Monthly Archives: September 2011

How many of me are there?

There was another Mintz family in the town where I grew up. It was, however, an unusual enough name that I was always asked if I was related to them. As I got older, I learned that the name was not all that uncommon. I discovered the Boston law firm, Mintz Levin, a furniture store in New Orleans, Hurwitz Mintz, and even a dairy-free, frozen treat, Mintz’s Blintzes. Even so, when I learned that there was a Judith Ann Mintz in trouble with the law, I immediately assumed that someone had stolen my identity.

The first inkling I had that something was amiss was a phone call from a collection agency that represented a hospital. I protested that I had never been to that hospital, much less not paid a bill there. They were unmoved and threats were issued. The second creditor that called raised my personal alert level to yellow, and when someone at work brought in an article from the Berkshire Eagle about a Judith Ann Mintz who had been passing bad checks, I saw red. I was sure the woman had co-opted my name. And if that was her name, how was I going to explain to creditors that I wasn’t her?

The article from the Berkshire Eagle quoted a State Trooper from the barracks in Lee, MA. I called him and explained who I was and why I was concerned. He put me on hold, searched the DMV records, and came back to report that the woman in question had not stolen my identity because she had her very own social security number. And that was when I had an Aha! moment: lots of people have the same name!

Today, when I google Judy Mintz, I get 894,000 hits; which, unfortunately, do not all point to my blog.

The larcenous activities of my namesake in western Mass took place many years ago. Since then, I have encountered several other Judy Mintzes. I no longer leap to the conclusion that they have stolen my identity, though others may find it a bit unnerving. Recently, a friend who was vacationing in upstate New Hampshire wrote that he had run into another Judy Mintz, also vacationing there. He questioned her at great length and reported to me that “…now I am satisfied that she is not you.”

Rather than expect foul play upon learning of another Judy Mintz, I congratulate myself for having had the foresight to buy the domain name, www.judymintz.com, before she did. Indeed, I embrace all my namesakes. The more there are, the higher the likelihood that one day, one of them will do something so outrageous, or courageous, that they’ll attract international attention and my blog readership will skyrocket. When they do, I hope the media will spell our name right.

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Qwikster? Really?

I heard some disturbing news; my beloved Netflix will be changing its name to Qwikster. Oh, there’ll still be something called Netflix, but it won’t be the service that sends me DVDs in red envelopes. The service I’ve been using and touting for years is being renamed. And it will have its own web site. And it will not be integrated with Netflix.

I was surprised at how upset I was when I heard the news. It felt like Netflix was breaking up with me. There were signs, to be sure. Some time ago, they introduced a Play Now feature that let you choose whether to have a movie shipped to you on DVD or streamed. I was never all that interested in watching the streaming movies. Paging through the Play Now list evoked the same feeling as flipping through TV Guide looking for something I didn’t mind watching.

DVDs, on the other hand, feel more – deliberate. Before I put a DVD into the machine I read the blurb on the sleeve to remind myself what it’s about, who’s in it, and why I wanted to see it. The physical act of taking it out of its sleeve and putting it on the platter makes me feel as if I’m about to have an experience.

Then Netflix started to charge separately for the streaming service and they raised the rate on DVD rentals. My husband and I argued about what to do. Being the geekier of the two of us, and the one whose credit card is hit every month, he was immediately interested in giving up the DVDs and converting to a life of streaming. I pointed out that Netflix was not streaming the most recent releases. If we wanted to see them in a timely fashion, we’d need to keep the physical DVDs coming. We compromised; we’d pay for streaming, and we’d drop the number of DVDs from three at a time to one. Naively, I thought that was going to be the end of that.

And now I find out that I’m about to be a customer of Qwikster. Qwikster. I hate that name; it bears no relation to Netflix. It sounds like they wanted to get as far away from the existing brand as they could. If not, why didn’t they name it Qwikflix? I checked the US Patent and Trademark Office; it’s available.

Reed Hastings, the co-founder and CEO of Netflix sent us an email with the subject, An Explanation and Some Reflections. He said, “I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation. It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology.” I don’t care about the price, or the separation of the business units. I care that I am now a customer of a company with a stupid name, and the hip cool brand is attached to a process I’m having trouble embracing. I can’t hear myself saying, “Did the mail come? Is there a new Qwikster disc?”

Oh forget it. There are plenty of good books to read.

Refrigerators are magnets

When was the last time you stopped to look at the things you have stuck to your refrigerator? If you’re like most people, it’s covered with all kinds of miscellaneous stuff; photos of friends and family, the town recycling schedule, postcards, report cards ─ all manner of things that can be attached by magnets. Magnets themselves can be the medium; the season schedule for the Red Sox, a calendar in six point type courtesy of a local realtor, a faux business card with the dentist’s information.

Some magnets are for entertainment; phrases for creating poetry, flat figures you can stick clothes on, plastic letters to help your child learn the alphabet. (The latter usually relegated to the bottom so the intended audience can reach them.)

It doesn’t take long before all these bits and pieces that you thought were worth saving become the visual equivalent of white noise.

Why do we do decorate refrigerators? They’re not sold with a set of magnets. The specifications list doesn’t say Freezer Capacity: 7.1 cubic feet, Refrigerator Capacity: 17.6 cubic feet, Display Area: 3 square feet. And yet, we clutter them up as soon as they’re plugged in, before the first ice cubes are frozen.

I think it’s because we delude ourselves into believing that the refrigerator is a transitional posting place. We stick the hand print painting our three year old did on the fridge not because we think it’s beautiful, but because we want the child to think we think it’s beautiful. We intend that artwork to be in its place of pride for a week or two, not the many years (going on forever) that it actually hangs there.

We have a photo of one of our cats on our fridge. It has been slowly fading for years. I expect one day, when the last vestige of the image disappears, I’ll hear a poof and that cat will be gone, victim of a twisted, refrigerator version of the Picture of Dorian Gray.

Once in a great while I come across a refrigerator that is not decorated in memorabilia. I have a friend with a high end kitchen whose refrigerator is disguised as a cabinet (which makes it hard to find the wine). But then, she also has a mirrored wall that effectively hides the door to the bathroom (which makes it hard to find the bathroom).

While residents of the house may no longer see what’s posted on their refrigerator, it still provides entertainment for visitors. And it helps them find the wine.

ATM fees and other indignities

The ATM I use most regularly is in the vestibule of the closest branch of my bank, Citizens Bank. I didn’t choose to be a customer of theirs. My original bank was sold years ago, and then that bank was swallowed by Citizens, and here I am. I know that using another bank’s ATM or an anonymous machine inside a convenience store or at a gas station can cost money, but since I’ve never done that I haven’t given it much thought, until now.

The other day, I stopped at my ATM to deposit a check and get some cash. I was leaning on a counter, filling out the deposit envelope when someone came in and went up to the machine. It was hard not to notice him, he was wearing a day-glo yellow vest, and impossible to ignore him when he began grumbling at the machine. When he turned to go he said, loud enough to invite comment, “I’ll never use that damn machine again.” I clucked sympathetically having no idea what the problem was, while he continued, “It has a three fifty charge! I just paid three fifty to get twenty bucks.” I replied with something like, “Ouch, that does hurt,” as he pushed open the door and left. And really, why should he have to pay three dollars and fifty cents to get money out of a machine whose expense had most likely long since been amortized to nothing and whose upkeep is pennies compared to what it would cost to pay a live person inside the bank?

When I left the bank I saw a garbage truck double-parked and unattended down the block and concluded that its driver was probably the guy from the ATM. I figured he must have gotten money so he could pop into Panera’s for coffee. I was tempted to try to find him and offer to buy him coffee to make up for the three fifty, but I was afraid that would seem condescending. After a moment of waffling, I went home.

Then I got my monthly paper statement from the bank. It includes images of checks I’ve written which they now charge three dollars for. Still feeling indignant on behalf of the garbage man, I decided to call the bank to cancel the check images. That’s when I discovered that the images only cost one dollar a month; the paper statement itself costs two dollars. I was furious. The woman on the phone pointed out that it wasn’t her fault, and I couldn’t disagree so instead I yelled, “I’m too angry to finish this conversation,” and hung up without making the change.

I like getting the statement in the mail. I may decide that it’s worth two dollars a month to keep getting it, but what about people with low incomes and no computers? This is like the twisted logic that people with high enough balances in their checking accounts are exempt from the maintenance fees that less fortunate people pay. I understand that that is the bank’s way to thank consumers for using their money, but it’s also an example of how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

My most recent statement, the one that cost me two dollars, indicated that I’d earned a dollar sixty five in interest, not even enough for a cup of coffee, no matter who’s drinking it.