Jeff Bezos Spoke With Me! (An Amazonian Story)

I was mad as hell. You would have been too if the monogrammed boxer shorts that you ordered from Amazon came with incorrect initials. My initials are NSS, not ASS, for crying out loud! And the manufacturer got it wrong not once, not twice, but thrice. And so I decided to give Amazon a piece of my mind before returning defective goods to them once again. They needed to know that Underpants R Us, based in Crotchonia, Bulgaria, is a firm that does not deserve to have its products handled by the world’s largest online retailer!

That’s why I dialed 888-280-4331 last week, Amazon’s customer service number in the USA. I wasn’t sure where my dissatisfaction would take me. Turns out that the call resulted in an experience that in a million years I wouldn’t have expected.

“This is Anna, in Amazon’s customer service department in beautiful Kennewick, Washington. Whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with, and how are you this fine day?” were the words that greeted me. Ah, such a lovely tone. Anna seemed so agreeable, so gentle over the phone, I almost decided not to burden her with my complaint. But complain I did, succinctly explaining the situation without ever raising my voice.

Anna listened attentively, confirming all pertinent information and asking appropriate questions. Then she took me aback.

“Mr. Scheinin,” she said, “I am pleased to let you know that there is a special visitor in our facility today. He stops by several times each year, being a very hands-on individual. He has been listening to our conversation and has indicated to me that he would like to talk with you. He will provide you with the highest level of customer satisfaction. If it’s all right, then, I’m going to place Mr. Bezos — Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO — on the line.”

“Why, yes, that is absolutely all right, Anna,” I said. “Thank you.”

A few seconds passed. And then I heard the voice of the world’s richest person. (He’s worth well over 100 billion American dollars.)

Photo of Jeff Bezos by Tom Stockill/Redux

“Neil! This is Jeff Bezos. I’m so sorry that you’ve been having problems with some of our merchandise. I don’t quite understand what the situation is, though. Something’s wrong with your ass, is that it?”

“Well, not exactly, Jeff. You see . . .”

He cut me off. “Neil, if your derriere isn’t feeling right, I have just the product for you. I totally swear by it. I tell you, it’s provided me with wonderful relief many times in recent years. Preparation H, Neil. Preparation H. It’s been around forever, and that’s because it works. Hemorrhoids begone! Neil, Amazon will be glad to sell you a case of this magical concoction, enough for many years, for a mere $109.99. And shipping, it goes without saying, is free. What do you say, Neil? May I process your order?”

“Mr. Bezos,” I said, “you’ve got it all wrong. Let me start from the beginning. You see, I’ve been having enormous difficulty obtaining properly-monogrammed boxer shorts . . . oh, it’s a long, boring story. Who really cares? I’ll just keep the ones with ASS stitched onto them. My wife thinks those initials are appropriate, anyway. Listen, do you have a couple of minutes?”

“Indeed I do. Wassup?”

“Jeff, you’ve climbed to the top of the mountain. You have achieved success and wealth to a degree that boggles the mind. Obviously you are a man with a plan. On the other hand, I’m a chap with no map. Jeff, all my life I’ve been bouncing through life like a pinball, rarely finding satisfaction, unable to smell the roses because of my intense sinus condition. Hire me, Mr. B! I want a job that I can throw myself into.”

“Neil, I liked you the moment we started talking. But I have to probe a little deeper to make sure that you’re the right individual for the position I have in mind. Spot quiz: Spell hemorrhoid quickly!”

Wham! The convoluted letters flew off my tongue like bullets.

“Excellent! Another spot quiz: How many writers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”

“Jeff, that depends on how deeply they want to analyze the situation. Writers, you know, can be complicated.”

“Right on, Neil! You’re the first person to get that one correct. My man, I can’t believe my good fortune in meeting you today. I want you to join Amazon as my sounding board. I have so many ideas to bounce off you. For instance, I’d like to create a chain of restaurants that serve nothing but LOL sandwiches — liverwurst, onion and Limburger. Man, I love me a good LOL! And I have the perfect slogan for the sandwich: It surely does smell, but what the hell.”

“That’s brilliant, Jeff. Brilliant.”

“Thanks, Neil. And how about this one? Amazon gas stations manned by robots who give you the best hugs of your life before and after they fill up your car’s tank. Customers will drive away bursting with happiness!”

“Bravo, Jeff! You have your finger on humanity’s pulse. It will be an honor to work for you. What’s my salary going to be, by the way? Eighty grand a year sounds about right, don’t you think?”

“Salary? Who said anything about a salary? This is an unpaid internship, Neil. Despite the lack of remuneration, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. When, my boy, can you start?”

That was a good question. I don’t encounter good questions all that often. And when I do, I usually don’t have good responses to them. This time I did.

“Later, Jeff,” I said.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this piece. I thank you.)

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Three Movies: The Fast, The Really Fast, And The Nice And Slow

“Hey, Neil,” my wife Sandy called to me a little while ago. “Pull your thoughts together. Your legions, or should I more accurately say handfuls, of readers are depending on you to digest and configure and explain our cinematic encounters from two weeks ago. C’mon, boy. You can do it. I’ve got faith in you.”

Oh yeah? She’s got to be kidding. I’m moments away from throwing in the towel. I feel my eyes tiring, my attention being directed elsewhere as if by a sorcerer’s hand. But I won’t give in. I know what I have to do, and it involves pain. WHACK, WHACK, WHACK. There, I’ve slapped myself in the face. Works every time. I’m feeling better. On with the show.

Very recently Sandy and I went to the movies on three consecutive days. After that streak ended I figured I ought to try and bang out a story about the trio of flicks for my insatiably content-hungry blog. It wouldn’t do, I decided, to focus on only one of the films, examining it from all angles like a jeweler ogling a precious stone. No, ambitious me would strive relentlessly to find and then analyze the thematic threads woven between the three movies. And believe me, I’ve been looking. Real hard. And so far here’s what I’ve come up with: zippo and bupkis.

But there’s got to be an angle. There always is. And so I’ve decided to throw connective threads to the winds and pull something out of my wazoo in a desperate attempt to create a blog story. Speed . . . yeah, that’s what I’m going to look at. The degree of rapidity of the movies’ action. And speaking of speed, I notice that it has taken me over 300 words to get around to naming the movies that Sandy and I watched. Oh well, my incredible slowness ties right in with what now is this article’s subject. And I suppose that Sandy’s faith in me possibly has paid off. In any case, the movies in the order that we saw them are The Big Short, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and 45 Years.

StarWars IMG_0167
Respectively, those movies overall are, in terms of pace, fast, really fast, and nice and slow. And in terms of how much I liked them they are, respectively, very much, eh, and quite a lot. I’m amazed that I didn’t get big kicks from the newest Star Wars, the seventh in the franchise. Entering the theater I thought I would. A thousand years ago (in 1977) I loved the first in the series. It seemed cool as can be to me, action-packed and stocked with a fabulous menagerie of characters, human and otherwise. But, unlike 95% of the world’s population, I didn’t see any of the next five SW vehicles or do any reading over the years to keep up with the SW storylines. Watching The Force Awakens I was surprised to learn that Darth Vader no longer is on the scene, and I barely remembered what a Jedi is. But I was glad to see Harrison Ford on board playing the wisecracking and fearless Han Solo.

Most importantly, I was expecting an exhilarating ride. For sure, The Force Awakens often moves like lightening. I lost track of how many times Good was battling Evil on one planet or another, and seemingly only moments later the fight had shifted to an orb millions of miles away. I enjoy that kind of zooming sometimes, but after a while it wasn’t doing the trick for me. I began to feel that the screen was filled with too much of too much, that the plot almost was losing itself. I became bored. A healthy dash of better dialogue and believable human dynamics wouldn’t have hurt. Not that the film’s writers didn’t try to bring emotions into the proceedings, but the results of their efforts, probably purposely, are pretty cardboardy. The occasional hug and goo-goo eyes don’t meaningful human relationships make.

TheBigShort IMG_1244
Unlike SW:TFA, The Big Short doesn’t suffer from underdeveloped characters, though it contains plenty of characters, as in people with strong ways of expressing their inner selves. And its propulsion is mighty chipper, though it avoids the warp speed of many scenes in SW:TFA. The Big Short takes on a most unlikely candidate for a cinematic story, the worldwide financial catastrophe of 2008. The film tackles the subject inventively and with energy to spare. Basically, The Big Short rocks. Fast-thinking denizens of the investment world, some of them motor-mouthed (played by Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and others) make for a heady and dizzying trip. Add snappy editing to that and you’ve got a really winning movie.

What’s more, you very well might leave the theater thinking you’ve finally begun to understand who and what caused calamity to shower the Earth eight years ago. And hopefully you won’t be like me, dumb as dirt once again in financial matters by the time you arrive home.

45Years IMG_0169
Within the low range of the miles-per-hour spectrum stands 45 Years, replete with a top-notch screenplay and realistic portrayals by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay of a married couple, the Mercers. This duo finds themselves with emerging marital problems on the cusp of their 45th wedding anniversary. But if you’re thinking of catching the Mercers’ predicaments, be prepared for a slow and deliberate adventure. Everybody takes their good ol’ time doing things and vocalizing. The most intense action in the movie occurs when Rampling struggles with a pull-down attic ladder. Yup, eventually she conquers the beast and makes her way upward to where a revelatory discovery awaits her. You go, girl!

What’s my point about all of this? Good question. Luckily I have an answer or two. A movie’s pace is important and should fit the circumstances of the plot. Movies with mucho scenes that rip along wildly can be terrific (think His Girl Friday and the version of Casino Royale with Daniel Craig), and so too can be those that mosey (think Hud and Nebraska). Velocity is only part of the equation. Whatever its pulse rate, a film usually will rise only if its story is strong, its dialog solid, its characters believable, its actors on top of their game and its director in firm control. The Big Short and 45 Years meet the criteria beautifully. Not so for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which comes up a bit short in the plot, dialog and character development departments in my puny opinion. Shows what I know, though. SW:TFA to-date has grossed almost one billion smackers at the domestic box office, let alone the rest of the world. I bow before the power of the dollar.

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(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)