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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Press Two for Suicide

With luck, I may get through this without my blood pressure spiking to dangerous levels.  And I know that you know the problem, too, so why bother?  But before it kills us all, I think we must organize to do something about modern "customer service."  At the moment I'm writing this, Hubby and I have spent an hour trying to return a message from someone at the VA hospital.  We can't get through to her or any other real person, even though she left an extension number.  The robot just says "invalid entry," and leaves us hanging.  Then we dial the main number again, where we are told to press two if we are having thoughts of suicide.  I may take them up on that, but I'd rather shoot the robot.


Nor is it just the VA, although service there has gotten worse since Trump's privatization pirates came into the longtime federal agency.  Both the professionals and volunteers at the VA invariably are kind, but the system-creators seem to have been outsourced to sources that don't give a damn.  It's true in every facet of life these days.  I had rather wondered if Hubby and I get such poor service because we are seniors – until I read that the head honcho for parking at TIA was on hold for most of an hour, trying to reach someone at the company in New Jersey that is supposed to be running our Sun Pass.


You may remember that Rick Scott rigged that.  Two companies with lower bids and better records even sued to try to stop this one of his many rip-offs.  Yet voters promoted him to the US Senate, where he can inflict evil nationwide.  Don't people pay any attention at all, even when they are the ones caught in long lines at the airport exit?  Don't they ask who's in charge?  Too often they just vaguely blame "government" and fail to make the correlation to the candidates on the ballot.  But whether public or private "customer service," indifference -- and especially electronic blackout -- seems to have become basic policy and procedure.


We've had a string of personal messes lately.  Some data entry person in either state or county government incorrectly inserted one letter – an "r" – into our longtime address, thus making it impossible to renew our cars' license plates.  Every time either Hubby or I tried, the computer said "invalid entry," but gave us no clue as to what was invalid.  I spent a good deal of time finding a phone number for someone who could help, and after giving me a long menu with numbers I should press, the Tallahassee robot kicked me out without explanation.  I finally called the office of Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden, where a nice person named Linda noticed the one-letter address mistake that caused the problem.  Yet even though we were not primarily responsible for the delay, we still were punished with a late fee.


And More


TECO.  Having no choice in the matter, we have been customers since 1972.  Come October, we will have lived at the same address and had the same phone number for all of these 47 years – nearly a half-century.  You would think they would have a long record on us, wouldn't you?  You would think that this would offer proof that we are stable folks, not scofflaws.  But we woke up one morning with the air conditioning off.  We figured a vehicle had hit one of those hideous poles they put up and waited several hours before calling. 


It turned out that Hubby's computer had experienced some kind of problem talking to their computer or, even more likely, the bank's computer.  Anyway, the online account had not gotten the money it was programed to get, and our electricity was cut.  They sent someone to correct this late in the day, and of course we were charged a reconnect fee.  After being connected for almost a half-century, you would hope for more thoughtful service – but that hope would be in vain.  And what happened to the deposit we put down in 1972?  Shouldn't that, multiplied for interest and inflation, cover the reconnect cost?


TECO, you know, recently was sold to some outfit in Canada, and almost of all of today's business players seem to spend more time passing papers and doing deals than actually running their enterprises.  Newspapers, too.  We subscribed to Mother Trib and its afternoon counterpart until both died – and even earlier, we jumped at the chance to subscribe to the more liberal and literate Times when it began delivery in Hillsborough.  Indeed, I remember urging some of its execs in the Harvard Club to cross the water. 


Yet on a semi-regular basis, I have to call and try to figure out why the paper hasn't been delivered and/or why my digital account says I've used up this month's reading time -- even though that message can appear any time, even early in the month.  And it shouldn't be correlated to months anyway, as our subscription is on an annual basis.  Who knows?  Who cares?  LaGaceta is the only paper I can count on – and the historically reliable US Post Office that delivers it.  Which, of course, the free enterprise people are trying to steal from us. 


I hope I don't live to see the day, but business trends force me to predict that tens of thousands of local post office all across the country soon will close.  Not only will this make it more difficult and expensive for your Aunt Betsy in North Dakota to send you a Christmas present, but we also will lose community spaces where we see neighbors.  Small businesses nearby doubtless will suffer.  Moreover, I've NEVER had to call the post office because my mail wasn't delivered.  Those folks are good people, much more dependable than anyone you will find on the phone or online.


Stars for Stability


So I have a proposal.  I want stars for stability.  Maybe a gold star that I can implant on my forehead.  It will tell the world that I've saved everyone a lot of expense with my truly conservative behavior, and I deserve a reward for that.  


To wit, Hubby had the same employer – USF – for 35 years.  We've paid premiums to Blue Cross for 51 years.  That started when I began teaching in 1968 and continues through the present with Blue Cross' USF group policy -- even though Hubby has had his medical care through the VA all of these years.  During this half-century, I've had just two short hospitalizations, so Blue Cross has made much more money from us than we have cost them.  Yet my routine care at USF Health often comes with an argument from Blue Cross about who pays – even though Medicare already has taken most of the financial burden off of their selfish selves. 


And we've been with the military's USAA for various insurance and financial services since Hubby signed up in 1965 – but USAA also is doing too much outsourcing.  We and family members in other states have had to make repeated complaints, especially about our credit cards and online access to our accounts.  Most problems seem to be related to excessive security, and that seems to be most highly applicable to those of us who are longtime customers.  My older sister and her husband, who have been USAA members even longer than we, had their credit cards cut off on suspicion of misuse because they had the temerity to go from Georgia to Florida.


Enough already.  Being seniors does not mean that we are senile.  Just let us have our own money, or even better, give me an all-purpose Gold Star that works everywhere with everything.  I'll even implant it and sign up for facial or digital recognition in a national database.  You don't have to use this if you don't want to, but I'd like the option before I press two for suicide.


When I've Had Enough


Instead of throwing things or breaking down in tears, I pour a drink and read – for the umpteenth time – Bill Watterson's wonderful cartoon books, "Calvin and Hobbes."  Like all really good cartoonists, he is a philosopher.  Six-year-old Calvin is based on John Calvin, the dark 16th century theologian in Geneva who proclaimed predestination.  (If you don't know what that means, please look it up.  It's fundamental.)  Hobbes is based on English philosopher Thomas Hobbes of the same era, who is best known for his assessment that life naturally is "nasty, brutish, and short."  The cartoon Hobbes actually is a toy tiger who, in Calvin's imagination, indeed could shorten his life.  Hobbes comes alive only when he is with Calvin, and Calvin is alone. 


They quarrel; they love; they explore spooky forests and worry about being eaten by bears; they lay traps for monsters under their bed; and risk daily dangers.  But only Calvin persecutes neighbor Susie Derkins.  Hobbes, instead, gets weak in the knees thinking about her smooches.  That is the basis of one of my favorite cartoons.  They are in their treehouse, which features a banner saying, "No girls allowed."  Susie walks past, completely ignoring them, and Calvin shouts:  "Leave it to a girl to take all the fun out of sex discrimination!"


I have lots of other favorites, but here's one worth pondering.  Calvin takes Hobbes to school to help with a math test.  When the tiger is crammed under a desk and out of the teacher's sight, Calvin whispers:  "What's 7 plus 3?"  Hobbes confidently answers, "73."  It never fails to make me smile – and to think.  What if the numbers were reversed?  Then the answer would be 37.  And Calvin doubtless would declare that math is stupid, and he's look forwarding to a career in customer service.



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