A Library of Memories

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Most of the time I’m pretty happy that I don’t have small kids anymore. My kids are 21 and 24, so I no longer have to make them snacks all the time or help them with school projects. They never throw tantrums in Target anymore. It’s great. Most of the time, I’m just fine with the kids being grown.

Until recently, that is, when I visited the children’s section of my local library, where I was seized with the urge to either have a kid or BE a kid again, just to soak up all the wonder and sheer awesomeness there. I haven’t been to the library in a couple of years—shame on me. And I haven’t been to the children’s section in well over a decade, I’m sure.

First of all, it smelled exactly the same. That sweet old book smell, combined with that clean, air-conditioned, industrial carpet smell, and some kind of paste—that’s how my library smells. It’s right up there with cut grass and summer pine on my list of favorite smells. You can’t stand around in the children’s section and huff the air because that might alarm the parents in the vicinity, but if it were socially acceptable, I might have hyperventilated trying to suck in more of that smell.

Second, there are still giant paper mache creatures there. When I was a kid, they had a stegosaurus that I took for life-size, although I didn’t actually know how big a stegosaurus is supposed to be and I still don’t, but I remember that thing was huge. Maybe it seemed that way because I was about three and half feet tall at the time, but still. Giant.  Now, they have all kinds of animal heads mounted on the wall like trophies, but instead of looking like tragic, taxidermied safari victims, they look like happy, playful animals who’ve only just poked their heads through the wall for a minute. And they appear to be quite large, even at my current size.

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There is still an events calendar with activities that are still exciting to me, although I am about 35 years too old to participate: mask making, a World Rhythm party, Pajama Story Time… activities that I would undoubtedly appreciate way more than your average elementary school kid. Pajama Story Time? Are you kidding me? How do I get in on that?

Anyway, I went into the kids’ section to check out a copy of The Secret Garden, which I’m re-reading in preparation for a writing project I’m working on. I needed a timeless children’s novel written prior to the 1930s, and The Secret Garden has always been one of my favorites. But as soon as I got to the library, I remembered: the whole library is my favorite.

I spent a lot of time in the library as a kid. I remember summer reading contests, with badges and coloring pages and lists of books you could check off as you read them. I remember craft workshops and musical productions and Easter egg hunts. I remember a Library Pet Show, where my box turtle, Emily, got a prize for “Most Unusual.” (I also remember burning with jealousy over a glossy, black rabbit that another girl brought to the pet show in a picnic basket, like Dorothy carrying Toto. If you asked what was in the basket, she’d dramatically lift the lid and let you peek in at the rabbit like she was revealing The Mysteries of the Universe. I loved my turtle but goddamnit, I wanted that rabbit in a picnic basket.)

I remember helping my little brother, eight years younger than me, choose books from that same library. And of course, when my kids were born, I took them, too. Oddly, those memories are the least clear; I think I was too exhausted and frazzled to retain sharp copies of those.

Now my kids are technically adults, and even though I’ve sternly warned them not to attempt procreation til they’re at least 30, I secretly can’t wait for them to have babies. I need an excuse to hang around the Children’s section without looking like a weirdo.

In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for my own Pajama Story Time. With wine. Me, in my sloppy gray night shirt, an amazing children’s book written in 1911, and a chardonnay bottled in 2013.

I’ll do this at home, of course.

 

The Sentimental Crockpot

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This is my crockpot, circa 1998. Most of my kitchen is stocked with items from 1994, the year I got married. This one is from the year I got divorced. It’s not the most modern slow cooker, and fellow party-goers make jokes about it, despite the exceptionally tasty meatballs I’m usually toting in it. I could get a newer one that would probably work better and be less “retro-chic,” but this one has sentimental value. My dad gave it to me. He’s been gone eleven and a half years now, and few things call him to mind as quickly as this old-school crockpot.

My dad and I didn’t have the warmest relationship. He wanted four kids; I am Kid #5. I have no idea how old I was when my mom told me that, or why she told me, but my revisionist memory makes it seem as if I have always known this.

What I remember most about my dad was him watching TV by himself in the family room. Sometimes he’d shout clear from one end of the house to summon me from my room on the other end, only to ask me to change the channel. He could be gruff, even taciturn. But when he was in a good mood, he was hilarious, telling us funny stories, sometimes pranking us or our mom. He teased a lot, and you couldn’t tell when he was joking. I was the sensitive one who’d get hurt feelings and run crying from the room, which would piss him off. No wonder our relationship was a little strained.

Most of my childhood memories are hazy at best, and few of my dad remain at all. This one, circa 1977ish, sticks: I was sick in bed, in my yellow bedroom where the daisies from the wallpaper marched straight across the curtains. I don’t remember feeling sick, so there’s a high likelihood that I was faking it and my mom put me to bed to call my bluff, but I can’t be certain.

My dad came home and appeared in my doorway. “You’re sick?” he asked. I nodded. He vanished for a few minutes, then returned with a bowl of peanut M&Ms. From the doorway, he flung his hefty frame onto the bed next to me, causing me to bounce on the mattress and the M&Ms to jump from the bowl onto my pillow. “Would some M&Ms make you feel better?”

My dad loved me, and I knew that. But like many fathers of his day, my dad’s chief role in the family was provider. The nurturing, daily kid management, and responsibility for creating happy memories was my mom’s arena, so she got most of the credit and most of the affection.

Take Christmas morning, for example. In our family of six kids, Christmas morning involved a spectacular pile of wrapped gifts under the tree. We’d open our clothes, books, art sets, toys…each receiving a haul of gifts that my mom had shopped for, selected and wrapped. And we’d say, “Thanks, Mom!”

She’d correct us, of course. “Thanks Mom and DAD,” she’d insist. Year after year, she’d have to remind us that the gifts were from both parents. She did the shopping, but his paycheck funded the bounty.

Having lived most of my adult life as a single parent, I now recognize the financial feat required to raise six kids in Southern California.  I remember money being a touchy topic, and I know sometimes my mom had to work miracles with the budget, but we always had what we needed and then some. I think now of all the years my dad went to work each day and came home to a house full of kids who needed shoes, orthodontic treatments, football uniforms, piano lessons, and of course, mountains of groceries. I know he didn’t get to enjoy much of his paychecks. I know how that sacrifice feels, and I appreciate him now in a way that I couldn’t when I was a kid.

I know that sacrifice was an expression of love from a father that didn’t easily express love. The crockpot was another one.

My marriage was rocky from the start. We were twenty-one-year-olds with a one-year-old son, trying to do the right thing by getting married. That struggle is a different story, but suffice it to say that of our four-year marriage, we spent two years in marriage counseling until, on the brink of a nervous breakdown, I finally gave up.

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He gave me away when I got married. Fortunately, he also took me back when I got divorced.

The second-hardest part was telling my parents. Seems like all the bad news I ever delivered to my parents was sitting on that same brown sofa, my dad in his Dad Chair facing the TV. I was crying before I could get the words out. “I’m getting divorced,” I said. “He’s moving out next week.”

“Why isn’t he already out?” he barked. Then, with his usual sensitivity, “Why are you crying?”

I stayed for dinner. My mom served pepper steak. As I piled my plate with steak and peppers and potatoes and salad, I said, “I wish I had time to cook like this.”

“You just put it in the crockpot,” said my Dad, who seldom cooked at all.

“I don’t have a crockpot.” I replied.

The next time I went to my parents’ house was for my birthday dinner. My dad was unusually excited to give me my birthday present: this very crockpot.

My mom told me that it was his idea to buy it for me. Other than the gifts he gave her, and even those he often had help shopping for, this is the only gift I can ever recall that he thought of himself, shopped for himself, and wrapped by himself. And he did that for ME. Kid #5.

I knew he was worried about me, and what my life would be like as a single mom. I knew he was trying to make things easier for me with that thoughtful gift.

My dad softened up as he got older. He and my mom went through some rocky times themselves, and in the process of healing his own marriage, my dad seemed to crack open. He learned to say, “I love you” to us, though it would choke him up to speak the words. He spent less time isolated in front of the TV and became more engaged with friends, church, all of us and his grandkids. I know that my kids remember this happier version of my dad, and I’m so grateful for that.

When he was in his early sixties, a stroke took his balance. Later, a second stroke took his mind and mobility. Two years after that, in 2006, we said goodbye to him, all six of us with my mom together in his hospital room. That memory has not faded at all, but so many others are slipping away.

It’s good to have so many siblings, because they keep different memories. Soon we’ll be old folks who tell the same stories over and over to help us remember. This crockpot story will be one of mine.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Really Don’t Care About Your Grammar

Click on the image to learn more about Grammarly. Thanks for inspiring this post, Grammarly!

Click on the image to learn more about Grammarly. Thanks for inspiring this post, Grammarly!

Every once in a while, a friend will express concern that I’m judging their grammar.*
I’m not. Yes, it is my job to communicate in writing and yes, I notice misspellings and most mechanical errors. I can’t help it. But much of the time, I don’t care about your grammar. I only care about mine. So I would appreciate it if everyone would just relax.

Three main reasons I’m not uptight about grammar:

1.  In casual usage, formal grammar can actually be distracting.
*Did you notice the subject/pronoun disagreement in that first sentence? Yeah, that bothered me. It bothered me because it was my error and I don’t want anyone to think I don’t know better. But that particular error never bothers me when someone else makes it, because that’s how most people speak. And sometimes, using the plural pronoun is less distracting than using the singular pronoun and having to choose a gender. (As in, “A friend will express concern that I’m judging her grammar,” which would imply that the friend was a girl, and might have you wondering if I meant you or your sister.)

You may also notice that I don’t give a rat’s patootie about starting a sentence with a conjunction, though that is technically incorrect, too. I’ve already done it at least four times in this post, because I’m a rebel like that. Which brings me to point #2.

2.  Sometimes rule-breaking works better.
In a blog post, I will write run-on sentences when I’m trying to convey breathless excitement. I will write fragments for emphasis. Occasionally, I will incorrectly structure a series, because I prefer the rhythm with a whole bunch of conjunctions instead of commas. I break rules to establish tone or to create an effect. I try not to habitually break rules, because that can become a distraction of its own. But in my own writing, I use the rules to my advantage and disregard them when it suits me. It’s a choice I make, and other people can have that choice, too.

 3.  Lots of smart people suck at spelling and grammar.
I learned this early in life. Some of my super-smart friends were terrible spellers. Spelling and grammar come naturally to me. You know what doesn’t? Math. So if you don’t mock my inability to do quick math, I will not raise an eyebrow if you occasionally misspell things.

Language is just a tool for communication. Communication is sending and receiving messages, right?

If I’m sending a message, I want my grammar to support that message and not distract from it. So I follow rules to the extent that it helps my audience receive the message. Sometimes that means following formal rules; sometimes it doesn’t. I guarantee you, when I’m commenting on Facebook, the only reason I care about my grammar is because some smartass will point out my errors, especially if they think I’m a Grammar Nazi. Which I’m not. (Fragment for emphasis, see?) When I’m texting with friends, I don’t even think about mechanics.

If I’m receiving a message from you, and you are a friend of mine who’s attempting to communicate with me, whether that be on Facebook, via text, or in conversation over dinner, the only reason I’m going to be concerned about your grammar is if it garbles the message you’re sending so badly that I can’t receive it. Usually, that’s not the case; I can figure out what you mean.

Bottom line: I care about your message much more than your mechanics.

Proper grammar has its place, but the burden for proper grammar is on the one who sends the message. My job as a listener is to receive your message and seek to understand it, not find fault in its delivery.

Someone once told me, “Over-attention to other people’s grammar is the mark of a small mind.” I wholeheartedly agree with that. The truth is, I don’t quite like the way he structured that sentence. My brain struggles with the awkward subject clause. But I am not small-minded, so I didn’t pay attention to his sentence structure. Instead, I received his message. And I have never forgotten it.

Birthday Thoughts: 43 and Rollin’ With It

I’m turning 43 today. I don’t really care so much about that, but my birthday might be making me a little more introspective than usual. (That’s saying something. Somebody here might be a narcissist. If you have a personal blog, there’s a pretty high chance of narcissism. Just sayin’. But it’s okay to be a narcissist on your birthday, right?)

There is a very positive development on the horizon for me, and I can’t talk about it because it’s not official yet. But the possibility—the likelihood, even– is so exciting, it’s spilling over into the rest of my life and suddenly everything seems all rosy and full of possibility. I feel happy and beautiful and abundant. I’m actually walking around smiling, buzzing. It’s pretty wonderful.

And, at 43, I finally recognize this for what it is. Basically, this is a mood swing. Nothing in my life is any different than usual. More money may be coming into it, and that’s fantastic and it will feel great. A younger me would be thinking, man, if this happens, everything will be perfect. I will have arrived.

But I’ve learned that that’s not the case, regardless of what new development occurs. Doesn’t matter if I meet a wonderful guy or get a great job or reach my goal weight or whatever. (I have a little shame that these issues are still the yardsticks, but they are. I can’t deny it.) I can be broke no matter how much money I make. I can feel lonely no matter who I’m with. I can feel fat no matter what I weigh, and I can feel sad even when I’m aware of how good I have it. The reverse is also true: I can feel rich when I have nothing. I can feel sexy on my frumpiest of days. I can feel perfectly content and loved when I’m alone.

The absolute crux of my whole existence seems to be mood–not my reality but how I relate to my reality. And when you’re me, with my moods, the one constant is flux. My mood will go up and it will go down. Two days per month it will go waaaaay down. And when stuff goes right, like right now, it will go way up.

Obviously, volumes have been written about this. Not sure what I, small-time blogger, can say that all the greats haven’t already covered. But just like I’m enjoying my UP mood right now, I’m enjoying my grown-up lady perspective that says, “Just roll with it. Don’t grab at it. Just enjoy it while it lasts and see it for what it is.”

This quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh is lingering with me lately, though the context is slightly off from my own. She’s talking about the ebb and flow of love within the context of a relationship, but I receive it in the context of ebb and flow between me and the Universe, or me and my reality—however you care to phrase it—this is true in the broader perspective, and it helps me to think like this.

We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.

Note that she’s not saying there’s no pleasure in owning or expecting or hoping. There’s comfort in continuity; there’s fun in nostalgia. But in the end, there’s no security in it. You can’t bank on it. You are the bank. I am the bank. Kookookachoo.

Speaking of nostalgia, this quote brings back memories of trying to bodysurf as a kid. I grew up in Orange County and have many memories of charging fearlessly into the surf, deep enough so that the swell would lift me off my feet. If you stood in the right place at the right time, the right wave would deliver you smoothly back to the beach. If you timed it poorly, the wave would knock you under and tumble you around until you weren’t sure which way was up, and you’d wind up sputtering and gasping in the sand. I wasn’t great at this, so I did more than my share of tumbling and sputtering. But either way, I’d catch my breath and run right back into the water, over and over again. I’d spend hours in the water, then go home sunburned and exhausted, salty hair plastered to my head and sand stuck in my ears, nose and all the other nooks and crannies of my person. My favorite part was laying in my bed at night, still feeling the ebb and flow of the sea. I could close my eyes and be right back in it, and feel the solidity of my own form against the push and pull of the waves, feel the swell of the water against my legs and the rush of the sand from under my feet.

So at 43, I’ve learned that being a grown-up is about leaning into that ebb and flow. It’s not even knowing which way to lean, or avoiding the tumble and sputter. It’s knowing that there will be smooth rides; there will even be glorious, amazing, can’t-believe-I-caught-that-wave rides. And there will be also times when you hit bottom so hard, you’re still finding sand in your crack a week later.

Whatever happens, good or bad, more waves are coming.

Meg Birthday 43

Seven Reasons to Love Moving

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I’m not moving again. Not yet, anyway.

The condo that I’m renting is being sold this week—which means another move may be on the horizon. Fortunately, I’m on a lease through the summer, but there is a great big pile of unknowns waiting for me when that lease expires.

I hate unknowns. Especially these:

  • Are the new owners slumlords or decent humans? Will they fix the broken stuff or let the place fall apart?
  • How high will they raise my rent? Will I be able to afford to stay?
  • Will they renew my lease?
  • If they don’t renew my lease, will I be able to find a new place that will accept my dogs?

As a chronic worrier, I find that sometimes, the most helpful way to deal with worrying is to work through the worst-case scenario. In this instance, the worst case is that I won’t be able to afford the new rent or they will not renew my lease. In either case, I will have to move. Again.

My fourth move in five years. Here come the voices in my head:

Cheerful Meg to Worrywart Meg: C’mon! It won’t be so bad! Moving is kind of cool!

Worrywart Meg: Moving SUCKS, you idiot.

But you know what? The secret truth is that Cheerful Meg, though obnoxious, is not entirely full of crap. I do kind of like moving. At least, there are a few things I like about it. And since I may not have a choice, I may as well focus on the good parts.

What good parts, you ask?

Allow me to itemize them for you:

  1. Purging. I love to get rid of shit. I feel righteous, self-controlled—rich, even—when I get rid of things. Before a move, I go on an epic purge of my belongings. Pare down to only the essential six or eight sets of cloth napkins for all my imaginary future dinner parties. Whittle away all but my truly indispensible twelve tubs of holiday decorations. Ruthlessly eliminate extraneous craft supplies until only the most critical shades of glitter remain. I am no hoarder! I am organized! A lean, mean domestic machine!
  2. Anticipation of decorating. Decorating is even better than purging. Decorating is one of my very favorite things, and moving to a new place means I get to decorate EVERY ROOM. Before I move, I measure each room in my new space and actually draw out a floor plan to scale, and then I cut out little paper furniture and rearrange everything a bazillion times. I cannot overemphasize the amount of satisfaction this gives me. It’s downright freakish. I pick paint colors (most of which are never used) and draw sketches and pour over the Craigslist used furniture section in a sort of feverish HGTV hallucination. It’s glorious.
  3. Moving day love. To all my friends and family who have helped me move so many times, I apologize for this part. I know everyone hates to help people move. But you know what? It’s pretty touching that they love me enough to do it. And they’re even pleasant about it and show up with food and useful gifts and make hilarious jokes all day so it becomes kind of fun. If I could spare them the opportunity to love me like that, I would…but if I can’t, well, I’m going to just enjoy the love. Right?
  4. Excuse to eat lots of pizza. As a thank you for the moving help, I buy pizza and beer. And I consume a ton of it. Since I’ve burned 348,964 calories lugging boxes and furniture around, I can eat that pizza with no guilt. Guilt-free gratitude pizza, anyone? Come help me move!
  5. Harnessing of Superpower. Have you ever noticed what an insane amount of work you accomplish on moving day, and the days just before and after? Apparently I have a secret reserve of energy that is only tapped in the event of a move, and it allows me to tirelessly plow through purging, packing, moving, cleaning, unpacking, and more cleaning at a speed that is quite staggering. Sometimes when I can’t muster the energy to wash the dishes or dust the bookcase, I try to channel that Moving Day Superpower. Never works. That power is only accessible on Moving Day. So you have to enjoy it while you can.
  6. Excuse to be messy. Thanks to a lifetime of conditioning by my mother, I have deep and abiding shame when someone comes over and my house is messy… unless I’m about to move or have just moved. In that case, free pass! Come on in! Just pull up a box to this grimy table piled with junk and have some of this leftover gratitude pizza!
  7. And of course, a fresh start. When there are boxes piled in every corner, but at last the beds are made and you can finally lay your aching body down in your new bedroom, you think about all you’ve accomplished and all those who helped and how much there is to do tomorrow. Laying in that new darkness, feeling the unfamiliar energy of the house settling around you, hearing those strange nighttime sounds that you haven’t gotten used to yet…you know the worst of it is over and you can finally turn the page and start a new chapter. And the last feeling you feel—just a quick glimmer before you fall into delicious, dead-tired sleep—is the rush of possibility.

Anything Would Do…

When I was a kid, there was a 7-11 on the corner near my house. The parking lot was walled by a cinder block fence, and there was a cinder block dumpster enclosure in one corner.  There weren’t any dumpsters in it, so I didn’t know that’s what it was. I just thought it was a special little outside room with no roof.

I wanted the dumpster enclosure—badly– for a clubhouse. I remember thinking it would be so cool– I could make a little roof and put a bed in there, and it was just big enough to put my stuff in. I would check it out every time we passed, and no one was ever using it. I figured if I asked nicely, maybe the owner of 7-11 would give me the dumpster enclosure and I could live in it. Oh, I would be so happy if I could just have that dumpster enclosure for my very own.

This is the enclosure I wanted. They've upgraded it since I was a kid; now it has a roof and even landscaping. Dreamy!

This is the enclosure I wanted. They’ve upgraded it since I was a kid; now it has a roof and even landscaping. Dreamy! Too bad they put a dumpster in it.

Of course, I grew up, and my ambitions outgrew the dumpster enclosure. First I wanted an apartment. Preferably an apartment like the one on Too Close for Comfort, with rainbows on the walls—but any apartment would do. By the time I got an apartment, it was 1994, so instead of rainbows I had country blue hand-me-down furniture. But I was fine with that—for a while.

Then I developed a burning desire to own something.  Anything would do, as long as it was mine. In 2001 I bought a grimy condominium wherein every surface was either dusty rose or mildew-colored. I can’t imagine why anyone other than a five-year-old girl would want so much pink. But that pink condo was mine, and once I cleaned that sucker up and painted over the pink with fashionable Tuscan colors, I loved it.  For a while.  Until I started to want a house.

Oh, how I wanted a house.  Any house would do, as long as it was mine.  My condo was cool, but it didn’t have a yard or a family room and it wasn’t big enough to host my family and suddenly, it just wouldn’t do. I had to have a house.

Well, I bought a house. Not just any house—I bought the house I grew up in. Just an ordinary ranch house in an ordinary suburb, with an extraordinary wealth of childhood memories in every room.  It had a swimming pool, a garden, and a garage to keep my hoard of craft supplies and half-done projects.  It had an antique piano in the living room. Not only was the dining room big enough to host my family, it was the very dining room in which we’d celebrated every major holiday since my parents bought it in 1979. It was more than mine; it was ours.  How I loved that house.

Until.

I wish there were no “until,” but there is. I loved that house until I had to sell it or lose it to foreclosure. An extended period of unemployment (2008-2011, just like everybody else) left me behind on the mortgage and nothing I did was enough to catch up.  It broke my heart to sell it. Still hurts to write about it.

I was in a crisis, earning half of what I’d earned before the recession, and I had to find a place I could afford—anything would do, with one tricky criteria: I wanted to keep my dogs. I had to find a place that would rent to me with two pit bulls. In case you don’t know, that is like trying to find a place that will rent to me and my herd of water buffalo. It’s really freaking difficult.  People questioned my priorities: you’re broke, and you have no place to go, and you’re going to keep those dogs? Yes, dammit, I already lost my house; I’m not losing my dogs, too.

Would you give up this dog? Me neither.

Would you give up this dog? Me neither. (Photo credit: Maddy Faulkner)

So I found one: a two-bedroom apartment that allowed pit bulls. Lucky me! Except I hated it. I tried to feel grateful because I wasn’t homeless, which is kind of a big deal. And I had my dogs, which was even something of a luxury. But I hated that damn apartment. I hated the crowded laundry room and the stupid ranchero music blasting all weekend and the idiot who parked his truck in my space and the damn yapping Chihuahuas across the way and did I mention there were COCKROACHES? (Cockroaches actually make me cry.) I hated that apartment EVERY DAY. I knew I was lucky to have it, but I couldn’t wait to leave.

Enter the ghetto cottage.  You can read about it here. It’s funky and older than dirt, and I was stoked to get it. It’s cheap and they don’t mind my dogs and it even comes with an exterminator.  Every day I am grateful for my own laundry, my own driveway, my yard, etc.

So what prompted this little walk down memory lane? Well, the GC finally got a paint job. I had been waiting for the paint job for six months.  I was so excited when they told me it was getting painted, it was like Christmas and my birthday all at once. Then I had a tiny meltdown.  WHAT ABOUT THE COLOR? WHAT IF I DON’T LIKE IT? WAIT, IS THAT PEACH? GOD ALMIGHTY, PEACH AND RED?!?

Have you ever gotten on your own nerves? I drove myself nuts obsessing about the color, when the proper response was to be grateful for the paint job. As often happens when I freak out, the reasonable part of my brain started to laugh at the crazy part. Criminy Meg, shut up. Out of the blue, I remembered that dumpster enclosure, and the kid who longed for four cinder block walls of her very own.

Oh yeah…perspective.

The ghetto cottage looks a million times better with the new paint, even though the color is a bit weird.  Now I feel even luckier to have it. As with everything in life, the key is to focus on the positive aspects while you’re working to improve the rest.  The truth is that I have everything I need, and then some.

You can't see the red behind the security door, but it's there. But look how pretty that white trim is! Woo!

You can’t see the red behind the security door, but it’s there. But look how pretty that white trim is! Woo!

This is the back door. It goes to the laundry room. I love the laundry room.

This is the back door. (It goes to the laundry room. I love the laundry room.)

Time Warner Cable: A Study in Nomenclature

This post contains the F-Word. I’m sorry, but I’m writing about Time Warner Cable, so the F-word is absolutely necessary. If you have ever interacted with them, you will understand.

I originally wrote a 1,200 word post describing my ordeal, but you don’t really want to read that, do you? Believe it or not, I try to distill these posts of mine to just the funny parts or the parts where I learned something. I’m trying to be either entertaining or helpful— that’s my goal.

Hey—that should be TWC’s goal, too! Someone should tell them that! Only you can’t tell them anything, because there is no way to communicate with Time Warner Cable. You can call, email, walk into the store, actually scream and cry, but no information will be received by anyone with a soul or a sense of accountability.

Over my two-month struggle to regain internet access, I have realized that Time Warner Cable needs a complete overhaul of their entire organization. Let’s start calling things what they really are, Time Warner. Here are some suggestions.

National Help Desk: The National Help Desk is neither helpful nor anywhere in my nation. I’m not sure what nation it’s in. I suggest we call it the Foreign Frustration Desk.  I have called the Foreign Frustration Desk at least 50 times in the last few months. I received no help, only frustration. The frustration delivery mechanism is superbly effective: a protracted automated answering system subjects you to the same recorded advice each time you call (Reboot your modem! That’ll fix it!) until your call is finally answered by a Frustration Specialist who barely speaks English but has been instructed to apologize excessively while calling you ma’am until she transfers you to another Frustration Specialist who  makes you repeat all your identifying information and tell your entire story again. Repeat ad nauseum.

Service Technician: Again, there is no service actually being provided by these individuals. These are the guys who show up to your house, plug and unplug some things, tappy-tappy-tappy on your keyboard, and say you are up and running. Then they leave and you lose connectivity again. I have had at least three of these guys out in the past couple months. One of them (in collusion with the Foreign Frustration Specialist) told me that the problem was my computer. Everything was fine on Time Warner’s side, so it must be my old computer.  I actually bought a new computer, but guess what? He was wrong. I spent $1,300 and I still couldn’t connect.  These “service technicians” don’t actually have any technical skills, either. I hereby dub them “Workload Shufflers”.

Local Cable Store: Okay, this isn’t actually a misnomer, because I suppose you can buy stuff at the Cable Store. Maybe you can even buy cables there. But these should actually be called Local Apathy Centers, because if you go in there, they don’t give a shit. I went in and desperately pleaded for some help after weeks of no service. Apathy Centers are staffed by Customer Deflection Specialists, who are trained to make sympathetic noises while tapping on their keyboards (aka “updating your account”) and saying whatever is necessary to make you leave the store as quickly as possible.

Supervisor: At the Apathy Center, when I asked, “Who can help me? Who can be accountable and get me some results? Nothing I try is working.” They said, “Well, you can call our Supervisor.”  “Is she here?” I asked, believing that supervisors, well, supervise. But I have been to the store three times and left two voicemails for Supervisors, and they have yet to materialize. I think the supervisors are actually Voicemail Decoys, tricks employed by the Deflection Specialists when you become too persistent.

Construction:  After I bought a new computer because TWC insisted that it was my problem, and I still couldn’t connect, I called the Foreign Frustration Desk and they said, “Oh, we’ll have someone check the line.” Excuse me? You didn’t check the line before you told me it was my computer? This is CABLE INTERNET and you didn’t check the CABLE?  They sent another Workload Shuffler to check the line but he couldn’t solve the problem (shuffle, shuffle) so he placed a work order with “Construction,” who was supposed to replace the line. “They’ll call you,” the Workload Shuffler said.   I would rename Construction, “The Magical Internet Fairy,” because it doesn’t actually exist. No one called; no one came. Ever.

Customers: This one is easy. More than one person told me that if you want results from TWC, you have to freak out and throw a fit. That is not my style. When I am interacting with customer service or retail workers, I try to remember how it was to be the front line—you make very little money, you have no authority, and you take all kinds of crap. Low-class people love to lord over receptionists, retail clerks and other people who are required to interact with them; I am a classy chick and I try to treat others with respect.  There is a limit, however. If you offer a faulty product and appalling customer service and provide no means for resolution, you leave your customers feeling utterly powerless and they become Ticking Time Bombs.

So, after countless hours on the phone with the Foreign Frustration Desk, three visits by Workload Shufflers, two new modems and a brand new computer and still no internet, my fuse was just about gone. I went to my Local Apathy Center and explained the problem to a Customer Deflection Specialist. He scheduled me for a visit from The Magical Internet Fairy the very next Saturday. And on Saturday, I, a Ticking Time Bomb, opened to the door to another Workload Shuffler.

“Are you from Construction?” I asked him.

“No.”

“Do you know what’s going on with my job? Did they tell you anything?”

“No.”

“Someone is supposed to replace the outside line. Someone from Construction. Do you know about that?”

“Construction?”

I started to lose it.  My voice began to escalate as I repeated my story for the 743rd time.

He went outside to call his Voicemail Decoy. My mistake was that I tried to call the Frustration Desk while he was gone. “For technical support, press 1.” “Most problems can be corrected by restarting your modem.” The automated voice-recognition system goes into panic mode when you scream at it. “I’m sorry…I didn’t understand that. Please try again. To cancel your appointment, say, ‘Cancel.’”

I was in full-fledged Automated System Rage by the time the Shuffler returned.

He told me–this was his mistake, using these words–that someone from Construction would call me.

At this point I can no longer accurately relay what happened, because I lost my fucking mind. I’m not kidding. I was shaking and shrieking and probably frothing at the mouth. I heard myself screaming but I could not stop. The kids rushed downstairs to stare and the dogs cowered in the corner of the yard. The Shuffler turned to flee. I chased him out the door and kept yelling. He tried to reason with me. There was more screaming and I’m pretty sure I told him to “stop fucking lying to me and give me someone’s phone number who will actually help me.”

I never saw that Shuffler again; he got in his TWC van and drove away from the crazy lady. But guess what? That very afternoon, some guy showed up to replace the line. The guy said he was from “Quality Control.”  Another giant misnomer: Quality? Control? At Time Warner Cable?  REALLY??

Feeling exhausted and broken after my morning rage, I meekly relayed the story of my TWC ordeal. The guy poked around outside for about 10 minutes and returned with a length of cable that looked as if it had been gnawed by a beaver. “Here’s your problem,” he said, “I don’t know why no one saw this before.”

So in about 20 minutes, this guy—who seems like a figure in a dream; I wouldn’t believe he actually exists except that the internet works now—fixed the problem that I had been fighting for months. All I had to do was make one more trip to the Apathy Center for another modem since the one they’d given me a month before was defective, of course.

The moral of the story is this:  avoid all contact with Time Warner Cable if you can. If not, try screaming first. And please, let’s all call things by their proper names.