AID: Avatar-Induced Depression

So, evidently, James Cameron's journey to the jungle moon Pandora featured such great CG visuals and 3D technology, that fans are becoming depressed and even suicidal because they'll never be able to visit the fictional satellite.

Discussions of over a thousand posts have popped up on forum sites and now this phenomenon is getting mainstream attention at the Huffington Post and CNN:

Lovely typo in the graphic. Thanks television.

Frankly, I feel it's a tad insulting to become suicidal that you'll never be able to go to a fictional planet when the one you're already on has so much to offer and would greatly appreciate your help in keeping it that way.

To suggest that that sort of verdance isn't present on Earth is just dumb. If you're not willing to go outside, turn on NatGeo and check it out.

If one is so touched by the flora and fauna presented in Cameron's movie, that shouldn't depress them about never being able to visit. Instead, it should ignite a purpose in them to visit, appreciate and protect Earth's own wild spaces.


Avatar Thoughts


All I was going to say in response to assertions that the movie was predictable and the ending could have been stronger was that I can't really think how they could have ended it any other way.

Because the whole human presence on Pandora was based on mining and company shares means that, if that presence is no longer profitable, the company'll just pull the plug. All you're going to get are some meaningful looks from the soft corporate representative (which we did).

If it had been more of a human exploration/expansion situation, you'd have more wiggle room in terms of shared existence and learning. But then you wouldn't be able to rely on the plot device: "The-crap-we-want-is-under-their-house-so-we-have-to-blow-it-up". Which means you'd have to make the Na'Vi more unbending and aggressive which would, in turn, make them less likable and you wouldn't be rooting for them.

I think they had a concept: "Future-Humans-Explore-Neon-Jungle-Planet-And-Meet-The-Natives-In-Avatars". It was probably even simpler than that, but mebbe I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

The rest was contrived to give the concept a supporting plot and arch which would (hopefully) justify the massive amounts of money needed to bring such a concept to life and to do it justice.

Would it be nice if the story were more original and eye-opening? Perhaps. But those aren't the kinds of movies Cameron makes. He makes popcorn movies. Probably his most thoughtful movie is "The Abyss". He tried to get interesting about the underwater beings; but people were more interested in how Ed Harris was able to breathe underwater than cross-species diplomacy.

Avatar does exactly what it was intended to do. It entertains, taking CG and 3D technology in the film medium to a new level.

The fact that it trips down the well-trod paths of white guilt, battles over territory and indigenous people versus oppressive invader is less a fault and more of an understandable compromise.

The movie was nearly three hours long because they had to introduce the audience to the huge concept and do it justice. Because the concept demanded so much time, the plot had to be presented in big, easy to digest chunks. Personally, I don't think the movie felt long because, despite it's length, they had to charge through a ton of material even with the minimal effort given to developing a new and original story.

In order to get a more detailed and "interesting" plot, this would've had to be a trilogy (I say that instead of of two-movie arc because I don't think Hollywood makes just sequels anymore, not when there's a planned progression). They'd have to spend the entire first movie introducing the audience to Pandora and the concept of Avatars and how neat the 3D stuff is. The second movie'd be spent embedding Sully's character with the locals and having a downer ending for the middle act. And the third would be the return of the Na'Vi. But then, that's beginning to sound familiar as well, isn't it?

Look at District 9. That was another big concept movie that also used some very familiar plot basics but made it infinitely more interesting and complicated than Cameron was willing to go with Avatar. And that story feels like it's not done yet (a sequel is very probable, if only to prove my earlier assertion about sequels vs. trilogies wrong). Additionally, that movie started as an independent short film that managed to catch the eye of an individual who has a little bit of pull in the movie industry after making such light fare as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Again, I think this movie was enjoyable. I, personally, liked it a lot (enough to see it again in IMAX if the opportunity arises). The plot didn't blow us out of the water, but it really couldn't without making the entire affair too big and unwieldy to sell to the people who put down the money to make these things. Perhaps that's not an excuse or sufficient justification for some. But it's how I've explained it to myself.


Welcome to Australia

I still call Australia, I still call Australia, I still call Austraaaaaaalia hooooooooooome

The final notes of the country’s unofficial national anthem are still running through my head as I walk through the airport. 24 hours of cramped airplane tired fall off of me as I make my way through customs in wonder. I smile as the inspector rifles through my bags looking for any one of the thousands of things banned from entry into the country. I’m transfixed by every little thing I come across in my first half hour in-country, even though I haven’t even gotten through the airport to the cab stand yet. Details that are probably common to every other airport in the world delight me with their “Australianness”. Palm trees, giant pane-glass windows, round rubbish bins… Everything seems uniquely Australian in some form or other. I’m tempted to get out my camera.

“Are you Eric Pierce?”

A tall, smiling man holding a placard with my name on it and the name of my tour company steps in to the imaginary frame of my picture of a palm tree bending away from the wall towards the street.

“Uh, yeah, hi,” I stammer.

“G’day, mate,” he grins. “I’m yer ride, welcome to Oz.”

I’m unabashedly delighted by his accent, by the stereotypical language he uses, by his mustache, by his bushy eyebrows. I’ll be embarrassed by this blatant touristy behavior later, but right now I’m just too excited to be here to care.

We climb into the car. I’m thrown by the missing steering wheel in front of me, but only for a moment. I’ve been to England and Ireland. I’ve ridden on the left before. What is it about Australia that makes this way of doing things, usually so mundane and normal, seem so exotic again? It distracts me as we drive through the streets of Sydney’s suburbia.

I don’t blink for blocks as I try to see everything on the way to the hotel. The driver is talking about the weather, some politics, himself.

“I’ve been to the U.S.A.,” he says proudly.

“Yeah,” I ask distractedly. There’s a garbage truck in front of us that fascinates me because it doesn’t look anything like the garbage trucks at home… well, besides the huge bucket in the back, the large tires, the lights, the smell…

“Yep, I’ve got a mate who flies airplanes out in Arizona,” he explains. “The missus and I go and visit him now and then. When we’re there I do a lot of shopping. All of my clothes come from the ‘States, yah know.”

“Really?” I chuckle.

“Thas’ right,” he says proudly. “Every stitch ‘o clothing I got, ‘cause it’s cheaper. I just load up on jeans and shirts when I’m there.”

I laugh with him at the absurdity of traveling thousands of miles across the world’s largest ocean, merely to shop.

Silence falls over the car as I’m distracted by a roundabout. The fifth we’ve gone through in as many minutes. Haven’t these people heard of the four-way intersection?

“Where’d they put you up again?” my driver asks suddenly.

“Umm,” I dig into my pack for the slip of paper with the name of the hotel. “The Noah’s Ark.” I tell him the address and he does a double take and asks me to repeat it.

“Are you joking?” His face is suddenly not so bright and cheerful. “What’d they go and do that for?”

I’m confused by the sudden change of mood.

“What’s the matter?” I ask. “The brochure said it’s a three-star establishment.”

I obviously wasn’t expecting luxurious accommodations, not on rates I’ve paid. But the man is obviously concerned.

“Oh, I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with the hotel and all,” he says. “It’s the neighborhood I’m worried about.”

“Why, what’s so bad about the neighborhood?” I ask.

“A lot ‘o unsavory type characters in the area,” he says gravely. “The place is absolutely crawling with Abos.”

I dig deep into my memory banks and find the meaning of the word through its context. Aboriginals. The native people of Australia. From what I’ve learned of Australia from any number of nameless sources, the race relations are less than sunny. This must be my first taste of Australian cultural tensions. But “Abos”? Is that like… like… “nigger”? The N-word. In the ‘States, you call a black person that to their face, you’re in for a violent retort… and a lawsuit.

It’s coming back to me. A precursory history of Australia. The convicts, the aborigines, the slaughters, disease, injustice. Very similar to my own country’s history of oppression and racism involving blacks and Native Americans. I’m already forming my own opinions, my sociology classes kicking into gear…

“Them darkies built the place, but they’ve gone and let it go all to ruin,” he’s saying, little white flecks of spit on his lower lip. His hands are white on the wheel, twisting and grinding the plastic. “All they do is drink, do drugs and steal. Why, just last week there was a lady mugged right on the street your hotel is. You should tell that company that they shouldn’t be puttin’ people up in this neighborhood. Too dangerous…”

Almost automatically I’m formulating a rebuttal to his claims. It’s like I’m watching a movie about the Civil Rights movement back home. I feel like I’ve gone back in time.

Suddenly, out the window, I’m not seeing the different-looking fire hydrants and road signs. Now I’m seeing the graffiti, the run-down houses. I see a black man with a bottle in a paper bag, leaning against a light pole. I see a bent over figure walking down a side street. I see the automatic locks engage when we come to a red light.

My driver is looking around and muttering to himself. His eyes flick between the red light and the rearview mirror as if we’re surrounded. The tires yelp when the light turns green.

“Mate ‘o mine, drives a taxi, once picked up a fare here,” he begins. “An Abo. Says he knew he shouldn’t’ve, but did anyway. Business was slow and he was desperate. So he picks up this small, thin darkie woman, a gin. Well, he goes 100 meters and she thumps him on the back ‘o the head with a stubbie. She’s jabberin’ at ‘im an’ he don’t understand a word she’s sayin’. Somethin’ about her baby and the father or somethin’, I dunno. He yanks the wheel over and she falls over on the seat. Before she sits up he slams on the brakes and stops the car. She crashes into the back o’ the seat. He gets out and yanks her onto the pavement. Me mate says she was cryin’ and her nose’s bleedin’. Bloody bitch deserved it. Turns out she’d told him to wait for her family to come out so they could go to hospital or somethin’.”

He’s chuckling faintly.

I’m floored. He’s got more stories, each worse than the last. I’ve been thrust into a movie about Birmingham, Alabama in the 60s. I’ve got visions of black protesters being flayed by policemen with high powered fire hoses that peel the skin right off of you. I’m seeing students being attacked by police dogs while their trainers stand there laughing, yelling at the dog, “Get ‘im!”

“Just don’t go out at night alone, mind you,” he’s saying. “Them Abos can’t be trusted. They’ll stab you in the back with their needles and you’ll get AIDS or somethin’.” He’s looking at me earnestly. “This is a bad neighborhood they’ve put you in, bloody idiots. They’re dangerous they are, and good for nothing. After all we’ve done for them…”

I’m seeing red. I want to shout at him. I want to knock some sense into him. I want to show him how ignorant he is. I want to call him a racist and a bigot and asshole.

“Fuck you!” I’m thinking. “You fucking bastard. How fucking stupid are you?! They’re like this ‘cause fuckers like you took everything away from them! Pieces of shit like you keep them down, kick them and spit on them and steal from them and rape them and…”

I can feel myself shaking as all of the should’ve-saids are running through my mind. I keep my mouth shut. I’ve only been in the country for an hour. It’s not my place to be going toe-to-toe on a hot issue like this with someone who’s lived here all of his life.

I keep my mouth shut. I keep it shut and it’s a struggle. Everything he says infuriates me now. All I see is the oppression, the hatred, the racism, the ignorance. All I see are the crumbling walls, the pitiful figures leaning against newspaper boxes, the rubbish on the sidewalk.

Finally we pull up to the hotel. It’s an unassuming building on the corner of two busy roads. I get out and see a small, nervous-looking Asian woman sitting behind a thick door that won’t open until you’ve been buzzed in.

My driver helps me pull my duffel out of the trunk while looking over his shoulder every few seconds.

“Good luck, mate,” he says, though he doesn’t sound at all cheerful or confident anymore. “Remember what I told yah, stay outta the alleys and in at night.” He pats my shoulder and gives me a knowing look, before jumping back in the Mercedes. I hadn’t noticed it was such a nice car. And a taxi? I realize it looks extremely out of place in this neighborhood.

And suddenly, I feel extremely out of place on the sidewalk, all of my belongings sitting next to me. I feel vulnerable. I’ve never felt this way before, and I’ve been in a lot of bad neighborhoods.

Guiltily, I wave to the woman behind the counter and she buzzes me through, quickly closing and locking the door behind me.


Ten days later, I drag my bags out of the hotel elevator into the lobby. I slept late, hope the cabbie isn’t honking the horn.

“Ah, there he is.” I see a familiar face beaming at me, face a plump tomato above the black suit. I hear myself mumble a greeting.

“Ready to go then?” He strides over and shoulders my duffel. “All right then, we’re off.” I follow him to the security door. I nearly bump into him when he freezes, his finger shaking over the open button. I look over his shoulder and see a drooping figure in a dirty grey overcoat disappear into a doorway across the street.

The driver waits an extra beat before pressing the button and hustles quickly out to the car. He fumbles with the keys as he opens the trunk. My door is locked and I have to wait for him to let me in.

“Never can be too careful,” he mumbles under his breath. I don’t recall the door being locked when he picked me up from the airport. How long had he been waiting at customs for me, his car outside on the curb?

The atmosphere in the car is tense with his white-knuckle steering and darting eyes. A bead of sweat forms on his temple.

A deep breath as we go through an intersection. The scenery outside is suddenly devoid of graffiti. I see children-- white children on a playground.

He turns to me for the first time since we got in the car.

“So, how was your stay? How do you like my country?” His crooked-toothed grin annoys me. His jovial accent grates my teeth.

“It was great, I loved it.” The words slip through my clenched jaw.

He leans over towards me conspiratorially. “I hope you didn’t have any trouble… y’know, with them.” He winks at me.

“Nope, none at all,” I fail trying to make my voice sound sharp.

“Good on yah, I didn’t think you would. Got a good head on yer shoulders. Common sense’ll keep you safe,” he says knowingly.

I’m chuckling. He looks at me curiously before laughing lightly with me.

“Actually,” I begin slowly, “my common sense was of little help this week.”

“Eh? How’s that,” he asks with a chuckle. Another “dumb tourist” story.

“Well, see, I did a lot of exploring and-,”

“’Course yah did. Lots to see, got get to all the sights, eh?”

“Um, yeah,” his interruption noted, “the sights, I saw them, but you know,” I chuckle for effect, “you haven’t seen a place until you’ve gotten lost in it.” More chuckling.

He’s looking at me out of the corner of his eye, a look of new concern rippling his brow.

“Yeah see, I was out real late one night, down in the city, so the buses had stopped, but I didn’t wanna pay for a cab, so I decided to walk back to the hotel.” He sucks a breath in through his teeth.

“How late was it?”

“Ah, must’ve been after 2 in the morning. It was a good night,” I grin at him. His face is stone.

“You got lost?”

I laugh, self depreciating humor is definitely my specialty. “Yeah,” I shake my head, “can you believe it? Man it was dark.” I’m laughing by myself again. He’s frowning at me more than the road. “Yeah, I was a bit nervous, I mean, what you said before and all-.”

“Well you should have been-,” he huffs.

“So then this dark figure walks out of an alley ahead of me-.”


“So I slow down and look around me, waiting for him to cross the street or something, but he sees me and-.”

“D’you get mugged? Bloody idiot, out late like that. I told you-.”

“He smiles at me! Huge grin on his face!” I laugh. The driver’s staring at me in horror. I’m thankful we’re at a red light.

“He comes up to me an’ he says, ‘Hey boss, you gotta smoke?’ Now I’m nearly frozen up until this point, but his question slaps me out of it, you know? I’m checkin’ my pockets- I don’t even smoke, mind you, but I’m checkin’ ‘em anyway. Finally I say, ‘Nah man, I don’t. Sorry.’ Well, you should’ve seen his face! I thought his smile was big before. Well, now he’s practically laughing out loud! ‘Hey, you American!’ he says. ‘You from the ‘States! ‘Ey boys, come out’ere! We gotta American ‘ere!’ So a whole pile of people come out of this alley. I hadn’t even seen them, they just suddenly appeared.” I’m laughing openly, but the driver looks like he’s seen a ghost. He pulls the car over and parks.

“What happened,” he asks gruffly.

“Absolutely nothing,” I say to him. “They were great! All they wanted to do was meet a foreigner! They were more polite than they needed to be. I think I shook everyone’s hand at least twice. They were all laughing. But they got real somber at one point and said they were sorry about what happened in New York. I thanked them, then you know what they said?”

“What’d they say?” He’s hanging on my every word.

“Well, the first one, I think he said his name was Duke or something like that, he says, ‘Well, we gotta get back to it, it’s good meetin’ you. Enjoy our land, heh heh, but lemme tell you,’ and he leans real close, ‘you be sure to watch out for ‘dem whities.’ And he starts laughing! They all do! And I was laughing with them! I don’t even know why, but the whole thing was just hilarious!”

I’m slapping my knee, tears on my cheeks from laughter. The driver’s face is straight. He puts the car back into gear and cuts off a BMW.

“Yer lucky mate. Reeeeal lucky, lemme tell you-.”

“No, I don’t think I was,” I say flatly. “See, I walked home late like that almost every night, and you know what, I was never bothered. Even in the middle of the night almost everyone I encountered smiled and said hello to me.”

“That’s ‘cause they knew you’re American!” His face is going from red to purple. He licks his lips.

“Right, that’s it. It’s because they could read my mind,” I say sarcastically.

“Mate, you don’t know about it,” he snaps.

The car is quiet. We’re both fuming. The only satisfaction I have is that I’ve wiped that smile off of his face. I get my own bag out of the trunk.
A smiling black woman is behind the check-in counter.

I’m going to miss this country.


It started on a high note

Picture this:

You are waiting for your morning bus with about 15 other people. Your bus stop plays host to multiple routes, so with each approaching bus, you squint at the glowing number emblazoned on its front (or taped to the windshield by the driver) to see if your chariot has come to whisk you away.

You note that the latest arrival is not said chariot so you return to your Metro or to gazing at nothing. A motion to your left catches your eye. With muscles still drunk from sleep, you turn your head and aim your heavy-lidded eyes down the sidewalk.

You see a man. You see a man running. You see a man running with, perhaps, a slightly panicked look in his eyes. These eyes are starting pointedly at the conveyance that still sits idly in front of you as the last interested parties climb aboard.

You twist your head again and take in the bus, the driver waving the last passenger on without showing their monthly commuter pass. Back to the man running. Back to the bus.

Decision time. Do you:

A. Motion to the driver, notifying them they have a latecomer rushing at best speed to the bus, appealing to his better nature to hold up for five more seconds.

B. Continue to gaze dumbly at the on-charging commuter, remaining motionless but for the infrequent blink, little evidence of higher brain function.

I, myself, typically choose A. Admittedly, studies have shown that my enthusiasm for flagging down bus drivers for other riders is directly proportional to the “female” and “cute” levels of the tardy rider. However, I maintain that, if I see a running rider (RR) and I’m in a position to, I will move to flag the driver.

Evidently, the 15 people at the bus stop this morning, five or six of whom I specifically saw watching me sprint towards them, do not share my principles in this matter.

As I ran, I watched the people at the bus stop look at me, look at the bus and then turn back to me. I could almost hear them thinking, “He’s not gonna make it. Dumb bastard.” Knowing that they weren’t going to help me and suspecting I wasn’t going to make it in time, I briefly considered lowering my shoulders and just driving through the pile of people. It was cold and icy, so they were all huddled together. I’m sure I would’ve done some damage.

I was in line with the back of the bus when the doors closed and the driver hit the gas. I ran past the bus stop, not to catch the bus, but because I knew if I stopped amidst the inconsiderate sons of bitches at the bus stop, I would’ve made a scene that would achieve nothing more than to make me look like more of an asshole than I already did.

Luckily(?), all but two of those riders got on the next bus. It was a route that I’ve taken in the past which goes farther than my office and I end up walking back through Chinatown, so I debated shouldering my way to the front in righteous indignation. But by then I’d taken a few deep breaths and reason prevailed.

I like my commute to work. On good days, I can get to work in less than 15 minutes and the express bus is nowhere near as exciting as the T. But it’s not without it’s own flavor of inconsiderate mcdouche that causes me to grind my teeth down to the nerve endings.

Netflix Review: Forbidden Kingdom

We don't make it out to a lot of movies in the theaters these days, but with 400+ movies in my Netflix queue, I'll get to the blockbusters... eventually. So, here's the first of my "four-month-late" movie reviews.

Watched Forbidden Kingdom last night. I really wanted that movie to be good… But… it wasn’t.

Jackie Chan and Jet Li were good with the roles they were given. Lei Yifei and Li Bingbing (!) succeeded at filling their respective of “Hot innocent girl” and “Hot not-so-innocent woman in a fetching white wig”.

Visually, the move was very good, though, I think some of the sets looked a bit rushed.

The fight choreography was passable. It was exhilarating finally seeing Jackie vs. Jet, that fight wasn’t enough to justify this movie.

These were the high points of the movie, and they made much of this in the special features. Jackie and Jet, of course. But also the Director of Photography (Peter Pau) and Woo-ping Yuen as the fight choreographer (You may remember him as the fight director from The Matrix movies who, when asked to describe the actors’ abilities as fighters, when he got to Keanu Reeves, his diplomatic answer was: “He tries very hard.”).

The parts of the movie that turned my stomach were:

The kid from “South Boston”. Where did they find this nitwit?? Did they just run out of money hiring Jackie and Jet?

I was also going to bitch about the Boston setting, but then watched the extras and saw they had to recreate all those sets in China, where they were being built by set designers who had to research what dumpsters and trash cans look like and accidentally put up the electrical outlets in the walls sideways. So they did a passable job, I guess.

The big example of ass-dom had to be the screenwriter. This was a guy who came off as very conscious of his image. He clearly knows his shite when it comes to Chinese fables, but do I really want to watch a special of him practicing Kung Fu sets on an LA beach in a really goofy looking costume?

The answer, is no, I really didn't.

I really want them to try again. Give Woo-Ping another chance with these guys in Hong Kong, then we might see something that justifies the star power. It'll be campy, it'll be cheap, but it's gonna be amazing.


Mr. Varmint Goes to Washington

This just doesn't seem right.

The White House is, supposedly, one of the most secure (albeit, public) pieces of property in the world. The Residence is watched around the clock by hundreds of our country's finest Secret Service agents (officers?). They have snipers and anti-aircraft emplacements. There's a big fuck-off fence!

So how come they can't keep out a couple of freaking raccoons?

I mean, I remember reading (Where the Red Fern Grows) that you can catch a raccoon simply by digging a narrow pit, putting a shiny piece of tinfoil at the bottom and banging pointed sticks in at angles that will keep a tiny, tinfoil-holding fist from pulling out.

That was a scheme made up by a little boy. These guys have the National Parks Service on the job!

If I may tangentilize here for a moment: How cool would it be to have the National Parks Service as your landscaper? Do you think you'd get a hat?

Anyway, it's obvious the NPS isn't up to snuff in the varmint rasslin' department. Time to call in the big guns: a 15-year (!) raccoon-catching (!!) veteran. Tim McDowell sounds like he's straight out of a movie. He knows right away what the problem is

"Y'see, they cages prolly don' smell rayet." (drawl embellished)

This is, obviously, an incredibly unfair portrayal of the man. I have no idea if he has an accent, pair of overalls or buck teeth.

I do feel, though, that the Post article gave us one small glimpse of this rodent snaring superstar's caricature when he offers his services gratis:

"I won't charge 'em nothing.(sic)"

I smell conspiracy, however, when he admits that catching raccoons at the White House has always been a dream of his.

Perhaps the man'll get his wish. I'm almost rooting for him. Unless he turns the whole thing into a Pied Piper situation. That guy got the rats out, but he came back and got all the kids, too. That ain't right.


May I Ask Who's Calling?

When is the last time you had to call tech support? Either your iPod has kicked the bucket, your Guitar Hero (Rock Band, more likely) guitar is no longer working or the public Beta test that is Vista has expired again.

Whatever the issue, if you have contacted technical support in recent history, you likely have been listed in one of the following categories:

Conscious Incompetence (CI)
Individuals who are not competent, but are aware they are not competent and understand the specific areas of deficiency. The incident area can be quickly identified with these customers, since they know where they are deficient, making it easier to isolate the issue.

Unconscious Incompetence (UI)
Individuals who are not competent, are unaware that they are not competent, and do not understand the specific areas of their deficiency. These customers require open-ended questioning to determine their competence level or lack thereof.

Conscious Competence (CC)
These customers are competent and are aware they are competent. Typically, these customers know exactly how and where they need help. They need to be acknowledged for their competencies, and you can ask specific closed-ended questions to pinpoint the issue.

Unconscious Competence (UC)
These individuals are competent but are unaware that they are competent. Typically, these customers understand that there is an issue, but are not clear on what the issue is or if they can fix it. These individuals sometimes know more about a particular subject than the service representative, but they often miss simple and easy troubleshooting steps, before they contact the support center for assistance.

For close to a year and a half now, I have been answering phones for a major publishing company whose online course management systems are used by higher education all over the world. I’ve had the pleasure and pain of speaking to each one of these individuals. They are, at times, kind and gracious, at others acerbic and impatient. Frequently they are harried and rushed. Always, they are wishing they didn’t have to be on the phone with me.

  • Your Favorite Old Aunt (CI)

  • This one is hit or miss. She (this is a rare gender-specific character), invariably, has no idea what’s going on inside this computer of hers, but whatever it is, it’s fantastic. She is just so amazed at what they can do these days. Her only downside is that you’re going to spend the next thirty minutes walking her through the most basic of functions, sprinkled in with stories of her progeny. If you’re lucky, you’ll only have to talk to her twice a day.

  • Hot For Teacher (CI to UI)

  • This is the young and virile-sounding (fe)male teacher that leaves you wondering how old they are and guessing at the color of their hair. They are typically amiable and chatty and talk to you as though you’re meeting up for drinks later with the rest of the group. Their questions are usually simple ones they probably could have figured out on their own but you don’t mind. You’re too busy wondering if it would be wrong to look them up on Facebook or to see if their college has faculty pictures on its Website. You ask them if there’s anything else you can help them with... twice.

  • Ernest Hemingway (CI to UC)

  • This is that cool older instructor that calls the guys “dude” and flirts with the girls. He understands computers enough to know that he has no idea what’s going on. He’s typically patient and understanding. He’s still excited that he’s preparing the youth of today to take over the world tomorrow, which is cute, but he is also savvy enough to know that electronic homework is rarely eaten by the dog.

  • Give Me Back My Abacus (CI to UI)

  • This luddite is not, happy. They never wanted to use this system in the first place and didn’t they say it was going to cause problems? Capable of, at best, grudging thanks, these customers are more frequently bitter and aggravated. No amount of empathy is going to help. Just fix the whatchamacallit so the bosses are happy and these kids will stop bitching and go back to their tiny phones and their portable records.

  • Just Fix It, Scum (UI to UC)

  • It’s broken and it’s your fault. They’ve never had this trouble before, so what did you do to break it? These are the people that cut you off in traffic and then park in handicapped spaces. They are the ones who talk on their cellphones in the movie theater. They take up both the aisle and window seats on the crowded bus. They drive Escalades or think they should. These are frequently students who have reached the instructor line and threaten to speak to your CEO.

  • ESL Charming (CC to UC)

  • This customer grew up somewhere between Mumbai and Jamaica. They do not complain when you ask them to spell the seven consecutive consonants of their last name a second time and are thrilled when you answer their question. You enjoy speaking to this customer so much you have to restrain yourself from unconsciously adopting their accent while talking to them.

  • ESL Chatterbug (CC to UC)

  • This customer’s difficult enunciation is compounded by the machine gun pace. They give you their alphabet soup moniker and are halfway through their problem description before you can decide if the first letter of their name has an umlaut. Asking them to stop and backtrack is an inconvenience. Asking them to repeat themselves is a war crime. Luckily, they have typically hung up on you before you can ask them if they need anything else.

  • The Hypocrite (UI to CI)

  • This customer typically calls in September or January. Their class starts in thirty minutes. How do they make a course? Where do they register as an instructor? They just copied another instructor’s course from last semester, how do they change the dates on all of the assignments? Can you just do it for them? These instructors are least likely to give students an extension on their papers.

  • It’s Not Me, It’s You (UI to UC)

  • Administrators who have teachers complaining that their losing valuable class time and program directors threatening them are rarely in a good mood when the call. Why should the fact that they have their network locked down tighter than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have any affect on your bandwidth-intensive online application? Of course they have Flash! Version 1 isn’t good enough for you?

    There are good callers and there are bad callers. You’d like to say you are able to maintain a consistent level of professionalism and job devotion for all your users, but you wouldn’t be fooling anyone. There are callers you get off the phone with and feel genuinely good about the fact you were able to assist them. There are others that leave you fearing for the Republic. The only constant is that the caller who rings to your phone at 4:55 pm on Friday is never the former, and you are going to wish you’d let it ring.