Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Is That a G-G-G-Gun!

Whenever we want to disparage someone’s honesty, we compare them to a used car salesman. Stereotypes like these are not totally unfair because, like most stereotypes, there is some truth in them. Car dealers in general are looked upon with suspicion because of the way they do business; that whole mating dance when you’re negotiating a price on a new car, and the sales person running back and forth to the manager like they were trying their darndest to get you a better deal. Please.

While it’s true I’ve encountered some sales reps from hell like the little dweeb from the Auto Mall in New Jersey who pressed me insistently for my social security number before he had barely said hello. Later, while test driving the car, I asked to hear the radio and this idiot didn’t know how to turn it on. Generally though, I think most of the problems I’ve had have come after I buy the car. I’ve found that dealing with mechanics and service departments is a lot more frustrating than dealing with sales people. I’ve never understood this because while your decision to buy from a particular dealer is based largely on convenience, your decision to return to that dealer is based almost exclusively on how well they service the car. Duh.

An auto service operation is not just about how well they handle maintenance and repairs on the vehicle, but how well they treat you. In the days long ago, before arrogant American auto makers got their butts kicked by Japan, customer waiting rooms in car dealerships were the pits. Dingy surroundings, uncomfortable, mismatched chairs that looked like they were rescued from a dumpster, dog-eared magazines yellow with age, and nothing to eat or drink while you waited at their mercy to fix your car were the norm. Mechanics were surly, had no appreciation for the value of your time, and usually left a memento of your visit in the form of a grease stain on your mats or upholstery.

My worst experience with a mechanic happened during the 1960s. One morning, I dropped off my big-ass Olds ’88 at the local Shell station for an oil change. When I returned that evening looking for my car, I walked right past a total wreck parked in the same gas station. The station owner came out and sheepishly explained that the wreck I walked past WAS my car! It seems that when he was backing the car out after changing the oil, a speeding car ran the light at 86th Street and plowed into my car. He was totally apologetic, and said his insurance company would take care of the repair. What could I do; the damage was done so I told him to notify me when the car was repaired.

About a week later the station owner called me, said the car was ready, and gave me the address in Brooklyn of the body shop where I could pick it up. The body shop owner pulled the car around, and to my complete delight, the car looked like new! I thanked him for a great job, but as I moved to open the door to get in and drive off, he stepped in front of me. He explained that the Shell station owner’s insurance company had not yet agreed to pay for the damage, and that he was slapping a “mechanic’s lien” on the car to prevent me from taking it until he got his money.

At this point I was at the end of my patience. The body shop guy was a lot older and smaller than me, so I told him in my best “hard guy” voice that the insurance problem was between him and the Shell station owner, and that I was taking my car. He calmly stepped into his ratty office and came out with a snarling Doberman and holding the biggest revolver I had ever seen! Needless to say, no further arguments were made by me. (The dog would have been more than enough.) A couple of weeks later, I got my car and an apology from the body shop guy for his “Little Caesar” tactics. I stammered that it was perfectly understandable and, avoiding any sudden movements, slowly backed out.

Things have changed a lot now that car dealers are beginning to understand the relationship between treating customers decently and repeat sales. My current Toyota dealer in New Jersey has a service operation that makes me want to go back. They keep their appointment times, have a customer lounge with big screen TV and extensive reading materials, and will even give you a free voucher for breakfast or lunch that you can redeem in their on-site restaurant while you wait for your car to be serviced. When the car is ready, it takes me ten minutes to remove all the protective coverings they put over the seats and on the floor to prevent stains. And I’m happy to report that so far, nobody has pulled a gun on me.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Just Shut Up!

As you probably know by now, I am easily annoyed. The older I get the less patience I seem to have. I manage to conceal my irritation in situations where it would be imprudent to show it, but there are times when it is all I can do to keep from rolling up a magazine and hitting someone on the head! I think the fools that bring out the worst in me are the pretentious phonies. They are everywhere you look, for example, last night we went to the New York Historical Society on Central Park West to see the Civil War exhibit on Grant and Lincoln. The building also houses other interesting exhibits including some wonderful paintings.

As we proceeded through the wing of paintings thoroughly enjoying each one and admiring the talented artists who created them, my B.S. alarm suddenly went off. We had come up in the elevator with an older man and a younger woman, thin, blonde and PRETENTIOUS. She was having one of those loud, "look at me, aren't I smart" elevator conversations that make me cringe. The B.S. meter was entering the danger zone, and this was only on the ride up to the fourth floor!

I purposely walked the other way when we got off the elevator, hoping to avoid hearing that obnoxious voice again. We did OK for a while, passing through rooms of period furniture and everyday household items that I remember well growing up. (I guess since they are now considered collectible antiques, that probably makes me an antique too.) As we moved on to the art gallery and down a narrow corridor, I suddenly heard "the voice." It entered my brain like a knitting needle through my ear: "Look at their deportment Charles, they could come from the movie: Streets of New York." And sure enough, down the corridor was this hateful woman. As she droned on, we took off in full flight, needing to be anywhere she wasn't.

I wish I could remember when I developed such an aversion to pretentious people. It's probably the cumulative effect of individual incidents over the years rather than one single defining moment when I went from tolerance of these a**holes to pure malevolence toward them. Not to get too Freudian here, but it may have begun when I saw how certain people treated my mother. She was the very soul of tolerance, and always turned the other cheek when people took advantage or talked down to her. She would simply accept their rudeness and go on with business. For a while growing up, I was this way too. It just seemed like an easy way to get through life with no conflict.

At some point things changed. I began to rankle when I heard that superior tone in people's voices that implied they knew all there was to know. These people are at their worst in public places where they have an audience. You know them in a second...their voices rise above all others as they assert their superiority. My child is so special that they are head and shoulders above the other children in their class; If you had only converted your portfolio to cash when I told you this recession wouldn't have hit you so hard; I wouldn't drive anything but a Mercedez...I don't know why you don't get rid of that Buick.

Their habitats are elevators, restaurants, waiting rooms, anywhere there are other people to impress with how much better they are. Cell phones are their latest weapon; even if they are alone they can have these loud conversations proclaiming how great things are going. I think society should recognize what public nuisances these S.O.B.s are, and declare it perfectly acceptable conduct to approach them, tap them on the shoulder and say: "You know what, shut the f*ck up!" How great would that feel? People would give you a standing ovation. I feel better just thinking about it.

Sure, I can go into therapy, but it's much more fun being crazy.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Friday, March 13, 2009

Last Meal

You may have noticed the "Blimp Watch" at the bottom of these posts. I'm doing OK, but losing weight is hard for me, mainly because I really love to eat. I could eat five or six meals a day, especially in the cold, dark days of winter when that comfort food beckons. I have a sweet tooth for all things chocolate, ice cream, cookies and pastry so you can see my problem. I was blessed with a wife who can really cook (besides being beautiful and intelligent) so I don't get any bad dinners at home. Also, we eat out maybe once a week at one of the many good restaurants in our area. All these things combine to make losing weight an uphill battle.

When I'm not actually eating, I'm thinking about food. I saw a show on Nova last night that featured new research on compulsive eaters. I have my problems, but these folks were morbidly obese; they stuff themselves until they feel physically ill, and then drown in guilt and depression. The lead researcher believes that something like one in a hundred overweight people have a defective gene receptor that causes them to eat way past the point where people without this problem will feel full and stop. I don't understand how this works, but maybe there's more to overeating than a simple lack of willpower. I guess I want to be told it's not my fault. Anyhow, since I am thinking of food, I decided to write down my dream dinner. It involves travel to several restaurants, so let's get going.

For appetizers, we need go no farther than a local favorite, Gennaro's Restaurant on Staten Island. They serve two appetizers that are equally good: one is a couple of dozen fat Mussels with strips of roasted red peppers and onions in a garlicky white wine sauce; the other is grilled zucchini, eggplant and onions served atop a warm pannini-style bread. If you finish one of these appetizers, you can just have them doggie-bag your entree because you'll be too full to eat it. A nice Pinot Grigio goes well with either of these.

Next, a salad to cleanse the pallette. Caesar salad is my favorite, but there are a few rules that need to be followed. First, the anchovies must be used sparingly, just to flavor the dressing, not overpower it. Next, the lettuce must be crisp Romaine; I've actually had places serve me Caesar Salad with iceburg lettuce....please. The toasted croutons should be on the large size so they don't get lost, and finally the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese must be generously shredded on top. Drink a California Pinot Noir with the salad. Rosie O'Grady's in Manhattan and Arturo's at Bally's in Atlantic City both do a great Caesar salad.

I wrestled with the entree because there are so many dishes I love. With apologies to my Italian ancestors, if I was ordering my last meal on earth, it would have to be a juicy, sizzling steak. I don't eat steak that often these days, so when I do, it has to be good. Most premium steak houses earned their reputations for a reason: my favorites are Ruth's Chris, Morton's, Sparks and, if you can tolerate the service, Peter Luger's. Tier two places include Sammy's in Mendham, New Jersey and Embers in Brooklyn. Sides should include large onion rings and an Idaho baked potato with sour cream. For a companion wine, any decent full-bodied California Cabernet Sauvignon will be perfect. Angioplasty anyone?

Got room for dessert? Of course. Again, tough choice to top off my last meal on earth. To refresh the tastebuds, start with a bottle of cold Prosecco. Then, if you like fancy, Ruth's Chris makes a chocolate lava cake that is so rich it requires CPR in-between bites. Bananas Foster is also a very special treat. Other choices might be Junior's Cheescake (from downtown Brooklyn) or a crisp sfoglitelle from any good Brooklyn bakery. Of course, a big pot of real espresso (screw the decaf) to wash it down. Take a ten-minute walk around the block to give your stomach a rest. Then come back for a nice Cognac and, since I don't really like cigars that much, a few Marlboros to relax.

What's that...the Warden and the Padre are coming? I guess my time is up. That last meal made it all worthwhile. Do I have any last words before walking that green mile? Yes, does anybody have a piece of chocolate for the trip?


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Scarlet Letter

In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, adulteress Hester Prynne must wear a scarlet "A" pinned to her dress to mark her shame, and to warn decent folk that a sinner was approaching. They were pretty tough on adulterers in those days; they certainly didn't get to their country's highest office. But enough about Bill Clinton. Ba da bum bum. As we became more tolerant of adultery, the need for scarlet "A"s diminished. I wonder if there's a warehouse full of them somewhere in New England, because if there is, I think I have a use for them.

As you know if you have any contact at all with the outside world, our society is plagued by a**holes. The problem is we usually don't know when an a**hole is approaching until they engage us, and by then it's too late. (Can you see where I'm going with this?) Wouldn't it be nice if these people could be identified through their behavior, and forced to wear the scarlet letter "A" to designate their status? We could set up a hotline, I'd suggest 1-800-A**HOLE, so that those of us who encounter them might be able to report in. After three hotline calls identifying you as an a**hole, guess what: Here's your "A".

What if the a**holes don't want to wear their "A"; after all, they're a**holes! Don't fret, I have a backup plan. Up until now, without the scarlet letter to tell us, we are hard pressed to distinguish an a**hole from a normal person. They often pass for one of us until they open their mouths or do something stupid. In the interest of helping humankind recognize the a**holes among us, I have drawn on years experience as an observer (and endurer) of a**holes, and have compiled a list of telltale signs that tend to give them away. There are exceptions to be sure, but be on your guard if you see any of the following:

Baseball cap on backwards, especially on persons over the age of 40. This is someone unsure of their "coolness" and desperate to be seen as a happenin' dude. Unless the individual is a baseball catcher or a naval officer peering into a submarine periscope, beware.

Guys who drive Hummers or Cadillac Escalades. Ah, ah, don't fight me on this one. Any guy who needs to drive a vehicle the size of a small building has issues with other "small" things, if you get my meaning. There may be rare exceptions, but I haven't found one yet.

People whose time is so much more valuable than yours,,,you know the ones. They make their own exit lanes on the highway when the normal one is backed up; they walk to the head of the line at the store to ask the clerk "just one quick question"; or they get in the express check out lane with two wagon-loads of stuff.

People who are incredibly stupid and unaware, yet who have the exact opposite opinion of themselves. The condition is exacerbated by the fact that they are often loud, pushy, and never wrong. They never pick up on hints from others that their behavior is offensive, and honestly, I just want to bash their heads in! Sorry, but I do.

Don't say you haven't been warned. A**holes are everywhere and you need to be on the lookout or suffer the consequences. I am thinking of carrying around a pocketful of scarlet "A's" so that when I encounter one of these morons, as a non-violent way of coping, I can simply smile and say: Here's your "A".


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association