Friday, May 26, 2006

Cell Wars: Cingular Strikes Back

Hello, one and all! (Mostly one, I imagine, because that's probably how many readers I have after nearly 2 weeks of bloggerly silence.) I am back from my adventures in New York City, and am scrambling to tie up all loose ends before leaving the United States for West Africa in roughly a week and a half. Just a heads-up: I have made an administrative decision to start a new blog during my volunteer work overseas (the Peace Corps has several stipulations about blogs run by their volunteers, and I am afraid that this one is a little too irreverant to make the cut), which shall be titled "A Dabbler's Diary: The Burkina Files," a sequel of sorts to this little rag. From what I have observed in blogs run by current volunteers in Burkina Faso, they are able to update them roughly every few weeks to a month... since I hardly expect everyone to be obsessively checking my blog day after day, waiting with baited breath for a new entry, you may, if you like, send me your email address, and you will receive notice of when the blog is updated. Tune in again soon... I'll have a link to this new blog up and running shortly!

And now, enough shameless advertising of my soon-to-be new blog. I'm back, and I've got a story to tell, involving a boy, his cell phone, and a bunch of $&@%!'s who run a cellular company.

I really do have to hand it to the folks at Cingular Wireless: they know when they've got you by the balls, and they're not afraid to squeeze. You may remember my earlier issues with them, the last time my cell phone went on strike. In the spine-tingling conclusion of that harrowing tale, sheer determination triumphed over the unholy alliance of corporate greed and bureaucratic red tape, and the little guy - me - won; I got a new phone, and I did not have to pay a dime. But now, Dear Readers, Cingular has opted to continue the saga... with a vengeance. Just yesterday, my new phone - barely a month into its young life - learned a new trick: simply put, when using it, I can no longer hear what the person on the other line is saying, unless I put them on speakerphone. This makes holding an ordinary phone conversation incredibly awkward, as everyone within 20 feet of me can hear everything I'm shouting into the phone, as well as the recipient's response. On the upside, there is now no further reason for the government to tap my phone - all they need do is stand near me. I took the phone into a Cingular store to see if they could fix it (not exactly holding my breath), and while there learned that: a) the ear-piece speaker had blown and was impossible to restore; and b) my 1-month grace period to return the device had coincidentally just ended days ago, and if I wanted a replacement phone I would have to pay full price. Dear evil geniuses at Cingular Wireless: disregarding my previous threats of sodomy to your persons with your own electronic gadgets, can we not agree that you already charge me more than enough each month (what with phone bills, "government fees," and whatnot), that it may be a little excessive to specifically design your hardware to expire a day after their warranties expire? I deal with all the other technological glitches of this phone quite passively... from the interrupted service, to the sudden loss of signal, to the mysterious connection with another person's phone conversation when I'm in midsentence. Is it the money? Or is it the perverse pleasure you gain from knowing you screwed over yet another long-suffering customer?

Fear not, Dear Readers, there is a light at the tunnel. I took this latest development as a sign that I should finally look into terminating my cell phone service, as I will be leaving the country in - let's face it - a matter of days, now. Now, pay attention - this is why it is a good reason to join the Peace Corps (or at least tell people you're joining the Peace Corps): when I called to cancel my account, I still had over a year left on my "agreement" with Cingular... however, the lady I talked to on the phone was so impressed with how "noble" and "brave" I was by volunteering with the Peace Corps, that she offered to cut my termination fee in half. I didn't even ask, she just threw it out there. Now, how often does THAT happen in the cellular business world?! (Ok, you don't have to tell me... trust me, I know.) Yeah, yeah, she didn't waive the entire fee, but it's not like I discovered a cure for cancer or the secret to flight. I mean, an evil empire has got to pay the bills like everyone else, right? All the same, this very nice lady made me reconsider my death wish on the entire workforce of that corporation... so I proclaim here and now, she alone may live when the revolution comes.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Le Plan.

Bonjour! Since le French is le national language of le country in which I will be stationed, I have begun brushing up on my language skills in order to better my chances of le survival (and of le sexy conversation). I am proud to say that at this point I have mastered le words “the cat,” “the table,” “the man,” and “the woman”; as well as le phrases “the cat is on the table”, and “the man is on the woman.” This is going to be easy as pie - or as the French would say, easy as le pie.

For those of you who have asked, the country I will be volunteering in is Burkina Faso, a small, landlocked state in West Africa, just above Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. It is one of the 5 poorest nations in the world; interestingly, however, its capital Ouagadougou is the home of FESPACO, which is (to quote Wikipedia) the biggest regular cultural event on the African continent. It is also the largest film festival on the continent... which strikes your humble Dabbler as a coincidence of some note, that, upon quitting his job at a Hollywood agency, he should be assigned here of all places. Perhaps he shall, in the future, help pave the way for the company's West African office. What? Too sinister and opportunistic for a Peace Corps volunteer to be considering, you say? Perhaps you are right. Still, I am looking forward to checking out this event in Burkina's capital city next February!

In the more immediate future, on Friday I will be driving down to New York City, where I plan to catch up with all the good friends I have missed since moving to California; I will perhaps also be meeting some of the new friends I have made through writing this blog, such as the great minds behind Tales of a Delectable Redhead and This is What We Do Now. Sadly, I will be missing White Dade, as he concludes his own series of Big Apple adventures just a day before I swing into town. Dade, I will be drinking an extra glass of beer (or 3) in your honor. Dear Readers, I honestly cannot wait to return to NYC, and once again shove my way through the crowded streets, glowering at everyone I pass as I blast music through my iPod. By the way, here's a quick iPod tip to anyone visiting the City: go to Grand Central during rush hour, and play the song "Brazil" while watching everyone bustle past you. Trust me, you will understand if you try it. Perfect soundtrack.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Why the Peace Corps, You Ask?

I received the following comment on my last post from an anonymous reader:

"Is there a 'peace corp' in the United States? Cuz i wonder..why so many people do the peace corp. why not just stay in the U.S. and help the areas that need it here...(areas that were hit by Katrina, EVERY urban/ghetto city,etc.)? Just so u can say 'yeayy i went to some 3rd world country and it was amazing!!?? For that, just visit. I dunno, i just see so many areas here that need help too. (sorry for the bitchiness)...."

I had planned a lengthier response to these questions, but some other readers beat me to it in the comments section, and stole all of my points. Still, Anonymous #1, as you took the time to write me, I feel I should respond. I actually did not feel your comment was bitchy, although I did find it somewhat presumptuous of my motives. You do make some valid points about the urgent need for aid within our own country (and Mancini is right that there is a domestic version of the Peace Corps for the United States, Americorps). However, the Peace Corps is more than a foreign aid program; its existence promotes mutual understanding between cultures with different lifestyles and values, which is something that I believe to be incredibly important in the world today. You may be right, that it is selfish of me to want to travel and see some of the world outside of this country, but a large part of why I want to volunteer is to experience another culture - and not merely as a vacationer with a camera; I want to fully submerge myself in another way of life, in order to fully understand and appreciate it.

Since graduating from college and having lived in the day-to-day “real world" for nearly four years now, I have come to realize that nearly everything I know about the world outside of my immediate experience is taught to me by films, books, or the media. As time goes by, I am becoming more and more consumed with a need to experience these things personally, from my own viewpoint, rather than rely on some other source telling me “this is the way things are," and having to accept it at that. In addition, the international events of the last few years have convinced me that no person can - or should - be an island, and that it is important to understand and converse with those around you, especially those who are very different from you. So, in serving with the Peace Corps, I aim to learn about a culture different from my own by embracing it rather than observing it as a tourist; to pursue work I believe has some meaning and purpose beyond merely supporting myself; and to teach others about my country in the same way I hope they will teach me about theirs.

Thank you, Anonymous #1, for forcing me to look within and remind myself of why I need to do this now and put my career on hold. Thank you, Anonymous #2 and Mancini, for bolstering my convictions that what I am attempting to do is both crucial and honorable.

And to the rest of you: I promise to be funny again soon.

Friday, May 05, 2006

I Love That Dirty Water.

My plane flew into Boston from LA a few days ago, and I think I am finally beginning to adjust to the time zone difference. I have been absolutely useless until this afternoon. (Some one would probably argue I've been useless a lot longer than that, but that's why I don't return their phone calls.) Everything went very well on the flight, except for right before take-off, when I was chatting with the people sitting next to me and I innocently announced, "I can't wait to crash," then - noticing several heads suddenly jerk around to stare at me - I lamely added, "Uh, I mean, you know, sleep. Because I'm so tired. Because I haven't slept in 2 days. Because...." Assured that I was merely an idiot, and not a terrorist, the other passengers glared then returned to their upright and locked positions watching the stewardess (er, flight attendant) perform the safety dance. Not one of my better moments in public speaking... but then again, unfortunately, not one of my worst, either.

My apologies for not posting sooner since my departure from LA, but well... ever since I arrived at my parents' house I really have had nothing too interesting to share with you. I do not wish to bore you, Dear Readers, with the details of my trip, or how my mother has slowly been killing me by zealously over-feeding me since I stepped foot off the plane. On the upside, I commence my Peace Corps orientation in Washington, DC on June 4, which leaves me plenty of time to suffer a panic attack or do something exceedingly stupid that will bar me from leaving the country. Rest assured, should either of these two possibilities occur, you will be among the first to know. At the moment, I am alternating between researching the information the Peace Corps has sent me about my country (which makes me very excited so begin my volunteer work) and reading Confessions of an Economic Hit Man... in which the author claims that for at least the past 50 years, all United States foreign aid has been merely a front to help destroy third world countries' economies and make them dependant on our own, thus enlarging our global corporatocratic empire (which fills me with self-loathing for being a part of the machine). Needless to say, my recent choice of reading materials has made for a pretty interesting way to prepare for foreign service. I don't know what possessed me to combine the two.