Enough Said

Enough Said
A sampling of my columns and why the hell is my picture SO big?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hello, is anybody there...press 1 (original title)

Patience is a virtue when it comes to customer service

Published 09/19/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 09/16/2013 01:06 PM
I'm a pretty easy-going person. I smile at old people, which means I smile at people my own age. And I'm nice to little children and animals, having had my share of both. At the Motor Vehicle Department I show respect for the people behind the counter who must deal with an arrogant public, we have a chip on our shoulders because we're on-guard against the difficulties inherent with anything smacking of government bureaucracy. I don't have a chip. I'm not like that. I'm nice. I follow the rules and if someone treats me badly I write a scathing letter no one reads.
A few minutes ago I got off the phone with a very nice lady named Michelle at the Social Security call center in Baltimore. I know it was Baltimore because I asked. I like talking to Americans when I have a problem, frankly I like talking to anyone if I can understand them, especially if their aim is to provide service to this customer.
I once had a nice conversation with a guy named Rich at a call center in Texas. I can't remember why I was calling him, to me cable, utilities, government services and Peapod all sound the same. All I know is that I could barely understand a word that sweet Texan was saying. I told him I'd call back. I never did.
Because the wait time was over 45 minutes, Michelle, the Social Security agent, was calling me via the Social Security call-back service. I needed her to explain my Medicare status. Yeah, scary, I qualify now. Let me be clear here, if you want an example of government bureaucracy at its finest, just try using Social Security's automated phone system. It has a menu of options twice the length of a Ruby Tuesday's menu; you don't get garlic biscuits while you wait either. Michelle was helpful sort-of. I have to call back in two weeks because she didn't have an answer.
A few months ago my husband and I were getting phone calls originating from Vermont asking that we answer health questions for a survey sponsored by the state of Connecticut. If the state of Connecticut needs health questions answered by its citizens then why don't they have Connecticut citizens asking the questions? I'm sure they can find a few unemployed college students with cellphones and free time that would love to call. I'm not college-age, but pay me and I'll call, I'm great at being nosey.
Years ago when we were setting up a computer for the first time we had to call the company's help desk.
Let me tell you, help desk is a misnomer.
The wait was an hour. No call-back service from them. My husband held the phone to his ear until someone finally came on. He handed the phone to me, I asked the question. The operator guy said he knew what the problem was and he could solve it promptly, but that he was not allowed to answer because his job at that moment was to route incoming calls to the correct departments. One of those departments was actually his, when there was lower call volume.
"Please answer, we've been waiting an hour on the phone."
He said he'd lose his job because all phone calls were being monitored for training purposes. I handed the phone to my husband. The call got rerouted. Twenty minutes later guess who picked up? In less time than it took him earlier to explain why he couldn't answer, he answered, problem solved. I think his name was Rich and he probably works for Social Security in Baltimore now.
Enough said.
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Friday, September 6, 2013

A natural casing full of homemade tradition, (original title)

Family tradition moving from one generation to the next

Published 09/05/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 09/03/2013 01:07 PM
They took over my kitchen, five men, cutting, grinding, spicing and packaging 115 pounds of homemade sausage.

It's a big deal, this sausage making, not because the process is laborious, though it is, and not because it's touchy, because it can be - it's a big deal because it is tradition times three generations.

I first witnessed the whole sausage-making process more than 30 years ago. My husband and his cousin, plus a couple of friends, took over the basement in our former home. A meat-cutter by trade back then, he directed the well-oiled, or should I say very lean, series of steps creating one of our family's favorites.
Knowing what goes into your food is a big deal nowadays. It was back then, too, until an evening of sausage-making ended with one of the sausage-makers minus a Band-Aid and no way of knowing which batch it went in. The mini-patch was never found and the four families involved some 20 years ago all survived. Now the makers remove rings and scrub to the elbows like a specialist prepping for surgery.
The meat grinder is a microwave-sized piece of machinery weighing well over 100 pounds. Now that the sausage making takes place in our kitchen, the grinding behemoth has to be carried upstairs from the basement, and that's what the young son-in-laws are for. Those strong young men, both cognizant of the importance of tradition, watch and participate, and get sausage, because they know they are the ones who will eventually carry on the ritual.

My daughters and I use the sausage in a myriad of sauces, stir fries and stuffings. On its own, or slathered with onions, peppers and mushrooms, it makes a grinder like no other. We give some away, when the ties to the receiver are close. Like a fire built with wood you've cut, hauled, split and stacked, there is nothing quite as wonderful as consuming something you have worked so hard to create.

The batch this time, (the guys usually do this three times a year), was so large it had to be split into two sessions. So on a recent evening, the process started with the first grind. Everything was stored in the old beer fridge downstairs until the serious making of the meat began the next night. As each batch was spiced, one of the men cooked a sample to see if the ratio of salt to garlic to fennel and wine was right. That's what the women-folk are for, the tasting of the sausage, the drinking of some wine and for reminiscing and solving the problems of life.

We sat at the table watching the men and suggested step-saving procedures, which were not acknowledged, and advised techniques, which were ignored, and we laughed, a lot, because that's how it's done.

For a few minutes I sat in my rocker with my mouth shut, which is unusual, just observing the next generation learning the process of carrying on the tradition. The older guys talked about how when the time comes, they will sit back and watch the young guys do all the heavy work. They're almost there. What makes me grateful is that our daughters have chosen men who genuinely appreciate the importance of sustaining tradition.
As the evening deepened and the ropes of sausage in natural casings filled huge containers waiting to be packaged, and as patties sizzled on the stove, a friend tipped his glass to me and said, "I smell an article."
"That's garlic you smell," I answered.
Bookmark and Shareprint this articleEnough said.