Learn from my mistake — Chicago now just trying to trick you for money

I got a ticket in the mail the other day for expired plates. “Are our plates expired?” Sara asked me. I literally had to go outside and check. Yup, sure enough, they were. I guess maybe the city’s vast network of surveillance cameras just scans for expired plates and sends tickets? I don’t know.

“So, did we like, just ignore their warnings? How did this happen?” Well, it turns out that the city decided to stop sending notifications last November as a “cost saving measure”. More like a revenue generating measure, amiright?

I guess this $60 ticket was our notification.

I have no problem paying for my registration. Happy to do it. Only the government can get away with not asking you for money, then fining you for not paying the money that they didn’t ask you for.

Of course, there was also a $20 fee for late registration as well as “convenience fees” both for paying the ticket AND paying the registration.

If someone is not paying, or ignoring your notices or something, fine, send them a ticket. But if you penalize people on a technicality, people who are actively trying to do the right thing, then don’t pretend you’re all above board.

Only the government can get away with b.s. like this. I mean, if the stamp to send the notification is just costing you sooo much money, tack the $0.49 on to the registration fee.

Governments should not be shady.

In regards to Syrian refugees, and modern day pharisees

I normally steer far, far away from politics on this blog. However, I am just so very upset about this Syrian refugee thing, and I just can’t keep my mouth shut.

In the past few days I have seen so many so called “christians”, including every single GOP presidential candidate, say that we should disallow Syrian refugees from entering our country.

Let me be blunt about this: if you think we should turn away refugees, you are not a follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Here’s the thing: I have seen the bible twisted around to support just about every conceivable position. It’s a big book, and there’s a lot of scare quotes in there. By selectively applying it, we can make it sound as if it says just about anything. But the New Testament is VERY, VERY clear on one point: Jesus is about love. Love they neighbor as thyself, do unto others, the meek shall inherit, turn the other cheek, the Good Samaritan, love, love, love.

The book is *very* explicit on this point. What should we do with the tired, the poor, the downtrodden? Do we help them? Jeez, I wish it said somewhere.

I mean, for all the quoting of the bible and quoting of the quran these biblical scholars do, I’m not sure they’ve ever really read the thing. If you read the New Testament and you got anything out of it other than, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” then you missed the entire point.

I mean, literally, every time the dude had a chance to speak, he reiterated. “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me;” Very explicit.

“But wait!” you say. “If we let in these refugees, we’re at risk! They could be terrorists!” Yes, they could be. And I’m sure Jesus would say, “Oh goodness no, I didn’t mean for you to follow my teachings when it caused you risk! I certainly don’t reward anybody who is hurt or killed while following my teachings!”

No, of course that’s not what he’d say. He’d say, “Hmm, oh really? Well, I do remember VERY EXPLICITLY telling you what you should do when you encounter someone who needs help. Like OVER AND OVER AND OVER again. But remind me where I said you can ignore all that when it might be risky? Did I say that while I was working with the lepers? Or was it when I was refusing to fight against my enemies, instead allowing them to kill me in the most painful and humiliating way possible?”

Do you know who let a guy in, even though he *knew* the guy was going to betray and kill him? JESUS %^&$ CHRIST, that’s who! (You guys really should read this book; helluva plot twist, this Judas guy.)

I saw this meme going around the other day, and it went something like this:

Find someone who doesn’t believe we should kill Muslims and ask him why not. When he says, “Because killing is wrong and we should strive to be better,” punch him in the face. If he tries to retaliate, explain how violence is wrong. When he agrees, punch him in the face again. Keep doing this until he finally understands he is wrong.”

That is LITERALLY EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF THE TEACHINGS OF CHRIST. If you know even the first thing about Jesus, it’s that he’d be the one advocating for peace, and getting punched repeatedly in the face, turning the other cheek and getting right back up.

Why would you spread that meme, unless you absolutely reject the teachings of christ? Why would you want to proclaim that you want to punch Jesus???

“But wait!” you say. “If we let in these refugees, they’ll bankrupt us! They’ll all live off the dole for the rest of their lives and never contribute anything to society.” Yes, they might. And I’m sure Jesus would say, “Store up your wealth and never give it to anybody! I certainly don’t reward anybody who gives away all their Earthly goods to the poor!”

Think of every religious person you’ve ever admired. Mother Teresa, every saint, every nun, anybody even a little bit holy. Why are they revered? Because they gave of themselves tirelessly in the face of insurmountable odds, regardless of their own personal risk? Or because they were really good at pre-emptive strikes?

“But wait!” you say. “These people are *different* than us! They dress different, believe different, have a different skin color. They’re inherently violent, and they’re not even Christian!” All of that is true (I don’t believe the inherently violent part, but for the sake of argument let’s say that one’s true too). And I’m sure Jesus would say, “Ew, yuck, they’re different? Keep them out, I only love certain kinds of people. Make sure you don’t lead a good example; I don’t want any of the wrong kinds of converts.”

Like, you know at one time Jesus as literally the only Christian, right? I mean, even after he got his disciples and everything, 99.999% of the world was not-Christian. If Jesus had said, “Hey, we only help Christians over here” he really wouldn’t have had many hungry people to feed, or homeless people to shelter. Are you not glad that he opened it up a little bit from that original handful of people?

Look, there were a bunch of guys in the bible who were more concerned about money, politics, power, and displaying the trappings of religion, all the while doing the exact opposite. They were called the Pharisees. Spoiler alert: they are the bad guys in the story. These are not the guys you want to be aligned with. One could argue the ENTIRE POINT of the New Testament is a rejection of these guys; Jesus basically exists as a counter-example to people who pretend to piety, while turning away the tired, the poor, the displaced.

Evelyn’s doing this Christmas play, right? So the whole Christmas story has kind of been on my mind lately. So you have Mary and Joseph, poor and displaced, ready to give birth, and nobody will take them in, give them a place to stay, so they end up having a baby in a barn. I don’t need to spell this out for you, here…

To recap: Christ is VERY, VERY explicit on whether or not you should help those who need help, regardless of any personal danger it might put you in. Leaves no room for doubt.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2

On the state of childhood today

I recently read 2 really fantastic, but totally unrelated articles on parenting that really spoke to me.

The first is an article from Aeon magazine, called The Play Deficit, and basically talks about how essential play is to the development of our children, and how our society (mainly parents and the school system) are accidentally hurting the our children’s development because we’re misguided about how best to help them learn. It’s a fantastic article, and I don’t want to summarize the whole thing here, so you should go ahead and go read it.

The second article is called Stuff My Husband Knows About Parenting, Feminism, and How to Do This Perfectly Wrong, and it comes from the blog of a friend of mine. Kori is a really great writer who lays herself bare in her blog posts. I am always inspired by her ability to admit to her mistakes and talk about them openly in a way that takes a lot of courage. Her article is about lessons that she’s learned (or is in the process of trying to learn) from her husband’s parenting style in regards to letting go as a parent; both letting her daughter be her own person and learn things her own way, but also in being able to lean on your partner and not trying to take on everything yourself. Obviously as a father, there is a lot of positive things related to specifically fatherhood that I like to hear, but I think overall it’s just a great, personal exploration about how to parent.

So on the surface, the two articles seem to be fairly unrelated, but I read them more or less back to back and as I started to digest them, I started to realize that there’s just no way to separate out all the ideas from each other. No parenting decision is made in a vacuum; every decision you make affects a million other decisions. Decisions you make about how to parent at home affect the way you view decisions made at school. Decisions have side effects, both positive and negative, and these are the waters you try to navigate each day while you’re raising your kids.

I admit some confirmation bias in reading these articles, especially The Play Deficit. I feel very keenly the importance of unstructured time, and as a person who just went through a pretty intense period of time making some important schooling decisions, I worry about the things I hear regarding schools and testing/homework. So maybe I’m just seeking out articles that tell me what I want to hear, I don’t know.

I think the most important thing we can do for our kids is to let them learn to do things on their own. I think everyone feels this to some degree, which is why you see all of those memes on Facebook about “back in my day, we played until the sun went down, and we had playgrounds made only of broken glass and acid pits, and look how we turned out! Share if you agree!” And I do think there’s some truth to those. Despite the advances in technology and the vast stores of knowledge we have at our fingertips, on the whole I don’t think we are better parents now than we were a generation ago.

I think that we want to feel like we’re in control of things. Like we’re doing something, and having an impact. Let’s face it, most things in our world today are pretty controlled. But sometimes controlling a situation doesn’t mean we’re actually making it better. We see that sometimes kids aren’t turning out the way we want them to, so we want to take over and solve that problem and grab ahold of them force them to be better. We want them to be smarter and more successful and we don’t really know how to do that, so we think we just need more tests, or more homework, or more time in school, or maybe a few more extracurriculars, and then we will finally force the world to come out the way we want. But for some reason, the harder we try, the more the sand slips between our fingers.

As a parent I know that you always try to make the best decision you can, but often you really don’t know if you’re doing it right or not. So you do the best you can with the info available. What else can you do? But I so often feel like we’re doing it wrong right now. Can’t everybody see that? Can’t everybody see how we’re ignoring each other because of our cell phones? Can’t everybody see how disgusting all this commercialism is? Can’t we see what this is doing to our kids?

I think everybody CAN see that, but we just don’t know what to do about it. Because the answer is to do *less* not do more, and that seems crazy.

I think our kids’ brains need boredom in order to learn creativity. I think their brains need music to teach them how to be better computer programmers, and they need art to learn how to think outside the box in a boardroom meeting. I think they need to be left alone with an old alarm clock that they can take apart to see how it works. I think they need to see their parents reading books and cooking and having friends to know how they’re supposed to behave when they grow up.

Kids will dominate as much of your free time as they are able. I used to feel very guilty about not spending every minute of the day playing with them, because OMG every minute is precious and that’s what good parents do, right? But then I realized that there is value in NOT spending every minute of the day with them, both because they learn to entertain themselves, and because they see me doing things like keeping house, or reading, or practicing an instrument, and that is actually an important lesson that they need to learn.

I think it’s important to think not only about the parenting decisions you make, but also the ones you don’t make. It’s important to think about what kind of role model you’re being, of what kind of example you’re setting. Everything is intertwined, everything is affecting them. As a father, just making a decision just to be around them is an important decision, and thus it ties into the working from home discussion.

Now that the kids are both starting school in earnest, I worry about who is making these decisions for them (because it’s not me anymore) and I worry that they’re just going to get sucked into this misguided machine of high pressure “traditional” school. I hear it over and over again from my fellow parents; all the homework, all the testing, kids 1st grade or even kindergarten getting stressed out about math scores and reading comprehension. I worry that these rumors are true, and I worry that we’re ruining an entire generation of kids. I hear rumors that schools are dropping art, music, library, and gym. Every action has a consequence.

We can measure what we’re gaining, but what are we losing?

Are our schools training kids to be good, well-rounded people, or are they making them laser-focused on the single objective of fact regurgitation? Is that what we want for our kids? Anecdotally, I feel like I am better at my job because of skills that I have that are not job related. I’m creative. I’m good at writing and talking, and thus presenting. I’m social, and good at networking. If I sacrificed all of that to be a better programmer, I might technically be a better programmer, but I would not be better at my job.

We can’t keep pushing these other skills to the side. Our kids need time to learn how to be social, how to be creative, how to look at problems from a different angle. These are skills that can’t be tested, can’t be assigned as homework. They have to learn them on their own; they’re discovered skills, not forced, which means that in order for kids to learn them, they have to be given unstructured time in which to discover them on their own.

Over the past 5 years, we made the decision not to watch tv with the kids, and not to let them use the computer. Little did we know, this seemingly self-contained decision was tied to everything else, and it has so profoundly affected so many other aspects of our lives. This is tied into this discussion too. Our hope is that by not letting the kids watch tv, we have given them the gift of time: time to play, time to be bored, to read books, and do puzzles, color, and make music, and ultimately develop these baseline skills that will turn them into real people. I would say that I am pleased with the result, though of course I don’t know how they would have turned out WITH tv. But as it is, they entertain themselves, they build cities out of duplos, tell stories, and look at books. They’re honest to god interesting to talk to! They have things to say. They don’t just act out someone else’s world or characters, they create their own.

And then they start school, where there is so much to learn about interacting with other people, and all we hear about is how great it is to play with the iPads. This is what passes for a “job” these days at school, alongside the more traditional ones like “line leader” and “turtle feeder”. Those iPads aren’t just going to play with themselves, folks!

After all of our hard work (make no mistake, it is HARD work, trying to do your best for your kids, especially when it goes against the grain), here we have educators taking our kids away from the richest social learning opportunities of their lives to stare at a little advertising screen (yes, it is still advertising even if the company is Scholastic). Evie comes home singing songs she learned in music class right alongside company jingles she learned on the iPad. Games at home are one thing, but what place do games on an iPad have in school? Is that an improvement over passing notes, or doing an art project, or climbing on the monkey bars? Is listening to a story on the iPad an improvement over listening to the teacher reading an actual book, like when we were kids? What about staying out until dark on our broken-glass-and-acid playgrounds?

Maybe we were accidentally better at raising kids before, but we just didn’t know it.

We want to do the best for our kids, but in our rush to do so, I’m worried that we’re not doing the best for them. What if we’re going in the wrong direction? Maybe it’s not too late for a course correction. For my kids at least, I’m going to try to back off. Get it wrong as a parent sometimes. Let them get it wrong sometimes. Let them figure it out.

Kids are pretty good at figuring things out. Maybe better than adults.

Sheltering our kids from future weight issues

Something that Sara and I have always been extremely conscious about, is the way that we address food with the kids. Our goal is to be nonchalant about food and try to set a good example with our own choices. You would think that this would be easy, but it is extremely difficult. So often we have to walk a tightrope between making sure the kids get enough to eat and not scolding them about food. Between encouraging them to try new things and not praising them for overeating. Between wanting them to enjoy food and not using food as a reward.

Many years ago, we made two key, inter-linked (and apparently controversial) decisions regarding food; our kids are not required to clean their plates, and we have dessert with dinner every night (even for those who don’t clean their plates). To be fair, dessert is mostly healthy (usually fruit), and skipping dinner to get more fruit isn’t exactly beating the system, but still. These were not light decisions, and they evolved over time. The important tenant we try to hold to is, “Listen to your body. You’re done eating when you’re full.” You can’t argue with that, right? But again, food is such a charged topic in our society and there are pitfalls almost no matter which way you turn.

Good intentions aside, right away we started taking flack for these decisions. People absolutely feel that they need to get kids to eat, and that it is somehow un-American to not clean your plate (apparently it is un-American…have you seen America lately?) The dessert thing is mostly okay now, but at first people were pretty upset about that too. However, now that we have been observing this rule essentially all of their lives, the kids don’t know anything different. They think cake and cookies are special occasion only (and someone coming to visit or going to someone’s house is not a special occasion, because that’s basically every weekend for us).

In fact, because Sara and I are being so conscious of this issue, we can’t help but notice how food-obsessed society in general is. I’m guessing it was always this way but I never noticed it until I had kids. However, because I’m trying so hard to protect my kids from it, it makes me very uncomfortable. Almost every minute of the day, we are surrounded by an avalanche of food and body image comments.

I’m not kidding. You probably have no idea how many of these fly by you a day. Pay attention some time and you’ll see. People talking about diets, about losing weight, about how many calories this or that is. When people see you they say, “Did you lose weight? You look good!” or they say, “Come on Shane, clean this up, there’s just a little left!” And I’m positively struck dumb when people come up to the kids right before dinner starts and say, “Guess what? After dinner we’re going to have cake and ice cream!” as if the kids will just be able to forget that and eat something wholesome first.

Everybody rails against “society” and the “bad body image” it puts out there, but I don’t think anybody realizes how much we’re all a part of that. It’s not Hollywood. It’s all of us, all of the time.

Each of our kids has their own food issue. As many of you are well aware, Evie is extremely picky and eats like a bird. Ollie is the photo-negative; he eats and eats until there is nothing left in sight, like a plague of locusts. These are their natural inclinations, and it is very difficult to not play into them. With Evie, food is very much about control, and for Ollie it’s not hard to imagine a lifetime of struggling with weight issues.

And yet, how many times has Sara or I repeated, “Evie won’t eat anything, but Ollie will eat everything!” Enough that Evie says it now too. How many times has someone commented at dinner, “Wow, Ollie really does eat everything!” or cajoles Evie by saying, “Is that all you’re going to eat? You’ve got to eat more than that!” How damaging is that to her, to hear how great her brother is because he eats so much? As if that makes him better somehow. How damaging is it to Ollie to be praised for overeating, rather than for stopping when he was full, like his sister?

Sara and I are some of the worst offenders as far as comments go. However, we’re pretty good at pointing it out to each other and trying to make an effort. Unfortunately, there’s just so much of it out there, that I worry even if we were perfect it wouldn’t be enough. And we’re certainly not perfect. Thank god the kids don’t watch tv, or we’d have the endless food and weight commercials to go with it.

I’ve struggled with my own weight issues, which is probably why I feel like I’m seeing into Ollie’s future. First off, I was always an obsessive plate cleaner, and portion control is something I don’t think I got the hang of until my 30’s. Even now I tend to clean everybody else’s leftovers like some kind of human garbage disposal. I also spent most of my life being very proud of my ability to eat, since it was something I was tremendously good at, and always won me a lot of praise. Even now, when I know in my head there are many things I would rather be known for, I still feel proud on some level when someone comments on how fast I ate something. What an awful thing to admit.

Please don’t try to force Evie to eat more. Please don’t praise Ollie for eating so much. And on a larger level, please try to be aware of how you talk about food, and how that subconsciously affects the world around you.

Don’t hog the gas pump!

When driving in the car, the goal is to minimize the impact of any stops. Usually this means charting the quickest route to obtain one or more of the following:

  1. Gas
  2. Bathroom
  3. Coffee

On this particular trip, we needed all three. There was a gas station just off the road at the next exit, so we decided to grab that while we could. The plan was Sara and Ollie would use the bathroom while I pumped gas and then we’d find a place for Sara to get us coffee, where Evie and I would use the bathroom.

The best laid plans of mice and men.

5 out of 6 pumps at the gas station were full, and the 6th was broken. I circled around for a little while before parking off to the side waiting for one of the pumps to open up. Waited, and waited, and waited. Nobody seemed to be moving, or pumping gas for that matter. Just as I was starting to get annoyed, Sara and Oliver came back from the bathroom.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“The line is six deep for the woman’s bathroom,” replied Sara.

We sat and waited for a bit, but still no pumps were opening, and all the while the clock was ticking.

“Everybody’s waiting for someone in the bathroom,” said Sara.

“Why don’t they pull away from the pumps? Can’t they wait off to the side?”

“I don’t know.”

One of the cars was parked about 3 feet in front of the pump; not close enough to actually pump gas, but too close for me to get my car up there. He was just sitting there, his car running.

“Go ask that guy to pull forward a little bit,” I said.

Sara walked over to the car, Ollie in tow.

“Excuse me sir, can you pull forward a little bit?” asked Sara.

“Of course I can ma’am,” he said politely. He was like 100 years old.

Just at that minute another man comes running out of the gas station. “What are you doing, Dad? Don’t let them take your pump!” He shot Sara a dirty look. “I was just inside paying for gas on that pump!”

“Oh, sorry!” said Sara. “I didn’t know you were using it.”

From where I was sitting in the car I could see the man muttering to himself about what an idiot Sara was and giving her dirty looks. Now look, they weren’t even parked at the pump. How was Sara supposed to know what was going on? Did Sara, holding the hand of a 3 year old, really look like she was trying to steal the pump from this old guy? And if the old guy driving is not competent enough to say, “Actually, my son’s inside paying for this pump right now,” then is he really competent enough to be driving?

And STILL nobody had left a pump.

“My wife’s just inside going to the bathroom,” said the man at the next pump.

“There’s about 6 people waiting in line for the bathroom,” replied Sara.

“Eh,” shrugged the man, continuing to just stand there gazing off at the station.

Sara walked helplessly back and forth until FINALLY someone got the message and pulled over to the side so we could get to the pump. Then Sara pumped the gas so I could take Ollie in to the no-wait men’s room.

What’s the deal? Why not pull off to the side when you’re done pumping gas?

Of course I’ve sat at the pump while I ran inside. Honestly, most of the time I don’t. On the other hand, there are usually 15 open pumps. If I were occupying a pump when a gas station was that full, I would have so much anxiety about it that I just couldn’t stand it. I physically would not be able to force myself to be still. I would be checking my watch, twitching in my seat, checking the door for Sara, checking my watch again, pretending to get more gas, whatever I could do to pretend there was some reason I couldn’t move my car. These people? Cool as cucumbers, absolutely guilt and anxiety free. Who did I think I was, that I couldn’t wait for them? How dare I expect them to move a muscle, just because I wanted gas? They paid for that gas, they own that pump for as long as they want to use it.

Isn’t there anybody left in the world who cares even the slightest amount about anybody else besides themselves?

Sorry sir, there’s nothing I can do

Aren’t computers the worst?

As we have become more and more reliant on them, and as they have sort of wormed their way into all sorts of important business functions, they have become infallible gods, whose word is law.

Maybe it’s because I write computer programs every day, so I know how prone they are to error (at least the ones I write! :-P). But then again, doesn’t everybody have experience with crappy computer programs (I mean, come on, the vast majority of us use Windows, right?)

The other day I got a letter from a collection agency. This is not something I see every day, and it caused me quite a bit of panic. It turns out the charge was only $10, but I was still imagining legal action and destroyed credit.

The thing I couldn’t figure out was, how did I not pay this bill? It was from the doctor’s office, and we’ve obviously paid many bills before and after. How could they not get ahold of us in their “repeated attempts”, when every other bill is fine. My wife WORKS there, and they couldn’t get ahold of us?

Something seemed fishy.  For all I know, this company is scamming me for $10! That made more sense to me than there was one bill that they couldn’t get ahold of me for, while we are meanwhile paying all these other bills.

So the first thing I did was call the hospital. I spoke to 2 different billing divisions, and they both agreed I had no balance. Ah ha! Gotcha! So I called the collection agency back. (several times in fact, since their “computer system was down” and they would “call me back later” which they never did) Finally, they verified that it was one of the two billing departments I had spoken to previously.

Me: “But I already spoke to them, and they said I didn’t owe anything.”
Lady: “Well, if that’s the case, then they can email us and we will close the account.”

::sigh:: Very well.

I called the number she gave me and spoke to the same department I spoke to before.

Billing person: “Yes, you do have an outstanding balance, but it’s not with us, it’s with the other billing department.”
Me: “I just got off the phone with the collection agency, and they said it was you. They gave me this number.”
Billing person: “Well I just got off the phone with them and they said it’s the other department.”

Oookay, so I called the original billing office back:

Billing person: “Yes, you do have an outstanding $40 balance”
Me: “…but the collection agency is saying I only owe $10.”
Billing person: “Well, they should be telling you you owe $40.”

Okay, so now my head is starting to spin. First I didn’t owe anything, now suddenly I do. First I owed $10, now I owe $40. And why doesn’t anybody know who I’m supposed to owe money to??

But, of course, nobody knows nothing. It’s just in the computer that way, there’s nothing we can do about it.

Eventually we figured out that my guarantor (billing) address was incorrect (because I asked them to check, not because they suggested it). At some point the patient address had been changed, but the guarantor address had not been updated in the computer. Since Sara is the guarantor for herself and the kids and her guarantor address is correct, all of the other bills had been sent to the right location.

Now here’s the thing. If we can’t question the almighty computer because it is all-knowing and all-wise, then how come it wasn’t smart enough to get ahold of me. Supposedly, they’re trying and trying, doing anything they can to get ahold of me. And yet they never tried the other address they have for me? They never used the phone number? They never looked at the address for my spouse or children? Hit me up for the money when I called to pay a different bill? They never WALKED DOWN THE HALL to where my wife was working? Nope, collection agency.

VERY WELL. We have the root problem identified and fixed, so let me just pay up and be done with it.

Well, the hospital told me to pay the collection agency, but the collection agency couldn’t find any record of the other $30 the hospital said I owed. So then I had to pay $10 to the collection agency and $30 to the hospital.

I wanted confirmations of all of these payments, especially from the hospital, so I didn’t somehow end up double paying when the collection agency finally turned up the bill for the other $30 that they couldn’t find. But when I get the confirmation email from the hospital, MY BILLING ADDRESS IS WRONG.

Back on the phone with them and the lady says, “Ha ha, I can see the address is in there, but she didn’t actually switch it over yet. Maybe she was going to do that later, but I can just do it now.”

I find absolutely nothing funny about this.

If it takes 2 seconds to do, and she could do it while I was on the phone, why didn’t the first lady just do it, instead of saving it for later? And why in the world would I have any faith that it is going to work the second time?

And by the way, the original (wrong) billing address had a typo in the street name to begin with, so even the wrong address was wrong.

So none of this is my fault, of course (nor is it apparently the fault of anybody I spoke to on the phone), but I have to be the one to do all the work to resolve it. Everybody just shrugs and says, “Sorry sir, computer mistake. Nothing we can do about it.” All’s well that ends well, I suppose, and they assured me that this won’t affect my credit. But isn’t it up to the person who wants my money to shoulder some of this burden? Or the collection agency? Or somebody besides me? ANYBODY besides me??

An Open Letter to the Chicago Public Library

Hello everybody. Today we’re breaking history here at the blog: I don’t believe we’ve ever had a guest blogger! So today’s post is brought to you by my lovely wife. Don’t be fooled, she has an ax to grind…

Dear Chicago Public Library,

You stink.  Not literally (maybe sometimes, or at some locations, or some patrons) but your employees certainly have trouble doing simple tasks.  Well, one particular task—checking in books left in the book deposit.  You would think I would have learned from the first, second, third, or fourth times you messed up.  Apparently, I am a bit dense. I have no idea if this is a system-wide problem, but I suspect as much, since it has happened multiple times to me and others at my two local branches (Blackstone and Coleman FWIW).  I have paid all the previous fines until now.  I think they were all $.20 or $.10 (prior to the fine increase), except one that was $2.40.

I can understand a book may slip out of the collecting bucket and you find it the next day so it is one day late (although, you would think any books this happens to would be checked in with no fine, since it was your fault it was missed and you don’t know how long it was lying in a dark corner of the deposit box…There was also the time when the person on the register managed to check out a book to me instead of checking it in but I digress…).

The $2.40 was the last straw.  I promised myself that I would always return books at the register.  This wasn’t a problem when you opened at 9am every day or when I was home every day on maternity leave.  It was less of a problem when I had a car.

So after a year or so of waiting every time at the register for my checked-in receipt, I even foolishly began to trust that when books were returned inside (just left in a stack beside the register because you don’t see fit to provide an internal book deposit), they would actually be checked in, so I stopped wasting paper and my time and just left them there.

Although my memory for this is understandably less detailed, I have had the occasional late book or DVD and certainly respect the system enough to pay my fine.  And if my daughter rips a book to pieces during her “relaxing time,” I have no problem paying for a replacement either.

However, this last mistake has driven me over the edge. 

One day, I get an email that I have a book overdue.  I had recently returned >20 books (to the dropbox, since the library doesn’t open before noon anymore on Mondays).  I checked my account and found that I had one book listed as returned overdue by 3 weeks with a $4.80 fine (Hat Heads) and two books (Babar and Charlotte in Paris) listed as 3 weeks overdue and not checked in.  (Sidenote–Why would you set up a system where it emails someone about the books three weeks after they are due instead of the first day they overdue?  Why bother with the email at that point?)  I did some research online and deduced that Hat Heads was checked out to another patron the day it was marked as checked in for me. Obviously the book had been reshelved and not entered into the system until someone tried to check it out (which somehow doesn’t trigger an automatic erasure of the fine). So, I called you, and spoke to the librarian…who absolutely refused to believe me!

I can understand some initial skepticism.  People lie.  No one likes to pay money.  Library users are probably especially against spending money—they’re either poor or frugal, that’s why they’re at the library in the first place.  However, two times I have checked out books only to find the system shows that the book was never checked in from the previous patron, so, I am obviously not the only person this has happened to.  If you are a public librarian, you are in the business of customer service, whether you like it or not.

Okay, so she didn’t believe me about Hat Heads.  I still had two other books on the list to tackle.  When I looked at my account again, the status of Charlotte in Paris had suddenly changed to being checked in late with a fine of $4.80 and CHECKED BACK OUT TO ME!

In the meantime, however, the librarian went to check for Babar on the shelf. Of course, she swore to me that it wouldn’t be there since it was from another branch and EVEN IF it had been brought back, it would have been shipped to the other branch and put back on the shelf there.  Well, yes if it had been checked in, I am sure that would be the case.  Since it was never checked back in, she of course found it on the shelf. 

Now, she was very apologetic about it, but only for that specific book.  She refused to believe that if one book was missed, it was also likely that the two others were missed as well.  Forget that this has happened multiple times to me before, and also at least twice to books that I have checked out.

Finally, she said that the library powers-that-be required documentation for her to do anything about it.  She asked if I had the paper slip from when they were checked out showing the due date as that could be used for documentation.  I don’t keep those things.  I don’t need any more clutter in my house!  And why would a slip showing when it was due support that I had actually returned it?  I explained that I always renew things online since I don’t make it to the library as often as I would like.  When she asked if I had taken a SCREENSHOT showing the due dates, I actually managed to laugh through my tears of frustration.

I’m sorry but I do not take screenshots of the library web page every time I renew a book and save it to a file on the computer. I don’t think someone with that much OCD has time to read books anyway.   And even if I did, I can’t figure out what it would do to support my claim that I returned the books.

Around this point, she noticed that Charlotte in Paris had magically been checked in and checked back out while I was on the phone with her. She broke down and agreed to fix everything.  I’m not sure why she had a change of heart.  Maybe after 35 minutes of listening to an increasingly frustrated person while she is pumping at work with people banging on her closed door because there are two add-on patients for her to see, she realized that no person would put herself through that if she were lying.

Anyway, the fines were removed.  Babar was marked as returned on time.  However, the magical self-checking-in-checking-back-out book couldn’t be checked back in since it was from another library and must be on the truck to that library right now (because, you know, nothing could go wrong with the system).  The other library would have to check it in when it was received.  I was told to call back in a week if it was still not checked in. 

Today, after waiting 15 days without it being checked in, I finally called.  After being forced to call back once and then refusing to call back the second time, I was finally transferred to the same librarian who helped me before. 

At least I didn’t have to explain too much of the story before she remembered me.  She reluctantly went to look for Charlotte in Paris on the shelf, and lo-and-behold it had MAGICALLY APPEARED! All three books, all showing up where I said they’d be, completely unrelated to each other, each one a surprise.

The librarian was very apologetic.  I appreciate this, but you can’t really apologize enough for me to feel better about the whole debacle.  It certainly caused a difficult day at work and gave me a lot of angst over the past couple weeks.

Other than making sure I return books and get a receipt, I am not sure what I can do about the problem.  If it ever happens again that I check out a book that hasn’t been checked in, I will be sure to talk to the librarian about it immediately because I would sure love to save someone the trouble I have gone through. I still don’t know why this doesn’t trigger an automatic removal of the fine.

Chicago Public Library, please figure out how to improve your system.  I know that you are a huge library, but between myself and my husband, we have never had a book not checked-in correctly at Kent District Library, Allen County Public Library, Tippecanoe County Public Library, Greensboro Public Library, Montgomery County – Norristown Library, or Radnor Memorial Library.

Your continuing patron (yes, I have been back during this ordeal),

Sara