Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry F'ing Christmas


I will be the first to tell you I don't look forward to the holidays, not one of them. I don't celebrate my birthday either. Even my best friends have no idea what my birthday is.

I go out of my way to avoid all things that may be a celebration.

I never liked Halloween because I was frightened as a child. I never celebrated my birthday because well ... that's a story for another blog.

I'm not going to tell you I hate Holidays because I don't. I also don't fault anyone the enjoys Holidays. I'm not one of those that believes just because I don't like it, everyone should fall in step with me.

I didn't always hate the Holidays. There was a time in my life I actually looked forward to them. That all changed when I got divorced. I lost my sense of family when that happened. That combined with my ex went going of her way to make sure there was no holiday between me and my children just put me in a bad place when they cam around.

It started in 1995 and until this year I've pretty much just watched the Holidays pass each and every year. I wish people whatever is appropriate for the season and buy gifts for the people in my life I was supposed to. I've just gone through the motions.

Over the past couple years I've noticed an ever so slight change in how I view the Holidays. My participation has increased. It's because of the woman  I'm in a relationship with, Shannon. I was lucky enough to meet her in 2006. I'm not going to get into her personal situation because that's her's to tell. I'll just say this, she's had a difficult life. Even so she is an upbeat person. She remains hopeful and goes out of her way to find the good in people.

Which explains my relationship with her.

Since I've known her all I've ever wanted is the best for her. She's too good of a person to receive any less. She deserves much better than she received  out of life. I don't have a lot. It's not like I can throw a bunch of money at her life. The best things I can do for her are to be a good partner and do the best I can to give her a life that is a carefree as possible.

Part of that is making the Holidays a good experience for her. Making sure she has a good Christmas has been a priority for me. Somewhere along the way the satisfaction I have received from making sure Shannon's Christmas was good has changed things for me. I've started to actually look forward to Christmas.

It's been great watching Shannon celebrate Christmas. In the process I've been making some good Christmas memories myself. I'll have to admit this year I was even looking forward to Christmas decorations.

I got my real proof day before yesterday ...

Shannon and I had to make a trip into town to pick up medication for my mother. She gets her meds at the local Target pharmacy. As you can expect on December 23 it was extremely busy in the store and the lines at the Pharmacy were no exception. There must have been a sale on Vicodin because you know nothing says Christmas more than a big Christmas dinner followed by 2 Vicodin washed down with egg nog.

There were 2 lines stretching into to Pharmacy counter, each one in a different isle. Shannon and I patiently waited in one of the lines and when it was our turn we stepped up to the counter. We told the girl behind the counter what we were picking up and as she went to get my mother's meds I could hear what I can only describe as disapproval coming from behind us. I turned around to see a women that had been in the other line giving me the indignant stare of someone who had been cut in front of.

Even though we had patiently waited and it was actually my turn I figured we were in no hurry so why not let this women go ahead of us. It was pretty apparent she wasn't having a great shopping experience.

I should point out that normally I would let this woman stew in her own juices. It's been my experience that the majority of people that are unhappy have created that state of mind all on their own. They are generally narcissists that believe they are entitled to some sort of special pass in life and when it doesn't happen they get angry. This woman was clearly one of those.

She said nothing to me as she walked in front of me. She completely her transaction and as she was walking by me leaving she gave me a look of disgust. In the spur of the moment I made a decision, one that saved her day. I let it go.

Normally I would have let this woman ruin her own day. All I would have done was lit the fuse. All I had to say was "You could have at least said thank you". She would have blasted off like a Space Shuttle launch. Which is probably what she deserved.

I'm not going to lie to you, she deserved that. I will normally not let these kinds of things pass because I don't feel that people like her have the right to impose themselves on others. Most people won't do anything about someone like her. I firmly believe that as long as I'm not putting myself in harms way if I can do something that will cause someone like her to ruin their own day I am almost obligated to do so.

Even though ruining her day would not have affected mine in any way I decided to stay with the spirit of the Christmas season. I'm with the woman I love and I'm having a good day. So I took the high road and said nothing.

Merry F'ing Christmas lady ...



Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created GreenRoomRadio.net a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is Vilmos.com.
Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

PayPal Makes Black Friday Even Darker - Part III


You could call this my Christmas story ... at least it's about the buying of presents.

If you haven't done so you should probably read Part I and Part II.

Part II ended with PayPal telling me they were looking out for my best interest. Even though they clearly were looking out for theirs and if I happened to benefit that was okay with them.

That's when my argument with PayPal went to email and things really started happening.  I was contacted by Frank and in his initial email he wrote this:

Please accept our sincere apologies for this experience. While you are correct that we want to avoid fraud payments as a cost saving measure, we also want to avoid frustrating chargeback investigations for our customers. I know in this case our security system was wrong and I can certainly submit this case to our risk teams to see what improvements we can make to our anti-fraud rules.

I have admit Frank started in the right place, with an apology. He followed up with the acknowledgement that their fraud restrictions benefit them. He also used the word "wrong" which in this instance was a good thing.

What followed was an exchange of emails that lasted for 6 days. These emails consisted of me venting my frustration with the situation and Frank taking it all in and being extremely sympathetic to what I went through.

I'm not going to lie, I wasn't buying the sympathy. After all, why would a company like PayPal care about someone like me. I don't move large sums of money. So when Frank offered to make the whole thing right I was stunned! Frank actually offered monetary compensation to make up for the deals that I wasn't able to take advantage of.

Frank's offer created a significant problem for me. I was very busy grinding my axe. If I wasn't out any money how would I be able to continue to make PayPal the villain I wanted them to be? Here I was doing my best to make sure Santa brought them coal this year and what do they do? The right thing! This could seriously interrupt my plans.

Plus what if I do take the money? What will they think of me then? That I just was complaining on Twitter to get something out of them? I wasn't in this for the money, I was in this for the indignant complaining. I had no intentions of taking any money and ruining a perfectly good reason to complain to a well established company.

How dare they!

So I ignored the monitory offer and kept complaining. I have to give Frank credit. He was nothing but kind, understanding and sympathetic throughout the entire exchange. Eventually all that took hold and my anger subsided. With it gone I took the time to look at the situation for what it really was.

PayPal a very large company had made a mistake. A technical one that is understandable but even so, one that could have been avoided. I complained through social networking (Twitter) and they actually responded. Not only did they respond, they apologized and offered to make it right.

I on the other hand was still complaining. Why was I still complaining when they were willing to make things right?

That is when I stopped and that is when this Christmas story takes the classic turn and ends on a positive note.

While it wouldn't be appropriate for me to discuss exactly what happened I will say this. PayPal acknowledged a mistake, apologized for it and took steps to correct the issue. They went well beyond what a company of their size would be expected to do.

I was a big fan of PayPal before this whole thing happened. After seeing how it all played out I have to say that I am even more impressed with them. What they did is the mark of a good company and it's the kind of company I want to deal with.

So in the end, PayPal made Santa proud ...



Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created GreenRoomRadio.net a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is Vilmos.com.
Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Weaker Signal


Standup comedy is fickle. You can be doing everything right when it comes to your performances and going nowhere in your career. There are and have been many great standup comedians that have never gotten anywhere close to the recognition and fame they deserved.

On the other hand fate seems to treat the mediocre in our art very well. There are many examples of comedians with less than desirable skills that are household names. Some of my standup comedy brothers are resentful of this, I am not. Over the many years I've been been doing this I have come to understand that you can chase fame and sometimes actually catch it. But for the most part if you are destined for fame it's going to find you before you ever catch it.

The key to the game of becoming famous has more to do with being in the right place at the right time, making yourself available for it. In truth even that does not guarantee anything. You can be there waving your hands and screaming but it just may not be your time. The spotlight that is fame may shine on you for an instant, that may not be long enough to make anything happen.

When I started in 1992 one of the best chances a standup comedian had to get to noticed was very well defined. It was radio and touring was the way you got yourself on the air. Radio is what most clubs used to put "butts in the seats". To be specific it was morning radio and for the most part it was for headliners only.

It was a pretty simple formula. Work your way up to becoming a club headliner. For most that involved 7 - 10 years of constant touring, but it payed off in exposure. Once you became a "legit" headliner things started happening for you.

Comedy club books headlining comedian. Headlining comedian comes to club on Wednesday. Headlining comedian does shows on Wednesday and Thursday night. Friday morning headlining comedian gets up at a very uncomfortably early hour and is driven to the radio station by a club employee. The headlining comedian then makes an appearance on the morning radio show to promote them-self and the club.  Sometimes these stations are clustered together in the same building and the headlining comedian can go from studio to studio and be on 4 or more stations in a morning.

As long as the comedian got it right two things happened. The comedian would have an audience of 10s to 100s of thousands for a short period of time and club would fill up on the weekend. It was the opportunity for a comedian to create a following. So if you were a comedian that headlined all over the country you could become known to millions of people.

I've said many times before, standup comedy is a numbers game. Once you have gotten the attention of millions of people what you do with that time is up to you. How they react and whether they even remember you is up to them.

The classic example of how well this all worked is Larry the Cable Guy. There would be no Larry the Cable Guy without morning radio. He figured it out and got it right. He toured around the country, got on morning radio through the club, did a great job when he was on, made a connection with the show and then continued that connection once he left by phone weekly. What he did was nothing short of brilliant and required hard work and effort on Cable Guy's part. I have friends in radio that were there when he was coming up. The stories they shared with me are one of a talented, smart and hard working man that had a plan and stuck with it.

There was a short cut of sorts back in the day. A radio show called The Bob and Tom show. Why? A simple answer, they are the biggest morning radio show in the country. I don't know how many stations they are syndicated on but I'm sure the number is in the hundreds. They were the Johnny Carson of radio. Just as Johnny did, Bob and Tom have made the careers of many standup comedians. They truly were the Holy Grail of standup comedy.

You'll may have noticed the word "were", that is not meant to be a dig against Bob and Tom. Things have changed. Reaching people has dramatically changed over the past 10 years. It used to be that people on the way to work sat in their cars and listened to morning radio as they inched along in rush hour traffic. It was their only option, not any more. Now they can talk on the phone, listen to Podcasts, check their email, text, Facebook, Twitter and who knows what else.

This has had a significant effect on the impact of morning radio which has in turn impacted standup comedy. Morning radio will no longer fill up the clubs on the weekend. This has created a real issue for comedy clubs around the country that are now scrambling to find the "next big thing" that will fill their rooms.

The problem is there is no "next big thing", it's now a combination of things; radio, social networking and in club promotion. Unfortunately there is no "standard" formula. Each and every club will now have to figure it out for themselves. Some are doing better at it than others, some are just dying.

It used to be that comedy clubs gave standup comedians a place to develop their talent. These same comedians would go on to be famous and return to the clubs and bring their audience with them. Much like baseball has a farm club system to develop their players.

Not any more. More and more clubs now have a "what can you do for me" attitude when it comes to how they deal with their talent. Since they haven't been able to figure out how to draw a crowd on their own they now look to comedians to bring in a crowd for them. They bring in the comedians of Chelsea Lately, Last Comic Standing or [insert name here] actor that is on a popular TV show that is a part time standup.

I have no issue with the shows I mentioned. I don't even have an issue with these comics taking work. My issue is that these clubs are bringing in comedians that don't have the skill or the material to do what the comedians I came up with could. You don't need a strong 60 minutes of material to be on TV, but you do need that to kill in a comedy club. The club trades on their fame to fill the seats but then the comedian falls short once they get on the stage. I think what the clubs are missing is that every time someone shells out money to see someone famous and they are disappointed it makes them apprehensive when it comes to spending the money again.

In essence, (if this were even possible) they are like a tree that cuts off it's own roots to move into a sunnier spot. The leaves may get a little greener for a while but without the water a root system provides the tree will die. It's the same in standup comedy. Rather than concentrate on finding out how to develop a customer base of comedy lovers that will come back time after time to see quality standup they have chosen a short cut that in time will cause them to die off.

Which is already happening. Take a look at the number of comedy clubs there are in this country now and compare it to 10 years ago. There are no where near the number of clubs there used to be. I can tell you it is going to get much worse. Comedians have fewer and fewer places to hone their skills. Which in turn will shrink the pool of quality standup comedians which will degrade the quality of talent on stage. Which will keep people out of the clubs because the shows won't be worth seeing. The loss of audience will cause clubs to close. Which will give comedians fewer and ...

Get it? I sure hope the clubs figure it out soon.



Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created GreenRoomRadio.net a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is Vilmos.com.
Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

PayPal Makes Black Friday Even Darker - Part II


If you haven't read the first part of this story you should. It's the part that includes hope, it's right here.

This part starts as I stand at the checkout in the Garden Department of the Walmart in Belle Vernon Pennsylvania. I am holding all of my Black Friday shopping in my hand. Cards that represented gifts for people that are important to me. There were also a few cards in there for things that I really wanted.

My PayPal MasterCard has been declined and there was no good reason for it. I had some money in my pocket. I bought what I could and then left. I was frustrated that things didn't work out and embarrassed because when the card was declined. I felt ... awful.

I had to make a decision when I was at that checkout. I knew I was not going to be able to purchase those items at those prices once I left that building. I had some traveling money and I thought I had enough gas left to get to Carlisle Pennsylvania. I could use the money to buy what I could but what happens if I use the money and there's something about my PayPal card that cannot be fixed? How will I finish my trip? How am I going to eat? In the end I decided to the chance and use the money I had to purchase what I could.

I got into my car and made my way to my hotel in Carlisle. I made it there close to Midnight with my gas gauge on E. I had no money in my pocket and didn't know if I was going to be able to get my room. I had guaranteed the room with the same PayPal card that 3 hours ago hadn't worked at Walmart. I had suspected that the reason my card had been declined at Walmart was because this hotel had put a ridiculously large hold on my account. My hope was that the authorization they had made would hold and they would give me my room. To my relief, I that is what happened.

When I got up in the next morning my very first call was to PayPal. I had called them while I was in the Walmart the night before but guess what? Their offices were closed to allow their employees the opportunity to enjoy the holiday. They sent everyone home on one of the largest shopping days of year when their system would most certainly be pushed to it's limits. I'm no Ebenezer Scrooge, when I owned a business we were never open on holidays.  I wasn't in a business that needed to be open on a holiday. If you're in a business that you know people will depend on during one of the largest shopping days of the year wouldn't you want to have a few people to man the phones in case there was an issue? Apparently the folks at PayPal did not think so, they stayed home.

Once I got a PayPal representative on the phone I explained my situation. I fully expected to hear there had been a technical issue with the system. That thousands of people had the same problems I did and they were feverishly working to correct the problem, that they were very sorry. Or that the hotel had put some unbelievably large hold on my MasterCard for my room and that was why my card was declined.

It was neither. Here was the answer. "You were attempting to make a purchase in Pennsylvania and you live in Illinois. Our system considered that suspicious activity so for your protection your card was shut off."

What? How could this be I asked? I travel all over the country. I'm never in the same place week after week. Just last week in Canada over 3 days I traveled through British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan using my card as i went. Last Sunday I started my day in Grand Praire Alberta and ended it in Minot North Dakota. I charged gas in Alberta, Saskatchewan and North Dakota in the same day without any issue. That's 2 different provinces and 2 different countries. The next day I drove from Minot North Dakota to my home in Illinois and charged things in North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois without any issues. I was home for 2 days and then charged my way through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania without any issue on my way to that Walmart in Belle Vernon Pennsylvania.

If you have been counting that's 2 countries, 3 Canadian provinces and 7 states in 5 days. At least 20 charges. All approved, without any problem. Yet I attempt to make a purchase at a Walmart and it's "suspicious activity"? If I was a criminal on the run I couldn't have given a better road map of my activity. Anyone could look at my credit card activity and figure out I was traveling on I-70 east headed straight for Belle Vernon. Yet their system which allowed me to charge for things in 2 countries over the past 5 days could not figure that out?

I was also told that if I wanted to make sure this never happened again I should call PayPal before every trip and tell them where I'm going. Really? Doesn't that sound a little intrusive and unnecessary?

They "reset" my card so I can use it and I think I was told "sorry for your inconvenience". Now, I'm angry! Not good enough! I decided to take my displeasure to Twitter and sent out this Tweet

@PayPal Your "fraud alert" declined my purchase in PA because I live in IL. Last week in Canada I had no issues. You ruined my Black Fri

Followed by this:

@PayPal Since there wasn't enough room in the last tweet just want to make sure you hear it. Your "fraud alert" system stinks!

PayPal is a company that was built online so I wasn't surprised when I received a tweet response. The follow exchange occurred:

From PayPal:

@vilmosthecomic Oh no! I hope it's not too late. :( Please follow & DM your email address so we can investigate and help. ^FG

Me:

@AskPayPal No need I already got the answer. I need to tell where I'm going. Unacceptable! I'm a comic that travels every week.

@AskPayPal I'm not reporting my whereabouts to you. I was in 3 Canadian provinces and 5 states last week without issue.

@AskPayPal All you're doing is saving money at my inconvenience. The result, I was unable to make Black Friday purchases lost $300 in savings

@AskPayPal I'll be spending some time on this on my podcast this week #Theodore

Note: How I hate the spell check on my phone. The hash tag I typed out was #thespew and it was turned into #Theodore.

Then tweets this gem which made me even angrier:

@vilmosthecomic I know we can't change what already happened. :( Our intention is to protect our customers while keeping our service (more)

@vilmosthecomic ...as convenient as we can. If there's anything we can do to make this right, please let us know. ^FG

The statement "Our intention is to protect our customers while keeping our service as convenient as we can" is an absolute falsehood. Their customers are already protected by law. It's called the Fair Credit Billing Act and if your credit card is lost or stolen and used without your authorization you are only liable for the first $50 of whatever is charged.

What PayPal is attempting to do is minimize their potential loss at the inconvenience of their customers. What they did was up their fraud prevention criteria to be more restrictive while they were out for the day and not monitoring it or it could just be for the Christmas season. They then went home without any concern for how it was going to affect their clientele. Whey should it matter them that people like myself were unable to purchase things? They were able to squeak out an extra couple hundredths of percent in profit and all it cost them was some extra calls at the call center the next day.

But their narrative is "they are protecting their customers". Sure you are PayPal. Just like the hotel I'm staying at is "saving the environment" by asking me reuse my towels. I don't think they care about the environment, they care about their bottom line. If they can convince those staying in their hotel to reuse their towels to "save the environment" they save money. They don't have as much labor time washing them, they use less soap and use less water.

Why is it that companies think we're so stupid? Why can't they just be up front about their agenda. Hotels are a great example. I would have way more respect for hotels if they would just tell the truth. "Hello customer! We are trying to keep our expenses at a minimum. So if you use your towel for more than a day at home and you can do the same here, we'd appreciate it. Otherwise, we'd be happy to wash it for you!"

In the case of PayPal, just tell the truth. "There are a lot of people out there that are irresponsible when it comes to keeping their financial information confidential. We're doing our best to try to keep our losses to a minimum. Sometimes we'll be a little too restrictive but we're trying to keep our costs down so we don't have to raise our fees." Instead, they try to convince us that they're looking out for our "my best interest".

That's the equivalent of pissing down my back and tell me it's raining.

The point I would like to make is that a company should not be ashamed of looking out for their own best interest. It's a perfectly understandable thing. Doing so is what keeps them in business. You can argue that doing right by your customers is a part of looking out for your best interests.

That is where this story takes an unexpected turn ...



Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created GreenRoomRadio.net a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is Vilmos.com.
Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.