WHEELING AND DEALING (AND STEALING)

After my first success at wheeling and dealing I thought I’d found my calling, but I’ve never been able to dominate the field again as I did on that Saturday afternoon in 1939.

My 4th grade pal Skippy had a fielder’s mitt I just had to have. I had no money or real treasures to trade, but Skippy had mentioned once he’d like to have a pet turtle and when I offered to trade my turtle for his baseball glove he seemed interested.

There was only one drawback. My turtle hadn’t moved or shown any signs of life for over a week.  I didn’t mention this minor detail to Skippy but I could see he was curious about the lack of movement. He reached down to nudge the beast.

“Be careful!” I said. “He’s a little excitable and might lunge at you and maybe bite.”

“Well how come he’s not moving?” Skippy asked.

“Turtles are shy with strangers.  Give him time to warm up to you and he’ll be running around your house.  Old Rocket is playful. Now hand me your glove.”

“His name is Rocket?”

“Yes, he’s the fastest turtle around. If you hear about a turtle race, be sure to enter Rocket.  Are you throwing in some kneatsfoot oil to break in the glove? It needs work.”  I was trying to change the subject.

“Get your own oil,” Skippy barked and put old Rocket in his pocket.

That was the last time I came in better than second best in a bargaining contest. I’m usually a patsy for the “Salesman of the Month” when buying a car or an appliance. Even if I’m lured in to a “Once in a lifetime sale”, I get an apology for an unfortunate typo or an explanation of the microprint footnote that mentions heavy surcharges.

And I’m not good at garage sales or flea markets where haggling is expected. “I’ll say, “The five dollar price for these two beat-up candlesticks must be wrong” and the dealer will reply, “You’re right. It should say ‘five dollars each’ .”

“That’s very high. What can you do for me?”

“I can sell you those candlesticks for ten dollars.  How’s that?”

And my one and only triumph is still not a done deal, Skippy’s grandson mentioned last week that , just before he died, Skippy told him I’d cheated him out of a baseball glove in 1939 and he should try to get it back.

I’ll never return that mitt.  I’ll swear that on the grave of Rocket.

 

 

 

 

St. Patrick: A Saint For All Nations

No wonder so many people of different nationalities honor St. Patrick on his feast day. It must be because he really wasn’t Irish after all and had international connections.  Historians say he was a Briton, kidnapped as a teenager around 380 a.d. by Irish marauders and sold into slavery on the Emerald Island which was then a pagan stronghold.

After six years he escaped back to Britain and later became a priest. He traveled to Rome where the pope gave him the job of bringing Christianity to the land of his former captivity. He was successful and tamed the wild Hibernians. Well, maybe not completely..

Patrick’s father’s name was Calpurnius which indicates a Roman relationship and gives Italians, Brits and possibly other Europeans some claim to Patrick. There seems to be an affinity between the Irish and Italians, at least in my experience.  My home town was initially made up mostly of Irish immigrants, including my grandparents. This was followed by a wave of Italian immigrants. After the initial fist fights, things quickly cooled down because the two groups met in church every Sunday, the kids went to the same schools and the young people danced and flirted at the church socials. I remember one St. Patrick’s Day celebration where spaghetti was the main entree.

Two of my full-blooded Irish uncles married full-blooded Italian girls which gave me Irish-Italian cousins, Italian aunts and a wonderful introduction to Italian cooking.  Up until the first time I sat at my Aunt Sissy’s dinner table, I thought a ravioli was some kind of musical instrument. What a revelation!

Besides Christianity, maybe St. Patrick brought some Italian recipes and a few pounds of oregano to Ireland. Come to think of it, the U.N. should consider using fine ethnic cuisine as a weapon of mass seduction. Instead of sending troops into troubled areas of the world, let’s send our best cooks. Some good wine wouldn’t hurt either.

Irishmen can sometimes be a little stiff-necked. There’s the story in my home town of Mike who was a wee bit upset by the influx of Italians. His friend Pat saw it as a good thing and one day when they were walking past the Madonna’s Church, Pat said, “Listen, Mike.  There’s an Italian service going on. You can hear them praying in their native language and it’s to the same God you and I pray to.”

“A fine lot of good it will do them, don’t you know,” Mike replied. “He won’t understand a word of it.”

FIRST MISSION JITTERS

I’ll never forget my first mission in the Air Force. The first one is always the scariest, they say. I was a private, a clerk typist at Mitchel Air Force Base on Long Island.  Master Sergeant McGlumphy called me over to his desk one morning.  “Private Newman, I’ve got an important mission for you today,” he said and I began to feel queasy.

“You’re to fetch coffee and donuts for the entire office staff, including Major Schultz, and it’s essential that you deliver everything here intact, as ordered and without delay. The major is very strict about that. There will be hell to pay if you fail.”

I wrote down the complicated order – about a dozen coffees with various instructions on cream and sugar content and two dozen donuts, some plain, some coated with particular icings.

The trip to the target, the base cafeteria, was uneventful, but the civilian counterman turned out to be hostile. “This is for the McGlumphy bunch, isn’t it?” he snarled. “Which coffee is McGlumphy’s?”  I lied and told him I didn’t know. I didn’t want to have to watch him too closely.

He loaded everything onto a wobbly cardboard tray that threatened to fold up at any moment. There was no way I could balance it with one hand so I had to wait to follow someone through the cafeteria’s exit door.

I fought off bogeys at 10 o’clock,  barracks buddies I met along the way who insisted no one would miss a few donuts.  Five minutes later I ran into flak. An air policeman chewed me out for unstable jay walking. He fined me one donut.

By then, walking unsteadily, I’d lost three cup lids and there was considerable leakage. I was losing fuel. I had to circle in front of the headquarters building until a WAF exited and held the door for me. Sergeant McGlumphy was now in sight and my cargo was reasonably intact.  I was beginning to feel relieved and ready for debriefing.  Just then Major Schultz popped out of his office and said, “Ah, the coffee and donuts!  Good man!”

It was a reflex reaction. After all, I was still a raw rookie and he was an officer. I automatically snapped to attention and saluted and – bombs away!  Fortunately there is no way you can demote a private.

 

 

 

CHANGE FOR CHANGE SAKE

Somewhere in the top ranks of every corporation there is a vice president, probably the CEO’s son-in-law, whose official title is “Director of Confusing System Changes”. He doesn’t correct them or eliminate them, he invents them.

At an insurance company’s board of directors meeting there are glowing reports of profit gains, increased efficiency and a sizable leap in customer satisfaction according to the latest survey.

The meeting has gone on for over three hours. It’s nearing the two-martini lunch hour and the directors are eager to wind things up. That’s when the DCSC veep raises his hand and gets the floor. “I think we ought to change our 800 number for reporting claims. The present one has no zip to it. And we should change from having live receptionists answering claim calls to something robotic with a dozen button selections to help customers eventually reach the proper party. Also, I’ve redesigned the claims form increasing it from two to fifteen pages which will be a big help for us in gathering statistics.”

The directors have been looking at their Rolexes as the meddlesome exec drones on. A few have nodded off and empty stomachs have begun to give audible alarm signals. “End it, end it!  Let’s get the heck out of here NOW! is the general attitude.  A vote is called for and the roll call indicates unanimous approval.  Otherwise the DCSC would spend another hour defending his proposed changes that will most likely confuse, anger and alienate policy holders and increase adjusters’ response time.

Computer users have been known to lose touch with reality when they’re advised the complicated operational instructions they’ve finally managed to figure out have been  replaced  with a whole new set that are even more perplexing.

This disruptive policy of change for change sake is spreading. Once or twice a month, supermarket managers relocate a dozen frozen and canned goods items from shelves they’ve occupied for years to unknown faraway places without leaving clues to their new locations.  We’ll soon need GPS devices on our shopping carts.

Unemployment might be the reason for this, the unemployment of executives’ son-in-laws who have to be put back into the loop, and on the bonus list, regardless of consequences.

TYING UP A TELEMARKETER

If you hang up on a telemarketer who ignores your Do Not Call listing he can quickly begin to search for other prey.  It would be better to waste his time, reduce the number of illegal calls he can make that day, and have a little fun while you’re at it.

“Jimminy Chimney Corp.?  Yes, we’ve had good reports on your operation. In fact my wife intended to call you.  Unfortunately she’s in the north wing at the moment and can’t be reached quickly.  I’d send the butler to fetch her, but Basil is on sabbatical now, boning up for his doctoral thesis.  However, I can give you a quick rundown on the type of service we’ll require.

“We have 14 fireplace chimneys, 15 if you count the one in the gardener’s cottage. I’m ashamed to say they’ve been neglected for several years and will need extensive repairs besides your routine cleaning.  I’d guess you’d need a ten-man crew working full time for three months to complete the job.  Of course the expense has to be considered, but we have a sizable infrastructure repair budget.”

I rattled on for 30 minutes until I thought I detected the sound of drooling on the other end.  Then I delivered the coup de grace.

“I hope you don’t find my speaker phone annoying, but it’s difficult to use our regular phone while I’m wearing this awkward straitjacket and the fellow who unties it won’t be here for an hour.  Dreadful chap. He insists on referring to our ancestral mansion as ‘the studio apartment’ “.

“If you accept the job I’d like a full report on the condition of our roofs.  Flying saucers have been landing there regularly and I’m sure there’s damage. Those Martians are so careless.  Hello, hello?”

MY BLURRY CAREER AS A PHOTOG

After all these years of struggle with photography I’m still undeveloped.  I started when I was 8 years old with a Kodak Baby Brownie camera I’d won in a soapbox derby.  My father said he’d pay for the first roll of film and developing, but after that I should be earning enough with the camera to cover expenses.  I don’t blame Dad for that little fib. It was during the Great Depression and 50 cents was a significant amount of money.  It would buy a gallon of milk, five gallons of gas or five loaves of Wonder Bread.

I thought if anything exciting took place in my neighborhood I’d take a few shots to sell to a newspaper and maybe become famous.  The closest thing to an exciting event was when old Mrs. Bockman, a rather stout lady, got wedged in her chicken coop doorway one morning when she went out to gather eggs. She raised a howl and the chickens went berserk.

When I arrived with my Brownie Mrs. Bockman’s frantic struggle had left her house dress a bit askew and she begged me not to take her picture, so I didn’t.  I realized then I’d never make it as a paparazzo, but I’ll bet she would have paid me a whole dollar for the film or the picture would have made the front page with the caption: “Trapped housewife threatened by crazed roosters rescued by a young photog.”

Years later I became a freelance reporter and editors soon learned to limit me to reporting and send  pros to shoot pictures.  Now and then, however, I was handed a reflex camera, given confusing f-stop and shutter speed instructions and told to do my best.  My best wasn’t always up to par.

“Explain this picture!” my editor growled after examining one of my shots.

“It’s plain enough, isn’t it chief?  That’s fire fighters climbing a ladder at the warehouse fire you sent me to.”

“They look like they’re climbing over each other’s backs and the highest man seems to have two heads while the lowest has four legs. I think I’m looking at a double exposure here.”

“That’s okay, Chief. I’ll only charge you for a single.”

GETTING HIS RIGHTS WRONG

The mail boy arrived at the office wearing a colorful T-shirt and it wasn’t a dress down day.  The office manager was beginning to bawl him out when he interrupted.  “Sir, you cannot  deny me my constitutional right.”

“Your constitutional right?”

“Yes, I just heard about it on the TV news last night. The 2nd Amendment gives me the right to bare arms.”

HAMMURABI WASN’T COMPLETELY WRONG

I mostly agree with the 8th Amendment of our Constitution which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment,  but I really don’t understand the ban on unusual punishment if it isn’t cruel.

Say an 18-year old boy is caught shoplifting a couple of neato fishing lures he just couldn’t afford at the time. A kindly judge might give him the law and order lecture and then add, “I could fine you much more than the cost of those lures and you’d have a record, but since this is your first offense and you’re so young, I want you to go into my chambers now and stand in the corner for an hour and think about that. Then we’ll call it even and you can go home.”

Now that’s unusual punishment, but the kid should really appreciate it. Community service sentences are a good idea for light offenses, but if anyone finds out the guy sweeping the courthouse steps isn’t a do-gooder volunteer, he’s branded.

Other types of unusual punishment could be something like the “eye for an eye” kind created almost 4,000 years ago by Hammurabi, a Babylonian king.  The punishment would have some similarity to the offense, but there would be no mutilation involved.

I would join a class action suit against the packaging guy who invented those clear, hard plastic bubble containers that are almost impenetrable.  They might extend the shelf life of merchandise, but they have shortened the tempers and fingernails of millions of consumers.

I don’t know the official name of those annoying packages, but I’ve used a few unprintable ones while experiencing bubble trouble.   I watched my friend Larry try to breach one to get at his new watch band and heard him mutter a few colorful names I hadn’t heard since I got out of the army.

We class action people shouldn’t try to pauperize the inventor. He probably meant well and didn’t realize how much frustration and anger he was inflicting on the public.  We could just sue for our attorney fees and one added provision.  Every day for a year the inventor’s dinners would be delivered in one of his bubbles and the only allowable tools would be a butter knife and a spoon.

If they had that kind of troublesome packaging in Hammurabi’s time the inventor would probably have been imbubbled.

 

TOE-TAPPING SIDE EFFECT

I recently bought a newly developed salve to deal with an annoying rash on both elbows. It seems to be working, but it’s going to take time and I’m worried about that because last night I watched the product’s TV commercial. It started with some fellow scratching his abdomen vigorously and his wife looking concerned.

In the next scene he was applying the salve and was soon frolicking on the beach in a bathing suit with no sign of any skin problems.  I found this encouraging, but then they started reporting the possible side effects.  I can deal with a temporary lack of appetite and energy, but then, and I thought they were kidding when they said, “In very rare cases, after prolonged use,  the patient will experience an uncontrollable urge to dance the fandango.”.

I checked their website and there was that same strange warning, and I’d been using the salve for a week. I mentioned this to my friend Larry and he was stunned. “I’ve been putting that stuff on my ankles for two weeks now, and would you believe it, every now and then I think I hear a guitar playing someplace.”  Poor Larry. He’s got two left feet. He’s an Arthur Miller dropout and he won’t be able to do the fandango without falling on his face.

I did some Google research and found this odd symptom is not so far-fetched.  Starting in the 13th century and lasting over 300 years there were widespread epidemics of the dancing plague or choreomania across Europe with hundreds of victims suddenly dancing erratically in the countryside, two-stepping from one town to another until they dropped from exhaustion.  There were some fatalities.

The modern Italian dance, the tarantella, began as a type of choreomania.  The victims blamed their irrepressible urge to trip the light fantastic on perceived tarantula bites that had poisoned their blood and hysterical dancing with trailing musicians was the only antidote.

Larry and I decided to quit using the salve. Fortunately he learned that the kid next door had just started taking guitar lessons, so he’s probably going to be okay. But we’ll stay close and if the worst comes to worst, we’ll do the fandango together.  I’ll have to lead.