The traditional gift is china, or diamonds, but we opted for foam.

New Mattress

Let me back up.

Twenty years ago, my mom and dad bought a mattress for Xy and me, a wedding present.

This year, as an anniversary gift to each other, we got ourselves a new mattress. That’s right, we slept on the same mattress for twenty years. It served us well in its day, but that day is past, long past. There was a deep trough where my body used to lie, and we’d flipped and rotated all we could.

It was time for something new. So we got a Sleep Innovations 12-Inch SureTemp Memory Foam Mattress.

It’s awesome, and it was affordable. Many thanks to Brother O’Mara for the recommendation, and for letting us come over to his house and roll around on his bed.

Interestingly enough, this mattress comes with a twenty year warranty. So maybe this will last us until our 40th anniversary.

We promised each other that this mutual gift would fulfill our gifting obligations with regard to our anniversary, but I couldn’t resist one little surprise. I knew that Xy would check her laptop first thing in the morning. I left her a note that said “please check your email.” In her inbox she found a message that said “please watch this video.”

And then she saw this.

NSFW, probably. No one ever saw this video before. It was just sitting on a tape in a shoebox in the closet. Xy had certainly forgotten all about it. But I knew it was there, and I knew this would be the perfect time to edit it up.

I’d had some vague thought that a ten-year follow-up would interesting, but I seem to have lost interest in cocktails.

So You Wanna Buy My Daughter a Gift?

A quick guide to help you out.

If it’s gender-neutral that would be a plus.

It it’s made of plastic that would be a minus.

Mass-manufactured is a minus, but hand-crafted is a plus.

Batteries? Minus.

Noisy? Minus.

Educational? Plus.

Reflecting values antithetical to our own? Minus, minus, minus.

When in doubt, remember: The best gifts are not material.

Thank-You Cards

Cards, cards, cards. We had 25 holiday greeting cards printed. When I drew up a complete mailing list (after the fact, stupid, I know) I realized we needed twice that number. But it’s all good, because in point of fact we only actually mailed a dozen or so cards before time got away from us and oops, here it is the new year already.

Cards needed: 50
Cards ordered: 25
Cards actually mailed: 12

So if you didn’t get a card from us, please don’t feel slighted. We fully intended to send you one, and it’s the thought that counts, right?

Xy got ambitious yesterday and did a whole stack of thank-you cards. Hopefully we’ll get those out in a timely fashion. Hopefully we didn’t forget anyone. We’re trying to send a card to everyone who gave us a gift over the holiday — and there were so many.
Continue reading “Thank-You Cards”

Dear Netflix

Dear Netflix,

After many years of loyal patronage, I will be canceling my Netflix membership at the end of December.

As we’ve shared so many delightful years together I thought you deserved an explanation, so I’m writing this letter to spell it all out for you.

I’ve been with you from almost the beginning. I think we first subscribed in 2000 or 2001. We took a break after our DVD player went on the fritz, but we reactivated in 2004 and embarked on a mad alphabetical odyssey, watching almost 300 movies I’d always wanted to see. I reviewed them all on my blog. When we finally finished the list three years later, we started all over again with another alphabetical list, which took us a mere thirteen months to complete. Since then, parental responsibilities have cut into our movie viewing time, and the alphabetical approach has broken down, but we’ve continued to enjoy the service.

We’ve been through some tough times together. In 2005, when our home was flooded and much of the Gulf Coast lay in ruins, I was impressed that you handled our account in a sensible and humane fashion. Not every corporate entity was so enlightened. That led me to believe that perhaps you were that most elusive of chimeras, a corporation with a conscience. But perhaps I was projecting my wishful thoughts because of all the pleasure I derived from those movies. Several recent developments have made me question your integrity.

First, you phased out the Friends feature earlier this year, despite vocal protests from many of your most loyal members. I was disappointed, but decided to hang in there.

Next, you announced our subscription fee would be going up. The reason? You’re wanting to plow more resources into delivering streaming content. You’re also offering a new streaming-only plan which would actually save me money. But here’s the rub: Of the 34 movies currently in my queue, only 12 are available for streaming. I’m perfectly happy to get a DVD in the mail instead. But I’m not happy to pay more for it.

And here’s what sealed the deal: I read Jessica Thurber’s post on the Deaf Politics blog. It seems the Achilles heel with streaming videos is a lack of support for captions. Oh, it’s technically possible, it’s just that you’re not doing much of it, not are you indexing which movies have captions and which don’t. I don’t generally use captions, but I understand their value. When my parents were visiting for the holidays we watched movies with captions so that everyone would catch the dialog.

Therefore, in solidarity with the hearing impaired, and to protest your fee increase, and because I don’t like the way you got rid of your community features, I am going to cancel my membership.

I will probably check out one of your competitors such as GreenCine. I think they may have a better catalog of obscure and artsy films anyhow. For example, they’ve got The American Astronaut which has been in my Netflix “saved” queue for a year now. They’ve also got Don’t Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl and The Ipcress File and a whole bunch of flicks you haven’t seen fit to acquire for DVD or streaming. As a matter of fact GreenCine is looking better all the time.

But don’t worry Netflix. I’m sure you can lure me back if you address the issues I’ve listed above.

What’s more, I am posting this letter to my blog, and encouraging anyone who feels as I do to follow suit.


Dear Mr. Bissell (2)

Bissell Homecare, Inc.

PO Box 3606

Grand Rapids MI 49501

For the attention of Mark J. Bissell, President & CEO

Dear Mr. Bissell,

Goodness gracious! I’ve just been going through some old files, and I realized it’s been one full year since I wrote to you. I have yet to receive the courtesy of a reply.

Is this your idea of customer service? What would your great-grandfather Melville Bissell think if he knew how you were running the business?

I am enclosing a copy of my previous letter for your convenience. As you will see, I was merely asking for clarification of your policy regarding your 90 Day Limited Warranty. Why was I charged for twelve dollars for a replacement hose?

Enclosed please find my personal check for $2.00 to cover the expense of writing back to me. This should cover the cost of an envelope, the appropriate foolscap, ink and even postage.


We Roll Tight Whips Every Day

When we were out in Oregon there was a story on the news that caught my interest, out of the corner of my eye, about Jeff “Free” Luers being released from prison.

Luers was arrested and convicted for setting fire to three vehicles back in 2000. The guy was trying to make a protest statement about global warming. Over the past decade I saw his name pop up regularly in the pages of Fifth Estate, but I wasn’t really familiar with the details of his case.

Turns out he was sentenced to 22 years in prison . This was later reduced to ten years. He served nine and a half before his release last month. In weird twist, he was mistakenly released in October, then taken back into custody after six hours.

The 22-year sentence was way out of proportion to the crime committed, but I can’t condone his actions. Surely there are more creative ways to create the media spectacle he desired, that wouldn’t exact such a heavy price on his personal freedom. However, I do have to admit it led to a discussion with my co-workers back in 2000 about how SUVs guzzle gasoline and how our rapacious consumption of fossil fuels is generally not good. So who knows? Maybe Luers was on to something. He could have plea-bargained, and he chose not to. His interview on Democracy Now is worth a look.

(All of that serves as an introduction of sorts to what follows.)

I really don’t like cars much. In my opinion automotive technology has had a deleterious effect on America and the world. But it’s a sad fact that I couldn’t imagine living in New Orleans without a car. All other contingencies to the side, we need one to evacuate. I’m certainly not going to rely on the “public option” to get out of town when a storm’s coming. And so, as long as we live here, we will be car-owners, more’s the pity.

Since Xy trashed our car a few weeks ago, we’ve been in the market. We decided we wanted something with a lot of ground clearance, the better to handle that pesky street flooding. Since we might need to haul three cats and a rabbit on an evacuation, an SUV started to seem like the best option. Xy and I have always despised the craze for Urban Assault Vehicles; we certainly never thought we’d own one.

I decided that if we went that route we’d need to get a hybrid. That narrowed the field considerably. Searching online, I found one for sale from Banner Ford in Mandeville, a 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid with 29,000 miles. I negotiated the price over the phone over the course of last Wednesday morning, talking them down from $20K to $19K. I tried for $18K but they held fast and I caved first. Anyway I was happy with the price, so I drove up to the North Shore and bought it.

I realized upon the return trip that this is the first vehicle I’ve been even vaguely excited about owning in over twenty years — since I got my first car.

Voodoo Wagon

Of course our new ride is a little bit nicer than the Voodoo Wagon, but mainly I just think the hybrid technology is kind of cool. Pulling up to a stop and hearing — nothing, because the engine isn’t running. That’s wild. Is it the way of the future? I don’t know. I understand those lithium batteries present a new sort of environmental liability. I need to find out more about that.

In the mean time I’m looking forward to having better and more reliable transportation at our disposal.

Big thanks to everybody who gave me advice on what and how to buy. Some people advised me to steer away from dealerships entirely, but I found private sellers just didn’t have what we wanted, and in the final analysis I don’t think we got screwed too badly.

One final footnote: The vehicles Luers torched in 2000 were not actually SUVs but light trucks for a commercial fleet. The reportage on this story has consistently said they were SUVs, and I thought that was the case, but apparently not. I just felt compelled to correct that detail.

Dear Mr. Bissell

Bissell Homecare, Inc.
PO Box 3606
Grand Rapids MI 49501

For the attention of Mark J. Bissell, President & CEO

Dear Mr. Bissell,

We recently purchased a Lift-Off Revolution Remanufactured 3760R vacuum cleaner produced by your company. During its second use, the stretch hose came detached from the hose grip, rendering the whole apparatus inoperable. It seemed a minor repair, and being somewhat handy with mechanical devices, I attempted to reattach the hose grip but found myself absolutely flummoxed.

Eventually I admitted my failure and called your Consumer Services hotline. The representative with whom I spoke offered to sell me a Liftoff Twist’N Snap Hose Replacement for twelve dollars. I asked if the vacuum was not covered under some sort of warranty, since we’d had it less than a week.

Her response? She waived the shipping fee.

Eager to get our vacuum cleaner working again, I authorized payment with my credit card, and the replacement hose has since been shipped to our home, and I am twelve dollars poorer. Not to worry, the sum will not bankrupt me.

However, after getting off the phone, I took a few minutes to scrutinize the User’s Guide. That is where I found the very nice personal message from you, sir, with the story of how your great-grandfather invented the floor sweeper in 1876. This same message touts your 90 day warranty, so I assume that you, at least, are aware of this provision.

Turning to the back of our User’s Guide, I found the 90 Day Limited Warranty spelled out in greater detail. It is probably not necessary to quote this passage, but indulge me: “Bissell Homecare, Inc. will repair or replace (with new or remanufactured components or products), at Bissell’s option, free of charge from the date of purchase by the original purchaser, for 90 Days any defective or malfunctioning part.”

Given the clarity of this statement, I can only wonder why I was charged for the hose. Is this a nefarious scheme to prey upon the illiterate who cannot read and thus would not know of your warranty? I know times are tough, but I do not think your great-grandfather would approve of this way of doing business.

cc: Customer Services

Mystery of the Gas Rebate

We recently let our Better World membership lapse. I like Better World and recommend them to anyone shopping for an auto club, but our insurer offers roadside assistance at a price that can’t be beat.

I heard about Better World through Car Talk back when I used to listen to NPR. (Another Katrina casualty. After the storm I was only interested in local news. Though lately I’ve found myself sneaking surreptitious listens to All Things Considered when I’m in the car.) Better World is supposed to be an eco-friendly alternative to AAA, and I suppose they are.

But there’s one aspect of the Better World program that always mystified me. Actually I don’t know if it was offered by them directly. It might be a side benefit.

I’m talking about their gas rebate program. It’s exactly what it sounds like. You get rebates on the gas you buy. Every year they send you a sheet of four little forms, one for each quarter. The forms can be returned, along with receipts proving gas had been purchased, to a shadowy outfit somewhere in Florida. For each form returned you get a check for $10.

What’s especially weird, to my way of thinking, is they didn’t even require a minimum amount you had to spend, or minimum number of purchases, and in fact they accepted receipts which couldn’t even be clearly identified as being for gasoline. I mean, one time I sent in a generic receipt for a cash purchase without any identifying information of place or time or product — they accepted that, and sent me a check for $10.

Does that make any sense at all? I couldn’t figure it. Still can’t. Who would pay people to consume gas? Or does this actually have anything to do with gas? Where does this money come from? Is it some sort of nefarious scam, or perhaps a super-rich crazy guy who loves to collect receipts?

There was precious little explanation on the forms themselves. Nothing to explain the rationale.

I’ve got my final check for $10 sitting in front of me now. When I cash it, I guess I’m off the gravy train.

Or am I? There appears to be some sort of program at though I’ll be damned if I can figure it out either. Their FAQ doesn’t answer the most glaring and obvious question: Who’s paying for this and why?

So why all the mystery? Can someone please explain this to me? It’s making my brain hurt.

Dear TrueNorth

Dear TrueNorth,

I picked up a bag of your Pecan Almond Peanut Clusters at the store the other day, and have found them quite delicious. In fact, they are alarmingly habit-forming.

Upon examining the nutritional information on the back of the package, I was pleased to see a list of only six simple ingredients, instead of a bunch of chemicals I can’t pronounce. Well done.

However, as my eyes drifted to the right, I found my pleasure in your product somewhat diminished by the following promotional prose:

Our nut clusters are guided by these product truths.

Ack! I put it to you that nut clusters are not capable of being guided by any truths, be they “product truths” or some other less dubious form of wisdom. Nor are nut clusters capable of being led astray by falsehoods. That’s because nut clusters are not sentient, not capable of thinking and reasoning in the way that you and I are. (Though in light of your decision to run this copy, your thinking and reasoning abilities are certainly open to question.) And what the hell is a “product truth” anyway? It sounds like something an overzealous marketing student cooked up after too much organic sugar.

It is an unfortunate fact that awkward marketing phrases tend to have an effect that might best be described as the reverse of appetizing. In other words, I nearly gagged on my nut cluster.

I recommend replacing this infelicitous passage with the following:

Our truth clusters are guided by these product nuts.

It’s nonsense, but then so is the original. I think my rearrangement has a more poetic ring to it. Please contact me if you’re interested in using it. My freelance rates are quite reasonable, and I’m sure we can reach a mutually beneficial remunerative agreement in very short order.

Sincerely, respectfully, et cetera, et cetera.


Whenever I get a raw deal, I rail against the people who are screwing me. For example, I’ve filed a complaint with the feds about our car. I’m about ready to write a personal letter to Lee Young Dong about our TV.

So when somebody does right by me, I feel like I should give them props. Which brings me to Audioengine. I bought a couple sets of speakers (A2B & A5N) from them last May, and I’ve been very happy with them. I use them for playing music piped throughout the house via our wireless network. They sound great.

The AC power supply for one set failed recently. I sent them an e-mail and they mailed me a new one. Just like that! No hassle, no questions, no charge, no need to return the dead brick. Wow. That was refreshing.

As for the speakers, they’re top quality at a nice price. If you’re looking for excellent speakers for digital audio, I recommend Audioengine unreservedly.

Dear Coby

One of the key tensions in my relationship with Xy has to do with television. To put it bluntly, she’s for it and I’m against it. I long ago gave up the battle to keep television out of our home, but at least we don’t pay for cable or satellite. We get our TV off the air for free. We switched to digital when our old TV got flooded, and we’ve been enjoying high-definition broadcasts ever since.

I use the term “enjoying” advisedly. I’m just enough of a video geek to think the whole technical aspect of getting high definition signals off the air is cool. I can watch a crappy TV show and still marvel at the gorgeousity of the image.

I was mildly horrified when Xy got a portable TV for our kitchen, but that’s another battle I’ve given up on. Her little $16 set will be made obsolete by the impending digital transition. So as a token of my undying love for her and my boundless magnanimity, I decided to get her a portable digital TV for Xmas. Who else can condescend so nicely?

Only problem, as anyone who’s shopped for such a product knows: It’s slim pickings. Portable digital TVs? I could only find three on the market, and they all cost a lot more than $16.

Ultimately I sprang for the Coby TF-TV791 7″. It arrived a couple weeks ago, and since we don’t believe in delayed gratification, it’s been deployed on our kitchen counter ever since.

It works pretty well. The reception is a little funny, as we can get some stations better than with our main TV downstairs, but others are worse. Xy’s just impressed that it’s in color.

There is one major glaring problem.

I’m going to need an illustration to make this clear. Bear with me.

Coby Comparison

A tip of the hat to the talented Jon Rawlinson for sharing this high definition video frame under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

The top image shows a 16:9 high-definition video frame in its proper aspect ratio. This is how HD video should look on a widescreen TV.

The middle image shows how HD video looks on our Coby in 16:9 mode. Note the black bars on top and bottom. As a rule you shouldn’t see bars on top and bottom on a widescreen TV. Note also that the video image is scrunched down, vertically compressed.

The bottom image shows how HD video looks on our Coby in 4:3 mode. Note that the image is no longer scrunched. It is actually displaying in its proper aspect ratio, but it’s not filling the screen as it should. Something is way wrong here.

I’ve written a note to Coby about this:

I recently purchased your TF-TV791 as a Xmas gift for my wife.

It works well except for one technical issue which is frustrating me.

The set displays 4:3 standard definition video quite well. However, it has a problem with 16:9 high-definition video.

I am of course aware of how to switch back and forth between the 4:3 and 16:9 modes using the remote. The problem is that high-definition video is simply not displayed properly. There are black bars at the top and bottom of the screen when viewing a high-definition signal.

As a general rule, there should not be black bars on a widescreen TV when viewing widescreen video. I’ve been able to check the same broadcast on our larger Panasonic television and verify that the signal properly fills the screen without stretching.

Therefore I can only conclude the problem is with the TF-TV791 unit. Is there some way to correct this problem?

I wonder if they’ll get back to me.

Got a New Phone

Whenever something happens to one of our cellphones, it precipitates drama. I guess it’s an unanticipated side-effect of not having a landline. Anyway, Friday was no exception. When T-Mobile confirmed my phone was busted beyond repair, I decided it was time to join Xy on Verizon. By complete coincidence, Friday was the day the Blackberry Storm rolled out, RIM’s answer to the iPhone, available only thru Verizon. The Verizon website was basically unusable. Luckily when I drove out to the store, the storm had passed, so to speak.
Continue reading “Got a New Phone”


I first got the idea to use this kind of heating unit a year or so ago when I went into Ken Brown & Sons to buy some plumbing stuff. They’re a plumbing supply shop located here in Mid-City right smack in a residential neighborhood — one of those many weird juxtapositions I love about New Orleans. They were heating the place with a big unvented natural gas unit. I made a mental note.

Last week when the girl was illin’, I went back to Ken Brown’s with her in tow. I hardly recognized the place. It was getting back to its original pre-Katrina configuration. In any event, I purchased a HearthRite 10,000 BTU vent-free natural gas heater. The rep I was dealing with was very helpful. In fact I’d say he took pity on me, possibly because I had a cute baby girl strapped to my chest and seemed utterly clueless. He even went so far as to find me a passable base for the unit, cutting a hole in the metal to make it work, and throwing in some screws and a couple connectors at no extra charge.

Over the weekend I managed to get the base attached to the heater. Yeah, it’s supposed to be wall-mounted but we don’t really have a good place for that. I was going to hook it up but when I read the instructions I got intimidated and decided I’d call my plumber.

Then this morning I discussed it with my coffee klatsch (more about them at some future date) and they gave me the confidence to go ahead and do it myself. So here it is in all its glory.


I need to get a longer connector because current placement is not optimal. But all in all I’m pretty happy with the results. This thing is small but it puts out some serious heat.

More Recycling Blues

As I’ve mentioned before, we are paying approximately $15/month to a private company to pick up recyclables. I’m not happy about the situation; in my opinion this should be a standard municipal service like trash collection. But we haven’t had it since the floods of ’05. So we’re contracting for it privately out of a vague sense that it’s the “right thing to do.”

We’ve been with Phoenix for over a year, and they’ve provided excellent service. One nice thing is they take even more materials than the city did pre-Katrina.

Until now. Over the last week, word came down that they’ll no longer be taking cardboard of any kind — or glass. I think it has something to do with the downturn in the national economy. The economics of recycling are a tricky business, and I understand Phoenix has to make these cuts to stay viable. Still, it’s a shame. I always liked the idea of recycling glass, because it’s so efficient. Melt it down and you get almost 100% reuse.

Already our kitchen garbage is noticeably heavier. We’ll be sending plenty more stuff to the landfill, looks like.

Update, November 17: They’re taking cardboard again.


For the last few days I’ve been mildly obsessed with locating some superfine sugar, also known as bar sugar or castor sugar. This stuff is often called for in drink recipes. It dissolves faster than common granulated sugar — which, incidentally, is often labeled “extra fine,” but don’t get confused. Superfine is finer than extra fine, but less fine than powdered confectioner’s sugar.

Yet I’ve never owned any, and I can’t find it anywhere locally. I tried Rouse’s, Martin’s Wine Cellar, Dorginac’s and Whole Foods — no dice.

So finally, last night, I took matters into my own hands. I dumped a cup of regular sugar in the blender, ground it up for about a minute. Voilá. That was easy, and probably cheaper than what I get in the store anyway.

Making a good old-fashioned just got a little easier.


My new iMac arrived Thursday. First impression: Wow, this thing is huge. It’s mostly screen, of course, but at 20″ x 12″ it’s almost twice the size of my old iMac’s screen.

iMac Migration

I tried using the Migration Assistant to move data from the old iMac to the new one. Unfortunately this worked for Xy’s account but not for mine. After four or five hours it just crapped out. I tried a couple more times, and finally resigned myself to doing it manually.

As for the rig itself, it’s pretty sweet. I saved my pennies and got the 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (aka Extreme) under the theory that you should always buy the fastest damn processor you can afford. That’s ultimately what forced me to buy a new computer; 800 MHz just wasn’t fast enough for the software I want to run. iTunes was dragging and iPhoto? I’d simply given up.

I saved money by opting for the smallest hard drive Apple offers (300 GB) because I have a couple externals I use for music and video.

Finally, I bought a memory upgrade from Other World Computing because Apple is too expensive. So, after the easiest memory install I’ve ever done, I’m rocking 4 GB of RAM. Supposedly OWC will give me a rebate on my old RAM.

There have been a few glitches and gotchas. I opted for the wireless versions of both mouse and keyboard. I thought the keyboard would be the same as the wired version, but it’s not. It’s a compact version, totally missing the numeric keypad, and some keys crammed uncomfortably close. It’s stylish but I’m thinking about buying the regular keyboard and selling this one on eBay. I don’t really need a wireless keyboard anyway. Another glitch: when I installed the software to sync up my Crackberry, it hosed my Bluetooth settings, rendering fancy wireless keyboard and mouse unusable. Hard to operate the computer without any input devices. I had to use the old mouse to delete the configuration file and then pair the devices again upon reboot. But and so it highlights the fragility of connecting this way, and depending on wireless for your basic input devices seems foolish compared to good old reliable (but ugly) cable.

All in all, pretty happy with the new rig. Everything’s much faster and more responsive. And this screen is so big it’s awe-inspiring. Now maybe I can get a chance to start working on that new ROX episode.

I got five years out of the old iMac. It goes to Xy now for word processing. Hopefully she can get another five years out of it.

Eat-Well Food Mart

The “Eat-Well Food Mart” has been under construction at the corner of Canal and Broad for some months. Google knows nothing about “Eat-Well Food Mart” so I was intrigued. Today, I saw that it was open, so I stopped in. Could this be some kind of health food store in my neighborhood? Wouldn’t that be something?

No such luck. On their first day of business they still have some empty shelves, but what they’ve got in stock is not promising. I saw chips, chips and more chips. Plenty of bottled soda. Candy bars. Tobacco products.

They do have a reasonably priced hot breakfast/lunch counter with such local favorites as filé gumbo, jambalaya and red beans & rice. On Thursdays you’ll be able to get a Chicken Florentine with spinach artichoke sauce for $6.25.

Still and all I’m disappointed that a place called Eat-Well doesn’t have any fresh fruits or vegetables. I’m sure they’re putting out what they think will sell in this neighborhood. But it’s kind of a vicious circle. If healthy foods are never offered, they can never become popular.

Deal or No Deal

We bought the girl’s bedroom set at Imperial Furniture on St. Claude Avenue a couple months ago. This afternoon we went back there and bought a metal storage cabinet and a garish red couch.

The place is kind of funny. There’s a sign in back that says “Keep Hands and Feet Off Wall.” Their slogan is “Deal or No Deal,” and it’s plastered everywhere, all around the store and on every piece of furniture.

I find this slogan mystifying. I understand the “Deal” part but the “No Deal” leaves me scratching my head. What could that mean? Buy something — or don’t?

So I asked Bob, the guy who sold us our stuff, what it meant.

“Well,” he said, “you know the game show on TV?”


“It’s like that. It just means we’ll take care of you — one way or another.”

OK. That still doesn’t make sense. But I let it pass.

Cardholder Blues

My friend JB was having trouble with his debit card on his recent visit to the Crescent City. When he called his bank, he was informed that Visa debit cards haven’t worked in New Orleans since Katrina. [Edit: I surely misunderstood. It must be just this particular bank’s Visa debit cards.]

I found that somewhat astonishing. Then I heard of HammHawk’s identity theft. So to prove that bad news comes and threes, I thought I’d whine about my little story of card-related woe.

Back in September, I felt I was overcharged for a hotel room in Alabama. The price listed online was $95/night, but the cleaning fee was $147. The amount of this fee was not disclosed until after the transaction was made. When I found out, I immediately called to complain, but I was not allowed to cancel. Strangely enough, I did badger one rep into promising a refund of half the fee. I said I would seek a full refund.

So I filed a dispute with the bank, wrote a letter, etcetera. They finally wrote back and said this was a “legitimate charge.” I called them up. When pressed, they pointed out that the fine print on the online form did specify “additional fees.”

I countered that the amount of the fee seemed out of whack, especially considering the amount was not disclosed in advance. They said there was nothing they could do.

I posed a hypothetical question: What if the fee had been $10,000 or some other ungodly amount that wiped out my entire account? Nope, nothing they can do. No protection whatsoever.

I then spoke to this rep’s supervisor who was more sympathetic. She promised she’d check with Mastercard. She left me a voicemail Wednesday. (I was home varnishing.) She said there’s nothing they can do because it was in the contract. She said, and I quote, “they can charge whatever amount they desire.”

Doesn’t that seem outrageous?

Update: As Sophmom points out, I should name names. My bank is Capital One. The reservation was made through Beachgroup LLC (part of but the billing was through a company called LeisureLink.

Update: I followed the advice in Carol’s comment and contacted Christopher Elliott. He contacted Orbitz and they gave me a call the following week. After getting the details, they agreed to refund the remainder of the fees. I just saw in my bank statement that the refund went thru. Since the extra fees included taxes, I guess that means this vacation ended up being tax free!


We finally got our new washer and dryer hooked up and situated properly, and last night I did our first load of laundry at home for over two years.


Our old dishwasher was crapping out on us, so we also got a new one of those. Splurged a bit and got a fancy one with a removable filter thingie. It’s really very impressive, but then again, when you get used to nothing working quite right you tend to be easily impressed.


They’re all Kenmores. Xy’s a believer. They are also pretty energy efficient. Hopefully they will last long enough to pay for themselves.