Ah, summertime. The livin' is supposed to be easy, but it isn't. From the low-key stress of which TV channel or web broadcast to watch and where to go or what to cook for dinner to the megastress of the economy and health care, we're livin' in a time where very little is clear anymore.
We're deluged with basic news, coming from so many information sources, that is often contradictory and overwhelming. In addition, in a world where there's an average of 340 million tweets daily, everyone and everything is open to criticism.
For my sanity, I really need to get a few things off my chest.
What's going on with the increasing frequency of extreme weather conditions and rising maximum temperatures? Global warming? Or is there a James Bond-like villain sitting in a bathysphere in the Indian Ocean controlling all this with a touch of a computer key? Forgive my well-warranted paranoia, but I want answers. Where are Woodward, Bernstein and Deep Throat when I need them?
It begins innocently enough with an error on a bill I receive, which I feel can be resolved in a simple and timely manner, or else there's a simple question regarding service I am receiving. But it is never simple! That would be too easy and efficient. I am sucked into customer service voicemail hell and forced to navigate the labyrinthine ratlike maze of a menu with more options than there are cable channels and God help you if you take too long or hit the wrong button. The system can be very unforgiving.
I play voicemail roulette and pick the option I feel will quickly lead me to a living human customer service representative, not some disembodied voice I am all too familiar with.
"I'm so sorry Mr. Halpin, you have reached the wrong department. Please hold while I transfer your call and -- have a nice day."
"No, not the dreaded transfer. You can't do this to me. I've been in your system for 20 minutes. Pleeeeeze talk to me, all I have is one very simple question. You're really not helping me have a nice day."
"Beep. Welcome to the XYZ company. Please enter your account number followed by the pound sign. Beep. Press 1 if you have a question, 2 if you have a problem, 3 for both question and problem and 4 for none of the above."
I let out a blood-curdling, "Noooooooooo," which unfortunately starts the agonizing easy listening music. Welcome to the insane world of customer non-service!
I like to consider myself somewhat of an enlightened male, in touch with my feminine side and the child within, making every effort to live harmoniously with the three alpha females in my life, but sometimes it's just more than one man can bear.
I'm not exactly sure when my home became a combo theater of the absurd performance space and Freudian Amusement Park, but I'm feeling under siege. The major defense mechanism at work is, "It's all Dad's fault," and lately they've taken to mocking my New York City -- Bronx to be exact -- accent.
I recently received my quarterly report card and there was lots of room for improvement. My approval rating was down almost 20 percent and I scored poorly on bipartisan cooperation. My wife wakes up in the middle of the night, thrashing like Frankenstein coming to life and decides there is too much clutter in the house -- all my stuff -- and all I do is roll over and go back to sleep. What was I thinking? My wife believes I wasn't thinking at all, a not uncommon male trait.
I scored poorly on sharing and was reprimanded for hiding and hoarding the Godiva chocolates a friend had given me as a gift. They also reminded me that the bookshelves in the living room, filled with mostly my CDs and books, were for everyone.
Inside the report card was a handwritten note from my daughters, berating me for asking them whatever happened to the change from the money they had been given over the years. They included a signed affidavit swearing all the change had been sucked into a black hole.
My wife and daughters are the self-proclaimed arbiters of what is good for me and ultimately would like to mold me into shape, eradicating my flaws in the process. They see me as Mr. Potato Head Dad and for my own benefit would like to rearrange the parts; the goal being to help me deal with my issues -- euphemism for problems -- and make me into the best human being possible. A frightening social experiment? You betcha!
Barry Halpin is a prevention specialist for Liberation Programs, a substance abuse health-care agency based in Stamford that provides substance abuse counseling to adolescents and their families in New Canaan and Darien. He's also the director of the county-wide Peer Players, an adolescent theater company. Check out his blog at http://blog.ctnews.com/halpin/ E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.