Monday, March 21, 2011

Equal Opportunity Aggravation

This is a blog born of frustration. I've been talking in circles with people who lack any form of communication skills all month. Incidentally their entire profession relies on having communication skills. How did they get these jobs to begin with, and how have they managed to keep them?

Here's what happened...

I sent in an application for benefits on February 28th, 2011 with a disclaimer that I'm unable to make interviews outside of the home due to disability and no means of transportation. On March 1st, 2011 I receive a letter notifying me that I'm scheduled for a face-to-face interview at their offices in Who-Knows-Where, CA. I call the included number and here is the conversation I have:

I say, "Hello, I'm _______. I recently sent in an application for benefits and am scheduled to make an interview on the 7th. I cannot make interviews."
The woman, who sounds as though she despises her career retorts, "Okay, call back when you can make the interview."
I manage to interject before she hangs up on me, "No, no. It's not that I cannot make this interview. It's that I cannot make interviews outside of the home whatsoever. I have no means of transportation."
To which she replies, "Oh, well call this number." Rambles off the number without an area code and hangs up on me, giving me no chance to verify if I'd gotten it down correctly.

As a deaf person verifying I got it down correctly is pretty important. Regardless, I make a guess at the area code, based on the location the interview was supposed to have taken place, and make the call. I'm greeted by an answering machine explaining that this woman is out of the office, daily, from 8AM to 12PM and from 1PM to 4PM, after which time she is closed.

Who the hell works a 1 hour day? Can I have that job? ffs. So I leave a message on March 1, 2011 telling of my situation and to call me at her earliest convenience. A week goes by, no word. So on March 9, 2011 I call her again and leave another message, reminding her that I only have a 30 day window with which to get this sorted out before I have to begin the process anew.

On March 14, 2011 she finally calls me back and leaves a voice mail stating I should call her back. Are you kidding me? So I camp the clock all day making sure the 1 hour window in which this lady is available doesn't escape me and make the call. Our conversation went something like this:

I start, "Hello, this is ______. I called about my inability to make a face-to-face interview outside of the home due to disability and a lack of transportation."
She says, "Are you in a wheel chair?"
I boggle, "No."
She then states, "Well, I only perform home interviews for people in wheel chairs. You can call for a phone interview though." And she gives me a third number to call.

By this point I'm already fairly frustrated but I'm intent on getting this sorted out so I call the number she'd given me. After 12 or so automated messages guiding me to where I may want to be by button pushing the closest option to what I'm actually calling about, I'm put on hold. I remain on hold for so long that the office closes and I get dumped to voice mail.

Now I'm seething. I leave my contact information with this number and call it a day. The weekend comes and goes with no contact. So today, I call them again. Early in the afternoon, but after lunch hour because who knows what happens when you get put on hold in that place. I once again navigate my way through the 12 automated menus by button pushing and get a real live human. Here's our conversation:

I begin, again, "Hello, this is ______. I'm calling about getting an interview for my benefits."
The woman retorts, "It says here you missed your interview."
Which, as you recall I very clearly canceled however many fail-phone calls up, "I canceled that on the 1st..."
She says, "Oh, well, do you need to reschedule?"
Does no one in the forsaken place talk to each other!? I take a deep breath and reply, "Sort of. I cannot make a face-to-face interview out of the home. I was told to call and set up a phone interview."
She states, "This is an initial interview, you have to do that face-to-face."
Reeling by this point, I say, "I cannot make a face-to-face interview outside of the home. I have no means of transportation..."
She interrupts me with, "Well then your application will expire."
Excuse me? What? You answer phones for a living, get off your high horse lady. But I respond with, "Uh... Is there a way for me to get a home interview?" Because I already know that's an option from the previous worthless phone calls.
"Not unless you're disabled."
I face-palm, "I am disabled. That's why I get benefits."
She snips, "You don't currently get benefits."
I almost drop the phone so that I can face-palm with both hands, "I recently moved. I got benefits in another state." All of this should #$%&ing be on file!
She questions, in disbelief, "You're federally disabled?"
For the love of... "Yes," I sigh.
"Can you prove it?"
It now sounds like she's been defeated by some sort of rival, "Well let me forward your information to the home visit department then."

What is with these ridiculous people? There is so much communication fail happening in each of these conversations that I really cannot understand how they get anything done, ever. Their entire professional worth is the ability to take notes and answer phone calls, but they cannot even seem to do that. The very first person I talked to failed to cancel my appointment. The second person had no idea that disabilities extend beyond 'in a wheel chair' and that as an initial interview I couldn't do it by phone. The last lady was going to just let my application expire rather than do her job.

Don't even get me started on the fact that I needlessly repeated myself in every conversation. The very first woman should have put my information on file. If not her, the second employee should have corrected the over-sight and put my information on file. I bet not even the third woman did so. Whenever home visit lady deigns to return my call (took 2 weeks last time) it'll be like I've never spoken to any of them before. Like this is all some bad Twilight Zone rerun.

All I want to do is get this over with, but it's like being caught in some time loop that gets progressively more annoying as it goes on. To make matters worse I began this process in February and only have until the fast approaching end of March before I have to literally start it all over again. It's almost like they're just stalling on purpose.

Update: The woman who 'forwarded' my information to home interviewee never actually forwarded any information. I waited around for another week before having to call myself and was met by a completely oblivious correspondent. A week after that I finally just had to request another face-to-face interview, since by then we had a car.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Favorite Holiday

March 17th. Aaron's birthday.

We began our day with coffee and presents. His father sent him a package of goodies including several pairs of sun glasses and a Space Ghost action figure. I got him a hookah and accessories (coal, shisha, etc.). His mother and I had been conspiring for the last few days to have a cheesecake delivered for him from The Cheesecake Factory, because he loves cheesecake so. She also sent a balloon and flowers in a beer stein. I wonder if this balloon will be haunted like last years balloon?

Last year's balloon floated along the ceiling of his old place of its own accord and if it wanted to enter another room, would lower just enough to go through the doorway then raise back up to bob along the ceiling. Even avoiding the light fixtures. One time I was in the shower and when I got out, I opened the door and the balloon was there waiting for me! Like a creepy old pervert.

After present opening and the appropriate phone calls, we played Fable 3 together, smoked a little shisha, and ate cheesecake. Aaron was in the black satin robe he'd gotten over the holidays with a pair of the sunglasses his father had sent -- small silver rims with pitch black lens, making him look like an evil master mind. The dark hookah on the table in front of him and the smoke floating in the air only added to the scene. I expected Batman to show up at any minute to try to thwart his secret evil plans or something.

For dinner I took him out for sushi and sake. The sake we ordered came in an ornate bottle with tiny gold-fleck flowers floating within. It being Saint Patrick's Day, we had the whole place to ourselves. I guess most people celebrate Saint Patrick's Day in a tavern somewhere binge drinking and pretending to be Irish. It was very nice to have the whole place to ourselves. When we got back home we had a little more shisha and played video games until bed time. Then we slept in, just because.

It is difficult to put into words how much he means to me. He makes all of my days brighter just by being. Every day I love him just a little bit more, which seems impossible because every day I think I love him the most only to learn I can still somehow love him more! If you think that's girlie I'll punch you in the throat.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Yes or no?
Aaron and I bought Fable 3 and have been glued to it all day. One of the first things we did was have a baby, but the nanny the game stuck us with was hideous and questionable at best for a child care provider. His traits included kinky, aggressive, and bisexual -- meaning neither our son or daughter would be safe. So we fired him before he had a chance to molest our virtual babies, only it didn't end well.

What we expected was that we'd fire him and a new nanny would show up. Problem solved. What happened was we fired him and social services took away our baby. I guess social services thought our baby was better left to an aggressive, kinky bisexual than with two heroes of the realm. We spent the better part of an hour trying to find her in the orphanage to no avail. Tragic, I know. Had we found her, perhaps we would not have become such murderous tyrants. Your fault, Fable. Your fault.

The game mechanic has changed significantly from Fable II, though it's not all bad. Simply... different.

You can now only access your inventory at your home base, where items are divided by type and separated by room. This isn't necessarily so much bad as it is needlessly time consuming. I can understand if they were working from an immersion perspective, where you wouldn't be able to carry all that shit with you, but considering you can instantly teleport to home base from anywhere in the world, well, so much for immersion.

I'm not sure how to give gifts to anyone outside of other players you invite to your game. You unlock emotes as you go, so perhaps it's just something we haven't unlocked yet? But it would seem odd I could gift to players but not NPCs by this point in the game.

Shops have changed too. You no longer speak to the NPC running the shop to open a shop menu where you select what to buy. Now all shops have their wares on display. To purchase something you approach the display and buy it there. There is sadly no "buy all" option so if you want to buy a lot of something, you'll have to hit A a lot. This gets old fast.

One thing I found odd is that you can only have a maximum of two spells equipped at once. One in each hand, and once you unlock the ability to cast two different spells your only option is to cast both simultaneously. You can't just cast one or the other. Not that it matters really, as your mana pool is infinite. It just seems like a peculiar change to me.

On that note, your progression (leveling up of skills, magic, and jobs) takes place in some other dimension by purchasing chests with guild seals instead of an in-game menu where you spend the appropriately colored orbs on the corresponding colored skill. This isn't necessarily a worse method of progression, just far less intuitive.

Then there's your emotes. Unfortunately you have little control over your interactions with others. If you want to dance with someone, for example, you may have to whistle, hug, and pose for them first (multiple times over) before the option becomes available to you. You can't just hit the d-pad as in Fable 2 until you find the one you want and then execute it. This can also get old fast. Particularly if you need to complete a task where a specific emote is required of you.

Lastly, they integrated the xbox Live store into the game, which seems unnecessary altogether but a keen idea in the regard that readily available content inevitably leads to more sales.

Co-op has definitely taken a huge step forward from Fable 2, which had such lousy co-op it was unplayable. The camera is the biggest set back, as only player 1 has any control over it and if they change it during movement it doesn't detect the change accurately for player 2 which sends them running off in some random direction -- causing them to get stuck in terrain or lost. This makes navigating narrow spaces and doorways a bit of a nightmare, but it can be done. Granted it's frustrating. Teleporting to player 1 is always an option if you get stuck, but there is a delay. The time it takes you to teleport to the other player, you probably could've ran around whatever obstacle was in your way. So really it just saves you some frustration, not time.

I realize some of that sounds really bad, but when you compare it to Fable 2's co-op, you realize it's all actually an improvement.

Unfortunately your dog is mentally handicapped in Fable 3. He will often bark to notify you of treasure, or a dig site, or danger, only to then just walk in circles confused. It takes considerable patience and a lot of wiggling around in one direction or the other to make your dog actually go to whatever he's barking at. Even with advanced treasure hunting. This is really my only true complaint as the game goes on this glaring retardation only seems to get worse and worse to the point where your dog loses all functionality and you are more or less guiding yourself to buried treasure.

The only game-breaking fault lies in a certain area of the game where the map does not actually correlate to the zone you're in. With the map being 100% inaccurate, you're effectively lost, wandering around in the snow blindly. Probably for aggravating hours. This situation is impacted by there being several caves in the zone -- and you only need to be in one of them. But you have no idea where they all are or which ones you may've already visited because everything looks the gd same.

Otherwise the game plays in much the same way. X attacks with a melee weapon, Y attacks with a ranged weapon, B casts magic, A sprints when moving, you've got a dog, and so on and so forth. The quests are good, your hero is voice acted, and the music makes you feel immersed in the world. If it weren't for the fact that the game's presentation seems so rushed and incomplete, this would be a definite buy. While I foresee much time spent exploring Albion in our days ahead, I can really only recommend you rent this game.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My New Friend

The Garden Snail population in Northern California is quite robust. You can find the little guys all over the place after the sun sets. Dining on the shrubbery, bathing in the water from sprinklers, scaling the sides of buildings, even crawling right down the sidewalk. It's delightful.

I found this little one while Aaron was at class last week. I used to keep land snails as pets as a child, and enjoyed it very much. We had a nice jar all cleaned out and just waiting to be put to some sort of use, so I decided to put the snail in there with a collection of fresh leaf clippings until Aaron got home. Then I'd introduce them to each other and decide whether or not the snail would become a permanent resident.

He didn't seem opposed to the idea, as we watched our new friend crawl around in its new home, nibbling on fresh cut grass. For the sake of ease, we'll refer to the snail as a she, since Garden Snails are capable of altering their gender to reproduce a-sexually. Since then she's been living on my desk beside the window, where she gets morning light, but not enough to bake her.

She primarily eats the greenery I collect from outside, so she won't grow bored of just one thing (apparently snails get bored easily), but I treat her to a bit of whatever fruit I've eaten recently too. I think I'll also begin planting the seeds from our apples and pears and feeding her the seedlings every once in a while. This morning I gave her a bean sprout from the Vietnamese restaurant we ate at last night. She seemed to really like that, nomming down almost half of it in one go.

I knew a lot about snails from my time keeping them as a child, however I decided a little research would be keen since my methods back then consisted of, "provide it the most natural habitat possible!" No matter the cost. Which translated to a terrarium full of mud and sticks. Great for the snail, but an eyesore for my poor mother, I'm sure.

I discovered that loam is a cleaner solution to substrate than dirt, and the snails like it just fine. Also that you can put an earthworm into the terrarium to help it keep clean between actual cleanings as worms will more than happily consume the waist left behind by snails. So I hopped onto the good ol' internet and ordered a small terrarium, since she can't live in a jar forever, and a few blocks of loam. A grand total of $10.00 spent.

Now she just needs a name...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Month's Worth

Things you've missed (a.k.a. things I forgot to tell you about):

In mid January Aaron and I went up into the mountains with a bunch of pals for Josh's birthday. Emil's family cabin. While I haven't seen snow all winter out here, there was of course snow on the mountain. The guys had shoveled it before we arrived but it was still slippery, which made carrying our things inside tricky. I forgot how difficult walking in snow was when you cannot feel your feet.

Inside the cabin it was warm and cozy despite the sole source of heat being the small hearth along the far wall. Everyone who had gotten there ahead of us was seated around the central table eating, drinking, and being social. We were guided to the back balcony, overlooking a scenic river we could not see in the dark, where Emil and Josh had shoveled the snow into shelves which held and served as cooling for all the weekend beverages -- from beer to soda.

Introductions were made where necessary and good times were had.
However, that night the fire went out while everyone slept. This made staying asleep difficult and waking up in the morning bone-chilling. It was re-lit soon enough and coffee was served to help warm and wake us all. Josh wasn't feeling well, but it didn't dampen the mood any. He was a champ about it. We created characters for a Deadlands campaign and sipped Mimosas. Outside the sun shone off the river, casting light at the snowy banks from all angles. It was beautiful. I spotted a giant pine cone off beside the cabin a ways and Aaron made it his mission to wade through thigh-deep snow to retrieve it for me. Seriously, it's like the size of a human head. I've never seen pine cones of that size living back east.

At noon Aaron, Sean, and Josh headed down the mountain to the market to pick up ingredients for dinner. The rest of us played video games and hung out. When they returned, we started the campaign while Aaron began working his magic in the kitchen. Josh was feeling worse, but sat through a few rounds anyway before going to lay down. By dinner time he'd gotten so bad that we had to drive him home, fearing his sudden illness may be Altitude Sickness.

We did our best to continue to have a good time, knowing Josh wouldn't want to be the reason everyone's week was spoiled. It was sad, however, that Josh would be so sick on his birthday and miss out on the dinner made just for him at the cabin. Aaron's famous The Meat. We immediately decided to save him a generous portion, and bring it down the mountain to him when we left.

That night, with periodic attention, the fire stayed alive and we weren't left shivering beneath our blankets. Sunday morning Aaron made everyone breakfast, after hearing horror stories about the other guy who cooked breakfast last time serving everyone raw French Toast. We then had some more geeky fun before having to head out at noon. While everyone else was staying the duration of the week, Aaron, Sean, and I had to be back after the weekend for school and work, respectively.

Once down the mountain we stopped to deliver some of the previously mentioned meal to Josh, who it was specially prepared for. He was still sick, but seemed in better spirits about it. Especially when we showed up regardless of his plague to make sure he got some of his own birthday dinner. We stayed and kept him company for just a bit, then we decided to go for lunch at The Black Bear Diner. There, Aaron noticed I had spots on my tongue and I admitted to having a little scratch in my throat, but it seemed like nothing.

Or so we thought.

By that evening, I was sick too. By Monday morning, so was everyone else. Ten people went up that mountain. On Day one, Josh got sick. On day two, I got sick. On day three, everyone else. Given that none of us had any previous contact beforehand, that meant it was some crazy infection that gestated for less than twenty-four hours. To make matters worse, it kept everyone sick for over two weeks. Everything was involved. Stomach upset, sore throat, runny nose, stuffy nose, fever, cough, and headache. As if every illness we've all ever had had combined into some super mutant virus hell bent on murdering us all slowly.

We were sick for so long, I forgot what it felt like to not be sick. Once I had finally reached that point, the virus released its death grip on my body and I recovered.

Aaron's mom, Eileen, came to visit us after we finally got better. She hadn't seen our new place yet and wanted to bring me a possible wedding dress which had been passed down to her. Of course I can't say for sure whether I'll wear it or not, because Aaron isn't allowed to know. Tradition and all.

Eileen is always a joy to be around. She and I get along famously, which is nice. We took her out to dinner at The Elephant Bar. The next day we took a trip to Old Town, down by the river. We ate lunch at Fat City, the place we discovered last time we were in Old Town with my aunt and uncle. Good food, good atmosphere. Later on, after returning home, we watched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and stuffed ourselves with gourmet candy. It was delightfully entertaining. Before she headed out the next afternoon, Aaron made us pancakes with maple syrup and sweet Sumatra coffee. Saying goodbye to her is hard, like saying goodbye to my own mother. Though I guess that makes sense, since she'll soon be my mother-in-law.

Valentine's Day was spectacular. Aaron made fillet Mignon with mashed potatoes, caramelized onions, and served it all with a bottle of port. For dessert we had chocolate fondue which is both fun and delicious. I've never had a good steak, but this was so tender and moist I think I could have eaten it forever. Every day for the rest of time.

Though it took him an age to find a florist who had them, he also brought me a bouquet of tulips! I imagine most florists carry carnations and roses for Valentine's Day, since those are the generic picks guys get for their girls -- but I prefer tulips and he knows that. Which is sweet.

For him, I got a pound and a half of toffee in a gold tin, because he really enjoys a good piece of toffee. Half is traditional English toffee and the other half is toffee smothered in milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate. I had it imported all the way from the family who makes it out east. Which sounds weird to me, because I've always lived in the east.

Since my mother's husband is rather bad at gift-giving (e.g. he gave her a chocolate fish), we bought her a little barrel cactus and had it shipped out her way. Her favorite color is green. Cacti are green and grow all over California. So I figured buying her something green that could also remind her of me would be nice. It caught her totally by surprise and made her day. Exactly what we were hoping it'd do.

Lately we've been having gatherings every other weekend in our apartment, where all of our friends who live nearby come and hang out for food, drinks, company and gaming. It's funtastic. Aaron prepares all the meals, though everyone chips in monetarily for supplies. Friday night we usually drink and play video games or board games. Saturday afternoon we run a Gothic campaign. Saturday evening we either play more video games or watch Netflix. Our long distance friends are naturally invited to these gatherings as well, just for future reference! Even if you don't like tabletop games, board games, and/or video games, you'd probably still have a great time. However if you're our friend, chances are you enjoy at least one of the many activities we partake in.

And now I do believe you're all caught up!