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January 22, 2000

Wherever I find myself or whatever I do these days, I have to ask myself, "Can I spin this into a journal entry?" I'm even making different choices because I'm looking for something to write about. I almost considered something I would ordinarily never do — going to Grady's party tonight — just to make the day more interesting. Not for me, but for my phantom readership. I've managed to fill pages in a paper journal every day (or nearly) for over ten years, so it's content and not production that I'm going after. It's kind of a tentative process, though, because I'm still mostly the nerd I was in high school.

And I know enough about Grady and his friends to know how uncomfortable I would have been. I have nothing in common with them, except that we're all the same age. I don't find that enough of a bond. They eat and drink like Falstaff at a frat party, and I'm just starting another round of the Slim-Fast regimen. Most of them aren't as rough around the edges as Grady, and some of them have the good taste to be embarrassed by him at times, but he's loyal and generous, even to reluctant friends like myself. That makes up for a lot.

Some of the young women from Grady's JC cooking class were going to be there tonight, but no hanky panky (except in Grady's rather pedestrian yet overactive imagination). It might have been interesting to see how they interacted with men over twice their ages. And their wives. But in my mind there was something a bit disturbing about this combination of guests. I can't imagine having much to say to any of them.

Grady wasn't the reason I was monitoring my phone calls today, though. At least, he wasn't the only reason. I've been harassed by telemarketers all week, and they were the ones I was ducking. Two calls at inconvenient times yesterday convinced me that this must be the season for credit card companies to try to get their customers to buy various kinds of insurance or protection. The worst part for me is that I've found myself having to become more and more rude with each succeeding call, and that just isn't who I am.

My number is unlisted, so it's only a few outfits that can reach me at home. The banks that issue credit cards force you to call their toll-free 800 number to activate the card, and since you can't block caller ID on an 800-number call, they've got you.

And the Chronicle uses your phone number as its account number, so after I canceled my subscription a couple of months ago, they've been able to be persistent in trying to get me back. It's not that I don't want the paper, because I pick it up every day on the newsstand. I just didn't like the service I was getting from the carrier.

It was so much better in the days when a kid from the neighborhood brought the paper around on his bike every day. He had to come to your door and collect once a month, and the face-to-face contact made customer service important. It also gave you an easy way to offer gentle instruction, if necessary, in how to keep the customer satisfied. Now that newspaper delivery is an adult business, one customer who likes his paper on the doorstep instead of in a puddle or in the neighbor's driveway isn't likely to have much impact. I know this to be true from bitter experience, so now I'm my own paper carrier.

I did treat myself to another movie this afternoon. I saw The Green Mile, which everyone else has already seen (and written about), so I don't have to say anything about how moving it is. Tom Hanks can do no wrong, as far as I'm concerned. There's never a false note in any of his roles, and he's one of those actors who makes everyone around him more believable. And I hope that Michael Jeter gets some serious recognition for his affecting performance.

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