Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Tale of Two Real Estates (Part I)

So I’ve been on hiatus for a bit. After a couple of crazy months in August and September, turns out we are moving again which brings me back to one of my least favorite things: Adventures in Real Estate! We recently closed on a new house after enduring 4 weeks of ineptitude by the worst mortgage lender of all time. This of course brought back memories of selling our last house which leads us to a 2 part blog entry.

 A Tale of Two Real Estates (Part I)

In October, 2009 we put our house on the market so (as it turns out) we could live closer to a meth house. Given the uncertainty of the housing market at the time, we had an appraisal done so we could accurately price it and let buyers know how fairly priced it was (i.e., we probably weren’t going to come down a whole from the appraisal). Amazingly, the first family that looked at it, made an offer. Amazingly, a really low offer. But then they backed out because they thought they might be moving elsewhere.

Fast forward to February, 2010. Things have changed, and that same family made another offer slightly better than the first one. After going back and forth slowly bringing them up on their lowball offers, we dug our heels in with our final counter-offer: take it or leave it. Yet they still countered lower. No thanks. Looked like the end of the deal.

The next day I got a message from their agent who I will henceforth refer to as Dr. Evil, "It’s a new day and after thinking things over, we still have another low offer for you."

“No thanks, see previous statement about our final offer,” I said.

Finally, they agreed to come up to our demands, but I had a sense of foreboding. We received the contract, and there’s a special provision about "roof must be insurable by insurance company of buyer’s choice or will renegotiate." I wasn’t too worried about it, as the roof was fine, but that ambiguity scared me. Plus in Texas, the buyer has 10 days to get out of the contract for any reason whatsoever during which time they can order house inspections.

They arranged an inspection, and we waited for the results. Then waited some more. After three days, (Day 7 of option period), Dr. Evil finally sent us the inspection report and said, "Fix everything the inspection report says needs fixing."

I prepared my best Bill Clinton voice and told our agent, "Okay, because the inspection doesn’t actually say anything about repairing anything. It just lists so-called deficiencies. So we’re done."

But our agent more reasonably demanded that they come back with a real list. And they did; a list of 7 or 8 items. I said we’ll fix 2. But of course there’s all sorts of ambiguity on just when is something repaired, so at agent’s suggestion, we offered them some cash to fix whatever they wanted.

Meanwhile, the inspection report said the roof should be looked at more closely by a roofing expert. So a guy came out and walked across the roof for 30 seconds. He then sent a report that the roof is in great condition, but the shed roof could use replacing and he’d be happy to do it for $800. Our agent asked if we wanted to do anything about the shed roof.

"Hell no! It’s a bloody shed, the doors are in worse shape than the roof!"

On a Sunday, our agent told us the option period would expire at midnight. Dr. Evil called back and wanted us to extend the option period by 2 days so they could get estimates for all the repairs they wanted.

"No way! You guys sat on that report for 3 days!"

Later that night, our agent called and said Dr. Evil said the option period expires on Monday.

"What do you think of that?" she asked.

“Hmm, well, I find it unbelievable that two experienced agents using the same contracts used in every Texas real estate sale don’t know when the option period ends.”

So I googled it myself and found that Dr. Evil was right, which made my agent a liar or stupid.

On Monday, a bunch of repair people came by to get their estimates. Finally, they sign off on us giving them cash. Woo-hoo, it’s a done deal. At the same time, a roofer no older than 15 came out to look at the roof for their insurance company. We are informed later that night that Dr. Evil just sent us a letter from the buyer’s insurance company stating that the roof is uninsurable and the whole front needs to be replaced. She wanted us to call our insurance company.

Our insurance company won’t even look at it unless we file a claim which we had no reason to. Plus their own inspector said it looked great. But since we technically had to re-negotiate the contract, we gave them our terms: sign off or the house goes back on the market at midnight and we’re scheduling an open house for this weekend.

Dr. Evil freaked out. No, they don’t want to back out. They proposed adding $2000 to the purchase price which we would refund to them at closing costing us nothing and that way they can finance their repairs in the mortgage.

Now this ordeal was bad enough but the real stress was coming from the fact we had made an offer to buy a different house in a far away town with the option period closing fast, and we needed to sell our house before we could complete that sale.

Next came a new catch: the roof needed to be fixed (even though it’s not broken) by the buyers before closing for their mortgage approval. Normally I would have said, “why don’t you just go jump off the supposedly shoddy roof”, but we really needed to make this deal work.

Two days later, they had a new plan. The insurance company would let them buy the house as long as they had the roof replaced within 30 days. Fine, but now we won’t sign anything until we see proof from the same insurance company that wouldn’t insure it a week ago. Eventually, we received their insurance binder.

On the next Monday, an older gentleman pulled up in a pickup truck. We thought he was the man coming to pick up our old garage freezer (otherwise we wouldn’t have answered the door.) Nope, he’s the grandfather of the woman buying the house. He wanted to walk through and look at the house. Then he asked if we’d be picking up the pecans from our pecan tree.

Bwah, hah, hah, hah, are you kidding me? That’s the best reason our house sold right then so we wouldn’t have to pick up pecans nor trim the rose bushes!

He said he wanted the pecans. After thinking about it later, the sheer gall of him and his family just pissed me off. I vowed to pick up the pecans and throw them in the dumpster. Hmmm, no wait, that would be too much work. Instead, I’d just walk around and stomp them to bits.

Wednesday morning, I was working in my home office at 9:00 a.m. when I heard a bunch of trucks pull up. I went out and saw a roofing company getting ready to tear our roof apart! I talked to the foreman (who incidentally laughed and wanted to know what’s wrong with the roof, it looked good to him). Finally, I talked some sense into him and they left.

The scary thing is if they had come a day later when I was out of town, they would have put a new roof on. The deal finally did close, and we found out that Dr. Evil was the cousin of the buyer and just wanted to ensure the buyer got a good deal. The buyers did partially replace the roof so that it became multi-colored and looked like crap. But they sold the house and moved out after a year. I’m guessing that by now someone has stuffed Dr. Evil into a wood chipper somewhere.

Monday, July 23, 2012


We just returned from an early evening concert by the great James McMurtry. The show was fantastic! What we saw of it anyway. Unfortunately, we had to put up with people that slowly meandered in front of us blocking our view along with the many people running around trying to get pictures and videos on their cell phones.

So I felt that I needed to write a song about it. It goes to the tune of James McMurtry’s classic: Levelland (please don’t sue me Mr. McMurtry)


On Uncle Billy’s rooftop

Beer was flowing non-stop

We got there early to get a table

Broiling in the sun

Hillbilly strumming a banjo

Keeping tune with a toy piano

Better stop that opening act

Before we all get suicidal

With barbecue smelling good

James finally came out

In a tight three piece combo

Blowin’ those speakers out

So the crowds came round

And blocked our view

Mega-pixel photos wherever you turn

And when those flashes all went off

I called it Stupidland – Low IQ humans

Guy in a hula skirt

Standing a bit too close

If you sway those hips near me

I’m gonna bust your nose

Old Guy in the pork pie hat

Dancing and blocking our view

Tapped out his own two feet

With those size 18 sandals

Rodeo left yesterday

Circus gone for another year

Clown school out on summer break

What are you doin’ here?

But he kept on twisting

And the cameras kept clicking

Stooges calling friends on phones

They are most respected citizens

In Stupidland -- They don’t understand anything

In Stupidland

And I watched those cell phones rising up blocking every view

Pics and vids, press record

You couldn’t blame me one damn bit if I tackled every one

Cos I’d rather see the show

Just Stupidland

Far as you can point your hand

Nothin’ but Stupidland

St. Pauli Girl cryin’ in her beer

Me, I’m climbin’ up a ladder

I asked her to make a wish

She wished we both could fly

Don’t think we’ve seen the show

Since the third or fourth song

I paid off all our bar debts

Then grabbed me a really long stick

Knocked that pork pie hat to the wind

Then we ran as far we could get

From Stupidland – imagine that

Monday, July 9, 2012

Supermarket Wine

The only reason to go to our local supermarket on a Saturday is for the free wine tasting. That almost makes up for the 6 near accidents you’ll have in the parking lot, along with dealing with the hordes of bubbas fighting for a jalapeno sausage sample or moms in bathing suits loading carts with cases of beer and hot dogs for family backyard shindig. And that’s assuming you even find a parking spot.

Last weekend, we fearlessly ventured into the store to pick up a few items and try to get out unscathed in less than 4 hours. As we came through the produce section, the announcement came over the loud speaker:

 “Ladies and gentlemen, please join the lovely Charisse as she samples some of our fine wines in the front of the store.”

We looked toward the front of the store where a bald, mustached gentleman in probably his late 60’s stood behind a table of wine.

“Huh, he doesn’t look like a Charisse,” I said.

“He’s not bad looking, but lovely is a bit of a stretch,” St. Pauli Girl countered.

Confused, we moved on to the rest of our shopping. As we came out of the snack aisle, we stumbled into a table where a young, blond woman stood behind four open bottles of wine.

“So there really is a Charisse?”

“Yep, that’s me. We’ve got four samples to try including two chardonnays, but this chardonnay is my favorite.” She pointed to one of the opened bottles.

Favorite? She barely looked old enough to drive, much less drink wine, and was much much too young to have favorites.

“Your favorite? Why is that?” St. Pauli Girl asked.

“It’s the sweetest.” She gave a sweet smile.

“We’ll try all of them except that one,” I said, unoffended. It wasn’t her fault someone hired her to peddle a product she knew nothing about.

We headed over to where the bald, mustachioed Charisse manned a table of wine. Alas, he only had one kind of wine to sample. And he liked to talk while he poured.

“Now this is a malbec, medium bodied, kind of in-between a cabernet and a chardonnay.”

“Um, yes. Okay.”

“And it’s from the Bodega winery.”


“Yes,” he replied pointing at the label. To his credit, the label did say “bodega.”

“That’s a big winery,” I replied. “I’m pretty sure they cornered the market of all wine in Spain and most of South America.” (Bodega means “winery” or “vineyard” in Spanish.)

St. Pauli Girl punched me in the arm.

“Do you make wine?” he asked, looking at me strangely.

What an odd question. I almost said that I had made it before, but I was afraid of extending the conversation. Then he pointed at my hat which advertised the Grapevine Cigar Company.

“Well, your hat says grape, and I just thought maybe you were a winemaker.”

“Nope, don’t roll cigars either.”

St. Pauli Girl grabbed my arm and pulled me away.

So in closing, I’d just like to let the store know that if you are providing wine samples:

A. Hire someone who can at least talk about wine in general. Or
B. Hire someone who won’t say a word. Or
C. Have young blond women provide the samples.

By what am I complaining about? It gives me one more small reason to put up with the traffic and customers of that store on a Saturday.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Notes from an Extended Dance Vacation

We recently returned from one of our longest vacations ever (8 days) which involved driving half-way across the country:

On day 1, we checked into our hotel. The hotel clerk handed me the key along with a typed note detailing the high crime in the area and advising us to not leave anything in our car. We carried everything into the room then locked ourselves inside until dawn.

Actually we did go out for dinner and enjoyed a pleasant evening on a deck overlooking the river where 2 guys sang and played guitars. One guy performed while he smoked a cigarette. When he played, he held the cigarette in his mouth, and when he sang he strummed the guitar with the cigarette in his fingers. America’s got talent.

On day 2, we struggled driving through massive storms in Arkansas which eventually brought traffic to a halt. St. Pauli Girl doesn’t like to sit still and told me she was going to drive the car down a steep embankment, through the grassy median to the other side of the interstate where we could then plan an alternate route. Luckily traffic started moving before she could proceed with her plan. Later when traffic stopped again, she gunned the car through a construction area and did a U-turn on the interstate.

Day Two’s Lesson: Never order “Fish and Chips” at a truck stop. Unless you grew up in the 70’s and loved fish sticks.

We finally made it all the way to Memphis where of course we had to go to Graceland. They provide you with a set of headphones for your own personal audio walking tour. The narrator pointed out that flash photography is not allowed in the mansion. The bus driver reiterated this warning, followed by additional warnings from tour guides as we got off the bus and just before we entered the mansion. Within 30 seconds of entering the mansion, flashes started going off. But the cool thing was that activated a hidden, pre-recorded, booming voice in the house which once again advised against flash photography. A less sophisticated person would think it was Elvis’ voice from beyond the grave. But more than likely, it was the Colonel’s.

That night we actually had a great time on Beale Street which I expected to be a big tourist trap. We stumbled onto the Brandon Santini Band which I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys great music. At one point, St. Pauli Girl asked me to get her a chardonnay in this sketchy blues club which specialized in Pabst Blue Ribbon in Big Gulp cups. “If I do that, they might kick my ass,” I told her.

I finally went up to the bar and told the bartender loudly, “PBR in the big cup,” then whispered while shrugging and rolling my eyes, “and a chardonnay for the little lady.” I successfully came back with drinks to the table and no fisticuffs.

We arrived in Cincinnati where my brother had set up golf tee-times at his exclusive country club. Of course it rained, and we had to cancel. I accused my brother of never having ever belonged to even the local putt-putt course as this was the third time we had been rained out at playing at one of his “exclusive” clubs. The scary thing is this means my brother can control the weather.

Day 5: Duck Fat French Fries!

I confess that I love a good wedding. It’s just one of those great, feel-good celebrations where everyone is joyous except for those involved in the planning and those that get their car dinged in the church parking lot. A great wedding needs three things:

1. Alcohol (a cash bar is fine)

2. Heavy hors d'oeuvres (or full sit-down dinner)

3. Dancing (including at least 2 or 3 polka songs)

(optional) A fight and/or wardrobe malfunction between women trying to catch the bridal bouquet

Luckily this wedding had all three and then some! But the wedding and our entire trip was almost ruined when the DJ cut off “Kung Fu Fighting” in the middle of the song. He should probably have his license revoked. So really, the full-length version of “Kung Fu Fighting” is the fourth thing a great wedding needs. And it must be the Carl Douglas version. But if you don't have music then a real kung fu fight is also acceptable.

On our way home, we stopped at a hotel and asked for a non-smoking room. We received a room where the ashtray had been turned upside down. (And if you guessed Arkansas, you win a free lifetime membership to this blog.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Vegas For the Win!

We recently returned from our Las Vegas vacation, and it’s time to add up the wins and losses:

It hasn’t rained in this area for it seems 6 months, but it was raining as we drove to the airport for our departure: I volunteer to park the car to spare St. Pauli Girl’s hair. As soon as I park, the rain comes down even harder. I have to run to two different shuttle bus stations. By the time I get to the terminal, I’m soaked. Loss

Since it was vacation as well as 8:30 a.m., we treat ourselves to Bloody Mary’s on the plane. The debit card machine breaks down, and the flight attendant never comes back for payment. Free drinks for the Win!

Flight arrives early. Baggage arrives quickly, no waiting for the rental car. We arrive at the Paris for brunch 30 minutes earlier than planned, get a great table on the outdoor patio at Mon Ami Gabi after only a 15 minute wait. Win

“I can’t wait to gamble,” I said. “We are on quite a roll.”

VIP check-in at the Golden Nugget, no waiting. Win (Okay we paid extra for this as we were celebrating the sale of our restaurant.)

No more Elvis slot machines at the Golden Nugget. Loss

A lot of high profile chefs these days offer exclusive (read: expensive) kitchen seating where you can see all the action up close. For a mere fraction of the cost, sit at the Binion’s Café counter which is directly in front of the grill. Watch the talented grill cook handle 20 pounds of hash browns and 15 hamburgers and buns at once, plus eggs and bacon. Enjoy the show as he berates the servers for grabbing the wrong plates. And it’s tough to beat Binion’s Hangover Burger, even if you don’t have a hangover. Win for the food and the entertainment.

65-year-old male bartender singing along to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” Win

To get away from the casinos for awhile, St. Pauli Girl finds some antique shops to browse. As we walk through a shop, we hear a woman screaming from up front:

“Don’t touch me! Don’t %&# touch me! Do you hear me? You call my grandmother and ask her who #&^% runs this shop! What did you call me? You think I’m not worldly and smart? Who the *%#@ do you think you are saying that to, *%#@*? You call my grandmother and ask her! Then you come back and tell me who the %&# runs this shop!”

At that point, we run into another vendor and ask him, “Is there a back door?”

“Oh don’t worry. This happens all the time. No big deal.”

When we hear a pause in the screaming, we run for the front door. Push (It was funny afterwards but actually pretty scary in the store.)

St. Pauli Girl orders meatloaf for dinner. Loss

At midnight, we drive past a guy sitting on the ground meditating in the lotus position on top of the Main Street Station parking garage. Win

Woman asks bartender if they have any better wines.

“Not for comps,” he replies.

“Then can I have a taste of the white zinfandel?”

Apparently even comped drinkers can be choosy. Win for entertainment.

$13.99 a day for internet access in the hotel? You can get free access at Motel 6, and they’ll leave the light on for you! Loss

Playing blackjack next to a barefoot 80 year old Chinese man who rubs his arm a certain way for luck on every hand. We both get dealt a blackjack. He gives me a fist bump. Win

Playing blackjack next to a guy who is providing color commentary on his own play. Loss

We go out to the pool bar for an afternoon cocktail, find out it’s last call. Push

Call hotel maintenance because our smoke detector keeps beeping. Before he replaces it, he asks, “You sure you don’t have anything in your luggage that’s beeping?” Push

Unsure what to do for lunch, we break down and hit the cheap buffet. Vegas buffets have become quite good over the years and some of them charge $50 to $80 per person. This one charges $7.99. And it isn’t worth it. Epic Loss

Total gambling: Loss

Our flight arrives back in Austin and apparently it hasn’t stopped raining since we left. I volunteer to get the car. It’s pouring again. I’m sure I parked in space 80, but that’s not our car. After running around and getting soaked, turns out I parked in space 60. And in another section. Plus I’m pretty sure everyone on the shuttle bus was laughing at me. Loss

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Smoking the Neighbors Out

We’ve lived here three years, and we met one of our next door neighbors for the first time last week. It’s great that we finally know each others’ names, but it’s kind of disappointing that we almost burned down their house to get acquainted.

I have previously written about our experiences adjusting to country living, especially the necessity of having to burn things. By now we should have become old pros, having successfully completed several burns of dead brush over the years. We can easily knock out a large burn pile in 1 to 2 hours.

The previous owners of our property planted a lot of trees and shrubs, which is usually aesthetically pleasing in the spring and summer. But as a result of several years of drought, a lot of trees, shrubs, and vines have died. The dead stuff is not so appealing. We’ve spent the last six months pulling up dead trees and bushes, creating not one but two massive burn piles.

The second burn pile was in our front yard and had grown to a good 7 feet high by 20 feet in diameter. With the hot, dry season just around the corner and knowing a new burn ban was imminent, we decided it was time to get ‘er done. I followed protocol and called the sheriff’s office to let them know we’d be burning that afternoon. Fine, they said.

We proceeded in our usual manner, with me watering the ground around the pile and St. Pauli Girl sprinkling on some diesel fuel and lighting the pile. I stood to the side by our neighbor’s fence with the hose, watering more ground just as a precaution.

Let me point out here and now that dead wood, brush, and leaves burn really fast. I mean really, really fast.
As usual the flames quickly roared through the burn pile, spouting up a good 12 to 15 feet in the air. I started to back away as the familiar intense heat came at me. Before I knew it, I was protecting myself behind a tree, well away from the huge fire. Although it was a particularly hot day, everything was going as expected.

Then the wind kicked up, blowing the flames north. At that point St. Pauli Girl made the crucial decision to pick up the hose and move it away from the fire. She later said she was afraid it might melt. Suddenly, a huge gust of wind came, pushing the flames even higher and further away from the pile. I heard a cracking, then a small explosion sound. I looked up into the big oak tree I was standing behind that was a good 30 feet north of the burn pile and watched in horror as clusters of leaves burst into flames.

"The tree’s on fire," I yelled to St. Pauli Girl, pointing.

She looked up and immediately turned the hose on it. The wind was persistent, and the flames showed no sign of dying anytime soon. More branches burst into flames.

"Go call 911!" St. Pauli Girl yelled, jerking at the hose to get closer to the tree.

I ran back to the house to retrieve my phone. I couldn’t believe we were about to torch our yard and maybe even the whole neighborhood. But once I grabbed the phone, I hesitated. Then I made a tactical decision: I would to wait just a few seconds to see if the burning tree had gotten worse. I figured if I called too soon, the fire department might show up after we had everything under control, only to yell at us. Whereas if the fire had spread out of control, the tree and most of our yard would already be in the ashes of history anyway, regardless if I called right then or waited 30 seconds.

I ran back to the fire to see that the main fire had indeed calmed down as a result of the dying wind, and the tree was now only charred and dripping. St. Pauli Girl continued to spray water into the branches. The main burn pile had returned to its usual normal "boring" status.

A few minutes later, our neighbor whom we’d never met wandered out toward us. "Almost got us," she said.
I looked up at her tree which hadn’t been touched. I wanted to say we had it under control but I just shrugged instead.

"I could feel the heat all the way on my back porch," she continued. (Her back porch is probably a hundred yards away.)

We chatted with her for several minutes while keeping a careful eye on the fire. We had already decided to not add any more brush to it, and to save burning pile #2 for another day.

After she left, I asked St. Pauli Girl, "Do you think she really felt the heat back there?"

"No. I think she heard me yell at you to call 911."

So other than our own tree, there was no collateral damage, and we were saved the humiliation of dealing with lectures from the fire department and sheriff’s office. But we’ll probably not volunteer at the annual homeowner’s association cookout this year.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Plumbing We Will Go

We’ve decided to open our own plumbing company. People who know me will snicker because I once went out in the dark to turn off the sprinkler only to turn it on full blast. The next day, we had a temporary swimming pool in our garden. But it turns out you don’t need to know anything about plumbing to make a good living at it.

Upon moving into our current house three years ago, we discovered that the shower head in the master bath did not function very well because of the hard water in this area. We immediately bought a new shower head and set about replacing the old one. However, we could not unscrew the old shower head. Even with St. Pauli Girl holding the pipe with one wrench and my trying to turn the shower head with another, all the while putting all of my weight into it (and I have considerable weight to put into it), the dang thing would not budge.

So we just kind of forgot about it and made do with what we had. Recently, we decided to attack this project again. But we decided we just didn’t have the magical tools that plumbers have to complete such a simple operation. We broke down and called a plumbing company to come out and give us an estimate on how much it would cost to replace all of the shower fixtures with fixtures we had already bought. I figured they could get it done in ten minutes including a coffee break.

I won’t mention the plumbing company’s name, but let’s just say they’re named after a ski resort town in Colorado. Two of their ace plumbers came out to look at the shower. They then walked to the living room to look at the wall behind the master bathroom.

“Well,” said the chief plumber, “we’re going to have to come through this back wall here and knock out a big hole. Now we don’t do drywall work, so you’ll have to get someone else to fix the hole. But we know some guys. And our estimate is $750.”

“But we just want the fixtures replaced, not the pipes,” St. Pauli Girl said.

“It’s the only way to do it. No other options. But just for today, that’ll be $39.”

“What? You’re charging $39 to give us an estimate?”

“Yes ma’am. It’s a long drive out here.”

That’s when I knew plumbing was the life for me. Why charge $75 for a service call and an hour’s worth of work when you can just make good money in 10 minutes by pulling a number from “The Price is Right” wheel in your mind to give people an outrageous estimate that you know will scare them off?

So I’ve already started a repertoire for my future plumbing estimate calls at $50 a pop:

A. “Yes ma’am, I see your toilet is running, and I know it just looks like a flapper problem but it’s really way more complicated. Watch as I roll this marble across your bathroom floor. See? Your house is slanted. We need to even it out. We'll have to jack up your foundation, pour some concrete down, then raise all the pipes to make sure they are level. It’ll cost about $5400. Today, though, you can just pay me $50.”

B. “That’s a leaky faucet all right. A lot of lesser plumbers will tell you they can fix it with a washer or cheap new faucet. But the problem is that the water pressure from the main water line is too high. If the pressure were right, it wouldn’t leak. We’ll have to dig up your water lines in your yard and replace them all. Then I’ll have to use the Ronco Air Compressor Pressure Stabili-zator to reset the pressure. It’ll cost about $8000. But today, just make the check out for $50.”

C. “Yessiree, that’s a pretty bad stopped up drain. I could run a snake down there to have a look and clear up the clog but I’d be wasting your money and my time when it’s obvious you have a Sea Monster camping out in your drain. To get rid of it, I’ll have to hire a few extra men, shrink us all down, then take some flame throwers in to battle him. It’s a high-risk operation, so to cover possibility of loss of limb or life, I’d have to charge $635,000. But all you owe today is $50.”

Doing eight estimates a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year (plus two weeks vacation) comes to a $100,000 annual income with very light work. I can handle that. So next time you have a plumbing problem, give me a call.

(Incidentally, St. Pauli Girl did a little chiseling, got some Liquid Wrench, and was able to screw off the shower head by herself. She mentioned that she saved us $750. She’s out shopping right now.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Christian Buyer's Club

We are officially out of the restaurant business after having sold our last remaining venue. I only mention it because now it means I am free to tell the horror stories. But before I get to those, I want to start with the most amazing thing I learned operating a restaurant in this here (more southern) neck of the woods: The Christian Buyer’s Club.

One day as a group of women were leaving, one of them stopped their server and handed him something. He came back to the bar laughing.

“Here’s my tip,” he said as he dropped a business card on the bar.

I picked it up and saw that the only thing on it was a Bible quote. (I wish I remembered which quote, but I don’t.)

“But they left you some cash too, right?” I asked.

“Nope, that’s it. A chance to save my soul, I guess.”

He just laughed it off and forgot about it, but I was stunned. I wasn’t opposed to a customer leaving a Bible quote tip but a cash tip was in order as well. I’m not sure how it went over when the server’s rent was due, and he handed the Bible quote to his landlord.

On a later occasion, another server approached me in the kitchen.

“My table of twelve wants to know if they can get a discount since they are a Christian Bible study group,” she asked.

I really didn’t know what to say. I had no idea that being a Christian was like being a member of Sam’s Club or Costco. Do they have some sort of membership card?

I looked at the ticket which totaled $36 for three split entrées . . . and twelve waters. I told the server, “If Jesus Christ walked in the door right now, I would not give him a discount.” We, too, had rent to pay.

(SIDENOTE: If you ever want to get discounts or comps in a restaurant, visit often and get to know the staff, and/or spend a lot of money there!)

I’m pretty sure if Jesus himself would have walked in, he wouldn’t have asked for a discount. On the other hand, he’d probably order the flounder and a bottle of wine, take advantage of the free bread, then multiply everything for all the customers. On the way out, being of the kind and generous sort, he might say, “And hey, don’t forget to take care of your servers!”

And most of the other diners would go tell their friends: “Yep. Saw Jesus in a restaurant and got a free meal. But then he made sure we left a nice tip, so that part kind of sucked.”

And who knew that WWJD stands for “What Would Jesus Discount?” Do religions compete on this? (“I don’t know, Father, this heaven thing sounds nice and all but I got a Jehovah’s Witness offering me 10% off on dry cleaning.”)

Have I missed the fine print in the brochures? (“Join now and transfer balances to the Jesus credit card with no annual fee! Jesus doesn’t want you to pay interest until 2018!”)

The hard sells?

Minister: “What can I do to get you into the baptismal font today?”

Shopper: “Well, since I keep one of those fish symbols thingies on my Toyota, maybe a little discount on oil changes?”

Minister: “I tell you what. Get three of your friends to join you in the baptismal font, free tire rotation for the life of your car!”

Shopper: “With that symbol on it, my car has eternal life, right?”

Minister: “Um yes, of course. Jesus wants you to drive that car through the pearly gates, but he’s thinking maybe something more American?”

Coupons in the church bulletin? (“Like Jesus, turn your wine into water by bringing in a bottle of water to Crazy Al’s Liquor Store and walk out with a free four-pack of Boone’s Farm Wine Coolers, strawberry or apple, your choice!”)

You might think this would make me cynical, and you would be wrong. It has turned me into a Bible scholar. I now spend my free time scanning the gospel for the section where Jesus says, “Mention my name and get valuable discounts on services and merchandise!”

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Snakes 101: The Lab

As I walked toward the chicken yard on Saturday to get my morning chores assignment, St. Pauli Girl walked quickly from the other direction.

“There’s a snake in the hens’ nest,” she said, brushing by me. “And it’s a big one.”

Like the buzzards annual return to Hinckley, Ohio, it’s officially spring in central Texas when you see the first snake in the yard. This might be unnerving to the newcomer, but you get used to it. And snakes like chicken eggs. We have chickens. Hence, we have a lot of snakes.

One time as I walked down the driveway to get the morning newspaper I noticed a snake in the middle of the driveway. His head shot up and he glanced at me. We stared at each other for a second until I got the vibe that he was just saying, “We cool?”

I nodded, and he quickly slithered across the driveway.

Another time I was wandering through the backyard when a dark shadow came over me, then I felt a whoosh go by as a large hawk dove to the ground and carried away a snake about 20 feet from me. Circle of life.

Last year, we encountered a snake in the feed bin in the hen house. The lid had a hole in it just big enough for a snake to squeeze through. St. Pauli Girl swore it was a rattlesnake because she could hear a thumping from inside the box. She handed me a hoe and told me to kill it when she knocked the lid off. I think she expected me to stand there like a hockey goalie determined not to let anything get by, when in reality I stood there like I was at the starting line of the 100 meter dash. I’m pretty sure I could have beaten Usain Bolt at that moment.

She knocked the lid off, and a long thin black snake slithered out. But instead of offering itself to the hoe, it went the other way into the shed next door. Since we determined it wasn’t a rattlesnake we just let it go, and I silently vowed to never go into that shed. Ever since, that has been our Modus Operandi: unless a snake is venomous or stealing eggs, we just ignore it.

St. Pauli girl finally came back with a flashlight and a hoe which she handed to me. We stood at the hen house entrance shining the light into the nest which was a little too far away to peer into. “Is it a rattlesnake?” she asked.

I’ve seen enough horror movies to know I didn’t want to get within about 50 feet of it. “Well, I don’t hear a rattle,” I said helpfully.

“Let’s get the lid, throw it on top then haul him off,” St. Pauli Girl said. She pointed to the lid half buried under leaves in the pen next to us.

I slowly made my way through the pen checking carefully for copperheads in the dark corners. The irony of getting bitten by a different, deadlier snake did not escape me. I picked up the lid which had a giant hole in it and tossed it aside.

“Maybe we can find something in the garage,” I suggested as I ran toward the garage.

I searched all over the garage but could not find anything useful. When I came back to the hen house, St. Pauli Girl had already put an ill-fitting top on the nest and weighed it down with three bricks. Before I knew it, she was carrying the nest out of the hen house.

“Where are you going?” I asked, ready to hold open a door or gate wherever she needed.

“To the car.”

I ran to the house to get the keys. “I’ll drive,” I said as the chicken yard gate slammed shut in her face.

We loaded the nest in the back of the car and added another brick to the top for good measure. I got in the driver’s seat while St. Pauli Girl sat in the front passenger seat.

“Um, aren’t you going to sit next to it and make sure the lid doesn’t come off?” I asked.

“Yeah, so if it’s a rattlesnake I’ll be right next to it when the lid comes off?”

She did move to the backseat so she could at least keep an eye on it.

“Just so you know, if it escapes, I’m abandoning the car to the snake and running home,” I said. “Which direction do you want me to go?”

“How about to the neighbor who guns his obnoxiously loud pick-up down the road every night at 4:00 a.m.?”

“A good idea but the snake can probably find his way back to the hen house.”

I drove about 3 mph to the entrance of our subdivision where there was a large grassy field. We parked behind a tree so no one could see what we were doing. We set the nest on the ground then threw off the bricks one-by-one. St. Pauli Girl grabbed the hoe to push the lid off while I got back in the car and locked the doors.

After the lid came off, the snake slowly poked its head up then slithered out and into the tall grass. In its midsection, I could see the large lump where it had swallowed one of the chicken eggs.

“Is it a rattlesnake?” St. Pauli Girl asked from behind the car.

“No, it’s a corn snake. About 3 or 4 feet.” (I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve learned to recognize different snakes over the last three years! Assuming I get close enough to recognize them.)

We put the nest back in the car then drove home.

“So how was it that I was the one that had to carry the snake everywhere?” St. Pauli Girl asked.

“Well, if a rattlesnake ever bites and kills me, we needed to make sure you could handle these things after I’m gone. Plus, you’re the one that wanted chickens.”

(The snake in the picture above is actually the second snake we found later in the hen house. The first one was much thicker. Going to be a long spring...)

Monday, April 2, 2012

More Scent of A Salmon

(This is a follow-up to a previous post)

After posting previously about our latest dining-out fish adventures, St. Pauli Girl said, “You forgot to mention that the manager said that maybe we weren’t used to such a pungent type of fish.”

Yes, he did say that. And technically he was correct because we usually eat good fish. I’m not sure I’d positively describe any food as pungent except for possibly cheese or mushrooms. But his words brought back memories of one of our restaurant ownership experiences.

One of the first things you learn in a service industry is that the customer is rarely right. Sure there are always valid complaints but 95% of the time, you can come up with a reason as to why the customer is wrong.

A few years ago, we had just started serving prime dry-aged steaks at our restaurant. A customer complained that his steak tasted rotten. I took this as an opportunity to educate the customer. I apologized and offered him another entrée instead. I then started to explain that dry-aged steaks do have a much more intense, almost nutty flavor as opposed to a regular steak.

He responded, “Yeah. Or maybe your chef isn’t rotating the meat.”


That was the last time I tried to educate a customer. I learned that although a customer may not be right, don’t try to convince him of that.

So I regret not telling the manager at that restaurant, “Or maybe your chef isn’t rotating the fish.” Then he too could have learned this valuable lesson.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Scent of a Salmon

For several years when eating out in a non-coastal city, St. Pauli Girl would order salmon, and then I would gently swat her on the forehead with my menu and admonish her, “No!” That’s because whether it’s a $4.99 special at a diner or a $37 entrée at Haute de Rigeur FancyPants Restaurant, ninety-five percent of the time, the salmon will taste and smell like the putrid seawater it once swam in.

This system has worked fairly well for us until the other night when I let my guard down.

“But this is one of the top ten restaurants in the city, surely they know what they’re doing,” St. Pauli Girl said.

“I don’t know. We’re a good five-hundred miles from the nearest port. That’s at least a day’s drive for that fish.”

The waiter then talked her into it. Sure enough, the salmon had to be sent back and St. Pauli Girl wondered if she should get the other fish entrée.

“No,” I said. “Don’t push your luck. Stick with the pasta.”

The waiter then talked her into the sea bass. A few minutes later, I could actually smell the sea bass as it passed by me on its way to the table. This fish was also inedible.

The manager came out, apologized, didn’t charge us for the entrée and offered us a free dessert. This was all well and good until he suggested that maybe we just weren’t used to such a flavorful fish and perhaps this entrée was a little too artistic for our palates.

I then imagined how the staff is trained on its fish dishes:

Chef: Have you ever been to the beach or a lake and stumbled across a washed up fish that’s been rotting in the sun for three days? Do you remember that pungent smell? There are no words to describe it, just that it’s fishy. And that is the essence of fish. When you think about it, it’s actually been baking in the sun for three days. And that’s the kind of taste and aroma we strive for here, just like that fresh sun-baked fish on the beach.

Server: But what if it’s winter so the fish hasn’t really baked that much?

Chef: Then it’s sushi. Let’s be honest, the ideal cut of fish is fish sticks. When you think back to the golden age of fish sticks, somewhere in the late ‘60’s or early ‘70s, they all looked, smelled and tasted the same. You smothered them in ketchup or tartar sauce until that was all you could taste. What I’m trying to achieve here is fish sticks without the sauce. We need to educate our customers because some of these high falutin’ so-called “foodies” think fish should be odorless or maybe taste more like a fine steak. If cows could swim, I’d be happy to serve that. But we serve fish here and there’s a reason the term “fishy” exists.

Manager: So how can we educate our customers?

Chef: First, always point out that the fish is flown in fresh daily. Doesn’t matter if it was on a boat for two weeks, then in a warehouse for a day, then dropped on the ground and run over by a forklift. It flies here first class.

Server: So it doesn’t matter that it takes us three or four days to exhaust our fish inventory?

Chef: Exactly! It’s flown in daily. Now if someone is complaining, suggest that maybe my sauce is too clever for their palate. Then dump a bottle of ketchup on the plate while smirking in disdain. Alright, we all know how my entrées taste. I brought in a few selections from that new sushi place down the street for comparison. Let’s examine the yellowfin tuna sashimi. Breathe in the aroma.

Manager: I don’t get anything. There’s no aroma.

Chef: Right! Serve that to a blind man and he’ll think he’s eating groundhog or prairie chicken or something else unfamiliar. But he will definitely recognize my fish. Now let’s taste it.

Server: Mmmm, very rich.

Chef: But there’s no fish flavor right?

Server: Reminds me of filet mignon.

Chef: Exactly! That’s not fish! That’s a swimming cow! Those sushi chefs must be rank amateurs. They should at least douse some saltwater on the fish or throw some stale seaweed on it.

Server: Um, yeah. So you don’t mind if I finish the leftovers?

Chef: Sure, but you’ll probably need this. (passes the server a bottle of ketchup)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Black Swan or Not?

(I realize this is a year late and probably not helpful if you are looking to me for movie reviews. I tend to view movies at least 1 to 10 years after they are released.)

Count me in as someone that believes “Black Swan” should have won the Oscar for best picture. Why? Because it very cleverly used ballet to demonstrate why so many people hate ballet.

The film is advertised as a psychological thriller which usually translates to blood, violence, and nudity. It does contain blood and violence except when it doesn’t. That’s because we can’t tell what is really happening versus nightmares, wet dreams, and hallucinations. So just like the real ballet, we have no idea what is going on.

I can imagine the initial pitch meeting from the screenwriter to a Hollywood producer who looks a lot like Family Guy’s Peter Griffin:

Screenwriter: I’ve got this psychological thriller revolving around the ballet. It will give a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the ballet and showcase some marvelous dancing. We can bill it as “Footloose for snobby rich people.”

Producer: Um, yeah. [Slides a finger across his desk toward a “security” button.]

Screenwriter: But wait! Did I mention there’s violence? You know, calloused dancers’ feet and broken toenails. Sprained ankles!

Producer: Oka-a-a-y. [Finger moves faster toward the security button.]

Screenwriter: And stabbings! People hit by cars!

Producer: [Finger hesitates.]. Hmm, sounds a little more interesting. You know what, throw in a girl-on-girl sex scene and I’ll give you $30 mill!

And really, that pretty much sums up the movie. The story revolves around a ballet featuring the white swan, the kind of swan you’d take home to your mother, and her friend the black swan, a hard-partying, whiskey swilling swan that has a lot of sex (and apparently swings both ways. Unless she doesn’t . . . because we have no idea what reality is in this movie).

The swans don’t much like each other until they have coffee, then bourbon, then drugs, and finally, sex. Unless they didn’t . . . because the black swan denies it, and we later see her getting cozy with the director which of course leads to the director giving her more stage time. Naturally, this enrages the innocent white swan and turns her into a killer swan. Maybe.

Eventually the white swan kills the black swan. Unless she doesn’t, because thirty seconds after the black swan’s carcass is stashed into a bathroom, she re-appears alive and with nary a scratch on her. Finally, we find out that not only did the white swan not kill the black swan, but in a magical sleight of hand, she actually stabs herself to death. But not before she gets a standing ovation. Unless of course that didn’t actually happen either.

So it is a psychological thriller because it leaves you wondering what kind of nut would want to watch this, much less a ballet, which is equally hard to understand but costs a lot more money.

After watching the movie, St. Pauli Girl said, “Wow. I really loved the dancing. What did you think?”

“I don’t know. It had some good parts.” I paused. “So did the black swan and white swan actually have sex?”

Tune in next year when I review “The Artist,” the silent French film that won Best Picture recently.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some People's Choice

It’s the new year, time to get re-dedicated to the blog again. Okay, so it’s actually two months into the new year; it takes me a minute to get dedicated.

St. Pauli Girl likes to enter cooking contests. And she likes to win. She doesn’t always win, but I just want to point out that she takes them very seriously. To start the new year, she decided to enter a black-eyed pea contest at an establishment that shall remain nameless, but let’s just say they make fermented beverages from grape juice. For a $25 entry fee, she could potentially win a cash prize of $300.

On a bitterly cold day, we arrived at the contest, set up her serving area, then glanced around at the other twelve entrants, or “losers” as we liked to call them. With time to kill we shared a single glass of wine, complimentary with the $25 entry fee. It didn’t taste like a $25 glass of wine, but it was a decent glass of wine.

As we wandered about waiting for the judges to arrive, we noticed that everyone else seemed to know each other. No big deal; after all, this establishment was located in a small town, and of course many of the people would know each other. As long as the judging was blind as suggested by the rules on their website, we didn’t care. Ironically the official rules published on their website seemed more concerned that rogue entrants might come in and try to poison the public as noted in rule 14A:

“If the head judge demands that an entrant taste his/her own dish, the entrant must eat at least one full serving in full view of the head judge. And then the entrant must not throw up for five minutes.”

(Okay, that second line wasn’t in the rules, but I feel it was implied.)

After everyone was shoo-ed out of the “arena,” for judges’ sample-collecting (or so we thought), it came time to serve our black-eyed pea entry. We stood behind our dishes and handed out small taste to people coming down the line. At this point, we noticed that one of the employees had passed out ballots to everyone in line. St. Pauli Girl and I looked at each other, then noticed there was no judges’ table! Apparently, the contest had turned into a popularity vote while we weren’t looking. And, since we didn’t know anyone there, we also quickly realized we would not be standing on the podium at the end of the contest to receive a blue ribbon.

Whatever. We received a lot of favorable comments and had a pretty good time (probably as a result of the $50 wine tab we ran up). Finally, it came time to reveal the winners of the contest. One of the owners, a cross between Les Nessman and Buffalo Bill, took to the stage:

“In third place, why it’s defending champion and local celebrity chef Rachel Ratatouille.”

I glanced at St. Pauli Girl, “At least you beat a celebrity chef if you won.”

The owner continued, “And in second place, how about this, I can’t believe it. It’s our own warehouse employee Jimmy Dale!”

“Uh huh, I can see where this is going,” I said to St. Pauli Girl.

“In first place, holy cow! Well shut my mouth and slap me silly, it’s my own girlfriend Peggy Sue!”

Now I don’t doubt that those three people truly did receive the most winning votes based on the incestuous nature of the contest. But if you’re going to charge people $25, don’t you want to even try to appear to be on the up and up and at least pretend to follow the rules that you dangled in front of contestants in order to get their $25 entry fee?

I later pointed this out in a complaint to their website. I never heard back; I guess they were all busy spending the prize money at Rebecca Ratatouille’s restaurant.