Drug Dealings

Raymond: [to Susanna] Are you taking any prescription medication?
Vern: He likes you, that’s just his way of showing it.
Susanna: When I touched him, he pulled away.
Vern: Don’t take it personal. He never touched me and I’m closer to him than anyone in the world, known him for nine years.

Rain Man (1988)

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Here’s a poorly-kept secret: older people take a lot of medication.

Not pictured: the other 97% of the stuff I had to get rid of. When my uncle died a couple of months ago, he left behind a huge amount of medication that he hadn’t even touched. My cousin came to my Mom’s house (where he was living by then) to pack up his things and discovered all this stuff, so she figured she’d do a good turn by donating it to people who couldn’t afford it. It turns out that you can’t do that sort of thing. You can’t donate prescription medications (naturally), nor can you return it for a refund. Likewise, you can’t donate syringes (he was an insulin-dependent diabetic) to charitable organizations that provide that sort of thing to people. You’re essentially stuck (heh) with this stuff. So when she ran out of time and had to return home, there was still a bunch of stuff left behind for my mother to take care of.

But, as they say, the best-planned lays oft go astray and my mother, instead of taking the time to dispose of this extra medication, decided that dying herself was the preferable option. (This is mostly speculation on my part.) This left me with the task of getting rid of his medication AND hers.

My cousin and I were both trying to be good citizens here; you’re not supposed to flush this stuff down the drain because it winds up in the water supply and next thing you know, my brother is growing a vagina or something (not me; I drink the Baltimore water, which has lead in it instead of drugs). So…where to start? I decided to ask the hospital where my mother died.

I called the hospital switchboard and the operator had a ready answer for me: “Oh, you bring it to the Sheriff’s Department. They take discarded medications. I have the number right here—in fact, I can probably transfer you.” Really? Cool. A few seconds later I’m talking to a representative from the Sheriff’s Department. He tells me that yes, indeed, they do collect drugs. There’s a dropbox in the lobby of the office; you just come in and drop everything off. He then gives me directions to the building, and I’m off. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office (the local one, anyway) is on Little Road in New Port Richey. It’s part of a larger complex of government buildings. I turn into the complex and follow the signs to the office, park the car and tote an overfilled shopping bag of stuff into the building.

Once I’m inside, there’s a small lobby area which is staffed by two people who are safely ensconced behind thick plate glass. You communicate with them through an intercom system. There was a guy ahead of me who was having trouble with the intercom, though. He’s standing there hollering “Can you hear me now? How about NOW? I can’t hear you! Can you hear me?” The officer pushes a button on his side and finally says, “Can you hear this?”

“Yes,” the guy says. “Now I hear you.” The officer then explains for what must have been the twelfth time that the guy needs to push a button on the intercom box in order to talk to them. The button in question is about the size of a dime and has TALK printed on it. So he finally gets though to them that he’s there to repair the copier. The officer tells him to have a seat and he’ll call someone out. Instead of having a seat, he takes exactly one step to his right.

Now it’s my turn. I step to the window and, having both A) seen what just transpired and B) a couple of brain cells to rub together, I lift my free hand to push the TALK button. The copier repairman helpfully puts his hand BETWEEN MY HAND AND THE BUTTON and tells me that “you have to push this button to talk to them.”

“Oh,” I say. “You mean the button I was about to push until you got in the way? This one, that has TALK printed on it in big letters?” Copier guy mutters something about just wanting to help and slinks away, suddenly remembering a copier part he has to retrieve from his truck.

Also, no radioactive stuff. I wish I was joking. When I finally speak to the police, it turns out that I’m in the wrong building. I need the other Sheriff’s Office building. What’s more, it’s not in the complex proper; I have to leave the complex, go down Little Road a hundred yards and turn back in to get to the right building. I drift around until I find what looks like the public entrance and make my way inside. Sure enough, the drop box is right there (that’s the actual box in the pic to the left). The bad news is, there are rules printed on the box, and there’s a cop standing right there to make sure I stick to them. So, no sharps, no liquids, no hydrogen peroxide (I didn’t have any but I found that amusing enough that I remembered it), no aerosols. Ultimately, all I could get rid of were the pills and some powder inhalants (which he hemmed and hawed about before finally saying, “Yeah, throw it in.”). From a taking-up-space standpoint, this didn’t do me a ton of good. So I asked the cop standing there where I could go with the needles and inhalers. He told me to go to an Emergency Room; they should have the means to dispose of it. Really? Back to the hospital? Okay.

I drove to Bayonet Point Hospital and went straight to the Emergency Room. The last time I saw an ER that quiet was when Wee One had her appendix out; it was the night of the Ravens vs. Denver Broncos playoff game. You have to go through a security guard there, so I explained what I needed, and he took me to the Triage Nurse, so I could explain it a second time. The Triage Nurse wasn’t sure, so he went deep inside to ask around. A minute later he came back and said that they could take the sharps but not the other stuff. “Look, I’m trying to be a good citizen here,” I said. “This is literally my third stop. If I have to jump through many more hoops, I’m just going to take this stuff and cater a party somewhere.” The triage nurse told me that any pharmacy would take it. Swell.

Let me offer up a little geography here: my mother lived almost exactly midway between the hospital and the Sheriff. So I went about three miles south to the Sheriff, then seven miles north to the hospital, only to be told that I had to go four miles south again to the Walgreens, which is quite close to her house. Walgreens took the remaining stuff without a hassle, although they did ask to be given a heads-up about what had sharps in it and what didn’t. That’s a fair request, I think. So ultimately,
I could have gone a couple of hundred yards (as the crow flies) to dispose of ALL the drugs, instead of going on the wild-goose chase I went through.

This is why Florida usually bubbles to the top of so many “Weird News” stories, I think.

Plans.

Homer: OK, Marge, I'll plan everything: we can have the reception at Moe's. Wait. Why not have the whole wedding there? We'll do it on a Monday morning. There'll be fewer drunks.
Marge: Homer, don't be offended, but I've obtained a court order to prevent you from planning this wedding.
Homer: [looks through the papers of the court order] Well, these seem to be in order. I'll be out back in the hammock.

The Simpsons, “Lisa’s Wedding” (3/19/95)

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My mom, she was a planner. She made plans for the organ donation, for her funeral, for her burial. And she did most of it when she was about the age that I am now.

She clearly didn’t plan to die this year. She had plans. And the more I talk to people, and the more stuff in the house that I look at, the more I see that she did not think she was anywhere close to being done with life.

She was contemplating buying a second house near me so she could visit more often.

She was looking forward to attending my annual Pig Roast in July.

She was working on a shopping list the night before everything went to hell.

And I guess that’s the funny thing about plans; they don’t always go the way you want them to. She planned out most of her funeral but she didn’t count on one of the funeral directors being rather insensitive with his constant interruptions when I was talking to him. She probably didn’t count on the communications snafu that almost caused us to miss our chance at a last goodbye, or the one that temporarily left her body in limbo between the hospital and the funeral home.

I’m told that one of the symptoms of grief-based depression is hostility. I’ve been told that on my best days I can be kind of acerbic; lately it’s not taking much for me to get downright snotty. Some people just assume that you know everything that’s going on; other people don’t really care whether you’re familiar with the procedures; still others are exposed to this sort of thing all the time and just plain forget the way it affects the people who receive the direct impact of these events. Sorry guys, but I haven’t lost many mothers before this one. I’m having a little trouble with the vocabulary and I’d appreciate a little guidance. I’m scared, is what I am, and I need to depend on strangers who are professionals in these areas to get me through some of this.

Mom put a lot of responsibility on me; she told me that she thought I was the one who could handle it; that I was the level-headed one. I told her that it’s a pretty dark day when I’m the voice of reason, but I understood where she was coming from. It’s not that she couldn’t trust my brothers to deal with these things; it’s that she knew that I was the one who would get it done first and fall apart later.

I’m sitting in a public park as I type this, because I just needed some time to be by myself and contemplate things. That’s it for now; I’m still processing. Thanks for following along.

UnSafe way

Patty Bouvier: I can’t believe Homer ruined another family barbecue.
Homer Simpson: [offended] Hey! Everybody pees in the pool!
Patty Bouvier: Not from the diving board!

The Simpsons, “Dangerous Curves” (11/9/08)

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Wife and I are planning to take a trip in a few weeks. For the second time, we want to go see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the flesh, then have our Thanksgiving Dinner in a restaurant. Friday will be a Tourist Day for us, although given that I’m a transplanted native, it won’t be especially touristy. But I’ve already digressed and the story hasn’t even started yet.

Thanksgiving Dinner is typically hosted at the Parkville Palace (i.e., our house), but since we’ll be away, Wife wanted to do a nice family dinner before the holiday. Everyone’s calendars matched up nicely for last night, so sometime last week she set the date.

Lies! Lies, I tells ya!This meant some high-speed meal planning for me, but Wife advised that I not make it as fancy and multi-course as our usual Turkey Day offering. Oddly enough, I was more than comfortable with that idea. So when I spotted a Safeway circular in the newspaper that offered up some complete meals for a reasonable price, I said to myself “Hey, this might do the trick.” There was a choice of the turkey dinner, the ham dinner or the prime rib dinner. (I would have loved the prime rib, but Wife’s family has this habit of ordering their meat overcooked, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.)

Now, the turkey dinner has all of the typical trimmings, with the mashed potatoes, the gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce among a couple of others, but the prime rib and the ham have the same side dishes. If you can’t see them in the picture, it’s Scalloped Potatoes au gratin, Corn Medley (what kind of songs do you hear in a corn medley?), Green Bean Casserole, a dozen dinner rolls and an apple pie. All you have to do is warm it up. Simple, right?

On Friday afternoon I called the toll-free number in the ad. This is actually where the trouble started, only I wasn’t smart enough to read the warning signs. The guy who answered the phone was, to be generous, not the brightest bulb on the string. The first thing he asked for was my first name, which is reasonable. My name is not something that people automatically know how to spell, so I immediately spelled it out for him. He didn’t get it on the first try, so I spelled it for him a second time. On this second attempt he read it back to me; it came back as something like “C, R, L, E”. I asked him, “Does that look like anybody’s first name to you? Let’s try it once more.” He finally got my name, then my phone number. OK, says I, we’re sailing smoothly now.

This is Parksville. It's in British Columbia, and apparently does not have a Safeway in it. The next question was my zip code. From this information he deduced that I was located in Baltimore City. Based on this fact, he asked me which of the four stores in Baltimore City I wanted to use: Lauraville, Canton, Charles Village or the one out on Baltimore National Pike. I told him that I didn’t want to use any of those; I wanted to use the one in Parkville. This, he couldn’t find. As it happens, part of the reason he couldn’t find it was because he was looking for a Safeway in “Parksville”, but even after I straightened that out, he still couldn’t figure it out. Then he suggested that if I do a Google search, it’ll show me where the four stores he’d mentioned are.

I said, “I know exactly where those four stores are, and I’m not going to any of them when there’s one less than a mile from my house.” Then I asked him if he had Google. When he responded in the affirmative, I suggested that he do a web search for “Safeway 21234”. Lo and behold, he located the store in Parkville. I was kind enough to spare him the necessity of trying to pronounce “Waltham Woods Road”. Then he asked me again if I wanted the store at Waltham Woods Road. I told him “Yes, and if you ask me a third time I’ll probably say ‘yes’ again.”

A few more seconds of typing, then: “And what was your phone number again?”

We’d been on the phone for eight and a half minutes and, of the four pieces of information he’d gathered from me in that time, he’d already lost one of them. “That’s it,” I said. “I need to speak to a supervisor.”

Another eight minutes, this time on hold. Finally the supervisor came on. I’m not going to recount the entire conversation because you probably have that part figured out. It’s all apologies and obsequiousness and “We’re sorry you’re not having an excellent experience” kind of crap. But he did take my order and confirmed that I’d have to go to the Deli to pick it up, 24½ hours hence.

And I went there the next day and everything went perfectly.

Ha, Ha! I was just yanking your chain, there! And so was Safeway, apparently!

At 4:05 I arrived at the store, grabbed a cart and headed toward the Deli. The clerk behind the counter asked if she could help me. I told her that I was there to pick up a dinner. She looked at me blankly. I tried again: I ordered a Ham Dinner for pickup at four o’clock. She still didn’t know what I was talking about, so she turned to a co-worker: “Do you know anything about a Ham Dinner?” The co-worker nodded, then said, “but we don’t have it.”

Excuse me?

She then started saying something about how they have the ham, but they don’t have “the kit”. The kit is apparently a package that contains all the other parts of the meal that aren’t ham. No package means you don’t have the meal. (Remember also that this means they don’t have everything for the Prime Rib Dinner, either.) This second clerk then disappeared into the walk-in refrigerator, but she emerged empty-handed and shaking her head. Again she told me the thing about the ham and the kit. Oddly, I didn’t find a repeat explanation comforting. I saw a sheet of paper in her hand and asked, “Is that my order? May I see it?” I looked at the sheet only long enough to establish that my name and phone number had been correctly recorded. That IS my phone number, and I haven’t gotten any calls from you.” I was getting a little more strident by this point. “I have a bunch of people en route to my house and I have nothing to give them. What am I supposed to do? Calling you guys was supposed to take the stress out of this whole deal.” She suggested that we talk to the manager.

I followed the clerk over to the manager’s office. In this office is a woman—the assistant manager—and I swear to god she’s eating an entire pepperoni pizza out of the box. I mean, it’s sliced and all, but she’s clearly doing this thing some serious damage. She continues chowing down her pizza while the deli cl
erk tells her about how “this man ordered the ham dinner and we have the hams but we don’t have the kit, and now he’s yelling at me because it’s not here.” Because it’s apparently my fault that I’m upset about placing an order that A) nobody filled; and B) nobody contacted me about a problem. Between bites, the assistant manager suggests that, rather than looking for a kit that isn’t there, she gather up the discrete pieces and give those to me. Because part of this was said with her mouth full, she wound up having to repeat it to the clerk, who heaved a big sigh and walked back to the deli area.

Hey, you know what? If I’m such a bother to everyone, I don’t need you either. I walked out of the store, not bothering to see if the deli clerk had even noticed I’d left. Given that I stopped immediately outside to text Wife about what had happened, it doesn’t appear that she did.

So here’s the Postscript to this tale: I went to the Shoppers Food across the street and put together a meal of my own: Spiral Sliced ham (about 8 lbs), frozen corn and a red and green pepper for chopping up into the corn and sauteéing slowly in butter; frozen Stouffer’s macaroni & cheese, frozen broccoli for steaming, an apple pie and a couple of tubes of biscuits. Dinner was about an hour later than we’d planned, and the total cost was nearly $10 cheaper than the Safeway meal.

This morning I mailed a letter to the Safeway folks. We’ll see what they have to say.

Night and Day

Prof. Sebastian DeWitt: When you were a student in the department, I could never picture you as a waitress.
Diane Chambers: Oh Professor, you’re forgetting I played a waitress in your production of "Bus Stop".
Prof. Sebastian DeWitt: Yes, I know.

Cheers, “Homicidal Ham” (10/27/83)

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The last several days, Wife and I spent more time than usual eating in places other than home.

I’m sure this happens to every household from time to time. Every now and then your schedule catches up with you or something, and all of a sudden you realize that the last four meals you’ve had spent some amount of time under a heat lamp. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often with us. However, on Friday we were kind of bushed and, despite the horrific rain, we decided to go out for dinner.

We went to Glory Days Grill in Towson, a place I didn’t even know existed until we stumbled upon it one fine evening about two years ago. It’s a typical bar-and-grill-type place, with numerous TV screens all over the place, nearly all of them tuned to a sporting event. The restaurant, like many others of its type, has a lot of hard surfaces, so it’s consequently pretty loud all the time, even when it’s not especially busy; otherwise we’d eat there more often. Presumably because of the monsoon, we were seated right away.

The waitress came up to our table pretty quickly and took our drink orders: vodka martini with a lemon twist for me, fuzzy navel for Wife. “OK, I’ll put those right in and come back for your food order,” she said.

Several minutes later she came back: she’d forgotten what our drink orders were. She got them again and disappeared.

When she arrived with the drinks, she took our meal orders. We ordered one appetizer to share and two entrées. Given the previous exchange, we should have been nervous that she wasn’t writing our order down, but we were so young and naïve then. Our drinks weren’t especially good, but that’s probably not her fault. After a reasonable interlude, our food arrived.

Our appetizer may have looked like this, who knows.More accurately, our entrées arrived. The appetizer? Nowhere to be found. At that point you don’t necessarily want it anymore, so we began our meals.

I know what you’re probably thinking: the appetizer arrived afterward, or she suddenly remembered it and offered to bring it. Nope, and nope. It was completely erased from her head. My guess is that her head passed too close to a strong magnet. In addition, her subsequent visits to her table were more like drive-bys: “How’s everything going that’s great…” She was an awesome example of the Doppler effect at work.

When we were finished, she came by and offered to clear the plates, then asked us if we wanted any dessert. We declined, and she took the plates away. Again, it was several minutes before she came back: “Would you like the check, now?” Uh, yeah.

This guy. Let me pause a moment to note that I’m not a bad tipper—18-20% is my norm, and I’ve been known to go higher for extraordinary service. (Also for breakfast. Always overtip breakfast servers, that’s my rule. I don’t know where I first picked that up, but it WASN’T “Life’s Little Instruction Book, which seems to be the #1 Google hit for that sort of thing.) I realize that these people ordinarily work pretty hard for the money. So when I leave a bad tip, I’m sending a genuine message. Here’s another rule I have: if you leave no tip at all, they can always rationalize it as my forgetting somehow, or maybe I’m like that guy in Reservoir Dogs. So, for me, bad service = bad tip. In retrospect, I’m not sure it was bad enough, if that makes sense; I left 10%.

On our way out, I asked to speak to the manager. I made a point of telling him that we waited till everything was over because we weren’t trying to scam a free dessert or anything; we just felt it was important for him to know what had happened. We also noted that all of our other visits (maybe four times/year) had gone very well; this was  definitely an anomaly for us. He thanked us for talking to him and asked us to wait a minute. When he returned, he had a couple of gift certificates in his hands. Our next meal would be nearly free. So, good on him. He didn’t have to do anything at all, and we didn’t really expect anything other than acknowledgement at that point.

On the bright side, you can probably beat them up if it comes to that. The next day I decided to surprise Wife with a day trip to the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area. We spent some time at Kitchen Kettle Village (as fine a place as any for Kettle Corn and Shoo-Fly Pie), and spent some time at the outlets (naturally). Oh, here’s a handy tip: if you see any Amish people, it’s considered bad form to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving. That’s not their gig.

On the way home we popped into the Texas Roadhouse restaurant in York, PA. There was a short wait for our tables, but what the heck: it’s Saturday night. Once we were seated, we had a waitress who was the polar opposite of the one we’d had the night before: attentive, friendly without being overly chatty, helpful with suggestions. At one point I’d asked someone (not the waitress, someone else passing by) for a new fork because the Yee-haw!tines on the one I’d been given were bent and I was getting all compulsive about it, and she was back in a heartbeat with new silverware and lots of apologies. Consequently the meal was enjoyable, the experience was great and, even if our visits to that area aren’t frequent, they’ll likely be seeing us again. And, of course, I tipped well: the two meals were less than two dollars apart pre-tip but when the dust settled, I’d probably tipped five dollars more at Texas than I had at Glory Days.

Do you have any stories of great (or not-so-great) ser
vice? Share in the comments section!

When Did I Sign Up For This?

Jay Pritchett: Where’s my good underwear?
Gloria Delgado-Pritchett: The question is, why isn’t all your underwear good, Jay? You make a nice living.

Modern Family, “Family Portrait” (5/19/10)

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I remember when JC Penney had this logo, and a store in Smithtown, NY, that had one-and-a-half floors and sold only apparel. Saturday was the day that Wife decided that it was time to go shopping for back-to-school outfits for Wee One. She specifically wanted to go to JC Penney in order to take advantage of a sale, and since only I have a Penney’s card, that meant that I was coming along, too.

We left early in the day, in order to arrive shortly after the mall opened. It’s bad enough I have to be at the mall; worse still that I have to be there on a weekend. With any luck we can pretty much get in, get clothes and get out.

I was so naive , then.

We did get to the mall early, no problem. The first issue cropped up when it turned out that, in addition to school clothes, Wee One needed to get some underwear. Specifically, she needed to get a couple of new bras. Having me there would clearly be too traumatic (for her), so I decided to just get the hell out of there and told Wife to just call me when they were done and ready to pay. I headed down to Borders Books to take advantage of their merchandise sell-off.

I was in Borders for a little while, to the point where a sales clerk offered to take my books behind the counter while I continued shopping. It was at that point that my phone rang. “I think this means I’m done shopping,” I said, and I was right. I paid for my books ($80 for about $115 worth of stuff) and headed back to JC Penney.

Unfortunately, they weren’t done. They’d gotten the bras and a couple of other pieces, but Wife thought I wanted her to call when the bra shopping was done. We (and by “we” I mean “they”) looked through a bunch of other stuff, and then Wife decided that this would be a good time to hand me the stuff they’d picked out so that they could go pick out some more stuff. This, of course, meant that I was going to be carrying the bras, still on the hanger. Being the Good Dad that I am, I immediately walked over to a nearby window and showed them, plus the other stuff that we were purchasing, to the parking lot outside. Naturally, nobody was really within sight of this window, but it was enough to freak her out: “DAD! Get AWAY from there!”

Wife, of course, was much more practical with her “The more you freak out, the more he’s going to do it” argument, but Wee One was beyond that point. “He doesn’t have to show it to the whole store!”

“I wasn’t showing them to the store,” I protested. “I was showing them to the parking lot.”

Naturally, the longer we shopped, the busier the store got until it was just so many mothers and their tween daughters, I'm absolutely convinced that they're laughing at me. These guys are in Provincetown and are probably in a gay bar, and they're still having a manlier time than I was. just milling about. I really hate it when people are milling about. Usually it means that I’m not getting to where I need to go, because there are so many people just…MILLING. And they’re milling IN MY WAY. Note also that I was surrounded by mothers and daughters. The other dads were clearly much smarter than I am, having gotten their wives their own JC Penney cards and they were all, no doubt, over in Buffalo Wild Wings, eating manly foods and washing them down with huge quantities of beer, scratching and burping and, no doubt, laughing at their memories of the guy they saw standing there in Penney’s, forlornly holding his daughter’s underwear.

I will say this: the sales staff at JC Penney, at least in the White Marsh Mall, were quite pleasant that morning. They usually are. In fact, I often to go the jewelry counter at this store for two reasons: one is the sales staff, who are invariably helpful and polite, and the other is because it doesn’t seem to matter what I buy there, there’s usually some kind of sale on the item I’m buying. I rarely go to that counter to take advantage of a sale, but when I go, whatever I pick out happens to be on sale. That’s tough to beat.

I’ve already made the call to JC Penney’s credit department. Wife’s own personal card is on its way. And I’ll be eating wings and drinking beer next time they want to buy underwear there.

Not-So-Free Wheelin’

Cleveland: I can't believe how terrible the fishing was.
Peter: Yeah, all we caught was a tire, a boot, a tin can, and this book of clichés.

Family Guy, “Fore, Father” (8/1/2000)

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A few days ago that light on my dashboard popped on, the one that tells you that there’s something not quite right with your tires. As it happened, I was close to the BJ’s (Free Air!) so I went into their gas station and topped off my tires. One of my tires didn’t look it, but the pressure inside was much lower than the other three.

Incidentally, according to my father, that’s how the tire pressure sensors work. They don’t know if a tire is “low” specifically, they just determine that one is much different from the others. So even though all four could have used a little air, it’s the fact that the driver’s-side-rear was so much lower than the other three that triggered the light.

I did a quick look at the tire but didn’t see anything. I figured, OK, I’ve picked up a nail or something and it’s in a place I can’t see. No biggie; I’ll keep an eye on it and take it in for patching when I get a chance.

A few days later (day before yesterday), the light popped on again. All right, already, I’ll get it fixed. I took the car home and jacked it up in the driveway, then took off the old tire and put on the “donut” spare. A quick look at the old tire and Oh! there’s the nail I’d picked up. Well, these things happen. I threw the tire in the back seat and headed up to my local tire guy. He took a look at the tire and told me that he couldn’t fix it.

It turns out that I hadn’t picked up a nail, I’d picked up an entire Home Depot. There were FOUR nails, plus a spot where the belt was actually poking through the tread. This was not a bald tire, by any means. It was worn a little, but still had life in it. All those nails stunned me: first, how the hell did I pick them all up? It’s not as though I go driving through construction sites all the time (or ever, really). The other thing was, how did that tire manage to hold any air at all, given all those holes? All of this damage could conceivably be fixed, but not by this guy, because the belt-poking needed a plug and they didn’t do that. Plus, there were just too many patches to be done to make the lawyers at his company comfortable. Guess I’m buying me a couple of tires!

So we go back inside and I pick out a reasonably-priced tire that’s rated for my car, and so on. Now comes the bad news: there’s only one guy in the shop, so it’s going to be awhile. Like, two hours at least. I have to call Wife and get her to pick me up. For some reason this took her over a half-hour to do, so it was forty-five minutes after I’d ordered my tires that I made it back home and started to make dinner.

Twenty minutes after I got home, the phone rang, and my car was ready. So, total elapsed time: 65 minutes. Not that I’m complaining, but Go figure. We ate dinner and Wife took me back to the shop.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but when you go into a tire store—or even the tire section at BJs or Sam’s Club—you’re immediately knocked back by the smell, a combination of rubber and whatever other compounds they put into tires. I always get the feeling that if I stay around very long, I’m not going to be able to operate a motor vehicle safely. So when I returned to the shop, I actually asked the guy, “How do you wind up not being a little stoned all day from the tire fumes?”

He told me, “Because I get really, really, really stoned before I come to work.”*

Hey, I feel safer already!

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*Obviously he was joking, and he and I traded a few bits back and forth about it being late in the day and stuff. Also, he doesn’t really notice the smell unless the tires in the display change.

Man, That’s Grate.

Bugs Bunny: [pulls out "1000 Ways to Cook A Duck"] Fillet of duck Bordelaise maitre d'butter. Yum-yum. Duck polonaise under glass. Mmm-mm.
Daffy Duck: [reading from "1000 Ways to Cook a Rabbit"] Rabbit au gratin de gelatin under tooled leather. Oh, dah-rool, drool.
Bugs: Barbecued duck meat with broiled duck bill Milanese. Yummy-yum.
Daffy: Chicken-fried rabbit with cottontail sauce braised in carrots. Mm-mmm.

Rabbit Fire (1951)

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I actually got a complaint yesterday that my posts have been very existential lately, because I’ve been working from the Emerson prompts, and why haven’t I told any fun stories like the one about the gasoline? So here’s a break in the existential action.

Yesterday when I got home I noticed a package still sitting on my doorstep, despite the fact that Wife and Wee One were already home. Why didn’t they bring it inside? I reached down to pick it up and discovered that it weighed nearly forty pounds, that’s why. Hey! My Father’s Day gift to myself had arrived!

mangrate logoSome of you know that I’m a fan of The Mike O’Meara Show, which was once a radio program and is now available as a daily podcast. (It’s still a radio show if you live in or near Coralville, Iowa.) The show is frequently sponsored by a product called the Mangrate, and between the chatter on the show, plus other positive things I’d heard, I decided that I was finally going to pull the trigger and get Mangrates for my grill. Also, I was engaging in a little retail therapy, but that’s for another post.

The Mangrates arrived in about three business days via Priority Mail (ordered Saturday, got them on Wednesday), and the only complaint I’d have about the shipping is that the tracking number they sent me didn’t work. But in the end, that’s a nit, right? If they hadn’t arrived, then I’d have a real complaint.

Because the Mangrates are cast iron, you have to season them before you can use them. I did this by spraying them with cooking spray and putting them in a 400-degree oven for an hour, then just shutting off the oven and waiting for them to cool back down to room temperature. At one point a few hours later, I opened the oven to take them out. I could touch the oven racks but not the grates, because they held the heat so well. The next day I took to the grill with my grates, and I’m just egotistical enough to have recorded it with my POS cell phone.

It just doesn't get clean unless you do the "burn it on high for 15 minutes" trick, which I think is what killed the porcelain.

So here’s my “before” grill. The top rack is really rusty, which is why I have the foil up there. The main cooking rack is porcelain-coated iron, but the porcelain has started to chip and is beginning to rust. And, the porcelain flakes are GETTING ON MY FOOD. Furthermore, there’s all kinds of crud that’s fallen through the grate onto the heat plates and to the bed of the grill. It’s a mess. The grill brush is one of three I bought this season (because they were really cheap). It’s already starting to get the bent-down, flattened bristles. The spray bottle is plain water, which I use to hose down the flare-ups. But you know what the other bad thing is about having to hose down the flare-ups? Now you have a bunch of water in the grill and you’re essentially steaming your food, not barbecuing it.

Pay no attention to the unkempt grass. These are the seasoned grates, before I put them on the grill. They’re meant to go atop the existing grate. I could have used a fifth grate; a sixth won’t quite fit.

 

 

 

 

 

That's some piece of meat. My grill, like so many others, has “hot” and “cool” spots. Part of this experiment was to learn whether the Mangrates would eliminate this unfortunate phenomenon. I put a London Broil over a “hot” area of the grill. This steak was somewhere between refrigerator and room temperature. I confess I may have put it on a few minutes early; the steak didn’t sizzle much when it hit the grate, and I was able to touch a “cool” spot near the front. So, note for the future: give it a little more time than usual to get up to speed.

 

 

I have no clever alt text for this. Move along. After six minutes I flipped the steak over (using tongs, not a fork, natch). Look at those grill marks. You can see that there’s a band where it’s a little more cooked on the outside; that’s over a gap in the heat shield. I was a little worried at this point that the heating wasn’t as even as I’d hoped it would be.

 

 

 

 

Has anyone else noticed this recent trend of making the frozen burgers irregularly shaped? Is it to make them look homemade or to make them easier to get apart? This was also the point where I threw on a frozen burger, in a typically “cool” area. I know, I’m a bad barbecue guy because I use frozen burger patties. But it’s my concession to convenience. Ordinarily, once the burger thaws on the grill I season it with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a few shakes of something called Cavender’s All-Purpose Greek Seasoning. I love this stuff. It’s tough to find in this area, but when I’m in Florida (it’s plentiful near Tarpon Springs, go figure), I usually take the chance to stock up. I may just resort to buying it online, though. I didn’t take any more pics of the burger, so let me just note that the hot/cool experiment didn’t work out so well: the Mangrates don’t really eliminate those spots, but they do provide more overall even cooking. Go figure.

cookedThe finished steak, awaiting the last couple of minutes of me cooking the burger. That’s the second side you see; I’d flipped it again putting it on the rack. Again, great marks and a little bit of heat banding.

I should mention that the London Broil didn’t have a lot of dripping to do, which is the other reason I cooked a burger. Once I moved the steak to the top tray, I moved the burger to the hot area. Remember all those flare-ups I was talking about earlier? Gone. NONE. Not a one. The burger dripped plenty (as they do), but there were no flare-ups whatsoever and—AND—the burger remained juicy throughout. I cooked it all the way to Well Done and it remained juicy without overcooking on the outside.

 

mangrate brushThe next important step in the Care and Feeding of Your Mangrates is brushing the grill clean. Remember the cheap grill brush I had before? Gone. This brush comes with your grates for free, though you pay a little extra for the shipping. I got a shot of it in my hand so you get some idea of the proportions involved. This ain’t yo momma’s grill brush. It’s also pretty good for getting dirt out from under your nails.

 

 

 

post grillingThis is the grill, after I’d brushed it down. You can see that the area toward the back is already close to the traditional black you find on cast iron. I imagine the rest of the grates will approach that color before much longer.

 

 

 

 

finished meat!The finished product, perfectly done. And while the banding (as I noted above) had me kind of worried, it was like this from end-to-end, all the way through. Everyone in the house agreed that this was all kinds of awesome steak. Except for Wife, who insists on well-done meat, so I threw hers in the microwave where it turned all gray and stuff, and it went “clunk” when it hit her plate and that was nasty.

 

 

 

So to recap, Mangrates are incredible. Go get some, now. If you’re a friend of mine of Facebook, I’ll experiment with a couple of other foods and report back there, but after one use I’m already a very happy customer. And to any Mike O’Meara fans who may have made it this far: Essadee!

Grocery Adventure

Miracle Max: There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead…well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.
Inigo Montoya: What’s that?
Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

The Princess Bride (1987)

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So on the day after Christmas, I called my mother, thinking that I could take her and my grandmother out to lunch somewhere. My mom thought that it would ordinarily be a good idea, however my grandmother had been sick the whole night before, so they weren’t going anywhere. OK, I suggest, how about I bring something in? Mom agrees to this, so I toddle off to a Publix supermarket that’s on the way over there.

This particular Publix is on Little Road in Port Richey, and your experience at other stores may vary, but I kind of doubt it.

I took the first entrance into the shopping center, because I’m paranoid about overshooting it and having to turn around, etc. This means that I’m cruising along the storefronts until I get to the general area of the Publix. At this point I have to look for an aisle to turn into so I can park, but this particular shopping lot has the cars angled one way in one aisle and the other way in the next, so I have to find an aisle that’s angled correctly for my entry point. Plus, this being Florida, the parking lot has 156,000 handicapped spaces, so I have to avoid those as well. (It turns out that my being a moral cripple doesn’t get me a placard.) My first opportunity came at the point where they have the big painted crosswalk. I also saw a pickup truck bearing down on me, so I wisely decided to let it pass before making the left turn.

This, of course, meant that he was going to make the right without signaling the turn, and of course now that I’m behind him he’s going to go at a speed of approximately forty feet per year. We pass the blue spaces (they were all occupied anyway) and he finally turns into a parking space. No, wait, make that two parking spaces. REALLY? You’re driving a Chevy POS truck and you need to protect the rust on it somehow? In fact, he wasn’t even parking in the two spaces; he was pulling through to grab another space in the next aisle that was precisely one spot closer than the one he’d pulled through (and that I subsequently grabbed).

10 itemsIn the store, the only hassle I had with getting my groceries involved getting oriented to an unfamiliar grocery store, so no complaints there. However, now it’s time for the checkout. My choice came down to two lanes: the Express Lane and a regular lane, which was adjacent to it.

Before I move into this part of the story, let me give Publix some props for their Express Lane. The sign over it actually reads “10 ITEMS OR FEWER”, which is grammatically correct. If you can count ‘em, you say “fewer”. If you can’t, you use “less”. ‘nough said.

As I said before, I had two lanes to choose from, and each one had exactly one person ahead of me. I had five items, so either one would be appropriate. However, in the Express Lane was a woman who was sitting on one of those scooter thingies, perhaps because she weighed about nine thousand pounds. She also had—easily—thirty items on the belt. And, instead of the cashier asking her which ten items she wanted to buy, she was clearly going to just take the order anyway. So I jumped over to the other lane. In this lane was a woman who was about old enough to have been Jesus’ babysitter, but she had only four items. Piece of cake, says I, and I put my stuff on the belt.

Now, her stuff is at one end of the belt, and mine is at the other. There’s at least two feet of empty belt in between. This, naturally, means that Grandma Moses simply MUST get one of those order dividers and put it on the belt between our orders. The cashier, in the meantime, has already tallied up all of her stuff, and the bagger (yeah, Publix has those) has put everything into the bag. The total cost of the order: Five dollars and eleven cents.

loose changeIt’s at this point that Jeanne Calment says to the cashier, “I hope you need some change,” and—I shit you not—completely upends a change purse into the bagging area. There’s clearly at least enough money all over the bagging area to cover the $5.11 that she needs to pay for this purchase, but all she’s interested in is the eleven cents. Gloria Stewart has already counted out the five singles and is now handing the bills over to the cashier, who counts out eleven pennies and puts it in the till with the dollar bills. Then she, and the bagger, have to scoop up all this other change and put it back into the change purse. Meanwhile, in the Express Lane, the nine thousand pound woman is cruising out of the store with her completed purchase.

This is why Florida is a great place to return home from.

It Takes So Little

Principal Skinner: Uh oh. Two independent thought alarms in one day. The students are overstimulated. Willie! Remove all the colored chalk from the classrooms.
Groundskeeper Willie: I warned ya! Didn’t I warn ya? That colored chalk was forged by Lucifer himself.

–The Simpsons, “Lisa the Vegetarian” (10/15/95)

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I don’t care if it’s a quarter-mile from my house, I’m done with SuperFresh.

One of the things I really can’t abide is the person who can’t think beyond the Three-Ring Binder, the person who’s so locked into the company mindset that they’ve rendered themselves completely incapable of independent thought.

A couple of weeks back, there was a sale on pork chops that I didn’t expect. The sale was, buy one and get another one free. I picked up four packages: two had three or four chops in them each, and the other two were larger, single chops. All of them had the “Buy One Get One Free” stickers on them. Some of them didn’t have the stickers, so I made a point of ensuring this. The other thing I recall is that I got each pair from the same shelf.

When I checked out at the self-checkout (natch), I realized that I didn’t get the discount. One package was free, but another one wasn’t. So I walked over to the customer service desk to get it straightened out.

Naturally, there was someone ahead of me, and naturally, she was engaged in something that promised to take the rest of my entire life to finish. But finally, I was able to present my problem to the customer service rep. I showed her the pairs I’d presumed would take place. She looked at the packages and called for help from the Meat Department.

If we were actually going to wait for the Meat Department, I’d probably still be there waiting now. After a few minutes she looked at the packages again, then at the register tape, trying to figure out what might have happened. Finally, she had it: “It’s in the labeling, “ she said. “It’s the way they’re labeled. This one is thick cut,” she said, pointing to one, “and this one is center cut.”

“But they came from the same place,” I pointed out. “What’s more, I think it’s pretty clear that these two chops look the same, the same way those two packages”—indicating the ones where the sale had taken effect—“look the same.” She agreed that they looked quite alike, but repeated that it was about the label, not what was inside the package.

Well, by that logic, I could slap a pork chop label on a beef steak and take advantage of the sale, right?

“No, because beef isn’t pork. The beef isn’t on sale.”

“I know the beef isn’t on sale. But if the label says pork…”

She didn’t get it. The Meat department still hadn’t arrived, so all she could do, besides decide that the two pork chops might look alike, was refund my money for one or both of the chops.

I declined, deciding to eat the cost and call it a small price for a lesson learned. “OK,” she said. “No, it really isn’t,” I replied.

See, the problem here wasn’t that it didn’t break in my favor; the problem was that this person couldn’t think beyond the party line at all and, in the absence of direction from someone else, couldn’t make a decision on her own. Let me offer up another example:

home-depot Recently, Wife and I went to Home Depot, another company with a big honkin’ corporate parent, right? Right. We wanted to buy a lot of mulch for our gardens and it turned out that the stuff was on a two-for-one sale which, unfortunately for us, ended that day. Well, we reasoned, if we get it delivered it’s not so bad because it won’t be delivered today, right? Right.

We went to the service desk and told the woman there that we wanted to buy 80 bags of mulch and have it delivered. She pointed out that the delivery cost would be $75, which would practically wipe out the sale. However, for $19 we could rent a small truck from them for 75 minutes, which they would load, and we could just take it home ourselves. But we had to do it that night because they couldn’t “will-call” (put aside) the sale item. We went for the rental and Wife went home to enlist the help of our neighbor.

I signed the paperwork for the truck and went to get the mulch, at which point I discovered that I didn’t have the receipt for it. I went back inside and asked if she could print a duplicate receipt. She was unable to but she let me use the phone to call home. Wife couldn’t find  it either. The woman then said, “Well, I can validate the sale to them for you.” That’s when I found the receipt, rendering her help unnecessary. She told me, “The truck will take a little bit for them to load, so before you leave come back in and let me know, so I can start the clock for you.” So while we were under a time constraint, this person helped ease the pressure by letting us know that the clock wasn’t running just yet.

Later, when I returned the truck, she asked me where the gas receipt was. I told her, “I didn’t get gas; I only went about a half-mile.” She explained to me that without a gas receipt, they’d have to charge me for at least two gallons of gas at $6.50 per gallon. Shoulda read that a little more closely, I should. She returned the truck in the system but something went wrong: I returned the truck in plenty of time to be charged the nineteen bucks, but the computer kept trying to charge me $69, the full-day rate. She called for help from someone.

It took about fifteen minutes for this guy to get to her and in the meantime, she dealt with at least two other weird problem customers while I stood there patiently. By the time she got back to me, she looked again at the gas charge and said, “You know what? You’ve been through enough, tonight” and waived the gas charge.

See? This wasn’t a management type who was pacifying a difficult customer; this was a front-line employee who made a decision on her own. She cost the company thirteen dollars in short-term cash but gained a customer who will remember the favor that was done for him and consequently, in the future, will choose that store over Lowe’s or even the other nearby Home Depot.

And in the meantime, my money’s going to Giant, or Safeway.

Smart Guy, That.

Ainsley Hayes: Mr. Tribbey? I’d like to do well on this, my first assignment. Any advice you could give me that might point me the way of success would be, by me, appreciated.
Lionel Tribbey: Well, not speaking in iambic pentameter might be a step in the right direction.

The West Wing, “And It’s Surely To Their Credit” (11/1/00)

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The other day I was in a Borders Express store in White Marsh. I knew that at some point soon I’d end up waiting for Wife and I wanted to have something to read. As I wandered the store looking for inspiration and wishing I’d brought my Kindle, which already has a dozen books I haven’t read yet, I came across this book:

Linchpin Mr. Godin’s definition of a linchpin is a person who is indispensible. He argues that the current business model in the world is outdated and fading fast, and not being a linchpin is essentially career suicide.

This is not a typical business/marketing book. With most of those, whatever you read will make sense as you read it, but nearly all of it will be gone from your head immediately afterward. Ninety percent of what Godin says in this book is phrased as common sense. And yet, you still have these moments of “Ah Ha!” epiphany as you read the book, moments that stay with you and which inform the way that you approach your job. Even if it’s not specifically “business” as such (as mine is), the idea of breaking some of the molds, making your own rules (especially in their absence) and turning your work into a kind of art form is liberating.

I’m still only about halfway through the book, but I already want to have Godin’s babies, it’s that good. It’s on Amazon.com for $13.99, or you can get the Kindle edition for 9.99. Or you can be a schmuck like me and plunk down twenty-five bucks for it because you’re in the brick-and-mortar store. But you know what? It was worth it.