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.

Inside An Old Mill

Beams

We went down to Walpole today. Garry was doing a television show with his friend, Tom Ellis, a “wrap up” to his Hall of Fame induction.

Walpole Comm TV

I’d been to Walpole Community Television before. Several times and once, when I was a new author, I was interviewed on a show there. Yet I had never noticed the building was a converted mill. I usually notice architecture, but I guess my mind was on other things.

Long hallway

Today I noticed. The thing is, the building doesn’t look like a mill — not from the outside, anyway. It’s quite small, as mill buildings go and there’s no river or pond visible. It turns out, there is a small stream which runs alongside the building. Perhaps it was larger a hundred years ago. Probably much of the water has been diverted or sent underground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Walpole isn’t in the valley … not the Blackstone or the Merrimack. The river valleys are where I expect to find mills. But really, there are mills — old mills — all over New England. Wherever a river or a stream ran, someone built a mill. Milford, Millis, Millville, Milbridge, Millbury. From Connecticut to Maine, you’ll find the mill towns and the old mills around which the towns grew.

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The mills were our first industry and now, they are gone to China or other places. When the mills left New England, the region’s economy went with it and despite a few short bursts of economic prosperity, the economy has never returned.

The Testament of Mary — Audible.com — Meryl Streep, Narrator

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

TestamentOfMaryAudible

This is another in a long line of alternate versions of the life of Jesus Christ. This one is written as if by Jesus’ mother, Mary.

As a book, it suffers from not being entirely sure what the author believes or wants us to believe. Does she — or does she not — believe in the divinity of her son? For most of the book, I would say she doesn’t, that she rejects his divinity and believes his death was avoidable and pointless. Not to mention horrible, painful and cruel beyond words.

By the end of the book, what Mary believes — or what the author would like us to believe — is abstruse, to say the least. My suspicion is that the author was either unclear where he stands, religiously speaking, or chickened out and decided it was safer to hedge his theological bets.

Judas, My Brother

Whatever the reason, the lack of a clear point of view eventually made me wonder why I bothered to read it. It’s vivid, ugly, graphic and very confused.

In this genre, I have read many other books that are better written, including Naomi Alderman’s The Liars’ Gospel and my all-time favorite, Frank Yerby‘s Judas, My Brother — out of print, but available used from Amazon.

Which brings me back to the question of why I purchased it. Simply put? I bought it because Audible had it on sale … and I was curious about Meryl Streep‘s narration.

I didn’t think much of the book and the narration didn’t improve the experience for me. Meryl Streep is a brilliant actor, not a brilliant narrator. As a narrator, she is a brilliant actor. She doesn’t get the difference between narrating and acting. It is, of course, a matter of taste, but since this is my review — in my opinion, she puts way too much passion into the narration. She doesn’t read the book. She acts it.

At no point could I forget the narration and hear the voice of the author. Never did the narration free me to become immersed in the story. Granted, the story itself wasn’t all that great, but a different narrator might have made it easier to get involved in the story.

Streep’s presence is very dominant. You will listen to her performance. If you like that sort of thing, Meryl Streep does a fine acting job, but to me, the best narration is one you don’t notice. I want to hear the author, not the narrator. If I’m conscious of a narrator, it’s a problem. Audiobooks are not theatre. They are books. Listening is another way to read, not radio drama.

I didn’t think the book was particularly good, even though it has gotten tons of publicity and is being touted from hither to yon. Of this genre, this is one of the weakest books I’ve read.

What Is Truth? The Liars’ Gospel, by Naomi Alderman

The Liars’ Gospel: A Novel, by Naomi Alderman

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: March 12, 2013

The story of Yehoshuah (Joshua, who became Jesus) has been told by uncountable authors for two millennium. What makes this such a tempting story – other than the obvious importance of its central character – is the lack of any historical references to Yehoshuah from his own lifetime or even any timely mention of his death. There are no references to him in either Roman or Jewish documents of the period. None at all. Everything written about him was penned after his death, for the most part, long after his death, when Christians had become a force in the world.

The author did a lot of research on the period and I applaud the authenticity with which she captured the Roman world. This is not the Hollywood version. This is the gritty, savage world of conquest, killing and cruelty. From this reconstructed world, Naomi Alderman builds a story based on what might – given the state of the world – have really happened.

Whether or not it actually happened the way it unfolds in the book, there’s no way to know. The author wisely leaves it open to our interpretation. No matter how much we may wish it, an absence of fact is not evidence. Silence is void.

The story is rich with inferences that the generally accepted life of Christ story is less than factual. The Liars’ Gospel is a Jewish perspective, recounted by four people who knew him at different points in his life. His mother Miriam (Mary) grieves for her lost son, rejected by him long before his death. Yehuda of Qeriot (Judah Iscariot), who followed him until he no longer believed. Caiaphas, High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem who knew him less as a person, and more as a force to be reckoned with, and Bar Avo (Barabbas), a rebel leader in the battle against the Roman occupation who knew him but briefly at the very last hours of his life.

The time setting is approximately a year after Yehoshuah’s death, though the story includes everything from his early childhood through his death. Each teller holds a piece of the story that link together to form a whole picture.

The complexity of the politics are well done. What I love best is how beautifully Ms. Alderman counters the 2000 year old lies about how the Jews conspired to kill the son of God. Those particular lies have been responsible for an awful lot of death. Millions of Jews have been slaughtered in the name of a rabbi from the Galilee who preached we should love our enemies. The author points out if his followers had lived up to that one precept, our world would be a far better place.

It’s not a novel for the faint of heart. There are graphic executions, massacres, murders, injustice, riots, animal sacrifice and betrayal set against the seething backdrop of Roman provincial domination. The Liars’ Gospel is a taut and terrible tale. It held my interest from start to finish. I only wish I could rewrite the ending.

It’s available in from Amazon and other sellers in hard cover, Kindle, and audiobook. I recommend it.