Saturday, January 21, 2006

Antidote to a relaxed Saturday: your cell-phone company

Monday to Friday is déjà vu all over again. The alarm goes off as does your temper. In a swift, yet sleepy reflex action, the hand reaches for the snooze button. After the second alarm, the hand actually moves the alarm button to the off position. You debate getting up. Dazzling images of warm sunny beaches with excitingly clothed gals, fun times with old friends and smiles all around flash before you and entice you to give your job the "bird" and chase your dream. 5 minutes later the practicality of ordinary life, the bills, the food, the deliverables, the occasional first date in the evening make an overwhelming case in favor of getting to work. You look at the clock, rub your eyes and look again. Curse the alarm for shutting up each time you put it off, and frantically work towards getting civilized. The same shower, the same tooth-brush and paste, the same razor and cologne, the same closet and clothes you swear you've seen in a life before.

The same drive to work. For me, occasionally (once every six months), I attract unwanted/ unsolicited attention from the law. Shouldn't there be a law against handing out tickets willy-nilly? (hey Pat Robertson: It ain't my fault, God wanted me to have a lead foot.). The same faces at work, similar deliverables, the same drive back or to a "safe" / common-ground restaurant for the date, the same TV shows / phone conversations / chat sessions / friends in the evening, similar dinner and the same bed (Wow... i make it sound tons more awful than it actually is. Maybe I do possess the gift of description... hmm... watch out Leo Tolstoy, here comes another Leo) (Note to self: this self examination during a monologue sounds a lot like Conan O' Brian. Yikes! Note to self: must put an end to this “Note to self” business)

So what's special about the weekend? Everything! The name itself: Weekend. The deja-vu ends. Maybe someone should've named it "Life resumes days". Anyways, I digress. Saturdays are the days you recover from the week's drudgery, or Friday night's binging. So maybe you prepare, if need be, for that first-weekend date in the evening, but you get up really late on a Saturday. It is supposed to be your day. No, not Sunday. Sunday is the day you get things in order for the déjà vu that’s coming for the next 5 days. On Sundays you ensure that you are doing things that were on your “things I’ll do over the weekend list” (which depending on what kind of person you are, is probably just simply adding to the list. But again, I digress).

The time-table for Saturday is simple. Wake up, if you feel like it. Once up, figure out what to do about lunch. Pancake Pantry, IHOPS, Sitar, Cuisine of India, or left over pizza. Lunch with friends or go it alone for a private lunch where you may muse and cogitate about Life, The Universe and Everything or about absolutely nothing at all. Maybe that phone-call you’ve been meaning to make for a while. Feet up on the table (depending on what the “house rules” are), juice by your side, sports on the screen, smile on your face. Or maybe, start on that home project you’ve been meaning to do all along: saw pieces of wood, clean the car, mend the stereo, and solder something new (hey, I’m still the protagonist here). Maybe go buy something you’ve wanted / needed / coveted for a while.

All that bliss, unless you have a cell-phone.

Well, at least till you happen to look at the bill. In my case, every-so-often, Sprint will decide that it needs to talk to me. So like that very insecure friend (we all know at least one), it creates a mini-crisis and must have me on the phone. Only perhaps I have to do most of the talking in this case, and it is my interests at stake.

In an ironic turn of events, “How can I help you today?” I’m asked. “Well, I have 3 issues that I need to talk about. Lets start with the $186 bill”, I say calmly while chanting “Measured intolerance, assertive tolerance” over and over in my head. After the common pleasantries of social security numbers, account passwords and difficult to pronounce names have been exchanged, I'm given the reason “sir that’s because you initiated this and this action on such and such date.”

Alright, so we are going to play the “but I was only doing what you said” routine. “Well, sure, but then I also called back and wanted the said change removed. And I was assured things are going to go back to the way they were.”

“When was that?” I’m asked politely. “On such and such date. And such and such store,” I respond. “Oh, that’s correct, Sir. Let me go ahead and make sure your account reflects this.”

Makes me feel special. Just hearing my voice sets things right over there. Wow! God must’ve spent time perfecting me, right? EEERRRRRNNN… WRONG.

I’m sure some bean counting bureaucrat figured out that if they screwed over a select bunch of people every so often, a certain percentage of people probably would be just too lazy to call back. Now if this cost percentage is simply greater than the amount required to handle the customer service call and set things right, they’ve earned themselves some moolah (or at least for a per month basis).

Net result: a rude shock once every month that sends your best Saturday down the drain by setting you in a combative, bellicose mind-frame. They do this over and over again, till they grow on you, and you look forward to speaking to “Holly from Houston” or “Dana from Detroit”, or “Shaniqua from Smithsville”, or “Palkha from Noida”.

And then one day, just like that, they get things right. And so now you are really screwed over. A perfect Saturday, heaven help! What am I going to do with this? You probably end up praying that they screw things over so you won’t be left with this problem. Your problem doesn’t last long. You just need to look at your cable bill. And then your prayers get answered as well. In a different month, of course. Déjà vu.

Friday, January 13, 2006

No good deed goes unpunished

If you know me, then you know that every so often, I get inspired to write to a few of my acquaintances (if you don’t, then humor me). And no, I’m not talking about firing off an email but actually putting pen on paper and expressing my thoughts in ink. Every time I do this, I marvel at how detached and unfamiliar my body seems to find this action. But I always enjoy it (and from what I gather, the recipients do too).

A few days ago, I was surprised to find amongst the plethora of junk mail, a solitary letter, with hand-printed words, addressed to yours truly. I instantly recognized the sender’s name, but couldn’t fathom the purpose. I opened the letter and was rudely challenged with writing that possessed the calligraphic qualities of impressionist art, chicken-scrawl and a top-secret cryptographic hieroglyph.

As I deciphered the message and cogitated on the intent I couldn’t help but smile. I was being subject to the same “shock and awe” I’ve been imposing on people for a while.

A few days later, I got the following email. The following thoughts, ideas, words and malapropisms (if any), henceforth referred to as “the Email”, are (to the best of my knowledge) the creation and property of Rahul M. Rao, (born Bombay, India) and henceforth referred to as “Author”. The Email may not be copied, reprinted, transmitted, quoted or reproduced, in any way, shape or form without the Author’s prior consent and express permission. The Email’s appearance here does not constitute a waiver of any rights on the Author’s behalf. These are presented below for educational purposes.

---Begin Email---
Technologically Endangered Art

Just another mundane day. The clock sauntered away accompanied by the pitter-patter of ever gentle rain rattling onto the meandering yet stagnant streets. The occasional car zoomed by, screeching loudly at the turn to disturb my focused silence, and accelerating away into wilderness. The snow from yesterday adorned the naked tree-tops. The stillness of the moment added triteness to the otherwise empty view. With nothing but my faithful window for company, I blankly stared at the world outside. Was there anything that could add fervour to the proceedings? Or would time slip up by into the unknown, burying with it yet another anonymous day?

An ordinary idle mind may be a devil's workshop; my boisterous mind is probably closer to a devil's playground. For the lack of anything better or worse to do, I decided to do undertake something almost unthinkable in this digital age of ones and zeroes. Armed with a sleek looking pen and a neatly ruled blank paper, I set out to revive the technologically endangered species, the art of letter writing and demonstrate that a stylus is indeed more potent than the qwerty.

To be honest, this courageous endevaor of mine was more out of gratitude, than out of solitude. A Good Samaritan geek friend of mine had walked on this less trodden path nearly 30 months ago. Way back in the good old days of 2003, he had written me an innocently casual letter. It took me nearly one year to recover from the shock of him having written me note. Having overcome that jolt, it took me nearly six grueling months to comprehend his hand-writing. And being completely overwhelmed and indebted by his magnanimous act, I had been toying with the idea of penning a reply to him. But my insatiable thirst for cyber-space junk had kept me occupied and incredibly busy ever since. Till today that is. After all, I could not return to my laptop and let another 'begging-to-be-written' letter be butchered by the hands of science.

"Dear kay-gee" I wrote. And paused. What next? How in the world does one start one of these? Does one inquire about the recipient's good health? Was it 'being in the best of spirits'? Or 'being in spiritual well-being'? Damn, it had been ages since I had written a letter. Why in the heavens was I putting myself through this? Wouldn't it be so much easier to fire him an email? Will I even be able to write him one page? 'Oh Satan, why are you doing this to me?' I howled.

Two hundred and sixty-seven seconds later, I continued. "Hope this letter of mine finds you in the pink of your health". With his best interests in mind, I thought it was imperative that I mention the root cause behind this struggle of mine. And I duly pointed out to him that he is to blame for this act of mine. He is the whole and sole reason for him having to decipher through the geometric non-conformism of my alphabets. If he couldnt help his handwriting, I couldnt help, but be hundred times worse. "As you sow, so you reap" I contemplated writing. To avoid any doubt, "No good deed goes unpunished" I wrote.

So far, so good. With considerable effort, I had managed to maintain my scribblings above the horizontal lines on the sheet. I shuddered at the hypothetical scenario of having to write on a completely blank paper with no guiding lines. Whoever thought of this brilliant line concept was a genius! Else writers like me could easily violate all laws of geometry and make two supposedly parallel sentences intersect. However, the disciplined control of pen was starting to have a profoundly painful ramification on the nerves in my hand that had begun to wail with pain. The hitherto unused muscles had started to complain of over-work. The knuckle on the thumb and the right index finger were whining about their forced restraint. The proximity to the pen and the absence of 'j' and 'space-bar' was suffocating them. Their peers from the left hand were disgusted at being reduced to holding a useless piece of scrap and growled about their apparent neglect and unfair discrimination towards the rightists. There was indeed no party at peace.

Turning a Nelson's eye towards these bemoaning, I stubbornly continued. The pen picked up pace, the words began to run, and lines started being swallowed. My thoughts extensively outraced the limited abilities of my hand, and reigning them in was an arduous task. And admittedly, the sentences were getting crooked, with the crests and troughs evident. Page 2 flowed. I rambled on about me, myself and rahul. Yes, I was getting my touch back. And that obdurate creature, inertia, was making it difficult for me to stop. The mind had taken complete control over the hand and body. Like a possessed soul inside a fanatic rampant bull that had been reunited with a red rag, I raged on. Page 3 and I was proud that yet another bastion had fallen to my valiant attempt. I was no longer at the mercy of inane and obtuse email or cell phones. There was an ecstatic feeling of being a master in the land of the pen and paper. Page 4, and having contemplated, attempted and succeeded in letter writing, I stopped.

That night as I tucked myself in, I felt incredibly potent and euphoric. I re-cherished those umpteen moments, when as a kid, I had written or received those pale blue letters or those creamy postcards. I relived the elation in receiving a note from my cousins, the thrill of finding a letter with rakhee from my sister, the exuberance of scribbling anything to my aunt. Incredibly simple pleasure lost in the technological voodoo of the digital age. The world had grown closer, but we had distanced ourselves from the joys of letter writing. And I mumbled the eleventh commandment, "Thou shall write at least one letter a year"!
--- End Email --