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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Code in the Head

If I’m going to get sick, I usually get sick in January. It tends to be the coldest month here in South Florida, and this month is no exception.

Apparently this is something that I have inherited from my Dad. To prove that, I am re-typing one of his “Matter of Opinion” columns which appeared for 12 years from the mid-forties to late fifties in the St. Petersburg Evening Independent. They are now out of business, but they can probably still sue me for copyright infringement, so I thought I could at least acknowledge where it came from.

This is from (naturally, January) of 1949. So call me lazy for not writing today’s story. I openly admit to plagiarism. But I hope you realize it is a pain to re-type using Sick Dad dialect, verbatim. My spell checker is now on life support.

Aboud once a year, ad aboud dis tibe a year, I stard gedding a code id the head.

Ad when I ged a code in da head, dat’s all, brudder, dat’s all.

I cad eat. I cad sleeb.

Ad worst of all, I cad think.

I just sid here and look at the blank paper in the typewriter ad wish I was dead.

Thad’s the way I ab today. I got a code in the head.

Ad I wish I was dead.

All I can think aboud is the code in my head. Ad every tibe I dry to pull myself together and remember whad it was thad I was going to write here – all I cad think of is my code in the head and how miserable I am, and how I wish I was dead. Dead, dead, dead!

If I cud just disappear for the next day or so, if I cud just curl ub in bed I might get through this all right. But you can’t do that with a code in the head. If you say, “Well, I god a code in the head, and I think I’ll go home and go to bed,” everyone will say, “Ha, ai’d he the sissy – just a simple code in the head, and he goes home and goes to bed. Whad would he do if he was really sick?”

Thad’s the trouble with codes in the head. You’re neither sick enough to go to bed, nor well enough to acd like a human being. All you cad do is sid around and dry to act bright ad –

Wish you were dead – from a code in the head!

De biggest trouble wid a code in the head, is the fact thad everyone dries to cure you. Dis is a situation I’ve never bed able to understand.

If you dell someone you have naso-pharyngitis or a bilateral upper-respiratory infection, they’ll look ad you with amazement and say, “Great God, whad are you doing here. Ged to the hospital at once!”

But answer theb ad say, “Oh, I just god a code in the head, ad I’ll be all right in a couple of days,” ad dey will pud on their best bedside manner and say, “Well, what are you doing about id?”

(Plagiarist’s note: This “bedside manner” person was clearly my mother.)

Ad that does it!

If you dake the position (which you know is true) thad there is nothing thad will cure a code in the head, they’ll look at you with a patronizing smile and zay, “Well, why do’d you go over to the drugstore and get a box ob ‘Fifteeen-Way Cald Tablets,’ those will knock a code a-looping in one day.”

You explain dad you have daken “Fifteen-Way Cold Tablets” and all they did was to make your mouth dry and upset your stomach. And den they will look at you unbelievingly and say, “Well, I don’t know, but they’ll cure my cold in nothing flat. Never fail!”

You thank dem kindly for their interest, but you don’t go buy any code tablets, for you know that nothing will cure a code in the head but tibe –

Or death!

Ad then some jerk will come along and say, “Oh, you have a cold don’t you? Well I tell you what you do. Squeeze out a pitcher of grapefruit juice. Then you alternate. Drink a glass of grapefruit juice and then a glass of bicarbonate of soda.”

There are more cures for codes than there are people. Ad none of the cures are any good. I have daken everything for a code from abble juice to zemenol. I have drunk lemonade, rock-and-rye, Tom-and-Jerry and cascara. I have swallowed bromides, powders and cathartics. I have taken so many shots my hide looks like a sponge.

But nothing cures a code in the head–

Except tibe, or death.

But still there is something the world needs worse than a cure for a code in a head. It needs a cure for all the people who dry to dell you how to cure a code in the head.

I wish I was dead!

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Twenty Rules for Home Contractors

I sometimes hire contractors to do work on our house. Usually I get them to do work that hurts my back or labor on tasks I am unqualified to perform. Most times, I just hire them because I’m too lazy to do the job. I get three or four estimates before making a decision on the bid award. I thought I’d pass along a few tips to the salesmen who make my dog crazy when they slam their truck doors.

1. Show up on time. If you can’t show up on time, call ten minutes before you were supposed to get here and tell me what time you can get here. I schedule appointments for ten minutes after I get home from work. Don’t make me sit around and watch Internet porn in the interim.

2. Take your time. Don’t try to speak to me as if you were an Evelyn Wood graduate. If I don’t understand something, take some time to explain it to me. I’m 53. I have a long attention span.

3. Stop being an asshole.

4. This should be number one, but I didn’t want to appear revolutionary. Do NOT assume I am straight. Don’t call to reschedule and ask if Mrs. Wiley might be home earlier to receive your pitch. Maybe I recently divorced Mrs. Wiley. Maybe Mrs. Wiley, committed suicide in 2001. Perhaps Mrs. Wiley is on a respirator. The only thing even close to a Mrs. Wiley is Other Bill, and he works later than I do, so stick to the schedule.

5. Continuing with number four, don’t assume I’ll laugh at your sexist jokes about how the man has to take out the garbage; the man’s got to please the little woman; the man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. In my case, the man has stopped listening and is doing everything he can to refrain from projectile vomiting all over you.

6. Don’t tell me if you fired your “office girl” three years ago because of the bad economy. That does not instill confidence.

7. Don’t give me a fistful of brochures and say, “I can get this.” I can get that too, probably cheaper, and do it myself. Show me pictures of the work you’ve done and give me the phone numbers of the last three people you’ve worked for, or at least the last three who speak English.

8. If your overhead is an ’87 Silverado and a cell phone, do your best to shield me from that. Or, better yet, cancel your appointment.

9. A comb-over? Are you kidding me?

10. If you have a 99-cent OfficeMax binder with an underbite and cheesy, draft-print pictures falling out of flimsy sheet protectors, here are a few words for you: lamination, laptop, PowerPoint presentation.

11. If you smell like alcohol and cigarettes, I’m usually able to detect that.

12. Don’t tell me I’ll have to hire another contractor to precede your work. Subcontract and don’t tell me about it. I won’t ask for employee ID cards. If I have to hire two companies to do what I consider one job, I’ll just live with things the way they are. Unless my roof is leaking. Then I’ll just put up a tarp.

13. If at all possible, do your best to look hot. Take advantage of my weaknesses. I have hired men because of their looks. One hottie’s work was shoddy and had to be redone a few months later. Stanley is in jail now, but he’s the only contractor whose name I remember. Although he both smoke and drank heavily, he worked shirtless and drove a Harley. I can’t say no to that, even if he did have his license revoked.

14. If you see the dated, worn-out Obama bumper sticker on my car, you also voted for him.

15. If by some chance you’re a gay contractor, sweet Jesus, don’t tell me about all the drama going on in your life and expect me to identify with you. We once made the mistake of having post-quote dinner with a gay house painter, and we both came this close to stabbing him in the eyes with forks to get him to shut up. We ended up tackling the job ourselves, and what he said he could do solo in two days ended up taking us six weeks to do right. He followed rule number 13, but in his case, we made an exception. Sure, we could overlook his being high on meth, but negotiations ended when he told us that business was slow and he was making ends meet by charging for sex. Ew.

16. Clean up and take your crap with you. My grandfather was a carpenter and never left without sweeping up. If you forget some tools and don’t call to inquire about them, they’re mine. And I’ll use them. How do you think I got this nice table saw?

17. Don’t steal my tools and tell me you never saw them. I literally handed you that crowbar, Stanley. When you get out of federal prison, I’d like to have it back and get a peek at those bowling-ball biceps of yours (wink, wink).

18. Don’t charge me for a five gallon bucket and then show up with two one-gallon buckets. I know this because you left them behind. See rule number 16.

19. I know how difficult it is to cut crown molding. You miter it upside down and backwards. That doesn’t necessitate a Master Craftsman fee of $20 a linear foot.

20. If by some remote chance you win the contract, remember there might be more work in the future here if you do a good job. I once hired a window replacement guy to also hang some siding, break out a window and replace it with a door, and build a deck around the pool.

God, he was hot.

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The Nose of the Jet (or, I'm So Sorry. It's Another Snot Story)

Not long ago, I witnessed an embarrassing situation. No, someone wasn’t walking across a restaurant, wearing a toilet paper trail on her heel, and it wasn’t a woman who accidentally tucked her skirt into her pantyhose or a man with an open fly. But you get the idea.

I never know what to do in these situations, and I haven’t really researched the proper behavior one should adopt when these incidents occur. Generally, I just take the denial route, turn my head, and pretend it isn’t happening. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone besides Other Bill, parading around with an open fly. I’m more than comfortable telling him to zip up, because we’ve been adjacent for almost two decades. You don’t live that long with someone without doing things you’d prefer never to do, and wouldn’t think of doing to strangers. And quite frankly, he has done things for me that I couldn’t do for him without throwing up. He had a summer job in a nursing home once, and for years worked with developmentally disabled citizens, so his tolerance level is high. Let’s just say that both of us have had post-surgical issues to deal with that have required more than two hands, and leave it at that. Blech.

Other Bill and I had tickets on a Southwest flight to come home, and it was open seating. We were lucky and got in the “A” line, quickly took our seats and began observing all the people boarding. Sometimes we play Who’s The Hottest Man on the Plane. Other times, even though we would never publicly admit it, we do our own secret profiling. “Does this guy look like he could be carrying explosives in his underpants?” I think. “Probably not, but I better keep my eye on him. Besides, he’s the hottest guy on the plane so far.” Don’t laugh. Remember that we got a conviction for a strong-arm robber who was so memorably cute.

Several rows in front of us, a flight attendant, who was kneeling sideways on a seat, was welcoming the passengers, telling them, “Good morning. Welcome aboard. Just take any seat.” We did hear him sneeze, and later looked up and saw a significant amount of post-sneeze by-product glistening colorfully across his upper lip. Actually, at first we didn’t know what it was. I thought it was a couple of runaway nose hairs, but Other Bill, upon looking closer, recognized that the flight attendant was indeed welcoming the passengers aboard the Booger Express.

“Should I get his attention and tell him?” Bill asked.

“God, no!” I replied, for two reasons. One, nothing embarrasses more than seeing people embarrassed. Two, because this created some great potential footage for me that might one day evolve into an essay.

Most oncoming passengers just looked at him and then diverted their eyes, as if they had just seen The Elephant Man (I am not an animal! I am sinus residue!) Some didn’t even look at him, because we are a nation of people who don’t make eye contact. Some I saw clenching their teeth, trying not to laugh. One boy, as he reached our row, turned around to his big brother, pointed to his own upper lip and said, “Did you see that?” His brother smiled and pushed him down the aisle towards the back.

By this time, Other Bill had had enough, and he was trying to get the boogieman to look at him by waving his hand and pointing to his own upper lip. This mortified me, and was trying to squirm down onto the floor, but we were in coach, so there was nowhere to go. I closed my eyes tightly and tried to go to a happy place. I just wanted it all to disappear. Finally another passenger told the snotooed flight attendant he had something on his lip, and Other Bill, after seeing him wipe it off with his hand, told me I could open my eyes again.

Later, when we reached cruising altitude, the same attendant came around and offered me peanuts and a soft drink.

I politely declined but was thinking: “Never in a million years. I know where that hand’s been.” And I wanted it washed with potable water.

What do you do when you encounter something like this? I know a mature adult would tell him, “You have something on your face” while pointing to the place on his own face to give the offender an idea of where to wipe. But by that time, there is an entire Airbus 300 watching your every move to see exactly where you’re going to deposit that mess.

So I’m looking forward to another Southwest flight. I expect to hear the following pre-boarding announcement, back inside at the gate:

Ladies and Gentlemen, before we begin boarding our flight, we’d like to ask all our passengers, as we have our flight crew, to check the contents of your nostrils, as some shifting or settling of the contents may have occurred during your walk to the gate. Thank you, and welcome aboard.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Sentimental Old Fruit

When I lived up north in the mountains of Virginia, my mother would send me, for a late Christmas present, a heavy box of Minneola tangelos, the sweetest, most pulpless, practically seedless, thin-skinned balls of heaven on earth. They were as sweet as orange Kool-aid, only natural and nutritionally sound. They look like a big tangerine with an outy belly button.

I would eat as many as I could, and when they started to get too soft, I would juice them and freeze the juice for special breakfast occasions. They were big as a boxer’s fist, and there was enough juice from just one of them to fill a tumbler with nectar.

People in Virginia could barely tell the difference between a grapefruit and a tangerine, so only rarely did I offer to share my bounty of citrus with the uninitiated. If they weren’t stupendously impressed, I would never offer them another one. They were used to buying grocery store fruit or being sent that bred-for-beauty, cosmetically-perfect orbs from the Gift Fruit World in the Greater Disney Area.

Truth be told, the best citrus is seldom the prettiest, as tweaks made from geneticists and plastic surgeons are for visual perfection and extended shelf life. These alterations can sometimes make for a thick-skinned, dry piece of tasteless carnage. Sure, it’s pretty on the outside, but on the inside: soggy packing peanuts. In Florida no one with choices buys from those citrus hacks. If you’re lucky, you own or know someone with trees, or you go to a grower or fruit stand and watch someone slice up samples from the bin you’re buying from. You buy what you taste, not what they ship you.

My mother and stepfather lived on a lake in central Florida and had a rich bounty of maybe a dozen citrus trees, which they grew from infancy and fertilized, grafted, watered and inspected obsessively. The trees, along with my mother’s fish-head-fertilized rose bushes, were dotted all over the acreage.

The little off-square shack was previously used as a weekend getaway. When they bought it, there was no electricity and no running water. The place had been trashed by vandals, and we worked hard to replace the smashed windows, scrape off all the old dirt dobber nests, throw up a little molding, and eventually convince the electric and phone companies to run cable out to the ramshackle joint. That was during my memorable voice-changing years, and I hated going there and being forced to carry five-gallon buckets of hand-pumped water to every citrus tree on the property.

As I grew older and the modern conveniences of life were brought into this Cross-Creeky hovel, the five-gallon buckets were upgraded to a long hose. My mother and stepdad nurtured those trees as if they were the grandchildren my sister and I would never produce for them. Whatever they fed them or did to them, they knew how to coax each tree into creating the sweetest, juice-squirtingest fruit you could ever taste. People in town knew their reputation and would barter for paper bags of their annual crop.

Before a hard freeze would come, my mother would throw all their blankets, including the electric one from their bed, into the treetops to protect them. Since smudge pots were banned years before, they would stay up all night burning campfires near the trees to keep the ice and frost from forming and destroying their small grove. That’s why sometimes the fruit that arrived after Christmas was black with soot, but was nevertheless still the best money couldn’t buy. I would bring one into work each day, and I’d wipe off the soot with a paper towel, peel it, separate the tender sections (Floridians call them “plugs”), and drop them into my mouth. Using my tongue, I would press the plug against my palate, and a sweet spring shower rained down on my taste buds, making them dance with orgasmic delight. My countenance would rise up and my voice box hummed.

My Virginia colleagues would look at me as if I had just eaten a bucket of bait. It’s just an orange, pal.

Eventually, my stepfather died; my mother sold the shack and its perfect little grove, moved into assisted living, had a stroke, and died too. That took a lot of time, and by the time I moved back to Florida, the Minneolas were just a good memory.

I could never find Minneolas in the grocery stores or in local fruit stands down here for the longest time. When I asked for them, no one had ever heard of them.

Turns out the Gift Fruit World in the Greater Disney Area felt that “Minneola tangelos” was not a marketable moniker, so everyone on earth now calls them honeybells. I’m sure you have probably seen them advertised in Parade magazine and seen pictures of the perfectly wax-painted, bell-shaped fruit wrapped tenderly and placed just-so in sterile boxes insulated with fake Easter grass. They charge a couple of bucks apiece for them. In the fall, you pay up front for fruit that is immature, but it comes with the promise of being shipped in January as soon as they’re ripe.

I’ve tasted those beautiful looking bells, but the ones I've had can't hold a candle to Mom's. They do, however, look pretty. I have read some online reviews by people who have bought them from cable shopping channels. These reviewers are people I would ordinarily ridicule, but they frequently describe the fruit as tasteless, seedy, membraney, tough, juicy but bitter, not worth the money, and watery. This is further proof that pretty doesn’t always come with good taste.

Not far from our house, there’s a place called Spike’s Grove, where you can still select the fruit by touch and buy it by the quarter-bushel or more. The second weekend in January we always go there to buy our annual Minneola supply. This time we were lucky to buy them before the hard freezes destroyed the crops and skyrocketed the prices. Gift Fruit customers of the Greater Disney Area might pay forty dollars for prettier fruit than I brought home for $12. I can only assume ours is tastier.

I had my first one yesterday. It was a little on the small size, slightly green on top, but still ripe, and the juicy meat of the fruit had stressed the skin to tight thinness during its outward expansion. It was a little spotted and didn’t have the distinctive, perfect bell shape or much of a belly button. It looked, and tasted like, one of Mom’s.

Maybe my back is giving me problems these days because of the miles I schlepped, struggling with heavy water buckets held with both hands between my toothpick legs. But I’m not going to say it wasn’t worth it. I brought a couple Minneolas to eat at work today, but nobody cared. They’re just oranges, pal.

They have no idea what they’re missing.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

What Means This Customer Service?


CSR Shiny Robert has entered the session.
BILL: Can you please provide me with a phone number for our sales agent, John Yadda-yadda?
CSR Shiny Robert: Hi bill.

CSR Shiny Robert: Thank you for contacting the Office Blah-blah
BILL: Can you please provide me with a phone number for our sales agent, John Yadda-yadda?
BILL: Are you still there?
CSR Shiny Robert: Yes.
CSR Shiny Robert: Please do contact your account manager YADDAYADDA,JOHNVINCENT at . they will surely assist you in this regard.

CSR Shiny Robert: Is there anything else I can assist you?

BILL: I tried e-mailing him, but got no answer. I've been trying to get a credit from you guys for three weeks now. Do you have a phone number for him?

CSR Shiny Robert: I am sorry . there is no phone number.

BILL: What?

BILL: How can he not have a phone number?

CSR Shiny Robert: I am sorry please do contact him through email.

CSR Shiny Robert: Is there anything else I can assist you?

BILL: Yes, please. Put a manager on.

CSR Shiny Robert has exited the session.
You are the only user left in the session.
CSR Shiny Robert: Due to the inactivity this chat session will be terminated.
Thank you for choosing Office Blah-blah. This Service is available 8 am- 8 pm EST. Monday through Friday. Please don't hesitate to use this service again
Have a nice day..

And thus ended my first, and most likely, last experience with customer service online chat. This is a direct cut-and-paste, although last and business names and John's e-mail address have been altered But Shiny Robert is real. Too real. Even I couldn’t make that one up.

The most pressing question I have for now: Is Shiny a first name or merely an adjective?

Okay, all right, I admit my last two texts were a little belligerent. Some might construe them to be borderline abusive. And no, I didn’t really think that Shiny would let a manager start typing, but I was hoping that Shiny would start typing as if he/she were a manager. And perhaps improve the grammar to even make it believable.

Maybe the conversation would have continued like this:

MGR Glossy Bob has entered the session.
MGR Glossy Bob: How may I help you? I have read your transcript, and that is all that can be done.
BILL: I’m just trying to get a phone number.
MGR Glossy Bob: And I told you, I mean Shiny Robert told you, there is no phone number.
BILL: So how does John Yadda-yadda, the person who handles this multi-million dollar account, have no phone number? No cell phone?. Do you have a CB radio handle for him, or what?

MGR Glossy Bob: Explain to me, please CB Radio. What means this CB Radio?

BILL: C’mon, citizens band radio. You remember, back in the 70’s, before cell phones?

MGR Glossy Bob: I was born in 1991.

BILL: Really? You’re a manager at age 19?

MGR Glossy Bob: I will be in October.

BILL: What are you wearing?

MGR Glossy Bob: A powder blue leisure suit and tasseled loafers. Why do you ask?

Bill: Never mind. Wrong chat room. You really don’t know what a CB radio is? You never heard the song, “Convoy” by C.W. McCall? You know, the rubber duck?

Bill: You still there, Glossy?

MGR Glossy Bob: I know not of which you are talking of. I have helped you the best I could do.

BILL: You’re really Shiny Robert on the lamb, aren’t you?

MGR Glossy Bob: I am not Shiny Robert. I am Glossy Bob. I am on the lamb but off the cow.

BILL: Huh?

CSR Shiny Robert pretending to be MGR Glossy Bob has exited the session.
You are the only loser left in the session.
CSR Shiny Robert pretending to be MGR Glossy Bob: Due to the inactivity this chat session will be terminated, and so will your entire infidel country.

Thank you for choosing Office Blah-blah. This Service is available 8 am- 8 pm EST. It’s the middle of the night here in the Middle East, so cut off some slack for us. Please don't hesitate to use this service again.
Have a nice day.

Either way, the results would have been the same: hung up on by Shiny/Glossy. Apparently, outsourced customer service is on a timer. If they can’t answer the question in X seconds, they hang up on you. It reminds me of how my aunt would get you to eat your vegetables. She would set the timer on the stove and stand above you, wielding a fly swatter. You would have three minutes to eat your broccoli before Armageddon and fly guts were rained down upon you. No one was ever brave enough to actually test this threat.

I am told I should be grateful just to be given more than 144 characters to use in my chat box.

I’m not.

Following my dialog with Shiny Robert, I dialed Office Blah-blah’s customer service line on the telephone (channel 13 on your CB radio). I was given a number to a menu. I pressed zero to speak to an operator. The phone rang 38 times and was never answered. I did finally get John Yadda-yadda’s number through internal means, even though the written contract had to be pulled to find it. Almost 40 minutes after Shiny entered my life, I was able to speak to a human. John Yadda-yadda told me he was with a customer, had received my e-mail and would call me back at 1 PM.

With a customer? So he must be real!

It’s quitting time now, 3 PM, so I am going to go home. Never heard back from John Yadda-yadda.

I try hard not to get all Andy Rooney and say things like, “Remember when business used to be conducted in person, and you, as a paying customer, weren’t treated like stale bread being fed to ducks?” No one wants to hear that. They don’t even want to read it. It just makes me sad and tired (and, apparently old, ugly and boring too).

Oddly enough, it’s my birthday today. I’m hoping there’ll be cake. If not, I wonder if there’s an online chat I can enter to correct that. If not: Breaker one nine, good buddy of mine, this here’s The Tired Buyer on the lookout for some tasty pastry. Over.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

What are the Airlines Smoking?

Okay, that’s it. I’ve had it up to my nostrils with you airlines. I just made an online reservation for Other Bill. The flights were cheap enough, but before I completed the transaction, I was given the opportunity to purchase travel insurance ($12, no thanks), and presented with the option of staying at a $250 hotel (pass). Then I was asked how many bags at twenty bucks a pop Other Bill would check (None. It’s cheaper to go to a laundromat). But then, before I could complete the deal, I had to surrender a SEAT FEE. If Other Bill wanted extra leg room, it was $30 more (each way). To sit closer to the front, where he’d be more likely to die in a crash, it was $25 more. So he will be sitting in the next-to-the-last aisle seat, which was $10 more. Such a bargain.

So what’s next, airlines? Pay toilets? Honey-roasted peanut tolls? You already charge for those “pillows” which are only big Kotex pads, and “blankets” that are no bigger than a Kraft Single. So tell us, you bunch of rat-eating pigs in space, what’s next on the agenda? A mandatory in-flight magazine reading fee? Twenty dollars for a ballpoint pen to fill in the crossword puzzle, which has a fifty-cent per word application fee and a substantial penalty if we look at the answers or leave it incomplete?

Stop it. Just stop it. Just raise your damned fares already and stop ten and twentying us to death. Double your rates (triple first class) and give us service like we had in the sixties, when a box of four cigarettes and a pack of gum for both adults and children were placed on our fee-free seats before we even boarded. Bring back those washable head doilies so we don’t have to lean into previous passengers’ hair product. Provide us with a bland, unpleasant, half-warmed meal so we have something trivial to complain about. And who are you kidding with those “reclining” seats that push back half an angstrom? Bring back the ones that allow me to put my head in the lap of the passenger behind me. I’m happy to return to my original upright position if they need to get up to pee. And go get me a magazine: a real damn magazine, not the freakin’ Sky Mall. I am not interested in choosing from a variety of cordless, rechargeable ice tongs, beginning at $350. Plus shipping.

Or how about this: Chop up sections of the plane and charge more for seats based on something real. Have a no-screaming-babies section, a no-seat-kicking section. A no-coughing-or-virus-spreading section that is wiped down with bleach after each flight. Give us comfortable, non-ass-freezing temperature compartments. Partition off a no-alcohol zone so we don’t have to hear fat, blathering businessmen broadcast their make-believe sex lives or endure their flirting with the flight attendants. I’d pay more for all of those. On cross-country or trans-oceanic flights, offer a high dose Valium for ten bucks a pill to let the people who just want a little peace and quiet be guaranteed it. If you’re going to sock us for fees, give us something tangible. I’d also like the ability to choose a non-oxygen-container-carrying plane so I don’t end up as alligator food.

This is what happens with government deregulation. You don’t see buses or trains charging seat fees. Can you imagine hailing a cab and having the driver tell you, “If you want to sit down, that’ll be thirty bucks each, over and above the fare. Otherwise the back seat stays in the trunk, and you squat.” What if I refuse to pay this airline seat fee? I’d be happy to send Other Bill off with a folding chair.

On the now-defunct People Express Airlines, you used to pay for your ticket in the air. The flight attendant came down the aisle with the credit card imprinting machine, and then, if there was time, which there never was, they’d roll out the beverage cart. Imagine a plane in a dangerous situation, and the flight attendant making his way down the aisle (in full hazmat gear as the plane fills with smoke) and offering an oxygen mask for $50. Credit, (gasp) or debit, sir?

As I said, if you’re going to charge for something, at least let it be for something we will appreciate. Use your head. As long as you’ve got the credit card scanner out, you could charge us a Landing Fee. If everyone onboard doesn’t cough up ten bucks, the captain will circle the airport and hold his breath until the jet runs out of fuel or he passes out (whichever comes first) and then let gravity take over.

You could stick us with a Gate Sleeve User Fee. That would give us the option of boarding, for a fee, through the jetway or, for a lower charge, climbing a rickety ladder onto the wing and crawling in through the emergency exit. Attention, passengers: Don’t forget some rope and a winch so you can hoist up your carry-ons and disabled relatives. You may also need a plunger to get the heavier ones through the window.

How about charging us the Important Safety Information opt-out choice? Look, if you can’t figure out how to unbuckle your seatbelt without a live demo, you have no business being an airplane passenger. Go find space in the cargo area. You’ll have to fork over a surcharge, though, based on your weight. Should have skipped that 8000-calorie Cinnabon back at the terminal.

On our last flight, Other Bill asked the flight attendant nicely if he could have the whole can of ginger ale instead of just the standard plastic thimble. The flight attendant said, and I quote, “No.” So, there you go: another revenue opportunity, the Whole Can Tax. You might want to consider a per-cube Ice Tariff as well.

We are all sick to death of you airlines and your surprise fees and surcharges and miscellaneous intangible tariffs. Seat fees: are you kidding me? You airline execs need to have a meeting and agree to charge us $300 for any domestic round-trip flight ($3000 for first class), even if it’s just from Kennedy to LaGuardia. Let us check two bags for free. Get out the tape measures and put the tallest people in the exit rows. We surrender. You win. Just come back down to planet earth and let us enjoy flying the way we used to.

And don’t forget my gum and cigarettes.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Here's the Beef


The only time we spend more than $20 for dinner for two is on special occasions. Birthdays, usually, and sometimes when we’re on vacation. So we are never on the lookout for chic, pricey, snooty, Nuevo Cuisiney, South-Beach-we-only-accept-gold-card-style restaurants. On our birthdays, in January and in April, we usually go to a great seafood place and arrive before 6 PM while the early bird prices are still in effect, saving us, I think, four dollars.

We stumbled upon this Brazilian Steakhouse Phenomenon quite innocently after winning a raffle for dinner for two a couple of years ago. I was very lucky that night, winning the meals, two bottles of wine, a bottle of rum, an all-in-one printer, another dinner for two somewhere else, and some more goodies. For a $20 investment, I made out like a pirate.

So later in the year, we got as dressed up the best as we could, drove down to South Beach, paid an outrageous fee for parking and then went into this restaurant the size of a warehouse and were promptly seated. This is the kind of restaurant where the wait staff puts the napkins in your lap for you. Other Bill had never been to a place this fancy and thought he was being sexually assaulted. This is the kind of overstaffed joint where when you ask the restroom’s location, they don’t give you directions; they escort you to the bathroom, wait outside and escort you to back to the table. And while you’re gone, someone folds your napkin in a nice triangle for you. It’s rather unnerving.

Our waiter told us how the thing worked. First we were to visit the appetizer bar, and when we were ready to have some meat, we were to flip over a little cardboard disk to the green side, and the meat men would come serve us some meat. In addition to knives and forks on the table, there was a pair of tongs for each of us.

When you get to the appetizer bar, you feel like you’re a horse at the Kentucky Derby. There is this huge oval table. Out of the gate you see platters filled with shrimp, salmon, grilled peppers, marinated mushrooms, tomatoes, and asparagus. At the first turn there are olives, tabouli, imported cheeses (goat and cow), crusty breads, grapes in gorgonzola sauce, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, thick sliced seasoned bacon. By the time you’ve made it halfway around the track, you realize you’ve made a terrible mistake, because your plate already weighs fifteen pounds, and there’s still the last quarter mile to go, and there isn’t a square inch of empty space on your plate to put anything else. You realize you’ll never make it to the home stretch, and not even close to the finish line, so you go back to your table, stopping only for a nice large bowl of lobster bisque. After all, you do have two hands.

After you're reseated, the person whose sole job is to deliver spiced mashed potatoes (ingredients: whole cream, butter, and potatoes, in that order) and sweet plantains makes the drop-off, just to make up for your losing the Kentucky Derby. Soon, your palate is pleased, but you are soon forced to make painful decisions, because if you eat everything on your plate, how will you have room for the meat when you flip your disk to the green side? So you eat the stuff you never can afford to buy and the stuff that tastes really good but you don’t know how to make, but you still want to eat the rest of it.

Meanwhile, 75 employees have dropped by to ask you if everything is okay. C’mon. How could anything not be okay? Stop asking if everything’s okay and help me make some decisions regarding the stuff on my plate I’m going to have to throw out. I should have realized this was going to happen and brought a Hefty bag.

There is, however, a person whose sole job it is to watch you and make sure you don't scrape meals into a Hefty bag. If you put down your fork, she comes and asks if you’re ready for a new plate. She is used to throwing out a lot of really good food, so she’s not bothered by it. You are busy feeling guilty about the hundreds of people in South Beach who, due to the economic times we are in, no longer come here nightly.

We weren’t ready for the onslaught of men dressed in overly-pleated, frilly pants and large, knee-high boots who bring different animal body parts to the table. Once you go green, you are immediately swarmed upon by seagulls. Once that disk is flipped it’s like you’ve gone out on the beach and started throwing bread into the air. These seagulls are actually very handsome young men carrying machetes and skewers of meat, including: parmesan crusted pork, sausage, chicken wrapped in bacon, flank steak, filet mignon cooked two ways, leg of lamb, sirloin cooked three different ways, and lamb chops. What? No venison? Do they not have deer in Brazil? I didn’t sound off about that because a) I don’t like it, and b) I would have felt a little too much like Clara “where’s the beef?” Peller.

With the first carving, you discover what your tongs are for: tweezing off the meat that is carved right in front of your face. In seconds, your plate is a mountain of carnage and you feel your vampire fangs beginning to extend. You quickly flip your disk back over to the red side and start eating. The seagull-gaucho-waiters immediately realize the last piece of bread has been tossed in the air and retreat, prompting the return of the seventy-five employees who come by to ask if everything is okay. They arrive at fifteen second intervals, and you avoid the temptation to say, “There’s a crumb on my napkin. Can you take my tongs and pick it up and feed it to me, please?

We felt sick when it was time to leave, and it’s a long, uncomfortable ride back home to Broward County, during which time we were both thinking, “I sure am glad there are two bathrooms in our house.”

So we had a good time, and loved the food and figured that would be our first and last trip there, because for non-raffle-winning customers, dinner for two without wine or dessert is still over a hundred bucks.

Unfortunately, we made the mistake of surrendering to them our e-mail addresses before we departed, and every so often we get little surprises in our inboxes for irresistible bargains, like 50% off or buy one, get one free offers.

So, armed with coupons, we have made the trek back to Miami Beach several times since then and always forget to not overeat.

In the past few months, Other Bill has lost 32 pounds and will probably lose 40 before things are all said and done. That’s the weight of the giant bag of dog food we buy once a month that Miss Bungee thinks is the best thing on earth, besides her lime rickies and Virginia Slims cigarettes. So once Other Bill is down by 40 pounds, I’m hoping he will strap on a big bag of Iams and carry it around for a day just so he’ll remember what it was like. That should keep the weight off.

To celebrate this weight loss, we decided to redeem an e-mailed coupon at this steakhouse. When I went online to make the reservation, I discovered, much to my loathing, that a new franchise had opened up right across the street from where I work. (It’s true, I don’t get out much.) And the dinner for two price is twenty bucks less than the Miami Beach location, plus there’s free parking. And it meant a much shorter ride home in total discomfort to dash our unescorted selves to our bathrooms.

He weighed himself before we left: 204. He did the same thing when we got home: 210. This morning that had dropped to 205.

And this morning when I opened my Hotmail inbox, there was a “happy birthday” e-mail from the House of Brazilian Pigfest, offering me 50% off dinner for two the whole month of January.

These people really know how to get you.

For Christmas, one of my superiors gave me a $50 gift card to the place, so if we go again this month, we both can eat for free.

And we can have dessert.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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