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The Service Call

Glenn: But YOU called ME. Why am I the one answering identification questions? On the other hand, I have no idea who you are. So I have a few identification questions of my own.

Service Rep: I understand Sir, and you are absolutely right. So if you prefer, you can hang up, and YOU can call US at 800-123-4567.

[Does this sound like a stupid remedy to anyone besides me?]

Glenn: With all due respect, that does not address my concern - it merely displaces it one step.

Service Rep: Then I can refer you to our web site. Click these 14 links, and call the phone number that appears.

[Call ends, I dial the number.]

Recorded Voice: You have reached us. Nobody is available to take your call now. [Paraphrased] Please leave your name, address, social security number, location of your stock certificates, at least three account passwords, and the name of the last person you have been with at the sound of the tone.

Saturday's Mail

In Saturday's mail: A bill from ABCD for a past due amount of $15.

Also in Saturday's mail, a refund check from ABCD for $15 from a previous overpayment.

Credit Collection Calls

"This is the loan company calling for Sam Smith. If this is Sam Smith, press 1."

I almost refuse to answer the phone any more, for I can't communicate with a recording. There's no option to say that the person you want isn't here, and I lack the handstrength to write down the 11-digit call-back number and the 42-digit account number. And if I lie, and press1, then they never believe that I can't take a message. They simply assume I'm ducking their call.

OK, so I have special circumstances, but what if a 6-year-old answers?

"To place this call on hold while you get Sam Smith, press 2."

And what good will that do? The maximum hold time is three minutes. It takes as long as five minutes for me to get out of my office chair.

The household phone was placed in my office to spare me the up and down when I get a call. We have no extensions. Most of the rest of the family never hears the phone ring. And I'm about to go on strike.

One time I did press 1, and decided to pay on behalf of Sam. They would have agreed to take my check over the phone. But telling me who it was TO - or how much the check would be FOR - they needed Sam's permission to disclose that to me. They couldn't even admit to me there was an amount past due. (Oh the stuff scams are born of.) They told me to name an amount, and they would say Yes or No as to whether it was enough. They did not say whether they would say Yes or No as to whether it would overpay the total account balance. No, I didn't pay it.

"If Sam Smith is not home, press 3."

I don't dare press 3. It will be followed by a one-time rapid recitation of a phone and account number, followed by a Good-bye.

And then the call gets listed as Ignored. Ducked. Refused to talk to us. And two or three of those, and the loan company can file for a collection judgment against Sam. At least that's what they told me when I told them I couldn't write down the number. They warned me that refusal to take down a number would accelerate the legal remedies they have.

"If Sam Smith is no longer at this number, press 4."

And why do I get the sense that they will call the Sheriff if I press 4?

I suspect that credit collectors are up there with the IRS in getting lied to. But the way they treat me - when I'm really just trying to work with them - it's almost like they are LOOKING to fight.

Find the Story

Find the story that the following people tell:
1. Rights leader Martin Luther.
2. Power Rangers voice Michael.
3. Life Goes On actor Chad.
4. Civil War General Robert E.
5. Educator Thomas.
6. Pop singer Toni.
7. Suffragette Susan B.
8. Former Jets quarterback Joe.
9. Opera mezzo soprano Blanche.
10. Pips lead singer Gladys.

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party. The quick sly fox jumped over the lazy brown dog. A B C D E F G H I J K LL M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z I'm trying to waste space, so the answer doesn't show up in the teaser. Maybe it's not really a teaser; maybe it's more like an abstract. You sure have to do a lot of typing here to waste enough space. I can type whatever I want here, because I know that nobody is reading this. At first I filled this space with gibberish, bue their editor automatically censored it.

Triple Click here for a clue--> King forced (Forest) lowly (Lowe-Lee)....

Triple Click here for the answer--> King forced (Forest) lowly (Lowe-Lee) man (Mann) to kneel (Tenille) and then he (Anthony) nameth (Namath) the bum (Thebom) Knight.

"I'm not playing to pass time, I'm playing for keeps"

It cost me over 2,000,000 kwachas, but we came back to Victoria Falls to view them from the air, in a helicopter. Five of us crammed into a back seat that seats three comfortably, for a 15-minute tour. They had a 30-minute version, but I thought that 4,000,000 kwachas was an excessive price. We had to wear headphones to avoid ear damage. The sole reason to go was that I knew I wasn't ever going to return to Zambia. I was here playing for keeps.

The view of the falls itself was more spectacular from the footbridge. But an air view gave it a new perspective. First, from the air, we were permitted to fly into Zimbabwe air space. But also from the air, we were able to look at the Zambezi River immediately beyond the falls.

There were seven high-standing columns, each of which marked the spot where the Victoria Falls used to be. They explained that when David Livingstone discovered the falls, the water fell from the first (furthest away) column. The actual fall has been moved back seven times since then. The columns created a bend in the river's flow, alternating directions between columns as if it were people alternating directions as they progress through a turnstile queue.

From the Zimbabwe side, we could see the final quarter-mile of the falls – a range called Devils Falls. It was a deeper drop than the rest. It seemed to contain an extra dose of power. The guide noted the Livingstone statue on the Zimbabwe side, though I didn't get a good look at it.

The 30-minute tour would have given us time to descend into the gorges between the columns. But the 15-minute tour complemented the walking tour quite nicely.

"Sign said you gotta have a membership card to get inside Uh!"

A warning sign on the path to the helicopter reads, "Please duck as you enter and exit the helicopter. Propeller blades are expensive."

"I've seen butterflies galore, I've seen people big and small"

The name of the city was Livingstone; the name of the airport was Livingstone; the name of the hotel was Livingstone. Therefore, Dr. Livingstone, I presume to be one of the most revered names of Zambian history.

That Livingstone is the name of a Zambian city is itself a testimony to his ministry. Today, Zambian cities are named Ndola, Kabwe or Ujiji – names that my spell-check hates. Yet my spell-check is fine with Livingstone, and it is the only city in Zambia that has retained its colonial Rhodesian name.

Outside the airport stand a 15-foot high bronze statue of David Livingstone, flanked by statues of Chuma and Susi, two boys who served as his African guides. Had we been given the opportunity to enter Zimbabwe, we would have seen a statue of David Livingstone on the other side of Victoria Falls.

For ZMK-319,000, I get two passes to the Livingstone Museum, flanked by a statue. It's a self-guided tour. Livingstone's clothes and cooking utensils remain on display there. His missionary trails are recreated. By far, the most impressive display were pages and pages of the autographa of his journal – all still very readable.

David Livingstone was a Scottish-born missionary who made three tours of mainland Africa. The western world tends to be somewhat familiar with his general ministry. In the West, he is perhaps best known for a scene from his third tour. He was commissioned by a British newspaper to locate the source of the Nile River.

After losing contact with him, the newspaper believed him dead, and sent Henry Moreton Stanley to confirm their suspicions. In the town now called Ujiji, Zambia, their paths crossed. Likely from the rarity of finding a caucasian in the African heartland, Stanley approached him with the words, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume."

However, the people of Africa remember Livingstone for much more than a happenstance encounter in Ujiji. They remember a man who introduced the African people to the Gospel, who introduced them to medical care, who introduced them to hope. When Livingstone died of malaria eight years later, Zambia returned his body to England. But they kept his organs including his heart, and held a local burial service for him there. The funeral in Zambia endured two days.

England's national anthem remains "God Save the Queen." In America we sing "God Bless America." I doubt that either nation appreciates the prayer genre of these songs. But Zambia's national anthem is "Praise be to God…Bless Our Great Nation." Dr. Livingstone, I presume, made a mark on this people that endures today.

"Don't go chasing waterfalls"

The term "seven wonders of the world" usually refers to the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Pyramids of Giza is the only ancient wonder that yet stands. But additionally there are the seven wonders of the medieval world which include Stonehenge, the Great Wall and the Leaning Tower. Finally there are about seven lists of seven wonders of the modern world. I don't know how official these wonder-lists are, CNN seems to be influential in compiling them.

Among the wonders of the modern world are the seven natural wonders of the world. Mount Everest, the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef populate this list. Also on the list is Victoria Falls, located in southeastern Zambia at the Zimbabwe border.

It is generally accepted that David Livingstone was the first European to see Victoria Falls. Local natives called it "the smoke that thunders," but Livingstone gave it its modern name, naming it after the then-Queen of England. He wrote of the falls, "…no one can imagine the beauty of the view from any thing witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight."

"The waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh, and the bow shall be in the cloud"

Our walk into the falls begins with a short hike through a riverside forest. About halfway we find a vendor renting ponchos and rain shoes. For ZMK-9,000 (less than $2), we can rent both a poncho and a pair of shoes. Included is the service of watching our land shoes; we sit down, and they change our shoes for us. Ahead is a footbridge into Zimbabwe. From the bridge we get a direct look at the falls, at a distance of a half-mile.

We get the sensation that it's raining. The raindrops are large and warm, much like a summer rain that children can play in, only the drops fall with more force than I recall. The falling water is not rain from the sky; it is drops of water that have already bounced off the bottom of the river, and have rebounded 400 or more feet into the air, the level of the footbridge.

Coming the other way is a party of people walking in swimming attire. The weather and the climate make this wholly appropriate. My mind immediately races to the important matters, such as, Where are they keeping their passports? I don't bother to ask.

I look over the side of the bridge, and the drop seems much more than 400 feet. And even at that, I can't really see the bottom because of the splash-mist. I look up at the falls, and for the first time I see the "smoke" that provoked the name "the smoke that thunders." Immediately below the whitewater of the falls is a deep black-looking layer of space, somewhat resembling a burnt surface. As the splashing of the falls hits the smooth fall of the drop itself, a mist seems to rise aimlessly, somewhat resembling rising smoke.

The mist that rises above the upper Zambezi water line creates a rainbow on a sunny day – the biggest and clearest rainbow I have ever observed. This is no quirk of timing whereby rain continues to fall though the sky be cloudless. This is something that locals of Zambia and Zimbabwe see every day.

"I hijacked a rainbow and crashed into a pot of gold"

The tour came to an end at the Zimbabwe line; we could not enter Zimbabwe. The only "forward" was to turn around and go back over the bridge into Zambia. It meant re-admiring the falls, re-navigating the drop below, getting drenched all over again. It meant re-hiking the forest, it meant re-claiming my land shoes.

And the shoe vendor asked me to sit down. And for the second time, he changed my shoes for me.

"Rollin on the river"

They said it is the fourth largest river in Africa. Since there is no generally accepted way to measure a river's size, its rank ranges from third to fifth. The Zambezi River flows serenely past the back yard of our hotel. They warn us not to go swimming in the river, for crocodiles swim there. That was reason enough for me – it's doubtful I would have anyway.

They have a concrete swimming pool on the property for guests who must swim. It's curious how they keep the crocodiles out of the pool, for the pool rests against the river, separated only by a wall 9-12 inches over the water level. We scratch swimming off our Zambian to-do list.

When Rhodesia claimed their independence from Britain, they renamed the country after the Zambezi River, and called it Zambia. On the other side of the Zambezi, we can look into the country of Zimbabwe. Later in our stay, we will walk over a bridge that crosses the Zambezi River. But for lack of proper visas, we are not permitted to get off onto the other side of the bridge.

The first activity in Zambia is a Zambezi River cruise. It's a two-hour ride on the African Princess, not a guided tour. Depending on the side of the boat you're on, you can look at the scenery of either Zambia or Zimbabwe. You are permitted to look into Zimbabwe without a visa.

It is evident that monkeys are abundant in the area. River trees line the bank on both sides, and several have monkeys playing in them. We see a few crocodiles in the water, but they tend to be nocturnal animals.

The day is sunny, and the water is smooth. The only things to do are to relax, look around, chat and munch on hors d'oeuvres. I think I'm going to like my stay in Zambia.

"Praise be to God. Praise be, praise be, praise be,...

...Bless our great nation"

The words of the title come from the National Anthem of Zambia. As we left the airport, we found a very large bronze statue of 19th century missionary David Livingstone, still beloved by the nation of Zambia.

More than any other place I've ever been, I entered the country not knowing what to expect. I left with a tremendous adoration for a people not used to being in the spotlight. The roads were poured asphalt, not smoothed out. A wild monkey joins us at the breakfast table one morning. Each night, a hotel maid would visit us to install mosquito netting around our beds.

Most buildings had thatch roofs. Like everyone else in America, I learned about thatch roofs in fourth grade social studies. Somehow the text books never conveyed how neatly the thatch lays, or how cleanly manicured the roofs look.

The people of Zambia are wonderful. Herbert was a taxi driver who drove me to a restaurant. For $14, he drove me there, waited as I ate, and drove me back to the hotel. The hotel maid picked my dirty clothes up, folded them, and placed them neatly on my suitcase.

Zambia was called Rhodesia when it was a colony of Britain. Since then, they have renamed all their cities to local names – except one: the city of Livingstone. So revered do they hold his ministry. The name of our hotel was the David Livingstone Safari Lodge.

"Daidle deedle daidle daidle daidle deedle daidle dum"

The currency of Zambia is the Kwacha – 4631 Zambian Kwachas (ZMK4631) make one United States dollar. That does not indicate that they are less affluent; it only means that they've printed a lot of money. If the high exchange rate bothered them, then with a one-page memo they could change the basic currency unit to, say, a Kilokwacha, and the exchange rate would instantly fall to 4.6-to-1.

That said, the average annual wage is $1,400.

The exchange rate did cause some interesting quotes. The Ngoma Zanga restaurant sold appetizers for ZMK-20,000. Entry to the David Livingstone Museum was ZMK-319,000 for two people. Or, think of it this way: If you have $225 in the bank, then you're a Zambian millionaire.

"I asked my family doctor just what I had"

In order to enter Zambia, I had to be immunized against yellow fever and typhoid, and I had to be on malaria medications. Since I had spent time in Zambia, re-entry into the United States involved being photographed by an infrared camera in order to be sure that I was not infected with anything. The photograph was taken at a 30-foot distance – I have no idea how it works.