Try Harder


Dear Laura Kinkaid, Survey Director at Scarborough Research:

Your bizarre letter and gift arrived in my mailbox yesterday.  Just in case this letter wasn’t bizarre for you, let me provide its content as a refresher:

Dear Survey Household:

We have been trying to reach you for a survey.  We only want to ask you about your opinions on Radio listening, Newspaper reading and TV viewing.

A small cash gift is enclosed to remind you the next time we try calling you.

We want you to know that your participation is very important.  The answers of someone in your household will represent thousands of people who were not invited to do the survey.  Scarborough is a nationwide annual survey of 200,000 households, and your household has been selected for this research study, so your participation is important because it focuses on your local area.

We hope you will speak to our interviewers when we try calling agin.  Perhaps our timing will be better!

If you have any questions, please call our Consumer Research Department . . . . You can also call us to set an appointment time to do the survey that would be most convenient to your household’s schedule.

P.S.  Scarborough is a professional research company.  We have nothing to sell you.

Here’s my response.  I’ll try to keep it less bizarre than your letter.

Ms. Kinkaid:

I apologize for being unable to take your phone calls over the past week.  Through the magic of caller id, I began screening my calls a long time ago.  I only answer when it’s my mom.  As a result, I’m guessing that you’re either Ashton238 or UnknownNumber–both of which I assumed were junior high girls calling to announce their crushes on one of my household members based upon the sheer number of calls we received within a three hour period.  For one solid week.

Unfortunately, your generous cash gift of $1USD has gotten mixed in with my other one dollar bills in the allowance envelope.  I’m not sure which one is yours, so I’m doubtful I’ll remember it when you call again.

While I value Radio listening and Newspaper reading, I’m unsure what these are since I listen to the radio and read the newspaper.  I’m assuming these capitalized entities are something different than those with which I’m familiar, so perhaps I’m disqualified from this process altogether?  Also, I am uncomfortable representing my local area because, as it turns out, I’m unquestionably the minority in my community.  I’m pretty certain I’m not engaging in the Newspaper and Radio habits of my local demographic.  It would be a shame for me to be the unexplained outlier in your data.  I hate not fitting in.

I thought your idea of me contacting you to set up an appointment for you to do a job I did not solicit was a bold move indeed.  Based upon this example, I’m going to contact my local police officer to let him know when it’s most convenient for me to be issued a speeding ticket.  I’m also going to ask my local Target to let me know when it’s 1) no longer ransacked and 2) got my daughter’s size of zippered black leggings back in stock.  I have never considered this approach—informing one of my timeframe for one to do one’s job.  It’s very on-demand and drive-thru-esque.  In other words, right up my American alley.

Thank you for not having anything to sell me.  I will assure you that even if you did, I still would not answer your calls.  (Again, unless you’re calling from my mom’s house.)

Always a pleasure doing unrequested business,

A. Olson


The “Fun” Raiser


Dear My Children’s Elementary School:

I don’t like fundraising.  It’s miserable.  Every year, somebody from the PTA or from the staff makes a decision that he or she is certain will bring in all sorts of cash, and then I am stuck with his or her stylistic decisions foisted upon my family via the propagandizing and false-sense-of-hope-to-win-that-iPod instilling that is the kick off assembly to turn my children into your little army of recruits.  Then they come home 100% excited and certain that becoming traveling sales people is their dream.  In fact, couldn’t they just start now, Mom, because trespassing onto people’s property to sell them tins of Almond Roca is absolutely their life calling.

My children’s life calling is now door-to-door soliciting.  Thank you so much for consulting me prior to this important moment of life molding.

I pay taxes.  I also don’t believe that a technologically enhanced classroom is the magic bullet answer to our education ills, especially at this school.  We need to institute a few no-batteries-required practices first.  Like not requiring my son’s lunch time to be at 10:30 am.  I’m pretty sure he’s hungry, not in need of a screen, when he’s zoning out during spelling time at 1pm.  Can’t we just take a pass on this one?

I, and everyone I know, am all stocked up on gift wrap and Baltimore Ravens paraphernalia,

A. Olson

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom . . . .


Dear Best Friends at the United States Postal Service:

I know you’re facing hard times.  People don’t believe in posting printed matter the way they used to because, well, one can now post his mother happy birthday wishes on Twitter for free.  FedEx offers speedier service and better trucks.  UPS offers its workers better benefits.  The list continues.  Hard times are no good.  In fact, I’m currently facing a hard time.  The hard time of not having any mail delivered for the past four postal working days.  The lady on the complaint line this morning told me that it sounded like my carrier had gone on vacation and there “weren’t any subs.”  Really.  If ever I go on vacation, I have to have subs lined up for my job.  I’m not allowed to go AWOL and then have my job waiting for me when I resurface.  I thought that was pretty standard with most jobs (except for jobs for and of the society set, but that’s a different conversation altogether).

Wait.  If you’ve been wondering why things aren’t as peachy at the USPS as you’d like them to be, I think in that previous paragraph, I may have just Sherlock Holmesed your answer.

Two final thoughts:

First, I’ve seen the Seinfeld where Kramer tries to cancel his mail permanently.  I know it’s impossible.  I move around enough to have discovered that you still find me no matter what.  (Apparently it’s when I choose to remain at the same address for more than a year that service begins to falter.  Hmmmm.  This might be me Sherlock Holmesing your answer–Part Two.)

Second, back at the advent of the internet, when the masses were still oblivious to sending messages through one’s computer and suspicious that it was a government surveillance plot (oh wait . . . ), I had several friends living in the far corners of the world.  And I do mean far and corners:  the mountains of Bolivia, the Russian steppes, Mongolia, the Canary Islands–these aren’t even the half of it.  In order to communicate with these friends, we hand wrote actual letters.  Amazing, I know.  Weren’t we vintage?  Then, I would take the letters to my local post office, where I would stand in a really long line and purchase the appropriate amount of postage to get the letters to the undying lands.  Since this was my first and most significant foray into the world of international post, I began to form a sneaking suspicion that perhaps what most separated the US from developing nations was our postal service.  Mail came every day.  (Goodness–I received a knock-on-the-door package on a Christmas Day Sunday in my Manhattan apartment from the USPS.)  Nobody was striking.  Nobody was taking the mail out when they felt like it.  It was called “appointed rounds” for a reason.

Come on people, you’ve got the heritage of the Pony Express to uphold here.  And I’m from the west.  I’ve been many times to those deserts and seen the riders’ handoff points.  My home in the ghetto is far from those desolate places.  All I’m asking is for you to bring me my lame catalogs and my kids’ school correspondence and my birthday cards.  And if that isn’t an option, please be clear about what my expectation should be.

Where’s Cliff Claven when you need him?

A. Olson

Now Let Us Praise Famous Men


Dear Dr. King:

The children in my church sing this song.  On this anniversary weekend of the historic march on Washington, it reminded me of you and everyone you represented and inspired.

You don’t have to push a handcart,

leave your family dear,

or walk a million miles or more to be a pioneer.

You do have to have great courage,

faith to conquer fear,

and work with might for a cause that’s right to be a pioneer.

With sincere gratitude,

A. Olson

What a Cliche


Dear Center for Disease Control:,0,7490724.story

You’re making this (alarmingly) too easy.  I believe the joke goes:  “Hey CDC.  Fourteenth Century Europe called.  They want their menacing illness back.”

But then there’s this not-so-jokey part.  According to the LA Times article, “[a]n average of seven human plague cases have been reported each year in the last few decades in the country.”  I’m sorry.  What?  The Bubonic Plague is happening this often in the US on an annual basis and I’m only catching the announcement because I read even the smallest articles in my newspaper?

Are there also zombies?

We don’t have to be alarmist here, CDC, but you do owe us some kind of a heads up, you know?  If the Emergency Broadcasting System interrupts my regularly scheduled programming with those screechy system alerts for monthly “tests,” don’t you think you might be obliged to, oh I don’t know, responsibly let the public know about occurrences of the plague?

And yes, it does seem that I’m telling you how to do your job,

A. Olson

With Fervor

images bumper_sticker

Dear People Sporting Jesus Bumper Stickers in Spanish:

Let me begin by saying that I don’t speak Spanish (disappointingly), so I cannot tell you specifically which of your displays of devotion I like the best based upon content.  There are many of you in my neighborhood, and even if I could read them, I know I couldn’t possibly choose.  But I do sometimes have an eye for design, so I can confidently say that any and all of your vehicle adornments that present metallic or neon colors are the ones I like the best.

I come from a religious culture where we tend to keep our deities white and quiet.  And maybe a little scrapbook-y if we were to turn them into bumper stickers.  But you and your sort of no-holds-barred, disco, God-is-happy-and-good-timesy approach has certainly inspired me on more than one occasion.

If I were the car decorating kind, I’d definitely follow your lead,

A. Olson

A Serious Weakness


Dear (Meanies at) Apple:

I got the news last night about your golden iPhone.  A golden iPhone.

This isn’t something a person purchases plain and then crazily gold plates after the fact (although apparently this happens), this is something that you’re actually manufacturing in this color.  It’s like Mr. Willy Wonka’s golden ticket turned even more amazing.  How is it possible?

I am writing to let you know that 1) gold is my weakness (and I’m not even a part of your Indian or Chinese markets, as some tech bloggers are suggesting these as places this golden phone would be most popular) and 2) I am on a serious budget (like a qualifying-for-government-assisted-housing budget), and I need to purchase my daughter some gym shoes.  Seeing as you have achieved world domination already, I’m wondering why you must continue to hit below the belt?  At this point, it’s basically bullying.

Classy or gaudy, yellow or champagne in color—however you plan to make this happen, you’re officially killing me,

A. Olson

Unclear On the Concept (if there is one)


Dear Mr. Michael Liedtke of the Associated Press:

This morning I read your review of the Google Glass (  You said you were impressed, but after reading your article, I’m confused about how I’m supposed to be.

You explain that Google is “touting Glass as a liberating breakthrough that will make technology more convenient and less obnoxious in social situations than checking a smartphone to see what’s happening in your digital realm.”  As I look at these glasses with no glasses, I’m wondering about what about them isn’t obnoxious.  And how could my wearing them be less lame than me excusing myself to briefly check a text message during a social engagement.  (People still do that, don’t they?  Excuse themselves for making another human believe a small device is more important than their current interaction?)

According to your description, the screen of Glass is “slightly above the right eye so it won’t prevent users from maintaining eye contact during face-to-face conversations.”  You then state:  “That means you need to glance upward when you want to look at something on the screen.”  Again, I ask you my same question about the obnoxiousness.  Because how is someone lost in a reverie of “glancing upward” during my conversation with him or her not awkward?  Am I missing something here?

I will agree with you, the Glass’s ability to instantly take photos based upon what the user actually sees is pretty cool.  I’ve seen a lot of stuff that didn’t translate well when I snapped it with my phone, so it would be nice to have that option.  However, one takes a photo with Glass by “simply” saying “Ok Glass, take a picture.”  Not to sound like a broken record, but now I’m walking down the street in glasses with no glass in them and I’m not on a phone or with anybody, and I’m talking to myself?  Right.

From your review, I’ve concluded that the Google Glass is a lot of cool things that are also awkward and obnoxious.  I liked it better in the West Side Story days when cool was trying to beat up awkward and obnoxious in the alley behind Broadway.

Going to keep holding out,

A. Olson

That Sinking Feeling . . . .


Dear City of Orlando, FL:,0,376846.story

My spouse is currently in your fair city for a conference.  If he gets swallowed up, there will be big trouble.  It seems to me that your basically being a swamp should require you to issue travel advisories to potential visitors.  You know, so their spouses / partners / significant others who are remaining on solid ground can be sure to have the wills in order beforehand.

Come on now,

A. Olson