Was it karma or just poor maintenance?

•October 11, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Recently I spent a few days in relative’s apartment in a big city. We went to see some baseball and had the place to ourselves. The games were great, but I’m not going to talk about that. (Half of you probably are sighing with relief.) What you might find interesting is the odd series of uncommon events that occurred.

The first morning we discovered that there was no hot water in the kitchen and that the water in the adjacent bathroom was only dribbling out of the faucets. So we called the building superintendent. When he arrived he looked around, opening various cabinets and wielding his wrench like he was going to battle. I had misgivings when he started to mumble about shut off valves. I was in the next room when he said, “Have you got a bucket?”

As I ran over to him I saw water gushing across the floor. One dishpan and bucket later he managed to kink a hose from a nonexistent washing machine into a loop. This stopped the flow and some duct tape secured it. He said he was going to call a plumber. He said shut off valves did not exist in that apartment so we just had to hope the tape held.

The plumber was due the next day but first the super showed up again and, to my dismay, began poking around again. After a while he noticed that a shelving unit above the toilet had concealed hinges on the side and when he pulled on the shelves, the whole thing swung out from the wall to reveal a shallow alcove containing FOUR shut off valves. We had to laugh at this. When the plumbers came they were able to fix the problems.

So after the flood, who would expect another totally unexpected bit of misfortune? But apparently, one can not be too smug about one’s circumstances. That afternoon I heard sirens outside on the streets below. That’s not unusual in a large city, so it wasn’t until the sirens increased in number and volume that I went to the windows and looked down. I saw a fire truck heading toward our building and realized I smelled smoke and told my partner we should take heed. He went out on the balcony and said, “Those trucks are in front of this building!” YIKES!

No alarms had gone off in the building but when we looked out into the hall toward the elevators we saw smoke. Definitely time to evacuate. We decided to leave, maybe just go to the ballgame early, grabbed our stuff and walked down 13 flights of stairs. (You might wonder at the set of priorities here, but it IS the playoffs!) On the way down we ran into firemen who told us the fire had been put out and that we could stay if we wanted to. But it was too smoky and we really would have to leave soon for the ball park. The building lobby was flooded but we didn’t see anything else out of the ordinary. Once we got outside we were not allowed back in and no one would tell us a thing. So we just went to the game.

And you would think, NOW, surely, nothing else would happen out of the ordinary. However, in the second inning of the game, the back fell off my seat. I just leaned back gently and suddenly there was nothing behind me except the legs of the person in the next row. It would be an understatement to say I was dumbfounded at this turn of events. The seat was repaired about 30 minutes later after we contacted one of those people who roam around to deal with those things.

And you would think…. do I have to even finish? The game went well, our team won and we headed home on the subway. After exiting the train we got on a very long escalator that takes you up to almost ground level. This is to avoid about 4 flights of stairs. But when we were halfway up on the escalator it stopped working. The only thing to do was walk up the stalled stairs to the top, and those stair risers are taller than normal stairs so it wasn’t exactly what I felt like doing at almost midnight after a somewhat stressful day.

I am happy to report that the rest of the trip went fine. Whether all this was a blip in my karma or the result of angry elemental gods or just random bad luck, I leave to you to decide.

Is there a human I can speak to?

•July 5, 2019 • 1 Comment

It goes without saying, that humans can make mistakes and might not have the answers to your questions, but some corporations will just not let you talk to anything but a robot.
Yesterday,  I called a pharmacy and the robot took my order and said the prescription would be ready in one hour. When I called back one hour later the robot said “we are working on it.” When I called after another 30 min. robot said the same thing so I asked the robot if I could talk to a human. When a human picked up, he said my insurance was refusing cause the prescription could not be refilled until July 10th. This made no sense.
I said, “But there are only enough pills in the bottle for ten days so how does
that work?” The pharmacist didn’t know. I then told him that my doctor had called in a new prescription for a bigger number of pills but I did not know the number of that prescription. He then said their computer had gone down so he could not look that up, to call back later.
One hour later, I called back. A woman who identified herself as a pharmacy
technician listed to my story and looked it up in the the now operational computer. She
said okay, she saw that and they could fill this one and it would be ready in an hour.
When I called back to check,  the pharmacist knew absolutely nothing about it,
but he looked in the computer and said they would fill it right away.  And they did.

But was the robot hell finished? OF COURSE NOT.

Today I had a delivery of my new Nordictrack skier. When I ordered it, I had
to pay 250 bucks for delivery which included the set up AND for them to take away the old equipment. I got three phone messages from a robot at a company
called Ryder-Icon that said they would deliver today. (Normally, I would not put down the actual name of a company but in this case, I feel their business model needs to be properly extolled.) Hah. I got several calls from that company but just from a robot.  The first call asked me to press buttons to say if the house was in a gated community, and if there were stairs and if I needed any old equipment removed. I duly pressed the correct buttons. The last call from them on Wednesday confirmed today’s delivery. But this morning I got a call from a company called MDX, another robot call of course, and the voice said they would be arriving with my equipment in “one hours and 45 minutes.” No, that’s not a typo, the robot apparently has trouble with singular and plural. Anyway, the truck showed up only ten minutes later and it said MDX on it. I was confused after all the calls from Ryder-Icon (whoever they are).
Three guys come to the door with the big box but said they could not remove
the old equipment. I told them how the Icon robot asked me, “Do you need
removal of old equipment?” and I pressed the key for YES. But these guys
said they were not FROM that company and that they had no permission to do that,
they NEVER take away old equipment. So after some discussion, one of them
called their MDX office and the woman told me that Icon was using them to deliver and
that if I wanted the old one removed I would have to refuse this delivery and
call NordicTrack back and talk to them about it. They could redeliver another time. After hanging up with that woman, we had some more discussion and the guys agreed to take the old one away and junk it for 100 bucks cash.
They carried away the old one and set up the new, and pretty much had to read the manual to do it. I helped out by pointing out that one piece was not plugged in….
In the end, all is well, it’s all working. But why do so many transactions have to hinge on contacts with automated systems that don’t receive or give the correct information?    I suppose the companies that use the robots love it cause they can blame the problems
on their robots. I do intend to inform Nordictrack about this and perhaps spare the next customer some tense moments.

Teachers with guns?

•February 23, 2018 • Leave a Comment

During 15 years as a high school teacher in both private and public schools, I was physically assaulted dozens of times. I even had my hair set on fire by a student.

Like many other “regular” teachers, I was often located in a portable classroom on the fringe of a campus with no phone installed, and where my cell phone had no signal, in a school where the “normal” students engaged in five fights minimum per day and were bringing handmade stun guns to school (and using them). I found death threats carved into desks when a math class of “regular” students used my room during my preparation period. You might be inclined to think this is because I taught special education kids and they were trying to wind me up. Don’t let that cause you to discard the rest of what I write here.

Many of the students –both special ed. and “normal” don’t seem to have the mind set to evaluate or care about consequences to their actions. When the politicians and pundits talk about schools, what kind of environment are they imagining? A campus where groups of well-adjusted, rule following kids are happily going to class each day? The reality is more like a mosh pit in a punk nightclub. Oh, sorry, they can’t envision that either. But what they need to know is this: some of those kids would love to have their own firearm and if they saw one on a teacher, their first impulse would be to take it. Note I said “first impulse” because so many don’t think past that and if they did, they wouldn’t care. This just might put a teacher in a bit of a dicey situation, you think? And if the kids see that teachers are carrying, many of them will try doubly hard to sneak a gun into the school and trust me, they will be able to do it. One school I worked at, several students routinely entered and left by climbing a twelve foot chain link fence behind my portable classroom. (They came before lunch, ate, and left after they’d eaten.)

Now let’s review the laws about teachers touching students. I once had a 5th grade boy jump me from behind. He tried to choke me with one arm while using his other hand to try to jam a sharpened pencil into my eyeball. Fortunately, at that time I was still young enough and remembered enough Akido to flip him over my shoulder and put him on the floor in a hold. My teacher’s aide pressed the panic button — that classroom actually had one — and the principal came storming in. And guess what happened? I got in trouble for manhandling a student. I am not kidding. I had to get a union rep. and ended up transferring to another school because the principal just couldn’t work with me after my horrible behavior. Nothing happened to the kid. This kind of thing goes on all the time although the circumstances are less extreme. Yet, they think teacher’s should have guns? Who would believe a teacher if the teacher had to use one?

And as for mental health, for several years I taught students with a “severely mentally disturbed” label snapped on them. Did they receive any mental health services? One year not one visit by any mental health provider, not one referral. Most years, some kids would see someone to be tested for half an hour and that would be the end of it. There’s no money for this, there’s not enough money to even fix leaking roofs or install phones in classrooms. But there will be money to give teachers guns, I’m quite sure of that.

I could go on for a long time, but no one who thinks arming teachers is a good idea will change their minds. Guns have become a representation of freedom somehow. And I won’t even go into the idiocy of how effectively a pistol packing person can stop someone with an assault weapon. What’s the point?

 

 

 

Ice, Fire and Butter: an Iceland Experience

•August 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

If you are interested in seeing the far north, I can’t think of a more exotic country to visit than Iceland. The whole island is formed by lava flows that seep from the divergence of two tectonic plates. This is what causes the volcanic eruptions, steam vents, earthquakes and other phenomenon that create a constantly changing landscape. And somehow, in spite of all this, there are flowers everywhere in summer. I’ll show you some later. First the Fire and Ice.

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The above photo is a place where molten lava burst from below, seeped out of the crevice and eventually hardened. Over vast time, weathering and glaciation created what you see above.

You might ask, as you read this, why I’m not telling you the exact location and name of each place where a photo was taken. Ah, you have not been introduced to the Icelandic language. Most of the names I could give you have six syllables and you most likely would get lost in the middle of the word anyway. If you wish for a tour guide to Iceland, you are reading the wrong blog. I did try, I really did try, to master some of the pronunciation, but to my ear, at least, the native speakers are swallowing half the sounds. I kept thinking of Klingon. But I digress. Back to the photo tour.

There are many hot spots, thermal vents, hot springs, whatever they’re known as, scattered through the country. I was fortunate to visit a volcanic region in the center of the country. This area is not easy to access. Often the road, which can be nothing more than a narrow bed of volcanic ash, disappears under a fast moving stream. There are many signs to warn drivers of this.

 

Personally, I would rather have seen signs to indicate that anyone without very stout ankles is going to fall flat on their face at least once a day trying to walk this landscape.

If you are lucky, there is some nice volcanic ash to walk on. If you’re not lucky, watch your feet. The location of the following photos is where NASA tested the moon landing vehicles in the 60s before their use on the moon! You can see why.

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In the midst of all this fury, the ice age has left its mark. You can walk on glaciers, and boat around with icebergs.

 

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I walked on this glacier. It’s not pristine white as you might expect because the whole country is an active volcanic area. Ash coats the ice. If you can see below, some of the blue ice shows. It’s also visible in floating ice.

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Today, most of the glaciers have retreated and carved fjords, valleys and lakes.

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This is NW Iceland. I boated in some of these fjords. There were many whales. I won’t post any whale photos because I was only able to get the whale tails. Not very exciting. I am sure other people got some good photos but I’m not tall enough! Most of the time the heads and bodies of other people on the boat got in the way and I doubt you want to look at the back of a rain slicker? I would rather show you scenery.

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I went by small plane from the NW to the North Central coast. This was taken from the window of the airplane (obviously).

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You might think there is nothing but rock and ice to see, but as you travel from one region to the next the landscape changes a great deal. Erosion has created a shallow layer of topsoil where a wonderful variety of plant life grows. The wild blueberries were ripe when I was there and we would pick them as we walked. Many of the plants seemed very exotic to me, but I know almost nothing about botany.

 

Or, should your feet betray you, you could always fall into a puffin burrow. In places where grass grows taller and the ground is spongy, a fall is nothing worse than landing on your own bed. How do you like the way I sneaked the puffins in?

 

The south coast was the greenest area of the country that I saw. Of course, there are still lots of thermal areas and volcanic rocks and volcanoes to be seen.

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I have to say something about waterfalls. There are zillions. One of the biggest, Dettifoss, is truly powerful. However, I was delighted by something that I discovered nearby. I’m not sure what it is, but I will call it a fairy circle.

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I don’t know how it got there. Oh, you want to see the waterfall, don’t you. Okay, but you can see waterfalls easily. When is the last time you saw a fairy…altar?

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By this time you have either decided you can’t live without seeing Iceland or you’re just scrolling down the page like mad. And there’s also the matter of the butter. I’m sure Icelandic butter is very fine indeed, and it is impossible to avoid, so it seems. It’s in everything, on everything and often has seeds in it. There’s butter all over the greenhouse grown veggies which are wonderful enough to not need it. The soups they make there are also fantastic. I’m sure there was some butter also in the moss soup. No, I did not make that up. Interesting it was, but I was only able to make it through half a bowl. I know, I just told you the soup is fantastic. Except for that one! I don’t understand why the population there is so long lived on their diet. Enough about food, only mentioned the topic as a point of interest.

So I leave you now with one of the highlights of my trip. An encounter with a badly behaved Icelandic goat.

standingGoat

Mickey is the author of two mystery novels. Visit www.mickeyhoffman.com for details.

Buy a TV set in only 4 Hours!

•May 4, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Step one: Find the TV on the store’s website. Then the store tells you to order it on line.

Step two: Select a TV set. Set up a delivery.

Step three: It seems you now have to wait for an email to set up the installation of the TV.

Step four: The email arrives. The email has the order number and a phone number to call for installation scheduling. For some reason that can’t be done on line.

Step five: So time to call the number. The person who answers has ALL of the details of your order wrong. You learn that not only is the address incorrect, the TV was scheduled for pick up at a store in the wrong city, not as a delivery. AND when you clarify the city, they don’t have that model of TV that can be delivered to that area in the first place. When you express dismay, you are transferred to a different department.

Step six: You are told, after being switched between three different people, that the order you placed can’t be completed, but you can not be issued a cancellation or a refund from the person telling you this. You must call a different number and ask for a special department.

Step seven: You call the number you were given and a robot voice does not have that special department on its robotic menu, nor can the robot understand you. After using several terms of endearment the robot finds you a human. This human is very nice, and looks up your order and says there was nothing wrong with it in the first place. Who told you it was all screwed up? But, this person can not set up the installation. You must call another number and to avoid more errors, tell them to look at “order details.”

Step eight: This call takes you to what is obviously a huge call center because you can hear the person sitting next to the one who took your call more clearly than the person you are speaking to. After explaining several times you wish to set up an installation, the person pulls up the order and finds that the order details are NOT correct, but says he can fix it. This takes about half an hour during which time you are placed on hold four times and have to repeat the address where the TV is going several times. The only thing that previously seemed correct, the day of delivery, now seems to have changed mysteriously.

Step nine: You ask the person to please repeat everything to verify, since it has been a long, long road to reach this point. You are assured that the TV will arrive one or two days before the installation crew will arrive to set it all up. A recap will be sent via email.

Step ten: The email arrives. The zip code and street address are correct. The name of the town is misspelled. But it’s been four hours. Maybe it will arrive anyway. At this point, who cares?

Mickey Hoffman is the author of the mystery novels, “School of Lies” and “Deadly Traffic.” Visit http://www.mickeyhoffman.com for details.

 

My new world, November 2017.

•November 11, 2016 • 1 Comment

I would like to announce that I shall depart from reality. Or please can I reincarnate immediately into some other species where I would feel less shame? I want to live in a fantasy world where there is no science to drag me down. Where are the Trisolans when we need them? (If you haven’t read the books by Liu Cixin these are actual outer space aliens that are out to destroy us. I was afraid of the concept but now, bring it on guys or whatever term you sentients use.) In my fantasy world I won’t notice the coral reefs die, the oceans rise, the trees wither, the animals die. I will eat salty food and drink diet soda and never get ill. And all the discarded plastic,tires and styrofoam in the world will just disappear after one month in the landfill.

Getting older? Here’s an App.

•July 18, 2016 • 3 Comments

These days I feel like my body has become a foreign entity which does whatever it wants. I’ve almost given up trying to keep control. Bits and pieces, parts and systems go awry without advance notice and seemingly without cause. So I have decided to relinquish my futile attempts at managing these processes. But if I’m no longer going to pretend to be in charge, something has to take over. Hence, the new app. This app is called, “Today’s Body Part.”

After download and installation on your mobile device, the app will run itself beautifully.  Each morning a cheerful message will appear on screen to inform you which of your body parts or systems is going to go wrong.

For example, “Good Morning. This is your lumbar spine and I’m excited to tell you I’m going to be your Body Part of the Day! For more details just watch your finger press the icon and read on. (Since you have allowed us our autonomy there’s no need for you to lift a finger, as the saying goes, hah hah.) Thanks for checking in, see ya Soon.” For extra fun, download the Deluxe app which will allow you to view the message through your cellphone camera as an animated cartoon superimposed on your current location.

Today’s Body Part app will alleviate all the anxiety that comes from trying to keep the aging process at bay. Download Today!

Mickey is the author of two mystery novels published by Indigo Sea Press LLC. Visit her website: www.mickeyhoffman.com

 

 

 
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