Greeting card companies want to make people feel good, or so I thought. I (mistakenly) believed that they yearn to help us have our hearts warmed and to feel good about ourselves and one another. I guess I wanted to believe that they want us to feel all “comfy” inside.
Then I had a less-than warm-and-fuzzy experience with Hallmark.
You see, our two-year-old foster son was given a gift about a year ago. I think officially it’s called an interactive story buddy, but around our house it is simply known as “Cooper.” Cooper comes with a book and when you turn Cooper on by pressing his ear and read the story, he responds to certain lines in the book. Of these, the most notable is when you read, “Cooper, I love you,” to which he replies “I love you, too.”
Our little guy loves this talking teddy bear, especially when he is able to get Cooper to respond affectionately to what sounds like “Coober, I wub you.” That is, when Cooper is functioning.
But during the past few months, Cooper has been unaffectionate and unresponsive. He just simply hasn’t worked. New batteries, messing with the power pack and even pseudo-violent shaking have not been effective in bringing Cooper back to life.
In a move akin to calling 9-1-1, yesterday I phone Hallmark’s customer service line to see if there was anything they can do. What I got was a lesson in uncaring corporations.
I wish I could remember the customer service agent’s name, but I can’t. I’ll just call her Tia. Over the course of a few minutes I explained about our foster son, his love of Cooper and how the teddy bear had gone lifeless. Tia told me that she had heard there had been a lot of problems with Cooper and his kin, all of the other interactive story buddies. She suggested I hold Cooper closer so that he could “hear” me. After I explained that Cooper needed a complete resurrection, not a hearing aid, she put me on hold to “see what she could do.”
When Tia returned to the line, she was very apologetic and said that since Cooper was more than 90 days old, he was past the (warranty) point of no return. So she was (again) sorry. “Is there anything else I can assist you with,” Tia asked, trying to keep her service-time score as low as possible.
That’s when I told her that I thought it was ridiculous that she has already confessed to me that there was a “medical” history in Cooper’s family, yet there was nothing she could do. Then Tia went somewhat off-script: “Well, you could take the doll into a corporately-owned Hallmark store. They might be able to replace it.”
I asked why she suggested a corporate store. Her response (direct quote): “They are nicer.”
I couldn’t believe that she just sold out all of the franchise owners that proudly represent Hallmark across the country. In essence, she told me either that they were unhelpful and unfriendly or that their stores were trashy. Either way, I’m sure it’s not an image that the Hallmark bigwigs want to portray about (and to) their franchisees.
Tia then served me (as only she could) by telling me where the closest corporate store was—some 300 miles away.
I told her I wasn’t willing to burn a barrel of gasoline to replace a $30 toy. Again she said, “I’m sorry.” Next, for my trouble, she offered to send me a gift card.
I assumed the gift card would be enough to replace Cooper, but to make sure, I asked. “How much?”
Her answer? $5.
I couldn’t believe it. An unhappy little foster child was only worth $5 to Hallmark. Or at least the big corporation that is Hallmark. Heck, most of their greeting cards cost that much.
I sighed and said good-bye to Tia, who thanked me for calling Hallmark Customer Service.
I immediately called my local Hallmark store and spoke to the franchisee.
I told Lois the same story about Cooper and how he won’t wake up any more. I shared with her how Tia said the corporately-owned stores are “nicer” and how customer service did not want to serve this customer. But Lois did.
She immediately went to see if her store had any Coopers on the shelf. They did, and she promptly put him behind the counter for me.
An hour later, we made a Cooper-for-Cooper swap and Lois called the regional sales director for Hallmark to give him a greeting of her own. I’m sure that wasn’t a “warm and fuzzy” experience for him.
My foster son, however, was thrilled that Cooper worked again, and he kept telling him of his affection.
“Coober, I wub you.”
What do you wonder about? Add yours by leaving a comment.
My wife and I recently saw a television advertisement promoting a company’s new product as “The eighth wonder of the world.” Of course, the commercial featured a booming bass voice, so it was more like “THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD.” We were pretty certain that the fancy whatever-it-was probably wasn’t worthy of such an epic description. Besides, we confessed, neither one of us had any clue what the original seven wonders were.
“I think one of them has to do with a garden,” I told my wife. So naturally, we went looking to discover what the Seven Wonders were. It turns out that there are several sets of Seven Wonders. The original ones (The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) include really old structures such as the statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (I was right!) and some other old stuff.
There’s also the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. It was developed by a group of engineers, so they’re all “engineery” things like Golden Gate Bridge, the Panama Canal and the Empire State Building (there are four more — imagine that — but we’re not all engineers).
In 1997, CNN (the news channel) announced a listing of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Things like the Northern Lights, Grand Canyon and Mount Everest all made the list. Somebody else even put together set of “new” Wonders of the World which included the Great Wall of China and the Roman Coliseum. Strangely enough, tacos with their shells made out of Doritos didn’t make the list.
All these lists got me wondering, and like everybody else, I decided to make my own list. So (drum roll, please) here are O’Dell’s Wonders of the World:
No. 1: What makes the Teflon stick to the skillet in the first place?
No 2: I wonder a lot about food. Why don’t grape-flavored things taste like grapes? Who decided a grape-flavored anything should always be purple and never green? Why is it you can deep-fry practically anything or put it between two slices of bread and Americans will eat it?
Also, why does the sandwich on the menu look absolutely perfect, but the one you get when you open the Styrofoam box appear as though a freight train sat on it? Twice. Sometimes the Styrofoam looks more appetizing. Why do microwavable foods come with instructions for conventional ovens? Like anyone is going to broil a Hot Pocket.
No. 3: Who did let the dogs out?
No. 4: If birds of a feather flock together why do opposites attract?
No. 5: Why is it when you go shopping for clothes, the racks are full of extra-small and extra-large items, but no extra-medium? And how come retailers charge more for larger sizes, but don’t give a discount for smaller ones? If their reasoning of “it takes more material to manufacture a triple-extra-large shirt” holds true, than shouldn’t my size 8 shoes be less costly than someone else’s size 13 shoes?
No. 6: Why is it that every time someone loses their cell phone it is in silent mode or turned off completely? And why is it that no matter what you lose, when you eventually do find it, it’s in the completely last place you looked?
No. 7: Why is the Iowan capital city of Des Moines pronounced “De Moine” while the Illinois city of Des Plaines is “Dez Planes?”
And finally, wonder No. 8: (Hey, it’s my list. Who says there has to only be seven?) Am I the only one that wonders about these things?
Shame on you, ABC. Not only is the title of your new comedy “Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23” offensive, but your sense of social responsibility is completely out of whack.
A commercial touting tonight’s episode features one of the main characters bragging that she “finally got a personal assistant.” When asked how she could afford to hire an assistant, her response is simple: “She’s a foster child,” the character says.
Unbelievable. Foster children have enough challenges in their lives already and then a supposed “family” network portrays them—not only in the episode itself, but in promotional spots for that episode—as nothing more than an commodity, something to be used for someone else’s benefit. It’s no wonder that one of the biggest problems foster families face is overcoming the low self-esteem issues of these wonderful children bring with them from years of abuse, neglect and ridicule.
By even hinting that a foster child is quick and easy solution to making your life easier, you have missed the mark. Irresponsible and selfish individuals do not need foster children; foster children need responsible and caring people to provide for them and to love them. They are to be served, not serve.
Furthermore, the commercial makes “getting” a foster child look to be an easy, spur-of-the-moment decision, like picking up milk from the grocery store. As a foster parent, let me assure you that it is anything but easy and simple. There is training, home visits, background checks and still more training.
For far too long, our society has seen children who enter the foster care system as disposable. I believe that instead, it is these long-held beliefs that belittle and scar these wonderful children that should be banished.
There are thousands of foster children who need role models, love and support. Perhaps instead of using these often voiceless victims as a prop for comedy, your network should be advocating for them, helping to fund organizations and charities that have the best interests of these children as their focus instead of using them for a character’s (and a network’s) selfish gain.
I saw it again this morning. As I was taking my infant foster son into the day care center, another parent pulled up to take her son in as well. And, just like every other morning, I saw this mom park her car in a space specifically designated for individuals with wheelchairs or a physical challenge of some sort. Usually the cars of these people display a special handicapped license plate or placard.
As I watch her remove her child from the backseat of the car and escort him into the child care center, it certainly looks to me that she has no disability, yet she parks in the designated space nonetheless.
You would think she’d know better. After all, by her clothing it is obvious that she works in a medical facility; every day she wears “scrubs,” the clothing designed for physicians and nurses. In fact, her top even sports the logo of the clinic where she works.
I wonder if her employer knows how she parks and, more importantly, the image it represents for her clinic. Here me out on this one.
At best, by parking her car in a spot that she apparently does not need and most likely is not entitled to use, she is sending several potential messages about her own values. Given that companies often strive to hire people who match their own corporate values, like it or not, it’s easy to overlay what I see as hers onto her employer.
Here are the thoughts that go through my head every morning about this staffer and her clinic (none of them good):
First, maybe she simply parks in the space because it is the closest to the door. Perhaps she’s running late (every day) and in a hurry to get to work. Or, in other words, she’s disorganized.
Second, maybe she is just lazy and wants to walk the lowest possible number of steps to take her child into the facility. Does that mean she’s also taking short cuts at work. That can be dangerous in any medical facility.
Third, she just doesn’t care about other people, except herself and her child. By making things easiest for the two of them, they make it more difficult for others, especially anyone who rightfully may need to park in one of those spaces. Additionally, what is she teaching her son? That the rules apply to other people, but not them? That no one else’s needs matter?
I automatically apply this selfish attitude to the clinic where she works, whether it’s right or wrong. (How can I be sure that they did all of the procedure correctly? Maybe they don’t care whether or not to get my bill correct.) It goes on and on.
Listen up, business owners and managers. Your employees – your people – carry your brand, your image and your reputation everywhere they go, whether or not they are on the clock. Don’t forget that if they are wearing your logo or driving with your company name on the side of their truck, they are giving people an impression everywhere they go – stopping for a beer after work, cutting off another driver in traffic, carrying 29 items through the express lane or parking in a space reserved for the less fortunate. What impression are your employees giving outside your store or office? It’s something to think about.
They, in this case, are my trusted advisers — namely my wife, son and friends Andy and Nicki. I thought this was a work of humorous genius, they somewhat agreed, but thought the topic and the approach was, well, inappropriate.
So, what else do you do with a column that is unfit to print? Put it on the blog, of course. Hopefully, I won’t offend (because I seem to be doing that quite often lately).
Anyway, I hope you enjoy (and don’t cringe too much) on a tour of the men’s room…
I want you to follow me for a moment, as awkward as it may be, into the men’s room. Realizing that many of you probably have never been in here before, I wanted to show you around; give you a tour of the place, if you will.
A quick count of “facilities” will give some interesting insight. There are three times as many urinals as stalls. That’s a good thing – unless the one and only stall is occupied when you need it. If that’s the case, men are faced with the classic “fight or flight” dilemma. Do you fight off the urge and wait it out or take flight, run-walking like an Olympic athlete trying to find another available location?
To the right are the urinals. (Can I write that in a family paper?) You will notice they are all in a nice row and while exactly alike, are not all treated equally. You see, it’s a natural law (or weird phenomenon of nature) that in any grouping of urinals, the outside units are the most popular, followed by the odd-numbered ones.
Here’s how it works: man A walks into the restroom and almost without exception, will choose to use one of the outside urinals. Man B undoubtedly will pick the station at the opposite end of the line. When Man C enters, he will choose a remaining available location – most likely the center urinal or any other free unit as long as empty space remains between his peers (that rhymes with fears, not fee-ers).
Why? No one knows. It’s just the way it is. And, if by some freak alignment of the planets, there are more men than there are odd-numbered receptacles, eventually a brave gentlemen will neighbor-up to another fellow. At this point, similarities to a group of hostages about to meet an untimely end at the hands of a firing squad are appropriate, as are references to thoroughbreds at the starting gate – all eager to break free.
My wife tells me conversation is common in women’s rooms. In here it is very rare, and when it does occur, another unwritten rule comes into play: while outside in the “real world” it’s considered rude to avoid eye contact when speaking to someone, in this sanitary environment, the opposite is true. Eyes go straight ahead. No exceptions.
Many take advantage of this fact and sprinkle (bad choice of words, I know) a “captive” audience with advertisements, posters and witty graffiti. Other restroom providers stream (oops, another bad choice) TV shows, post menus or even display a page of the newspaper (maybe even this page).
Continuing with the tour, to your left are the sinks. I’ve heard that they’re for the washing of hands, but observation has yet to confirm this theory. I think restroom designers understand that. I know of a restaurant men’s room with three toilets, four urinals, two sinks and just one hand-dryer. Obviously, some things are more important than others.
You will notice in our exploration of the facility a lack of soft furnishings, chairs, WiFi connections, carpet or any sort of decoration. I have heard that these features are present in some women’s rooms, although, again, I have not had visual confirmation of these reports. I do know, however, that men approach restrooms like shopping malls—get in, do business and get out. No lounging or loitering is allowed or acceptable.
That concludes our tour of the men’s room. We have to go so others may. If not, the next guy who has to go may be forced to use urinal number four.
Boy, a recent column I wrote for The Southern Illinoisan has generated a large amount of feedback and more than a little controversy. Admittedly, this offering was more pointed than humorous. I just had no idea how pointed it was.
Before I share all of the reaction, here’s the column as it ran:
Here’s A Tip
Memo to the older couple that sat next to us at lunch the other day: I hope you enjoyed your meal. I saw that you went with the buffet; good choice. All accompanied by a soda for the lady and hot tea for you, sir. By my calculation, your lunch out came to a total of $17.02 with tax.
I saw that your server checked on you several times and even brought you hot rolls to enjoy. That was very nice of her, don’t you think? She was very pleasant and very attentive, meeting all of your needs and requests.
She was rather young, but sporting a wedding ring with a tiny diamond. I bet she has at least one small child at home. That’s probably why she can be found bringing food to your table – so she can afford to put food on hers.
The pleasantries and polite conversations you shared were quite nice. I’m sure she thought of you as kind people.
That’s why I’m certain that she’s really appreciative of the large tip you left for her on your way out of the restaurant. Especially during these tough economic times, I’m certain that she’ll put the two quarters you left her to good use.
Yes, two quarters. Fifty lousy cents. While my math skills are not the best, I figure that you left this nice young lady a whopping 2.9 percent tip. Thank you. Thank you very much.
I’m sure you could say, “At least we left something.” Well, that’s true, but you also left her with plates to clear up, a table to wipe, sore feet and a feeling of unworthiness.
I asked a waitress friend of mine how she feels about receiving a minimal tip. She told me a small tip is much worse than no tip at all.
“At least with no tip, you can justify it like they simply forgot,” she told me. “A tiny tip just says ‘you stink.’ It’s insulting.”
She added that tips are how she not only pays rent for her apartment, but for her car and college, too.
I guess getting a little tip is like coming in second in a contest, and, as one of my high school teachers used to say, coming in second is like kissing your sister: there’s no thrill.
Never mind that at many restaurants, servers split their tips with kitchen staff as well as pay income tax on ten percent of sales. In the end, your waitress may end up owing both her co-workers and the taxman thanks to your “generosity.”
Sure, 50 cents used to be a big tip. But used to be we went outside to use the bathroom, rubbers were boots, thongs meant sandals and gas was 43 cents a gallon. Times have changed. If you can’t afford the tip, you can’t afford the meal. Or at the very least, skip the drinks and have water. It’s free. Leave the money you saved next to your dirty dishes.
Please don’t for a minute think this is about age. It’s not. I’ve seen young people who are as tight as a bowling ball in a marble sack. This is about common courtesy. It’s about respect.
I left enough tip for both of us. Regardless, the fact of the matter is you cheated your waitress out of part of her income. You filled your belly while keeping her wallet empty.
It’s enough to make me lose my lunch.
Now the reactions…
Few of my works have generated as much response as this column. The very day it ran I had several people come up to me and tell me how much they agreed with what I shared. I even received a telephone call from a woman who told me despite the fact that she was retired and on a fixed income, she always tried to be a generous tipper.
I also received some emails through this website, there was this one:
“Thanks for standing up for the servers. As a college professor, I know how hard my students who wait tables work, and it bugs me when customers stiff them with a lousy tip. If you can’t afford the tip, you can’t afford to eat out…”
and this one…
“I just read your article Here’s a Tip. I am a waitress in a small community here in southern Il. and I totally agree with what you said. There have been times when I wanted to shout these things from the roof tops. We do not get paid min. wage. Our tips add to out hourly pay to hopefully make up the diff. I have a husband who got sick last Aug and hasn’t worked in over a year. Our main source of income is me. I count on my tips. They do pay the bills and buy groceries. When you get people who don’t tip or tip cheaply it hurts. I could go on about this for days, but I won’t. I will just say thank you for putting this in writting in a place where lots of people will see it.”
Then there was one which took a very different tone:
“Les, I’m writing in response to your quest for better tipping.
Of course being from So. IL you have the entitlement attitude that most here do.
It is not my responsibility to finance every wait person’s home and children. Anyone who joins a wait staff knows of their wages prior to being hired. If they can’t live off said wage, they need to seek employment elsewhere.
My husband and I are thought to tip according to services rendered. Should we also tip the cook, the owner of the establishment, the dishwasher, the delivery person to said business and the bum who hangs around outside as well?
Are you aware of the economy of So. IL?
Should we have tipped the waitress at Bob Evans who forgot table service (I don’t know about you but I prefer to eat with a knife and fork) didn’t refill our drinks, forgot our rolls after asking which we prefered and didn’t get the order right?
It is a shame you get paid for writing such nonsensical crap!”
There were 12 comments posted on the newspaper’s website. Among them:
“Your attention to detail is impressive. However, so is your tendency to make assumptions. Tell me, do you know the precise economic situation of the elderly couple you harshly condemned in your article? You didn’t mention what kind of clothes they were wearing or what type of car they drove off in after their “dine and dash” travesty so I will assume it was a Cadillac or something else just as pretentious and ire-inspiring. Your personal website mentions your church involvement so I will assume you are a Christian and choose to live by those values. Mentioning your own personal generocity by letting the couple know you picked up “their share” of the tip was, well…obnoxious. If their tab was $17.02 (as you estimated) then the obligatory tip at a very fair twenty percent would be $3.40. Wow! You dropped a whole $2.90 so that you could feel better about yourself and so that you would have some legitimate claim to publicly berate an elderly couple. I just don’t see the point. If you see something like this then why not assume there was a reason for it. Maybe you are in a better financial situation than the elderly couple, or maybe God was speaking to your heart to help out the waitress. Why denegrate the event with what could be unfair assumptions and with what was at best condecending rhetoric?“
“Does not matter what there economic situation…period! If they can afford to go out to eat at a buffet then it is not that bad! If their economic situation was bad then they could have eaten off the $1 menu at McDs or $5 footlongs at Subway. They were just cheap…plain and simple! The writer was right….if service was bad or no service at all you leave that kind of a tip….it’s a hint to the waiter/waitress that you sucked…thanks for nothing. My in-laws are bad tippers/cheap and when we all go out to eat I will add to their little tip to cover their “short” tipping of the wait staff. One time at Golden Corral I thought my wife left the tip while I was getting are baby and it’s things together (car seat, little toys etc.) on the drive back to Marion I asked her how much she left for a tip and she thought i left the tip……Next day I stopped there and gave the Manager an envelope with $5 in it with the waitress name on it with a little note explaining what had happened…she was amazed. It’s all a respect thing. I guess I just have a conscience!”
“Many people don’t seem to realize that servers do not make minimum wage automatically. My daughter is a server–her base pay is 4.28 an hour; tips are intended to make up the difference. She is a dean’s list college student who is working two jobs to pay for her own college and living expenses and we have eaten at the restaurant she works in and had the opportunity to see just how hard she works. She makes an average of 8 trips to a table of 4 in the course of a normal meal, refiilling drinks, bringing sauces, correcting errors made by the kitchen. Often when food service is slow, it is because the kitchen is slow, not the server, but it is the server who customers blame and yell at when they have to wait more than ten minutes for their food. When people leave a penny tip with a smiley face drawn on the table paper, or leave less than a 15% tip, she is hurt, not angry. She works her hardest to please people and help them have a pleasant dining experience, and some people recognize and reward that. Others seem not to understand or care that their refusal to leave a tip is not only a blow to her income, it is also hurtful to her. People need to take the tip into account when they decide to go out to eat, and either plan for it or stay home!”
“Alright everyone i read this article as well as all of the discussion, but im coming from a different perspective. I AM A SERVER! I work in a restaurant in the community while im attending college. I have rent i pay for, tuition, car/insurance payments, as well as i need to eat and shower. Now, who do you think pays for all of this? My parents, no…the government…no…I DO! I make 4.95 an hour which is significantly lower than minimum wage. I rely on my tips. Tips is what i use to pay for everything i need. Now, most people don’t realize that at my restaurant we have to “tip out” to other co workers including bar tenders, hosts as well as bus boys. Now when people are too cheap to leave a decent tip which is 20% it gets very frustrating! I understand that this is tight times, but that also means for us too! Were having trouble paying our bills just like everyone else, so when we dont get tip we deserve its taking money from us! And by us tipping out, if people stiff us or leave us such a bad tip sometimes we actually PAY TO WORK! we have to tip out on every table and if we don’t make the money to leave our 3 percent it comes out of our pockets!! If your server was very bad, we understand… I am going to leave you with this…how would you like it if we went to your place of buisness and simply didnt pay enough for your work??? it would be unacceptable…just like it is when you don’t tip correctly!!!!”
Going even one step further, one reader sent a letter to the editor, which appeared on Oct. 5:
“I was offended by the sarcastic tone and the “know it all” attitude of the author of the piece “Here’s a tip: Server tips are part of income” by Les O’Dell, in the Sept. 26 paper.
I always tip, usually at least 15 percent and sometimes 20 percent if I have been served particularly well. I understand that servers depend on this revenue and they work hard for it.
I am offended however by the author’s attitude and sarcasm. For all he knew, the elderly couple who he criticized so roundly may have been in circumstances that would make him ashamed if he only knew.
And it was not his business, anyway. His picture looks friendly. That is deceiving!”
From here on out, I think I’ll stick to (attempts at) being funny.
My father passed on recently. By sharing that, I am not looking for sympathy, but rather I write it as a statement designed to bring about reflection and insight. For the past few weeks I have been the recipient of so many kind and comforting words, I cannot count them all. I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to talk with so many people about my father and his life.
I must have been told dozens of times — if not hundreds — how much I look like my father. I also have been reminded of how I sound like him, have handwriting like his and even drive like him. I’ve decided that being like Dad is something to be proud of.
Many of the individuals I’ve spoken with have told me stories –which I had never heard before – of programs my father started to help others or of instances where he lent a hand to someone in need. Most of all, people shared with me examples of how my Dad loved his community; it was the town where he grew up, spent so many days and enjoyed the final years of his life.
It’s a small town and if it wasn’t for the exit on the interstate, few people would know of its existence. Yet, it was home to my father and he loved it and the people who live there. While during much of my childhood we were simply weekend residents, it was still home to him. Of course, once he retired he returned home and began again to make a difference.
He started a program to help people buy nutritional food at a reduced cost. He worked with efforts to deliver meals to those who were home-bound. When a vacancy occurred on the city council, he humbly accepted an appointment to that seat. He worked with state and federal officials to develop a new lake, providing a stable water supply for the town. He also worked to secure funding for a community library. As I have heard over and over again over the last few weeks, he simply made a difference.
I don’t think he looked at his efforts that way. He just did what he felt needed to be done. I believe that may be the beauty of it all. When we set out to “make a difference” our efforts and results can be shallow and self-serving, but when we begin to just meet a need, the end result can be changed lives and a changed community.
I’ve thought often about what I do in my own community. I’ve wondered if I’m doing enough and if it really matters. I don’t really know the answer, but I pray that it does make a difference for someone, just like Dad made a difference. I’ve decided to just do the things I feel need to be done — things that serve and make my city a better place to live. I am going to follow his example. Hopefully, it’ll be another way I can be a chip off the old block.