I Don't Know How to Ride A Bike... <BR>(and other ramblings): March 2006

I Don't Know How to Ride A Bike...
(and other ramblings)

Friday, March 31, 2006

Interlude III

One of my biggest pet peeves is people who don't return phone calls or e-mails. I'm not talking about returning a phone call or e-mail a day or two later; I know people are busy and have other life things to worry about. In all actuality, it still surprises me that someone really wants to talk to me or chat in an e-mail, so I try to extend the same courtesy and time that they spent contacting me and get back to them as soon as I can. What really bugs me is when phone calls and e-mails -- especially those inquiring about something -- aren't answered. Ever.

This is especially irksome in a business setting. Phone calls and e-mails are the very foundation of business...without a line of communication, how would anything ever get done? I know I'm normally a very angry person at work, but when a crappy situation happens, like it did last week, I get even angrier. I'm like the Incredible Hulk in a fitted tee.

My boss went on a mini-break and entrusted the machinations of the office to me. This is because I'm a loyal and dependable employee, and also because I'm the only administrative person here. One of my many tasks that week was to order some real estate signs for him. Since the existing signs were made somewhere else, all we had was a photo of the original, which we hoped would be a good enough copy to work from. My boss gave me a shiny card and told me to contact the company and make it happen. Then he packed his bags and jetted off to sunny Brazil, laughing maniacally all the way.

I called this horrible, horrible company that shan't be named but only once because I can't help it (Signs in the Making on Broadview Avenue) and was welcomed with a nifty automated calling system. I pressed "1" for sales, and was greeted by Peter, the very name on my card. What luck! Surely Peter, who hands out shiny personalized cards from his company, won't steer me wrong! I explained our situation, and Peter assured me that he'd look into it. After all, you don't put the word "signs" in your company name unless you really intend to make signs, right?

So I e-mailed the sign specifications to him and, because I have a lot of spare time at work that I kill by pretending to click stuff on my screen and doing mundane chores, I had created a nifty signature for myself a long time ago. This included various modes of getting into contact with me. Because this was a couple of hours before the end of the work day, I assumed that Peter needed to regroup and be all sign-making zen-like for a while, so we'd speak the next day about a quote.

Like sands in the hourglass, time flew by. Before I knew it, it was the next day and I was sitting at my desk, scanning my e-mail inbox for any signs of Peter. Still nothing. Some more sand pilfered its way through the hourglass, and I grew listless. Finally, I decided to send Peter a cordial e-mail asking him about the whereabouts of our quote. Still no response. Had I been too harsh in my e-mail? Had Peter locked himself in a bathroom stall, crying and rocking himself back and forth because I dared to ask him for the one thing he was supposed to provide me with? If so, then Peter is certainly in the wrong profession.

The next day, I awoke bright-eyed and optimistic that this day would be different between Peter and me. We'd put our differences aside and laugh gaily about the quote, and then I'd give him my boss' credit card number and perhaps take a nice horse carriage ride with him later. But my inbox was painfully devoid of any e-mails sent by anyone named Peter. I'm a real softie when it comes to things like this, and that's probably one of the reasons why I would never appear on "The Apprentice," but I knew something had to be done. I called the company, and knowing the drill, immediately pressed "1" to be put through to Peter's extension. But the phone just rang and rang, so I left a distraught but agreeable message and asked him to call me back.

You can guess what happened next: Peter gave me the cold phone shoulder again. Not one to be deterred because I can be annoying when I want to be, I called again. A woman answered the phone. When I asked for Peter, she hesitated before asking me to identify myself. I found this highly suspicious and it kind of made me feel like a stalkerish ex-girlfriend, but I gave her my details before she cordially told me that Peter was not in the office. But alas, she said the magic words: "Maybe there is something I could help you with?" Yes! Finally, someone at this company seems to actually care about procuring new clients.

I explained my situation to her, and she said that she'd check Peter's e-mails to see where if she could track down mine. I can imagine that Peter is probably one of those e-mail hordes that never deletes anything because, as we all know, those Viagra e-mails might actually come in handy one day. She put me on hold, and I began to softly hum along to the radio, which is something I always do when people give me bad customer service. Moments later, a woman came back on the line. "May I help you?" she asked. Thinking this might be a case of amnesia, I reminded her that we had just spoken not five seconds ago. But see, I was the one in the wrong here; this was a totally different person. I told her that I was being taken care of, so she put me on hold again. Because I was once tempted to steal a candy bar, karma decided to rear its head my way, and someone else picked up the phone. "May I take a message?" she asked. This is the part when I kind of lost my mind.

I replied in the negative and told her that I was speaking to someone else, and that this phantom employee had put me on hold so that she could try to track down my e-mail order. The woman on the other end told me that that was impossible -- their e-mail system had been down all day. Remember when you found out about that twist at the end of The Sixth Sense? This was almost the same feeling, except I was actually living this nightmare. Furthermore, the woman I was speaking to was apparently new. And furthermore to that, she was only part-time, so she didn't know any better. And she's probably an escaped convict who knows where I live, although the last part wasn't actually said. I know that someone who is just starting a job may not adjust to the ropes right away, but were they trying to tell me that this new, part-time employee couldn't tell the difference between an e-mail system that is working and an e-mail system that is not working? And when she arrived at the job, all chipper and carting coffees for everyone, no one casually mentioned to her that they were experiencing some down time?

I don't remember what happened next. I think this is about the time my skin started turning green and I was mutating into a giant beast. I told the woman that I needed to speak to Peter ASAP, and that he had been conveniently MIA and had forgotten how to check his voicemail. That's when she said that Peter had just walked into the office, and I could speak to him now. Hmm.

So Peter and I got right down to business and he told me that their e-mail system had been down for days and that they had been foraging in the forest looking for new servers. I gave Peter the benefit of the doubt and agreed to fax the picture off to him for a quote. That's when he told me that their whole system had been down, so he couldn't work out the numbers using his fancy computer program, but that he could try to give me a verbal quote. And he also told me that I should call the office and make sure the fax arrived -- because in any way I can, I will make Peter's life that much easier and work-free.

I faxed off the documents and called the office like the good woman that I am, and the receptionist confirmed that the documents were sitting on their fax machine. Silly me; what I should have done was also travel to their office so that I could hand the documents directly into Peter's hands.

On the fax cover letter, I told Peter to call me ASAP for the quote. Of course, he didn't. But surprisingly, he was able to pick up the phone and dial my ten digits the next day. You'd think that between the previous day and that day, he would have managed to have a quote ready, but then we'd be giving Peter too much credit. He called me without even having thought of a number, and proceeded to mumble and crunch numbers while I sat silently on the phone, careful not to disrupt the sign master.

When that was that, Peter asked me to send any artwork in a Quark or Photoshop file. What? I was suddenly confused, as I was under the impression that their system was still down, hence the verbal quote and the e-mail bans. "Send you the artwork?" I parroted dumbly, because apprehensive thoughts were forming in my head and that's all I could manage to say. Peter's inner snippiness got the best of him, and he repeated, but more slowly this time, what he had just said. I told him the artwork wasn't done by us (because then we wouldn't really need Peter and his stinky company, would we?), and if he could just try to match the fonts as best as he could. He said that it would be best to contact him on Monday, when he expected that he would be able to give us a more accurate quote (and would thus start his weekend early). For someone who was losing days of business by having computer glitches, he seemed surprisingly calm an nonchalant about the whole thing. Maybe Peter practices yoga, or he's thinking about the extra holes of golf he can squeeze into a workless day.

My boss returned from his trip on Monday, tanned and relaxed. After exchanging vacation pleasantries, I told him about the sign company and the total runaround that I had gotten. My boss looked at me suspiciously. I knew that he didn't fully buy my story, but at this point I didn't care. I never wanted to speak to Peter again because he had broken my naive heart and changed my whole outlook on the business foundation of exchanging money for services. Perhaps Peter had read about the true costs of acquiring new clients and simply decided not to do so. Ever.

I handed my boss the shiny-but-now-fully-tainted-with-bad-customer-service business card and he made the call, dialing "1" as I had instructed him to do. He left a message for Peter to call him back about getting some new and pretty signs made. That was four days ago (a big "aha!" to my boss, who is starting to see my point about this company), and Peter has managed yet again to foil our evil plans of giving him money and possible free carriage rides.

I know business can be a cutthroat game, but some simple courtesy and etiquette never hurt anyone. If things like this didn't happen at work, I know I certainly wouldn't have to go through so many fitted tees.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"The Apprentice": All Star Season

So the new season of "The Apprentice" premiered on Monday night. And it doesn't matter that it seems like last season's simultaneously predictable, abhorrent and atrocious finale aired a month ago, or that the show has been getting stagnant as of late, or that Donald Trump and I seriously have nothing in common; I watched it again, waiting for my reality show high to kick in so that I could bundle up on the couch as the unscripted-but-heavily-edited euphoria washed over me.

The thing with premieres of competitive reality shows is that there are too many people and too many going-ons to keep track of. Are there eighteen candidates this season, or fifty-seven? I kept seeing someone new on the screen, but then realized that it's just the same guy wearing a different shirt. The montage of introductions didn't help either...candidates spread themselves out on a noisy and windy landing strip (as Trump stood, stoically, beside his private jet), shouting out educational and professional credentials at Trump, Carolyn, and George. The montage lasted a whole minute, so you know that it was one of those talking-heads-in-mid-sentence-then-dissolve-to-next-candidate deals.

Trump picked the two candidates with the highest GPAs (or was it best schools? Or according to height? I don't really get Trump's logic), and forced them to pick their teams. Since they had all just met a whole five minutes ago, this task proved to be hard. Like a weird sociological experiment, the newly appointed Project Managers Allie and Tarek seemingly chose candidates based on their fitness and fertility potential (or, more succinctly, how hot they were).

After learning the team names ("Gold Rush" and "Synergy"), my mind willingly began to wonder. Even when Trump began his crazy in the boardroom again, I couldn't get my mind off of doomed Project Manager and Mensa member Tarek (this bit of trivia about Tarek has been ingrained in my brain forever, thanks to about five hundred mentions of it during the hour-long show). This is because Tarek is the spitting image of Orlando Bloom.

Ooh! Which is which? It's hard to tell, no? Okay, it's pretty obvious that Tarek is the one on the left, but the resemblance is uncanny.

Then I began to notice other celebrity look-alikes stealthily hidden among the regular candidates.

This is Andrea. She's 31, resides in California, and is a sticker company owner. But she also made her millions as an Annie Lennox impersonator. (Pictures have been purposefully kept small to work to my advantage, because when they're actually normal-sized the resemblance is all in my head.)

Brent is 30 and an attorney in Florida. This guy is extremely annoying, and he talks like that demented Russell Oliver from Oliver's Jewelers. He also went to York University (my alma mater), but strangely I am not feeling very warm and fuzzy about this. He reminds me of Daniel Radcliffe channeling Harry Potter, if Harry Potter was 30 years old and sustained himself on a diet of gravy and the gravy of gravy.

This is a stretch, but just kind of squint at the screen: Lee, 22, and a business analyst in New York, reminds me of Michael Imperioli, most famous for his roles in "The Sopranos" and "Law & Order." Lee and Tarek butted heads after their task, and in the boardroom, so now they're sworn nemeses. In my version of the "All Star Apprentice," Imperioli wouldn't hesitate to take Bloom out behind the dumpsters.

Sean, 33, a recruitment consultant based in England (whatever that means), is smoldering in this picture. And so is "Nip/Tuck" star Julian McMahon, on the right. Sean has a bonafide British accent, but unfortunately it's more Robin Leach than it is Hugh Grant.

Roma Maffia is also on "Nip/Tuck" (which is quickly beginning to sound like the only show I've ever known), and she and contestant Stacy, who is 38 and a criminal defence attorney in New York, could be sisters! Truth be told, I don't remember Stacy at all in the episode. Maybe she was there, maybe she was napping.

Tammy is 33, from New Jersey, and manages wealth. (Hers? Mine? Allen Iverson's? I don't know.) She looks like Sandra Bullock, and this resemblance holds for most of the episode. But there are times when she doesn't look like Sandra Bullock at all. Strange, I know.

Theresa, even in interviews, reminded me of season 4's Felisha. She has this je ne se quois about her...I'm just kidding. Theresa, 36, a psychotherapist in Illinois, is a shrill woman who complains way too much. I can't recall particular moments of her on-screen, but I can recall all of her interviews during and after the task, where she complained to no end about kittens being too furry or the bedsheets being too ecru or something. All I know is that she wasn't pleased, but she did manage to let the world know that she is a "team player," "stepped up to the plate," and "hit a home run."

Or was it Orlando Bloom who said this?

Once I figure out who these people are, I'll get back to you.