THE FRONT PORCH – Some day my prints will come, or rather my printed papers will come. But I can’t hold out much longer. Out of news, out of comics, down to my last liner for the bird cage. I need my news fix for I am out of touch. Terrible about the Lusitania. Where is the cavalry, or at least a pimple-faced newsboy? But let me begin at the beginning and see if you can identify with my plight. Having been flooded out of my home by Hurricane Harvey, with a great deal of help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which released a tidal wave of water from the dams so my neighborhood wouldn’t flood, thus flooding my neighborhood. We are now in our new digs.
Among our problems is changing addresses for our newspapers. I had dutifully stopped the papers, I thought, once the Coast Guard helicopter had pulled me and my vodka collection off the roof. But my former neighbors, still bailing, hunted me down at the Salvation Army shelter to demand that I come get 23 soggy papers off my front yard. When I moved to my new address, I called up the papers — I take both the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times — to renew my subscriptions. Of course, these days companies don’t employ humans to deal directly with pesky customers, so we get recordings, something like: “Your call is very important etc. etc. Push 1 for… push 2 for… This call will be recorded in case you are one of those malcontents who make threats, and this way we can track you down.”
I called the Chronicle. After being put on hold and listening to “The Best of Polish Polkas,” plus a greeting from the Chron “right here in the great state of Texas,” I finally got a real person. “Hi, I’m Amber, how can I help you?” I gave her my name, address, and told her I wanted to subscribe to her paper. “Certainly, can I have your name, address and why you are bothering me? We can start your paper tomorrow.” Next, I called the Times. My call was very important to them, so I only had to wait one season. “We will be glad to put you down for a subscription. Would you like the paper in English? We are an international paper, so we never know. We can start your paper tomorrow.”
The next day, no papers, nor the next nor the next. I called the Chron “in the great state of Texas.” The paper’s two employees in the circulation department seemed to be busy, but eventually I got a real person. I explained my predicament. “Can I have your name, age, address and the last four digits of your Social Security number?” I am told that the Chron will be on my doorstep tomorrow. The Times also assured me that all the news that’s fit to print would be on my doorstep the next morning.
This situation goes on for a week, then two. By now I have the Chron’s number on my speed dial (713-220-7211) and am on a first-name basis with Amber. She says she will pass my complaints on to her supervisor. The Times (1-800-698-4637) tells me to “Press 1 for English, 2 for Tibetan, 3 for …”). My call is very important to them, but apparently not important enough to do anything about my complaint. A voice asked, “Now, you are at 122 Senility Circle, right?” I grit my teeth and reply: “No, I am 123 Senility Circle. That’s my address. I know where I live.” “Oh, we must have gotten it wrong. Silly us.” One morning the doorbell rang, and my wife answered. It was a neighbor, slightly exasperated. He is holding five soggy New York Times in his arms. He said he’d even called the Times to stop cluttering up his front doorway with the paper. It did no good. I made another call and was told: “I see that you have a vacation stop, with no re-start date.” Do you ever get the idea you are surrounded by below-par IQs?
At times (or Chronicle) we like to beat up on various levels of our government, and ask: “Why can’t the government be run like a private business?” We’d better be glad it isn’t. Three weeks have now passed, honest, and I finally get my Times. But no Chronicle. “Hi, Amber, I still haven’t gotten my paper. This is a recording.” I get one in return, “in the great state of Texas.” A voice eventually answers, and I ask: “Why don’t you say, ‘in the great city of Houston?’” Pause. “Because we’re in Dallas.” Maybe I’d have better luck if I subscribed to the Dallas Morning News. This may explain why, when I asked for the supervisor, I got put on hold, and heard Cowboy cheers in the background. The supervisors – I’ve talked to several – assured me that they would take care of the problem. One ominously referred to “discipline,” but it was not clear if he was referring to the carrier or that troublemaker from Houston who keeps complaining. Maybe they learned I’d worked for The Houston Post and this was their revenge. That day’s mail brought me my Visa bill. It showed a $44 charge from the Houston Chronicle.
It is not fair to beat up on the poor souls who spend their waking hours sitting in a cubicle dealing with angry customers, but it would be nice if companies trained them correctly and kept their promises. “Amber, check your records. How many times have I called to complain?” “It looks like six.” “More like sixteen.” So here I stand in my bathrobe at my front door, looking silly and despondent for my lifeline to the rest of the world. We keep hearing that newspapers are sick and dying. Perhaps it’s because of poor circulation.
Ashby is waiting at email@example.com