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CHRISTMAS – 2012 – AND THE NEWTOWN MASSACRE

Lest we forget – Just a little more than a year ago, there was a massacre of children in Newtown, Connecticut.

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I was shocked to realize that Monday is Christmas Eve. I admit that it’s pretty weird at this time of year to not know what day is Christmas, but I am a disaster in every possible way. Trying to do everything is not merely difficult, it’s impossible. I’m stretched thin enough to be transparent. I’m sure the massacre in Connecticut contributed hugely to my fugue state.

For about a week, we couldn’t even think about holidays. I’m not sure we were thinking about anything. Psychic overload. Plus, there are other issues, stuff I had to deal with that falls under my purview because the end of the year is not only a time for holidays, but the period when we wrap up the business of the old year and get everything in place for the next.

Unless the world ends later today, in which case all I can say is “oops.”

Christmas Cactus

I am changing health care insurance carriers as of January because I can’t afford the program I’ve been using, much as I like it. Changing medical insurance is always hard, but when you are older and have a variety of physical conditions and work with a lot of specialists, it gets wildly complicated and a bit scary.  Moreover, I have a project to which I committed last summer that has a hard deadline just after the New Year.

And at the beginning of last week, I realized my husband needs a new cell phone. It never crossed my mind that upgrading a mobile phone could entail endless hours of calls to AT&T and turn into a Cecil B. DeMille production with thousands of extras and a full orchestra. Getting the phone ate most of a week … and I fear it’s not over yet. We don’t actually have a phone yet. Anything could happen.

When I have a little time and am over the hump of holidays, I’ll tell you all about it. You can’t make this stuff up.

My deadline isn’t flexible. I’ve never missed a deadline and I won’t this time either. I will meet it or die trying. But it leaves Garry to take care of everything I haven’t already done. It’s nothing outside his capabilities … it’s just that he too had lost track of time.

When I told him Christmas Eve is Monday, he didn’t believe me. We had to stand in front of the calendar, proving beyond doubt that somewhere along the way, we lost a week.

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What happened to December? In all the years I can remember, I have never been so completely unready for the holidays as I am this year and what’s weird is that so many other people I know seems to be caught short.

My theory is that the Newtown Connecticut mass shooting affected many of us the same way. Vietnam vets started having flashbacks again. It made my husband remember too many similar things he had to cover during his years as a reporter … and had the same effect on his colleagues, both those still working and those now retired. For a while, it seemed somehow wrong … inappropriate … to be worrying about gifts and wrapping paper.

We didn’t feel festive. We didn’t even feel like we should feel festive. Between events outside our control and a lot of things that just came together to eat our time, Christmas seems to have appeared, popping up like a jack-in-the-box. Friends who normally go all out for the holidays haven’t even bought a tree, much less put it up or decorated their home and property. A strange Christmas, this one. Somehow, it has happened, though with less ceremony than usual.

While I spent the afternoon at the oncologist, my daughter-in-law and granddaughter put up and decorated the tree. They acquired wrapping paper and the appropriate stuff to go with it … ribbon and bows and tape and labels and all. Meals are planned, though groceries remain to be purchased.

In the middle of all of this, my two Christmas cacti are blooming. They, at least, are in tune with the season. The tree is lit. There won’t be wreathes this year because I forgot to buy them and now, it seems too late.

Next year I’ll try to make up for it. I did take pictures this morning to prove, despite obstacles, we shall have Christmas. We may not deck the halls, but it’s still Christmas.

RICH PASCHALL – A CHRISTMAS SURPRISE: ORIGINAL FICTION

Rich Paschall of SUNDAY NIGHT BLOG has graciously agreed to collaborate with me on Sundays. You will get a taste of his rich and beautiful prose, some of which you have already seen here because I love his work and have reblogged quite a bit of it over the past year. But it will also give me a much-needed day off. I’ve been writing every day for almost a year and I admit, I could use a day to recharge my aging batteries. It’s a win-win. You get some great new fiction — or whatever Rich is in the mood to offer you — and I get to enjoy a little breather.

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A Christmas Surprise

A family plus one holiday tale

by Richard Paschall

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Kyle was coming home for Christmas. He was bringing with him his college roommate. The boys met during freshmen year and became fast friends. Somehow they maneuvered the dorm manager into assigning them to be roommates for sophomore year. There was no one on earth Kyle would rather spend time with than Michael. So he was glad Michael agreed to come to dinner on Christmas Eve. This was in exchange for Kyle agreeing to go to Michael’s parents’ house on Christmas day for dinner. Michael was going to make a big announcement to his parents and of course Kyle just had to be there.

Kyle’s father had slipped into a den on the east side of the house. All of the family noise was a bit more than his reserved nature could take. Kyle’s sister, Mary, who was 8 years younger than Kyle, was louder than usual and no matter how many times grandma told Mary to “quiet down,” things did not get any quieter. The threat of Christmas carols by Mary and Uncle Roy was enough to drive dad into the den. There he immediately made haste to the bar where a glass of sherry seemed to be in order. Dad only drank a sherry on special occasions and this certainly was one of them.

It was dark now and the neighbors across the street had turned on their Christmas lights. Almost everyone on the block had a nice display so the street was well-lit. Kyle’s dad was drawn to the window to see the lights, look at the gentle snow flurries and enjoy a moment of peace. As he stood there sipping his sherry and waiting for Kyle to appear, he finally spotted his only son walking quickly down the street with another young man right behind. As they got to the walkway that led up to the house they stopped to exchange a few words. Then a sight took dad’s wondering eyes totally by surprise. Kyle kissed the other boy. It was not a short kiss, but long and passionate which they both seemed to enjoy.

Soon Kyle rang the doorbell just to announce their arrival before he put his key in the lock and opened the door. Off the entrance way on the left was a door to the den. Kyle’s father was standing in the doorway just staring at the two. Kyle’s mom came through a big archway on the right that led to the living room. Mary was close behind and eager to see her brother and his friend. Uncle Roy and grandma did not vacate their seats. They knew the rest would join them soon.

First Kyle walked over to his father and said, “Dad this is my room-mate, Michael.” The roommate held out his hand and the father shook it. “I am pleased to meet you, sir. Kyle says such wonderful things about the family.” Kyle’s dad just sort of nodded at that, while studying this stranger in his home. The silence was out of character for the head of the household and a bit of a surprise to everyone except Michael, and that is only because Michael did not know him.

Then Kyle introduced Michael to his mother and his “little brat sister” Mary. Michael held out his hand to each in turn but the little brat held out her hand instead as if he was supposed to take it and kiss it, so he did and she squealed and ran from the room. At that Kyle’s mom offered to introduce Michael to the others. Kyle’s father then announced to all, “We will join you in a moment.” With a more serious tone, father said, “Kyle, would you step in here for a moment, please?” This was not a question but rather a command of the type Kyle knew was not good. As the father retreated into the room Kyle followed. Before turning around dad said, “Close the door.”

Kyle only took a few short steps in before his father turned around. He looked at him as if he had never seen him before. It was the strangest look Kyle had ever seen from his father. “Kyle, is there something you should be telling me?” the “official business” dad said in an odd businesslike tone. Kyle figured it was some sort of trick question but knew he should answer it anyway.

“No, dad. I don’t think so.” This clearly was the wrong answer. His dad did not say a thing but his body language spoke volumes and Kyle became as nervous as a first grader who has been caught stealing Oreos from the kitchen. Now the master of the den, the commander of the car keys and the payer of his tuition walked slowly to the window, looked around the outside and turned to Kyle.

“You know, son, that there is a great view of the neighborhood from this window. You can see all of the beautiful Christmas displays across the street. You can see a nice Christmas snow flurry. You can see everyone walking down the sidewalk and turning up the walkway toward the house.” At that Kyle’s father fixed his sights squarely on Kyle and said, “So now is there anything you should tell me?”

Kyle stood motionless as his dad threw a stare at him that went right through and hit the door behind. It took Kyle almost an entire minute before he realized what his father had seen from the window of the den. All the while, that whole long minute of time, Kyle’s father stood there waiting. Kyle wanted to begin “I’m sorry dad…,” but nothing came out of his mouth. He was so nervous and so afraid of his father’s reaction that he could say nothing. It is not that he wanted to be silent, he just couldn’t speak. Fear of saying the wrong thing paralyzed his tongue for the moment. Finally Kyle’s father just nodded that same nod he gave Michael when he was introduced, walked around Kyle, opened the door and walked across the foyer to the living room.

Kyle was knocked off his spot when his mother’s voice came floating into the room. “Kyle, don’t be rude. Come join your guest.” Kyle shuffled across the hall and searched around the room for Michael. He did not look at anyone else as his eyes avoided everyone but Michael. At that moment, with a room full of family, he had no way of telling his mate that he needed a hug and he thought he might need to cry. After a little small talk by grandma and Uncle Roy, Kyle’s mom asked them all to go to the dining room. Christmas Eve dinner was ready.

“Michael, you sit right there next to Kyle and Kyle will sit next to me. I have this end of the table and Kyle’s father will carve things up at that end of the table. Uncle Roy will be there next to you and grandma and Mary will be on the other side.” At that the little brat sister ran around the table and dropped herself on the chair opposite Kyle. She looked at him with a smirk as if she knew his little secret and was going to blurt it out if he did not stop calling her a brat.

Everyone sat in silence until Kyle’s mother looked down the length of the table and said to her husband. “Sweetheart, will you say grace for us?” There was a long, awkward pause before he said, “No. Tonight Kyle will lead the prayer.” At that instant Kyle prayed that something, anything that made sense would come out of his mouth. All eyes were on him as he began, “Bless us, oh Lord…” The words that fell out of Kyle’s mouth were for blessing and thanksgiving, but in his heart he was praying for acceptance. That became the only gift he truly wanted for Christmas this year.

Daily Prompt: Are you being served? Chaos and Madness at AT&T

Shortly before Christmas, Garry and I went somewhere and I forgot to bring my cell phone. I asked Garry if I might use Blackberry Torchhis. I was appalled when I could barely hear anything, even with the volume full up and using the speaker. I realized if I could barely hear it, he couldn’t hear it at all. Which brought me to the inevitable conclusion that Garry needed a new cell phone.

Good wife that I am, I figured I’d get him a new phone with better sound so he would not be stuck trying to hear on a phone with such awful audio.

This was early December and Christmas was a couple of weeks off. How long could it possibly take to get a new cell phone, right?

I went online at AT&T, our long-time carrier. I checked to see if he or I was entitled to an upgrade. It turned out both of us were entitled to upgrades, but my phone is just a year old, I don’t use it very much and although I’m entitled to a new phone, I don’t need one. Garry, on the other hand …

This seemed a fairly straightforward process. I checked to see what phones were available on super special, discovered he could get an updated version of the phone he already has for $29.99, with the usual 2 year committment, but we’ve been with AT&T forever anyhow and I don’t see that any of the other carriers are better … so why not? It was the middle of the night, but I called AT&T and was going to order the new version of the Blackberry Curve … but they wanted a credit card and I was already in bed, so I said I’d call tomorrow. I was too tired to get up and deal with it right then.

When I tried to access the website the next day, I couldn’t. Eventually, I called and discovered it wasn’t me, wasn’t a bad password or my computer. AT&T’s servers were being upgraded. I should have guessed. I should have sensed the crackling of crisis in the air. Why they picked early December to do a massive server upgrade is anyone’s guess. It would not have been my first choice.

Mar-iPhone-0nWhen I started to place the order, AT&T assured me that they needed to charge me $36 for the upgrade fee. “What upgrade?” I asked. “We already have all the services we need. The only service you are providing is putting the phone in a box and mailing it. You said it’s free shipping … but $36 is a shockingly high shipping charge. Since you aren’t providing any other services, that’s the only thing it could be.”

The young lady to whom I was talking said she couldn’t do anything about it, she was not responsible and everyone had to pay the fee. I said that I was not going to pay the fee and frankly, we’ve been long-term customers and this was shabby treatment indeed. I next learned that I was going to have to pay sales tax on the full list price of the phone, even though we all know that NO ONE pays full retail on anything, much less a cell phone upgrade. Thus this $29.99 had spiraled into around $100 …. which is more than our ultra tight budget could afford.

I said I wanted to talk to a supervisor. I was transferred and eventually, disconnected. Called back, went through the whole story again, was told — again — she couldn’t help me. Said she was transferring me to a department that could help me. When I got to that department, I was told it was the wrong department and I was going to have to go back and talk to the original people who had now two? three? times told me they couldn’t help me.

I would have been laughing but time was passing. I had started this on Sunday night and it was Tuesday. Christmas was creeping up on me and I had yet to actually place an order.

I don’t remember all the people I talked to, all the supervisors to whom I was transferred, all the deals I made only to find that the next person I spoke to had never heard anything about it. It has mercifully become a blur. My husband was cranky because he felt, since he hadn’t actually asked for a phone, I had no reason to expect a lot of sympathy or support. I pointed out he did need a phone and just being his wife ought to entitle me to sympathy and support.

It had indeed been my idea to get him a new phone based purely the uselessness of his old one. But that’s sentimental twaddle. I should have waited until he actually asked me for a phone, preferably begged me on bended knee. Generosity. That was my first mistake.

As the tale continued, it became the story without end. So many departments, so many disconnects. I ran down the battery on my cell phone and on the handset of my house phone, then switched to the other handset  And still, no order.

Finally, it was Friday, December 21st. AT&T agreed to waive the charge, give me back a few bucks to compensate for the insane sales tax, and include free shipping. By now, I’d changed from the Blackberry Curve to the iPhone 4 which was on clearance for $0.99 and they swore up and down the east coast I’d have the telephone in my hands on Christmas Eve. Shortly after this amazing promise, I got another call from someone who said whoever promised me Christmas Eve delivery should not have made such a rash promise because who knew if I’d really get the phone? It could be weeks away. Maybe never.

We had been planning to be away from the day after Christmas through the following weekend. If they delivered the phone during that period, it would sit outside in the ice, snow and slush until we got home. But not to worry, she said. If that happened, I could “just send it back.”

I could not cope with the idea of returning the phone. This was bad. Doing it twice would be unbearable. I had been on the telephone with AT&T for more hours in one week than I had been on the phone with everyone else I know during the entire previous year. Granted I’m not on the phone much, but this had eaten at least 25 hours of telephone time … and there seemed to be no end in sight. Ever.

Somewhere during this period, our plans for visiting friends post-Christmas were cancelled because my friend was ill. Despite assurances there was no way I’d get the phone by Christmas Eve followed by equally passionate assurances I definitely would get the phone by Christmas Eve, I simply had no idea when or if I was getting a phone. Would you like to take a guess?

I got the phone Christmas Eve. There it was, a little white box in a bigger brown box. Delivered by FedEx. No bubble pack. Just the phone banging around inside the shipping box. So I waited until the day after Christmas and called about the lack of padding in the box because I didn’t want to wind up with a dead iPhone 4 being told it was somehow my fault. I was assured by someone somewhere that this wouldn’t happen, so I went ahead opened the box and tried setting up the phone.

Nothing worked. What is more, due to the endless legal battles between Google and Apple, Garry’s gmail contact list could not be synchronized with the iPhone.

The first tech support individual, from AT&T, told me that Garry would have to enter all the information by hand. I said “up your nose with a rubber hose” or words to that effect. Garry’s address book has at least 300 entries and I think I’m being conservative. I pointed out that the iPhone is supposed to sync with Outlook and by now, a few disconnects later, I was on the phone with Apple tech support and my cell phone was recharging, the battery having run down to zero again and I was on the second of the two “house phone” handsets, having run through the first phone’s battery. We finally doped out, between him and me, that we had to delete the “cloud” function and NOT synchronize the two email addresses linked to Outlook because it created a conflict and would immediately spew error messages.

When I finally got the iPhone to synchronize with Outlook’s address book, it started demanding a password for voicemail. My head began making a funny buzzing sound that kept getting louder. Were those voices talking to me? Possibly … if only the buzzing would stop and let me think …

Neither Garry nor I has ever needed a password for our voice mail. Not his, not mine, not ever. We didn’t have any passwords to give them. When the Apple tech guy said I’d have to call AT&T to get it sorted out, I went into full meltdown. I could not face another long wait, multiple disconnects … and trying to interface with who knew how many morons before maybe … by New Year’s … I could get through to someone who would  know what the problem was and fix it.

Finally, the fellow at Apple who actually seemed to have at least a pretty good knowledge of the product managed to get the address book issue dealt with … said he himself would call AT&T and put us in a conference call and we’d sort the whole thing out. He said he’d call me back and I begged … I think groveling might better describe it … that he really call me back and not leave me hanging.

This was the day after Christmas, the busiest day of the year for tech support what with everyone getting a telephone, tablet, computer, or some other electronic widget under the tree. Likely this didn’t help. But he called back with a man who was obviously not an entry-level tech support guy. He was a Big Gun. You just knew it. He fixed it. He said it was a software artifact from older phones and he was going to delete it from the system and it would never trouble me again.

Then he gave me a $40 credit giving me a small profit on the transaction unless you count my time as being worth money in which case I’m far behind. Far, very far behind.

Garry has a new cell phone. He said “thank you,” and I said “you’re welcome,” but personally, I think I’ve earned a medal at the very least.

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

So for all the people who told me to “Get a Mac” to solve my problems, I will agree the iPhone is a fine, well-made phone. Was it easy to set up? No. Did it have fewer glitches than my other phones? No. If anything, it had more issues. I got it for a great price and it has, as I had hoped, very loud speakers so Garry can hear it. Hopefully, he’ll get used to the virtual keyboard.

I hate it even more than I hated the tiny raised keys on the Blackberry. I never voluntarily write anything on a cell phone and why Garry does is beyond me.

This whole trial by fire has made me aware of how pathetic my older Blackberry Torch (first generation) is and how I need a new phone. When I’ve recovered from this experience, I will think about replacing it. Why do cell phones need replacing so often? They are so expensive, shouldn’t they last more than a year? Just saying.

Meanwhile, I need to rest and recover my perspective. I have to wait until the story gets funnier. At least until I find my misplaced sense of humor. Then I’ll buy another cell phone.