Monday, January 19, 2009

"Conversation Stoppers"

I’m going to tell you about three conversations. All of them ended abruptly, because on each occasion, I had no idea how to respond. I’m rapidly getting older, and it would be nice to know how to handle such situations before I die. Maybe you can help.
I buy a new car. The man who sold it to me says, “I want you to promise me something.”

I say, “What is it?”

The salesman replies thusly:

“We take pride in our product. We think it’s the best machine on the road. But we’re not perfect. So I want you to make a list. Any problem you’re having with the car – anything, large or small – I want you to immediately write it down. When you come in for you six hundred-mile check-up, I want you to show that list to our mechanic, and he’ll fix you up, right on the spot. Will you promise me you’ll do that? Will you promise me you’ll make that list?”

“I promise.”

“Any problem. Large or small.”

“Got it.”

I drive the car. Everything’s fine. Except for one tiny glitch. The clock on the dashboard. I can’t get it to work. I show up for my six hundred mile check-up, I hand the mechanic my list. There is one item on it.

“The clock doesn’t work.”

The mechanic reads it, then hands me back my list, accompanied by a three-word response.

“They never do.”

I have no idea what to say.
There’s stable in Burbank where you can rent horses and go riding. It’s not a formal trail ride, there’s no riding group, no leader. They put you on a horse, and you ride through a tunnel under the freeway into nearby Griffith Park. When your hour is up, you ride back to the stable, and return your horse.

I’m having an enjoyable ride. I always do. To my horse’s steady hoof beat, I sing cowboy songs in my head, and sometimes, out of my mouth. “Wyatt Earp.” “High Noon.” “Rawhide.” “Yancey Derringer.” In reality, I’m in Griffith Park. But in my fantasy, I’m

Riding the trail to who knows where

Luck is my companion, gambling is my game.

At the appropriate time, I turn my horse around, and head back to the stable. A memorable ride.

About a hundred yards from the barn, my horse decides to lower its front knees to the ground and roll over on its side. Since one of my legs is on that side, and I don’t want the horse to squash it when it rolls over, I take my feet out of the stirrups, and I wisely jump off.

Sensing my departure, the horse immediately reverts to a standing position and trots, riderless, back to the stable.

I walk back. Horseless.

I search out the guy who runs the place, and I say,

“My horse dropped to the ground and rolled over, and he came back by himself.”

To which, the guy who runs the place, replies,

“He always does.”

Once again, I am speechless.
This last one has touch of a Twilight Zone vibe to it.

I’m sitting in this diner. A little fancier. A diner with wood paneling.

I like what they serve there. Hearty food but healthy, like turkey meat loaf with mashed potatoes. It suits me just fine.

The main draw, however – the reason I go there and have been for years – is their tapioca pie. It’s just how I like it. Not too sweet, smooth texture, a delicate, light crust. For me, that place’s tapioca pie really hits the spot.

So there I am, perusing the menu, and to my surprise and chagrin, there’s no tapioca pie. It’s been taken off the menu.

I’m totally devastated. Tapioca pie is my favorite thing there. And now it’s gone.

The waitress comes up to take my order. I tell you what I want to eat, and then add, wistfully, but with a hint of complaining,

“You don’t have tapioca pie anymore.”

To which the waitress replies,

“We never did.”

That one really stopped me cold. But this time, I’m determined to say something.

“Yes you did,” I shoot back.

To which the waitress replies,

“No we didn’t.”

We go back and forth for a few rounds, “Yes, you did”, “No, we didn’t”, until I’m reminded of my favorite Monty Python sketch, “Argument”, chuckle ruefully, and give up.

Maybe there are no answers in these situations. “They never do”, “He always does”, “We never did” seem designed as conversation stoppers, and they successfully fill the bill. Maybe the correct response is to throw your hands in the air, cut your losses, and walk away.

But just once, just once…

As I said, maybe you can help.


Anonymous said...

#1 "You and the sales fella need to have a chat."

#2 "Known defect - tort case." (In future with that horse, have a crop handy and give him taps on the haunches to keep him moving forward all the way to the barn. Don't let him stop. For anything. Don't ask me how I know.

#3 "It looked like tapioca pie, it smelled like tapioca pie, and it tasted like tapioca pie. What was it, then?"

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience in the Liquor Store recently. I went in looking for a specific apple cider I had enjoyed recently. I looked on the shelf, but there was none there. An employee was walking by, so I asked him if they had any Magner's apple cider in the back. He said they didn't carry it. I pointed out that there was a sign for it on the shelf right in front of us. It was just empty. He said "I don't know what to tell ya" and walked away. I stood for a few seconds trying to think of a response, and then just bought something else.

Anonymous said...

#1: Try to find the sales guy and tell *him* about your problem. He probably doesn't care (he already got his commission), but it might be cathartic for you.
#2: I always expect animals to do strange things at any given time. I would assume that all the previous successful rides I've had were flukes.
#3: I would tip 5% and write on the receipt "you definitely did have tapioca pie". Or ask to talk to the chef.

Anonymous said...

I have the same problem with comebacks as well.

Verification word: sature- a stately posture while sitting

Anonymous said...

The one that always got me was dad’s negative pseudo-imperative, “Don’t tell me you’re that stupid!” The only possible responses being, “Yes, you are correct sir, I am that stupid,” or “Well, sure I’m stupid, but not that stupid." Wish I could help you more directly, and I know it’s not the same thing, but I’m still working on, “Everyone didn’t make it out safely. Not one word of concern or remorse for those birds that lost their lives over the Hudson?"

As the husband of an equestrian instructor, I have too many horse experiences to bore you with, many involving purchases. Also not quite parallel situations, but equally appreciated as a source of material: Bucky, who we thought so named because he was a buckskin. Not. The three we decided to shelter overnight during an unusually severe winter in a former Boy Scout cabin, neglecting to gauge the strength of the flooring. Only to find them all the following morning, calmly standing knee-deep in four neat holes, where their legs had plunged through the floorboards – like in some Roadrunner cartoon.

The Clydesdale-sized behemoth we’d purchased in a case of extreme mistaken identity. Turned out to have been the farmer's plough horse. Gypsy apparently was so delighted by the prospect of never again having to pull that damned plough, she went over jumps and responded perfectly in every way, apparently for the very first time, like the lithest Lipizzaner. The herd spooked on the fourth of July, tearing across the municipal golf course, as amazed foursomes pointed in the general direction, with the rest of us following Monty Python-style in swimwear and flip flops, toting beach chairs and picnic coolers, shouting, “Not on the greens. Not on the greens….”

However, nothing can possibly top the way my parents first met in a riding group. Mom’s mount was apparently of the persuasion that never cottoned to having another cut out in front of him. When my father’s attempted this forbidden maneuver, mother’s kicked the poor beast in the head, and it died right there on the spot under him. We had never thought her to be the type to commit equicide on the first date. In the photo, dad looked so great in those jodpurs, he could have been a director. Instead, he was actually drafted into the Second World War in what remained of the U.S. Cavalry. None of this is even embellished.

Kathy said...

1) Wonder aloud if there is a class action lawsuit already in place for the material defect present in every model of the car you bought (as far as the mechanic is aware, anyway) and see if that doesn't incentivize the mechanic to wiggle whatever wire is loose to get the clock working.

2) Point out that the horse could have broken your leg by lying down, and that the owner knew full well it would happen and failed to warn you, and see what they have to say. At the very least, make a mental note not to accept that horse again.

3) Cancel the order, get up, tell the waitress you must be in the wrong place, because the place meant to go to has tapioca pie and/or wouldn't employ waitresses who would lie about something so silly. Or, get up and yell into the kitchen, inquiring about the pie. The kitchen staff will tell you straight.

Anonymous said...

#1 That's so typical of any mechanic. I sincerely wish it weren't, but after 30 some years I know it from experience. The best way to stop them in their tracks is to say "Oh, don't you know how to fix it?" Takes away their complacency and questions their ability. Neatly changing the balance of power in the exchange.

#2 That's why I'm not a rider.

#3 I liked the first anonymous answer.

Anonymous said...

1- "AHA! I knew it! Can my lawyer call you as a witness?"

2- "I want a prorated refund, based on the distance I had to walk back."

3- "Are there reallllllllly big pods in the back room, by any chance?"

Unknown said...

One early October, I had the good fortune to work on a project in New York… It was just for a couple of days, and I wanted to be sure that I had what I considered was the best soup in New York – the cold beet borscht at the Russian Tea Room.
The second day, there was an opportunity to get away for lunch with my client.
The job was on 18th Street, but it was such a beautiful day we decided to walk up 5th Avenue to 57th Street.
The walk was bracing, long, and we had a wonderful time seeing New York City in such lovely weather.
I’d say I mentioned the magnificence of the beet borscht at the Russian Tea Room about 25 times.
We were both looking forward to it.
We arrived at the Restaurant.
We took in the never disappointing lavish décor and proceeded to order the beet borscht.
“We don’t have it”, the waiter said. “We only have it during baseball season.”
Best laugh I had all month.

Anonymous said...

1) How much of a refund does that entitle me to?

2) By laying down like that, the horse could have broken my leg. Since I jumped off before that happened, however, my leg works just fine, so you can expect that it will shortly be planted up your ass.

3) I'm sorry, I didn't mean tapioca pie. I meant tapioca stew. Where can I find that on the menu?

Anonymous said...

#1. Car salesmen are like studio execs. Always get anything they promise in writing. It may not be worth the paper it's written on, but at least you can ball it up and throw it at them when they refuse to honor it.

#2. "Well....eff you and the horse I didn't ride in on."

#3. Go into the men's room, scream out loudly as if in pain, limp back in complaing LOUDLY about the BIG "puddle of water" you just "slipped" in, whip out your cell phone and "call" your lawyer and while on "hold" ask the server about the tapioca pie once again.