
trying to fund much needed restoration by becoming a
venue for bands playing to moderate-sized audiences.

That night I remember I was with Paul Douglas and his
friend Melanie? (forget her name...heavy set, kinda
reminded me a little of Lisa). (I think even Michael
P. was with us but not sure....Michael P. and gang
(Jerry Cote and Michelle) had definately gone
together right around this time to see Diana Ross,
though.)

I remember I wore one of my ultra-thin satin ties
around my neck, and another around my head. (Thin,
flashy headbands were the New Wave rage) I also wore
the genuine 50's mohair cardigan (perfect design for
the New Wave retro look...black and yellow
checkerboard. My hair was spiked with Tenex gel (for
a change I used Tenex as something other than anal
lube...LOL)

The second concert we attended (this time just Paul
D. and I) was at the long-since closed venue on North
Main Street. I don't remember the name of it, but it
wasn't a theater, it was more of an open space bar.

Here it was definately standing room only. They had
beer but being underage we couldn't have any (we
drank before going to the concert anyway though).

The 3rd, and last time I'd see the B-52's live until
seeing them at the Mardi Gras festivities at
Universal Studios sometime in the 2000's, was this
night, during their "Mesopotamia" tour, at the
Providence Civic Center.

I'm not sure if it was this concert or not, but
during one of them, I had bought a tour t-shirt in
the lobby on the way out and draped it over my right
sholder walking on the sidewalk towards our vehicle.

This bitch ran up from behind me, grabbed it off my
sholder and ran away...I ran after her and caught up
with her, but she had stuffed the t-shirt in her
blouse while running...I even saw her do it...so when
I caught up to her she started screaming that she
didn't take anything. What was I gonna do...reach
into her blouse and pull it out? There were some
burly-looking straight boys in the crowd itching to
defend some "pussy virtue".

More I think about it, I think this incident actually
happened a couple years later when I went with
Bouchard to a ZZ Top concert during their "Legs" tour.

Ya, Diana Ross, B-52's and ZZ Top...I had quite the
ecclectic music tastes in the 80's.

It was ZZ Top where my t-shirt was stolen, cause I
now remember wearing that Mesopotamia T-Shirt and
getting very pissed less than a year later when it
got ruined by moth holes. That's what you get for
having a basement bedroom.

One of the more memorable quotes from my mom came
outta her mouth during one of these B-52 evenings. I
was getting all done up for the concert and my my
said "Is that the band that plays that fag music?".

She wasn't trying to be out right derogertory, that's
what she called gay, and, until then, I really hadn't
seen it. At the time, I didn't really know why I
seemed to feel a kindred spirit with the B-52's but
now I see, they spoke to my budding "alternate" side.

My loose friendship with Paul D. was totally based on
our mutual affection for the band and their music,
but little did I know, at the time, that while I felt
certaing strange rumblings of lust for him, that he,
was in fact, also gay. Hell, in these early years, I
wasn't even sure if I was.

Another memorable comment, stated with such love and
devotion, I'm sure, was also on one of these
nights...

I had just gotten done with the ritual "spraying of
the cologne" (POLO RALPH LAUREN) and as I said my
goodnights on my way out she said with her nose all
a'wrinkled, "You smell like a French whore!"

Ah, mother....she could tell it like it was. :)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Who Says Florida Has Had No Hurricanes This Year?

We did in Heathrow.

Her name was Hurricane Sharon!

The new manager of Americas Customer Care finally came to visit us in Florida from her home locale in Springfield, Oregon.

Since her visit was timed with this corporate sponsored Customer Service Recognition Days event (pretty banners, websites, and free lunch for a week or so), and, since she hadn't visited us since she took over in September, I thought it was just a meet n' greet. No, it was a meet and make mincemeat! (Okay, not so good pun, you try writing this crap on the fly, buddy!)

With the opening of the Philippines site, and the fact that the calls generated by the Hamlet release were not as huge as expected, our mere existence as a team of 26-30 reps was in focus. And it didn't look too good. The last couple of weeks it has been dead. At times, 15 to 20 minutes between calls. Great for us since we had more time to do other things like socialize, screw off, surf the web, polish toenails (dammed cubicle-neighbor Jennifer and her noxious fumes!). But bad for the company, paying our US wages when all the work is being done by teen-aged Filipinos making $2 an hour.

Well, on Wednesday afternoon, after Sharon had been here but a day, Jill called us into a meeting saying how she was embarrassed that Sharon was noticing people away from their desks while not on break, chit-chatting and having fun, surfing the web, etc. (Yea, this Sharon is really old school call center rigid mentality...ala Convergys...Kemmy and Jill never wanted it to be that way) Jill said that Sharon could tell Jill that they had to let 10 people go and it would have to be done. That, if we didn't want to stay in our job, we could be replaced by a rep in the Philippines in a heartbeat.

It took only one day for it to happen. About 10 of the temps were called in to a meeting with Jill and Sharon. They were offered to stay on for 1 more week (till the 26th) but after that, their assignment would end. Some opted to take the release immediately.

Among the casualties, Jeff and Mike, the 2 gay guys just hired 3 weeks ago (stupid huh, I agree, but they thought we'd be swamped).

Erica, one of the long-time members of the team...she'd been with us since spring last year...almost an "Original" (speaking of which, I am the only remaining one who wasn't an OSG convert, of which all of them are either coordinators or management (except the elusive Lisette))

Jim, the fat older guy, himself with a plethora of health issues...he'd been hoping to go perm for the health insurance.

And many others. Like all disasters that rip through a community, the "survivors" can be seen trying to express sympathy for those lost, yet difficulty concealing their joy at having been spared.

The big question though: Is the hurricane season over, or are we fragile remaining few, yet in for "The Big One"?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bitter, Party Of One!

Today, for some unknown reason, I "turned-the-tables" and became the epitome of the "irate customer"...the kind I hate to get in customer service.

I, and probably most CSRs hate this kind of customer, not because they scare us with their threats and rants, but because if they scream loud enough, they usually get what they want...even if it's not due them. That's so irritating.

This morning I called customer service at my credit union because I noticed they had assessed a $3.00 "maintenance fee" on my savings account.

I have been there over 2 years and never had a fee assessed before. Also, the fee put my savings portion of my account (called formally a "share" account) below the mandatory $5.00 minimum balance.

When I asked the African-American rep about this fee, she said it is charged to any savings account maintaining a balance of less than $50.00. At first I protested snottily saying this must be a new policy because I never have been charged it before...then, I remembered...over 2 months ago, I had transferred everything but $5.00 from savings to checking because the interest rate on the savings is so pitifully low, it made no sense to keep it there. Now I remembered why I had over $50 in there to begin with...I WAS told about the fee when I opened the account so I had always left at least $50 in there. When I brought it down to $5.00, I had totally forgot about the potential fee. So, because of my stupidity, the minuscule earnings I made over the past 2 years were wiped out, and then some, by one "fee". Way to go, Michael!

But the worst incident today was a couple hours ago.

I went back to Wal-Mart on Reinhardt to exchange my blood glucose meter since the battery it came with was dead and despite 5 visits to drug stores, and one "wrong model number" purchase, I was not able to find a replacement for this obscure lithium battery.

I have to admit, things built up in my mind to slowly elevate my temper, some warranted, others most definitely not...

Issue 1.
When I first came here I asked the pharmacy manager, Maneesh Patel, to check to see if my health insurance covered the cost of the meter and the strips.

He said it would take an hour to do the check. (Um, ok, that is fucked up I thought!) I said okay, and would he call me when he finds out. He said he could not call me, I would need to call in.

Begrudgingly, I took the pharmacy business card and said I'd call. After shopping, getting home, putting stuff away, yada yada...I forget to call. No big...I would find out when I pick it up the next day.

I go in the next day and the pharmacy aide handed me a bag containing my stuff. She said the total came to $60 something. Huh? I checked the receipt and supposedly my insurance covered nothing, so I had to pay full price, but also, even though I didn't order them, the bag contained a box of lancets at $16 dollars extra.

I wasn't planning on buying lancets since the meter comes with a small supply and since I am not sharing the meter or testing a gazillion times a day, I was planning on re-using lancets till they got dull (never say that to medical folks, they will wail and moan how you should change them after each single use...what a waste...just to increase the profits of the drug companies). It's just a tiny pin, for cryin' out load...swab it with alcohol after use and it lasts a long time...c'mon people, get real! I'm gonna give a blood borne pathogen to myself, or passive contamination from a "needle" that was only used by me and then cleaned to kill airborne viruses and bacteria?

I paid her but was kinda a punk that day too when she had it all packaged in a white paper pharmacy bag, stapled on the top with the pharmacy fact cards attached at the small crimp, and asked me if I wanted it put into a bag.

I knew what she meant...a plastic grocery bag to make it easier to carry since the crimp was so tight. I said..."Isn't it already in a bag?", smarmy and sarcastic, like as if she was slightly mentally retarded.

I can be such an ass.

Issue 2.
I had been growing concerned at work about the increasing outsourcing the company is doing, especially in customer care.

We have been maintaining our presence in India for a while now and have just this week deployed some 60 other reps in a call center in the Philippines. These reps will gladly work long hours and have few breaks and lunch periods. They are worked in traditional boiler room style call centers and watched with 2 way mirrors and pacing managers. They are kept to a tight script and given the most minimal of training. Whats more, they are a fiscally-conscious executives wet dream...they work for peanuts! $2.00/hour is what I recently heard.

On that salary scale, you could replace almost 20 of us American reps. They do the most horrible job too...but if you can find a few gems that are competent outta them, you can TRIPLE his/her salary and still make out like bandits...but only if you layoff the Americans. What does this have to do with the incident at Wal-Mart...you'll see.

Issue 3.
I didn't feel that great today, and having to wait in line at the pharmacy counter was grueling.

They are so slow there. What's more, the woman in front of me had a boyfriend? with her that reeked of cigarette smoke...he must have just come in from smoking. But, to make matters worse, some Latino family on the side of the line, waiting for something, I don't know what, had a toddler in a baby stroller thing...I guess you call it a stroller...I don't know about these odd things. Well, the little "cherub" (yeah, right!) was screaming up a cry-baby storm, and the adults weren't controlling it too well. But it was obvious why the "lil tyke" was crying...it's diaper was likely burstin' at the seams from the stink of it. Man, who knew little creatures could smell so bad!

I got to the counter and told the aide I needed to exchange the unit since it was defective. The pharmacy manager called me over to the "Drop Off" window continue my transaction.

He stated that the manufacturer of the model of meter I had required him to call into their call center.

Oh boy.

He got a rep on the line and gave the phone to me and said she wanted to speak with me.

Knowing what was occurring here since I am in the field, I knew the rep was going to try to have me do everything I could to avoid returning the item. It's a common tactic used by many companies to reduce cost due to product that can otherwise be repaired or tweaked to work.

Sure enough, she wanted all kinds of customer survey information and wanted to offer to troubleshoot the unit I had or at least mail out a new one from their facility. Neither option by this time was acceptable to me since, though she didn't know it, I had attempted the troubleshoot steps on my own already and would not be returning it if it was not necessary. (From my iCare (in 2004) experience, I do have a familiarity with how these devices work)

Normally, I would have politely asked that the store replace the item and I would have continued with her "survey" questions...but suddenly, I snapped.

Everything had built up to it's boiling point. I felt very much like when I was forced to scream out in hysterics in elementary school after being teased by bullies.

I just let loose...

I yelled at the rep on the phone that I wanted a replacement and slammed the receiver on the pharmacy counter. I yelled out over to the pharmacy aide that I was ready to get my replacement now. The pharmacy manager came over and I nearly screamed that I wanted my replacement.

"Do I need to go pick it off the shelf, as well", I screamed.

"What happened to the phone call with Accu-Check?", he questioned.

"I'm done with that!! I want my replacement right now!", I exclaimed with a snarl.

"But what happened over the phone? I thought...."

"I want the replacement!", I cut in, "Do I need to go to your manager? Just give me the replacement!!", I barked...people beginning to stare.

"Okay...okay...What did she say?", the manager asked, probably thinking it was the rep on the phone who riled me up.

"Look, why don't you understand me...I want the replacement now! I paid for it...this is defective...what's so hard to understand...PATEL!!!"

And I have to admit, I said his name with all the racist hate I could muster.

I am embarrassed by my action and will likely dwell mostly on this aspect of this incident most, since it is the most ugly side of me. I do feel, in what I perceive to be it's rudimentary and unintelligent form, a deep-seated, under acknowledged racism of which I am horrified.

"Sir", he pined with hurt eyes, "you don't need to go there..."

He looked genuinely shocked and mortified.

But, well in my rage, I continued...

"I am feeling dizzy and sick because I am not able to take my blood sugar...you are risking a medical incident here!"

Man, he snapped to it at that and handed me a new meter from the shelf behind me in a flash.

"I need a receipt or I won't be able to leave the store", I said, remembering the anti-theft Gestapo senior citizen Wal-Mart places at exits/entrances supposedly as a "greeter"...they never greet me...they just eyeball me to see if I seem like a thief...

"If they ask, they can call me...", Maneesh offered. "Do you want me to put a label on it?", he asked, meaning the pharmacy label verifying my prescription.

"No!", I exclaimed as I took my box, put it into my empty carriage and scooted my way away from there with 4 or 5 onlookers gawking at me in amazement of the drama they had just witnessed.

I dumped the cart since I realized it'd be best to leave immediately then to continue shopping, and stormed outta the store...Gestapo nowhere in sight (shit, I should have just stolen a new meter and avoided the time and embarrassment!)

So, will I become a grumpy, ugly, fat mean old bastard before my time?

If today is any indication, I'd say I may already, in some respects, be there.