Tales of the Office: Jackass Bosses I Survived!

Administrative Professionals don’t need flowers. They need respect and a raise!

Every time I find myself sliding into “Retirement Guilt Phenomenon”, I remind myself not just of the forty-four years I worked full-time, but, even more importantly, the incredible number of truly awful supervisors I endured.

Their names are legend. Actually, some of their names were Schuster, Tom, Lois, Gloria, and Evil Troll. (There were others, but these were the most memorable.)

And I, the lowliest of the low (and trust me on this one: in an office environment, there is hardly any lower life form than the formerly-known-as-secretary-now-called-Administrative-Assistant-same-shit-different-title) anyway, lowly little me survived them all to emerge, victorious, un-fired, and finally, safely and happily retired. (Here picture middle finger extended high into the air. Perhaps on both hands.)

For, let’s face it: some of these people—no, a lot of them—were genuine jackasses.

Schuster was the first one, and, no, I don’t recall his given name, because we lowly file clerks were not permitted to speaketh it aloud. He was addressed, always, as Mr. Schuster.

To be fair, the toxic environment in which Schuster operated contributed to his view of himself as sitting enthroned high upon Mt. Olympus while we mere worker bees scurried far below, just waiting for his thunderbolts to fall. This being in the early 1970s, conditions existed at

IMG_20220521_143240532_1
An iconic “Railroaders” coin bank.

“Railroaders” (the nickname with which we parodied the bank) that would now be unthinkable. Sexual harassment and promotion-by-office-affair were the norm, yet male and female employees were segregated into separate lunch lounges. Female employees were required to wear hideously ugly, uncomfortable polyester uniforms, because women could not be trusted to dress appropriately for business. (!) Resembling the office of Nine to Five infamy, it was a sadly real hell where Schuster reigned supreme, with we, his “girls” ensconced in a tiny back room, invisible to the public and even most of the other employees. Funnily enough, fifty years on, I can’t really recall the precise events that made me completely despise Schuster, but any person who supported and empowered such a revolting office environment deserved a whole lot worse than mere contempt.

Next came Tom. Promoted to first-time supervisor of a group of, yes, female secretaries and clerks, he solved every problem by creating worse problems. One coworker had the habit of taking overly-long breaks and lunch hours, while the other half-dozen of us adhered to the correct schedule. When confronted by our complaints regarding the unfairness of this situation, his solution was to institute a system of rolling breaks and lunch hours, so that we never knew from one day to the next what our schedule would be–thereby punishing all for the misbehavior of one. A wiser supervisor finally intervened, but the damage was done. After that, we all pretty much came and went as we pleased, Tom and schedules be damned.

Then there was Lois. Ah, the joys of working for a self-important, dictatorial, tyrannical, officious narcissist! This was one time in which difficult lessons (learned by careful management of a relative who suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder) came in handy. Extremely handy. Despite an occasional road-bump in which I upset Lois’s self-delusional little applecart, I survived several years under her autocratic rule, even emerging with a favorable employee rating. But it was a near thing, always. I did a bit of a happy dance when Lois moved on to greener pastures, there to devastate a fresh raft of hapless victims.

And how could I forget Gloria, the supervisor who always assumed that everything was my fault. I came within inches of being fired one day, saved only by the honesty of another employee, when the message regarding an important meeting requested information on the wrong topic.

Following the meeting, Gloria stormed back into the office like the proverbial fire-breathing dragon, furiously telling me to start packing my bags. Thankfully, the secretary who’d sent the message intervened, corroborating that I’d been given an incorrect request. Gloria, neither shamefaced nor apologetic, simply told me I was off the hook. But, neither then nor any of the other hundred times it happened during her tenure, did she express any regret for her immediate assumption that I was at fault.

Finally there came Evil Troll, the sexual harasser. The female sexual harasser who backed me (and other women) into corners to invade our body space and sometimes press her extremely large breasts up against us; who made constant sexual innuendos in work conversations…and got away with it. Because in the 1990s we knew the cards were stacked against us. We had children to support, jobs we had to keep. Decades later, I turned cartwheels and handsprings when the Me, Too movement evolved, recalling Evil Troll and everything she put me through until I escaped to another job.

Every office worker has tales like this, some (many) I’m sure, far, far worse. To them I say: I salute you. I know what you’re enduring. Stay strong, keep on, and emerge, eventually, the victor on the other side. Or, as the mock-Latin saying goes, Illegitimi non carborundum.

Happy Administrative Professionals Day! If you enjoyed this essay, you might also appreciate Administrative Professional (or, A Tale of Popularity). You can locate it by scrolling to the Archive files, below, from April 25, 2018.

What Just Happened?!

The wool isn’t pulled over our eyes only on April Fool’s day!

More years ago than I care to remember, I was working at an office in which one of my coworkers was a practical joker. Now, I have very little liking for or sympathy with practical jokes; I don’t find them amusing, but rather passive-aggressive. (“Oh, for heaven’s sake, it was just a joke! You need to stop overreacting!” these pranksters remark, putting the onus on their victims for feeling resentment at being humiliated or harmed.) In any case, this adult-but-childish woman pulled such a trick on me one afternoon.

I’d hauled a heavy box of files that required sorting over to a conference table. Yanking a chair out of my way, I settled the box on the table before sitting down. Unbeknownst to me, though, my coworker had walked up behind me and, just as I sat down, pulled the chair out from beneath me. I fell heavily to the floor, stunned and hurting from the fall, staring up at the ceiling and at her gleeful face. So dazed was I from the tumble that it took me several seconds to understand what had just happened.

I find that I remember that feeling—being dazed and shaken, wondering what the hell just happened—every time I’m taken advantage of by someone of my acquaintance. I admit it freely: I am easily bamboozled. Naïve. Fooled. Hoodwinked. I have a tendency to accept people at face value, rarely wondering if they are truly what they present themselves to be. Striving myself to be a caring, decent person, I make the erroneous assumption that most people are making a brave attempt to be that way also.

Stupid, I know. But I’ve spent a good portion of my life bumbling along in this state of naïve trust and so being the dupe of stronger, controlling personalities and covert narcissists. Coupled with my caretaker behavior, this is not a healthy character trait. Not in any way.

Oddly, though, it’s taken me years to sift through memories of events in my past and recognize that no, it wasn’t that I was being helpful or caring or supportive. I was being preyed upon, maneuvered, handled.

Some of my strongest memories in this regard circle about a person whom I thought of as a dear friend; let’s call her the Queen Bee. I met the QB through my association with a group she’d helped found, and we seemed to have much in common. Our friendship evolved rapidly. She seemed very interested in knowing more about me as a person, not just a group member. Her interest was balm to my neglected soul. Years after the friendship had come to a withering close, I would realize that her seeming interest was actually just an intelligence-gathering recon, so that she would have information about my behaviors and talents that could be used to manipulate me.

She did her job well, quickly determining that I had spent much of my life so starved for praise that I would do almost anything for the person who provided that honor. And so it was that I would find myself maneuvered, despite having too little time, into doing extensive prep work for upcoming meetings because, “You do it so much better than I do!” Having been admired for my abilities in learning new computer programs, I devoted hours at her behest learning to use an audio creation program in order to produce the CD she wanted for the group. (My efforts, though, went unacknowledged to the other group members.)

Each time I was manipulated by the QB, I would rise from the experience once more feeling that chair pulled from beneath me: dazed, a touch shaken, wondering what the hell just happened.

Now, years later, having stumbled upon an illuminating article about subtle manipulation techniques employed by covert narcissists, and seeing my name as victim practically written into every paragraph, I can finally categorize this and several other past unhealthy relationships. Becoming aware of my tendencies in this regard was a major step forward to overcoming these self-defeating behaviors. Nevertheless, ages after discovering my astounding “talent” for being manipulated, I still struggle against a tendency to trust and to acquiesce too easily.

Knowledge is power though, as the saying goes; recognizing that I am being controlled, although it happens all too often after the fact, at least does happen for me these days. I wish that I had gained this wisdom far earlier in my life. But, even garnered this late in the game, each step toward genuine understanding makes me a stronger, and prouder, woman.

It is never too late to become the person we were meant to be. It is never too late to grow.

If you liked this essay, you might also enjoy, “The Day the Vacuum Cleaner Rose Up to Smite Me”, published October 27, 2017, which you can locate by scrolling down to the Archives, below.

Feet of Clay

All of us are flawed.

The term ‘feet of clay’ is derived from a troubling dream experienced by the King Nebuchadnezzar, in which he saw an awe-inspiring statue. As recounted in the biblical book of Daniel, the statue’s head was made of gold, while its arms and chest were composed of silver. Its lower torso and thighs were composed of bronze and its calves of Iron. Finally, the feet of the statue were made of a mix of iron and clay. It was this clay that was the undoing of the statue, making it so unstable that, when struck by a stone, the entire sculpture collapsed, all its components fragmenting, until they were blown away like chaff on the wind.

The term feet of clay has come to mean a character flaw or personal weakness in those we consider to be giants among humankind; the great and the mighty; guides and mentors. But the simple truth is that all of us are flawed. We all have feet of clay.

The American author Ambrose Bierce, once defined a saint as “A dead sinner revised and edited”. And so are our heroines, our heroes, our leaders; all those supposedly superior beings. They are all “revised and edited”.

Winston Churchill brilliantly led Britain through World War II. But he openly despised Muslims. Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, was a slave owner, as was George Washington. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony partnered with white supremacists in their struggle to obtain the vote for women. Abraham Lincoln’s administration implemented appalling policies toward Native Americans. Both John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., had extramarital affairs. Mother Teresa’s Kalighat Home for the Dying provided little to no pain management or proper hygiene, so that people suffered needlessly—suffering which she praised.

Peel back the layers on the face of every acclaimed human being, and you will find the shocking reality lurking just beneath the fiction. Often, it is not very pretty; frequently, it is downright ugly.

They were, they are, just like you and me.

There are no saints. Yet saints we demand. We beg for an image, a template, which we can emulate, but then cast the pattern angrily aside when we discover that it is made of shreddable paper rather than polished silver. We forget that a pattern is just that—a design, an outline, an example—rather than a requisite. We fail to understand that we can emulate the best of what we see in others, while forgiving their flaws.

And we also do not live within their minds. Did Lincoln or Jefferson or Washington, in the privacy of their own thoughts, deplore the disparity of their publicly-stated views with their personal actions? Did each question his own motivation or bias and belief? How did JFK and MLK reconcile their high-flown aspirations with the infidelity that caused their spouses so much pain? If our guides and gurus had feet of clay, did they also have psyches cringing from their own contradictions? Did they suffer doubt, or confusion, or shame?

In most cases, we will never know. Rarely are we allowed a glimpse into the workings of another’s mind, and when we do achieve such observation, it is incomplete. Mother Teresa, for instance, never retracted any of her statements about the nobility suffering, or the behavior that led her treat the pain of cancer patients with nothing more than aspirin. Yet in her private diaries she expressed spiritual desolation and a complete disconnect from God. Did she ever link her own spiritual emptiness to her belief in the nobility of pain or her personal responsibility for unnecessary suffering?

Jesus, it is recorded, cleansed the Temple of the money changers: driving them out with a scourge, knocking over tables and kicking over chairs, shouting condemnation. His rage, I was always taught, was justified, because he was acting on behalf of virtue; driving out evil. Even in childhood, I laughed at that claim. I’d seen a lot of rage in my family, and I recognized it. However praise-worthy his motivations, he just got mad. Just plain angry and disgusted; simply raging mad.

He lost his temper.

He walked on feet of clay.

When he was done—when the sheep and oxen had stampeded out, the pigeons flown away—when the money-changers had fled, and their cash boxes been poured out—did he, his chest heaving, look around and say to himself, “I should have done this differently. This was inexcusable behavior. How can people trust me if I lose my temper this way? Will they ever forgive me?”

Those who recorded his history, if not forgiving him, did at least excuse Christ for his out of control behavior. Perhaps in that we can find our answer: If we cannot forgive our guides and mentors who have walked, just as we do, on feet of clay, we can at least acknowledge their humanity, and our common failings, and grant them our pardon and excuse.

Enjoyed this essay? Then you might also like “Tough Love for the Prodigal Son”, which you can locate in the Archives dated March 30, 2018.

My Dad Called the Japanese “Japs”

Just the way in which a name is said can be an insult.

Photo for ObituaryCropMy Dad, who died in 2021 at the age of 92, called the Japanese “Japs” to the end of his days, despite the fact that he never fought in WW II.  He was an adolescent and then a teenager throughout the war years, patriotically watching the newsreels and reading newspaper reports of the war.  But he never encountered battle with the Japanese.

Instead, Dad spent most of his adult lifetime working in the industrial fastener industry. Japanese manufacturers were often his industry’s strongest competitors.  I suspect that this fact had more bearing on his biased nomenclature than the actual events of WW II.

Later, following the events of 9/11, Dad despised all Muslims with the same loathing he had always bequeathed the Japanese.  I’d taken him to the zoo one Father’s Day when he was in his 80s, and, as we were leaving, we saw an American serviceman, in uniform, with his Muslim wife and children.  Dad simply glared.  “I don’t like seeing that,” he remarked to me, his words clipped and angry.  “I just don’t like seeing that.”

Knowing my Dad as I did, I was not surprised, although dismayed.  “For the love of heaven, Dad,” I protested, “not all Muslims are terrorists!”  But he shook off my words as a dog shakes off water.  To him, just as the Japanese would always be “Japs”, so all Muslims were terrorists and fanatics.

Yet despite the fact that his own brother fought during the Korean War, while Dad himself lived through the horror of Vietnam, watching the carnage on the nightly news (always fearful that my older brother would be drafted and seeing the sons of his friends and neighbors go off to fight and die in an undeclared war)–well, despite all of this, Dad never referred to Asian people using the horrendously insulting “gooks”.  I’m uncertain why this was.  Perhaps he just never encountered that derogatory  term.

Dad once forwarded me a video of a meeting in which a Muslim woman in the audience stood to ask the panelists a question about fighting the sick ideology of Muslim terrorists without harming the hundreds of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims worldwide.  The panelist who responded did so by making a number of very valid points about the innocent, peaceable people of Germany, Italy, Japan, and a half-dozen other countries, all of whom were led into wars they did not want and would never have begun, by a fanatic minority leadership.  The panelist’s points were compelling, but the manner in which she made her remarks was a discourteous rant.  Her voice grew more and more strident and agitated until she was nearly shouting.  Her fury was quite out of proportion to the reasonable question posed so courteously by the young Muslim woman. When I replied with this perspective on the video, my Dad chose not to respond.

But I find that it’s all too easy to dehumanize an entire group, a full spectrum of humanity, in order to justify evil behavior of our own.  All we need to do is label both the good and bad apples with an insulting sobriquet – to call them honkeys or the reviled N-word,  or redskins or spics,  kikes or Micks, Japs or gooks or Krauts.  We don’t really even need to come up with a nasty name; just the very way in which the word is said, spitting it out (“Jews!”) can be enough of an epithet.

So, no matter how much I loved my Dad, I continued gently suggesting the correct nomenclature — yes, even in public — when he spoke of  “the Japs”.  I mildly reminded him of the hundreds of peaceful and law-abiding Muslims who are not terrorists, and that an entire group of people cannot be defined by an ideologically sick few.

It’s unlikely that my remarks made any difference at all to my father’s worldview.  But I always felt better for having spoken.

Despite the way it might sound, I posted this essay to honor my Dad–my contrary, opinionated, self-proclaimed “mean old Wop” Dad–who would, had he lived, have turned 93 just a few weeks ago.  And if you appreciated this essay, you might also enjoy, “Same Argument, Different Decade”, from January 19. 

A Candle in the Darkness

On Monday, a much loved relative will be having the same surgery as I had, five years ago, when I wrote this blog post.  I am reprinting it for her.

A few days before I was to have surgery, a close friend asked me to confirm the time that my operation would be starting. She would, she explained, be lighting a candle for me at that moment, and sending me her prayers and love.

I’ve always found that the most terrible moment of any surgery is that short, frightening journey as one is wheeled down corridors into the operating room.   The unutterable sense of loneliness cannot be described to anyone who has not had this experience.  I liken it to the final journey of death.  Friends and family in the pre-op room have hugged and kissed one goodbye, and then one is completely alone, facing an unknown.  No matter how simple the surgery, everyone experiences that nagging dread that they might not awaken from the anesthetic.  Everyone wonders if hands, feet, arms, legs, fingers, toes, will all function afterwards, or be forever paralyzed.  Everyone is aware that sometimes, in surgery, things go wrong.

Only once, as I was being taken to surgery, did the orderly pushing the gurney seek to lighten my sense of trepidation. Had I ever had surgery before, she asked, and when I answered in the affirmative, she patted my shoulder and said, “But it’s always a little scary, isn’t it?”  There are no words to describe how comforting I found her empathetic remark.

Being wheeled to this most recent surgery, I received no such comforting question or concern. I was taken a short distance to the operating room and helped onto the table.  In a surgery just two months prior, a nurse had introduced me quickly to everyone in the operating room, giving me their first names and their function in the surgery, leaving me to wonder fearfully if there would be a quiz afterwards!  This time, however, there was only the quick press of the oxygen mask over my face and the staccato instructions of the anesthesiologist to, “Breathe!  Breathe deeply!”  (Of course, since I am horribly claustrophobic, just having the darned mask pressed onto my face made me do nothing but instinctively hold my breath in complete terror, followed by the rapid-fire, quick, short breaths of a full-blown panic attack.  Perhaps this is a reaction for which anesthesiologists should be schooled in their method of approach.)

But, despite my claustrophobia, my lonely distress and anxiety, the image of my friend’s candle, burning brightly for me, shone in my consciousness. I found myself focusing on it during that brief journey to the operating room.  The image calmed me, reassuring me that I was not truly alone; that the prayers and concern of others were surrounding me.  A memory swam up into my consciousness, a poem I had written years earlier, Just a Light Left Burning, and I found myself reciting the lines like a mantra as I was carried into the coma-like sleep of anesthesia:

Just a light left burning for me
in my window of darkest pain;
just safe harbor, refuge, retreat
sheltered sanctuary from rain.

Just a kind hand, steadying me
when I stumble a rocky path;
just a heart’s strong, balancing beat
when I settle my face at last

to the shoulder, stable and sure
of a long-cherished friend who shares
light embrace, encircling me
in the knowledge that one soul cares.

Weeks afterwards, my friend told me that the candle she lit had burned throughout my three-hour operation (which had, of course, begun later than actually scheduled). Despite guttering a few times, the candle had continued burning until a call from the phone tree assured her that I was out of surgery and doing well.

But, in my mind, that candle is still burning, guiding me through the darkness, lighting my path with the beacon of caring and friendship.

If you enjoyed this essay, you might also appreciate “Twenty Hours After Surgery”, which you can find by scrolling down this page to the Archives.  It was published May 15, 2018.  And, as always, if you liked this post, feel free to share it!

The Cat Who Wanted to Stay

If you don’t believe in animal communication, I don’t expect this essay to convince you.

In March of 2021, my sweet big tomcat fell ill unexpectedly.

Now, as any cat owner will tell you, a cat who barfs all over the carpet (the carpet exclusively; never the linoleum or vinyl. A cat will walk half a block to avoid throwing up on any easy-to-clean surface)—anyway, a cat who throws up is nothing extraordinary. Cats are barf machines. So when, early one Sunday morning, Puffy Socks refused his breakfast and vomited, I thought nothing of it. I rubbed some hairball medicine on his paw, earning as dirty a look as any cat owner can be awarded.

But he stopped eating, and, more frighteningly, stopped drinking.

I had encountered this sort of problem before. A nauseated cat will not eat or drink, but failure to stay hydrated can kill the animal quickly.

So I forced water into my poor sick little guy, dropper by dropperful. I tempted him with fresh, cold bottled water poured into a tumbler—don’t ask me why, but cats often prefer drinking from a tall tumbler rather than stooping to drink from a water dish. But Puff grew worse, and finally desperation found me packing him into his carrier at 4:30 in the morning and racing down the road to an emergency veterinary office.

Hundreds of dollars later, all I knew was that he was a very sick animal. He had been hydrated, given anti-nausea meds, prodded and poked and X-rayed. I learned only that Puff, once a feral, had suffered a broken leg at some point, and that he had only one functioning kidney—bad news for a cat who had stopped willingly drinking water.

More trips to my regular veterinary practice followed, with very little change in either his illness or a diagnosis. When I refused an unaffordable CT scan, the veterinarian—the one I didn’t like at the practice, since the vet I usually saw was off work—washed her hands of us. She warned me that Puff probably would not last the month, but refused to even prescribe pain meds, so that my poor little cat would at least not be miserable.

The next night, holding my sick pet cuddled on my shoulder, I stroked him and told him what I thought he needed to hear: “It’s okay if you want to go, sweetie. Mommy will miss you. But you don’t have to stay. You can go if you want to.”

And then came the moment which you may choose not to believe. For, as clearly as if he had spoken the words aloud into my ear, I heard him answer, “I want to stay.”

I could have doubted the reality of what I had just experienced. I could have told myself that I had experienced an auditory hallucination. But I did not. Instead, I took a deep, shuddering breath, hugged his little orange-furred self closer, and answered, “Okay, Big Boy. If that’s what you want, we’re going to do everything we can so you can stay with me.”

I won’t pretend that suddenly everything turned around; that Puff abruptly began to heal; that the despicable vet relented on his treatment; that we didn’t experience more episodes of terrible illness; that I didn’t rack up nearly $2,000 in bills, or make another rushed trip to an emergency office. But from that moment on, both my little cat and I were working toward a different goal: not to let him leave, easily, but to get him better.

A Reiki master for several years, I did not practice the art much, but I had never used it as regularly as I did now on my sick little cat. It didn’t seem to be making much difference, but…Reiki goes where it’s needed, my own Reiki Master Teacher had instructed me. So on Easter afternoon, driving home from my Dad’s house, I suddenly, urgently, knew that I must stop at the nearby pet store. I walked back to the cat food aisle, wondering if I could find a food that would not cause my little cat nausea.

And I did.

Within a few weeks, the cat whom I had been told would be gone in a month or less was recovering.

IMG_20210817_164546593_HDR

He ate without vomiting; gained some weight; began to sun himself and scratch evilly at my carpet once more. He was definitely not as robust and strong as he had once been, but he was no longer at death’s door.

Reiki goes where it’s needed. My little cat needed a food he could digest. I needed to find that food.

My preferred veterinarian returned to work and prescribed medications that I could keep on hand for any return bouts of Puff’s still-undiagnosed illness, warning me that it could recur at any time. I accepted that I might not have this sweet animal’s company for a long lifetime. But I knew now just how strong our bond was, and how much I would do to help him—and how much he wanted to be with me.

It’s been a year now since I was told that my big orange boy hadn’t long to live. It’s not all been smooth sailing, but he is still here; still eating his special food, still scratching my carpet, still cuddling on my shoulder to purr; still kissing the faces of favored friends.

The Cat Who Wanted to Stay is still part of my life. Every day I have with him is a gift. And for that I am unimaginably grateful.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Cat Who Thinks He is a Dog”, which you can locate in the Archives, below, dated June 15, 2018.

Customer Service, Act III

Small businesses, take note!

In January, my son-in-law (unvaccinated) and daughter (vaccinated and boosted) contracted Covid-19. Amazingly, I did not come down with the disease; neither did my three-year-old granddaughter. Which is how I, at the age of not-quite-68, came to be quarantined with said three-year-old granddaughter for nearly a week.

And remained sane. Both of us. Imagine that.

It wasn’t easy. At one point, my darling grandchild glared at me, remarking pointedly, “Too many sleepovers!” I agreed, especially as she was the only one actually getting any sleep. I haven’t yet figured out how a child that small could expand to fill two-thirds of a queen-size bed. Add my cats, and make that three-quarters. At one point, I slid right off to hit the floor—hard. Then came the evening that I found myself holding her close to apologize when I’d snapped at her. She’d burst into tears. “You’re making me sad,” she told me between sobs. I tried to comfort her, apologizing over and over; telling her that I was mean and grumpy and she didn’t deserve to be snarled at. “What can I do to make it better?” I asked, and she responded, “We could kiss,” suiting action to her words before hopping off my lap, happy as pie.

What kept the two of us from total nuclear meltdown was her fascination with her newest toys, a dollhouse and an antique babydoll crib inherited from her mother’s own childhood. These, along with a package of dollar shop surprises left on our doorstep by a thoughtful relative, prevented implosion.

Happily (or not, as you will see), days before quarantine descended upon us I’d ordered numerous accessories from various sellers for the dollhouse. A few of them arrived while we were in seclusion, adding new interest to her toy and staving off boredom. Others were due soon, I assured her.

Or were they? I watched my e-mail almost hourly, searching for a shipping notice that did not appear.

Now, in the era of online shopping, we’re all pretty familiar with shipping notifications. Notification in one to two days, superb service. Three days, good. Four days, average. Five to six days, a little slow. Seven to eight days, worrisome. Is the item out of stock? Nine to ten days… Hmmm. The shipper should really provide reassurance: “We value your business. We’ll ship your order soon”. Eleven to twelve days, well, the buyer almost certainly believes that they’re about to be billed for an item that will never arrive.

Day 10 rolled around. I emailed the supplier, a shop specializing in dollhouse accoutrements, explaining that I hadn’t received a shipping notice and asking simply, “Is there a problem?”

Receiving no response to my query, on Day 12 I emailed again, noting that I’d received neither a shipping notice nor a reply to my question. My card had already been charged, I said; my bill was due soon. If it happened that I did not receive the items, I would have to dispute the charge on my credit card bill.

That earned me a reply! The supplier canceled my order.

Dismayed and irritated, I responded that I hadn’t asked that my order be canceled; I just wanted to know when/if my items would ship! The reply I received sent my head spinning off my shoulders. Referring to one of my recent blog posts (Same Argument, Different Decade), which the supplier had apparently read after seeing the link below my signature on my querying email, the seller now quoted me, repeating, “Words have power”, and sniping that I should not threaten a credit dispute for unshipped merchandise.

Say what?! This woman had managed to read my blog post, yet could not be bothered to respond to my email. She took the time to peruse an 900-word essay, but couldn’t press “Reply” to send a 12-word email: “Sorry for the shipping delay. We value your business. Please be patient.” Then, to plop the cherry on the cake of dreadful customer service, she had the consummate gall to fling my own words back at me, blaming me for cancellation of the order that I had not asked to have canceled.

The seller closed her correspondence with a hypocritical, “Have a blessed day.”

While it’s unlikely she genuinely intended those four final words, my grandchild and I were, nevertheless, blessed, as several friends located and sent us (from other sellers) almost every accessory from the canceled order. And though the items did not arrive in time to alleviate the stress and sadness of a three-year-old child quarantined from her parents, they came with the most important factor: love.

Only a few days later, I had reason to compare this customer service debacle to another failed purchase. I’d ordered a hard-to-find metal polish, which shipped quickly, but didn’t arrive. When I queried the supplier, I received a prompt, shamefaced and abject apology: He’d sent my product to the address of another customer. As a small seller needing the business, he told me, he’d like to replace my order, but the polish wasn’t in stock; he could not promise timely replacement. Would I like a refund?

Within two days, my money had been refunded. Although I was dismayed to not receive the product, I was pleased with the seller’s honesty and businesslike conduct. When the polish is available again, I’ll probably choose his small business when I place my order.

That’s how true customer service is done, les enfants.

Little dollhouse companies in a big Western state, take note!

If you enjoyed this post, there are several others you might like. Same Argument, Different Decade just appeared on January 19. Customer Service, or Not is from March 10, 2018, and We Look Forward to Your Apology was published April 14, 2021. All can be located using the Archives, below. Oh, and do be sure to send me a question through the Comments if you would like to know which dollhouse shop to NOT make a purchase from!

Crinkles

This all came to mind when I dropped my cell phone into the bathwater.

I am old enough that I can recall a time when drugs that are today either banned or at least strongly regulated were sold over the counter. As a child, I clearly remember my parents dispensing paregoric (a type of opium) mixed with kaolin clay to treat diarrhea—one of the more horrific tastes one can experience in a lifetime, I assure you. It was almost better to endure the diarrhea. The cough mixture we kids were given was a sugary syrup compounded with cherry bark extract, alcohol, and codeine. (That was absolutely delicious, by the way.) I know modern parents will shudder upon reading about these treatments. I shuddered myself as a young parent, treating my child’s illnesses while recalling what I’d been given. Nevertheless, the mixtures were once common; everyone used them.

But while I clearly recall the taste and texture of the medicines, I also have a faint memory of the bottles from which they were dispensed—bottles that did not have, as those today do, labels adhering to the plastic (or what would then have been glass). No, those old bottles had paper labels attached to the bottle with just a dot of glue here and there on the front and back. But the most significant feature of those old-fashioned labels was that the sides of the paper were crinkled. Corrugated folds and creases marched up and down the edges of the labels where one grasped the bottle. And these crinkles served a purpose—a dual purpose, actually. If one picked up the bottle in darkness, feeling creases beneath one’s fingers alerted the user to the fact that the contents were poisonous. Take too much paregoric, or too large a dose of codeine, and sickness, if not death, would be the result. The corrugated sides also served a second practical function; they provided a grip. It was much harder to drop the bottle and spill a dangerous substance if the label provided a firm grasp.

This all came to mind the other day when I dropped my cell phone into my little granddaughter’s bathwater. Oh, SHIT! I retrieved it quickly enough that no damage was done, yet it struck me immediately that, had the sides of the case been wavy, there would have been far less chance of this accident. Like those old poison bottle labels, a few crinkles could have averted disaster. That led me to think about the bath scrubby that was so often the bane of my existence as I tried, and failed, to find the little ribbon to hang it up after using it. That stupid little ribbon was always the same color as the nylon net scrubby itself, and, standing there, cold, naked and with dripping hair pouring water into my eyes, I could never find the darned thing. Often after fighting and failing to locate the ribbon, I just furiously tossed the scrubby down into the tub rather than hanging it up to dry. If the stupid ribbon had just been a contrasting or darker color, I could have located it immediately and hung the thing up properly.

Extrapolating from this, I considered how many times I’d dropped the blasted shampoo or conditioner or bodywash bottles because the sides, slippery with water and product, were impossible to hold. The bottles slid right through my fingers and crashed to the bottom of the tub, usually on my toes, and usually when the bottle was still mostly full and heavy. Oww-Oww-Ouch! Extremely bad words deleted, ouch! Just a few wavy crinkles would have solved the problem and saved my cringing feet from yet another onslaught.

Ditto the olive oil bottles. I don’t even want to think about the 2018 Olive Oil Disaster on the Freshly Mopped Floor. I was cleaning up that mess for days and days and DAYS. Not to mention what I found when I did the annual “stop pretending like you don’t know it’s there and pull that bottom drawer out from beneath the oven” cleaning.

Contemplating all this, though, it struck me to wonder why we tend to think of every idea, every concept, from previous generations as “old fashioned” notions that can have absolutely no modern relevance. I’m certain contemporary manufacturers, who spend a fortune on designing products for eye appeal, would never even consider a bottle that did not have a sleek, up-to-date appearance. Not for them a papery label with corrugated sides to provide a grip and alert one that the contents could, if misused, be dangerous. How unattractive a bottle, meant to be used in a wet environment, with wavy indentations that made it easy to hold. How ugly to string a black ribbon on the pale pink scrubby so that it would be easy to spot. How foolish to make a sleek cell phone with ridged and grooved grips.

How old-fashioned.

How sensible.

We could all just use a few more crinkles.

Liked this essay? Then you might also enjoy ” ‘New and Improved’ Just Isn’t”, which you can locate in the Archives, below, from March 25, 2020.

Acknowledgement and Thanks

People deserve to be thanked.

I wrote the thank-you notes following the funerals of each of my parents. In Mom’s case, I wrote them knowing that my Dad would almost certainly fail to do so, and that, even if he did, his handwriting was so execrable that no one would have been able to read them, anyway. But writing letters of appreciation for flowers and contributions was just one more small responsibility I could take from his bowed shoulders.

Eleven years later, on a rainy December afternoon, I wrote similar courteous messages to those who sent contributions and flowers in Dad’s memory. Penning the notes carefully in my clearest handwriting, trying over and over to achieve a slightly different manner of saying the same thing, I attempted to express that the cards, the flowers, the contributions, someone’s presence—all were appreciated. They helped. They proved to us that Dad was loved, thought of well; that his life meant something; that he would be missed. For two and a half hours I wrote; addressing and stamping and sealing envelopes, and finally delivering them to the post office. I found the action healing. It put a period to the long sentence of my Dad’s failing health, and to the difficulties and resentments one experiences as a caretaker, and that had been such a shock to my consciousness.

But that afternoon also made me think: think of the times that I, and others, had not received either acknowledgement or thanks in similar situations. I recalled one funeral in particular, that of Cathy, who had been a member of my “Monday Night Group”, a discussion and meditation forum that I’ve attended for years. I wrote a bit about Cathy’s passing in an earlier blog post (Cathy’s Roses, July 24, 2018). Her death in a car accident was shocking, devastating all of us who knew her. Cathy, who was energetic and dynamic, riding her bike everywhere. Cathy, who in her 70s had hooted off to Nepal one summer and provided massage therapy to a Sherpa’s wife; who trotted off to Mexico to have extensive dental work done on the cheap. Cathy, who said, “If you stop moving, you’re dead”—and then ended up on life support after the accident, life support that was discontinued when there was no hope. Cathy, lively, vigorous, and often tactless, who took in waifs and strays and gave them a place to live. It seemed impossible that she was gone.

Her family arranged a memorial service outdoors in a park on a stiflingly hot day in July, and many of us from the group attended. There, hearing from them about the time that she had planted 6,000 trees in a single season to help the environment, we of the Monday night group discovered the perfect way to memorialize our companion: we anted up funds to have several trees planted in her memory in a National Forest. Meanwhile, I personally, speaking with Cathy’s daughter, mentioned an incident that had occurred following her mother’s passing—a surprising occurrence that, her daughter agreed, could only have been her mother’s spirit, reaching out. I explained that I planned to memorialize her mother in a blog post, and promised to send her a hard copy once it was published. I also promised to send her Cathy’s Talking Stick—a branch, decorated with charms representing the deceased, that would be passed from person to person as we group members spoke a few words about her in our private memorial ceremony. The post soon appeared on this blog, and I duly sent Cathy’s daughter the promised copy; her mother’s Talking Stick was dispatched to her, also.

Months later, though, all of us, comparing notes, realized that no one had received any thanks. The group’s gift of trees in Cathy’s memory went unacknowledged; I’d received no response at all to the article in her mother’s remembrance, or the Talking Stick.

Sighing, we all agreed that receiving recognition was not why we had made the effort. We’d given our time and money and actions to honor Cathy, not to be thanked.

But now, having for the second time spent an afternoon writing appreciatively to those who acknowledged the life and passing of a parent, I believe that outlook is wrong. Granted, those who have lost a loved one (and, after two years of Covid, they number in the hundreds of thousands, and we are all, every one of us, weary of loss) are often numb, in shock, and painfully unable to fulfill societal expectations of courtesy and etiquette. Nevertheless, as I found, making such an effort is, in the end, healing. It benefits the one expressing thanks even more than the recipient. And, given that people grieve differently, while it need not be done immediately following the passing of a loved one, it does, after all, need to be done. People—friends, family members—deserve to be thanked. They are entitled to acknowledgement of their efforts to care for the bereaved in their time of sorrow.

Three years following Cathy’s passing, it’s safe to assume that such acknowledgement will never be made. And that is a travesty that can never now be remedied.

If you would like to know more about the Talking Stick ceremony, you can read, “Another Talking Stick”, which you can locate in the Archives dated December 10, 2017.

For Good (The Dollhouse)

Good heavens! Five hundred dollars? Should I even allow a 3-year-old to play with it?!

A few weeks ago, cleaning out the attic at my late father’s home, my brother brought down two items from my daughter’s childhood: a nearly 100-year-old babydoll crib that had been passed down for several generations, and a dollhouse.

I knew the crib was quite valuable as an antique toy, but I also knew it was the perfect time for it to be given to my little granddaughter, who at age 3 was a wonderful “dolly Mommy”. She would be delighted by it. My mother, I, and my daughter had each played with that doll crib. It had, as I had always heard the tale, been a used toy donated to a collection effort organized by a local fire department during the Depression. Cleaned and restored by the firefighters, it became my own mother’s childhood Christmas present. When she’d passed it on to me, she’d pieced a small quilt for it, which also still survived. There was no question but that the doll crib, valuable antique or not, would be given to my granddaughter to play with.

I was even more thrilled by the dollhouse. I’d spent far too much money on it when I bought it for my daughter in 1993; it was a true gem. She’d loved it and taken such good care of it that nearly all the miniature pieces remained intact, even to the tiny blankets that I’d crocheted for the little beds and cribs.

So I brought both toys home and began the arduous process of cleaning them up. They were filthy with dust and insulation from their 25 years of storage in the attic, and (though I’d certainly never seen a rodent in my Dad’s house) smelled faintly of mouse. I washed and wiped and disinfected, and used up an entire package of cotton swabs cleaning tiny nooks and crannies. My efforts paid off; cleaned and restored, the toys looked wonderful.

I knew that this type of dollhouse was no longer manufactured. Large and well-made of heavy plastic, with intricate accessories, the cost of such a toy all these years later would have become prohibitive. But I began to research the dollhouse on resale sites, hoping to find a few more accessories to add to it. That’s when I received my mild shock.

A complete set, dollhouse, two families of dolls (Caucasian and Asian) and virtually every one of the tiny accessories, was worth at least $350, and probably closer to $500. For each of those 25 years that the dollhouse had waited there in the attic, accumulating dust, it had been gaining in value.

Good heavens! Five hundred dollars? Should I even allow a 3-year-old to play with it?!

Of course I should. After all, what good was a toy sitting untouched, unloved? If she broke it, lost the pieces, then Rah-Shar*! So be it. It had been her mother’s toy. It was now hers.

My decision was totally vindicated when, arriving at my home, the little one approached the dollhouse slowly, not quite believing her eyes. Then she knelt before it, her breath exhaling on a long, slow expiration of wonder and delight: “Aaaahhhh!” IMG_20220209_115630804_1pWithin moments, she dived in like a swimmer into deep water and began to play, surfacing for air only occasionally. The whole day went to hell in a handbasket as far as normal activities–getting dressed or combing hair, brushing teeth or taking a nap, or even eating meals–was concerned. Darting between the doll crib and the dollhouse, she played, and played, and PLAYED. Later she would tell her mother, “We didn’t have the TV on all day!”

In the afternoon, when a friend arrived to visit, she provided a “tour” of every accessory, doll, and feature of the dollhouse. Together we called her mother to say, “Did you know this thing has a doorbell?” (No, she didn’t.) When Mom arrived to pick her up, she repeated her service as a tour guide to the astounding wonders of the dollhouse.

Watching them—her mother grinning, the little child carefully displaying every marvelous feature of her new toy, I suddenly remembered something I’d written and posted to this blog nearly five years earlier, in an essay titled, “Saving Things for Good” (November 9, 2017). I’d been speaking about regularly using my fine china and crystal, regardless of the fact that I might break the lovely pieces, “…taking pleasure in them, because no matter how precious they may be, they are valuable only if they are appreciated”.

Like the beloved toys of the well-known movies, the dollhouse, awakening from its long sleep in the attic, had gained new life under the loving hands of a delighted child. Its worth lay not in its assessed monetary valuation, but in the joy it gave; was giving.

As I had written all those years earlier and now remembered: “Hoard nothing. Treasure everything. And save nothing “for good”, for our good is right now.”

You can find the post “Saving Things for Good” in the Archives. *You can also read more about the exclamation “Rah-Shar!” in the re-published post by that name from January 5, 2022.