Monday, January 24, 2011

A Lesson in Customer Service

Before I forget it entirely, I'd like to relay a story about exceptional customer service that I provided to a customer. Am I a braggart? A narcissist? Duh. I thought we established that already. But that doesn't change the value of the anecdote.

A few months before Christmas a woman came into the store and said say she was "in love with a song", and wanted to buy the album that featured it. The problem? She didn't know the name of the song, the CD, or even the artist. She hummed a few bars but it was barely recognizable as music, much less a specific tune. After I asked a few questions, she conceded it was hopeless. She couldn't provide any additional information.

Then, just as she prepared to walk out, I heard her say that she'd just have to wait until it was 'on TV again'.

"You heard it on TV? Was it a commerical, or a show . . .?"

"A show. The one with the lady from The Apprentice."

Ah. Betheny Frankel. That narrowed it down to either Real Housewives or Betheny Getting Married?"

It was the latter. Another problem tho' - she couldn't remember the episode. So I hit the web, found the site for the show, and determined it was the very episode where she got married. This sparked the customer to mention that it was the song Betheny used for her wedding dance.

How the heck could you not remember that tidbit? C'mon!

Anyhow, I couldn't find the name of the song on the web at the time, and the computer was blocked from playing any video or audio file that might have provided the answer. But a Bing search did provide an article about the wedding planner that pulled off the event.

So I did what seemed logical. I called the Manhatten office of the planner and explained the situation to an assistant. She passed the call up the chain, and someone finally coughed up the answer: "No One" by Alicia Keyes.

The song, of course, is instantly recognizable, and had the humming gone better I'd have ID'd it on the spot. But the point is, I found the song, located the CD, and made the company a few bucks.

More importantly, I impressed the customer. She'll return in the future, and I'll bet she's retold the story a few times herself. One act of solid customer service may very well net a dozen sales in the future.

Here endeth the lesson :)

Friday, January 21, 2011

The 2nd wk of December 2010

Dec 11th

No one has the right *not* to be offended - Ricky Gervais on why people should lighten up

A new species of metal-eating bacteria has been discovered on the wreck of the Titanic.

Dec 12th

Got home from work around 10:30 and put in 'Scott Pilgrim vs the World'. I didn't know anyting about it going in, so when it started all the zaniness my only thought was, WTF?? It was certainly different, but in an entertaining way. I enjoyed it, and for once Michael Cera played a character other than a wimpy, passive kid.

Heavy snow has collapsed the Metrodome roof in Minnesota.

Dec 13th

Lisa was fencing w/ the kids tonight, using gift wrap tubes as swords. At one pt Ginger was 'stabbed' by Lu. She jerked suddenly. Her eyes went wide, her mouth fell open, & she spread her arms out and fell straight backwards, her posture rigid. BAM! She hit the floor. It suprised the heck out of us, and we stood their like fools. Then she got up & did it again. And again. And again. The kid's a heck of an actress.

Lisa just finished 'Leaving The World' by Douglas Kennedy, and she gave it rave reviews. It's not my cuppa tea, as to my knowledge it has neither gunfire nor wanton sex, so if you normally find yourself despising the books I review, check this one out.

Quoting a article: "While Obama ran as the candidate who would fight to overturn Bush's record, a huge number of his policies remain in place.This says a lot about President Bush. One of the key measures that we have to evaluate the success of a president is not simply how many of his proposals pass through Congress but also how many of his policies outlast his time in office." is reporting that Brett Farve is officially inactive tonight, ending his consecutive game streak.

I thought "The Posession of David O'Reilly" was truly frightening, even tho' I would have driven the guy to County Psych long before the 3rd act. It's a low budget Brit film, 4 actors, 1 location, miniscule FX, & an intentionally ambiguous dilmema - is their houseguest completely insane, or is he being terrorized by demons he's now brought to their door? Well done.

Dec 14th

I finally finished 'The Fort' by Bernard Cornwell, a novel about the failed Penobscot Expedition of 1779, aka the worst naval disaster in American history prior to Pearl Harbor. Incompetence, cowardice, & plain stupidity cost the U.S. not only the battle, but a fleet of warships (and to a much smaller force). Hard to read, 'cuz the American characters were so less than admirable. BTW, Paul Revere was an ass.

Ok, this will take a few paragraphs: According to the book, during the siege of the fort he was in charge of the artillery (a post he almost didn't get, as he was under suspicion of embezzlement from his prior commision). He forgot to bring ammunition for the larger cannon, refused to move them where they were needed, and he would journey to a nearby ship for his meals several times a day and spend the night, leaving his men to fend for themselves. (this practice was ordered to stop by the General in charge of the expedition).

When the British started their terrific whupping of the fleet he disobeyed orders to set up cannon at a bend in the river, which might have allowed the U.S. fleet to escape by bottling up the Brits. Instead they came through unscathed and the fleet burned.

Then, he disobeyed orders again and fled down the river with his personal baggage. A U.S. ship nearby was going down and its men were screaming for rescue. He not only ordered his men to sail past the wreck, he again disobeyed a General's direct order to come to the aid of the sailors. (they were rescued by another crew) His reasoning? He stated he could not risk damaging his baggage by attempting the rescue.

He was arrested for cowardice and never saw action again. After the war, largely because they were sick of discussing a five year old case, a court martial dismissed charges with a few curt words for him.

BTW - he was also suspected of stealing the locker housing all the pay for the soldiers/sailors of the expedition. Hence, his reluctance to risk losing his 'baggage'.

PS - the General he ignored re: the rescue, and who later arrested and testified against Revere? He was the grandfather of Henry Longfellow, who in 1861 composed the largely fictional poem that rescued Revere's reputation and made him a national hero.

It was written in 1861, when the US was entering the Civil War. It was important to create a unifying, patriotic myth. I think it vould have been John Doe for all Longfellow cared, as it was 3 generations removed.

Dec 16th

Aw, dangit. A great ballplayer, a great American. He spent 49 of his 92 years as a HOF'er. RIP Bob Feller.

I'm not sure I agree w/ choosing Nona as the winner of Hells Kitchen, but I sure as hell recognize Russell as a i prison term waiting to happen. Blaming his brigade for his loss, being pissy at the celebration, getting physical on the line - c'mon dude, grow up.

RIP director Blake Edwards

An ancient Roman statue has washed up on an Israeli beach.

Dec 17th

Yeah, I'm about done w/ this whole Tooth Fairy business. YaYa is whining, again, that we're ignoring her recent 'loss'. Whoopdeedoo. I'm lost teeth in the last five years, and what did *I* get? A bunch of dentist bills and a hillbily smile, thank you very much.

Dec 18th

QB Aaron Rodgers has been declared out for week's game. Matt Flynn will start in his place.

Quoting the BBC: Scientists say they have identified an embalmed head as belonging to King Henri IV of France, who was assassinated in 1610 at the age of 57.

Dec 19th

What a great 4th quarter rally in the [Philly] Vick-tory against the Giants. Wow. One to remember.

Fist off, congrats to Fabio for winning Survivor Honduras. Second, kudos to Matt Flynn for running a helluva game (until the last 30 seconds). I'm not usually a glass half-full guy, but if the Packers could battle the Pats on the road right down to the wire, then we're a better team than I thought.

Dec 20th

Here's an odd place for an otherwise sweet note: "Have a good night Mom & Dad. I love you! YaYa". The place she wrote it? On the first sheet of the toilet paper roll in the bathroom. I saw it and left it for Lisa, thinking she'd see it and we'd share a chuckle. Alas, I believe it went unseen and was put to a. . .more traditional use.

Recent viewing: 'Cirque de Freak: The Vampires Assistant' turned out to be a fun little movie, and well worth the spot on my Netflix queue. 'The Other Guys' was much funnier than advertised and I stand by my ever-present adoration of Will Ferrell. "Gator's bi**hes better be wearin jimmies!". Classic!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Zuppa Toscana - Danny's version

If you've been following me on Facebook (or reading my regurgitated FB updates here) than you know I've recently taken an interest in cooking. Right now I prepare dinner six nights out of seven. That's not as impressive as it might sound. After all, Lisa made dinner 365 days a year for much of our marriage.

Recently I made a big pot of Zuppa Toscana, a potato soup that's part of Olive Garden's menu. I found and followed a copycat recipe available here, but I did make some changes.

Here's the original ingredient list:

1 lb. Italian Sausage
2 large Russet potatoes, sliced in half, and then in 1/4 inch slices
1 large Onion, chopped
1/2 can Bacon Bits
2 cloves garlic minced
2 C. Kale or Swiss chard chopped
2 (14.5 ounce) cans Chicken Broth
1 qt. Water
1 C. Heavy Whipping Cream

The recipe called for the potatoes, broth, water and garlic to be placed on medium heat until the potatoes were cooked. At that point the meat would be added and the soup left to simmer ten minutes. Then the kale and whipping cream is added, and the soup is heated and served.

Ok. First off I cooked a batch big enough for my family, which meant doubling up the ingredients. I personalized it by using ground Italian sausage, 1/2# of which was a spicer variety. I substituted half and half for 2/3rds of the whipping cream, used low sodium broth for 1/3 the total, added fresh diced fennel, and added a bit more garlic than called for in the original recipe.

It was marvelous, but all hands agreed the soup was short on potato. Despite a broth friendly crowd, I had to boil additional potatoes and add them to the mix the next day.

Like I said, it was marvelous. It's definitely added to our family repertoire. Try it yourself.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Some reviews - and written just for Slapinions!

When we started the DVD of The Killer Inside Me, Lisa asked what I considered the definition of film noir. "It's a crime movie," I said, "But dark and tragic. There's no real good guys, and it usually ends pretty bad for all the characters."

After the movie (which she loved) Lisa turned to me and said "Yup, that's noir all right."

I already mentioned Lisa loved the film, which stars Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Warren Beatty and Jessica Alba. As for me, I very much enjoyed the first and last third of the film but felt the middle sagged and lost my attention. Still, a very good flick.

Oh, and phoeey to actors who say their jobs aren't cushy. The guy got to roll around naked with Hudson and Alba and was paid for the privilege. I should be so lucky.

Speaking of noir, The Social Network fits the bill, even if it didn't involve a crime (or, if you side with some folks, merely a white-collar crime). It was dark - in tone, in setting, in the filmwork and soundtrack - and there were precious few good guys in sight. I don't know how much of it is true, and I don't care; it was a great, great film. I hope it wins the Oscar.

The film did inspire me to read the book on which it was based, The Accidental Billionares - The Founding of Facebook A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich.

As a read it's quick, juicy, and entertaining. As journalism . . . blech. It's no suprise the people who agreed to an interview are treated kindly, while those who refused are crucified. I don't pretend to know where the unadulterated truth lies, but I'm reasonably certain this opinionated work is nowhere close to the mark.

* * *

The Town is a tale of robbery and violence in Boston's Charlestown. Ben Affleck, who both starred in and directed the film, did a fine job. Some of the action sequences were the best I've seen in years, and Lisa and I both give the movie a big thumbs up.

The same night we watched The Town and The Social Network, we also rented Renee Zellweger's Case 39, a horror film of the Demon Seed variety. To our surprise, the film was pretty damn good. Not a mad night for movies, eh?

Alas, Mr. Woodcock did not win our favor. It's a fun concept that was executed very poorly. Characters acted at odds with themsleves and with reality. Apologize? APOLOGOIZE??? To a sadistic, child abusing madman? Yeah, uh, NO. A waste of time. Crap.

Continuing our string of TV via Netflix, we've finished Season Five of Top Chef (NY). I disagree with giving Hosea the crown. Sure, he was my favorite and he aced the final, but overall Steffan was the better chef. Oh, well.

A few weeks ago our friend Chris bought Michael Jackson's Michael. It's not a bad album, but to my ears it's too retro. Would MJ have put out an album with the same sound that he used twenty years ago? I don't think so. Then again, what the heck do I know? I will say, the first track 'Hold My Hand' is quite good.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Entrance Band

I stumbled across The Entrance Band on local station 4.3, which played the video of "Lookout" one fine evening. I was impressed by their hypnotic psychedelic/garage band sound. 18 years I'd have snatched up their albums with joy.


Friday, January 14, 2011

The 1st third of December, 2010

Dec 2nd

I love my Foreman grill.

Ginger came home from school bragging that she'd gotten mad & thrown a pencil, earning her a punishment from her teacher. Bragged I say - shit grin and all. I don't mind a little sass & a few bouts with the academic law; after all, I ain't aiming to raise Sandy Duncan, Jr. But lately Ginger's just plain THUG. I'll count my blessings if she doesn't have neck tats by seventh grade.

We just finished watching season 4 of Hell's Kitchen, and for the first time I think Ramsay picked the wrong winner. Christina was very impressive in guiding her brigade during the final service, but the kid couldn't run a station right up until the end. IMO, Petrozza got screwed.

Dec 3rd

Lebron [James] notched 38 pts against Clev yest. Did I mention he only played *3* quarters?? Good for him. Screw Cavs fans and their p**sy whining about his departure. The 'loyalty' in sports doesn't exist in reverse (they'd have traded/dumped him if need be), so why should he be held to a diff. standard? You are a professional, & a competitor. You follow the money, or you follow the ring, and you never apologize for either.

Ron Santo was the worst, most benignly incompetent broadcaster I can remember hearing (plus he was a Cub) but he seemed like a nice guy. RIP.

I've dealt w/ nightmares most of the year, including some doozies I recorded on my blog. Last night's takes the cake: a sex dream involving the residents of a nursing home, one of whom was my boss. Shudder.

Dec 5th

Finished Gordon Ramsay's autobio "Roasting in Hells Kitchen: Temper Tantrums, F Words, and the Pursuit of Perfection". Stylistically it's a bore, & you'll need Bing handy to look up all names he tosses at you w/out providing context. By the end he comes off as human and real - but since he isn't shy about airing other folks dirty laundry and naming names while doing it, still a bit of a douche.

St Adalbert's Alumni - I ran into Ms. Hutchinson yesterday at work, and she inquired about my classmates from '88. "Hello" to you all from her.

Dec 6th

I heard an actor say that in Season 5 of 'Big Love' Bill would get his 'comeuppance'. Aside from their archaic language choice, 'comeuppance' for what? For loving more than one person? *That's* his big evildoing? So, gay/straight/young/old/black/white marriage = A-OK, but oh Lawd, heaven above, don't you dare love more than your fair share or you're right up there with pedophiles and slavers. Once again, society is just anohter word for hypocrite.

‎'Karate Kid' is the rare remake that improves upon a classic. Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan were wonderful (esp Chan - it's hard to top Miyagi. Kudos) and both the story and the visuals benefited from the shifting the setting to China. I was *very* impressed, so much so that Mr. Cheap here actually allowed the rental to stay out another night. Gasp - I know! It was that good!

Great Onion headline: "Universe Admits to Wronging Area Man His Entire Life: 'Dave's Got a Right to Be Angry', says Cosmos"

RIP NFL legend Don Meredith

Dec 7th
In lieu of another season of HK on DVD, we started Season 5 of Top Chef. It's not as fun as HK & the endless product placement is repulsive, but it'll do. Now starting Survivor Vanatu.

RIP Elizabeth Edwards. I was impressed by your courage.

I just finished watching 'Inception', a film we tried and failed to see in the theater and so eagerly awaited on DVD. My verdict: I liked it, but I don't think it lived up to the hype. The idea sounds imaginative, but in reality (no pun intended) it all came off a little literal and rigid on screen, no? I think the visuals mask a failure in imagination that could have made a very good film into a masterpiece.

Dec 8th

Dan Ackroyd is on Jimmy Kimmel in the other room. What a lousy guest. Listen to this guy for a minute and you understand why his career has been in the shitter since Reagan's 2nd term. He doesn't come across as a jerk. He's just over animated and very loud, in a way that's less "Jim Carrey" than "boorish Uncle Stan at Thanksgiving".

It doesn't help that his whole interview was devoted to a) his work with UFO researchers... b) his family history with seances and spirit mediums (now available as a book written by his Dad!) and c) pimping a vodka he has a hand in creating.

It was all kind of sad.

I don't understand why every cell phone user isn't w/ Cricket. . No signed contracts, unlimited txt/talk/web for a great rate, coverage that's expanding all the time, free 411(!), & great phones. (The Blackberrry-esque phones we use are 2 of the best purchases I've made in yrs). Is it the urban 'stigma' of the brand? If so, OFW. Why pay $30 more a month for crap service and dubious charges w/ someone like Sprint?

Talk about life imitating art. I dreamt I was called to a high rise office builiding, all sterile steel & glass. Try as I might, I couldn't reach the top floors - the stairs were Penrose stairs, ala 'Inception', & the whole builidng was nothing but a ruse to keep me busy. There was more (an intentional disqualification in a tournament/contest, ending w/ violence) but it's the staircase that stands out in my memory.

Dec 9th

I needed a jump start outside Ginger's school. B4 my Good Samaritan could pull in an Arab guy parked 5ft from my front bumper. There was 20 ft of clear space in front of him, so I asked him politely to scoot up. "In five minutes," he said. "U wait.". My response included "You're a f-ing a-hole". Give the [edited] some credit tho' - rare is the stranger who would ignore my wishes when I'm that pissed off.

Dec 10th

The Doors Jim Morrison will be pardoned in Flordia, some 40 years after his death.

Finished '1939: Countdown to War' by Richard Overy. It's a very small book (124 pgs of text; in height/width it's not much bigger than a CD case), yet it manages to convey a large amount of information re: the outbreak of WWII. I learned a lot, which I'll pompously call surprising. In fact I may pick up a copy to add to my personal library, to supplement the volumes I have on the war itself.

One, and only one good moment yest: When it came time for Ginger to get off the bus I told LuLthe driver would only release the kid if you did a dance first. "Here let me show you," I said, "A one and a two . . ." and started a disco move on the porch. "DAD!," Lu yelled, and started physically shoving me inside. "Go away! You are such an embarrasment! Go! DAAAAADDDD!"

St Adalbert's alum: I ran into Sr. Kathleen today. She told me Sr. Virginia has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer related to asbestos exposure, and is in very bad shape.

Watched 'The Disappearance of Alice Creed', a harsh but tidy British crime thriller that stars only 3 actors and takes place largely in one room. Alice Cred is brutally kidnapped & kept chained to a bed while her ransom is negotiated. Soon she begins a battle of wits, attempting to divide her captors and gain the upper hand. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't - with unpleasant results. Very well made.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The tail end of November 2010

Nov 24th

"Put a fish head up your butt" a chant the kids started while marching around the house this morning, after I told Smiley to "get your head outta your butt" and find his shoes.

My column will appear in the Thanksgiving edition of the Journal-Sentinel. Please buy a copy or read it online.My column will appear in the Thanksgiving edition of the Journal-Sentinel. Please buy a copy or read it online.

Nov 25th

If you want to shine, ya gotta polish

I just stayed up way too late to finish "Predators". I'll pay for it in the morning, but the film was a pleasant suprise. Very entertaining for an action sequel, esp one in a franchise I thought had been bled dry. Well worth a rental.

Went out to Thanksgiving lunch, returned to watch NO-DAL, now watching Taylor Swift on NBC. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving too.

Nov 26th

Saw an old Genesis concert video on 4.3. Without ? Phil Collins is the dorkiest, least sexy frontman in history.

Allow a man to keep his pride and you can be less worried about keeping your scalp when he's back on his feet

‎36.5 WMVT aka MPTV Jazz = one of the few reedeming graces of being limited to broadcast TV.

Gadzooks I'm tired, and I haven't even goneto work yet.

Nov 27th

I expected the worst from 'Robin Hood' but all in all it was impressive. Very little to do w/ the legend at all, tho they try to correct w/ a lame postscript. The streak holds; I've yet to see a bad Russell Crowe movie.

We're watching "Eat, Pray, Love" and it is torture. How can someone make a movie this rambling and dull and not hang their head in shame?

From one extreme to another: The Expendables was fun from start to finish. Ah, maybe w/ another cast it would have been a B movie, but w/ the Justice League of freakin' action heroes involved it was a hoot.

Nov 29th
"From Paris With Love" is a fun but mindless action romp, & John Travolta's character single handedly steals the show. At least he did until the 3rd act, when he stopped being a delightful maniac and got all serious. Boo to that :) Travolta alone was worth the rental fee.

Here's Smiley with many of the Home Depot project badges he's earned.

RIP Leslie Nielsen, age 84.

RIP Irvin Kershner (sp?), director of "Empire Strikes Back"

While I would normally relish this Administration looking the fool, I would never want it @ the expense of our nation. Those connected to the Wikleaks fiasco are willingly putting our standing & safety at risk. The source - Pfc Manning, IIRC - is a treasonous jacka** who deserves whatever we throw @ him.
Here's Lu over the summer at my friend Erv's house in IL

Some pics of YaYa at a bakery we visit while waiting for her dance class to begin

A grumpy Ginger:

YaYa is all pissy because I got angry when she took my phone & made a pic of the kids my wallpaper. Whatever. My kids are important to me, but they aren't my complete universe. I'm allowed to have snippets of a life unrelated to being a parent.
Nov 30th
I'vebeen up since 5:30 running errands. Time to sit down and enjoy Season 4 of Hell's Kitchen. Now F* off you donkeys!
After ~ 2 wks w/out the net, we're back online as of 6:47. I still say AT&T was doing what AT&T does best during the delay - give you half-ass service due to a near monopoly - but they have gone ahead and credited our account w/ 2 free months of service. It doesn't make up for the damage to my farm (crops withered, co-ops lost *sob*) but it's a start.
Today's Family Night: homemade fajitas we shared w/ friends, then Olivia off to skating w/ a buddy while the others watched 'The Sorceror's Apprentice' and I dealt w/ AT&T.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A trip to Chi-town

In mid November we took the kids on a spur of the moment trip down to Chicago, both to eat at a deep dish pizzeria and to check out the skyline. Despite a very long wait for the pizza the kids behaved, and while they did their best to act underwhelmed at first, they quickly became entranced by downtown Chicago and the skyline.

Said Ginger a few days afterwards to a friend: "We went to Chi-taco"

Sunday, January 2, 2011

More updates from Nov

Nov 18th

Were having some internet problems (by 'problems' I mean I forgot to pay the bill) so for the immediate future all FB will be by mobile only.

Nov 20th

out at a restaurant, and Smiley is macking hard on the cute waitress.

Nov 21st

RIP Laurencia Bembenek. I'm sorry WI denied you justice in life.

Damn Michael Vick is good. (this post, re: the Eagles QB wh0 served time for dog fighting, brought out a very negative response on FB. I replied as follows: so we can/are expected to allow for the rehab of everyone from rapists to killers, but someone responsible for the death of animals is somehow unforgivable? That says more about the screwed up mindset of our society than anything else.)

Nov 22nd

‎"You happy Mommy?" Ginger's favorite ?, asked every morning and off and on throughout the day

Dick Button is a judge on Skating w/ the Stars? What a coup for the show, adding a much needed pinch of respectability to what threatens to be a short lived experiment.

Nov 23rd
Weird day, eh? Late November, but so warm it felt like spring, w/ rain showers and even tornado warnings in SE Wisconsin. & yet it's supposed to be in the 20's later this wk. What a beautiful, whacky state.

Woken up @ 4:45 by noise in the alley, & when I saw the light on in my car I ran outside. No one was there, & I suppose Lis coulda left the lt on. Next time I play hero I can't be barefoot slippers & wearing onlypj bottoms. The hell w/ the danger of a fight, the cold nearly did me in.

I finished Blatty's "Crazy", a novel about a boy who befriends a girl w/ a few screws loose who may/may not be from the future. It'- very sweet and nostalgic, w/ a few good laughs tossed in. As always Blatty's faith provides the philosophical backbone of the book. A nice read in the vein of Mitch Albiom {sic}