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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

The Three Complaints of Jason Toews

During a brief stint volunteering in a hospice, I was witness to a whole range of extreme and unpredictable human behavior. As far as I was concerned, folks who were in the last stages of a terminal illness were entitled to be cranky when I raised the bed up too high or spilled a bedpan or turned on the TV without checking the volume first. And sometimes they fully exercised that privilege. More often than not, however, they were just delightful people, and I don’t mean “I’m pumped so full of morphine that you could drop a brick on my goddam foot and I wouldn’t bat an eye” delightful. I mean “talkative, thoughtful, funny, and warm” delightful. I mean “actually a cool person who has interesting things to say” delightful.

You know who were the real assholes in hospice? The visiting families. They would waste no opportunity to berate a nurse, browbeat a volunteer, badger a doctor, or even, worst of all, lecture a dying relative on their “negative attitude.” The weirdest part of it was the complete lack of self-awareness; the worst ones would unfailingly pull a staff member aside and urgently rant about how they were actually “very spiritual” people, and that they had a “great relationship with Grandpa Jerry” and they “grew up in an extremely loving family.” These strident, twitchy, shrill, loud, and angry people would almost always describe themselves as “easy-going” and “centered.”

During this time, I developed the following hypothesis, which has generally proven itself true in the following years: Any sentence that begins with the words, “I’m the kind of person who…” is almost certainly untrue.

Having said all of that, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t waste his time complaining. I’m the kind of person who makes the best of a bad situation. No, seriously! I genuinely believe that about myself, even though Robin and Max and Jen and my sister and almost all of my friends will disagree. The hell with them, though. Who the hell do they think they are to judge me?

I… am… a… positive… PERSON!

This week, though, I’ve got a few things that are really getting my goat. Let me just get those out of the way, and I promise I’ll start focusing on the positive stuff.

First Complaint: Our Condo Smells Weird

Look, I understand the idea of communal living. I embrace the theory that by learning to overlook each other’s idiosyncrasies, we can become better, more tolerant and more sociable people. “Be the change you want to see in the world” and all that.

But what is up with the nasty-ass STANK in this building?

Every time we come in on the ground floor, the hair on the back of Quasar’s neck stands straight up and he crouches in an attack stance in front of the door to Unit 73. Behind the door, we can hear numerous unidentifiable animals clawing viciously at the hollow wooden door and snarling with murderous intent. Which helps to explain the smell down on that floor. I have come to believe that the resident in Unit 73 – in clear violation of Regency Park Community Association policy – is operating a breeding and training facility for Mexican fighting dogs, or else some kind of long-term boarding kennel for incontinent llamas. In either case, it reeks down there.

There is a definite odor on the second floor, but I haven’t been able to identify it yet… Recently gutted salmon? Freshly mown skunkweed?

Up here on the third floor, our next-door neighbor (Unit 83) is apparently operating a traditional Russian borscht cannery.

Second Complaint: Registering Our Cars
Was a Pain in the Ass

One really great thing about selling our house and moving to a, well, “less prosperous” area (ahem) was that we wound up with enough “extra” money to purchase two decent cars: one Prius and one Matrix. (Side note to Jack: over the last 5600 miles, the Prius got 45 miles per gallon.) Sadly, whatever excitement we felt about our new toys has been squelched by our soul-crushing encounters with the Massachusetts bureaucracy. I wanted to write about the nightmarish process of purchasing, registering, and insuring a car over here, but found myself drawing a blank because I still feel utterly baffled. Finally, I asked Robin to write down the basic steps, and here’s what she came up with (remember, we’re not experts or anything; this is just how we understand it so far, and we could easily be wrong):

“Before you can drive a car off the lot in MA, you have to have license plates. And you can only get the license plates from an insurance agent. Insurance prices in MA are set by the state, so it doesn’t matter where you go; every company is working from the same rate sheet. Different towns have different ratings, however, and if you live in a “shadier” town (you know – where the poor people live), you pay more. So you have to go to an insurance agent’s office, pay for insurance, and then they hand you the plates right there in the office. Then you go back to the dealership, give them the plates, and they sell you the car. Then, you have seven days to get the car photographed, which is only done at specific locations (NOT at the dealer or the insurance office, and NO you cannot take the pictures yourself). These photos are apparently to prove that you actually have the car and it is as you described to the insurance agent. After the pictures are taken, you get a form. You have to take the form back to the insurance agent. Then, you have a limited amount of time to get a safety inspection, done only at (other) specific places. Once you get your safety inspection done, you have to register your car at the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). There is not an RMV in every town. Of course, none of these places takes credit or debit cards, so you have to get cash at every step of the way.”

Robin had been working through these steps before I arrived, but it still took us most of the following week to get both cars street-legal. Insane.

Every step of the way, folks would kindly remind us that we had missed a crucial prerequisite step: “Now… did you want me to do an out-of-state safety inspection? Because if I do the inspection now, I’ll have to do it again once you get your Massachusetts plates. And I’ll have to charge you twice.”

Crap. So, once we get those plates on, you can do the inspection, right?

“Nope, not until you’ve had the photos taken for your insurance.”

Um, so after I get the plates on, where can I get these photos taken?

“I think Sleitch Auto Body does that, if they’re still in business. They’re on the other side of town… do you know the area?”

Crap.

“I tell ya, honey, they get ya comin’ and goin’ in this state,” we were told by the woman who runs the Midas shop over in Chicopee, after her assistant finished taking the photos of our Matrix. “That’s why they call it Tax-A-Chusetts!” She looked like Mrs. Garrett from “The Facts of Life.”

After signing the inspection forms in triplicate, and repeatedly asking for assurance that we had completed all necessary steps, we groused a little to Mrs. Garrett about how expensive the process had been.

“You ain’t lyin’,” she agreed. “Just wait ‘til you get the Excise Tax Bill – that’ll be another four or five hundred, easy.”

Crap.

Third Complaint: They Lost Our Damn Luggage

(EDITOR’S NOTE: During her flight from Seattle to Hartford, Delta lost Robin’s luggage. By the time Max and I arrived in AAAAAAAGAWAAAAAM, Robin had spent several days trying to retrieve her luggage, and she was, well… agitated. Following is her account of the events.)

Hi there. I just thought I’d share the latest in our relocation nightmare. When I arrived at Hartford airport, neither of my bags was there. One had been located (at the wrong airport), but not the other one. They gave me a claim number and sent me home, leaving me in a new town, not knowing anyone, and with nothing but the clothes on my back. Each day I hand-washed my one pair of underwear and my blouse, and slept naked while they hung to dry for the next day.

After three days of sweating in the New England humidity in the same jeans and brown long- sleeve blouse, I drove to the Hartford airport in desperation, and, lo and behold, there was one of my bags, just sitting outside the baggage information office! I guess they were waiting to deliver it until the next one arrived? I took it home with me, but unfortunately, it was the bag with my toiletries, books, papers, etc.

Still no clothes.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I love clothes, and stupidly I packed all my very favorite things in the other (still missing) bag. Very expensive designer clothes, the ones I live in, including my new handmade purse with checkbook, my address book for everyone in my life, my shoes, my make-up bag, etc.

Every day I dutifully called Delta, and got the same recorded response, stating (incorrectly) that the bag I had already picked up was still at Hartford, and (correctly) that the other one had not been located. I don’t know why this has hit me so hard – perhaps all the stress and change and loss inherent with the move, but I feel really super upset about that lost bag!

Then, on day six of the fiasco, I received a tantalizing voicemail on my cell phone from a woman named Sharon. Sharon was calling from Olney, Maryland, to tell me that my luggage had been sitting at her house for five days! Apparently, they lost her brother’s luggage and delivered mine to her instead. She had been trying for five days to get Delta to come pick it up, but her pleas had gone unanswered. Furious and frustrated, she called my cell phone number, which she easily found on my luggage tag (the luggage tag directly attached to the bag Delta couldn’t find).

I went crazy when I heard that message! Oh Dear Lord, there was hope! I must speak to this woman! I must get more information! I must beg her to tape a huge sign on my bag with my name and contact information, one that can’t be missed or easily torn off by the Delta baggage handlers or their delivery crews!

Then came a second message, in which Sharon told me that she was “really pissed” at Delta and that she had made a “big fuss,” which finally drove the customer service idiots to connect her with (someone who claimed to be) a manager, who, at long last, agreed to pick up the bag. “I’m sure you want your luggage as much as my brother wants his!” exclaimed Sharon, before helpfully spelling out the name of her city: O-L-N-E-Y. Sadly, she neglected to leave either her last name or a phone number. My Caller ID listed her number as “RESTRICTED.” Not only that, the luggage Sharon wanted was in her brother’s name… which she also failed to leave.

Now I was ten times more anxious, because she was dropping my precious luggage back into a totally incompetent system, and I had no way to talk to her, no way to get any further information. I wanted to offer her big money to send it UPS. Just for God’s sake don’t give it back to Delta, who couldn’t figure out it was mine, even though it has two labels on it, and this random woman was able to contact me based on the information on the luggage itself! No! Don’t give it back to them… argggggh. I also wanted to thank her for at least trying to return my belongings.

But I was left again, crazy with stress and completely powerless – I got those messages but have no way to talk to the woman! She hasn’t called back since. I called Delta immediately after that and tried to update their information. Please, I begged, you delivered my bag to Olney, MD, can’t you trace it? No, sorry, they had no way of finding that record. Perhaps someone stole it, they suggested – you should fill out a claim form. After two more days of tears, impotent rage and frustration, Jason took over…

(Jason takes over the story now)

…and, despite my commanding, stage-trained voice, razor-sharp intellect, and white male privilege, utterly failed to make any headway whatsoever.

At first, I was hopeful. I called Delta and, after navigating through a maddening and circuitous phone system obviously designed to weed out the timid and the easily frustrated, I was connected to a surprisingly helpful and friendly customer service rep.

“I am very sorry to hear that your wife has been treated so poorly, sir,” he sympathized, after I gave him our story and angrily demanded – DEMANDED, I tell you – that he rectify this situation immediately. “Looking at my case file here,” he continued calmly, “I can see that your wife has called us already on this issue and given us some details. Let me just confirm the information we have – your wife’s bag was delivered to a ‘Sharon Olney’ – is that correct?”

“No, that is NOT correct. My wife’s bag was delivered to a woman named ‘Sharon’ who LIVES in Olney, Maryland.”

“Well, if your wife gave us incorrect information, that might explain why we haven’t been able to find her luggage. Now,” he continued, “if I could just get the last name of the customer who received your wife’s bag…?”

“I. JUST. TOLD. YOU.” I said very slowly, through clenched teeth. “I only have the first name of the customer’s sister. Her name is Sharon. MORE IMPORTANT is the fact that she lives in Olney, Maryland. My wife’s luggage was delivered to Sharon’s house by a courier eight days ago. Sharon spoke to a manager in your Lost Baggage department at the Washington, D.C. airport, who agreed to come pick up my wife’s bag. I happen to know a little bit about databases,” I added in a superior tone, warming to the subject. “It should be possible for you to search your database for any luggage that was delivered by courier to a customer in Olney, Maryland eight days ago. As it turns out, it was delivered INCORRECTLY, so you had to send out another courier to the SAME ADDRESS to pick it up, probably YESTERDAY. That should help you narrow down the search further. I’m not stupid,” I informed him and ended by reiterating: “I happen to know a little bit about databases!”

“I do thank you for that information, sir,” responded the Delta rep smoothly. “I’m going to put you on hold for just a minute while I check our database.”

I gave Robin the thumbs-up. “Now we’re getting somewhere,” I thought. “Obviously, it just took a man’s touch.”

Twenty minutes later, the Delta rep came back on the line. “Okay, I’ve put tags in our system indicating the information you shared with me, and if anything comes up, we will contact you immediately. Now – and this is just a formality – I would suggest you download one of our claim forms and begin filling it out. Of course, when we do locate your wife’s luggage, your claim form will be negated, but this will just help us to get the process started.”

I was dumbfounded.

“Wha- ? Wait a minute here,” I expostulated. “I just gave you the information necessary to search for our luggage; why haven’t you found it?”

“Unfortunately, sir, our system does not allow searches of that kind. For a search of that complexity, I would need administrative access to the master database module, and even then, it would require special programming and reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. Now, as I said, I have put tags in our system, which- ”

I interrupted, not ready to concede defeat. “Then why can’t you call the Lost Baggage department at the Washington, D.C. airport, speak to the manager there, and ask if he remembers an angry woman named Sharon who called to bitch him out about some incorrectly-delivered luggage?”

“Okay, sir, if you will allow me to place you on hold again, I will do that,” replied the unflappable rep.

Fifteen minutes later, he returned to deliver the killing blow: “Sir? I tried calling the Washington airport office, but they are very busy at the moment handling a large volume of lost luggage, so nobody was available to speak with me. I have, however, placed tags-”

“Let me get this straight – you’re telling me that you are unable to contact anybody in one of your own offices?” I demanded, unbelieving. “What’s the phone number down there? I’ll call them myself!”

“Unfortunately, sir, we are not allowed to give out that number. As I mentioned, they are very busy…”

The next day, Robin asked me to call again, but my spirit had been broken. “Give it up,” I advised. “That bag is history.”

She, however, had gotten her second wind. Undaunted, she called again. After an hour on the phone, she hung up and sat next to me on the couch, despondent.

“Did they at least have a record of the information I gave the guy yesterday?” I asked her. “I mean, he said he was putting all of that information in these ‘tags’ or whatever…”

Robin sighed; a deep, hopeless sigh of bottomless despair. A minute passed before she could tell me about her fruitless conversation.

“Oh yeah,” she said bitterly, “they had the information you gave them yesterday. They also had some new information: when they run my bag’s number in their system, the name ‘Whitehead’ comes up. When I asked why the nine previous reps were unable to notice that the wrong name is attached to my bag’s claim number, she said, ‘I couldn’t say why’.”

In Robin’s next daily conversation with representatives from the Kafkaesque Delta baggage-mangling bureaucracy, she was informed that the “Whitehead” lead was a red herring: after a week or so, they recycle the luggage numbers. A couple of weeks had passed since her luggage had disappeared, so they simply assigned the unused number to someone else’s luggage, as per Delta policy. But what about our bag, Robin demanded, which still has a luggage tag with that number printed on it? (at this point she had given up hope that the bag could be located by the simple tags we attached ourselves before checking them, with our names and addresses on them – the ones Sharon in Olney was able to use to contact us). Not to worry, she was assured; the mighty Delta computer system cross-references that old, now-duplicated number with a newly-assigned “special” number. So any Delta employee would merely have to enter that new number to find the information on Robin’s bag. But, Robin persisted, if a Delta employee came across my bag in the bottom of a storage bin or something, how would they know to enter that new number, since the tag attached to my bag only has the old number printed on it? The Delta rep muttered something about “matching ID (garbled) database something-or-other (unintelligible static) supervisor…” after which the line – and all hopes of ever seeing that bag again – went stone dead.

No pictures this week; we were too depressed.

NEXT: Jason tries to come up with something positive to say.

One Comment

  1. I love your use of the word witness in the first line …

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