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Miscellany

TOKEN ASSISTANCEIt’s morning rush hour at the 77th Street subway stop beneath Lexington Avenue. The heat is already sweltering, the lines for tokens outrageous. Thinking myself awfully clever, I opt for one of the new token machines. I drop $20 into its greedy jaws and receive, in return, a total of zero tokens. I ask …

TOKEN ASSISTANCE

It’s morning rush hour at the 77th Street subway stop beneath Lexington Avenue. The heat is already sweltering, the lines for tokens outrageous. Thinking myself awfully clever, I opt for one of the new token machines. I drop $20 into its greedy jaws and receive, in return, a total of zero tokens. I ask the woman in the ticket booth for assistance; she informs me that I must now wait on the line I had previously avoided. When it’s my turn, she informs me that it’s not her responsibility. She suggests that I call the 800 number on the machine.

Memorizing the cryptic numbers-a feat requiring prescription glasses-I run upstairs to a pay phone and get a busy signal twice. Then I forget the number. I dash down again to get the number, chug back upstairs, call, finally get through, only to be informed that I must give the machine’s code number. I run downstairs once more, get the number, go up, call, get a busy signal.

When I finally get through later that day, I am informed that I will be reimbursed in 20 days. Now that’s service.

 -Jonathan Small, The New York Times

PET FRUSTRATIONS

Four out of 10 computer users have felt like throwing their PCs out the window, a survey by Coleman & Associates Inc., in Teaneck, NJ, says.

Another destructive tendency: Mid-Continent Agencies Inc., a Chicago bill collector, says a West Coast veterinarian who was behind in bills blamed a rowdy German shepherd who got loose one night and ate the office checkbook.

-The Wall Street Journal

SECURITY MEASURES

For those of you who have never spent much time in that Oz we all know as Inside the Beltway, the spectacle of White House aide David Watkins helicoptering out for a round of golf at taxpayers’ expense must have the whiff of arrogance distilled to a fine liqueur. Such people, the conventional wisdom holds, are out of touch with the American people.

But having spent 15 years as a journalist in that sheltering ring of asphalt, I long ago figured out the real reason for such inexplicable behavior, and arrogance has nothing to do with it.

Take the contents of a recent Washington radio and TV ad. It declared in somber and cultured tones that Riggs Bank served residents of “the most important city in the most important country in the world.”

This is what a huge portion of the professional population of Washington, DC-from politicians to lobbyists to journalists-actually believes. People believe it, because they have to. The root cause of the behavior that strikes those Outside the Beltway as so confoundingly and infuriatingly arrogant is that Washington’s professionals-politicians and otherwise-suffer from a personal and professional insecurity so deep that it can only be described as pathological. They absolutely have to believe, as the ad implies, that what they do is the most important work, in the most important city, in the most important country in the world. It’s why they are there. It’s what keeps them feeling alive.

Watkins clambered aboard for his Beltway fly-over to reinforce that all-consuming need to feel important. Neither golf nor good sense had anything to do with it.

I understand it, hut I find it all very discouraging. Were it mere arrogance at work, it might be cause for some optimism: Arrogance is potentially curable. President Bill Clinton could send Watkins to Bangor or Toledo or Missoula for a week to mingle with just plain folks. Or he could force him to write 500 times: “I understand that many Americans cannot even afford greens fees.” Watkins might come around.

Sadly, for Washington‘s real affliction, there is no known cure, unless you count forced retirement.

Jonathan Walters, Newsday

UN-PC FOR PTT

In an attempt to display a sense of humor, Switzerland‘s PTT decided to dispense with the usual children’s drawings or maps of the area on its telephone directory covers, and to go for cartoons instead.

The idea was to send up regional telephone habits, with the one for the Valais, for example, showing punters queuing up atop the Matterhorn to use a phone booth.

However, though the cartoons were vetted by psychologists, feminists, vegetarians, and all manner of special interest groups, no bells of alarm rang over the cover for the Geneva directory. This features two fattish Arab men in traditional robes standing beside their shiny Mercedes looking at the city’s famous water fountain spurting high above Lac Leman. “Transparent oil!” shouts one into his cellular telephone. Unsurprisingly, the city’s large Arab community is in high dudgeon, and an official protest to the Swiss was duly lodged by the Arab mission at the United Nations in Geneva. This in turn elicited an abject apology from PTT. “Next time we will not try to be so original,” says Dieter Max Syx, the chief executive.   

-Financial Times

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