Saturday, June 16, 2012

Asterisks and Ampersands...and Operators 'From Away'....

My desk phone...I have no idea how to program the time, and Josie-Earl is responsible for an accurate date!

Last month I cussed at a stranger on the telephone.  I actually swore.  In front of my teenage daughter, no less.  Ugh.  What an awful example to set.
Here at The F.A.R.M., we occasionally take a hiatus from television.  I’ve cancelled the satellite dish service for months at a time because I thought the kids were watching too much TV, or were fighting over it excessively.  Terminating the service took care of the problem much more satisfactorily than constantly scolding them did—and it also reinforced the fact that when Mum says “Quit fighting over that thing or I’ll get rid of it”—she means it. 
But last September, facing a winter with rising expenses and reduced income, Steven and I cut non-essentials out of our household budget.  I called DISH Network and suspended the service. 
I reactivated it this Spring.  At that time, I told the customer service representative that our remotes hadn’t been working very well the previous autumn, and he assured me that if that were still the case, DISH would replace them.  He reminded me that for many years we’d paid an extra $5.00 per month for insurance, which would cover their replacement. 
I thanked the young man.  And we very slowly resumed the habit of turning on the TV to catch the news or watch a favorite sit-com.
But only the upstairs remote was functional, and that was sporadic.  Josie and Eli couldn’t watch TV in the living room, so they’d pile onto my bed to watch a show.  My bed is in my bedroom—and that’s also where my home office is.   This new arrangement wasn’t working (because when the TV was on, I wasn’t able to concentrate on working) so I finally called DISH to order two new remote controls.
The CSR—I’ll call him “Jim”– was very polite.  His foreign accent was strong, however; and that immediately put me on edge.  Too many times have I suffered through painful conversations where I’m not understood and I can’t understand what’s being said.  It’s incredibly frustrating.
I quickly explained what I wanted.  It was simple.  I needed my remote controls replaced.  They were several years old and the buttons didn’t work.  On one, the buttons had actually fallen inside the plastic holes.  On the other, they had to be manipulated with some degree of finesse in order for them to work.  And…I had insurance to cover their replacement.  Simple, right?
Nope.  Not even close.
I had to explain what was wrong with the units.  Not once, but over and over and over again.  I had to explain the TV set-up, the room lay-out, the system design.  No, we didn’t have two receivers.  Yes, the system had worked that way.

Jim wanted the Smartcard numbers.  The Smartcard was in the downstairs receiver and my phone wasn’t a ‘cordless’ model.  I sent Josie to retrieve it.  I read the numbers and explained—again and specifically—what was wrong with the units.
Jim wanted to send me ONE remote.  After all, the second remote worked sometimes.  Most of the time.  IF you knew exactly how to rock your finger on this button or depress your thumb extra-hard on that button—then it worked, right?  
Yes, Jim decided that we only needed one new remote control.
I got a little testy.  How much had I paid for insurance over the years?  $400.00?  $500.00?  Maybe $600.00?  And this young upstart was prepared to deny me a chintzy, cheaply-made remote control?  On what premise?  Of course his goal was to maximize returns for his employer!  I knew he’d probably sat through training courses like “How To Maximize Corporate Profits (i.e. Politely Bamboozle Your Customer) In Order To Retain Your Job”.  And I knew it wasn’t Jim who created DISH’s ‘Replacement Policy’.  But I paid for insurance, I had two substandard remote controls, and I wanted two replacements.  Was that unreasonable? 
Jim placed me on hold while he consulted his supervisor—no doubt ‘standard policy’ when dealing with a bamboozle-proof customer.  Upon re-entering the conversation, he informed me that yes—he would be able to send me that second remote.  I was elated and relieved.  I was very busy and while talking to Jim, I wasn’t getting my work done.  I was ready to hang up, but it wasn’t that easy.  First, Jim—with his strongly accented English--wanted to try to guide me in an over-the-phone ‘reprogram’ of unit that (sometimes) worked.
I was flabbergasted.  The remote was broken.  The buttons wiggled when they should have waggled.  Jim asked for a fifth or sixth explanation of what—EXACTLY—was wrong with the remote.  His voice was getting edgy and I wondered if his job was riding on whether or not he saved his company the cost of that second remote.  But I was beyond caring.   Every time he reworded and repeated his question, it sounded like he was challenging my honesty.   I’d already told him what was wrong!  I’d even offered to mail the remotes back to DISH—and he’d turned down my offer.  He’d already received approval for the second remote from his supervisor!  And…I BOUGHT THEIR INSURANCE!
“Ma’am, before I can send a second remote, I need to know EXACTLY what it does!”
I lost all patience and good humor.  With Josie listening behind me, I practically hollered.
“For *****’s sake, how many times do I have to tell you?!  Is this conversation being recorded for training purposes?  I hope so, because this is EXACTLY what NOT to do!  I’ve TOLD you what’s wrong; I’ve OFFERED to send them to you so you can see for yourself.  Now I’ve had it!   Are you going to send me two remotes, or shall I switch to Direct-TV?”
“Yes, ma’am, this is being recorded.  Yes, I’ll send you two remotes.”
“Excellent.  What date can I expect to receive them?”
“They will be delivered to your home on April 4th.”
“Thank you!”
As if we’d never had a long, substantive (and slightly heated) conversation, Jim said, “Thank you for calling DISH Network.  Is there anything else I can do for you, today, ma’am?”
How could I not laugh at a question which exhibited such a total disconnect from reality?  Sheesh!
There was no package in front of my door when I got home from work on April 4th and I began to feel the burn of indignation.  However, Steven spied a small box on the side porch the next morning. 
I retrieved it.  Opened it.  Saw the new remote control unit nestled inside.
All by its lonesome.           
And yes, that fact prompted asterisks, galore.

Six Months of Wees

What now, Mum?  We're kind of busy, here...

The Pease Wees have been in residence at The F.A.R.M. for almost six months, and I’m often asked how I like having brother and sister micro-mutts for companions.  I was never a fan of small dogs, assuming they were yappy ankle-biters with excessive neuroses; but that’s been proven to be an unfair and discriminatory assessment.  The Wees have their quirks, for sure--but they are affectionate, cheerful and generally quiet dogs.  I’ve fallen head-over-heels for the little buggers.
Play with you, you say?  I think not....

Yep.  I love those foolish animals, practically to the point of idiocy.  I’m the Paris Hilton of Lexington…minus the youth, the sex appeal and the burgeoning bank account.   And I’m not alone.  My husband has come under the fuzzy bugs’ spell, as well.
Quite at home on the bed

I first realized the magnitude of his affection for the Wees a month or two ago.  Steven gets up at three a.m. before the rest of the household stirs.  He makes his coffee, packs his lunch, showers and dresses (not necessarily in that order)…and then heads to Stratton for his day’s work.  I usually sleep through the process, since I rarely go to bed before one a.m.  On this particular morning, I woke up to find that he’d returned upstairs to the bedroom and was sitting on the side of the bed patting the puppies and talking softly to them.  (Yes, they’ve graduated from proper ‘crate’ sleeping, to ‘snuggled up close on our bed’ sleeping.  See what I mean?  We’re Chihuahua chumps!)  Since Steven hadn’t been particularly enthralled with my birthday gift when my pal Saint first offered me the puppies, it warmed my heart to see him cuddling with them. 
Stevie holds Scruff securely while giving her a pre-chew bath.  Scruff gets an adrenalin rush by pestering the cat until he tackles (but never hurts) her.  Brother Saint  doesn't know whether to help her, or save his own neck.

For a minute or two, it did…

Giving Scruffy and Saint (the dog, not the pal) each a final stroke along their silky sides, my darling husband rose and walked toward the bedroom doorway.  The fact that he was leaving registered as he was half-way through.

“Excuuuse me???  You’re gonna love-up the dogs, but not me?”   The nerve of the man!
Saint, Scruff...and Curious

Steven stopped and turned toward me, his profile outlined in the doorway by the dim light coming from the hallway behind.

“Oh.  Sorry, honey.  I’ll come give you a kiss…”

I think that was the first time I’ve ever tried the classic “Talk to the hand!” gesture…but it was lost on the man in the gloom of a pre-dawn bedroom.   I pretended outrage, but I was secretly touched by his affection for the little devils who have wormed their way into our hearts.  Being cast aside for a bug-eyed little bitch (and her brother) isn’t nearly as painful as I thought it would be.
Saint considered eating a housefly

Today was the first day I’d been home without the Wees since they took a Delta flight up from Tennessee to Maine last December.  They had an appointment at the Carrabassett Veterinary Clinic, and I left them there this morning to receive their first rabies shots and to be spayed and neutered.  Back home and alone, I was surprised to realize that I missed the pitter-patter of their little feet.  Their temporary absence was necessary, though.  We have no intention of breeding wah-wahs, and we certainly didn’t want to risk a litter of “I’m My Own Grandpa” puppies.

Like a mother, I worried about them while they were gone and I couldn’t wait to have them home again.

What a schmuck…

To my relief, Scruffy and Saint came through their surgeries without a fuss.  At 4.5 and 5.3 pounds respectively, they are pictures of perfect (peanut-sized) health.
Saint and Scruffy--at home on my bed

Sisterhood of the Traveling Poo

Young Bull moose in "Moose-nook-you-must-look"

It all began with moose droppings. 

My maternal grandmother started something, and that something was called “Maine Moose Movements”.

Yes, Mammy made collectibles out of moose poop.  Trust me when I say that folks ‘from away’ will buy anything if it is ‘authentic Maine’.  You just can’t get any more authentic than hand-picked, freshly scavenged moose droppings.

Sometimes Mammy’s collectible poops were oven-dried, shellacked and strung as beads on a necklace.  Sometimes feathers and wiggly eyes and pointy beaks were added…and then the poops were mounted on small branches or rocks, where they resembled birds. (Okay…they didn’t resemble birds at all.  They looked like oblong brown turds with feathers stuck on them! But what else in this world (besides a bird) has feathers?  Nothing!  So, using their imaginations, most folks got the gist of it…it was as simple as that.)

Mammy’s Maine Moose Movements sold like hotcakes--which should not be confused with cow pies.  (That’s a completely different market.)

However, Mammy couldn’t make or sell Maine Moose Movements without the raw material.  Mammy needed an inventory.  A warehousing system.

I was—and my children were—her top suppliers.  We never went for a walk in the woods without casting about for the cherished offal.  I got into the habit of stuffing a couple of plastic bags into my pockets when we left the house…just in case.   

Yep, when a moose did his business—it was good for Mammy’s.

When friendship blossomed between me and some wonderful folks from Australia, they were quite naturally interested in stories of North America’s largest mammal.  Just as I was morbidly fascinated with tales of their bazillion poisonous spiders and deadly snakes, and their man-eating crocs and their killer jellyfish and that wild, aggressive bird that pecks people’s eyes out….so they were enthralled with the perils inherent in living side by side with seven-foot-tall, thousand pound moose. 
Bull moose in Lexington.  Photo by friend Buck Simpson

Yes, that’s right.  Moose in the plural is still moose; not meese and not mooses.  

Goose, geese.  Moose, moose. 

Cow, cows.  Moose, moose. 

The American version of the English language is adorable, that way.

In an attempt to familiarize my Aussies with moose, I sent them photos.  Photos of moose in their natural habitat, and photos of moose poops in their natural state.  And then…photos of poops wearing hats and tiny feather boas.  Poops in piles…and poops dangling from earlobes. 
Rescued moose at Gray Animal Farm-Maine

Family heritage is a wonderful thing.

So when my friend Dozy in New South Wales went on safari in Africa, she asked me what I would like for a souvenir.  Naturally, I said “Elephant poop”.  It was a joke.  I knew if I couldn’t send an alpaca wool ornament from the U.S. to Oz, she wouldn’t be able to send elephant dung from Zambezi to Maine.

The good news is: I was wrong.  Dozy found the perfect souvenir—a greeting card made out of dried, compressed elepoo!  It was wonderful, hilarious… the ideal gift to receive from Africa. 

A year later, Dozy went to see the King Tut exhibit when it came to Melbourne.  Always thoughtful and generous, she asked me what I wanted for a keep-sake, this time.

“Mummy poo, of course!” I snickered, knowing that was an impossible request but also knowing Dozy would get a kick out of my answer.  Little did I comprehend the tenacity of this woman, though!  Ten days later, a bag of scarab beetles (a.k.a. DUNG beetles) arrived in the mail from my friend!  They weren’t actual scarabs, but they were replicas made in Egypt….replicas of bugs that ate…mummy poo.  I laughed and cried at the same time.  What a great gift!  I was so overwhelmed that I tried to eat one. 

But that’s the story for another day.

Before I knew it, sweet Dozy was planning a trip to New Zealand for a long-overdue visit to her best friend’s home.  Fleetingly, I wondered…would my dear friend spend part of her well-earned vacation shopping for a gift that was in keeping with our theme?

Sure enough, she did it.  Dozy rummaged the shops until she found…

Kiwi kucka. 

Kiwi.  The flightless bird of New Zealand whose poos are (according to the package) very strong-smelling; making them easy to find on the forest floor—which makes it easier to avoid stepping in them. 

Just in case you want to make necklaces out of them, you see.

Only Dozy could find such a stellar gift.  It was not only hilarious; it was nutritional and educational!  After all, until I received her package, I thought kiwis were round, green and edible.  But apparently, only their poo is marketed as a delicious confection. 

There’s no way I can ever find gifts for Dozy to equal those which she’s given me.  The woman has provided smiles to last a lifetime.  But I have to try, right?  I mean…this can’t be a one-sided relationship!  So, in keeping with our theme, I thought perhaps she might get a charge out of this unique ‘confection’ dispenser.  As you push up on the legs… the tail moves out of the way, and…

Aw, I don’t want to spoil the surprise, so I’ll let Dozy do the ultimate analysis.