Chapter 38: COVID Chronicles

May 5, 2020

By Karen

Day 55

Texting and TV Don’t Mix & Roc Demonstrates MMA

Last night I caught up on Outlander (Yay! Briana and Roger are gone. But you know it can’t last.) But next week is the damn season finale. Never fails. Just as I get into it again, it’s gone for another YEAR. It might as well be called Brigadoon.

So then I binged on three episodes of a new HBO “black comedy” called RUN because it stars some favorites: Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie), with appearances by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) and Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife).

It’s another example of how the bar for “comedy” has dropped very, very low, unless irony is passing for humor these days. Not to say that the show is bad. It’s just not funny.

They’re not calling RUN a “limited series,” but I don’t see how it can last past six episodes. The premise is, after 17 years with no contact, two former college sweethearts follow through on a pact they made that if they ever text each other the word “RUN,” they will abandon their lives and meet in Grand Central Station to travel around the country together.

So, Harry Meets Sally and they remake The Fugitive.

This show is full of my biggest pet peeve about TV — aside from being sick of watching people talk at their computer screens.

Too much of RUN’s crucial plot points lazily rely on smartphones. Talking, checking, hacking, glimpsing and, most infuriating, TEXTING.

I don’t know how people (like my parents) watch TV without DVR capabilities. Almost every time there’s a fucking text — always flashed too small and too quickly to read — I have to back it up, freeze it, and walk over to the TV to see it.

Yes, I know that’s life these days, but you can see people on smartphones everywhere. It has zero entertainment value.

Meanwhile (to borrow Stephen Colbert’s schtick), I’ve been forced to abandon midway the Julian Fellowes series Belgravia. Turns out, I DON’T get Epix because Verizon cut me off on April 30.

Get this: Verizon made this grand gesture of opening to everyone 80+ channels for April. I found out when they emailed about it on April 22. That’s right. “Verizon is proud to announce you had ALL these free extra channels since April 1. Enjoy the last nine days, Sucka!”

Meanwile, even the kitties seem to be seeking fresh ways to amuse themselves. Tony stepped on a tiny ant he caught marching toward his bowls. After I got rid of it, he staked out the area, poised to pounce, to make sure none of its buddies showed up (they didn’t)…

And Roc came meowing from the bedroom carrying that bird toy. I don’t know what it’s done to piss off Roc, but he gave it another thrashing for about 10 minutes while Tony studied his moves. Here’s a small clip…

When it comes to Roc venting his pent-up aggression, I say better the bird than poor Max.

Taking the Smartphone Plunge

April 30, 2013

By Karen

Call me old-fashioned, but I think anybody who goes around with a phone stuck upside their head because they’ve lost the ability to function without third-party feedback are the worst kind of stupid.

If you ever eavesdrop (it’s usually hard not to), they’re usually describing their location…

“I’m in Food Lion. At the checkout.”

They never give the full story, which is, “Slowly unloading my groceries with one hand, backing up the line, and ignoring the cashier so I can babble about nothing on my phone.”

I had a sweet little blue Samsung cellphone with a slide-out keyboard — that was never on. It was for when I needed to make a call, not to make myself available to interruption 24/7.

But for just the occasional call, without texting or data, I was paying Verizon $45 a month under a 2-year sentence contract. They said texts were 10 cents each, but every month I’d get a 20-cent charge for some useless text they’d sent me. So apparently, it was 10 cents to receive, and another 10 cents to read.

A few months ago they dangled a Samsung smartphone at me, real cheap. But to take that bait started a NEW 2-year sentence and raised my bill to $80+.

So last week I went to Sears to check out Consumer Cellular. It’s AARP’s preferred cellphone provider and runs on AT&T’s network.

For $150, I bought a Huawei (pronounced Wah-way) 8800 smartphone. It only runs Android 2.2 (aka “Froyo,” for “frozen yogurt”), which isn’t the latest version. But who needs frills when you don’t even know how to use the damn phone?

I have no long-term contract, and 150 voice minutes, 1,000 texts, and 100 MB of data (WAY more than I’ll ever use unless I develop an addiction) is $25 + tax a month. If I need more or less, I can change the plan any time.

The biggest snag I hit was with Google. You need Google email to access apps. When I entered my Google address, it sucked over 600+ email addresses from my AOL business account onto my smartphone, when all I wanted was a short list of personal phone numbers from my old Verizon phone.

(BTW, nothing from a Verizon phone is transferrable to CC because Verizon phones don’t have the interchangeable SIM card other carriers use. Way to put one last screw to your customers, Verizon!)

My Huawei’s relatively primitive capabilities should lessen the learning curve, but I had to call CC twice for help the first day. The reps were rather condescending, with one telling me I should LOVE having hundreds of junk email addresses on my new phone because it’s supposed to be the repository of my LIFE.

This whole endeavor boiled down to 1) Reducing some bills since Anthem hiked my health insurance another $50 a month, 2) Having text/data capability if I ever need/want it, and 3) Breaking out of Verizon’s yoke.

So far, so good with the Huawei, although my first game download (Bingo Blast) was too big for the screen and I couldn’t figure out how to play it. And I couldn’t buy a cute case anywhere (it’s an iPhone and Galaxy world), but I did order one from Amazon.

I don’t feel compelled to use the smartphone any more than my old one, and I don’t keep it on all the time. Why smartphones are an American obsession is still a mystery to me — but now I have one.


Employer Health Benefits May Go Bye-Bye

May 7, 2010

By Yul

You probably thought it was just a crazy cat’s raving when I suggested that Obama ban employers from providing health insurance to level the playing field. Well, dropping their health benefits is EXACTLY what Big Business is considering.

Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, got steamed at employers for allegedly inflating health reform’s bottom-line effect. He demanded to see all their documentation and summoned the big-wigs to a hearing.

Waxman discovered in internal dirt from AT&T, Verizon, Caterpillar, and Deere that they had all concluded paying fines would be a MUCH lower and predictable expense than their time-consuming, never-ending crap game with insurance companies.

Waxman canceled his hearing and dummied up. So much for Obama’s foolish promise that “you can keep the insurance you like.”

What employers giveth, employers can taketh away.

The country will be better off if they follow through. Companies will have billions more for R&D and hiring. Without Fortune 500 companies to bilk, insurance companies won’t be posting 51% quarterly net income increases.

People who had employer benefits will get a much-needed reality check when they experience the absurdity of 50 inconsistent state insurance exchanges, and the country will be a few steps closer to universal healthcare and making a dent in the deficit.

On another front, WellPoint/Anthem and other insurers have suddenly gone all altruistic, claiming they’ll immediately stop rescinding coverage on the sick, unless the person committed fraud in applying.

Fraud cancellations are about to rise off the charts, and people can go bankrupt twice as fast — paying their own medical bills and the lawyers they’ll need to defend their integrity.

For the insurers, it’s nothing but a set-up to justify obscene 2011 rate hikes. (“We’re covering more sick people now!”) WellPoint was recently forced to back off that 39% increase in California as unwarranted, so they’re going to make everyone else pay. Just you wait.

Verizon Books Start Life in the Gutter

March 1, 2008

By Karen

In spite of everything, I have to admire Verizon for its singular dedication to leaving no stone unturned in making itself look bad.

My phones are fine, but the other day I found a dirty plastic bag in the mud, a foot from my paved driveway.

It was a mammoth new Yellow Pages directory. The cover was torn and some pages wet, but once it dried and I shook out all the crud, it was OK and I was satisfied – even willing to forget about White Pages. I figured Verizon gave them up as a compendium of errors too expensive to correct.

But a few days later, a man called asking if I’d received my books, and promised me White Pages, as well. And he kept his word.

My street’s gutters were soon strewn with white plastic bags. My particular gutter wasn’t, so I swiped my neighbor’s bag because he wasn’t home.

Sure enough, it was White Pages and a little Companion Yellow Pages. What’s with that, anyway? Does Verizon really think we let our fingers do the walking through a reference library when we need a plumber?

Miraculously, my listing was updated – calling Verizon twice about it obviously paid off. I’m a modestly published author and sometimes blog controversially, so I figured it’s time to delete my address and make potential assassins Google me to find me.

Verizon finally dropped my sister’s ancient listing, but my mother’s still showing at the house she sold 5-6 years ago, as well as her new address – with the same number.

I’ll give Verizon a pass on the crazy deliveries. They probably hire kids who consider the job a paid joy ride to fling heavy objects.

But the books’ content is pure Verizon. Why can’t they start by matching the books to their billing files? Don’t they have people who could do that?

One More Pocket of Competence at Verizon

February 21, 2008

By Karen

I can send long-distance faxes again, thanks to the “Expeditor,” a Verizon supervisor somewhere in the 757 area code.

She first called me out of the blue several hours after I put in my second request for third-party long-distance on my fax line. She said a 2-day wait for activation was unacceptable, and gave me two numbers where I could reach her.

Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in speeding things up.

The two days were up yesterday, and when the promised service failed to materialize, I called the Expeditor, who stunned me by answering her phone. She checked into things and found that my order had “clogged” and gotten dropped. When this happens, no one at Verizon apparently notices or cares because nothing gets done until the customer starts screaming.

I know, because this isn’t the first time I’ve been trapped in a “clog.” It happened before when I initially tried to get FIOS. Verizon’s “So what?” attitude and “rush” to reschedule me – 3 weeks later – caused me to switch to Cavalier Telephone for a while.

The Expediter got me back in the flow and my long-distance was restored by 5 p.m. yesterday.

At 7 p.m., the Expediter phoned me again to make sure everything was OK.

After I sent a long-distance fax early this morning to assure myself it really worked, I called the Expediter to confirm and she answered her phone again. The woman never goes home.

I can’t tell you her name because I know she’d be swamped if it got out. I’m adding her to my stash of secret Verizon contacts. However, with both phone lines working properly right now, I hope I’ll never need to call them again.

More Hassles with Verizon

February 20, 2008

By Karen

When I got Verizon FIOS phone service in October 2007, they insisted I buy unlimited long distance on my main line for $14.95 a month. Then they screwed up my much-cheaper long distance plan with Qwest on my fax line, leaving me with none.

I don’t do much long-distance faxing, so I didn’t reinstate Qwest until December 18. As instructed by Qwest, I immediately called Verizon to give them Qwest’s PIC number, 0432.

I didn’t need Qwest until two days ago to fax long-distance, and then it wouldn’t go through.

Qwest blamed Verizon for not processing my change.

Instead of wasting hours trying to go through proper channels for what I thought would be a quick fix, I called the secret phone numbers I got when I blogged here about my mother’s recent problems with Verizon. Naturally, no one answered, so I left messages.

A while later, another Verizon rep called back and said it would take two days to get my Qwest service because 1) It was President’s Day (although not a holiday at Verizon because she was working), and 2) It was just after noon.

She also said I should be charged $7-something to make the change, but promised to waive it.

Verizon screwed up my service and isn’t going to make me pay for that. How wonderful.

Later that day, a fourth Verizon employee called who said she’d try to “expedite” things.

Two days are up, and I still can’t send a long-distance fax. I called “Ms. Expediter” a few hours ago and I’m waiting for answers.

5 P.M. update: The Expediter called me again after this entry posted, so I suspect I’m being monitored. Upon trying the fax machine once more, it just said, “Thank you for using Qwest.” So it appears that Verizon finally gave up and let me have my cheaper long-distance carrier back. Hallelujah!

Keep the Garbage Off Your Phone Bill

January 22, 2008

By Karen

We know we must watch credit card bills for charges that could signal identity theft. But phone bills pose an equally insidious threat, and phone companies are complicit by listing their own legitimate charges in gibberish and by allowing anyone to place charges on your bill without authorization.

My phone has been targeted twice, but the first phony charge was only 25 cents, so I eventually paid it after protesting it for several months and getting nowhere.

Phone scam crooks depend on our lack of attention and/or comprehension of our bills, and our unwillingness to do battle with the phone company.

Last March, a suspicious $4.25 charge from Integrated Voice Services in Tampa, FL, appeared on my Verizon phone bill for a conference calling service I never ordered. It would have become a monthly charge if I hadn’t caught it.

Verizon refused to remove it, so I contacted Integrated – every month for four months. They canceled their “service” immediately, but that $4.25 hung on my bill as an overdue balance, and even accumulated finance charges. Integrated kept saying, “Just wait one more billing cycle,” for it to disappear.

All Verizon would do was waive the finance charges and put the $4.25 in dispute so it wouldn’t go against my credit rating. By law, I don’t believe they could cut off my phone service for not paying it.

By July, I was incensed enough to call the State Corporation Commission, and learned that phone companies earn a fee on these fraudulent charges (as well as any finance charges, if you give up and pay them), so they have no incentive to stop.

Once the SCC was on the case, Verizon had so many days to respond. They did, my account was cleared, and they offered to put a “cramming block” on my line, which was supposed to stop them from adding future unauthorized junk.

Anyone can call their phone company and request a cramming block (a.k.a. third-party block). You’ll never see them advertised, they’re not foolproof, and they’re not the only blocks available, but they’re a good start.

How I Got Verizon’s Attention

January 20, 2008

By Karen

Blogging. Within two hours of posting here about my mother’s problems with Verizon, a third-party consultant found it and alerted a Verizon senior vice president, who immediately phoned me for more details.

Within minutes, I got two more calls, from the consultant and from a woman on Verizon’s Executive Support Escalation Team. This woman also called my mother.

Now I have the names and direct phone numbers of two Verizon employees who are actually paid to give a damn. I’m not revealing them because the resulting avalanche of complaints would make their jobs hell, and they both seem like nice people who don’t deserve that.

Verizon promised me they would resolve all my mother’s issues and even make her happy. That includes trying (with a house call, perhaps?) to get her to give up her old AT&T e-mail account and start using Verizon’s, which she loathes for functional reasons.

But I think Verizon’s true motivation became apparent when the Escalation Team woman asked my mother if she would reconsider sending her complaint to the State Corporation Commission. My mother stood firm, but agreed to send a copy to Verizon.

Last year, I had to go to the SCC myself to resolve a bogus charge on my bill after trying in vain for four months to get the originating company and Verizon to remove it. Within a few days, the SCC cut through the crap and got Verizon to fix everything.

During this ordeal, I learned about “cramming.” Shortly, I’ll tell you what Verizon won’t about how you can avoid it and get some protection from bogus charges. Phone companies have reason to allow you to become a cramming victim.

I also promised Verizon to give credit when and where it’s due by posting word of their success with my mother when it’s achieved.

So, stay tuned…

Verizon Strikes (Out) Again

January 18, 2008

By Karen

My mother is Verizon’s newest enemy.

She had been clinging to dial-up Internet until she was forced recently to replace her old computer. The day we went shopping, a friendly Verizon representative was in Best Buy offering a FIOS upgrade of phone, TV, and Internet for $99.99 and $100 off the purchase of a PC. It was an offer my mother couldn’t refuse.

And she’s regretted it ever since.

First, the FIOS installation took over 7 hours. Then she kept having problems with Internet access. It turned out the installer wired some things backward.

Verizon has been shoving FIOS down everyone’s throat for months, but they still manage to make every home installation seem like it’s the first one they’ve ever done.

My mother had to wait a few months to get a “clean” bill, without any straggling days, to find out the true bottom line on her FIOS upgrade. Phone and cable companies always act as if taxes and fees are negligible pennies and refuse to quote them, but they always add a hefty chunk to the total.

It turned out she was being charged more than $99.99. So she called Verizon and, after waiting on hold for 20 minutes (much better than the 105 minutes she spent trying to cancel her old Verizon dial-up line), the customer service rep couldn’t explain the discrepancy, but had the nerve to say, “Even so, you’re still getting a good deal.”

At those words, my mother hung up and began composing a letter to the State Corporation Commission.

Bad service, bad billing, bad customer service. With Verizon, you get it all.

No Escape from Telecommunication Hell

October 30, 2007

By Karen

I made several technological leaps recently. Out of thriftiness, I switched my phones from Verizon to Cavalier. A smooth-talking Comcast CSR named Sheila persuaded me to upgrade cable TV from analog to digital. And with glee I abandoned dial-up for high-speed Internet access with Clearwire.

Two out of three decisions I lived to regret.

Clearwire was the only company who delivered as promised. I had their modem within 24 hours, it took seconds to install, and it worked perfectly. They’ve billed me exactly what they quoted.

Not so with Comcast. I was told digital would cost about $5 more a month, but it’s actually $15.

The new digital box compelled me to shell out another $250 for a VHS/DVD recorder to replace my analog VCR and a DVD player.

I was getting lousy reception on NBC and the Food Network, so I called for service. Comcast replaced my digital box without telling me, which caused the universal remote to stop working with my new DVD recorder, and I can’t fix it. Then they billed me $24.95 for the call, like it was my fault their “upgrade” botched up two channels.

My honeymoon with digital TV was brief. Channels jerk and skip content. HBO goes black for extended periods. On Demand isn’t always available. TV has become hit-or-miss.

But Cavalier Telephone took dishonesty and incompetence to new heights. They started me off with no phone service for three days. During that time, I spent literally hours on hold on my 10-cents-a-minute-only-for-emergencies prepaid cell phone, only to have Cavalier do nothing when they finally did answer but blame Verizon.

When the phones started working, some significant functionality was missing. This inferior service ultimately cost more than Verizon because Cavalier failed to quote $27 in additional monthly taxes and questionable charges, like the extra $8 per month per line to use phone lines.

The only time Cavalier excelled was in disconnecting me yesterday when I crawled back to Verizon. I had no phone for another half-day while I waited for rescue. Verizon, playing their upper hand, forced me into a FIOS upgrade, but at least I got all my calling features back.

So, now I hear a tinny echo when I talk, and God knows what FIOS is really going to cost. Verizon sold me unlimited long-distance to ease the pain.

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