Are you reading me?

The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

– Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

I am roughly ten weeks away from participating in my fourth Muskoka Novel Marathon. For those that don’t know, no this is not a marathon in which I run. Instead, I sit on my butt for as much of the 72 hours my butt can handle, and I write.

What am I doing? I’m trying to write as much of a novel as I can. I usually do somewhere between 150 and 250 pages.

Why do I do this to myself? That’s a fair question, because at the end of the four days (it runs from 8:00 pm Friday to 8:00 pm Monday), I’ve immersed myself into a world of my own creation, I’ve eaten far too much sugar, I’ve slept far too little, and I’m wrung out, physically, emotionally, spiritually. So why do I do it every year?

I write so that others can read.

Some history is likely appropriate here.

Five things have really led to me not only participating in the MNM, but also being a passionate champion of all that they accomplish.

1 – The first is obvious. I write stories. But the other four you may or may not know about.

2 – The second is, way back in the early 80s, when I was in Durham College, one of my courses was a computer literacy course. If memory serves, we were working on Wang computers with big 5″ floppy disks. You know, the kind of floppy disk that actually was floppy.

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Anyway, one of our assignments was to write something. I can’t remember the details of the assignment, but we had to write something. Might even have been the lyrics to a favourite song, I don’t know. I remember labouriously typing out…something. Might have taken me a half hour or so.

But there was a girl in the class. She’d always been rather quiet, drew no attention to herself. She could draw, and hell, we were taking Graphic Design, so she was in the right course.

On this day, as I did my hunt-and-peck with two fingers, I remember seeing her pull the Led Zeppelin 4 album–yes, the record album, not the CD, this was the early 80s–out of a bag and open up the gatefold cover. Inside, I knew, were the lyrics to the biggest song on the album, Stairway To Heaven. I remember thinking at the time, man, doesn’t everyone have those lyrics memorized?

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She did. But she was functionally illiterate. So, letter by painstaking letter, she had to go to the printed lyrics, then go to her keyboard and search for that squiggle that matched the other, then key it. Then move on to the next.

Almost 1400 times. Imagine that.

It was due to this course that her inability to read and write at even a basic level was discovered. She soon left the course. I don’t know what happened to her.

3 – The third thing was probably, in part, in relation to that college experience. I was recently married, no kids, with some time on my hands. I saw a call for literacy tutors and I signed up. We had to go through a training course, and it was an eye-opener. The two things that really stuck with me were that my general impression of someone who was illiterate was completely false: I pictured the homeless people hanging out downtown. What I was shown was that it was people just like me. People with jobs, some menial, some at higher positions than me. I heard the story of an illiterate CEO that blew my mind.

The other thing that really stuck with me was when one of the instructors flashed the letter b and asked us to name it. Then he flashed a q. Then a p. Then a d. But it was what he did next that opened my mind a bit. He took off his watch, held it up and asked us to name it. Then he rotated it 90 degrees. Of course, we still said “watch”. Rotated it 180 degrees. Still a watch.

“So why,” he said, “do we expect people to look at a watch differently when it’s rotated than we do letters?” And it showed me that this reading thing that I took completely for granted was a tougher problem than I’d ever given it credit for.

I tutored a young man briefly. In that time, I found out he could correctly identify about 18 letters of the alphabet. He really couldn’t read at all, counting on pictures, or trusting strangers to help him out. He wasn’t stupid. In fact, he was likely smarter and much more creative at problem solving than I was. I definitely learned more from him than he ever did from me. And by the way, both his parents were high school teachers.

4 – The fourth thing occurred a few years later. My daughter was born and took to reading much as I had, very quickly and with apparent ease. My son, however, seemed to struggle with it. When we moved to a new house and a new school district, we eventually got a call from his teacher. She’d been concerned with his facility with numbers and letters and reading and told us he was far behind the other kids.

I still remember the absolute fear that clutched at my heart when I heard this. My entire life had been enriched because I could read. At the time we got this news, I made my living from reading and responding to written correspondence from customers. I read for pleasure. I actually wrote stories for pleasure. And there was a distinct possibility that my son might have a reading disability.

Thankfully, the school had an incredible program and, in the span of a few very short months, were able to report that my son had made such progress, through both their efforts and through the homework that my wife and I diligently went through with my son, that he could leave the program. The kid that had been “far behind” the other kids was now reading at a Grade Five level. He was in Grade One.

But I never forgot that fear that I felt.

5 – Then I joined the Muskoka Novel Marathon. And the first year I was there, I met a wonderful woman named Nora. And she is the fifth and final key to my passion for literacy.

Nora had gone through the literacy program that the MNM raises funds for each year. She came in and met some of the writers as she was considering participating in the MNM the following year. She was a little shy, but her big smile cut through any barriers and we all felt we’d made a new friend by the time she left.

And the following year, she participated. And she has participated ever since.

Imagine that. Think back to that person I talked about that had to hunt and peck out Stairway To Heaven. Think about someone like that who might benefit from a literacy program so much that they have the confidence to sit side-by-side with thirty-nine other writers. And write. Personally, I have to admit that, even though I knew about the MNM since about 2002, it took another ten years for me to get the courage up to actually sign up. Nora did it a hell of a lot sooner. She’s a lot more courageous that I’ll ever be.

Whenever I find myself sitting in front of the keyboard thinking, I’m tired. Or, I should pack it in for a while, I look over and I see Nora, either writing away at her own computer, or smiling as she talks to someone. Then I turn back to my own keyboard and I keep writing.

I write for Nora. I write for that girl from thirty years ago that laboriously typed out Stairway To Heaven, character by character. I write for that young man that had to shop by looking at the pictures on the labels and counting on the trustworthiness of the cashiers to give him back the right change.

I write for my son and what might have been.

I write so that others can read.

But to do that, I need to ask for donations, and I’m really not good at that.

So, if you’ve read this far, and if something I might have written above touched you…touched you because you could actually read the words…then I ask that you click on this link and then on the Donate Now button. Donate any amount. It’s all appreciated.

And if you don’t trust the computer donation process, reach out to me at tobin(dot)elliott(at)bell(dot)net and we’ll work something out.

Thank you. For reading.

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When customer service isn’t

It’s time to write about something other than death. I’m not sure when this blog became a sad tribute to those we have lost, but looking back, I’ve realized that five of my last six blogs are all about people who have died. So, on to other topics.

What I’d like to talk about today is customer service, or the lack thereof. From about 1988 straight through until about three years ago, so a solid twenty-four years, I was involved either directly or indirectly in providing service to customers. I was in retail camera sales, I worked for a small photocopying and print storefront, I addressed letters directed to Columbia House, and I worked both on the phones and as a manager to those on the phones at TELUS. I’ve trained people in customer service, and I’ve coached them.

All to say, I know what good service looks like, and I know what bad service looks like.

HOME DEPOT

We’ve had our ups and downs with Home Depot, but for the most part, they’ve been good. We’ve likely spent $15K with them over the years, from purchasing appliances, to the supplies to complete our basement, to services like getting our garage door replaced and our roof done.

About eight years ago, we paid a sizeable sum for them to replace the shingles on our roof. We were provided with a 10-year warranty on the labour and 25 years on the shingles. It was noted that we also had protection on our shingles for up to 115 km winds.

Back around mid-November, we experienced heavy winds one day and I was dismayed to find a couple of shingles from our roof sitting on the grass, obviously torn loose the previous night. We figured we’d have to go through home insurance, but pulled out the paperwork from Home Depot and reread the coverage. When I saw the wind thing, I went back and looked up the windspeed for the night in question. 82 km. Great, I thought, we’re covered.

So I called Home Depot’s customer service and explained my issue. At the same time, I figured I might as well get someone to check my eaves troughs for replacement. I was told that was two separate things, and that I would hear back on both within 48 hours. Of course, I heard back on the sales side in less than 24. He came, he quoted. Again, a couple thousand dollars, and I told him I’d discuss with my wife and call him back.

In the meantime, I waited for Home Depot to call back about the roof. Silence. After three days, I called again, explained the urgency about it, as a section of my roof was bare to the elements. The person acknowledged that, empathized, and swore someone would call within 48 hours. Four days later, I called again. Same acknowledgement, same empathy, same promise. Then it snowed. Fantastic. At that point, I took to Twitter and Facebook, outlining my issue.

It's sad when you have to shame a company to get them to respond to you.

It’s sad when you have to shame a company to get them to respond to you.

Within four hours, I’d gotten a call back. Funny what a public shaming will do, huh? Anyway, the guy was nice, and asked me to scan the docs and send them over to him. He called back the next day and the conversation when something like this:

HIM: So, I checked with someone else who knows more about this than me, and I’ve got an answer. It’s not often I win one of these, but this time I will.

ME: Okay.

HIM: The wind guarantee on those shingles is only five years. So, unfortunately, we can’t help you.

ME: But the paperwork says ten years.

HIM: I know. But if you go to the website for the shingle manufacturer, you’ll see, it plainly says five years. And since yours are eight years old…

ME: It may say that on the site, but wouldn’t I go by Home Depot’s paperwork?

HIM: No, we have to go by the manufacturer.

ME: Okay, well, I guess I can’t argue with you, can I?

HIM: Not really. It is what it is.

ME: Fine.

HIM: By the way, you aren’t going to write something else on Twitter or anything, are you?

ME: I guess not.

So now I had to contact another roofer, which turned out to be another Herculean task in Itself. In the end, it was the nephew of a writing friend that came and helped me out. It cost me $200. He was fast, he was courteous, and most of all, he gave a shit. And this wasn’t even his profession, he just had some skill, as he’d done it previously.

And those eaves troughs? Yeah, for the sake of a $200 repair, Home Depot lost that $2200 job, as well as all future business. No more appliances, no more home repair services, nothing.

And it wasn’t necessarily of hewing to the manufacturer’s warranty. I don’t necessarily like that, nor do I agree with it as it’s not spelled out (at least that I can find) on the paperwork.

No, the thing that will stop me from ever spending another cent with Home Depot was the statement, “I don’t normally win these things.” He looked at his company NOT helping a longtime customer as “winning.”

He’s got a skewed, fucked up idea of what the two words “customer” and “service” mean when pushed together.

Congrats, buddy. You won.

FUTURE SHOP

On the Saturday before Christmas, I checked online and found out Future Shop opened at 8:00 am. Fantastic. I had some running around to do, and had to be somewhere by 10, so I rushed over there, arriving at 8:12. Surprisingly, for the last Saturday before Christmas, the place was quiet. All the better.

I walked purposefully over to the Apple section and found the computer I needed to buy. Then I looked for a salesperson to help me. There was no one.

I walked into the next section. “Can you help me?” I asked. I was told that laptops weren’t his section, and he went back to whatever he was doing. No offer to find the right person. I went back and fiddled with the laptop for a bit, figuring someone would show up to see if I had any questions.

At 8:20, I went over to the service counter and asked if there was anyone working in the laptop section. I was told Jeff should be there. The woman I talked to at least offered to find him. So, I went back to the laptop again.

At 8:25, I went back to the service counter again. “Jeff still isn’t there?” she said. I told her he was not. I told her that the easiest $2000 sale they were going to make that day was going to walk out of the store in two minutes if someone didn’t show up. The other guy behind the counter said he’d help.

I showed him the computer and he retrieved it. As he was about to punch it in, a guy I could only presume was Jeff came waddling up, coffee cup in hand, in absolutely no hurry, even though he’d left his entire area of business empty for almost a quarter of an hour. He couldn’t have been on break, because the store had only been open for a half-hour. “Guess I got here a little late,” he said.

“I guess you did,” I said. “I was going to walk out.”

So, now the sale was turned over to PolkarooJeff.

Polkaroo! Where are you?

Polkaroo! Where are you?

He then tried to sell me an extended warranty package that was about 20% of the cost of the machine…on sale. I told him I didn’t think so, but that I knew the drill and had 30 days to get it after the purchase. He told me that wasn’t the case anymore, that the warranty had to be on the same receipt as the purchase. So it had to be purchased now or never. I said, fine, forget the warranty then. I’d already had a bad experience with a previous Future Shop warranty that ended up costing me $700, so I figured I’d take my chances.

He wrung up the purchase, I paid, and he handed me the receipt. Then he said, “Make sure you hold on to that, because if you change your mind about the warranty, we can return the purchase and then just re-sell the laptop with the extended warranty anytime within the next thirty days.”

“So you totally lied to me earlier when you said it was now or never,” I said.

“Well, no,” he said.

“Well, yeah,” I said. “You show up late, almost lose the sale for the store, get someone else to do the work, then lie to the customer, then collect your commission.”

“No, that’s not…”

“I’m done with you,” I said, and walked out of the store.

The sad thing is, I can’t even go to Best Buy, because they’re owned by the same damn company. And I won’t even go into the bullshit we went through with them last Christmas.

But I’m done with Future Shop. I’ll take my business to any other electronics place I can find. Again, a customer that’s likely dropped in the tens of thousands of dollars with your company.

BELL

On January 1st, our modem died, taking away all internet to our house. I called Bell customer service, who took me through some troubleshooting steps that I’d already told him I’d gone through, but, no big deal, I get it. He has to do his due diligence. He quickly determines that the modem is dead. “Okay,” he says. “We’ll send you out a new one.”
“When will that get here?” I said. “Because both my wife and I work from home, and we rely on the internet, so we really need it up and running no later than Sunday.”

“It will get there tomorrow, Friday, January 2nd,” he says.

“That seems awfully quick, especially at this time of year,” I say, but he assures me it will be here by tomorrow. Fair enough.

At two o’clock the next day, I phone Bell and tell them the modem they promised for today has not yet shown up. The person then runs me through the exact same troubleshooting on my modem as the person did yesterday. I put up with it. Then I give them the tracking number for the new modem and they tell me it will be three to five business days, which means somewhere between Tuesday and Thursday of the following week. I explain that that’s not acceptable, based on what I was promised the day before. I can almost hear the shrug of her shoulders all the way from India or the Phillipines or wherever the hell she is. So, it’s left up to me to then do the problem solving. I suggest that they can perhaps use a different courier and overnight it? No, that can’t be done. I suggest we can go to the nearest Bell store and pick up the modem, and bring the other one back when it’s received. No, that’s impossible.

How is that impossible?

Anyway, she’s doing nothing for me, except shutting me down, so I hang up. My wife says, “You want me to call? Wanna sic the pitbull on them?” I agree, then leave the room, because I’ve seen her in action. She’s not mean with the agents, as she understands they’re often handcuffed by procedure, but she’s tenacious, and it’s often painful to watch as she lovingly flays their logic, strip by strip.

Almost two hours later, I finally hear her hang up. I go back up, and she relates the entire sordid story. She moved up the chain from first level care all the way to Executive Level complaints. She had a manager actually hang up on her partway through the ordeal.

It really is

It really is

And this is what I need to point out: the ordeal. A company’s product doesn’t work. A promise is made to replace it within 24 hours, then that promise is rescinded and the customer is told there’s nothing the company can do. My wife heard that comment several times through the two hours.

Interestingly, as she was telling me all this, the phone rings. It’s a woman named Asia from Bell and she’s calling to set up a tech service call for tomorrow, Saturday. Did I want it between noon and six, or six and ten? I chose the earlier one, and didn’t say anything about how my wife had suggested this very solution quite a while ago and was told it was impossible. I did ask if this would cost us anything, and was told it would not. I confirmed that again.

The next day, at 11:00, so even earlier than promised, a great tech guy, nice as anything, showed up, replaced the modem, improved the connection, and left me with a smile.

So, why did my wife have to argue, berate, badger and beg for two hours, only to be told it was all impossible, when it obviously was possible? That’s the problem here.

And in the case of Bell, don’t get me wrong. Overall, Bell is a pretty good company. And I can’t say I haven’t experienced a similar level of frustration with my own company at times. And, of the three examples above, only Bell stepped up, clued in, and fixed the issue. So, good for them.

My point here is, outline a process for the agents to confidently make decisions on the company’s behalf to keep the customer happy while not giving away the store. I know customers still run on the misguided and completely erroneous guideline that “the customer is always right.” That’s bullshit. I know customers will often try and take a company for every penny they can. But an agent should also be able to look at a long-standing customer’s file, their purchase history (are you listening, Home Depot?) and make a quick, educated decision on whether that customer is trying to soak you, or they are simply frustrated and trying to get some answers. I don’t care if it’s Home Depot, Future Shop, Bell, TELUS, or any of the other customers that want your repeat business.

I mentioned I used to do training for customer service. One of the first questions I asked my agents was, who are we in competition with? They would quickly answer all the other companies that share our particular industry. I would tell them there’s more. Who are they? Eventually, I would give them the answer. As a company that offers customer service, we are in competition with every single other company that offers customer service. Banks, car dealerships, phone companies, furniture stores…all of them. The ones that do it well will win the loyalty of the customer. The ones that do it poorly will lose it.

It takes years to build loyalty. It takes one bad experience to lose it.

Books that changed my life: 03 – The Illustrated Man

Note: This blog originally appeared on tobinelliott.com.

This is the third in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.

Click on the titles to read the others

01 – Chariots of the Gods?
02 – Rocket Ship Galileo / Space Cadet


I’d discovered Robert A. Heinlein’s books shortly after unlocking the secrets of the public school library. That was chronicled in my last blog. After a while, I exhausted the library’s supply of Heinlein books and I can distinctly remember thinking, well, now what?

Staying in the area I felt comfortable in, I looked again to the SF section. I’d previously dug out a book with a striking cover that captured my attention. A bald, naked man, tattooed from the neck down, sitting on a slapped-together platform against a red landscape. Was this Mars? Why was he on that platform? What was with the tattoos? What was with The Illustrated Man?

And who was this Ray Bradbury guy, who was quoted on the cover as “The world’s greatest science-fiction writer.” Surely that was Heinlein, not this Bradbury guy, wasn’t it?

I had to find out. And besides, this cover was easily the most eye-grabbing cover I’d ever seen on a book.

I quickly found out it was a book of short stories, something I had not yet read. Of course I knew of short stories, but short science fiction stories? Nope, that was a new one to this still-virginal reader. I was all of ten or eleven years old at the most.

And, even at that tender young age, even though much of the subtle nuance of the typical Bradbury story likely flew miles above my head, still…still, there was magic in these words.

Bradbury captured me quickly with The Veldt, a story that still crackles against my imagination to this day. A 3D nursery? Kids that don’t want it shut off? I could relate to that aspect, as my mother told me I watched far too much television. She was likely correct. But damn, what those kids did next…it was, to use an overused and undervalued expression, mindblowing to my pre-teen sensibilites.

Kaleidoscope showed me dying astronauts and a child watching falling stars. He caught me again with his subtle magic with The Highway and the couple that missed the end of the world.

The Long Rain, with its description of constant Venusian rain, enough to drive men to suicide…whoa.

Zero Hour was another one that hit me like The Veldt. The nation’s kids are all playing a game called Invasion, that the parents essentially wonder about, but ultimately pass off as a kid’s game. Then the invasion actually happens. Again with the creepy kids.

Then there was The Rocket Man. I’ll pull the Wikipedia description for this one:

Astronauts are few in number, so they work as they desire for high pay. One such astronaut goes off into space for three months at a time, only returning to earth for three consecutive days to spend time with his wife and son. The story is told from the perspective of the son, who holds an interest in one day also becoming an astronaut. Talking with his father, the son learns of the constant battle he faces with yearning for the stars at home while yearning for home while in space. Despite this he has several times attempted to quit, staying at home with his family as he realizes his constant absence has nearly destroyed his wife. At the end of the story the father takes off into space one last time, only to meet his end by the sun. His wife and son now avoid the daytime and become nocturnal.

The Rocket Man hit close to home…uncomfortably close. My father wasn’t a rocket man, but he did love flying and constantly left us to spend months in remote locations like Africa or the Arctic or Greenland. When he came home, he itched to leave like a heroin addict craving their next hit. And because of that, and a lot of other things, I lost him to divorce at the age of five. So, though I didn’t really understand the concept of allegory, I saw myself as the kid in that story.

The stories that I didn’t quite “get” at the time included The Other Foot, considering the young me had no real experience or interest at the time in interracial relations. The Man with its religious undertones also left me feeling nothing, having very little in the way of a religious upbringing at the time. The same goes for The Fire Balloons.

And of course, there were other stories in the collection. Eighteen in all. Each one a strange and wonderful world.

How did this book change my life?

These stories struck me in a strange way. Initially, when I read them, I found myself a little disappointed. Nothing big happened. There’s little violence and no battles and no explosions. The only monsters seemed to be human. Bradbury’s stories were…quiet. They seemed to be told with the volume down.

Then that disappointment turned to realization that stories didn’t always need explosions and violence to entertain. But more than that, Bradbury’s stories made me think. Actually think about people, about humans, about mankind. He was the first author that held up a mirror and showed me myself and those around me.

And he did it quietly, subtly and with a precise skill. And he did it in short stories, quick hits to my psyche. He didn’t even need the length of a novel to get to me. That was new.

In talking about the books that changed my life up to now, I also acknowledge that, if I went back and read them, I would no longer be entertained, challenged or engaged in them. But not so with Bradbury. He’s an author I continue to read. I keep going back to books like Farenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes and still, each time I read them, I marvel at the man’s style. Oh sure, his future isn’t what it used to be, his Mars and his Venus have been unveiled as fiction (albeit beautiful fiction), but still, the central ideas hold true.

For works that are six decades old, that’s impressive.

So, from Ray Bradbury, I got a different sense of wonder, a more reflective wonder. It’s something that I try to seed into my own fiction, though I’ll never reach the mastery of the late, great Ray Bradbury.

Thank you, Ray.


Did you ever read something that changed your life?

Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t been able to read those words?

What if you couldn’t read? How different would your life be?

What if you couldn’t read Facebook status updates? What if you couldn’t read well enough to Google whatever you need to know? What if you couldn’t read to your kids? What if you couldn’t read a street sign? What if you couldn’t read the instructions on the pill bottle? What if you couldn’t fill out that job application?

What if you couldn’t read?

I’m the person I am now because I can read. I couldn’t imagine a life without a constant influx of words to entertain me, to irritate me, to make me laugh and make me cry.

But I know there’s many out there, and I’m trying to help them. Please, if you read and enjoyed this blog, or if it made you think back to a book that changed your life, please consider helping me help those who are trying to read.

I’m participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event where 40 writers try and write as much as they can, while raising money to fund Literacy and Numeracy programs for adults in the Simcoe/Muskoka area. And the program works. One of the lucky people who went through their literacy program has now joined our group as a writer. How often can you donate money and look at the walking, talking, reading and writing result?

Any amount is sincerely appreciated.

To find out more about the Muskoka Novel Marathon, click here.
To donate, click here.

Please. Help me change someone’s life through reading.

Books that changed my life: 01 – Chariots of the Gods?

Note: This post originally appeared on tobinelliott.com

This is the first in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.

Don’t you just LOVE those old style covers? I do.

One of the first books I’m conscious of reading, in fact, it may have been the first “adult” book I read cover to cover, was Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods?

Let’s address the elephant in the blog right now: No, this is not a good book (despite that absolutely cool late 60s style of cover with the bold lettering…goddamn I loved those covers). In fact, it’s quite terrible .

And that’s part of why it was so influential for me.

The book was released in 1968 and it picked up a pretty decent buzz almost immediately, from what my memory can dredge up. I likely read it somewhere around 1969 or 1970, making me about seven years old. This was likely the best target market von Däniken could have wished for. Young, malleable, naive and wanting oh so desperately to believe. I had that whole Fox Mulder “I want to believe” schtick down decades before he put that poster up in his basement office of the FBI.

And besides, how cool is the name Erich von Däniken? Hell, the man even has an übër-cöol umlaut in his last name.

Erich’s looking for the umlaut in the hieroglyphics.

Sidenote: I always thought Umlaüt would be the best name for a metal band. End of sidenote.

Being that young, and being absolutely fascinated with anything that had anything to do with space–and really, why not? I was living in a world that had made it to the moon, but had not yet added footprints into that dusty satellite’s surface as yet. Neil Armstrong hadn’t yet buggered up what are some of man’s most iconic words: “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Of course, he meant one small step for a man, but hey, give the guy a bit of slack…he was the first of us to set foot on something other than our own planet.

On the other hand, according to von Däniken, Armstrong and the rest of mankind were quite behind those who had, millenia earlier, visited our planet. If you buy into his theories (which I absolutely, wholeheartedly did), then some of our most amazing ancient structures, such as the pyramids and the Easter Island heads were put there by ancient aliens viewed as gods. He saw astronauts and spacecraft in ancient drawings. He saw a lot of stuff that could be explained by extraterrestrials in religion as well.

Reading (and believing) this book led me down years of reading and countless books on the various strange perceived mysteries of our world. UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, alien abductions, conspiracy theories…the fire was sparked from this book.

But another fire, one much more significant and long-lasting was as well. Not long after I’d devoured this book, my mother met, and eventually married a very intelligent man named Bob. You know that expression, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear? That’s exactly what happened here.

As I said, I bought the whole Chariots of the Gods stuff hook, line and sinker. Bob, on the other hand, thought it was all bullshit. So, I challenged him to refute some of the things I’d read. And he did. This common guy, with no stunning education or degrees behind his name, was able, mostly with common sense or a little deductive reasoning, to pretty much shoot holes through everything my beloved von Däniken had proposed.

I can’t remember much of the discussion anymore, but I remember that moment of deflation, of hearing what Bob said and knowing he was right. But I also remember stubbornly holding on to any bit of ancient alien visitation theory I could, even while it slipped away like sand through my fingers.

One of the best examples of Bob’s counterarguments–and bear in mind I’ll have to make this up because the book is long gone now–went something like this:

Von Däniken said something along the lines of, if you take the height of the great pyramids of Egypt and multiply them by some number, it will come out to the exact distance of the Earth from the sun, something the Egyptians could never have known.

I gotta tell you, at the time, that one rocked my socks.

Then Bob came along and, with his thick Scottish brogue, flapped a dismissive hand and said, “”That’s nae even worth refutin’!” I couldn’t understand why, even when he said, “You can do anything with math!” I still didn’t get it.

So he grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and proceeded to show me how, with the right multiplier, the height of our house, the height of the Empire State Building, or even my height could equal the distance from the Earth to the sun.

Well no shit.

How did this book change my life?

Today, I do believe there is life on other planets in other galaxies. Statistically, it’s ridiculous to believe otherwise. And while I love any story, novel or movie that deals with aliens on our world (the aforementioned X-Files is a personal favourite), I do not believe they have come to visit us as yet. Because I’ve learned a healthy skepticism from being sucked in by von Däniken and his ridiculous theories and by what Bob taught me to consider afterward.

It changed my life because it opened my eyes to all the snake oil salesmen this world offers up and how easily gullibility can be defeated with a little bit of logical thought.

Thanks Erich. Thanks Bob.