Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I write because I care, I give because I have to...

I would like to dedicate this rant to my work husband. Although he’s sold out by actually donating to the United Way, no one has been more vigilant at harassing the crap out of our team leader. Tirelessly he emails and taunts her. Nothing she does is good enough.

Are those the best prizes you can come up with?

How many times a day are you going to email us?"

"Quit junking up my inbox with your crap

Hey, your posters violate the Philadelphia fire code, please remove them immediately

And my personal favorite, "I write because I care, I give because I have to"

Best of all, he blind copies me. The barrage of emails might be the only reason I’m almost sad to see the United Way drive end. Almost……
It's that time of the year and we've started our annual United Way "voluntary" donation campaign. The world of corporate giving is sort of like a cult. This has been true of every office in which I've ever worked. They start with the best of intentions and it quickly degrades into something like this:

Day 1: "Hey, this is a really great cause and only a small donation can make a big difference!"
Day 3: "With every donation you are entered into a raffle and if you give more than $x you're automatically entered into the super special raffle. IPod's for everyone!"
Day 5: "Thank you to those who have given, we're looking to reach our corporate goal for participation - join the team"
Day 7: Distribute FAQs debunking the United Way myths around overhead costs. (i.e. I know there was that whole scandal thing a bunch of years ago but c'mon, cut us some slack. We really want that plaque in the lobby.)
Day 9: "Did you know that you can designate your donation to a charity in your local community? Every donation makes a difference no matter how small." (Read: Are you that cheap that you can't give your local Little League a few bucks and help us out?)
Day 11: "Every year we've been proud of our contribution, we need your help to reach our goal." (Unacceptable participation! We know who you are.....)
Day 15: Rumors abound of lists naming the evil non-contributors
Day 17: In an effort to rouse the competitive spirit the reluctant team coordinator is enlisted to send personal messages - "Bob's team is trying to reach our personal goal of 85% participation - we can't do it without you!"
Day 20: "This is your last chance to donate before we take your first born in place of your contribution. Click on the link or you'll never see your family again. We mean it."

3 days later...

"A few folks have asked if there's anyway to donate since they missed the deadline so we've extended the giving deadline." (Read: They miss their children and are starting to think that the brake failure in the station wagon wasn't an accident.)

I'll admit it, I gave in to the pressure a few years ago. It was a moment of weakness brought on by the corporate equivalent of "CIA enhanced interrogation techniques". Leave me alone! I just wanted the bad man to stop. Talk about a violation of the very core of charitable giving. They say hind site is 20/20; I think we have quite a few good historical examples of why jumping on the bandwagon is not always such a hot idea. Feel free to use these as inspiration when fighting off the corporate donation pushers.

Poor judgement & mob mentality results in a giant New England BBQ
Good Cause: saving the Puritans from the Devil.

You look a little shifty, must be a commie. Round 'em up.
Good Cause?: Protecting America from communist sympathisers & espionage by Soviet Agents

Proof that drinking the Kool Aid is not always a good idea
Good Cause?: Protection from nuclear fall out due to impending attack on the United States

Too bad they didn't have - would have been better than the mass weddings to strangers
Good Cause?: The single most important idea is the parental relationship between God and man.

Note to Self: When two people called Bo & Peep tell you that Jesus is in a spaceship on the Hale-Bop Comet, don't put the bag over your head.
Good Cause?: Survive by leaving earth immediately before the planet is recycled.

A whole lot of perfectly good bed sheets ruined for a really bad cause.
Good Cause?: Self preservation in the face of social change due to rapid urbanization.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Nanny-Nanny-Poo-Poo Face

My mother is mad at me. She is mad because she says I harass her. If she would only listen to reason I wouldn't have to harass her. My father apparently learned years ago that no good can come from harassing her and as a result nothing ever happens. A few weeks ago my sister, her husband and I were sitting in a bar. He told us that he was talking to my father they're going to build a sun room off the dining room. My sister and I looked at each other and started laughing like a bunch of lunatics. He didn't get the joke. Unfortunately we did. For years, and I'm talking about more than 25 years, my parents have been discussing home renovations. Sure the plan has morphed a few times, but the result is always the same. The decision is made to do something to the house. They talk, they discuss, they buy plans, they take plans to the township and at the end of the day, nada. It's like being trapped in the movie Groundhog Day.

I love my mother, but there's one thing that drives me nuts - the face she makes when she chooses not to listen to you. I like to call it the "This conversation is over nanny-nanny-poo-poo, you can't win because I'm not listening to you ANYMORE" face. You say something, she squishes up her face (sometimes she sticks her tongue out) and then she changes the subject. Case in point - the kitchen. For the life of me I can't understand her desire to hang onto this horrific explosion of 70's mess. I understand saving memories, but I think a picture or a knick knack would be far more appropriate than wallpaper. The wallpaper is a terrifying patchwork of avocado green, brown and mustard yellow. Plaid, paisley and patterns I can't even describe that provide a visual assault unlike any other. I've spent years of my life begging her to rip it down. When you broach the subject her only response is, "This is perfectly good wallpaper, it's not even peeling. Did you know I put this up when I was pregnant with you?". (That was 1976) "But Mom, it's positively awful, please!" Oh, oh.....wait for it.....there it is....The Face. Discussion over.

Then there's the floor. It's a perfect compliment of orange, yellow, cream and brown. Many people walk in and tell me that they remember when their parent's ripped that floor up from their own kitchen. Perhaps she hasn't replaced the floor because they stopped making floors to match that wallpaper in 1979.

So when she mentioned the possibility of doing something to the kitchen I was excited for about ten seconds. "I'm thinking about painting the kitchen lime green.", she says. My sister and I begged her to let us overhaul the kitchen. Her response? You guessed it - The Face. "Mom, even some new hardware would help - look at those hinges! They scream 70's country." She said, "You can't find three hole hinges so we can't replace them." This is classic Mom. If she doesn't feel like doing it then it must not exist. Of course a simple a Google search yielded tons of ornamental hinges. I emailed her the link. "Stop harassing me", she says. We really only harass out of love. Sometimes it takes a little tough love. (Mom - remember when we made you buy new jeans that didn't taper at the bottom? You love your new jeans! You'll love the new kitchen, stop fighting us.)

I'm hoping that by exposing these pictures to the Internet at large I can perhaps guilt her into action. We're thinking nice modern stainless door pulls, green glass tile on the back splash, a nice new floor that doesn't give you motion sickness and antique white walls. We even offered to put a cool lime green accent stripe around the top. Please, I implore all those who know Mrs. J to support our cause. Write to your congressman. Perhaps you can help me create a law against 70's decorating torture of adult children. Don't do it for me, do it for the children.....

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Philadelphia Supper is Icky

1. very bad

For those of you who know me, I love food. I love to eat, I love to cook, I love food shopping. It doesn't have to be super fancy or high end, just good. Specifically I always like to see restaurants move into sketchy neighborhoods. I used to live in the South Street area (which is decidedly icky) and so I was interested when I heard that Supper was opening in the old Vespa Store location. Last night we decided to head over there and check it out. Not knowing much about the restaurant, we called and were able to get a last minute 9PM reservation. Perhaps that should have been our first clue.

926 South Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

As it turns out it was a small plate restaurant. This isn't necessarily a problem as long as each dish is really worth eating. Herein lies the problem with Supper. It started out pretty promising, the plates were creative to read. I find that unusual food combinations almost always lead to a good meal. Supper proved me wrong. Supper is icky. Not one of us had the "this is awesome" moment that always happens at least once in a small plate restaurant. They divided the menu into Hors D'oeuvres, Tartines and Plates. My tartine was the Wild Mushroom and Garrotxa. If I wanted something that tasted like heated mushrooms and shaved Parmesan on dry french bread, I could have made it at home. The Artichoke and Cauliflower Fritters hors d'oeuvre was a big 'ole fried mess - think Indian Vegetable Pakora only doughy and without the good spices. The Spicy Shrimp a la Plancha was the only slightly redeeming dish, but when they say small plate, they sure do mean small - two shrimp, two mission figs and a few pieces of arugula. My dining companions had little to say about their plates. The Autumn Squash Gnocchi was declared "not as good as Chloe". The Ocean Trout got a slightly better rating with - "it was good". The rest went without mention. Even our bottle of wine was slightly miserable.

Dessert was decent but not overwhelmingly so. The atmosphere was nice and I would even suggest returning to have a drink at the bar. The only problem there is the stunted wine by the glass list. Think less than 5-7 options.

The real icing on the cake, so to speak, was the piss poor service. The woman who served us may well have stumbled off the street and put on a server's apron. The other alternative was that she was on drugs. Who knows. Either way it wasn't just her, it was the entire staff. We sat forever waiting for a drink. They were cold, disinterested and unaware. Our friend ordered a bottle of wine for the table and when she came back she shoved it in my husband's face. The waitress and the runners had a really fun way jamming their arm directly in your face to fill your water glass. The plates were tossed on the table without identification.

At the end of the day I would say if you want small plates, save your money and take it down the street to Ansill. Adventurous, wonderful, lots of "that was awesome" moments and decidedly not icky.

Ansill Food + Wine
627 S. 3rd St
Philadelphia PA 19147

photo credit:

Monday, November 12, 2007

Let there be Cheap Heat! (or at least heat that won't prevent my future children from attending college)

I think it goes without saying that I'm a tad sarcastic. Over the years my sarcasm has been the cause of some unpleasantness. As a kid it often resulted in groundings, in high school it resulted in more than one occasion where I was asked if I wanted my ass kicked, and as an adult it's resulted in festive feedback in performance reviews like "she doesn't suffer fools easily" and "could improve on empathy". Sounds like a bad news story huh? Not entirely.

Sarcasm usually means you're witty, wit requires more than two brain cells and more than two brain cells makes you smarter than most. These three things put together makes for one hell of a complaint letter. I can't remember what made me angry enough to write the first letter but over the years there have been a few gems.

Avis was one of my favorites. For six long months I stood in the blazing Atlanta sun frying in line at the Avis "Preferred" kiosk while the non-preferred customers stood in air conditioning. Invariably I received the crappiest, smelliest car. I decided I had driven my last nasty car so I started my letter. I described for them my last five rental experiences- the dirty feet smell, sweating my butt off to show them my credit card for the 3,629th time, the lack of cars, the ones that ran like tractors, I unloaded. I figured out who all their senior level officers were and cc them. Stamp, stamp, stamp and forget about it.

A few weeks later my cell phone rang. The guy on the other end of the line identified himself as the President of Avis Rent a Car. He told me that he has a staff of people who read and deal with complaint letters but his staff brought my letter to his attention. In the 20 years he had been with Avis he had never seen such an awful letter. He wanted to personally apologize and was wondering if I would mind spending some time with his Atlanta General Manager. As you can imagine, this ended very well for me. It also made me realize something. While my experience was irritating, it certainly couldn't have topped the list of truly awful things Avis had ever done to people. I hadn't exaggerated but I suppose it was the presentation of fact combined with "colorful" descriptions that had caught their attention.

I used to have a boss who said "fact and dater, sweetheart. They always win". Yes, dater. He was a New Yorker and data always came out sounding like dater. (Important note: he was the only one I ever let call me sweetheart at work. He was old and cute and he liked me, so I allowed it.) Barring other influences, he was right and especially right when it came to things like Customer Service.

This came in handy when we had the apartment fire. Sure, I had renter's insurance, but that's the sort of chip you cash in when some nutter burns up the place with a candle or a cigarette. I suspected our fire was caused by the management company. So I called the Philadelphia FD investigation unit and found out that with $25 and a form I could request a copy of the investigator's report. When the management company claimed that they couldn't possibly pay for our dry cleaning and that if we wanted to we could probably sue PECO. "Good luck suing the city" was her response. I said, "You're probably right. I called the PFD and I'm ordering a copy of the investigation report. I guess that will give me what I need to sue PECO huh?" Twenty minutes later she called me back to tell me that she had worked out something with her boss and they would take care of our furniture and dry cleaning. Gosh, how nice of them. The whole affair ended with a check for $2,500 and our signature on the dotted line that we wouldn't sue them.

So when we moved into our newly renovated apartment and found that our heating and cooling units were from 1982 I was a little perturbed. This quickly became anger when I received my first electric bill to the tune of $275. The entire month of August the units ran on high and we still couldn't get the temperature below 75 degrees. It would seem to me that the average person would draw several conclusions from this fact. They did not. Instead I got every excuse in the book: the place in concrete - it retains heat, it's the humidity - this is a really hot month and my personal favorite - have you ever paid Center City electricity charges before, you know cooling is expensive here. These people didn't know who they were dealing with. I pulled our kilowatt usage for the last year and a half, researched the average temperature from July & August '07 & '08 and started my work. Go figure, August last year and this year were the exact same mean temperature. Last year we used half the electricity we had this year. I then compiled a list of all the similarities of the two apartments including the square footage. I also used their own goofy marketing of this place as "luxury living" against them. Last week they finally replaced the stupid units and my last electric bill is under review.

So if you need help with a letter, I'm available. Let there be heat and stamps for all!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Confession is Good for the Soul

For all you voyeuristic folks out there, you’ll like the Post Secret Site.

Basically this started as a community art project where people would mail a decorated single sided post card confessing their secrets. I think the website chooses a variety of the secrets to share on each week. There’s also a few books – sort of a greatest hits of personal shame.

Some of these are seriously disturbing, some are funny, some are twisted.

You can add an RSS feed to your favorite tool and see them weekly.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Don't be a Delinquent Parent....

I really like reading people’s holiday party FAQs. It’s a little opportunity for them to be witty and funny while conveying important information. I am convinced that this is almost exclusively a polite way to say “we know you think your kids are so special, but they’re not. and I don’t like the way little Jimmy gives me the hairy eyeball when I stumble by hammered on cheap wine”. It’s important that people know that children don’t belong at an evening party with alcohol. Shocking revelation, I know. This is apparently one of those things that people today don’t think about. Or perhaps they were raised by raging alcoholics that dragged them to parties. (Don’t laugh, my old neighbors were lost in a bottle of rum most days and probably didn’t know their kids were still following them around).

In any event I recently received an invitation to a co-worker’s party. This co-worker and I met at the party of another former co-worker. We didn’t know each other then and we still don’t work together, but since we spent several hours in the suburbs together being less than social, we bonded. His wife seemed cool and he was wearing jeans that didn’t suck. I liked them. They’re sort of like city people that have been transplanted into the suburbs. They’re way too funny and cool to live in Schwenksville. Just the name is enough to tell you that it’s not the sort of place that appreciates the importance of good jeans. (No offense intended to Schwenksville; I haven’t the faintest idea where it is or what’s there.)

I’ve included his FAQs below because they made me laugh out loud. This may actually be reason enough to figure out where Schwenksville is…

Frequently Asked Questions!!!

Can I expect a big raise if I’ve done a great job at work this year? Uh – these FAQs are all supposed to be party-related. That written, yeah, sure, why not.

What should I do with all of that money? Hell-looo…party questions?? But, um, max out your 401k contribution if you haven't already.

You know you booked your party smack-dab in the middle of Hanukkah, right?
I know now. I hope you don't think that I'm culturally insensitive.

Can I bring anything to your party? I get asked that question frequently when I have a party. If you’d like, you can bring a beverage or snacks or some blow….pops. Charms Blow Pops.

When I get to your party, can I have something to eat? Sure!

What are you having? That’s kind of impolite. But we’ll repeat a lot of last year’s menu....the hot and cold dips...chili dogs..and, new this year, pulled pork with homemade 'slathering sauce'!

Pulled pork on a Saturday night in the middle of Hanukkah. Let me guess, you're.....Catholic?? Kinda sorta.

What about the Pometinis [pomegranate martinis]from last year? '06 guest feedback revealed fear over spilling red drinks on the light rug. We’re still deciding if we’ll switch the '07 signature party cocktail to something clear.

Like what?

Can I bring a guest? Yes.

Can I bring my kids? Adults only, please.

What do you have against kids? Their low tolerance for alcohol.

So hold it, you’ve served alcohol to kids? Not intentionally.

What is that supposed to mean? It means exactly what I said.

So? A while back I had a party where I let people bring kids. At this same party I invented a delicious new drink made with tequila & Hawaiian Punch, for which I coined the catchy name ‘agave juicebox’. Needless to say, people loved it, and all night long I mixed batch upon batch of these. And with each batch I would pour ‘em out and shout “Who’s ready for another round of juiceboxes!?’ Then I’d turn my back to make more, and each time I turned around the previous batch had disappeared. I just figured that it was adults grabbing them -- while the Wiggles rocked the house on the stereo.

Did you actually serve the drinks in wax paper boxes? No – to avoid confusion I poured them in to Disney-themed paper Dixie cups.

What the hell? I know, I know….by the time I caught on to what was happening my floor was covered with sleeping children and empty Dixie cups. It looked like a cross between nap-time at day care and Jonestown.

And where were the parents while all this was going on? That’s what I wanted to know!! Turns out, they thought the music sucked so they all went outside.

And then? As a condition of the settlement, I’ve told you everything that I’m permitted to say.

Friday, November 2, 2007