Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Phone Security

If you have an hour to kill, I have a phone number for you to call. It's the billing department of my security company. To be nice I won't tell you the company name, but their initials are ADT.

It doesn't matter why you call or what you ask. They can't do it. But are very happy to transfer you to someone else who can't either.

I called because a policeman came to see me at Mick's, and asked if I had a problem. "Lots of 'em," I said honestly. "But I didn't call you."

"Well, your security alarm is going off." You could see him grow uncomfortable, doing the math in his head, as we were both standing in the bar and the alarm was definitely not going off. So I tested the system and the alarm horn wasn't working. It had called the police in secret.

I made a service call. A guy came and explained that the alarm had been disconnected by a previous service technician while working on it, and he must have forgotten to hook it back up. So the new guy hooked it up for me. Later I got a bill for $170.

I thought that was wrong. Then the police station billed me $250 for a false alarm visit. I smelled Soprano.

So I called ADT to complain. My call went quite like this, except it took fifty-two minutes longer than this synopsis does.

I called the number for "billing." After sitting through seven computerized voice choices, I got: "For billing, press 8." Uh, yeah. Along the way were a few "Please hold while I connect you with another lifeless computer voice." Then, "Please enter your account number." I did. Then I reached "Julia," who seemed human enough. Her first question was for my account number.

It went like that for a while. She couldn't help me, but asked if I would hold while she got permission to give me the service number. That sounded good. It must be an important number if she has to get permission to share it. I called the coveted number and got same computer voice as when I first called. "Ebony" eventually explained that the magic secret number rolls over to the main number if it's busy. So much for special access.

Ebony couldn't help me, but transferred me to "service," where I got Luke, who explained that actually he's in sales, but he'll transfer me. "Wait," I interrupted, "before you do, give me your address. It'll be faster for me to write a letter, and you guys can pass it around amongst yourselves all you want." I said "letter," but I was thinking "chisel my message into a rock and throw it through your window." Yes, that would be faster.

Luke can't give me an address to mail to (or hurl rocks at), because—I swear he said this—he doesn't know where the company is.

Transfer to "Marvina." If not the best customer service, this company does have the best customer service names. Marvina is actually in "service!" Huzzah! By now this seems like a major coup. I ask her to please hold while I go pour a shot of tequila to raise a toast to my success. She says my problem, however, is with the local provider, and she offers to give me their number. "Can I write . . . " No, she doesn't know her address either.

I end up being transferred to the "Escalations" department. I immediately liked the sound of "escalations," even though things hadn't escalated beyond sorting out who works where. I got "Amanda." Clearly Amanda had been given "talk him down from the ledge" training. I liked her right away, and she assured me she could reach the right people for my small problem, and no, my homicidal feelings were perfectly understandable.

"I'll contact the people I need to to get this fixed," she assured me. "Is it okay," she then added, "If I call you back?"

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Heart Attack

I just ate a spinach and anchovy omelet for lunch. It is the first time my cat and I have the same breath.

Why would I do that? Because I had spinach and anchovies, and I hate wasting food. Food frugality is one of the gifts my mother gave me. No matter what you have leftover, you can make another meal out of it.

Mom had a cast-iron grinder that clamped to the countertop. Chunks of leftover meat go in one end, you turn a big crank, and they ooze out the other like a horror film Pla-Doh factory. It fascinated me. As Sunday's pot roast turned to Monday's roast beef sandwiches turned to unmanageable bits of leftovers, out came the grinder. Roast beef salad, voilá! We had a big family, and various pets came and went. Whenever one died I'd skip dinner for a day or two just to be safe.

There is no fun in grinding anchovies. They're slimy and mushy already, and they stink so bad that everything around them stinks too, like sardines, which my dad and I used to enjoy together. Mom would make us eat them on the back porch, lest a single drop of sardine juice fall and putrefy the whole house. Sardines: Patchouli of the Sea.

I had to buy a tin of anchovies along with a bunch of spinach for a Valentine's Day recipe, for my plan was to cook food I'd never dealt with before. A tin holds about eight little fish bits—a year's supply. The spinach, anchovies and various other savory weirdness were to be sautéed into a paste the color of baby poo, then sandwiched between layers of phyllo dough, which were then cut into the shape of a valentine. How adorable is that? At least that was the idea. Before I had finished even my first one, I had used up all my swear words.

Phyllo dough isn't really dough. It has the consistency and charm of peeling sunburned skin, flimsy and thin as air. You can't let it dry out or it'll crack, and you can't get it too moist or it'll turn to mush. I figured out the technique for making a nice one just as I made the last one.

Next came scallops. I still don't know what a scallop is, but I learned that "bay" scallops are small enough to fit up your nose, from where it looks like they came, and "sea" scallops are as big around as a severed arm, pale and translucent like a leftover prop from Jaws. I chose "bay." I was to sauté the scallops and lay them over a fennel compote. I didn't know what fennel was, so shopping for it took a while. And I had to look up "compote" in the dictionary, thinking it would be good to know what my endgame was. It's basically vegetable jelly.

As I'm cooking all this, looking down at my dusty, stained blue apron with its yellow Spam logo, I realize why everyone at the bar calls me Girlyman. But miraculously, the dinner came together wonderfully. My date brought over crème brûlé. I only knew Brulé from the summer arts festival—that band which performs authentic native-American karaoke. But in Foodland the word is kind of like flambé, which is French for "Dinner's on fire." Brûlé is a dessert which is finished by searing it with an intense, direct flame. After all the mushy French words, I was especially eager to whip out my blowtórch, the first item of the entire evening I understood. It lit with a satisfying paahhh!

I'm not the only Girlyman. It's also a band from New York City, three classically-trained multi-instrumentalists who all sing. They opened for the Indigo Girls for a year or so. Girlyman is among my most anticipated shows of the year. I beg, beg, beg you to go see them, just so I can wallow in your gratitude afterwards. Mick's is built just for great shows like this.

Get all the details here.

The omelet turned out pretty good. Does anybody have a good anchovy recipe? I still have two left to use up.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

And-A-One, And-A-Two . . .

When I was a kid I liked February best. My birthday is on March 1, and February always did me the favor of being a little shorter so I didn't have to wait so long. Now I like February because, usually, it has 28 days, which is a nice, even four weeks—no straggler days. Very tidy. I don't know why all months don't do that.

I'm told our calendar is based on the Moon, but I don't see it. Moon phases occur randomly in the month and I always have to look them up to know what's what. It's not like the full Moon always happens on the third Wednesday.

This August we'll get 8/8/8, which is nice. That'll only happen for four more years, ending on 12/12/12, unless George Bush is still president, in which case who knows what fundamental laws will be changed. Two years ago we had 2/4/6 and before that, 1/2/3. Those were the days.

I like order—something my mom thinks is hilarious. I just read an interesting article which briefly referred to the Mayan calendar, which is pretty organized. The Mayans actually used more than one calendar, but only one was interesting. Actually, to me, it was the whole interesting part of the story because I don't even remember what the rest of the article was about.

Anyway, their calendar goes kind of like this: Twenty days is a "month." Twenty Tuns (years) is a Katun. Twenty of those is a Baktun. It's like a metric system calendar. It plays out to a 26,000 year Great Cycle. The good news with this system is you only need to buy one calendar. The bad news is it won't fit on a nail. Good news, you can probably get one with 520,000 months of hot Mayan pin-up girls or cute cats or sailboats or pictures of Tuscany. No extra shopping for you at the end of each regular year, and stores don't get stuck with a bunch of 2007 Britney Spears calendars. Bad news, according to the Mayans: when this calendar runs out, so does mankind. On the Winter Solstice, our year 2012. It's unfortunate, but you have to admit it's a tidy system.

According to my old-school Gregorian calendar (yes, it has Tuscan houses on it) tomorrow is a New Moon. I haven't even figured out where to put the old one.