Online Support and other Horror Stories Part I

Microsoft exists to redistribute your money to Bill and Melinda Gates (who don’t have nearly enough) so they can take a tax write-off when they give part of it away to someone they think deserves it (which obviously isn’t you).

Microsoft has devised a fast and easy way to facilitate this process.

1. Create things that don’t work, requiring you to contact their free support team.

2. Create a free support team (none of whom speak fluent English) whose sole purpose is to send you to Microsoft’s “premium support service” (composed of a group of people whose real names we can’t pronounce but none of whom speak fluent English) which costs you money.

How do I know? I am one of the several billion people sending money to Bill and Melinda.

Today was another fine example.

I can’t play any internet videos. Or rather, I can play them, but with no sound. Yes, the sound is turned up, I’m not an idiot. I checked that first because I’ve often been an idiot in the past. Internet video watching is the primary duty of a work-at-home writer. It’s called research. Because you never know when you might want to write about electric sheep.

But the point is that it’s important. And I need to fix it. So I go to Microsoft online support which offers a handy Mr. Fix-it (complete with a Professional Handy Man cap and wrench to throw into your hard drive). Which works one time. Then won’t work the second time the sound goes off.

Instead of working to automatically find and correct the problem, I get an error message: “troubleshooter is invalid or expired” and I must to go to the website to get the current version. Which I do. Only to get the same message. Which means the website has a glitch that keeps it from recognizing the current version as the current version. Which means I am forced to try chatting with the dread on-line support tech.

With these results …

info: Please wait for an agent to respond. You are currently ‘8’ in the queue.

[Crap. “Queue.” That means they don’t speak English.]

info: All agents are currently assisting others. Thank you for your patience. An agent will be with you shortly. You are currently ‘2’ in the queue.

info: You are now chatting with ‘Lewis’.

Lewis: Hello, Wiswit.

Welcome to Microsoft Customer Service Chat.

Thank you for your waiting.

Sorry to know that the Microsoft Fixit is not working.

Let me try my best to help you.

May I know the specific Program or Software you are referring to?


Could you please elaborate the exact task you want to accomplish?

[What? Does this person not speak English? And you already KNOW what program isn’t working: Microsoft Fixit!]

Lewis: We have not heard from you. Do you wish to continue the chat?

Wiswit: yes

Lewis: Please respond to me as delay in respond may lead to session expiry and leads to disconnection in the chat session.

[Now I understand! It’s a robot!]

Lewis: Are we still connected?

Wiswit: I get no wound and ran the fixit from your website – which previously worked – but now I get an error message that fixit is unavailable to get the current version from the website But it IS the current version

Wiswit: no sound

Lewis: This seems to be a Technical issue, Wiswit.

Well, Microsoft has a dedicated Online Techncial Chat support to help you with perfect guidance or even possibly would take your device or computer on Remote to resolve the issues online. I hope this should be the right options for your Technical issues that you may not be able to handle.

So, Please click here to reach Premium Software Support – Resolve issues with Windows and Start an online chat with a Microsoft Answer Tech and resolve this issue.

I hope this helps you to resolve your issue, Wiswit.

I wish I could help.

As I have limited scope of support to help you on your concern, being a technical or a billing issue else may be out of my support knowledge; request you to please contact the dedicated support team.

Wiswit: You aren’t speaking English. Is someone there who can speak English?

Lewis: I hope you understand and cooperate.

Thank you for using Microsoft Customer Service Chat.

Please feel free to come back again.

info: Chat session has been terminated by the agent.


Why People Go Insane Through No Fault of Their Own

Warning: the incident described herein happened before implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the author has absolutely no idea if it will help others in similar circumstances. She hopes so but highly doubts it.

Contrary to what their names imply, health care providers do not exist to give health care and health insurance companies do not exist to offer health insurance.


They exist primarily to make the rest of us crazy, with the added benefit of giving the people who work in those industries something to laugh at.

How do I know? I’m one of the rest of us.

I’m at the age when doing the things I used to be able to do – like exercise – is unwise. That’s because I foolishly believe my doctor’s advice that exercise is better for me than sitting on a couch drinking beer and eating doughnuts, which – unlike exercise – has never sent me to the hospital for x-rays and physical therapy.

Which is why I’m now crazy.

Because I ended up with a bill. And learned that physical therapists charge more than K Street lawyers.

I opened it up and learned they charge $519 for a 30 minute session which basically involved insulting my knees, telling me I’m an out-of-shape weakling, and snickering while watching me walk.

They then told me to go home. And come back in two weeks.

Foolishly believing that, because I had health insurance, the charges for therapy would be reasonable, I completed two more sessions.

All three sessions involved the same process. They asked me how I felt. The snickered as they tested my strength. They asked me to demonstrate the assigned exercises. They gave me new ones. They sent me home.

Then I got the first bill.

Keep in mind that no one, no one, could tell me how much my therapy would cost, I just had to promise I would pay, no matter how much it was. That may be why they think they can charge anything they like. And do, including $519 for some guy who’s not even a doctor to tell me my knees point in the wrong direction.

Of course, that’s not what I have to pay. I only have to pay the contracted rate of $368.49. For just one visit. The insurance company doesn’t pay any of it. That’s because we pay thousands of dollars for a top-rated policy.

Under a top-rated policy, after paying thousands of dollars in premiums every year, we get to pay thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses every year until we satisfy the patient obligation. Then, if we suffer a catastrophic illness on December 31st, the insurance company pays all the bills. Until January 1st. When the patient obligation starts all over again.

Of course, I happen to think that $519 (or even $368.49) is a ridiculous amount to charge someone just to ridicule them. Especially when the treatment doesn’t improve things. Which may be intentional. After all, this insures a continued revenue stream.

I, of course, called the health care provider to complain. A staffer, after telling me they can’t tell people what the therapy will cost before giving the therapy, said the manager would call me back to discuss my concerns. I foolishly believed this.

After never hearing from the manager (who may not actually exist), I called my insurance company (foolishly thinking I could find a less expensive option) because their “Explanation of Benefits” or “EOB” (commonly called Form #Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here) says to “call us to estimate treatment costs or to compare cost and quality of in-network health care professionals and facilities.”

The staffer immediately told me they didn’t know the prices and I’d have to call the health care provider to find out.

This is why I’m now crazy. Or would be but I don’t know if I can afford it because nobody will tell me what it would cost.

Gotta Love ‘Em

“An alligator that surprised two boys fishing in a Washington County lake was shot dead by a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources enforcement officer, but another alligator remained on the loose Thursday.”

This was necessary because, as the DNR officer explained, “alligators don’t belong in Minnesota lakes and have no business alarming anglers.”

The search for Bonnie continues. You already know the name of her dead partner.

Who you gonna call?

Celebrities are not like the rest of us.

How do we know?

Try this simple test.

You’re in a serious car accident. You’re injured. You might be bleeding. Other passengers definitely need medical attention.

You scramble for your cell phone.

You dial:

A. 9-1-1.
B. 9-1-1.
C. 9-1-1.
D. 9-1-1.
E. Jodie Foster

If you are a celebrity, the correct answer is “E.”

I mean seriously. Call 9-1-1? Why on earth would anyone do that? That just brings the police and EMT’s! Jodie’s buddy Mel Gibson would be the first person after Lindsay Lohan to tell you that’s the last thing you want to happen.

Which is why when celebrity yogurt spokesperson Jamie Lee Curtis was in an accident recently she did the right thing and called Jodie. Who rushed to the scene to help.

Possibly because even though she’s not a real doctor, she’s a good enough actor to play one if she wanted to.

And the question is:

Why is sex for money illegal when it’s called prostitution …

but legal when it’s called porn?

And the Answer is:

Rupert Murdoch

The Question: We have children going hungry, income inequality at historic levels, global warming, catastrophic weather, Republicans across the nation rolling back women’s rights on everything from equal pay to sexual harassment to reproductive choice, yet instead of meaningful, in-depth coverage of these or other vital issues we get mind-numbingly inane animal updates. Why?

Actual headlines I just copied off CNN:





Welcome to Stumptown

I recently returned from a visit to a place known for its rushing rivers, snow-capped peaks, towering, moss-covered, primeval forests and lush, verdant vegetation.

No, it’s not Middle Earth. The people here drink coffee, lots of coffee.

No, it’s not Seattle. The people here taught Seattle how to drink coffee.

The people here drink so much coffee that, along the asphalt ribbons weaving through the middle of those primeval forests, far from the nearest towns, every couple of miles is another little shack with a drive-up window offering freshly ground espresso.

This, in other words, is Portland.

I went there to visit my cousins who are very nice, friendly people who fit into Portland really well, even if they don’t drink a lot of coffee.

That’s because not only are they very nice, friendly people, but this is Portland, which is open and accepting of just about everyone and every lifestyle because Portland is Madison, Wisconsin on steroids times infinity and thus opens its arms to all life forms, but especially the homeless ones who often ride the light rail wearing low-rider, over-sized shorts with worn out elastic waistbands which fall down frequently, making plumbers look like fashionistas by comparison.

I learned this after one of them stood up next to me while his shorts didn’t.

But that was just one of the many inspiring sights available to the average tourist like me. There’s also Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Voodoo Donuts, which are made in a process involving goat sacrifices and bacon that draws long lines of visitors which, swept up in fried-dough insanity, I joined just long enough to realize that lining up to wait thirty minutes for an overpriced piece of fried anything is probably insane.

So I left the zombie lineup and went to enjoy the river walk along one of Portland’s picturesque rivers instead, an area I found occupied by a festival which, in a most unfriendly and un-Portland-like way, blocked cross streets forcing me to walk all the way around it BUT which offered a macabre-Stephen-King type bear ride that possibly devours the children who enter it: “We’ll eat you up – we love you so.”


But that was not the highlight of the trip. Oh,no.

The highlight came later, after visiting the Wells Fargo Museum, which offers free travel tips for stage coach passengers (hint: always spit downwind).


And after touring The Grotto, an internationally-renowned Catholic shrine and botanical garden complete with a marble replica of the Pietà carved into the base of a 110-foot cliff.


Because a Pietà is so much nicer than a birdbath.

I spent an hour in spiritual solitude, contemplating the carefully cultivated grounds atop the bluff, followed by a visit to the Meditation Chapel offering a panoramic view of the area’s highlights, including the Columbia River Valley, the Cascade Mountain Range and Mount St. Helens through its floor to ceiling windows. Even when meditation is doubtful due to the snoring tourists soundly sleeping in the viewing chairs.

Yes, the highlight of the trip came after I exited and crossed the street to the bus stop for the trip back to downtown, happy for the glass shelter as (this being Portland) it was raining again. It was at this precise moment, still wrapped in the afterglow of my communion with nature in all her glory, that a man walked up. Sat next to me. And made it clear he thought I was a hooker and was offering me some business.

Did I mention it was on a bus route in a residential neighborhood?

At 3 in the afternoon?

And that I was seductively dressed in an alluring pair of worn sneakers, enticing baggy slacks, and a come-hither, up-to-my-chin shirt. All complemented by an inviting, hooded rain jacket?

Which is standard dress for Portland prostitutes. In fact, for everyone in Portland because of the rain. Which falls most of the time. Which is why the landscape is covered with towering, moss-covered, primeval forests and lush, verdant vegetation.

The good news: when he learns I’m not, he has the good grace to act embarrassed.

The bad news: he doesn’t go away.

For some reason, my cousins find the incident vastly amusing.

After the hooker moment, I didn’t think anything worse could happen during my trip to the great Northwest state of Oregon (motto: Portland, where everybody looks like a hooker so if at first you don’t succeed keep asking until you find one).

I was wrong.

One day we went searching for waterfalls. Which for some reason require mountains in addition to water. The first one we found was picturesque and a short walk to the viewing area which even small children could access.

We, however, were made of sterner stuff, so were destined to seek out bigger challenges.

Unfortunately, my cousins knew where to find them.

The challenges meant hiking up actual mountains. On steep, rocky, narrow trails. Carved into cliff edges. That are wet and slippery because the trail is under a waterfall. But not the waterfall we want so we must keep hiking. Along more cliff edges. With steep drops hundreds of feet to piles of unforgiving boulders. And no guard rails.

My cousins are unperturbed. I cling to the rock wall and try not to pass out.

We reach our destination. Then I realize I have to go back down. And no, I can’t demand to be airlifted out.

Note to self: complain to Park Service about the lack of guard rails in national parks.

What the hell is wrong with these people?

Okay. So maybe I’m feeling a little bent out of shape because I made cranberry sauce today and every time I turned my back on the burner, the sauce boiled over, creating a gooey, black, scorched mess which I’d clean up only to have it happen again. And again.

But, despite that, I really don’t think I’m overreacting to a story in which some anonymous, self-identified “experts” at “U.S. News Travel” name America’s Best Fries.

The question that always pops into my little head whenever I see a “best of” list is this: How can they know? Did they go to every single restaurant in every single state (and to be fair every territory as well because if you’re canvassing the nation then it really should be the whole empanada)?

I don’t think so.

So exactly HOW do they come up with the list?

I don’t even know who “they” are – or what makes them the deciders but I’m pretty sure it’s not anyone who has eaten his/her/their way from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters or from sea to shining sea. Unless, of course, they skipped almost everything in between. Because we’re talking fries here and by the time they traveled from Maine to New York they’d have gained 451 pounds and never made it further than New Jersey.

I’m also pretty sure they believe in the power of google. Or yelp. Or both.

But the strongest possibility is: they just make it up. A couple of drunk food elitists choosing random words out of a paper bag, putting together phrases like “Vietnamese pineapple mayo.”

That’s right. I’m betting they not only haven’t eaten at every single restaurant in every single state – I’m also betting they probably haven’t even eaten at every restaurant on their list. After all – what red-blooded American would order onion-flavored fries with chive crème fraîche? That’s right – they wouldn’t! Probably because they couldn’t pronounce it.

Let’s review. Fries are spuds, traditionally cut into long, thin, four-sided strips, deep fried until golden brown in some kind of fat that’s not good for you so you don’t ask too many questions about it (unless you’re allergic to peanuts in which case you definitely want to know if it’s peanut oil), sprinkled with salt then (if you’re a purist) shoved into your mouth while still too hot giving you that awful pizza burn feeling.

Or you may prefer a healthy dose of ketchup, not catsup, which should always be Heinz  which really is better even though I don’t know why. And which should always be served in a glass bottle, never in those wussy little paper cups that collapse when you empty them, splashing the contents all over your lap.

The only permissible ketchup options are 1) dumping half the bottle directly on top of the fries or 2) dumping half the bottle in a huge blob next to the fries. (Which, if it’s really Heinz and not catsup poured into a Heinz bottle you will not be able to dump anyway. But it could explode.)

I suspect a Canadian plot. After all, poutine made the list, the Canadian national comfort food involving fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds, which, when not being eaten, makes an excellent wallpaper paste.

But whatever you do, even if you are Canadian you are not going to “dip a homestyle purple fry in zesty chipotle aioli.” Or order “fries covered in cheese curd, house-made duck gravy, chives and a duck egg.” Or eat “boats of fries … smothered with onions, peanut satay, mayonnaise and honey sambaal.”

And no sober person would ever add “goat cheese fries coupled with a raspberry sauce” to the “best of” list.


So it must have been some drunk Canadians, eh?

How Not to Save the Planet

I just did something that very likely no adult human being has ever done before: I got expelled from the YMCA.

That’s not the exact terminology they used, but that’s what they meant.

What really surprised me though is how unsurprised some people who know me were when they heard the news.

Wait – it’s not what it seems. It’s just that I’m living proof that “no good deed goes unpunished.” You’d think I’d know better by now.

It all started when I noticed cans and bottles in the trash at the Y. All the local branches of the Y. The Y being an organization which claims that “social responsibility” is one of its prime directives.

And I noticed that the large, wall mounted, flat screen TV’s were always on. Dozens of them. All the time. In all the local branches of the Y. Even when no one was in the room.

So one day I turned them off, not knowing I had just stepped onto the primrose path that would lead me straight to hell. Which turns out is a word I’m not supposed to use in front of little pip-squeaks who have Napoleonic complexes — but I digress.

A staffer immediately began following me, turning them all back on.

Because, it seems, it was the Y policy that all the TV’s be on all the time. So that members would know the Y was open. (Being unable to see the lights, the staff, the other members, or the “open” sign on the door under the posted hours of operation.)

This is when I took my second step down that path: I decided the policy seemed silly. I would save the planet.

So I asked a staff member who I should talk to about recycling options and saving energy and the staff member took my name and number and said someone would call. Six months later, when nobody ever did I tried again.

This comedy routine went on for 2 years.

Eventually I realized I might need a more direct approach so I emailed the Director of Administration my concerns and questions, foolishly assuming that person might know something about “Administration.” After three days with no response, I emailed again. Two days later, I received this answer to my detailed list of concerns and questions: “Thank you for being a YMCA member and for sharing your member experience.”

I tried again. And again. And again. (Yes, I’m stupid.) “Thank you again for your support of the YMCA.”

So I emailed the Director of Facility Operations my concerns and questions, foolishly assuming that person might know something about “Facility Operations.” The next day he wrote, “thank you for your concerns, they are noted.”

I tried again. And again. And again. (Yes, I’m stupid.)

Eventually the little pip-squeak with a Napoleonic complex Director of Membership Services contacted me (after the other two forwarded my emails to him instead of answering me).

We met. He wouldn’t answer questions. After telling me he didn’t recycle at home he refused to discuss recycling further. He changed the subject. He wanted to know if I was a Christian. And what kind of car I drove. And when I asked what the hell he blustered like the mini-flyweight poppycock he is and told me I couldn’t use that sort of language in front of him while I wondered if he’d ever been in the weight room when one of the guys dropped a weight on their foot.

But after I asked for the 25th time why the TV’s had to be on all the time, he told me that TV’s must be on because when he began working here, the person who trained him (who is no longer there) told him the Y’s “policy” (which is not in writing) is to leave all the televisions on all the time the Y’s are open.

He refused to discuss changing the policy or to allow members the choice to turn them on or off as they wished. He insisted he was the final authority on the subject and there was no one above him I could speak to about it.

This of course meant I had to find someone above him to talk to. This was a mistake.

I went to the “Annual Membership Meeting.” Which of course meant I was the only member there.

Did I mention I was the only member there?

And that this was the “Annual Membership Meeting.” Specifically for members?

And, earlier that day, the staff at the front desk told me the meeting never had an agenda, they never use one?

And when I walked into that meeting, sitting on the entrance table, next to a blank sign-in sheet, was a stack of the non-existent agendas that are never used?

Did I have enough sense to leave right then?


Even though staff had told me the Board of Directors (25 of them) attended the “Annual Membership Meeting.” And only 3 of them bothered to show up?


And did the chair of the board of directors (who chaired this meeting), when he saw that I was the only member present for the meeting, pitch the agenda (which they don’t use anyway) and talk to me?


Instead, after he laboriously went through every item listed and came to the last item on the agenda, “member feedback,” I stood, handed him a summary of my concerns (both environmental – let’s recycle and save energy –  and the lack of responsiveness to and communication with members which might explain why I was the only member there) and went over them.

And did he say he’d take them to the Board as I asked?

Bwa-ha-ha-ha! No.

Instead, the CEO sitting next to him glared at me, announced he knew all about me, that all conversations with me had been documented and they had fully responded to me.

Flabbergasted, I asked how to cancel my (prepaid for the next year) membership and get a refund. The CEO told me the front desk could tell me. When I stopped on the way out, they told me they didn’t know how.

A few days later, I came home to find a message from the CEO. In a preemptive strike which would only make sense to Kim Jung Un, he announced he had suspended my membership effective immediately. No mention of a refund.

He explained that [unidentified] “they” had been watching me and several [unidentified] people had concerns about my [unidentified] conduct.

Nobody ever told me that saving the planet might make you paranoid.

How I know that I’m not the world’s worst Mom

My children tried to give me that honor many times.  But now I can prove that I’m not.

How? Because I’m not her: “Mom Web Searches Gunshot Wound, Delays Bringing Son to Hospital.”