26
Apr

Sometimes I wonder if I would rather be old. Granted, my nephew might say that I already am old, but I mean old, old. Like eligible for the Denny’s senior citizen discount old. Or in other words, like my parents old.

During the past few years, while my generation has been battling a weak job market, increasing living costs and an overwhelming atmosphere of gloom and doom in our society, my parents have been battling over whether they should watch Moonstruck or Gone with the Wind for the fortieth time. Or go to the library to pick up some new books. Or maybe just take a nap. Then they’ll treat themselves to dinner at Red Lobster before calling it a night at nine o’clock. Sure, they walk a little slower and get winded a little faster than they did thirty years ago, but overall I’d say that my parents have it pretty good right now. I, on the other hand, have another forty to fifty years ahead of me before I can take advantage of Medicare and the IHOP special. Yet curious to see what might be in store for me come 2062, I decided to do a little investigative work.

Upon arriving at the retirement center, I had no idea what to expect. Would I have to shout all day long? Would I be forced to listen to the same stories over and over again? Would I get pudding? (I assume all senior citizens eat pudding. Easy on the gums.) Instead, I was warmly welcomed by the administrative staff and quickly ushered into the recreational area. Several other volunteers had already arrived and were waiting for the activities to begin. That’s when a dozen or so residents began to slowly walk or roll themselves in and took their seats at the huge wooden table occupying the middle of the room. The coordinator then welcomed everyone, guest and resident alike, and asked that we each say a little something about ourselves. Nice, right? Not to mention, each time someone finished speaking, they received a warm round of applause from the residents. I was immediately charmed by the sweetness of this group.

However, a perceptible shift in the residents’ demeanor was felt the moment the coordinator revealed the bingo cards from his bag. These kind folks who a moment ago were smiling and chatting together had now gone silent and stone-faced as they focused on readying themselves for the competition. Half of them eagerly waved over the coordinator in order to get first dibs on the “lucky” cards while the other half dove their liver-spotted hands into nearby buckets of chips (aka bottle caps) and grabbed as many as their arthritic fingers could hold. Fascinated, I watched as the residents meticulously prepared their stations for battle.

Considering that I was certainly loud enough for the job, I offered to call out the numbers. However, I had only announced the second selection when I was told in no uncertain terms to pick up the pace. Apparently the elderly are not interested in dilly-dallying. Making matters worse was that I kept calling out number after number and yet no one was hitting bingo. I could sense the tension in the room mounting. In particular, the woman sitting closest to my left – the very same one who initially told me that I was going too slow – would let out an exasperated sigh each time I called out a number that wasn’t on her card. I was beginning to get a little nervous. Was I doing something wrong? Was it possible to screw up this game? Then much to my relief, I finally heard a rather defiant “bingo!” called out by a lady at the far end of the table. Before we were even able to confirm her numbers, she then instructed one of the volunteers to bring over the bag of swag. Aha! That’s why this game was such a big deal. These peeps wanted their prizes. While the rest of the group impatiently waited for the winner to make her selection – she finally decided upon a lovely picture frame – I was told that we would be shaking things up a bit.

“What does that mean?”

“We’re going to play birthday cake.”

Was that like patty cake? I didn’t understand. However, the coordinator told me that I didn’t have to change anything I was doing, so I just went with it. Though as the game progressed, I noticed that one of the residents hadn’t covered a number already called out. Upon gently alerting her to her oversight, she briskly replied that it didn’t matter because that number wasn’t part of the birthday cake formation. Oh… okay. I decided that it might be better if I just stuck to calling out the numbers.

A game later, I began to relax a bit. I even cracked a few jokes to my audience, and though no one laughed, I think it was more a matter of their deteriorating hearing rather than me not being funny. Either way, I was liking this whole bingo thing they had going on. I could get used to this. Plus, they had some really sweet swag. I wouldn’t mind a rhinestone-encrusted letter opener or another journal to add to my ever-growing collection.

Just as I was imagining what life could be like when I’m old and gray, the coordinator unceremoniously booted me from my announcer duties. He claimed that I was “great, really great,” but I wasn’t buying it. If I was so great, then why were they giving my gig to an awkward sixteen-year-old who lacked any kind of stage presence whatsoever? I suspected that the residents might have had something to do with this decision. Fine. Whatever. At least I can still chew my food with my original teeth… and I don’t wear adult diapers. Who’s the winner now?

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

19
Apr

Much like any other major city, Los Angeles is full of interesting people. And when I say interesting, I mean weird.

You get used to it. In fact, while in college I became rather accustomed to the oftentimes unusual activities of my urban mates. When you’re hustling five city blocks to get to your next class in two minutes – and it’s twenty degrees outside – you just don’t have the time to be shocked by the gentleman locked in a heated debate with a nearby tree. When you pass him every day for weeks at a time, you actually begin to find comfort in his peculiar presence. It feels more “weird” when he’s not fighting with the maple at 8th and Wabash.

Yet since moving to LA, I’ve realized that my bizarre behavior threshold has taken a significant dive. I blame this on the driving culture of the city. You don’t interact as frequently with the unique souls that inhabit SoCal because you don’t have to walk past them or sit next to them. You have the protective barrier of your car to shield you from the eccentric code of conduct of those around you. When I was a frequent CTA passenger a few years back, I wouldn’t have thought twice of grabbing the empty seat next to the lovely lady who was deep in animated conversation with herself. Now on the rare occasion of having to walk somewhere – usually it’s to and from the parking garage at Trader Joe’s – I suspiciously keep my eyes on the random dude chatting away with no one in particular and give him a wide berth… until I realize he’s talking on his Bluetooth.

Anyway. I noticed him immediately from the comfort of my Mazda3. I had just pulled up to a light and saw him attempt to cross the street from my left. I watched as he carefully took note of his walk signal, ventured off the curb and proceeded to move forward. That could have easily been the end of my story, except that rather than continuing to the next block, he instead halted and put up his hand to stop the minivan waiting to turn onto my street. Though the vehicle was a good fifteen feet away from this fellow, and furthermore had not so much as moved an inch, he nevertheless felt threatened by this soccer mom and her Dodge Grand Caravan. He stood there for a good ten seconds – ten seconds that could have been used to actually cross the street – but he was determined to make clear his pedestrian right of way. I observed him with mild amusement and then looked over to see how the driver was responding to her newfound foe. As I suspected, she was completely bewildered. I’m guessing she didn’t often cross paths with individuals such as this chap at her yoga class.

And just like that, he decided to start walking again. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of assuming that my sunglasses had rendered me incognito. Noticing me noticing him, he then stopped in front of my car and started waving at me. Fantastic. Now what? On the one hand, I felt like a jerk to not wave back. That’s just rude, right? On the other hand, if I did wave, what else might he do? So I took the middle road and gave him a lame half-wave that resembled more an uncontrollable body tick. However, that satisfied him enough to keep moving to the other side of the street.

I then decided that my next course of action would be to stare straight ahead and just wait for the freaking light to change, but of course I couldn’t help myself. I had to look over to see what he was doing next, and because he had never taken his eyes off me, he considered this all the encouragement he needed to start waving once more.

Seriously? Okay, fine. Broken down by his somewhat admirable persistence, I finally gave him a proper wave back, which caused him to break out into a huge smile. Which made me smile. Which made him wave all the more zealously. Which made me laugh. Which made him take a step forward toward my car. Which totally freaked me out.

Thankfully, the light finally changed, and off I sped like Amanda Bynes trying to avoid a second DUI. Checking my rearview mirror, I watched as he continued to wave to every other automobile passing him by. So, wait… Our little exchange was just one of many for him? I felt oddly disappointed by this revelation. Maybe I’m the weird one.

Image: sheelamohan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

12
Apr

Certain things make me nervous. Like seeing eighty-year-olds behind the wheel. Or watching the Blackhawks when Corey Crawford’s in the net. Running out of coffee creamer is enough to spike my blood pressure, but by far the worst is making a call to customer service.

For one, they have the power. As much as we would like to think that threatening to cancel our service would make them tremble with fear and guilt… They don’t care. I know this to be true because I’ve worked in customer service, or rather I’ve worked in places with customers. Most stores emphasize that you should consider the customer king, but at the end of the day, we all know the deal. No one person is going to single-handedly take down Target or Bed Bath & Beyond.

I once worked in a clothing boutique, and for the record, twenty-something women are the worst customers ever. Every week, I would get some chick trying to return a dress that not only looked worn, but also reeked of smoke and alcohol. Apparently you don’t go clubbing in the same outfit twice. So I would refuse the return. And she would pout. And I would just stare at her with a smile. And eventually she would angrily stuff that disgusting dress back into her bag and stomp out of the store. Why? Because I had the power.

Secondly, I hate when customer service representatives bombard you with countless “offers.” It’s like walking into Trader Joe’s for a loaf of bread and being pummeled with apples, eggs and jars of salsa as you’re trying to check out. Doesn’t feel good. The pseudo enthusiasm in a customer service rep’s voice as he informs me with rapid-fire speech about the great price I can get for bundling my bills is both commendable and slightly confusing. Is basic cable really that exciting? Then I burst his bubble and tell him no anyway.

So… I had to call customer service the other day. My internet bill had increased by 20% in the last two months, and I wanted to passive-aggressively express my disapproval. The first guy I got on the line was your classic CC rep. Way too excited about his job and way too eager to sell me services that I didn’t want. After a series of polite yet firm refusals, I finally got him to explain what was going on with my bill. To my surprise, he then told me that I could decrease my bill by getting rid of an unnecessary feature. Before I knew it, he was transferring me to another department to make the change and thanking me for my business.

However, my conversation with the new rep started off a little rocky. She went through the same spiel as the first guy and again I responded with “no,” “no” and “no.” Was this some kind of bait and switch situation? I knew it was too good to be true. Yet before I could hang up, she asked that I hold while she consulted her supervisor… A few minutes later, she got back on the line and informed me that they could reduce my bill to less than half of its current price!

Needless to say, I was highly suspicious. I hadn’t threatened to cancel my service once, so why was she being so nice to me? That’s when she asked what I did for a living, and we got to talking. I found out that she lived in Orange County. I mentioned that I had attended grad school there. Then we started chatting about how bizarre the entertainment industry can be. She told me about a trip she took with her daughter to see all the fancy shops on Rodeo Drive, but unfortunately it was cold and rainy that weekend… That’s when it dawned on me that this woman wasn’t just a customer service rep. She was a real person. This was merely her job, and as it is for many of us, it didn’t define who she was.

We ended up having a perfectly lovely conversation. Also, I’ll now be saving over $300 a year on my internet service. Thanks, AT&T!

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

05
Apr

I was just lookin’ for a little sympathy. It had been a rough workweek, and I wanted to vent. Sometimes friends just don’t cut it, though. Sure, they may understand, but only too well because usually they’re going through the exact same thing. Complaining to friends about work is like complaining to a Jenny Craig client that you’re dying for some cake. Plus, there was only one person that I wanted to invite to my pity party, and that was my dear old dad. I knew he could make me feel better. Yet the second he picked up the line, I lost it. I could feel the hot tears welling up in my eyes. “Hello? Hello?” Instead of answering him, I could only articulate a high-pitched screech that sounded something like a DJ scratching records while accompanied by the vocal stylings of an injured bird. He recognized the cry for help. “Anna? I can’t understand you. What’s wrong?”

I took a deep breath and willed myself to calm down. I then bombarded my dad with a long and detailed explanation as to why my life was so unfair. By the time I concluded my rant, my father had only one question: “So why are you so upset?” Hello?! Had he not been listening to anything I said? Is it time for the hearing aids, Dad?

“Because… I’m frustrated.”

“Well, I’d rather see you get mad than sad.”

Okay, good point. I suppose the only thing my tears would produce is a trashcan of wadded up tissues and a pair of bloodshot eyes.

“Lemme tell you a story…” That’s when my dad launched into his own work tale, and I was once again reminded of where I get my affinity for talking… So here’s something that will blow your mind: my father worked at the same company for his entire career. That’s over forty years of office meetings and cafeteria lunches at the same place. Moreover, he loved work so much that he would many times come in during the weekends. Just because. Anyway, he proceeded to tell me that at some point over his four plus decades of employeedom, a few work friends informed him that a position in another department had opened up, and they wanted him to apply. Given that he was perfectly happy where he was, my father refused. These friends of his would not let up, though. (My dad made sure to emphasize this part of the story several times. “They kept coming at me and coming at me to apply for that job.” I get it, Dad. You were popular at work.) Finally caving to their repeated appeals, my father threw his hat into the ring. Shortly thereafter, a few of the higher-ups approached him and indicated that they had someone else in mind for the job. Needless to say, my dad wasn’t heartbroken, but apparently these executives were concerned that he just might be and gave him a raise. A raise. Just because.

The end.

Okay. Wasn’t quite sure how this little anecdote was supposed to help me. Was I missing some kind of life lesson here? Though I could appreciate the good fortune my father had experienced, it seemed, well, totally and completely unrelated to my own situation.

“Awesome, Dad. I’m so glad that happened to you.”

“Right? I didn’t even want the job.” That’s when I lost it again… and started laughing. I still had no clue why he thought this story would cheer me up, but maybe my dad was more perceptive than I had realized. Twenty minutes earlier, I was dramatically wallowing in the depths of my own despair. Now I had a sappy smile plastered across my face and couldn’t stop giggling.

My father might be a genius.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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