Friday, February 24, 2006

America: "The horror. The horror!"

--Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

We stopped driving last night after 2200 miles. We extended our trip by 500 miles to see the Grand Canyon. Kathleen, who had never seen it, said: "It was worth it."

Kenyon really perked up on the south rim of the canyon, trotting and sniffing despite his bad right front wheel. Although we nearly always carry plastic bags for his doo-doo, we were so weary that we left them behind. But Kenyon, whom we cleaned up after in Mexico and at cheap motels on the road, decided to donate two large steaming brown souvenirs, which he strategically deposited on the snow-patched, groomed dirt along the asphalt path. (Timing is everything, or as they say in real estate, "location, location, location.") As we'd already paid $20.00 for a two-hour visit, we left his little monuments, dwarfed by the Canyon, as mementos of his continuing recovery from PSTD, figuring our donation had covered the cost of his donations at $10 apiece, while regretting the aesthetic dissonance.

The experience of the Grand Canyon is beyond language. I can hardly whisper in its presence. Its vast, multi-colored, stratified, ancient, pyramid and temple-islanded expanse seemed to wash Mexico right out of my mind. You could throw LA and NY into its mile-deep well and they would hardly make an impact, just a little dust joined to the eons. Nature is more powerful than man, we remember on occasion, and will ultimately triumph over our brief interruption of its cataclysmic history. Anyone remember the Tsunami? How about Katrina?


Despite the temptation not to drive today, I did go on a couple of errands that required it. It's SoCal, so what can you do?

First I went to see my pain management doctor, who had lost 25 lbs. since last I saw her and couldn't stop talking, making me suspect she might have dipped into the stimulant jar for help.

Even I, as a practicing doctor, listened more than I talked. Any who know me will attest to what a miraculous discipline that implies for my garrulous nature, (later improved upon by falling in love with my deaf wife).

Our marriage has been called the "perfect match" by my immediate family because Kathleen's deafness can muzzle my bloviations. When her effort to match my lips to the noises in her hearing aid wilts under the attendant strain, I am forced to speak more telegraphic utterances in the hope of being 'heard' by her ('heard' being more symbolic than literal in this case).

So was my doctor on stimulants? I doubt it but who knows, since doctors' drug abuse averages 25 times that of the population, last I checked, through a combination of stress and easy access.

She did, however, fax her notes about to Principal Financial, the only disability insurance company I know that sends detectives from Iowa to deep Mexico to ask a doctor if I had actually seen him, only to afterwards dismiss him as "unqualified." Whether they network with Homeland Security is another question. I suspect large business interests have better intelligence about than the government does. Can you think of anything the Government does better besides print money?

Under constant surveillance by Principal I'm doing everything I can to get off disability. Some have suggested, for instance, that this blog might have commercial potential. Suggested is the key word. I've had no actual approaches by agents or promoters. So any who find entertainment in these humble offerings, enjoy. If there are any who actually know the writing business and would like to sign me, I recommend you first take a vacation, then see a shrink, and if you're still interested, well, write me when you're sober.

I am a wash-out at self promotion (see my previous blog about selling shares in my future celebrity). Mediocrity can be easily marketed while excellence is more difficult to sell, going as it does unrecognized by the great unwashed. Many of the best television commercials have never been aired because the corporate client feared something bold; this same culture brings you your next CD from
Sony Entertainment, guaranteed neither to inspire nor make you gag-- just the right music, demographically, to make a slight profit and be recycled in elevators. Quality? That's just a Britney Spears boob-job. And my does she look hefty since her pregnancy!

Back to my errands and the horror of incompetence, which I will quickly get to. I went 1) to visit to doctor; 2) to Costco to get brandy and fill the doctor's prescription (I never mix them, of course); and 3), to add credit to my Cingular cell phone and get it working again.

After dropping off the Rx at Costco (an angel of light for those lost in the darkness of no health insurance, much less medication re-imbursement), I had 40 minutes to drive to the nearest Cingular store, so I decided to tackle the phone issue while the Rx was being filled.

At a mall in La Mesa I walked into a nearby Cingular store and asked about adding time to my pay-as-you go cell phone I purchased from them a year ago for $119.99. They offered me a $49.99/mo. plan for 1500 minutes that would save me money, truly. I requested the plan. My credit passed with a 'C' rating.

After data was entered on my behalf, I said, "So I can just use this phone you sold me a year ago?"

The tall, shapely mulatto, her hair pulled back severely into an occipital bun, while some tufts of curly black dripped from her olive neck beneath her hair's tight sweep, said: "You can't have a new sim card if you don't leave with a phone."

"But I have a phone," I said, as the bubble of her butt rose from her chair like a helium-impregnated superball.

"You can't leave the store with a sim card without a phone," she said again.

Turning to her white, pimple-cheeked Survivor-hair lost goth wannabe underling and the forever-in-training endomorphic lackey whose ancestors were sold from what is now the poorest continent, she said: "That's right, isn't it?"

Her two thralls looked down and nodded, apparently afraid to stare at her butt, which I was able to do with the advantage of sunglasses, though being the alpha dog, I would have done it if I hadn't been wearing my Ray-Ban knock-offs. Her lackeys were but distant betas dreaming of her legs. Unashamedly I sized up her ass.

"You mean I have to buy a new phone," I said.

"You can't leave the store with a new sim card and no phone, that's policy, isn't it?" she demanded of her sychophantic retinue. They looked away.

"You mean I can't subscribe to this payment plan you've already approved unless I buy a new phone?"

The endomorphic young man with his pleasant, peace-making smile, offered: "If you sign up for two years we can give you the phone for $19.99."

"I don't want a new phone, and I don't want to sign up for two years," I emphatically said. Stupidly continuing, as if clerk-robots who have no idea of electromagnetic field theory could think outside the fuse box, I added: "Do you think that's a wise policy? I mean, to require a client already using your services to buy a new phone after you sold him a perfectly good one a year ago?"

I couldn't get the shapely supervisor to say I had to buy a new phone. She only repeated the programmed shibboleth of marketing and sales: "You can't leave the store with a new sim card unless you get a phone."

"Do you have a supervisor, or is there anyone I could talk to about this?" I said, without hope. Whereupon the white pizza-faced geek offered:

"You might be helped at a direct Cingular store. There aren't any in this mall."

"You mean there are other Cingular outlets at this mall?"

"Yes, three."

"God, you're worse than McDonald's."

"Not funny" their faces said.

Recovering, I asked, "Do you know where I can find one?"

"I don't know" said the bubble-butted supervisor with the dark curls hanging like pubic hair from her neck, hands on her hips (where both the kids wanted theirs). Pausing to see if he were allowed, Pizza Geek gave me directions to another mall with multiple Cingular stores, warning me only to go to the "direct" store.

I hit the freeway and found the mall, crowded per usual, although everyone moans about the economy up here. With all the late model cars and kids in designer jeans, it's hard to imagine what they mean. America in general gives the impression of immense prosperity to most of the world visiting here. Poor means a one-car family it would seem.

Keynes was right; borrow enough money to enjoy spending again and the economy cures itself.

I entered the new mall, another climate-controlled haven for the nature-challenged, and found the central heiroglyphics listing stores. I found three Cingular wireless stores, each with its own cryptic numerical designation. I located the closest store and could not find it until I discovered it was only an island kiosk in the the linoleum freeway.

I explained my problem to another descendent of the earliest humans, with a bad, diagonally striped tie leaking from a non-button down collar, blue on blue with a cheaper-than-Target feel, although he did wear a four carat what I presume to be cubic zirconium in his left ear lobe.

"No problem, he said." He took my information, promising me a monthly charge for minutes--but instead of the other store's $49.99/mo. for 1500 minutes, he could only offer 900 minutes for $59.99/mo. I quickly pointetd out that if I had gone for the previous Cingular deal, I would have gotten more minutes for the same price as the difference would have payed for the required new cell phone purchase.

Whereupon the not-as-shapely as the previous supervisor, a tall Latino, tattoos on her ankles, still very shapely (only rendered less so by the amazing figure of the first supervisor), called the previous store and told me they had approved an option no longer available.

Whereupon the blue diamond man tried to draw up my account using every ID known to the average American under constant surveillance. Alas, he couldn't pull up my previous account. He kept trying the same entry data and staring at the screen, dumbfounded that he couldn't find me in the system. (He didn't ask his supervisor for help.) The computer's failure to identify me completely paralyzed him. He entered the same data, with only minor variations, for ten minutes before I finally hit the "tilt" light in the pinball machine of my brain, and blurted out: "I have an appointment, I have to go."

I turned and walked away down the preternaturally sterile American shopping culture's plant-appended aisle, some plants being real, while he of the four carat zirconium earring stared with incomprehension at his computer.

Yes, I could have just bought a new pay-as-you-go card and begin charging expenses by credit card for ongoing phone costs.

But I was whipped by the dissonance between pretended service and technological incompetence. At least car salesman used to be able to raise the hood and say, "Look at this baby! 300 horsepower, 260 foot pounds of foot-torque."

Those days are gone. The ignorance of the average service employee for the buying public is nowadays accepted as the best we can do. God forbid we ask for excellence-- we hope they show up and don't smell too bad. Then most sheep don't make original requests as I did, or the repeated crashes attempted problem-solving might inflict on such employees might increase the cost of their psychiatric benefits. Benefits are, after all, over 50% of the cost of an employee nowadays.

I could have had the first deal if I bought an additional unneeded phone. The second deal offered me a free cell phone but worse rates, which I was willing to accept-- to put an end to it all. But the clerk with the amazing earring couldn't find me in the system and didn't think to suggest a new number.

What if his earring were real? Bigger than Jordan's? If that were true I was going to get myself to a kiosk. But I don't think he was making that kind of money.

Not trying to be curmudgeonly, just trying to re-introduce myself to a culture becoming more vacuous and incompetent each day, as human devolution before technology is making the average Joe exceedingly lazy and stupid.

The sins of countries are unique to countries. The great sin of America today is the downgrading of human capacity in order to accept a functioning drone driven by corporate manuals instructing him how to manage technologies he can't understand. Such workers are worse than phone solicitors (many of whom can think on their feet while sitting).

"Let us get down on our knees to thank God we are still on our feet," so the Irish pray in their bulls.

Tomorrow on to the two daughters in Long Beach. Already conflict has struck; daughter Keturah won't let stepmother Kathleen's guide dog into her apartment because "she hates dogs."

Kathleen responded by declaring that she would sleep in the van with her aching sciatica rather than leave Kenyon alone.

We really want a place to plant a garden and rest our old bones. We're heading for Ft. Bragg on the north California coast. Here's to marigolds and and tomatoes!

In Transitional Shock from American "Culture,"

C. E. Chaffin,

Professional Sufferer

1 comment:

  1. Ah yes, the dreaded culture shock. Who would have thunk that Americans can have problems coping with their own country.

    We had the same problem too. We came from Germany, and I was also sick. My husband found that ageism in employment was alive and well here. But, we are finally getting out of our depression... financially and physically. Welcome back.


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