Tuesday, July 27, 2010

If a tree falls in the forest

This is a story about how a car accident I was in a few days ago probably saved some lives.

Last Thursday at 5 p.m., at the beginning of rush hour, I was driving south on a section of Route 1 which is a four-lane highway (two northbound, two southbound). I was in the left southbound lane, stopped with my blinker on, waiting to make a left turn. In front of me was a Honda Civic, also stopped with its blinker on, also waiting for a break in the northbound traffic to make a left turn.

All of a sudden a Toyota Rav-4 slammed into the back of my car, pushing me into the Honda.

Luckily no one was hurt. The Toyota was seriously smashed (airbags, leaking radiator fluid, steam rising, front end demolished). The back of my car was heavily damaged, though my car (a mighty Subaru Legacy) was drivable. The Honda had a dent in the rear bumper.

I called 911 and police and a fire engine (just in case) were there in less than five minutes. The police stopped traffic in both directions. The couple in the Honda and I pulled our cars into the right lane, so an arriving tow truck could collect the Toyota. The man and woman from the Honda and I leaned on a guardrail at the side of the road, waiting for a police officer to finish with the Toyota driver and come talk to us.

Without warning, a tree behind us (on the other side of the guardrail) suddenly cracked at its base and fell, missing the guy beside me by inches and smashing into the Honda. It was large enough to shatter the rear window and heavily damage the roof and rear of the Honda.

We all jumped. "Damn, I've never seen anything like that before," the police officer said. I silently agreed. The Honda driving couple went ballistic.

A few minutes later the police officer finished with me and I drove home, rear bumper and bodywork flapping as I went. As I drove, I realized that if that tree had fallen as cars were going by at 50-60 mph there would have been a serious accident, almost certainly with people killed. It's easy for me to say this, since it wasn't my Honda the tree landed on, but a lot of people who don't even know it were lucky that day.

When I got home and called my insurance company to report the accident, the adjuster had this comment:

"I've processed a lot of claims. I thought I'd heard them all, but I've never heard a story like this." When the Toyota driver's insurance company called me to arrange for repairs, that adjuster told me the same thing.

Note to police officers: the next time someone tells you "that tree just jumped in front of me," it could be true.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Patience of Job II

I recently had a great job interview, and really hope I'm offered the job, but it won't hold a candle to my favorite job interview of all time.

Years ago I interviewed at an ad agency whose name I can't recall for a copywriting position. I really liked the agency and the creative director who interviewed me, and was hoping he'd call me with an offer.

A few days later he did. Yes! All was right with the world.

He started talking about the things about me that had impressed him, including certain projects. "I really like what you did for (this client) and (that client)," he told me.

Unfortunately, none of the clients he mentioned were mine.

He was a bit bubbly, and took him a couple of minutes to pause for breath. When he did I was honest: "I'm really flattered, but none of the work you mentioned is mine."

"Well who the hell's work is it?" he asked me. I had to plead ignorance. "Who am I trying to hire?" he demanded. Again, I had no idea.

"But if you can't find out who it is, I'd still love to be considered for the position," I told him. He cursed — not at me, I think, but at the situation — and hung up.

He never called back.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Firecracker shrimp

To this day my sister claims that she didn't almost burn down the house.

But I know better.

For a couple of years, back when I was a teenager and my sister was a pre-teen, we fell in love with shrimp chips. (If you've never had them, Chinese restaurants used to offer them, sometimes as an appetizer and sometimes gratis. They were colorful, deep fried chips that looked like colored styrofoam and tasted like shrimp. Very crunchy, very addictive.)

They came in a bag and looked like colorful, uneven poker chips. But drop them in boiling oil, and in seconds they puffed up into a delicious chip.

One day my sister put a pot of oil on the stove, cranked the burner to high, and walked out of the kitchen. Our stove took awhile to heat up, and she had other things to do.

About five minutes later I happened to walk past the kitchen. Flames were shooting out of the pot, licking at the bottom of the cabinet above the stove. For some reason there was a cookie sheet on the counter and I, thinking much more quickly than I normally did, put the sheet on top of the pot. The flames were instantly extinguished.

I began yelling at my sister. "You almost burned the house down. There were flames shooting out of the top of the pot of oil you put on the stove."

"I didn't put the pot there."

"We're the only two people in the house, and I didn't do it. That leaves only you."

She nervously glanced at the stove. "Don't tell Mom."

I glanced at the cabinet above the stove. The finish on the bottom was burnt and peeling, and the odor of smoke hung in the air. "I think she'll figure it out herself."

Needless to say, my mother never bought us shrimp chips again, and I haven't had one to this day. But there is no cabinet above our stove now, and I've been thinking...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Spy With My Little Eye

Although I've never been a private investigator, I was once spied on by one who was a great role model for what not to do.

And it wasn't even me he was supposed to be watching.

When my stepfather and his first wife were getting divorced, it got ugly for awhile. So ugly, in fact, that she had him followed by a private eye. (They later reconciled and remained friends until her death.) He and my mother, childhood friends who'd lost touch for 30 years and then reconnected, had recently started dating. (My stepfather and his first wife were no longer living together by then, and it was all over but the legal wrangling.)

She was in New York, we were in New Jersey, and when the soon-to-be-ex wanted to find out what my future stepfather was doing, she hired a PI firm in New York.

It was pretty easy to figure out what a car with New York plates was doing cruising our neighborhood all of the time.

My favorite incident was the time that, one evening, one of the PI's was parked across the street from our house. At night. Wearing sunglasses. I, who was the only one home that evening, happened to walk down the driveway to take out the trash, and spotted him. He spotted me at the same time, and quickly pulled up a newspaper to hide his face. Any chance he had of fooling me about his reason for being there was thwarted when I noticed the newspaper was upside down.

I walked up to his car and tapped on his window. He opened it, looking as innocent as a man in sunglasses at night time reading a newspaper upside down can look.

"Are you lost?" I inquired as brightly as a 16-year-old can inquire. "I know the area pretty well, and I can give you directions."

He mumbled something and started the car and began to pull away, though not before I noticed he had a gun in a shoulder holster peeking out from his coat.

I walked up the driveway and hid behind a bush. Sure enough, he pulled up again a few minutes later.

I eased back into the house and called the police, telling them that there was a man with a gun parked across the street from our house in a car with New York plates. Less than five minutes later, a police car pulled up behind my observer. Watching from the house I couldn't hear the conversation, but the PI was VERY animated and, it appeared, upset.

They both left in the police car for the police station where, as it turned out, the New York PI had no license to carry a gun in New Jersey. I later learned that the police took the gun and told the man that his boss could come down from New York to retrieve it at his convenience. They MAY have also suggested that he find a better place to park than our neighborhood.

Apparently he did, because I never saw him again. It's possible that his change of parking place coincided with a change in his employment status. But I'm just guessing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


A love I didn't even know about is, apparently, about to make me rich.

This morning I received an email with the subject line "My Beloved One." Although I like to think of myself as lovable — Don't we all? — no one has called me "beloved" in some time. Maybe never. I had to read this email.

Instantly, I was confused. The email was sent by Barr. Chinedu Anderson Esq. (KSM), on behalf of the late Scott Kennedy.

Which one considered me beloved? I was pretty sure I didn't know anyone named Chinedu; I'm quite sure I would have remembered that name. But the late Scott Kennedy, according to his esteemed barrister, left me $31.5 million in his will.

$31.5 million certainly says "beloved" to me.

But why did a person I didn't know leave me such a princely sum? According to Chinedu — by this point I felt we were on a first-name basis — "Scott Kennedy until his death was a very dedicated Christian who loved to give out."

This statement by the Chinster asked more questions than it answered. I, for one, am not a dedicated Christian, or any kind of Christian, at all, so it wasn't a spiritual linkage between the late Mr. Kennedy and myself. And what did he love to give out? Money, I suppose, but the email wasn't clear.

I read on. Mr. Kennedy's "great philanthropy earned him numerous awards during his lifetime," Chinny stated. I'd never heard of Mr. Kennedy or his awards until this morning, but I don't move in philanthropic circles, so this certainly is possible. I don't regularly read the obituaries, either, so Mr. Kennedy's demise could have easily slipped by me.

But why was I chosen to receive millions of dollars? Chinedu had an explanation for that as well: "this money is to support your activities and to help the poor and the needy."

I'm not poor and needy, though compared to someone who's handing out $31.5 million I suppose I would be. That sum would definitely support my activities, and even enable me to develop some new ones.

How could I claim this money? The instructions were simple: respond with my full name, telephone number, contact address/country, occupation, age, and "identity card or national drivers license."

Wait, wouldn't Scott Kennedy have known most, if not all, of this information about someone to whom he was leaving $31.5 million? And being American, I have no national drivers license or identity card, unless my social security card counts.

But why quibble when millions of dollars are at stake? I eagerly sent back my information. Under occupation I wrote, "waiting by the mailbox."


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fore-get It

When I was growing up my cousin's town had an annual Junk Day where folks could put out anything they didn't want for the trash men to pick up. This is why I've only played golf once.

On Junk Day my cousin Philip and I would roam around his town, looking for treasures others were throwing out. One year, when we were probably 12 or 13, we hit the jackpot. Or, rather, several jackpots.

In one person's trash we found an old, but still decent looking, golf club. A few doors down we found another. Within an hour we probably had a dozen clubs of various types and sizes. (We even found and took a couple of left-handed clubs, for goodness knows what reason.)

By the end of the afternoon we felt like we had enough different woods and irons — we didn't really know the differences, though they mostly had different numbers — along with a putter (we knew what that one was) to actually try to play.

Luckily, there was a Par 3 (some places might call it an Executive Course or a Pitch 'N Putt) course nearby. Off we went, with the clubs tied to our bicycles. We had no golf bag, but we had plenty of clubs.

At the course we ran into a problem: on busy days the owner insisted on groups of four players, and there were only two of us. Fortune smiled upon us, in the form of two guys, both in their early 20's, who were in the same predicament and were willing to go together as a foursome.

I don't remember them asking us if we'd ever played before, but they could probably tell by our fine collection of clubs that we were new to the game. As we approached the first hole we politely told them they could go first, thinking we could watch them and learn what to do.

At the first hole one of them set up his ball and swung. Hole in one. He was thrilled.

At the second hold the other one went first. He swung. Hole in one.

Philip and I looked at each other. Then we looked at our golf partners. "I don't think we're the right guys for you," Philip said. "You should play with someone better."

And we left. I haven't played golf since. I can't speak for Philip.

Friday, July 17, 2009

You auto see this

I like shopping for a new car, primarily because the potential for entertainment is often high.

The time I was shopping for a Mazda Miata was one of those times. Not because of the dealership where I eventually bought the car; that salesperson was honest, ethical and professional — but the one I visited after his, just to confirm that what I thought was a great deal was, in fact, a great deal.

I walked into the second dealership, at the time a combined Pontiac-Mazda dealership, late on a Saturday morning. I told the greeter at the desk I was interested in a Miata, and she turned me over to a salesperson. A very stereotypical salesperson, with a food stain on his shirt, a tie that had seen better days, and a hearty handshake.

I told him I didn't need a test drive, but I was buying a Miata that day, and already had a price from another dealer. He ushered me into his office, and I, not wanting to waste time, told him what dealership I'd already visited and what price I'd been given.

He gave me a lecture, in a somewhat fatherly, somewhat superior tone, about why the price that other dealership had given me wasn't really going to happen. He told me about what shysters they were, all of the tricks they were pulling to get me to buy, and a number of other criticisms that didn't at all match the actual treatment I'd received at the first dealership.

Then he told me he was going to talk to his sales manager "to get you a real deal" and disappeared.

I waited. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Finally, bored, I left his office and wandered down the only hallway to what turned out to be the sales manager's office.

I poked my head in the office. Inside was the man I presumed was the sales manager, along with several other salespeople, all watching a baseball game on TV. They looked up, slightly shocked and perturbed, when I appeared. My salesman was the most perturbed of all. "Have you had a chance to talk to the sales manager yet?" I inquired brightly. He waved me back to his office.

He hustled down the hall behind me, and we both sat. He, being overweight and, apparently out of shape, was a bit out of breath. "I was, uh (wheeze) ... the sales manager had to (wheeze) do some research."

Unless the sales manager was researching whether Mike Mussina would throw a fast-ball or a slider on a 3-2 pitch to a left hander, I doubted there was much research going on. Still, I listened with a straight face while the salesperson told me why HIS deal, which would have cost me $1,000 more than the deal I'd already been promised, was by far the better deal.

"They're liars!" he thundered, referring to the dealership I'd visited earlier. "They take advantage of people who don't know any better." Apparently, I was one of those people.

I stood up, thanked him for his time, told him I was going to take advantage of my better deal, shook his hand and left. His comment: "You'll see. You'll be back."

He was right about one thing: when I returned to the original dealership, the deal wasn't what I'd originally been offered. It was better.

When I'd visited the dealership initially, the salesperson had given me a price for the car ($1,000 over invoice, very fair at the time) while his used car manager had called around to various wholesalers to see what he could get for my old Honda. (The dealership didn't want my car for its own used car lot, and so was wholesaling it to someone else.) $2,500 was the best price the used car manager had received, my salesperson told me. I was happy, because Blue Book value was $2,200 at the time.

When I got back to the first dealership, my salesperson, Steve, greeted me with a smile. "Hey, after you left one of the other dealerships called back, and we can get $3,000 for your Honda."

"Really? Wow. Write it up."

Now, he could have done the deal and given me $2,500. I would have been happy and never known better. But he sweetened the deal by $500 because, I suppose, it was the ethical thing to do.

Since then I've bought two other cars from that dealership and referred it to two friends who both bought cars. Steve, unfortunately, is long gone.

So, less unfortunately, is the Pontiac-Mazda dealer. I wonder if the sales manager got to keep the TV.