26 May 2009

An Exercise in Futility

Here is a recent e-mail comment I sent to DirecTV after switching from their Choice XTra programming to the Choice package to reduce expenses, followed by "Jennifer's" response, which makes me wonder if she comprehended my complaint at all:

My comment:

Customer (dminmem) - 05/25/2009 08:56 AM
The main reason I switched to DirecTV many years ago was to get some relief from the cable's monopoly on my entertainment options. Currently, I feel like DirecTV has become another inflexible version of cable.

I don't understand the limitations of your programming package options. Why must I receive channels I don't want, need or watch? Conversely, why are others that I do want available only through excessively priced upgrades? DirecTV is capable of providing more individually tailored options, but does not.

Today, I changed my programming, for the second time this year, in order to curb expenses. DirecTV rates have continuously, steadily increased without any added benefit. Many channels I like to watch, including Logo and National Geographic channels, are no longer part of my lineup and I find this disappointing.

DirecTV response:

Programming Limitations

Discussion Thread
Response (Jennifer A. - 100216511) - 05/25/2009 09:41 AM

Dear (dminmem),

Thanks for writing. You’ve been with us since 2000 and we recognize you as a valued and loyal customer. We want you to know we appreciate it.

I understand that wish to have an option to choose the channels you frequently watch to be included with your package instead of upgrading. Kindly be advised that our programming packages are designed to give you the best selection of channels for the money and are currently not customizable. Also, we also provide a wide variety of programming in order to appeal to the broadest audience possible. We understand that not everyone will like each program. However, our ongoing research tells us that most customers like being able to choose from so many viewing options.

In addition, please know that it's never an easy decision to raise prices, but we feel it is necessary due to the increasing costs we pay to carry the channels you see. Despite rising programming costs over the years, we've managed to keep our prices very competitive while still offering the best programming options.

Even with new pricing, the cost of DIRECTV service continues to be a better value than our competitors. While our prices have changed we have invested in new programming and innovative services in order to provide you the best possible entertainment experience. We will continue to invest in the quality of your viewing experience by bringing you more new features and more new programming in 2009.

Nevertheless, though we currently do not have that option yet, I have forwarded your suggestion to DIRECTV management. We are always on the look-out for ways to improve customer experience. We appreciate it when we receive feedback and we do take them seriously.

Moving on, kindly be informed that Logo and National Geographic channels are included in our CHOICE XTRA package or above. By upgrading your current base package back to CHOICE XTRA or upgrading to PREMIER, you'll get more than 30 channels that are not available in CHOICE, including the Biography Channel, History International and four Discovery Channels. Furthermore, you'll also gain access to Great American Country (GAC), Do It Yourself Network (DIY), VH1 Classic, PBS Kids, Boomerang, the FOX Movie Channel, History International, the Military Channel, the Nicktoons Network, The Science Channel, Style as well as almost 20 extra XM Satellite Radio music channels.

For complete programming and packaging information, please visit

We appreciate your patience and understanding.


Jennifer A.
Employee ID 100216511
DIRECTV Customer Service

Gee, thanks, Jennifer. Nice to know you've "got my back." Perhaps I'll shut the service off altogether.

21 May 2009

How Sweet It Is

Try as they might, the Corn Refiners Association's campaign on the virtues of High Fructose Corn Syrup have been unconvincing. There has been enough evidence and commentary to persuade me to believe that it's not the same as sugar. How can it be? It's altered, just like modified food starch, hydrogenated vegetable oil, and myriad other results of "better living through chemistry."

The association's idea of improving the quality of life seems skewed more toward the almighty dollar rather than consumer health. A site I recently joined, GoodGuide, rates and compares products based upon their impact on the planet, nutrition and social awareness, shares good, basic information here.

Ever since we watched "Super Size Me" I've been paying better attention to what I bring home from the grocery. I've try to avoid buying anything that contains HFCS. It's a difficult proposition when one considers how ubiquitous the stuff is. Look at the labels. Nearly every packaged food contains it. I made my own ketchup until I found organic Heinz. I make my own salad dressings. I bake cakes from scratch. I use fresh fruit in my pies. I'm making my own bread about 25% of the time and I expect to increase that percentage over the coming months.

If it's processed, it usually has no place in my pantry. Of course, the definition of "processed" includes words like pasteurized or frozen, but, I'm talking about processed convenience foods like dinner "kits" and junk food. there are very, very few exceptions. Like processed American cheese food (Kraft American cheese). Sometimes, I have to have a plain, old grilled cheese with Campbell's Tomato Soup. I can justify stocking these because they rarely end up on a tray for dinner. And, this stuff is a great substitute for the nights I don't feel like fussing over three or four varieties of "real" cheese, and homemade tomato soup with diced tomatoes and fresh, snipped basil.

Because unsweetened tea brewed here at home gets tiresome I sometimes buy Mexican Coke, made with cane sugar, at the Vietnamese market on Cleveland. I prefer to drink them ice cold, out of the bottle (as they were intended). But, there is often a foul, metallic odor on the glass that ruins the experience unless the bottle opening is cleaned after removing the crown. Ultimately, they taste like a real Coca-Cola, but, keeping a supply can get pricy at a buck-fifty each.

For some time, Cameron and I have been buying Jones Soda. Though they are made with pure cane sugar we still treat them as something special so we don't overindulge, but lately, they're getting difficult to find. After trip to Target the other day, "where to buy" conspicuously became "where not to buy." My expectations were that the newest bullseye in town would have everything stocked to the gills. Not so. I remembered that the butthole was also listed as a "where to buy" location. So, out of frustration I bolstered myself and pulled into Walmart. After walking the aisles and scanning the end caps I once again came up empty handed. Eventually, though, I found this. I read the label in amazement and bought a 12-pack. At home, I excitedly told Cameron what I'd found and quickly got online to find out more. I learned that not only was Pepsi producing it's cane sugar cola version, but Mountain Dew Throwback would soon appear on the shelves, too.

Since then, I've found both of these at Kroger. They taste like I remember them. The sickening, throat-coating, syrupy quality that carbonated drinks have today wasn't there. They reminded me of times when my grandmother would successfully extract us from behind the sofa, (our usual hiding place after being scolded). Her bribes most often were a longneck, glass, 16-ounce bottle of Pepsi and an ice cream cup (Meadow Gold chocolate, vanilla, or vanilla with a swirl in either chocolate or strawberry -- the kind sold ten to a bag, in plastic cups with paperboard lids and enough wooden "spoons" to go around).

The other day I heard someone mention that she thought Pepsi Throwback tasted flat. I suppose if you're a younger than 35 (and a know-it-all), sickeningly, syrupy sweet is the way you think sodas should taste. Too bad. You don't know what you're missing, or for that matter, what you're getting.

Disclaimer: I have a friend who has a great job at WalMart. I'm proud of his success. But, I can't reconcile the havoc they've wreaked on small business owners in small communities with benefits they provide.

08 May 2009

I Simply Had to Say It

Sent to the editor of The Commercial Appeal in response to this story:
To the Editor,

I am writing in response to comments made by Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, in The Commercial Appeal's story by Daniel Connolly (Wednesday, May 6), about his opposition to a proposed County Ordinance against discrimination of gay and transgendered persons:

The paper reports that Commissioner Bunker describes himself as a Christian conservative, and that he objects to the measure because the county would be interfering with local businesses, he believes homosexuality is a sin, and passing the ordinance could make it easier for the gay community to ask the county for more rights, such as benefits for same-sex couples. He continued, saying, "I don't belive people are born gay. I don't agree with discrimination against them, but I'm not going to give them a lot of protections that give legitimacy to homosexual behavior."

I applaud him for his proclamation that he is a Christian conservative. This is a right the Constitution affords Mr. Bunker, and I'm glad he feels strongly enough to do so. The same Constitution that gives him this freedom also provides for separation of Church and State, so that I am not subject to living under his church or religion's rule.

The Commissioner is entitled to his opinion, but I challenge him to do two things: First, look at the genetic research through a different lens than that of religious dogma. There have been numerous studies conducted by several researchers that indicate that homosexuality is in our DNA, much like our gender or the color of our skin. In fact with each new research initiative there is more evidence to support this theory than historical condemnation from the church can negate.

Second, don't deny me the right to live without fear of hatred, where lack of understanding has the potential to cost me my livelihood. Our ancestors left Europe a few hundred years ago to escape religious persecution. Don't resurrect it because you don't understand gay people and their pursuit of the same rights afforded you.

It is not for you to decide whether or not our lives are legitimate.



07 May 2009

Emotionally Overwhelming

This post is over a two months old. I began writing it the weekend of February 20.

At work Friday morning I wasn't alarmed but thought it unusual to get a call from Christopher. My younger brother told me that my father had been admitted to the hospital and was having triple-bypass surgery the following Monday.

We discussed whether or not I would make the trip. We both knew that when I called my father that such efforts would be discouraged. I called my sister, Lisa, who planned to leave Biloxi with her friend Gina on Sunday and arrive in Louisville that evening. As we all suspected, Daddy told me not to drive up when I called him. But I had already made up my mind. The only decision I had to make was whether to fly or drive. Cameron and I talked about it when he got home Saturday morning. Because he would be home Monday, he could care for Billie, Georgia and Edith, meaning the puppies could stay home.

By plane I could get to Louisville in about an hour. But after booking non-rev travel I would still have to sit standby at the gate and perhaps not get a seat. Then, I'd have to book a rental car because if I didn't I'd be at the mercy of my busy family to get me around town once I arrived at Standiford Field. Coordinating all of this was more than I cared to deal with at the time. Driving, on the other hand, would mean a 6-hour drive and would ensure my freedom of movement, and to some degree my autonomy once in "the river city."

Deciding to drive gave me Sunday to finish laundry and pack. I left for Louisville early Monday morning so I'd be at the hospital when Daddy came out of surgery. I stopped at Costco for some less expensive premium gasoline and once back on I-40 was astonished at the number of state troopers on the road between Germantown and Brownsville. I remember counting eleven, complete with victims, pulled over on the shoulder. There were a more poised for pursuit in the median. Thankfully, I made it through the traps with the trusty assistance of my radar detector.

I talked to my youngest sister, Tina, a few times during the drive. She kept me updated on the senior David's status and what was going on with everyone else in the interim. Considering the implications of losing my father for 400 miles was something for which I wasn't prepared. He's five years older than his father, Otto, was when he died of a heart attack. Apparently, Daddy had gone to his doctor for an inhaler that he uses to assuage the manifestations of smoking four packs of cigarettes a day for as long as I can remember. Thankfully, his doctor decided to test my dad because he hadn't been in for a while. From what Tina tells me, they put him on a treadmill for a short time before they sat him down and told him not to move. He was admitted to the hospital with 98% blockage in three arteries. I suspected the breathing issues were a little less COPD and a lot more artery blockage.

By the time I entered the metro Louisville area I had mentally debated my route to Floyd Memorial. I could stay on I-65 North, exit Highway 62, then drive through old downtown New Albany -- which seemingly was the most direct route -- but could be time consuming with congestion and lots of traffic lights at the beginning of rush hour. Or, I could exit I-65 just before the Kennedy Bridge at Spaghetti Junction and take I-64 west over the Sherman Minton Bridge to the first New Albany exit and be within blocks of the hospital.

Either way, I had a more pressing matter to handle before I could go much further. "PLEASE REFUEL" appeared on the Passat's instrument panel and the yellow gas pump icon warned of impending momentum lost. I exited I-65 at the first exit after crossing the Kennedy and filled up at Thornton's. I re-entered I-65 only to immediately exit for Highway 62. So, through New Albany I started and stopped. Started and stopped. Started and stopped. I was relieved to finally arrive at the hospital. I called Tina, who was in the parking lot putting on makeup in her new Mini. I joined her in her car. It was there I was warned of the ensuing drama that could unfold if we were planning on meeting with the rest of the family for anything other than sitting in the waiting room. After sitting for six hours I could no longer. I excused myself to a walk around the parking lot, a cigarette and a quick call to Cameron.

With Tina finished and my call completed, we walked into the hospital and upstairs to the Cardiac ICU. While she used the white wall phone to ask for admittance, the doors opened to reveal Christopher on his way out. We talked for a few minutes before we went in to see Daddy buried under a tangle of IV tubes and monitors and a plastic blanket. He was sleeping as much as he could with the nurses buzzing around and monitoring his every vital sign. I think it startled him to hear me say, "hello, Daddy" because he choked and began coughing. We decided to leave and let the nurses get busy with calming him down.

I met Christopher at his apartment after he was done for work that evening. We discussed what to do for dinner and whether or not to try and orchestrate getting together with everyone else. He was sympathetic, knowing I was tired after the drive, anxious over the entire situation and that I hadn't eaten all day. I didn't want to make any decisions, so he decided that we'd stay in. He gave me some hummus he'd made earlier with some crackers while he started prepping vegetables for stir-fry.

The phone rang. Amidst everything else she does to take care of her family, Tina had managed to get confirmation from Lisa, Gina, Matthew, and Ally, that we'd all meet a couple blocks away from Christopher's place for pizza at Wick's. He and I walked over and got a table. Three people were gracious enough to move to a smaller one for us. After thirty or forty minutes we began to wonder if we'd prematurely asked those folks to move, but our party began to arrive and fill up the huge booth we shared. We shared four large pizzas and had a really nice time together and I'm glad that we changed our loosely cobbled together plans. After all, at least three of us traveled for hours to be there for Daddy and it would have been a shame not to spend some time relaxing together. The leftover pizzas were boxed and we exchanged hugs. Our seperate journeys took Christopher and me back to his place where we settlied in with his boxeer, Scout, to watch "W". We didn't see much of the movie before we decided it was time to call it a night.

Early the following morning I headed back to Floyd Memorial. This time I actually was able to speak with Daddy, whose first words included, "I told you not to come." My response? "Since when have I listened to you?" We had a chuckle over that. The nurses explained to us what we should expect. When it was time for Daddy to rest I left to meet everyone for lunch at Rocky's Italian Grill. This would include most everyone from the night before and my mother and bonus dad. I prefer to say bonus dad because, in my experience, "stepfather" very often implies something negative.

I headed back to Memphis from Jeffersonville at 2:00. For the first time, I skipped my usual trip to White Castle on the way out. The drive home, not without its freaks and distracted drivers, was pretty uneventful. I stopped for gas in Brownsville, then spoke with Tina for the last twenty minutes of the trip. To my astonishment I pulled into the driveway five hours and five minutes from my 2:00 departure time, breaking my previous record of 5 hours and forty minutes.

Happy Easter

I wrote this post on April 14, and just found it floating around on my desktop. There is one more that I'll be posting that I believe is about my trip to Louisville for my dad's surgery.

Last night, after a day in the yard raking, digging and mulching, I got a late start on my errands for today's Easter dinner. I knew my only shot for picking up Frisee, let alone fresh fava beans, was The Fresh Market because no matter how comprehensive they try to make their produce departments, regular grocers like Kroger or Schnuck's wouldn't have either. Leaving here at 8:30 I made a beeline to Eastgate Shopping Center. Just as I suspected I found the frisee but no fava beans. I picked up a beautiful heirloom tomato, some leeks, a couple pineapples, baby spinach and mint. I picked up a red velvet cake for Cameron because he asked me to pick up something sweet. I grabbed some country mustard, caperberries, and capers.

Five minutes before closing time I made it to a cashier who mentioned that The Fresh Market was closed for Easter and that she felt that people should be given the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with family instead of having to work. I recalled when I was a youngster, back in the 1960s, most of the businesses in Sellersburg were closed on Sunday except for maybe the bait shop and that everything was closed on holidays. I told her that I thought it should still be this way.

Because The Fresh Market can be a bit pricey, I drove from there to Mexican Kroger on Summer Avenue for the rest of my list of staples and supplies for preparing one of Martha Stewart's Easter menus. After putting my groceries in the back of the wagon, I called Exline's and ordered two 9-inch "Special" pizzas, one with anchovies and one without. I still had ten minutes' wait for my order when I arrived at the pizza parlor so I popped into Blockbuster and rented "Cadillac Records," "The Bank Job," "Doubt," and "Role Models." The latter was an impulse because the guy at the counter asked, "would you like to grab another movie? It's rent three get the fourth free." I asked him if it was as stupid as I expected it to be since it was a Seann William Scott feature.

Seann William Scott in Role Models.

By the time I got home around 10:30, Cameron and I were starving. He helped me bring in the groceries and put the perishables in the fridge between preparing trays for us. We popped "Doubt" into the DVD player and ate "the best pizza in town." We finished our pizza and the movie, then watched "Role Models" while eating the red velvet cake from The Fresh Market. As I expected, the cake was fantastic. It should have been for $16.

This morning, I checked e-mail, Facebook and eBay. The auction listing for the Grand Prix garnered 1,886 visits, 38 people watching, a couple of questions and no bidders. I had lowered the reserve from the previous week's listing from $13,500 to $12,500, the "Buy it now" price. The earlier listing didn't have the buy it now price, received 1,800 hits, had 29 watchers and one bid for the starting price of $11,300. So, for now, the Pontiac is staying with me.