Tuesday, October 9, 2012

With American Express, You Don't Get What You Paid For


First transgression on their part:

In 1980, I paid for their green card, which I loved,
not only because was it my first credit card,
but it ended in the digits "007"!
(do I really need to explain that to anyone?) ;)

In 1998, they offered to change me to a free AMEX card,
so I did, provided that it ended with "007",
which, surprisingly, they did,
so I cancelled the old green card after receiving the new, no-annual-fee, card
(in case you're wondering, the difference
between their green/standard pay-for card and their "free" card,
is that you MUST pay the balance on the former as soon as you get the bill,
whereas, with the latter, they have an opportunity to make money off you,
if you don't).
Two years ago, they cancelled that no-annual-fee card,
because I hadn't used it in over a year,
without extending the courtesy of warning me in advance by phone, letter, or e-mail!
I understand.
I always pay on time, so you weren't making any money off me,
and, I have other credit cards, which offer rebates,
so, cut off your nose to spite your face, AMEX!

(I'm omitting another, albeit, minor, transgression,
where AMEX, for whatever reason,
had, accidentally, attached one of my credit card bills to someone else's,
who, fortunately, was a lawyer, and forwarded it to me;
a lot of people may have just chucked it,
and I would have had a lot of 'splainin'
to do to AMEX in the subsequent billing period)

Second transgression on their part:

In August, I bought an AMEX pre-paid/gift card
to take advantage of their "purchase $200 - get $25 bonus" promotion,
which expired on August 31.
I received it in early-September,
and had used it seven times since,
the latest being, yesterday.

Keep these in mind while snoozing through the rest of this:

1) It's a pre-paid/gift card, NOT a credit card.

2) They asked a LOT of personal info online,
including my full social security number.
How many retail store gift cards do that?
Answer: None.
Usually, it's just the last 4 digits.
But, the FULL ssn? Only scammers would do that!
AMEX claims it has to do with new banking and credit laws,
but, I'm not buying that (i.e., refer to #1),
because I've done similar with other retailers and banks,
and never had to be put through the "third degree".

3) The pre-paid/gift card was fully paid for, in advance, online,
from my bank account with cash.
(the $25 bonus would be sent 6-8 weeks later;
why they couldn't simply tack it on the $200 card is beyond me;
maybe to avoid scams? but how? the card is paid for in advance!
clearly, it's to save them a little money;
remember, they get to use your $200 for free,
until you start using it (i.e., no interest is given;
no big deal, since most bank accounts pay next-to-nothing anyway!)

(are you still awake?)

Given the above:

In a recent e-mail,
I got a note from them saying that my pre-paid/gift card was SUSPENDED!
I thought it was a phishing/scam,
so I logged onto my AMEX prepaid card account,
and, sure enough, it was!
Unlike most other bank, brokerage, credit card companies, etc,
AMEX doesn't allow customers to e-mail them for "security reasons"
(read: We can't afford to hire people to read e-mails).
I called the toll-free number on my cell phone (which costs me "minutes", BTW),
to find out what the problem was.
After about 3 minutes of select-1-for-English, select-2-for-Martian, et al.,
I finally got an operator, who transferred me to another number.
The gentleman saw the suspension,
then asked a few, simple, perfectly reasonable questions,
such as my ENTIRE social security number, per the above.
I was getting a little hot under the collar.
After about a dozen (I kid you not!) such questions,
he finally said, "Yup. It's you. Your account is suspended."
Golly gee whillikers! (that isn't what I said to him)
"So, WHY was the account suspended?", I asked.
"I have to ask you a few more questions to tell you that, sir."
I blew up.
He calmed me down, saying that he understood,
but it was corporate policy
You're fully expecting that I'm going to say,
"You know what you can do with your corporate policy!", right?
Well . . . yeah, I did!
Again, he calmed me down,
then said, "Did you ever have a phone number that ended with WXYZ?"
Considering that that question was never asked
when I filled-out the online form,
I realized that he had used my full social security number
to access my credit information,
which, even though I'm sure was legit,
it is EXACTLY the kind of thing a scammer is going to ask,
and EXACTLY the kind of thing we're told NOT to give over the phone,
because "the company wouldn't ask such questions!!!"
Again, this is NOT a credit card!
This is a PRE-PAID/GIFT card!!!
Why the f**k are they asking such absurd questions?
And what if I had forgotten about that number?
(I remembered it, but that's not the point)
And what if I was a scammer
with a 50/50 chance of getting that answer right? (i.e., "yes" or "no")
To say that I was red hot, boiling mad, at that point
would be an understatement.
Two degrees more, and my cell phone would have melted.
I exploded in a rage that, had I been exposed to gamma rays,
would have . . . well, YOU know!
After I launched into a tirade,
he calmed me down, again.
Still steaming, I said, "This had better be the last question."
"Uh, no, sir, there are two more questions."
At that point, a 200-foot lava dome formed beneath my feet.
I screamed at the top of my lungs,
that I was not about to give any more personal information,
at which point, he hung up!!!
He hung up on an irate customer
who was reasonably concerned
that his PREPAID (have I emphasized this, enough?) gift card
was suspended for no valid reason,
much less that he was asked questions
that were not on record with AMEX
(i.e., my private/personal information).

A few minutes later, after calming myself down
(ash was still spewing from the caldera,
but, at least the lava flow had ceased),
I re-dialed their number, but it was busy.
So, I tried a different customer number,
and got an operator who said the same thing
(apparently, this happens to them a lot between 11am and 2pm;
great to know that AMEX keeps on top of technology
and spends to keep their infrastructure up;
hey . . . you don't suppose that AMEX and the Federal Government
are one and the same, do you?). ;)
With steam pouring from my ears,
I politely asked for their postal customer service address,
and for what time they thought would be a good time to call.
She gave me both and I hung up
(DAMN that you can't slam a cell phone!!!).

If/when I get through to them,
I am going to ask if they can put my remaining money ($35.05)
back into my source/funding bank account,
which, according to my online account, they still know about,
and, which, according to their online "help", they *can* do.
Even if I was a scammer,
since it would do no harm to return that money,
it would be logical for them to simply do so,
without involving the Spanish Inquisition,
but, you and I both know that that's not "corporate policy".

If they say, "no", then this will only get resolved
after I answer all their invasive questions
(which risks my personal ID/info/security)
or I threaten them with legal action.
Again, this is a CASH account;
NOT a credit card;
they do NOT have my signature on file,
and there is no PIN number.
In other words, they have no way of knowing
whether any transaction made on that card is legit or not
(never mind that all of them were made within a 25 mile radius of my home,
which they have on record and I printed out from my online acct),
and, thus, no reason to suspend my account.
Even if something in the "Terms of Service" or banking laws changed,
most such are intelligently written to "grandfather" existing cards/customers,
so that nobody goes through what I did.

And, considering that many retailers, especially small businesses,
don't even accept American Express cards of any kind, anymore,
due to their high cut of the transaction (3-5% with a minimum of 30 cents,
which, if you use it to buy a newspaper or cup of coffee, is incredibly expensive,
which is why many retailers have a consumer minimum purchase amount),
you'd think they'd do everything in their power to keep customers (if not retailers) happy,
instead of turning on them, as they did with me, twice,
vis-a-vis, cancelling my AMEX card and suspending the gift card.

I'm not waiting for the third strike.

They're O-U-T!!!

P.S. Normally, I would end such a massive missive
with a cute line, such as,
"Thus endeth the rant. I'm going to my time-out corner, now."
But, I am so livid over this (though, writing it down helped a lot),
that, instead, I am going to get in my car,
drive to AMEX's corporate office and - -
well . . . the less you know, the better;
wouldn't want to make you an accomplice, after all!
(and, don't worry . . .
I'm already on Homeland Insecurity's list,
so, this won't affect my status with the gov't in the least!) ;)


FOLLOW-UP (a few hours later):

Well, I just got off the phone with them, again.
This time, I didn't even get the "Por Espanol - - " message:
straight to an operator!!!
(guess it pays to call after a certain hour!)

After she asked me to verify JUST my name and address
(no request for social security numbers
or ancient phone numbers
or any other personal information!
I suspect that the previous operator marked my acct with "pissed-off"),
she informed me that an automated, random, verification process
came up with a discrepancy in my ***BANK'S*** address!!!
In other words, instead of something like,
"My bank at 100 Main St"
it came up with "Why hank by 101 Gain Dr"
(she didn't have access to the specific error).
So, instead of having a human being check that,
so as NOT to involve or annoy the customer
over something so ridiculously simple for them to check on their own
(again, the PREPAID card had already been paid for;
I keep saying that, as if it should mean something to somebody),

they took away their rightful ability to use their own money with no explanation.

Fortunately for AMEX,
this operator was sharp as a tack,
and did everything right:
Despite the late hour,
she called my bank's customer service number,
which, fortunately, was still open, even though it was well after 5pm,
and they verified that the info was "off"
(she was not allowed to tell me what, specifically was wrong),
and she corrected it.
(again, never mind that they could and should have done this
WITHOUT ever having involved the customer,
especially as the card was already paid for
- - I keep harping on that fact for some reason).
BTW, it turns out that you CAN'T put your money back
into the very bank account you used to fund the prepaid/gift card,

of which they still had the info, as evidenced by my online acct.

So, my card is unsuspended, which I just verified, online.
The next day, I spent the rest of the card as fast as I could.

I'd love to tell them what they can do with the $25 bonus card,
which I still haven't received,
but, it's still within the 6-8 week period;
and, of course, they couldn't tell me whether the card had been mailed,
although they *did* have it on record that it was part of the promotion
I used when I funded the card.
At this point, I no longer care about it.
AMEX sucks, and I can't blame retailers for rejecting them, as I now have.
FOLLOW-UP (a few weeks later):

I went to Macy's to take advantage
of a huge pre-winter holiday sale on menswear.
I bought about $400 worth of goods
that I couldn't find from cheaper retailers
for about half that price.
The clerk then offered me an ADDITIONAL 20% off
just for getting a new Macy's card,
which would be credited to my account upon approval
within a few weeks.
I said, "Okay,"
and she put me through a series of invasive questions in public.
Fortunately, there was hardly anyone else around,
which may be unfortunate for the retailer,
especially given the proximity to the biggest shopping holidays of the year,
but, never mind about that.
About 3 minutes later (it felt MUCH longer), it was all done,
and I thought nothing more about it.

Two weeks later, I received the Macy's card in the post,
and, much to my surprise, it turned out to be an American Express card
with the Macy's logo on it.
The card had that adhesive strip saying that I had to call to activate the card.
Dreading the worst, I called, and, sure enough,
was asked for my full social security number,
followed by questions about my previous residence,
color of my car (I kid you not), etc.
I stopped the invasive grilling, told them to cancel the card
stating my reason, per the above, and hung up on the surprised agent,
who could barely get a "but" in edgewise.
Two weeks later, I received the bill, and, much to MY surprise,
the 20% discount was there,
AND the bill was about 25% *LESS*
than what was on the store receipt.
I paid the bill by check, rather than give more personal info via the 'net,
and, as far as I know, that's the end of that.

Words from a fellow Ulcerative Colitis sufferer

A trip through my UC history,
including drugs, food, drink, and homeopathic remedies
(warning: the following will be "icky",
especially to those who haven't experienced UC,
and I certainly hope it doesn't happen to you!

But, if it you have UC, maybe this can help.).

I am not a doctor, nor have I played one on screen, TV, or stage.
Always consult a physician for any physical or mental abnormalities.
The following is presented solely as an historical record,
which may be of use to fellow UC sufferers.


From my first UC diagnosis in 1977 (presumably suffered
due to the stress of being in college,
and drinking virtually nothing, but coffee and cola)
through about 1978,
I occasionally used a cortisone suppository,
but only in emergencies
(i.e., severe blood on stool, which was very rare)
(n.b., that product was withdrawn from the market,shortly afterwards,
but, it is still available through compounding pharmacies
(i.e., those that make the stuff on their own) with a prescription, of course;
to be honest, I'm not sure that it did anything other than turn my stool green!).

Through 1992 or thereabouts,
I was solely on Azulfidine (Sulfasalazine).

At no time did I suffer anything other trivial blood on the stool
(i.e., no lack of control or constant "going").

Then, I had my one and only colonscopy in 1993,
and my world changed, permanently, for the worse.
Despite the doctor saying otherwise,
I'm convinced that he clipped a biopsy sample,
where he shouldn't have,
because, for the next 2 *YEARS*,
I was terrified to be more than 20 yards from a bathroom:
Little blood, but no control.

Fortunately, in 1994, a different doctor prescribed a cortico steroid
(not Prednisone; something else, but I don't remember what it was),
which was a miracle worker.
Within a few DAYS, I was back to normal, with no symptoms!
Not even a drop of blood!
I stayed on it for about 6 months,
was weaned off it,
but continued taking Azulfidine.

In 1998, I had a minor flare-up (a little blood, but had control),
and the doctor/surgeon
- - who respected, if didn't agree with,
my antipathy of colonscopies,
insisted on the less invasive sigmoidoscope,
which showed that I had UC
(surprise, surprise, and $250 poorer!
plus, I wrote a waiver at his insistence (which I still have!)
indicating that I had been informed about colonscopies,
and that I refused that tool;
n.b., I insisted that the reason, per the above, was included;
he had no problem with that).
He recommended Prednisone, at a high, then tapered, dosage,
which did the trick, and I remained on the Azulfidine.

Then, in 2005, after losing my North Carolina job,
and without medical insurance,
and spending nearly $600/month on the Prednisone and Azulfidine,
and having been perfectly normal,
I decided to try to wean off all the drugs,
very, very, very, very, very, slowly.

I've been drug-free ever since,
although, apparently, those drugs, over time, caused me to have
permanent heartburn, requiring Prilosec or similar every night
(it's also possible that the Azulfidine
affected my ability to sleep for the worse,
as I rarely get more than 3 hours of sleep, since about 1992 or so).

Then, in June 2012,
I suffered a minor flare-up just before heading to my home State,
temporarily, to take care of my Alzheimer's-ridden father,
which resulted in a total collapse when I got back to my home;
obviously, all stress-induced.

I'm not sure what single thing, if any,
did the trick to "cure" me two months later,
but, here's everything that I did between July and September,
and am still doing, to a degree:

- reduced food intake at a given seating; eliminated snacks, even fruits and vegetables, cooked meats (thinly sliced deli meats are okay); subsisted mostly on eggs, corn flakes, oatmeal, rice, pasta, white bread (no rye, wheat, bran, etc), cheese; in other words, mostly bland, simple stuff.

- eliminated foods with added salt and sugar, caffeine, nuts, salads, acidic foods/drinks, fast foods, etc.

- bought 3 canisters of "Body Fortress Whey Protein (chocolate)" (2 lbs each),
and drank that 3-5 times a day (Walmart online has that for just $32 total (1); online only) with bottled water (2) (Walgreen's has a good price for their "Nice" brand water, which is just triple-filtered tap water from Texas, but it goes down real smooth, compared to Kentucky tap water, which is a little "hard"). If I got "bored" with the taste of the protein powder, alone (made in a blender), then I either substituted milk* for the water, and/or added single-flavored ice cream, but not often. One note about drinking: Sip!!! Guzzling results in faster elimination, which means it doesn't do your body as good.
(1) (I realize this seems like a commercial,but, you are more than free to use any similar product! FWIW, I did the research, and found these to be the best and cheapest around)
(2) (I occasionally substitute milk for the water; for the most part, I drink almond milk, now, to avoid any lactose issues, which can cause diarrhea; it's only a little more expensive than regular milk, and has a better taste)

- took multi-vitamins twice a day

- took Pepto Bismol (NOT Kaopectate, Rolaids, Tums, or anything else) and stool softener three times a day (WARNING: Pepto and stool softeners can have severe, negative, interactions with some medications, so check with your doctor or pharmacist, first!)

- researched the net for homeopathic stuff, and found consensus with "real" medicine, in the following, available in most drug and natural/health stores, so I took the following in capsule form three times a day (WARNING: these are supposed to be hypoallergenic, but, you might want to consult a doctor or pharmacist, just to be on the safe side):

    - Marshmallow Root (healing qualities for centuries)
    - Fenugreek (fiber substitute)
    - Flaxseed oil or fish oil or Omega-3 oil or Sunflower seed oil or similar
          (for the immune system, 
            and probably, lubricates the stomach and intestines, as well)
    - Echinacea (healing and fiber substitute)
    - Acidophilus (restore intenstinal flora)
    - Glucosamine Sulfate (takes the place of Sulfasalazine, 
            and lubricates your joints, as well! BONUS!!)

- tried not to dwell or stress on it, though it was exhausting; kept crossword puzzle books and sharpened pencils in the bathroom as a distraction; I suppose a laptop computer and a tray table would work as well; avoided the urge to force stool out, especially when there was nothing there.

- forced myself to stay in bed longer and more often.

And, finally, underpants!
Yes, underpants!
You're going to go through a few of them,
so buy an extra set,
and don't be afraid to wear them at night;
better to clean or toss underpants than PJs!
(if you sleep in the buff, you WILL regret it!!!).

I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that UC
is a lot like a scab on the skin:
If you keep "worrying" it
- - both by overeating and stressing over it - -
it WILL get worse.
Keeping it "covered" with fluids acts as a bandage of sorts,
and reducing food intake also reduces the stool outtake
(i.e., low-residue diet, which is boring as hell!).

It took all of July and most of August of doing all these
- - which are far less expensive compared to prescription drugs - -
before I stopped going to the bathroom 20 times a day
(no blood, but, barely a teaspoon of stool each time).
It happened very, very, very, gradually;
I didn't even notice any changes, at first!
But, once I realized it was working
- - I kept my expectations to a minimum to avoid stressing over it - -
my attitude got better, which probably helped, psychologically, if not physiologically.

I am now back to whatever passes as "normal" for me, ;)
but am continuing all the above,
except for the diet part (back to junk food!),
and I eliminated the stool softener and Pepto,
and reduced the "pills" to 1-2 times a day;
when they run out, I will not buy replacements,
just to see what happens.

Had the above not worked after 3 months,
I would have bit the bullet and gone to a GI/UC.

Obviously, I can't guarantee anything for anyone else,
but, suffice it to say, that, with the above,
I am definitely, relieved! (pun most assuredly intended!)

One more thing:
(more icky stuff coming!)

Going so often can lead to "unbearable"
(vis-a-vis those disgusting, cartoon, commercial, potty bears)
and literal pain in the butt!
So, I bought a large container of disposable diaper wipes,
and used them after using very soft toilet paper,
and as little of the latter as possible.
It made a HUGE difference in how I felt,
both physically and psychologically
(n.b., Do NOT flush wipes down the toilet:
they can clog the pipes very easily,
and are NOT ecologically friendly in water;

instead, after using one,
I folded it, sprayed it with Lysol, and dropped it in a plastic shopping bag,
to be collected and tossed into a bigger bag at the end of the day.
No smell, no fuss, no muss).
And don't forget the Vaseline!
(another good reason to wear underpants to bed!)

(I *said* it was "icky!")

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A not so funny thing happened . . .

On Saturday, June 30, 2012, 6am, after having spent 2-1/2 weeks at my folks' house on LI, NY, taking care of my Alzheimer's-ridden (middle stage) father, while my mother took a badly needed vacation to France (she travels at least once a year), I set out for my home in Kentucky via West Virginia.

Big mistake!

It turned out that, during the previous night, a major wind storm crippled the State, knocking out at least half its power. No restaurants, rest rooms, gas stations, etc, were running. Unfortunately, there were no warnings for tourists and travelers, so, there were many, like me, who could have filled-up sooner at working stations, had we known. I had heard news stories on the radio indicating that people were buying generators or that none were available, but the tenor of the stories seemed to be like that of a big tailgate party, not an emergency situation; not a word about the storm or power outages. You know those emergency AM radio stations the highway signs tell you to use? Off the air.

I stopped at a few small WV towns hoping for a rest room and/or gas, but the scant few places that had generators to run their gas pumps had huge lines, and they were rationing the gas (which, IMHO, was a good idea; quite frankly, locals should have been turned away so that travelers could get home). And nobody else was open for business (including to "do" your "business"!).

At about 4pm, with about 10 miles left to go on my car (approx 1 gallon (20 miles) was wasted going to those side exits, one of which I couldn't turn around, despite being scant yards from the highway entrance, because the police brilliantly (he said, sarcastically) blocked off that lane, forcing me to go 10 miles out of my way (by wild coincidence, during my stay in NY, my brother had given me his ancient GPS (its directions are only 90% accurate; there are no map updates, and the company, MIO, went out of business - - surprise, surprise!), which got me out of the town, which had no road signs, whatsoever)), I came upon an attended, but otherwise closed, rest stop - - its sign indicating it was the last one on Rt 79, southbound - - I decided it was better to stay there than get caught on the highway with no gas. Expecting to see lots of drivers in my situation, there were, surprisingly, very few people there; again, no water (the hand pump was locked!), vending machines, or rest rooms, but I expected a lot of (soon-to-be) stranded drivers.

Fortunately, the weather was pleasant (hot and humid, but not uncomfortably so), and my cell phone (Sprint) had (free) digital roaming available (i.e., no tower signal), so I called my credit card company (Chase Business, which comes with a free emergency road service plan), hoping to get a few gallons of gas, although I figured that wouldn't happen. Chase was very attentive and, seemingly, genuinely concerned, but after about ten minutes (not that I minded the time) their service company said that all towing and similar services were swamped with such requests, and, understandably, only valid, urgent, 9-1-1 calls would be given any kind of assistance. At my request, the Chase operator connected me to my auto insurance company, State Farm, who, after I keyed '0' for the operator per their menu, was told by a recording that the number was invalid and I was promptly disconnected (when I reported this incident to my local insurance agent, she said that all I had to do was call my local number (which is on the insurance card, which I always carry with me and is in my phone's contact list), and I would have been connected to her or her staff or, if off-hours, the regional 24-hour operator (I have a feeling it would have had the same result, but, I hope never to need such, again!)). I then called my mother, explained the situation (n.b., my cellphone has a 6-hour battery and I have a car charger, so I wasn't concerned about that), and warned her that I could be stuck there, potentially for days. But, I had food (mostly melted!), and the rest stop was supplied with bottled water from the Salvation Army and local fire companies, so I was, more or less, safe and sound.

I went to the far side of the rest stop to do my "business" way back in the woods (no poison ivy or wild animals, and completely out of sight of drivers). When I returned to wait out my fate, a woman drove up, saying that she, too, was running on fumes. By coincidence, she was heading to Kentucky, the border of which was just a few hours southwest, as well! Her phone (T-Mobile) had no signal, so I let her use mine. She couldn't get through to anybody, but left messages. Eventually, a gentleman with a motor boat drove up, and he, too, was in the same boat! (yeah, I just *had* to say it!) His phone (ATT) had no service, so I let him use mine. His father lives just a few hours away in Kentucky, where, apparently, there was no damage, so the guy asked his dad to bring extra gas for the woman and me (again, at the time, we were the only ones at the stop!). The rest stop's one pay phone worked, but wouldn't receive outside calls, except from the northbound rest stop across the way (again: brilliant! again: sarcastic!).

So, the three of us spent the next six hours telling new drivers that there were no restrooms (I told all the ones I spoke to about the grove area, but nobody took me up on my suggestion! Really, it was quite safe and far better (and less smelly!) than "going" in the back of the rest stop facility, which some people did!). Only a few people hung around, staying only a few minutes. One woman said she had bought 8 gallons for $80 from "kids" a few miles north, but she was unfamiliar with her vehicle (her father's), and concerned about being able to get to the Kentucky border, where her father lives. Fortunately, she had the car's owner's manual in the glove compartment, which, as I calculated from the stated gas tank size and fuel guage, indicated that she would have more than enough to get to her father (I didn't mention that she may have been taken by the kids, who may have given her nothing but water, but she was not the brightest bulb in the lighthouse, and I didn't want to cause any added distress). Another driver came by with a similar story, except that the seller had a tow truck with a AAA logo on the side of his truck; the man not only didn't buy the gas, but told the guy he intended to report him to AAA for price gouging, as is against AAA policy. Bravo! Other drivers told us that another storm was headed our way, despite the windless, clear skies; the reluctant volunteer attendant (another dim bulb, but, pleasant and reassuring, all the same!), said that the previous evening's storm had started after a similar lull (he also stated that mass power outages occur on a regular basis in WV, which implies that towns need their own power stations, which may also imply that they simply don't have the resources - - natural and/or financial - - to do so). Other drivers (passenger and truckers) gave us conflicting reports about power and gas availability in Charleston, about 55 miles south, not that I could possibly have reached it. Some drivers told us that DC, Ohio and Pennsylvania, suffered similarly, so, had I driven in those directions, I might have ended up in a similar situation.

At about 10pm, the gentleman's father arrived, with enough gas for a motorcyclist (a late addition to our little circle), and about 5 gallons for me (the first woman managed to reach her brother, who knew somebody in Charleston, who promised to bring her gas, so she was set), and a couple of gallons for a panic-stricken woman (with three very well-behaved kids in tow) whose closest relative was in Tennessee, where she was headed. I had a funnel, which helped with the gas pouring. About 15 minutes later, we said our farewells. I even gave my two new "chums" - - the woman and first man (the motorcyclist had taken off) - -  my business cards, if they were interested in re-connecting. The first woman (married) plays tennis, as I do, and the man's father refused my very generous offer for the gas - - on top of which, the father told the panic-stricken woman he would follow her to the next safe, public, rest stop or exit - - so I wanted to offer them a free computer repair, at the very least; he said he wouldn't have known about his son's dilemma had it not been for my phone, so he considered us "even". He also said I should "carry it forward" to someone else in need . . . a good samaritan AND classy!

So, with an 80-100 mile range at my disposal, I resumed my southbound travel, vowing not to stop anywhere in West Virginia, lest I waste time and gas; I even shut off the radio and air conditioner, which shouldn't matter with a modern car, but, I wasn't taking any chances. At about midnight, when I was, once again, down to about 20 miles worth of gas, there was an exit with a Sheetz gas/food stop with plenty of gas (and, oddly, no lines!), so I filled-up, knowing that I would need less than half a tank to get home (n.b., if it didn't have gas, there happened to be another open gas station just 8 miles south, but, I don't know if I would have taken that chance). Reveling in my newfound, gas-guzzling, ways, I bought a sandwich and drink (not having eaten anything substantial since six that morning, and all my snack food had become sugary, melted, goo, in the excessive heat!), turned on the refreshing a/c, and relaxed in the car for about 10 minutes. I, then, phoned my mother telling her all was well. Then, I hit the restroom, washed up, and took off.

Oddly, there were only a handful of stranded cars on the highway, but I couldn't risk stopping to help, out of, both, admitted selfishness and, more importantly, fear that I could have been mugged for gas or money or even the car! I got home at about 3am, so exhausted that I didn't bother taking anything out of the car, and just threw myself on my bed. I woke up at about 6am, forced myself to stay in bed, if not asleep, and then realized I had nothing in the refrigerator, so, at 8:30 am, I got food at the local supermarket, picked-up my 3 weeks' worth of mail (85% magazines; 10% junk) from my post office box, and even filled-up with gas ($3.11/gal, and I even got a 10 cent discount for Speedway's 4th of July member discount; it's a free loyalty card that gives back incredible dividends with discounts and freebies! FWIW, gas in NY was about $3.50/gal, as it was throughout NJ, PA, and WV; only KY had such low prices!).

In conclusion, the six-hour ordeal went really fast, at least, to me (my two comrades-in-ordeal thought it had dragged!). We got to see some incredible displays of heat lightning (no rain, thank goodness!) to the east, which, unfortunately, I couldn't capture on my digital camera. All-in-all, it was something of an adventure, though, definitely, not one I'd ever like to repeat! A happy, albeit exhausting, ending! Thank you, Sprint, for being there when nobody else's service worked!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Kiss off, son

My Alzheimer's-ridden father just dropped a bomb on me:

At 11:45pm this evening,
having reached my waking limit
(having been up since 4am cleaning,
and fixing this and that around the house),
I said, "G'night, Dad. I love you,"
and reached to kiss him on the cheek,
when he faced me with a Chesire Cat grin,
chuckled, scoffingly,
and announced,
"I don't do that. It isn't manly."

I stood, stupefied,
wondering whether that was the Alzheimer's talking,
or if, like drunks spouting their true feelings,
he never liked his son kissing him,
and merely tolerated it for my sake.

And in that split second,
my heart sank
as a knife twisted it.

G'night, Everyone.
I love you.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Buh-bye Facebook

I've seen the future and it sucks.

Facebook's new 'Timeline' layout.

A horrible design making it virtually impossible for anyone to read,
especially if they have low-resolution screens, as many people do,
especially those with vision problems.

Allegedly, Facebook did this to show investors (it's supposed to go public)
that it is keeping up with the times, and are funky-fresh, and all that.

Never mind that the majority of FB users don't like it,
and even the computer-based magazines (physical and virtual), blogs, etc,
don't like it, either!

Unfortunately, they are not the first to do so.
TV.com did it just before they were bought by CBS,
turning them from an easy-to-use, independent site,
to one that is not only harder to use,
but, for some strange reason, seems to lean toward CBS commercials, etc.
Other sites have done the same.
Way to alienate your users!

Timeline goes mandatory on or just after March 30, 2012.
If/when it does so (the date keeps getting pushed out . . . wonder why),
I will stop using it. :,(

I discovered an add-on for all browsers (except IE),
which is specially designed to work with Facebook
and can be customized to make Timeline tolerable!
It even eliminates the 'shift-enter' post edit feature,
so hitting 'Enter' won't submit a post before you're done with it!
Not only that, but it even "hides" those annoying Flash/Shockwave ads
that pervade the internet on ALL websites!
I've been using it for about 3 days and love it: SocialFixer.com
So, I'm still on Facebook!

In trying to keep up with FB's, apparently, constant changes,
SF has managed to screw itself up, royally,
to the point of being nearly useless.
When I gave it a thumbs up, above,
I willingly gave the $5 donation they requested,
which I rarely do for otherwise freeware.
Now, of course, I'm regretting that
(they never even bothered to say "thanks",
claiming that they can't stop everything to do so . . . nice).
I'm still on FB, but with SF disabled. :,(

[UPDATE #3 (4/4/2013)]
Fortunately, SF has fixed most of its problems,
but, naturally, FB has gone and made things even more difficult,
such as putting your newly-entered
replies at the top of the reply list,
rather than at the bottom, where it belongs (i.e., ascending date/time).
Not sure if it's a bug or on purpose, 

but, I've noticed that the resulting display of replies
seems to be random date/time-wise.
FB's motto a la Star Trek-The Next Generation:
"If it ain't broke, make it so!"

Monday, February 13, 2012

Third year of unemployment

As I enter into my third year of unemployment,
seeing many of my friends in the same boat,
with little hope of any of us ever getting another "real" job in our chosen fields,
not to mention the disastrous Presidencies of the last decade
(Dubya may have started the fire,
but Nero Obama fiddled while the world burned . . . 
don't get me started!),
I find that tiny, welcome, surprises, happen!

A friend asked me to contact a friend of his
who was having trouble with his internet connection
(by trade, I'm a computer programmer 
with a sideline business-if-you-can-call-it-that 
of fixing home and business computers: http://omnidoc.org/steveofalltrades).
I told his friend on the phone that I would charge $10,
as it sounded like a common problem
(n.b., most office stores and private businesses
charge as little as $50 just to view the machine,
which you have to bring to them,
whereas I have almost no overhead,
and make house calls, although, sometimes,
I have to take the computer home for a more thorough and lengthy examination,
for which I rarely ask for more money.
When someone says I'm crazy, I just say, "No . . . I'm bored!").
He agreed to the fee, so I went to his nearby home.
As I worked on his computer, we chatted for about an hour
(or, more accurately, he chatted, while I nodded and interjected!),
of which it took only fifteen minutes to fix the problem
(I prefer to concentrate without chats and other distractions,
such as cats walking on the keyboard,
dogs barking at me, incessantly, etc,
but, he's elderly, living in a dingy home on social security
(I didn't know that when I charged the meager fee over the phone;
my friend seems to think he has deep pockets, but I doubt it),
and figured he doesn't get to talk to people often, so I let it slide).

After fixing the problem,
and a couple of other minor, quick things on the computer which bothered him,
I reiterated the $10 fee,
and he handed me two bills.
At first, I thought they were fives,
but, on closer examination,
they turned out to be twenties.
I handed one back to him,
and said that I didn't have change for the other.
He insisted that I keep the $40.
I've learned not to argue with senior citizens,
but said that I would take the $30 as contigency for future work,
to which he agreed.

Little rays of sunshine raise the spirit and raze the spectre of idleness
(feel free to quote me!). ;)

Thanks to both my friend and my new customer/friend!

The original title of this was "Fourth year . . . ", but, I miswrote!

Shove the Click

To anyone who thinks that people are willing to click through web page after web page after web page after web page after web page after web page after web page (okay . . . you get the idea) listing more than three items on separate web pages, without giving a table of contents or complete list: You must think that everyone else 1) has as much time as you to read what you wrote on page after page after . . .  (I'm not starting that, again!) and 2) even cares about the subject after one or two clicks, if that! Here's an example of one such web page, which actually expects its audience to click through FIFTY pages!


In other words, don't bore the audience. Here's an analogy: We don't like to move things around in the cupboard or refrigerator to find something to eat behind what's directly in front of us, so what makes you think we have the patience to click through multiple pages?

Folks, if you're going to publish a list of something on the web or e-book, make it short, sweet, interesting, and no more than three pages long. If you absolutely have to ignore that suggestion, then either re-read this blog until you comprehend your folly, or give a clickable list of links on the very first page, so we can ignore the rest of your work! ;)