Quarantine Grocery Shopping

One of my favorite authors is Glennon Doyle and for years she has repeated the mantra “We Can Do Hard Things”. Lovely, isn’t it? In fact, so lovely, I have not only embraced it but actually believed that I could do hard things. Unfortunately, it seems hard things may not be the area I need guidance and assistance these days. Apparently, during quarantine life, I cannot do easy things.

I took a highly anticipated trip to the grocery store yesterday. The kids had cleared out most of the snacks several days ago and, although a plumber’s nightmare, flush-able wipes were also at a seriously low level. Both bring on a crisis of ridiculous proportions to the male occupants of this house.

Aside from my inability to remember reusable bags and coupons for nearly every shopping trip in the past 10 years, I would classify myself as an expert level grocery shopper. Not only can I carry a ridiculous amount of bags from my car to my kitchen in one trip, I am as fast and efficient as any top contestant on an episode of Super Market Sweep shopping through the aisles. Until yesterday, this had always served me well.

I was so excited at the prospect of leaving the house, I not only showered, but washed my hair and put on my fancy work out clothes. They have never really seen the inside of a gym and dashing through the grocery store is about the most exercise they will ever get to see. I vetoed makeup not only because it would fracture my exercise image, but it also causes extreme suspicion from my kids when I wear makeup or jeans and now is not the time to add any additional stress to their lives.

My jolly mood marched on as I pulled up and scored one of only four normal sized parking spots this grocery store offers. Ever tried parking a Suburban in a spot built for a Prius? It ain’t easy and I have, more than once, had to climb into my car from the passenger side at this specific store after being pinned in by an actual, Prius.

I had even picked a fully functional grocery cart on my first try, which was CRAZY!  I really believed this was the equivalent of locating the holy grail. You could search for it knowing that you would probably never find it and just needed to have faith that it actually existed. I usually spend at least 5 minutes trying out carts before giving up, grabbing the one with the least jacked up wheel and then cursing at it under my breath for the next hour. Never had I located one that not only made right and left hand turns equally, but also had the ability to be pushed straight with ease and didn’t emit a sound like I was dragging a half dead bird through the store.

Upon entering, I thought to myself damn, when did grocery stores start playing such good music. I sang along to Coldplay and shimmied through the produce aisles. I will admit, even with the sweet sound of Chris Martin serenading, things seemed a bit tense. A few people quickly hurried away as I was exiting aisles they were attempting to enter. An elderly couple gave me a questionable glance as I carefully bagged the one and only banana bunch to have touched my man hand fingertips. I received a couple eye rolls as another customer and I almost collided carts. Not today Satan, not today, I thought. I understood the apprehension and grumpiness given the current state of affairs.

A few aisles in, another woman adorning rubber gloves, stared me down as I smiled and passed her and thought to myself, she must be admiring my fancy workout clothes. I gave her a pass concerning the fact she was ineffectively using rubber gloves, having half removed one to scroll through her phone while holding the phone with the other rubber gloved hand. I telepathically tried to send her where to purchase the outfit, while also mentally instructing her to still wash her hands and wipe her phone down when she got home.

After unsuccessfully finding hand sanitizer in aisle 13 for the sixth week in a row, I stopped at the pharmacy. The blooming trees had to led a daily question of is it Coronavirus or is it Allergies?  I waited my turn at the designated 6 foot safe location and casually perused the store. I noticed an arrow painted on the floor of the aisle I had just exited. An arrow, pointing in the opposite direction than I had just been heading.  A quick scan reveals that EVERY aisle in the store has a pointed arrow painted on the floor and 90% of them face the opposite direction I had chosen to travel.

After a little investigating, I quickly come to the conclusion that the produce aisle had been a complete free for all. Maybe it was my excitement as the driver of the holy grail cart but I darted around that section the way my youngest darts around a playground after I tell him it’s time to leave. Then it seemed while I had been on the right track heading down aisle 1, that success was short lived once I skipped aisle 2.  Ultimately leading to some type of unintended, rogue journey through the remainder of store. These people had been staring at me and avoiding me because I had spent the majority of my trip shopping like some lawless, quarantine bandit on a suicide mission while smiling and nodding at each person along the way.

I decided to finish strong as the finest, rule abiding shopper on this side of the Mississippi. I momentarily thought about referring to the compass app on my phone but remembered I was flying solo on this trip and my oldest son wasn’t here to actually find that app. Even still, I felt confident. I looked at the arrow, down the empty aisle and back again to double check the arrow’s direction. Took a deep breath, grabbed the handle on my faith cart and repeated to myself, You Can Do Hard Things.

Behind the Plane Ride

I like to refer to the following little anecdote as “Behind the Plane Ride”.

We had already taken this trip to Greece once before with my oldest when he was 18 months old. Honestly, we didn’t even bat an eye at the idea of traveling internationally with him. He rose to the occasion and was better behaved on the plane than I was. This was a different time though. While my ability to travel for 16 hours had hopefully improved, I had real concerns about our 3 year old.

You see, out of all three boys, the youngest is one that doesn’t exactly go with the flow. He is more of a swim against the current kind of kid.  He was born with a strong will and spirit, while also lacking a redirecting option. Even still, I remained naively optimistic.

Embracing my strong need for planning, I thought it would be a brilliant move to introduce him to the idea of being on a plane by taking a short flight a few months before the big trip. Since my husband could not get away from work, I decided to take a solo trip with all three boys to Myrtle Beach and visit my Dad and Stepmom for spring break. It is, literally, a 1 hour flight and I felt confident that I could handle anything that could possibly be thrown at me for 60 minutes. I was prepared…heading into war prepared.  In addition I had two soldiers with me, my older two boys.  Everything was moving along smoothly, until we sat down in our assigned seats and the crying began. Screaming may be a little more accurate. Screaming, in row 12 – seat B, as if he were injured and lying on a civil war battlefield with only a shot of whiskey as I amputated a limb.

My older son who was seated in the row in front of us, promptly put his earbuds in, did not make eye contact the duration of the flight and acted as if he had no idea who we were. My middle son who was seated in the row with my youngest and me, looked on in horror as the color quickly drained from his face. The rest of the passengers, although very kind in their offers of candy and help, quickly retreated to their seats in defeat. The screaming and crying continued for about 30 minutes until the plane took off, at which point he fell asleep. Unfortunately, the relief was short lived and he immediately picked up where he had left off with about 15 minutes left in our flight. Upon landing, I sent my Dad a photo I had snapped during his performance intermission, with the message “I am going to need a drink and please, make it strong.”

As we stood up to exit, I quickly announced to the plane “If anyone would like to travel with us again, we head back to Baltimore on Saturday”. They chuckled, I cringed without acknowledging my keen ability to make jokes in uncomfortable situations.

This is the exact story I relayed to my husband, in addition to voicing my concerns. I kind of got the feeling he thought I was exaggerating the situation. That is, until we entered the plane headed to Greece a few months later.

Imagine you have a friend that keeps asking you to get on the tallest, fastest roller coaster that exists. You have already taken a ride on this roller coaster. You’re sure it is a bad idea. You know the friend may never recover from the terror but the friend keeps insisting that there isn’t a roller coaster out there that could be that scary. “Let’s do it” you say and ride the roller coaster, against your better judgment. Just as you inch to the top, you’re frightened but also a little giddy at the idea of watching your friend become paralyzed with fear while at the same time realizing you were right. When the ride ends and comes to a halt, you promptly look over and tell your friend, as they vomit, ” I told you so”. Now, imagine that ride lasts 8 hours, takes place overnight and everyone else on the ride wants to punch you in the face, specifically one French lady seated behind you. That was our plane ride to Greece.

We sat on the runway for a good hour, lengthening the duration of combat time spent on this battlefield. My husband’s expression appeared similar to how I picture his face if we were, together, in the middle of a desert, water less and my head were on fire. My oldest followed his fool proof method of acting like he had never met us before and our middle son followed his lead this time. I was sure that if we could just get in the air, he would fall asleep and victory awaited us. In addition, I had prayed to god for his mercy and given him a dose of children’s Melatonin before we boarded. Before I receive some sort of backlash for giving Melatonin to a 3-year old, I consulted our pediatrician beforehand and suspect had she been traveling on our flight, she would have chosen to prescribe a Quaalude instead.

In between screams, passengers kept throwing lollipops to me like I was some type of amateur mother with a juggling knack, who would board an international flight without a backpack full of candy, toys and activities. I felt their pain and the flight attendants on AirFrance felt mine. They were so kind, understanding and helpful. I highly recommend flying with them if you have an uncooperative, feral-like family member. The French lady seated behind me…. not so much. I ignored her as she rolled her eyes while huffing and puffing after each one of my failed attempts to console him. I understood that this was a difficult situation, but being a jerk wasn’t helping and certainly wasn’t changing a 3-year old’s position about not wanting to be on a plane.

At last, we take off and just as I had suspected the little one falls asleep, albeit with 90% of his body sprawled across my lap and chest. Looking back, I should have been willing to hold a plank with him sleeping on my back for the 7 hour flight, if it ended any sound exiting his lips. I don’t know whether it was the scoliosis in my back or the feeling like I had just gone 12 rounds in a boxing ring, but in any case, I decided that 2 inches of recline could possibly provide me with some comfort and relief for the remainder of the overnight flight. It just so happens that, unbeknownst to me, mon amie was attempting to get up from behind at the exact time I had chosen to recline. I call it Karma. She chose the term “bunch of animals” in French, which I understood crystal clear from studying French in high school and college.

I spent 30 unsuccessful seconds attempting to conjugate French verbs before abandoning my efforts for English and yelled out “I am not an animal, lady, you’re an animal!” At which point my husband, who was seated in front of me, turned around in horror and asked what the hell I was doing. I explained the situation, strategically increasing my volume when confirming that “I understand French” all while staring her down as she stood in line for the WC. This may in fact have served as the metaphorical point on the roller coaster ride where my husband realizes I was right.

I spent the rest of the flight silently scolding myself for not brushing up on my conversational French at some point, over the past 15 years. Pondering how a French lady could possibly dislike a woman that loves Brie and wine as much as I do but as they say in France, C’est la vie!

What I can tell you from this trip is, if I am ever seated behind you on the other side of the same experience, feel free to recline that seat all the way back, sister. Need a drink? I got you. Want me to start a collaborative passenger rendition of Joy to the World by Three Dog Night to drown out your child’s cries? I am on it, because Jeremiah isn’t my only friend. Anyone in your position is also a friend of mine. And if by chance someone so much as looks like they may grab a phone to record your agony, I will knock that bad boy out of their hand with the warrior mastery of a Feudal Japanese Ninja. I got you, weary traveler.

Because sometimes you must walk through the dark to get to the light, even if that light is dim and far away, looking down from the window of an airplane.

DPW – Part 5

I gave Rudy a deadline of 48 hours to respond. He missed it, leading to another email…

Dear Mr. Rudolph Chow,
Remember that time I sent you an email about being overcharged and you sent me one back apologizing and said it was corrected and would never happen again? Yeah, me neither, so here I am again.

I have been checking my email for two days now, anxiously awaiting your response. Unfortunately, I have received nothing but an inbox full of spam. In the past, I have given you guys a ton of leeway and made excuses when I haven’t received a reply… maybe they’re on vacation, it’s cold and water mains are exploding, it’s flu season… but not anymore. 

Look Chow, I don’t take kindly to continually being ignored. You are going to force me to have to come down to the city with the youngest in tow and if I am being completely honest, the kid is kind of a wild card, Rudy. He has also spent the majority of his life witnessing his mother battle “the water company” and his opinion of you guys is in the toilet. I am just giving you fair warning that his behavior, at times, is not what one would call conducive to a productive work environment and let’s face it, Rudy, you guys certainly don’t need any additional distractions, if you know what I mean.

In addition to reading the many articles concerning the gigantic mess you have with the the aging infrastructure and erroneous billing system, I have also kept fairly up to date with the soaring crime rate Baltimore CIty has been experiencing. Your offices have the convenient location of being smack dab in the middle of Baltimore and with limited parking, I am sure. 

Now, I have never personally experienced hostile gun fire but I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that dodging bullets to get to your office is probably going to prove much more difficult while shielding a 3 year old. It also means that I will be forced to take the day off from doing laundry, in my High Efficiency washing machine, of course (wink, wink). I am not sure if you are familiar with the amount of laundry 3 boys can produce, but let me tell you, it ain’t pretty. Why would you want me to have to go through all of that, Rudy? When you have all the information you need at your fingertips? 

It is fairly simple, I need my water meter fixed or replaced immediately and when I say immediately… I mean, like, this week. Not when the youngest heads to kindergarten. I need a credit, once again, issued to my account for the erroneous meter reading from this last billing quarter. If any of this is confusing, I believe it is what is referred to in business circles as “customer service” and “a refund”. Let me know if you need further clarification on these terms. I am fully aware that these duties may not necessarily fall under your job description but remember, we lead by example, Rudy and there is no “I” in team, so get her done.

Respectfully yours,
Shannon Armenis

P.S. It seems I need some type of access code to log into my account on your customer portal that I do not have. Apparently, it is sent on your very first bill, which, in hindsight, I should have saved 5 years ago but you live and learn, Rudy. If you could be a dear and get that to me, I would sincerely appreciate it.

Either Rudy felt my pain or realized that I was bat shit crazy because a few hours after hitting the send button, I received a phone call from a Supervisor at DPW. She informed me that my emails were forwarded to her to handle and that SHE was my contact moving forward, not Mr. Chow. She was not only able to make all necessary credits to my account but also arranged for my meter to be replaced. She was pleasant, efficient, followed up consistently and my water bill has been correct ever since. 

Straight to the Top – DPW Part 4

After the last email, Robenia either quit her job or went into the Witness Protection Program because I never did hear from her again. However, I am not only competitive but do not give up that easily. So I accepted the challenge and after a little research found the email of Rudolph Chow, the Director of the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works, at the time. He quietly resigned a few months ago after it was found that some high end condominium complex in Baltimore had not been billed for water in 10 years and owed the DPW millions of dollars. 

March 5th, 2018

Dear Mr. Rudolph Chow,
I have included, for your reading pleasure, a detailed account of my experience with your Department of Public of Works, as well as, email correspondence concerning continuous billing errors with my residential property located in Baltimore County. 

Although the email correspondence only accounts for the past two months, I have been attempting to have this corrected fully for two years. TWO YEARS, RUDY. When I first contacted your department, 730 days ago, I was bouncing my infant son on my knee… he is going to Preschool now, Rudy. 

Although I have now received proper credit to my account, my water consumption has once again mysteriously doubled. I attempted to contact the person who was able to offer assistance in January but it has been two weeks, and still nothing. This seems to be a common theme in your department, in addition to lack of follow through and accepting responsibility for your errors. I figured it was about time to cut out the middle man and head straight to the top of the chain of command. I attempted to copy Mayor Pugh for good measure, as I like to cover all my bases, but her email address isn’t quite as easy to obtain.

Upon browsing your website, I found these eloquent words under your contact information “DPW prides itself on providing quality services and strives to be responsive to your needs.” Lovely photo, by the way! It was a nice touch to be able to put a face to the name. I also would have included a photo with this email but unfortunately, Rudy, I haven’t slept through the night in like 10 years and my nerves are shot from having to deal with your ever efficient department that I can’t hold the camera still enough to capture one. Maybe after all this is done. 🤞Circling back to those delightful words on your website. If I had to pick two words to describe your government monopoly, quality and responsive would absolutely be at the bottom of the list, along with efficient, accurate and expeditious.

In my experience, your billing is so completely arbitrary that I picture a giant Plinko wall in your office where you disperse Plinko chips with my address on them to see where they may fall and what I owe for each quarterly bill. I am going to pay this quarter’s bill, not because I want to, Rudy, but because I have made great strides in potty training the youngest and I need water to effectively continue that progress. Well that, and I am obviously stupid. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts concerning the customer water consumption and it’s appropriation.

It may behoove you, at this point, to scroll down and read all of the previous correspondence, to allow you a full understanding of the situation at hand.

I took the liberty of heading over to your employment opportunities tab to see if you were actively seeking someone who could answer the phone over there in under 20 minutes or respond to an email but it seems your present concern is to obtain more CDL drivers. You’re probably going to want to re-evaluate that, Rudy. I am not trying to tell you how to run your department but as a restaurant owner, if the food was coming out of the kitchen too slow, I am not going to start hiring more bartenders. Just some food for thought.

I would be happy to discuss this over lunch, at our restaurant, where you could enjoy a burger and I would then give you a bill for 4 steaks, just as a thank you for opening my eyes to your business model of charging customers for services not rendered and then of course, ignore you when you asked to be charged for what you actually ate.

In Gratitude,
Shannon Armenis

Edit or delete t

DPW part 3

Finally, I received a call from Ms. S who informs me that she was previously a supervisor in the Adjustments Department but had recently switched roles and departments. She did agree to credit my account and forward the request to someone in the Adjustments Department to be processed. She also gave me her contact information should I encounter any further issues, which of course I did.

January 16th, 2018

I have just received my most recent statement for this last billing period and I would like to, first, thank you for FINALLY issuing a credit of $200 to my account. I would, second, like to congratulate
 the Baltimore City Department of Public Works on their move concerning the doubling of my water usage for this billing quarter. A lot of customers may have overlooked the fact that their water consumption not only doubled, but did so in a billing quarter with 15 days less than the previous one. Not me, Robenia, attention to detail is my thing and only paying for the water my family uses is my game. But I do have to give credit where credit is due so… Well played, DPW, well played.

I am beginning to get the slight feeling that I am being underestimated or mistaken for a fool. I am actually pondering the idea of shopping around a book to publishers filled with nothing but our correspondence concerning this billing issue and using the royalties to pay for the Well that my kids are currently digging in the backyard.

Per our last conversation, I am aware that your position has changed and you are no longer in the Adjustments Department. I generally commend a company that creates opportunities for it’s employees to advance, however, in this particular instance your role change is of extreme concern to me. In two years, you are the only person that has been able to issue a fairly easy billing adjustment to my account and done so with lightning speed.

This whole relationship with your employer is beginning to feel like a bad marriage. I keep giving and the Baltimore City Department of Public Works just keeps taking. It really does feel quite one sided and believe me, I would have broken this relationship off months ago but, unfortunately, I am married to the only Water Supplier in town. So here I am hanging on, hoping one of you guys will bring me flowers and tell me I am pretty but instead you keep overcharging me and insinuating that I am some type of water hoarder.

I am frightened, Ro. This is exactly how things started two years ago. My consumption doubled, then tripled, then reached a point where we were being charged more for our residential water bill than the commercial account for our restaurant. I usually give you the benefit of the doubt during the summer months. I mean, I do water 4 potted plants outside on occasion but during the middle of the winter? What exactly could we have done to double our water consumption? BGE has already slapped me upside the head with their winter billing, but you guys? That’s what we call kicking someone when they’re down, Robenia.

I like you, Ro. Educate me. Lead me into the light of who it is that can get this fixed once and for all. I hope you had a great extended weekend and I look forward to hearing from you upon your return.

Thy Humble Servant,
Shannon Armenis

DPW – Part 2

After my first email, I received a response from the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works stating that my account was being forwarded to the Adjustments Department and that I would be receiving a phone call from a Supervisor by the end of the next business day. 

January 12, 2018

Good Evening Ms. B,

While I was hopeful that someone would be in contact with me today as you had promised, I have yet to hear from anyone from the adjustments department as of this email.

Look, I get it. I read the newspapers and all the articles detailing the exorbitant mess that is the Water Billing System in the City of Baltimore.

I have read how understaffed your department is in correlation to the amount of accounts that are serviced. I am not here to make your life difficult. Am I frustrated? Yes. But I am willing to do whatever I need to to do to get this resolved as quickly as possible. I am sure that, at this point, you may dread hearing from disgruntled customers as much as I dread having to keep following up with the Department of Public Works.

I appreciate that you were the only person to reach out to me from your department and that you cannot make a colleague pick up a phone and call me, however, you are the closest contact I have to a resolution. Please do not abandon my account, contact me if there is anything I can do to help this along. I promise, I am easy to deal with. Although I am frustrated, I haven’t lost my sense of humor as I would hope you could deduce from my first email. 

If you would prefer to give me the contact information for the supervisor assigned to my case in the Adjustments Department, feel free and you can move on to another customer with a water bill issue. If you can’t, then you will get the opportunity to enjoy my charm for a little longer. I am sincerely hoping that you find this email after a wonderful, relaxing weekend. Looking forward to speaking with you.

Shannon Armenis

I gave her 2 business days but still nothing. So, I sent her another email. 

Is it okay if I call you Robenia? Although this relationship is beginning to feel a bit one sided, I am still getting the inclination that it will be a long term one. Therefore, it seems suitable that we be on a first name basis.

Moving on to the issue at hand. I will admit Robenia, I was feeling a little hurt that I didn’t hear from anyone on Monday. However, after breaking up somewhere north of 17 fights between my older boys, it dawned on me that your offices were also closed in celebration of the MLK holiday. My happiness and relief was short lived when I didn’t receive a phone call or email on Tuesday either.

I am starting to feel like the Baltimore City Department of Public Works just isn’t that into me but the fact of the matter is, Robenia, I’ve got 99 problems and a water bill is still one of them. It is also beginning to appear that the Adjustments Department Supervisor seems to have somewhat of a mythical existence.

So,where do we go from here, Robenia? What can I do to get the old ball rolling? To quote my good friend, Jerry Maguire, “HELP ME, HELP YOU!” Looking forward to your input.


Department of Public Works – Part 1

This is the first in a series of email correspondence with the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works. The snarky emails have become a favorite among family and friends. The first email was sent  out of complete frustration, to a contact that I received from our local community representative, after making monthly phone calls for over a year. I will also be adding the additional emails that followed (that’s right, even 1 snarky email did not do the trick, it took several) to the humor folder.

January 11, 2018
Dear Ms. W and Ms. L,
I was given your contact information from my local representative’s office, in the hopes that one of you may be able to assist me with a water billing issue I have been attempting to have corrected since July 2016. Yes, you read that correctly – 2016. Dozens of phone calls and several promises, here I am 1 1/2 years later, still waiting. 
After receiving a bill for more than 4 times my usual amount, I contacted the City of Baltimore in July of 2016 concerning the billing period of 04/26/16-07/19/16 in the amount of $288.66. A technician was sent out and upon arrival, found running water at the street meter. He informed me that I must have a leak inside my home. He advised me to have a plumber come out and submit a bill of any repairs to the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works and my bill would be adjusted. 
Sounds pretty easy, right? I had a plumber, at my expense (and we all know those bad boys aren’t cheap), review my entire home and although he was unable to find any indication of plumbing issues, he did locate one toilet with a flapper that was slightly loose. He replaced the flapper and I submitted the bill to the Adjustments department on 08/12/16. While waiting for the adjustment, I paid the $288.66 bill to avoid my account becoming delinquent (probably my first mistake) and assumed (my second mistake, you know the old saying!) I would just have a credit balance posted to my account upon the adjustment becoming finalized. 
In November of 2016, I received my next quarterly bill for the billing period 07/19/16 – 10/21/16 and eagerly opened it like a kid on Christmas morning in anticipation of seeing my lovely credit balance. However, you can imagine my let down, upon reviewing my bill and finding that in addition to not having credit, I now had been issued a bill for $356.15. My bill was now 5 times its usual amount. I contacted the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works again, and was told that they had never received the fax that I knew had been sent because I saved that handy little sheet that fax machines shoot out, letting you know that your fax has been successfully sent. In any case, I re-faxed my first fax to the Adjustments Department and was assured it would be corrected. 
Guess what I received in January 2017? A delinquency notice for the $356.15 from the November bill because at this point I am not paying a second incorrect bill. So, I make yet another phone call to my new found friends over at the City of Baltimore on January 17, 2017, all while my 2 year old is crying and requesting fruit snacks as I attempt to relay a detailed account to one of the representatives for probably the 6th time. This time, she informs me that the credit will not be issued to my account because my water usage has increased and not decreased since I submitted the repair order from the plumber. I think she takes pity on me mostly because she can hear the tantrum taking place in the background, but in any case, offers to send another technician out in the morning and gives me a Work order #377938. 
The technician comes out the next day and has me turn off my water from inside… and tells me that I must have a small leak because the meter is still moving slowly after my water is shut off. I plead with him for an answer. I explain that I have already had a plumber inspect my home, inside and out. That there are zero signs of any leaking water anywhere in my home. I invited him to come inspect my home himself. At which point, I may have scared him a bit, because he told me to have a plumber come back out and seriously high tailed it out of here. I stand defeated in the cloud of dust left from his vehicle and although I am positive that the issue is not our plumbing or water usage, I am becoming desperate so I call the plumber, again. He agrees to come back, again. He inspects the house, again. He hooks up a valve to my faucets inside and out to detect any running water… Zilch, Zero, Nada, Nothing. Just as I had expected. I spend the next few days in a haze, trying to do the calculations and realizing that if my bill continues to increase at the rapid rate it has, I may need to start dipping into my kids’ college funds to pay for it.  
A few days later, I receive a new quarterly bill and although the delinquent amount of $356.15 has not been adjusted, it does show that my current quarter water consumption rate is back to that of a normal customer and my current charges are only for $69.34. After 6 months, a dozen phone calls, two technician visits, two paid plumbing visits, and two faxes my water consumption returned to normal just as mysteriously as it had increased previously. 
I am feeling pretty victorious at this point, I patted myself on the back for my diligence and ability to follow up. Just to be safe though, I make a quick call to the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works to discuss the little issue concerning the past due amount (remember that $356.15) and the $288.66 that I had paid 6 months ago and had never been credited. Well the call wasn’t really quick because I apparently had called during a time they were receiving “high call volumes” so I pushed the key to have the Water Gods call me back when it was my turn. I guarded the phone, actually stalked the phone would probably be a more accurate term. I had to fend off two kids that had now arrived home from school and wanted to call a friend, but I prevailed and about 20 mins later the phone rang, which I mistaken briefly for the sound of angels singing in my naive hopefulness that I was getting closer to a resolution. I spoke with another representative who was quite lovely and she told me that she could see that my account was being reviewed and to simply wait for a new bill to be sent to me after the adjustments had taken place, or I could call back in 3-4 weeks and the review/adjustments would be done. I thanked her and quickly let her off the phone because I certainly did not want to waste anyone’s time at the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works and I definitely did not want to anger the Water Gods again. 
Just for reference, our family averages around 250 for our average daily gallons use, however, your meter readings had us using a little over 1,400 gallons for our average daily use. Seems legit. To give you an indication of what we would need to do to consume that much water, I have researched a few items. We would need to fill up an average sized swimming pool… every two weeks and we don’t have a pool, become the daily, local watering hole for about 28 elephants – as elephants can consume up to 50 gallons of water a day or flush our toilets about 280 times a day. I could go on and on but I think you get my drift. 
I make phone calls a few more times over the next several weeks to follow up, because at this point, I am a professional follow upper of the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works, which I have now added to my resume under the skills section, as well as, a reference under previous employer. Each time, I am told it is still in review and should be finalized in 3-4 weeks. A few months pass and I am still patient and hopeful as Spring begins and the weather starts getting warmer, that is, until I receive yet another quarterly bill for 01/20/17 – 04/26/17 which still has 0 adjustments, the delinquent amount of $356.15, the now delinquent amount of $69.34 that I was told to not pay and wait for a corrected bill and my current quarterly billed amount of $69.34. I call, again. 
This time a representative says that she can see a credit coming through my account, Hallelujah!!! but that I need to pay $78.74 to keep my account in good standing. I agree and pay online that evening. A short time later, I receive a bill reflecting the adjustments that have now been applied to my account, it is for the quarterly bill for 07/19/16 – 10/21/16 which was originally for $356.15 and has now been adjusted to the amount of $67.46. We are finally making some progress!!! I double check the envelope to be sure that there isn’t another statement because I still haven’t received credit from the 04/26/16-07/19/16 quarter, which is the bill that sounded the alarm but I had paid in full and started this entire process. So guess what I have to do, again? That’s right, make another phone call to “you know who” and spend another 30 minutes of my life that I will never get back speaking to a representative and explaining this saga One. More. Time. 
The representative, this time, is a real hoot and she explains to me the very strict rules and guidelines the City of Baltimore has concerning water bill adjustments. She tells me that I can only have one adjustment in 1 year, and since they adjusted one quarter, I am not eligible to have my 04/26/16 – 07/19/16 quarterly bill corrected. I put the phone on mute, screamed to the Water Gods for mercy, collected myself and uttered out ‘Huh? I am sorry, what?’ believe me, it was much better than the words floating in my head. She reiterates that I am not “eligible” to receive an adjustment for another year. I explain to her that I am not asking for an adjustment because of an error on my part but, instead, simply requesting to pay for the actual amount of water that I have consumed. I try to explain how this business model of “Our first mistake is on us but all other mistakes made in a year are on you” is absurd. She isn’t getting it, so I ask to speak to a manager. I am told that a Manager is not available and that her Manager’s boss is also “unavailable”. I tell her that we can just hang out on the phone until a manager becomes available because I have about 6 episodes of Paw Patrol on the DVR and a bag of Goldfish to keep the 2 year old happy so the world is my oyster. 
Magically, a manager becomes available and I yet again get to repeat my water journey for maybe the 15th time. She understands my issue and says she will submit my account to the adjustments department for a “special review” because of the unique circumstances but will be sure to follow up with me in a few days – that was about 3 months ago. I have now been forced to contact my local representative’s office to ask for help which leads me to you. I have grown a child in my body and given birth in less time than it is taking to make simple adjustments to a bill with an error that is not my fault. I am now told that because my water consumption rate was way off, my property taxes have now also erroneously increased. I am out of options and begging for any assistance. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me via email or phone.
Thank you
Shannon Armenis

Commencement Address to the Class of 2020

Some of you may have the chance to walk across stage, collect your diploma and pose for a photo. Maybe even say goodbye to your teachers and friends. Many of you may not be afforded this opportunity. In either case, this is for all of you.

“If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.”
– Winston Churchill

Through no fault of your own, you are graduating in the most uncertain of times. A time when hand shakes are forbidden and the term “social distancing” has become a part of the vocabulary in nearly every language, in every country and every continent.

You may be looking to your parents for answers to questions that, if I am being honest, we do not have answers to. This is uncharted territory for us all. Our parents have never been here, even our grandparents, with all of their experience and wisdom, would not be able to provide us with guidance. A collective pause button has been pressed on the world, as we know it, and no one knows when we will be able to hit play again.

What I do know is that with silence, comes reflection and while you are looking to the older generations for answers, we are all looking to you for hope.

Hope that, in this instance, your generation will open your eyes wider than they have ever been before. That you will not focus on the ever present chaos but use your lens to capture a glimpse of  the kindness and compassion, the willingness to help, the ingenuity that surrounds you right now. That you will be able to extract the good in a heartbreaking situation.

Hope that you will ignore arguing politicians, finger pointing and misplaced anger and instead choose to observe the teachers finding a new way to inspire and reach you, car factories finding a way, overnight, to make medical supplies, small business owners continuing to pay their employees before themselves, the medical community working tireless hours to care for their patients.

Hope that you will be a generation of doers and not talkers. The ones ready to roll their sleeves up and get their hands dirty.  A generation of forward thinkers and problem solvers. Perspective can change a situation and a positive mindset will help you to overcome any problem. We are ready to see all of your grit and determination.

Hope that your generation will find a way to make sure this never happens again.

We know it is a lot to ask but we have faith in all your abilities.

We have faith that you will be able to forgive all of the debts owed to you, that you were never able to collect. The last walk down the halls, the last game on the field, the last dance, watching the prideful eyes from the audience as you walk across stage in your cap and gown and the goodbyes we never realized would not have a chance to leave your lips.

We have faith that you will continue to understand the importance of a firm hand shake and will not abandon it. That you will never forget the feeling of being unable to hug your grandparents and that you will begin to hug them more often and for a little longer. We have faith that you will never take for granted the ability to work, to sit down and enjoy a meal inside a restaurant, or a visit with a friend.

We are looking for you to unite us.

We want you to see “social distancing” as temporary, not a permanent solution. In fact, we hope you never social distance ever again. We hope you hug your children, hold the hand of a friend, and kiss your spouse more than any generation before you. If I can promise anything, it is that the world needs so much more of this.

We want you to show us that opinions are just that, opinions. They are not the guidelines to base friendships upon. They can vary and differ but not alter the bonds we have formed with people. We want you to always be willing to listen to anyone and not only find, but stand together on common ground.

And through all of this, we want you to remain humble. To show the world what your generation will be remembered for, not tell us. No personal documentation, no boasting. Leave it for the history books because remember, a lion doesn’t need to tell everyone he is a lion.

Again, we know it is a lot to ask.

And in that moment, when our paths cross, we will look you in the eye and extend our arm for a hand shake but I have a feeling that you will say you’re welcome by wrapping your arms around us and holding us a little tighter.

Letter to a 2020 Cooperstown Player

Dear 12 year old,
You just received the news that you won’t be going to Cooperstown. It hurts, it is disappointing, but I promise it does not define the baseball player you are or are destined to be.
You see, unfortunately, life isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair when you are 12, and life isn’t going to always be fair when you are 40.
What WILL always be fair are the choices you make when things don’t go your way, whether that be a cancelled trip to Cooperstown, a bad pitch called a strike, limited playing time on a high school team or being passed over for a promotion when you are an adult.
This is a crash course in all of the lessons your coaches and parents have been trying to teach you through your baseball career. Not the stats, or the home run to win the game… the big lessons. How to keep your focus and composure and move on when you’re frustrated and disappointed and how to learn and grow from adversity. Will you stomp back to the dugout and pout? Or will you take a deep breath and grab your glove to hit the field?
None of us wanted you to have a crash course in life lessons but if we all did our job well, you will shine in this moment. You and your team will come out on the other side of this stronger, because you will be forever bonded by that time you were forced to stop playing a game you loved.
When you do finally get the chance to take the field together again, you will have a greater appreciation for your teammates, your coaches and the opportunity to play the game of baseball.
A baseball mom
photograph by Dawn Kearney Photography