Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Great Charter Junk Mail Experiment

(Oh wait.  I'm not going silent just yet.)

Last year, I decided to conduct an experiment -- I wanted to count how many pieces of junk mail I received from Charter Communications, my former cable company.

Years ago, I quite liked Charter, when they were small and tech support was locally-based.  When they got bigger, attempted to sell us on stuff of lesser quality, and contracted out tech support, it seemed that their goals switched to "selling more people more stuff" rather than "keeping customers happy with the stuff we sell them."  At that point, things went downhill, and we ended up with things like three people in my condo complex complaining about the cable modem cutting out, and Charter admitting they wouldn't do a building-wide trouble ticket unless four people complained, so they just kept swapping out our individual modems, which didn't do a damn bit of good.

One of the things I was extremely happy about when buying the house was that it had a satellite dish, rather than cable TV.  (I ended up getting my internet access through Verizon, which has earned a whole different pile of hate, but that's not the point.)  The point is:  No more Charter, ever ever ever.  

Charter does not see it that way.  Charter is unaware that "the person who bought this house" is "the same person we totally dicked around when she owned that condo."  Charter just sees me as a homeowner without Charter.  Oh, the humanity.

Therefore, Charter peppers me with junk mail, hoping that this time, I will dump my satellite TV, DSL provider, and home phone service, in order to get the awesome products Charter is selling.

I now have a complete count of Charter junk mail received in 2013.  (I may be one off, as there was one waiting for me when I returned from London, and I can't say for certain whether it was delivered in 2013 or 2014, but I'm going with the odds and adding it to the 2013 total.)

And that number is ... 26.  That's one every two weeks!

Interestingly, the first 6 did not identify on the outside of the envelope that they came from Charter.  They were just stamped as "Dated Material," "Important Information Enclosed," "Special Offer for Your Address," or, my personal favorite "Activation Notice" (amusing because not a damn thing was being activated). 

After those 6, all of the envelopes clearly identified that they were from Charter.  I wonder if people complained about unidentified mail.

I am also impressed that several of them contain a credit-card sized piece of plastic (which isn't a credit card, but just feels like one to encourage you to open the envelope and learn about the great deal inside -- it also makes shredding it unopened more difficult).

You know what else?  Even though they all talk about being a "Special Offer" or "Dated Material," each of the 26 envelopes has offered me exactly the same deal (which is going to expire really soon, really it is) of $29.99 for each of the three services when I get all three (for the first year). For a few weeks in there, they offered a slightly different deal ($29.99 for internet and $39.99 for TV, and screw phone service), but then they quickly went back to $29.99 for each of the three services bundled.

So, the offer I got two weeks ago, in the envelope with a big read "Official Time Sensitive" sticker on it, right underneath the "Important Information Enclosed," was for this $29.99 per service deal, but I should hurry, because the offer was only good through January 16.  But the one I just received (no sticker, but the fake credit card inside) offered me the same deal, now good through January 30.  How lucky am I, that you extended the offer another two weeks?  And that (except for those three times you offered me the deal without home phone service), you have so generously extended the term in which I could respond to that special offer by two weeks every two weeks for the past year?

I can't help but think that if Charter had put any effort at all into customer retention, they wouldn't have to keep killing trees in the name of customer acquisition

Saturday, January 4, 2014

All Done

I made it back home.

The trip home was largely uneventful.  Sure, there was a minor event or two, like the taxi-hailing app sending my cab about a block away (I typed in a street number of "12" and I then got a message saying, "Your taxi is being hailed to 37 [same street]."  What the hell, people?  But it was only a block away, and we managed to connect.  I still consider the taxi app a pleasant experience -- it way beats hauling my luggage out to a busy street and standing there with my arm out.

I was a bit rushed in the airport as I hadn't really done much shopping and I always bring back stuff for the office.  So they're giving the "please proceed to the gate" announcement on my flight, and I'm running through the Duty Free thinking, "I am not leaving this country without a gift for my boss."  

The other problem was that I did, in fact, pick up a cold.  So I also needed to stop to buy cold supplies (various meds and a ton of Kleenex) to survive the nearly 11-hour flight.  Duly survived -- but I was pretty wiped out by the time I got home.  Not at all surprising, seeing as (with the time change), I'd been awake for a very long time on top of two nights without sufficient sleep.  Couldn't say how much of the "wiped" was exhaustion and how much was being sick.

I just crashed on the couch -- still haven't made a move toward unpacking.

During the whole trip, I kept asking myself why I stupidly booked my return flight for Friday, as coming back on Saturday would've given me an extra day in London, and I'd still have Sunday to recover before going back to work.  Now, I'm really pleased that I have the extra day for recovery on this side -- I'm filling myself up with soup and kitty cuddles, and will hopefully be able to face the real world in two days.

Journalling to return the next time I go someplace -- or the next time I need to rant at someone, which is probably more likely.

Hope everyone has a great 2014!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Oh. That play.

Yeah, so, put a few of my previous posts together and I managed to get a seat to Coriolanus, starring Tom Hiddleston.  I had made efforts to obtain tickets through usual channels, and had failed miserably.  (I most recently saw a single ticket for resale for over $1000.  That's three zeros before the decimal point.  Three!)  But the theatre had standing room seats available for sale on the day of the performance (and any other seats that had happened to make themselves available).  I initially planned to line up for said seats, until I read that you have to get there by 4:30 a.m. to stand a chance, and some people sleep on the sidewalk overnight.

Aw, hell no.

Look, I really wanted to see this, but there is no way I'm getting up at 3:30 to spend half a morning on the street in London in January.

Still.  Part of me was trying to find a way to give this a shot.  Today seemed like the best day -- there were two performances, so twice as many available seats.  Also, it was supposed to stop raining this morning (although, somewhat ideally, it was raining overnight, which might discourage campers).  Besides, I was staying in last night, so there was a chance I could get to bed early.  When I saw that the first train from my local underground station left at 5:50 a.m., I made a deal with myself.  Getting to the theatre by 4:30 was out, but I'd give a shot to getting on that first train.

I got to the theatre just after 6:00, and spent the next four hours chatting with the folks in line in front of me, one of whom was a drama student, so we spent at least a couple hours comparing various different London productions we'd seen.  (Considering I don't live in London, I didn't do half badly -- largely because I was about twice this guy's age, so had an extra couple of decades of theatregoing on him.)  ANYWAY, the other guy in line with us was really nervous, as we knew there were 20 standing room tickets available for each performance, and he could only go to the evening one, and -- having asked the people in front of us what they were waiting for -- he determined that exactly 20 tickets for the evening performance were claimed before him.  We were pretty sure that the drama student and I would get in to the matinee, but the other dude was really sweating it.  When he found out they had several seats in addition to the standing room, and that he'd therefore get in, he was really thrilled.

And, yes, the production was all kinds of awesome.  I hadn't seen a Coriolanus since, like, the turn of the century (ironically, I'd waited in line for standing room and ended up with a seat for that one, too) -- it isn't particularly frequently performed.  There aren't any really well known soliloquys or anything in it, but it's an interesting play, and, both times that I've seen it, I've been surprised by how relevant aspects of it can be.

The drama student (whom I ended up getting lunch with, and then comparing notes with at intermission) asked me if I was going to review the production.  I'm not.  When I've been invited to review something, I'm happy to put forth the time and effort to review it.  Here, I spent my own money (and a boatload of time) to see it, so I won't put more time in to writing a review.

However, during the remainder of the evening (when I saw a musical of The Commitments, which is the loud, obnoxious musical I should have seen my first night in), the first paragraph of the Coriolanus review sorta wrote itself.  So, for your reading pleasure (and/or curiosity, if'n you don't read my reviews), this is how my review would start...

You may have heard that in the Donmar Warehouse production of Coriolanus, director Josie Rourke has added a scene, not technically in the Shakespeare, but certainly referenced in it, in which Coriolanus showers off his wounds after battle.  And, as Coriolanus is played by film star Tom Hiddleston, you might think having him strip off his shirt and hose down is just pandering to his not-insubstantial female following.  This would be mistaken.  Because it isn't Hiddleston stripping down, it's Coriolanus.  When you realize that he's so badly hurt he can't even remove his shirt without shuddering, you involuntarily wince along with him.  There's nothing sexy about this; it's painful to watch.  You've just heard Coriolanus's mother speak with such pride about the wounds her son received in the defense of Rome, and his battlefield allies have similarly cheered his deeds, but this is a harsh dose of reality.  You're watching a man covered in gashes and bruises, stunned by the sting of the water -- and you realize that war wounds publicly praised are privately borne, and there's nothing to celebrate here.  But while this is difficult to watch, you don't have sympathy for him -- this Coriolanus isn't someone you'd want to hug; instead, you want to keep your distance.  He shakes his blood-soaked hair under the water, letting dark pink water spray in a circle around him.  He repeats it, enjoying it.  It's brutish, and not just a little frightening.  This, then, is Caius Martius Coriolanus when he is, quite literally, stripped bare:  a beast of war, whose sole purpose is to wound and be wounded, because that is what Rome needs him to be.  And it is when Rome tries to make him become something other than what his is that this tragedy truly begins.

... available, by the way, at a cinema near year, on January 30 or thereafter, when NT Live broadcasts a performance.  See linkage here.

The Fourth Thing

There are, I am fond of saying, three things for which I will willingly get up before dawn:  a flight, a court order, and the Rose Parade.  (Being as I'm in London now, the third is not presently an option.)

I did, however, add a fourth thing to the list.  I woke up at 5:00 a.m., took the very first underground train out of the station (thought, "Damn, busses were running earlier"), and went out to the theatre, where I joined a queue of other like-minded individuals (I was 17th) at about 6:00 a.m.  We were waiting for standing room tickets to an otherwise really sold out play.  Four hours later, I am happy to report that I obtained not only a ticket, but one for an actual seat.  (There were two performances today and nearly everyone in line in front of me wanted the evening performance -- so I was, like, second in line for the matinee.)  Very exciting.  Will report later.  Gotta change out of my waiting-on-the-street clothes into my going-to-the-theatre clothes.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Waiting for telly

Somewhere between booking this trip and getting on the plane, I read a weather report.  From that moment on, I imagined that, on this trip, I'd be wandering the streets of London in the cold and wet and dark.  Yes, dark.  Now, obviously, there is such a thing as daytime, but I'd envisioned it being so yucky weather-wise, there would be no natural light.

Today was pretty much that.  I didn't really get out of the flat until after noon (after one, if I'm being honest), and the sky was so dark, you would've thought it was dusk.  I made my way to the theatre for today's show -- the wind was umbrella-flipping-inside-out bad, so I just relied on my hat and hood -- and the streets were largely deserted.  (I figured this is what London looks like hungover.  To be fair, it was hungover on a day when most people probably didn't go out if they didn't have to -- and few had to.)

The show was a musical of From Here to Eternity.  

OK, I just said the title and you just got a mental image.  Now ask yourself:  "How are they going to put that on stage?"  The question didn't actually cross my mind until such time as that scene started, and I thought they did a reasonable job of it, considering that they didn't actually have a beach, or ocean waves.  I thought they were rather more effective in portraying the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Still, marks for stagecraft.  In a lot of ways, it was an old-fashioned musical.  You've got your main couple, your secondary couple (although which was which is a matter of some debate), your comic relief, and (perhaps most importantly) a big old chorus -- I counted about 12 soldiers and 10 working girls -- just singing and dancing their butts off.  (And, yes, this show was rather more gender-equal in terms of attractive folks in various states of undress.)  All around nicely done.  The show is closing in April, and I do think that (with a few tweaks), it could probably run on Broadway.  (This was the ... what? third show I've seen this trip with questionable American accents.)

Went for some dim sum at a favorite dim sum place (more accurately "stuffed my face with honey roasted chicken puffs") and wandered back to the flat for an early night and the Sherlock season three premiere on TV.  (Squeee.)


Wow.  Yesterday.  Hmmm.  

I did some stuff.


OK, I woke up.  And, um, then the stuff happened.  That's it, yeah.

I recall a tuna sandwich.  And going to a theatre to try to buy a ticket for a matinee today.  (Which failed.  So, after I got home late last night this morning, I bought a ticket for something else on the internet.)  And it rained, but wasn't windy, so my umbrella was sufficient.  But once it stopped raining, I realized that everyone else was wearing nice warm hats, and I didn't have one.  (This is not to be confused with my good rain hat, which I'd left at home.  I had a whole box full of warm hats -- most bought when I was on vacation someplace and my head was cold -- but I intentionally didn't pack any of them.  I have no explanation for this other than stupidity.)  I went to a department store to try to buy a nice hat -- ideally one that was both warm and waterproof.  This failed; they didn't have such a beast.  Later in the day, I had an hour to kill around Covent Garden market -- I picked up a nice warm knit cap for five pounds.  I fought it for a time, because every hat I tried on was ugly, but once I accepted that none of them would look good, I just went for warmth and was pleased with the result.

There were a few other failures yesterday, too.  I went to a cute, retro clothing place I usually visit, tried on some stuff, but left without buying anything.  Boo.

Saw a matinee.  It was the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical called Stephen Ward.  It was about a dude called Stephen Ward.  Famous for his involvement in a British government/sex scandal back in, like, 1963.  I'd had no idea of the man or the scandal (because in 1963 I was both: (a) not British; and (b) not born), so the story was new to me.  Even so, what disappointed me most about the musical was that it took a very clear position that Ward was a totally innocent individual railroaded by everyone involved.  It was pretty heavy-handed about it.  And -- even having had no idea about the whole scandal, this felt a teensy bit wrong to me.  Maybe because I actually work in the American legal system and all, but I was particularly struck how they handled the dude's trial on stage.  Basically, the judge presiding over the whole thing was in cahoots with the prosecutor, and, at one point, told him that the police should have done a better job coercing the witnesses to lie against Ward.  This struck me as potentially, y'know, untrue, as that type of thing would take down not only the folks involved in the sex scandal, but would result in a major overhaul of the justice system as well.  (I have since looked at Wikipedia on this, and there's no discussion at all that this sort of thing actually went down.)  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that, on occasion, law enforcement might get a little, shall we say, overzealous in an attempt to get a conviction.  But the idea that not only was the prosecutor in on that, but the judge was as well -- and that they were both so in on it that they casually discussed it during the progress of the trial -- is just all kinds of offensive.  Especially if that didn't actually happen.  The musical can easily get its point across without having a prosecutor and judge be more corrupt that the cabinet minister who was involved in the sex scandal in the first place.  Seriously.

Yeah ... the above paragraph is what happens when you get a theatre critic who is also a lawyer.  

Theatre critic-y, if you overlook the parts of the show that were just hitting you over the head with their position, it actually wasn't bad.  It starred an actor whose work I've enjoyed for, like, twenty years, and he was, as per usual, really good.  Music was pretty good; lyrics were often sharp.  

And the show was a perfect, perfect example of the rule about how the person you see naked in a show is never the person you'd like to see naked.  Although, to be fair here, they were somewhat restricted given the historical personalities involved.  Still, you had a sex party scene, in which there was a whole room of people in their underwear (and one in somewhat less than that) -- and the participants therein consisted largely of a bunch of young attractive women in sexy lingerie, and older unattractive men in underwear and undershirts (which did not cover nearly enough).  I shall look forward to my nightmares about the guy wearing nothing but a leather facemask and a white frilly apron (with strategically-placed apron tie, hanging right over his butt-crack).  :::shudder:::  Am seeing From Here to Eternity this afternoon; should be better eye candy.

New Year's Eve plans involved dumping a load of money at one of those Medieval Banquet places.  It promised food, entertainment, and -- what was rather key for me -- sitting you at a large table full of lots of other people.  Seemed like a good idea -- I'd be with a bunch of other people, whip out some sparkling dinner conversation, and ring in the new year with them.

Here is where the plan kind of massively failed:  They seated me at a table set for 14, at which there were actually only 7 of us.  Initially, there's a couple to my left, then me, then a lot of empty table to my right.  I went off to get a drink, and came back to find a couple to my right.  (These are long tables with people seated on either side.  So the couple on my left is sitting opposite each other; I'm opposite an empty chair; and the couple on my right is sitting opposite each other.)  I sit down in my assigned seat, and the two couples are having a very animated conversation over me.  I have little opportunity to put my social skills on display as the conversation is taking place entirely in Russian.  That's right, kids, I'm at the Russian table.

Turns out to have been a fluke.  The two couples do not know each other, but have become fast friends due to a common language.  I ask the guy to my right (in a combination of English and charades) if he wants to switch seats with me -- as I can see no fun in spending the next five hours surrounded by a conversation in a language I don't understand -- so the four of them sit together and now I'm on the right, waiting to see who else is seated at our table of 14.  There is one dude who has been seated at the far end of the table.  I wave politely in his direction, but, at this point, I'm guessing he's probably Austrian or something, so don't push it.

The waiter then brings the next solo individual to my table, plops him down next to me, and he immediately introduces himself.  In heavily-accented English.  He, too, is Russian.  [headdesk]  Timor been learning English for a whole month.  (This is his first trip outside Russia!)  I'm actually pretty impressed by his English, and do my bestest to make conversation with him, but there are, y'know, limits.

Eventually, food comes, and I realize that's it for the table.  I make the decision to ask potentially-Austrian guy to come down to our end of the table -- because, really, even if he's incapable of adding to the conversation, he shouldn't be all by himself like that.

(Behind me, I note, an absolutely full table of English-speakers getting happily revelrous.)

Potentially-Austrian guy is actual Finnish, by way of Norway, and while he does speak English, his accent is so indecipherable, I'm actually having better luck understanding Timor.  Still, conversation is limited...

Timor is from Sochi.  "Olympic Games."  He helpfully adds.

I try to add some current events to the conversation and ask if he is "worried about suicide bombers."

He understands "worried," but not the rest of what I said.  I repeat "suicide bombers," as though saying it slowly will help.  I then look for a synonym and come up with "terrorism."  Is he worried about terrorism?

Ohhh.  Yes, he understands.  But he does not know enough English to explain what he thinks about that.  

Topic ends.

Meantime, our friendly Finn, having happily joined us, does not seem to be aware of Timor's limited English, and is now rambling on a mile a minute about English football, international flight prices, and what he thinks of Putin and Obama.  (Timor says he doesn't know enough English to talk about politics.  At this point, the Finn says something so remarkably offensive -- he quotes someone using the "n-word" about Obama -- I think that maybe Tim has the right idea and we should all just shut the fuck up about politics.)

Somewhere in here, the Russian foursome to my left has obtained a bottle of vodka, and they're getting pretty sloshed.  Sasha, the one of the four who knows a little English, offers vodka to the rest of us.  Around this point, Timor realizes that they, too, are Russian ("Russki?"  "Russki!") and he spends some time happily engaged in a conversation that he can understand, leaving me with the Finn rambling on with an accent I still haven't gotten a handle on.

As the evening goes on, Sasha gets more wasted, and when trying to pour vodka for Tim behind my back, spills vodka down the back of my sweater.  Eventually, the foursome bail around 11:15.  Timor, who remains, explains (he is now my translator) that they were leaving on the pretense of seeing the fireworks, but Mrs. Sasha was really just going to get Sasha home, because he was kind of plastered, and she was not amused.

In the meantime, food keeps coming, and jugglers, acrobats and contortionists come by to entertain.  (There is also singing, too, which purports to be in English, but the amplification is such that I don't understand what they're saying any more than Timor does.)  The entertainment ends with a couple of knights beating the crap out of each other for our amusement, and they were actually pretty good.  The fight choreography was solid; it was well-executed; and we were all drunk enough to really cheer for our knight to kick that other guy's ass for our honor.

After that, the serving wench leaves a tip dish on our table (which is offensive not only because of the massive amount of money we had to pay in the first place, but because the serving wench didn't do much more than drop platters of food in front of us and let us serve ourselves).  It contains a note saying "Thank you" in ten languages (not including Finnish, so the Finn figures he does not have to tip).

The entertainment now turns into a "disco."  Music is playing and people are dancing.  It briefly crosses my mind to take Timor for a spin, but since this would require: (a) asking the Finn to watch my purse; and potentially (b) asking him to dance as well, I figure it's best to just sit here and chat with these two until midnight.  There are forty-five minutes left.  I pour myself another drink.

The Finn (I never caught his name) is rambling on about football.  Timor says he does not like football.  The Finn asks him if he likes any other sports.  No, not really.  (I say he has to like sports for Olympic games; he admits a certain affection for biathlon.)  The Finn says, ok, forget sport.  Do you like... and here, I'm pretty sure he says "sex."

Seriously.  Are you seriously asking Timor if he likes sex?  I'm not sitting here if this is a challenge to Timor's manhood or something, but I can sort of see how the question may follow when the dude says he doesn't like sports.  But maybe there's a failure to communicate here -- I've had trouble understanding the Finn's accent all night.

"Sex.  Sex.  Do you like sex?" he asks.  Timor looks at me for interpretation assistance, but I've got nothing.  The Finn takes out a pencil and starts writing on a napkin.  I'm wondering if he's drawing a picture.

He isn't.  He's writing a word on the napkin.  Shows it to Timor.  It reads:

C  H  E  S  S

Ohhhhh!  Do you like chess.  Different question.  I am secretly relieved.  I think Timor is too.  

The Finn is totally into chess.  Shows us a picture of his case of chess trophies.  Timor comments that he's done a chess competition or two himself.  I'm now listening to two men discuss the virtues of chess.  This conversation has definitely taken an unexpected turn.

"Five minutes to midnight!" they tell us.  The un-tipped wench passes out champagne.  We have our countdown and the three of us -- an admittedly odd threesome -- cheerfully toast the new year.  We sit around chatting for another half hour and I figure it's about time to hit the road.  Timor bails as well, and walks me to the underground station.

The underground is trying to gets hundreds of thousands of people home safely as fast as possible.  All the turnstile gates are open -- there is no charge -- and there is security everywhere.  Trains are coming fast and furious, like, every minute.  I'm heading East and Timor is heading West.  (I chortle at the wrongness of this.)  Before we go to our opposing platforms, he works very hard to put together a sentence wishing me a new year full of only good things.  I wish him the same, give him a happy new year hug, and head home.