Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Mary Johnson was a nun for over 20 years. With the chosen name of Sister Donata, she worked in the Missionaries of Charity congregation with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.
The operative word here is "was". She is no longer a nun. Having left the order, she came back to the States and wrote a book called "An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life".
The book, published by Random House, was scheduled to hit the market on Tuesday. Her story is in the October issue of O Magazine, with Oprah and Rosie O'Donnell on the cover.
What better way to celebrate and thank Mary's publisher and her agent by sending a singing nun to sing a congratulatory/thank you telegram from a former nun. (what's with all the singing nuns lately?)
Dan Conaway is Mary's agent. He nixed the idea of Mary's original sub-title for the book, which was "Mother Teresa Wasn't Always Pleased With Me". There was also some private joke in there involving Copernicus, when he awoke from his coma after someone placed a published copy of his "De Revolutionibus" in his hands, took his last breath, and died!
From there I went to Random House to sing to a group of editors, publicists, audio book producers, and their assistants -- all of whom tried their very best to take in the sight of a singing nun, congratulating them and thanking them for all the work they did to make Mary's book possible. I was a big hit all around.
Loved collaborating with Mary on this. The only unanswered question is "Who will play her in the movie?" She suggested that I should, given that I was so convincing in my habit. But I'm thinking more along the lines of Debra Winger, or her heir apparent!
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
This week will go down as being more interesting for the deliveries that didn't happen, as opposed to the ones that did.
On Monday, a woman called me to inquire about a delivery at a hospital in NYC for someone who had minor surgery. Each hospital has its own policy regarding deliveries, as well as what costumes are permitted. It's always best to check beforehand. Most hospitals DO allow singing telegrams, but generally limit delivery time to visting hours. Some restrict balloons and very often "suggest" that anything loud and outrageous be toned down. So even gorillas and chickens pass the smell test.
But this woman had asked about a grim reaper! A grim reaper?" Really? "A grim reaper at a hospital?"
"Why not?", was her reply.
"Maybe the fact that some people go into a hospital but don't come out. I think it would be alarming to have the grim reaper share an elevator with a relative of a recently deceased person....not to mention it's really in poor taste and inappropriate. I am sure the hospital won't allow it. And even if they did, I wouldn't be interested in doing this delivery for you."
"But you're in the service industry!" she snapped.
"Yes, I am," I replied, "but I have certain guidelines that have to be met. A delivery like this could prove to be hurtful to someone, just by an unintentional meeting. And that's not the kind of business I run. I can't fill the request that would result in your satisfaction."
"Well!" she clearly was clueless and exasperated by my response. Then she hung up.
I'm guessing she got someone else somewhere to fill her request. As I like to say, "wouldn't wanna touch that karma with a ten-foot pole!"
My second non-delivery started out as a delivery. A secretary called on behalf of her boss to order a Get Well singing telegram for her boss's partner, who was home recovering from being hit by a car while bicycling. At first she asked for a rabbi, because the partner was Jewish. After being told it's not on the costume list and suggesting the man might be offended, she opted for a singing nun, because her boss was Catholic. She claimed her boss approved it. I kept asking to speak to her boss to help clarify the order, but she said he was too busy to talk and she was authorized to do the ordering, which she did, using his corporate credit card.
The delivery was to take place the next day, between 1:00 - 2:00 PM. The next day at 12:36 PM, 24 minutes before the delivery is to take place and ten minutes away from arriving at the house of the recipient, Dina calls to say her boss wishes to cancel the telegram because HE thinks the nun is inappropriate and offensive.
"But you ordered it yesterday, fully cognizant of it being a nun, specifically because I didn't have a rabbi."
"Well, my boss changed his mind and no longer wants it." she said.
I told her she could change the costume, but couldn't cancel the delivery because I need 48 hour's notice and she's only giving me 20 minutes. I'd be happy to redeliver with another costume later that day, but she wasn't budging.
"This is not a shirt you can return to Macy's!" I said. "Let me talk to your boss"
Again, with the "He's too busy to talk to you. I'm authorized on his behalf to make the decision."
I should have just said that it was too late, I couldn't get hold of the messenger in time, and left it at that. Instead, I headed to my next delivery. Within four days, I got a letter from American Express with an attached letter from Dina's boss saying he was disputing the charge with all sorts of made-up excuses that made me look like I run a business that could get a Triple F rating from the Better Business Bureau. (30 years of great customer service being thrown down the drain!).
Thankfully, I have all the calls and time-stamps on record, as well as every page of my website showing the cancelation policy clearly stated. Over the course of the 30 years I've been in business, there have been about four disputes over charges and each time American Express has sided with me 100%, without even having to make a partial refund.
What's ironic is that in each case, specific to the delivery, there is something the customer could have said that would have left me defenseless. Of course that "reason" would have been a lie, but nevertheless, I would have no choice but to refund the money to the customer. (For reasons you can understand, I'll elect not to disclose it.)
So now, having submitted my data to American Express, I await the resolution which I expect to be in my favor. I'd much rather be concentrating on making someone's day a little happier!
Monday, September 19, 2011
Sunday, September 18, 2011
There must be something in the atmosphere that affects and influences people's biorhythms...or maybe it's that primitive, caveman part of us, like the hypnic jerk, where you feel like you're falling just before you fall asleep. I've read that primitive man, or probably our more ape-like ancestors used to sleep in trees. And if you fell out of a tree, well, you were dinner for whatever lurked below. That jerking reflex kept you alive and from falling out of the tree!
It is with that, that I introduce a variety of highlighted deliveries for the week.
The week started innocently enough with a delivery to a 95 year-old retired medical professor from Cornell University; Dr. Roger Greif. An old-fashioned gentleman, Dr. Greif has taught and trained generations of young doctors throughout the years. His wife is a trustee of Goucher College in Baltimore. I had expected to deliver to his apartment on East 87th Street. I was mistaken....it was his house! His HOUSE in New York City. It's rare that I get to go to someone's house in Manhattan. The entire brownstone is his home, and he lives over by Gracie Mansion.
What made this delivery so interesting is the inter-connecting of life's dots; the six degrees of separation. Making some light conversation after, I sang, I asked if Cornell was the only place he taught. Roger said that he had taught at Johns Hopkins in the early 1950's. Then I mentioned that I was reading this remarkable book called "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks", by Rebecca Skloot, which tells the story of how in 1951, at Johns Hopkins, a young black woman's sample of her cancerous tissues, taken without her knowledge or consent, continued to grow (and are still growing) and turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology, making some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. Dr. Greif nodded and said simply , "Yes, I knew those people".
Then Wella International sent me to the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa on Fifth Avenue to send a singing VIP invitation to two stylists/colorists to come to the annual International Trend Vision Awards as guests of Wella. Usually held in Europe in cities like Paris or Milan, for the first time the event is being held here in New York. It's a gathering of 65 other countries. Exciting for all I imagine, except of course, those in the industry who work in New York . So I went, dressed in my tuxedo, and sang a song to the very embarrassed duo, to the tune of "New York, New York", while their wealthy clientele looked bemused by the presentation. The staff was super. They treated me as if I were one of their guests, giving me a cool glass of water with lemon while I waited to perform.
Speaking of lemons, this next delivery was a testament to making lemons out of lemonade.
Toward the end of the week, with the approaching hurricane, things started to get a little wobbly. Maria had originally called me a few weeks back to do a Bachelorette Party-type delivery out in Montauk Point on a Saturday night, but by the time she called the order in, there was no one available to do it, since it's a two-hour drive east and a two-hour drive back. I couldn't squeeze it into what was already on the books. So I sadly had to kiss that one goodbye. But Maria loved the idea so much, she decided to have it done at BLT Fish in Manhattan at the rehearsal dinner, the night before the wedding/reception at Cipriani's. The rehearsal dinner was also the night before the hurricane. She had asked for a singing chicken because the bride and groom collect stuffed animals and that's the closest costume I have to a stuffed animal. A few hours before the delivery, Maria calls me to tell me that Cipriani's called them to tell them the wedding was being called off. They had no staff for the next night because of the hurricane and they had to postpone it until sometime in October. That's enough to take the wind out of anyone's sails.
But because it was Friday and the hurricane had yet to begin, they were already celebrating their rehearsal dinner with most of the guests who would be attending the wedding, including the bride's Aunt, who is a spiritual leader and the celebrant for the wedding. The couple opted to get married on THAT night, instead of some arbitrary date in October. After a quick "update/rewrite" of the song, Aunt Barbara stepped in to unite them, the chicken was the "cantor-du-jour", and Hurricane Irene christened the festivities.
"Tomorrow was the day, it's true
You were supposed to say, "I do"
But a woman has stepped in-between
She goes by the name of Hurricane Irene"
And finally.......there's Louie. If anyone personified the imminent storm, it was he. It's Lou's 25th Birthday. With his two sisters, they run a Greek restaurant in Brooklyn. He's the cook. Based on what his girlfriend of six months told me, he seemed like a pretty interesting guy. He's of Greek/Mexican descent, speaks Italian, Greek, Spanish, and English, works six days a week, loves to quote liberally from Adam Sandler movies, plays poker with his buddies, and is a big practical joker.
But this goes back to what I've said many times before; a singing telegram is NOT for everybody. You should know the person well enough to know whether or not they are a good candidate for a singing telegram. Louie was not. I'm in Brooklyn, poised to do my chicken delivery. The skies are getting dark and ominous and I'm eager to get back to Long Island before our predicted Category One arrives.
It arrived earlier than expected....in the form of Louie. Oh, was he mad! And I knew it the minute I stepped out of the bathroom to confront him. I'm liberally editing the song, doing my best rendition of an Evelyn Woods Speed Through (look it up!), looking for that hint of a smile. It ain't there and it ain't coming. He finally put his hand up and said, "Stop!" Which I immediately did. I turned, walked back to the bathroom to change, and walked out.
His sisters were very apologetic. I don't take it personally. "It's alright, it happens," I said. I just wanted to get home. I had to walk past Louie and his girlfriend, outside of the restaurant, with him screaming at her and a look of complete astonishment on her face. (A side of him you never saw before? When someone shows you who they are......believe them. The first time!).
The skies opened up as I pulled into my driveway.