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A Cautionary Tale from the Planet Retha

27 Jul

by Regor White

 

Sit down, kids, and I’ll share a tale. Mikey, don’t sit so close to the fire. Your Keds are starting to melt. That’s it. OK, good.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (turn right at Andromeda, second star cluster on your left), there was a planet called Retha. The dominant species on the planet Retha were beings known as Nahums. Now, to energize their transport Planet Rethapods and to heat their dwelling units, for many years the Nahums of the good planet Retha used a substance known as ilo—a gooey byproduct of gigantic decayed creatures (called oarsiduns) that lived long before the Nahums.

As time went on, technology developed rapidly—as did the burgeoning population of Retha. The great thinkers and scientists of the planet began to wonder and worry about the safety and the continued availability of the resource ilo. They found, you see, that ilo gave off foul emissions when consumed for energy—and common sense told the thinkers that only so much ilo could be used before it was all gone. Furthermore, the thinkers had found wondrous ways to harness Retha’s natural, reusable energy—such as her great winds and the heat from her nearest star—to fulfill all of the planet’s power needs.

Alas, the influential and powerful Nahums who owned the ilo reserves resisted violently any consideration of these new energy discoveries. They intimidated the thinkers, employed their own so-called scientists to refute and discredit the thinkers, and they paid great sums to Retha’s lawgivers—an unscrupulous class Lopiticiansknown as Lopiticians—to ensure that laws and edicts quashed any and all acceptance of this upstart “renewable energy.”

Disaster followed disaster regarding use and transport of the volatile substance ilo—such as the great ilo spills in the waters of Oximec and Askala that killed all manner of creatures and fouled the once-healthy waters.

The strained rationalizations and twisted logic of the ilo elite reached the pinnacle of absurdity, however, when a process known as farcking became widespread in the Retha region known as North Aricema. Farcking was a procedure invented by the ilo industry to reach deep into Retha’s crust and force out pockets of ilo and its sister substance (called natural sag) by injecting great quantities of high-pressure liquid. This farcking process and the resultant injection of the mass quantities of farcking waste into Retha caused violent tremors—planet rumbles known as rethaquakes—where there had seldom ever been such tremors before.

In the North Aricema provinces of Sexta and Olkamoha, for example, where there had been an average of only one measurable rethaquake per year for decades, they began experiencing an average of 100 of these tremors per year since widespread farcking began there. Yet the pawns of the very wealthy ilo industry quakes!claimed there was no connection—no “concrete proof” of what was patently obvious.

Even after scientific journals all across Retha proved a definite link between the flurry of rethaquakes and the farcking procedures, the province of Sexta went so far as to forbid the governments of its very own villages to ban these rethaquake-inducing processes.

Under the guise of scholarship, ilo industry propagandists, such as the Institute for Policy Doublespeak in the village of Sallad (an ilo stronghold of the Sexta provincmr merrille) produced stories blaming geology itself for the uptick in rethaqakes. A Nahum named Merrill Swetmath, a “resident scholar” of the Doublespeak Institute, even wrote that the high-pressure injection of farcking wastes might be to blame, not the farcking itself. The ridiculous premise of this argument, of course, was that the waste-water injection WAS a basic component of the farcking process! Astounding, no?

Well, you probably know the outcome here, kids. The Lopiticians refused to listen to the scientists and true thinkers who were looking out for the future of Retha. The great and powerful ilo industry reigned supreme over the land—until, that is, swarms of rethaquakes ruined the landscape, and the ilo reserves eventually ran out, throwing an unprepared population into a new Dark Age. Poor Retha.

Thank goodness Earth is no Retha. Eh, kids?

 

Regor White is a freelance Nahum living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely spousal Nahum, two precocious offspring units, a very obese dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com. Or not.

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Call Me a Goober. I Don’t Get Uber.

2 Mar

by Roger White

 

OK, my fellow aficionados of the absurd, before we slice into the juicy prime rib of this here column, let’s settle the squabbling once and for all: What color are these words? Do you see blue type on a black background or gold type on a white background? I’ll give you a minute. No, Leonard, fuchsia on lime is not a choice.

who gives a

Apparently, because of one silly photo of a dress that was e-passed around the globe in about, oh, twelve seconds, everything we knew and believed about how we human types perceive color is right out the window. I heard tell that there were acts of gun violence in many cities and more than a few divorce proceedings initiated because of this stupid dress.

Fox News even reported that Turkneckistan declared war on neighboring Rosannadannastan over this garment argument. Citing an anonymous source, Fox claimed that the dress was to be worn at a Democratic fundraiser and that the current White House Administration is to blame for all the hubbub. As the Fox anchor concluded, “Thanks, Obama.”

Anyway. That’s not my rant for this episode. (It’s blue on black, by the way.) No, the rusted bobby pin stuck in my lower craw this time out is this Uber phenomenon. If you haven’t heard of Uber, it’s an app—started in California, of course—that magically transforms any Tom, Dick, and Hot Rod Harry with a set of wheels into a taxi cab driver. Here’s actual wording from the Uber site: “Got a car? Turn it into a money machine. The city is buzzing, and Uber makes it easy for you to cash in on the action. Plus, you’ve already got everything you need to get started.”

So, if I may extrapolate, I need nothing more than my derelict little Ford Pinto, some free time, and a desperate desire to make some cash without really working in order to chauffeur my way to riches? What a fantastic concept! What could possibly go wrong?

ruh roh ruber

Hmmm, let’s see. If you’re the guy behind the wheel—we’ll call you the Uber-er—it’s all easy money—until you get summoned to the lower east side of town to pick up a half-dozen Hell’s Angels, whose request is something like, “Just drive us around town for a while, lights off, and DON’T look in the back seat! Got it?” Or, say you’re the one looking for a ride—you’re the Uber-ee—and you get picked up in a two-tone primer and day-glo yellow ’63 Impala by a dude with a patch over one eye and a tattoo of Jeffrey Dahmer on his bicep. “Um, Sixth Street, please. Wait, um, downtown’s that way. No, wait!”

waitYou see my concerns. The threat of death and dismemberment aside, did you know that if you—the Uber-ee— opt for the Uber route during a time that is considered “high demand,” you will be charged what the smiling Uber people (Uberites? Ubereeenos?) euphemistically term “surge pricing”? Yeah. So, say you’re having little luck getting an honest-to-gosh taxi at 3 a.m. on New Year’s, and you punch up Uber on your phone thingy. It’s only a five-minute ride from the bar to your house, but you’re a little tipsy—and besides, your neighbor used Uber for the same trip only a few weeks ago, and it was only $25. Uber to the rescue! Your Uber driver is a tad odd and smells like onions and cat litter, but he gets you home in one piece. You whip out two twenties, feeling generous, and your cat-litter-smelling-cabby laughs. “That’s $675, lady.” Yep, surge pricing.

You see her concerns.

If I may extrapolate further, where will this lead? Will we have Uberfied air travel soon? I can see the Uber site now: “Got an airplane? Got at least a student’s license? Turn your Cessna into a money machine. The nation is buzzing, and many people—especially those on cartel payrolls—need transportation fast! Uber makes it easy for you to cash in on the action. Plus, you’ve already got everything you need to get started….”

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Pondering Life’s Little Scams, Schemes, and Swindles

7 Jul

by Roger White                                                                              

 

So I was standing in the shower attempting to loofah my stretch marks when one of wifey’s standing army of haircare products amassed on the shower shelf caught my eye. It was a shiny, dazzling thing, the color of polished gold. The container’s meant to grab your attention, you see, designed to stand apart from the plethora of shampoos and such that crowd the grocery shelves. Marketers never cease to amuse. Gold equals value, see, so this shampoo must be head and shoulders above the rest. Ouch, that was unintentional. So now that the golden suds caught my eye, I looked closer. I had to laugh—more superlatives and blatant hyperbole were crowded onto this little bottle of bubbles than a Barnum & Bailey circus poster.

photo

“Advanced,” “NEW,” “Total Repair,” “EXTREME,” “Emergency,” “Recovery,” “RAPID FIBER RENEWAL” (whatever that is)…and on and on. It’s as if the company’s advertising guys looked up every glowing adjective in the dictionary and simply pasted them all on the bottle. I snickered again, but then I realized, hey, it worked. It’s in my shower, ain’t it?

 

I pointed out all the grandiose gobbledygook to my wife when I exited the reading room and asked her if it was indeed the best haircare product she’d ever used. “Eh,” she said with a shrug. “It’s not that great.”

 

Ah, yes. This revelation got me pondering all the little cons and exaggerations and out-and-out flimflammery that we deal with on a daily basis. I believe we first got the idea that the scam was on as we moved from adolescence into young adulthood. This was about the time we witnessed the gradual, ever-so-subtle phenomenon known as the incredible shrinking product. Remember? Food staples such as hamburgers and candy bars slowly lost their heft over time, almost like magic.

 

gadzooksThe Big Macs and Hersheys of our youth didn’t merely appear larger back then because we were tykes; they’ve been carefully trimmed over the years. Picture your Hershey bar on a fulcrum, like a teeter-totter of corporate trickery; price goes up, product size goes down. Eventually, I suppose we’ll be shelling out $19.99 for a chocolate nibble the size of an unwell raisin. In that vein, corporate candy minds have already given us the “fun size” bar. Fun size. That’s marketing speak for “you pay us regular-size price, and we’ll give you tiny crumbs in a colorful, exciting package. Yay! Fun!”

 

The Mars Company did some more snipping just recently, shaving the size of its Snickers and Mars bars—merely for health reasons, mind you. “Having taken product reformulation as far as we can for now without compromising the great taste,” a company spokeslizard said, “we have reduced the portion size of Mars and Snickers to bring down the calories.” Right.

 

The soft drink guys did it, too, long ago—under the guise of moving to the metric system. If you’re old enough to recall, family-size cokes once came in one-gallon containers. Touting their shift to the sleek three-liter size bottle as a consumer-friendly move to a more efficient, easier-to-tote container—at the same price!—the cola industry failed to mention that customers were now getting precisely .793 of a gallon of coke for the gallon price. But what’s .207 of a gallon between friends?

 

It isn’t just at the grocery store, though. The scam is everywhere. Corporate lizards abound. If you don’t pay close attention to your wireless service bill, for example, you’ve probably been crammed. We were crammed recently, but thank goodness the wife caught it before it went on too long. In fact, T-Mobile just got slammed by the Federal Trade Commission for cramming. Sounds physically painful, I know, but cramming hits you only in the pocketbook. It’s the practice of stuffing hidden fees into your bill for services you didn’t request—hence the ugly terminology. It’s often difficult to spot the hidden fees because the wireless companies will not itemize them; rather, they’ll show up as “Use Charges” or some other ridiculous, nebulous category.

 

The list goes on. Premium gas, college textbooks, bottled water, anything and everything that movie popcorn manshows up on your hospital bill, automotive cabin air filters, shipping and handling (what the hell is handling, anyway?), hotel taxes, cable activation fees, time shares, movie snacks. It’s a mine field out there, people. It’s a dirty, slimy mine field full of lizards, to mix a metaphor or three.

 

I think I need another shower. Hey, this shampoo looks good…

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

A Mighty Wind Cometh (from an Empty Caveth)

15 Aug

almanack schmalmanackaesop schmaesopby Roger White

Never let it be said that the Spouseman ignores his readers. I recently checked my inbox and found myself inundated with an e-mail, which lamented the fact that I haven’t tested you guys with a Quizzical Quotes contest in ages. I figured we’d seen the end of QQ, seeing as how the last time we did this, three of you wrote in threatening physical violence (I won’t name full names, Ronnie, Margene, and Achmed) and I ended up in protracted litigation with the estate of Aesop’s Fables claiming copyright infringement.

But.

Ye have spoken, and thee has listened. Besides, the nifty column I had drafted about the quirky personalities in my neighborhood didn’t make it past my copy editor (that being my lovely wife)—so you’re safe for now, Ronnie, Margene, and Achmed.

The object of QQ is simple: give me the more popular version of the quotes, sayings, poems, tidbits, cereal boxtops, song titles, book titles, phrases, expressions, adages, aphorisms, platitudes and proverbs you see below. For example, the more well-known version of “I’ll take freedom or croaking” is … anyone? Bueller? Come on, it’s “Give me liberty or give me death.” Dig? Dug.

First 10 of you who e-mail me at rogdude@mail.com with anything close to the correct answers win a nifty “Jesus Is Coming, Hide the Bong” bumper sticker. First 10 of you who e-mail me your PayPal account information and anything close to the correct answers win two bumper stickers and a VIP seat at my book-signing party (to be announced as soon as I hear back from my guy Larry at Self-Publish America).

So here goes. I was going to go with 50 of them, but I got tired. Sue me.

1. “You are not just puckering your lips and melodiously blowing a tune popular in the Old South.”
2. “Rap on oak.”
3. “Treading on chicken-embryo casings.”
4. “Don’t inspect a free large, solid-hoofed herbivorous quadruped in its oral cavity.”
5. “Each canine possesses its 24-hour period.”
6. “Existence in the Driving Corridor Designated for Speedier Vehicles.”
7. “What’s the latest information, feline?”
8. “Don’t mooch things off other people and don’t loan out your stuff, either.”
9. “The clock doesn’t hang around for anybody.”
10. “In what manners do I really, really like you? Where’s the calculator?”
11. “The puny, soft-spoken guys will get the third planet from the sun.”
12. “A threaded knot at the appropriate interval precludes the necessity for three squared.”
13. “Amalgamated, our posture is upright; split apart, we hit the floor.”
14. “The precipitation in the northern Iberian peninsula comes down principally on the flatlands.”
15. “A snapshot equals a lot of talking.”
16. “Devotion has no eyesight.”
17. “Consume, imbibe, and laugh it up, because two days after yesterday we could kick the bucket.”
18. “An egg-laying winged vertebrate within the extremity has the same value as five minus three in the shrubbery.”
19. “As a pair of ocean-going vessels that came within close proximity of the other after the sun went down.”
20. “Only a couple of items are sure things: pushing up daisies and governmental levies on personal income.”
21. “Confection is nice; however, alcohol has a more rapid effect.”
22. “Being really smug and happy with yourself precedes a sudden drop.”
23. “The neatest items of existence don’t necessitate a trip to the bank.”
24. “My mind processes information, so I gotta be here.”
25. “Grasp this career occupation and push it.”
26. “This is a canine-consume-canine planetary sphere.”
27. “Twelve divided by four bed linens facing the breeze.”
28. “As comfortable as an insect within a floor covering.”
29. “Getting even is sugary.”
30. “Glimmer, Glimmer, Diminutive Gaseous Orb.”
31. “The guy who is the final guy to snicker has the highest-quality snicker.”
32. “Need is the mom of contraption.”
33. “The only item we should be scared of is being scared.”
34. “OK, let’s have the guy who’s done nothing wrong hurl the initial rock.”
35. “To Assassinate the State Bird of Texas.”
36. “Clear liquid’s all around, but we can’t imbibe any of it.”
37. “Every one of the monarch’s large, solid-hoofed herbivorous quadrupeds and every one of the monarch’s male homosapiens failed in their efforts to reconstruct the egg man.”
38. “Bluntly, Red, I do not care.”
39. “I detect spoilage in the Copenhagen area.”
40. “See ya, mean globe.”
41. “Inactive appendages equal Satan’s studio.”

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Insurance Companies & The Ninth Circle of Hell

11 Jul

by Roger White

A dubious milestone of this haphazard voyage we call aging is the unique privilege of having one’s most private of bodily parts probed, scoped and examined with cold, silvery steel instruments and high-tech cameras that lay bare one’s innermost of innards for the whole world to see. This, and a whole host of other expensive and excruciating invasions, is surely the primary reason old folks have that constant sourpuss get-the-hell-off-my-lawn look about them.

 getoffmylawn

If the seasons of one’s years can be parceled into 20-year increments, then I figure I’m now in the late autumn of my earthly existence, and I’ve recently been invaded in ways I never quite imagined. If you still have the green leaves of youth on your person and haven’t undergone such a procedure, picture one of the “Saw” movies, except with anesthesia and hospital food. And I even pay for the privilege—quite a lot, as a matter of fact. Which brings me to the point: Insurance companies are the instruments of Satan. It is true; strip away the fur of the MetLife Snoopy character or the feathers of the Aflac duck, and you’ll find the gnarled skin, boils and jagged horns of Beelzebub himself.

Oh, insurance people make all the requisite noises of friendly service and compassionate care, as long as you’re shelling out those monthly premiums on time. But try to call on your amiable insurance guy for actual coverage and you’ll witness the meek Smeagol flash to the snarling Gollum faster than you can say what’s my co-pay. Ya see, when I was first invaded a few years ago (see First Battle of Colon), I got the standard percentage of coverage—minus the hefty co-pay, of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcourse. In that First Battle of Colon, the general—I mean doctor—captured a few rebel polyps. I hate and fear that word: polyp. When you hear the word “polyp” in a sentence in reference to your body, you can be sure it isn’t good. The very word sounds rubbery and unpleasant—malevolent, even.

“Did ya hear about Rodge?”

“No, what?”

“Polyps.”

“Oh, my God.”

Anyway, these rebel polyps looked suspicious, so they were executed—and I was ordered to succumb to a second invasion in a few years (see Siege of Polyponesia) to determine if there was another uprising. So just recently, in preparation for the second great invasion, I received a call from the general’s—er, I mean doctor’s—office. The pleasant woman on the line asked how I would be paying for the procedure, and I said the same way I did for the first pleasant outing. She said sorry, but my insurance company pays for this type of invasion only every 10 years. Because of my—ugh, polyps—I have what is known in the insurance world as a preexisting condition. Sorry, Charlie. Yer on yer own. Well, she didn’t say it that way; she asked if I would consider a payment plan. As in paying the Ass Man a couple hundred dollars a month for the rest of my seasons.

Needless to say, I was flummoxed. Gobsmacked. Flabbergasted, even. Let me get this straight, I said to the pleasant woman. My insurance company will chip in its rightful portion for this god-awful event if I’m just doing it on a whim, but if it’s been determined that I really need it, then they won’t pay up. How convenient for them.

 insurance guy

Yes, she said. Welcome to the world of the preexisting condition. Gadzooks, people. Where will this lead? Will the Satan-worshipers insurance people eventually come to the greedy conclusion that everything is a preexisting condition?

Emergency room administrative person: “So how will you pay for surgery on your cracked skull?”

Guy with cracked skull: “I have insurance.”

ER person: “Sorry, we contacted them already. They determined that your clumsiness, which caused you to fall on your head, is a preexisting condition. Do you have any credit cards?”

I’m hunting down that damn duck. Anyone for Aflac à l’orange?

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Writer’s Block? No, It’s COS–Creative Obstruction Syndrome

11 Jun

by Roger White

 

When I was a kid, living in what was then a tiny suburban town with a flashing yellow light on the highway and a few close-knit neighborhoods in which summer curfew was the precise moment the street lights came on, I was good friends with the son of the town doctor. Despite the fact that he was the smartest d_burleson[1]kid in town and half the time I couldn’t understand what the devil he was talking about, he was a fun kid. For several preteen summers, we hung around together just about every day. We’d take turns having sleepovers at each other’s houses. David’s house was the nicest in town, and I always had a blast exploring the attic crawlspaces with him. We had a secret room in one of the crawlspaces we called Project Asparagus. The tiny storage space we decorated with shag rugs and posters and a black light. It was our cool, clandestine hideout. We didn’t discover until years later that his mom knew all about Project Asparagus and could hear us every time we crawled around in there. She said we sounded like two overgrown rats.

 

Anyway, David’s dad, Dr. Brown, was a community icon. Back then, you pretty much figured that doctors knew everything. You trusted their judgment. Their diagnoses, their viewpoint on things, carried much weight. Doctors fixed you. There wasn’t anything that doctors didn’t know.

 

I’m not sure if it’s a product of cynical wisdom that comes with maturity or the overwhelming influx of white noise and myriad “expert opinions” of this information age (have a symptom—Google it!), but as the years have gone by my unshakeable faith in the medical profession has eroded somewhat. In fact, if you were to graph my advancing age alongside my trust in MDs, QUAAACKyou’d have two lines angling in opposite directions. A lot of it could be due to the fact that today doctors have an official (and expensive-sounding) medical term for every human condition. And if they don’t actually know what it is that ails you, then they label it some nebulous multi-syllabic syndrome.

 

For example, lately our oldest daughter has been having stomach problems. She often feels queasy and lightheaded after she eats, and she’s even passed out a couple of times. It’s been unsettling, to say the least, so we took her in to a gastroenterologist. He took a quick gander at her, asked her a couple of questions, and pronounced that she was suffering from IBS—Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Cut back on the dairy and sugar and see me in a few weeks if it doesn’t get better, he said. Will that be cash or credit? What? That’s it? Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Geez, my bowels get irritable, too—every time I overdo the Tex-Mex and beer. Does that mean I have IBS? In fact, I would imagine everybody has IBS on occasion.

 

Don’t quote me on this, but I seriously think the word “syndrome” is either Greek or Latin for “best guess.” Just as “disorder” is code for “we really don’t know.” Instead of admitting they simply have no idea what the heck is wrong with you, docs assign you a syndrome. If you can’t sleep, you have Restless Leg Syndrome; if you’re tired a lot, you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; if you and your coworkers feel bad at the same time, you have Sick Building Syndrome. If you get mad, you have Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. And, of course, let’s not forget perhaps the most significant medical discovery of the new age: ADD. When I was a kid, if you ran ADDaround a lot, couldn’t pay attention for long stretches, and hollered like a banshee, they called you normal and made you play outside until you were worn out. Nowadays, youngsters who exhibit the very same behavior are proclaimed to be suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder and promptly pumped full of prescription drugs strong enough to tranquilize a racehorse.

 

Ouch. I had a lot more to say about this, but my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is flaring up. Meds! Where are my meds?!

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Mr. All-Day Sucker-Head and Your Friendly Fix-it Shop

6 Jun

by Roger White

Our little family was tooling along this year, struggling to stay within our monthly budget while juggling life’s big-ticket items—you know: braces, home improvement loans, countless teenage daughter items, summer camp fees times number of children squared, etc., etc.—when the two most feared words in all of suburbia’s lexicon knocked us flat.

Car repair.

Funny thing is, it all started with just a broken brake light. I’m sitting in my wife’s car at a stop light, waiting to turn right, when a smiling woman pulls up next to me and says, “Hey, your right rear light is out. Better get it fixed, ’cause the cops will stop you for that.”

Instant adrenaline panic overdrive. The cops! Where?

Ever since I was a teenager, having a cop stop me for any reason has always struck fear deep in my heart, even when I was doing absolutely nothing wrong. Readers of a certain age will remember the CSNY lyric: “Like looking in my mirror and seeing a police car!”

So the wife and I promptly hightailed it over to our nearest franchise fix-it shop, thinking that a broken rear light costs, what, five bucks maybe?

Hah. The franchise fix-it shop guys saw us coming a mile away. I should have known. I can’t think of any other scenario where I feel so much like a life-sized walking all-day sucker than talking with the mechanic man. I’m thinking I’m not alone on this.

I believe that auto repair types begin sizing you up for the big squeeze the minute you walk in the door.

“Hello, sir, I see you and your wife have a Honda V6.”

“Uh, yes.”

“Does your model have the actuated re-inverter or self-regulating?”

“What?” Off guard, I blurt, “Actuated, I think. Really, we just need a brake light…”

“Uh oh. Actuated.”

(The other guy behind the counter sadly shakes his head at this point. The choreography is keen and well-executed, I must say.)

Still, I play along, because I don’t know enough about cars to bluff them, and they know that I don’t know. Furthermore, I know that they know I don’t know. You know?

Dang, I should have said self-regulating. We’re already off on the wrong foot. “Well, it may be self-regulating, I’m not sure.”

“No, you said actuated.”

“Is that going to be a problem?” I ask.

“Depends. What are you in for?”

“Busted rear light.”

“Hmmmm.” More head shaking. Some computer clacking, looking in reference manuals.

We left the car with the fix-it shop crew, said three quick Hail Marios to the Great Grease Gods, hoped and prayed for the best, and went about our day. I tried googling “re-inverter,” but all I got was something about how to design a death-ray gun. When we got the call that the car was ready, we swallowed our gum, put on our all-day sucker heads, and made our way back to the garage. A different guy behind the counter gave us a bill that was a good 25 percent over the estimate. On the bill was a hefty item—I kid you not—that was labeled “service fee,” on top of labor, parts, tax, recycling charges, oil disposal fee, and all the rest.

My wife, always the braver of us, questioned this item, noting that the estimate was much less than the sum before us.

“This is way over what you said,” Sue said right out loud, turning all heads in the shop. I cringed. In a western movie, this was one of those moments where the piano player stopped playing and the saloon grew deathly silent. “What is this service charge?” A tumbleweed rolled eerily across the shop floor.

I expected another stern, condescending talking-to about how variable fluctuations in the world of auto parts derivatives combined with the situation in Libya, hourly swings in crude oil prices, and our particular vehicle’s unfortunate re-inverter configuration all coalesced in the time it took to repair our rear brake light to necessitate an additional service charge. But the guy looked at the bill, looked at my wife, and said, “Huh. Don’t know what that is. I’ll take it off.”

Booiiiinnng. That was the sound of my brain leaping out of my skull and bouncing on the floor. How many people, I wondered as I chased my brain across the floor, pay this “service charge” without a second thought?

“By the way, you need new struts. They’re bleeding onto your brakes. That’s about $600 without tax.”

Flush with new confidence instilled by wifey, I took my turn. “Oh, no you don’t. I know how you guys operate. Struts. No such thing as struts, I bet.”

I got some looks of approval from some of the other guy customers as we walked out of the shop. I think they were looks of approval, anyway. I had a bit of difficulty getting my all-day sucker-head in the car, but we drove away with a bit of salvaged pride. Struts, indeed.

“Hey, what’s that noise, hon?”

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Oak Hill with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.