Thursday, March 31, 2011

How To Sheath A Horse: An Overview...

For many horse owners and trainers,
their animals take to sheathing quite
well. Success in this touchy endeavor
begins with the right attitude.
Earlier this afternoon, I was sitting at my desk working on a loan application for one of our customers.

     "Hey Abby, these people want to use this Home Equity loan to pay off some bills.  Under 'Loan Purpose', can I select 'Consolidate Debt', or...  do I have to choose 'Other'?"

Yesterday, I had put another Home Equity Loan on the system.  The customers had wanted the loan to pay for some home renovations.  When I had selected 'Home Improvements' in the drop-down menu under 'Loan Purpose', the loan system froze on my computer.

I haven't been very fond of our loan software for quite awhile.  At best, I suppose that it minimally gets the job done.  The best way to describe it is...  temperamental.  When filling out an online application, there's a laundry list of exceptions and glitches to keep in mind when switching back and forth between different screens or saving your progress.

For example, if you add information to one screen and then click to switch to another screen, you'll get a big pop-up that says...

You have unsaved changes.  Do you wish to continue?  Click Yes to continue without saving your changes.  Click No to return to the worksheet where you will need to save your changes and re-run the action.  Yes or No

If you do want to save your changes, you actually have to click 'No', and then click the icon on the top of the screen that looks like a diskette from an Apple IIe computer, from 1985...  because we all save our work on 4-inch floppy diskettes in 2011, right?  Seems fairly logical and intuitive.

But I have a better idea.  Wouldn't it be easier to have a pop-up that says...

Would you like to save changes before you continue?  Yes or No

Another one of my favorite 'mysteries' of the software is when I need to add a co-signer to an individual application.  When I'm finished, sometimes I'll find that the co-signer has mysteriously been added twice.

Of course, all I have to do in this case is remove the duplicate entry for the co-signer...  right?

Nope...  Instead, I actually have to start a new application all over again.

One or two mysteries might not seem like a big deal.  But when you add those two mysteries to sixty-seven other mysteries, it can get pretty annoying.

I actually think that our loan software is run and powered from central headquarters by a series of delicate pet hamsters running on hamster exercise wheels.  Whenever a mystery rears its ugly head, I just chalk it up to one of the hamsters falling off a wheel, passing out from exhaustion or dehydration.

The good news is that we're currently looking at new loan software.  The bad news is that this didn't help me with the debacle at hand.

After throwing a fit and asking Abby for help, she told me that I needed to choose 'Other' instead of 'Home Improvements', for the time being.  The current mystery was causing the loan application to bomb out, when 'Home Improvements' was selected for 'Loan Purpose'.  I couldn't actually change 'Home Improvements' to 'Other' in the current application.  Instead, I had to start from scratch and process the entire application all over again.

This didn't sit well with me, seeing that it would take at least four minutes for me to complete the application again.

Abby told me that I needed to stop being a diva.

I told Abby that the area around my cubicle needed to be tidied and vacuumed, and she needed to get on that.

Anyways, on today's Home Equity application, I wanted to be one hundred percent sure that I wouldn't piss off one of the hamsters.

     "Hey Abby," I called out again.  "Is it OK if I choose 'Consolidate Debt'?  ...  Abby?"

No response from Abby.  Instead, I heard giggling.  Turning around to look, I noticed Emily standing in Abby's cubicle, talking in barely a whisper.  After a few minutes, they both started giggling again.

     "Whatcha guys talkin' about?" I asked, never shy to butt into a conversation uninvited.

     "Nothing," said Abby.

     "Well, it must be something."  I leaned back in my chair and sipped my cold coffee.

     "Dave, you don't wanna know," said Emily.

     "I do now."

     "I was just telling Abby about sheathing Kirby this morning."

Sheathing...  What could that possibly be?  I knew that Emily had to clean her horse's dirty stall every day.  Maybe 'sheathing' was the scientific term for collecting and disposing all of the excess feces, spent hay, and additional equine detritus.

     "Sheathing...  Is that where you shovel out all of the dirty, poopy hay in Kirby's stall?"

     "No," replied Emily.  "That's called...  shoveling the dirty hay out of the stall."

     "Well, what is it, then?"

     "It's when I clean off Kirby's pecker."

     "You're...  kidding.  You actually have to clean off Kirby's junk?"

Emily laughed as she strolled over to my cubicle.  "He can't reach it himself."

     "What...  on earth... are you two talking about?" Lisa asked.

     "Emily is just telling us how she has to clean Kirby's member," I said, turning towards my supervisor.  "I didn't know you had to do that."

     "Oh, good grief," said Lisa, grasping her head between her hands.  "I knew I should have gone to lunch.  Just keep me out of it...  I need to call a customer about a wire transfer.  Caroline, can you do this auto loan application?"

     "Be happy to," said Caroline, taking the application that our supervisor had just printed.

     "That's actually pretty fascinating," I continued, taking another swig from my mug.  "How often do you have to do that...  like, once or twice a day?"

     "Oh no," said Emily.  "Just once or twice a year."

     "Why does a horse's schlong need to be cleaned?"

     "A horse's...  schlong...  can get pretty dirty."

Abby had gotten up from her desk and joined Emily behind me.  She had just opened a container of Greek yogurt and was mixing it around with some frozen blueberries.

A.  Where you find the bean.
B.  Inside the sheath area.
     "Couldn't you just pay somebody to take care of that?" she asked, gulping down a big spoonful.

     "That would cost me over a hundred and fifty bucks," said Emily.  "I actually didn't realize that I'd have to clean his ding-dong until after got him.  But then I downloaded a how-to video on the Internet.  After watching it, I said, 'Hey, I can do that!'"

     "The Internet, huh?"

I opened a new browser window, typed in 'how to clean horses sheath' in the blank Google field, and hit 'Enter'.  I started scanning the results.  The tenth entry down read 'How to clean your horses sheath: Sheath cleaning DVD for sale'.

     "Hey Emily, do you need to buy a DVD?  There's this horse-guy named Jeffrey R. Kelly who's selling one...  It says here...  that Jeffrey's been cleaning the sheaths of male horses for the past twenty-five years."

     "What?  No, I already know how to do it."

     "Jeffrey says that if your horse has a dirty sheath, you may also note an unpleasant odor around your horse's hindquarters...  um...  also...  the smell of a dirty sheath is very, very strong--"

     "Nasty!" Lisa exclaimed.  "Dave, can't you read that to yourself?"

     "Well I thought that everybody else might want to know what Emily does to Kirby several times a year."

     "So how exactly do you...  do it?" Abby piped up.

     "Oh, it's pretty easy," replied Emily.  "You just put on some rubber gloves and rub a special kind of cream all over his sheath.  The brand I use is called Excalibur.  After a few..."

I opened up another browser window and typed 'Excalibur Sheath Cleaner' in the Google field.  The first five results were all listings for various drug stores and tack shops.  Depending on the vendor, the price of a 16-oz bottle of Excalibur Sheath Cleaner ran anywhere from ten to twenty dollars.

     "...cream hardens.  Then, you just peel it off in layers.  All of the feces and other nasty stuff that's been caked on just comes right off real easily."

     "Hmmm...  just like dead skin from a suntan," said Abby.

     "That's exactly what it's like...  And when I'm finished, Kirby's pecker is as smooth and pink as a baby's backside."

That made me cringe.  When we were growing up, my parents, sister, and I would spend four to five hours on a Saturday working in the vegetable garden in the blazing sun...  no sunscreen, of course.  This was back when 'skin cancer' was just a phrase that was only seen in medical journals once every five years.

Several days later when our skin was peeling, Dad would always ask Mom to peel the large sheets of crisped skin off his shoulders.  There's nothing quite like spending a summer evening watching the Mets on TV, as Mom sits nearby, carefully ripping tortilla-sized sheets of crispy, dead skin off of shirtless Dad.

(Insert caption here...  No really.  Do it...  )

I switched back to the first Internet Window and started browsing the list of questions that Jeffrey R. Kelly covered in his Sheath-Cleaning DVD.  Number 1...  how to be calm and assertive around your horse...  Number 3...  Use of proper and adequate lubrication...  Number 8...  What about sedation?  ...  Number 14...  What is smegma?  Where is it located?  Number 19...  What is a bean?  ...  Where is the bean located?  ...  Why is it called a bean?  ...  How large can a bean or beans be?

     "Hey Emily, what's a bean?"

     "Look it up."

I typed 'horse sheath bean' in the Google search box and clicked on the first result.

     "A bean is a firm lump of smegma that has collected and hardened inside the horse's penis.  This lump or 'bean' must be removed as often as possible."  The next section explained how to get the horse's penis to extract.  "Hmmm...  gross."

Abby tossed her empty yogurt container into the waste bin under my desk.  "Does Kirby get nervous when you're handling him?"

     "Oh, no.  He's actually very low-key.  He's a very sociable animal.  As long as you--"

     "Ya know when my youngest son was a toddler he had the very same problem and I had to do the same thing for him at night," Susan interjected, rising up from her cubicle.  "On some nights the pain was so bad and I'd have to go in there with the cream and rub it all over and--"

     "Susan, we're actually talking about horses."

     "Oh, I know...  But I heard you guys talking about that and my son had the same problem when he was really little.  I know that Kirby's an older horse and all so maybe horses get more dental problems when they're older and when I heard you say that Kirby was teething it reminded me of when I used to have to take the cream into my son's room at night and rub it on his little--"

     "Susan," Abby interrupted.  "Emily was telling us about sheathing Kirby...  not teething Kirby."

     "Oh, she was?  WHOOPS!?" Susan exclaimed, as she began laughing hysterically.  "Oh, my goodness...  I could of sworn you said that Kirby was teething, and..."

The rest of us looked over at Lisa.  She had buried her head in her hands again.

     "...figured that most older horses probably had their teeth but...  Oh wow, so SHEATHING!  What's sheathing?  Probably has nothin' to do with teeth, huh."

     "Nothing at all," I said, as I pulled up the fully-labeled diagram of a horse's penis.  "Come on over and take a look at this picture.  Sheathing is when you--"

     "It's when there's so much spent hay and manure on the floor of the stall," Emily said, cutting me off, "that you need to apply a hardening cream to scrape it off.  Kirby's stall hadn't been sheathed in awhile, so I took care of it this morning."

     "Ha!  And I thought you were talking about Kirby's teeth this whole time," said Susan, sitting back down at her desk.  "Oh gee whiz.  Oh, I have to call this customer about his IRA..."

Abby shot me a dirty look on the way back to her desk.

     "What?"  I asked innocently, shrugging my shoulders.

I opened up a blank email and started typing a message to my friends from college.  The mere mention of horse penis was guaranteed to bring back fond memories.

During my freshman year at Rutgers, the three of us lived on the same floor with several girls from the equestrian team.  They were all really nice.  But they were a bit...  different.

     "Horse chicks," one of the guys on my floor used to say.  "You gotta watch out for those horse chicks...  They're weird, man."

Of course, if anybody knew anything about horse chicks, it was Randy.  Randy was the only one on our floor who actually dated a horse chick for an extended length of time.  When it came down to horse chicks, it was all about timing.  If you ever caught one of these girls alone, they were actually quite normal.

Two horses enjoy the peaceful morning
air, waiting patiently to be sheathed.
I remember one night when a bunch of us were invited to a party at one of the horse chick's apartments.  About an hour before the party started, I ran into Jamie outside the campus center.  Jamie was one of the four horse chicks who shared the apartment.  We had some time to kill, so we spent the hour before the party taking a walk around campus.

Jamie was extremely friendly, and she was really cute.  We had a really nice conversation.  I knew that she already had a boyfriend, but I figured that I'd try and make a good impression anyway, just in case she had some cute 'horse chick friends' who were single.  She seemed fairly normal to me.

Eventually we made our way back to her apartment where the festivities were just warming up.  I met up with several of my friends, and we started scoping everybody out, making plans to strategically circulate amongst all of the horse chicks.  However, before we could make any headway, a disturbing phenomenon started to unfold.  All of the horse chicks slowly gravitated towards one of the corners of the main room, their drinks in hand.  Once we got close enough to observe, we heard them enthusiastically discussing the enormous size of a horse's penis.

After listening to the exchange for a few minutes, it became clear that these were the largest penises that they had ever seen.  While all penises were certainly impressive to some extent, there was apparently no penis on God's green earth that could even hold a candle to a horse's penis.

We watched and listened in horror for the next three hours, as the horse penis talk carried on deep into the evening...  shape...  size...  width...  girth...  even hue.  Every twenty minutes or so, two of us would get up the nerve to sneak over to the 'horse-chick circle' and try to change the subject to something else...  like baseball, the weather...  Brad Pitt.  We were repeatedly shot down within minutes.

At one point, somebody actually suggested that we should try to enter the conversation by showing a genuine interest in horse penis.  It seemed like a good idea, and we were all getting pretty desperate to talk to a female.  But nobody wanted to take one for the team and be the first to express a genuine interest in enormous horse penis.  If the plan backfired and word got out that a gentleman was really into horse penis, then that unlucky gentleman's remaining time at Rutgers could potentially be destroyed.

For the rest of the evening, the guys stayed in one corner discussing football, while the horse chicks stayed in another corner discussing horse penis.  It was as segregated as an end-of-the-year junior high dance. 

Wait...  Hmmm...  That comparison doesn't really hold water anymore.  It's 2011.  We now have kids groping each other in elementary school and having babies at thirteen. 

For the remainder of the evening, the guys stayed in one corner discussing football, while the horse chicks stayed in another corner discussing horse penis.  It was as segregated as an end-of-the-year junior high dance...  in 1987.

Randy was right.  You gotta watch out for those horse chicks.  They're weird, man...

I can still picture Randy standing outside the entrance to Perry Dorm back in 1995, smoking a cigarette and warning us about horse chicks.

I finished up the email to my two Rutgers buddies and was about to hit 'Send' when...

     Hey, wait a minute.  This would make a really great blog entry.

     "Hey Emily, what's the name of the cream that you rub on Kirby's package?"

     "Excalibur...  Why do you want to know?  ...  You're not writing a blog entry about that, are you?"

I chuckled to myself as I began typing...

Earlier this afternoon, I was sitting at my cubicle working on an application for a Home Equity Loan.
     "Hey Abby, these people want to use the loan to pay off some bills.  For loan purpose, can I select 'Consolidate Debt', or do I have to choose 'Other'?"
The day before, I had put another Home Equity Loan on the system.  The customers had applied to pay for...

Cats clean their own sheaths.
They're kinda self-sufficient like that. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Stoplight Law In NY State: Rated R...

Contains language which is unsuitable for minors.

This morning while I was on my way to the office, I witnessed one of my fellow drivers obeying the new law pertaining to traffic signals, which went into effect all across New York State last night, just after midnight.

I don't watch very much local news, so I had no prior knowledge of the recently passed legislation.

Apparently, the new law requires all drivers to come to a complete stop at a green light, wait thirty seconds, and look both ways, before proceeding straight through the intersection.

The driver in question had obviously been diligent in keeping up on all of the news regarding the impending legislation.  Clearly, she'd done her homework.

This morning's scenario played out as follows.

As I was driving up over the crest of the hill on Residential Road, Traffic Light came into view, about a hundred yards down the road.

On some mornings, Traffic Light is red when I come up over the hill.  In this case, I turn on my left signal, slow down, and come to a complete stop at Traffic Light.  When Traffic Light turns green, I'm free to make my left turn onto Country Road...  as long as there aren't any vehicles approaching me on Residential Road, from the opposite direction.

However, if there are any vehicles approaching, then it's my obligation to yield to any drivers who may be turning right onto Country Road, or proceeding straight through the intersection on Residential Road.

This phenomenon is called Right-of-Way.

On other mornings, Traffic Light is already green when I come up over the hill.  In this case, I'll turn on my left signal, slow down, and make my left turn onto Country Road without stopping...  as long as there aren't any vehicles approaching from the opposite direction.

Again, if there are any vehicles approaching, then it's still my obligation to yield to any of these drivers who may be turning right onto Country Road, or proceeding straight through the intersection on Residential Road.

You see...  Right-of-Way trumps Green Light when making a left-hand turn.

On this particular morning, Traffic Light was green.  As I came up over the hill and signaled left, I noticed Black SUV approaching me on Residential Road, from the opposite direction.  We were both about fifty yards from Traffic Light.  As I approached Traffic Light, I didn't see any turn signal from Black SUV.  That was my indication that Black SUV would be driving straight through the intersection.

Even though Traffic Light was green, it would still be my obligation to stop and wait for Black SUV to proceed straight through the intersection, before I made my left turn onto Country Road, per Right-of-Way.

Since Traffic Light had been green for the past fifteen seconds, I expected that Black SUV would go straight through the intersection, without hesitation.  When I took Driver's Ed over fifteen years ago, I'd learned that you were supposed to go through a green light.

Instead, Black SUV started to slow down about fifty feet from Green Traffic Light.  I had already pulled into the intersection, preparing to make my left turn onto Country Road.  I was waiting for Black SUV to pass by before making my turn.

Instead, Black SUV came to a complete stop.  The woman behind the steering wheel was looking down into her lap.

I looked up and saw that the light was still green.  I honked my horn.  The woman looked up at me and then looked both ways down Country Road.  There weren't any other vehicles approaching in either direction.  The woman looked back down into her lap.

I looked up and saw that the light was still green.  I honked my horn.  The woman looked up at me and then looked both ways down Country Road.  There weren't any other vehicles approaching in either direction.  The woman looked back down into her lap.

I was about to ignore Right-of-Way and just make my turn in front of her but then decided against it, realizing that it would still be my fault if she decided to join us back on planet Earth and plow into me, while I was turning left in front of her.

I looked up and saw that the light was still green.  I honked my horn.  The woman looked up at me and then looked both ways down Country Road.  There weren't any other vehicles approaching in either direction...  not one.  The woman looked back down into her lap.

I slammed on my horn repeatedly and flashed my bright lights on and off.  The woman looked up at me and then looked both ways down Country Road.  Finally, she looked up and noticed that Traffic Light was green.  She drove straight through the intersection.

When she passed me by, I finally noticed what was holding her attention in her lap, as she lifted it to her ear and began chatting.


I gave her the finger for good measure, hoping that she was an accomplished lip reader.  Maybe she'd realize that she was being an asshole.

After turning left and starting down Country Road towards the office, I took a deep breath, just to relax myself.  I wasn't about to let this careless woman's actions ruin my entire Friday.

What I haven't mentioned until now is that this woman's head was down the entire time, as she was approaching the intersection.  She was looking down into her lap for over fifteen seconds while operating a giant SUV.

I first noticed this as I was descending the hill down Residential Road towards Traffic Light.  From the time she began slowing down to the time that she came to a complete stop at the green light, I could see that her head was down.  She didn't look up once...  not even once.

On the one hand, do I give this woman props for slowing down as she approached the intersection?  If you're not sure whether or not the traffic light is red, and you can't be bothered to look up from your phone to find out, I suppose it's better to err on the side of caution.  If you've already decided that you're not going to pay attention to the road in front of you, stopping at the upcoming intersection is one way to make sure you won't, by chance, run a red light, and possibly cripple another driver or run over and slaughter an innocent pedestrian.

On the other hand...  Nope.  This woman gets no props whatsoever.  If you're behaving like an asshole behind the wheel of a two-ton vehicle, then you don't deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Think about what I've just described here.  A driver operating an over-sized SUV could not be bothered to look up from her phone to see whether the light was red or green.  She drove over fifty feet with her head down.

Folks, deciphering the color of an approaching traffic light isn't difficult.  It's not rocket science.  You don't have to solve a Sudoku puzzle, call 411, or enter the phrase 'stop light color' in your Google search engine.

You simply lift up your head and pay attention to your surroundings.


Maybe I should give this woman the benefit of the doubt and assume that she was lost or reading directions.  That's highly unlikely.  Anybody who's familiar with this intersection would understand that somebody who's lost is not going to end up at this particular traffic signal.

But even if she was reading directions, that's not a valid excuse.

I don't care if this woman was texting, reading a map, changing CDs, making pancakes, adjusting the lid on her coffee mug, whatever...  If your attention is going to be drawn away from the road for almost twenty seconds, you need to slow down, pull over, and take care of whatever it is that's distracting you. 

Am I being unreasonable with this request?  No, I don't think so.

For those of you rolling your eyes and saying, "C'mon Crow, I'm sure you do it to..."  Actually, I don't.  Not at all.  I don't send or read texts while I'm driving, and I don't send or read texts while my car is stopped in a line of traffic.  Those drivers are also being assholes.

I have a wired, hands-free thingy, but I probably spend less than nine minutes a month talking on my cell phone in the car.  I hate talking on my cell phone in the car.  Why anybody would want continuous babble in their left ear while they're driving is beyond me.  My fifteen-minute commute to work is one of the few times during the day when I don't have to be talking to anybody.  Instead, I can get some peace and quiet.

If you don't actually know me, you've probably stumbled upon this blog on accident.  Perhaps you think I'm some sort of a wack-jab who's just ranting and raving about distracted driving.  Maybe you think that I'm a hermit who hates all other human beings.

Actually, I love spending time with my friends and family.  I'm fortunate to have wonderful co-workers.  I love to meet new people, and I try to look for the good in everybody.  I'm actually a normal everyday kinda guy.  I just happen to feel pretty strongly about a few things here and there.  Glad to have you along for the ride.

And for anybody reading this who does know me outside of the blog, I do want to offer my sincere apologies if you were startled or offended by the language, or didn't expect to read it here.  Unlike my previous R-rated post about buying furniture, this particular entry actually involves me using unkind language in reference to others.

I'm not going to make it a habit of polluting this blog with profanity-laced tirades.  This type of post will remain the exception, and not the norm.

I did consider toning it down a bit.  Would I want any of my younger nieces or nephews reading this entry?  No, I wouldn't.  Absolutely not.  That's why I've tacked on the Rated-R warning, knowing full well that their parents are monitoring their Internet activity.

I'm not proud of the fact that I cursed out the woman in the black SUV and gave her the finger.  It felt really good for about three minutes, and then I realized that it was probably a juvenile act on my part.

Life can be tragic...  difficult...  unfair...  heartbreaking.  Life can also be beautiful...  wondrous...  inspiring.  I try my best to be a fairly positive person and focus on the latter.  I try not to let the small stuff get to me.  There is very little in life that truly pisses me off. 

But few things get my blood boiling more than somebody who gets behind the wheel of a six-passenger vehicle and decides that they don't need to pay attention for almost twenty seconds.

There are studies coming out that are now showing that texting while driving is not only just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol, it may actually be more dangerous than drunk driving.

Here's one that was published in Car and Driver magazine, in June of 2009.  The results showed that the reaction time for the participants was much worse when they were texting while driving than when they were driving while intoxicated.  A good summary of this study by Phil LeBeau can be found over at CNBC. 

I don't need to read research results to come to this conclusion.  During the past year, I've basically been run off the road four or five times by assholes who were too busy texting to notice that they were driving in my lane.

In this latest incident, I shouldn't have screamed obscenities at this particular woman, and I shouldn't have given her the bird.  I should have shown better judgment.

However, I stand firmly by my original assessment of this woman's behavior.

She was being an asshole.

Anybody who drives an SUV for over fifty feet without even looking up once, disregarding or rendering themselves completely oblivious to any posted traffic signage, is being an asshole.

Anybody who makes the decision to compose, send, and read text messages on their cell phone while operating a two-ton vehicle, thereby putting the lives of other drivers and pedestrians in danger, is being an asshole.

That's just the way it is.

Please...  Don't be an asshole.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Oven-Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts...

Hey wait a minute.  They look like little cabbages. 

     "Eat your Brussels sprouts.  They're good for you."

This is the dreaded line that little boys and girls everywhere hate hearing from their mothers while sitting at the dinner table...  or so I've been told.

My mother never actually fed Brussels sprouts to my sister and me when we were growing up.  I didn't even know what Brussels sprouts really were until I was nineteen or twenty.  For most of my childhood, I was under the impression that they were those stringy little hair-like things with the little dingleberry-like seed-type things on the end.  Later, I learned that these were actually bean sprouts, broccoli sprouts, or alfalfa sprouts.

Imagine my surprise when my first ever serving of Brussels sprouts was placed in front of me at a restaurant...  resting aside the 16-oz medium-rare steak that I had ordered...  the vegetable-of-the-day, as it were.

     "And along with your steak, you get a choice of baked potato, steak fries, or rice pilaf, and the vegetable-of-the-day."

     "I'll have steak fries," I said.  "What's the vegetable-of-the-day?"

     "Brussels sprouts...  I think," replied our server.

Fine by me.

I was about to enjoy a mouthwatering, 16-oz, medium-rare slab of cow along with a side of delicious steak fries, so i wasn't too concerned about the vegetable.  When my meal came, I do remember eating all of my Brussels sprouts.  They were fine...  and therein lied the problem.  They tasted like just about every other vegetable that I'd eaten during our family dinners, while growing up.

The Brussels sprouts that evening tasted kinda like the steamed broccoli from my early days...  which sorta tasted like the steamed spinach that mom served us...  which slightly reminded me of the steamed French cut green beans that the four of us ate once or twice a week with dinner...  which were not completely unlike the steamed carrots that mom lovingly placed on the family dinner table in a serving bowl.

No wait...  I guess the steamed carrots reminded me more of the steamed corn that mom served us...  more so than any of the other steamed green vegetables, anyways.  But the steamed corn also reminded me of the steamed cauliflower that we sometimes were lucky enough to enjoy.

The exception was any of the vegetables that my parents grew in our family garden.  For one or two months out of the year, we enjoyed delicious corn-on-the-cob, peas, pole beans...  all still steamed, of course.  But steamed vegetables from the back yard garden still taste better than steamed vegetables from a box that you find in the freezer.

How did we dress up all of our steamed vegetables?  What a foolish question...  with butter, salt, and pepper, of course.

OMG this is my most favorite blanket
ever 'cause it's the same color as
Daddy's yummy Brussels sprouts MOL. 
The meals of my childhood were fairly predictable.  Most of the time, they were pretty good.  Sometimes, they were really good.  We typically had spaghetti and meatballs once a week, and another one of our weekly meals was usually some sort of a taco or burrito meal out-of-a-box concoction.  And the other five nights...  some kind of meat, some kind of rice or potato, and...  you guessed it...  a steamed vegetable.

I never protested, routinely wolfing down the entire soggy heap of whatever vegetable was on my plate.  It just wasn't very tasty or memorable.

On the one hand, I suppose that a limpid heap of steamed greens is not a big deal.

While the meals of my childhood were pretty good, what really meant the most to me was being able to share dinner with my entire family just about every night.  All of the best dinnertime memories that I have involve my older sister, Mom, and Dad.

I can still hear Mom's cheerful greeting from the kitchen, whenever my sister and I got home from Cross Country practice every day after school, just after five o'clock.

     "Dinner's almost ready!"

The smell of whatever she was preparing would smack us in the face, just as we set foot through the front door.  As we made our way through the living room and into the dining room, the chattering, spattering, sizzling sounds of the the impending feast would catch up with the mouthwatering aromas that had greeted us thirty seconds earlier.  Finally, as we stepped into the kitchen, the journey of our senses would be completed by the sight of whatever mom was retrieving from the oven or mixing around on the stove.

     "Time to set the table and pour the drinks."

I'd immediately grab four plates from the cupboard and four sets of silverware from the utensil drawer, while my sister would fill up four glasses with ice and water.

I can still picture Dad sitting next to me at dinner, making a fool of himself to liven the mood.  On some nights, he'd simply entertain us with a simple joke or an amusing story.  On other nights, he'd unfold his napkin, stretch it across his face, and put his glasses on to hold it in place.  Then, he'd wiggle his tongue through the napkin until the three of us were rolling with laughter.

I can still remember all of the mischief that my sister and I would get into around the dinner table.  The meal always began harmlessly enough, with civil discussion centered around our days at school, an upcoming Cross Country meet, or how the Mets were doing in the standings.  But within a few moments, the temporary facade of civility would degrade into a show of juvenile lunacy.

I think it was actually funnier when
Dad did it.  But you get the idea.
Spaghetti night would often end with my sister and I launching solitary pasta noodles towards the ceiling, waiting to see who's noodle would stick the longest before plummeting back to the table.  On other nights, I'd shatter the tranquility with a thunderous fart, setting off all of the mousetraps in the basement.

     "DAVID...  ACT YOUR AGE!"

Five minutes later, Dad would let loose with a juicy, rip-roaring belch that was foul enough to wilt the African violets on the large bay windowsill behind my sister, who was also sitting directly in the line of fire.

     "DAD...  ACT YOUR AGE!"

By the end of the meal, my poor mother would be convulsing in fits of violent laughter.  On some nights, she was laughing so hard that she'd have to sprint to the bathroom to avoid wetting herself.

As you can probably imagine, a pile of slimy spinach was the least of her concerns.  If nothing else, I figured that I owed it to mom to mop up every last bit of steamed, soggy greens from my plate, even if they weren't very memorable.

On the other hand...  it's a shame that the vegetables of my childhood weren't very enjoyable.  Even though the bonding and 'family-togetherness' around the dinner table is extremely important, we can't lose sight of the other key aspect of the evening meal...  we eat to nourish and sustain our bodies.

OMG that's the spot MOL. 
Fortunately, I've been very open-minded about trying food that's been prepared in all sorts of different ways.  But I know lots of people who still view their vegetables as an afterthought...  a sad, tasteless mound resting helplessly next to the meat and potatoes on their dinner plates.  That's really too bad...  because we're still not eating enough fruits and vegetables in this country, and it's drastically affecting our collective health, as well as raising our medical bills.

We live in a country where moms and dads are trying to sneak more vegetables into their kids diets by hiding them in all sorts of dishes.  Hmmm...  if I add some chopped spinach to these brownies, will little Billy notice?  If I dump a handful of frozen peas into the marinara sauce from a jar, will sweet little Betsy still think that it's yummy?

Many of the commercials we see on TV are telling us that their products will help us add another daily serving of vegetables to our diets.  V8 tells us that 'Every 12-ounce bottle of V8 100% Vegetable Juice contains 3 out of 5 of your daily vegetable requirements'.  Ragu claims that there are '2 Servings of Veggies in Every 1/2 Cup of Sauce'.

I'm not saying that this is a bad thing...  far from it, actually.  Adding fruits and vegetables to your favorite dishes is not just a way to 'sneak' them into your diet, it can actually make your favorite dishes taste even better.  Next time you make pancakes, try shredding a peeled apple into the batter, and remember to add some extra cinnamon.

And reaching for a bottle of V8 is certainly a better choice then a can of Coke.  Coke is actually one of the most effective cleaners available to break down and remove stubborn stains from the inside of your toilet.  What more do you need to know?

Nothing says Spring like the #$&*%!
woodpecker drilling away on top of our
chimney all day long.
If we're all trying to work more fruits and vegetables in our diets, processed sauces and juices out of jars and bottles do have their place.  However, they're only a small part of the equation.  We really need to stop viewing our fruits and vegetables as foods that we begrudgingly include in our diets.  Instead, we need to look forward to including them as a delicious, substantial addition to our daily meals.

This doesn't have to be a daunting task.  When vegetables are prepared, cooked, and seasoned correctly, they're absolutely delicious.

Where do we begin?  We begin with Brussels sprouts, of course.

Why Brussels sprouts?

As Dr. Liz Applegate, who is the director of sports nutrition at the University of California at Davis, explains in the January '11 edition of Runner's World, "Out of all cruciferous vegetables, Brussels sprouts have the highest levels of glucosinolates, compounds that rid the body of cancer-causing agents.  They're also rich in vitamin C and K."

Keep reading, and I'll explain the simple method for roasting them in the oven.  After you prepare and try them just once, you'll probably want them several times a week.

Ready to start roasting?  Keep reading...

These...  are your Brussels sprouts.
Use them wisely, and they'll provide you with a lifetime of pleasure.

Brussels sprouts don't look like sprouts at all.  Instead, they resemble little cabbages.  If they're in season, try to pick them up at your local farmers' market.  Otherwise, grabbing a bunch from the produce section of the supermarket will do just fine.  Preheat your oven to 475 degrees, and line a rectangular baking sheet with parchment paper. 

It places the sprout leaves in the compost.  It does this when it's told.

Now, you need to cut, wash, and prepare the sprouts for roasting.  You'll want to start by removing the outer leaves from each of the sprouts.  After removing the leaves, cut the end off of each sprout and add to the pile of leaves.  As for those leaves, don't you DARE throw them out.  Instead, add them to your compost pile in the back yard.  If you don't have a compost pile, now would be a great time to start one. 

It rinses the sprouts one by one.  It does this when it's told.

Now, it's time to oil and season them.  After blotting them dry with a paper towel, dump the sprouts onto the lined baking sheet and drizzle them with a healthy dose of light olive oil.  Mix them around on the baking sheet with your hands to make sure they're evenly coated. 

It rubs the oil on its sprouts, or else it gets the hose again.

Next, sprinkle some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper all over the sprouts...  not too much, but not too little.  Again, be sure to distribute the seasonings evenly by mixing them around some more with your hands, and then make sure that they're in a single layer on the baking sheet.


And finally...  pop the pan into your hot oven.

The sprouts will take about 15-20 minutes to roast, depending on your oven.  After the first 10 minutes, stir the sprouts around a bit, just to encourage even roasting.  In my opinion, it's actually better to overcook them just a bit.  There's nothing quite like a sprout that's crispy and charred on the outside, and tender on the inside.

Once you remove the pan from the oven, drizzle a healthy amount of balsamic vinegar all over the sprouts, and stir them around one last time.  You'll probably want to use a spatula this time, since the sprouts will be hot.  (duhhhhhhhhh...  )

Right about now, you should be REALLY looking forward to dinner.

And there you have it.  Fresh, delicious, oven-roasted, balsamic Brussels sprouts...

You know what's great about this roasting method?  You can actually use it to roast just about any vegetable you'd like.  Try cooking broccoli the same way.  Try it with asparagus.  Asparagus would actually take less time to cook.  Try it with cauliflower.  Roasting vegetables brings out unique flavors and crispy textures that you could NEVER duplicate by steaming.

As I said before, jarred and bottled produce does have its place.  However, vegetables are never going to earn a favorable spot on our dinner plates until we start buying the fresh kind at our grocery stores and farmers' markets, and then take the time to prepare them in a variety of creative, exciting ways.

Actually, it really doesn't take that much time at all, and the end results are well worth the effort.

Once you start cooking your vegetables this way, you'll look forward to them at every meal.

Best of all, Mom would be proud.

We enjoyed our Brussels sprouts with baked potatoes and chick pea and feta pancakes, but they go just as nicely with a juicy, medium rare filet mignon, if that's your kind of thing. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Furniture Shopping With Cindy: Rated R...

...for language that may not be suitable for minors.

This is the big green couch that Cindy sold to us.

My wife and I got married almost four years ago during the early part of summer, and we moved into our first house during the fall of that same year.  We hadn’t planned on buying a house that soon after getting married.  I had just inherited $72,000 worth of student debt after a failed attempt at a master’s degree in Speech Pathology.  The only savings that we had at the time was the $1,000 in available credit that remained on one of my Visa cards.  It’s a good idea to have some sort of a down payment on a home, but using the last remaining thousand in available credit is not the best strategy.

Even though we hadn’t planned on buying just yet, we still enjoyed visiting open-houses now and then, pretending that we could afford to buy.  One Sunday afternoon, we decided on a whim to go to an open-house that was being held just a few streets over from our two-bedroom apartment.  As we pulled into the driveway, the realtor was taking down the ‘Open Today’ sign and packing it into her trunk.

     “Whoops... missed it.”

My wife sighed in disgust.  “Who schedules an open-house to end at one o’clock?  I was looking forward to seeing that place.”

I turned out of the driveway and headed back towards our neighborhood.

     “Look,” she said, pointing to the right.  “There’s another one that just started.”

I pulled into the driveway of the cute little cape cod that sat up on a hill, about ninety feet from the road.  We walked up the hill, followed the driveway around to the back of the house, and entered through the back door.  The realtor greeted us and handed us a brochure.  “Quaint and Charming Cape,” read the headline across the top.  After spending about twenty minutes going through the place, we agreed that it was definitely the warmest, most inviting home that we had set foot in all summer.  We both loved it.

     “Too bad we can’t afford a house right now,” I said, as we descended the driveway towards the car.

Two days later, I was sitting at my cubicle paying some bills, when I remembered that I had just over $20,000 sitting in my IRA.  As any employee of a financial institution knows, you can withdraw up to $10,000 from an IRA for a first-time home purchase, without incurring a penalty.  I called up a high school acquaintance, who was a realtor for a local bank.

     “My wife and I just went to an open house on Sunday, and we really liked the place.  Um… so… if we want to pursue it further... what do we do next?”

     “I’ll take care of everything,” said Jessica.  “What’s the address?”

Ten minutes later, I dialed my wife’s cell phone.  “Honey, wanna buy a house?”

The big green couch is set up in such
a way that I can take pictures of our
Carolina Wrens without leaving my seat.  
With Jessica's help, we closed six weeks later, and our friends and family helped us move in four days after that.  Over the past several years, I had acquired an extensive collection of oddball furniture from various family members...  a rocking chair, a queen-sized bed with frame, and a kitchen table from Dad...  an orange and white, candy-striped couch from my aunt…  a wooden bookshelf that my mom had made in her high school shop class.  These would all accompany us from the apartment to the house, but my wife and I agreed that we needed a new couch and easy chair for the family room, where we’d set up the television.  On the Saturday after moving in, we headed over to our local Raymour and Flanigan.

As we walked through the front doors, we were immediately approached by a pleasant-looking Asian woman with jet-black, shoulder length hair.  She was wearing a charcoal, knee-length skirt and matching sport coat.  She peered at us through slender, stylish glasses.  The name on her tag read, 'Cindy'.

     “Ah, how ah you today?” she belted out cheerfully.  “Such a cute little coupoh. Shopping foh fuhnitah!?  I’m Cindy.”

     “Hi Cindy.  I’m Dave.  Nice to meet you.”  I reached out and shook her hand.  My wife introduced herself and did the same.

     “Ah, such nice...  young...  PEOPOH!,” she barked.  “What can I hep you find today?”

     “Well, we’re looking for family room furniture,” I replied.  “Maybe a couch and chair combination...  or something along those lines.”

     “Very...  very good.  You both young. You both...  JUST BUY HOUSE?”  I glanced over at my wife.  She was smiling and turning red.  “Ah, you DO just buy house.  I can tell from yoh wife.  She know eveything, right?”

     “No, not everything.”

     “Honey,” said my wife, smacking me on the arm.  “Not the right response.”

     “Ah, you bettah watch yohsef, Dave,” said Cindy.  “You no listen to yoh wife, she fix you good.”

She threw her head back and cackled madly, and the two of us couldn’t help but join her.  I had never actually purchased anything in a furniture store.  But I was already starting to suspect that Cindy was the coolest furniture salesperson in Rochester.

This is the big green chair and the big
green ottoman that Cindy sold to us.
Within days, we sold them to the cats.
     “Let me shoh you where auh the comfy couches an chaihs are.  Right this way."

She lead us through the maze of pre-assembled themes, settings, and furniture displays.  Dining room sets with six chairs, for $4,000...  a matching buffet for $2,700...  $3,200 for the matching china cabinet, if you wanted to break the bank.  Seriously, who buys this stuff?  Who can afford this stuff?  Certainly not a couple who collectively sent away almost $700 every month in student loan payments.  At the moment, we weren’t interested in resting our delicate backsides on dining room chairs made from the bone marrow of endangered Turkish alligator.  We just wanted a comfortable couch, and perhaps a matching chair, to furnish the empty family room.

     “Heah,” said Cindy, waving her hand emphatically.  “Couches and chaihs... all... begin... RIGHT HEAH!  You look.  You take yoh TIME!  And when you find couch of yoh dreams... you come FIND ME!  I fix you good!”  She wheeled around abruptly and marched away.

     “Wow,” I said.  “I think I need to take a few minutes just to recover from that.”

     “She’s hysterical,” said my wife.

We started browsing each of pre-set living room arrangements... sitting on all of the different couches... testing out all of the chairs.  We weren’t looking for any couches with exotic floral patterns or elegant scroll work carved into the legs or arms.  We weren't looking for furniture that would bring us any unnecessary drama.  We just wanted furniture that was functional, comfortable, and somewhat resistant to our cats and their claws.

The big green chair and the big
green ottoman belong to the cats.

     “Let’s make sure we get a chair with an auto-mahn.”

     “Auto-what?” I asked.

     “An auto-mahn...  you know, so you can put your feet up.”


     "An AUTO-MAHN!"


     “You’ve never heard of an auto-mahn?”

     “Honey, what are you trying to say?”

     “An AUTO-MAHN!” she exclaimed, pointing to an ottoman that was on display nearby.

     “Are you trying to say, ‘ottoman’?


     “Honey, it’s pronounced ‘auda-mun’... not AUTO-MAHN!”

     “What?  It is?”

     “AUTO-MAHN!  When have you ever heard it pronounced that way?”

     “Nowhere, but I just... thought that’s how you said it.”

I just shook my head and laughed.

     “Shut-up!”  She belted me hard on the shoulder.

This wasn’t the first time that I had corrected her on some of her peculiar pronunciations.  There are many words that we all pronounce differently, and there are multiple pronunciations that are acceptable, in most cases.  But my wife's ever-expanding number of ‘alternate pronunciations’ were rarely subtle, nor correct.  Whenever I’d call her out on one of her blunders, she’d get really embarrassed and turn bright red, before eventually laughing it off.

For the first eight months after we moved into our previous apartment, she kept telling me that she couldn’t wait for fall to arrive so we could start getting ‘egg-horn’ squash at local farmers markets.  It took a few home-cooked autumn meals for me to realize what the hell she was talking about.

One of the problems with taking 'moving pictures' while using the wrong shutter speed on your camera is that you end up with blurry, indiscernible images that are really funky.  Can you spot the crow?

We spent about thirty-five minutes testing out a number of different couch and chair sets.  The year before, we had actually considered buying a new couch, and we had investigated some of the cheaper furniture chains in the area.  After some serious searching, we thought that we had found couches that we were happy with.  But even when repeatedly comparing our first choices, we still harbored serious doubt in our minds.  There was always a minor detail regarding the overall comfort of each couch, that didn’t feel quite right.

Once we started trying out the furniture at Raymour and Flanigan, we knew that we’d made the right decision.  While the couches at Raymour and Flanigan were much more expensive than anything we'd seen at the cheapie stores, they were more solid in appearance, and so much more comfortable.  In some cases, it’s worth paying extra for quality and comfort.

Finally, we narrowed down our selection to a matching couch, lounge chair, and ottoman.  They were greenish and rugged, and they looked like they’d provide a nice contrast to the neutral decor of the family room.  Plus, the microfiber fabric would hold up well to our cats’ claws, if they felt the urge to scratch.

     “Shall we go get Cindy?”

     “Sounds good,” I said, as I put my feet up on the ottoman.  “Wake me up when you find her.”

One of the cool things about taking 'moving pictures' while using the wrong shutter speed on your camera is that you end up with blurry, indiscernible images that are really funky.  Can you spot the crow?

I closed my eyes and put my head back, letting myself sink slowly into the soft chair that would soon be ours.  Yeah, this was really comfortable.  I could easily get used to this.  I had to give my wife credit for suggesting the ottoman, even though she couldn’t say it right.  I was trying my best to doze off into a light slumber, when I heard my wife’s voice approaching.

     “Here, this one right here…  Dave, get your feet off the furniture!” she snapped, as she led Cindy into the fake living room where I was camped out.

     “Honey, I’m testing it out.  This is the store model.  We have to be sure that-- ”

     “Oh, that’s okay,” said Cindy.  “You got to make sho’ that couch is comftaboh right?”

     “That RIGHT, Cindy,” I said emphatically.  “See honey, she gets it.”

     “And a couch that’s uncomftaboh is fucking NO GOOD TO YOU, right?”

     “Um…  yes.  That’s right,” I said, slightly startled.  “It’s no good...  at all.”

I turned and looked at my wife. She had turned red again and had covered her mouth.

     “And if Dave fuck up and take home uncomftaboh couch TO YOU,” said Cindy, wheeling around to glare at my wife, “you be fucking mad, right?”

     “Yes,” my wife said, trying her best to choke down her giggles.  “I’d be very...  upset.”

     “Ah,” said Cindy, beaming from ear-to-ear.  “You think it funny when I say ‘fuck’, DON’T YOU!?”

     “Actually, it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard in my life!” I replied enthusiastically.

     “Fuck fuck fuck,” Cindy barked.  “FUCK FUCK FUCK!  I see right away.  You ah not only nice young coupoh, you are FUN…  young…  COUPOH!”

     “We try to be fun,” said my wife, holding back tears of laughter.

     “I can’t say ‘fuck’ around EVERYBODY, you knoh,” said Cindy.  “But I only say ‘fuck’ around FUN PEOPOH!?”

     “We’re awfully fun,” I added.  “For sure.”

     “Foh exampoh,” she continued.  “I can’t say ‘fuck’ around miseraboh ode peopoh… who come in to buy couch.  Miseraboh ode peopoh get mad when furniture woman say ‘fuck’.”

     “Fuck them!” I heard myself blurt out.

     “Ah, you get hang of it now?  FUCK FUCK FUCK!”  She then leaned in between the two of us and whispered quietly, “See customah ovah there?”  She motioned towards an older, kindly-looking gentleman who was talking with another salesperson in the mattress department, about fifty feet away.  “Fuck him.”

     “And fuck her too,” I whispered thoughtfully, pointing to the elderly woman who was standing next to him.

     “Ah, you are professionoh now,” she said. “Fuck everybody, right?”

     “Yes,” I said.

     “That’s right,” my wife agreed.

     “I’m so… HAPPY… you don’t get mad when I say ‘FUCK’.

     “You can say ‘fuck’ all you want,” I said.  “We think it’s great!”

     “Of course you do,” said Cindy.  “Young American customah OHWAYS think it funny when sweet Asian furniture woman say ‘fuck’.  You come in foh couch.  Instead I say ‘FUCK FUCK FUCK’… I fix you GOOD!  And the best paht is… even though I can’t say ‘fuck’ at home, I say ‘fuck’ at wohk… OWH I WANT!”

     “You can’t say ‘fuck’ at home…,” I remarked.  “Why’s that?”

     “Oh no… NOT AHROWWED!” she said.  “Very inappropriate. I say ‘fuck’ at home… husband get very… MAD!”

     “Oh, that’s no good,” said my wife, sympathetically.

     “No good at oh!” said Cindy.  “I say ‘fuck’ at home… my husband fix me good.  I wohk through front dooh.  My husband ask, ‘Hi Honey. How’s yoh day?’  I say, ‘Fuck that’.  He say, ‘Not ahrowwed!  You say “fuck”, I fix you good’.  I say ‘fuck’, and you watch. He fix me good.”

     “Not good…  not good at all,” I said.

     “And you come to our house…  you say 'FUCK!?'  He fix you good too… You watch.”

     “Oh, well at least you can say ‘fuck’ at work, if you need to.”

     “Oh yes… very much.  FUCK FUCK FUCK!  NOW… I see you pick out couch?  You pick out chair too?”

     “Yes,” said my wife, who had just about composed herself.  “We like the matching chair.”

     “Ah… BEAUTIFOH!”

     “And, we’ll take the matching AUTO-MAHN too,” I added.

     “Of couhse,” Cindy said.  “You can’t have chair for yoh new house without… matching… AUTO-MAHN!”

     “Yes, it compliments the chair very nicely,” said my wife.

     “And if you get tired of putting your feet up, you just use foh coffee taboh, right?”

     “Of course,” I said, turning to motion towards my wife.  “As long as she doesn’t spill any food on--"

     “Not nice, Dave,” Cindy interrupted me. “You bettah watch out or yoh wife fix you good.”

     “I’m sure she will,” I said, and we all shared another laugh.

     “NOW!  You want beautifoh couch… you want comftaboh chaih… and you want… AUTO-MAHN!  Anything else for you today?”

     “No, I think that will do it for today,” I said.  “But we just wanted to know a little bit about financing.”

     “Ah yes.  You evah buy furniture from us befoh?”  I shook my head.  “No?  Okay then.  We have special finance offah.  You open account with us.  You pay… NO INTEREST… FIVE YEARS!  Sound good to you?”

     “That sounds great,” I said.  My wife nodded.  “We’ll just pay it off before then.”

     “Ah…  responsiboh man!  Come with me.”  Cindy motioned towards the front of the store.  “We open up credit account… foh YOU!  Then, I fix you good.  Yoh see.”

My wife and I followed Cindy back through the maze of furniture displays towards the front of the store.  On the way, we passed several couples who were all being helped by other salespeople.  In the living room area, a husband and wife were arguing between two couches.  In the dining section, a woman was talking to a salesman, while her husband stood a few feet away with his hands in his pockets.  He was staring down at the floor, and looked to be very disinterested.  We passed two other couples who appeared to be browsing on their own.  I actually felt sorry for each one of them.  They had no idea what they had been missing.

Look closer.  There it is.
There's the crow.

Cindy led us over to a kiosk near the service desk and began typing furiously at the computer.

     “Now... we open credit account foh you?  One... MOMENT!”  Her fingers were a blur, as she continued demolishing the keyboard in merciless fashion.  “Yoh... FOH NAME!”

I gave her my last name, followed by my first.  For the next few minutes she led me through the online credit application, typing in all of our personal and financial information, as I answered each of her questions.  When she was finished, she smashed the ‘Return’ key and closed out the window on the computer screen.

     “Congraturations, Dave.  You... have... CREDIT!”

She guided the cursor onscreen with the mouse, opening up our itemized invoice in a new window.

     “Now... finoh question.  You want protection agreemuhnt for yoh beautifoh fuhnituh?  Two hundred twenty nine dorrah coveh...  EVERYTHING!  Duht, food, grease, grime.  You have kids?”  We shook our heads.  “No kids?  Of course not.  You are FUN... YOUNG... COUPOH!  Too eary foh kids.”

     “We have two cats,” my wife chimed in.

     “Ah... fun, furry creature get fuh and fuhbaw EVERYWHERE!  You get protection agreemuhnt.  Foh repacement... FIVE YEAHS!”

     “Well... I don’t think we need the service agreement,” I said, looking over at my wife.  “Do we?”

     “Nah,” she said.  “It’s a couch.  It’s going to get dirty sometime.”

     “You shoh?  What about protection agreemuhnt... for AUTO-MAHN!?”

     “Just for the ottoman?” I asked.  “If we’re not getting the couch or chair covered, there’s no point in getting coverage for just the ottoman.”

The couch belongs to us, but my
legs belong to the cats.
     “Ah, but you may use auto-mahn foh food... right?  You say so yohsef.  You don’t want protection foh stain?  Ony seventy-nine dorrah for AUTO-MAHN!”

     “No, I don’t think--”

     “Heah!  Watch THIS!” she said, interrupting me.  “I take away seventy-nine dorrah off price of couch.”  I watched as she lowered the price of the couch by seventy-nine dollars on the invoice.  “And I give you protection on auto-mahn... foh... seventy-nine dorrah!”

     “Well, if it’s the same price... yeah, OK.”

My wife shrugged.  “I don’t see why not.”

     “Ah...  VERY GOOD!” she barked.  “Now...  one moment... ”  She continued typing for another minute.  “OK...  oh done.  NOW...  you oh set.  Just go ovah there to service desk and see Jennifuh to finish...  PURCHASE!  She hep you out...  she fix you good.”

     “Thank you very much, Cindy,”  I said, shaking her hand. “It’s been a pleasure.”

     “Oh...  anytime, Dave,” she said, as she reached out and shook my wife’s hand.  “Remembah...  you evah need moh fuhnituh...  you come see me...  ANYTIME!  I fix you good.”

She reached into her pocket and produced a business card, handing it to me.  Then she walked away and headed towards the front of the store.  We went over to the service desk, where Jennifer was waiting to help us arrange the shipping details.  The furniture would be delivered in three days, and we wouldn’t have to pay any interest for five years.  Not a bad deal.

     “Look,” said my wife, grabbing my arm as we headed towards the front door.  “She’s just about to reel in another catch.”

I glanced over to where she was pointing.  Cindy was talking with another couple, who had just entered the store.  She waved to us as I turned and held the door open for my wife.

     “They’re in for the ride of their lives.”

     “IF…  they’re a fun, young couple,” my wife added.

Three days later, the Raymour and Flanigan delivery truck dropped off our brand new couch, easy chair, and ottoman.  Within an hour, we had experimented with several different layouts, and we settled on one just in time to enjoy dinner at the coffee table, while watching a movie.

How would I rate my experience with Cindy?  As far as customer service is concerned, she passed with flying colors.  Of course, many would scratch their heads and wonder exactly how cursing like a drunken sailor fits into a successful customer service delivery model.  But I’ve worked in customer service long enough to know that the key to a successful exchange is how well you connect with each individual customer.  Once you make that connection, both you and the customer will feel more comfortable.  Then, the lines of communication will open up, and you’ll be in the best position to serve them most effectively, help them out with what they need, and hopefully, plant the seeds for establishing a long-term business or service relationship.

Cindy connected with us almost immediately, and she helped us out with everything we needed.  We had such a good experience with her that we returned to Raymour and Flanigan the following year to buy a new mattress.

As we walked through the door, we immediately looked around to see if Cindy was available.  Instead, we were greeted by Denise, who turned out to be one of the most polite and thoughtful salespeople that we’d ever dealt with.  After about forty-five minutes of trying out different mattresses, my wife and I both glanced over towards the next room.  A sign that read ‘Tempurpedic’ was hanging over the entrance.  We looked at each other.

     “Oh, I wouldn’t go in there if I were you,” said Denise, in a deliberate, ominous voice.

     “Uh…  why not.”

     “Well…  Most people who set foot in the Tempurpedic room are never heard from again.”

     “Well, we can just try laying on one of them,” my wife said.  “Just for comparison’s sake.”

     “I’m warning you,” said Denise, as she crossed her arms and frowned.

We both stood up and headed slowly towards the ‘Tempurpedic’ chamber.  Just as we stepped inside, we noticed Cindy approaching swiftly.  She was being followed by another young couple.  As she passed us by, she gave us a nod.

     “How ah you, TODAY!?”

We watched her lead them up towards the computer kiosk next to the service desk.

My wife turned to me.  “Looks like she fixed them good.”

For those of you who may not be familiar with Yoga, this particular pose is called 'Revolved-Lounging-Reclined-Triangle-While-Bathing-Pubis' Pose.