complaints, money, rants

Look what I got!

Yesterday was a somewhat exasperating day. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, I had to call USAA because of their heavy handed fraud alert system. I think it was triggered on Sunday night, when I decided to buy some underwear from Amazon. I use Amazon a lot, but because I had been traveling and had set a travel alert, I guess USAA’s bots figured I shouldn’t be ordering underwear. I’m wondering what would have happened if I’d tried to use my debit card in France.

I didn’t realize I had tripped the fraud alert until I went to order some brandy from my favorite Armenian brandy retailer, another vendor I use pretty often. I went to pay for my order, which included a bottle of apricot brandy for a local friend, when I realized the payment didn’t go through. Then I saw an urgent automated email from USAA telling me that they’d “tried to contact me” and I hadn’t answered. I didn’t answer, because I wasn’t wearing my Apple Watch and didn’t have my phone with me. I didn’t realize I’d need those items for buying underwear from a vendor I use all the time.

I got really pissed. Why? Because this happens ALL THE TIME. Several months ago, when I was trying to book hotels for our trip to Croatia, Austria, and Slovenia, I got the same annoying fraud alerts from both USAA and PenFed. And because I live several hours ahead of USAA and PenFed, and it was the weekend, I had to wait hours before I could call them and straighten out the situation. It used to be that USAA would send me an email or text asking me to verify things. And I did notice that they sent texts this time. But again, I didn’t have my phone with me, because it was just underwear.

You can’t send USAA an email, so I complained on their Facebook chat. “Jason” responded with apologies, but I never heard from him again. Thanks for nothing, Jason. I can see that I did the same thing in October, when they blocked my card as I was trying to book lodging. I complained then, too, and even spoke to someone who called me while we were traveling. Fat lot of good that did.

Yesterday morning, as I was composing my blog post, I got an automated call from USAA. I answered it and verified the charges. The automated voice on the other end of the line said that my card was open and I didn’t need to do anything else. Wonderful. So I went back to the Armenian brandy purveyor and successfully completed an order… which tripped the fucking fraud alert system again. But again, I didn’t know I had tripped the fraud system, so I downloaded a couple of albums.

A couple of hours later, I was walking the dogs, and I got another fraud alert on my phone/watch. I tried to answer the watch while juggling my dogs. I had to give up, though, because it was impossible to walk the dogs and answer the phone. I checked my iPad and noticed that Apple had sent me a message that my card was declined. So I called up USAA and spoke to a very pleasant representative. Really, she was very nice… much like the representatives used to be, when USAA was still customer service oriented. I expressed my frustration at having to make international phone calls every time I need to unblock my card(s). I told her that I was strongly considering changing banks because of this issue.

I do have an account with PenFed. I used to have a checking account with them, but closed it because they charged a fee if the minimum balance wasn’t high enough. Last night, I started an application for another checking account with them, just so I have an alternative to USAA. But really, I think it may be time to migrate our business elsewhere. PenFed is also a bit of a pain in the butt about fraud alerts and shutting down access to things. I’ll have to call them later today to verify my identity because of the checking account request I made last night.

USAA really has gone downhill… and not just because of these customer service issues, but also because I suspect it’s a very culty kind of a place. I remember when Bill was looking for a job in 2014. He spoke to people at a USAA job fair and they asked him if he knew anyone who worked at USAA. He said he didn’t, and it became very clear that not knowing someone there was the “kiss of death”. It didn’t matter that he’s a retired veteran with about 30 years of service, or that he’s been a member of USAA since 1984, or that I’ve been a member for 27 years. I remember writing about that incident on my original OH blog, and USAA’s public relations goons stalked that post for months. If it had been up to me alone, I would have ditched them years ago.

Another thing I noticed last night was that, unbeknownst to me, Amazon put my underwear order on my credit card when the debit card was declined. That isn’t a huge deal, since the order was for less than $100, and I have a huge credit line. I’m just very particular about what I charge on my credit cards. I usually only use them for large purchases or travel. I did make a big payment this morning to cover our trip to France, though. I guess I need to remove that card from Amazon so they don’t do that again.

And then, after I straightened out the USAA blocking issue, I got an alert from Corona Warn, which is a German app where one can upload vaccine certificates and monitor the COVID situation in Germany. I also have a German app called CovPass, which is what I used exclusively when we traveled. We had to show our vaccine certifications at our hotel and in restaurants. The Germans and the French have different procedures. In Germany, we had to wear FFP2 masks and show the QR code, as well as our IDs. In France, surgical masks were okay, and after we showed our vaccine certifications, we were allowed to unmask.

So anyway, even though I didn’t use Corona Warn when I showed my vaccine certs, it was monitoring my location. And yesterday afternoon, I got a message from them, letting me know that I was exposed to COVID-19 sometime on March 2, 2022. It was either at a McDonald’s I went to when I needed to pee, or it was at the restaurant in Stuttgart where we had lunch. Either way, the exposure was five days ago, and we have been in France for most of those days.

Now… I don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19 at all, and I pretty much lead an isolated existence as a general rule. I don’t use public transportation, and once we got home from our trip, I have stayed at home, with the exception of a very short walk I took with the dogs yesterday as I was trying to deal with USAA. But when I got the “red tile”, as they call it, I went to the app to find out what I’m supposed to do now. I found information that was posted in December 2021. According to that info, I’m supposed to go home, check for symptoms, call the health department or my “doctor” (which I don’t have), get tested for COVID (supposedly free of charge), and if I have a positive result, isolate and share my test result.

I should mention that Bill doesn’t have Corona Warn on his phone, so he did not get an alert. However, since we were together the whole time, I guess he would get a “red tile”, too, if he had Corona Warn, which was silently monitoring me based on my cell phone’s location and bluetooth technology. While I understand how this works, it’s a little creepy that this app was monitoring me, even though I wasn’t using it when I showed my certifications.

The instructions on what to do are kind of confusing, depending on a person’s vaccination status. Because I am fully vaccinated, it’s supposedly not compulsory for me to quarantine. But the exposure happened six days ago, anyway. And if I hadn’t had it on my phone, I would never have gotten this alert at all, tardy as it is. I had to make a separate Apple account for the German store to even get these apps, since they weren’t available in the US store last summer, when I downloaded them. That was a bit of a pain, too. I have heard that CovPass, at least, is now in the American Apple store. I’m not sure about Corona Warn.

The tile will turn green again on March 16th. Fortunately, I don’t think we have any big weekend plans… Bill says he’s going to do the taxes. I’ll probably work on my latest jigsaw puzzle… or maybe we’ll clean up the backyard and bring up the furniture for the forthcoming warmer weather. And maybe we’ll enjoy some of the Ukrainian vodka I just ordered. My German friend says she knows a lot of people who get the “red tile” and never get sick with COVID. It’s just a very sensitive app that lights up if you’re even in the vicinity of someone who has tested positive and shared that information with the app. Obviously, not everyone does that, though, so really, I could have been getting red tiles for months.

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funny stories, home

Repost: Unexpected search results…

Hello folks. It’s a cold, drizzly Sunday here in Germany. Bill and I talked more about the Duggar situation over breakfast. There’s a lot more I could write about it… and maybe I will later. However, it does occur to me that some people are tired of reading and hearing about the Duggars, and frankly, I am a little tired of writing about them, too. So here’s a quirky repost from January 2019. I wrote it just before I felt forced to shut down my old blog.

Zane (RIP) and Arran enjoying the futon when it was new, and didn’t smell like ass.

Something interesting happened the other day.  I was sitting on our yucky futon and noticed that it has kind of a nasty smell.  I also noticed that it was so uncomfortable that it made my butt go numb.  Looking at the futon, I realized that it’s served its purpose and needs to be re-homed or trashed.   That gave me the idea to search for a new couch.

We bought the futon in August 2014, when we first moved back to Germany.  I didn’t actually want a futon, but we were moving into our old house and had no furniture for several days.  I didn’t want to sleep on air mattresses because I usually end up with Charley horses.  Also, the box we sent our air mattresses in was delayed by the post office and we didn’t want to buy new ones.  The futon was just big enough for Bill and me to sleep semi comfortably.  Add the two dogs, who insisted on joining us, and it was definitely not so good.  But then our regular furniture came and we were able to use the futon in our old TV/office as more of a “couch” for TV watching.  It wasn’t perfect, but it served a function.

I figured we’d be moving back to the States after Stuttgart and decided I’d throw it out when the time came to move.  But then we moved to Wiesbaden.  We brought the futon with us, and now I want to trash it again.  One of the spokes broke when I sat down on it too hard.  The dogs regularly sleep on it and one puked all over the mattress.  It was impossible to get it very clean, so now the mattress and pillows faintly smell kind of like ass… or maybe the musty, ripe cheese smell that comes from an infection.  It definitely doesn’t make me want to use the TV room.

I went on Amazon.de to look for “couches”.  I entered the search term into the box.  Amazon.de usually translates English terms into German.  Sure enough, I got most of the expected results.  I started seeing the sofas I hoped to see.  And then I noticed something very different.

About two-thirds of the way down the second page, there was a very realistic picture of a dildo.  It appeared to be a French product and had veins, wrinkly “skin”, and everything.  The seller promised free delivery and, at less than 27 euros, it was a bargain.

I was rather surprised by that result.  I mentioned it to a German friend.  She happened to have studied French and explained that in French, the word “les couches” refers to layers.  Since I used the term “couch”, I guess Amazon.de figured I was looking for layers.  And this sex toy has double layers of silicone, which I guess doubles your pleasure.

I never studied French, so this was news to me.  To tell you the truth, as dirty as my mind can be, I don’t actually like looking at those kinds of… uh… playthings.  Especially when they’re very realistic looking.  The one pictured did NOT look like a toy.  It was kind of moist looking and someone’s hands were wrapped around it.  I guess I can now see why some people ban Amazon from computers where small children might be lurking.

I was reminded of another incident from years ago.  I was stalking a messageboard for fundamentalist women who wanted to buy “modest clothing”.  One of the women who posted referred users to this Web site.  She also warned people to be careful when searching for “culottes”, since that might bring pornographic results.  Another referred readers to this site (I removed the link in 2021, because the site is now defunct), where you can order handmade culottes that set the “right” Biblical example. 

It’s funny that Americans think of culottes as a very modest piece of clothing, but in France, culottes are underwear.  Consequently, if you search for culottes, it’s possible that you will find underwear when you really want an ugly pair of short pants that look like a skirt. Come to think of it, I used to have to wear culottes as part of my uniform when I worked at Busch Gardens Europe. I hated them, because they were ugly and gave me wedgies, plus they had a button and zip in the back, which made going to the bathroom more of a challenge.

One time, I actually made a pair of culottes.  I wasn’t even forced to make them, either.  I thought they looked “cool”.  I was in eighth grade, taking home economics, and we had to use a pattern to make clothes.  For some reason, I liked the illustrated culottes that appeared on the Simplicity pattern.  I thought they were fashionable.  Dopey me, what did I know?  They didn’t even use a real photograph of a model on that pattern.

I selected really ugly teal fabric.  It was cheap, thin, and tacky.  I remember buying it at AAFES, back in the days when they sold fabric.  It was awful stuff because it wrinkled super easily.  I made the culottes, but they looked terrible, with sloppy, irregular seams and constant rumples.  I got a “C” on my project; although, believe it or not, I did wear the ugly culottes around the house for awhile.  I was thirteen, and didn’t have any sense.

The following year, I made a tank style jumpsuit with pastel polka dotted fabric.  That time, I chose better fabric that didn’t wrinkle and I did a better job making the garment.  I actually wore it to school a few times.  It got an “A”, although now I kind of cringe at the idea of wearing it.  What the hell… I was fourteen.  I hate sewing, though, and that was the last time I made any clothes.

I’m actually pretty crappy at anything involving clothes or fashion.  When I was in college, I was a member of a music fraternity and I really struggled at making my Greek letters with puff paint.  I’m too much of a slob to do it properly.  My mom and my maternal grandmother were great at needle crafts, sewing, fashion, and anything involving looking like a lady.  I didn’t inherit those genes.

Anyway… I am hoping soon we can replace the futon and get a nice couch so we can enjoy our TV room and I won’t be tempted to lie in bed to watch all of those iTunes TV shows that are preventing me from updating my Apple apps.  But no, at this point, I don’t need any sex toys that I found while searching for couches.  Why is it that French words often end up translating to sexy stuff, anyway?

First world problems are such bitches.

Almost three years after I wrote this post, I still don’t have a couch for our TV room. I still want to get one. I just need to find one we can get up the stairs by ourselves and will fit through the door. I just searched Amazon.de and got many results for couches… and none for dildos. I guess they finally fixed their algorithms for English speakers.

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complaints, politics, rants, stupid people, tragedies, work

You should worry about yourself…

Apologies in advance for this disjointed rant. I have a lot on my mind, and it’s coming out in heaves today. I hate to say it, but I’m beginning to think that a lot of people who identify with conservative values are actual morons without consciences or souls. It’s probably because, as usual, I’ve spent too much time looking at the news.

A few days ago, I noticed that my former college professor answered a question on Facebook about whether or not she would accept a ticket to see Bill Cosby perform. She answered “no”. Just as I was about to click off the page, I noticed that my cousin responded. This cousin shares a Facebook account with his wife, so I’m not sure which person actually wrote the comment. Friends, I was a bit sickened by it. He or she wrote that Bill Cosby is “past his prime”, but was good in concert back in the day. And Cosby had engaged in some “negativity” some time back, but is otherwise a good entertainer.

I was pretty flabbergasted. So I commented, “You’re referring to dozens of cases of drugging and raping women as ‘negativity’?” I didn’t add this, but I should have also written, “And Cosby ADMITTED to doing this, too. He’s out of prison on a ‘technicality’.”

I can hardly believe I’m related to this guy. Well… actually, I guess I can believe it. I remember overhearing him tell a nasty story to another cousin when I was six years old. He and the other cousin, also male, were several years older than I was. Still, they made it seem like a funny story, so I repeated it to two younger cousins and got in trouble with my aunt, who gave me a tongue lashing I haven’t forgotten. Later, she apologized to me, explaining that her kids were very young and “didn’t know what to do with that”. Um… neither did I! I was six years old! And I had overheard a story being told by my cousin, who apparently thinks Bill Cosby’s habit of drugging and raping women is plain “negativity”! And he’s also a proud Trump supporter, who blithely ignores Trump’s disgusting record of treating other people like shit and, like Cosby, abusing women for his own vile gratification.

This morning, I read an article in The Atlantic from March 2021 about how a lot of relationships haven’t survived the Trump era. I’m sad to say, it’s true in my case, too. There are family members I used to love seeing with whom I no longer have contact. It’s not necessarily my doing, either. A lot of them have cut off contact with me because I think Donald Trump is a poisonous man. Somehow, they fail to see that Trump is a liar, thief, and a cheat, while they bitch and moan about people “abusing” unemployment insurance and welfare benefits. I’ve got news for them. Trump doesn’t pay his fair share. He hires cronies to screw over honest businesspeople while he harasses and molests women. Read Micheal Cohen’s book, Disloyal. Cohen, Trump’s former attorney who spent time in prison due to his business with the former POTUS, writes about how he would strong arm and screw over businesspeople on Trump’s behalf.

Meanwhile, your garden variety Republican is under the delusion that people who are getting unemployment insurance and welfare benefits just stay on those programs forever. Newsflash– they DON’T. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF– also known as “welfare”) is just that– TEMPORARY. And that has been the law since 1997! Granted, state leaders are allowed latitude in how they run TANF, but the program was designed to strongly encourage recipients to look for work or engage in training to prepare them for work. Recipients have to show proof that they are job hunting or getting training in order to receive temporary benefits. And that money is generally not enough to live on for long.

I ran across the above post this morning because another friend had answered the question. My friend answered “no”, he doesn’t know anyone who hasn’t taken a job due to unemployment insurance. He lives in Virginia, where payments are notoriously low. Just under his response was a rant from some guy who said he “knows people” who aren’t working because it will interfere with their housing allowance or “food stamps” (SNAP) eligibility. And then he wrote that there should be “time limits” on aid. I had to respond. As I pointed out, “welfare” does have time limits imposed– it was five years or 60 months (federal guidelines) or less (depending on the state), last time I checked. But so does unemployment insurance. When Bill retired from the Army in 2014, he got unemployment for a month. The money he got was based on what he’d paid into the system, and he had to show that he was applying for jobs. When he got a job offer, he had to return a payment he received, which wasn’t really much money.

I’ve read a lot of comments from conservatives who have bought into the “welfare queen” myth, thanks to a 1970s era story perpetuated by former President Ronald Reagan and like minded folks. They spread a tale about people who took advantage of social safety nets, which caused some people to believe in a stereotype about poor people being lazy and bilking the system. It seems to me that the whole “welfare queen” story was news because it’s not that common. Are there people who game the system? Yes, of course. I ran into a couple of them during my brief time as a social worker. But I doubt most people enjoy using benefits like SNAP cards, especially when busybodies are judging them for what’s in their grocery store buggy and watching how they pay for such items. Also, SNAP cards can’t be used for just anything at the store. Seems to me, most people would rather have the cash to buy things they want and need. Yes, some people are truly lazy, but I don’t think it’s as common as some people claim. Moreover, it’s actually expensive to be poor.

I get wanting to see people working and paying their own way. I understand that it’s distressing to be going to work every day when someone appears to be living off of the system. But what I want to ask these folks is, why is it any of your business? Do you know these so-called welfare cheats and unemployment abusers personally? Are you aware of their story? Do you have knowledge of their characters, or have any idea about their family situations? My guess is that you don’t– because why would you be “friends” with someone you think is a lazy cheat? If you were friends with them, maybe you’d understand more about why it appears that they’re “getting over”. Maybe you’d realize that, in fact, most of them aren’t getting over. Anyone who has ever worked has paid into “the system”, which exists so that people have somewhere to turn when they fall on hard times. The assistance we offer in the United States isn’t really that much, either.

Let me ask you this. If you had a family and were receiving benefits, would you really want to take a job at McDonald’s just so you could be earning your own money? Stop and think about it for a minute. Yes, you’re making your own money, which might be paid to you in debit cards that you have to pay a fee to access. But let’s say the money you make is less than what you’d get from welfare. How long can you afford to work for minimum wage? And why the fuck would you? In that situation, doesn’t it make more sense to get trained for work that pays better, or to search for a job with a higher hourly rate? What if you have children? What do you do with the children when you’re working at McDonald’s, which many people think should strictly be a minimum wage job? Do you pay a babysitter to watch the kids while you work at McDonald’s? How can a person get ahead that way?

I’ve often heard people complaining about folks who drive “nice” cars or have “expensive” cell phones, but turn up at food banks. The people want to know why the nice car driver or cell phone user doesn’t sell their “luxury items” so he or she can buy food. What if the car or the phone was paid for during better times? Why would someone sell their means of transportation or communication, if it’s been paid for? Isn’t it easier to find work if one has transportation or access to WiFi? Especially if the car also serves as shelter? Now, I get that owning a car or a cell phone requires money, and if someone is between jobs for a really long time, selling the car or the phone might make sense. But you probably don’t know that person’s story. Their need for food at a food bank may be very temporary. Why does it matter to you, anyway? You don’t know that person’s story, or the obstacles he or she is facing. You should know your own story, though, and you should worry about yourself.

And finally… yesterday, I read a couple of disturbing news stories about how Republicans are turning COVID “vaccine hesitancy” into outright hostility. Of all of the bullshit I’ve read about conservative “thinking”, I think this has got to be the most ridiculous, tragic, and demented. Why in the holy fuck are COVID vaccines being politicized? My God– this virus has killed millions of people WORLDWIDE! It’s not a fucking political issue! It’s a public health issue! And in areas where people are being vaccinated, the rates of COVID infections are decreasing. The fact that so many Republicans are spewing this bullshit about how vaccines are part of a socialist agenda is just unconscionable. It just isn’t true! But, according to The Washington Post, some Republicans are spewing lots of grade A tough guy bullshit. From the article I linked:

The notion that the vaccine drive is pointless or harmful — or perhaps even a government plot — is increasingly an article of faith among supporters of former president Donald Trump, on a par with assertions that the last election was stolen and the assault on the U.S. Capitol was overblown.

Appearing at CPAC, lawmakers like Reps. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) took aim at Biden’s push for “door-to-door” vaccine outreach, framing efforts to boost inoculations as a creeping menace from big government.

“We’re here to tell government, we don’t want your benefits, we don’t want your welfare, don’t come knocking on my door with your Fauci ouchie,” Boebert said, referring to Biden’s top medical adviser, Anthony S. Fauci, her voice rising as she paced the stage and shook her finger. “You leave us the hell alone!”

However, I do take comfort in seeing that Mitt Romney, a man I dreaded seeing run for president, has said that we need to stop politicizing the COVID vaccines. It’s nice to know that not all Republicans are like Marjorie Taylor Green and Lauren Boebart. From The New York Times:

“We don’t control conservative media figures so far as I know — at least I don’t,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said in an interview on Wednesday. “That being said, I think it’s an enormous error for anyone to suggest that we shouldn’t be taking vaccines. Look, the politicization of vaccination is an outrage and frankly moronic.

Yes, it’s moronic! I completely agree, Mitt. Things will not get back to any semblance of “normal” until we get COVID-19 better under control. This is why so many people were out of work in the first fucking place! This is why we’re having a problem with inflation, as supply and demand for certain products was interrupted because people couldn’t work. Why? Because of the deadly virus! However, during our unique COVID-19 crisis, people had the time to stop and think about how completely insane the American system is. Now, some of them are demanding some changes. I say, good on them! We should be demanding work that pays enough for people support themselves. We should be demanding access to benefits that makes living healthier and happier for everyone. People should NOT be going into onerous debt because they went to college or had the misfortune of getting sick or hurt. We shouldn’t have multi-billionaires paying workers minimum wage for demeaning work while they make plans to blast off into space as tourists. It’s sheer lunacy, and yes, it’s MORONIC!

I love Amazon… but you gotta admit, the working conditions are insane and, frankly, cruel. Why do we accept this?

Through it all, many Republicans decry abortion. They say that people who have abortions have no regard for the “sanctity of life”. But they don’t want to do anything to help people who have unintended pregnancies. They don’t want employers to have to provide birth control access in health insurance policies. Their answer is to tell people not to have sex, which we all know is a policy that doesn’t work for most (it DID work for me, but my situation isn’t the norm). Tell me… why would you want to bring an innocent baby into a world where he or she can look forward to low pay, high cost of living, onerous debts, shitty employers who treat their workers like robots, deadly viruses that people don’t want to work together to arrest, and old white men in charge who literally don’t give a damn about anything but money and “pussy”? I tell you what. I don’t think the world looks so great right now. We’ve got natural disasters out the wazoo, worldwide– here in Germany, over 50 people have lost their lives because of flooding attributed to global warming, something else conservatives don’t want to talk about or fix.

So yes… I think you should worry about yourselves. Conservatives have made it plain that in today’s world, it’s every person for themselves. They don’t care about you and yours. They sure don’t seem to want to lend a hand toward making the world better for everyone. And, as much as I always wanted to have children of my own, I’m grateful that my particular line of ancestry is going to die with me. It seems to me that many conservatives are interested in money and power, and they haven’t realized that we’re all connected. What good does money do you if there’s nothing to buy because people aren’t working? What good does money do if you can’t find someone to help you clean up after a flood because so many people have died of COVID-19 and the workers who exist are already engaged?

We need to worry about ourselves and have more forbearance toward others– but we also need to realize that we’re all in this together and we could all stand a bit more humanity. So instead of judging the person you think is “getting over”, why not pay attention to your own situation and do your part to make things better? And whatever you do, don’t make excuses for creepy predators and cheats like Bill Cosby and Donald Trump. It makes you look like an asshole.

August is wise beyond her years.

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