Keeping the wolf from the door, or The past is not dead, it's not even past - It was 20° F (almost minus 7° C) here this morning. The birdbath was a solid block of ice. Winter is making an early appearance this year. The door from ou...
Car salesmen assume they can get away with being outrageously rude in their efforts to sell you a car, any car, even if it’s nothing like the car you want. They assume this because most people automatically enter into a conspiracy of silence when they are treated badly. The terms of this conspiracy require that they make every effort to carry on as if everything is normal even though they’re being shamelessly pressured and manipulated.
Peggy and I bought our first car together in 1973 when she was 22 and I was 24. She wanted a Dodge Colt station wagon; I wanted a Datsun truck. The Dodge salesman (I’ll call him Vince) was twenty years our senior and a fatherly, soft-spoken gentleman who convinced us that he had our best interest at heart. Still, I demurred. We were “marvelous young people,” Vince said. He wanted to take us to dinner, Vince said. He wanted us to meet his friend, Vince said.
“So, what do we have to do to sell you this car?” his hard-eyed friend (I’ll call him Igor) demanded. Vince seemed dismayed by Igor’s abruptness. “I don’t know,” I answered. “I guess we need to go home and talk about it.” “You said you came here to buy a car; we’ve shown you the best car at the best price; and now you don’t want to buy it?! Why have you wasted our time? You owe it to us to buy this car before you leave here tonight.”
Vince wrung his hands and looked like he wanted to crawl under the carpet. Peggy stared at the wall like she hoped Igor would forget she was there. I made up my mind that I wouldn’t buy an air conditioner in hell from this asshole, yet my concept of politeness required that I stick around for another hour of abuse. Every few minutes, Vince and Igor swapped out. Igor berated us while Vince was out of the room, and Vince treated us like his beloved children while Igor was out of the room. I didn’t realize that it was all a big act until weeks later when the dealership was charged with multiple counts of abusive sales tactics including the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine that we got to witness.
I got so fed up with salesmen on our most recent car-buying search that I went to the lot where Hertz sells its rental cars. “Hertz will be different,” I thought. “The prices will be what the stickers say they are, and there won’t be any pushy salesmen.” I had no really good reason to believe this, other than Hertz’s advertising, of course.
“We have limited garage space, and it’s important to me that we buy something that will fit in the garage,” I told the salesman. The car the salesman led me to see clearly wouldn’t fit. “This car clearly won’t fit,” I objected. His jaw dropped, and his tone was accusatory. “You don’t REALLY need to keep your car in the garage, DO you?”
I can’t believe this young turd is trying to pull that shit on an old fart like me, I thought (why no, I would never overuse metaphors). “Bye,” I said.
He followed me to my van, but stopped short of breaking my legs to keep me from leaving. By the time I got home, he had called twice. Giving your phone number to a car salesman is like giving your phone number to a stalker.
I only got took once by a car salesman. Patty was her name, and she was a redhead who was ten years my senior. If not for her smile that gave birth to fantasies of happily throwing myself in front of a train to save her life, I wouldn’t have been able to take my eyes off her cleavage. The vinyl dash on the used Datsun 610 that I wanted to buy had come unglued. “Patty,” I asked, “If I buy the car, will you take care of having that fixed?”
“Well…I wouldn’t do it for just anyone, but you’ve been so nice that I’ll do it for you—if you buy the car today.”
When it came time to write the check, I reminded Patty about the dash, and asked her to put it in writing (I had read somewhere that that was a good idea). “Snow,” she said with a hurt look, “Do you really think I would lie to you? Please don’t become one of those people who have forgotten what it means to trust.”
I apologized to Patty for hurting her feelings. She said she forgave me, but the pain in her eyes told me only too well that my callous words had threatened to sever the delicate tendril of affection that united us. I apologized a second time, and a third. Finally, her smile returned like sunshine after the rain.
She said she had spoken to the shop foreman, and that I should bring the car back the next day for the repair. When I returned for my “appointment,” no one seemed to know why I was there, and they were incredulous when I told them. “That’s an expensive job,” the sales manager growled, “We would have to take the whole dash out. Who told you we would do it?”
“Did you get it in writing?”
“Uh, no. I asked her to write it down, but she said I could trust her—she’ll tell you.”
The sales manager’s steely gaze softened. He obviously knew of Patty’s influence over young naïve men. “Yesterday was Patty’s last day to work here.”
After much indignant hell-raising on my part, he made good on Patty’s promise, but I vowed to never make the same mistake again. As for Patty, she went on to run her own dealership, and it didn’t take her long either. Even though she lied to me, I still feel all warm and fuzzy when I remember her. You’ve got to be damn good to make your victim like you even after he knows he’s been took.
On to the present. I’ve searched both Craig’s List and various dealers’ lots for months. I’ve analyzed every bit of information I could find about dozens of cars, and we’ve settled on a 1998 Camry. I saw it a week ago when it was $8,990. The dealer has since dropped it to $6,990, and has agreed to take another thousand off that.
Two important things that I try to remember when negotiating to buy a car are: (1) Unless I know it’s a terrific deal, I must be willing to drag my feet even though I run the risk of someone buying it out from under me; and (2) When I’m dealing in thousands of dollars it’s easy to forget that a few hundred dollars is a lot of money, yet a few hundred could a whole lot of groceries. If the wind blew even $20 from my hand and dropped it down a sewer, I would be seriously bummed, yet $20 seems of no more value than a penny when I’m car shopping. At least, it’s easy to think that.
Walt (a former mechanic) drove the Camry today and liked it. Tomorrow, I’ll take it to a garage and to a body shop for their okay and, if it passes, we’ll buy it.
It is now tomorrow.
The mechanic and the body shop foreman liked the car. Still, I took note of the few things they found wrong, and used them to negotiate another $110 off the price. All of the salesmen shook my hand and congratulated me, and I was sent off to sign the necessary papers. Necessary for what, I don’t know. I would estimate that I had to sign my name upward of thirty times. I even had to sign to refuse a lot of piddly things, things like tire damage protection, body sealant, and a sticker on the windshield stating that every window had been acid-etched with an ID number (the etching was done to protect the dealer from theft while the car was on his lot, but the tiny sticker that announced the etching would have cost me $256).
Among all these piddly things that I had to sign, I saw a tiny footnoted paragraph requiring that I agree to settle any and all disputes through a particular arbiter whose office is 115 miles from here. That’s right, in order to buy a car from the mammoth enterprise known as Kendall Auto Group, I would have to not only sign away my rights to the judicial system, I would have to agree to binding arbitration by an arbiter who just might value keeping Kendall’s business over making a fair judgment.
It is now the day after tomorrow.
When I refused to sign, I was told that I couldn’t buy the car. I took the papers home to talk the situation over with Peggy (who was off skiing). She felt as I did, so it looks like we won’t be getting the Camry. Fortunately, I had not given Kendall a check because they wanted my social security number to run a credit report before they would accept a personal check. I wouldn’t provide it unless they agreed to return it when the credit report was completed, but they said they couldn’t do that, so I said I would take them a bank check today.
“So what are the chances that you would need arbitration anyway?” you might ask. Almost none, I should think. If I did, it would be over the little 12-month powertrain warranty that they insisted on giving me in lieu of taking more money off the price. But there is a principal here. A few of them. For one thing, I believe that they stick that kind of thing into a footnote in a gray font on the back of one of dozens of pages so that the customer won’t see it; and that all those superfluous signatures are required so that the important ones will go by un-noticed (By way of analogy, I had a dog that jumped up every step in a football stadium until she reached the topmost step and jumped one time too many, badly injuring herself on the parking lot below). Kendall's is guilty of heavy-handedly stacking the deck in its favor. If I’m willing to forego my legal rights so that they will let me buy one of their cars, shouldn’t I have a say in choosing the arbiter? Couldn’t they at least provide a list of possible arbiters?
I put hours into checking out that car and negotiating a price. I have no doubt but what a lot of customers are so tired and emotionally drained by the time all those papers are set in front of them that they sign despite their misgivings, just so they can take their car and go home. I called Kendall’s business office a few minutes ago to tell the woman who gave me the papers that we weren’t going to sign the arbitration agreement. She was “in a meeting,” so I left a voice mail. I doubt it, but I suppose it’s possible that Kendall’s will let me have the car without signing, but I’m so disgusted with their lack of ethics that I wouldn’t really care.
There are days—this is one—when I feel terribly guilty for not doing something (i.e. work), yet the guilt isn't sufficient to inspire action. I have a physical therapy appointment at 1:00; the dogs have to be walked; some light housework has to be completed; and supper must be planned and prepared. Other than that, nothing HAS to be done, which is why I have spent the past two hours reading other people’s blogs. Cat Woman alone could become a halftime job, and she doesn’t even follow my blog.
I say to myself, “Snow, you spend enough time reading the blogs of your followers. For god’s sakes, stop reading the blogs of people who don’t follow yours.” I have cut back, but some blogs are just too good to drop. Besides, I’ve noticed that not everyone who follows my blog appears to actually read my blog. I’m not even sure that one of my followers speaks English. It’s creepy having him there, but I can’t think of any good reason to block him (he left as I was writing this).
As a follower of other people’s blogs, I torture myself over who to drop and who to keep. Yesterday, I dropped the blog of a woman who I didn’t think would miss me. She did. She came to my blog to ask if I had been offended by pictures of her dogs wearing clothes. I was astounded that she would think I went away mad because she dresses her dogs! Why would a man who puts string bikinis, tawdry “nurses’ uniforms,” and fishnet stockings on his blue heeler care if she dresses her poodle in firemen’s hats and ski bibs? Now, I feel guilty for hurting her feelings. It’s not that I didn’t like her blog; it’s just that she never came around to mine, so I started to feel like a one-way friend. I wanted to tell her, “If you follow my blog then I’ll follow yours.” That would have been the truth, but I figure that if people don’t decide to follow me on their own, I would be amiss to ask them. It’s like a lot of situations I run into. I feel bad if I say what’s on my mind, but I also feel bad if I don’t.
Besides, how many followers do I want? I’ve visited blogs that had fifty followers. This means that every post draws maybe twenty comments followed by fifteen responses from the blogger followed by ten more comments from the readers. Jeez, talk about having your life taken over by the Internet! But too few followers aren’t good either. Prior to this blog, I had one pretty much like it for two years during which time I had zero followers and only two visitors. I concluded that I was wasting my time, and deleted it.
Then I started this blog, and I thought that, well, it’s not fair to feel bad that no one reads my blog when I don’t read anyone else’s. So, I started checking out other blogs by hitting the “Next Blog” button. You can waste a lot of time doing that because of the immense number of blogs in foreign languages as well as blogs devoted to needlework, grandchildren, and vacations. The funny thing is that, gauged by their lack of response, some bloggers don’t welcome visitors. When I say, “Hi, I’m here,” and they just sort of look the other way, I say, “Well, okay, bye.” One person closed her blog to visitors right after I found it. She apparently had no clue that someone might stumble upon her.
But back to the point I was trying to make. I visited other people’s blogs mostly to attract them to my blog, but I discovered that I enjoyed a lot of the blogs that I visited so much that I was posting less to my own. I began following them, and some of their authors followed me, and then I saw that some of them were also posting to other blogs that I was following. This made me realize that the blogosphere consists of overlapping circles (I suppose you already knew this). I also realized that some people enjoy reading blogs although they themselves are not bloggers. They’re the ones who post comments, only when you click on their link, there’s nothing there.
I debated for a long time whether to share my blog address with people I actually know (since they’re the ones I write about). I finally did and, lo and behold, only one of them ever bothered to drop by, so far as I’m aware. Now, I’m sorry I told them, because I never know whether they’re there or not. Maybe I should make up all kinds of juicy things about their sex lives in order to flush them out. Yeah, that’s a plan. Stay tuned for stories about what happened when Susan and her iguana met Barry and his pomegranate at Meagan’s Tupperware Party….
I’m having my 5:00 p.m. vodka, and it feels SO good on my sore throat.
Along with from coming down with a cold yesterday, my right shoulder pain returned with a vengeance. That means that the steroid shots are wearing off, and that my third round of physical therapy didn’t work, and that I’m going to have to undergo two surgeries after all.
If you had a cold, the weather was miserable, and your shoulder felt like it had an ice pick sticking out of it; what would you do? Probably what I did. I worked under the house (on the plumbing) where it’s cold, drafty, and filthy, and I have to crawl everywhere. Makes sense, no? Well, no, not if you discount the fact that I am bummed about my health, that I needed to do something that would cheer me up, that physical labor cheers me up, and that working in crawlspaces really cheers me up. In fact, I’m never happier than when I’m working in crawlspaces. If the dust and insulation didn’t choke me, and the spider webs didn’t get in my mouth; I would sing happy songs when I’m working in crawlspaces.
God but this vodka is good!
Ah, but my shoulder will pay for the work I did, but then my shoulder pays for everything I do, and I’m sick of it. Three years of some pain; one year of a lot of pain; and god knows how many thousands of dollars gone for nothing. But I won’t whine and complain. No, not me. After all my fierce resistance, I am reconciled to surgery on my right shoulder followed several months later by surgery on my left shoulder. Things could be worse. I could have lived before there was “subacromial decompression,” or I could be unable to afford it…or I could be out of vodka.
Peggy and Walt slid off an icy highway Saturday and totaled his 4-Runner. It was their third ski-related accident, and Walt was driving each time (Peggy wouldn’t drive in mountainous wintry conditions even if we had a vehicle that was capable of it). No one has ever been seriously hurt, although I have lost all faith in Walt’s driving and would prefer that Peggy not ride with him. She feels differently, almost as if she regards the occasional wreck as part of the skiing experience. I could forbid her going with him, and leave it to her whether to accede to my order, but I am not disposed to giving orders even if I had the power to enforce them. I even thought about telling her to call someone else for help next time, but that was only because I was in a pissy mood.
Peggy’s passion for skiing brings only worry into my life, but I have rarely if ever forbade her to do something. I worried about her climbing mountains; I worried about her traveling around Europe; I worried about her ice-skating; but I worry most of all about her skiing. Even so, I realize that it’s no use trying to clip someone’s wings. Back when I was chasing women, Peggy put her foot down, but the compulsion was too strong. Likewise when I was experimenting with psychedelics. Now that I am over all that, I am glad she hung around.
Some indignant reader might well ask, "How the hell is her going skiing comparable to you going womanizing?" Well, dear reader, given the tone of your query, I doubt that any answer of mine will be considered adequate. Nonetheless, the comparison is that they are things that we each feel, or felt, that we truly needed to do. Yes, both are risky, and mine transgressed moral boundaries; but they still represented parts of ourselves that we felt we couldn’t say no to. Certainly, all paths are not good, and all paths are not equal, but sometimes a person has to travel a path in order to learn these things. This is why I cannot bring myself to say, 'I forbid you.'"
Habaneros don’t keep well, so stores are often out. When Market of Choice didn’t have any today, I asked the produce manager about something he did have that was labeled “red-hot cherry bombs.” He said they were hotter than habaneros and offered me a slice. It might as well have been a jalapeño. I then biked over to Plaza Latina but they too were out. The Hispanic produce lady assured me that she had something even hotter in the back. She brought a green, globe-shaped pepper for me to sample. I couldn’t understand what she called it, but I wasn’t about to let a dusky maiden from the land of fiery tamales think I was a wimpy gringo, so I ate it whole. Her eyes widened in anticipation of my screams, but again, I might as well have eaten a jalapeño. She disappeared into the back a second time and came out with what she called a Thai pepper. It was ominously small (like every hot pepper I’ve had), and I ate it whole too. Hotter than a habanero? Ounce for ounce, maybe. My stomach burned for two hours. Peppers eaten alone are in a different category than peppers eaten with other foods. I didn’t scream though.
I started eating habaneros a year ago because I read they were good for arthritis and for Raynaud’s (a circulatory problem affecting the extremities). The Oxford American defines them this way: “Habanero, a small chili pepper that is the hottest variety available.” At first, even a quarter inch section made my eyes water, my face turn red, and heat race across my scalp like flames through gasoline. But they grew on me. Now, I eat three with every meal and even take them to potlucks. I can’t say for sure that they helped the arthritis, but they’ve reduced the severity of the Raynaud’s by two-thirds.
I wash after I handle them but I still don’t dare put my hands near my face. I even hold myself gingerly when I pee, but I often end up with a fiery crotch anyway. Peggy burned herself just by drinking grape juice from my glass last night. The night before, she did it on a sweet potato that I peeled. A few days before that, a bite of my banana sent her running for the milk jug (milk neutralizes the capsaicin somewhat). Peggy is most decidedly not a fan of hot peppers.
Now, why would I enjoy something that hot? Well, like I said, habaneros don’t taste that hot to me anymore. Think of them as like coffee. If someone who never drinks caffeine has a cup of coffee, it will give him the jitters, but a heavy coffee drinker will scarcely notice the same amount. Peppers are also like coffee in that they have a psychoactive effect. I haven’t been able to find validation for this, but I can vouch for it from experience. Habaneros boosted my mood sufficiently that I even stopped taking Lexapro.