Six months ago, a nutty little dog named Izzy Louise came into my life via the incredible efforts of a rescue organization that works on saving dogs of her breed, Rat Terrier ResQ. An all-volunteer, nationwide staff that is tireless in its mission, ResQ was in desperate need of a new website that reflected all aspects of the work they do, as well as the group’s fun-loving nature. It didn’t take long for me to get sucked into the vibe as a volunteer, and over the last few months, I’ve been working on this redesign for them, volunteering to work with their board of directors to produce a new brand, corresponding logo and ultimately, the site.
Since I love all-things-WordPress, I decided to use this as a test case to run all kinds of flexibility tests. People need to be able to find available dogs, for example, using loads of parameters like location, sex, whether or not they were good with dogs/cats/kids, etc.. The site also had to be easy enough for staff to post dog profiles and stories. I ended up choosing WordPress’ categories structure to handle most of the taxonomic work, with a fairly extensive set of parent & child categories. The query_post fucntion became my best friend. I tried to avoid using custom fields (I think they can be confusing to the end user making the profiles), but ultimately gave in and implemented them for the thumbnails for the Featured Dog in the sidebar, the city each dog is in, and the extra information for dogs needing sponsors.
It was a fabulous challenge that really got my gears going. But besides all that, I know it’s going to help a lot more dogs find homes, and for that I couldn’t be happier. As they say at ResQ, “To one dog, you may just be the world.”
Last weekend was the last of my three sessions with the Progressive Women’s Voices program… and while I’m excited to run out into the world with the stacks of knowledge that I gained, I’m sad that it was our last class! Here’s our group with the staff of the Women’s Media Center, plus a certain famous lady that helps make it all happen:
Bonus: I also played superfangrrl and got my picture taken with Jane Fonda.
Well, kids, it’s been an interesting couple of days. (don’t know what I’m talking about? start here!) Before I get into the story update, there are a couple things that I’ve learned:
Okay, now for the update. I went back to Citibank in Park Slope earlier today, and since there was no one at the little info desk, the security guard had me sit in a row of seats to wait for someone to be free to help me. After a few minutes, a woman who worked there walked by and asked, “Are you being helped?”
Funny she she pose the question that way, eh? “Why, no,” I replied. “No, I’m not being helped at all.”
She asked me what I needed, and when I replied that I was there for an affadavit for a fraudulent check, her eyes got wide and she said, “God, what happened?” Which made me dump out the whole story from Tuesday. The look of shock increased as the story went on, till finally she stopped me and said, “Oh my God. I am so sorry, that should not have happened to you. Come into one of the private offices and we’ll get everything taken care of right away.”
A team of three women– for the record: Ruth, Rose and Roseann, I kid you not — sprung into action. They found that another check for ~$5k was attempting to be cashed, and because Sparky the “Customer Service” Rep didn’t help me on Tuesday, it was bouncing everything out all over again. More apologies, but they also found that someone’s gone into a Citibank branch elsewhere and made a small deposit, presumably to see if the account was still open. Can I tell you the relief I felt to see people actually caring and trying to find out what was happening to my money?
Anyhoo, we squared away a bunch of stuff together, and I got the affadavits for the police reports. However, I have to wait till tomorrow now to file the police report, because I won’t have a copy of the new fraudulent check until 7am.
But wait, there’s more! Later in the day — literally right after I’d purchased a new paper shredder at Staples — I got a call from a representative of Wachovia, asking me if I was writing some big checks. Turns out that since the first one bounced, and a second one from me was coming in, Wachovia already suspected fraud and got on the ball. The woman (whose identity I verified, yes) was extremely helpful and gave me the names and addresses of the people that deposited the fraudulent checks. She doesn’t think, from her experience, that they’re the perps, but rather that they’re the victim of some sort of scam operation. Wild stuff. She’s down with helping the police investigate, and I’m taking all this info with me tomorrow.
In the meantime, I have to say that while this doesn’t compare with some of the BS that I dealt with and violation I felt after getting mugged (ah, Christine, could anything have bonded us tighter? Really?), it’s, um, getting to be right up there. It’s also completely physically taxing in an unexpected way — my body has been demanding about 10 hours of sleep per day since this all started. Apologies to clients who are reading this and wondering where the hell I’ve been, too — the bureaucratic nightmare is taking up a ton of bandwidth.
More tomorrow after I’ve visited with my (hopefully) friendly neighborhood police officers. Wish me luck.
Let me tell you a little story about a goofy ol’ worldwide bank that you might’ve heard of: Citibank.
(UPDATE, 2/19: Citibank has a total of 3 women working for them who are not like the story below.)
It’s Friday night, I’m having drinks with my comics instructor, the illustrious (pun intended) Tom Hart. I go to pay for the drinks with my Citibank debit card, hooked up to that silly li’l thing I like to refer to as my “checking account.” The bartender informed me that it wasn’t going through, which was a bit of a surprise… I have a tempestuous relationship with my dough, sure, but I should be able to eek out $20 for cocktails.
Logged into my online account, where a very bright red font did its job of getting my attention: I was overdrawn by four thousand dollars. Hmmmm. I quickly ran through the past week: yes, it’d been an insane week with lots going on, and yeah, there were a coupla fuzzy spots in my memory, but I was, um, pretty sure that I couldn’t have spent all the money in my checking and my overdraft and then still have been overdrawn by… let me repeat… four thousand dollars.
Looking through my list of transactions, it didn’t take long to pinpoint the problem: a check for $4,900. Again with the quick brain scan: did I write a $4,900 check? No, no, I didn’t. The image of the check itself showed a check that wasn’t one of mine (but had all my info on it), made out to someone I didn’t know, in handwriting that was also not mine. Fascinating. But also… Very Bad Indeed.
I picked up the phone and called Ye Olde “Customer Service.” From here on out, “customer service” will always be printed in quotes when referring to Citibank, and should be read as if I were performing finger quotes each time I say it. After a 15-minute wait for a “customer service” representative to come online, I explained what I’d discovered, and asked what we could do about it.
“You’ll have to take two forms of ID to your local branch and file a fraudulent check claim,” said the “customer service” guy on the phone.
“You’re kidding,” I said.
“No,” he said.
As it turns out, Citibank doesn’t really have a plan for this sort of thing. Electronic identity theft? They’re on it. You call ‘em, you fax them a letter, and a coupla days later, you got your cash back. Someone goes old school on your ass and makes their own checks with your info? Citibank sorta shrugs and tells you to go old school and find a branch.
The call with “customer service,” to be honest, didn’t end well. I told the representative that I wasn’t going to get off the phone until he told me that Citibank didn’t care about me and the fact that someone’s trying to steal five thousand dollars from me.
“But Citibank does care about you,” he said.
“Clearly, my friend, Citibank does not care about me,” I replied with an increasingly shaky voice, “since you can’t do anything about the fact that I’m overdrawn by four thousand dollars right now because some smartass thief has figured out your system.” (We went back and forth on this point for quite a while; I’ll spare you the complete play-by-play.)
“As I stated before–”
“No need. Keep working for your crappy company that doesn’t give a crap at all. Good luck with that.” I hung up.
Resigned, I waited till today– it was President’s Day on Monday and Citibank was closed — to go to the branch in Park Slope. The “customer service” person there basically told me that because there were insufficient funds in the account for the check, everything would reverse out by Thursday-ish (she couldn’t be sure) and everything would be back to normal. Was I going to have to pay the fees for a bounced check? No, come back and she’ll reverse those for me. (Come back! To the bank! In 2009, ten years into the Age of the Information Superhighway!)
Moving along in the process was impossible without me pulling teeth. Through a series of intense questioning, I figured out that to commence an investigation into the matter, I had to file a police report. Citibank wouldn’t take any action themselves. Right. Why would they?
“What if I had had the money to clear the check?” I asked.
“It would have cleared,” she said quite plainly.
“And I’d be out $4,900?” I asked further, stunned.
“Yes. Then you’d have to file a claim with us, and we’d investigate it. If everything worked out, you’d get the money back in five to seven business days.”
“Uh-huh.” I was too floored to argue the inanity of it with her. “What about the future? Can I put some sort of filter on my account, that checks more than say, the amount of my rent every month should warrant some sort of phone call or other check in?”
“We can’t do that,” she said.
“So, wait– let me get this straight. When I bought my ticket to Hawaii on my debit card a couple of years ago, and Citibank called me within a few hours to make sure that was me doing that… that you can handle. But a piece of paper, that just completely befuddles Citibank’s systems.”
She shrugged. “Yeah.”
“Is there anything I can do to protect myself at all?”
“Well,” she sighed. “You should probably close this checking account because they have the information now, and open up a new one.”
“I think that’s an excellent idea!” I exclaimed. “In fact, I’m going to close all of my accounts with Citibank when I come back, and move everything over to a credit union where I at least stand a chance of someone giving a crap about what happens to me and my money. Thank you!”
I’m actively taking suggestions for credit unions in Brooklyn that folks are happy with. I’d always wanted to join the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union when I lived there, but perhaps because one of my employers is still there, I might still get in. Leave thoughts, prayers, suggestions and other tidibits in the comments.
PS– Extra credit kicker: went to the precinct to file a claim, and they told me Citibank has to give me an affadavit saying that the check is indeed fraudulent. “But I don’t think Citibank either believes me or cares that it’s fraudulent,” I said to the officer. She shrugged and repeated herself. Extreme bureaucracy might be the death of me. It might end up being the number one cause of death someday soon. I can see the Times headline: “Extreme Bureaucracy Kills Nearly 13,000,000 Every Year In US.” Or maybe there’ll be a new diagnosis soon called “Customer Service Rage.” What would that headline be? “Customer Service Rage Blamed in Destruction of Local Bank.”
I’ve been bouncing off the walls since I got the official word, and now I can finally broadcast it in every medium: I’ve been accepted into the first class of this year’s Progressive Women’s Voices program! Here’s a brief description of this killer training that I’ll be receiving:
We are "changing the conversation" by making sure that there are plenty of qualified, authoritative, progressive women experts available to editors, reporters, producers, and bookers. For the women chosen to participate in our 2009 Progressive Women's Voices program, we provide intense media training sessions in New York, with weekly follow-up briefings and continued training, as well as support and resources for media bookings.
Not only am I thrilled to be participating myself, but I’m especially excited to work with amazing classmates — Rinku Sen, Jehmu Greene, hello! — and almuni of the program (Carmen, Courtney, I’m lookin’ at you…). Thanks to the Women’s Media Center for giving us all this fabulous program.
Here’s a permalink to the submission, too.
At the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics… this was one of the coolest feelings ever. Highly recommended!
Drumroll, please… I went and got myself a dog! Please meet and introduce yourself to Ms Izzy Louise:
Her story: She was rescued by the super awesome folks over at Rat Terrier ResQ from a backyard breeder in Texas. Which means, pretty much, that she spent the first three years of her life in a cage outdoors, and has had to overcome incredible obstacles. Thanks to the love and patience of her foster mom, Jacki, she’s done just that, and is slowly adjusting to life with me in Brooklyn. As I type this, she’s snoozing on the window shelf I built for her next to my desk. It’s a dog’s life!
There are a bunch of ways you can keep up with her progress online, if you’re into that sort of thing– I’ll be posting more periodic updates in my own accounts, but here are her locations online:
The otherworldly-ness of last night can’t really be described, but I blogged about it over on AlterNet. More thoughts and candid observations to come here once I get some work done and have a chance to process it some more. Right now, all I remember is that I was the only one wearing jeans. Sorry, Mom!
I’m excited to head upstate next week, back to some old stomping grounds in Ithaca, NY. I’m participating in the Park Center for Independent Media’s symposium, and I’ll be presenting with David Mathison some thoughts on rapid response and journalism via social networking tools like Twitter. Yippie! It’ll also be good to see a bunch of friends and colleagues — Roberto Lovato (who is putting his faith in my Dunkin-Donuts-fueled driving skills, bless his heart), Tracy Van Slyke, Robert Greenwald, David Cohn, Amanda Michel… the list goes on and on.
Then a day or two of downtime with the parents while I’m in the neighborhood, which always does the soul some good. But alas, it’ll be back to the city to resume apartment hunting madness. Anyone have any leads on a dog-friendly 2 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn?