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.