Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Zen of the Complete Apartment

Last night, I passed my first apartment-arrangement milestone: I assembled the last piece of furniture that arrived on my back doorstep as slats of wood and accompanying bolts in a box.

And now, the apartment is pretty much all set up. Well, the bare walls will be my next project--and a significantly more enjoyable task than putting together bookcases and tables.



Ahhhh....the green couch. No, I didn't have to built that, but that doesn't mean that I didn't have additional, exceptional problems with it.

I ordered it from Bob's--there is a surprising lack of furniture stores out here, so my choices ended up being: wait for three weeks for Macy's to deliver something out of their limited selection of styles and colors, be patronized by sales associates at Ethan Allen, live without any seating, or suck it up and go to Bob's. Fortunately, it was quick work to actually buy the furniture there. I recall being dragged to locally owned furniture stores with my parents as a kids and it always took hours in environments where you weren't allowed to touch anything. I set a shipping date for mid-week, and I was assured I would get a phone call a day ahead to give me a three hour window to expect the furniture and I would get another phone call from the delivery truck an hour before it's anticipated arrival. My concern was mainly coordinating my availability with my hours at work, and if all went well, I'd get my couch in good time with limited inconvenience to myself in the process.

Well, as usual, no process that involves people bringing large items into your home who aren't allowed to accept tips will be absolutely painless.

The day before, I got a window of between about 8 and 11 for the furniture. I figured that wasn't so bad--in the ideal case I would get the furniture before I even had to be at work, and if not, I could count it as part of a lunch hour taken to let the movers into the house. No big deal either way.

At 7:30 in the morning, the vibrations of a large vehicle in front of the house gradually dragged my consciousness into an awakened state. I checked my phone--no calls had come in that I missed, and I did a double-take when I saw the nearest clock face. I threw on a pair of slippers and rushed to the door where the anticipated knock had already been laid. I opened the door. One of the two movers entered and asked me where I wanted the furniture to go. I pointed to a few places on the floor.

Oh, and did I ask him what happened to the "warning" phone call? You bet.

The chair and the coffee table came in just fine through the front door.

Then, came the couch. Surprisingly, they tried to move it in with all of the cushions still on it, regardless of having apparently done this for a living for at least longer than 24 hours. They quickly corrected this error and brought the cushions into the apartment first, and then, went back for the frame.

The frame turned out to be a little long. They got it through the front door in an upright position, taking apart an overhead hall light in the process. However, given it's length, they couldn't get it through my door like that--they would have to take it in length-wise rather than upright. The hallway wasn't wide enough to accommodate the length of the couch entirely, so one of them tried to climb up the narrow staircase to the upstairs apartment in order to allow for more room to turn it, and he was now trapped behind it halfway up the staircase.

So, the next logical step was apparently trying to convince me to call customer service and get a refund for the couch because they couldn't get it in the apartment.

I've done a lot of moving, and I am sure you can guess what the chances were for my doing that without a complaint.

My apartment is one of two on the first floor of the building. Across the hallway from me is another apartment, and it didn't take too many functioning brain cells to figure out that if the neighbors would only open the door for five seconds, the movers could back the couch length-wise into their apartment and then pull it into my own. Apparently, there was some kind of a policy conflict with their physically knocking on a neighbor's door to finish their job. Given the position of the couch in the hallway and the position of the movers, there was no way I could do the job on that one. Bottom line, I told them that regardless of minor policy glitches, their primary policy was to move the furniture people purchased into their homes, and they wouldn't be taking the couch back unless they at least knocked on the door opposite mine.

What happened? They knocked, the neighbor opened the door, they quickly pulled the couch into their living space and then, straight into my own in about half a minute's time.

At least someone found a new favorite spot, with or without furniture:

Oh, and it's snowing out here.....seems to do that a lot.

Monday, January 21, 2008

In Memoriam: Harriet

Harriet died this morning.

I adopted Harriet about five and a half years ago from an animal shelter nearby my parents' house. I was moving out, starting an internship in another state, and I couldn't imagine living in a house without at least one cat. Of course, there were plenty of cats to choose from, and as any animal lover knows, a trip to the shelter means having to fight the urge to take each and every one of those animals home.

Harriet caught my eye here. She was obviously displeased sharing a living space with so many other, less intelligent cats, and some who even cried to beg for the attention of a passing potential adopter. She was curled up towards the back of her cage, but upon being approached, she was aware--she acknowledged it in a way that later on, after getting to know her better, I could only term as characteristically Harriet. She didn't open her eyes, but she did start to purr, and she flicked her tail in response to every statement I made to her.

It was only a matter of time before I took her home. I brought her with me to my internship, and she moved with me into and out of two different apartments. She put up with a number of roommates in the meantime, and she never minded them. In fact, she seemed to prefer to be around other cats and actually made an effort to "get to know" them. As for humans, well, they could generally be divided into two groups--people she liked and people she eventually decided to put up with.

It's hard to tell when animals get older sometimes. The passage of time is different for them than it is for us--five years isn't much to a human being, but to a cat, it could be a significant part of a lifetime. Her black fur greyed slightly, she slept a lot more, and she was even more disagreeable when she had to be taken to the vet or treated for her diabetes. However, Harriet still greeted us at the door when we came home, she still would try and chase the reflections that watch faces made on the wall from the sun, and she still commanded the position of queen of the house--a position none of the other cats dared to tread upon. She understood a large vocabulary of words. She always looked worried when we scolded her, and upon pairing that with her terror when I moved out of my last apartment, we thought that perhaps her previous owners had abandoned her--and, as much as we would like to think that animals aren't affected by things the way we are, whatever Harriet had been through had made an imprint on her that she never forgot somehow.

Three kittens came into our home while Harriet was with us. No matter how annoying they must have been at times--jumping on her, running over her, making endless amounts of noise--she was never impatient. Only when a young, naive Charlotte tried to vie for "alpha-cat" did Harriet promptly quell that rebellious spirit by knocking her clear across the kitchen floor at an unanticipated moment--which was never forgotten by Charlotte. Emily, Charlotte's sister, took a particular liking to Harriet and would follow her around, nap with her, rub up against her, and just generally did everything that Harriet did. Emily's shining moment was hopping into a laundry basket with Harriet after Harriet suffered a glucose crash and was without the ability to move or see on her own. The other cats kept a safe distance, but Emily snuggled up with Harriet, and Harriet, not one for a lot of affection, acknowledged her kindness the only way she could at the time--by echoing Emily's purr.

Harriet was well known at the vet. After a recent surgery, the office called and we were informed that "Harriet had a procedure done today. There were no injuries to the staff."

Well, Harriet, for all the bowls of soup we shared, for the times we sat on the couch together, for the selection of dead mice you brought me as "gifts", for putting up with my roommates both feline and human, and for having the strength to be entirely unapologetic about who you were--something a lot of people cannot do--I bid you a formal, affectionate, and tearful good-bye. I hope that you understand somehow that although I had to do things like give you daily insulin treatments and shave your matted fur, I love you very much.

And, if I learned anything at all.....that there will never be another Harriet.

And I prefer it that way.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hello, Can I Help You?

There seem to be two main reasons why companies--mostly big-name ones--provide some of the worst customer service imaginable. One is just sheer arrogance on the part of the company. It's the same kind of scenario you find on a small scale on the high school dating scene. You've got the hot guy or the hot girl that everyone at least finds attractive, and when you conjure up a vision of him or her in your head, arrogance tops the list of non-physical attributes. Similarly, you get a big company that has lots of customers and provides lots of services, and the "big head" phenomenon isn't too far behind.

The other reason is our fault--the consumer. Too often, we're willing to let them charge us all kinds of ridiculous fees for their services, we let their problems become our inconveniences, and we just say "oh, well" without thinking for a second how amazingly ridiculous the concept is.

Case in point:

Date: Today
Company: Verizon

Last week, I ordered Verizon TV, Internet, and phone service online. I sent them all the information and got the confirmation e-mail right away. However, the next morning, I got an additional e-mail informing me that I would have to call the "Welcome Center" at such-and-such a number to confirm the order. Ok, not a problem. I did. The operator explained to me that their credit check system had not been working properly when I placed my order, that she had confirmed the information with me by phone, that I would get an e-mail in the next 24 hours regarding the service installation, and that everything was all set for the date I had selected.

Ok. No problems there. Yet.

By Monday, no e-mail had come. Odd. So, I called Verizon again to see whether they forgot to e-mail me or something got lost in translation.

I called the Welcome Center again. The operator told me that the credit check had not yet been processed (so much for the accuracy of the first operator). He told me that he sent the order out through the proper channels, but if I wanted to confirm they received it, I would have to call them myself. So, apparently unable to transfer me over the phone, I had to make another call.

I made the call. Five times. The line was busy for a full 45 minutes before I got a free line and sat on hold for 20 minutes listening to a loop of repeating elevator music. Finally, after I had lost all hope that I would be helped, an operator came on the line. I gave her a confirmation number that she got wrong, of course, but after that was worked out, I explained to her what the other operator had told me.

I was put on hold. Hold time: 3 minutes.

Apparently, the credit check was in the exact same state it had been since the beginning. I explained to her that the other operator had sent over the new information in order to speed up the process and ensure that I could get my service installed tomorrow, as was originally planned.

I was put on hold. Hold time: 2 minutes, 33 seconds.

Well, no, it couldn't work that way. It was seemingly as if the whole order had not been placed at all as the computer system told the story. I asked her why two other operators had told me differently in my previous conversations.

Her answer was to put me on hold a third time. For four minutes.

When she returned, she wanted to redo the whole order. She also explained that I couldn't have the services installed the next day because the credit check takes a full day to process. The best she could do was give me the 17th. I asked her why their computer problems were ultimately inconveniencing me even though I took every step they had required of me correctly. I also asked her why her company seemed to think that the average person who works Monday through Friday from 9 to 5 every week could clear his or her schedule on the fly to wait eight hours for their technician to come. Her reply was to label these legitimate complaints as "venting" and tell me "she would do what she could."

And then....she put me on hold. For what seemed like ten minutes.

Well, needless to say, she had no new information when she came back. The best she could do was still Thursday. I told her that Thursday was out. I asked for the 21st--Martin Luther King Day. No, she didn't have any time that day. I told her that this was completely ridiculous. Verizon first expected me to do all the work myself to get my credit checked properly, which isn't any of my concern, thought I could be home any day of the regular working week for all of regular working hours, and figured that could be done any day they had available regardless of customer convenience and schedule. I said that I had an installation date for the 15th, and given the amount of trouble I had been through already, I expected Verizon to find a way to do it--oh, God forbid--on my time, not theirs.

The operator apparently found this absolutely shocking. She explained she would have her supervisor call me and asked me for my number, which I gladly gave to her. Then, I ended the phone call.

Ten minutes later, I thought: why not see what Comcast can do for you? Comcast had similar rates, similar services, and a similar price range. I figured it couldn't hurt to give them a quick call. Perhaps appealing to them, referencing my unsuccessful call to Verizon may help things out a bit as well. I placed a call, and it was picked up in about thirty seconds by a Comcast operator. I explained what I wanted to order, he put the order in the computer and waived the installation fees. I asked him if they installed on the weekend, and he set me up with an installation on Saturday. He also gave me a four hour, as opposed to an eight hour, window for service. Then, came the credit check. When he asked for my social security number, I thought that the game was up. Ten seconds later, the check was done and everything was fine. Before I ended the call, I had to thank him for providing great service, and I told him that I was happy to be a Comcast customer.

Oh, and did that mysterious supervisor call? I think not.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Time to call in a U-Haul

Wow, it has been a while. I was still pilgrimming on to the Thanksgiving season when I last wrote. In fact, in the meantime, The Rock of Love turned out ugly--no shocker there given VH1 jumped on The Rock of Love 2 without allowing us to take a Poison-free breath, Tila apparently chose a man after bringing the options down to a man and a woman who one could easily mistake for a man, and New York has a new love that we have yet to see make it through the Reunion show. I wish my dating life were that exciting.

So, I got a new job (Applause).

What that means is: relocation, relocation, relocation, and in no way can that be equated to Thoreau's similar three-pronged invocation of simplicity. This meant taking the entire weekend to try and find a place near my new epicenter of work. Here are some of the highlights of my search:

My first apartment go-see landed me fairly close to my job, which was a plus. Unfortunately, that was the only plus. As soon as I pulled into the parking area shared by two adjacent buildings, I was given the immediate once-over by two individuals on their porch smoking, both of whom could be mistaken for the instigators of the latest hold up at the local liquor store. The landlord couldn't show me the apartment--she had apparently dropped the keys somewhere in the snow days before and had neglected to tell me that when I committed to see the place. I rescheduled the appointment, but when I decided to take a pass on the combination of a disorganized landlord and neighbors who have probably featured on the show COPS, I figured she would have lost my phone number anyway and therefore, I stood not a chance of getting the "where are you?" phone call from you when I didn't show up.

Later on, I saw a place on the other side of town where a lot of students live. Of course, that generally translates into appauling living spaces, exhorbitant prices, and lots of unwanted company. No shocker that was exactly what I found there. The house overseer was a little nervous because he thought the carpet looked shabby---but that was the least of his problems. The apartment included out of date appliances about to break down at any minute, rusty baseboards, ceiling tiles he was loath to replace because "the new, brighter tiles wouldn't match the older ones", an exposed patch of insulation in wall on the outside where the air conditioner was mounted, walls full of old nails and an older paint job, and a healthy dose of undisposed-of dog crap on the front step. Since I had contacted the man days before I intended to visit, at least he could have taken care of the latter problem.

Yet another landlord sent on his kids--his daughter and his two sons--to show us a place in a larger complex. They collectively arrived over twenty minutes late and because the girl didn't know which units were available, she needed to use my cell phone to call her absent dad and double check on that.

I drove a distance out to one place, took one look at it, pulled a U and came back, and I didn't pick up the phone when the landlord called to ask me where I was and whether or not I had gotten lost getting to the place.

Did this result in some good prospects? Valid question, but the answer is a hopeful "absolutely."

And, I stayed in the same hotel as John McCain in the process--unknowingly until he showed up in his bus. I didn't see him, but I did end up sharing an elevator with his wife, which confirmed my suspicion that he indeed did not marry her for her clever quips and quick wit.