June 18, 2013
I brought my car in to the dealer this weekend for some routine maintenance. I expected a $40 oil change; what I got cost me almost $200. I read the receipt but I am still not sure what they did. Is “Kryex” even a word? And I am not entirely convinced that my air freshener needed a 500 mile servicing.
Anyway, I was sitting in the waiting room. It was about 9:30 in the morning and the room was about half full. Including me, there were five of us, all fairly spread out. Two were sitting at the table, using their laptops and taking advantage of the free wi-fi. One was sitting in a corner using his iPhone for, I think, a game in which small blue blobs eat small red blobs. The fourth was sitting in a chair against the side wall and reading a magazine, and I was sitting against another wall splitting my time between using my iPod (also taking advantage of the free wi-fi) and watching Sports Center on the huge wall-mounted flat screen. Do you know what the main mission of Sports Center is? It is showing people holding up signs at various events that say “Sports Center is next.”
I was sitting not far from the front door, which was propped open to give us a breeze since the day was warm and a little humid. It was not too uncomfortable unless you were a large man, both fat and tall, wearing a long sleeve shirt, unbuttoned, over a sweat stained t-shirt, with a small baseball cap over a large, round, bald head, and carrying a small bag of groceries. This was the man who walked down the street, saw the open door and empty chairs, and sat down next to me for a break.
There were four or five other chairs empty but the one next to me was closest to the door and by all appearances this was not a man who liked to move much. I had my hat on the chair and he stood in front of it, nodded, and I removed it so this uninvited man with no business in the dealership could sit down.
I picked up my iPod and suddenly became very occupied with looking occupied.
He did not take the hint.
“You know how far the Key Food is from here?” I grunted that it was maybe four blocks away.
“Three blocks, man, three blocks. But in this heat it feels like about thirty six or forty-one.”
I had no desire to talk to him but he had a habit of tapping me on the arm as he spoke. I suspect he developed that trait over years and years of people ignoring him when he spoke to them.
“I was trying to return this bottle of mustard,” he said and shook his shopping bag, “but the manager gave me a hard time.”
OK, now I was interested, and not just because this story was bound to be entertainingly stupid. Here was a large fat man with a bald head talking about food.
Did I mention that he was black?
Yes, the face was different and the guy by me had a mouth far too small for his face, but in all other respects I felt as if Norm Snackmunch had come out of an Allan Keyes blog and sat right down next to me.
“I had two bottles of Gulden’s spicy brown mustard but one wasn’t spicy enough.”
His story went that he had bought two bottles of spicy mustard and one was fine, perfectly spicy, but the other was not spicy at all, but kind of mild, and he wanted to return it. (When he asked me, I replied that I had no idea what would make a bottle of spicy mustard turn mild. Bad batch? I dunno.) He brought the bottle back to the store and told his story to the manager. For your sake, I have condensed this story but had I continued to write it verbatim, it would have been full of pauses, uh’s, and lots of repetition. This man was not a born storyteller.
As for me, on the one hand I wanted to know what happened at the store with the mustard, but on the other, stronger, saner hand, I really just wanted to hear my name called that my car was ready.
The man asked me, again, what could go wrong with mustard (still had no idea), why wouldn’t the manager give him an exchange (no idea) and if it was still hot outside (no idea.) Then, while talking about how much he loved Gulden’s spicy brown mustard, he reached into the bag and pulled out the bottle with the oddly mild mustard.
It was a bottle of Gulden’s mild yellow mustard.
Believe it or not, and trust me, all I have written today is true, at that moment my name was called and my car was ready and I stood up and began to walk away. The fat guy with the mustard problem, among a few other problems, stood up as well and said he guessed he should get going too. He reached out to shake my hand, and he had a better chance of the manager exchanging his mustard than he had of me shaking his hand, when he was distracted by the water cooler.
“Oooh, free water!” He took out an iced tea can from his bag and filled it with water and walked out. I paid for my car, “Kryex” and all, and left, me and Norman Snackmunch, two ships that passed in the night.