Monday, December 30, 2013

Dear UPS

Oh, dear, you have had such a miserable Christmas. Logjam, fiasco, snafu—all these insults were heaped on you and your normally reliable service. You joined the ranks of people making empty promises; "if you want delivery by Christmas, you can have delivery by Christmas." It didn't work out that way, did it? All those people who waited until the last possible moment to buy gifts for their nearest and dearest were apoplectic because their gifts did not arrive before Christmas. Yes, I know you hired 70,000 extra people to help out and chartered extra planes. The packages just did not make it from the warehouses to the planes in time. I believe it was not altogether your fault, and businesses made idle promises on-line with an eye to their profits and not to your logistics. (Couldn't resist bringing up your advertising pitch. I actually preferred the brown one better.)

I had a slightly different experience. I purchased a book from Amazon with no expectation of receiving it by Christmas. I thought it would arrive the day after and your helpful e-mails tracked it for me. So on Thursday I looked out on to my porch, and there on the bench outside the front door was a brown box. The box, however, looked a little flat and floppy and on closer inspection, it was empty. The flaps at both ends were hanging out and it should have been obvious to the delivery person that there was a problem. There were two possibilities—either the book had fallen out in the truck or someone had crept up on to my porch and stolen the contents of the box. If it was the latter case, there was going to be an awfully disappointed thief that night. That is unless he was very interested in the decipherment of Linear B and wanted the latest theory on the work of Michael Ventris.

Your customer service e-mail didn't seemed to be working, so I tried pushing the button which indicated you would phone me—and you did, two seconds later. I suspect you hired extra people to deal with all the complaints you expected, the chief qualification being someone who sounded maternal and helpful. When I told this lovely woman who sounded like Paula Deen that I had a problem, she replied, "We can't have that now honey, can we?" and within seconds another book was on its way. (Maybe it was Paula Deen. I think she lost her cooking gig.) And look what arrived today!

Thank you, UPS, my faith is restored.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Words I Vow I Will Never Write

Let's go back a year—Christmas 2012. We received some wonderful letters, hand written, full of news and information about the senders, often friends of many decades. Ernie and I had put together a newsletter to send to friends with an outline of what we had done during the year and a few representative photos. Well, not really representative. Our grown kids wondered why some people seemed to appear twice, others not at all. But that's a different story.

I added notes to the newsletter—"I'll write a longer letter after Christmas", "Long letter and photos to follow"—and even apologetic words like, "I know I owe you a longer letter and you will get it soon." In many cases, knowing my habit of procrastination, I didn't exactly say it, but I meant it, looking forward to spending the snowy months of January, February and March sitting by a fire, catching up with all the things I wanted to say to friends of days gone by.

But I didn't. I really don't know why, but I didn't. Writing comes easily to me, so that is not an excuse. Looking back at the early days of this blog, I realize I wrote much more frequently in 2005, 2006 etc. Can't explain it.

This year the cards are arriving and giving me much pleasure. They are fewer than before and sadly events like illness and death explain that situation. I am getting out this year's newsletter and valiantly avoiding the dread words of promise. I vow, though, that I will keep an unspoken promise.

And while we are at it, a word to those people (and I fear we are often included) who part at functions, etc, saying, "We'll have to have you over for dinner." Don't say it, do it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Ethics of Everyday Life.

We live right on the border of Detroit. In spite of the fears of friends and relations (I even had a friend call me from England the day that Detroit declared bankruptcy to find out if I was OK) the immediate problems of Detroit affect us little. Except—the harbingers of bankruptcy are lack of decent lighting and paucity of public transport.

The bus which comes from Downtown Detroit as far as Grosse Pointe turns round at the end of our street and makes its way back in accordance with some kind of irregular schedule. There may be a time table, but I don't think the buses keep to it. Sometimes we drive along the route and see people waiting for the bus—when we know there was not even a bus waiting to come. Old people, young people, black people, white people, frequently women with babies and children waiting in the blazing heat of summer or the cold of winter. Today it is 25 (-4) degrees. The further in to Detroit, the fewer the working street lights, and sometimes people are waiting in the dark.

The voice of reason tells me to harden my heart and drive right on by. We have all read enough newspaper accounts to convince us that the results of picking up unknown people can be fatal. Those stories are not mere urban legends. But there is enough Good Samaritan in me to make driving by a guilt ridden decision.

I was explaining my feelings one day to my daughters who practically exploded and told me to promise never to let my pity overcome my good sense. And they are quite right.

Or are they?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Close Encounters

This week we received a letter from our nephew and godson Patrick. What a treat to be the recipient of a letter from a member of a generation not known for its writing skills. I have written before about Patrick and the help he still gives to his Peace Corps host family in South Africa. His letter contained family news, but he had much to say about Nelson Mandela. How I loved this paragraph:

I once almost had a "chance encounter with him (Mandela) but my love of food intervened. I had just gotten my yearly physical in 1998 in Pretoria at Peace Corps Headquarters. I was waiting for a friend to arrive when boredom overtook me—well, what do I do when I'm bored? I eat. So I took a walk, had some "Bobotie (editor can't read this) " and returned 30 minutes later. The security guard says, "Patrick, where have you been? The others got to meet Nelson Mandela!" Turns out Mandela made a surprise visit at the Hospital down the street to visit some sick childen, and the Peace Corps got wind of it!"

This got us to talking and trying to answer the question , "Have you ever met anyone famous?" I thought the answer was obvious and said that in 1962 I had visited some fancy place (the Albert Hall?) and received my B.A. from the Queen Mother. I curtsied. But in my mind's eye I envisaged a gracious old personage, looking like the Queen Mother before she died. Not the way she looked in 1962. Queen Mary? No, she died in 1952. Did I imagine the whole thing? Maybe.

Which leaves us with a question. Who was the most famous person you ever met?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Memories Are Made of This

On Thursday NBC aired a three-hour live broadcast of "The Sound of Music". Carrie Underwood (who seemed quite the favorite of Simon Cowell when she appeared on American Idol) played the role of Maria, sending shockwaves through an entire community of Julie Andrews' fans. Not surprising that a number of critics, my daughters included, did not think much of her or the production in general. I quite enjoyed it, in part because I was just a little tired of Julie Andrews. Good, yes, but in need of a refresh.  My restless brain, or what passes for one, went back maybe sixty years to the Billy Cotton Band Show, a radio program we always listened to after Sunday lunch. It was a kind of cockney Lawrence Welk show, always introduced by Billy's trademark call of "Wakey wakey!" You can get a taste of the experience in this clip. I wonder how many other people remember his Sunday show? I also remember he frequently had a trio of guests, always introduced as Ted and Barbara Andrews and their little daughter Julie. Perhaps if I spent more time I could unearth this on YouTube. I did, however, find a duet starring Ted and Julie. She was 13 at the time, just the age of a newer singing sensation, Jackie Evancho.

Now my brain moves laterally to a pro-duction of this musical in which I was more intimately involved. The St. Ambrose Community Players' production in 1979. I was stage manager and my daughter Kate played Brigitta in half the performances. I truly believe this was a phenomenal theatre group. We had a gifted director who undertook several productions and the actors were members of the church with varying degrees of skill—but loads of enthusiasm.  We did allow the occasional outsider—we got our Maria from outside the parish—and in this production the Mother Superior came to us from a neighboring parish and one of our most tuneful nuns was jewish. I had never stage managed before and the whole job was harder because we moved from our little wooden hall to a real theatre with curtains and flies and what have you. But we did it . . . and a lot of fun it was.

My brain flits around, doesn't it? But if NBC wants to do a production of Oklahoma next year, I can teach them a lot about making costumes on the cheap.