Great Expectations

Posted on May 1, 2012


Warning.  This rant was written by Cranky Gerry a month ago and left in the Drafts file to marinate.  This morning I fished it out and toweled it dry and decided to post it.  Waste not want not.  But it needed graphic adornment.  Here is an attractive stone wall.  Perhaps I will go bang my head on it for awhile.

(Antrim County, Michigan – April 2, 2012)  This has been a challenging week. Apparently I might be arrested for failure to respond to a 28-page Official Form. Maybe not. It’s hard to tell. Maybe I will have to pay a $5,000 fine instead. Curious about the actual consequences, I call the number provided for Help and Questions. The automated answering system does not offer relevant details. I try again—this time oprimo el número dos para español—but the option I need remains AWOL. I am pleased that I remember enough of my neglected Spanish to know that.

The phone wakes me up at 7:15, exactly 15 minutes before the alarm would have accomplished the same thing. It is an automated call confirming my appointment with a repair person. I fumble the automated response and hear a severe warning that I must be there to receive the automated call or my appointment will be canceled. The robot hangs up on me. I am morose. I already stayed home on Sunday afternoon to receive an automated call confirming my appointment but apparently my automated responses on Sunday were insufficient. I know that once I negotiate the automated confirmation call there will be one more hurdle: the automated call telling me that the repair person is actually on the way and will arrive in approximately half an hour.

I make coffee. The phone rings. This time I am prepared. I manage to get past the first layer. Deep into the menus of the automated response system there is a reminder that a person over 18 with government-issued ID must be present at the house during the repair call. And then, for the first time, the notice that there may be a charge for the service call. Wait, wait – I want to know more about this part. The automated system does not offer relevant details. The robot hangs up on me.

I ponder the situation and decide that I am offended. I call The Company’s main automated response number and select the one choice guaranteed to get a speedy response from a live person: Cancel. I cancel the repair appointment. The Company is relieved that I have not canceled the entire enterprise and instructs me to have a good day. I am relieved that my morning stretches before me, unimpeded.

There is an urgent email.  The 1940 Census is Here!

You would think Elvis had returned to the building.  Mind you, I have been interested in this development.  Most of my Civil War veterans died before 1940, but their children and grandchildren are very entertaining and I thought I would look them up.  I am prepared for this.  I know the Enumeration Districts I want to browse!  However, Great Expectations are born to be dashed this morning.

Lessee, 3.8 million images, divide by leventy, carry the 9 . . . it is going to be a long, long time before we get Michigan and Ohio and California on that list.

All the images are supposed to be up and running on the National Archives site.  It takes several tries but I finally manage to order up the file for Antrim County, Michigan, ED 5-1.  The images do not load.  Well, I say to myself, let us try downloading.  Ah.  That requires completing the odious Captcha Challenge.  I peer hopefully at the distorted words, and type veeerrrrry carefully.  No luck.  Try again.  Oh that set is even more unreadable.  Try the aural alternative without much hope at all, as that has never worked before.  It doesn’t now, either.  Maybe it is just me, but the aural alternative produces pure gibberish.

I had already tried to watch NARA’s Opening Event Live Webcast but I ended up with a 1940 Public Service Film instead.  I suppose such things have a certain retro cachet for the Bright Young Set, but for me . . .

It is a warm spring afternoon at McCord Grade School in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, circa 1955. Miss Backstrom has arranged a treat for us. We are going to see an Educational and Inspiring Film, vintage 1939 or 1940.

We sit in seats worn smooth by many bottoms before our own, examining the inscrutable messages incised in the dark oak desktops by our parents and grandparents on other warm afternoons when the film was new.

Miss Backstrom makes a production of pulling the shades down over the tall windows with a a long wooden pole tipped with a metal hook. She is a tiny woman, and it is an impressive balancing act.  Perhaps the pole is a peavey left over from the lumbering days.  A useful tool for untangling logjams.  Waste not want not.

The bottom panel of each window leans open slightly so that we can breathe. As the shades descend they flap gently in the warm breeze. The shades have acquired a mottled tobacco-colored patina. I have searched in vain for a crayon of just that color. As the shades unroll the room dims, and we descend into torpor, little fishes in a weedy lake. High, high above us globes of light hang from the ceiling on chains. Then those are extinguished. The film begins.

The announcer’s voice echoes and rumbles around the room, trailing strains of pompous music behind it. We . . . fall . . . asleep.

The phone rings. It is Rachel from Credit Card Services. Flames shoot from my eyes. The Cowboy runs into the dog room and hides under the bed.


P.S.  I wanted to trust that everyone would understand the reference to Rachel, really I did.  However, I have discovered that Far Too Many Credulous People believe that Rachel the Robot calls people with credit problems.  This is not true.  Rachel the Robot is part of a scam.  She is not calling from my credit card provider, nor yours either.  She is not even a person.  Her robotic self is merely a tool for terrifying people into providing information to the scammer.  That is all.