Sunday, September 26, 2010

Art of the Deal

After moving to our current home in 2009, we quickly realized a hand mower was no match for two acres and the Texas heat. We went to the local home and garden store to check out riding lawn mowers. Eventually, a helpful store associate came over to talk to us. I looked at his nametag: Cooter. (I swear I am not making this up. I swear on the Bible, the Texas Constitution, and the Koran if it’s not on fire.) And since Cooter spoke of himself in the third person, as in, “Would Cooter steer you wrong?” or “Cooter wants you to buy top of the line,” I concluded the nametag must be legit.

Cooter steered us away from the green and yellow American mowers toward a bright orange brand. Who was I to argue? The only things I would trust someone named Cooter on more than lawn mowers would be camouflage t-shirts, shotguns, or bear traps.

“This is the one you want. It’s the best model for the price. It’s Swedish.”

“Swedish?” I asked. “Don’t they mow like twice a year?”

“Exactly! It’s a low maintenance machine. Plus it’s safe.”

“It’s a Volvo?”

“No, but same country, same standards. And it has an American engine.”

“So it’s loud, fast, and safe?”

“Yep. And it’s orange.”

We had a lot to think about, but Cooter wasn’t about to let us think. He hopped on the mower and demonstrated that we didn’t have to use a stick to shift from forward to reverse. Then he opened the hood to show us the engine.

I stared for a moment and didn’t know what to say. “Does it get good gas mileage?”

“There’s the gas tank,” Cooter said as he pointed just behind the engine.

“What’s that, like 25 gallons?”

“No, it’s five, Boss.” All of a sudden Cooter ducked down under the hood. “Speaking of boss, there goes mine,” he said, his voice muffled. “He’s kind of pissed at me, because I was late today. Warn me if you see him coming again.”

“Uh, okay. So, you said we could get zero percent financing?”

“It wasn’t my fault. My car wouldn’t start. I started walking here. Jogged actually. After half a mile, I’m dragging. You seen how hot it is today? Little old lady stops and gives me a ride.”

“That’s nice.”

“Yes, a very sweet lady. Tried to get her to come inside so could I give her something out of thanks. But she just left. Bless her heart. Boss man didn’t believe me. Says I’m on thin ice already. A sale sure would help.”

“Look, we’re sold if you can get us the zero percent,” I finally said.

“All right! Step on over here.”

We followed him to a computer kiosk.

“Now we don’t actually offer the zero percent anymore, but I’ve got a plan. We can match other stores, and I know who does have zero percent right now.”

He picked up the phone then spoke into it. “This here is Cooter down at the Home and Garden Store. I got a customer interested in the Swedish lawn mower. Do you offer zero percent financing? Yeah, Cooter. Right, Home and Garden…..what? Hello? Look, I’m just--”

He slammed down the phone. “They hung up on me! That’s no customer service. I mean, I’m trying to help a customer out. I could have been sending them business. Anyway, I know they have zero percent which means I can go ahead and match it. Anyway, let’s talk attachments. You’ll want the grass catcher. What about the canvas canopy?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” I said.

“What about skin cancer? Ol’ Cooter here had a scare a few years ago.”

“Skin cancer?”

“A big mole on my forehead. Had it cut off.”

“But I always wear a hat outdoors.”

“What about your wife? Pretty thing like that shouldn’t be struck down so young by skin cancer.”

“She’s not going to be mow--” I started to say, then reconsidered, thinking Cooter might be onto something. The mowing, not the skin cancer.

“Seventy dollars for the canopy? Or skin cancer? Your choice, Boss.”

“Sure, let’s do it.”

We finally wrapped up the deal and even got to meet Cooter’s boss while Cooter told him about the sale. Oddly, he wasn’t very impressed and told Cooter he needed to speak to him later.

A few days after that, a big truck delivered the lawn mower with the canopy and grass catcher already attached. The deliverymen offered to start it up, but I’d forgotten to buy gas. I thanked them, then went and got gas so I could take it on a test run.

I started it up and punched the gas pedal, but it didn’t move. I checked the brake, tried reverse, even pushed it, but it would not budge.

I came inside and grabbed the manual. “I must be forgetting something really stupid,” I thought. Unfortunately, the manual was written in Swedish, and the only Swedish I knew was from watching the Swedish Chef on the Muppet Show. I found an English version of the manual online and did everything it recommended, but the mower would not go. I finally called the store and tried to explain. “It’s like there’s no transmission,” I said.

The deliverymen came back and brought a whole new mower. One guy started it up and drove it around the driveway. Piece of cake! When he finished, he hopped off, demonstrating the efficient safety feature that shuts off the mower if no one is in the seat.

The next day I jumped out of bed early, ready to mow. I sat down in the seat and reached to turn the ignition. “That’s odd,” I thought. The key was already in the “start” position just where the delivery guy had left it. I sighed. I turned the ignition off then tried to start it. Nothing. Sure enough, a dead battery.

After more phone calls, they delivered a new battery, and I finally mowed the lawn. I cruised around for awhile like a kid on a go-cart, but then I ventured near a tree, heard a loud crash, and suddenly felt the sun beating down on my face. A low branch had snagged the canvas canopy, ripping it from the mower.

A few weeks later, the grass catcher broke. It has now taken up permanent residence in the garage next to the canvas canopy.

But what the hay: I got zero percent financing, so far so good on the skin cancer, and then I discovered something that Cooter had forgotten to tell me about. But that’s for the next blog!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Attractively Thwarting Blunt Instruments

St. Pauli Girl and I were actually watching tv the other night when a rather bothersome commercial came on. I believe it was for some sort of shaving product, but it’s hard to tell by the visuals. It showed a guy getting hit by a bamboo stick before it turns into a splash of water, a woman throwing her top at a guy before it turns into a splash of water, followed by another guy getting hit in the face by a hockey puck which turns into a splash of water.

It got me thinking about how the development meeting for this commercial must have gone:

New Ad Guy: So we show an animated close-up of the blades slicing off individual whiskers. That’s followed by a clean shaven, shirtless guy, getting his face licked by the family dog. Then maybe a voiceover of the dog thinking out loud, “I wish my face was this smooth.”

Shaving Company Exec: (after a long silence) It’s different. Not sure I’m ready to run out and buy the product.

Old Ad Guy: Check it out. Girl rips off her top, throws it at the guy’s clean shaven face, but as it hits his face, it turns into a blast of water. Message: if you use this product, women will get naked for you.

Shaving Company Exec: Bingo! That’s exactly what our product does. Now if the commercial’s on cable, we can show nudity right?

Old Ad Guy: Great idea! We’ll do two versions, one will be rated R and the other PG-13.

New Ad Guy: Actually, I don’t think you can do that. Besides, we’re getting away from the product a bit.

Shaving Company Exec: Naked women is the product!

New Ad Guy: We’re getting into sexist territory…

Shaving Company Exec: You mean sexy.

Old Ad Guy: Maybe Skippy here is right. We can soften it up a bit. Add some manliness to it. How about some kung fu fighting? A guy gets nailed by a bamboo pole on the back of the head, but it turns into a splash of water as well.

Shaving Company Exec: Yes, violence and sex! Perfect.

Old Ad Guy: And for the grand finale, guy takes a hockey puck to the chops. But no, it’s just a splash of water!

Shaving Company Exec: Yeah, and then maybe the goon from the other team takes a whack with a hockey stick as well.

New Ad Guy: That’s not nearly as bad as the bamboo stick since he’s wearing a goalie mask.

Old Ad Guy: Who says he’s wearing a mask?

New Ad Guy: That’s ludicrous! Who plays hockey goalie without a mask? Are stupid people your target audience?

Old Ad Guy: The violence is beside the point. It’s just going to be way cool when something painful turns into a splash of water.

New Ad Guy: But the commercial is insinuating if you use this product, it has the power to stop blunt instruments and hockey pucks to the face. Let’s take it all the way and show it stopping bullets, knives and steel beams.

Old Ad Guy: That’s just crazy. Plus you’re asking for a lawsuit at that point. I mean SWAT teams will be using the product instead of bulletproof vests.

New Ad Guy: But you don’t think someone will be dumb enough to use the product and then allow himself to be smacked in the face by a 2 by 4?

Shaving Company Exec: What 2 by 4? It’s a bamboo pole. Panda bears eat bamboo. That makes it soft and cute.

Old Ad Guy: Plus we can put some Asians in the commercial.

New Ad Guy: I just don’t think implying that this product makes you indestructible is the right message to send.

Shaving Company Exec: That’s irrelevant. There’s a topless woman!

Old Ad Guy: Remember the ad you did for that 900 telephone number with that blond chick with the smokin’ hot body who says she’s at home on Saturday night waiting for cool guys like you to call?

New Ad Guy: Yeah, she never returned my calls.

Old Ad Guy: Anyway, all ads are just a twist of that message. You buy this product and hot, smokin’ girls/guys are waiting to talk to you or throw their clothes at you.

Shaving Company Exec: Yeah kid, you obviously haven’t been in the business very long. And you look a little scraggly. Here’s a sample of our new shaving kit. I bet that blond girl calls you back after you get a good close, clean shave like a blast of cold water.

New Ad Guy: Wow, thanks! You really think she’ll call me back?

Shaving Company Exec: For $49.99, can you afford not to take the risk?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Great Moments in Hospitality

Today we present another episode of "Great Moments in Hospitality":

A few years ago, after working nearly non-stop at Good Eats for the first 18 months of its existence, St. Pauli Girl and I decided it was time for a break. We managed to slip away for a long weekend to a resort in the mountains of New Mexico in January. As picturesque as the mountains were, it helped that the resort included a casino.

On the second day of the trip, we decided to splurge on room service for breakfast. St. Pauli Girl had never done it before, and while I thought I had at some point or another, I think I was mostly remembering television shows. We filled out the special menu card and left it on the doorknob overnight.

As expected, the next morning at 10:00 a.m., we heard a knock on the door. The pleasant room service woman wheeled in a cart with covered dishes and small vase of flowers. I signed for it along with a nice gratuity on top of the service charge. We sat down and pulled off the plate covers to reveal our scrumptious breakfast. My “Ranch Hand Breakfast” featured most of the major food groups: fried potatoes, meat and coffee. St. Pauli Girl’s breakfast was lighter, much lighter.

“Didn’t you order anything?” I asked.

“The smoked salmon.”

“Oh yeah, that sounded good.” I looked all around the tray again, but there was no salmon. “I guess they forgot.”

I called room service.

Me: Yes, we ordered the smoked salmon but didn’t get any.

Room Service: Yes, we ran out. It’s supposed to be on the delivery truck later today.


Me (looking down at the check): You billed us for it.

Room Service: We’ll bring some up as soon as the truck comes in.

Me: Which is when?

Room Service: About 4:00.

Me: We can go ice fishing, catch our own, smoke it and eat it before the truck gets here. Can we get something else?

Room Service: Um, of course, sure.

Me: Why didn’t you call and tell us before you came up here the first time?

Room Service: We didn’t want to wake you.

Me: We filled out a card that said ‘Please deliver at 10:00 a.m.’ I think it’s safe to say, a 9:45 or even a 9:30 call would have been okay.

Room Service: Well, we don’t know that. Some people get really upset when you wake them up.

Me: I see. So instead of trying to upset us with a phone call, you decided to deliver half of our food but bill us for all of it? And hope we don’t notice?

Room Service: The Ranch Hand breakfast is enough for two normal people.

Me: Normal? What’s that supposed to mean?

Room Service: Sir, do you want another entrée or not?

Me: Yeah, how about the Belgian waffle?

Room Service: Very good. Oh, and we won’t charge you either.

St. Pauli Girl encouraged me to eat my breakfast before it got cold while she sat and stared. It’s difficult to eat in front of starving people, but I managed to finish. Then her waffle finally arrived. I watched for awhile before deliberating how mad she might get if I turned on the television. Instead, I just walked around the room then stood and looked out the window. I noticed a small grey truck driving up the service entrance. It had a fish logo on the side.

“Hey,” I said, “I think the salmon just arrived. You want me to call room service?”

St. Pauli Girl sighed. “No, they’ll probably just throw a whole salmon on the plate, stick a Marlboro in its mouth and call it, ‘smoked.’”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Books of Mass Destruction

(For background info)

Reporter: We are live in Gainesville, Florida outside of The Dove Church. With me is Pastor John Wesley Hardin. I hear you have a special event planned this weekend?

JWH: That’s right. A good old-fashioned book burning.

Reporter: I imagine a lot of Henry Miller books, maybe some romance and a few evolutionary theory books?

JWH: Nope, just one book. In honor of the fallen of 9/11, we are going to burn “My Pet Goat.”

Reporter: The children’s book?

JWH: Satan’s children maybe.

Reporter: What is your objection to the book?

JWH: First of all, a goat has horns. We know it’s a sign of the devil. And here’s another tidbit, if you change one letter in the word “book”, it becomes “bock” which is German for goat and of course, the devil. And this was the book President Bush was reading to schoolchildren during the attack on the twin towers.

Reporter: So you believe President Bush was teaching satanic rituals to schoolchildren?

JWH: Hmm, well yes. But more importantly, it is my belief that had he been reading The Bible instead, he would have thwarted the 9/11 terrorists.

Reporter: You mean maybe by casting a spell from the Book of Psalms or something?

JWH: No, by demonstrating faith, God would have seen that and had those planes crash somewhere else.

Reporter: But there were innocent people on those planes as well.

JWH: He probably would have done like a mini-rapture, suck those innocents straight into heaven and then have the terrorists crash by themselves. Except for the Buddhists and the Jews, they probably would have crashed too.

Reporter: But you realize that the school probably wouldn’t allow him to read The Bible because of separation of church and state.

JWH: There you go. The attack was God’s punishment for the government taking The Bible out of schools. So by burning “My Pet Goat,” we are saying bring The Bible back into the schools.

Reporter: Don’t you think maybe a rally reading passages from The Bible would be more effective?

JWH: We do that every Sunday. A burning is flashier, hopefully draw some youth out.

Reporter: You expect to attract children by burning a children’s book?

JWH: They know it’s wicked. I been preaching that for years.

Reporter: So what you’re telling me is that this is all about publicity?

JWH: And saving souls.

Reporter: Reading “My Pet Goat” is a sin?

JWH: Yes, but more importantly there is a direct correlation between reading that book and terrorism.

Reporter: That’s preposterous. Children have been reading that book for years.

JWH: Everytime a president reads that book, we get attacked by terrorists.

Reporter: And you’re certain no other president ever read that book?

JWH: Of course not. Only Satanists read it. Well, Clinton probably would have read it if there was nudity in it. And Obama is probably waiting for the Arabic version.

Reporter: Are there any books you think might have the same disastrous effect?

JWH: I’m working on it. Right now I heard something about “I have Two Dads” or “My Mommy is a Dad” book. Something like that could wipe out an entire city!

Reporter: You think children’s books are the ultimate weapons of mass destruction?

JWH: Maybe, maybe not. I do know The Bible is the ultimate antidote. There’s never been any killing in the name of The Bible.