Wednesday, July 30, 2008

For Bridge Players Only

If you don't play bridge, you might want to skip this, as I doubt that it will make much sense to you or be at all entertaining.

In the tournament bridge world there are many professionals who "play for pay." That is, weaker players pay the pros to be their partners, hoping to win club and tournament events. The payment is usually in money, but not always. Years ago the story went around that Oswald Jacoby (R.I.P.), for many years one of the top bridge players, was approached by a sweet young thing who simpered, "Oh, Mr. Jacoby, what does it take to get a good player like you to play with someone like me?" Ozzie is said to have replied, "Money or sex."

(As an aside, many such sweet (and not so sweet) young things wear low cut tops in order to distract male opponents, often succeeding. Jacoby is also supposed to have said that he had played many a hand cross-eyed.)

For those who pay in money, this can involve travel and expenses for the professional (and even for a family or companion) for the duration of a tournament.

One such weak player, a middle-aged/elderly oil widow, consistently paid an expert we'll call Benny to play with her, even at local club games. He had devised a bidding system designed to prevent her from playing no-trump and major suit contracts. She would bid suits other than her strong suits, but indicating those strong suits, so that he could bid those suits first. Thus, if their side played the contract, he would play the hand.

Sounds foolproof, and is almost foolproof. Unfortunately she had played bridge and learned some standard bidding concepts before learning the "new" system, and occasionally got the two sets of concepts mixed up.

Now here is my recollection of one mini-disaster which resulted from that confusion. If the bidding isn't precisely correct, at least the concept will be apparent.

During one session at a club she opend the bidding on a hand with "one diamond," indicating that she had strength in hearts. Benny dutifully bid "one heart" so that if they wound up playing hearts he would play the hand. She bid "three hearts" indicating that she had a very strong hand. Benny wound up declarer at four hearts, down one, while everyone else was playing two hearts, making. He had played it one trick better than the others, but the partnership had overbid by two tricks. When she put down her hand as dummy, he was surprised to see a hand with good hearts but of only ordinary strength.

After the hand he asked her if she didn't think her jump to three hearts was a bit much, and she replied, "Oh, Benny, I wouldn't have done it but when you bid hearts my hand went up so much in value."

Depending on your bridge knowledge, that might be a time joke.

She wasn't the best bridge player around, but she was a very nice person, and my emotions were mixed when I heard a few years later that he had dragged her into first place in the Mixed Pairs event at the Canadian Nationals, an astounding feat. I just feel that there's something not quite right about the weaker player gaining such a title in that fashion, but I confess that I was happy for her.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Debbie - Part III

Debbie's arrival, introduction to many friends, and first dinner had all been rousing successes. The next day or two flew by and I no longer recall the exact sequence of events.

I believe I took her to Woodfield Mall, at the time the largest shopping mall in the country. I know we had dinner Saturday night with Jeff and Cassie, another dinner complemented by laughter and fun conversation. But I think the thing she was most hooked on was my PC, a 286 I think - this was 1988. I think she had never been exposed to one and I know that she had never owned one. Separately and together we played a few games on it, and when I awoke the next morning I heard her in the next room, pounding away at the keyboard.

We had a lot of fun, and as her departure time approached we decided that she should stay for several more days. I took a couple of days of vacation from work, and before we knew it we had decided she should stay, period. Now she and various parts of her family lived in Eastern Massachusetts, and some of mine lived there and in southeastern New Hampshire, so we decided that on Christmas we would fly out, visit the various family members together, load up her car, and drive back to Illinois in that.

I can't believe how hazy my memory is about this, but I believe she flew home for a day to get clothing and other items, and to work out various logistical things - paying her rent, tuition for her daughter's school, etc.

It all worked, and it all worked well. The toughest part was scheduling our Christmas visits. She had, I think, four different family households to visit and I had three. On my father's side it was customary to have Christmas dinner at my sister's house, with people arriving food in hand, typically surrounded by children. We agreed that on Christmas day we would do that and also visit whichever of her family members was hosting their Christmas dinner. Other than that, I needed only to visit my mother and my brother Billy, and he would be staying with her.

Debbie and I worked out a rough schedule, and I called Billy. I noted that Debbie was listening intently throughout the conversation. I explained to Billy that Debbie and I planned to be with Dad and that side of the family (Billy would be there too) on Christmas Day, and listed several time slots that we could be at Mom's for a visit so that he could pick the one that would be best for them. He picked Christmas Eve, and it was a done deal. We would also see them on our last day in New England, on the way out the door, so to speak.

When I hung up the phone, Debbie said "So that's how you do it." This was by way of introducing me to the fact that every year for many years she had spent the Christmas season agonizing over how to see everyone, how to fit everyone in with all the scheduling conflicts and with people pulling her this way and that. It had never occurred to her to tell people "This is when I can see you," and the idea appealed to her so much that she put it into practice immediately, scheduling our dates with her family (and one couple, old friends).

We flew into Boston and were picked up by her daughter, the budding RN, who was a perfect bitch kitty during the one hour drive home and for the next several days. She didn't know me, was worried about her mother and this stranger, and probably resented my "taking her away." But she did thaw out toward the end of the trip, and we became friends, as did her boyfriend and I. They later visited us for several days when we lived in Maryland, and it was a lot of fun.

There are going to be more Debbie posts, but I think it's time for a break, and a look at another subject or two. I'll wrap this one up by mentioning that my father began referring to Debbie as "my future daughter-in-law," and I began the practice of telling friends "She won't go home."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Debbie - Part II

It was early Friday afternoon and I was to meet Debbie at O'Hare. Friday nights there was always a large contingent of my co-workers at the local watering hole, which at that time was Grisanti's. I had told a few who sometimes did not make it that I'd be there with Debbie, and many friends were looking forward to meeting her.

I met her at the gate, we got her luggage, and we headed for the car. Time had passed and circumstances had changed since last we saw each other. Twenty years earlier I has been just out of the Army and making $95 a week, and now she found herself climbing into a relatively new black and gold Cadillac Sedan de Ville. I think we were *both* pleased about that.

Luggage in the trunk, I drove to a restaurant and bar not too far from the Grisanti's we would head for later. We sat in the lounge, ordered drinks, and talked non-stop for several hours. She told me she had a return flight on . . . what? Sunday? Monday? I don't remember. I told her whatever was convenient for her was fine with me. Surprisingly, even after all those hours of conversation on the phone, we managed to find more old times to talk about - along with updates concerning current times.

A few minutes before five o'clock we hopped into the car and headed for Grisanti's, where a few of the regulars had already kicked things off. Debbie must have met thirty or so new people that night, and I was amazed to learn later that she remembered every name. Sometime during the first couple of hours another couple, Jack and Karen, claimed the right to have dinner with us that night at Victor's, a fine dining restaurant in Rolling Meadows, now defunct, alas. Another couple, Jeff and Cassie (see "Me and Cassie At a Ball)" reserved Saturday night for dinner at the Wellington in Arlington Heights (still there, I am happy to report).

Well, Debbie's introduction to the crowd at Grisanti's was a rousing success, and around eight or eight thirty four of us headed for Victor's. Dinner was as much fun, perhaps even more fun. Everyone got along and there were many funny stories told and much laughter to reward them.

I would guess it was around midnight when Debbie and I finally reached home. I retrieved her luggage and put it on the guest room bed, and gave her a tour of the house, emphasizing the locations of anything I could think of that she might want during the night (or in the morning, if she arose before I did).

I told her I was glad she had come, gave her a quick peck on the lips, and headed off to my bedroom. I took my shirt off and tossed it on the dresser and two seconds later her blouse landed on top of it. I turned and she was standing there unbuttoning her skirt and looking at me as if to say "You know I'm sleeping in here, right?"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Debbie - Part I

I have mentioned that my father moonlighted in the 1960s and 1970s, playing the organ at a steak house and cocktail lounge. One evening in 1969 he called me and suggested I visit him there on a Friday, when there was a certain young woman waitressing in the lounge part time. "You've got to meet this one. She thinks she's a Goddamn queen."

I said I would, and did so the following Friday. I met the waitress, Debbie (see a preceding post, Gluttony in Las Vegas), who was in fact a "Goddamn queen." We were both interested immediately, but she was in the process of getting a divorce and was very cautious about being seen with anyone during that period, so it was a while before we met outside the lounge.

Her father, John, owned the restaurant, and during the course of my Friday visits his paternal radar picked up signals. Now he and I didn't like each other, dating back to well before I met Debbie, but we had been cordial, more for the sake of my father, I guess, than for any other reason.

In any case, a few weeks passed during which Debbie and I talked when we could. When she took a break we would sit together and chat. We exchanged a few books that we recommended to each other. During all this, John kept his eyes open, and whenever we sat together he would come over and sit with us, the lack of an invitation being no barrier to him. He didn't really pay much attention to us, seldom participating in any conversations. Mostly he just kept his eye on the lounge.

One week Debbie told me she was reading The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I hadn't read it and she promised to bring it in when she was done with it. The following Friday I was sitting alone at a table near the organ, chatting with my father while he played. Debbie came over and sat down and a moment later so did John. After a bit . . .

Donnie: "So when do I get The Turn of the Screw?"

Debbie: "I'm sorry. I've been busy, but I'll finish it and bring it next week."

A good moment later, John started, turned to me, and left Debbie and me in hysterics by asking "What did you say?"

We dated for a few months, then drifted apart.

Twenty Years Later, in Chicago

Dad and I were having one of our fairly regular telephone conversations when he said "Oh. I ran into Debbie at a flea market in New Hampshire. I took her number and promised you'd call her."


I took the number and assured him that I would honor his promise.

That Sunday afternoon I called and caught her at home. We talked for perhaps three hours, and it was a lot of fun. We caught each other up on the preceding twenty years. Her daughter, an infant when I last saw her, was now in the process of becoming a Registered Nurse; I had just bought a house in an attempt to lead a "more normal" life, etc.

We exchanged addresses and agreed to talk again, and as we concluded the conversation I told her "Well, if you ever need to run away from home for a few days, you know where I live."

Two Sundays later, I decided to call her again. Just as I reached for the phone it rang. It was Debbie. (No, no, don't be skeptical. It's true.)

Another couple of hours of fun conversation, concluded by my repeating the offer. She said "Really?" Immediately I thought, "I wonder what flight she's booked on."

The following Friday I picked her up at O'Hare.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Newspaper Vignettes

  • While I was working at my first post-Army job as a payroll clerk at a Boston newspaper, the Assistant Cashier had heart surgery and the hospital was looking for blood donors. Four of us from the various accounting departments went to the hospital together to give blood.

    Two at a time, we were led into a room by a no-nonsense, middle-aged nurse. I was paired with Jimmy, a big Irishman whose sense of humor was not about to be blunted by someone else's no-nonsense attitude. We were situated side by side, and Jimmy was making jokes about whatever he could think of.

    The nurse, with her back to us, studiously ignored him and was busy doing something on a counter. Jimmy began professing embarrassment that I was "bleeding faster" than he was, cracking himself (and me) up.

    At one point he cried, "Nurse! Nurse! My feet are getting numb!"

    She didn't even turn around. "Your shorts are too tight."

  • My boss was in his early forties. He was a personable guy and often joined whatever brief social discussions occurred during the work day. One year I pounded him with college football bets. I don't remember whether it was 1968 or 1969, but every week we bet a milkshake (actually, a frappe in Boston - milkshakes don't have ice cream in them) and I gave him Ohio State's opponent and forty points. Week after week he would shake his head on Monday morning as he shelled out the frappe money.

  • But my best frappe victory had to do with poetry. I heard him say, "Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do or die." I looked over and said, "You know it's 'do and die', right?" Well, he was dug in and insisted it was "do or die."

    I decided to have some fun and said, "You better study your Kipling." He responded, "I know my Kipling and it's 'do or die.'" He was little amused when I pointed out that Tennyson, not Kipling, had written The Charge of the Light Brigade. We made another bet, this time on whether it was "do or die" or "do and die." It was Friday and I promised to bring in a poetry book on Monday.

    I did, and Monday was another head shaker for him.

  • My favorite two bets I made while at the newspaper were with die-hard Red Sox fans. Each year I would bet them five dollars apiece that the Red Sox would finish more than six games out of first and each year they would gloat for the first half of the season and then the gloom would descend. Thus they were ripe for the plucking and I got one victim each for these propositions:

    • In 1969 I offered odds of $50 to $20 that Dick Williams, the Red Sox manager, would be fired during the season. He lasted long enough to make the bet interesting, but fired he was.

    • In 1971 I offered to bet $5 even money that the Baltimore Orioles would have four twenty game winners if my opponent would bet $5 that the Red Sox would have two twenty game winners. Truthfully, I didn't expect to come out ahead. I thought it would be a wash. I figured it was a long shot that the Orioles would have four twenty game winners, but I was confident that the Red Sox would not have two. In the event, the Red Sox had none, and on the last day of the season Mike Cuellar became the fourth Oriole pitcher to win twenty games.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Memories of My Father - III

  • This would have been shortly before or shortly after I was born - somewhere, then, in the period 1940 to 1942.

    Dad had applied for a civil service job at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, and was working as a cook at the Saugus Diner, on the rotary (traffic circle for you non-New Englanders) on Route 1 in Saugus, Massachusetts. (Is that still there?)

    The diner was sold and the new owner closed it for a week, but brought in all employees to clean the diner from top to bottom. They scrubbed floors, walls, and ceiling, the stove, tables, counter top, everything, cleaned the windows and the entry stairs, did some touch-up painting, etc. for the whole week.

    The owner wasn't there at week's end, so Monday morning the employees asked him about their pay for the preceding week. "Oh, no, you did that to keep your jobs."

    Dad kept an eye on the amount of business, and at mid-morning he took off his apron, walked over to the cash register, opened it, and took an amount equal to his week's pay. He then told one of the waitresses, "Tell him I quit and I took my pay for last week out of the register."

    When he got home the mail had arrived, and he had a letter saying that he had been accepted for the Navy Yard job.

  • I once asked my father what it was like to grow up during the depression. He told me that he was mostly unaware of it because the family had circled the wagons and he lived with six adults on one floor of a house in Brockton, Massachusetts - his parents, two uncles, and two aunts, all sharing the rent, utility, and food bills.

    He said that he occasionally saw newspaper stories about people jumping out of windows and so forth, but nothing like that happened to any family he knew. For him, the biggest change was going to sleep at night in a bed and waking up in the morning on a couch.

  • A few weeks after my twelfth birthday, Dad woke me up at perhaps 9:30 or 10:00 PM, and said, "Come on, let's go downstairs. I want you to see something." The television was on and he plopped me down in front of it, saying "Someday you'll be glad you saw this. Does the name 'Josef Stalin' mean anything to you?"

    It did. As I have mentioned, I began reading newspapers when I was in grammar school, and although I probably didn't know that his power stemmed from his position as Chairman of the Communist Party, I knew that he was a dictator, number one in Russia and the Soviet Union.

    The program was covering the announcement of his death, and showing the most recent film footage available, which was very recent indeed. There was footage of him walking around and standing still, clearly in a daze, surrounded by obviously obsequious people. I do not know who was pictured in attendance, but the most likely candidates were Beria, Khrushchev, Malenkov, and Bulganin. The only name I would have recognized at the time was Beria. Although Stalin appeared clueless regarding his surroundings, his retinue looked skittish. Who knows what someone like Stalin will do when in such a state?

    I have since read and watched a very great deal about Russia, the Soviet Union, Communism, and Stalin. I *am* glad I saw it. Thanks, Dad.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Old Town: A Rant

The first several years that I lived in Chicago, I had an apartment in the "Near North," roughly at Division and Wells, a couple of blocks from Cabrini-Green, a low income, high crime housing project, and a couple of blocks from the foot of "Old Town," a once popular area that had gone downhill and was on its way back up.

I haven't much to say about Cabrini-Green. I lived in that apartment for four years and never had any kind of problem.

But Old Town . . . .

It was a little smaller than I might have expected, given Chicago's size. Others I've been to were larger - Old Town in Alexandria, Virginia, for example, but like the others it was interesting.

In Chicago's Old Town, there was:
  • A Mexican restaurant that was *hopeless* - the refried beans were Campbells mashed, I suspect, and there was one middle aged mariachi who was so pot-bellied that he simply rested his guitar on his stomach.

  • Second City, a comedy club where many subsequently famous comedians appeared early in their careers. I saw John Candy there before he made it big.

  • O'Brien's, an excellent fine dining restaurant that looked from the outside like a place you'd go to order meatloaf.

  • A Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum.

  • An expensive men's clothing store, Davis, I believe.

  • That Steak Joynt, another expensive but very good restaurant.

  • Treasure Island, a supermarket used as the site of employment of the bag boy in the Paul Galloway/Bob Greene fictional series, Bagtime, in the Chicago Tribune. This was almost directly across the street from That Steak Joynt, and if memory serves, the bag boy lived over the restaurant.

  • The Earl of Old Town, a small bar featuring live folk music, where entertainers such as Don Gibson, Bonnie Raitt, and others played and sang, often for nothing, just to keep folk music alive in Chicago during one of its bleaker periods.

  • The Bizarre Bazaar, the biggest head shop I have ever seen, about the size of a small Woolworth's deparment store, for those of you old enough to remember those.

  • A smaller head shop, name gone from my memory now.

  • Other restaurants and coffee shops, ranging from less expensive than those above to dirt cheap. There was one on the northwest corner of Wells and North Avenue that seemed to change hands and name every two or theree years.

  • A store that sold old juke boxes, and perhaps other things.

  • Other places, not coming to mind, but for the most part mom-and-pop owned places.
It's been a few years since I was in that area, so this could be a little out of date, but I suspect not.

Old Town is no longer Old Town. The same thing has happened to it that has happened to others (it was happening in Alexandria when I left that area in 1998). It was on its way up and kept going until it was too far up. These areas become popular and begin making more money, and property values go up. Mom and Pop can no longer afford the taxes, and bigger money moves in. Pretty soon when you go there you find that you're in a nice - but cookie cutter nice - area, with Pier 1 Imports, McDonald's, etc., and all the atmosphere and character have leaked away, much like the air in a five cent balloon.

When last I was there, Ripley's and Davis were gone for reasons unknown. The Earl of Old Town had become a dry cleaning establishment. Cook County paraphernalia laws had done the head shops in, although the Bizarre Bazaar hung on for a while selling tee shirts and other junk. The last time I saw it, it was a hole in the ground awaiting the condominiums that were to be built on the site.

The Mexican restaurant was still there, as was O'Brien's. I think That Steak Joynt might have closed, although the lettering was still there. Treasure Island was still open, and might outlast us all.

I lament the passing of places like this, places with genuine atmosphere, but I have no solution that would enable them to survive prosperity.

During the writing of this post, one incident from living in that apartment has popped into my head, so I'll close by relating it.

(Recognize it? That's a segue. What follows is connected to what precedes by only only the most tenuous of threads.)

One night I had an informal party of perhaps twenty people. Not far from where I lived was a place called Chester's, which not only made the best greasy food around, but delivered it as well. I ordered a ton of chicken, fries, onion rings, etc., picked up some beer, made sure the bar was stocked, and awaited my friends. There was a pass-through from the kitchen to the living room, and when the food arrived I spread it out there, along with paper plates, napkins, cups, and whatever.

Unbeknownst to me, this was the night that the "Who Shot J.R." episode of Dallas was to air, and about fifteen minutes before show time, the people began to divide into two groups - those who would remain in the living room and watch Dallas and those who would scoot down the hall to the bar area. I was with the latter group, so with five minutes to go I made sure the door was unlocked for any late arrivals and abandoned the Dallas fanatics.

Dallas began and but for its own sounds you could hear a pin drop. We closed our door almost all the way and spoke softly, but even so were occasionally subjected to a chorus of "Shhhhhh!" from fifteen feet away.

Once an especially loud "Shhhhhh!" was heard and it was unrelated to us. A moment later, a newcomer - Jeanne - joined our company, food in hand, closed the door, and with an injured look whispered "I took my fries too loud."

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Vignettes: Women

  • When one of the women in my area had a birthday, some of us got together after work to have a drink or two with her. Eventually our number was down to four: Marissa (the birthday girl), Mandy, Peggy, and yours truly. We were having a great time and rather than see the evening end too quickly, I proposed to buy dinner at the Hyatt Regency, an offer accepted by all three in perhaps a tenth of a second.

    Just off the lobby of the Hyatt there was a huge open air restaurant (perhaps named The Atrium, but I'm not certain of that), very nicely done - water meandering through the area in open marble channels, long glass rods slowly dripping water into those channels, linen, tuxedoed waiters, and a tuxedoed string trio playing music in a small pit-like area. As soon as we were seated we ordered drinks and began chatting.

    A word about the social dynamics of this group: Peggy was a great tease, one who was particularly adept at getting two other people to disagree on something and then bowing out, sitting back, and listening to the humorous debates that followed, occasionally sticking a knife into someone's ribs; Mandy teased only occasionally, but more often with Peggy than with anyone else; Marissa was vocal but fairly conservative, and held strong opinions about everything; by now regular readers know that I enjoyed teasing also.

    At some point Peggy said, "I can't tell if the water is coming down the inside or the outside of those rods."

    Now *eye* had not paid close attention but had always thought the water was on the outside, and not stopping to realize that it was Peggy who started this, I immediately said, "The outside."

    SMACK! This from Marissa: "The inside, of course."

    I stuck my foot a little further into my mouth: "Are you sure?"

    "Certainly. Go take a look."

    I declined and surrendered.

    A few minutes later I gave everyone a coin and suggested that we all throw the coins into the water and make wishes. We did, and Peggy asked Mandy what she had wished. Mandy said, "You can't tell your wish. It's a secret. If you tell, it won't come true."

    I leaned over to Mandy and just as she was sipping her drink I whispered, "I wish the fucking water came down the outside of the rods." This caused her to spit her drink into her lap and onto the table, earning a round of applause, and despite persistent attempts by Peggy to learn what had been said, we managed to keep it to ourselves.

    During the dinner the string trio began playing jazz. Peggy remarked that she enjoyed it greatly. I said I was indifferent to it, that I didn't understand it, didn't identify with it, but that I did like Dixieland Jazz.

    PEGGY: "What do you see as the difference?"

    DONNIE: "Well, I think Dixieland Jazz isn't as hard and cacophonous."

    PEGGY: "Ohhhh, that's my favorite word."

    MANDY: "What, 'hard?'"

  • Mandy, Peggy, Betty, and I went to see Return of the Jedi after work. Or mebbe an hour before work should have ended. After the show we walked around the corner to a small bar to have drinks and discuss the movie. In this group, everyone was a tease.

    During the conversation, Peggy expressed her revulsion over Jabba the Hutt. I asked her why he offended her so much. She said it disgusted her that Jabba ate repulsive frog-like creatures alive.

    DONNIE: "Oh come now, Peggy. I'm sure you've eaten lots of things uglier than that."

    PEGGY (looking at Mandy and Betty): "Anyone else have anything to say?"

    And Mandy and Betty, two great teases, my comrades in arms, bit their tongues and left me hung out to dry.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans

Warning - Dear readers, ye precious few, the very end of this post is vulgar indeed, possibly - almost certainly - offensive to some. I make no apology for it. All I can do is offer you this chance to pass it up. Forty-one years is a long time to tolerate the false pretenses of people striking at the heart of who you are, and I do not have the stamina of Sisyphus.

On July 4, 1987, twenty-one years ago today and twenty years after I left Vietnam, HBO presented a special program, Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans, with lots of chatter about it being time the rift was healed, that we're all Americans, yada yada yada.

Against my better judgment, I tried to watch it. Sometimes you just feel self-destructive, you know?

Many of the usual suspects were there, perhaps the most obviously hypocritical being the cinematic liar, Oliver Stone. My feeling then (and now, for that matter) was that they weren't there for any reconciliation, but simply to show how magnanimous they could be when we - those who had gone, and gone willingly - were so obviously in the wrong. Such is their world.

My attempt to watch the program didn't last long. I had a 50 inch Mitsubishi TV in a white oak cabinet, and when I began to get the urge to put my foot through the screen I changed the channel.

If you didn't live through those times, or if you did and you were brain dead, there's something you should understand:

When you see clips or read articles about those people and their "anti-war" protests, you are being lied to.

They were not anti-war, they were anti-US, although the distinction was never made - and is not much made even today - in the mainstream news media.

When Jane Fonda visited North Vietnamese hospitals, she saw what was for her the sum total of the war's casualties. You know how many South Vietnamese hospitals she visited, right? That's right, none. When she posed laughing in a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun embankment, pretending to look through the sights for those she described as "blue eyed murderers," she wasn't saying "Stop the war," she was saying "I'm with you, North Vietnam."

Who can say with a straight face that people who chanted

Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh,
Viet Cong are gonna win.

were not anti-US, only anti-war?

As late as today, these "anti-war" celebrities refuse to face the consequences of the US withdrawal of troops and then funding: more than a million boat people; more than a million people sent to "re-education camps," some never to see their families again; tens of thousands of people executed without trial. These anti-US grasshoppers had no time for that. They had to move on to other areas in which we were in need of their wisdom, such as nuclear energy.

My first thought when I saw the title of this program in 1987 and the banner flaunted on the show,

Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans

was how incredibly arrogant it was. Running through my mind was "We've been home all along. Where have you been?"

Time does not mellow everyone, at least not in all respects. It was twenty years from the time I left Vietnam until that HBO show aired, and now it has been another twenty-one years. Want to know what I think about it now?

Fuck you and your "Welcome Home."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Customer Service on the Internet

First we're going halfway back to the dark ages, as regards the internet.

In the 1990s I had cable TV and its associated internet access. I'd love to tell you what company it was, but I just don't remember. What I seem to remember is that whatever company it was has since been acquired and no longer operates under the same name.¹

In any event, I found their customer service somewhat schizophrenic in nature. If you had a problem during the day and called for help, you got first class help in the form of a person who would not rest until your problem was solved, and was quite capable of solving it.

However, if your problem occurred at night, during the hours that live help was not available, and you used the customer service email address, you would think that you were dealing with  jackasses  another company entirely. The only two times that I exercised this option that I can recall were:
  1. I got home one evening and turned my PC on, which automatically put me at my home page on the internet, a page created by my ISP. Now this page contained, among other things, the local weather (for the Chicago suburb in which I lived), and I noted that the brief description included the words, "Winds from the NW at 235 mph."

    Right, says I to me, I'll bet they'd like to know about this. I sent their customer service department an email telling them that my home page weather claimed that I had 235 mph winds.

    In the morning I had an email response. It thanked me for contacting them and informed me that they needed more information about the nature of the problem. I let the matter drop because either

    • This was an automated response, and the thought that they would do that to someone who might need help with their wretched service was loathsome, or

    • A real live person had responded, in which case there was not enough information on earth to make him understand the problem, and if there had been then he certainly wouldn't have been able to fix it.

    By the way, I would not have been upset by an automated response that thanked me for the contact and promised to look into my problem, only by one that pretended that someone had tried to solve my problem but needed more information. The latter is a dishonest stall.

  2. In those days many ISPs wouldn't let you access your screen name from anywhere but your home computer, where their software was installed. Delighted I was, then, when I was just a few days shy of beginning a week long trip to New Mexico and my ISP announced that it was providing a new capability - that of accessing my email from anywhere (or perhaps just anywhere in the country, but in this case it was all the same to me). All I had to do was follow an "easy" ten-step process before I left.

    The process involved a number of steps long forgotten by me, but the result was supposed to be a floppy diskette which I could carry along with me and use to access my email wherever I was and whatever computer I was on.

    I got up to about step eight and hit a brick wall. I don't remember the complaint registered by the software, but I do recall that my first thought was Liar! It complained about something that was manifestly untrue.

    Oh well, I still had several days before the trip. Perhaps "they" could get me through this in time. I emailed customer service, saying something along the line of "I was going through your ten step process to create a diskette that would allow me to access my email from anywhere, when I ran into the following problem: Yada yada yada."

    The next day I received an email from a real human being, or at least what passed for one in their customer service area, telling me that he needed more information about what ten step process I was following.

    I replied, asking "How many ten step processes do you have that create diskettes to allow your customers to access their email from anywhere?"

    I received no reply and there the matter has rested for more than a decade.
The differences in attitude and quality of service between those two shifts - daytime and nighttime - provide an object lesson in the difference between good management and bad management.

¹ February 17, 2009 - It was Media One.