Archive for the ‘Complaint Dept.’ Category


Thursday, June 30th, 2016

The trailer for The Lobster makes it look like a madcap send-up of our culture’s obsession with romance and its privileging of romantic couples. The actual movie is a logically inconsistent and stomach-turningly violent examination of the atrocities of totalitarianism.


While I’m on the topic, you know what else had a misleading trailer? The Savages. Looks like a bittersweet family comedy, admittedly dealing with some tough content, right? It’s actually a dive into a depressive and largely non-redeemed tunnel of mortality. (Yes, I have been carrying this resentment since 2007.)


Car Repair, a Prickly Personality, and John’s Refusal to Believe 3 Sources Who Say Exactly the Same Thing

Friday, May 9th, 2014

A few weeks ago, when I was preparing to take the car in for an oil change, John pointed out a problem I hadn’t noticed.

“Can you get them to fix this?” he asked, showing me the latch at the bottom of the driver’s side door. The screws had come loose—they had come entirely out, it seemed—and the latch was no longer fixed to the frame of the car.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll tell them to handle it.”

Alas, the guys (and one woman!) at my repair shop told me that they couldn’t do it. I wasn’t 100% sure why, as we’re dealing with two layers of language barrier: a) I understand almost nothing mechanical; and b) they speak English with thick Chinese accents. What I gleaned was that the problem wasn’t simply about screws being loose. There was something the screws had to attach to that had come unattached and . . . couldn’t be reattached? By them? Because, and here was the bigger news: There was no entry point for them to get inside and do the work. Apparently, I would need a body shop to drill a hole through part of the frame of the car.

I took the car to a body shop. How did I choose a body shop? I looked for places  within walking distance of my house. There are two: Official-Looking Big Clean Place, and Scary-Looking Broken-Down Place. Naturally, I chose the former, although it DID occur to me that I might be using faulty logic. Because when it comes to body shops—and things that have to be jerry-rigged and drilled and maybe even blow-torched, which would have been exciting—maybe you want the quick-and-dirty guy who’ll do anything to get the job done, as opposed to the place where they have clipboards and pre-printed forms?

Anyway. The guy at Big Clean Place didn’t look happy about the job. “You should take it to the Honda dealer,” he said. “See if they have a recall on that latch. Because that is poor design.”

I drove over to the Honda dealership. They shook their heads. “Yeah, you have to take it to a body shop.”

“I did,” I said. “They said to come to you.”

“There’s no recall,” the guy assured me. “And I’ve seen this before. You have to drill a hole.”

Bizarrely, he told me that my insurance might pay. “Because it’s wear and tear,” he said.

“Isn’t normal wear and tear precisely what insurance doesn’t pay for?” I thought, correctly, but didn’t say. (I later called Geico, and yup. Although to the phone guy’s credit, he seemed very willing to believe that I may have been in an accident, if only I would suddenly remember having had one.)

So, back to the body shop, where the guy seemed, again, not entirely happy to see me. “I can’t work on this now,” he said. “First opening is in two weeks.”

“That’s fine,” I said. “Just put me in the schedule.”

“I’ll have to call you later today,” he said.

He didn’t call. So the next day, I called him and got on the schedule.

“Do you have an estimate for me?” I asked.

“I’ll have to call you later,” he said.

He didn’t call. So a week later, I called and got an estimate.

“It’ll be about $250,” he said.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll see you next week.”

Now, at this point it was pretty clear to me that he didn’t want the job—either that, or his customer service was in the toilet. And either way, I understood, the signs weren’t good. But I didn’t want to take the car to Scary-Dirty Place, and I didn’t want to take it somewhere where I’d have to sit and wait. Sitting is not my best thing, as many of you know. So I figured, I’m going to see this through.

Reckoning Day arrives, and I take the car into the shop, leave it there, and walk myself home in a quick five minutes. A few hours later, he gives me  a call.

“Bad news,” he says. “The something something may actually not be strong enough to hold the bolts once we something something, and we may have to get a new part, and the labor is 8 hours. So, best case scenario, you’re looking at $889, and it could go up to $1200. You should really take it somewhere else and get another estimate.”

I was dumbfounded. I mean, how hard could it be, drilling into the frame and screwing some bolts back in? But I didn’t have any leverage, and if they believed that a new part probably had to be ordered, that’s what they believed. It wasn’t as though he was trying to swindle me into paying; he was actually trying to get me to take my business elsewhere. Although . . . why? Because either way, weren’t they going to get their money? I went and picked up the car. And immediately drove it a block down, to Scary-Dirty Place.

“We can’t do an estimate today,” said the guy through the little glass window. “Come in tomorrow at 1:30.”

That night, as John and I ate dinner, I told him the story.

“How is that possible?” he said.

“I know,” I said. “It’s insane that they think it will cost that much. But if they really have to drill in there and then order another part for the frame because the frame isn’t strong enough or whatever . . . ”

“That just does not sound right to me.”

“But it’s what they said. The regular guys, the body shop, and the dealership. They all said that.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Okay, but they all said it. Three shops.”

“Maybe we should take it back to the Honda dealership and demand that they fix it for free,” he said.

“They’re not going to do that.”

“But if it’s an issue with poor design, they should.”

“I mean . . . that’s not . . . it doesn’t work that way.”

“Maybe it does.”

“Okay,” I said. “If it comes to that, we can do that. And by ‘we’ I mean ‘you.’ But let’s see what these other guys have to say tomorrow.”

The following afternoon, I pull into Scary-Dirty Place, where there’s a new person huddled inside the tiny, closed-in office to the left of the drive-in opening. I knock on the window to get her attention. “I have an estimate at 1:30?”

She walks out without saying a word, pad of paper in hand (no pre-printed forms here!), and opens my car door to get the VIN number.

“Need the mileage,” she says, holding out her hand.

I give her the keys, and she hands me the pad. “Name, address, and phone number.”

While I’m writing, she returns the keys, says, “It’s so cold here,” and walks outside to stand in the sun.

So . . . customer service maybe isn’t their thing, is what I’m thinking. I walk out with the pad and hand it to her. “Should I stay while they do the estimate?” I ask. “Or leave my car here?”

“Just stay,” she says. “I’ll go get him.”

She walks over to a guy in the back of the garage, says something, and then he’s quickly moving toward me, head down, eyes on the floor.

“What’s wrong with your car?” he barks.

I show him the latch. “You have to drill a hole,” I explain. “There’s no other way in.”

“Who told you that?” he barks again.

“Three different shops.”

He shakes his head. “You should really be smarter,” he growls, “than the machine you’re working on.”

“So, you don’t have to drill a hole?” I ask.

“I hate money,” he says. “That’s why everybody says that about me. I just hate money.”


“Got a minute?” he asks the car, and I say yes.

He blows by me, grabs something from the other side of the garage, and returns, crouching at the opening of the car door with a flashlight in his mouth and a screwdriver in either hand. I watch as, ever so gently, he nudges the plates inside the latch into alignment and then begins to turn the screws.

“Are you fixing it?” I say as I watch, incredulous.

He’s silent.

“What was wrong, though?” I ask. “There wasn’t a weld that had broken?”

“You really should be smarter than the machines you work on,” he growls again. Then he stands up, job obviously done. “How much were they going to charge you for that?”

“Anywhere from 900 to 1200 dollars.”

“I don’t know how anybody can get away with that,” he says.

“But I don’t think they wanted to fix it. Or maybe they didn’t know how?”

“Who sent you here?”

“Nobody,” I said. “I saw your place from the road.”

“Nobody wants to give business to me.”

“I do,” I said. “How much can I pay you?”

“How’s 25 bucks,” he says.

“How’s 50,” I say, handing him a $50 bill.

“No way,” he says.

“Yes way,” I say.

“Give it to her,” he says, pointing to the woman in the office and walking away from me.

I find the door and start to hand the woman $50.

“She’s going to try to give you $50,” the guy says to the woman, suddenly appearing behind me.

“Oh, honey,” the woman says. “Just keep it. We can’t take that.”

“You should take it,” I say. “I’m really grateful.”

“No,” she says. “You keep it. It’s just ’cause he knows how to do things.”

“I know how to do things,” I say, “and I like getting paid for it.”

She pets her dog, a sweet little dachshund sitting behind her on the office chair.

“How about 20?” I ask. “Will you take 20?’

She begrudgingly accepts it. “He’d be happy,” she says, “if you just got him a bottle of wine.”

“You can buy wine with $50,” I say.

“This is fine,” she says.

“What’s his name, anyway?” I ask.

“Him? Oh, that’s Michael, and I’m Kimberly. Let me get you a card.”

She hands me a card, and on the way out, I read it: same last name. They’re married! And they own this place!

As soon as I get home, I Yelp the crap out of these folks. Unsurprisingly, the results are split: Half the reviews say that the place is a godsend, Michael is a master craftsman, and you can trust him and Kimberly with your life. The other half are written by people who didn’t actually get any work done, so horrified were they by the initial customer service. Witness:

Sorry Bob’s.  How can you possibly be in business with an insanely human-repellant [sic] attitude like that?  You SERIOUSLY need to fire that guy, or make him NEVER responsible for giving estimates, and Science have mercy if that man is you, Bob, the owner.  If you hate your life that much, you need to find a new job, take some vacation and/or medication, get professional help, etc, NOT work with people in a service role, and certainly not drive away your own business and take your emotional issues out on other completely innocent people.  You need help.

I think I know who that was, Yelp poster. I think it was Michael. And he is a freaking MASTER CRAFTSMAN.

Also, he might have Asperger’s. Or maybe just rage?

Anyway, CAR FIXED! 20 BUCKS! And JOHN WAS RIGHT JOHN WAS RIGHT JOHN WAS RIGHT! 3 unique shops got it wrong. One unique shop got it right. Bob Motter Auto Body, you have my business for life.



Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

I say it every four years, and I’m going to say it again: WTF is up with the women’s beach volleyball uniforms? WHY AREN’T THE WOMEN DRESSED LIKE THE MEN?

It’s obvious from the fact that the men wear giant board shorts and floppy basketball jerseys that you don’t need a bikini to play beach volleyball. Ergo, the ONLY possible reason for the lingerie wear is objectification and sexism.

I actually read somewhere that until recently, there was a regulation regarding how SMALL the bikinis had to be—i.e., that they couldn’t be ABOVE a certain inch size. And as if it weren’t apparent from their thong-ish appearance (which it is), we can also gather from the fact that Misty and Kerri are always picking them out of their butts that this size is WAY TOO SMALL for comfort.

This is a SPORT. It is not A FASHION SHOW or  A GIRLIE MAGAZINE or anything else I detest. Kerri and Misty, can you please get with the other women in the sport and refuse to wear this deeply insulting pile of oppression? I don’t see how you could do anything else.



P.S. So, here’s a bit about how the bikinis are no longer required—not out of respect for the women, of course, but as a concession to more “conservative” cultures. And how many of the women will keep wearing the bikinis, because they, God help us, like them. Here’s a Kerri Walsh quote that makes me sad:

“We need to be wearing bikinis. You don’t want to be wearing baggy clothes and be lost in your clothes . . . we found something that is functional and sassy at the same time.”

Oh, Kerri. It’s not “sassy” to have half the world ogling your naked butt cheeks instead of marveling at your athleticism. It’s … gross.

The Problem of Sympathy

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Did anyone else read Jonathan Franzen’s latest piece in The New Yorker, about the purported problem of sympathy in Edith Wharton?

I confess to not having made it through the entire thing, largely out of pique rage. Franzen lost me the moment he asserted that, and I quote, “[Wharton] wasn’t pretty.” Really? I mean . . . all he had to do was say that she wasn’t considered pretty, acknowledging in a single word the caprice of the concept of beauty and its inextricability from time/place/culture/viewer, and I’d have been fine. Instead, we get his Voice of Masculine Authority condemning her appearance as though it were universally accepted fact.

It makes me want to punch him. Which, if you know anything about my lengthy one-sided relationship with Franzen, you know is how I feel about him approximately half the time.

Anyway, that was my first snag. He goes on to discuss the aforementioned “problem of sympathy” in Wharton, which I’ve never felt. As in, how is Lily Bart not sympathetic, whether she’s considered beautiful or not (and she is)? Bart has depressingly few options in life and only one tool to use—the beauty—which as she ages is losing its caché. She’s trying as hard as she can to get what she needs and, ultimately, failing. It never even occurred to me not to feel for her.

(I can’t speak for The Age of Innocence or Ethan Frome, having read them at too tender an age to remember much.)

At any rate, here’s what’s fascinating to me about Franzen’s having chosen this topic: His writing is often accused of the same problem. When Freedom came out, you heard people everywhere complaining about its characters, and how they supposedly weren’t important (as if “importance”—what is that code for, even?—had ever been connected to sympathy), and how nobody wanted to hear middle-class white people whine about their “issues.”

Which boiled my blood. Because a) Every single human being has a story and is therefore interesting, full stop, and b) In the second chapter of the book [SPOILER ALERT] Patty is raped, and much of the book is about her inability to deal with that rape. And from her parents’ chillingly blasé and self-protective response to that rape, we know that she hasn’t been given much fortification in life; put another way, as a child she didn’t receive real love or support, so as an adult she doesn’t know how to accept them. It’s surprising, actually, that she copes as well as she does.

The thing is, I find Franzen’s characters, in Freedom and in The Corrections, immensely sympathetic. I find his narrative voice unbelievably generous; his love for his characters seems to spill over the page. I would say, in fact, that I find those two novels more loving and compassionate than almost anything else I have read. And folks, I have read a lot.

That’s why it’s so bizarre (and a source of amusement to my friend Ted—hello, Ted!) that I tend to find Franzen himself insufferable. In this I am far from alone, I know. He seems unable to give an interview without coming off as a self-satisfied prig, and lately he’s been saying nutty things about how the Internet is destroying the world. (Even his claim that nobody with an Internet connection writes good fiction is just so patently false.)

I can never quite put them together, these two extremes. It’s as though Franzen reserves every last morsel of his heart for his fiction and, once spent there, has nothing left to give anything else—or doesn’t want to, anyway.


Wendy and the Lost Boys

Monday, November 21st, 2011

I read the Wendy Wasserstein biography, and, to use a technical term, ew. Despite an intensely compelling subject, the writing—well, the writing stinks.

Author Julie Salamon has no ear for rhythm. The prose just plods, dutifully relaying plot point after plot point, with no apparent notion of craft. It’s almost like reading a list of events, with a nod here and there to the need for some kind of meaning-making.

Worse, the analysis of Wasserstein is both simplistic and judgmental*, boiling down undoubtedly very complex motivational brews to single psychobabular notions—and even using words like “dumpy” to describe Wasserstein! “Dumpy”!

*Yes, pot/kettle. Owning it.

It’s not just that Salamon doesn’t seem to like Wasserstein. It’s that she seems to relish judging her, even (maybe especially) for her weight—without any consciousness of how hard it might have been to have a larger body, particularly in the circles in which Wasserstein socialized, or that having such a body might have been something Wasserstein didn’t have the power to control.

Salamon judges Wasserstein for her secrecy, too, and for her apparent inability to be honest in the face of conflict. Yes, those are tough traits in a friend—or anyone—and Wasserstein hurt people through the years. But when I read about Wasserstein’s upbringing and early adulthood, I understand why.

In fact, the Wasserstein family saga reads to me almost as an object lesson in the perils of the achievement value. With the exception of one sibling who was developmentally disabled and another who largely opted out, the Wasserstein siblings all made it big: brother Bruce as a Wall Street titan in the 80’s and 90’s; sister Sandra as one of the first female VP’s in the Fortune 500 world; and Wendy as a Pulitzer-Prize- and Tony-award-winning writer. All of them seem to have put work before love; none of them sustained a romantic relationship; all of them died relatively young.

Those are harsh connections to draw, I know. And their collective poor health could easily have been coincidence, or genes, or miserable luck. But I wonder.

On another note, I need to read Wasserstein’s plays. I saw The Sisters Rosensweig in 1993, when it had been running on Broadway for about 6 months. I remember it as sweet and sit-commy, two criticisms Wendy apparently bridled against. Was her other work more probing? I must know.


Friday, November 18th, 2011

On the sixth day, God invented escrow.

And it never, ever ended.


Until the end of time.

When it still didn’t end

and instead began to kill people.

And for the Record

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

I watched Angels in America: Perestroika. And, um. It was pretty much insufferable.

If you love it, can you explain to me your love?

Because here’s what I’m seeing:

  1. Way, way repetitive. There’s almost nothing in the second half that adds to the first. Points made, Kushner. I wish somebody had advised him to cut the work to a single evening.
  2. Silly, silly theology. What, it’s supposed to be news that God has abandoned us?* And . . .
  3. I always find it narcissistic when people view their tragedy, or their century, as evidence of God’s abandonment. As far as I can tell, there is no era of human history that wasn’t rife with injustice and suffering. So it takes your personal tragedy to make you doubt the presence of God?
  4. That’s not to say that AIDS  in the 80s wasn’t a hideous ravaging of a guiltless people. And I do see the bravery in Kushner’s having confronted it head-on, as early as the late ’80s (when he wrote it).
  5. But oh, the preachery!
  6. And why does he saddle us with the insufferable Louis, whose chickenshit intellectual posturing is not worth our time? Roy Cohn the Uber-Hater makes more sense as a character, because he, at least, is interesting.
  7. Too many visions! One or two will suffice!
  8. Too many drug trips! One or two will suffice!
  9. Prior’s mother and the angel was a big no-no for me. It’s laughable instead of funny. I want Kushner to have more respect for his character than that.
  10. Drag queen with a heart of gold. Ugh.

*For the record, that is not my theological position. Kushner didn’t invent the idea, is what I’m saying.

Sorry to be Ms. Negativo. I’ve just always heard these plays praised to pieces. And I’m not seeing it.

A Little Ditty on a Topic of Great Importance

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Automatic faucet,
you make me so mad.
All things about you
are totally bad.

You’re hot when I’m hot
and cold when I’m cold.
You clearly were fashioned
in a stupidity mold.

I can’t turn you on
without just the right spot
which is frankly a mystery
as often as not.

And then you turn off
before I can lather—
another big bother—
as surely I’d rather

be able to handle
the knobs on my own.
I know when I need you
and when I am done.

But you couldn’t care less
about what I need.
Thus I’m driven to drivel
via Internet screed.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Is a good movie. Why aren’t people seeing it?

It’s a little too easy—a light-ish comedy about depression and other emotional illness—but it’s also smart, funny, compassionate, and endearing. Plus, any movie that establishes a causal relationship between the pressure to achieve and depression is a winner in my book. I give it a Well Worth Seeing.

During our screening in Santa Cruz, the fire alarm went off about half-way through. We strolled outside for some air and were snugly back in out seats within 10 minutes. Nice leg break. They should do that more often—absenting any actual fires, naturally.

In other news, we continue to hate our toaster oven. I attempted online research with an eye toward buying another but was beaten into near-hopelessness. All I want is a new model of the old one—a 4-slice jobbie that toasts quickly and well, plus has oven settings.

What I learned online is that so does everybody else. And it doesn’t exist. Apparently in the years since I last bought a toaster oven, the manufacturers have entered a feature war, resulting in the introduction of options nobody needs and the elimination of common-sense functionality.

Could that be . . . a metaphor for something? Maybe it’s just a metaphor for technology.

It is kind of wonderful how almost everyone in the world now seems to hate her toaster oven. Solidarity forever!

Toaster (Oven) Defeat

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

This morning at breakfast:

J: Do you want a piece of toast?

M: I don’t think so, thanks.

J: I only needed one piece. But I couldn’t stand to turn on our ginormous toaster for just a single piece of bread, so I made two.

M: I know, I hate our toaster.

J: Yeah.

M: I take full responsibility for having chosen it.

J: [Silence.]

M: Well, I take 90% responsibility. You were there. You said it was okay.

J: They don’t make any small toasters.

M: They do! They have them on the Internet.

J: They’re ugly.

M: Yeah, but I don’t think I care anymore. I just want to be able to melt cheese in a reasonable amount of time. Without having to run a generator. Or listen to that godforsaken ticking!


J: What if I spray-painted the plastic parts of our old toaster in a pretty shade of pink?

M: It’s not the col—WHAT?

J: [Giggling.]

M: [Hysterics.] We still have—?

J: [Hysterics.]

M: [Barely getting the words out.] I told you to put that toaster on the curb!

J: [Doubled over.] There’s nothing wrong with it!

M: [Tears arcing from face.] It’s 15 years old and disgusting, and it doesn’t even work!

J: [Grasping stomach.] All you have to do is hold the door closed when you turn it on!

M: [Howling.] Sometimes! And sometimes that doesn’t work, either! And the creaky hinges! I hate the creaky hinges!

J: [Silent wheezing.]

M: [Silent wheezing.]

[Gradual return to calm.]

M: It’s on the side of the house, isn’t it?

J: [Nodding.]

M: Yet again, I have been thwarted by the silent, guileless subversion of my husband.

J: Welcome to marriage, Sweetie. With me.

M: Yeah, I don’t need to be welcomed. I’ve been here a long time.