Sunday, November 27, 2016

Why We Need The Hallmark Channel In This Time of Chaos

     At 71, I am in the midst of remodeling probably my last home, or if you will condo ... well, unless it's to the "home" or 6 feet under. While it was a good deal, or so I thought at the time, it is turning out to be a lot more work than I ever imagined. It turned out that every room needs to be repainted, the kitchen gutted and rebuilt from scratch. You get the picture.
     After a far too long marathon session painting what will be the master bedroom, I come back to the condo I am renting and living in until I get my own condo ready, tired ... dead tired. I shaved, showered and then napped. Waking up in a near stupor I flicked through the channels and discovered a Christmas show on the Hallmark Channel ... you know the one that always has a predictable plot and a happy ending. After all, isn't there enough violence in our daily lives? Why do we, Hollywood and television feel compelled to add any more? Happy endings was exactly all that I wanted!
     One of my all time favorite movies is "Bringing Up Baby" a frothy screwball comedy starring
Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, both very favorite actors. It recounts how the two meet, she falls for him, he is too dense to understand that so she uses her brothers pet Jaguar "Baby" to keep getting them together. It is funny, so funny in fact that the first time I rented it to watch with the kids we laughed so hard we had to watch it again to get to see and hear all the dialogue. It was the perfect movie for me as a harried parent and the kids who loved the complete silliness. There was no "dirty language," sex scenes other than an innuendo they would never understand ... it was, well, clean wholesome fun, something that most movies today, unless its a cartoon, seem to have forgotten.

     Another very funny film from the era of black and white comedies is James Stewart in "Harvey." Stewart plays a befuddled man who sees a pooka named Harvey. Of course he is a total embarrassment to the entire family. It was only after watching this silliness many times that I suddenly realized that not only did Stewart see the pooka ... so did his sister. I cannot forget the scene when she goes to get him committed, walks into the director's office, looks around and notes, "Good, we are alone, he's not here." The director isn't so sure who he should commit.

     As I watched Hallmark's, "A Christmas List" it dawned on me that there are times in our lives where we need such movies, such fantasy as we try to deal with a chaotic world.        
     That very day's news revealed, thank God, yet another terrorist plot in France that had been foiled. We have survived a brutal election only to find a state recounting the votes disbelieving the disenchantment of its own citizens, Democrats and Republican reeling at their defeat, pollsters and journalists shamefaced, tension in the Middle East that never ends ... and on and on.
     All I wanted was respite from all this. I was tired, sore, feeling my age and wanted entertainment for an occasional chuckle, to feel good not wanting horror, violence, anything else but just to feel good watching a show that would affirm what all humans want ... to be loved, love and honored.
     In fact yesterday I came back after painting what will be the "studio" for six hours, had pickles, radishes and a Diet Coke for lunch, showered and fell into bed for a nap. It turns out I missed both a phone call and text messages ... and the phone was right next to me on the bed!
     I do miss the simple comedies of old. Visiting the Ice House in Pasadena a few years back we saw Fritz Coleman, the weather guy on NBC 4 in Los Angeles. He started his career as a comedian and was lured away from comedy to do the weather on TV. Stating he knew nothing about the weather, he was told, "This is LA. What weather?" His routine was funny. What impressed me more than anything else though was that he never said one "dirty" word, an anomaly today where curse words fill the space of real comment. I can remember how CBS drummed the Smothers Brothers off the air for a blue word or two as well as their opinions about the Vietnamese War. In one sense they were vindicated when CBS's true star, Walter Cronkite, said on the air after a tour of Viet Nam that we had lost the war. And "dirty words?" Today,  regarding the use of "blue" words, just about anything goes.
     Robert Hilburn, the music critic for the Los Angeles Times for many years used to lambast any song that the Carpenters sang. People he praised we hardly hear about now but how many Carpenter songs could you hum right now? "Rainy Days & Mondays," "We've Only Just Begun," "On Top of the World?" Near the end of his career as a critic he wrote movingly about the Carpenters and in essence apologized for his reviews noting that he himself would hum one of their songs, that their music though saccharine had lasting power, something that legions of fans already knew.
     That could be the comment and need for the Hallmark Channel. Love, love lost and love regained has holding power. After all, it will be love that redeems us all ... in the end.

Friday, November 25, 2016

When Was The Last Time You Actually Talked To A Human Receptionist?

Please hold. Due to increased caller volume, lead times are especially long today.  Please hold and we will be with your shortly. Your call is so important to us. Thank you for holding.

Sound familiar? It should. This is close to the standard answer every caller in the United States gets each and every day when they call just about everybody ... utility, credit card, department store, the government, especially the DMV to make a worthless appointment time.

In fact, I got so angry once trying to get a software issue resolved I called at 3 am in the morning and got the same recording. After waiting for 45 minutes I asked the operator, when he finally came on line, "What, there is only one person there? For the whole world?" And he told the truth admitting there was only one person answering the phone. So remember, the only business that is important to just about any company today seems to be that you should buy their product and good luck with the rest! This is the fodder for "Dilbert" each and every day!
Ernestine the telephone lady. "We don't
have to because, snort snort, we're the
telephone company."

Since this blog is about design ... the design of all facets of our lives, making a call on your phone and the response you get has been very carefully designed. In fact, I make it a practice now to compliment whomever answers before I get a taped message and long wait times. Does it help? I hope so. I know that I am sent to the person I need to talk to and even if it is their message machine, I didn't have to wait 30 minutes to leave a message.

Those of you in my age range (71) may remember a very funny TV show from the 70's called "Laugh-In." An hour
long it had a series of skits each week with comedians and actors who became and remained famous long after this show was gone. One of the funniest was the Lily Tomlin character Ernestine from the Telephone Company who would snort, it was a near monopoly at the time, snort snort "We don't have to ... we're the telephone company," snort with a wicked giggle. Her interaction with telephone customers, if real and maybe they were, would have set customer service back 100 years. Little did we know that what was comedy then would soon be reality today ... and not just at the phone company!

Just like "1984" predicted the time of Big Brother watching everything we do and ANIMAL FARM that predicted the relationships of the have's and have-not's, we live in a time where companies talk about customer service more than ever before, but where the reality, ever more less service, is worse than ever before. We wait and wait. The testament to poor product design, warranties, government forms is that more people, not less, need help, and the proof is the long times we have to wait ... on the phone or in line. If the items were made better, the product was better designed, the forms were clear there would be far less need for this. Again, the reality is proof that it isn't with a increasingly frustrated society.

Indian call centers are often the worst. What did you say?
Are you speaking English?
Telephone calls to even place an order is often a trip to the seven stages of hell. You called, placed your order and when the item didn't arrive you had to make another call to find out if the first order's call had been taken. Another wards, you had to be the buyer and the seller because "we have been so busy." Get a little busier and you won't have to worry about being busy again ... no one will buy your product. I don't know about you but ... I have a list. Sort of like the ditty from "The Mikado'" "I have a little list, I have a little list and I bet they won't be missed, I know they won't be missed."
Just hang me up to dry!

Has automation really made our lives better? How many times have you been urged to leave a callback number because the wait times are so long and then never been called back? I have seen people get a call, listen to the message and then ignore it. Is it any wonder that companies like Amazon are successful? You place your order, they repeat your order to be sure you got what you thought you ordered, then receive a confirming email after the order is placed giving you time to change something and then receive another email when the item is shipped with a tracking number. No driving, trying to find a parking place at the mall where you don't have to walk the length of a football stadium to just get inside, find an item you like only to find it is not in your size (if you're lucky its at another store), no snotty or could care less sales associate (don't you love the new titles?) nor a trek back to the car or fighting the traffic to get home because you got caught in rush hour that in Los Angeles lasts 24/7.

While we can laugh at this poster I can guarantee you that after 30, 45 or even a 60 minute wait you will not be laughing. Clearly this poster has no sense of what customer service is ... yet I bet they certainly demand it when they come calling. If companies really cared they would hire more people. I would hazard a guess that their overpaid management could do with a lot less salary that would free up money to hire those that actually have to talk and work with the public. Big box and even smaller stores had better listen up because there's still gold in them thar hills but it won't be in some big box store, it will be somewhere up in the cloud.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

   This year, and I guess for any year, as a person, or we as a people and country have much to give thanks for. Sometimes in the heat of election rhetoric we lose that thankfulness but we need to remember that despite all the words and deeds and emotional feelings, as one very chastened journalist noted, the day after the election the sun still rose and the United States was still here. And, we can give thanks that the election is finally over!
     Personally, for me, this past year has been one of astounding change.  In fact as I walked my dog this glorious morning in Palm Springs I realized that I had literally recreated my life, re-designed it if you will and lived another lifetime, in one year.  It was as similar moving here at 70 as it was in 1969 when I returned from Peace Corps Liberia and had to become an adult at the age of 24.
     One year ago I was living in an assisted living home ... and as any senior will attest, hated every minute of it. The month before I had filed for divorce and in a week after Thanksgiving I had a court date to determine whether I would be free to move and live again wherever I wished.
     In case I achieved my freedom, I didn't want a memory of Thanksgiving at the home. So with my trusty iPhone app that could tell me which bus to take, I decided that I would go to the Los Angeles Car Show, trading walkers and wheelchairs for real cars at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Luckily for me the same bus would carry me from Alhambra, CA to the convention center in something over an hour.
     I didn't have to worry about comments about me getting into whatever car I wanted, the Convention Center was filled with guys whose families no doubt wanted them out of their hair at home so we roamed at will trying out just about any car. It was a fun day and I found that many of the women giving their spiels about the cars were flirty. We all had a good time.
     The court date of December 4th launched a whirlwind of activity! I was given my freedom, the truck keys, support and could, if I wanted, move anywhere I wished. Friends in Palm Springs knew of a condo for rent at a reasonable cost and going out to meet them and getting the owners to agree to letting me rent with my dog, signed a lease for a year.
     I chose Palm Springs for many reasons. I had been visiting there with a friend for several months and I liked the small town feel. Halloween, the things to do and see, the electric light parade, the weekly street fair but more than anything it wasn't crowded like anywhere in the Los Angeles basin.
     In the midst of getting the condo set up from scratch I flew to Portland, OR for Christmas to stay with family there. I was raised in Portland and had cousins and an aunt and friends still living there. It was the first of several trips I would take this coming year.
     I moved on January 4, 2016 struggling over many days to rebuild my life from scratch and deal with the things my wife had boxed up of mine. In a month, I had to begin again and haven't looked back. I might add though, you can't believe how much stuff you might own until its boxed up!!!
     At the end of 2015 I met a man that I had chatted with online. He was visiting from Hong Kong and staying with friends in LA. I drove from Palm Springs to meet him and we hit it off. After he left, we continued to chat online and when he invited me to visit Hong Kong in February right after Chinese New Year all I could do was look around at the boxes that filled every room and say thank you but no. He persisted saying that it was a golden opportunity to see the city without a huge hotel bill. I checked prices and finally agreed to go. However, my passport would expire in less than six months when I left but Cathay Pacific assured me I could visit just not go anywhere else in Asia. So leaving all my still packed boxes behind, I went.
     My HK friend came to visit me in early April and we both discovered there really is so much to do here that we didn't even begin to do it all. When he left I promised another visit later this year.
     At the end of April my truck was stolen here in the condo complex. So much for gates ... or keys for that matter. When the policeman came to write the report we could both look at the keys and remote hanging from a box on the bookcase. To make matters worse I had again booked a flight to Vancouver, BC in a few days so still unpacking (where did ALL the stuff come from?) I again boarded a flight to Vancouver, BC via San Francisco. I won't go into a diatribe here but SFO has to be the worst airport in the world ... well, maybe LAX is worse. Finally, delayed flights and immigration in Vancouver over, I caught the last ferry to Vancouver Island! Had a wonderful visit there and returned home to begin looking for a car to replace my stolen 13 year-old pickup truck!
     The concept of discounts seems to allude dealers in the Coachella Valley. Their discounted price is the MSRP from the manufacturer, seriously. Posting what I wanted online, the best price was from a dealer 90 minutes away but saving over $4,000 in cost and taxes was worth the drive. So I am now the owner of a glowing red Mazda CX-5! Its a great little car, has lots of wonderful new features and costs about half to own than the truck. As a friend noted, "Whoever stole it did you a favor. That thing was a beast." Of course, he was right.
     I joined an art group and we have had several shows including two that I am showing items in right now! Many, many talented artists here and I am humbled to show with them.
     I again visited Hong Kong in July ... a weather mistake. Here, where it reached 122º one day, when you go outside you can feel the juice being sucked out of you! In HK when you go outside its like someone threw a bucket of water at you. Instant sweat. Never one for heat, (yes, I know Palm Springs? Go figure) it took a few days just to be brave to go anywhere during the day ... not that it mattered much. The difference between day and night was about 5º! Still it was fun and I even got to swim in the South China Sea on Lama Island, a boat ride from HK.
     In September I attended an HOA meeting here at the complex and heard one of the board members mention that he was selling his condo, literally behind where I rent with nearly the same exact layout. Discussing this with friends, they urged me to make an offer. I did and after much soul searching and gathering funds, I made an offer and searched for a loan. When I am finally moved, the monthly bill to own will be only a bit more than what I am paying in rent.
     We sealed the deal in October and have been busy renovating the condo since. New paint, an entire new kitchen, it will hopefully be where I remain to the end of my days. What makes it very appealing is that I can walk from my front door to the departure gate at the airport in under 15 minutes! From PSP you can get connecting flights to anywhere in the world.
     My friend returned to Palm Springs in time for Halloween where we dressed up; me as a Mandarin scholar and he as a Samari soldier. We fit right in with the show downtown.  We left the next day for New Mexico to visit my sister. To him where a "small" city is 3 million, it was a shock to go to across the desert to the countryside of New Mexico, where if you blinked you would miss my sister's road! It was dark, darker than he had even seen on land.
     Yes, it has been some year. Looking back I wondered did I script this? Was this my design? Or, more likely, was it what happened and did I finally learn to go with the flow taking advantage of each new opportunity that came along? I think that it was, I finally decided to live my life, not the script that was not my own that I had had since birth.
     Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. There are many, many gifts in this life; all we have to do it look for them, accept them and finally, be grateful for them. There surely will be tragedy, heartbreak, despair ... that is a given or as F. Scott Peck said at the beginning of his wonderful book, THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED, "Life is hard." What makes us human is what we make of everything that life throws at us.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has.