G. Michael Girolamo

Author of Memorable Moments

Author: Mike Girolamo (page 2 of 2)

What’s a Man’s Age

My favorite quote from the English poet Robert Browning is about age. “What’s a man’s age? He must hurry more, that’s all; Cram in a day, what his youth took a year to hold.” I can tell you a bit about age as I do have some experience in this matter.  Time is relentless and it can be cruel but your age is what you make of it. Last Thursday I had one of those days that blurred my perception of time and age. 

The older I get the harder it is for me to guess what a person’s age is.  Probably because I still think I’m 20 years old.  It actually surprises me to learn a person’s age, I’m almost always wrong when I try to guess. This year I’ve been playing softball on my company’s team.  I’m past my prime softball years to say the least, but I’m there mostly to socialize and participate in a healthy activity.  I was a little frustrated at first because I felt I wasn’t playing up to my ability.  But I realized as I was driving home from one of the games that the last time I played softball was about 12 years ago.  On top of that, the average age of my teammates is probably 30, that makes me 20 years older than most of them.

After the game last Thursday I asked one of my new friends on the team if he wanted to have a beer with the rest of us. He said he couldn’t because he was driving.  “Good for you, that’s smart” I said. Then he came a little closer to me and said “I’m only 19”.  This was the first of several occurrences that blurred my perception of age.

On the way home from the game I listened to a message on my cell phone, it was from one of my college roommates.  It turned out that another one of our roommates was flying in for the weekend.  His son had accepted a commission at the Coast Guard Academy and was starting orientation that weekend. They would be staying at my friend’s house. I called him back and made plans to meet them. I couldn’t wait to meet up with my buddies and catch up on old times, but I couldn’t believe that one of my old roommates had a son old enough to be in the Coast Guard.

When I got home that same night I learned that my 17 year old had gone to Mohegan Sun with her best friend and her family.  I was waiting up for her to come home and started watching a George Carlin Tribute.  It was a compilation of his past routines and I remembered most of them from when they first aired.  I remembered when he hosted SNL for the first time for their premier show in 1975. I remember when he was so controversial that he was arrested for his famous “Seven words you can never say on TV” routine that lead to arrest, prosecution – and even a Supreme Court judgment.

As I was sitting there enjoying my memories of George Carlin my daughter called in.  She told me that some guy just gave her and her friend tickets to a sold out Billy Joel concert for free. Apparently this guy’s friends didn’t show and instead of wasting the tickets he was kind enough to share them.

She held up her phone and I heard the roar of the crowd as Billy Joel played the “Piano Man”. This instantly brought back memories of the first time I saw him in concert.  It was over 30 years ago during his 1976 ‘Turnstiles’ tour and I was in college at the time. Me and my roommates, the same guys I was going to visit, saw him in a small auditorium that held about 3,000 people.  It was an awesome concert and I remember exactly how I felt as he played.  He sat at his grand piano dressed in a black suit, white shirt and tie and played for more than 3 and ½ hours including 3 or 4 encores.

She said she thought the concert was over and hung up.  Then she called me back two minutes later and said “He’s playing another song”! She was surprised he kept playing; I told her I wasn’t surprised. I was glad that she remembered to call me and I was glad I had those memories to share. 

What’s a man’s age?  I can remember exactly what it was like to actually be good at playing softball. I can remember exactly what it was like at that Billy Joel concert 30 years ago. I had fun playing softball last Thursday and I had fun meeting my college roommate’s son last weekend. What’s my age? I’m old enough to know how great it is to be the age I am.

Our Fathers

What should I get my father for Fathers Day? This is the age-old question, and one that is not easily answered. Historically, my father has been the most difficult person in the world to buy a gift for. For years, my siblings and I have tried in vain to find him the perfect gift. He always seemed to be critical and unappreciative of whatever we bought him. We started to settle for just any gift that we thought was nice. Eventually we learned that all he really wanted was time.

I always put a lot of effort into trying to find him a gift he would enjoy. He always reads the newspapers and, after all, he was a schoolteacher is whole life, so I brought him books. In fact, it seemed like such a good idea that all my siblings started buying him books. He seemed to appreciate them at first but eventually, he started to look at them with an expression on his face that said Oh, another book!

One year I was struggling with what to get him for Fathers Day. He seemed always to be wearing the same clothes he had been wearing all his life so I figured a new shirt would be nice. I gave him an expensive silk shirt for the summer. When he opened the present, he looked at it for a while with little or no expression on his face. I said, Touch it Dad, its silk. He said, What am I going to do with a silk shirt?

I was hurt. I could not understand how he could be so difficult. At first, I thought he was being mean or rude. However, after all these years of knowing him I realized that what he really meant was that he felt it was too nice for him and that he didnt need such a nice shirt. I tried to understand how he came to be this way.

My father was born in the City of Molinara, Italy on February 14, 1922. Molinara is in the Southern zone of Italy. To be exact it is in the Campania Region in the Province of Benevento. His family were sharecroppers and from his description of his early childhood, they seemed to be centuries behind modern times. His home had no electricity or indoor plumbing. None of the homes in town had either of those luxuries until later on. To this day electricity is only available in town during certain times of the day.

My fathers dad, my Grand Pa George, did not actually own the land that he farmed. My fathers grandfather, Grand Pa Cappozzi oversaw the farm. The landowners permitted the families in town to work the farm. Once a year, they would load up their ox carts with produce, travel through the mountains, and give the landowners their share of the crop.

He immigrated with his mother and brother to the United States when he was seven years old. Grand Pa George had preceded them, coming over years earlier to get a job, find a home, and get his familys papers in order.

When they came over from the old country, they had two huge steamer chests, thats it. The entire family moved to a new country with two chests of clothing. There is a family story that my Grandmother was able to somehow disassemble my grandfathers favorite shotgun and hide the parts amongst the clothing. I know that sounds terrible in these modern times with the worries over terrorism. However, it was an expensive item and even though my grandfather told his wife to leave it behind, she would have none of that. They paid good money for it and it was coming with them.

My father remembers that when they finally made it through Ellis Island they went to Brooklyn to stay with some friends for the night. He kept looking at the ground and the pavement because his parents told him that the streets were paved with gold, and as a child, he believed it.

He lived through the depression and learned what it was like to have nothing. He lived through World War II and learned what it was like to sacrifice. He lived through those trying times, and overcame all of these adversities. He never really saw the need to own flashy or opulent items. He just needed enough to get by and raise is family.

As I learned these facts about his life, I began to realize how he felt about receiving fancy gifts. As an adult, I spent time with my father, asking him about his life. I can now understand how he came to be the way he is. At the same time, we both gave each other the most valuable gift of all. We gave each other our time.

Blaming the Victim

The housing crisis is rocking the entire world economy. How can we stabilize the economy and stop the bleeding? Congress is working on legislation that will impose stricter regulation on the mortgage industry. This is certainly an excellent idea. Basically, the industry has been self-regulated and you can see where that got us. It is important to remember who is culpable for this mess. Any solution that involves a taxpayer bailout is unacceptable. A taxpayer bailout would in effect be rewarding bond-rating services like Moody’s who gave triple-A ratings to mortgage backed securities and exotic derivatives. A taxpayer bailout would reward the mortgage industry and malfeasant institutes that made questionable loans to borrowers who could not afford them and would only further encourage risky lending practices. A taxpayer bailout would be tantamount to blaming the victim.

 

Bond rating services such as Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch are in the business of providing ratings for corporate bonds and securities. The ratings that these agencies provide are an estimate of risk, not a buy or sell recommendation. However, when Moody’s gives a good rating to securities, they become very marketable, even if the securities are comprised of a pool of mortgages given to risky sub-prime borrowers. The only reason that banks were willing to make these risky sub-prime loans is because they knew they could pass the risk off on to Wall Street. Banks no longer had to wait 20 or 30 years to get their money back from homeowners. They could sell these loans into securitized pools and realize their capital quickly. This enabled them to issue more loans at a much faster pace and thereby exacerbate the situation. Of course, this was extremely profitable for the banks as well as the rating agencies. From 2002 to 2006, Moody’s profits nearly tripled and in 2006 reported net income of $750 million. You don’t need an MBA to realize that the rating agencies suffer from a serious conflict of interest.

 

The Federal Reserve has taken action unprecedented since the Great Depression by lending money directly to a major investment bank, Bear Stearns in hopes that this will reassure investors and stabilize the market. The CEO of JP Morgan Chase, which purchased Bear Stearns, said, “There was a large failure of common sense”. I think he is being to kind. I think it was a successful attempt to make record earnings and a large failure to self-regulate. Why should taxpayer dollars back these risky loans? The stock and bonus plans offered to the CEOs of investment banks are worth more money than most of us will ever earn in a lifetime of honest work. The reason they decided to go ahead and make such risky loans is that they were rewarded handsomely for short-term profits and stock gains. Now that things are falling apart, we are the ones paying for it, not them. From 2004 to 2007 top executives at Bear Stearns, Citigroup, Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Lehman Brothers, Merrill, and Morgan Stanley received about $3.63 billion in salary, bonuses, and other benefits. Now these same seven companies are taking $96 billion in write-downs and yet their CEOs are allowed to keep there ludicrous earnings.

 

Congress is currently working on housing legislation that creates a regulator to oversee Fannie Mac and Freddie Mac, two companies that provide the majority of funding for home mortgages. This legislation also calls for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to insure as much as $300 billion in refinanced loans for struggling homeowners. The Congressional Budget Office estimated this insurance program would require $2.7 billion in government subsidy, and by government subsidy, I mean taxpayer’s dollars.

 

This legislation could potentially put the taxpayer on the hook if homeowner’s who receive government guaranteed loans, default on these loans. The proposed program would protect borrowers who owe more on their homes than they are worth. For these borrowers to qualify for the new government insured loan, their lenders would have to cut the size of the outstanding principal until the borrower actually has equity in the property. The program has the backing of the Federal Reserve Board and the FHA would guarantee the new loans. However, should we help the borrowers that got in over their head? We should hold the lending institutes culpable for making these sub-prime loans; after all, they were the ones who profited from them. In effect, this would be punishing the taxpayer for the bad judgment and questionable practices of others.

 

There are houses in my neighborhood that are in foreclosure. This affects the value of my home. I just received the financial statement from my IRA, and it has devalued significantly. I am already paying the price for the mistakes and poor judgment of others. It would be fair that those who profited should pay. When the CEOs of these companies are penniless and losing their homes, then I might be willing to use taxpayer dollars to bail out struggling homeowners, otherwise, using taxpayer money to bailout the economy is like blaming the victim.

Mayhem at the Mall

I hate to shop and I really, really hate to shop at the mall.  For me a trip to the mall is a clear sign of desperation indicating that I had put off shopping for the item until the last minute.  I try to resist the false societal pressures of buying presents for holiday’s conceived by some marketing genius. But in the end the pressure is insurmountable and I’m forced to acquiesce.  One such holiday is Mother’s Day. Now I think that all children should make nice cards with crayons and macaroni designs glued to paper plates for their Mothers.  But that’s it; it’s the love and the thought that counts.  How did husbands get roped into springing for yet another present for their wife on Mother’s Day?   

I’ll tell you how, it was some Jewelry Store Marketing executive that started with these commercials, showing the perfect family and the loving husband and the cute children. They are gathered around a MILF of a mother and are opening the presents the kid’s made for Mom, you know the macaroni dish and the home made cards.  Then, unexpectedly, Dad surprises Mom with a $1,000 dollar diamond necklace and she gives him a look that says yes, he’s her man and yes, you will be getting some tonight. 

 So I waited until the last minute to buy my wife a Mother’s Day present and I threw myself at the mercy of the mall.  I had spotted a pair of earrings in a store circular that had been mailed to my home. They were originally priced at $400 dollars, on sale, just for Mother’s Day, to $150 dollars.  Fist of all how would most children afford a $400 dollar piece of jewelry for Mother’s Day?  They can’t even afford macaroni for the stupid plate design. Clearly this is indented to put pressure on us Dads but I had resigned myself to grab this bargain.   I ran into the store and headed straight to the jewelry counter, unfortunately, it was mobbed.  Apparently the regular jewelry person was on lunch break and no one seemed to be filling in for her.  A swarm of customers were trying in vain to get the attention of anyone with a store badge on.  I snagged a store supervisor who tried to walk by me and I asked for help.  Immediately, three other customers came over to see if they could get waited on as well. She explained that this wasn’t her department but she would send someone over.  Eventually a clerk did come, but she quickly scanned the glass case of jewelry and announced that they didn’t have the earrings that I was looking for. I asked “Can you look under the counter? It’s an advertised special and you should have them”.  After a cursory glance she said that they weren’t there either but if I wanted to wait until the regular clerk got back she was sure that she would be happy to assist me.  The crowd was turning into a mob and I decided to see if another store had similar earrings.   

I couldn’t find anything similar to the ones advertised and certainly nothing close in price. So hoping that the crowd had thinned and the regular clerk was back, I headed back to the original store. The crowd had thinned; I assumed from frustration. I asked the clerk if she would please call another store to locate a pair of earrings for me.  She informed me that they didn’t provide that service on busy days but I could call the 800 number on the back of the flier.  By this point I had had it and walked out to my car, mumbling to myself. 

I called the number and waited the obligatory five minutes for the pleasure of speaking to a live representative. I told her my story and she proceeded to ask which item I was interested in ordering. I said “Hold it, I was told you would try to locate a store in the area that has a pair of earrings for me and you’re taking an order?”  She said she it was her job to take orders and it would cost $18 dollars for delivery and it would take ten to fourteen days to get the earrings.  I explained I was directed to call this number for assistance and she said “That’s not right, I would complain to the store manager.” I went back into the store and found the smiling man, walking around in the suit, with the badge that said “Store Manager”.  He looked just like his picture in the foyer. He apologized for the inconvenience and assigned someone to assist me. You should have seen all the helpful clerks who appeared out of no where politely assisting customers in front of the manager. 

The now attentive clerk printed out a listing of all the stores that had the earrings in stock.  She said “Well it says we have a pair here but you can never trust this information when it is less than two items.”  I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t have any in stock because I had already been assured by three other clerks that they didn’t have them.  What shocked me was the fact that they ran an ad and circulated it to untold thousands of households and had only stocked one pair of earrings.  Everyone sucked into the store by the low priced come on would be forced to make another, more expensive selection. Can you say bait and switch?  As we were discussing which store in the tri-state area I could go to next to try and find a pair of the advertised earrings I stopped in mid-sentence and stared in disbelief. The earrings in question were right there in the glass counter we were leaning on. She verified that they were the correct ones but informed me that I couldn’t get the sale price until tomorrow.  I told her I was disappointed in the service I had received to this point and that I had 45 minutes invested in these earrings.  I stared at her intently and said “If you think I’m leaving without these earrings I promise you I will start screaming and I won’t stop until Father’s Day”. In consideration for all I had been through, she kindly allowed me to purchase the earrings at the sales price and wished me a happy Mother’s Day. You have got to be freak’n kidding me!

Liquid Damage Indicator

You gotta love the Cell phone Companies. It’s not enough that we have some how acquiesced to paying hundreds of dollars a month for cell phone service. No they have to rip you off on the equipment as well. Average Cell phones cost hundreds of dollars and the top of the line models can cost $600 or $700 hundred. I was held hostage by my service provider when I upgraded my old phones for the “free” upgrade phones; the ransom, a 2 year contract that costs a $175 dollars to get out of.

So now I have these phones and of course they are starting to fail. Calling the service department at these companies is always an international smorgasbord. You may get a customer service representative from India or Jamaica “mon” or who knows where else from. But they all have been trained to trick you into admitting that the phone has sustained water damage and therefore voiding the warranty.

I was just forced to go through a “diagnostic” over the phone with one of these trained interrogators. This genius happened to be Jamaican which at first was amusing then quickly became maddening. I pictured him lighting up a huge spliff and winking at his friends as the interrogation began. He was trying to trick me into finding a Liquid Damage Indicator (LDI), when none was present. It felt like I was getting water boarded.

“Look carefully now mon, do you see a red dot anywhere.”

The space I’m inspecting is under the battery and is approximately 1 square inch. You don’t need an electron microscope to thoroughly examine the space at a glance and determine that there is no red dot.

“No, no red dot.”

“Are you sure mon? It could be white; do you see a white dot mon?”

“No, no white dot.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to see mon; the plastic case can be white and makes it hard to see a white dot mon.”

“No white dot.”

“Sometimes its pink or orange, do you see an orange dot mon.”

Now I’m sure I hear him inhaling on his bong, but I’m still forced to play the game. I naively was unaware of this whole LDI scam and honestly thought that he was looking for some sort of diagnostic label.

“Let me check the specifications on your phone mon. I need to find out exactly where the red dot is located. Can you hold for 5 minutes mon?”

5 minutes, hmmm, plenty of time to roll another spliff.

“I’ll hold”.

10 minutes later

“Do you see 2 screws on the back of the phone mon?”

“Yes.”

“Do you see any dots there mon?”

After 20 more minutes of this inane conversation I actually felt like I was about to drown in stupidity. He agreed to check with his supervisor to see if he would allow me to send my phone in for a warranty repair.

Why should they waste ½ hour of my time trying to get me to admit I do or do not in fact see a dot? These idiots don’t get it. If I send the phone in and they see the red dot, then they charge me. If they don’t see it then their piece of crap phone needs to be repaired. And you don’t even get a new phone; you get a refurbished one that someone else has returned, probably with liquid damage, red dot and all. And there is no extension on the warranty, so you’re stuck for the rest of your contract with a defective phone.

So caveat emptor. Do not ever, ever admit that you see any color dot on your cell phone when you are forced to participate in the telephone diagnostic I fondly refer to as “How freaking stupid do you think I am, mon“?

Just for your edification, here is what a red dot would look like if the LDI was exposed to water. Think you could find it without looking at the specifications?

ldi.jpg

Economic Stimulus

I am excitedly awaiting my economic stimulus check. Like most middle class Americans I’ve felt the squeeze this year. I’ve been trying to figure out the most effective way I can stimulate the economy with this tax rebate? I assume the intent is to increase spending in the American economy. So the question becomes what can you get for $1,200 these days?

I have 2 Daughters who are both learning to drive and they’ll both be getting their licenses this spring. Every time I take them in the car to practice driving they ask

“Can I have your car when I get my license Dad?”

I’d love to give them my car; unfortunately, I never said the family can afford another car. It would be awesome if the check from the government covered the cost of another car, but it won’t even cover the increase in my insurance from adding 2 teenagers to my policy let alone pay for another car. So much for stimulating the local used car economy.

Another big expense coming up in my household is college. Both of my daughters are college bound and will be in college simultaneously. What better way to stimulate the economy and my daughter’s brains than to spend the stimulus check on college tuition. As you can imagine, I’ve been checking into the price of colleges lately. According to the U.S. Department of Education private 4-year universities in Connecticut cost on the average $34K per year and Connecticut’s 4-year public colleges cost on the average $15K per year. $1,200 doesn’t put a dent into that cost either. By the way, children over 17 aren’t eligible for the additional $300 credit, so this won’t help my oldest child with her college tuition anyway. I’ll have to keep looking for other ways to stimulate the economy.

I know the single biggest cost increase I’ve experienced this year was in gasoline and home heating oil. I talk to my friends and neighbors and they all have experienced the pinch this year. The higher cost of gasoline at the pump and home heating oil has been their number one unexpected expense this year. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average retail price per gallon of gasoline in March 2001 in Connecticut was $1.46. The average gas price per gallon as of March 11, 2008 is $3.32. When adjusted for inflation, this represents an increase of 93 percent.

Home heating costs have risen by 22 percent per household from $1,336 to $1,635 in the past year according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Personally, I’ve spent almost twice what I did last year on fuel oil because I did not lock in on the relatively low summertime rates. I cringe every time Dr. Mel says

“Pin Point Doppler calls for another record cold day.”

My daughter has been after me all winter,

“Dad can I turn the heat up?”

Just because she actually is my baby doesn’t mean she has to act like one.

“No. Put on another sweater.” I reply.

After much consternation I finally have decided to spend my stimulus check on fuel oil, a tank of home heating oil cost almost $1,200 dollars anyway.

But will this help pull our economy out of a recession or stimulate the American economy? I doubt it. What it will do is reward OPEC for keeping crude production low and further increasing the trade deficit. I know people who went to Dubai on business recently. They came back telling me stories of gold plated fixtures in their hotels and skiing. That’s right; they’ve built a ski slope in the middle of the dessert. So whose economy will reap the benefits of this stimulus check?

The money for the stimulus package is to be borrowed and would increase the federal deficit. I question the soundness of this plan. When the economy is experiencing a recession and you find yourself overextended, should you take out another loan?

Bernard Baumohl, managing director of the Economic Outlook Group, cautioned: “Practically speaking, this plan is not expected to have any meaningful impact on the economy until much later this year, perhaps in the fourth quarter. Even then, it’s unlikely we’ll see more than an extra blip in GDP growth.”

In an effort to quell a chain reaction on Wall Street, the Federal Reserve has taken action unprecedented since the Great Depression by lending money directly to a major investment bank, Bear Stearns, why shouldn’t they help out the average tax payer as well? The only problem is, when I say “The Federal Reserve” that really translates into “The Taxpayer”. This action has put the taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars in questionable trades. Should we bail out a company that made bad decisions?

Hopefully The Fed’s actions will reassure investors and stabilize the market. Maybe the tax rebate plan will help the average person and will stimulate the American economy as planned. As for me and my tax rebate, I better buy a tank of oil before I can’t even afford that!

Attack of the Killer Snow Plow

What are you, Freak’n kidding me!
It was me or the Plow, one of us was going down.  I could tell by the sleep deprived glaze in the plow driver’s eyes that he was intent on burying me alive in a ten foot wave of snow.  As with all life or death situations time slows down.  It became crystal clear to me the instant before I was to be buried alive that I needed to escape the attack of the behemoth, Killer Snow Plow.

I was pushing my brand new craftsman snow plow up the side walk, proudly clearing the way when I heard the unmistakable rumble of the death dealer, the towns largest, most fearsome snow plow.  I looked up in time to see a wave of snow ten feet high, a veritable tsunami, heading my way.  I jumped back from my snow blower realizing that my miniscule 7.5 HP Techumsa powered snow blower with the sweet joy stick controller for the exit chute was no match for the Killer Snow Plow.   I was pined between the stone wall going up my walk way and the mail box.  I had no where to go but up.  I was forced to abandon my brand new blower and jump over the wall. I was shaken.  The adrenaline still pumped through my veins as the killer plow passed by.  I could clearly see the overpaid, drunkard of a town employee with the sleep deprived gaze laughing hysterically, maniacally. His accomplice, Igor, was in the passenger seat yelling something unintelligible from behind his window and shaking his fist at me. 

As the death dealer rumbled down the road I jumped into the middle of the street swearing like a sailor, shaking my fist back at Igor, but to no avail. 

I called the Street Department to complain but the supervisor could not stop laughing.  I heard him call to someone in the back ground “Looks like Igor got another one, he’s in the lead now!” 

That wasn’t very satisfying so I called the police.  Three hours later, they sent two officers in an SUV that they had confiscated from some drug dealer pimp.  As I described the situation the officer summarized “So let me get this straight, you were blowing your snow out onto the town street and then you threatened and verbally assaulted a town employee as he attempted to make our streets safe for women and children?”

I quietly said never mind and made an on the spot contribution to the Policemen’s Benevolent Society and thanked them for their quick response.

But this is not the end of it.  I plan on writing a blistering letter to the Mayor’s office and ask for quick and immediate action.

More to follow.

Rocky Raccoon!

I typically take the same route on the way to and from work. I noticed last week that some poor raccoon had been run over and lay dead, in the middle of the road.  Over the course of this past week the poor creature got trampled until it lay exactly in the middle of the road, right where the faded double line used to be. 

I‘m not particularly fond of raccoons, in fact quite the opposite, I kind of loath them. One time, before I knew any better, I tried to scare a raccoon off of my garbage cans. He was preparing to raid, pillage and plunder, looking for a snack and spreading my garbage all over the yard for me to pick up later.  I went outside and approached him, clapping my hands and yelling loudly “Scat you ring tailed devil”. Instead he stood up and hissed / snarled at me and then started to aggressively charge at me.  Never having been exposed to a seemingly possessed raccoon before I quickly retreated to my home.  I remember wishing he would choke on a chicken bone.  But he didn’t, and I did have to clean up his mess the next day.

All that aside, no creature, not even a possessed raccoon, should be left to be pummeled until they actually form a part of the road way.  Besides, its unhealthy, didn’t the black plague start this way? So this raccoon has been flattened and left in the road all week.  Now here’s the clincher.  The town road crew came by and re-painted the faded double yellow line in the road.  You guessed it; they painted right over this road kill.  I stopped to take a picture of it to post on my blog, but it was too gross to publish. 

A wag of the finger at the road crew who was too lazy to scrape poor rocky off the road.

“What a Rip-off”

I’m Pissed Off!

I am constantly amazed at how many new and creative ways companies find to rip you off! I’ve been a Cingular customer for years. First Cingular Wireless, was 60-percent owned by SBC. With the re-branding it was a little confusing, but the service was about the same. Now Cingular has merged with AT&T and things are more ridiculous than ever. I have bundled service that include my cell phones, land line and internet service. You’d think they would try to satisfy me and keep my business, but no, they are too huge and impersonal to care. I just got off the phone with them and I’m PISSED OFF!

I upgraded all four of the cell phones in my family this year. I hesitated because I didn’t want to commit to a 2 year contract but our phones were starting to die due to old age and I decided to bite on one of their free upgrade deals. Basically this is the scam, you can upgrade to certain phones for free. By free they mean you pay some cash upfront, and upon signing a 2 year contract, they promise to mail you back a rebate for the amount of money you paid. Sweet deal, free phones, NOT!

Here’s the innovative way they fond to rip off their most loyal customers. I was expecting a $325 dollar rebate check back from AT&T. I had planned on putting the cash back into my checking account because I had not intended on spending that $325, I needed it to cover bills. To my surprise I find out that the rebate comes in the form of Visa Debit cards. Except that when you use them, you have to tell the store owner that they are Credit cards, even though they say Debit card. But that’s only the beginning. I received eight cards of varying denominations, some worth $25 dollars and some worth $50 dollars.

I tried using two of them at a local restaurant. I’m a regular there and the owner is a friend of mine, so I figured if there was an issue I could work it out with the proprietor. I tell him to put $50 on the card and I’ll pay the rest.
He comes back,
“Sorry Mike your card has been declined.”

Okay, embarrassing, but not too bad.
“Try this one, George.”
I whip out another $50 dollar card. Same result, so I use cash.

I called up AT&T to complain and this is what they told me. They said that restaurants automatically put a 20% gratuity on the card, so if you charge $50, they add 20%, putting you over the value of the card, and it gets declined. I said
“I never have heard of that, I know the restaurant owner and he did not add anything, he only charged $50.”

“Oh, well, the Visa people add the 20%, and then they credit your card back the 20% in a couple of days.”
“What” I say incredulously, “So then how do you know what your balance is”.
“Oh just call and check Sir.”
“Right, I have eight low value cards, how much more inconvenient can you make it?”
Silence on her side of the phone, she’s heard it all before.

I ask her “Are there anymore ridiculous conditions that you impose on the users of these cards?” thinking that surely this was the worst of it, wrong!

She proceeded to tell me. “If you go to a store you have to tell them it’s a split purchase and pay the cash amount you owe first. Then under a separate transaction you charge the amount of the card.”
“Why can’t I use the charge card first and pay the remainder off in cash?”
“You can’t do that Sir, the card will be declined.”
“How am I supposed to know how much is on the card?”
“You already asked that Sir, just call.”

This went on for awhile and I told her how upset I was. She said that this call is being recorded and she’ll make a special note of just how upset I was. I made sure not to berate her and to direct my complaints, politely, against the company. She was still trying to maintain her professionalism and asked,

“Is there anything else I can do for you Sir?”

“Tell whoever else is listening, and please make a special note, I will never buy another phone form AT&T again!”

And then, here is the “Pièce de résistance”. She replied with the classic,

“Yes Sir, thank you for choosing AT&T and have a good day!”

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