Sunday, August 31, 2014
We’ve heard a thousand times how those crafty car guys love to upsell repairs. The car clunks, we go into the shop (Firestone, Midas Muffler, the dealership) with short hairs raised and ready to strike down any "extras" the guy with grease under his fingernails suggests. It’s all a rip off, we’re sure of it. And the continuation of their franchise is dependent on hooking us for a coolant flush. Is the existence of these snake-oil guys actually true? The truth is like Teri Hatcher’s you-know-whats on SEINFELD: they're real and they're spectacular. Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQNkeugaAMc
Last Thursday my wife found a piece of plastic hanging off her car’s undercarriage. The car is eight years old and has 125,000 miles on it. She’s already put $2,500 into it this summer, so the hanging plastic was an unwelcome sight. We took it to Firestone. They removed the part and said a replacement was required. But only “the dealer” could do the job. Next stop: the dealer. Yikes. I called the Mazda store, got the service guy on the line. Yep, he had the part. Yep, he could do the job. I didn’t even finish describing the problem and he was 100% sure they’d have it fixed in a jiff. He even quoted me: $220. Just get down here. Just come now. We set an appointment for Friday. We’d be there.
Maybe the first mistake I made was letting my wife go alone. It was a Friday afternoon and the place would be mobbed with before-the-weekend service customers. I knew that. That's how they work. But we had a quote. She’d be in and out in a half hour. The service guy said so. She showed up at 1PM and didn’t get checked in till 1:45. Off to a slow start, no biggie. Once they printed that service report and the jockey drove the car inside the double-bayed garage, they had her right where they wanted her. She was inside. She was in their clutches. Game on.
The next two hours were spent in the waiting room: bad coffee and talk-show TV. They promised the job would take a half hour. They promised they had the part in-stock. But I kept getting her texts, “still waiting,” then again, “still waiting,” then “what the f%$#!” Looking back, I think she was left to wait two hours because they were picking up her part at another dealership. They got her inside by saying they had the part in-stock. Getting her there was the key. And when they saw they had a young woman holding a Gillian Flynn novel, who surely didn’t know a spark plug from a starter, they went to work. When my wife went to check on the job at 3:35, the service manager said they hadn’t gotten to her car yet. She was sent back to the waiting room.
While waiting, she described to me the dealership hustle and bustle: the wall of offices, the big boss in his tweed coat walking through, the receptionist paging phone calls nonstop. And somewhere in the bowels of that service building out back her car was hidden. This is what it means to be at the dealer. When that door closes behind you, they have you, and they hold you in. When she got fed up and demanded her car back, they said it had suddenly been taken apart and if she wanted it back they’d have to charge an hour of labor to put it back together still broken. Her choice was pay $110.00 and the two hours she’d lost waiting for NOTHING, or keep waiting and get it fixed right. No brainer and they know that. The car hadn't been touched. I guarantee it.
When the service manager finally called her inside, he had an entirely different story. Gone was the $220.00 quote from the phone call. Now my wife needed two additional parts that were required to be installed with her original part. What are these magical new parts? What was their purpose? Jargon-jargon-jargon, say a lot of car-sounding things a woman wouldn’t understand, new quote: $550.00. He was sorry about the new quote but he wasn’t aware of the job’s total scope. He'd have it done in fifteen minutes though! Love how they adjust those repair times to fit the situation. She told him she needed to contact her husband (me) and would be back in ten minutes with a decision.
My wife called me with the new quote and I told her enough was enough. I said tell the service manager you want to file an insurance claim and have the job done at the garage our carrier uses. She took this message to the service manager and he told her she was too late. They’d already gone ahead on the job. See, she’d said ten minutes and didn’t get back to him for fifteen minutes. He saw that time lapse as her concession for the work and pulled the trigger. She couldn’t get to him because he’d left his service post and didn’t come back for fifteen minutes.
In the end, she handed the cashier her credit card and there goes $550.00, a devastating blow in late August for people like us. We’ve had a lot of crappy expenses this summer, but this one hurt bad-bad. And I’m not angry at the Mazda dealership. I’m kind of in awe. We all think the rip off happens when some lug tries pitching you a coolant flush and you smartly say no thanks, and ta-da you beat the system. The truth is so much realer and so much more spectacular than that. It’s a multi-level system that starts when the garage door closes and ends at the cashier’s office, and nobody stands a chance.
This is their game and it's evolved famously. The bigger they are the better they are. My wife with her master’s degree and Gillian Flynn book got taken behind the woodshed. And maybe it would've gone better if I'd been there. Maybe me and my Harlan Coben novel would've struck fear in them. But somehow I doubt it. We're all the dumb widow at a car dealership.
On the way out of the dealership, my wife was talking to me on the phone, practically crying about the all-afternoon beat down she’d just received. She told me there was a vending machine by the door that had unsalted peanuts, and she was sooooo hungry. When she told me she was grabbing a dollar to slide in the machine, I told her NNNOOOO!!! I’ve seen that episode of SEINFELD too. Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ks3oItDhr_E
Saturday, August 23, 2014
Has anybody heard of Gofundme.com? It’s described as the #1 do-it-yourself fund-raising website. I first learned about it last summer when a good friend was killed. The community raised thousands for his family. These days I’m seeing the program being applied to pretty minor money-raising efforts. I’m not sure this is the intended purpose of Gofundme.com.
Last week on Facebook I read two stories where Gofundme.com had been applied. Both of the following instances were self-promoted and requested that people make donations through the website on their behalf. Case study 1) a woman posted a story about her twenty-something daughter’s desire to take a trip to Australia, and from that this woman wanted people to give her money to fund the expedition.
Case study 2) A family suffered the unthinkable tragedy of having to replace a leaky roof in their home. The shameless post, offensively riddled with grammatical miscues and elementary misspellings, detailed how this tragedy was tearing the family apart, and could people send money to cover the repair work. Shaking the tin can is one thing, but this is ridiculous. And if you're going to go public can you please run a grammar and spelling check? Can you take five minutes of extra effort before pleading for a piece of my pay check?
And here’s the kicker: people are contributing to this blatant shakedown. Who would ever log onto the Internet, scroll through the animal abuse drives and cancer fundraisers etc., and dump hard-earned dollars into this insanity? Isn't everyone too busy planning the perfect ALS Bucket Video? The power of Facebook never ceases to surprise me.
Seeing the cash total on these two crap case studies tick higher and higher left me pining for the good old days of the bullied bus monitor. Remember that one-woman pity parade? Here’s a refresher. She was the elderly bus monitor who was called fat by some kid in middle school and the whole thing got caught on camera. In response she went on every talk show in the country to sing the blues and nationally unleash her list of potential punishments for this twelve-year-old child. And we rewarded her shameless self-promotion by raising $400,000 on her behalf. Let the homeless animals starve and the people dying of diabetes tough it out, I’m pledging my cash to some woman who was called a not-nice name.
I get it. People don’t have money. The economy’s in the crapper. George W. Bush ruined the US of A (and by extension the world) in less time than it took Jerry Seinfeld to finish his primetime run. But come on. Your adult daughter wants to go to Australia? You need a new roof? Where's your pride?
I see it with kids too. Every time I go to Wal-Mart, I have to dodge a swarm of Boy Scouts or Brownies or Little Leaguers at the exit doors. They build a pubescent wall between you and the parking lot and demand money. They don’t wash cars or bake cookies or rake lawns. They just want you to hand the cash over and be on your way. And if you cold-shoulder the kids, the parents who stand behind them scowl at you as you slither cheaply to your car.
Give me your money!
Sunday, August 17, 2014
My first thought when I read of Robin Williams’ suicide was something along the lines of “screw you, Williams.” I jumped on my soapbox and screamed about a world-famous movie star selfishly taking his own life. With all apologies to Dr. Drew, I don’t see suicide/depression as a disease. I see breast cancer and diabetes as diseases. So don’t tell me about tying a belt to a closet door and taking a seat. And there I go again, back on that soapbox.
Suicide is statistically an American condition. Look it up. Movie stars don’t hang themselves across the pond. Calling it a disease and/or comparing it to cardiac sickness, as Dr. Drew did this week, kind of, sort of justifies it. There’s no comparison and Williams’ wife knows that, hence the Williams family floating that (I believe) bogus angle about “the early stages of Parkinson’s.” The whole world is suffering the early stages of something. I think Williams did what he did for other reasons.
Let’s begin at the beginning. Robin Williams was on a rocket ride to the top of Hollywood, and why not? His talent and work ethic were unparalleled. He was a comedic genius. He was a kamikaze of hilarious one-liners and whacky voices. He went from playing a TV alien to a drag-queen nanny to a cartoon genie. He was pure drama in GOOD WILL HUNTING. Everybody who’s ever worked with Williams has talked about his super talent and huge heart. Robin Williams was one of the biggest movie stars in the world and beloved by generations of Americans. Then one day he woke up and he was gray-haired and 63. He'd officially entered the Fat Elvis part of his career. He couldn't give the gas from the glory days and he knew it. Nothing's sadder than Fat Elvis.
After a dramatic heart surgery to replace his aortic valve he made his long-awaited return to TV, starring in CBS’s THE CRAZY ONES. The critics raved Williams’ performance but the show was cancelled after one season. Americans didn’t care about this version of whacky Robin. It was a blow Williams publically described as “devastating.” Maybe not devastating to you and me, but a gut shot when you were once starring in movies that made 300 million. The best thing he had coming in his career was a retread of MRS. DOUBTFIRE, the film he made over twenty years ago, a lifetime ago.
To be as mega-big as Robin Williams you need to be a world-class talent AND be wired a bit differently than the guy who works the bakery down the block. Watching Williams being interviewed was exhausting. If you don’t think he was on “something” when he reeled off 88 one-liners in five minutes on LARRY KING LIVE, I got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. When you rise to that sized fame, there’s only one way to go. If Williams wasn’t the funniest, zaniest guy in every room ALL THE TIME, what was he?
In the end Williams was the same as that guy you went to high school with. You know the guy. He was the king back then. Then he wakes up one day and he’s 35. He looks in the mirror and realizes he has 80 tattoos and 60 bucks in his bank account. Then he ties a belt to a closet door and takes a seat. Some guys live for the party, need the party, thrive in the party, and when the party ends, because the party always ends, the world goes black. Bet the guy who works the bakery down the block never goes down like that.
Williams’ party was a big-screen blowout bash that lasted forty years, and Robin was the center of the show. And that’s the only Robin we wanted. THE CRAZY ONES was great, but we didn’t care. We wanted zany, crazy Robin, circa 1998 Robin. You could film fifty DOUBTFIRE sequels and every fan in the country will leave the theatre saying, “the remake is never better than the original.” That’s where Williams was in his life last Monday. He was 63. He had a cardiac scar on his chest. And the funny voices weren’t as funny as they were before. The party was over.
In this life you either evolve or die. It’s imperative to the human condition to believe that the best is yet to come. But Williams made it to the mountaintop already. You can’t get higher in this life than he got. And his final act had little to do with a brain disease. It was a career move. Suicide was his last headline-grabbing act. Zing-bing-bot, we’re talking Robin Williams again.
There’s nothing more cliché than the depressed comic who pulls a do-it-yourself job. And I’m sad because Williams deserved better than a clichéd finish. Don’t believe me? Watch DEAD POET’S SOCIETY. He deserved better. So here’s another cliché: It’s better to burn out than fade away. And Mr. Williams has been fading away since he danced with a vacuum dressed in drag, because the remake is never better than the original.
"I'm afraid if I ever grow up, I won't be able to make a living" --Robin Williams
Read More: http://pagesix.com/2014/08/17/robin-williams-sent-cancer-patient-video-message-of-hope/?_ga=1.266720782.1478628412.1407509997
Sunday, August 10, 2014
My whole life I’ve loved pizza. The first great pizza memory I have is eating a cheese pie at Papa Gino’s in Glens Falls. My father used to work short-term jobs at the Finch Pine paper place up there. My mother and I would drive north to meet him. We’d stay at the Howard Johnson’s Hotel on exit 19, my all-time favorite hotel. And one time we did Papa Gino’s on a Saturday night. All these years later, I remember eating piece after piece after piece and never filling up. Papa Gino’s and HoJo’s are long gone now.
There used to be a Chuck E. Cheese in Albany. I think it was located somewhere around the old Northway Mall. That was the setting of my second great pizza pie. There was a darkened dining room with long tables, and every so often the Chuck E. Cheese characters would rise out of the floor up front and give a thirty-second sing-song performance. I remember the pit of colored balls and the great pizza I had at some kid’s birthday party. It was perfect pizza. It tasted as good as pizza looks in the movies and TV commercials. And that's rare. That Chuck E. Cheese is long gone too.
The third great pizza of my life was homemade by my dad in November 1990 when the Giants lost 7-3 to the 49ers on Monday Night Football. I came home from school and my dad said he was taking the night off work. I saw the flour, the plastic bag of pizza dough rising, and the cutting board on the counter. And I knew. The Giants didn’t win that night but my dad’s pie was first rate. Then the G-Men got the last laugh, knocking the Niners out of the NFC playoffs that year and winning SB25. I like to think my father’s cheesy pizza had something to do with that.
This summer I decided it was time to create a new batch of pizza memories. I wanted to finally figure out what the best pizza place in the Capital Region really was. Who better than yours truly to preside over such a serious matter? After all I’ve loved pizza since Papa Gino’s in Glens Falls. And nothing says good pizza like, um, Papa Gino’s. Yes, this would be the Summer of Pizza.
While King of Queens reruns played on TV Land we plotted out our course. Rule one: Nothing in Clifton Park. Every Thursday night during the school year we order out to the CP shops, so we know them well. Cusato’s is our top spot, and like the song says, “See you in September.” This summer project would be on the road. So gas the car and let’s go.
We began the quest for #1 with a drive out to good old Averill Park, the place of my meager beginnings. First on tap: a night at Kay’s Pizza on Burden Lake. We ordered one cheese pie and one veggie pie plus a pitcher of soda. It isn’t a real pizza place unless they sell soda in pitchers. It was amazing. And that wasn’t a surprise. It was voted by Times Union readers as the area’s best. We’ll see about that.
Next on the agenda: a long sip from the Fountain in Albany. (That's a pun, people, so laugh.) We sat at the Gov. Pataki table on the raised floor in front. Remember when Pataki had surgery way back and he couldn’t eat pizza for a while after? He famously restarted his pizza eating at the Fountain and it was a big news story. So that’s where we sat. I’ve had a spotty history with the Fountain. But the food was A+ on this night, which was nice, because the service left something to be desired. (Note to owners: a waitress who actually speaks with the diners is a nice touch.) Maybe the secret to having a magnificent pie at the Fountain is to sit at the Pataki table.
When family gets together it’s time to hit the Purple Pub in Watervliet. Tradition is important. Plus, umm-umm good. What’s not to like at the PP? It’s always good. I ate seven slices of cheese and almost a full pitcher of diet coke that night. Here’s the thing with the Purple Pub though . . . you will have a pizza hangover in the morning and the mere idea of ever consuming sauce and cheese again will make you dry heave for three days straight. Maybe that’s the secret: The Purple Pub is like a great lover, it ruins you for anybody else. But four days later, I rose above my queasy tummy and went back to it. After all, this was the Summer of Pizza. I would not be stopped on July 15th.
LaBella’s Pizza in Wynantskill. I was a HS senior when this Main Ave joint opened its doors, so I like to think I have a special connection with the people there. I threw the front doors open and strode in like the King of the World. "I've returned after years gone!" I announced. And the counter crew acted like they didn't even care. Such characters down there at LaBella's. With that said, I think LaBella’s is one of the region’s best kept secrets. We did a large chees, two house salads, and soda. It was a perfect Tuesday night on the town. Total tab: 24.00 plus tip.
We decided to give the pickup scene a shout out so we did the Deli & Brew by HVCC. They advertise the best cheese and freshest toppings and claim they can cook a pie in seven minutes. Eight minutes later we were eating like royalty. Plus they have a great mac salad. Light on the mayo; tuna mixed in. Best fourteen bucks I spent all summer.
So here we are, halfway through August and summer’s coming to a close. We're running out of time to hit all the region’s top pizzerias. If the Cap Reg has one thing going for it: a plethora of great places to buy a slice. All my life I wanted to do Little Anthony’s in Albany. This would finally be the year I'd do it. But LA’s closes at 9:30PM and it was already 8:45PM when the garage door closed and we pulled out of the driveway. To the iphone for a last second audible. We ended up at DeFazio’s in Downtown Troy. It’s in the gut of the ghetto and the dining room is no bigger than a cardboard box. Then the food came out and I forgot all about Little Anthony’s.
There’s one more pizza place on the summer schedule: Publik House in Malta. We’ll be meeting a lifelong friend there this Thursday night. There’s no better way to eat pizza than with a friend like him. We’ll talk all things and laugh and have some good food. These are the glory days. And when the bill’s paid and the goodbye hugs given, another pizza memory will be made.
So which Capital Region joint delivered the best slice of pie? Guess you’ll have to hit the road and have your own Summer of Pizza. But I’ll tell you this much, we only went to one pizza place twice this summer. But I can’t tell you which place that was, o-KAY. And if you go to the same pizza place more than once in one summer--especially when it's the Summer of Pizza--that must mean something, inKAY’S you didn’t catch my drift.
The Summer of Pizza.
Sunday, August 3, 2014
I hate when people say they wish they could wake up and be rich. I wanna be rich! All my problems would be solved! I'd be so happy! It would be Heaven! To me, wealth is exactly like Heaven. People think they want it but if they actually stopped and thought about all it would entail, they wouldn’t want it anymore.
This weekend we painted the living room. It was a long, hard job and it turned the household upside down. We chose a flint blue and went to work. We taped and plastered and sanded and painted. We decided we didn’t want to wall-mount the TV anymore, so we purchased an entertainment stand and spent four hours on assembly. After the second coat went on and Springsteen pined for those long ago Glory Days from the I-Pod playlist, we decided the floor needed to be cleaned and the light switch covers needed to be updated. It was the job that went on and on and on. Price tag: $500.00.
If I was rich, the price tag wouldn’t be a problem and I could’ve hired two guys in Wrangler Jeans to do the dirty work while I played golf or lay by the pool. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Sounds kind of like--I don’t know--Heaven. But what kind of life is that really? Who cares about rounds of golf or lying by the pool? That’s not genuine happiness. It's not reality. Life is lived in the details and the sweat. Don’t you wanna leave something tangible on this planet? Of course you do. The last part of the living room job was me touching up the dinged bookcase with wood marker. Fake wood marker is real life. We earned that new room, one excruciating hour after the next.
Last night, when the living room was finished, we sat on the couch and soaked it in. It was my happiest moment this whole summer. I know every bump and angle and rough spot on those painted walls. We rebirthed that room and that’s how come we can enjoy it now. It's our baby. And because it cost us so much money and bruised knees and badly-calloused fingers, I will love it that much more. The pain is the love. There could be nothing like that when you’re rich, and life’s little problems aren’t problems, could there?
I’m not advocating poverty and I’m not an idiot. People need money in this society, I get that. But money isn’t the key to happiness. You think--oh, I don’t know--the Kardashians are happy because they have millions and can travel the world and wear the best clothes and jewelry and drive the best cars? Pop culture glorification aside, the Kardashians are the ten suckiest people on the planet. I argue they’d be happier/better/kinder if it wasn’t for the money and this phony dose of fame. Having lots of money doesn’t matter in the long run, does it? When you’re rich, the whole world’s a dollar store in a strip mall. How exciting!
Time is the most important thing in life, nothing matters more. It’s the time I want to hold on to and take care of. You can’t get time back when it’s gone. If Bill Gates offered me a hundred-billion-zillion dollars for one day of my life, I'd say no dice, sure I would. It's time, you fools, time!
The best part of our new living room is the time we spent together building it: sweating and thirsty and covered in paint. That’s what matters. That’s why that little room is my new favorite place in the world. Ask anyone who’s been hurt or widowed or whatever. Ask them what’s important. Bet you ten bucks they won’t say money. Betcha ten more they'd hand over their life savings for one more day with that lost loved one.
The other day a lifelong friend texted me and we chatted about being kids way back when. He wrote, "the good old days." I told him those days were good, no doubt, but these days right now are "the good old days," the best days, the glory days.