Thursday, July 29, 2010

Losing My Religion

Sur La Table was calling my name. Not to buy new kitchen gear, but because Lily had taken possession of a mandoline purchased a year ago as a birthday present for a friend of mine. Last year I gave the mandoline to this friend (who shall remain unnamed), but in the drunken stupor that ensued that night, I wound up with the unwrapped mandoline at my house for the next 12 months. And Lily, seeing that the mandoline wasn't moving from its hiding place in the closet, decided to put it to good use, slicing all sorts of vegetables perfectly.

I wasn't about to call her out on it, especially with a mouth full of perfectly sliced vegetables. But I knew the mandoline had to be replaced and given to its rightful owner. Which is where the trip to Sur La Table comes in.

I walked into the store carrying the same shopping bag which held the same shredded birthday wrapping paper and a few spices we gave last year. I quickly found the mandoline section, and the identical make and model. I walked over to the cash register, where I was next in line. I waited.

As is the case with most every Sur La Table, the registers sit in an island in the middle of the store. On the other side of the island from where I was standing, I noticed a white woman wearing a white turban following her toddler around the island, probably to keep the child from breaking everything in sight.

Something metal fell and made a crashing sound. But it wasn't the child who caused the crash, it was a man who I assumed was her husband: A white male wearing a white turban. He sported a huge red beard that would put the ZZ Top guitarists to shame. And the guy was NFL lineman size, as in freakishly humongous.

The man slowly made his way around the island clumsily knocking things over. A can of spatulas here, a wooden bowl there. As he made his way toward me, he reached for a green plastic cutting board and knocked that to the floor. Seeing's how I'm closer to the ground than he was, I decided to pick it up for him. He said "thanks" and proceeded to stand in line as impossibly close to me without knocking me over.

As he turned and joked about something to his lady friend, I felt myself leaning away from him at what felt like a 45 degree angle. I thought "Why the hell am I leaning over like this" so I straightened myself up, holding my ground and waiting to be smacked in the head with the next thing he knocked over.

Finally it was my turn at the register, so I stepped up and handed over the mandoline and my credit card. "I don't need a bag" I told the cashier, hoping to get out of there possibly three seconds sooner. As I was being rung up, NFL lineman guy asked if he could put his stuff on the counter, and I said yes. He put a tiny cutting board and a whisk on the counter in front of me. I couldn't help but wonder why such a large person would need to set a couple tiny things down. Too heavy for him?

The cashier handed over the new mandoline and the receipt. As I walked out of the store, I heard the crash of yet another kitchen item being knocked over. Clumsy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Running mundane errands like going into the bank makes me feel all old-timey and stuff. No direct or ATM deposits for this guy. Just walking up to the teller, handing over a check and getting a robotic human response and a receipt. That way I can rest assured my money isn't getting lost in some electronic garbage can.

But Chase Bank (my new bank that bought Washington Mutual which took over from Great Western which was the bank I went to when I closed my Washington Mutual account after I left the state of Washington) wanted to take this human interaction one step further.

I walked into a Santa Monica branch which is usually busy but was currently a ghost town. As in five tellers standing behind bulletproof glass with zero customers. I shoulda used my stopwatch to see how quickly I'd get out of there, because it might have broken a world record.

As I stood at the little island with the deposit slips, filling out a deposit slip, a man in a suit adorned with a piece of flair that read "Chase Bank" came up to me, said hello and asked if I was making a deposit. I looked up from my deposit slip and was about to say "uh, duh..." but instead told him that yeah I was about to make a deposit with these checks right here next to my deposit slip. Or something like that. He said "I'd be happy to help you with that, please come with me."

I have no recollection of why I didn't just say "No thanks" and walk up to the bulletproof glass and the tellers with nothing to do. Something about his spaced out gaze and his metered uneasy delivery was overriding my usually uncooperative nature.

This trip to his desk obviously wasn't going to put me in the Guinness Book of Fastest Checking Deposit World Records, but I went anyway. I sat down and handed him my deposit slip, check, and ID. Of course he didn't have any cash at his desk, so he had to have another employee fetch some. In the meantime, he asked me what I did for a living, which conveniently led us into a discussion of why I needed a business checking account.

Employee #2 came back and said "Here's your cash, sir" and set an envelope down on the desk. I continued telling employee #1 about why I didn't want or need a business checking account, but he interrupted me and asked "Aren't you going to count it? You should count it." His insistence made me nervous that there would be zero cash in there, so I opened it, and yes there was indeed the correct amount of money inside. But in 50s, not 20s like they do at the teller window. I knew it was a bad idea not to go to the teller. I told him "I really have to be getting back to work, so if you have any literature...."

A few more questions along the lines of "How much do you spend on groceries per month, how much on gas, how much on dining out, etc" and I knew the only way out was to politely leave. I told the employee "I have a meeting I have to get to, so if you have some literature, that would be great." He replied, "We can just do the application right now". He obviously had lost his mind somewhere, so I stood up from my seat and said "I really do have to get going now."

He pulled out a business checking pamphlet and his business card, which left a trail of white powder on his desk as he slid them across. We said our niceties, and as I left the bank, I deposited the pamphlet and his business card in the recycling bin. I saw a hand sanitizer dispenser and slathered some on. I pushed my way through the exit, leaving the tellers standing behind bulletproof glass still waiting for a customer. Perhaps I should reconsider depositing at the ATM.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Extra Width

The day had arrived. The day that would be mixed with unbelievable giddiness and unfathomable oldness. The giddiness was heading out to Palm Springs for my birthday. The oldness would be traveling there driving a minivan. When you get old, you drive a minivan. Fortunately it was only a rental.

My oldest friend in the world (not old meaning age, but old meaning how long we've known each other - since we were 10), Rob, had arrived from New York a few days earlier. Now it was time to pick up a car that could fit the two kids, Lily, Rob, myself, plus the luggage. That's where the minivan comes in.

We had decided just the night before to rent a minivan. Lily wanted to skip the added expense of a rental car, but all of us couldn't fit in our Passat wagon with the child safety seats. So we made a plan to drive both the Passat and my Golf to the desert. It sounded like it could work. But there was also the possibility that one or both cars could break down in the desert, in weather forecast to be above 100 degrees. So I made a car rental reservation online, and we were all set.

At around 10 am, Rob, Judah and I drove the Golf to the car rental site to pick up our minivan. We didn't see any minivans in the lot. Only a few cargo vans. We went inside and I started the rental process with Brandé, handing over my driver's license and credit card. I started having visions of jumping into the swimming pool in Palm Springs. Brandé told me they didn't have any minivans.

This is the part of the story where, if I were Bruce Banner I'd be turning into The Hulk and smashing the crap out of the car rental place. Instead, I opted for questioning why they didn't call me, why they couldn't find a minivan by late morning, etc. Brandé asked if I could wait a few hours until they found one, and I told her to cancel the reservation.

She handed me back my cards, and then asked if I wanted the Escalade instead. Rob and I turned to look out the window and saw a huge black Cadillac Escalade being washed in the carport. "It's being washed now, but it'll be ready in a few minutes" Brandé told us. Rob and I chuckled. "Big Pimpin" said Rob. "It's the perfect birthday mobile, so what the hell, we'll take it" I said to Brandé.

Moments later we were standing around the Escalade going over every inch of the monstrosity looking for scratches and dings. Brandé changed from facilitator to hardened businesswoman in an instant. We knew that she wasn't going to let any scratches through when we got back, so we had to find as many as we could. If there were a magnifying glass there to scan the car, we'd use it. The scratches we did find turned out to be just smudges that would wipe off easily. And soon I was signing the papers to be responsible for the Escalade and driving off the lot.

As I turned onto my street, I noticed stares from the neighbors and got a few jabs about the ridiculous factor. We loaded up the rig and got onto the freeway. It was fun figuring out all the bells and whistles: the navigation system, the USB hookup for music, and the seats with air conditioning inside. It was a comfy ride, albeit a tad unwieldy.

When we arrived at the Viceroy Hotel in Palm Springs, handing keys over to a valet seemed a lot more dicey than usual. The act made me regret not paying for the loss/damage protection at the rental place. But each time we needed the car, the Escalade came back unblemished. I made sure to tip the valet well.

And after the birthday shenanigans were over and we arrived home safely from Palm Springs, we drove the Escalade and the Golf back to the car rental place. As I attempted to make the corner to enter the lot, another renter was driving out. The driver saw me and my huge car and drove very slowly and very closely to make it around the Escalade. "This is where the car gets dinged, right outside the rental joint" I thought. But the other car made it around. I carefully steered around the other cars and found a clearing for the behemoth. I put it in park and breathed a sigh of relief.

Brandé helped us again, and she thoroughly scanned the car for any new damage, but there was none. She asked if the trip was fun. She handed over the completed rental agreement and told me "Happy Birthday".