Wednesday, May 25, 2011

WAS I SPEAKING ENGLISH?

I’ve always thought I’d pretty much mastered the English language, but the other night I had some serious doubts about my ability to communicate.

It all began when my husband and I were heading home from shopping and he decided he wanted a couple take-out subs from his favorite pizza/sub shop.
He is strictly a carnivore, so his subs are pretty easy to order – plain meat, plain cheese…and no veggies whatsoever.

I ran into the sub shop and placed the order for him. “I’ll have two subs to go,” I told the girl at the counter. She looked young enough to still have been playing with Barbie dolls a month ago. “One plain steak and cheese, well-done, with nothing on it but extra mayo; and one cheeseburger sub, also with nothing on it but extra mayo.”

She just stared at me. “You want lettuce and tomatoes on those?”

“No, just plain,” I repeated. “My husband hates vegetables.”

“You said steak tips, right?” she asked.

“No, just plain steak. Steak tips are marinated and he doesn’t like seasoning.”

She took my money, then told me to have a seat and they’d call my number, number 28, when the order was ready.

So I took a seat and waited…and waited. People came in and ordered large, loaded pizzas and left with them. Families ordered pasta dinners, sat down and ate them, and left. By then, I was pretty certain the cook, who looked as if he didn’t even shave yet, was running around out back somewhere, trying to lasso a steer for my husband’s subs.

Finally, after 25 minutes, one of the employees asked me, “Are you all set?”

“No,” I said, “I’m still waiting for my order, number 28.”

She went over to a shelf of bagged take-out orders and said, “Oh, here it is! I guess it’s been here for a while!”

Needless to say, I wasn’t pleased. I grabbed the bag and left.

We had driven about five miles toward home when my husband asked me, “Do you smell onions?”

If there’s one thing he hates, it’s onions. He claims they smell like a men’s gym locker after everyone’s had a 4-hour workout.

I checked the slip stapled to the take-out bag. It said the bag contained a Greek salad and a steak-tips sub with no mayo and extra onions. When I broke the news to my husband, he looked as if I’d just told him he needed to have his gallbladder removed. So back to the sub shop we went.

The minute I stepped inside, the girl at the counter said, “I tried to catch you before you left, but you were already driving off!”

By then, my expression probably told her I wasn’t exactly in a bubbly mood. “So where’s my order?” It came out sounding similar to a low growl.

She handed another bag to me. This one had slip that said it contained a cheeseburger sub with extra mayo, and a steak-tips sub with extra mayo.

“I didn’t order a steak-tips sub,” I told her. “Steak tips are marinated and my husband doesn’t like anything that’s seasoned.”

At that point, the manager, probably because she’d heard my voice rise a few octaves, approached and asked what the problem was. I explained to her what was going on and she said to the employee, “Get me some rubber gloves.”

With surgeon-like skill, the manager dug into my husband’s subs. I wasn’t certain what she was searching for, but she neatly dissected the contents of each, as if she expected to discover buried treasure in them. “So,” she finally said, “what’s wrong with the steak tips?”

By then, I was ready to ask for my money back and tell my husband he was shut off subs for life.

“I want just PLAIN steak!” I snapped.

She clearly looked offended. “There’s no reason to get upset!”

“Gas is nearly $4 a gallon and I had to drive back here!” I said. “I’d say that’s one good reason!”

“I’ll personally make you a steak and cheese sub myself,” she said. “So the cheeseburger sub was OK?”

“Yes, that seems to be fine. All I need now is the steak and cheese sub – plain, with extra mayo. No vegetables!”

“Would you like some onion rings with that?” the young female employee chimed in.

I couldn’t help it, I laughed.

Finally, I was given a bag with two subs in it, along with a $10 gift certificate and an apology.

“Would you like a free drink with that?” the manager asked.

“Diet Coke or Pepsi would be nice,” I said.

She handed me a big 2-liter bottle of diet Coke.

When my husband and I finally got home, he immediately unwrapped the subs, probably because he was on the verge of fainting from hunger by then. “You’re not going to believe this!” he said.

I looked at the subs. One was a steak and cheese and the other was a steak tips and cheese. The cheeseburger sub had disappeared. I was beginning to think the darned steak tips were possessed.

My husband fed the steak tips to the dogs and then verbally mourned the loss of his cheeseburger sub for the next 3 hours. I finally told him that the next time he wants a sub, I’ll make one for him.

Heck, I can’t do much worse than the sub shop did.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

MYSTERY OF THE BIG-TIME LITTERBUG

The country road I live on makes a complete circle, so when I take my daily walks, it’s nice to be able to start and my house and end at my house without passing the same scenery twice.

And my walks are always scenic – wildflowers, birch trees, a small frog-filled marsh, and hawks circling overhead. But about a year ago, something new was added to the scenery.

Tires.

They appeared overnight. As I set off on my daily walk, I came to the first tire lying on the edge of the road. It was huge, like a race-car tire, just lying there in the sunlight. A few yards down the road was another tire, a much smaller one, like a motorcycle tire.

As my walk continued, so did the tires, along with a few raggedy old inner tubes. The final count was nine tires and two inner tubes.

“I can’t believe someone would come up here to toss out their crummy old tires!” I said to my husband when I came home from my walk. “Such a nice country road and they make it look like an old tire dump!”

I grabbed my car keys and headed toward the door.

“Where are you going?” my husband asked.

“I’m going to go pick up the tires and make our road pretty again!”

“And exactly what are you going to do with the tires once you pick them up?”

I hadn’t thought about that. I wasn’t even sure exactly where old tires went to die. I knew it wasn’t the town landfill, and I was pretty sure there had to be a fee associated with getting rid of them, no matter where it was.

“Well, I can’t just leave them lying there like that!” I said. “They make our road look like one of those go-cart racetracks lined with tires!”

Not knowing what to do with the tires, I decided to leave them where they were for the time being, even though they really bugged me. I didn’t even want to take my walk the next day because I knew I’d have to look at them, and I’d have an intense desire to track down the person who’d dumped them there…and deflate him.

Still, I ventured out on my daily walk and cringed in anticipation of getting closer to the first tire. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw lying there. More tires! The used-tire fairy apparently had paid another visit overnight.

That did it. I rushed home and called the local police station. “I’d gladly pick up the tires myself,” I told the officer who answered, “but then what do I do with them? I’m not about to pay a disposal fee for someone else’s junk! And isn’t littering a crime?”

“Gee,” the officer sounded puzzled, “we never have any problems up in that neighborhood. But I’ll head over there and check things out.”

I didn’t hear anything else from him, but the next day when I went for my walk, I was delighted to see no sign of the tires. No longer did the road resemble a NASCAR pit stop.

During my walk, I happened to meet a young couple who also were out walking. They started talking about the mysterious appearance and disappearance of the tires.

“Well, I called the police,” I told them. “That might have had something to do with their disappearance.”

They stared wide-eyed at me. “You really called the police?” the guy asked. His tone made me feel as if I’d done something really shocking.

I nodded. “And I’d still like to find the culprit who did it! I’m thinking maybe we should nail an infrared camera with a motion sensor to a tree or something, in case he comes back!”

I made a mental note to stop watching so many crime shows on TV.

Over the winter, no more tires appeared, so I figured that was the end of them. But a couple weeks ago, I took my dog for a daily stroll and suddenly stopped dead. There, along the sides of the road were small, large and extra-large tires!

I shouted, “Noooo! Not again!” so loudly, I made the dog jump.

I tried to ignore the tires and not let my blood pressure skyrocket, but every time I spotted another one, I wanted to track down the creep who’d done it, stuff him into the biggest tire and roll him down the hill.

Every time I took my walk after that, I glared at the tires. A few days ago, however, I noticed they were stacked in neat piles along the road instead of helter-skelter as they’d been previously.

During my walk, a guy on a motorcycle pulled up next to me. It was the young guy I’d told about calling the police last year.

“I just wanted you to know I stacked the tires closer to edge of the road,” he said. “I thought if they were more visible, maybe someone, like the trash collector, might pick them up.”

I wanted to tell him that first of all, he’d left his fingerprints all over potential police exhibits (here I go again with the TV crime shows), and secondly, even if he stacked up the tires and stapled dollar bills all over them, they’d probably still be lying there in the 23rd century.

But the next day, all of the tires mysteriously disappeared.

So where did they go? Did the trash collector pick them up? Did the police come by and take them away? Did the guy who’d dumped them get a guilty conscience and come back for them (oh sure, Sally)? And will more tires continue to appear in the future?

I’m definitely going to save up for that infrared camera with the motion sensor.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

WHO'S THE REAL DING-DONG?

I don’t know why, but my husband has always been fascinated with doorbells. When I asked him why, he said it’s because it takes a real ding-dong to appreciate another one.

One family we used to visit had the Westminster chimes for their doorbell, which he loved so much, he’d use any excuse to go over there and ring it. I, however, tried to avoid visiting this family during the winter months because by the time their doorbell played its entire tune, my lips were frozen to my teeth.

I remember when we bought our first home and the doorbell just went “ding dong,” how disappointed my husband was. He said he wanted something unique, something classy, something that would make the people who rang it say, “Wow, now that’s a really cool doorbell!”

My father told us he’d seen this gizmo somewhere that could be hooked up to a doorbell and programmed to play up to 50 different tunes, such as Christmas carols, birthday songs, and even “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.” As a surprise, and probably to stop my husband’s complaining, he bought it for us for Christmas. The problem was, this was before the age of mass computerization, so the doorbell had to manually be programmed for each different tune by connecting certain wires to certain other stuff in the mechanism.

When my dad presented the musical-doorbell gift to us, my husband took one look at the instructions and immediately got a deer-in-the-headlights expression on his face.

“Don’t worry,” my dad said. “Just let me know which song you want first and I’ll program it for you, then I’ll hook it up to your doorbell.”

After much deliberation, my husband chose (no big surprise) the Westminster chimes.

Three weeks later, my dad still was trying to program the darned gizmo. And every time he tested it to see how the Westminster chimes were progressing, the tune sounded so bad, even the cat covered its ears.

Shortly thereafter, the musical doorbell mysteriously disappeared from my dad’s workbench, never to be seen again. Although, I still suspect that the hole he was seen digging in his garden one night probably wasn’t for some really big tulip bulbs as he’d said it was.

I hate to admit it, but I was the one who bought the doorbell for our new house. I know my husband was hoping I’d come home with something that played Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, but I was penny pinching at the time and grabbed a doorbell that was on a half-price clearance table at the hardware store. And for the decorative box that covered the mechanism on the wall, I selected another half-price item, a plain oak one.

The guy who was doing the electrical work on our new house back then installed the doorbell for us, but we were too busy moving into the place to pay much attention to anything else. So it wasn’t until the house was completed and we were all settled in, that we heard the doorbell ring for the first time…when a guest came to visit.

“Bzzzzzzz! Dong! Clunk! Bzzzzzzz! Dong! Clunk!”

My husband and I just stared at each other. It was the worst sound we’d ever heard – kind of like a giant bee getting clubbed to death.

“What the heck was that?” my husband asked.

“I think it was our doorbell,” I said.

“Why on earth would you buy something that sounds that bad?”

“Well, I couldn’t very well test it out when it was still in the package in the store, could I?”

“Even your father’s out-of-tune Westminster chimes sounded better than that!” he said.

So for over a year, my husband gritted his teeth and rolled his eyes whenever someone rang our doorbell.

Last week, my aunt and uncle came to visit. When they rang the doorbell, my husband groaned and said, for about the 150th time, “I really hate that doorbell!”

My uncle heard his remark and being a talented jack-of-all-trades, said, “Let me check it out for you. It doesn’t sound right!”

He grabbed a step stool and removed the decorative wooden box from the doorbell’s mechanism, then started to laugh. “Whoever installed this, installed it upside down! It’s probably donging when it should be dinging!”

“What about the buzzing?” my husband asked.

“Well, unfortunately, I think that’s in the transformer.”

My uncle re-installed the doorbell in the correct position and then went outside to push the button to test it.

“Bzzzzzz! Ding Dong!”

“Hey! At least we have both a ding and a dong now!” I said.

My husband still looked less than pleased that it wasn’t playing something like Bohemian Rhapsody. It obviously was going to take much more than just a long-lost “ding” to ever make him truly happy about the doorbell.

Maybe I should sneak into my dad’s old flower garden and start digging. I have the sneaking suspicion I just may find that doorbell gizmo with the programmable tunes.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

ALWAYS HIRE THE GUY IN THE MIDDLE?

Last week I decided the time had come to paint our front porch. It was built two years ago and has had enough time now to cure, or whatever it’s supposed to do, so I figured it would be nice if it finally matched the rest of the house.

I had planned all along to paint the porch myself, but my leg, which I still can’t bend due to an injury, put an abrupt end to that idea. So I decided that unless I wanted the porch to look as if someone wearing a blindfold and drinking a fifth of vodka had painted it, I’d better hire someone else to do it.

There is this online service I’ve used a few times, Service Magic, that finds five-star rated businesses to do just about any kind of work you want. All you have to do is tell them what you’re looking for and what town you live in, and they personally select at least three businesses to contact you.

I decided I’d see if Service Magic could find a good painter for my porch. First, however, I thought I’d better get the porch’s dimensions. So I grabbed a tape measure and headed outside to measure it…at 2:00 in the morning.

The floor of the porch has little gaps between the boards that allow any water on it to drain. The minute I stretched out the tape measure and laid it across one of the long boards, the first 10 inches of tape turned sideways and slipped way down into one of the gaps. When I tried to yank the tape back out, the little metal nub on the end of it tightly wedged itself between the two boards.

I pulled, yanked and tugged, but the tape measure wouldn’t budge. Frustrated, I went into the house, grabbed a butter knife and then viciously attacked the tape measure with it.

By the time I finally got it loose, the thin metal of the measuring tape had more kinks in it than my hair on a humid day.

I took a rock from the small stone wall I’d built next to the porch and plunked it down on the end of the tape measure to secure it so it wouldn’t fall into another crack. My final porch measurement was 33 feet long and eight feet wide, with seven-foot posts. Due to all of the kinks in the tape measure, however, I wouldn’t have staked my life on the accuracy of those measurements.

Still, I figured I had enough information to enter on Service Magic’s online questionnaire. It was 6:55 in the morning when I finally e-mailed my request to them for a painter. My phone rang at 7:00.

“Hi!” the voice said. “You’re looking for someone to paint your porch? When do you want me to come over and take a look at it?”

I was almost too shocked to speak. Finally, I asked him where he was. I half expected him to say he was sitting in his truck at the end of my driveway.

“I’m in the Dover area,” he said. “But I can be there within an hour.”

“I haven’t even been to bed yet,” I said. “I was up all night measuring the porch and un-wedging a tape measure.”

I arranged for him to come over the next afternoon. The minute I hung up, the phone rang again. It was painter number two from Concord. I told him to come over the day after the other guy.

One more painter called, but later that day. I was pleased that three painters had called because someone once told me to always get three estimates for a job and then dump the high guy and the low guy and keep the guy in the middle.

The painter from the Dover area showed up the next day. “I don’t like your yard,” he said the minute he stepped out of his truck.

I narrowed my eyes at him for insulting my yard.

“It slopes right toward the house,” he explained. “Whoever excavated the land did a poor job. I’ll bet you have a basement full of water all the time.”

I frowned. “Well, let’s just say I have to keep an inflatable raft at the top of the stairs.”

“I have to apologize for my appearance,” he added.

I looked at his crisp, clean dress-shirt and pants and wondered why he was apologizing.

“I’m a painter,” he said before I could open my mouth. “I should have my painting clothes on…with paint all over them. I’m not supposed to look like an office manager!”

I wouldn’t have cared if he’d shown up in a dress and high heels, just so long as he was a good painter at a reasonable price.

He checked out the porch, asked me a few questions about stain colors and paint, and then told me the job would take a little less than two days and cost under $500. I thought that sounded pretty reasonable.

The second guy came over the next day and said it would take four days and cost $1,400. I was beginning to get confused.

The third guy came over to check out the porch and said he’d have to do some research on the costs of materials and get back to me with an estimate.

If his estimate turns out to be something like $1,450, that will mean the $1,400 guy will be the middle…at a whopping $900 higher than the lowest guy. And if I stick to the advice to hire the middle guy, then technically I’ll have to hire him.

Well, all I can say is to heck with hiring the guy in the middle. I’m going to hire the cheapest guy. And if the job ends up looking as if someone wearing a blindfold and drinking a fifth of vodka did it, at least I’ll still have $900 left to fix the mistakes.