Friday, April 08, 2011

The Caring Custodian

Like any other man who is afraid people are judging him with their eyes, I'm afraid of turning down services I don't need. Extended warranties, shots for my cats, tire rotations...

Extended warranties aren't too bad. It's usually pretty easy to turn down a $70 warranty on a $100 device that doesn't even cover accidental (or purposeful) toilet dunkings. Still, I have to pretend like it's a struggle to say no.

"I don't know...I'd really like to, but I can't afford it. In fact, if my loan shark knew I was buying this thing in the first place, he'd dip me in the fire ants."

It's worse when it's the vet.

"Did you want to go ahead and get him up to date on his shots? Feline leukemia, ringworm, scrapetail, skeletal disintegration and...he's due for a neck tightening. I can write that all up for you now."

Here's where the guilt kicks in. I want to know how much this is going to cost ("too much"), but there's no way to ask without admitting that your love for your precious precious pet has a heartlessly low price.

"Twenty dollars? Jesus. No, I'm going to just rub some toothpaste on him and hope for the best. Box him back up. Thanks. Gimme that."

Wow. What a jerk! He does not want the best for his cat!

At least that's what I'm afraid they're going to think. But I don't want their little immune systems getting listless and bored. What kind of owner would THAT make me? Irresponsible, that's what kind.

Recently I had my car in for some work. Brake work that required that they remove the wheels. Before I continue, let me dispel a little myth: these days, rotating one's tires is not necessary. Back in the days when tires were made by lining the inside of a bundt cake pan with chewing gum and sprinkling it with dirt until it turned black, it was. If you didn't, apparently the tread would kind of squish over to one side and eventually migrate off the tire completely, taking up residence somewhere on the fender like a growth of moss. Or whatever.

More research and planning goes into today's tires than our country has put into its last three wars combined. If the rest of the car had kept pace with the improvements in tires, it wouldn't even need tires.

So they don't need to be rotated. If you have a front-wheel drive car, the ones on front wear out faster than the rear ones. Swap them if you must, but then the back end (the one that tends to swing around during skids) will have the slippery tires. There's an adventurous spirit in that I'll admit I admire.

When I picked up the car, they went over the invoice with me.

"Your calipers had apparently been bathed in acid nightly, because they were shot to shit, and your pads were so glazed and hardened and terrible and bad at stopping that they were actually improving your mileage. We replaced the rotors too, because they looked like rusty steel Swiss cheese, and all the little hoses were one hard stop away from catching fire. And since we had the wheels off anyway, we rotated your tires! That's the best part about this whole ordeal for you; that little job was free. Normally, we'd charge for it, but we rotated the fuck out of your tires for absolutely NO CHARGE AT ALL! You'd have to be some sort of car sadist to not rotate your tires! The ASE handbook requires us to leave rabbit droppings in the gloveboxes of people who refuse that service. And we did it FOR FREE!"

They were so proud of the fact they'd thrown that cherry on top of my brake-job sundae that I didn't have the heart to tell them I hated my car so much, I never rotated its tires. In fact, even though the car was now trying to shake itself to death at 70mph and above thanks to my freshly rotated tires, it still took me days to complain about it.

I mean, what kind of jerk complains about something that's free?

Eventually my rational brain reminded me that a lot of terrible and useless things are free. "Dead bugs in your light fixtures are free too," it said, shaking its head in shame. "Ask the shop to re-balance them or just put them back, you weenie."

To their credit, the shop balanced the wheels for free (after I mentioned that I could have the job done for free elsewhere) and the car works fine now. The guys do good work. Next time the car goes for a visit, though, I'm going to have to come right out and ask them to leave my tires alone. Yes, "free" is too high a price to pay for my car's well-being.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Water Aficionado

My latest issue of H2O Aficionado

To the uninitiated, a glass of water is a glass of water. To those of us who have, over the years, refined our palates, a glass of water is a microcosm unto itself; an ever-spinning wheel of sensory triggers. There are hundreds of variables that can be pulled this way and that to change the character of a glass of water.

First and foremost is the water's source. Is it the flat, cold, scratchy-throated, square-footed stance of glacial melt? Or perhaps it displays the spicy, permeable mystery of a tapped aquifer. Mountain meltwater has its own certain birdy taste to it, imparted by the underside of passing eagles' pinions. Clearly (ha!) there is a lot more going on than meets the Philistine tongue.

What I would like to share with you Philistines today is just a small piece of my hobby, and a good place for the budding water aficionado to start: my own faucets at home. Now, I don't mean that you should start with MY faucets. Ha ha no. That would get you arrested. You will have to start with your own.

A moron looks at a faucet and thinks "that is a faucet. It is where I wash the mayonnaise off my hands," and then stands there like a moron, staring at it for too long. The connoisseur looks at a faucet and immediately begins asking himself questions. "What's the gauge of the feeder pipe, I wonder? How often and at what gallons-per-minute is this one operated? Stainless steel or copper? Tin content of the solder? Was a propane or butane torch used to sweat the joints? Whose house is this?" and so on.

Join me. Don your spats and monocle and let us begin with...

The Little Bathroom

Here's a feisty little lass! The little bathrooms are generally home to some of the smaller plumbing fixtures. Without the traffic and large budgets of the big bathrooms, they are forced to push the envelope a bit in order to stand out. The single control knob began with some dismaying resistance, but soon gave way to a smooth pull. I make a habit to fill my glass within the first two seconds after initial splashdown in order to capture the taste of the pipe. I held the glass up to the light and checked for sediment. Very little, and what was there was almost certainly of the mineral variety; chalky with hints of scale.

And indeed, the flavor did not disappoint! You gotta hand it to these small operations; they definitely lend their glasses of water a certain kick. This one was a sass-mouthed, top-heavy blend with a high redline and course midtones. Definitely vintage 70s copper piping at work here; I could detect notes of pennies and an almost cumulonimbus hint of mildew. As it is supplied by water from Lake Michigan, the finish rode home on a wide highway of sunfish pee.

Overall, a satisfying if tiring glass, but good in a pinch.

The Kitchen

Next, we come to The Kitchen, where the defining accents are a long spigot arm with a joystick-type flow control, all done over in chrome. And sure enough, the pleasantly smooth action of the chrome joystick and the oxygenating grate on the spigot produced a nearly instant splashdown rich in atmosphere. Virtually no sediment would seem to indicate frequent use. The initial swallow was a definite kick to the larynx--cold and harsh with overtones of apology and lemon Dawn. The abrasive backing provided by the cleaning pads lent it pleasant, if a little ostentatious, midtones. A short aging period in the feeder pipe means a raw, almost primal finish, and here I was not disappointed, although I feel it could have used a little more tin in the solder. Definitely a gap in the histogram there.

Overall, a good glass for everyday drinking, but the trip over the garbage disposal to get to it could be offputting to some.

The Big Bathroom

I'm not going to lie. The Big Bathroom, despite having a nearly identical fixture to The Small Bathroom, was a total asshole. The pull on the handle was gritty and haughty, and the overbearing splashdown was a full three seconds in coming. A word of advice: if you're going to make me wait that long for a fill, I expect Siberian-grade distillate with a cocktail umbrella in it. Sadly, some shoddy sweating and what I can only describe as "cardboard" pipes lent this glass a distinct "fat guy in Sears who keeps knocking stuff off shelves and trying to hide in clothing displays" initial swallow. Distinct and pointy lines of carp pee and muddy notes of beard clippings further dragged down a glass of water already just barely fit for brushing one's teeth. And only THEN if the drinker has adequately minty toothpaste.

Overall a good glass for putting out small fires and accidentally spilling on your crotch, but not much else. If it were a person, it would steal your car and be mad at you for not keeping the tank topped off.

The Basement Washroom

And for the diamond-in-the-rough of our group, we come to the oft-overlooked basement washroom faucet. Seeing high-volume flow in nearby plumbing, but nearly none in its own feeder pipe lent this delightfully haphazard and hunchbacked basement dweller a brightly polished copper-aged body. This was augmented with very striated lines of PVC and the open-mouthed spigot with garden hose threading impregnated the midtones with unabashedly working-class zeal. The finish was a giggling blonde with hints of dryer lint and Tidy Cat. It was so cold that the fish pee was almost lost, showing up only as a faint ghost in the aftertaste. A surprisingly smooth glass of water when you consider the robust, square-edged bouquet normally defining these fixtures.

Overall, a wonderful glass to share with the boys on game night, although it may be a little strong to bring out in mixed company.

So you see, dear readers, that "getting a glass of water" can be a journey in its own right. Now, I usually drink from a tapered cylinder style glass made by the geniuses at the Corning corporation, but feel free to experiment with your own vessels. Or grab life by the horns and go feral and glassless!

With the summer months nearly upon us, the elitist palate can amuse itself until autumn with the rainbow of garden hose drinking options opening up. I look forward to that every spring thaw!