Monday, August 29, 1994

I Do Like You

"And when you've reached that broken promised land, and all your dreams fall through your hands, you know that it's too late to change you're mind. Because you've paid the price to come so far, just to wind up where you are, and you're still just across that borderline."

Thanks go out this week to Jason Koffman for contributing a topical New York Times article. It's an article that should be an interest to many of our employees as well as an article par excellence, one that got me thinking which granted, I don't do often enough these days. Several of the themes in the article are worth spending a little time to ponder...

The article pointed out there are still people out there who reject the convenience and so called superiority of CDs as opposed to LPs. Technology often is just accepted as progress, a step forward. Most of the time, a technological advance makes things easier, but seldom do we think about how, when things become easier to do, often that comfort leads to laziness; of finding yet another reason, another excuse not to think.

I recently ran into a personal example of this very weakness that is so easy to succumb to. I took a state test for my current position. Among the areas covered was a section on spelling. I've always considered myself an above average speller (despite what you all have witnessed on these pages). Yet when I took the test, that was far and away the part that was hardest for me. Everything looked wrong in a dyslexic sort of way

Upon reflection, it dawned on me that perhaps my dependence on the spell checker on my computer might be a culprit in this problem. (I'm now thoroughly convinced that particular feature is an invention that was developed in Satan's laboratory.) It's become too easy, too convenient to click on a button and think all the words will come out right. Why waste the time looking something up in a dictionary or taking the time to get it right the first time, when you can have it all done for you so easily in the end? And that my friends, is the dependence and danger of word processing packages. Consider it a speed bump on the information super highway.

Our culture, our way of thinking has come to adopt the belief the quicker something can be accomplished, the better off we all are. The picture of progress is always associated with going forward although any change in technology means something else is lost along the way. My spelling anecdote for example, points out we seem to have forgotten that patience not only is a virtue, it's a close friend of accuracy. And an accurate person is a satisfied person. We have come to accept that it is a strength to get out in front of the crowd, demonstrate through saved time we can better channel ourselves to reach our full potential. But sometimes it really is best to lag behind the rest, to be a follower, to witness the mistakes others make ahead of you, and then learn from those mistakes and not make the same ones. We are taught early on, and constantly reminded and have reinforced in our minds, that to be number one, to be the leader is what we must strive for. Yet another myth that is hard to break away from, let alone discount.

The people ahead of us sometimes actually can offer some insight, some guidance in what we can expect. We all want to be unique, to celebrate our individuality and creativity, but at the same time it often is prudent to believe the phrase, "I do like you" because you, meaning the other, just might be right. If you made it through, I might too. Listen to what the man said: "Love is fine for all we know, for all we know our love will grow."

Someday we might actually come to accept the lesson that is the backbone of Catholicism: You have to suffer to come out ahead, to get to heaven. The conclusion reached might be that hard work and perseverance can be rewards by themselves. Those that struggle often times gain insight and wisdom not available to the general population. A former coworker of ours, the inscrutable one, revealed to me her belief that what she lacked in her life was a map maker, someone to give her direction. All these years later I'm happy to report back that it is that very feeling of being perpetually lost that can be the meaning behind it all. To become dependent on an outside source may be a temptation but it often times is better to rely on what is already inside. "Though it takes a lot of power to make a big tree grow, doesn't need a pot of knowledge, for a seed knows what a seed must know."

The grass might be greener on the other side, but it can also be a hell of a lot more colorful closer to home. Hard work and a good attitude just might be as important as pushing the right buttons. Often it isn't so much the end result, the final product that is what we take away and gives our experiences their value. Sometimes it is the history of the journey itself that can be so rewarding. Just like our friend the LP, the sound might contain less clarity, but that doesn't mean it is less pure, and by its very flaws, it can be appreciated much more. That which lasts can be of great value to us.

Monday, August 15, 1994

Can't Say Customer Service Without the Cus

When I purchased my brand new used car, I knew it was lacking one essential, a kick ass stereo cassette/CD player. The kind of stereo that you could crank up and take off on I94, drown your sorrows and do some serious damage. (Or at least pretend, and annoy your neighbor's quiet suburban existence nonetheless.)

So when I finally had some free time and the new used car began to feel as if actually belonged to me and wasn't merely a great rental unit, I drove to my neighborhood Audio King and had them install a missing but necessary piece to my wacky life. When I left their premises I was a proud owner of a rocking unit, and it made me yearn, made me itch for a serious road trip.

But before I hit the road and acted out the metaphor of the mobile roamer with wanderlust in his soul, I first had to fill out the customer service card they gave me with my purchase. I'm the type of dweeb who fills out all these cards believing in this day and age when we face so many examples of poor customer service it almost becomes expected, that my opinion/experience might be read by someone who will take note. I tend to make a special effort to take the time after I receive outstanding service believing that too many people complain, and when someone actually makes the all too rare effort to do their job right, that the praise should be given. I'm a shopper who appreciates good help more than good prices. I'm more than willing to pay extra for good customer service. But I also feel compelled to report unpleasant experiences too because you never know when you'll run into a company who takes the feedback to heart rather than using surveys as a meaningless customer service tool.

An example of the latter was last winter, when I had a major photocopying project I needed done so I stopped by Kinko's. I had a very bad experience with the sales person there so when the manager of the store sent me a follow up letter/customer survey, I wrote a long letter of complaint. She never got back to me, never responded. Before her letter, I was contemplating whether or not to continue to do business with Kinko's. Her lack of response to my complaints made the decision for me.

Well, my report card back to Audio King was mixed. I was happy with my purchase, the quality of the car stereo. I was also pleased with the job they did installing the system. They were quick and left no trace of the work. It looked as if the player had come with the car, that it belonged. I was not so pleased with my salesperson. The location I visited was pretty small and I went early enough where there were few other customers in the store. I waited what I felt was an unreasonable amount of time before anyone came over to help me. (I took to the old trick of playing with all the knobs I could, so someone might become alarmed.)

When someone did finally help me, the sale went quickly. I knew what I wanted, I knew how much I wanted to spend and I had enough experience with the various manufacturers to know who at this point I trusted and liked. So the guy had an easy sell and he brought me to the register to do the paper work and ring me up. During the middle of things he got a phone call which I could tell was a personal call. He talked awhile but since the installation was going to take some time anyway, I geared myself to be patient. I knew that the way I would have dealt with the situation would be to tell the caller I would get back to them, but who was I to say anything? Just the customer.

He finally got off the phone and returned back to finishing up with me. But the phone rang again. And again I heard enough to tell me it was another personal call. This time I was a bit miffed. I had picked Audio King from previous experience and also because someone close to me recommended them as a good place to get a car stereo. I'm sorry if I don't like to be treated as if I'm interfering with someone's personal life. But I wasn't about to complain. I vented my anger in another way. That day I was also interested in buying a VCR. After this salesperson's lack of courtesy, I wasn't going to spend any more money at that store. I ended up at a Circuit City.

The comments I made on my customer service card weren't all that harsh. I made sure I pointed out both the good and bad parts of my visit. I dropped it in the mail without a second thought. Thus I was pleasantly surprised when a sales consultant called me and wanted to know what happened. He went so far as to ask me what they could do to rectify the situation and make sure I remain an Audio King shopper. I didn't know what to say. The competition in the retail business continues to get tougher and tougher and quite frankly once I have a bad experience, I don't particularly care enough to go back. But this man was persistent. He eventually decided to wave the installation fee (over $50). Yeah, maybe I was bought off, my principles sold down the river, but I don't think so. He was willing to do what he could to get my patronage back and I appreciated his efforts. I didn't expect compensation, and really respected his desire to get me back. Now I know I'll return, I'll make the effort to shop Audio King whenever I need something they offer.

P.S. He said he was an Applause shopper and he is always impressed by the service we give.

Under the Sun

I don't believe in all this dressing up in black. Enough of the Uptown, hipper than thou, depressed artist, cynic skeptic, septic feel sorry for yourself, dealt all the wrong cards outlook on life. I believe in the sun. All things are pastel. And I must really apologize for the recent glut of pseudo philosophical, pigeon psychology that has appeared in these pages recently. No more, only news you can use.

For regular readers of this publication you might have noticed this week's edition is a little bit different than usual. And since it has always been our trademark to specialize in the unusual, irregular readers of this newsletter might just want to eat more vegetables or prunes. As for the above, somehow I have found myself more and more trying to offer advice to people, and specifically relationship and career advice. Maybe it comes from the sheer amount of mistakes I have made in those areas and that I think I actually have something to say, but it has gotten a little out of hand and pretentious. I'm sorry. I'm but a simple man. If just barely that.

For those of you keen enough to have picked up the unusual break from the routine, this week features a three day festival of peace and love. No we're not talking about Woodstock '94, we're talking about the newsletter. I do have to ask myself (and a few of you might do so also) if I will someday look back upon these days as a foundation for something special, something permanent, or at least long lasting, or will all this too pass into that massive abyss that now fills the space between my ears?

So what's going on here? Well, this weekend I participated in a softball tournament where I learned with age you never can stretch out certain muscles (i.e. the groin) long enough. Joan's Jets. We put on quite the show. I always thought it was nearly impossible to be shut out in slow pitch softball, but with this team, everything remained a possibility. But damn that little shortstop could field. Thanks to all of thee for showing up and for all the support. Thanks especially to Becca Will for filling in at Landfill for me. As I know Becca learned, you don't appreciate the green tag experience, the breathing in of mold, the piles of stuff you see on a sunny, Saturday afternoon, until you miss it. And miss it, I did. I owe you one Becca.

Enough of the babble though. We thought we would take the time here to explain the complicated process that goes into producing a regular newsletter every week. We hope to enlighten and put a stop to some of the sillier rumors currently circulating. First of all, it isn't well known but the newsletter is printed only on paper we produce ourselves. The paper is made from a special pulp we create using old Fleetwood Mac green tag album covers, baking soda, ginger root and a whole lot of tender loving care. Sure we could use so called regular paper, but at Landfill we don't believe in discarding anything that can possibly be reused in some form, and damn it, we pass the savings on to you!

Once the paper is produced, we of course have to have something to put on it. The writing of the newsletter is done for the most part by dedicated staff members (Al, Mary, Mark, Denise, Steve, Emmett, Phil, Scott, Sarah...) who we are eternally as well as internally grateful. The rest of the filler is created by our friends at the institution. It's good therapy.

Though it may not always seem so, only certain items of interest may appear in these pages. We do have our criteria: only items about or of concern to the stores; news about the employees; news about cats; and anything incoherent (i.e. what's in my heart or on my mind at the moment). We try to be entertaining but sometimes we slip up and are actually un-entertaining (see what you are reading).

After enough material is captured for the eight page format we have selected, the raw material has to be reproduced in a state of the art computerized fashion. Saturday nights (formerly known as party night, or social time) and Sunday mornings are spent inputting the material into a 486 IBM compatible. Any mistakes made at this point are no longer the result of human carelessness, but now can be blamed on technology. And it is at this point that the editor sighs a sigh of heavy relief. Another week gone by, another issue to distribute into the wind. The feedback ranges from sympathy to apathy but damn it, there is always next week. But for now, the pulp is nearly ready as well as the pap, and if we're not careful, and watch what we are doing, the combination of the two can be deadly. It's a labor of love and damn it, we do as we are.

Monday, August 8, 1994

Another Forest in the Tree

My mama told me "Life is like a box of chocolates. It's hard to find anyone who'll eat the coconuts." Mama had a way of putting things that would make sense.

As a friend, the one who says she has a dog with a man trapped inside its body, goes off to Chapel Hill to begin her graduate studies, I'm reminded that life is about constant change, a continual learning experience, full of wonder and opportunities. You never know what will spring up or who you will meet down the road. And literally alls ya gotta do is keep walking. Yet often times it is those that you are most familiar with, the routine, the one's that you continue to come home to, that help you sleep at night. And it's hard to turn away from that comfort, no matter how distant it becomes. I can be the jealous type and I am jealous of what she has ahead of her. That said, I truly hope she finds all she is seeking. I console myself knowing she'll always be with me- I guess. At least in my heart and dreams.

Another friend jokingly told me she is taking Prozac for her ulcer. I guess that is one way to deal with it; sort of a circular cure, but a cure nonetheless. I like that. I like the way she looks at things. Whatever it takes. She has nice shoes. Sometimes you have to bounce off obstacles before you find the right route. But it's important to keep the eyes open. Keep bouncing, keep moving, keep trying, keep the options open.

This friend also said the funniest thing I've heard this summer. "I didn't use to like alcohol very much, but now I can't get enough." Sometimes you meet someone that says something like that and you take an immediate liking because you know exactly what they mean. Free t-shirts and a bloody Mary.

It's funny how you always somehow manage to find people you can relate to, that you somehow already know, yet are somehow new and fresh; and as you grow older you feel as if you want to offer personal history and pass it off as wisdom and insight. You want to feel as if you still have something to offer and when you feel that, it feels good. Mama said if you haven't been there before, you won't be there again. I guess that's one thing my life has proven. My friend said the dictionary defines the term living death as "life emptied of joys and satisfaction." Been there. Look it up and you'll find my brave face. But I'm blessed and eternally thankful that I kept on bouncing, kept on runnin, kept on listening to those around me and you know, you just never know...

Sometimes in life, you have to be patted on the head, recognized for the efforts you make. As a little boy, I used to watch this certain fella, Capn' Bud, in fascination. I guess you could call him a hero, a role model. He would stand on the sidelines with an icy glare, expression never changing as all hell broke loose in front of him. His stoicism hid deeper thoughts, masked his emotions. You couldn't read him. And I thought that was cool, that it was ideal to remain a mystery, inscrutable, never let 'em know what you're thinking. Never offer more than you have to.

Capn' Bud was recently honored, inducted into an exclusive club. At the ceremony, he broke down in tears, and for once, the mask came off. As he stood emotionally naked, I saw another side I always wanted to see. Complexity in its rawest form. Yet for some of us, once the mask comes off, the fear is there will be nothing there to find. I could never convince my friend, the one with a man talkin dog, that I was but a simple man. I do think she thought I was too stupid to know about love, but I was just stupid enough.

You change as you grow older. A recent local hero, Big Herbie, performed his occupation with more enthusiasm, a goof ball that played a game just like a little boy. He seemed to be having so much fun, so when he announced his retirement because his body was falling apart and he wasn't having fun anymore, it added an additional layer of sadness to an already melancholy announcement. His message was that although it all may all seem like a business, the attitude you take is what really makes the difference. I'll miss the big guy, miss him a lot.

But life don't stop for no one. We're all here for such a short time. My mama told me never to take anything or anyone for granted. You don't know what you got till it's gone. It may not seem like it, because there are so many reminders, but every one of us is an individual; unique in our own way; special in what we have to offer to the mix. You never know who you'll run into and what role they will play. Mama said that we're all different, and because we're all different, that makes us all the same. The more you begin to realize that alone as we all might feel, life is about sharing. It's like a big old smelly shoe, sometimes it stinks but it's what's gotta get you where you want to go.