Friday, September 23, 2005

Red Faced Rag Wrangler’s Blues

I’ll make this fast, ‘cause I want to try out a printer that someone left out by the dumpster on the paper route. People leave stuff out there all the time. So far, I’ve collected two printers, a TV and a VCR. The TV and VCR work, although the VCR is missing it’s remote, I don’t know about either printer except that one has a cartridge and the other doesn’t.

I’ve been itching to write about the honorable LTG Russell Honore’s now famous line, “Don’t Get Stuck On Stupid.” I’ve also been itching to write about how I managed to get Richard Tolan, who commented irrelevant self-promotional nonsense on my blog, un-stuck on stupid by commenting irrelevant angry nonsense on every single entry on his blog from beginning to end. Instead, I think I’ll start a whole new blog, and a new business putting together silly graphics for stupid worn-out catchphrases like DGSOS on tee shirts, ball caps, coffee mugs and so on. But first, the printer. Before that, there’s this deal with the circulation department of every newspaper in the world failing DGSOS.

While I’ve been stuck on the stupidity of DGSOS, I found Mickey Kaus’s story via Vodkapundit of how he couldn’t say NO to the LA Times subscription. Someone there failed DGSOS. The LAT? Mickey? Both? Both.

I’m going to explain, as a paper carrier, once and for all, how this works.

Several years ago, when I still had a hopeful career as a Computer Engineer, I got one of those pesky telemarketers from the Rocky Mountain News. That was before they joined forces with the Denver Post. Being a naïve kid, I let them say whatever they want, but never agreed to a subscription to the paper, which they gave me anyway. For six months, I got a free newspaper every day, and every day I threw it in the trash. When the customer service guy gave me a follow-up call, I said that I didn’t want it, and please stop delivery. He said he couldn’t do that, and that I should call the subscription department. Not on my dime. When they started sending me bills, then past-due notices, then threats to stop delivery, I considered it extortion and threw the bills away. I finally wrote a nasty note on the back of the bill about pollution or environmental responsibility or something and actually sprang for the cost of a stamp and envelope to send it back. The paper stopped immediately.

I’ve since learned that the best approach to telemarketers is to just hang up immediately. Be sure to hang up in mid-sentence so that they know that they’ve been hung up on. When I sold vacuum cleaners back in college, they taught us something they called “assuming the sale.” Don’t let it happen to you by submitting to your natural tendency to be polite and allowing the conversation to continue.

But better yet, there’s now this thing called the National Do Not Call Registry. After I registered, I stopped getting calls from commercial telemarketers. Go there. NOW! (after you’ve finished reading this.) Know the rules. This does not stop people who call with a survey. It does not stop charities or political orgs. It does not stop people with whom you have already done business. You have to renew your registration every year. The penalty for violators is substantial, but to get them prosecuted is extremely difficult, requiring exacting documentation of the violation. There’s also a state do-not-call registry for most states. Do your own investigation, and get on that list too.

Now, about the newspaper business. Ironically, after my previous experience, I now deliver the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Post, the N’York Twymes, the Wall Street Gerbil, the United States of America TODAY, the Investor’s Daily Bullshit, and the Financical Times. My job as a paper carrier has given me some unique insight into the newspaper business.

It’s filled with idiots from top to bottom. They set it up to keep the various layers insulated from each other, so that the whole organization is permanently Stuck On Stupid. It does no good to do things like threaten the person you’re talking to. They’re trained and paid to only hear “yes” no matter what you say.

They don’t get their money from the subscribers. They get more money from the advertisers than from the subscribers. At least, the local papers do. That explains why they’ll let a “subscriber” go delinquent indefinitely without ever actually canceling the subscription. And the advertisers pay by the distribution numbers, so the more papers they deliver, the more money they extract from the advertisers. So, they come up with all these bogus sample subscriptions, and force sample subscriptions on as many people as they can in order to artificially boost their distribution numbers and extract more money from the advertisers.

It does no good to let your papers pile up in your driveway or doorstep, or kick them out in the street, or down the hall of the apartment building. As a paper carrier, I get paid to deliver the paper whether you want it or not. It’s your doorstep, not mine. Technically, I’m supposed to report pile-ups and note-leavers. In fact, there’s nothing in the contract about this, there was just a pile-up policy memo once. But nobody knows or cares about the papers that pile up on the driveways except the resident. Most of the time I don’t even look, because I have to drive so fast, and it’s dark at 4:00 AM. But reporting a pile-up would mean that the managers would cancel it, and I would no longer get paid to deliver it. Since I would lose money by reporting pile-ups, I never do that.

A few of us more intelligent carriers have figured out that if we know that they don’t want it, there’s no point in delivering to those people. Especially when I have to walk around the back of an apartment building, up some stairs, and down a hall, just to deliver one stupid paper that the resident doesn’t even want anyway. I’ve established my pile-up threshold as five papers. At five papers piled up, I start dumpstering them. There’s a balance between the embarrassment of being caught carrying an armload of undelivered newspapers to the dumpster on the way in to the distribution center, and wanting to maximize my income. Dumpstering the pile-up people has proven to be the best policy all around. I get paid to deliver to the dumpster. The resident is happy that they don’t get the paper any more. The managers believe that I’m doing my job. In fact, the assistant manager does the same thing, but I think the district manager (a newbie) is still stuck on stupid. And the advertisers believe that their advertising dollars are well spent. In the end, it’s just the beliefs that count.

And about those freebie papers that they blanket the whole neighborhood with, they call that “alternate delivery”. Everyone gets the freebie paper that doesn’t already get the regular paper. I did that once. Twice. Three times is a charm. Some guy threw the paper at my truck, chased me down the street, and stood there and screamed at me for five minutes. For the next week, I scattered the papers all over his yard while he was asleep, and emptied my urine bottle on his car. I know where he lives; he doesn’t know where I live. There are a small handful of names (about 0.5%) on the route list that are hilighted and marked with big bold capital letters, DO NOT DELIVER HERE! Supposedly those are the people that are so in-your-face about not wanting the papers that somebody has to make a special note. The fourth time I was asked to do alternate delivery, I let them talk me into it, then when I drove down to do it, they had crossed my name off the list and gave that route to someone else. So I swore that if that's how they're going to treat me, I'd never do alternate delivery again.

Now back to that printer that I found….

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