Thursday, January 23, 2014


It seems endless winter. Grumpy times! I feel like I'm starring in a rheumatism commercial for liniment.
Mary announces that she needs to shop for a few items. I just want to stay warm.
The fact that she has never shopped "for a few items" in her life makes me realize I'm about to waste some time. The fact it is frigid time doesn't improve my mood.
So I find myself in the little battered plaza that is a few days away from bulldozers so another forgettable condo/commercial development can be built. All in the name of progress!
Half the shelves are empty already in the chain grocery store that is advertising that you can buy the rest for 30% off. Which Mary proceeds to do. So I find a seat on a bag of dog food and wait and watch the clerks. Some seem to be sleep walking, others hide behind gallows humour.
The woman efficiently processes Mary's collection of bargains and calls to a colleague to come help bag because you're not doing anything.
I have overhead what she said to a regular customer. So you've been here 29 years, I ask? Do you have a new job? No, she says, and forces a smile. She motions to the emotionless man bagging Mary's haul. He's been here more than 20 years. And he doesn't have a job either.
I have feeble suggestions, but then we turn away, pushing the broken shopping cart out of the store, past the black-and-white mongrel shaking and looking anxiously for its master.
I think of those awful unemployment stats and shiver despite my layers.
But why?
I am not one of those who for half their lives have come to a humbler part of town and now the familiar trip is gone forever. They face the great unknown, a maze of cold streets, and, if they beat the odds, a new job to replace the one they thought they had forever.
It is not a time to feel sorry for myself. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014



I was doing a small shopping at Costco - anything under $100 is small with that giant - and presented the check-out clerk my American Express Costco credit card and a $40 Costco redemption cheque.
The clerk frowned and said I couldn't use the cheque  because it was issued in my wife's name and she hadn't signed it.
I said that since it was a joint account and I was using one of the two credit cards that Costco and Amex had issued for the account, I didn't see the problem.
She said they couldn't do it because of "privacy" laws. Nonsense, I said, this has nothing to do with privacy laws. My wife and I have a membership account with you, I am using a card with my picture on it that is issued for that account, and you say that's not good enough.
So she called a supervisor who once again waved the "privacy' excuse. No, I said, this has nothing to do with any so-called Canadian "privacy" law but everything to do with your policy. For heaven's sake, the whole transaction is backed up by a credit card that you are allowing me to use to pay for $90 in groceries.
As I left, another supervisor, who had watched warily from a distance, came up and went through the whole "privacy" song-and-dance argument again.
Everyone was polite but firm. And all of them finally admitted that it was store policy and not some "privacy" law that that they couldn't have recalled if it earned them a Bahamas vacation.
"Privacy" laws are brandished at us so routinely, you wonder why it is always so one-way, always making life simpler for the company but never for the customer. It doesn't matter whether you are armed with all the PINs, passwords, customer numbers, questions (where were you born?)  SIN numbers etc.,  just trying to do some simple business, like checking a phone charge, when it is your spouse who set up the account or the bill comes in their name, and it's mission impossible.
Maybe the companies hiding behind the "privacy" excuse should be in charge of the do-not-call list because I get at least three illegal sales calls a day and I have never yet got around the "privacy" blockade without dragging Mary into it.
Since in the last few years, there have been stretches for both Mary and me when we can't be trotted to a store or a phone because the incapacitated spouse is the name on the account, it has become frustrating.
I realize there is a lot of fraud around. The scamming letters from Nigeria keep coming, and every two months there is another attempt to trick me into revealing key numbers for my bank accounts and credit cards.
But I have a warning for companies that really want to make it difficult for a couple to do some simple changes, like amending a billing address. The customer can just stop doing business with you. After all, there is always another store, or telephone company, or credit card, or bank etc.
Years ago I set up an account for me and an account for Mary with ING, the on-line bank. I routinely have transferred money in and out, or established GIC accounts, and there never has been a problem.   There has always been a problem with Mary's account, so much so that we have switched PINs, passwords, and questions on several occasions.  A few weeks ago, I thought I would double-check the data on-line with the statement that Mary had been mailed.  Once again, I was told there was a problem. I phoned but they refused to deal with me because I was a man, even thought I had all the necessary numbers and codes. So I got Mary on the phone too. Her old PIN wouldn't work, again, so she went through the procedure to establish a new PIN. It wouldn't work either. Tried four times.
Finally, I said to the ING rep, could this be because we are talking on two phone? Yes, he said, that would be it. I then asked why he hadn't mentioned this when he said Mary had to be on the phone too. Did he think we would be holding one phone between our two heads?
At this point, Mary ended several bouts of frustration with this one account by cancelling it. She told ING just to move the money to her regular account. She just didn't need this hassle every time. Which ING did, after only two more phone calls.
My warning message about these extra hassles by lazy companies is not protected by "privacy" laws either real or imagined! If you want to keep my business, you better smarten up because if you make it too difficult to perform even a simple chore, you're toast!

Friday, January 17, 2014



Why is it that the arrogant barons of sport pay more attention to their free hotel suites and caterers than they do to weather and the real world where mere athletes have to play in silly conditions?
Of course I am referring to the Australian Open of tennis, where temperatures have soared past 40C - which is hot even for those of us who still love Farenheit calculations. So Frank Dancevic of Canada sees visions of cartoon characters rather than the ball, and then passes out, and players spend more time thinking of their next drink of cold water than the next serve.
(Reminds me of playing tennis in July in Houston. We played under shed roofs, which gave us protection from the sun but not the incredible humidity. The guy in the next shed had a heart attack. Which was all the excuse I needed to stop.)
My introduction to the smug world of the badgers, in control more because of the old boys' network than common sense or ability, came when they were considering Toronto as a possible Olympic site.
I dug out the fact that they wanted to hold the Summer Olympics later in the Toronto summer, which would kill the CNE that year and probably other activities like the Royal. After all, Exhibition Place was supposed to be one of the main sites for activities, not that all the smug men and women running around to mount our bid paid any attention to actually consulting those of us who were directors or governors of the fair and its landlord.
Now the Ex may have been fifth in the world in annual fairs, but it is considered small potatoes compared to the Olympics, which sucks billions in taxes out of countries in a galling continuation of the rulers of ancient Rome who kept the masses happy with bread and circuses.
I can understand that the Olympics were far more important, but just  moving the Games forward a few weeks would have meant that all the other activities that happened in August and September in all the proposed Olympic sites besides just the Ex would not have had to be mothballed for a year.
Turns out that anyone offering advice other than insiders, well paid in either money or grand PR, was delusional. The Olympic people really didn't give a damn about any of us at the Ex and my idea that we tell the International Olympic Committee that it would make better sense to have the Olympics in June  when, as the records show, the weather is nicer for athletics than in the hotter weeks that follow, complete with more thunderstorms.
Toronto lost its bid, for political reasons, and I for one was happy because I figured taxpayers dodged the bullet. No make that, when it comes to buildings left behind where new uses have to be contrived, we dodged broadsides from machine guns. By some miracle, councillors are actually doing the right thing by putting another Olympic bid on hold, and are not excited about bidding for an Expo. The big expositions have gone downhill since Montreal in 1967, which was one of the best in the history of world's fairs which were once the diamonds of history.
But back to sports, where money has always been important than picking the best weather for staging the event.  The sportscrats insist on having contests when they may get the biggest TV audience. So they play football championships in blizzards where passes wobble like wounded ducks. (I remember playing on a frozen field so hard, the lineman next to me got a concussion just falling down.)
There is concern because of this tennis open about playing the World Cup of football/soccer in Qatar where peak temperatures will match those now broiling the Australian Open.  Apart from the fact it seems a silly place to have a world event, it doesn't concern me that much because by then, if you believe Popular Mechanics, each of us will have our own individual clothing cocoon that would insulate us from weather extremes, but probably not the Canadian winter or the stupider decisions of the fatcats who run sport.

Saturday, January 11, 2014



The SleepCountry ads, stressing the company is Proudly Canadian and growing, certainly send a reassuring message. So does the Wikipedia story on it which is so nice that the Wikipedia monitors complain it reads like an ad.
Still, the last thing I wanted to do on the last day of the year was go to one of its 161 stores to buy a mattress.
But any husband who has been married for 52 years knows that some things are just not negotiable when SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED wants to sail into the new year with no hollows in the master bed.
So there I was at the east end of Bloor West Village trying to find some place to park where Mary, cane and all, could actually manoeuvre through the Himalayas of ice that merchants and the city leave behind when they pretend to clear the sidewalks and a few roads.
We marched into 2100 Bloor Street West and right to the back. My duty, I was told sternly, was to recline on the chosen king-sized foam mattress, verify Mary had made the right choice as to softness, take out my Visa, and leave.
Only one clerk. A Michael Wright. Called a sales associate. But you could have called him anything because as he informed me later in cold tones, he was THE staff
He remembered Mary from the first scouting visit and verified what mattress I was supposed to sample as a sleep dummy. I laid down, told Mary it was okay, and felt for my charge card.
But in walked a woman that Wright immediately left to serve. They wandered around most of the store.  As they came near us, I said as sarcastically as I could muster - and Mary says I can be bad -  just go ahead and serve her while we wait.
Which he did.
 So I had plenty of opportunity to ask just how much comparison shopping Mary had done. After all, the price seemed high even for a sale. But I knew nothing about such prices. And Mary and Yolanda, the daughter-in-law, seemed to be talking about mattress prices for most of this decade as Mary wanted  one for her birthday, or anniversary, or Christmas etc.
I no longer get involved since I did research, including Consumers Report, on a new fridge, stove and dishwasher, and Mary bought the ones I said should be avoided. Then there is the sofa and love seat in our living room covered with what I said was the material I liked least. But that's the way it goes in a long marriage.
Our discussion was interrupted by the clerk-sales associate-manager-caretaker who shouted from half the store away his opinions about mattress sales and stores like the Brick.
About 15 minutes later, he finally finished a small sale and turned to us. I asked about the staffing. He was here alone, he said, because some days there were few customers, even stretches of several hours with no one.
I said I was surprised that such a chain operation with all those repetitious ads starring one owner, Christine Magee, would not have more staff around, considering all the unemployment and their preening about all the accolades they said they have received.
I asked if the customer he had served instead of us was just following up on a previous visit. He said she was new, but with so few people coming in, he had to deal with her too even if we were first.
Besides, he said, we hadn't been inconvenienced. Did I really have something else to do? An interesting tactic, I thought, his gambit was it was a weekday afternoon and obviously we were old farts, so why was I making a fuss? I said I did have other things to do. He went from chilly to hostile. He said he had never heard of anything as ridiculous as what I had said and why didn't I take my business elsewhere.
Fine, I said, and turned for the door. But Mary at that point was prepared to go through a war to get a new mattress, and paid the $2,247.42 on her Visa. Then she paid another $226 for new sheets, which I grumpily compared to gilding the lily or something.
 I thought that was the end of it, although I now knew I was dealing with a chain so successful that the clerk-sales associate- manager-caretaker could tell a customer with charge card in hand to take a hike, even when he knew I was a  journalist.
It was impressed on us that the next Wednesday at 8 a.m., we would be phoned and given the three-hour window for delivery that day.
This fact was told me again, several times, on Sunday morning when SleepCountry called. Strange timing, I thought.
On Wednesday, the early call said they would be there between noon and 3 p.m..
Two chaps with a big delivery truck that they parked practically in the middle of the street arrived inconveniently half an hour early. They played a good cop-bad cop routine, one informing me they couldn't get the mattress up the stairs to the second floor, the second saying they would do it if we signed a waiver to cover the expected damage.
I pointed out that over the years we have had two king-sized foam mattresses taken up the same stairs and pointed to the last one as proof. They said it was thinner than what we had bought, indeed a piece of junk
So I said let's just forget the whole thing and you take the mattress back. They glared.  Mary donned battle helmet and flak jacket and indicated she would wade through hellfire to keep this mattress.
So we were ordered to remove 29 paintings, family pictures and Donato cartoons along the carry route, and to remove their supporting hooks and nails too. Then they grunted, folded, pulled, huffed and puffed, and at one point almost swore at me for trying to help. (Once my job was moving machinery, each of which weighed several tonnes and were much more awkward than a bendable mattress.)
It really wasn't that much of a problem. So Mary's new bed was installed, and I imagine that somewhere trumpets sounded.
Off they went with the old mattress - we were charged a $10 "green" recycling fee - and the old frame was left strewn like dinosaur bones across the bedroom carpet. Some wrapping was still stuck to the mattress.
I laid down for the second time on Mary's dream and contemplated the ceiling as they drove away and no longer blocked the street to most traffic. My immediate thought was I must tell my family what a wonderful business SleepCountry is in, and maybe they should try to get into it too. After all, a clerk-sales associate-manager-caretaker and  delivery guys felt things are so prosperous with the company, they could tell some guy to go away with his $2,247.42 business. Plus $226 for sheets.
Not a great experience. I contemplated sleeping on the couch as a protest against it.  Except the mattress was so comfortable, I had a nap instead.