Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Bargain Shopper

As oyster season approaches here on the Gulf Coast, I have begun my annual quest for the best prices for my favorite aphrodisiac.  A local seafood joint priced them last week at $7.95 a half-dozen, or $15.95 a dozen.  I ordered two half-dozens.  The server had probably seen stranger requests than mine, so she just shrugged and put in my order.

Maybe it's the climate here.  This morning's paper advertizes Target's annual Dollar Days.  Of course, nothing's on sale for an actual dollar, but lots of stuff is priced at some even multiple of a dollar.  Like men's athletic socks.  I buy these occasionally because it nourishes my delusion that I am still an athlete.  Athletic socks are 6 for $5 this week only.  Just my luck.  I just bought a half-dozen socks last week.  They were $4.95.

Anyway, driving home from Connecticut last month, we stopped for lunch at Tart's 50's Restaurant in the barely-there town of Dunn, North Carolina, just off Chicken Farm Road and convenient to I-95.  More or less. You have to be a little lost to find it.  Prices are always cheap at Tart's, and the food and decor are straight-up 50's diner fare.  Sweet.  But two $1.95 burgers later, backing out of a parking space, and stone sober, I swear, I pranged the old M3 into an invisible, altogether too-damn-tall curb and lightly crunched a tailpipe.  Crap!  "Another $100 bill," I thought.  As if.

The muffler shop guy back home took a look at the muffler and snickered.  "Y'all see here where yer muffler is kinda twitched up and these brackets here is shifted leftwards?"  Yeah.  Gulp.

"Whulp," he says, "yer gonna need some dealer work here 'cuz we tried t'get a used muffler onct for one of these BMW cars and it cost $700, used."  Crap.  "And they wooden promise it would fit, neither.  You got insurance, right?"

Hell, yes, I got insurance, but it's one of those $1000 deductible jobs, so I've never used it, except maybe for that sorry incident at the race track a long time past.

So I drove it to Bert Smith's BMW shop and asked, "How much?"  $2346.38.  Crap.  Lucky my deductible is only a grand.

That $2346.38 is to replace a muffler that works just fine and doesn't fart or hang down or anything but just looks a little cockeyed from the back.  Oh, and there's this tiny little scratch in the bumper paint.  "Nossir," says Matthew, my Bert Smith Service Concierge, "we gotta paint the whole bumper.  You got insurance, don't you?"

After the usual administrative waltz (turns out Travelers couldn't find Dunn, NC on its map), the adjuster, Donna G, emails me.  "Great news," she says, "Bert Smith has offered a price of $1909 for the job.  Less the $1000 deductible, of course."

Lucky indeed.  Instead of costing me $1000, the whole job is only going to cost me $1000.  Hell, at Target I could get it done for $999.95. That's two for $1995.95. Unless it's on sale, of course. 


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

All-Purpose Felicitations

A curious convergence of happy events swirls around my family on September 13-14 each year.  So, to save a few bucks on cards and postage, let me just say

Happy Birthday, Darling Daughter!

Happy Anniversary, Mom & Ray!

Amy!  Hi and Happy Birthday from Uncle Newt and Aunt Judy!

Happy Anniversary, Kathy & Bob!

Happy Birthday, Steve.  Enjoy 58 while you can - 60 is looming.

And finally,

Donna and Terry.  Happiest Anniversary!

With love from your father, son, uncle, and older brother (times 3),


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Winter of Our Discontent

We simpering souls - we who have spent the summer simmering in steamy Florida  - hunger and thirst each year for return of the gloriously temperate days of fall-winter-spring.  Perhaps it is the brotherhood of The Long Sweat that makes us look askance upon the annual influx of ... The Snowbirds.

Fully half of our trailer park manufactured home community neighbors are Snowbirds.  Nice folks, most of them, but real Floridians - we year-rounders, that is - and The Snowbirds enjoy that same stuttering love-hate relationship that haunts every other seasonal tourist Mecca.  (Here in Tampa Bay, at least, we need not suffer the annual pilgrimage of plump, white-bearded old farts pretending to be Ernest Hemingway.)  No, this is OUR Paradise, and only reluctantly do we share its joys with the infidels from Michigan, for instance. And Delaware.

Florida has never really signed on to the U.S. Constitution's promise of freedom to migrate from cold places like Ohio and Indiana to our Sunshine State.  Much less Canada.  If ever there was any moral foundation for the War Between the States, it is this: Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Winter.  We don't come shovel your snow; why do you come sift our sand?

Constitutional issues aside, there is, I suppose, a certain perverse entertainment value to the annual Snowbird hadj.  Like a tawdry rolling carnival sideshow, these ragged refugees from Carolina or Connecticut arrive in their overloaded SUV's and Caravans  They pause en masse at the state line, gulp down a draught of our warm, liquid air, and cast off all their clothes. There is more white skin here in December than at a Limbaugh family reunion.

Hello, pasty sojourners, and welcome to the Sunshine State.  You might take note that our natural sunlight is imbued with enough ionizing radiation to cook a Thanksgiving turkey faster than a Viking oven.  A dermatologist waits on every street corner, eagerly anticipating autumn.  For the love of God, put your shirt back on!

Now don't get me wrong: The Snowbirds invariably arrive with cash-stuffed pockets, and a little cash makes a lot of friends in this land of the forever unemployed.  Retail citrus shoppes that lie fallow and forlorn all summer explode into joyous bloom after Labor Day.  Kids conduct car washes in front of every school.  Police adjust traffic signal timing from "languid" to "frenetic."  After all, in a few short months, The Snowbirds must fly north once again.  So little time; so many T-shirts to buy.

Posted on every beach and beachfront eatery hereabouts are warnings against feeding the birds. Watch as the newly arrived beachgoer misunderestimates the cunning and derring-do of the average herring gull. See him venture onto the beach with craftily cradled french fry basket, longing to loft bits of oily potato gently into the heavens to nourish God's winged creatures.  Yee-hah!  These are Florida birds, folks, sporting considerably larger frontal lobes than their foolish fry-flinger prey, and they dart in from where our hapless neophyte is not looking, swooping over his shoulder to snatch his pitiful hoard, scattering fries over acres of beach. Watch him slink back to his car, fryless and slimed with seagull poop.  Seagulls poop most copiously when excited by the sight of food in ballistic flight.  It's Pavlovian.

Welcome as the sweet winter season may be, we the real Floridians will come to long for April and May, when once again the Snowbird tide will ebb, and life will return to that long lazy simmer.

And so it goes.