Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why I don't have a smart phone... yet

A few years ago, I was excited to sign up with Hell Canada (via their Unympatico unit) for a pair of LG phones -- the "Chocolate" model, which was brand-new, and something else, I forget what. This was my first cellular device, and I felt as though I was finally joining this century, even though I am no slouch when it comes to technology (cheap, yes, always waiting for prices to come down, but no slouch).

My son and I used the phones for approximately three months. From the geto-go, we -- or should I say I, as the account holder -- experienced non-stop customer-service issues.

The first was pretty obvious. Although we lived in a 450 area code, we were given long-distance numbers for each phone. As a brother in Ontario pointed out at the time, "Hey! That's my area code!" So I called Bell, whereupon I was told I couldn't make the change over the phone (!) but had to go to a Bell service outlet. Well, there wasn't one in our small town, so son and I hitched a ride with a neighbour into a nearby city, where we waited the requisite 20 or so minutes for organic service. Got our local area codes and off we went.

Invoice comes in: $20 charge for changing phone numbers.

Thus began a montly ritual that involved several hours each time around -- in other words, whenever the bill arrived. Not only was waiting on hold involved, but the routine always seemed to be hold-transfer-calldrop-redial-hold-hold-hold-wait-while-rep-breathes-and-searches-records-transfer-disconnect. Each bill came with unforeseen and unwarranted extra charges.

Finally, around the fourth month or so, I was late paying my bill, and was promptly disconnected. All calls in or out would be rerouted to the collection department.

That's when I pretty much lost it. My son and I simply dumped the phones back in their respective boxes and never used them again. I also ignored my obligation to the remainder of the contract.

Eventually, I bought an inexpensive pay-as-you-go flip phone, but regularly forgot to top it up by a certain date -- thus losing whatever balance remained from the previous month. Finally, I decided that I didn't really need a cell. Yes, it was handy when I didn't have 50 cents to use a public phone to call a cab to get my groceries home. Yes, it was useful for texting my son. But it didn't feel like a necessity.

And it still doesn't. I can live without it. I have a book (sometimes even my eReader) when I know I'll be spending time on a bus, a subway, or in a waiting room. I don't need or want to bring Facebook, Slate, Mashable, The PBH Network, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Time, Cheezburger or Words With Friends everywhere I go. If I need directions somewhere, or a bus route schedule, I look it up beforehand. I still carry pen and paper, which made me laugh the other day when I offered them to my son so that he might write down a phone number posted on a car for sale; he shook his head and whipped out his phone.


I do not really like being accessible at all times. Never did. Always cherished the ability to be able to unplug, be incommunicado. And anyway: my friends with cell phones don't call me any more often than they used to; in fact, they call less. I have one friend who hasn't returned a phone call in more than eight months, and she occasionally uses Facebook to write, "Miss you!!!!!!!" (Really?)

Now I watch people walk around, heads down, texting, reading email, gaming. They do it at the gym before and after the class. They do it on the public transit system. They do it whilst with friends in restaurants. They do it with one hand while pushing a baby stroller or walking with a toddler. They do it in movie theatres and concert halls and nightclubs. They do it while sunsets blaze gloriously in the western sky, while flocks of geese honk overhead, while tulips sway precariously and briefly in the spring sunshine, as the moon rises into a sky of blue so deep and pure it almost hurts.

Last week I looked at the lady next to me on the bus. She had her smart phone clutched in both hands in her lap. It was off, but she kept staring at it, glancing down at it. She held it as one would hold a rosary, or worry beads. As though perhaps a god might speak to her through it, reveal the meaning of life.

I'll get a smart phone when I am not locked into a three-year relationship with an electronic device. When upgrading to the newer, faster, sharper and most likely less expensive model doesn't involve forking over a month's rent.

I saw beta recording devices come on the market for $1,000; now they are obsolete. I saw pagers that weighed two pounds. DVD players, home fax machines, microwave ovens... all were large, cumbersome, and expensive when they first came out. But time and technology did their work, and everything is smaller, more affordable, more easily upgradable. So I'm waiting for smart phone plans to follow suit before I succumb.

It might be another 30 years, mind you -- the approximate time it took to make a tiny microwave you can install under a kitchen cabinet and MP3 players to be scarcely larger than a grain of rice -- but I can wait. On the other hand, by then the cell phone might be a subcutaneous implant, so I'll still look like a dinosaur.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Horrible bosses

An article in The Atlantic says that bad bosses are bad for your health.

Can it possibly be true that the environment in you spend eight hours a day , as well as the people with whom you interact for those hours, can adversely affect your well-being? What a notion!

I'm glad I'm my own boss today, although the board of directors in my head can be aggravating chatterboxes at the best of times. At least they only inflict their neuroses on one person, and if I develop heart disease I'll only have myself to blame. Oh, wait. I already did develop that. Never mind. (I remember five doctors asking the same question back then: "Do you have a lot of stress in your life?")

My son has two terrible bosses. They are arrogant and insensitive, short-sighted and lazy, and I've instructed my son not to talk about them any more, lest I break out the knives. But I've had a few winner bosses in my lifetime, too.

There was one who said if I wanted to keep my job I'd have to sleep with him. That led to a convoluted and weird series of events involving an Irish mafioso and some bikers. I kept the job entirely through their intervention, which made me feel smug and earned the eternal hatred of the spurned boss. Hah! I hope he developed a painful and lingering disease in the years since.

There was also a rich, spoiled fish importer, running her daddy's business, who had nails so long she had to use the eraser end of a pencil to dial the phone. A buddy of mine worked there, and we detested her so much we took to drinking on our lunch hour. We also plotted a (failed) revenge scenario worthy of the storyline from Fargo, minus the messy murders. In the end, we got fired anyway and celebrated with more drinks.

Let's see... any other terrible bosses? There were plenty of backstabbers and hypocrites in the magazine business, but at least on the face of things they were charming people and never bounced a cheque. In the ad agency biz they were pretty groovy.

So, looking back, I guess I'd have to say that I had my worst employers when I was young and naive, but either they improved or my ability to handle them did as I got older and into more artistic fields. One notable exception would be the guys who ran the rehab house that was my very last real employment; one was a snake and the other an insecure, power-hungry bully whose favourite line was "Because I'm the boss." Never, ever good when the guy who signs your paycheques says stuff like that.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Room with a view

Good things -- or, at least, slightly better things -- come to those who wait but also know when's the right time to ask. At this moment, we're waiting for the new lease to be drawn up so that we may move upstairs to the topmost floor.

Yes, it seems we've got our wish. An apartment facing the river is coming up for grabs and we examined it yesterday. The view of the water and the north shore of Montreal beyond it is everything we thought it would be.

In the summer, the water body itself is partially screened by the row of ragged trees beyond the parking lot; but the street lamps and house lights from the shoreline to Mount Royal, the cluster of downtown skyscrapers, and the illuminated Olympic Stadium are all there on view. A vista of the kind you see in TV shows or movies, where the character stands with one hand in his Armani pants pocket and one holding a snifter of cognac. In a decidedly more fabulous indoor decor...

For the apartment itself is almost a mirror image of ours, with a few variations. In terms of square footage, it's the same. The layout is not, and in one case it makes for a larger-looking kitchen and a larger bathroom, at the expense of some closet space elsewhere.

But the current tenant freely and blithely admits that he's neither washed nor painted the walls, cleaned any windows or even wiped away the crumbs that have lain in the kitchen cupboards since he moved in three years ago. His one concession to cleanliness, apparently, was to scrub away the food that a previous baby-aged occupant had flung on the kitchen walls. Even then, he said he thought we might see some remnants if we looked closely enough.

What this all means, of course, is that we're moving into another filthy place.


This time, however, we will take the landlord up on his offer (standard practice) to have the carpeting steam-cleaned. We did it ourselves with a rented machine where we are now, but I'm sure his professional guy will do a better job. We will need to paint. I also asked for primer to cover the dark orangey-brown shade on the lower half of the master bedroom walls. The same colour scheme in my present bedroom, except that the dark colour is on the top part of the walls AND the ceiling, and when I moved in here I was damned if I had the guts to tackle it.

I see a pretty large expenditure in Hertel in my near future.

In spite of the filth, we ticked off the pros and cons. Pros: the view, nobody over our heads, same price we're paying now. Cons: gross, ancient carpeting and the amount of time that will be needed to make the space even marginally more hygienic.

I'm starting to wonder if everyone else is just sloppy by nature and I've been overly picky all my life? Methinks not. The overall neglect of the building seems to inspire more neglect.

Will need a better camera to capture the view once we're there.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year's resolve... melted?

I started a list of New Year's resolutions, to be published here or on the other blog, but partway through it struck me as sounding insufferably pretentious (e.g. "speak up against unfairness whenever I see it"). So I think I'll just continue quietly on my way and do the things I think I should do without public fanfare.

Two things I thought were unfair late last year, but I'll only write about one.

While cutting through the grounds of the high school nearby, I saw a kid being bullied. Apparently. I think. It might have been roughhousing or horseplay (funny old terms, those), but it sure looked like your typical bullying, especially since the larger kid was holding the smaller one upside down by his ankles. It was almost comical; cartoonish, even. But it didn't sound very funny, so I slowed down... wayyyyy down, as I approached them, my face deliberately blank (I think) and my eyes very much fixed on the bigger kid and his friends who were observing this picture of hilarity. They stopped and asked if I was a teacher. "Aha!" I thought. "Maybe," I replied. I could see just enough doubt in their faces that they figured it might be prudent to stop hassling the smaller boy. As I walked past them, they started horsing around again, so I turned and walked backward, away from them. All it meant was "I'm still watching you" and they sort of slunk out of sight, around a corner.

Bullying. So much in the news, isn't it? My son went through it for years. I would cheerfully have punched the lights out of the kids who did it. But he survived, and some don't, which just tears my heart out whenever I read about it in the news.

This time around, I'm sure I only had a temporary effect on the situation. But I thought it important to at least let those kids know that somebody had noticed, that somebody was watching. My gut told me this wasn't just fun and games...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Be careful what you wish for

Back in Lachute, I spent a lot of time walking and jogging and having silent conversations with the universe.

I had asked for a quiet place, near a body of water.

I got a quiet street, but a noisy place near the river. I didn't ask to be "right by the river" so I got 'near' with some slums between it and me and sick, violent people upstairs and next door.

So I asked harder for peace and quiet. And I got it, but then it was too quiet. That was after the back injury and I'd spent the entire summer recuperating. Then followed winter, and that, too, was solitary. I would take naps sometimes in the afternoon and my dreams were, as always, fascinating.

But when I woke up it was always with the sinking feeling of, "Oh, no. I'm back in my dreary life again."

Very depressing.

Now -- I'm in the city, and again near water, as requested; still not close enough, though. I need to be more specific! Don't have the splendid view that some neighbours enjoy. When the leaves fall off the scrubby trees behind our property, however, I'll see all of downtown Montreal and the entire mountain across a stretch of water throughout the winter. But I want the summer view, too.

As for the quiet, well, we ain't got much of that, but I'm dealing with it. And when I wake up from a nap now, it's with the knowledge that a bus runs right by our front door and I can hop on anytime and go anywhere.

Friday, June 10, 2011

1000 Ways to Die

A few weeks ago my son and I were discussing the best and worst ways to die. Strictly theoretical. Of course we've never quite gotten our heads around the suicides of two of his childhood friends a year ago, so the topic comes up now and then, sometimes prompted by things in the news.

In fact, that was how this topic came up -- local news channels had been talking about the trial of the Piedmont doctor who'd killed his two children and then, laughably, "tried" to off himself by drinking Windex. We agreed that a doctor would have more knowledge and means at his disposal than this half-assed method.

Referring to the two friends who hung themselves, I asked Alex, "How does someone even know how to tie the right kind of knot for hanging?" And he said, "Mom, the Internet."

Of course. You can find just about anything on the net, can't you?

So this led to our discussion of best and worst ways to remove oneself from the daily grind of earthly existence.

I thought pills, but it would have to be lots of them. He said, "Think of the horrible sick buzz you'd get first. Maybe you'd puke, and choke." I thought: car running in garage. I don't remember how he disputed that one; I still think it sounds easy. We agreed that any form of asphyxiation (drowning, smoke) is bad. Jumping off anything from very high up is bad, in my books, but he said if you fall backwards without looking it's OK.

Yesterday, I hit on the perfect one whilst watching a terribly sad documentary on the Irish potato famine and the dreadful trip one boatload of refugees endured trying to get to North America. The ship was sinking and it was the middle of winter. The captain and his top men escaped to a lifeboat, leaving most passengers (including many children) to perish in the frigid waters or on ice floes.

And, finally, I heard the words which gave me the answer to our debate: the best way to die is of hypothermia. After the cold, your body feels warm and you get sleepy. Off you drift, off you go.

Meanwhile, the potato famine story opened my eyes for the first time to another debate: act of God or genocide? Both, as it turns out, or as historians are proving. Ireland continued to export food staples while its poorest were starving, the thinking being that the poor

ate only potatoes, and couldn't be convinced to change their diet to survive. And many landlords were more than glad to be rid of their peasant tenants so that their land might be converted for more lucrative uses. Shocking, really. I plan to read up more on it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

And then I changed my mind

I was thinking about moving back to Montreal, or near Montreal, but after remembering how thrilled I was to move into my present abode, I decided to stay put.

Sure, as a friend says, I can find cheaper somewhere else. And yes, I was considering moving in with my son so we could ease our respective financial burdens.

But after consideration, I decided there is NO WAY I am ready to have neighbours overhead or under me. I spent too many years listening to other peoples' plumbing, snoring, doorbells, telephones, shouts and dogs to move again. Just the thought of packing and hauling stuff into and out of a truck fills me with fear and near-nausea.

Part of my thinking, too, was that this town is so dead I can barely stand it anymore. Everyone I know agrees... it's a BORING PLACE TO LIVE!

But since I can't change the town, I can change my attitude about it, and damn well find things to do.

So there.