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10 Dec

Greetings all.  Been a while.  Have two things for you as we get ready for the holiday season.  

First up, a rant about my move across country, and the inability of people to perform the job for which they are being paid.  And then, in honor of the holiday season, my not famous but still (reportedly) amusing holiday story from my first (and so far only) book.

Most of the people who keep in touch with me know that recently I moved to the west coast. It was not my choice. My wife, whom I love dearly, explained to me that after eleven years of east coast winters, she was moving to California. I was invited to join, but it was not a requirement. Remember the words of my dear mother on my wedding day (“Son, don’t screw this up because you will never get another woman to pay attention to you in this lifetime,”) I decided to tag along.
Over the course of our two month long relocation nightmare, I received lots of questions regarding the status of the move. Well, it sucked, but moving usually does, so no surprise there. What was surprising was the number of times things would have been smoother if someone had just done their job correctly, but apparently, that is no longer in vogue.
I will explain. First, the movement of my truck. Had the person on the other end of the phone really known what they were doing, I would not have been called the week before pickup to be told that they made a mistake, and they could not move my truck on those dates for the money agreed upon, and that they were sorry but they were not honoring the deal made by their employee. That employee had made numerous mistakes, they explained, and was no longer with the company. Too bad, so sad for me. I may have been able to fight it, as there had been some email traffic back and forth, but considering I was leaving for the west coast the next week, I had bigger problems.
Second, we have the move-in debacle at our new residence. I touched base with the property manager twice that we would be in town to take possession 1 August, and all was well. However, what a surprise we had when we arrived 1 August. The property manager was indeed in attendance. However, also in attendance were the previous tenants, along with ALL OF THEIR STUFF. Seems someone had gotten their calendars mixed up, and hadn’t hired movers fast enough. As a result, we showed up after driving across this wonderfully large country to take possession of a property that was not ready, and I had to call off my household goods (we will get to them later).
We were still able to get the cable installed, sort of. Someone in that organization screwed up too. The technician called me that morning and assured me he was on his way, but that he could only install the internet service to the house, because the cable company had NO CABLE BOXES AVAILABLE, despite the fact that I scheduled this four weeks previous. Guess it was a surprise. Anyway, he installed 50 Mbps internet (wait, I ordered 75!) and said they would call when the boxes came in. Three and a half weeks and two cancelled install appointments later (THEY scheduled them and then THEY cancelled them, not me) I fired them, and started the process all over again with a different company. FINALLY got both fast internet and two cable boxes 5 weeks after we arrived.
Back to my household goods. Had the person on the other end of THAT phone taken the time to look up when exactly my shipment would arrive in California, and therefore be available for delivery, they would have (hopefully) scheduled my stuff for a delivery date that would actually be available. That didn’t happen, and of course confusion ensued. I could probably have looked the other way on that one, but over the course of the next month I would cross paths with several other employees from that same company that also did not know their jobs. At one point I was told by an incredibly gifted employee “not to worry” about a particular issue that I thought was important because another employee at the warehouse would “take care of it.” I received multiple assurances that everything would be ok. Well, apparently that employee at the warehouse didn’t know what to do either. The whole thing ended so poorly that I eventually ended up putting large signs on the storage containers warning my neighbors to never use this company for moving anything even remotely important. And then I took pictures of the large signs. And then I put them on Facebook.
In the end, I got my household goods, my family, and my truck all to California, but it was much more painful than it needed to be. Sadly, all this seems to support the theory that customer service is a thing of the past. It’s pretty easy to give up when dealing with customer service from a particular company, and just assume that they are too unwilling, too incompetent, or just too plain stupid to be able to help. If you give up, not only will you never get much done, you won’t make things any better. There are some good people out there, working for some good companies. When you find them, SUPPORT them. Keep coming back to them. Ask to speak to a manager when someone does a good job, and tell the manager how the customer support specialist did well. Positive reinforcement works on customer support people just like it does on anyone else.
So, don’t give up, praise the good ones, and report the bad ones. You will of course probably still be frustrated, but at least you will be doing something about the problem. Instead of just blogging about it…

And just so this was not a complete waste of your time, a reprint (with my permission) of my holiday story inspired by growing up with my parents in NJ…

My father was the sixth child of seven, and as such, never went to the bathroom until his older sisters went to college. That of course has nothing to do with the fact that his father was a retail food merchant, and was very busy around Christmas time. Because of that, Christmas in his house was always pretty hectic, and there wasn’t always time for decorating or tree trimming or anything like that. My father vowed that when he had a family, he was going to make up for lost time. Christmas was going to be the high point of the year, every year, for the rest of his life, and his family was going to have a jolly holiday, dammit, even if it killed us. And a couple times, decorating our house almost did.
Things didn’t start off out of control. My family’s Christmas decorations had a rather humble beginning, actually. That first year, Dad put a wreath and Mom put up a tree, and things were pretty much low key that season. Then I was born, and as I grew, so did Dad’s commitment to having the house visible from orbiting spacecraft.
I remember helping my parents decorate the house when I was first growing up. Dad, with my “help” (I was in charge of drinking the hot chocolate), would put up about seven hundred colored lights around our front door and windows. As this was the seventies, and things like energy conservation, electrical safety, and good taste hadn’t been invented yet, these were not the cute soft little twinkle lights so popular today. No sir, these were the gaudy, power guzzling two inch long behemoths of yesteryear. They came about six to a strand, and when we plugged them in, the rest of the lights in the neighborhood would dim. After about an hour these things put out enough heat to melt the polar icecaps. We also wrapped the front door in tin foil, and put a large wreath up on the side of the house, so that everyone knew that we knew it was Christmas.
The inside of the house was Mom’s domain (she did, however, allow Dad to come in from time to time), and for about three weeks prior to Christmas, Mom would unpack decorations and put up little candles and bows and Santas and a whole bunch of other things. Mom did allow Dad and I (again, I mostly drank hot chocolate) to decorate the trees. Yes, I said trees. As long as I can remember, my family has always put up two trees. The one in the living room was fake, but we always said either “artificial” or “living impaired” so as not to hurt its feelings. It was decorated in a very formal manner, just green and gold. No red anywhere in sight, and Mom strictly enforced that. I tried to hang a red ball on it once, and got spanked with a giant candy cane. Now that’s the true meaning of Christmas. Green and gold, no questions, no exceptions. Santa was watching.
Our second tree was a real tree, downstairs in the basement. In keeping with Dad’s theme of putting lights on everything within reach, this tree was covered with colored lights. These were the indoor version of the ones outside, slightly smaller and less kilowatt consuming (still, my family’s holiday energy use contributed heavily to this country’s race to perfect nuclear power) and produced slightly less (about two degrees) heat, but were every bit as gaudy. In addition, we put lots of brightly colored glass balls on the tree, in order to cover the tackiness of the lights with an even greater tackiness. Still, this was the seventies, and tacky was in, so we were happy.
Downstairs across from the tree is where we set up the manger scene. A manger scene, for you pagans, is a depiction of the birth scene of the baby Jesus. A typical manger scene has the Holy Family, an angel, two shepherds, three kings, and animals commonly found in the Middle Eastern region, such as sheep (to keep an eye on the shepherds) and donkeys and oxen. Our manger scene, which took up most of the basement, had the extended Holy Family, including aunts and uncles, four shepherds, an entire flock of sheep, six oxen, two donkeys, about a battalion of angels (not cute little cherubs, either), the three kings with their queens and concubines and bodyguards and camels, and a whitetail deer. Yes, one whitetail deer. Not being very smart, I never realized that whitetail deer do not normally inhabit the middle eastern regions. Apparently, Dad’s little sister gave it to him, and made him in a moment of weakness promise to make it a part of our manger scene, and zoological propriety be damned. Mom has often since been grateful that Dad did not have a younger brother who gave my father a model car, or else the manger scene might contain Joseph and Mary in a ’57 Chevy (though I always thought that would look really cool).
As I got older, our decorative scheme became rote. We went to extremes every year, but it was the same extreme, so we were comfortable, and a little bored. Then one day, my brother was born, (I had asked Santa for a puppy) and we had to move. My entire twelve years of life were turned upside down, and just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, here comes Christmas.
Our new home presented some interesting decorating challenges. It had an entire extra section of roof to decorate, for one thing. For another, it was a lot longer, and if we were to continue to use the seventies lights (which in the eighties were getting expensive) my parents would have to get another mortgage. Finally, there was an entire new power grid to tamper with.
Our first attempt in the new home was a valiant effort, but extremely inefficient. In order to get all the lights to go on, we had to throw two switches, plug in six plugs, and fire up an auxiliary generator. Everything looked great though, and with a little bit of burn salve, we healed quickly.
As the years progressed, we learned from our mistakes, and every year we made improvements in the system. Our triumph came the Christmas of my senior year in college. On that blessed occasion, after studying electrical diagrams for three weeks prior, and spending $312 on extension cords and those little things you screw into light sockets so you can plug said extension cords into them, we were able to get all of our holiday decorations to light up from only two switches. We celebrated. Then we sang. Then we blew two fuses in our house, and one across the street. We have several times since tried to get everything to run off just one switch, but sadly the goal still eludes us. One year, after a particularly bad start, we actually regressed to three. Dad took that pretty hard, but he’s ok now.
Coming from a large Italian family (meaning that it is a family of very large Italians) no discussion of the holiday season would be complete without discussing food. Christmas eve dinner is perhaps the most joyous meal in my family, and every year we prepare for it with the same zeal that the Allies prepared for Normandy (it’s about that noisy, too.). Each year we alternate between our brightly decorated house and my Dad’s cousin’s house. Their house is about the same as ours, except, according to them, more “tastefully” decorated (which is the polite way of saying they put up a hell of a lot less lights). We invite all the relatives in the local area (who aren’t doing time) in for the feast.
AND WHAT A FEAST IT IS! The traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner includes seven different kinds of fish. The traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner in my family also includes six different kinds of pasta, five different types of pastries, four bottles of wine (per person), three types of scotch, two turtle doves, and a Frank Sinatra Christmas album.
As we gather around the table stuffing ourselves, the older members of the family engage in the timeless family tradition of getting hammered, coupled with the other timeless family tradition of getting really LOUD. As they do this, Mom always picks this time to break out the video camera to record the event. As Mom has often had a few drinks herself, her ability to hold the camera steady is somewhat disrupted. The end result every year is a ten minute long movie of a bunch of older drunk people yelling loudly at the sober grand children during what appears to be an earthquake.
And I wouldn’t trade any of it.


I wish you all the best this holiday season, however you celebrate it and whatever name you call God.  We are all in this together.

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