Closest I’ve Come to Imitating the Late Hunter S. Thompson

The hands of the clock near 2 a.m., I have to be at my desk at work at 8, and yet I am sitting at the laptop, typing this blog.  One eye is on the screen, the other is on a bottle of hydrocodone I filled at Walgreen in the evening.  Soon I can take another dose.  The back of my mouth and the hinges of my jaw hurt like mad right now, since I spent about two and a half hours in the dentist’s chair after work today (I know it’s after midnight, but in my mind it’s still Thursday night).

So how do I resemble the inimitable and invulnerable (or so we thought for years) Hunter S. Thompson?  I’m writing with an eye toward taking narcotics.  (I don’t smoke, I don’t own a muster of peacocks, I no longer drink–and never cared for Wild Turkey when I did, I hate guns, and I look idiotic in sunglasses, so the good Doctor of Journalism hasn’t been my role model.)  But I’m sitting here with a bottle of Sierra Mist and the hydrocodone bottle flanking the keyboard, waiting until I can take another two pills.  I am always conscientious about waiting the prescribed period of time between doses whenever I use prescription narcotics.

After going nuclear yesterday about terrible customer service I’ve experienced earlier in the day, and rehashing bad experiences from the past, wouldn’t you know someone throws me a curve!  I scheduled my July 1 appointment around Memorial Day, and when the dentist’s receptionist left voice mail messages reminding me the date was coming up, I called after hours on Wednesday and said I had to cancel the appointment.  Due to my financial condition, I would have to cancel the appointment.

SEMI-TANGENT ALERT: A major symptom of depression is neglect of personal hygiene.  Remedies are usually easy when the depression lifts–a shower and some clean clothes, and you’re ready to face the world.  Dental hygiene is different.  Undoing the damage from inattention to your teeth is expensive and can’t be solved all at once.  When I decided to finally do something about repairing the years of damage caused by my neglect, inattention, and apathy, the biggest roadblocks for me were pain and expense, in that order.  Until I saw an ad during the local news portion of Good Morning America last year, I did not know there was such a thing as gentle dentistry or sedation dentistry.  I “auditioned” two or three dentists before making my first appointment for dental work.

And here’s the curve which balances the horror stories I described in my last entry.  I came back from my 10 a.m. break, and there was a message from my dentist’s receptionist.  The doctor was willing to work out a $15-per-month payment plan with me for what my insurance doesn’t cover, and the appointment was still mine if I wanted it.  I called and said I’d be there after work.

(Since I’m complimenting him so effusively, I don’t think he’ll mind my posting his name.  He is Joshua Clark, DDS, and his practice is High Street Dental.  You can find his Website here, and if you schedule an appointment, mention this blog.)

My previous experience, a deep cleaning, was a good one.  I won’t lie and say it was fun, but Dr. Clark and his assistants and hygienists eased me considerably through the process.  Before the appointment started, Dr. Clark asked me if I had ever used nitrous oxide before.

I laid my cards on the table.  I have undergone general anesthesia three times (tonsillectomy, plastic surgery, and gallbladder removal), so I’m sure I’ve used it legitimately.  I told him that I have used it recreationally.

TANGENT ALERT:  Once was shortly after I moved to Boston.  When I lived in Boston U.’s student ghetto, I was coming home from work one night and there was a party in full swing in one of the houses around the corner from my apartment on Commonwealth Ave.  I merged into the crowd and was soon part of the revelry.  Besides two kegs of beer, the centerpiece of the living room was a tall metal cylinder.  The hosts had attached a long rubber hose to the nozzle, and people would insert the hose into their mouths, and the person controlling the flow would adjust the gauge as people gestured, usually by making an up-up-up motion with their flat palms.  I took my turn, and felt the room spin round and round.  I staggered back from the tank, and I remember someone catching me under the armpits and seating me in a chair before I fell.  (I did learn from watching a woman taking her turn at the cylinder that it’s prudent to go to the bathroom beforehand.)

That was my introduction to nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas, chemical formula N2O.  One of the people who lived in the house was an anesthesiology student at Tufts Medical Center, and he “borrowed” one of the tanks for the party.  I had known about laughing gas, because I knew some kids at Marietta High School who loved to use whippits, but I had never tried them at that time.

My other prolonged experience was about a decade later.  I was visiting a friend in St. Louis for Thanksgiving, and wondered why his best friend and the best friend’s girlfriend seemed to buy Reddi-wip five or six cans at a time.  I was naïve enough to think they just loved pumpkin pie.  It was Thanksgiving, after all.  But that didn’t explain why they would let them soak in a kitchen sink full of hot water for several hours.

My friend’s friend was an able tutor.  Put the nozzle in your mouth, spray while inhaling, and keep spraying until your lungs were full.  The whipped cream was now a useless glob at the bottom of the can.  Reddi-wip (sometimes called “giggle cream”) uses nitrous oxide as a propellant, I learned.  I did as instructed, and all of us were in a living room with deep shag carpeting.  I remember noticing that my vision cleared up totally to 20/20 for that minute.  There was a lifting feeling, almost like I was straying from my body for a minute, and I lay back on the floor, keeping a firm grip on the shag carpeting, like I was hanging on during a fast ride.  There was total silence in the room.  I looked around, and everyone was lying on the floor, unmoving, intent on the ceiling, each in his/her own thoughts, and loving it.  It was over a minute before I felt like I was coming back to myself.  No hangover, no craving for seconds, and it would clear my system in minutes.

BACK ON POINT AT LAST: Dr. Clark fed me an almost continuous supply of nitrous oxide through a rubber nasal mask during the procedure.  He used a long Q-Tip to apply a topical gel, and during the procedure this evening I was totally oblivious to the fact that he had injected my gums with Novocaine.  At worst, it felt like he had nicked a canker sore.  My shut-eye last night was minimal, so I was soon fast asleep, but I was “with it” enough to respond to requests like “Tilt your head back, please” or “Open a little wider, please.”  He pulled several wisdom teeth, did a thorough cleaning, and when he was finished, switched the nitrous to pure oxygen to bring me around.

My tongue and lips felt very thick, and I was slurring my words.  This wasn’t because of the nitrous, but because I had two big pieces of gauze in my mouth.  Both Dr. Clark and the receptionist assured me my lips and tongue looked normal, which was good news.  I felt like I was wearing those brightly colored wax lips that kids used to like to wear on Hallowe’en when I was in grade school.

Nitrous’ effects clear when you walk out into fresh air, so I was able to walk to the nearby Kroger to pay my electric bill and buy my July bus pass.  (As you’ll recall from my previous entry, Fringe Benefits Management Company’s people are too busy playing Farmville and Sudoku online all day to call me to ask why my bus pass came back to them, and ask if there was another address they should use.)  Steph could see the residual effects of the nitrous oxide in the way I almost drifted into the front room when I came home.

More importantly, she was quite pleased with Dr. Clark’s handiwork.  Two or three appointments, and the work will be completed.

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Good Customer Service Took a Hiatus Today

There are hundreds of sights where customers can complain about bad customer service they’ve received at different stores, Websites, or help lines.  Equally, there are just as many sites where employees who work with the public daily can vent about the stupidity of the customers they encounter during their shifts.  Usually, my experiences with customer service people have been positive, but today was an exception on more than one front.

One of the fringe benefits of my job is that the cost of my monthly bus pass is taken out, pre-tax, from my paycheck.  The next month’s bus pass usually arrives in the mail sometime between the 24th and 28th of the month.  No such bus pass arrived this month.  This morning, I called the Fringe Benefits Management Company, who oversees the commuter pass program, and the woman on the phone told me that–for whatever reason–the post office returned the card to them.  (Never mind that other mail, especially magazines and bills, have no trouble making it to us.)  The address was still valid, we’ve lived here a year and a half.  It would be 30 seconds out of their day to put the bus pass in a new envelope, and, just to be safe, mail it to my work address, right?  No, they couldn’t do that, because COTA, when the bus pass came back, credited my paycheck.  It apparently involved too much hard labor for someone at FBMC to dial my number to tell me that my pass had been returned, and to ask me did I want it mailed to an alternative address?)  A few keystrokes on their computer could have rectified that.  But no, I have to buy the bus pass myself this month.  And if the benefits administrator mailed me a bus pass anyway, COTA is out $22–their problem, not mine.  If COTA asked the benefits administrator, “Did you mail it back to us?”, all the benefits administrator would have to say is, “Why, yes.  You mean you didn’t get it?”  The FBMC people worked about as hard as the Unknown Soldier to fix this situation.
And it doesn’t end there.  Steph gave me a Visa gift card, and I decided to do something responsible with it, rather than go on a minor spending spree on Abebooks or Amazon.com.  I thought I’d pay my cell bill with it. I logged onto their Website and entered the Visa card number, expiration date, the works.  Three times I submitted, three times I got the message that there was a problem submitting this payment.  There was a sufficient balance on the card, I typed its number in correctly, I did nothing wrong.
Revol is my cell phone carrier, a small carrier out of Independence, Ohio (a Cleveland suburb), and what makes this glitch so galling is that they expect their customers to pay online or with plastic on the phone.  They go so far as to add a $3 surcharge for people who show up at their stores and pay the bills in cash, in person.  If they are going to penalize people who pay in cash, and in person, which is actually more convenient for them, their customers should expect nothing less than an online payment system that works the first time every time.
Certainly their phones don’t work first time, every time.  In Clintonville, the neighborhood I call home, I may or may not get a signal in my own house, depending on what room I am in, or even what corner of what room.  They wring their hands about other services not leasing them tower space, yet they don’t turn over one spade of dirt to build new towers.  I am counting down the days until a Revol phone drops or loses a 911 call in a life-and-death situation.  The lawsuit that will result from that would rival what B.P. is going to pay to clean up the spill.
The common denominator with bad customer service seems to be when companies know that you have no alternatives.  They have a bully’s sixth sense about when you’re totally at their mercy and beholden to them.  In 1989, when I dropped out of O.U. and moved to Cincinnati, my first apartment was a small room above a small appliance store in Elmwood Place, just north of the Nu-Maid Margarine plant.  I called Cincinnati Bell and arranged for phone service.  The technician would be there at 10 o’clock Saturday morning.
Ten o’clock came and went, and no installation.  The front door was not easy to hear, since my room was in the back of the building.  I even left a note for the man to knock loudly.  I kept my radio and TV off, did not use my typewriter, and kept my room door wide open so I could hear the knock.  I called Cincinnati Bell’s customer service people from the appliance store, and received a lot of noncommittal answers about when, or whether, the technician would come.  I finally resorted to calling at 10- or 15-minute intervals, and they dispatched the person, just to give their customer service reps some relief.
And the story doesn’t even end there!  When the man finally deigned to come, he ended up having to disconnect the jack that was in the wall by my desk.  I had some thin multicolored spaghetti hanging from my wall, and he hooked up my phone.  It was then we realized that they hadn’t bothered to turn on my line.  It was too late in the day Saturday, no one could take that nanosecond to flip that one switch, I’d have to wait until Monday.
Phone companies seem to think your life revolves around their convenience.  One reason I am happy about the imminent demise of the land line is that when you buy a cell phone, even a pre-paid throwaway phone at a corner bodega, you bypass having to deal with people like this.  When Steph and I were separated, I ordered a land line in the small apartment on W. 5th Ave. I was renting.  This time I was told the man would come at 10 a.m.
I was awakened by his arrival at 8:30.  And even then, I had no phone service that day, because he had brought the wrong jack for the type of phone wiring in my building.  This meant I had to schedule another day off from work, and put my entire day on hold until they elected to come.  Their person had come 90 minutes early.  I was glad I was home asleep that day.  What if I had other plans or commitments that morning before his arrival?  The customer service representative I spoke to had an “Oh, well!” attitude about this.
My worst face-to-face customer service experiences were both when I was living in Boston.  Topping the list was an incident I described in the LiveJournal blog.  Besides working at The Crimson, I typeset The Boston Phoenix during the summer.  (The Phoenix is Boston’s equivalent of The Village Voice, and is the largest weekly newspaper in New England.)  Around the corner from The Phoenix‘ offices on Mass. Ave. was Brigham’s Restaurant, a uniquely New England ice cream chain which featured delicious milk shakes (“frappes”), and excellent hamburgers.
On one particular afternoon, my waitress was an elderly woman named Mable.  She took my order, writing it down in pencil on her pad.  She returned with it very quickly, and I was quite pleased, because my lunch time was quite limited at The Phoenix.  Also, I was very hungry, having eaten nothing but M&Ms and Coke that morning.  She set down my cheeseburger, fries, and coleslaw.  I was like Pavlov’s dog when I saw it, and I bent down and reached for the plate.
At this moment, Mable came back to my booth and snatched the plate away from me.  Over her shoulder, she said that someone else ahead of me had ordered the identical thing, so it was theirs.  How did she know I hadn’t shed my whiskers into it, or coughed and/or sneezed in it?  The replacement burger was longer in coming, and I had to wolf it down in time to get back to work on time.  It was also the only time I ever walked out of a restaurant without paying for my meal.
The other shoddy customer service experience I had was at Wordsworth Two, a now-defunct bookstore on Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, on the way to Central Square from Harvard Square.  I bought many books there, usually on my way home from work at The Crimson.  One night, there was a lone cashier, a guy about my age at the time (20), behind the cash register at a semicircular counter.  Bearing my purchase, I walked up to the counter, where he was punching away at a calculator.  He bustled around at finding receipts and notes, and he would have seen me if he had turned his body just a few degrees in my direction, all the while talking to two or three people, who did not have merchandise, on the other side of the U-shaped counter.  I finally got so exasperated that I leaned across the counter and waved the $20 bill I was holding in his face, less than a millimeter from his eyes.  He jumped back, startled, and then very frostily rang up my order.  (I had assumed that waving the bill in his face was the universally accepted symbol for “I’m trying to pay you.”)
My experiences today are all the more appalling when you consider that I had a very pleasant conversation with the customer service people at American Electric Power earlier this week.  I was going to be a day or two late with my bill, and they renegotiated a new payment plan, one that was even more generous than the one we had previously.  The woman on the line was chatty, sympathetic, and went the extra distance to make sure I had a plan I could afford.  And AEP is not one of those companies I can just say, “Screw you!  I’m going to your competitor!” to if I’m not happy.