Saturday, April 23, 2011

Safari Car Salesman

The other day my wife and I went out shopping for a car. I was thinking about a Jeep because it's very basic, nothing fancy or gimmicky about a Jeep, a no nonsense kind of vehicle. It does what a car is supposed to do, get you to your destination without all the overindulgent extras which, frankly, I find embarrassing and confusing. None of those little clicker things to start the car; real keys for a Jeep. If Henry David Thoreau were alive today and he needed a car, I'm almost certain he'd chose the simplicity of a Jeep. And they're made in America by good old hard-working auto workers in Ohio.

So we paid a visit to Randy's Wrangler Land, as pitched on late night TV by the always enthusiastic Randy with his cowboy hat and his endearing liquid speech mannerism, encouraging viewers to "wasso a deal at Wandy's." I secretly applaud him for having the temerity to appear on TV, dressed for a rodeo, all the while knowing he sounds like Elmer Fudd, so I'd promised myself that one day, in honor of Randy's unabashed pluckiness, I'd purchase a car from him.

It appeared to be our lucky day: it was Wrangler Round-up Day, and Randy was there to emcee the festivities. There was free beef jerky and coffee for everyone at the "chuck-wagon" (a cafeteria table with a cactus plant), and to top it off, a lanky guy with long sideburns and a black cowboy hat was performing rope tricks on the hour.

We were met in the showroom by a stout fellow whose every step was a swaggering dare to try and knock the imaginary chip off his shoulder. He wore khaki shorts, a khaki shirt with epaulets, and a safari hat; ready to bag some big game. He shook my hand and squeezed it like he was trying to get lemon juice out of it. He said to call him Safari Duke. My wife whispered how pleased she was to meet an actual Duke, regardless of the adventure, while I was trying to decide if we were on a round-up or a safari, but I let it go, figuring any costume is better than none at all.

Right away he asks what we do for a living. My wife tells him she's an art teacher. Then he jumps into this whole story about how he's an art teacher too. He teaches martial arts, and goes on to explain how he can throw a guy like me over his shoulder and twist my arm and have me yelling "stop" in a matter of seconds. To which I casually mention that he could urinate on my shoe and get the same effect with much less trouble. The Duke was not pleased and got a little red in the face, and it was all too apparent his day would be complete if he could not only make a sale, but practice some of his martial arts moves on me.

I tell him that I want a Jeep because it's the kind of car an Amish family would drive if they bought cars. Then he puffs his chest out and tells us that this is the car that won the big one, WW Two. "A Jeep has guts," he says, and continues, "Those Amish, they don't fight, do they?" My wife tried to explain that when they don't like someone, they shun them. Then he says everyone in his martial arts club abides by a code of strength, leverage, and unbridled patriotism, and they all have Jeeps, and offers to arm wrestle the both of us for a big discount. I suspect this is just a ruse to make me look bad and hold my wife's hand. Or maybe he'd let me win and make me feel like I'd gotten a discount when, in fact, I really hadn't. Either way, I wind up looking like a goof. Besides, I'd absentmindedly left my safari hat at home, a big disadvantage.

Then he points outside, "That's my rig, the one with the over-sized tires." And I'm reminded of the old addage, "big tires, little feet; little feet...," but I erase the thought and, instead, ask about the free "Color Me Beautiful Makeover" with the purchase of a Jeep, and he doesn't think it's funny but offers to take us on a test drive in the big mud pit out back. Feeling that the offer is more like a threat, we decline. Then he brazenly implies that maybe we aren't Jeep people. "Jeep people," he says, "Make up their minds in a hurry and support the old red, white, and blue." But I tell him that I'm just a flush toilet shy of being Amish; I don't even like power windows and would just as soon have the roll-up kind. My wife pulls my arm and begins to walk away, and The Duke asks where she's going.
"Shunning," she says, just as the rope trick guy is warming up.

So we're sticking with our present car for now, but I would have liked to have stayed to see the rope trick guy. His name was Lasso Larry from Laredo, and Randy was just about to introduce him as we walked out the door.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Reenactment

"The Grey Ghost rides," words I hadn't heard in decades. And there he was, Ray "One Toke" Tribble, waiting in line at Happy Foods; a big smile on his face, extending his arms to give me a big how-you-been hug. "Where you been, man," he said. "We all figured you stayed in California after the bust. What a trip. You gotta hook up with us for the reenactment next week; the guys'll flip out. It'll be the original crowd. We meet every year. Me, Koon, Buggs, Gooby, Panda, and now with you, Hooper, it's complete! The Grey Ghost rides!"

No one's called me "Hooper" in many years, a name bestowed upon me by a well-meaning elderly couple who mistakenly thought it was the term for "hippie." The anointment happened while waiting in line to pay the cashier at Scott's Diner; the elderly man turned to his wife, pointed at me and said, loud enough for everyone to hear, "Look, it's one of them hoopers!" Ray's ebullience at the off-the-cuff proclamation was as infectious then as it was now about the reunion, so I agreed to being a participant in the reenactment. I knew a little about the Civil War, and had heard about these events, but mostly it seemed like an enjoyable way to reconnect with some old pals and maybe learn a little American history.

Before departing, Ray said to meet at noon on Saturday in the parking lot of the Hot Dog King, our old teen-aged hangout (which was now a Shoe Carnival) and was very emphatic that everyone dresses for the period. "Look for the Ghost. It's been completely restored," he said. The Grey Ghost was Ray's 1948 Plymouth sedan, a thirty-five dollar junker with suicide doors, a back seat big enough for a horse, and a grey paint job so badly faded that it appeared to be the ghost of a car. It was big and round, almost cartoon-like. Some people mocked it and called it "The Egg," but to us, it was The Grey Ghost, our proud, uncool wheels. Unbeknownst to us at the time, The Grey Ghost was the name given to a leader of a small band of rag-tag Confederate soldiers. Coincidentally, the moniker couldn't have been more fitting; the six of us were an assortment of hopeless misfits who happened to find each other in a high school filled with highly-driven over-achievers. Even an amateur fortune-teller could have predicted the bunch of us juggled futures befitting most carny-folk.

Ray got the name "One Toke," because he was responsible for driving, and sometimes, when he'd had more than a single toke, the Ghost could be found the next day, parked in a vacant lot or at the Hot Dog King, waiting to be retrieved by a refreshed, tokeless One Toke.

The anticipation of the reenactment colored my every day, wondering how the guys turned out and if I'd fit in with their Civil War pursuit. I didn't want to appear uninformed, so every night was filled with studying about the war, and I made a concerted effort to rent a proper period uniform. When asked by the clerk at Arley's Fantasy Costumes, which side, North or South, I hesitated for a moment before answering, "South." After all, there was a connection (however unintentional) to the Confederate General, John Mosby, The Grey Ghost. And frankly, I never believed for a moment that a geographic line through the country separated those who cared for the rights of Black people and those who didn't. And besides, I was going as Johnny Reb, in honor of those dirt-poor Southern boys who never owned a slave nor had any intention of owning a slave, but got caught up defending their small patches of ground.

By Saturday morning, I was transformed into Johnny Reb. Sporting a slight Southern accent, dressed in a full, action-ready Confederate soldier uniform, complete with a battle sword strapped to my waist, I headed out, ready to lay down my life at the Shoe Carnival. And there, in the far corner of the former Hot Dog King parking lot, sat the Grey Ghost, in the same spot where it could have been found on any given Saturday night many years ago. My sword scraped the pavement as I approached the car, and as I reached for the door handle, out popped all five guys: One Toke, Buggs, Gooby, Panda, and Koon, a bunch of rag-tag looking hippies in tie-dyed t-shirts, fringe jackets, and bell bottoms. There was lots of dude, how-you-been's and welcoming hugs and offerings of alcoholic beverages. Then finally, the question: "Hooper, dude, what's with the uniform, the Civil War's been over for a hundred and fifty years!" followed by heaps of laughter.
My Southern accent quickly dissipated into the embarrass-phere, "One Toke said this was a reenactment, and I came prepared to be historically accurate."
Koon, usually not the benchmark of diplomacy, said, "Yeah, it's a reenactment, a reenactment of our big bust, right here on this very spot. Remember, the weed, the beer, the cops, or has your service in the Civil War clouded your memory!" Again, a round of laughter.

Yes, I did remember the bust, the first, but not the last, smudge on my permanent record. And now, the photos of us posed around the newly restored Grey Ghost, five hippies and one Confederate soldier, serve as evidence of how time passes but friendships are not forgotten. Long live The Ghost.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

One Number Off

For six years, I've been one-number-off. Danger Dan's Army Surplus store has a phone number that is one digit different from mine. There's a world of dyslexic dialers who constantly call and ask for directions, prices, and discounts; you name it, if it's related to Danger Dan's's inventory, I've heard about it. Saturday mornings brings the misdialers out en masse. Often, even after I've told them they have the wrong number, they continue with their requests about the cold-rating of the sleeping bags and the capabilities of the gas-masks.

After six years of offering the correct telephone number and sometimes assisting customers with directions to the store, my patience was growing thin, especially with the callers who chose me to complain about the quality of the merchandise at Danger Dan's. I mentioned my problem to Dan (who seemed more salesman-slick than dangerous), and he suggested I change my number. I informed him that I've had the same number for twenty-five years and occasionally get a thank-you call from Brenda Lee (in response to the practical gifts I send on her birthday; she loved the tube socks). And once, I got a return call from Connie Stevens when she had that TV show selling jewelry. I've mentioned, on numerous occasions, to both of those lovely ladies that I'm always here for them. And I'm not risking missing their calls by changing my number, should either one feel the urgent need to speak to me late at night. Dan was unsympathetic and offered nothing more than a shrug of his slippery shoulders.

Early one Saturday morning, a surly fellow called and woke me with a staccato of expletives, pushing me over the sleep-deprived edge:

--Me: Hello?
--Caller: Your kayak is sh*t!
--Me: I don't have a kayak.
--Caller: Of course you don't, you know how f***ing bad they are!
--Me: What if I told you you don't know how to dial a phone?
--Caller: I'll come down there and stick this phone up your ass!
--Me: What kind of Kayak did you buy?
--Caller: The inflatable rescue model.
--Me: What's the problem?
--Caller: It takes forever to inflate, and it's too slow. I got passed by a duck.
--Me: Well, when motivated, ducks can paddle like the dickens.
--Caller: No f***ing duck is gonna pass me! I want my f***ing money back!
--Me: I understand completely. Pack up the kayak, paddle and all, bring it to the store, and you'll get everything that's coming to you.
--Caller: I don't want some f***ing store credit!
--Me: At Danger Dan's, the customer is king. In fact, let me make a note to make you a "Danger Dan's Diamond Customer."
--Caller: What the hell is that?
--Me: A Diamond Customer has the right to return anything for a full refund, regardless of how long you've owned the item.
--Caller: I have some f****d-up hiking boots that are a few years old.
--Me: Pack 'em up with the kayak.
--Caller: What about the tent I bought five years ago. It has a big-ass rip.
--Me: Every purchase is guaranteed for life for Diamond Customers. Bring in the whole kit and caboodle.
--Caller: Do you expect me to find a f***ing receipt for the tent and boots after all these years?
--Me: Sir, you're a Diamond Customer. Your word is good enough for Danger Dan.
--Caller: I'll be right f***ing over.
--Me: Don't forget to ask about "Camo Gal."
--Caller: What the hell is that?
--Me: It's the ultimate camping companion, a life-size inflatable girlfriend, perfect for those long camping trips when loneliness can get the best of an outdoorsman. And it inflates quicker than that kayak, I can guarantee you that.
--Caller: No f***ing way!
--Me: We are required to keep Camo Gal behind the counter, so you'll have to ask for it when you're at the store. There's a model with heated lady parts that's very popular with ice fishermen. It's UL approved, so don't worry about that. Right now, it's on sale.
--Caller: I'll be right over!
--Me: You're the kind of customer that makes us pay attention to quality. Thank you for shopping at Danger Dan's, and don't forget to ask for Camo Gal. If she doesn't work out, she's f***ing returnable.