Sometimes, when I’m in the middle of my second hour with customer support and I’m rattling off my account number for the 40th time, I’ll think about the appropriate penalty for the person who set up the system in the first place.
I’ve often said that the guy who invented speed bumps should be strapped to the bottom of a sports car chassis and driven over a few of those monsters at high speed. For the people who design websites and medical forms, we need to come up with something decidedly more severe.
We’ve all been through the drill. We try to open an account and the system rejects our password because it doesn’t have an ampersand, or because it does, or it has no caps or too many caps or not enough irony. Or we call customer support and we have to enter our account number at least twice before a human being picks up the phone…to ask for our account number.
As the customer service rep reads her required script, I try to shorten the process by answering all the questions I know she’s going to ask, but she still goes through the recitation of data points—or risk being fired. I’ll tell her I know she didn’t make up the rules, or the script, but I really, seriously, desperately want to get my hands on the person who is responsible for the extra 35 minutes I’ll spend on this nonsense.
It’s the same thing when we’re offline in the doctor’s office, where they hand you four pages of questions to answer while waiting for your appointment. Yes...
...all the information you’re about to give them is the same thing they asked when you contacted them the first time and...
...all of it is already in the portal they made you sign up for when made the appointment, and...
...it’s absolutely certain the doctor will not look at the form after you fill it out,...
...but that’s no reason to let it slide.
There’s no way to fix it, as we know, because the nameless and faceless drones who put the hamster wheels in motion left the company a long time ago. Since then, there’s no one on the payroll with a career interest in making their processes more user friendly, or efficient, or sensible.
Strapping them to the bottom of a sports car and driving over a speed bump is too good for them, but they aren’t the only ones who come up with rules that make no sense. For instance, who was it that decided:
The world is filled with arbitrary rules that we follow as if they flowed logically from a font of wisdom, including rules we have to comply with in order to get support from the doctors and businesses we frequent. If you know who came up with any of these gems, let me know how to find them. I know a guy with a sports car.
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Why I want to be like Theda Bara, plus my brush with the most dangerous pop-up on the internet, among the items rattling around in my dormant mind these days…
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I sure hope nobody finds out that the password for this blog is "PaSsWoRd!" Otherwise, they might sign on as me and post something that you find offensive, demeaning, or borderline mansplaining. So, if you see anything here that gives offense, I was hacked.
The same thing applies to written documents. Back in third grade, Eddie Greenboogers learned how to copy my handwriting and continually wrote all kinds of terrible notes that seemed to have my signature, and he has continued doing that until, um, well, he’s still doing it today. So if you see any paper copies of any documents that suggest I wrote something bad, it was absolutely Eddie Greenboogers, not I.
Am I safe now? Probably not. In fact, nobody is safe today, because we live in a gotcha world, where a video of your least articulate moment will be shared by all your “friends” and your kindergarten coloring book will become Exhibit A in your public shaming. Or your murder trial, if you end up raising tigers for a living.
Life was so simple when our teachers threatened to make a note of our misdeeds in the “permanent record” that would follow us throughout our lives. As with (spoiler alert) Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and those X-ray glasses they advertised in the back of comic books, our “permanent record” turned out to be more legend than reality, and we all breathed easier as a result.
Of course, that was pre-internet and before the time that anyone, anywhere, could dredge up a bloody scent for the posterazzi. Clearly, it’s all gotten out of hand and we need some new rules to make sense of it all.
First, we need a statute of limitations for all the perpetrators of racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-American, anti-religious, nasty, vicious, foul, revolting, offensive, nauseating, sickening vile, ghastly, repugnant, inexcusable statements, posts, pictures, texts, e-mails and emojis.
I’d give anyone a pass for anything they said before the age of 16. Even if it’s really, really awful, I will accept that the offender is still developing mentally, is overwhelmed by hormones and peer pressure, and has time to grow out of their wretchedness.
After 16 though, your driver’s license comes with the burden of accountability. If you’re old enough to take responsibility for a car, you’re old enough to take responsibility for your actions. Yeah, you’re still a kid, partly, but you’ve been online since you were two and you’ve probably been part of the mob more than a few times, so suck it up and be ready to take the heat.
Along the same line of reasoning, it’s time we rejected all claims of “youthful indiscretions,” which is the favored excuse for people in powerful positions who do terrible things or make terrible statements that, without a doubt, they knew were terrible at the time. And, if they didn’t know, they were pretty damned stupid and they really don’t belong in positions of power in the first place.
At the same time, we need some form of parole for people who see the light and change their ways. Maybe we can agree to ignore statements or (most) infractions at least 10 years in the past, if the person has not made similar statements or committed similar infractions since then. With elected officials, C-Suite executives, educators and clergy, I might lengthen that to 15 or 20 years. But if a person goes a decade or more without repeating the sin, it’s likely they don’t represent a current threat.
I’m okay if we never forgive someone for murder, rape or child molesting, though. Some things are just too venal for forgiveness on this Earth. Everything else is on the table, though, because we want people to have an incentive to do better and be better.
We talk a lot about healing our wounds in this society. Maybe we can start the process by committing less bloodletting.
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On behalf of the university, its staff, and all the alumni of our fine institution, I bid a warm welcome to the graduating class of 2021.
What an exciting year to be completing your studies at our university. Yes, I realize that you didn’t exactly complete your studies “at” our university, but we did include the school colors in all our Zoom backgrounds and we did insist that you rent space in our dorms even when you couldn’t be here, so it’s really the same thing.
At first, I was a bit nervous about speaking to such a large group, even on Zoom, but I remembered that incredibly sensible advice that I should imagine all of you are just sitting there in your underwear. And that’s easy to do, since I can see so many of you actually are sitting there in your underwear. Also, it turns out that Spiderman underpants come in adult sizes.
Of course, you didn’t travel all the way from your kitchen to your dining room table to listen to a long presentation about the glories of our university or the traditions we uphold. You want to hear about how special you are and how bright your future is, and you especially want to hear that you’ll be able to pay back your student loans before you die.
I am delighted to tell you that I can answer all your questions in the affirmative. Yes, you are a truly special class, a group of immensely gifted students who mastered the art of packing, again and again, while we announced and retracted our campus opening plans 42 times over the past 15 months. You completed more than 35,000 hours of distanced chemistry lab with only 17 homes burned down in the process. You made your school spirit known when you hacked into the scoreboard at the stadium to Rickroll the football team. And you certainly made your mark when you voted to replace our school mascot with a CBD gummy bear.
We know this past year has included a number of disappointments for you as we canceled many on-campus experiences. Many of you were upset you were unable to make out with your bae in the library and you couldn’t play Frisbee on the quad. You’ve told us you feel cheated because you didn’t spend enough time in our hallowed halls, partying with your friends in the dorm, and sharing meals in the cafeteria. (Well, actually nobody said they missed the cafeteria, but the staff there is very sensitive, so we are including them here.)
We feel your pain, but our attorneys want you to see this in the most positive of lights. When you return for your class reunions, it will be as if you are here for the first time. You’ll be energized and inspired as you experience the university in 3-D. And, of course, you’ll be surprised as you sample the unique offerings in our cafeteria. (Not pleasantly surprised, we know, but at least you’ll be grateful that you didn’t spend all four years dining on this stuff.)
Most important, our distanced journey over the past year has prepared you better than any other graduating class for the world you enter as adults. Working in isolation is now the number one job skill that almost every employer seeks. Whether you’ll be picking produce in the grocery store for Instacart or lubricating the self-driving cars for Uber or dropping Amazon boxes in somebody’s yard, your ability to thrive without human contact will make you even more valuable to the handful of companies that will still be hiring humans in the coming years.
For those of you who will be entering the white collar professions, your year of remote learning has prepared you for a lifetime career of working from home, sitting at the same dining room table where you have been based since early in 2020. While earlier graduating classes developed such obsolete skills as personal contact and team building, your graduating class is uniquely equipped for the brave new world of isolation, two-dimensional colleagues and, of course, working from home while wearing Spiderman underpants.
Yes, honored graduates, you are the most special, most prepared, most likely to succeed class in history. While many of the adjustments we made to your education over the past year were forced on us by the pandemic, we now recognize that they are the model we should follow from this day forward. Clearly, the incredible value of your remote education justifies the 27% tuition increase we implemented last September, and we look forward to increasing our distanced learning, and tuition, for many years to come.
And, no, we don’t give refunds.
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I like getting my underwear delivered in a cardboard box. I like leaving the car in the garage when I’m “attending” a meeting. I like getting my own seat on the bus. While everyone I know is positively giddy about a “return to normal,” I’m not so sure I want to join the party.
Fortunately, I won’t face that challenge because we aren’t returning to normal at all. Yes, we’ll probably get to a point this summer when a combination of vaccinations and herd immunity bring us back to almost all of our old pastimes, but it’s not going to be the same as the time before.
How could anything really be the same? We’re emerging from our reset with a different view of politics, of medicine, of our mortality. We come out of the pandemic with a different relationship with friends and family, tempered by political differences or Covid damage or a year of separation.
The high-schoolers and the college kids have a different worldview than before, and the newbies in the job market have a different basis for understanding their roles than the cohort that preceded them. The grandkids are a year older now, whether we had a chance to visit or not, and we cannot go back to recapture whatever we lost in our relationships with them.
We’ve changed our buying habits, businesses have reassessed their need for office space, the appeal of crowded bars and restaurants is not quite as energizing as it once was, and millions of people will never return to a buffet, or a casino, or a casino buffet. Not everyone will feel the same way about all of this, but all of us emerge as different people than we were a year ago.
A minor example: Fully vaccinated and about as safe as I’m going to get, I headed out to one of my favorite restaurants the other day. The building was the same, but all the servers were new, so it was just another place where nobody knows your name. I felt like a stranger in a spot that once felt like home. I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll experience that sense of deja new.
Many of us will be surprised by what we encounter this spring and summer, but all of this is to be expected because “normal” has a shelf life of zero. Every day’s normal replaces the normal of yesterday and today’s normal will be gone by tomorrow morning. “New normal” is redundant, since every normal is new, and “back to normal” is a destination like Brigadoon. Maybe you’ll see it again a hundred years from now, but don’t count on it.
We think it’s normal to go through scanners at the airport. We think it’s normal to send text messages from phones that we carry in our pockets. We think it’s normal to vilify strangers on social media. And we’re right that all of these things are normal, now, but none of them even existed just a few years ago.
In the end, normal is just another impossible standard we set for ourselves and the world, an unreachable summit and a source of unwarranted disappointment. You can’t step into the same river twice and you cannot go back to the way things were.
The moving finger writes…
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It was the first day of spring and the mercury hadn’t hit 50 degrees yet, but the restaurant wasn’t serving indoors and I needed some pancakes. So I sat outside in my winter coat and absorbed whatever warmth I could from the propane heater near my table, congratulating myself on how tough I’ve become and how well I can cope with dining al freezco.
Then it occurred to me that I’m not really that tough at all. For the people who live under the expressway at North Avenue, this is every meal, every night’s sleep, every new dawn. Braving the cold is a temporary discomfort for me. For them, it’s Tuesday.
As I raced to finish my breakfast before the syrup froze, I became increasingly grateful for the daunting experience of eating outside on a cold day; grateful for my usual good fortune in bypassing what is “normal” for too many others. I was cold and uncomfortable, and I ended up being grateful for both, thankful for the lessons provided by my temporary suffering.
Increasingly, I’m finding, gratitude is most meaningful on the downside. As I’ve mentioned in a prior post, It’s easy to be grateful when things are going well, but the deepest connections come from the setbacks.
During the winter, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in a couple of emergency rooms, an operating room and a hospital bed. The treatments extended over more than two months and there’s no question I would have been happy to avoid it. Still, I ended up grateful for the journey.
I was grateful for access to good medical care, of course, and grateful for the commitment medical workers were making for my safety. I was grateful for the fact this was only a temporary setback that would end at some point, rather than a chronic situation that would accompany me through life. And I was very, very grateful for Medicare, which processed more than $100,000 of medical bills, whittled the total down to $2,600, and left me owing just a few hundred bucks.
Finally, I was grateful for some valuable perspective about the minor nuisances that somehow command a huge portion of my attention, nuisances that disappeared from my awareness when something really serious took control. I was grateful for the opportunity to experience the pain and the discomfort that made me more aware and more pleased about the times when everything is fine.
It takes some work and a definite shift of perspectives to become truly grateful for the crap life can throw at you. Gratitude doesn’t make the bad things good or the hard times pleasant, but it does provide some added meaning to life, a bit of a payoff for the negative experiences. I’m just learning how to do it and the learning curve is far from smooth, but I’m finally starting to reap the benefits of my new education.
For which I am very, very grateful.
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Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.