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!

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