Sep 28

Are you an optimist?  Do you like to look on the bright side?  Do you see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty?  Do you tend to tell friends who are going through hard times things like, “Don’t worry, things will get better,” or, “Smile, at least things can’t get any worse”?  I’m sorry, but things don’t always “get better,” and things can always “get worse.”  In fact, I recommend that if you are going through hard times, you should not only not expect things to get better… but plan on them getting worse!  I’m a pessimist, and I’m proud of it.

Being a pessimist isn’t always easy.  Sometimes, we too let a little bit of hope crowd its way into our daily lives.  However, once that hope is shattered by the lead bullet of reality (hollow-point-style), we are quickly reminded why we chose to be a pessimist in the first place.  That’s right, I wrote “chose”, because being a pessimist or an optimist is initially a choice.  Over the course of a lifetime, different experiences form our attitudes and opinions, and we can chose how to experience those… well… experiences.  My belief is that most of us start out pretty naturally optimistic.  Our parents take care of us.  We always have food in our tummies.  When we get a boo-boo, there is someone to kiss it.  Santa Claus is going to bring those presents.  The tooth fairy leaves some pocket change for our lost teeth. Our friends are going to be happy to see us after a summer apart when school starts in the fall.  When we make a mistake, an apology is all that it is going to take to make things all better again.  And then reality sets in.  Over the summer, maybe we put on a little weight and now have a belly (yes… I’m a fatty), or maybe we developed a case of acne.

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Rich as a kid...

Don't call me "pizza face"... that just makes me hungry for pizza!

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Our friends may still be happy to see us, but they are making fun of us as well.  The reunion with those friends we hadn’t seen over the summer isn’t as enjoyable as we had imagined it would be.  Or maybe we studied really hard for that final exam and believed we were going to ace it… and then we barely pass because the stupid teacher made it an essay test instead of multiple choice… and she didn’t care for the way we worded our answers… and our GPA plummeted.  Or maybe you ask that nice, pretty fellow-junior girl to the prom, and she tells you that she won’t go with you because she is expecting that tall, popular, good looking senior boy to ask her.  Or perhaps you apply for that dream job only to be told that you aren’t as outgoing as the person needed to fill the position… and that stupid optimism leads to more hurt and pain than necessary if we had just been more realistic in our expectations.  We slowly learn that pessimism is synonymous with avoiding pain.

My belief is that people who have more positive experiences in life tend to be more optimistic.  For people whom life isn’t quite as “fair”, pessimism is the road more often chosen.  There are those who would argue that optimists attract more positivity because of their optimism, but I would disagree.  I believe an optimist is more optimistic because, through physical appearance, family wealth, station in life, or plain and simple luck, they tend to have more positive experiences.  Of course this is not all inclusive, nor is it, in my strange little belief system, a steadfast rule.  There are people who have a picture-perfect life who tend to be pretty negative, and there are people whom life has completely screwed who are able to keep their chins up… but these are the exceptions and not the rules.    However, as a basic, general rule, I believe I am right.

It always kills me when the pretty person who comes from the upper-middle class family says stuff like, “If you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything,” or, “I don’t understand negative people…”  Of course you don’t understand negative people!  It’s easy to have sky-high self-esteem when the masses in general find you attractive and you and your family aren’t worrying about how they are going to pay for your college.  The world population in general treats people it finds attractive different than it treats the rest of us.  Don’t believe me?  A middle-aged, overweight woman in a muumuu is broken down on the side of the road.

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Pessimist

Please, won't someone help me? My belly has fallen and it can't get up!

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Along that same stretch of road, a twenty-something of better-than-average appearance wearing short-shorts is broken down as well.

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Optimist

Do you really think she is going to have any trouble getting free roadside assistance?

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Who do you think is going have more offers of help from passersby (and I’m guessing that this would be consistently higher for both men and women stopping).   Which one of these stranded ladies do you think tends to be more optimist… and rightfully so.  Nobody said that life was going to be fair… but it seems to be less unfair when you’re good looking (or so it seems from a relatively unattractive person’s viewpoint).

Let’s move on to success.  Who do you think is going to have a better shot at a career in sales: an attractive gentleman who has a aura of financial success

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Dude

Buy from me... because I obviously make a lot of money doing this.

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… or the poor, ugly schmoe who, based on appearances, you would be afraid to leave your small children in a room alone with.

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Perv

Hey... I got some candy in my left-front pocket. Why don't you reach in there and grab yourself a little piece!

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Which of these gentlemen do you believe would be more optimistic?  Of course it’s the rich-looking dude… that’s how life works.  This is why the wealthy constantly find themselves on the cover of the local newspaper.  There are articles about how this rich person is doing this, and that rich person is doing that.  One local rich guy is going to be on TV on the Speed channel because he is rich and has fancy cars.  Do you think this guy is more of an optimist or pessimist?  I, on the other hand, am not rich (well, I am “Rich”… I’m just not “rich”… stupid name).  I’ve never been on the cover of the local newspaper, even though I did write a relatively funny article about technology one time.  I work relatively hard and have what I consider to be a strong work ethic.  In my 42-years of life, I have never once called in sick to a job.  I’d have to be puking my guts out with a brain-searing fever to consider calling in sick.  Luckily, I don’t get sick very often.  When I do get sick, I have never felt that I was sick enough to not be of some value to my employer.  Want to know what my years of working through my mild illnesses has garnered me?  Absolutely NOTHING… except boiling my blood pressure whenever I have to take-up the slack of someone who has called in sick.  And the pessimism simmers below the surface all the while… eroding my hope and will into the darkest abyss.

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Dark Abyss

Don't know what this exactly has to do with the "darkest abyss," I just love this picture. Goth stuff is cool...

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Pessimism is a defense mechanism.  Like I stated earlier, we all pretty much start out as optimists.  It’s only after (usually) years of unmet expectations and irreconcilable defeats that we develop our pessimism.  When you expect a positive outcome, and that outcome is negative instead of positive, it hurts.  A few of these defeats are natural and build character… or something psychobabblish like that.  After a few, the pain involved with the disappointment of failure becomes more powerful than any character-building gains you may receive.  We begin to expect the worst.  In most situations, the pessimist is the voice of restraint (or, as I like to think of it, “reason”); the one who has thought-out all of the possible negative outcomes to any given process or procedure.  The pessimist isn’t prone to “dream”, because “dreams” in the past have meant painful disappointment.  To refrain from hope is to avoid the torture interwoven with that hope’s demise.  And guess what… every once in awhile, things don’t turn out as poorly as we expected they would… and that is a gracious surprise!  Like around 17-years ago when I asked my wife to marry me.  Do you think I had any hope that she would say yes?  Of course not!  I expected a resounding “NO WAY”, and then I would have been free to get on with my miserable life.  However, she surprised me by saying “yes” and it was a pleasant surprise indeed.  If I had actually been expecting it and she had said yes, it wouldn’t have been a surprise, nor would it have meant as much.  So, by avoiding the optimistic risk-taking that so often ends in failure and despair, we actually glean a gleam of happiness when our negativity is proven wrong.  It is better to be wrong and happy about being wrong than it is to be wrong amongst the shattered remains of a precious dream.  Pessimists don’t dream much.

The problem with being a pessimist is that we don’t dream much.  Sometimes, in order to find some sort of value in this life, we need to dream.  Often, after decades of having giving-up on all dreams, the pessimist forgets how to dream.  This isn’t necessarily bad, since dreams so often lead to disappointment.  However, at times, the pessimist may find that a dream is something he or she may want to work towards making come true.  We used to have the choice to be optimistic or pessimistic in any given situation.  After so much time passing with pessimism working so well for us, we forget how to be positive.  We forget how to believe in ourselves or others.  We still have a choice, but we have forgotten how or lost the tools necessary to follow a dream with a positive attitude.  We can’t see the glass as half-full.  We don’t really even see it as half-empty anymore.  Now, we believe that because the glass isn’t full to the brim, it’s not even worth drinking… and through our stubbornness we run the risk of dehydration.  The choice is still there, but the pain that used to be experienced by being an optimist has reached legendary proportions in our memories, and it is a very difficult choice to make.  So, we usually continue along in our pessimistic ways with the occasional happy surprise of being wrong.  And we hate optimists.

We are all equal in the eyes of God, and He loves us all equally as His children.  Sometimes, I’m sure, He has to wonder what exactly we are thinking when we do stupid stuff, but He still loves us.

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Jesus has a sense of humor
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However, in the eyes of man, the pretty people with the money rule and find themselves with the self-confidence necessary to be optimistic on a day-to-day basis… which leads to less misery in this realm.  I wish I had been born with good looks and money, but I’m afraid I posses neither.  My only hope for a touch of optimism while here on earth is the coming zombie apocalypse.  My hope is that when the zombies attack, they will go for the rich, pretty people first.  It’s only fair that those who have had people falling all over them because of their looks and wealth in this life also have the brain-starved zombies falling all over them during the apocalypse.

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Die, optimist!

Die, optimist... DIE!

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Then again… nobody said life was fair…

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Sep 21

I am subscribed to receive Seth Godin’s blog posts via email.  For those not in the know, Seth is one of the most respected marketing gurus alive and kicking today.  He is the founder of Squidoo, a best-selling author, a sought-after speaker, beautifully bald, and he gives out a plethora of free, useful marketing (and life) philosophy every day via his blog.

Seth seldom promotes himself or his products via his blog.  Occasionally, he will plug a new book he has written or provide a link to where tickets can be purchased to his latest training/speaking/learning/brainstorming session (which are always out of my price-range… unless I could talk the wife into taking out a second mortgage on our home).  I’ve never monetarily supported Seth Godin, but a friend gave me a copy of one of his books (Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?) and it was worth the read.  Seth predicts a future work world that is quickly coming to fruition (it really is pretty much already here); a world where just doing what you’ve been trained to do (work hard and do what you’re told) does not lead to any sort of success.  Of course, the “new” success means you have to go outside of your comfort zone and become indispensable in the world in some way, shape or manner… so I know there ain’t no success in my future.  Also, Seth preaches that one should do his or her “art” to be fulfilled and become indispensable, and he claims that you can find “art” in working a job… so I have some basic philosophical differences with Mr. Godin.  Of course, Mr. Godin is well respected, has thousands of followers, and is independently wealthy.  I get no respect, write a blog that my dad and a couple of friends read, and scrape by.  Whose outlook you want to subscribe to is up to you.

So anyway, I don’t feel the need to support Seth Godin.  He does pretty well without my help.  When he blogs about his latest book or seminar, I just chuckle to myself and delete that email.  I likes me the free advice.

Today, I get an email with Seth’s newest post.  It’s about his newest book, We Are All Weird, and I was about to send this little sucker right to my deleted items folder when I noticed a couple of phrases:

“limited number in stock”

“no plans to reprint”

Hold the phone… back that station wagon up, Betty Lou!  Did I just read, “Limited edition book by a best-selling author that may some day be worth MILLIONS of dollars”?  Seth sells millions of books, and he is only actually printing 11,000 copies of this one.  So I’m immediately IMing my wife to see if we can squeeze about $17 out of our budget, and she says we can.  So, before you can say “sucker”, I’ve secured one of the 11,000 copies of Seth’s newest book.

Seth is also of the belief that paper books will become a thing of the past.  He is most likely correct.   The release of this newest book has unlimited availability in it’s digital format.  Is Seth Godin trying to hasten the decline of the paper book?  I believe he is.

I don’t read digital books.  I don’t believe in digital books.  I believe that digital books will continue to trend for the next several years… until the zombie apocalypse!  How are you going to charge your Kindle when there isn’t any electricity, Joe Bob?  How are you going to get to that PDF when you can’t turn your computer on, Sally Sue?  There will be millions of copies of books on digital storage devices that will be completely useless without power of some sort.  Meanwhile, I’ll have my library of paper books that I can read at my leisure in between foraging for food and beheading zombies.   Hahaha… take that, Kindle freak!  Besides, there is nothing in the world like spending an afternoon browsing a book store; it may be the most relaxing experience on the planet.  Plus, books smell good… you know, that dead tree and glue smell.

Seth is obviously smart.  Many of his followers (or “Tribe”, as he refers to them), I’m sure, subscribe to his opinion that digital is better.  Those people will buy the Kindle edition of his new book and be completely happy.  I, on the other hand, would have never purchased this book in its digital format.  I would have not purchased this book if I knew that I could check out a copy at the local library a few months from now if the desire struck me.  Throw “limited availability” out there, and all of a sudden I’m interested.  Make it seem like this is my only chance to own this bad boy in a format I would read, and suddenly I’m forking over 17 bucks for it.

I’m a sucker.  I’m sure the book will be great.  I’m sure it will be chock-full of great insight and advice (which I will probably never apply to my life).  Maybe I’ll even review the book on this blog once I finish it.  I am feeling, however, a little used… a little taken advantage of.  Maybe it’s just a touch of buyer’s remorse.  Or maybe it’s the fact that a master of the art of marketing just went fishing… and the taste of blood and metal from the hook and lead from the sinker is still fresh in my mouth.

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Sep 13

So about six months ago, I go to our Quick Care clinic to get a referral for a sleep study.  I leave the appointment with the referral… and a brand-spanking new prescription for blood pressure medication.  Stinking people looking out for my health.  Anyway, so I had a six-month prescription, and that prescription was about to run out, so I figured that I better go see a real doctor about my blood pressure.

Now, when I went to Quick Care, my blood pressure was like 170/130.  I’ve been tracking it ever since, and although there are times when it spikes in the 160/110 range (which is pretty much any time I get pissed off… which, as you can imagine, is almost daily), it’s usually in the 140s/90s.  Still high, but better, no?

I make an appointment with an actual real doctor (figure I’m about at the age where I need a family physician).  The appointment comes, I go to see the doctor, and my stupid blood pressure is still high.  It’s 148/98.  So, the doctor wants to double the dosage of the lisinopril that I’m on, and I’m fine with that.  Aside from a constant nagging cough, I don’t really suffer any side-effects.  Then the doctor tells me that he wants to check my cholesterol.  Crap.  I have no doubt that my cholesterol is high, and I’m sure that I’m going to have to fork out money for a prescription for that crap every month too.  The nurse sticks a needle in my arm and draws a couple of vials of blood.  I’m amazed at how dark the blood is… almost black… and I’m thinking to myself that may be part of my problem.  With all of the tons of fat that I have eaten in my 41-years of life (’cause, damn it, it tastes good), the crap has actually morphed into actual oil in my system.  Of course my blood pressure is going to be high with Pennzoil 10w30 running through my veins, and I’m way past the 3 month/3000 mile mark.  Can’t I just get a stinking oil change and a lube job?.

I heard from the doctor’s office today.  Low and behold, I have high cholesterol.  SURPRISE!  They called in a prescription for some statin-thingie to Walgreens, and as of tomorrow, I’ll be medicated for my condition.  Possible side effects are muscle cramps, drowsiness, and liver damage.  They recommend taking it before bed so that the side effects are less noticeable.  The drowsiness thing happening while I’m sleeping makes sense.  However, being awoken in the middle of the night with a charlie horse doesn’t sound very pleasant, and I’m sure my wife would agree with me on that.  As far as the liver damage part goes, I’m kind of hoping to avoid that.  I guess if I have liver failure or something, having that happen while I’m asleep might be a plus?!?

Why is everything that tastes good bad for you (and if someone tries to tell me that steamed broccoli or broiled fish “tastes good”… I may punch him or her in the lying, filthy little mouth)?  “Everything in moderation,” you may say, but I would reply that moderation sucks.  Stupid common sense.  If I’m stuck in the Craphandle of Nebraska with nothing to do and no real future worth caring about, I want to be able to eat what I want when I want.  Eating is one of the very few pleasures I have… and now it just happens to be killing me.

AARGH!

Apparently, high cholesterol makes one very pirate-like?

With the history of high blood pressure and heart disease that infests my family tree, I figured all of this was coming.  I just hoped that maybe I was going to be the branch that could remain healthy.  I’m telling you, optimism in all shapes, colors and sizes, leads to nothing but disappointment, which is why I usually do such a wonderful job of avoiding it.

Okay, so here’s the Catch-22.   The potential side effects of the statin-thingie don’t sound very pleasant.  So, I figure I need to lose about 20 to 30 pounds and start eating gross crap, which doesn’t sound very fun.  Then, when I’m all sickly skinny and eating leaves and twigs, there is still a chance that I will need to remain on cholesterol medication.  Stupid genetics.  So, do I just let the doctor medicate the hell out of me and potentially destroy my liver (a problem that may never come to be… look at me, the stinking optimist) while I continue to enjoy one of the few simple pleasures I have in life: eating good food?  Or, do I give up one of the few simple pleasures that I can experience in the Craphandle of Nebraska in an effort to extend my life so that I can potentially live out an extended life in the Craphandle of Nebraska with no simple pleasures?  And even if I give up the simple pleasure, there is still the chance that I will need to remain on the liver-destroying medication, so I may actually give up the simple pleasure and still die of liver failure.  Sounds pretty much like a lose-lose-lose situation to me.  There… now I’m sounding a little more like the pessimist that I know and dislike an awful lot of the time.

So, now I have a doctor.  He wants to see me again after about 30 days on the current medications to measure my progress.  I should be proud of myself for taking some responsibility for my health and trying to be there for my family’s future, right?  But all I can think about is how I’m 41… and it is just going to be a matter of time before Mr. Dr. is going to be thinking that he needs to be sticking his finger up my butt.  Seriously… if I’m falling apart this much in my 40s, what bright, shiny stars can I expect in my 50s… and beyond?  Well, with the Dr. seemingly intent on destroying my liver, I may not have to worry about it at all…

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Sep 10

If you were to judge this post based on the title, you’re probably thinking this is going to be me ranting about some crappy service I received from some crappy company that I need to vent about.  Wrong.  I am feeling the need to rant about crappy jobs in customer service, of which I have held my fair share.

You hear “business gurus” lament constantly about how poor customer service can destroy a company.  I do not disagree.  The gurus preach of the importance of customer service skills for every employee who could potentially come in any sort of contact with a customer or potential customer.  Amen!  The gurus don’t seem to understand why so many companies can’t provide quality customer service.  I think I can help answer this question with one word: money.

Oh, I know, money isn’t everything; job satisfaction isn’t reliant on money alone; there are numerous ways to motivate employees other than with money; blah… blah… blah.  The people who come up with these unrealistic views of the importance of money in employment have listened to the gurus for far too long!  Money is the reason that most people go to work every morning.  If you don’t believe me, think of it this way: if you won the lottery and would never have to work again for financial reasons, would you go to your current job every day and do it for free?  If you would, you are either a very lucky person who has found your calling and are able to utilize your inherent gifts and talents in a satisfying manner or… you’re an idiot.

So, back to customer service.  I am going to use my recent employment experience with an unnamed cellular telephone company for demonstrative purposes.  The unnamed cellular telephone company was Alltel.

For anyone who has ever had to wait in line at  a cell phone store to have an issue resolved, I feel for you.  For anyone who has had to wait in line at a cell phone store to have an issue resolved and then took out your frustration on the person who finally waits on you… go pound sand!  You have a problem; you would like that problem fixed; you’re mad because you’ve been in line for 45 minutes or so; so you yell at or cop an attitude with the person who you expect is going to fix your problem… seriously?!?  Remember, this person who you are yelling at has probably already had half-a-dozen other nincompoops yell at him or her and your yelling is getting pretty close to the straw that is going to break the camel’s back.  Do you want help or not?  If so, please remain calm and speak the way you would like to be spoken to.  If getting your problem resolved is not the true reason for your 45 minute wait in line and you really just want to yell at someone and make a donkey-butt out of yourself by causing a big scene to prove to everyone within a 4-block radius of the retail store exactly mad you really are… keep yelling, sap-sucker, ’cause when you finally finish your little tirade, you are most likely going to be told that your problem is unsolvable: “So sorry, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to GO POUND SAND!”  And it’s not that your problem is really unsolvable… it’s just that  you have  caused such a commotion and made such an… uh, to put it in acceptable English/slang/cockney format… “arse” out of yourself that you are beyond help.  If your problem is actually fixed, a precedent is being set that people who throw a temper tantrum and behave like an arse get their way just to shut them up… and that is a precedent that is not going to be set.  Why, you may ask, is that precedent not going to be set?  Why will the squeaky wheel not get the grease?  What is going through the head of the customer service representative at that crucial moment when he or she makes that uber-important decision not to help you resolve your problem?  I can tell you in one succinct sentence exactly what is going through the mind of that representative: THEY DON”T PAY ME ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH THIS.  And Mr. and Ms. business guru, all of a sudden monetary reward is important to get people to perform in menial jobs!

“Well, if current employees won’t get the job done, fire them and hire people who will!”

While I put in my time at Alltel, the turnover rate was over 30%.  What that meant was that for every 10 people hired, more than 3 people quit… and this was at a time when Alltel was striving for aggressive growth!  Finding someone who is willing to deal with belligerent customers all day (and actually not making any real money unless selling to said belligerent customers) takes more than $8 to $12 dollars per hour, especially when the rules that are put in place to actually take care of a ripped-off customer are ignored by all levels of management from store management to regional management… and rules that actually benefit the customer are few and far between!  Let’s look at an example from my personal portfolio of the crappy-life files:

A friend was having trouble with his cell phone.  I had recently quit Alltel, but I was still the “go to” guy for friends’ and family’s cell phone questions.  The friend had trouble with his cell phone ever since he first got it.  He was on his third replacement phone (“replacement phones”, by the way, are often refurbished pieces of crap… as are “insurance” phones).  His original new phone and three refurbished phones all froze up.  He was about a two-weeks past his original one-year warranty, but he had received his last replacement less than a month previously.

I wasn’t a vast clearinghouse of knowledge for every rule and regulation of Alltel while I worked there.  However, I did know every policy and procedure that was beneficial to our customers as far as receiving a POS phone (and there were a lot of POS phones) and what extents could be gone to in an effort to make a pissed-off customer happy.  I explained to my friend that, although he was past the original one-year warranty on the phone, each replacement phone (exchange by mail phone, or XBM) came with it’s own warranty above and beyond the original manufacturers’ warranty.   It has been over three years since I worked at Alltel, so I don’t remember if that warranty was 30, 60 or 90 days, but I remember that my friend’s was well within the XBM warranty period.  I told him that, at the very least, he should be able to get another POS XBM phone.  However, since he and had been through three replacements, there was a “lemon policy” that the store manager could apply which would result in a brand-spanking new replacement phone of like value.  I told him to go to his local store, to be “nice”, not cause a big stink, and ask politely for the manager if the customer service rep wouldn’t help him. I stressed the “be nice.”

Well, he called me a couple of days later and told me that no one there was willing to help him.  The rep and manager who helped her both said that I didn’t know what I was talking about.  They told him that the XBM phones had no warranty of their own and since he was past his original warranty, he was out of luck.  Pretty much, he got a big, “Sorry, sucks to be you!”

I was furious!  I was ready to get on the phone with that stupid manager and give her a piece of my mind… and then I was going to call the district manager and let him know what had happened!  Then, in a flashback,  remembered what it was like to work at Alltel.

“Did you remain calm and stay nice?” I asked.

“Well… I started out nice.”

“That’s not what I asked,” I said.  “Did you remain calm and nice throughout the conversation?”

“Well… no… but they weren’t willing to help me!”

“Did you yell?” I asked.

“A little.”

“Did you personally attack the person helping you?” I asked.

“Well… she was being a bitch!”

Now, I know that this friend can be a little demanding as a customer.  He is the sort of person who will hold up a line at Walmart for 15 minutes arguing about a 25 cent perceived difference in the advertised price and the price that rings up at the register… even when he is wrong.

“Yeah, maybe I was wrong about that XBM policy thing,” I concluded.  I was not wrong.

When I worked at Alltel, I never screwed a customer just because they treated me like crap, and employees who did abuse their “power” really pissed me off.  However, I can think back to what it was like to be treated like complete garbage by an abusive customer.  It wasn’t fun… and I tend to blame most of my current stress-issues on the two years I spent at Alltel.  Every time I deal with just about any stranger in just about any potentially confrontational situation, I am braced for the worst… which is stressful.  I couldn’t handle it, so I quit (and remain scarred from the experience).  For those who can stick it out… if they need to screw-over the occasional asshole just to keep their sanity (and keep working there), more power to ’em.

By being the guy who always did everything in his power to take care of the customer, I developed a reputation as being the guy to go to if you had a problem.  People would wait an extra half-hour in line just to see me with their problems, which was fine.  The problem I had, with the Alltel gig being commission-based, was that those same people weren’t nearly as willing to wait for me when it came to making an actual commission-earning purchase… they went to the first available rep… and those were the straws that finally shattered the spine of the hump-backed mammal… because the money wasn’t there.  The district manager told me, when I informed him that I was quitting, that if I just stuck around for four or five more years, I would start to see that loyalty from the problem-solving start to turn into sales.  I told him that I would be dead of a heart attack before I would ever reap those benefits.

And you know what’s strange?  I really think that if the money had been significantly better, I wouldn’t have minded dealing with the crap quite as much.  It’s harder to get stressed about a situation when they actually are paying you enough to deal with it.

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Sep 02

I’m a happily married dude.  I am about to embark on, most-likely, a once in a lifetime adventure with my family: a cruise to the Bahamas.  However, when I discovered that almost a third of the guests on Royal Caribbean’s  Majesty of the Sea were attendees of some sort of fraternity leadership conference that Royal Caribbean was happily ($$$) hosting, the wind in my sails diminished just a little.  Even though I’m happily married, I am not dead.  I had some preconceived notions of what the view around the pool on that cruise ship was going to look like.

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the Dream

This is not what frat boys look like.

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My “notions” were quickly replaced by reality.

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the Reality

This... I'm afraid... is what frat boys look like.

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Yeah.  Disappointing, to say the least.  Anywho, now I can try to focus on actually enjoying the family time, right?

The ship is amazing.  It’s like 14-stories tall, and it travels across the ocean; this in and of itself is utterly amazing to me.  There are two formal dining halls, a buffet, a pizza place, a deli, and a burger joint.  Everything except the burger joint is included in the cost of the cruise (you have to pay an entrance fee of like $5 to get into Johnny Rockets).  There was a full-fledged casino, two or three lounges, an awesome weight room with a spectacular view of the ocean (which I promised myself I would use… but never did), a teen hang-out area, a little kid hang-out area, two small swimming pools (constantly full of frat boys), two hot tubs (constantly full of frat boys), a basketball court, a climbing wall, a ping-pong table, and the Chorus Line theater which had nightly live entertainment.  The center of the ship was kind of like a mall, with various stores selling various expensive items: a Caribou Coffee, a jewelry store, a liquor store, a gift shop and the like.  Each day, in the area between the stores, they were selling different garbage that looked expensive and was ridiculously inexpensive.  The wife and youngest son each got a watch for like $10 each, and they looked like they were worth much more.  We’ll see how long they actually last :)  Needless to say, the ship itself was pretty cool.  Our room, on the other hand, not so much.

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Stateroom

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Standard rooms on a cruise ship are extremely small.  I cannot stress enough how small these stinking rooms are.  It’s a good thing you pretty much just sleep in the rooms, because, in a family of four, someone would end up dead if you had to spend too much time together in those stinking rooms.

So, we check in on the ship and go through a “muster drill”.

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Muster Drill

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A muster drill is where they make everyone get outside by the lifeboats and tell you what to do to avoid dying if the ship starts to sink.  Great!  Now that we are all now terrified, let the fun begin.

We spent the first night at sea and just enjoyed the boat and tried to avoid the drunk, potty-mouthed frat boys.  Man, when the frats were sober, they were bearable, but once they got liquored-up, we pretty much had to walk with our hands over our sons’ ears to block the f-bombs.  Thanks, Royal Caribbean!  Thanks for not warning us our cruise was going to be a floating college party full of frat boys with no chicas for them to concentrate their alcohol-fueled, testosterone-driven horn-doggedness on.  I actually overheard a frat boy talking to a girl who appeared to be about 16-years-old, and he was trying to talk her into going to one of the lounges with him.  She kept shaking her head, looking around for someone to rescue her, and I heard him say, “I keep forgetting you’re under age.”  Man, that girl’s parents (as well as almost every parent with a daughter on that cruise) had to be loving Royal Caribbean for that week.

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Really?
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The next day, we ported in the Nassau.  Pretty cool, if you could look past the poverty that was prevalent everywhere.  We got off the ship and were immediately accosted by numerous people trying to get us to take a taxi or go on a tour or buy stupid toy turtles.  One old guy even asked me if I needed something to smoke, and when I told him I didn’t, he got pissed and stormed off.  We walked around the streets of Nassau.  Me loving people the way I do quickly grew tired of the people constantly in our faces, and we returned to the ship after a short time.

Later that afternoon, we went on a snorkeling tour.  We got on a boat and left the port area to an area where we could check out the corral.  We boated past a lot of really nice houses and the tour guide dropped a few names while cruising past these mansions.  Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan had houses there, along with a bunch of other people whose names I don’t remember.  Can’t imagine owning a mansion of such incredible grandeur surrounded by such intense poverty.  Nothing like rubbing it in the face of the locals, huh?

The snorkeling was kind of lame.  On the way, they warned us that people had seen lion fish in the area we were going to, and lion fish are apparently quite poisonous.  Coolest thing about snorkeling was that I actually found a lion fish.

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Lion Fish

This isn't the actual fish we saw, but it looked almost exactly like this.

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I got both of my boys and the wife to see it before one of the tour divers discovered it and scared it away.  Bastard!

That was pretty much the day in Nassau.  The next day, we relaxed on the beaches of Royal Caribbean’s private island, Coco Cay.  This was, by far, the most relaxing day of our adventure.

Swimming in the ocean…

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Swimming at Coco Cay

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… playing with the conch…

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Good Eating

These ugly suckers are surprisingly good eating

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…tearing it up at the water park

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Ocean Fun

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… avoiding the killer seagulls…

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Killer Seagulls of Coco Cay

These suckers will attack a hot dog like their lives depend on it

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… or hanging out in the hammocks…

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Dream Hammock

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…oops, I forgot… stinking frat boys…

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Reality Hammock

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Overall, a very good day.  Then, back to the boat for a relaxing evening and lots of eating.

The next day, we ported in Key West, FL.  Can you say “tourist trap?”  Of course you can. I really felt for all of the foreign (non-US) guests on the Majesty of the Sea when we ported in Key West.  Every single one of them had to take part of their day to go through US Immigration, whether they were getting off the boat in Key West or not.  The immigration officers apparently set-up shop in the theater and the lines were horrendous of families waiting for immigration’s approval.  I imagine those vacationers wasted hours of the last day of the cruise waiting for US Immigration to check them out.  Honest to God, it’s no wonder why so much of the rest of the world hates the United States.  Sometimes, our laws are just retarded.  I really thought it was cool how there were different people from all over the world on this cruise and, except for the frat boys, we all got along just splendidly… up until “Homeland Security” kicked in and the US made sure there wasn’t someone vacationing from Japan or France setting off a dirty bomb in Key West (or someone who has just spent thousands of dollars on a vacation trying to sneak into the country… if they can make that kind of money, they have brains and a good work ethic… let ’em in!) by making every man, woman and child go through an immigration checkpoint.  I didn’t feel safe, I felt embarrassed for our country.  Why not allow these people to enjoy the last day of their vacation and check them out after the cruise in Miami?  I didn’t have to go through immigration in the Bahamas… and I could of been planning to buy some crack from that dude who wanted to know if I needed a “smoke”… or something!!!

Anyway, back to the non-crappy part of the Key West visit.  We did a little sight seeing

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ahhh... art

Nothing says "art" like naked chicks... and NO, that's not me lying on my back looking up. He's part of the "art"... and my wife wouldn't let me lie beside him...

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… did a little shopping…

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Key West

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… ate some conch fritters…

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Conch Fritters... yummy

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… enjoyed frozen chocolate-covered Key Lime pie on a stick…

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good stuff

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and overall had a touristerrific, sunshiny day!

Then, back on the ship for the last time.  We had a wonderful evening of eating lots of food and swimming with the frat boys… and then eating some more.  I crap you not, I gained 10# on that stinking cruise!

When we woke up the next morning, we were in Miami.  Up and at ’em and off the ship.  We spent an entire day at Miami International Airport (’cause we had to watch our luggage… we could have “checked” it at this storage place, but they want to rape you and kill your first born as payment for that, so we said “screw it, airports are fun”).  We discovered that Miami isn’t too exciting when experienced from the airport, so airports aren’t really that fun.  Didn’t even get to see Tubbs, let alone Crockett :(

Finally, a turbulent flight back to Denver, a late-night hotel stop on the way home, and finally back to the Craphandle.  And then, back to work with another year until the next real vacation.

Crap man… I just realized how much I miss my ΣAE buddies…

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Sep 01

Have you ever dreamed of the perfect vacation?  Have you thought about it for years and years, and then made the decision that you were going to make it happen?  Well, the wife and I did just that: we planned for, saved for, and made happen our dream vacation.  We went on a cruise to the Bahamas.

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Bahamas

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Yippee-ki-yeah!

First off, I have to give a big shout-out to the wife.  She is the one who squirreled away money (tax refunds, Christmas bonuses, a little extra cash-flow every month, etc) to make our dream become a reality.   I want it to be known that the time I had with my wife and two sons was much more enjoyable than I am about to make it appear.  In fact, given the opportunity, I would remain with my wife and sons on that stinking cruise ship with the stupid frat boys until the day I die (if given the choice), and I would be one of the happiest dudes alive… until I died on the cruise ship, and then I would be one of the happiest dudes… uh… dead, I guess.

The wife and I planned on going on a cruise for our 15th anniversary.  It was going to be a really special treat, and we had been looking forward to it for years.  The problems that led to us not being able to make that happen were like the perfect storm of CRAP that transpired in the few years leading up to the 15th year of our ultimate declaration of love.  We had started a little business together, built it up to a level of creating a decent profit,  and had recently sold that business to a clueless chick who ended up declaring bankruptcy and screwing us out of a lot of money. At that point, we should have declared bankruptcy ourselves, but decided to take the higher road and repay all of the debt we owed.  Some “sage” at some point in time made me believe that repaying your debts will benefit you in the long run.  Yeah… I’m still waiting to reap the benefits of that stupid little piece of advice.   Shortly after being screwed in the candy business, the economy took a major tank; and shortly after that, reductions in pay (as opposed to raises) were the trend of the day.  Some of the employers had the balls to call it what it was (a reduction in pay), while others called it a “pay restructuring” or a “new compensation plan” and made you read Who Moved My Cheese.

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Who Moved My Cheese

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Needless to say, the 15th anniversary cruise was suddenly a pipe-dream.

Shortly before the 15th anniversary, we had started to save for the dream.  When we realized that it wasn’t going to happen at the 15-year mark, we decided to prolong it a couple of years and make it a full-family-free-for-all.  In other words, we were going to take our sons.  Much less romantic, absolutely NO hanky-panky,  more full of farts and body odor, and multitudes of inappropriate comments at the absolutely most inappropriate times.

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Chubbies

Mommy, is that big lady in the bathing suit pregnant, or is she just fat?

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Sounded like a relatively fair trade to me.  Don’t get me wrong… I likes me that there hanky-panky… but I likes me thems there farts too…

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Fart:)
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… theys makes me giggle… and giggling is good for the soul :)

So, we have it all planned to go on a cruise to the Bahamas.  We decide on Royal Caribbean, and we were ready to set sail on the Majesty of the Sea.

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Majesty of the Sea

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MS Pool / Day

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MS Pool / Night

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Sounds pretty cool, right?  Sure does.  Of course, we have to get on the ship in Miami, and we live hundreds and hundreds of miles from Miami.  So, we have to fly.

I hate flying!

I hate the fear of having no control of anything while soaring at 30,000 feet above the earth (or, as I like to think of it, about a 40 second nightmarish fall to a certain, messy, instant death).  My palms get clammy and my stomach doesn’t feel too swell just thinking about it.  I also hate getting to the point of being able to get on the stinking plane,  You know, the whole TSA nightmare.

“But they are just keeping us safe!” says the nincompoop who likes the TSA.

“Flying is a privilege, not a right,” says the government advocate.

I’m gonna call BS on both of those statements.  They are not keeping us safe by patting down small children and old ladies.  They are not keeping us safe by subjecting us to radiation.  They are not keeping us safe by making me put all of the liquids I need in 3 oz bottles and limiting them to a 1 quart bag.  This is all retarded.  This is all “shock and awe” in an attempt to make us think that they are really keeping us safe… and, in the meantime, they are stepping all over our civil liberties.  But it’s all in the name of “stopping terrorism,” so the vast majority of us just let it slide. And when there are armed National Guard in front of Walmart making sure we aren’t trying to bomb super centers, that will be all right too.  And when they start reading our mail and listening in on our phone conversations in the name of national security, we’ll be fine with that as well.  And when the civil unrest finally starts, those involved in the unrest will be hauled off to “camps” to protect the rest of the population from the “extremists.”

Rant much?  Why yes, thank you, I do.  Anywho, I hate the TSA.  They are just people doing a job, right?  Yeah, so are the buttmunchs who send you unsolicited spam, and the jerkwads who call you at 7:30 on a Saturday morning trying to get you to buy their auto insurance.  Personally, I’d rather flip burgers at McDonald’s than help implement the military state and invade citizens’ civil liberties… but hey, that’s just me.

So, we get to the airport in Denver, check our bags, take off half of our clothes, get radiated, and make it through security.  We get on the plane, and we fly to Miami.  Well, we fly to over Miami, and then we circle over Miami for like an hour because of some storms.  Then we fly to Ft. Lauderdale because we’re low on fuel.  Then we sit in the plane on the tarmac for like an hour getting refueled and waiting for the okay to fly back to Miami.  Then we fly back to Miami and land.  My least favorite parts of flying, other than the turbulence and the extreme heights and the small seats in “business class” and the fat-assed flight attendants who bump my shoulder every time they walk down the narrow aisle (I thought flight attendants had to be petite… now they’re all fat or dudes and most definitely like banging into passengers) and the narrow aisles and the small restrooms and the long lines to the small restrooms and trying to pee in turbulence… the parts I hate the most are taking off and landing.  Taking off and landing are where most accidents occur.  Well, on the trip to Miami, what was supposed to be a 4-hour non-stop flight from DIA to MIA turned into an almost 7-hour ordeal with two take-offs and two landings.  We really got some bang for our buck on that stupid flight.  So, instead of having an afternoon to check out Miami, we went straight to the hotel, grabbed some supper, and got ready for bed.

The next morning, after feasting on the hotel’s all you can eat breakfast buffet (just the beginning of us gorging ourselves), we take a cab out to the port.  Going through the boarding process is quite a bit less intimidating than the airport security, but still kind of sucks.  Finally, we get on the boat and are ready to really start enjoying our vacation… when I notice them.

Dudes… young dudes… rich-looking young dudes… everywhere.  Preppy guys looking like their ready to get their drink on.  What the…?!?  And they all have Greek letters on their shirts.  Frat boys… seriously… everywhere!  Most of them appear to be ΣAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon), although there are some something-with-a-Deltas there, and a something-Kappa-something or two as well.  EVERYWHERE!!!  It’s nothing personal against young gentlemen in fraternities, God love ’em.  I just have a very strong aversion to guys who are almost guaranteed success because they have rich daddies and like looking down on those not in their group.  I had to deal with frat boys when I went to college, and I didn’t much care for them then… and now, almost 20 years later, my dream vacation is in jeopardy of being tainted by an extremely large ship FULL of them…

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Frat Boys

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… and not a sorority girl in sight :(  It was shaping up to be a long week.

to be continued

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