Many of you may have had experiences similar to mine described below. It's time to start telling the powers that be about it!



August 7, 2015


Dean Athanasia, President, Preferred Banking

Bank of America Corp.

100 N Tryon St.

Charlotte, NC 28255


Mr. Athanasia:


Whenever I call Bank of America, I am greeted with the, “Thank you for being a Preferred Customer” greeting. I am writing to you today because that is such a hollow and shallow statement.  B of A staffs I subsequently deal with seldom make me feel like a “preferred customer.”  On the contrary, I would say that more likely than not I hang up feeling insulted, denigrated and, often, angry.


I am a 72 year-old professional journalist and business woman. I continue to write a regular print newspaper column and several blogs online. One of the areas I consider myself a specialist in is consumer advocacy – thus this letter to you about how weary I am of the abysmal treatment B of A gives customers like me.


Yesterday I called to follow up on an order for new checks which had not arrived. The young man I initially spoke with asked me for my personal ID. I said I had no idea since I had probably given that information more than a quarter century ago and had never been asked for it since. I DID, however guess that it might either be my grandmother’s maiden name (WWWWW) or my dog’s name (XXXX.) He then asked me for the security code on the back of my ATM card, my driver’s license number and several more secret-handshake type questions all of which I answered correctly. Suddenly he said he could NOT continue the call because I had not provided sufficient information (?) He seemed quite panic-stricken and anxious to get off the line. I got no further information.


Clearly perturbed, I called back and asked for a supervisor. I was put on hold—twice, I asked the young man putting me on hold if he had been absent the day during his training when they gave the lecture on what a bad idea it is to put an already-outraged customer on hold for 10 minutes. Eventually, on the third try I was connected to “Candy.”


(Let me just pause here to say that in my business sphere, a person with any professional standing usually introduces him/herself with a full name, “Mary Smith” or “John Goldberg” – whatever. I see no reason why I must provide my name, DOB, security codes on the back of my ATM card, last 4 digits of account and/or SS number – everything but my bra size which would provide  much better evidence of my identity, by the way, -- so I can talk to some kid barely out of cheerleading finals whom I know only as “Trixie” or, “Candy.”)

In any event, Candy ( Bxxxxxa, I determined, is her last name) was eventually satisfied that I am who I said I was and she got me the information I needed about the check order. Then I asked her to please tell me my Personal ID so I would know it next time.


Well, it turns out XXXX was the correct answer, and I had given it. But, I gave it in a sentence that went something like, “I haven’t used that is so many years but I believe it’s either my grandmother’s maiden name WWWWW or my dog’s name, XXXX…” This is apparently an “incorrect answer” at B of A.  WHY?


I appreciate and understand the need for security and ID checks: I do not live under a rock, do not have dementia, and can probably match “Candy’s” IQ and perhaps double it.  But I also appreciate common sense and, frankly, too many on your staff have very little of the latter.


I said I was upset by the treatment I had received from the young man I first spoke with and the fact that I had to waste two calls and about a half hour of my time to get to the bottom of things, and I wanted an apology. “Candy” was immoveable. She defended her colleague irrationally so I asked to speak to her supervisor. After a few more “holds” on the phone, I was eventually connected to another first-name-only young women who claimed to be head of Candy’s “team.”


I finally hung up in disgust when no one could seem to find the corporate address for B of A in response to my request for it so I could write to you. I thought they should have that at the ready, frankly…perhaps even tattooed on their palms.  Am I the first consumer to contact you—or to WANT to complain?  I doubt it.


All this by way of saying that I don’t feel like a “preferred” customer and I don’t believe anyone on your phones even knows what that means-- or cares. Certainly they are not really grateful when they say “Thank you for being a Preferred Customer.” They are just one more cog in an endless string of Big Banks where the customer is always wrong, business etiquette is an unknown and the client is too often more abused than helped.


I have perfectly functional underwear older than most of the people I have to deal with when I call B of A, and though I am a big fan of youth and of our best and brightest up-and-coming young people moving up the corporate ladder, I am never going to get used to or be a fan of stupidity, lack of common sense and ignorance about what “customer service” really means.


In these areas, B of A has a very long way to go.


Mary Ann Sorrentino


(This letter will be Twitter and Blog Posted)


EAST GREENWICH - Former President Bill Clinton has been to Rhode Island so often that he jokes that he ought to be paying taxes in the state. He was backyesterday in a familiar role raising gobs of so-called "soft" money for the Democratic Party.Clinton stuck to party themes and domestic politics as he plugged Democrat Myrth York's bid for governor at an event that raised about $250,000 for the stateDemocratic Party's voter turnout effort in the runup to the Nov. 5 election.

The event in the backyard of the home of Mark Weiner, a top Democratic fundraiser, was billed both as a campaign money harvest and as a chance for Democrats to bury or at least repress frayed feelings from York's narrow gubernatorial primary victory last week over Atty. Gen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Antonio J. Pires, DPawtucket.

As a unity vessel, it had its awkward moments. Weiner, who supported Whitehouse in the primary, was emcee. "I had hoped to be up here touting ... the record of Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse."

Weiner quickly shifted gears, saying it is important to elect Democrats and thanked both Pires and Whitehouse for attending the event. Whitehouse and his wife, Sandra, stood a few feet away, smiling gamely to polite applause from the well-dressed crowd that sipped drinks near Weiner's pool.
But by this time, Pires had been gone for 20 minutes or so. Pires, who finished a distant third in the contest, did not stick around for the speeches of Clinton or other Democrats. He has yet to endorse York. "I'm here because they asked me to come," said Pires in a brief interview as he was walking outside Weiner's home. "I support the Democratic Party."

Pires said he is scheduled to meet with York today to discuss issues he is concerned about, including management of state government, legislative reform and pushing House Speaker John B. Harwood, D-Pawtucket, who is ensnarled in a sexual-harassment scandal, to resign.Pires asserted he has none of the agendas often identified with losing candidates. "I'm not looking for anything. I'm going back to my insurance business ... I'm not seeking any jobs or leverage or anything like that."

While some York aides say privately that the campaign is tired of Pires's sulk, York herself pressed ahead, assiduously sticking to the day's theme of Democratic unity and praising Clinton's administration.

"It's just great that we are together," said York. "We are Democrats. I look forward to the next seven weeks."

Clinton was wrong about the number of times York had been defeated for governor he said once though it has been twice but he praised her tenacity.

"I'm proud of you madame candidate for hanging in there," Clinton said. He also cited her support for small business and said that as a Democrat, York would be solicitous of the problems of working people.

Without mentioning President Bush by name, Clinton skewered the president's tax cut and domestic policies on such issues as the environment, the economy and education. Touching on traditional Democratic themes, Clinton said the Republican Party has drifted too deeply into the realm of right- wing idealogy ideology and supply-side economics.

Nov. 5 marks the first big election since he left office and Clinton has been a Democratic money machine, traveling around the country helping in election for governor, House and Senate.
Donors gave up to $10,000 yesterday, much of it in so-called "soft" money that is supposed to be used only for party-building activities, such as voter turnout and paying party expenses.

Since he began running for president in 1991, when he was still Arkansas governor, Clinton has played in as many Rhode Island venues as Charlie Hall, the state's best-known comedian.
The former president has appeared at the University Club in Providence, at construction company magnate William Gilbane's Barrington estate, at the Portuguese Social Club in Pawtucket, at the Rhode Island Convention Center, at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, at the Channel 10 studios in Cranston, at the Providence Westin hotel and Weiner's house.

There was another uneasy moment when a reporter asked Clinton whether he was aware of the allegations lodged against Harwood. Clinton quickly sidestepped the question, saying "I can plead ignorance .. That's the great thing about being out of office."

Weiner quickly cut off further questions, saying, "Thank you very much, everyone, for coming."


This article originally appeared in the Providence Journal September 19, 2002, and it was written by then-Providencde Journal- reporter Scott MacKay who now writes and broadcasts from RINPR radio


Tuscany Discovered - July 2014

Like many of you, I had been to Florence many times. I even lived here for a year during my college days' Junior Year Abroad. During some of those visits, I had visited Fiesole, the mystical village high in the hills above Florence with its Roman amphitheater and breathtaking views.

I have seen Pisa with its leaning tower a half dozen times, and I have driven with my husband from Florence to Perugia in nearby Umbria, so we had been awed by what is in fact Tuscany, and Florence as its capital.

But the Tuscany countryside many of you know from films and books of recent years is an area we had not explored in detail -- until now.

Here are a few of the panoramas we would like to share with you.

First, San Gimignano with its many towers dating back to the first millennium. Buildings along its medieval streets were constructed anywhere from 1000 to 1400 and beyond.

The main square

  the beautiful residences beyond the square
An ancient castle still standing guard, with vines of caper plants pouring down its walls

After walking the whole town and soaking up its wonderful vibe, we stopped for a cold drink in the main square, listened to the medieval clock chime noon, then moved on to Siena, about 90 minutes away.

Siena is the home of the most authentic Italian language in all of Italy. It is also famous for its yearly Paglio - a horse race in its main conch-shaped square. The various neighborhood "Quarters" surround the square and each has its own flag and its own horse entered into this historic race. The men of Siena participate heartily (women have no role in the Paglio since Middle Age rules excluded them and that has never been changed.) The men still wear ancient costumes (or replicas of those) in the colors of their "Quarter."  The winning horse is allowed into the cathedral as a demonstration of the honor paid to that animal for winning the race. Never doubt that this isn't a VERY serious matter -- even today -- among the Sienesi. If a woman marries a man from another Quarter, on the day of the actual race she goes to her parents' home in her native Quarter not to participate in any way with her husband's rival territory!

Here are some images of lovely Siena:

 Siena's Main Square where the Paglio is held

The Medieval Costumes and Flags of one Quarter

This is a SERIOUS matter!!

We had a lovely lunch in Siena at a restaurant called "Le Sorelline" (The Little Sisters) which we HIGHLY recommend. All the pastas as well as the desserts are made fresh DAILY....the main courses were superb and the prices reasonable (party of 4, 90 Euros or about $120. total or $30. per person!)

Around 4 PM se said good-bye to Siena and headed through the breathtaking Tuscan countryside toward our last stop, Piensa...but I'll just let these images speak for themselves.

Looks like a post card, right??

Finally, the fairytale town of Pienza, one of the most well-kept, meticulously manicures towns I have ever visited.

Pienza's ancient gate with beautiful fresco scene in the arch

Typical Pienza side street

So we said farewell to breathtaking, Pienza hoping that

THESE two (on the side of Pienza's duomo)  will last as long as



uh..duhh..uh..duhh...That's All Folks!  (for now anyway)


The Homeless of Florence-- In Their Humbling Refinement

6/26/2014 Florence - St. James Episcopal Church, Via dei Rucellai

We have been in Italy for two weeks and only now are we experiencing a few welcome showers to cool off a torrid Florence (know as Italy’s “frying pan.”) This is also the day I started my volunteer work at St. James Episcopal Church, one of only three such churches in Italy (the others are in Rome and Bologna.) 

I have had a little experience working with the homeless through my past association with Travelers Aid (now Crossroads Rhode Island.) I have never forgetter former Director Marion Avarista’s reminder that we are all only one paycheck away from homelessness.

The church itself is magnificent - a classic gothic house of worship today decorated for a bride expected later in the day.

The clothing bank at St. James is held every Thursday morning starting at 10. Small bags of food are also distributed (today a can of cannellini beans, cheese, saltines, juice and a piece of fresh fruit will barely take the edge off the hunger of the homeless in a country known for its gourmet food. 

But the dignity and even the surprising elegance of the homeless here is amazing to see. Yes, some need a bath and a haircut, but, in general, they manage to carry that great Italian grace in their bones and in their rags. The African women especially--  still preferring their native costumes--  are amazingly beautiful and even regal. They are polite and handle the used clothing delicately. Finding nothing that will culturally accommodate their chosen dress, they thank us and leave with only a small bag of food. We agree to look for each other next Thursday when hopefully some items like long scarves or shawls will be on the table ready to be turned into wraparounds or turbans these women can use.


Carla, the main overseer of the clothing table, knows many of these people by name (and shoe or waist size.) She saves items she knows certain men and women have been looking for and— to their delight— runs to her stash to bring out a saved pair or sneakers one woman has been looking for for weeks, in almost her perfect size. Later she tells me she finally gave a new radio from her own home to a man here today who had no TV or radio to listen to all day and night. 

Carla is driven by the contagious realization that what we see in these people at the table could easily be us or people we love. I can already sense she will be my friend here, and the person who will personify the St. James experience in my memory for years to come. I am proud to call myself her colleague.


I think my Dad would have been proud of my work here today, in the country he never stopped loving.




Originally published: February 05 2014 01:00  in the Providence Journal

In the next little while, the media will be describing every possible angle of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman’s life. He died Sunday — probably from an overdose. Hoffman had bravely told the world last year that he was losing his long battle with his drug addiction: He had fallen off the wagon and was headed for rehab — again.

As part of the post mortem, his films will be endlessly analyzed until the one-of-a-kind stamp Hoffman left on every role he played is blurred. People will recall his Oscar-winning best actor performance in “Capote” and the challenging electricity between him and Meryl Streep in “Doubt.” They will surely mention his last big movie, with the equally eccentric Joachim Phoenix, “The Master.”

Few will talk about my Hoffman favorite, a 1999 drama with romantic-comedy edges called “Flawless,” about an ultraconservative street-wise New Yorker (Robert DeNiro) who has a stroke and becomes dependent on his much-hated neighbor, a drag queen played beautifully by Hoffman. “Flawless” was made 15 years ago, when Hoffman was cleaner and more sober and DeNiro had not yet wasted his great talent by playing second banana to Billy Crystal.

One poster for “Flawless” showed a color portrait of Hoffman in drag and DeNiro at a piano. This final scene of the film, behind the rolling credits, shows the queen using musical notes, drilled over and over, for speech therapy for DeNiro. One copywriter added, “They couldn’t like each other less, or need each other more.”

Watching a bevy of drag queens and a tough, homophobic street guy bond is pure delight. The queens bringing comfort and gifts to the stroke victim is the mirror image of the scene in “Zorba” when the dying heroine lies helpless and unaware as shrieking Greek widows plunder her home.

As a movie buff, I have watched many of Hoffman’s films — some twice or more. Though he was real and mesmerizing, we loved him because he was like most of us — imperfect.

He wasn’t breathtaking, like Johnny Depp, or intense like Ben Affleck. He was not a great romantic lead like Montgomery Clift. Hoffman was just the person he was playing — perfectly. He was an average drag queen, a real one, not a rare hermaphroditic beauty like the Lady Chablis in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” or Peter O’Toole, about whom Noel Coward noted they “would have had to call it Florence of Arabia” had the star been any more beautiful.

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drag queen was, instead, your gay cousin from Pawtucket. He wasn’t a man you’d mistake for a beautiful woman, but a gay man, in drag, feminizing his aid to a bigot who might otherwise feel threatened by a nurse who was too much of a “guy.”
How brilliant.

Like millions of movie fans, I shall miss him, but I shall never forget him.

Mary Ann Sorrentino ( writes from Cranston and Hillsboro Beach, Fla.


RIP JFK: A Half-Century Later, Johnny, We Hardly New You


The soft autumn dusk draped the city. Blocks from the Duomo in Tuscany's capital, I drank tea with a friend in Florence's Torricelli Café. Suddenly, the third member of our Junior Year Abroad trio bounded into the tearoom, breathless and teary. Leaning on our table to steady herself she blurted out, "The President's dead!"

That is how I learned that John F. Kennedy, prince of the Camelot America longed for, had been taken away by an assassin's bullet that instantly sent him into history.

On November 22, 1963, American students in Italy (for a year designed to shape our lives) stammered, wept, and held tight to each other, trying to stay grounded. A cocktail of emotions sped to our heads and our hearts, blurring the lines where grief began and shock ended; where fear started and overwhelming loss took control.

In those days before instant news, cell phones and internet connections, we made our way to Florence's main train station in Piazza Santa Maria Novella, hoping to find the Herald Tribune and details on our nightmare. Florentine pedestrians approached us to express condolences, as if we were Kennedy intimates. Many wept with us.

Florence then, as now, is a sophisticated capital of art and elegance. Its residents have been politically discrete and emotionally controlled for centuries. Tuscans are proud and reluctant to invade the emotional space of outsiders. Yet, on that cool fall night when Oswald's shot reverberated around the world, Americans clung to the comfort Florence offered-- its natives, like us, devastated by the loss of a young president who had personified hope for the future.

We were paralyzed in a dark and terrifying political void, missing the comfort of Kennedy's steadying presence-- a paralysis many of us still feel, a half-century later.



Highland Beach Memories : When Life was Beautiful

Warwick’s Highland Beach epitomized the wholesome side of 1950’s America. Stay-at-home Moms devoted themselves to their families in airy homes with all the latest gadgets and comforts. Their husbands provided enough income for almost every want to be met and we children suspected even then that we were experiencing close-to-perfect childhoods.
Highland Beach came alive each summer on the bay front just north of Rocky Point. Our house on Burnett Road had a lawn about 30 feet deep that ended at a sea wall with steps bringing swimmers directly into the bay. A year-round garrison it had a sweeping porch facing Barrington’s Rumstick Point across the water. Similar homes stretched along the beach toward Longmeadow to our north, most occupied by families eager to enjoy a summer retreat. There were few year-rounders.
The mainly Italian-American residents had names like Pari, Zinno, Radoccia, Isacco, D’Arezzo, and Palmisciano forming one huge summer clan.  On beach days, children knew that if their own mothers were home cleaning or baking, the mothers with us were our overseers. We understood that we answered to and could be scolded by all and any of them. This insured against sassiness and, conversely, only added to our sense of well-being as we stared adulthood in the eye.
Our fathers returned each evening, weary from the hour-long drive from the hot city before Rt. 95. After a quick swim, they dined on the porch with the family. My mother often served pasta with littlenecks: she was a champion quahauger able to harvest dozens from the murky bay bottom in minutes. As summer waned, the sweetest corn from Morris Farms hit the table. For dessert there were sliced peaches in red wine. There was no rush to watch Fox news: better, there was no Fox news.
Offspring of hard-working immigrants, we were living the American dream and we knew it. Yet the traditions of our roots lived on.  Mothers swam on the feast of St. Ann (July 26) when that saint-- the mother of Mary and patron of mothers, grandmothers, homemakers and housewives-- traditionally bestowed blessings on the bather. I don’t remember any openly feminist women in the Highland Beach of my childhood, though I feel certain some there must have been planting those seeds, however subtly.
Newborns were baptized at St. Benedict’s Church in Conimicut where the dead were also remembered, and after-Mass feasts always included the traditional pastas, roasts and cakes our grandmothers had served. Even “hot dog roasts” relied heavily on Italian sausages lovingly brought to the beach house from the city’s Charles Street, Federal Hill or Silver Lake neighborhood shops by our commuting Dads. Fried zucchini flowers spilled off heaping platters, and homemade wine always materialized.
For us children it was paradise, with guardian angels around every corner. When I fell out of a tree at Carol Radoccia’s tenth birthday party, a host of Moms were at my side in seconds spewing ice cubes and comfort. On torrid days when none of us wanted to come out of the water, someone’s Mom would appear beachside with sandwiches and watermelon slices for whoever needed them. Elders who didn’t want us to understand what they were saying, would slip into the Neapolitan dialects of their parents. Drug problems and infidelities were never discussed in any language: In Washington, Senators McCarthy and Kefauver were busy taking care of anything that might be wrong with America.
Highland Beach was the place where most of us experienced our first cigarette, our first kiss and our first death. When, at sixteen, one beloved son died of Mediterranean anemia-- an affliction most of our parents had never heard of—he was waked, buried, mourned and remembered in the traditional ways which insured that, even now—a half-century later—his name still echoes in our hearts.
Highland Beach was the hothouse for the ethic which still lives in all who spent summers there.  In the stillness of late summer mornings, from my bed,  miles and a lifetime away from my room on Burnett Road, I sometimes still strain to hear the quahaugers’ voices being carried ashore on gentle low-tide waves.  And sometimes, I think I still hear my Mom downstairs in the kitchen baking a mulberry crostata with fruit from her neighbor’s bayside garden.
Having returned many times to my father’s and grandfathers’ beloved island of Ischia in Italy’s Mediterranean, I appreciate why my Dad loved Highland Beach so much, and can still hear him whispering-- as he often did, relishing HIS Highland Beach-- “Che meraviglia!”  (“What a marvel!”)
And that it was.               

                                                     Winter visit to Highland Beach, circa 1946 

This piece originally was published in the Providence Journal 8-4-2013