Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fun with Chuck

A play in one act. Note: Spoken words are in normal font; thoughts are in italics. You've done this before, but I want to be very clear about what was said and what was not said.

Chuck: M**** V***** Mower Repair. This is Chuck.
Me: Hi, Chuck. This is Reticula*. I left my mower with you over three months ago. I wanted to make sure you were going to be there so I could come over and pick it up. Nobody called to tell me it was done, but I'm going to pick it up anyway.
Chuck: OK, let me find your ticket. What did you say your name was again?
 Me: Reticula.
Chuck: (after a long pause) I don't have a ticket for you. What kind of mower is it?
 Me: Craftsman.
Chuck: Green?
 Me: Red.
Chuck: (another long pause) I can't find the ticket or the mower. (He asks a bunch of boring questions about the mower to help him distinguish it.) Sorry, I can't find a ticket for you or your mower. I'll have to call you back.
 Me: I have the ticket you gave me. (I read him the number.) I called the week before Memorial Day and you said you would finish it the next week.  You seemed to have it then. It's now July 12 and I want my mower whether it's done or not.
Chuck: OK. Call you back.
Chuck: (Ten minutes later) Miss Reticula, I found your mower. I don't have a ticket though so I don't know what I did to it. I don't know what to charge you for the work I did.
 Me: You've had it for three months. I don't know what you did to it either. After that long, you could have married it and started a family for all I know. And really? You're going to charge me after you kept it for three months and then lost it. Guess who's going to lose it next? You were supposed to fix the pull cord and sharpen the blade.
Chuck: Oh, yeah. I did that.
 Me: Uh huh. It really doesn't matter now. I just want my mower back. You said it would take less than two weeks. It's been at least three months. I'll take it whether it's done or not. You really should deliver it and mow my lawn for free, you dickwad. And detail my van. I've been living without internet and phone service and dealing with Time Warner for six days. You have no idea how fucking close I am to a red-headed meltdown.
Chuck: OK, I'm sorry. Listen, I'll give you a free oil change and tuneup because I shouldn't have lost your ticket and it's been so long. Can you give me long enough to do that?
 Me: I don't care about that. I just want my mower back. I have another errand to run and then I'll be there. Do you think I just woke up in the cabbage patch today? You didn't fix my mower, but you want to hurry and do it so I'll have to pay you. How I hate being lied to.
Chuck: Call me before you come. I may have to run out.
 Me: I'll call, but have my mower ready soon. I'm taking it no matter what condition it's in. And you'd better be there when I call.

(An hour later. I've driven downtown to renew my driver's license. Although I could have ridden my bike in far less time, I need my van to pick up my mower. I found the rare parking space, but the meter wouldn't give me time even after I pumped in three quarters. The phone number on the meter took me to hold hell for ten minutes, so I put a note on my van begging the very attentive meter nazis not to give me a ticket. And then I went in and had a driver's license photo taken six times before I finally kept my eyes open long enough to produce the goofiest photo I've ever worn on a license before. No, you can't see it. It's hideous. I call Chuck and tell him I'm on my way.)

Chuck: I'm not quite done with your mower. How long will it be until you get here? Half an hour?
 Me: No, more like ten minutes. It doesn't matter if you're done. I'm taking it. WTF is the matter with this guy? Is he going to hold my seven-year-old mower for ransom? I'm taking that fucking mower even if it's in pieces.
Chuck: OK, take your time.

(I pull into an alley and park beside the garage that is Chuck's repair shop. He's nowhere in sight. The garage is filled except for a narrow walkway with the shell an old car up on blocks, maybe a 50's-something Pontiac. Every kind of junk imaginable is piled on and around it: tires, springs, small engines, empty soda bottles, boxes of parts, handles that don't attach to anything, empty oil bottles. I look closer and wonder what that yellow liquid is in several reused soda and dish soap bottles. It looks suspiciously like....but surely it's not....pee. Better it's pee than gasoline though, right? With all the cigarette butts littering the greasy floor? My mower is sitting on its side right outside the door, oil draining into a pan. Good move, Chuck. I can't take it like that, can I? Chuck finally comes out. He has my blade, newly sharpened, in his hand.)

 Me: I'm Reticula. I'm here to pick up my mower.
Chuck: It will be just a minute. I'm almost done.
 Me: I hope it won't take long.
Chuck: I'm really sorry about this. I am. You don't know how bad this makes me feel that I lost your ticket and didn't call you. I feel so terrible. (He hangs his oversized head.) I'm really so sorry.
 Me: (I look at him being all pathetic and shit: his baggy, filthy t-shirt, his cut-off-into-shorts sweat pants, his row of missing front top teeth, his hair that looks like he cut it himself.) Shit. It's just a fucking mower. I have one in my garage I've been using. My next door neighbor doesn't even have one and has to borrow one or hire somebody to mow her grass. It's just a fucking mower, not a person. Sigh. I forgive you, Chuck. It was just a mistake and I've made lots of them myself. Too many to allow me to judge other people. I'll just read a book in my van until you're done and then I'll take my mower and go. (I manage a smile.)
Chuck: OK, it won't take me long. Thank you. Thank you.

(I get a book from my van and settle under the back hatch to read in the 90+ degree heat. Sweat is running down my back and through my hair. Chuck starts to put the blade on, but then comes over to the van with the part that holds the blade in his hand. He shows me the molded hunk of metal and tells me the bumps that hold the blade on are worn off and it's not safe to put it back on. The blade will slip and blah blah blah.)

 Me: Just go ahead and replace it.
Chuck: I will, but I don't have the part. Heil Brothers over on Wilmington might have one though. I could call and ask them if you wouldn't mind running over there and getting it. I won't charge you for putting it on.
 Me: I could put that fucking blade on myself. Why would I pay you to screw that part on my mower anyway? I only needed you to sharpen it. I wish I had a sharp object in my hand....no, I don't. That wouldn't be good. I'm so fucking hot. You want me to go and pick up a part for a job you said you did weeks ago? I thought you'd already sharpened the blade before.
Chuck:  Oh, well.....like I said I'm really sorry about that. I could put this on with my air gun and tighten it down for now. Then I could get the part and you could bring your mower back later.
 Me: You've got to be fucking kidding me. Come back here? Ever? Really? No, I don't want to load my mower in the van and come back here with it again. I'll go get the part.

(Chuck calls ahead so the other store will have the part ready and tells me where to go to get it. I get in my van and drive away. It will take about twenty minutes to get there and another twenty to get back. I've gone about four blocks when my cell phone rings. It's Chuck.)

Chuck: Hi, Reticula? (He uses my first name as if we're dating now.) I was just wondering, since you're going to be there anyway, could you pick up a cable I ordered at Heil Brothers? I'll just take the cost of it off your bill.
 Me: I don't believe this. Now I'm unpaid labor? I just want my fucking mower back! OK, Chuck. Tell them to have it ready for me. I'll bring it back.

(I get to the big fancy lawn mower store. I gaze with envy at the brand new mowers. If I'd just bought one of those instead of taking my mower to Chuck.....I go up to the counter and ask for my part. The guy says he doesn't know anything about it. He asks five or six other guys. Nobody there knows what the fuck I'm talking about. He's ready to give up. I tell him to make sure he asks everybody so he finally finds a guy in the back who talked to Chuck. He gets my part. I ask about the cable. Nobody knows anything about it. Apparently Chuck didn't really order it like he thought he did. I call Chuck and hand my phone to the guy who talked to him earlier. He finds the cable and $21 later, I'm out the door. I flex the cable and wonder if it's long enough to use as a garrote. Back downtown I go with my mower parts. When I get there, I give them to Chuck and sit in the back of my van waiting for him to finish my mower. He uses the new part to secure my blade and pulls off another part. He brings it over to show me.)

Chuck: This is your air filter. I was going to just blow it out, but see? It's pretty bad. You need to replace it. It will be $7.20, but I won't charge you for putting it on.
 Me: I could replace a fucking air filter myself. I just wanted my cord to pull and my blade sharpened. Three months ago. It's not just hotter than hell out here. It's hell. I'm in hell. OK, Chuck. Just put the new air filter on it. Whatever.
Chuck: (Unwraps the new air filter and installs it. Sets my mower up on its wheels and pushes it over to my van. He gives the rope a tug and it starts up with a roar and a greasy burp of exhaust. Evidently it's fixed.) There you go. See it's all fixed. Now let's see. You owe me for the cord, the blade, the air filter....
 Me: And you owe me for the cable I bought you at Heir Bros. Here's the receipt.
Chuck: Oh. OK, the blade holder (not the real name, but by now I've totally lost my ability to process language or numbers) and the air filter are about the same so that comes out even....Oh, but I got you a discount so it would have been $9.00.
 Me: Are you kidding me, Chuck? I drove over there and bought it myself and saved you a trip for your other part too!
Chuck: Well, yeah, but you did use my discount....See, right here? (He points at the receipt.)
 Me: (Not looking.) I don't believe this. You kept my mower for three months, lost it, didn't have it fixed when you said you did. I had to drive and buy my own parts after I got here and picked up a part for you too and you're standing there telling me you got me a discount? Really? Really, Chuck? Really? Is that what you're telling me? He's lucky the mower is between us. I bet I know how this guy lost his teeth. It was no accident. Somebody knocked those pearly fuckers right out of his face. I wish there were more left so I could do the same....no, that would be crazy. He's a lawn mower guy. I have a graduate degree and teach at a university.....Fuck that! I'm a red-head. We get crazy sometimes. Where's my pea shooter?
Chuck: Well, I did change your oil for free. And I put on your air filter for free.
 Me: I could have put on my own air filter and I didn't ask you to change my oil. I could have taken my mower to Heil Brothers in the first place and it wouldn't have taken three months to get it fixed. That's what I should have done.
Chuck: Well, I shouldn't speak bad about my competitors, but they probably would have kept it at least three weeks over there. They aren't that much faster.
 Me: (Putting my degree in rhetoric to good use.) Chuck, three weeks is not as long as three months. You had it way longer than they would have.
Chuck: I'm just saying I've been trying to make up for it. I'm really sorry too. Really sorry.
 Me: I'm done. Just write me up a bill, and itemize it so I know what I'm paying for. I need to get out of here.
Chuck: OK, I probably said I'd charge you more, but I'll take $30.
 Me: Fine. Can you take my card or do I need to write a check?
Chuck: I only take cash.
 Me: Great. Just like the fucking DMV and they took most of my cash for my new driver's license. (I get out my little money purse.) I have $13 in cash. You can either take that and call it good, or I'll write you a check.
Chuck: I guess you could write a check. Or there's a little ATM around the corner....
 Me: No, once I leave here I'm not coming back. Take the cash I've got or take the check. Your choice. (I start writing the check. The last check I have with me.)
Chuck: OK, I guess if I have  any problems with the check I can call you.
 Me: Wait! If he has any problems with me? With me? With my check? (I stop writing and stare at him.) I wish I had the kind of superpower where my eyes would melt things like metal and rocks and mower-repair men. You won't have a problem with my check.
Chuck: I just want to make sure I get paid. You know, you got about a $75 tuneup for only $30.
 Me: No, it's $45 because I paid for your fucking cable, which I didn't garrote you with....Oh, I need to get out of here. Is every crazy in the world out to get me? You had my mower for three months. You lost it.
Chuck: I know and I'm really sorry about that. But I just want you to remember what it could have cost you. 
Me: Yeah, I'll try to remember that. If I don't get out of here, it will cost me a few years in prison. The very least I'm going to do if I don't leave this place very soon is open one of those bottles of pee-yellow liquid and pour it over his head. I might not light a match.....or I might. Some people already think I'm crazy. I'd probably get off with an insanity plea. (I hand him the check.)
Chuck: Can you give me a hand lifting this into your van? How did you get it in when you brought it over?
 Me:  I lifted it in myself by putting the front wheels up first. (We lift together and put the mower in the back of my van.)
Chuck: Smart girl.
 Me: Don't do it. It's almost over. Don't do it. Don't do it. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.....
Chuck: OK, there you go. I hope next time you need some work done you'll remember everything I tried to do to make things right and come back here.

(I don't look at him again. I walk calmly to the driver's door of my van and get in. I start the van. I put it in drive, not reverse, which would of course have been dangerous for Chuck, who is still standing behind my van, and I drive away with my mower. Three months.... and one hour and 45 minutes after I left my mower with Chuck, I drive away with it, not one bit grateful that I got all that "free" stuff, but very grateful that I didn't hurt anybody today.....yet.)

*Names have been changed although it's really too late to protect the innocent.


  1. Ha! I have been halfway through a post about my experience with "Internet People" for about two weeks and haven't finished it. Not quite as bad as your fun with ol' Chuck here, but it's still a story. We'll see if I ever get around to posting it.

    Just keep up with that serenity prayer, friend. And avoid Chuck. <3

  2. I write so much more when I'm not teaching writing. All the time I usually spend grading, I've been spending writing this summer. Most of it's crap I don't let loose in public, but I've been tapping the keys a lot. I have three more in process for here. Chuck was a diversion, but I had fun writing it and getting it out of my system.

  3. Love this! How perfectly you've captured what most of us have been through with our "business" associates. Chuck brought to mind a guy who used to be on one of the School Boards where I was the Business Manager in Vermont. This guy was an even more awful version of Chuck, if that could be possible. Whenever this guy would walk into my office I developed the technique of seeing his rather "swine-like" face encased in a flaming human butt. It worked like a charm, I could look this guy right in the face and smile through all the crap he was spewing.

    Enjoyed this immensely!

  4. Thanks, Ron. I really did try to be understanding there for a while, but the nicer I was, the more he took advantage of me. Next time I need my mower fixed, I'll just go back to the place I used to go to in the 'burb.

  5. omg you are reminding me of people we both know right now. if i ever need a mower fixed around here, i am talking to you first.

  6. I can definitely tell you where not to go. And I do believe I know who you mean. I need an update from you soon!