So it is possible to sleep in sometimes after all.

There was some freelance work.

There was some take-home day-job work.

There was a phone call to United Airlines. One of A.’s childhood friends is marrying in August in the Philadelphia area, but not, unfortunately, until after we will have moved to Montana. Then there’s the christening of a new niece in the Chicago area, the day after that wedding. And I had some free tickets, from giving up my seat two days in a row on my flight home from Missoula in March. You can’t book on-line using this kind of voucher, though, so – rewind a decade – I had to make the arrangements on the phone, talking to a living human being. Although first, of course, you have to talk to the robot. United uses a male robot, the voice keyed to sound like a genial, eager-to-please twenty-something, like this is his first job out of robot college. There was no way I wanted to try to set up a three-city round-trip flight with the robot, though, so I just started saying “operator” as soon as he came on. I guess he’s not programmed to receive input for the first few sentences, but finally he paused in his spiel to say, “you’re requesting to speak to an agent, right?”


“I’ll transfer you to an agent, then. And I’ll pass along all of the information you’ve given me.”

Which was none, at that point, but fine, that’s nice of the robot. Why, it’s almost what a human would do.

The sound-quality of the connection changed, then, in the way that suggests a longer-distance connection, or at least that the signal is maybe having to be translated back and forth as it travels through some not entirely similar relay systems. A slight echo, a hint of static – and then the cheerful voice with a pronounced south-Asian accent. But despite the accent, the agent gave his name as “Michael Chapman,” and then said he understood I’d asked to speak to an agent.

“Yes, I need to set up a three-city – ” I began.

“Hello, this is Michael Chapman, I understand you requested to speak to an agent,” Michael Chapman repeated. Apparently there was something wrong with our connection. I tried again a few times, but it was clear that he couldn’t hear me, and so I hung up.

Once again with the robot:

“Thanks for calling United – ”


“- Airlines. If you’re calling to make a reservation – ”


” – I’ll help you shop for the lowest fare.”


“Or if you already have a reservation – ”


” – I can help you with that, too.”


“If you ever get stuck, just say ‘help,’ and I’ll explain your options.”


“Let’s get started.”


“You said ‘agent,’ correct?”


“No problem. . .”

And once again, improbably, the improbably named Michael Chapman picks up – and he still can’t hear me.

Third time turns out to be successful. This time I get a woman with a similarly non-Anglo accent but a similarly improbable Anglo name of Veronica Smith. Veronica can hear me, and – with the occasional misunderstanding, due not only to accent and connection quality but also the near-universal affliction of people in such jobs who assume that you’re as familiar as they are with the process they’re taking you through – we get through the arrangements. The reservation is made, the flights selected. Surprisingly, the whole trip turns out to be covered by my vouchers, even though an earlier research call I’d made on the subject gleaned that we would need to pay for the leg of the flight between Philly and Chicago.

But it was a strange feeling to finish the call and realize that the flight arrangements I’d made exist only in a “hold” status in United’s system. To finalize things, I must mail in my vouchers, postmarked within 24 hours of that call, and then I’ll receive confirmation. I’m so used to doing these things on line and immediately receiving a confirmation email spelling everything out. But with the vouchers, I’ll just have to hope Veronica got everything right, hope that the vouchers don’t get lost in the mail (I’m xeroxing them and sending them return receipt, of course), hope hope hope. And I suppose I could still hear back that Veronica was wrong about the vouchers covering everything, but flights between Philly and Chicago are pretty cheap.

What could go wrong?

I called my father to wish him a happy Father’s Day. He and my mom have been playing with a new iMac all weekend and hadn’t even thought about the date. Life in West Virginia sounds good: they had gone out to a fiddle concert on Saturday, at the college that borders their backyard. My brother and I are planning to go for a visit in about two weeks. Unfortunately, we’ll be too early for the annual four-week (!) folk-music festival/workshops the college hosts each summer. Maybe next year.

In the late afternoon, a spasm of productivity: I ripped down the stained tiles in the bedroom ceiling so that I can monitor for dampness over the next few weeks/rainstorms (I don’t want to replace the tiles if the roofers still haven’t managed to fix the leak); I installed a fire extinguisher on each floor (I hope that these, along with the AC-powered/battery backup smoke detector I had the electrician put in, will keep me from becoming a landlord whose tenants perish in some terrible fire); I mounted a handle on the inside of the trapdoor that covers the outside basement steps (this will make it easier to pull close, but, more importantly, gives one something to pull down on so that the inside locks – just padlock hasps – can be engaged; some sort of warping was making this difficult before); and I replaced the upstairs toilet seat.

It’s hard to believe that we did not own a cordless drill/screw-gun until just about a year ago. Time was when I would have had to complete these little projects with a screwdriver; amazing how fast I can zip through them with modern technology on my side. Of course, the modern technology leads me to be a little lazy: my first instinct is always to just try to drive the screw without drilling a pilot hole, with varying degrees of success depending on how hard the wood is. This worked about half the time yesterday, and finally I realized how much less frustrating it would be to just drill the dang pilot hole instead of trying to ham-fist my way through. Then there was the minor reminder to “measure twice, cut once,” when I thought I’d found the perfect spot for the kitchen fire extinguisher, only to discover that it was blocking the door.

I capped off the day with a quick run to Giant to lay in a pizza in case my brother gets back late from NYC on Monday night, and to likewise lay one in for my own return from Arizona on Sunday (a meat supreme pizza, to make sure the vegetarian won’t be tempted in my absence), along with a few other supplies, including a half-dozen or so cans of cat food. Then I actually cooked: fresh pasta, some sauteed peppers, steamed broccoli. It’s like I’m living like a human all of a sudden. Proceeded with Bangkok 8, in which the hero detective – distraught over the death of his partner – took a cocktail of drugs and danced to forget in a seedy nightclub, then had to meet with his boss over lunch in the brothel his boss owns as a sideline, then passed out and was put to bed in one of the rooms upstairs. Great stuff, so far – I may stop into Barnes and Noble and pick up the second book in the series, which I noted on the shelf when I got this one, for the trip, although I’ll also be bringing along some work. (Real quick: I pride myself on my leisure ethic and, in general, reject the concept of bringing work home or on vacation. But since I’m finishing out this job soon, and want to keep working for this company on a freelance basis, I want to finish out my projects as best I can. Plus, any hours I work this way will be counted as one-for-one comp time, meaning I’ll essentially be on the clock while doing it, meaning I’ll have to use less vacation time, meaning I might be able to work it out so I’m getting paid for the week after my last day at work. I wonder what it says about me that I’m vaguely embarrassed to be seen as one of these workaholic types who can’t leave work at the office? I guess I feel as if people like that are being taken advantage of, and I don’t want to be one of them. If I were actually paid time-and-a-half overtime, as I probably should be (the laws on “exempt” employees recently got a lot stiffer, but I’m not going to raise the issue at this late date, and maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll never work for anyone else again), that would be a different matter.)

Thank you and have a good one.