Recognized Social Butterfly


Sweet Incompetence

The other day, I went to Walgreen’s in Honolulu to pick up a couple of medications. There were only two people ahead of me in line, so I figured that my wait would be minimal. Not quite.

At the counter, a crabby old woman was intently addressing a young female pharmacist assistant, presumably about a prescription. I couldn’t hear the conversation, but the increasingly bewildered assistant was trying to negotiate with the increasingly dissatisfied customer.  In agonizingly slow motion, the assistant gleaned information on the phone, raked through the computer, and then huddled with fellow workers. Ultimately, the customer did not get any medication. Instead, having to settle for a slew of junky toiletries, she left in a huff.

 At least ten minutes elapsed since I had entered the aisle. I sure hoped that next transaction would be less prolonged. After all, I was supposed to soon rendezvous with my wife, who was finishing a bit of shopping at a nearby Wal-Mart.

Unfortunately, another long delay ensued.  The next customer ever so delicately handed to the assistant a prescription that he had been clutching as if it were the Holy Grail. She perused it for a few moments, tossed a strand of hair out of her eyes, and then pondered what to do. Finally, she informed the man that she couldn’t fill the prescription because his wife’s I.D. wasn’t on the form. But the man was not to be deterred. He stomped his feet, flailed his arms, and demanded the  medication. The assistant, shaken and subdued, robotically (and ad nauseam) repeated the regulation. The husband finally realized that he had to go home empty handed. As did the previous customer, he also barged out of the aisle.

Two brouhahas in a row! Now it was my turn. Luckily, in the meantime, I found out that my wife would not be expecting me right away because she had more errands to run. But I still had to face the bedraggled and bedeviled pharmacist’s assistant. And I am not a patient man.

At first, things went well. She told me that I could renew my almost expired Walgreen’s discount drug card at a surprisingly low price. I took the bait but soon regretted it. No matter how many times she struggled, she couldn’t find me listed in her computer. Frustrated with how clueless she was—I have had the discount card for five years in a row and have not changed my home address or my name since then—I plunked down my driver’s license in front of her. She stared at it for a while before rekeying the information, mumbling to herself my address. Then I knew what was wrong. She left out the word ‘Live” before Oak Street.

After I apprised her of her error, she regained some composure and then asked for my date of birth. Instead of telling her to look at my driver’s license—I didn’t dare take that chance again—I recited clearly and unequivocally when I was born. Anything for a super discount, eh?  However, minute by minute, she inaccurately transcribed this bit of data into the computer: thwarted, she sheepishly implored me to repeat my birthdate. When I did so, she figured out that she had reversed the last two digits of the year in which I was born. Eureka!

However, the renewal process wasn’t yet complete. She needed my wife’s birthdate as well. By this point, I felt like shaking some sense into the pitifully inept young lady. But I persevered. And I’m glad that I did. When I mentioned my wife’s birthdate, she lit up. Wow, she exclaimed that she too was born on the same day in the same month. From then on, she became so animated and so alert that she correctly filled out the rest of the discount form and without a hitch retrieved and rang up my prescriptions. I had made her day. And despite all of her earlier miscues and miscalculations, I will remember her fondly.


Through a Lens Darkly

The optical factory that has repeatedly sent me faulty prescription sun glass lenses for my blurry cataract-ridden right eye has done it again. My optician keeps apologizing for having to send back these defective lenses that were either inaccurately beveled or insufficiently and improperly coated.

Now there is another problem. The last lens I received is twice as dark as the one for my left eye. But that discrepancy is not as unnerving as bifocal misalignment. Seeing in the distance is fine, but reading is more of a challenge. Intermittently, the words appear to be slightly floating along the page. Sometimes, I am able to ignore this distraction. Other times, I get so flustered that I switch to a pair of handy but cumbersome and easily scratched clip-ons. Until I return home in March when I must once again consult with my local optician about a defective lens, I will wear my prescription sunglasses for distance and my clip-ons for reading. And if I am in a sufficiently shady nook, I’ll remove the clip-ons altogether.

Because I am always trying to simplify my life, I wish that I didn’t have so many options optically—none of them optimal.

Corruption on Main Street


When I was a new employee at a Southern community college, I had a run-in with a salesclerk at a TV/radio/music store. I noticed that some budget record albums that I wanted to buy cost twice as much as the manufacturer's list price. Wanting to correct this discrepancy, I approached a female salesclerk. Instead of appreciating my interest, she pounced on me, baring her fangs. What right did I--obviously a Yankee--have to question her company's pricing policy? She then told me to get out of the store and never return. I was so outraged that I sent a letter to the state attorney general's office about the price gouging ("nothing but nasty money grubbing") and my encounter with the abrasive clerk ("an ill-tempered, belligerent young lady") About a month later, I received a reply. Attached to my original letter were the attorney general's stern comments to Mr. Hawk, the store owner. If the budget albums weren’t correctly priced and if the sales clerk wasn't at least reprimanded, the AG would notify the Better Business Bureau. Vindicated at last!

 But my elation was short lived. The next day, the irate store owner called a good buddy of his, the president of the college, branding me as a troublemaker. The president then demanded that I go downtown to apologize to the man. Deflated and sick to my stomach because my job might now be threatened, I drove way over the speed limit to see Mr. Hawk. I didn't apologize as such; I very tactfully restated my concerns but admitted that my language in the letter was a bit inflammatory. Mr. Hawk seemed to soften somewhat, but he nonetheless urged me to write another letter to the attorney general, stating that the record pricing had been rectified and that the sales clerk had been dismissed. I willingly complied. After all, I would finally get what I wanted, even if I had to suffer the wrath of some good old boys in the process. After a week, Mr. Hawk complimented me: the AG decided not to cite Mr. Hawk for fraud; what is more, the Better Business Bureau did not need to know of my complaint. Everyone was relieved.

Yet that's not the end of the story. I still felt uneasy dealing with Mr. Hawk, so I went elsewhere to purchase a few off-brand albums at the appropriate budget price. Curious, however, the next week I browsed through the record section at Mr. Hawk's store. Well, I saw red. The budget albums were still selling for the same exorbitant price as before. Mr. Hawk wasn't in, not was the sales clerk whom I had earlier confronted. Instead, I found a new employee who looked so innocent and sweet that I lost my resolve. Instead of expounding on my dissatisfaction, I pleasantly said hello and walked away. I let go of my bitterness. I was sure I would have plenty of opportunity to contend with someone else over another issue at another time. And as my letters to the editor transcribed elsewhere in my journal indicate, I never ran out of grievances.




I am a relatively patient man. But last Tuesday, I came close to exploding. My house at the beach periodically needs to be sprayed for roaches, termites, and other pesky vermin. Terminix was supposed to send someone to debug my house and check the termite traps between one and two o'clock a couple of days ago. When no one came by four o'clock, I decided to stop pacing and contact the company. The woman I spoke to was a disaster. First of all, I had trouble understanding her because she swallowed her words and had a thick accent--two liabilities for a receptionist. After I told her that the exterminator had not yet arrived, she put me on hold for a few minutes while I had to listen to a mishmash of prerecorded Terminix anti-bug propaganda. When the receptionist got back to me, she said that Bill had called in sick that day, and all other service people were too busy to spray my house that afternoon.


 Three things bugged me about her response: she called me "Ma’am" three times, she mentioned that the appointment was to have been between "two and one o'clock" {?}, and she was unconcerned that no one had told me that I couldn't be serviced that day. I complained about being left in the lurch--I could have waited all afternoon without getting a call from the company.


When I was younger, I would have insulted the receptionist for her poor enunciation, her indifference, and her overall stupidity--particularly after hearing some more "Ma’am’s." But I was polite enough to hang up before cursing her. As I have grown older, I have become more diplomatic; I have managed not to blurt out my anger. I have taken a long leave of absence from righteous wrath--at least on the phone. But give me an anonymous format, and I turn back into the hothead of the good old days.



A Bad Day at Wal-Mart, But All's Well That Ends Well


Yesterday at Wal-Mart, I boarded the frustration express on a hot, excessively humid day.  When, without a receipt, I tried to return a jumbo-sized, unopened, unneeded container of calcium tablets (eight dollars' worth), the customer service employee told me that all I could get was two dollars for it.  That absurd price reduction was unacceptable, so I went back to my car, fuming, dripping with sweat as I dumped the container in the trunk.


My next exertion was to pick up some prescriptions I had ordered a week ago. But I soon encountered my second setback at Wal-Mart. Instead of the usual 68 pills (my insurance company allows 4 extra pills per month) for a 60-day period, the pharmacist allotted me only 60 pills per prescription. I protested the discrepancy, and after I had waited and waited for the salesclerk to confer with her superiors, she explained that the pharmacist had to start from scratch for me to get the proper amount of pills, a process that would take at least fifteen to twenty minutes--or as I have experienced, about a half hour in real time.


So I bit the bullet and decided to do some grocery shopping in the meantime. Some fruit was on sale. I spent at least ten minutes carefully selecting 30 firm, unblemished plums and peaches. Then I located the last four containers of my favorite frozen soy burgers.


Boy, it looked like my luck was changing. I still had some time left before picking up the prescriptions: why not shop for some much needed shorts for my upcoming trip to Hawaii? I left my cart next to the men's clothing racks while I tried on a few pair of shorts, none of which fit me. Frustrated again, I went to retrieve my cart. Trouble is, it had disappeared. My diligent searching was in vain. Someone stole my treasured fruit and veggie burgers! {Only last week at Wal-Mart, someone ran off with my cart containing heaps of vitamin pills--I was getting my blood pressure checked at the time.} I complained to the sales clerk at the dressing room; she speculated that because I had left the cart unattended for a long time, an eagle-eyed Wal-Mart employee had no choice but to return the items, some of which were perishable, to their respective bins: that was the policy. Now I would have to again laboriously pick through what was left of the plums and peaches; and if someone else purchased the soy burgers, I would be desolate without my soy protein fix.


Well, my outing at Wal-Mart had a happy ending. I found plenty of acceptable fruit and the four soy burger packages. My prescriptions were ready and filled properly. And I found a check-out aisle with no one ahead of me. I learned some lessons that day: when ordering prescriptions, I will specify how many pills I am entitled to. When returning goods, I will make sure that I have a receipt. And I will ask a sales clerk to watch my cart or sequester it if I have to leave it unattended.


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Recognized Social Butterfly



Miscommunication Junction


This past week, my wife and I ate at L and L, a small downtown Honolulu eatery staffed by Asians with fairly thick accents. I ordered my favorite, a salmon burger with tomato; I made it clear that nothing else should be added to the sandwich. The woman at the counter nodded slowly and repeatedly, as if she were trying hard to comprehend my instructions.  Inexplicably, before entering the order, she asked me if I wanted a little bit of salt: a bit taken aback by this odd question, I tentatively said okay.


When the salmon burger arrived, I examined it for unwanted condiments. What looked like mayonnaise was lightly smeared on the bread. My wife explained that it was tartar sauce. Whatever it was, I had no use for it.


I told our waitress about the mistake, assuming that she’d get the cook to at least wipe off the goo and get me another roll. In a moment, she returned with the mishandled sandwich, assuring me that I got exactly what I had requested. I politely restated my objection.


She left; soon the woman who had taken my order came to our table. She didn’t understand my complaint. I wanted some sauce; and there it was. With growing frustration, I said that I agreed to a little salt, not a few dabs of sauce. She then pointed to the sandwich and once again, this time more emphatically said the word sauce.

And then it hit me. Her pronunciation of sauce sounded to me like the word salt. What an unsettling revelation!


As I began to apologize for my error, she too became aware of the miscommunication. She chuckled a lot, gave me a big smile, took back my by-now soggy sandwich, and personally delivered to me a sauce-free salmon burger, grinning all the way.


I think that she believed my explanation instead of taking it with a few grains of salt. In any case, it turned out that she agreeably obliged me, as she should have. It was a good customer-relations move: the next time I crave a salmon burger after a day of R and R in Honolulu, I’ll have no qualms about getting one at L and L. And I’d like to think that if I encountered the same woman who took my order last week, she would recognize me and welcome me with her good-natured smile. 


Cashier the Cashier?

The other day, with a fistful of receipts, (my wife and I have hundreds of them in regard to remodeling and outfitting our condo), I returned lots of items to various stores in Honolulu. Most of the time, the receipt squared with the purchase. If not, the check-out personnel pleasantly offered me a store credit. But the cashier at T.J. Maxx was not so accommodating.

After examining and re-examining my receipt for a dish rack, she frowned and shook her head as if I had committed an unpardonable sin. Then she firmly stated that because the receipt did not match the item, I definitely could not be given a refund. When I offered my Master Card to confirm that I had recently purchased the dish rack, along with other items on that same receipt, she, in an unequivocally brittle voice, refused: I was not entitled to a refund. Case closed! The implication was that it was time for me to move on.

I, however, would not accept this outrageous dismissal. I couldn’t understand why the surly cashier didn’t match my credit card to the purchase and then at least offer me a credit. That would have been the appropriate thing to do, the responsible thing to do. But she balked. I guess that she didn’t want to bother. With these thoughts spurring my indignation, I demanded a credit. Grudgingly, she abided by store policy:  “I guess I can do that.” As if to punish me, she took her time getting to the register and reluctantly gave me a gift card for the ten dollar item. As I put it in my wallet, she abruptly turned away from me. I wondered if she were planning how to intimidate another unsuspecting customer.

I would have liked an apology, even a token one. But she obviously felt no guilt: she took rudeness to the max.


Miscue at the Marketplace

During the past few years, I have spent hundreds of dollars at Yogurtland before or after working out at the next-door Waikiki 24-hour Fitness Center. But recently the yogurt that I crave has begun to irritate my stomach, so I just ask for the rigorously monitored two sample thimbleful cups per daily visit. I have never had any stumbling blocks until last week. A new employee, a stone-faced young man, offered me only one serving cup. When I told him that I wanted another one, he said “no: that’s all you’re allowed because you don’t buy any yogurt.” I was stunned: how does he know my MO? I had never seen him before. From whom did he get my profile? Why was I singled out? Have all of the workers been told to cut my rations in half? If so, would I be completely blacklisted if I objected to this new policy? Or was he acting on his own?

Throughout the next week, I didn’t encounter the yogurt Nazi; the other cashiers cheerfully gave me my two little samplers. I was relieved to get back to normal.

Today, however, my nemesis was back. We were the only ones in the store, and it was high noon.  He again offered me just one sampler. Instead of being humbled or humiliated, I did not capitulate. Although I scrupulously try to avoid conflict, this time I retaliated. I told him how extravagantly often I had paid for yogurt until it began to adversely affect me, but a little bit of it now satisfies me. And if he continued to perversely withhold from me the second sampler, I would notify the management. Then I stared at him with as much menace as I could muster. Maybe he accepted my justification, or he was cowed by my tenacity.  In a moment, he grudgingly appeased me. Delighted that I was vindicated, I immediately got two dollops of my favorite yogurt, a luscious confection of praline and pecan, accompanied by a well-deserved adrenaline rush.

As I walked up the escalator to the Fitness Center, I noticed that my arms were shaking. Luckily, it was an off day for weight lifting, but I had no trouble riding the stationary bike—all the while convincing myself that it was my inalienable right to pursue my two daily portions of life enhancing yogurt.

After more reflection at home, I regretted my unruly behavior. The cashier might have been overly vigilant, but I acted like a fatuous bully. I will apologize to him the next time he distributes samplers. In fact, I should be thankful that Yogurtland indulges me at all. Ah, the folly of entitlement!



Perspective on Perspective


Last week, I bought lots of bananas. As the salesclerk was ringing up my purchase, she said that she didn't like them: they were too yellow and obviously mushy. I looked at her as if she were nuts. I could find only one banana that even remotely looked yellow. All the other ones were mostly green and so firm that I'd have to wait a couple of days before even daring to eat them. If two people can have such diametrically opposite opinions about the color and consistency of bananas, what are the chances that anyone can agree on anything more substantial; for example, how can we overcome the financial mess our country and the world is struggling with?



Misperception is Sometimes the Name of the Game

On the way to Duncan, BC, my wife and I stopped at a coffee shop called Serious Coffee. I couldn’t find a plastic stirrer for my wife’s mug, but I did see a bunch of silverware spoons in a metal container. The one I picked was a bit smudged, so I reached for another one. It too was smudged. I figured that the dishwasher had done a lousy job.

When I had my wife examine the spoon, she explained that all of the utensils in the container that I chose were used spoons and were labeled as such. I turned the container a bit and then saw the writing. My wife was right.

Okay, but then where were the clean spoons? I didn’t see any of them. My wife, ever so patiently, pointed to another container at the other side of the countertop. When I had picked out the smudged spoon, I had seen another container, but it didn’t appear to have any spoons in it at the time. Now they were filled with spotless spoons, and the container, if you twirled it around a bit, was labeled “clean spoons.” 

I was misled at Serious Coffee. For the future, I suggest that the management put a bigger and longer label on the spoon containers so that it is obvious which one is used and which one is appropriate to use. Also, it would be a good deed to refill the clean spoon container as soon as it is emptied—seriously.






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Recognized Social Butterfly



Ah, the Mechanics of Things

The first CD player I purchased 22 years ago was a bare-bones Philips model that cost about $100.  The most recent CD player I bought last year was a super sophisticated Bose wave system that cost about $1000. Both sets went kerplunk, the Philips just after the warranty expired, and the Bose just a week after it arrived. The first indication that the Philips was flawed occurred when the tray started to creak loudly when I inserted and ejected a disc. The next day, the disc spun erratically when I pressed the select button, activating the ERR warning signal that flashed repeatedly. I immediately took the machine to a repair shop. I was told that a couple of major components were defective and that replacing them would cost about $100. I was so disgusted that I could see myself demolishing the Philips with a sledgehammer. The store manager, sensing my anger, asked me to check the warranty. Perhaps the player was still covered; so there still might be some hope.

When I got home, I discovered that the warranty had expired three days earlier.  I was hopping mad: fate was screwing with me, and I had no choice but to submit. My wife, however, had a plan. Why not contact Philips' customer service department? Tapping into my experience in teaching business writing courses, maybe I could convince Philips to waive the lapsed warranty because glaring manufacturing errors inherent in the player--not anything that I had done--had caused it to self-destruct. I agreed that I'd give it a try, but I first needed some time to decompress. When I had regained my composure, I wrote a carefully crafted letter to Philips about my plight. I soon received a reply. Much to my surprise, Philips admitted that despite its scrupulous quality control standards, occasionally, "failures can occur." Even though the warranty had expired, "as a one-time customer relations gesture," Philips would free-of-charge provide the parts required to repair my unit. Labor costs would be my responsibility. This compromise seemed reasonable enough. I ended up paying only $40, and the CD player worked flawlessly for over ten years.

Replacing the Bose system was much easier and cheaper. At first, the wave system worked magnificently, flooding all the rooms in my house with full, rich sound. But I soon realized that I had a major problem when the screen indicated that it couldn't read any disc that I tried to play.  I was appalled that such a superior product could break down so fast or, in fact, break down at all. Even my old Philips had lasted longer. However, this time the warranty was still intact. All I had to do was notify Bose by phone (a cordial two-minute procedure), rebox the player (not too tough, even for me), send it off (a cinch), and wait for a new one to be delivered (that was the hard part). Luckily for my nerves, within a week I had a new player that has so far operated without a hitch.


A Rip-roaring Mess at Food Lion

A couple of days ago, I found some plums on sale at Food Lion. I pounced on them, rounding up at least a dozen plump ones. As I was beginning to check out, I gave the cashier my MVP card. She scanned it, glanced at the plums through the transparent cellophane and then entered a price that was double what it should have been—the discount wasn’t showing. So I reminded her that she needed to make sure that she plugged in the correct number tag on the plums. She peered at the plums again, clicked on the register, and out popped the wrong price once more.

Either the cashier made a mistake, or the plums were mislabeled. Seeing that I wasn’t in any rush to press the “yes” transaction button, she tried to contact her supervisor, who was busy with other customer concerns. My complaint would have to wait.

In the meantime, the line behind me was getting longer and a bit unruly. But I didn’t waver: those succulent plums meant a lot to me, especially at 98 cents a pound. Eventually, her boss arrived. She too was mystified until she realized that the number stamped on the plums was identical to the one for the not-on-sale peaches. With this inaccuracy finally detected, the supervisor instructed the cashier how to give me the discount. This process altogether took about fifteen minutes. At my age, wasting time is not an option I relish.

Today, I go back to Food Lion for more plums on sale and for some packages of seafood: Gorton’s two-for-one frozen tilapia and salmon. The plums ring up correctly, so does the salmon, but the tilapia shows no discounted price. I recognize the cashier—she is the one who floundered along with me in the earlier plum incident. I don’t think that she is thrilled to see me again in a similar predicament. After double-checking, she asserts that the tilapia must not be on sale. Is this “Groundhog Day” revisited? I salivated when I saw the two-for-one signs at the Gorton seafood section. There is no mistake. I am not in the midst of a senior moment; I am right on target, and **bleep** it, I will not be denied. The cashier soon locates a customer service person who fiddles with the register and proclaims as well that the tilapia is not on sale. When I firmly but respectfully disagree, the young lady strolls to the seafood freezer to see for herself. It takes her about five minutes to do her research—while some disgruntled shoppers behind me file to another line and new ones replace them, unaware that they too may be delayed. The customer service lady emerges (she wasn’t out of breath) with potentially bad news for me. She cannot find any two-for-one tilapia sale—that special applies only to the salmon.

However, I am not deterred.  With most of my reserves of tact depleted, I am still able to persuade her to accompany me to the frozen fish compartment. Let the people in back of me fend for themselves; my sanity is at stake. In a moment, I point at the sale sign: next to a variety of tilapia is written “Two for One.”  The young lady apologizes for her oversight, dashes to the cash register, fails to make the adjustment click in, gets flustered, and begs me to pay the full price for now: she will reimburse me at the customer service desk, where she would feel more comfortable with the transaction. Incompetence incorporated! What is the problem with Food Lion? Two consecutive times in one week, the register misfires and their employees are clueless.

But I’m not done with the story. When I get to the customer service desk, the young lady asks me how much one package of tilapia costs—she can’t figure it out from the receipt. I blurt out $3.99—a reasonable estimate. She confesses that she can’t afford the time to scrounge around for out the exact price—so $3.99 will be fine. I don’t care if she is inexperienced or just burnt out. I cheerfully pocket my refund and cart off my much-sought-after tilapia, thankful that I am not indeed losing my mind.


An Assist in the Eye of the Storm

I recently purchased new lenses for my glasses because the cataract in my right eye is progressively blurring my vision. Even though I know that a stronger prescription cannot for long counteract the deterioration in my right eye, I still want to see as clearly as possible. And at least for a while, a sharply focused lens should give me that opportunity.

But there was a snag. After putting in the new lenses, my optician asked me to read the eye chart while covering up my left eye. The letters, from the third row down, were surprisingly indistinct. As I started to complain, the optician told me that considering the extent of my cataract development, nothing more could be done. I ought to tolerate the prescription as is.

For about two weeks, I obsessed over how much better I could see out of my left eye than with my right eye, particularly when I was driving. Along with my skewed depth perception and generally poor judge of distance that gets worse at night, adding a sliver of distorted vision only increases my witch’s brew of anxieties.

Eventually, with a nudge from my wife, I returned to my optometrist for a second opinion. I didn’t expect him to see me right away; he is booked months ahead. Before I had a chance to glance around the waiting room, a middle-aged female assistant appeared, ushering me into an office area to give me a battery of vision tests. With a very pronounced (and faintly familiar) New York accent, she explained to what degree the prescription was faulty. My right eye needed a 2.75 correction instead of the current 2.25. She then consulted with the optician next door. After scrutinizing my lenses, he too was convinced that I needed a stronger prescription.

Buttressed with this information, the no-nonsense assistant made sure that I got an appointment scheduled within a week—and she assured me that any local optician would honor, at no extra charge, a “doctor’s reorder.”

When the optometrist later examined my eyes, he agreed that the 2.75 correction would offer me clearer vision when I was stationary. But there was a catch—the differential between my left and right eye would be so great that I might have difficulty coordinating both eyes when I was moving about. That’s why he was so conservative in his original prescription. His caveat notwithstanding, he agreed to write me a script for a more powerful lens. I was elated. All might yet be well.

Before I left the building, I saw the same assistant who had previously befriended me. Suddenly, I recognized where I had seen—and heard her—before. Years ago, she was the exceptionally well informed, cordial receptionist at my former optometrist’s office. Was that why she had been so kind to me and so helpful? Was that why I had been fast-tracked at the appointment desk? I’d like to think that she would have been that solicitous to any patient in my position. In any case, I thanked her for what she had done for me, and she said she was glad that I was on the right track.

As it turns out, with my revised prescription, my vision is markedly improved, whether I squint or sprint. I will always fondly recall the optometrist’s assistant who diligently steered me into the light at the end of the tunnel. But, of course, without my wife’s encouragement, I would still be constricted in the bowels of the tunnel, grumbling and growling with self-pity.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, sometimes it takes at least two women from a village to enlighten a man.



Last night, my wife and I went to a new Italian restaurant called Bella Mia. After we got situated, a very pleasant young waitress took our order. We got water and rolls in a few minutes—but without the olive oil that we had requested. Then we waited and waited and waited some more. The place wasn’t that busy, so where was the food? Finally, the waitress came over and asked us if we wanted our check.  What check? We hadn’t even gotten our appetizer, let alone our entrées. She blushed and profusely apologized for her oversight. She said that the orders were so backed up that she was a bit disoriented. In any case, we again asked her for the dipping oil and a new batch of rolls. After my wife and I had exhausted all of the small talk that we could muster, the rolls came, but not the oil.  Perhaps the olives were still being harvested in the back room of the kitchen. Everyone around us—even those people who came in after we did—had been served. They looked so jolly, and we enviously eyed their platters filled will heaps of pasta with aromatic sauces.

Where was our food? What was our offense? Why were we being ignored? Neither man nor woman can live by rolls alone. Just as our patience was unraveling, the food came. All of it, including the elusive dipping oil. Even though the long anticipated meal turned out to be delectable, I wanted to punish the inept waitress by giving her a measly tip. At that moment, she reappeared. With an ingratiating smile, she told us that because of our being so much inconvenienced, the meal was on the house.

And I had wanted revenge! Instead of shortchanging her, I left her a very generous gratuity (Scrooge that I otherwise am); and my wife, feeling sorry for her, gave her a farewell hug. What a strange evening: Mama Mia at Bella Mia.  


Bus Stop Blues

Even though my wife and I have had some trouble with bus regulations in Paris, this evening we opted to go home on line 94, one of three lines at the bus stop that we walked to.  Right away, we saw bus 94 approaching, but it didn't slow down. I waved my arms trying to get the driver's attention. He glanced at me but just kept on going. After I shouted a few obscenities, two other people at the same stop waiting for another bus line explained to me that I didn't properly flag down the bus driver. Arm waving is ineffective because in France, it merely means hello or goodbye. The proper way to get the bus driver to stop for you is to point your index finger at him and wiggle it up and down. These people weren't joking. My wife and I, on the other hand, couldn't believe that such a screwy hand signal was de rigeur.  More likely, the bus driver might have ignored me because I appeared to be a tourist with my wind breaker, my extra-large back pack, and my Wilson cap (from what I have seen, Parisian men and women rarely wear any kind of hat).

Getting back to wiggling. A young lady coming late to the bus stop wiggled her finger--and her figure--at the line 27 bus driver who had at first gone past the stop but slowed down half a block away to make sure he could accommodate her. My wife and I were too indignant to stay at that bus stop. If we had remained, the middle finger might have been the only one that we would have displayed rigorously.


A Small Triumph

As an English instructor, I am dismayed when I see misspelled words in public (what a shocker if I'd forgotten to insert the "l" in that word). I either inform the management of the error or, if I have access to my red pen, I make the correction myself. Most of the time, I succeed in righting these grievous affronts to our language. But occasionally, I get rebuffed with a vengeance.


Once while my wife was trying on dresses in a department store, I noticed that there was a large sign nearby that said "Seperates." Automatically, I saw the mistake: the word should be spelled "Separates." I didn't have my red pen at the time, so I located a salesperson to voice my concern. Boy, did I meet my match! She was seething with indignation: "No one cares how the word is spelled; that is our business. And stop browsing around the ladies' clothes racks or I'll call security."


Before I could respond, my wife came out of the dressing room with four expensive outfits that she wanted to buy, gave me a lingering hug, and asked the now-embarrassed salesclerk to ring up the purchases. The woman, who was on commission, got real cheery; she even smiled. In fact, she profusely thanked me for pointing out the spelling error and assured me that the manager would put up a corrected sign that afternoon.


What a hypocrite! The salesperson's about-face showed how two-faced she was: anything for a buck, eh? Although I was sickened by her false transformation, I kept quiet. I'd do anything to protect the purity of the written word. But what if the salesclerk was just trying to humor me? I had to know the truth, so I reconnoitered the dressing area the next day. I was elated to see the sign spelled accurately. My intervention had paid off after all--even at the expense of depleting my pocketbook.


The other day, my wife made lunch for us and the grandchildren. The main course was soy crumble meal starters combined with various plain veggies. I always enjoy these unexciting but nutritious crumbles--whether I prepare them or my wife does--but the meal was awfully spicy, so much so that the kids ate very little of it. My palate was burning, but I suffered through the ordeal, not wanting to embarrass my wife or have her harass me for complaining in public. When we were alone, however, I did mention that the food was too strongly seasoned. She had no explanation; I knew, well at least I hoped, that she wasn't trying to torment my taste buds. She must have inadvertently added some extra flavorings.

 Tonight, after my wife was elsewhere, I heated up a new package of crumbles with a slight amount of onion and garlic powder, a smidgen of salt, and unseasoned noodles. **bleep**! The stuff was as ferocious as the last time, eating away at the roof of my mouth. Because I hate to waste food, I finished all of it, all the while regretting that I didn't dine out as I had earlier intended.

I figured that Morningstar must have changed its recipe, taking the joy out of my soy. Dejected, I rummaged in the freezer to see how many new and unimproved meal-starter crumbles remained. I immediately found four of the six packages that I had recently purchased. Front and back, they were identical to the crumbles that I was used to. So what was the origin of the mystery ingredient that I found so distasteful? That nagging (and gagging) question was soon resolved when I examined the last two crumble packages. At the bottom of the front side were the words "sausage style"; otherwise the layout was the same as in the original crumbles. Then I checked the ingredients listed on the back and eventually found the culprit: chicory root! That was the root of the problem.



At Wal-Mart, I recently purchased many cans of your "Double Q" skinless and boneless wild Alaskan salmon. Each one of them had lots of irritating tiny bones. If you say that your salmon is boneless, it should be boneless, no? Although the price of your salmon was lower than competing brands (gram for gram), I will never buy your product again--unless your deboning process does a better job. The other companies don't have any detectable bones in their boneless canned salmon. Your misleading advertising discredits Peter Pan Seafoods, Inc. Yes, I have a bone to pick with you. Please investigate; your integrity is at stake.


Ads--the Better to Frustrate You With, My Dear Shopper

I hate it when a store lures you in with a sales brochure proclaiming “15% off qualifying purchases including regular, sale, and clearance items storewide all day at Macy’s.” Of course, the key word is qualifying. If you read the fine print, look what is not included: “everyday values, specials, super buys; designer shoes, handbags, and sportswear; cosmetics; fragrances, watches; all electrics and electronics; furniture; mattresses and area rugs; flatware.” And then, we are given a list of over 30 clothing brands that are also excluded. What the hell is left to buy that is 15% off?



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