Friday, May 02, 2008

Customer Service = Boot to the goin...

Whenever we leave for a trip abroad my wife dutifully calls her credit card companies to to let them know where we're going to avoid the cards being flagged for foreign purchases.

I usually think about doing this and then just go on the trip without any incident.

But this time I actually wrote a note and called Capital One. After identifying myself I told the nice lady that I was heading off on a German adventure. She made a note and then for some reason transferred me to another department. This lady told me that the card 'needed to be re-activated' and that I had to answer several questions.


Re-activated? I checked the expiration date. No that's fine. And I used the card last week for a business purchase. Ooooooookaaaaay. I'll go along because I'm a sheep.

'First question: How much is the amount of your mortgage payment each month?'
I am given 4 possible answers.

Me: "Um, I'm not sure I can answer the question"

That was obviously the wrong thing to say.

"These questions are generated by the credit agencies. To verify who you are we need you to correctly answer these questions"

Me:"Well, there are two issues here. First, my mortgage is paid automatically each month by my bank. Second, it recently changed slightly and the amount might be answer B or C. I don't know. We set it up this way so that we wouldn't have to worry about writing checks every month. You know, to lover our stress level." I give a chuckle, there is no reciprocating chuckle.

Second question:"Your mortgage is held by which company?" Several choices are offered.

At this point it feels like this is some kind of fishing expedition. Why the hell do you need this information? I ask why I am being grilled about my Mortgage and she say only that I have to answer these questions. I ask for a supervisor.

10 minutes later I get an American voice. She starts explaining that the questions are needed to verify I am who I say I am because only I would know the answers to these questions.

I inform the woman that I was told I had to 're-authorize' my already active card and that I didn't think that my mortgage was any of their damn business thank you very much. She explains that the questions are random and might be as simple as "what color is your car?". Why the hell would my credit card company know what color car I drive???? By this time I am wrapping my head in an intricate tin foil hat/brainwave shield.

She tries to explain that they are simply trying to prevent fraud. That calling the credit card company and letting them know you are heading abroad is JUST the kind of thing that filthy criminals would do. Great. If I simply take off on a trip and buy a sausage alarm bells go off at Capital One, if I TELL them I am going to Germany as a courtesy I am obviously a criminal looking to game the system.

She then goes on to tell me that I am obviously not paying close enough attention to my credit cards and that my wife could go off and open an account and leave me with massive debt.

I am not kidding.

I put a halt to the conversation. "Ask me your questions. If possible I'd rather they don't involve inquiries about my mortgage."

"Why not?"

"Because there are three institutions people don't trust any more. The Government, the banks and the credit card companies. The order these institutions are mistrusted by me is quickly being rewritten based on this call".

"How do you pay the balance on this card?"

Wow. How do I explain the convoluted process by which we pay for stock? I try to explain that charge the card but then pay off the balance every month with a home equity line of credit that doesn't (as I delicately put it) 'Rape us so badly'. That payment is made, I think, by check.

"I need specifics sir. Who's name is on the checks?"

"Jesu Christu I just don't know, my WIFE writes them. I suspect both our names are on the checks."

"And what bank is this through?"

At this point I honestly don't know. My blood pressure is dangerously high and I am under my desk with the lights off because I think someone is outside my window peaking in. Is it the mortgage company? The bank? If I get this wrong will they nuke my account? Will the credit card company call homeland security to warn them that Al Qaida is attempting to import weaponized chocolate? I take a wild guess which must have been right. She gives me a number to call if I loose my card and thanks me for choosing Capital One. I hang up the phone and then beat it against my desk several times for good measure.

Customer service.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

In the workshop...

I bought a cheapo video camera for the Germany trip. I am not very impressed with it other than its size. But while I am testing it I thought I would record a brief update on a few projects I am working on in the shop. Enjoy!

Monday, April 28, 2008

The letter...

Three days ago I printed off a nine page letter and mailed it to an Army APO address. It was addressed to the son of a good friend. He is currently in Kuwait I believe, his final destination may be Iraq or Afghanistan.

It took me three months to write it, and despite endless revisions and re-writes it still didn't come out very well. Why did I write it? There are several reasons. I know that soldiers don't ever get enough mail. I know that email is available, but emails are rarely written with the same care of real letters and they have none of the permanency. A real letter means you took a little more time and effort to put down your thoughts.

Where many have no doubt sent him well-wishes and hope for a safe deployment I took a more practical approach. I outlined to him exactly why I felt we were in a wrongful conflict, why our presence in Iraq is not helping the cause of peace and what might happen when we remove ourselves from that area. It is, aside from a few bits of practical advice, a lengthy screed on why I feel his is in for a rough time and why he should not be there at all.

I am sure his parents spoke with him about this. I am sure they pointed out the risks and dangers of entering the service at this time. They are no Bush lovers. And yet he joined anyway. I truly wish I had been given the opportunity to speak with him while he was deciding whether to join or not. I don;t know if I could have changed his mind. I don't know his motivations. All I know if that this is a kid I used to see running around camp at Pennsic. We'd send him off on ice runs. He has always been, in my mind, a kid. And now he is an adult. He is in the Army, and he is now a small cog in the machine of war. The reality of that struck me so hard that I tried to blurt out all the things that I would have if I had been given the chance, even though its too late now.

While I respect the profession of citizen-soldier and know that it is a necessity, I can't just shut up and throw a yellow ribbon magnet on the back of my car. While the security of this country often depends on young Americans answering the call to arms THIS call was a wrong fucking number.

Why did I write this letter? Even after agonizing over it and finally sending it, I still cannot say. What am I hoping he will do with the ideas, opinions and flat out rants contained within its pages? I don't know. Part of me hopes that he will undergo some kind of epiphany, that he will find some way to get out without dishonor.

Why did I write this letter? I guess it was for the most selfish of reasons. Because I just do not know what I would do if I had to go to a funeral and see him in a casket. How could I possibly handle seeing his parents weaping over his grave? The simple answer is that I couldn't. When the concept rears it ugly head rational thought seems to evaporate. There is an anger, a rage. Who is to blame? Who is responsible? Why did this kid die when those who never served, and who's kids will never serve get to live out their comfy lives? I find myself with a headache, clenching my jaw. I have to take deep breath and go for a short walk to put such thought out of my mind.

I don't know how he'll take this letter. It might annoy or piss him off. It wasn't my intent to offend or insult him, only to make him think. Benjamin Frankin said that "Thinking is one of the most difficult things a man can do, which is why so few engage in it". Will I get a reply? I doubt it. He is from an age of emails, instant and text messages. But one can hope.