Customers (we really don’t ) Care

This is really for anyone who has wrestled with a “customer care” situation that made you want to tear your hair out.


After Mark died, there were so many activities and actions that needed my attention. It’s so odd, how difficult it is to unravel even the most organized life when that life ends, I was glad I was able to go on autopilot for while, he set me up pretty well for which I am thankful everyday. When Mark died just under two years ago I was in zombie-land

One task I took care of right away was convert our New York Times home delivery subscription to all digital. I did not want the actual papers because that involved a series of tasks above and beyond the reading of the paper.

Mark always read the paper: he picked it up from the curb and when he was done it, he tied it up and took the neatly stacked New York Times to the curb for recycling.

Even the seemingly simple things turned out to be fraught with complications due in part to the fog of loss in which I was shrouded.

For one, I could not figure out the garbage schedule. The way it is designed is confusing. Little circle to indicate one kind of pickup, highlighted squares for another and then asterisks regarding holidays and Mondays or something. I was quietly feeling quite deranged back then.

Reading anything at all was beyond me, I was just wrung out and stunned from Mark’s death, even though I knew it was coming it was like a house fell on me.

Mark liked to cut articles out from the Times and send to friends and family or leave them on the kitchen counter for me with a little drawing and note. My favorite thing was when he would read me an article and we would talk about it.

That was over now and it was time to make a change.

Thanks to the internets, it was easy to make the change to digital.

Checked off that box on the To DO list.

Or so I thought.

Some things are just out of our control though we, as humans, like to think we can control everything.

We can’t control a thing. Not the weather not the post office. We can control our attitudes and how we view what happens to us. That’s really it.

In a recent very moving gut -wrenching piece in the New York Times called “Afterlife”, the father finds himself holding onto the junk mail that comes addressed to his son who died at the young age of 21.

I could relate to the feeling, the wanting to keep the connection going even if it meant receiving unwanted junk mail.

Here is a challenge for you. If you are on a list try to get off, even If you are dead you can never end your relationship with insurance companies, AARP, catalog subscriptions, credit card offers, non-profits and political parties looking for donations, anyone you ever gave money to or whom you thought you might.

No. Not. Ever.

My favorite is the Viking River cruise offers to my mother and father in law. Most recently my mother-in-law, Dora who died two years ago at age 93, was offered a great deal on a brand new Mercedes Benz, trouble is she didn’t drive.

Then there are the: “Get this before it’s too late! It’s the deal of lifetime offers,” Um-er it’s too late guys. But this problem is part of a larger problem of digitizing and depersonalization of communications to the point that no one is listening to anyone.

It seems all our posting on Facebook and Twitter are then translated into marketing opportunities because of what we view, what we click and who we follow. Does anybody really know what time it is?

My email and phone call exchanges with The New York Times Customer Care department is a perfect example of how no one is really listening to anyone, anymore.

While customer service representatives are quite polite and eager and some actually help us immensely and I want to acknowledge them. Some are not charged with any real power they look at a computer screen and tell us how wrong we are in making our requests. Having been in marketing and gone to B-School I know one of the basic tenets of “delighting” customers is to put a good tag line and title on something and people will believe you care even if you may not or cannot.

For example at the New York Times, customer care is just a nice phrase for “not going to help you, because I am completely powerless to do so, but doing it ever so nicely and hopefully not misspelled.”

Here’s what happened to me with the New York Times and my digital subscription. I sent this information to The Haggler Column in The New York Times a few weeks ago hoping for help, but none has arrived just yet. Maybe he is on vacation right now, it is August in New York. Read: Empty city.

On May 1, 2014 I started receiving daily home delivery of the NY Times again even though I had cancelled home delivery about 18 month before, switching to digital only.

At first I thought it was a promotion because of the launch of Times Premiere and when I didn’t sign up for it the promo would end.

Then I thought the delivery person must have an extra paper and is giving one to me.

When the papers continued I then started my campaign to stop delivery of the actual physical newspaper and below the following email “dialogue” with the New York Times Customer Care department. (NYTCCD)

After much to-ing and fro-ing the NYTCC D response to me was that I cannot stop delivery of the paper because I am not Elaine Kottler, the account holder.

My guess is: there was an input error when Elaine Kottler became a subscriber and may live on the same named Road in another town, for sure she does not live on my street even thought the Customer care rep told me to go down the block and look for her. (Really?)

It has been suggested to me that I might not want to look a gift horse in the mouth i.e. a free daily paper which is the upside,  however the serious downside is I cannot stop or pause it when I go on vacation and don’t want the paper piling up on my lawn.

As a widow you tend to want less work and added activities. Especially if your guy was anything like my husband. Mark was one of those guys who did everything and it’s like losing both arms when you lose a guy like that you love and adore.

I don’t want to have to tie it up and bring it to the curb.

Of course the good news is that the New York Times is great for using to wash the windows of my car, and if I spill a quantity of water, the New York Times soaks it right up. I am sure there are a million and one uses, perhaps you have some ideas dear reader.

Since I get the paper  tend to pay more attention to what is going on in the world with it front and center every morning. Extra  bonus are the great plastic bags I use when I take Clinton on his morning walks they are a perfect size and tie up very easily.

Still I would like to have control over the account. Not being able to pause the paper when I go away for a few days really bugs me. I tried giving the paper to my neighbor every morning but he didn’t want it either and when I go away I want to avoid the paper pile up that says. “Burglars stop here, no one is home!”

This email exchange went to the Haggler again today


I made numerous calls and actually received more emails to a different address. I am sure you get the point.


I appreciate any help you may be able to give me in this.

My best regards,

Nancy Mindes (not Elaine Kottler)

My account number for MY account –





Elaine Kottler  account number YOU SENT ME  for this account is xxxxxx9





From: Customercare <>

Subject: Your New York Times Inquiry

Date: June 15, 2014 7:20:42 AM EDT


Reply-To: Customercare <>

You have your information wrong.

There is no Elaine Kottler here

There is a XXXX Road in Roslyn NY too

Your records are wrong , please fix error.

Sent from my iPhone

On Jun 11, 2014, at 3:36 PM, Customercare <> wrote:

Dear Nancy Mindes,

Thank you for contacting

In response to your inquiry, our records show that you have the same address as a Home Delivery subscriber. The Home Delivery account has Monday-Sunday service. This account is under Elaine Kottler. The account number for this account is XXXXXX95.

You can also visit our website at to receive information on your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please follow the instructions to register if you have not done so already.

If there is anything else we can do to help you, please e-mail us at or call us at 1-800-591-9233 from 6 a.m. to midnight Monday-Friday and 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday & Sunday (ET).

Your satisfaction is very important to us.


Christina Gorman
Online Customer Care
The New York Times

Dear Nancy Mindes,

Thank you for contacting us. In response to your inquiry, T

Thank you for contacting us. In response to your inquiry, we are unable to make any changes to the account for Elaine Kottler because you are not the account holder. If you have any other questions or concerns please contact us at the phone number below. We apologize for the inconvenience you have experienced. .

You can also visit our website at to receive information on your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please follow the instructions to register if you have not done so already.

If there is anything else we can do to help you, please e-mail us at or call us at 1-800-NYTIMES (1-800-698-4637) from 6 a.m. to midnight Monday-Friday and 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday & Sunday (ET).

Your satisfaction is very important to us and we thank you for your feedback.


William Hurt

Online Customer Care

The New York Times

> Subject: Re: Your New York Times Inquiry

Dear Kirsten Kirkland,

It’s official I asked my letter carrier if there is an Elaine Kottler (letter carrier being an employee of the US government) and she said no there is no one and never has been anyone named Elaine Kottler on Blankety Road in Rockville Centre, NY. You at the NYTimes Customer Care need to find the record for this person and get it worked out. I am assuming she is paying for the paper I have been receiving.

there it a Anytown Named Road in every town in USA. I looked in the Nassau County phone book, the actual book everyone else throws out and there was No Elaine Kottler.


Nancy Mindes

Dear Nancy Mindes,

Thank you for contacting us. In response to your inquiry, our records indicate there is a home delivery account going to the address 5 Anytown Road. The account is under a Kottler. If you have neighbors that have the same address or know someone, they have an active account. 

You can also visit our website at to receive information on your account 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please follow the instructions to register if you have not done so already.

If there is anything else we can do to help you, please e-mail us at or call us at 1-800-NYTIMES (1-800-698-4637) from 6 a.m. to midnight Monday-Friday and 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday & Sunday (ET).

Your satisfaction is very important to us and we thank you for your feedback.


Kirsten Kirkland
Online Customer Care
The New York Times

> Date Sent: 06/11/2014 14:51

> To:

> Cc:

> Subject: RE: Please tell the driver to stop!


Dear Customer Care,

I have called about this 4 times and sent an email to no avail.

This is now my eleventh try.

I am receiving the NYTimes daily and on weekends seemingly in an effort to get me to request home delivery again and I have asked your customer care representatives repeatedly that the driver STOP delivering to my address PLEASE.

Am a paid digital subscriber and very happy with that and do not want the paper on a daily basis-even for free.

Am not sure how to get the point across except to perhaps stand on the lawn at 5 a.m. and wait for the driver to come and then tell her to stop! Or perhaps put up a giant SIGN?


Please make sure I am not being charged for this unwanted service for the past month and please stop delivering the NY Times to my home.


Maybe if we would just look up from our computer screens, our smartphones and tablets for a moment and pay attention to what is being said, caring about what matters to the person in front of us, we would keep connections going and help each other when it matters. Meanwhile I am all set for the weekend. Thank you Elaine Kottler where ever you are.

After Loss Don’t Skip Steps


Judi, a psychic I have known for about 30 years, recently told me my Life Purpose was to share my experiences as a wife who became a widow.

At first this felt heavy. I thought, “In some cultures I would be relegated to wearing black clothes in perpetuity,” however being a native New Yorker the majority of my wardrobe is black so no big deal there. It’s the other part, the being the Widow, with a capital “W” that means being in mourning forever.

This being a widow thing is very tricky. It’s been less than two years and I still miss Mark, and I have had to work on myself, my broken heart everyday to get through this. I make a daily choice to be open, grateful and loving especially when I want to feel sorry for myself.

I lived half of my life with Mark. He will always be in my heart. Most times I want him to walk through the door. Often I feel like he is guiding me, some days more than others, I know his energy is there, it’s like a whisper like in the Kundalini yoga chant, SA TA NA MA.

In life Mark was subtle about things.  He did not make big noises he disliked showing off. Mark did things well and quietly on this side so he would not be loud and noisy on the other side.

Oddly, when I gave up the constant longing to have him come back, I could sense him much more. He would come to me in my dreams which until he died, I never remembered. Giving up the longing the wishing, the begging and bargaining to get him back took a lot of work on my part. The truth is I am unable to let go of Mark. He’s my guy, always and forever even though he told me to find another one. Perhaps one day I will but I have realized I cannot skip steps. I must find me all over again first. Who am I now without Mark? He was very specific. He said, “Be happy” The question for me now is what does that mean?

To say I am an expert at this would be untrue but if what I write here helps you that is a good thing. Mark died less than two years ago and it took me a while to scrape myself up off the floor. I have to keep going but the big question is how?

When Mark first died, I wanted to do the same because I wanted to be with him. But that passed. When I went to a bereavement group I discovered that the way I felt, others felt the same way. Being understood does help. It is important to take the time to grieve and go through the mourning. There are no shortcuts and it is okay to be sad for as long as you need to. It’s when it turns to complete depression and you become unable to function, that is a danger sign. Pay attention to how you are

A daily cry is cleansing. Yes, I do have a daily cry. Right after Mark died I couldn’t cry. I felt as if I was a block of frozen peas. I felt nothing except stunned.

People commented on how “calm” and “collected” I was. While I am not one for public displays of tears,  I couldn’t have cried if I wanted to, I was frozen solid.

In my bereavement group we looked at what are commonly known as “grief triggers” and to find ways to avoid them. For some people this may work but I think it is just kicking the can down the road.

My point of view is different. I come down on the side of running right at the grief. That by facing the intense sorrow I can go on for another moment, and then another and another. This is not an easy thing to do. What I discovered was the deeper I stepped into the places that hurt, my heart heals just a teeny  bit. I sought the tears. I sought the hurt and pain of missing Mark. I remember how lucky having been married to Mark. How blessed to be  in  a family that cares about me. How fortunate to have many loving friends. And to have my beautiful dog Clinton by my side, he makes me go out and take long walks.

Some people never get any of that. Still I wanted him back.

Another thing I learned in bereavement group was about his “stuff” Some of the women in the group said, “Get rid of his clothes right away they will remind you of him.”

I am pretty sure they were sorry later. My way of looking at his belongings was “please remind me of him,” and  I spent many hours sitting on the floor of his closet in tears.

While this may sound a bit dramatic, I felt a connection to him and to the memories that went along with each article of clothing. The grey chalk stripe suit from Barney’s reminded me of the day we went to Barney’s big warehouse sale. I could see his handsome face, his shiny black hair and how good he looked in that suit. On the shelf above my head, his perfectly polished black Frye dress boots, his well worn jeans with the ripped knee, the nearly threadbare Maverick denim jacket he used as a pillow on the cross-country trip he took in his tan Volkswagen square-back, his freshly washed hoodies that he wore to warm up after roller skating.

How could I let them go?

One day after a year had passed I donated some of his best suits, blazers, dress pants and shirts to a charity that helps men get interview ready. Mark’s suits were like new because he was very particular, bordering on fussy, about his clothes. Mark’s impeccably good-looking suits would help someone to possibly get the job they wanted and in some way Mark’s generosity and kindness would live on.

One item Mark’s soft, green terry cloth bathrobe that I bought him for his birthday so many years ago is a cherished possession. I wear it as my own, softened to just the right degree of cozy comfort, his spicy vanilla scent still lingers ever so slightly so that I can catch a gentle whiff of him.

When I was in the frozen food state, I thought, “Something has to be done about this, it just cannot be healthy to live this way” I was concerned I would get sick if I didn’t start to release the pain in some way. This widow thing was not easy.

I began watching movies. I couldn’t sleep anyway, I didn’t want to. Sleeping was too sad, without Mark.  I settled into my cozy couch with my soft, fleecy, blanket armed with a box of tissues and a glass of chardonnay. My best buddy Clinton my big sweet gentle, handsome,  brown rescue dog was at my feet. I flicked on the television. I started my search for just the right film to begin the big defrost. My gut told me that if I could start to cry, I would eventually be okay. Here are just a few that were good for a cry.

It started with “The Notebook” with Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, James Garner and Gena Rowlands. One night I turned to STARZ romance and I hit pay dirt: the ultimate tear-jerker, chick flick, heart-breaking love story. I could not believe my good fortune. Corny,yes. Trite, for sure but it helped. From there, I began my daily, nightly search for movies to help me mourn, to be as miserable and tearful as possible. The movies made me face what my life as it is now, sad, tearful feeling a little lost. They were also transporting.

Next up was “Hope Springs” with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. Mark and I had our struggles in our marriage and like the couple in the movie we overcame them.    When Tommy Lee Jones plays Al Green’s version of “Let’s Stay Together”, I fall to pieces, crying loudly.

Loved it! I downloaded the song from  iTunes so I could access that sadness again and let it rip when I need to. Music is on the grief trigger hit list so I made it my business to create a playlist that would get me started. I just had to make sure I wasn’t driving or I would have to pull over. Now, when I hear a song that helps me to get access to my grief I add it to my playlist. Movies and music: a perfect combination for getting through the sorrow and finding a way to little moments of happiness again.

“Love Actually” starring Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy Liam Neeson that has many moments in it for a good cry, especially the closing scene over-dubbed with the Beach Boys, “God Only Knows What I’d be Without You” The song went on my playlist.

Here’s what I have learned. Don’t skip steps. Get help with the grief and the mourning. If you think you can do it alone, you cannot. Find help, that really helps you.  I practice yoga, I meditate and often cry my way through to feeling okay again. When I meditate I can connect with Mark and let him know I am okay. And I am in a community of people I care about who knew Mark and know me.

I went to two rounds of a bereavement group, worked with a bereavement counselor on the phone and met with the same therapist that Mark and I went to when we hit some rough patches along the way. Seeing our shrink from years ago has been a real gift for me mostly because she knew him and I could talk about him once a week for 50 minutes non-stop if I needed to, how else was I going to move through this?

Mark was relatively young, handsome, vibrant, never sick and then diagnosed with a nasty cancer and now dead.

No amount of anything is preparation for that. But the sun will come out tomorrow. I might as well be ready for it.

Love and light to you. Nancy



Lady Mary Crawley and me


I never thought I would see the day when I have something in common with a member of the British aristocracy. The PBS hit series, Downton Abbey season 3 finale changed all that for me.  SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVE NEVER WATCHED STOP HERE.

Last season when Lady Mary Crawley’s  (Michelle Dockery) beloved (handsome, charming) husband Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens)  was killed in a car crash just when things were going so well- -I, along with millions of other viewers was knocked off my comfy sofa and spilled my biscuits and tea.

At the close of season 3 I had recently been cast in a new role in my life: Widow.  I was rooting for Lady Mary and Matthew to live happily ever after so that I could live vicariously through them and cry my eyes out at what I missed and then “boom” Lady Mary becomes a widow too.

I burst into tears and wailed,  “Oh no, not Matthew and “oh no, I miss Mark”. Matthew is a fictional character, I cried for him like I do over Mark.   

It took Matthew and Lady Mary six years of running the obstacle course of life to get married. The newlywed Crawley’s had one year of wedded bliss and the happy birth of her infant son George.  Matthew will never see his son grow up to be a man. A careless automobile accident took his life, (along with Dan Stevens desire to go work in film and on other projects)

Mark and I were married for 26 years and it took us under 3 years to get married. Like the Crawley’s who lived under the same roof at Downtown-before they were married, we lived together in a floor-through apartment in Park Slope before we got married.

Lady Mary and Matthew had a big wedding ceremony and party at Downton-Mark and I got married in a castle- like synagogue in Park Slope built around the same time that Downtown is set in. We had an intimate family dinner on Prospect Park West then we rushed off. to Shea Stadium to the 1986 World Series to catch the end of the 7th game when the Mets beat the Boston Red Sox sharing a box with Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley and the Mets’ wives.

Both Lady Mary and I wore off white instead of pure white.  I had been married before and Lady Mary did have that Turkish incident that despoiled her purity so to speak.

In the two-hour 4th season premiere of Downtown Abbey- Lady Mary is a young widow who has lost her true love or as Lord Grantham says, “When there is a great love and great loss it takes a great effort to recover. “

“I hear you your Lordship,” I said aloud. Tissue-box in hand. The episode had just started and I was already crying.  Lady Mary is in the Widows club – the one no one wants to be in.

Now, Lady Mary and I are like sisters we are in the same “hood” know as “the widow-hood”.  I really feel her pain. Though she is a fictional character, in an English soap opera, younger than me,  residing in the early part of the 20th century in a country estate; I know I could sit down with Lady Mary at tea-time and we would be kindred spirits.

Widows “get” other widows. We know that time only ‘sort of’ heals the loss of a husband or wife. And grief is tricky there really isn’t a right way or time limit on how long you may be sad and miss the one you love. 

When season 4 opens for Lady Mary, only 6 months time has passed since Matthew was so abruptly ripped from her life just as they are (finally!) getting started, she is grief-stricken and mostly non-functional.

At 6 months the reality of loss hit me hard: Mark is not coming back, not walking through the door again. Absurd that I thought he might. There were moments I expected him to walk into the room like when the President was re-elected. I even jumped up and called out to him. But he didn’t show up.  I wasn’t sure whether to laugh at myself or cry right then so I did both.

In our modern American culture 6 months is just the time some people drop away from your life. Even though you might be barely ready to crawl, someone has to take care of the day to day running of the household.

Even so, this is where it is Advantage: Lady Mary.

In Lady Mary’s world her family lives at Downton Abbey and others are there with great regularity.  Even her desperately bereaved mother-in-law and fellow widow,  Isobel Crawley, ( Penelope Wilton) is nearby and is ever so slowly starting to join the family again even in her sorrow and her disapproval of Lady Mary’s moving forward.

In Lady Mary’s world, there is a large and organized household staff to take care of the details of her life.  Lady Mary does not find herself plodding through reams of paperwork, having to do the laundry, remember to feed herself something healthy and try to get some sleep at a time of great confusion and even misery.

Thankfully there is, I have hired a “rabbit” or two to come and help me with organizing tasks too difficult for me to handle alone.

Lady Mary is sad and in shock. She had a life ahead of her with beloved. It is all she can do to sip tea from her breakfast tray and let her ladies maid Anna (Joanna Froggatt) dress her, “Only the black please,” and fix her hair.

How many times have I said to myself, “I would love to have a ladies maid right about now, she could help me pick out the best Spanx for my outfit, zip up my dress and help me with the clasp on a necklace.”  Mark used to help me with the latter two.

And how about Mrs. Patmore, (Lesley Nichol) and her kitchen staff. I do not love cooking and doing the dishes without Mark.   Mark was one of those rare men who liked to cook with me then do the dishes and even clean the floors with the Swiffer wet jet. I was spoiled. 

A friend once said, “Mark does all that? That’s better than foreplay!”

The great debate swirling around Lady Mary is whether it is time to get on with it.

Sir Paul McCartney described the English way of dealing with death after John Lennon was murdered, “Buck up man, stiff upper lip, keep calm and carry on.”

Easy to say;  very hard to do.  When you lose someone you love a spouse, a partner, the love of your life how do you “carry on” when all your hopes and dreams have died?

Lady Mary has a beautiful son. She is lucky that she has him- a gift from her beloved Matthew that she can raise him if she chooses, to have his kindness and values.  And yet she feels so sorry for herself that she calls him “poor little orphan” when in fact he has a large  loving family, a fortune he is heir to and a mother who is not quite ready to step forward and love him.  Lucky for her, she has a full-time nanny, except as it turns out she is a mean, nasty woman who ultimately gets the boot. A replacement will be found I am sure of this.

I just hope Lady Mary doesn’t make the mistake of getting involved too early on in a relationship she is not ready for. Widows have a hard time making well thought out clear decisions, quite often unsuitable suitors do come along who may not have your best interests at heart. And it seems they will be lining up.
Lady Mary is rich, young, beautiful and vulnerable and there are men out there who want to gain her affections to get their hands on her fortune.

Here’ s where I have the edge:  in Lady Mary’s world there are no bereavement groups, grief counselors or therapists, no yoga classes or meditation groups to help her find her way, express her grief and just be able to live into the sorrow.  Just by doing all those things I can get dressed, put on my lipstick and go outside and find the joy in life.

For Lady Mary her biggest ally and supporter is her grandmother, the Countess Dowager Violet (Dame Maggie Smith) and it could be her widower brother in law Tom (Allan Leech) if he would give up the idea that he doesn’t belong and count his lucky stars he got to move upstairs and join the family.

I am rooting for Lady Mary to find her way, though I am pretty sure there is going to be a lot of drama along the way.  There are more stories upstairs and down and you need a score-card to keep track of who is whom.

So stay tuned and I will keep my tissue box handy.

For a complete episode recap of Downton Abbey’s season premiere check out what my friend Diane Clehane has to say at