STUPID IS THE NEW NORMAL – Marilyn Armstrong

96-OneRuleToRuleThemAll

My motto and I really should remember it more often

For the past couple of days, I’ve been dealing with the customer service for the medical plan I was trying to join. I spent — LITERALLY, NOT KIDDING — four hours on the phone yesterday until the battery on my phone died. It has never died before. Ever. In like five years. It’s not a cell phone.

They couldn’t answer a simple question, they gave me wrong answers, transferred me to the wrong departments, but to be fair, they didn’t disconnect. A miracle indeed. At the end of the conversation, I said: “SEND ME BACK TO BLUE CROSS!”

And then and there, I switched back to my previous medical provider. Because if this was before the plan had even gone into effect, it was going to be like the year I spent with Fallon when I needed to see a medical oncologist and the person on the Customer Service line told me there were doctors listed, but not their specialties.

“So how do you list them? Alphabetically?”

My doctor’s (not this doctor, the doctor before the last doctor) dimwitted secretary sent me to a cancer surgeon and when I called her back and explained that I don’t need a surgeon, I need a medical oncologist because I had cancer and what I need NOW is a checkup. I went with that company for a year and never actually got the checked.

Then came Blue Cross and life got better. This plan would have saved me around $150 a month which is a good deal of money, but I was pretty sure it would also ruin my life. I can’t do it anymore. I cannot spend the rest of my life fighting with customer service to just answer a simple question. I’m too old, too tired, too beat up.

I’ll pay the money. Just let me have people who answer the phone and know what they are talking about. Please!

And for all the comments I haven’t answered and posts I haven’t read? I swear to you I have spent about 9 hours over the past two days straightening out my medical plan — well, OUR medical plans. I’m exhausted. And I’m running out of birdseed again.

ONLINE SHOPPING REVOLUTION OR CONSUMER REBELLION? – Marilyn Armstrong

I’ve been thinking about shopping.

Does anyone remember in those last ten years before online shopping came into full flower? That was when you’d go into a nice shop and discover there was no one there. No one to help you find the right size or style … or even the correct department. More than half the cash registers were closed and the people who worked the counters were actually working multiple counters so wherever you were waiting, they weren’t there.

I remember not buying a watch in Kohl’s because there wasn’t anyone at the jewelry counter and the cash register was closed. I looked everywhere and I didn’t see a single store worker.

There was absolutely not a soul willing to help me find the right size or choose a different color or size, or even say, “That looks nice.” Or do anything that might encourage me to buy something.

Shopping went from being fun to being work.

By the time online shopping was readily available, most of the brick-and-mortar stores had cut down their staff by more than half. Returning something meant standing in long lines for the one individual who handled all returns and you’d better have saved that receipt!

They did themselves in. They treated their customers like WordPress treats us … and the results were exactly what you’d expect.

When the day there arrived offering us a real choice, shoppers were ready. Instead of fighting for a parking space and wandering around a mall trying first to find the right store, then searching the shop and discovering there was no one on the floor to talk to. Hoping to get some assistance in finding an outfit and realizing there wasn’t any.

All of which was followed by another ordeal, searching for an open register.

Suddenly, you could order clothing and return what didn’t fit or what you didn’t like. In the meantime, just to make what was already difficult just a bit harder, many city malls began charging customers for parking.

Free gift wrapping was not free. You couldn’t even get plain boxes to wrap without paying for them. The quality of the clothing went down while the prices went up. There were no more departments where you could get clothing altered, either.

It wasn’t just the Internet that ruined “real store” shopping. It was the attitude of the store’s owners and managers. They decided they “owned” their customers and we’d show up anyway, no matter how bad the service. It must have been a rude shock when they realized not only did we have a choice, but we weren’t coming back.

So they can blame their demise on Amazon and the Internet, but they can also look in the mirror and realize when you treat your customers badly, eventually, when times change, they won’t be your customers.

It’s a lesson that cable companies are learning, cell companies are just beginning to learn … and it won’t end there. I fought with my cable company for years to get them to give me a package I could afford … and when I finally gave up and cut the cable, suddenly they filled up my email with all kinds of tempting packages — for ONE year only.

After which they would do what they always did: jack up the prices by 100% and we’d go through the same thing again. There are only so many times you can anger and disappoint customers without expecting them to hit back in the only way that matters: financially.

You never own your customers. They own you. Eventually, they will let you know how they feel about you. Count on it.

IT NEVER ENDS – Marilyn Armstrong

Bird pictures are included for sanity reasons.
We need some. Birds are good for that.

Yesterday, after spending my entire day trying to make a breakthrough on WordPress — and feeling that maybe I had made a tiny dent — I realized that Amazon had sent me my package with the wrong stuff in it. It was almost the final straw, not counting that the software people have removed the spell-checker from the post writer.

The singing Carolina Wren

This must be one of their improvements, like when they removed the “edit” function from all posts once they were posted. When asked why they did that, they said why would anyone need it?

They restored it when about a million of us told them they had their heads up their asses and to please PUT THE EDIT BUTTON BACK. Some of us like to fix errors and even (gads!) rewrite awkward sentences or fix typos.

Downy Woodpecker

Do any of these people actually write a blog or post anything? Do they have any beta testers? Do they have any Omega testers or Alpha testers — or anyone who tests anything before they shove it down to us? They also seem to have removed the help button again. I guess too many of us used it and now they have to (gasp) fix stuff.

Or maybe not.

It’s hard to believe that anyone at WordPress gives a rat’s ass about their “customers.” No one has ever made me feel valued.

It’s a woodpecker, but I can’t see enough of him to know which one.

I’ve had it for the day. If you haven’t heard from me yet, I’ll try to get to you today, but we have a long funeral in Boston on Wednesday and I don’t think I’ll have time or energy to do much, after that, there’s Thursday. If I’m still mentally capable.

Is this a test? Do we get an “A” if we pass? A gold star? Something? Anything?

AN OUTGOING TIDE WITH AN UNDERTOW – Marilyn Armstrong

It has been a tough couple of weeks, which is weird because there isn’t any specific crisis going on. I’m trying to get a grip on all the seemingly small things that feel like they are crowding in on me and pulling me down.

Our income is fixed. This means our income will never go up. It will stay the same until we die. Meanwhile, prices keep rising. We aren’t in a wildly inflationary period, but even so, I’m glad we don’t eat much. And I’m very glad my medications are generic. Every week, the same money buys a little less than it did the week before. Just a little bit.

I’m fighting an outgoing tide and an undertow.

Atlantic shore

I’m having trouble focusing. I want to pull a pillow over my head and vanish for a while. Unfortunately, that’s not possible. So I’m swimming like mad, but the tide’s going out while the undertow is pulling with it.

The breakers are pounding me on the head.

I nearly drowned in an outgoing tide and an undertow. It was in Herzliya, Israel. Unbelievably, It was also more than 30 years ago. I was swimming as hard as I could — which isn’t all that powerful. I can swim, but I have no kind of power in my stroke. So, I was making no headway. None.

I finally saved my life by just grabbing a lungful of air whenever I could and letting the waves push me onto the sand.

Maybe that’s what I need to do now. Except I have a feeling it worked out better in the Mediterranean than it would with life.

TODAY WAS A DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

I had been considering getting an insurance plan on all our home appliances — including the heating and electrical and plumbing — and the roof. The problem is, we couldn’t afford a longterm plan. At $500 a hit for four hits, that is all our money. Bought month by month, it’s $45/month which makes it a lot more expensive and for us would mean less money for food, medications, dog food, bird food. Everything.

The thing about a fixed income is the fixedness of it. It means that whatever money you get, you will never receive more than you do right now. You will never get a raise or a Christmas bonus. Or any bonus. If the price of food and gasoline and heating oil goes up? Your income doesn’t.

So you have to think long and hard when your “savings” account is less than $2000 because your house has had its way with your savings.

You can eat less. You can even do without medications if its absence isn’t life-threatening. But when a piece of the house is sagging and showing signs of collapse, you have to fix it. Somehow.

Right now, I’m looking at the chimney which urgently needs repointing before it collapses. The bathroom that so badly needs renovation; in which the tub has been scrubbed so much, the color has leached out. The wall tiles weren’t anything special when brand new and they are a lot less special after 50 years of mildew and aging grout. My son has been planning to fix parts of the bathroom for years. As he rounds the bend to age 50, I think it isn’t going to happen. So tomorrow, the bathroom fixer-uppers will be here and we’ll see if we can make something happen. I don’t know if it’s possible, but it sure would make life easier if we could.

I canceled the house insurance. It doesn’t matter how sensible it is. We do not have the money, not if we are going to fix other things. Pray our heating system doesn’t die because I think we’ll die along with it. And that the roof doesn’t start to leak.

We live in that sad place where we earn too much money to get any state subsidies and too little to live comfortably.

Then I got a bill from AT&T for $70 AFTER the letter which told me that was NOT going to happen. I told them they could keep their service. I disconnected my phone and said I’ll die before I pay them. Then I called U.S. Mobile.

Total: $35 + $2 shipping for a flip phone. I can upgrade later. Including a SIM card. If all we are going to do is talk, I can get 300 minutes for 5 bucks a month. If I want to add 200 texts (I’ve yet to send one), it would be another 5 dollars. If I got their unlimited plan, it would be $34.99, which is still $5 cheaper than anything AT&T offers for “Seniors.” Since it’s an “open-phone,” I can get a better phone if I want and just move the SIM card.

They have begun selling Blackberry phones again … the ONLY cell phone Garry ever loved. Ah, the classics.

I lost my debit card Sunday night, so I canceled it and ordered a new one. I found it today. It was hiding inside my Apple computer. I called BOA to cancel my order for a new card. They hadn’t ordered a new card or canceled the old one. Talk about feeling protected! After all the jabbering on the phone, they did absolutely nothing. Lucky me, nothing was needed but they didn’t know that.

As part of the hunt for the missing debit card, I discovered that the areas under the sofa in the living room and under the bed were beyond words. The living room was merely dirty. The area under the bed was appalling. There’s no way to just clean it. The bed, mattress, machinery (it’s a movable bed), and its frame must weigh half a ton.

We cleaned what could be cleaned. The rest of the dust and mess will have to stay there because there’s no way to move that bed … or to get a vacuum under it.

Then I realized that I could not plug in Garry’s new lamp because we don’t have an extension cord. I ordered two AmazonBasic extension cords. Now, I hurt everywhere and I never got any coffee.

So I also didn’t write anything until now and this is going up tomorrow because there’s nothing on the boards for tomorrow or any day until next weekend.

Meanwhile, WordPress removed the way you call up old blogs — which I do often, most of the time rewriting them before posting. I have close to 9,000 blogs and if I can’t access them without their actual name (like I’m going to remember 8,768 blog names?) … I give up.

Honestly, I feel like giving up anyhow. I’m tired of WordPress and AT&T and anyone who wants me to pay them more money for less. I think that’s everyone.

AND THEN, THERE’S AT&T – Marilyn Armstrong

I swear that I’m at that point with AT&T where I’d rather chip half an inch of ice off the car than talk to anyone at AT&T.

Yesterday, they delivered the telephone that goes with the plan. Whatever plan that turned out to be. I actually had no idea what the plan was. Each time I talked to someone, they had no idea what I was talking about. I kept getting computer-generated emails telling me I had to pay $80 or $90 next month and $50 or $60 thereafter. I signed up for their 300-minute plan that comes with a free flip phone.

Yes, they still make flip phones. They are just like the old ones. In fact, I these really might be the same flip phones we used 20 years ago. They sure look the same, although they have a calendar and a camera. I’m not expecting much of a camera and for reasons that are obscure to me, it didn’t import my Google contact, but apparently, it will accept the information if I can figure out how to enter my email address and password into the flip phone.

Right now, I can’t actually turn it on and off successfully. It’s one button that turns it on and turns it off, but you hold it longer to turn it off. If you hold it too long, it starts up again. Meanwhile, the on/off button on the side doesn’t do anything as far as I can tell. I wonder if this thing will ever work. I despair as I try to read what they humorously call “the user guide.”

I went to the site where they are supposed to tell me how to set up the phone and they never heard of it, but the setup site never heard of the phone. I was forced to (gods of olden days please protect me) call AT&T.

I couldn’t even figure out how to turn the phone on or move the cursor. She did turn the SIM on, but it didn’t have any information on it. But, it turns out, there IS a manual for the telephone. Not a good manual, but a “better than nothing” manual. I’m sure you know what I mean. Written by a software program, no humans involved.

“Why,” I asked, “Didn’t they include the manual with the phone? Is there some law against giving basic instructions to users?”

“This is the packaging for this phone, and it doesn’t include the manual,” she explained.

“Lady, I used to write manuals. You ALWAYS include the manual with the device. That’s the point of having the manual. When you get the device, you can make it work and you don’t have to spend three days on the telephone with AT&T.”

She said she was sorry, but she could give me a link to the manual online. I said “FINE. Let’s do that.”

But it wouldn’t come up so we had to clear my browser data and NOT sign me into AT&T and then figure out what phone it was because the only thing it said was AT&T. My home phones are also AT&T, but they don’t actually make them. I think they might be Unidyne ripoffs, but I’m not sure. They work and that’s all that matters.

In this case, she had no idea who made the phone, so I pried open the back and said: “The battery is an Alcatel, so I’m betting that’s who actually made the phone.”

And sure enough, Alcatel made the phone. Got the manual. Downloaded it. Saved it in two places — desktop and on Google — and then she asked me if I need any more help. I said: “No, I’ve had enough of AT&T to last me the rest of my life. I’m going to eat dinner, watch some television and try to never think about AT&T again as long as I live.”

Long pause.

“Thank you for your patience in letting me assist you.”

“If you’d included the manual, you wouldn’t have had to assist me.”

“Well, thank you for being a loyal customer.”

“You’re welcome. Now I’m going to eat my dinner.” And I hung up before she could say anything more. I couldn’t cope with another thank you for being a loyal customer because being a loyal AT&T customer doesn’t feel like a great thing at the moment.

Oh, and by the way, after a lot of conversation yesterday on the phone — I’ve had three days of dealing with AT&T, not to mention half a dozen computer-generated NOT the real bill — I am paying $29.99 a month plus local taxes. The phone cost $3.78 for shipping. That’s it. I am saving about $20 a month … and I nearly lost my mind in the process.

The phone still doesn’t really work, but I can turn it on, turn it off, and enter a phone number and probably, it will call the number. Pretty sure.

I did eventually get it to accept my wi-fi, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, right?

THERE’S NO GOOD TIME TO CALL AT&T – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Affable

Affable. I was in a pretty good mood when we got home from shopping, or at least as good as I feel after shopping when I have a cold and forgot to buy eggs. That was probably why I thought it was a good time to call AT&T and get my rates dropped. I’ve been overpaying for my phone for more than a decade and I was determined to GET the lower rates this time.

First, there is NO good time to call AT&T. No one knows anything. They transfer you back and forth and half the numbers they give you don’t work. Even when you get the right person, they don’t know anything. No one takes notes so you have to explain the problem over and over and over and by the fourth time I was repeating the same story, I was just plain pissed.

What I had done — THOUGHT I had done — was to transfer from my $53/month plan to the $29.99 plan which is part of the “Senior Nation” set of benefits for we old folks.

This required that I have an un-smart phone.

I wanted an un-smart phone in the first place because I don’t use the internet on the phone. If I want the internet, for this I have multiple computers. But our telephone distributor (they are morons there, too) said they didn’t have any, couldn’t get any — so you had a choice of a smartphone or? A smartphone.

We ended up with this Galaxy Samsung Google phone which does whatever it does pretty well, far as I can tell — but they only thing I do with it is to make an occasional phone call … like when we are on the road and lost (always lost, always and forever), or if the power is out and we have to call the electric company.

I don’t use it on the internet. I don’t use it to update banking or to text. I actually don’t know how to text. That’s embarrassing, I realize, but I simply haven’t done it … so I don’t know how. Garry doesn’t know how either. But Garry is anti-technical and I’m supposed to know all this stuff. I do know a lot of stuff, but texting isn’t one of them. Shoot me, but there it is. I also cannot change the ink in my printer. I hate printers and I refuse to even try.

After making this arrangement to get on the low-cost plan and get a free flip phone (yes, they still make them), I got a bill from AT&T informing me that I’d changed my plan and would now be paying them $90 next month and $60 for each month after that — which is significantly more than I’m currently playing. For having done absolutely nothing except try to lower my bill.

No mention of the senior plan. No mention of the free phone. No mention of nothing.

I called back. No one knew what I was talking about, but they kept transferring me from one department (who knew nothing) to another department (which knew nothing). Finally, I called back and said: “I’ve had it. Either you fix this right now or I’m leaving AT&T. You people are driving me CRAZY.” I have been an AT&T customer for about 15 years and there was a time when they actually had really good customer service.

Ah, those were the days. We were so young, so optimistic.

Phones

So eventually, I got the $29.99 (+ taxes, et al) and can use the phone I’ve got OR the one they are actually sending me. I don’t think you can transfer a smartphone SIM card to a flip phone. I’ll deal with that IF I ever get another phone. My current phone is five years old, but it looks brand new, probably because effectively, it IS brand new. I don’t use it. It lives in my bag and is usually off.

So much for affable.

At this point, I’m plain pissed off, even though I think (I hope, I believe) I have the issue dealt with. But who knows? I may get another bill any minute. Nothing like a long afternoon on the phone with customer service to finish off your good mood of the day.

Now I’m watching the news. The final crunch. I have such a nasty headache, too.