Thursday, June 24, 2010

Perfectly Annoying Storm

Sebastian Junger, the guy who wrote The Perfect Storm, was on The Daily Show recently. He was there to push his new book, which is about the war in Afghanistan, but all I could think about was how this one guy has done something that very few of us could ever hope to do: infuse our language with a ubiquitous phrase.

The "perfect storm" that Junger writes about in his book is a confluence of meteorological events that lead to the storm of the century. Literally. Like, in a hundred years, you won't see so many phenomena happen simultaneously to create such a "perfect storm."

We now use that phrase to describe any unusual confluence of events: a perfect storm of stress, a perfect storm of holidays, a perfect storm of footwear needs.

I really wanted Jon Stewart to ask Junger how he feels about this use of his phrase.


I had my own perfect storm this week. And it was actually precipitated by a real, literal thunderstorm.

In a week when:
  • I have matches in all three of my summer tennis leagues (Mon, Wed, Fri)
  • I'm playing in a tournament this weekend. (I only play one or two tournaments a year, so this is a rare event.)
  • Wimbledon is on my TiVo. (Wimbledon only takes place two weeks of the year.)
  • I have a night class next Monday, which means I already have to reschedule a match from my Monday night league. (It's my only night class of the summer.)
  • I already have to make up a missed match due to thunderstorms last week
  • I have to be the substitute captain for my mixed doubles team this week. (The only time all summer I have to do that.)
  • I'd already had one match keep me up past my bedtime this week: a sweaty three-set affair in humid 90-degree heat. After 2.5 hours of play, my opponent had to retire due to leg and hand cramps. (I was up 4-0 in the third set, so he was going to lose anyway.)
  • Starting next week I will be out of town nine out of ten days, going on two trips. The one day I am in town, I have a league match scheduled.
  • The tennis center where we play our matches doesn't have any indoor backup this week because of a tennis camp for kids. Usually they reserve the courts for us in case of rain, but not this week.
In a week when all that was going on, my match last night was interrupted by a thunderstorm. It's something like the ninth thunderstorm we've had over the past two weeks. The weather report on Monday read this like this: Today, showers and thunderstorms... Tuesday, showers and thunderstorms... Wednesday, showers and thunderstorms. As King Kaufman would say, do you see a pattern there? Me neither.

So with all this going on, I have to figure out when to finish my match. We're currently at 4-3 in the second set. (I'm down, 6-7, 3-4, but I'm not out. Not yet.)

The really funny thing is how life is imitating art. Or imitating larger life. At Wimbledon yesterday an astounding match was played. In the fifth set they don't play tiebreakers at Wimbledon. So until someone is ahead by two games (6-4, 7-5, 8-6, ect.) you keep playing. The first one to six usually wins, but sometimes they'll go long, like 9-7 or 10-8. Any score past ten is very rare.

Yesterday a match was stopped due to darkness when the fifth-set score was 59-59. That's not a typo. Fifty-nine to fifty-nine! That's almost a hundred games longer than any match EVER played. They played for nine hours without a victor.

So it was kind of fitting that my little unresolved match happened on the same day. Maybe it adds to the perfect storm of coincidences.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Not My Friend

The dealership that sold me my car keeps wanting to be my friend.

They send me birthday cards. Christmas cards. Thank You cards after I bring my car in for service. If I go too long without an oil change, they'll send a Miss You card.

Just yesterday they sent me a joyous letter. They want to give me, as a loyal customer, an unprecedented opportunity. (Their boldface.) If I bring the letter in to them by this weekend, they will give me the price on a new car "we normally reserve for our employees!" (Their exclamation.)

Prices are well below any ever advertised. This event will not be advertised to the general public. Seriously, you can save thousands of dollars! ... But, you must bring this letter to do so!!
(Actual quote with their overblown sense of excitement.)

Isn't it great how companies will go out of their way to convince you that buying their product, giving them your money, is always an incredible opportunity? Like you've just won the lottery? Like they're doing you a favor? Maybe the Nigerian email scammers are not so unusually sleazy after all. They're just running with ideas that "legitimate" businesses employ every day.


Look, Toyota dealership, stop trying to be my friend. I already have friends. Plus, I don't like you. You're obnoxious, pushy, manipulative, and come across as desperate.

I've never understood why people get bent out of shape when a corporation or institutions treats them "like a number." I want to be a number. When my bank asks for my account number and a photo ID, it puts me at ease. I know they're not going to mix me up with someone else. There might be other people with my name, but only one account has my exact number. I don't need to get my social needs met from my bank or government agency or grocery store. I have Facebook for that.

For business transactions, I want to be anonymous. Just another face with a number.


I spent a few hours in the waiting room of my dealership recently. I hate it hate it hate it there. Even when I make an appointment, and I'm only getting an oil change, it takes them hours. At the quick lube oil place I usually go, I don't need an appointment and it only takes them ten minutes. Sure, the dealership has free donuts and coffee, and big screen TVs, and a free shuttle service, and they wash your car for free. But that stuff isn't really free. I'm paying for it with the exorbitant prices they charge for service.

Plus, they're always trying to get me to get more work done on my car than I need. They print out page after page of estimates, on colored textured paper that look as official as a deed to your house. I want a mechanic who's lazy. Someone who doesn't want to do any work that's not necessary.

I don't want all the frills and fuss. I just want them to fix and maintain my car. But when I look around the waiting room, I realize: I am not the demographic they're going for here. The TV in the waiting room had Matlock on it. That should tell you all you need to know.

I'd never actually watched Matlock, but I found myself glancing at the screen more and more while I tried to read my book. It was an interesting nostalgia trip, looking at the 80's styles and recognizing TV actors that I hadn't thought about in 20 years. But I digress. See? That's what the dealership does to you. They try to be your friend so that you start getting comfortable with the donuts and the Matlock in waiting room, and before you know it you're happy to have some new experience to blog about.

But you pay for it. You pay dearly. It's not just the money. They'd take your soul if they could. Every single person I dealt with at the dealership kept trying to get my email address. They'd look at my record on the screen and say, "Can we get your email address?" No, you can't. Quit trying to slither your tentacles around more parts of my life. You're not my friend. Next thing you know I'll be getting Facebook requests from them.

Friends don't let friends use dealers.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Temperature Control

I had a girlfriend in college who used to say, "Temperature control is a 24-hour-a-day job." She lived in one of those small college one-room apartments where you don't have control of the thermostat. So the only way she could regulate the temperature was by opening and closing the windows. It was indeed a constant struggle to get the right temperature.

Despite the fact that now I own my own house and have supreme control over the thermostat, I still find my friend's words to be truer than ever. Because I really like fresh air, whenever the temperature is between 65 and 80, and not too humid or rainy or windy, I have to shut the thermostat down and go around the house opening all the windows. And then do the opposite when the fickle weather moves away from my "window" of conditions.

And then there are the times when I'm simply a dumbass.


Air conditioner season only started a last month, and already I've had two situations where I misread the knob.

It's one of those old circular models that has a little switch between A/C, off, and furnace.

Only the switch doesn't exactly correspond to the labels, so it's more of a relative positioning system. That is, if it's on "cool" and you want to turn it off, click it one position higher. If it's off and you want to turn on the heat, do the same. Because this time of year the weather goes in and out of being acceptable open-window conditions, (cool at night, hot during the day, for example), I'm constantly turning the thermostat on and off.

The other day I came home and the weather was beautiful, so I opened some windows and turned off the A/C. About half an hour later I was in the kitchen and heard something running in the utility room. That's where the furnace and water heater live. What's on in there? I thought. It sounded like the furnace running, but that wasn't possible. I went and looked at the thermostat. I moved the little switch and realized, to my horror, that when I thought I had turned off the A/C, I had actually turned on the heat. For half an hour I'd been heating my house in 80 degree weather. D'oh!


The following week I did a similarly stupid thing. What I usually do, when I'm home during the day on a summer morning, is I open all the windows to get as much cool, fresh air into the house as possible. As the day warms up, usually late morning, the A/C will kick in and I'll go close all the windows. So I did that. A few hours later I noticed the house was really hot. I checked the thermometer and noticed that the in-house temperature was creeping up past my thermostat setting. I turned down the temperature on the thermostat to see if the air would kick on. It didn't, as far as I could tell.

But the vents are in the ceiling, so maybe it was working but I just couldn't tell. I went out to the side of the house to check the condenser unit. When the A/C is on, it will be blowing air. It wasn't doing anything. I went back inside and turned the thermostat even lower, thinking maybe it was just being wonky. (As it sometimes is.) Still, nothing happened.

Oh, no, I thought. Not this again.

Last January I had to pay $800 when my furnace broke in 15-degree weather. The following month I shelled out about $1100 because my sewer line was busted. (Any time you hear the word "excavation" as a homeowner, be afraid. Be very afraid.) Now was I going to have to deal with a broken air conditioner?

In desperation, I clicked the switch on the left side. I heard a click and the vents started pushing out beautiful, cool air. I had never turned the damn thing on.

My embarrassment was mitigated by my double relief: the physical relief of getting cool again, and the emotional relief that my house was not about to demand another ransom-- this time for my air conditioning.