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.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Scam-A-Rama Ding Dong

Our oldest daughter, at the tender age of 15, is on the verge of having money. A lot of money.

Or so says a letter she just received today from a man in South Carolina (we're in Maryland).

The letter, which many, many folks have received, is a variation on the old chain letter scheme: send the seven people on a list some money, remove the top person's name, add your name to the bottom of the list, mail to a bunch of people (in this case 200) and wait for the money to roll in.

The letter promised that our daughter, currently making minimum wage as a restaurant hostess, would make $71,000, $250,000 or $800,000. (The letter was a little vague on the exact amount to expect, but in bold, capital letters it said the $800,000 was guaranteed. (It neglected to mention by whom.)

Skeptical? Well, don't be. The letter offered not one, not two, but three proofs:

Oprah Winfrey had tested this idea and it worked.
ABC's 20/20 had tested this idea and it worked.
A retired attorney had tested this idea and it worked. His unsigned letter — no name given — was part of the package.

I wonder just what sort of attorney he was.

For one thing, his punctuation and grammar are, shall we say, a bit creative. (He particularly likes to capitalize words randomly in the middle of sentences.) He also seems to be unaware that chain letters such as this are illegal, and have been for years.

I suspect he's also a little math challenged, since the letter he cites returns of $71,000, $250,000, $800,000 and $2,341,178 for a mere $3 investment. It doesn't take much of a mathematician to realize that, since none of these numbers are divisible by 3, either some folks don't mail $3, some folks can't count, or some folks are running a scam.

What are the odds?

My favorite part of the letter is this:

The attorney tells his client, who brought him the letter originally, that it is "100% legal." Apparently 100% isn't enough, because his client "then asked me to alter it to make it perfectly legal."

What's the difference between "100% legal" and "perfectly legal"? "I asked him to make one small change in the letter."

There are other letters included in the packet, along with helpful instructions, including the comment that stamps are sold at the Post Office. (Gotta spell everything out for some people, I guess.)

Don't know 200 people to whom you can mail this golden opportunity? Not to worry: information on a company that sells mailing lists is in the instructions, along with the company's phone number and the note that it accepts Mastercard and Visa.

So how did this stranger in South Carolina get our daughter's name? If he followed the instructions, he asked the mailing list company for names in this category: Opportunity Seekers.

Our daughter must be one, though I haven't seen her seek too many opportunities beyond attempting to make the track team and soccer team at school.

Sadly, her five-, six- or seven-figure income opportunity doesn't seem like it's going to happen any time soon. But her economic future isn't all bad.

Minimum wage goes up next week.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Silence is Golden

My first wife, for reasons I never understood, was fluent in sign language for the deaf. When we met I thought it was a fairly useless skill, but it turned out I was wrong.

One day we were riding the subway in New York (at the time we both lived in New Jersey, not far from Manhattan) and a group of teenagers got on our train. They were hooting and hollering and making a lot of noise, though not speaking actual words. The reason became quickly obvious: they were deaf.

As they carried on and the people in the car looked at them, they began signing to each other about how stupid and ugly all of us were. They criticized what everyone else in the subway car was wearing, reading, doing, etc. I turned to my wife. "You know what they're saying, don't you?" She nodded.

We continued on, as they finally got around to commenting in sign language about us. We sat silently. Then we arrived at our stop.

As the train doors opened and we stood to walk out, my wife signed to them: "You're right, there are stupid people on this train. Guess who?"

The looks on their faces were priceless.