Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Customer service superstar

This morning I was on a mission to complete a project. To do so I needed a hole punch. I called the local 7-11s and Wallgreens to no avail. I tried the office supply places in my neighborhood and found one's phone to be unresponsive and the other's to be disconnected. Then it was my last resort, Home Depot, that offered the last blow.

"We don't [carry a whole punch]," the kind woman answered, "but there's two other hardware places nearby. There's one a block up and one two blocks down."

I thanked her for the advice and dialed the hardware store closer to my apartment, the one a block up.

"Hi, I looking for a paper hole punch," I said. "A single hole punch."

"No, we no have," the man on the other end curtly replied. "Try Home Depot."


I hate being hung up on. By my girlfriends, by my mother it doesn't matter. But to be hung up on by a complete stranger, one that I was trying to give my money to, was a different kind of insult.

I called back.

"Hello?!" the voice answered.

"Yes hi is this the hardware store?"

"You again?! I don't have time for you?"

"Well, next time maybe you should wait until someone is done talking to hang up on them."

"Listen motherfucker, I said no. I don't have time for you motherfucker."


My blood boiled. I called back again.

"Listen motherfucker. I don't have time for your bullshit. Ok motherfucker!"


I could barely catch my breath. My hands shook. I rolled up my sweatpants, put on my sandals, and headed for the hardware store. I wasn't sure what kind of person I was going to encounter. All I knew was that the guy had an accent and surely couldn't be the boss.

When I got about 4 storefronts away Nicholai Bazooka walked out of the hardware store. He stood an easy 6" over me and had a solid 40lbs (all muscle) on me. He carried himself and the packages in his hands like a man who would speak in such a brash manner, and the accent seemed to fit.

I took my glasses off just in case.

I walked into the empty store (Mr. Bazooka loaded then got into a car out front) and looked up and down the isles until I noticed a slight older man in a tucked away office in the back. I was relieved to have not only found the boss but to not have to deal with the monstrous animal I passed on my way in.

"I assume you aren't the one who answers phones around here?" I playfully asked the boss/owner.

"Oh no," the man said, "not you again. You don't have anything better to do?"

It was my friend from the phone.

We started arguing back and forth. I tried my best to "be the better man" but every now and again took the opportunity to throw a shot at him when I could. I told him that it was not "ok" for him to call me a motherfucker and to tell me that he didn't have time for my bullshit.

His retort? "No. I did not call you motherfucker. I told you go fuck yourself."

I was amused and told him I wanted an apology. When he patronizingly gave me one (like a child who feels he's done no wrong gives to the kid down the street that he kicked in the shins once parents are involved) I told him that his mocking apology was not sufficient and that now I wanted one in writing.

First he argued with me, then he insulted me, then he went about working and ignoring me, then back to yelling at me with scattered insults thrown in.

At one point of his silent treatment I confessed my superhuman strength to him.

"... The good news is that today is my day off, and I don't have anything better to do then to sit here and bother you. In fact, keep on ignoring me because I actually love the sound of my own voice. And I'm persistent, stubborn. I can carry this conversation on with myself all day."

I presented him with two options, thinking that the possibility of him just physically having me thrown out best be not mentioned.

"Either you can call the cops, cause a scene, and have them show up. I'll leave when they ask me to, but I'll spend every ounce of energy I have writing to every newspaper I can. I'll picket out front. That's public property. I'll do everything I can. Or you can simply write an apology to me for calling me a motherfucker and telling me that you don't have time for my bullshit. So easy and I could be gone."

He called the cops.

Long story short upon leaving I pondered what to do. I was still enraged that I had been treated in such a way but felt like Jim Carrey's character from Liar Liar. "You know what I am going to do about this? ... Nothing! Because if I take it to small claims court, it will just drain 8 hours out of my life and you probably won't show up and even if I got the judgment you'd just stiff me anyway; so what I am going to do is piss and moan like an impotent jerk, and then bend over and take it up the tailpipe!"

I could write the papers, I could picket and file BBB claims and blah-blah-blah but for what? To get the guy reprimanded? Fired? To shut down the business? How does any of that change my life? Does it take back the insult? No. Does it earn me some sort of reward? No.

Now I know there's the argument that that's not right, that I shouldn't take such abuse. But at the end of the day it would just be time wasted on a cause that doesn't benefit me or anybody else. In fact, it would only end up having a negative impact (on the owner, the rude guy, other employees, etc...).

Instead of doing anything I dropped it. It sucked to be cursed at, especially since I honestly did nothing to warrant it. But the real shame would be if I let it impact any more of my day, life. 

So I went on about my day, and had a pretty good one too. I got a good story to tell, got motivated to get up and out at the day early, and ended up finding that hole punch at the hardware store 2 blocks south of Home Depot. Life is good.

"I do not mind what happens." -J Krishnamurti

Friday, December 2, 2011

My new website

So usually I have no good excuse as to why I have been slacking on my blog (and subsequently my personal writing). But today I can honestly and triumphantly say that my website - the very one that has sucked almost all of my attention and kept me from blogging over the last month - is finally done!

Please check it out, and any and all feed back is welcomed and more than appreciated!

Not only is all of the work mine (photos, writing, etc...) but I actually learned how to program in HTML, CSS, and Java Script to design the site. Of course none of this would be at all possible without the numerous hours of conversations, tutorials, and coffees with my friend Dan, to whom I must send an enormous thank you.

NOTE - check out Dan's site...

I hope this will allow me to write a little more and share even more smiles with all that I can!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dress code disguise

     Living in Chicago gives me the opportunity to see many people dressed up. Some dress in suits for their meetings, some in uniforms to serve coffee, some in hemp and dreads to protest. This year since Halloween fell on a Monday it provided for a weekend filled with adults dressed up for an event. It filled me with a strange sense of sadness that since I had no plans to go out it would be pointless to dress up; the only opportunity that I'd have to go somewhere in costume would be going to work Monday morning.

     Instead of wearing a costume I decided that I would instead dawn a disguise for Halloween. I shaved...

put on a suit...

and my disguise was complete.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Signs from the universe

Ever since returning to Chicago I had found it difficult to stay motivated to get things done for myself. I tried to spend time writing my book, the one about my latest trip, but always seemed to make excuses instead. By that point in October - 2 full months after I had returned to the city - I had only written a 1/3 of the rough draft.

Since Paris I had began to think realistically about my next trip; I needed a middle term goal that I could strive towards. The long term goal was to be successful, which I had thought meant finishing my undergrad degree, but seemed to be too far off in the future to be considered likely attainable. And the short term goal to work and write was almost too effortless. I needed something to strive for that was going to take some oomph to obtain but was within reasonable reach; the day before last I had begun to think of a new destination.

After meeting Rafael at that hostel in Paris I had begun to give some serious consideration to traveling to South America. He had given me an open invitation to stay with him in Venezuela and it seemed like it could be a neat place to go; Rio and the big mountain Jesus, the Andes, even fresh coffee beans had always attracted my attention and sparked my interest. If I were to stay with Rafael I would not only have a springboard from which to explore the rest of South America but would also be afforded someone to show me the ropes for the first few days. Yet I thought back to Paris and how so many of my wonderful experiences would never have occurred had I not been able to speak French. Surely visiting South America would be more rewarding of an experience if I learned to speak Spanish beforehand.

Then I thought about the possibility of going to Russia. Ever since I had been a high school senior I had been fascinated with the country. Maybe a trip to Moscow would provide me the same high level of experience as Paris and India had. I could also travel to St. Petersburg and take the Trans-Siberian express across Russia, eventually ending up in Vladivostok. It seemed like a place that had a journey destined to end up there, but I felt as though Russia would be a place that I would want to see in the dead of winter; somehow a snow covered Kremlin seemed the only way to see it. And truth be told I seemed more in love with the idea of thinking about going to Russia rather than actually going to Russia.

Then I thought about Istanbul. When aboard a Mumbai bound train I met Janira and eagerly inquired about her travels. She was from the Bronx, had lived a year in Germany as an au pair, visited Ireland and Paris, fled from Bulgaria, and spent 3 months traveling throughout India. Of all the places she had been and seen it was the curious way in which she spoke of her experience with Istanbul like a lover remembers a summer fling that perked my ears. Janira explained it to be the meeting of East and West, of Asia and Europe; she told it to be the center of the art universe. The seed of Istanbul planted on that train in India had begun to bloom.

The idea to go to Istanbul was only reinforced on my last trip; I spent five days in London and happened to have booked my accommodations in a quite Turkish part of town. I first discovered that the chicken kabob place across from the hostel was a Turkish business (or at least Turkish run). Next it was the cafe kitty corner where I enjoyed a coffee each day. Even the laundromat down the block, grocer across the street, and the flower shoppe next door were all Turkish. And it was on my way out of town that I shared a ride on the tube with my regular (Turkish) server at the cafe - a moment that made me experience a feeling of belonging that a resident of London would.

In fact the more I thought about Istanbul the more it just seemed to make sense. I went to bed with possibly my next destination on my mind, and when I awoke the next morning it had become a resolution: I was going to Istanbul. Armed with my attainable destination, my middle term goal, I headed to work.

As a hardware associate part of my responsibilities include unpacking the shipments we received each week and making sure that the new product made its way to the shelves. Along with the expected hardware inventory we are also responsible for lawn and garden, home fitness, sporting goods, and toys. It was a box of magic 8 balls that would prove to be the difference maker. We had received a box of 4 such psychic devices and held one in particular behind the counter. When I arrived at work that morning the first thing I did was to ask the magic 8 ball kept behind the register about my new plans.

I don't really remember exactly what question I posed to the magic 8 ball that morning. In fact I don't even remember what answer was given to me. The only thing that shines through in my memory, and really the only important thing, was the desire to find out exactly what the magic 8 ball said; it was written in a foreign [to me] language. As it turned out the reason for that particular magic 8 ball to be held behind the counter was that it was a mis-packaged toy; the box containing the 8 ball was written in English, but the little object that floated inside of it was penned in another language. Clearly it was a foreign toy meant for a far off destination, but desperate to find out what answer it gave to my all important question I darted to the computer to find out.

At first the lettering and accents lead me to believe it was either written in German or Russian. But it wasn't. Nor was it Dutch, Czech, Bulgarian, Croatian, or Swedish.

It was Turkish.

It was a Turkish magic 8 ball.

It was a Turkish magic 8 ball that had been accidentally packaged in an English box, put into another box with 3 other English magic 8 balls, and shipped to a department store in downtown Chicago. Though I'm not sure what the odds of something like that occurring I would imagine it not to be quite common. And for the first time I could clearly understand what the universe wanted for me.

I simply want to travel and write. Oddly, I can't say that I ever felt homesick at the end of my trips; it was always at the beginning for me. Once I jumped into the pool I didn't want to get out. Each time I came home, first after India and most recently after Paris, I was only treading water in the States and working towards being away again. It's like I was a kid bouncing on a trampoline; every time back on the mat I compressed my legs not to settle there but get the jump to be back in the air. I don't know if I am to move to Istanbul but I know where my next destination is.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The ant and the grasshopper

 It was the warm months, and in a luscious valley filled with trees and life lived an ant and a grasshopper. The sun shone brightly upon the valley and warmed the days as the residents bustled about; some toiled away while others played; the ant worked hard; the grasshopper dallied.

To read the rest of this story please follow this link:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The concise Paris.

I took 953 pictures
I took 55 videos
I filled a 60 page journal with sketches and words
I authored 14 blog posts
I wrote countless pages in my notebook

All these things were created about Paris. But it is perhaps the list I begun about it in my pocket journal that most succinctly explains what the city is like.

I got the idea for the list my first day in Paris after stopping at a downtown brasserie to have a drink. When I looked at the board of prices I was shocked to see a glass of Bordeaux was actually cheaper than a half pint of Stella. It got me to thinking about things that Paris offers that make it truly Paris.

So here it is. The list of tag lines that, at least from my experiences, best describe Paris.

Paris: Where the wine is cheaper than the beer
Paris: Where they speak better French than you do
Paris: Where street signs on the corner tell how to find a toilet or museum, but not the name of the street
Paris: Where you can't find the Eiffel Tower simply by looking for it above other buildings
Paris: Where there are times of congestion but never a rush hour
Paris: Where directions are subjective
Paris: Where everyone smokes yet no one seems to sell cigarettes
Paris: Where you should always carry a corkscrew
Paris: Where opera makes sense
Paris: Where stereotypes can come true
Paris: Where beauty is everywhere
Paris: Where getting lost isn't necessarily a bad thing
Paris: Where the mundane is extraordinary
Paris: Where you might start speaking English with an accent
Paris: Where you need a map
Paris: Where seemingly every store sells wine but not a wine opener
Paris: Where a diet of bread and cheese is fantastic
Paris: Where there's always beautiful women on the metro, streets, patios...
Paris: Where people that look like foreigners to Paris speak perfect French
Paris: Where taking the metro doesn't cut walking out of the commute but rather shifts it underground
Paris: Where everyone takes pictures
Paris: Where the sky is simply more beautiful
Paris: Where croissants taste better
Paris: Where bums ask for change using espresso cups
Paris: Where aged roads can make you regret walking in flip flops
Paris: Where a Euro can buy 5 Eiffel Towers on every corner
Paris: Where small dogs are really popular
Paris: Where wedding pictures can - and do - happen everywhere
Paris: Where they drink two buck Chuck but call it Cote du Rhone
Paris: Where the name eau de toilet seems to refer to the streets
Paris: Where you'll take multiple pictures of the of the same things because they're that awesome
Paris: Where you can drink whiskey or espresso at a tattoo parlor
Paris: Where it always comes in handy to have a bottle of wine on you
Paris: Where homeless people might feed you before asking for something from you
Paris: Where gimmick restaurants that feature rude waiters also exist; they're called restaurants
Paris: Where you'll fall in love with a city

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mon p'tit chou

Before arriving in Paris I was unsure as to if I would be seeing the Eiffel Tower. It is so cliche and really kinda cheesy that I thought "hey... if I see it, cool. If I don't, cool."

When I first arrived at Gare du Nord I had only one plan - to head over to Shakespeare and Company (an English bookstore in Paris that puts up writers for free) to see if I could stay there. Before I left London I elected to search for directions to the bookstore and nothing else. My thoughts were that if I booked somewhere to stay that somehow it would be accepting failure (inability to stay at S&Co.) and planning for it. So I arrived in Paris with only one destination in mind.

I walked... and walked... and walked. An hour and a half after landing in Paris I arrived at S&Co. only to be told that they had no room to put up another writer. Since I had not made any other plans I was in need of a cyber cafe to book a hostel for the night. Lucky for me I had decided to speak only in French while in Paris, so my walk from the bookstore to a cyber cafe provided me a 2 hour tour of the city (I was too proud to ask in English, even when I didn't understand what directions were given to me in French).

So I walked... and walked... and walked. By the time the clock struck 2 I had found my way to a cafe, just a few moments had elapsed since having arrived in Paris at 830am. I sat down in front of the monitor, exhausted from lugging my 35lb bag across the city, and began to search for a bed. To my horror I could only find hostels STARTING at 35 Euros a night - 15 Euros (25$) more than I had budgeted for.

So there I was, exhausted from walking, scared about my budget, and headed to a hostel located literally three blocks from the Gare du Nord - the place where my day had begun. I stepped out of the shoppe, and as if on cue it started raining.

IT STARTED RAINING! Are you kidding me?! I thought to myself. I've come all the way to Paris, I can't stay where I wanted to, all the hostels are 50% more expensive than I budgeted for, and to make things worse the one hostel I did find is another 2 hour walk to where I began my day. And now it rains. Fuck me.

I moped down the street. Just when I thought my day couldn't get any worse I came up to a random corner and happened to look to my left. Through the rain and above the buildings I espied the top half of the Eiffel Tower.

It made everything OK.

I was in Paris! How bad could life be?! I broke out a shit eating grin so large it was shared with a random couple as I beamed that it was my first time seeing the Eiffel Tower. Like the Taj Mahal had been it was a clear example of the difference between seeing something and experiencing something. But unlike anything had before it moved me in a way something never has.

I could spend the day singing the praise of mon p'tit chou and it wouldn't nearly do justice to how truly magnificent the Eiffel Tower is. It moves me to tears.

I saw the Eiffel Tower every day I was in Paris. I saw it when it rained and when it was sunny. I saw it at dusk and at dawn. I saw it lit by the sun and sparkled by flashing lights. I spent 7 nights sleeping with her, and 7 mornings with her as the first thing I saw.

So here it is... my plethora of Eiffel Tower pictures, and even a video at the end!

Just a quick video too...