Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Dare I Say It...A Company With Heart

I have spent a great deal of time ragging on major corporations and their lack of what I have laughingly referred to as "customer service." Airlines, cable companies, cellular providers, and the like have all found their way into this space as the recipients of my "one thousand lashes with a wet noodle' brand of personal retribution. In most cases, these large companies have been deserving of my wrath and so much more in the way of legally acceptable punishment, but I feel it only fair to offer up a positive story of big business catering to its customers, even if that occurrence is so very rare.

Case in point.

Upon our arrival at the Southern Home, The Husband and I determined that it was time to replace the chairs that had been occupying our balcony for the past fifteen years. Sun, salt, and water had aged the old furniture, and while we didn't want to spend an ungodly sum to replace it, the balcony is our place of refuge and was deserving of an upgrade. I suggested that we consider gravity chairs similar to the ones we used to enjoy when we had the pool. The chairs, while probably not the most artistic or beautiful pieces ever designed are reasonably priced, aesthetically adequate, and truly the most comfortable things I have ever sat in. For a woman of short stature with incredibly short legs, this statement is one you should all take seriously. Seating spaces are usually of great discomfort for me. The Husband was totally onboard with the plan, and after making arrangements to donate the old chairs, he went about the task of ordering the new.

Online shopping is either one of the greatest inventions of the twenty-first century or the one of the most aggravating, depending on individual case studies. In this example, it proved to be the former rather than the latter. The Husband found exactly what we were searching for at Amazon.com. Now before you all wail and moan about your miseries with Amazon and how they are the devil's spawn, hear me out. The Husband ordered a package of two chairs for a charge of about $68.00, delivery and tax included. The chairs showed up two days later perfectly intact and ready for lounging. I was so impressed with them that I suggested to him that the balcony could really handle two more. He readily agreed and went back to his original order and placed another for two additional chairs.

Here's where the story gets interesting.

The second delivery arrived the very next day, even though there were no Prime directive nor special delivery instructions involved. The Husband was amazed by the service and I was thrilled with the new chairs. Until...

Later that evening The Husband informs me that he had just received an odd email from Amazon informing him that our order for two gravity chairs had just been shipped. Remember now. We had just received that order in the morning. Could it really be possible that yet another two chairs were on the way?

The Husband went back into his orders and it was very clear that he had only made TWO purchases. He has no idea how a third order might have been placed and there was absolutely ZERO evidence that we were being charged for three rather than two. We decided to play it cool and hope that the third shipment was an erroneous email.

Well...It wasn't. On Saturday evening the third shipment arrived. I relayed the story to several friends here and they all laughed at our good fortune. Let's face it. Errors in our favour rarely happen. Enjoy the windfall, they said.

But...I just couldn't do it. It simply felt dishonest and I could not live with myself unless we made it right. The Husband felt exactly the same way, and while we had decided to keep the extra set, we needed to rectify the situation and pay for them.

Easier said than done. Upon looking at the emails we received, it became clear that Amazon outsources these chairs to a third party, and given that the orders were so close together, we have no idea which party sent the extra set. The Husband decided to send Amazon's customer service an email in an attempt to sort it out. Here's an excerpt.
After the first order, I decided to reorder as I liked the product. Interestingly enough, the second order (done with 1-click reorder) was fulfilled by a different seller at a slightly higher price. This was not a problem for me. 
However, I actually received 3 deliveries. Clearly, one was in error, but I don't know if the one sent in error was from the first or second seller. I'd like to pay for the extra order since returning it is a hassle, but I don't know which seller the extra delivery came from?Can you help? 
Within two hours, yes two hours on a Sunday, he received the most amazing response. Here's an excerpt. (Emphasis is mine.)
We always like to hear from our customers, and we're glad you took the time to write in; we appreciate your loyalty.
I understand your concern that you've received an extra item.
Please understand that we wouldn't want you to get charged for the extra item. I request you to please accept the item as a goodwill gesture from our end.
We wouldn't want you to go through the trouble of returning the item. You're welcome to keep, donate or dispose of it--whichever option is most appropriate and convenient for you.
It is our privilege to have you as our valued customer & we want to make sure you are always taken care of.
I hope this helps. We look forward to seeing you again soon.
Now I am not deluding myself that Amazon isn't merely writing this off as the cost of doing business, but it is important to note that there was tremendous decency in the response. And while we have decided to keep the chairs, we are also making a donation for the cost of them to a charity that provides furniture for women who have fled from domestic abuse and are now setting up their own homes.

It is easy to be cynical in this world of nastiness and pettiness. This week, a little glimmer of positivity from a major corporation managed to remind me that sometimes the world isn't as shitty as it seems.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Twins

As I checked out the calendar this morning in preparation for Shabbat, I was struck by the realization that this week is Parashat Toldot. This week we will read the story of Jacob and Esau, the twins. It is a Torah portion that has always carried special meaning for me for a number of reasons.

Years ago, when I was tutoring B'nai Mitzvah students in preparation for their special days, I had occasion to teach a young man who was recently recovering from a devastating family loss. Because of the turmoil he was facing at home, I suspended my normal practice of having students come to me for their lessons, and instead I went to him. Being a young mother, I would bundle up Younger Son and take him with me. He would busy himself on the floor with toys and books while the young man and I went about the business of learning Parashat Toldot. Many weeks later, Younger Son and I were driving somewhere and as would often happen, I would hear him singing to himself from his car seat. When I listened even more closely, I could make out that he was chanting the first Aliyah of Parashat Toldot, words and trope completely and stunningly correct. He was six at the time. Osmosis-learning is powerful and real, folks

I have often pondered that story of Younger Son with a special nod to the potency of this particular Torah portion and the depths to which I identify with it. Jacob and Esau bore the scars of a traumatic and difficult birth throughout their entire lives. Their mother Rebecca did not have an easy pregnancy, and the twins wrestled each other within her for dominance and birth order. As they were delivered, Jacob had a firm grasp on his older brother's heel as if to say, "This fight between us is far from over."

The boys were as different as they could possibly be. They seemed to share little in common and were always vying for one parent or another's attention. The rivalry between them culminates in theft and deception as Jacob steals from Esau, first his birthright as the inheritor of his father's property and with a final decisive blow, the blessing from father to son.

Jacob, knowing the depths of his duplicity, runs from his brother in fear. When in later years he finally decides to confront his twin, he comes home with an army for fear that his brother has held his anger close. Esau, firmly putting the past behind them, greets his brother with a kiss.

I have often wondered about Esau. As Jews, we spend much time trying to rehabilitate Jacob, mostly because we are the "Children of Israel" and having our dirty laundry aired through this our patriarch is patently disturbing. But what about Esau? I wonder what the brothers' lives would have been like, what they could have had, had they simply succumbed to the unexplainable relationship that is twindom. How much more could they have achieved as a team, rather than estranged?

I know very well the power of this relationship. I lived it. I loved it. I was a part of that special bond that only twins have. My mother and my aunt shared something that is absolutely indescribable for anybody who wasn't a close party or witness to it. Their husbands, children, and grandchildren were adopted into their orbit and together we are the privileged few that are part of a family that is strong, tight-knit, and resolute. Problems? Sure. Difficulties? Absolutely. Nothing on the scale of Jacob and Esau, but unlike them, we have done our level best to weather those storms together.

It is with some degree of irony that this week of Parashat Toldot marks the third English anniversary of my Other Mother's untimely passing. Due to the quirks of the lunar calendar, the Hebrew yahrzeit will be observed later this month. Her absence is still a cavernous hole that will never be filled. There isn't a day that goes by when I don't think of her in some way. It could be her handwriting on a recipe or her voice in my head when I watch a favourite movie. As we begin our winter down in the Southern Home, I am finding her presence here more personal and real. Here was where she was profoundly happy. Here was where she reveled in the warmth and sunshine. Here was where she got to spend so much more intimate time with my mom, probably more than they had since they were kids.

Mom and I had a discussion this week about the emptiness she still feels. She has managed to somehow carry on with her life these three years, but it was a final act she readily admits she never anticipated doing without her sister. She described the ache she still feels as if it were a bone that has badly mended and stings in the rain. That bond that she still shares with her is bigger than even she understood. The power of these twins, my twins, is found in their unbreakable closeness and the legacy of their family that has been their birthright and blessing.

I am left wondering how much stronger we Jews could have been had Jacob and Esau been more like my Mom and my Other Mother. What could they have accomplished had they done it together? What would we as a people have been like had they embraced rather than fought their twindom? The possibilities seem limitless.

May her memory always be for an abiding blessing.

Shabbat Shalom.






Thursday, 1 December 2016

I Miss Those Days

Two very minor and rather trivial incidents close to home this week have made me really think about decent and civil human responses and compassionate interactions.

Incident 1: On Tuesday, I sat with my dad and listened to him argue with the local newspaper delivery service line as to why he hadn't received his home delivery for the past several days. Now before you all start ragging on me with comments about "how very 20th Century it is of him" to still receive a home delivered paper, understand that some habits are difficult to discard after a lifetime of application. He likes his newspaper. He likes to sit outside and read it with his coffee. He appreciates the flyers and he likes the tactile nature of the act. I get it. I am exactly the same way minus the coffee. No matter how many sources I read online, I still enjoy the local morning paper. I feel as though I am, in some small manner, helping to keep the industry afloat with my subscriptions. I know it isn't true, but I don't mind the fantasy for twenty minutes every morning.

But...back to Dad.

After over an hour of haggling, three or more disconnections, transfers to supervisors, angry epithets hurled at probably distant phone bank operators, promises made and promise broken, my dad was no further ahead than when he started. He still did not have his daily newspaper, did not at that time yet secure a promise to credit the missing periodical, and was thoroughly frustrated by a repeated script-based response to his problem. He never did receive his paper that day, even though it was promised to him several times, and in the end received two papers the following day as if yesterday's news somehow matter to him at all. The last I heard, he was still working on getting the credit.

Incident 2: Regular readers of this space are probably sick and tired of my constant complaints about cable companies. Our miserable experience dealing with three separate telecoms trying to facilitate our move during the summer has enough material for several folk songs. These companies have you by the short and curlies and take absolutely no responsibility for any foul that may occur. As conglomerates, they are amongst the worst that big business has to offer as they have totally diversified their customer service departments so that nobody can contact anybody about any problem ever. Try getting a direct phone number for a supervisor. Go on, try! I dare you. It just cannot happen in their world.

But...again...I digress.

Today, we awoke in The Southern Home to discover that after two weeks of smooth sailing, our cable company which shall remain nameless, (hint: It rhymes with Momfast) had decided to switch off our cable and internet access for no apparent reason. After several online chats, two separate phone calls, and a prayer to the Spiritual Deity, The Husband managed to get our internet access back online. Our TVs are another story. He has spoken with no fewer than four separate customer "service" representatives and has had two separate online chats, and the only thing that he has been able to discern is that somebody at MomFast decided to put our account on a vacation hold beginning today and ending tomorrow. When the absurdity of the situation was pointed out to the fine idiot-savants working at MomFast, they openly acknowledge that yes indeed, the interruption in service was indeed their error, but they have no idea how such a thing could have occurred and that we would have to...wait for it...wait 24 hours for the service to resume. It took them all of 3 seconds to disconnect the fucking thing, but apparently, it takes longer to flip the switch on than it does for them to flip it off. (Sidenote. I've been flipping them off all day.) The Husband has tried to be polite and civil in dealing with a wholly impolite and uncivil customer service experience, but I think the moment that sent him careening over the edge was this short exchange this afternoon.

The Husband: "I have been trying all morning to get somebody in authority to talk to me, can you please connect me with a supervisor."

MomFast Zombie: "I'm sorry, but there isn't anybody else for you to talk to. I can escalate the situation for you."

The Husband: "You mean to tell me that this has been your non-escalation mode? Are you seriously telling me that there isn't a supervisor with whom I can speak?"

MomFast Zombie: "Well those people are very busy and have no time to talk through this matter."

The Husband: (Now beet red with rage and the decibel level in his voice at about a 9 1/2) "Busy!! Are you kidding me? (I kind of wish I could put cuss words in here, but to his credit, he didn't swear.) I have spent over three hours already dealing with this garbage. I have taken time off of MY work to deal with your mistake, and you're telling me that they're too busy? Their job is to service ME!"

He was transferred to a MomFast Zombie in Atlanta (we are in South Florida) who told him that the TVs would be on as of 3:00pm this afternoon. They weren't and still aren't. He is presently back on the phone again trying to solve the problem. I am not overly optimistic that anything is forthcoming.

The overtaking of our society by massive corporations hasn't just made us a more robotic society, it has removed the compassionate human element from our daily interactions. There was a time that if you had a problem with a service or a company, complaints would be dealt with by experienced personnel who understood not only what their companies actually do, but that you the customer are paying their salaries and contributing to their profits. Today's drones working in "customer service" are merely phone answering script readers designed to get you off their backs as soon as possible. You the customer simply don't factor into their bottom lines. Solving your problems isn't high on their priority list, so inevitably insulting the consumer, whether intentionally or unintentionally, becomes a natural part of their person to person interactions.

I have been trying to get a better handle on exactly why people are so very angry these days. I have seen folks argue over parking spots, yell at each other in line at the grocery store, and almost come to blows simply because they were on the same path and bumped into each other. I get that there is a myriad of social conditions and factors at play and that every situation is different depending on the circumstances and the people involved, but it cannot easily be dismissed that the lack of care we take with one another has led us to the precipice. We have allowed a denigration of common civility and an inherent lack of understanding that everybody is here for a common purpose to dominate our everyday intercourse. Thus, it becomes perfectly acceptable for our leaders to spew hate from a public pulpit and for total strangers to call me nasty names like "libtard", "leftist hag", or even worse on social media when all we really have is a simple difference of opinion.

Our TV situation will eventually be fixed and I am certain that my dad will solve his newspaper issue, but I am not so sure that we will ever be able to return to a time when civility was a natural part of our discourse and that differences could be settled with a handshake and an understanding nod. I'm sorry about that. I miss it.





Sunday, 13 November 2016

Little Things Mattered This Week

I attended Torah study at my synagogue yesterday morning and a friend asked me how I was doing. Apparently, my post-election musing gave her pause to worry about my mental health. After assuring her that I am actually much better than fine, I started thinking about the tsunamis of sadness that have been sweeping over friends and family in light of "the incident". One rabbi friend even went so far as to suggest that we as a liberal community might be sitting a sort of emotional shiva in order to mourn our collective loss. And while all of that might be true, I am heartened by some specks of positive stories that have been trickling in. Increased donations to progressive causes, mobilization of voices that are documenting the hate, and an increased vigilance by those who dedicate their lives and careers to helping the oppressed, are all starting to emerge in the light of last Tuesday's political earthquake. The road ahead will be potholed, but not yet hopeless.

But, I also realized that in the wake of such a soul-crushing and mind-numbing defeat there was real import in taking care of one's own psychological well-being. We can only be strong and resolute in opposition if we find joy in our own lives. To that end, I started thinking about the little things that bring me a small measure of contentment and peace. These aren't obvious things like family, love, and health. These are the things that we rarely stop to acknowledge during our everyday lives that we just flat out enjoy, without judgment. Here are a few of my little happy places that have rescued me this week.
  • Sucking back an ice cold Diet Coke. Please don't lecture me on the dangers of aspartame and caffeine. There exists pure relaxation in my Diet Coke breaks.
  • Watching old movie musicals on TCM. Guys and Dolls was on this afternoon. I think I've seen it over a hundred times and even though Marlon Brando is sadly miscast and Jean Simmons can't sing a note, I was once again happily enraptured by the Runyonesque gamblers and their girls. The Husband looked over at me mindlessly singing along to Luck be a Lady, smiled sweetly and told me how much he loved me in that moment. How bad can the world be when that happens?
  • In the wake of Leonard Cohen's death this week, I spent several hours just quietly listening to his songs. Music is healing and cathartic and I think that Leonard instinctively understood that. The irony of his passing during this week of weeks has not been lost on me. It was as though he cosmically wanted all of us to focus on other things for just a brief moment in time instead of the shit.
  • Dinner with girlfriends on Wednesday. All we did was talk trash and laugh. 
  • The receiving of random text messages from my sons about everyday stuff. Baseball, Broadway, and birthdays. It reminded me that even though the world often feels out of control, my people matter most right now.
  • Last night I went up to the rooftop of our building and looked out over the cityscape. It was all lit up in the cold, clear November moonlight. The tower stood illuminated in bright red as if to remind me that my country is still a beacon in the world and our neighbours to the south can count on our support. 
  • I attended a Remembrance Day event on Friday for the Jewish War Veterans of Canada. About fifty of us stood outside in the whipping winds along with a minyan of Canada's bravest. Old warriors stood straighter than usual and saluted as a solitary trumpet played The Last Post. I nervously fiddled with the poppy on my jacket as my mind drifted to the new struggles that lay ahead and I was strangely invigorated. I found a measure of clarity.
  • We celebrated a family birthday with elegance because sometimes they just need to be marked and marked well.
Healing takes time. Make yourself a priority for a bit and stop to revel in the little things. This week they mattered a lot. 


Friday, 11 November 2016

Canada's Poet Laureate

I wonder if the measure of the brilliance of any particular song is not necessarily found in how many copies or downloads it might acquire, but rather how often it is interpreted or "covered" by others. The poetry, the lyricism, the mystical elements all combine with the artist to produce perfection.

Leonard Cohen was just such an artist. And while there is pure beauty in his recordings, I am often struck by just how many magnificent covers there are of his music. 2016 has been an annus horribilis. We have lost so many and so much, it is a wonder that we are still standing given the repeated punches delivered to our psyches. Leonard had a way of cutting through the bullshit with his piercing lyrics. He always seemed to know just what to say. Rest gently dear poet laureate. You have left us with a remarkable soundtrack.

Here are a few of my favourite Leonard Cohen covers.















And then there is just pure Leonard....

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Normalizing the Profoundly Abnormal

I promised myself time.

Time to decompress and time to gather my thoughts following a crushing body blow rendered to all the values I hold dear.

I promised myself that I would take a bit of a break from social media, newspapers, and television. I am not interested in being told that it will all be fine. I am not interested in the punditry informing me of the rhymes and reasons for this nightmare. I am wholly disinterested in the dissection of blame and errors and miscalculation. I am not placated by prayers and I am not solaced by the redemption story that is surely spinning to normalize the profoundly abnormal.

I haven't read a single think piece, blog post, or published letter from any source since Tuesday. I have avoided Twitter and the echo chamber. I know that it is all out there. It always is following times of tremendous upheaval. But I am not eager to read any of it.

But, I do feel the need to express my own emotions. That is why I set up this space for myself, as a vehicle for venting. As readers, you are free to disregard or disagree with any or all of it. So, here goes.

The sun rose as expected on Wednesday and aside from the raging agony of an upset stomach and exhaustion from lack of sleep, my life wasn't profoundly different. My family is healthy and happy. (Thanks to the Divine Spirit.) I am warm and comfortable and living in one of the safest and most progressive places on the planet. I am afforded countless opportunities and I am financially secure. My petty complaints have become fodder for silly pieces and sarcastic jokes in this space. On the surface, all is right in my world.

Except accepting that notion above all else would be to deny the obvious. I am a white, middle-aged, upper-middle class, recently transplanted suburban to urban woman. But...

I am not the person of colour being heckled on the street by flaming racists to return to a country in which I have never lived.

I am not the hijab-clad Muslim woman who fears outwardly for her safety by practicing her religion.

I am not the undocumented student who came to the United States as an infant and knows of no other country to call home.

I am not a Latina child being bullied in the playground of her school being told that in this new America she will be forced to go elsewhere.

I am not lesbian, gay, transgender, or queer and being told that love only matters for straight people.

I am not disabled and being cruelly mocked for that which I am unable to do.

I am not an African-American man who is fearful every single time I see a police officer.

I am not a single woman who attracts unwanted catcalls and sexual assaults masquerading as locker room behaviour.

Rather,

I am a person of immense privilege who can hide behind a veil of caucasian.

I am a Jew who, in my lifetime, has only seen the very tip of anti-Semitism and is more frightened than ever by the open display of swastikas, Nazi salutes, Auschwitz cartoons, and dog whistles to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. 

I am a woman who remembers what it was like as a girl in high school when some strange boy actually did grab my pussy.

I am a person of faith who spent her career trying to justify and explain her place on the bimah to some very privileged Jewish men.

I am of the generation who has thoughtlessly abused our natural resources and was hoping to help remedy that massive error and leave this planet in better shape for the generations to follow.

I am a Canadian who is very aware that it can happen here too.

You see, the world did change on Tuesday night. It became a place where the now most powerful person in the world has given tacit permission for all of the aforementioned. He has, without apology, made it acceptable for hate groups to actively march again. He has, without a hint of irony,  encouraged these slimeballs out of their hovels and into the mainstream. He has set brother upon brother, he has fostered distrust amongst neighbours, he has encouraged ignorance, and he has denounced science.

Through a campaign of hate-mongering and fear, one man unleashed all of that. One man took the lid off of Pandora's box and he cannot, no matter how much he might want to (Really? who believes that he wants to?) close it back up and return the vermin to their sewers.

For the first time in my life, I am truly afraid. I fear for my friends and family south of the border. I fear that when I visit my other home, my tanned olive skin might make me a target. I fear that wearing Jewish symbols might lead to confrontation. I fear the anger and I fear the hate.

I will undoubtedly move past my fears. I will undoubtedly find a constructive vehicle in which to channel my passion for equality and social justice and to stand resolutely opposed to everything this hate-monger has unleashed. I will undoubtedly find a way to battle hate with love.

Until then, I need the space to vent my outrage. I need for that emotion to be validated and not placated or patronized.

I need you all to understand that what has happened can never be normalized.

Not for me.










Tuesday, 8 November 2016

America: May God Have Mercy on Your Soul

Here are some things that I absolutely will not miss from this year's clown car show south of the 49th.
  • Memes on Facebook
  • Any news story that leads with the word "email"
  • False equivalencies of evil
  • Discussions of penis size
  • Use of the word "pussy"
  • The need for fact checking
  • Vladamir Putin's half-naked image on a horse
  • Wikileaks
  • Bernie Bros
  • Pepe the frog
  • The suspension of Godwin's Law
  • Neo-Nazis
  • The KKK and the reemergence of David Duke
  • The word "rigged"
  • Incuriosity
  • Ignorance
  • Bloviating
  • Political surrogates from any party but in particular.....
  • Rudy Guiliani and Newt Gingrich
  • Pantsuits
  • Telling a woman to smile more
  • Irony-impairment
  • Tic Tacs and Skittles
  • Access Hollywood
  • The Apprentice
  • Bill Clinton's parade of women
  • The FBI
  • Hypocrites
  • The Trump spawn
  • "Locker Room Talk" used to explain sexual assault
  • Chants of "Lock Her Up"
  • Super PACs and their ads
  • The need for distractions
  • Stupid nicknames. Adios to Crooked Hillary, Lyin' Ted, Little Marco, and the rest
  • DONALD TRUMP 
Feel free to add your own. Racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, and hate have no place in a civil society. Good luck America. May God have mercy on your soul.