Speak Softly and Carry a Big Acronym

I have gotten many gifts from my dad; some of them were of the tangible sort: the occasional candy bar from winning a bet, a high school graduation gift of an entire dollar that he made me swear not to tell my siblings about, and a United States Marine Corps sweatshirt to help advertise his pride of service to that particular branch of the armed forces.

And there have been the non-tangible gifts as well: the deep seated knowledge that everyone deserves kindness, the fact that it is better to listen than to hold court, and that one’s curiosity should be insatiable.

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I have cherished each of these gifts and put them all to good use. So thanks, Dad. Much appreciated.

Yesterday, I had an appointment for a car service—routine maintenance, nothing fancy shmancy, just keeping everything up to date and on a regular schedule. I’m a little neurotic that way. Schedules are chiseled in stone for me, and chisels do not come with an eraser.

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I’m good about planning, and a little freaky when it comes to timeliness. I plan for traffic and throw in an extra minute or two for the unexpected, because the unexpected almost always occurs, and the unexpected usually likes to bring friends.

When I made the appointment, I was told that the shop had a shuttle, and they’d be happy to drop me off at my yoga class two and a half miles away. It takes me thirty minutes to get to the shop. I booked forty-five and put half an hour in between appointment time and class time. Loads of time.

It’s as if time were an innertube and I walked with it looped around my waist, buffered and cushioned with all it’s superfluous bits.

I backtracked around the first accident, sat patiently through an unusually high level of traffic, and gave myself a high five for still managing to show up one minute early for the car service. But instead of a shuttle, I was greeted with a Sorry, ma’am, the shuttle juuust left to drop someone else off, but they’ll be back lickity split. Ten minutes tops.

Uh huh.

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I sat in the lounge stewing as the clock rushed through my spare time. And every five minutes stood up to glare into the mirrored window of what I assumed was the manager’s office and inner sanctum.

Four minutes before my five-minutes-down-the-road class, the Lickity Split Shuttle puttered into the parking lot with a young man behind the wheel who had either yet to realize he was out of bed, and not still sucking plaster off the walls, or had been told that this shuttle drive was literally his last chance at keeping this premium job, and if he didn’t follow the rules of the road to a T, he’d be back to emptying Port-O-Potties at the local Rent-A-Center. So he was careful. And painfully slow.

Or perhaps just driving under the influence of unconsciousness.

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We inched our way down the road, where I finally told him to pull over, as right about then I felt like a good ole fashion sprint would do my lungs a world of good. Shouting, “GET THE LED OUT, BUDDY!” would have made them even happier, but by the looks of the kid, I figured he had had a lifetime of shouting shoved into about three teenage years, so I kept it all in check.

After my class, I chose to walk back to the garage. This is where the mechanic came out and handed me my keys with an apology.

“Uh, yeah, we did all we could do.”

“I beg your pardon?”

The mechanic scratched the back of his head and then slumped over the counter. “Yeah, for some weird reason, we can’t get the brake pad light to turn off.”

I narrowed my eyes at the grease-stained man. “Did you by chance check the brake pads?”

“Uh huh.”

“I vote you check them again.”

The man snorted and shrugged. And then left the lounge.

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I quickly called my dad. I explained the problem. He asked me a series of questions. I responded with, “You do realize you’re using words I have never heard before. You’ve gone into auto verbiage. I’ve yet to learn that language.”

Well, he gave me a few pointers—questions to ask, but more importantly the confidence to speak up and get the service I paid for.

The manager came out of his mirrored office and stood next to the mechanic. “Sorry to say, but your best bet is to take it to the dealer and have them run a series of diagnostics. There’s nothing we can do. We’ve run all our tests, taken the sensor in and out, rebooted the computers and gave it a test drive. Something is faulty. Just take it to the dealer.” He then gave me a look that suggested I might want to get back home to that stew in the crockpot and the cake in the oven. Maybe change a diaper and throw in a load of laundry.

“Have you tried calling the dealer to speak with one of their mechanics?”

“Oh, no, they won’t talk to us,” he chuckled, shaking his head.

It was clear he thought speaking to me was a waste of his time. My instinct was to say, “Well, okay, I guess I’ll have to do as you say,” because … because I trust people are telling me the truth. But my dad’s voice was still fresh in my head. I took a big breath.

“Doesn’t seem right that I bring a car to you that has no issues only to be given it back with an issue now does it?” I zipped up my sweatshirt. “I think you guys have got a problem to solve.”

The manager looked down at my chest and then back up to my eyes. “You know what? Have a seat. Let me just have a quick looksee.”

I did, and sat for two minutes wondering how the hell my little show of bravado suddenly changed this fellow’s mind.

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The manager came back out with a big smile on his face. “I think it’s a small matter of a bad sensor on our part. I can have a new one here tomorrow by fourteen hundred hours.”

I gave him a long look and then took my cars keys that he offered in his outstretched hand. “Okay,” I said, nodding. “I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.”

“Have a good one now,” he said as I turned to leave. “Semper Fi.”

I was about to turn back and say, What?? when I caught my reflection in his office mirrored window. Proudly sprawled across my chest were the letters that commanded attention, and apparently good service: USMC.

Thanks, Dad.

~Shelley

(And thank you to all people who have served time in the armed forces for their country. Your dedication and service is truly invaluable.)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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82 thoughts on “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Acronym

    • So glad you like the piece, Maggie. And I’d have to say, it seems many of the world’s countries are being given increasingly frequent opportunities to remind ourselves just how lucky we are because of those who decide to protect it.
      And your blog is a pure delight–in particular all the bird photography. Thanks for sharing your words. Cheers!

  1. If only I had known all these years, getting a USMC t-shirt was the way to get some good service! What a hoot. Unfortunately, those situations intimidate the hell out of me, though if that particular one had happened I may have suggested they would not get paid until they sorted out the problem. You must have done a great job writing this Shelley, my stomach is still in double knots just imagining the whole thing! xx PS. You are my dopplegånger when it comes to timing and keeping appointments. I’m a little obsessive about it :]

    • Ugh. The whole ‘withholding the money’ bit would be where I’d likely crumble. In my mind, I’d see flashing red lights, handcuffs, a ride of shame down Main street passed the high school where everyone is taking their lunch outside because it’s such an unusually beautiful day … I think you get the picture. I’m going to have to invest in a few more bits from the Marine’s gift shop.
      PS. So good to have a classy twin out there on the opposite side of the earth. ❤

  2. *internet high-five*

    And I’m with you on the time buffer thing. Leaving thirty minutes early for anything has always been my habit. Being with people who leave at exactly the right time to get to a place IF there are no unforeseen problems (or sometimes after that point) drives me to mental instability sometimes. One learns to suppress those feelings. 😛

    • Ha! Apparently our lifeline is connected to the same plug outlet NJ. I think the leaving early thing was drummed in long ago and now just beats this unrelenting rhythm in my head of ‘to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late and to be late is to be OH MY GOD I’M NOT EVENING GOING THERE.

      • Yup. Whenever we went on a family trip, it had to start at 5 in the morning, because it only takes an hour to get there, and the camp ground doesn’t open until 8am, but there could be traffic! I’m still the same way, especially with airplanes. I know, in my head, that the check-ins don’t open until 7am, but it’s an international flight, and I have to be there 3 hours early, so I’ll just show up at 5, just to be safe. 😛

    • You’re so right, Isabella. I never saw it from that angle, but I really should have been holding the space of zen. Maybe the Buddha was a marine at some point, and I was getting a bit of throwback umph from the universe?
      Thanks for your lovely comments!

      • hahaha maybe?! you never know… all i know is that my post yoga state leaves me much quieter and anti confrontational than usual which is good, but sometimes we need a bit of fire in the belly especially as a female! its the best way to get shit done 😉

  3. Wonderful post, and indeed ‘Thanks Dad’. I hate it when guys look at us as ‘the little woman’ prepared to take what they say as gospel. I had a similar occurrence with a stereo system, and I was only 16. Thanks to my Dad saying when you buy, look clean and tidy, but when you go to complain, look a million dollars! Worked for me!! (Glad the garage gave the Sweatshirt the respect it deserved). 🙂

    • Ooh, I love your Dad’s advice. That is golden.
      And I cannot for the life of me imagine ANYONE taking advantage of you. Mostly because you are so well researched and have all the facts tucked within reach for when you need them.
      (And again my huge thanks for your expert words last week (was it last week? it’s all a blur). I’m nearly finished with my CB analysis due to your kind help.) 😀

      • I must admit I tend to be more armed with info these days, especially when I have the need for complaint (Hubby usually leaves me to it, though he had his own issue with the bank and I gave him ‘tips’.)
        Glad to have helped with the other. 🙂

  4. Well done You. Pointing out what seems a logical position to the manager may not have been what swung his change of mind but at least you must have felt better for standing your ground. I hope everything works OK now.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • I suppose it’s these cumulative life experiences that build us up (or tear us down) that define who we end up being, and just like you say, David, sometimes we have to choose to see it in the light most profitable to us. And even though it may be somewhat delusional on my part, I’m guessing Mr. Manager, because of our interaction, has now done a complete 180 and is probably volunteering at the local women’s shelter, giving alms to the poor, and is likely offering free parts and labor to any person tentatively stepping across the threshold of his shop.
      I did say delusional, right?
      Big squish from Virginia. xx

  5. Go Shelley Go!! Lovely post and a perfect finish. The ‘little woman’ thing is done to perfection here in rural France where I have many times been close to explosion point when asking questions of an artisan, car mechanic even bank tellers – only to have the reply directed at my other half as if I were invisible or at best mentally defective. I suppose the 21st century will eventually arrive here but I’m not holding my breath 😀

    • It seems unreasonably archaic, doesn’t it? And yet the world limps along (and in some places needs to be dragged) toward a future where we’ll all be given a fair and equal shake. There’s that old Virginia Slims cigarette slogan, “You’ve come a long way, Baby,” but boy, we’ve got a long way to go.
      It’s always a beautiful bright spot to see your words here, Jane. At some point today, I shall gift myself with seeing your extraordinary artwork. À bientôt!

  6. The concept of time as an innertube tucked around your waist has put a huge smile on my cheery face. What a beautiful insight into the influence your wonderful sounding Dad has had on you Mrs P. Very cool yoga pose drawings there as well Mr G.

    • DING DING DING!!! Thank you, Cheergerm for spotting what I think is one of the most clever bits Rob has sketched on to these pages. You really have to step back and see them collectively, and I was soooo hoping somebody would. There are actually two fellas in my yoga class who have served in the armed forces, and I can’t wait to show them these drawings. They will split a gut.
      Thanks for the lovely words! Cheers 😀

  7. Great post again Shelley,

    I felt I could see you make the trip around the sharp nasty curves of your mountain abode at mach 2 just missing the trees then hurtling back over the center line as the on coming beat up Ford truck does the same.

    I too love the inner-tube metaphor of time as your safety belt; great visual. I bet you know one person that runs off of multiple clocks, all set at different intervals of minutes around the house and car that would drive even Cronus mad, just to make sure she isn’t late. 😉

    Much love my lady,

    Stoshu 🙂

    P.s. Can’t imagine how Little C keeps her crazy busy schedule in check at school. Does she have to run like we did at U of M across miles of campus or do they now teleport to and fro class?

    Oh, and lucky you for getting the USMC pullover… all I got was years of memorizing poems for children, they’re still in my head. That, and I moved a lot of dirt.

    • Well, you’ve got the whole ‘center line as an occasional suggestion’ thing spot on. Not necessarily in my handbook of fine driving skills, but that’s the way folks roll round here. In fact, most of these roads don’t’ even see a slap of yellow paint on them. Just a waste of good paint.
      And yes, the clocks are … there are no words to describe those clocks. I don’t even look at them now. Can’t look at them. They’re some sort of Freudian puzzle I’ll never solve.
      Lil’ C’s school has underground tunnels so all brain cells remain at optimal temperature for solving mind-boggling mysteries. I’m guessing they’ve all figured out how to apparate as well.
      Moving dirt build character. My #2 is now spending a lot of time raking walnuts. It’s all meant to manufacture integrity.
      Next time you visit, I’ll lend you my sweatshirt, but only if you promise to dig a small trench for me. ❤ ❤

  8. A Big Ol’ Smiley post. Love all of your images and delightful metaphor. All of this colorful phrasing and you still told your story in a straight forward manner. Your ending made me grin. Never underestimate the power of confidence or the Corps.

    • Oorah! Sir Benson. For respect for the Corps and my fathers service along with so many many other men and strong women, Oorah!

      God Bless,

      S 😉

    • I love how you put your comments together, Benson. I guess we’ve got a mutual admiration bit going on in the word department. And maybe it’s a chef thing you still carry around with you. In the kitchen, one does not have time for superfluous words. Be precise, be clear and potent. You just happen to wrap your pithiness in a delightful pastry shell. Bonus.

  9. Oh yes, my need for punctuality is of fetishistic (is that a word?) proportions. I’m surprisingly calm about others being late, but not me, never me 🙂

    Another cracker of a post, Shelley. Good for you standing your ground and good for your dad – he sounds wonderful.

    I didn’t see the end twist coming – must get myself a UK equivalent top – Is there a Royal Marine Corps of Grandmothers…??

    • Royal Marine Corps of Grandmothers? I love it! And what a visual that brings to mind. This is a group of women I’d make a wide berth around (and would hope to gain membership to one day).
      And, although I’ve spent the last five minutes attempting to have my tongue get used to saying fetishistic, it refuses to cooperate. Regardless of whether or not it’s been indoctrinated into our dictionaries, language is organic. I shall continue to campaign on your behalf.
      Cheers, Anne!

  10. Thank you for not just taking it. And thank you to your Dad, I ‘ll borrow his support, and yours, if you don’t mind, next time I have to hold my ground when I’m getting this kind of treatment.

  11. Shelley, what a fantastic ending. Isn’t it great to have a wonderful dad? And one that didn’t teach me that my role was restricted to cooking that stew. Now, if only everyone else would catch up…

    • Thank you for your gracious comments, Sue. I do feel fortunate to have landed a winner. Just as comfortable guiding his kids in the kitchen as he was from the pitcher’s mound, kindness and common sense are pretty much the pillars of behavior for him. Lucky indeed. 🙂

  12. Because of Unexpected and its everpresent Company, I too am obsessive about those padded time pockets when planning outings. I also recognize that young man who had yet to realize he was out of bed! (Why do they all go for this look now?) And oh, I can’t tell you the ANNOYANCE that comes over me when I’m sitting there in a restaurant with my husband and the waiter/waitress ALWAYS hands the check to him! When did this unwritten law come in to play? There’s no chance that the dinner is my treat? Loved your story and totally surprised by the ending! Well done as always.

    • Yes … I felt for that poor fellow. It’s so hard to be a teenaged boy these days, although I’m not sure there was a time when it was easy. I had to resist the unrelenting urge to spit on my hands and wrestle his bed head hair into submission.
      So happy you liked the story (and I love that you pick up the tab with your husband–he must feel pretty lucky to have such a modern and forward thinking partner). Cheers!

  13. Go you. It’s amazing how many knuckle draggers there are still roaming around the auto industry. I simply refuse to be within 500 feet of our auto shop. I make my husband handle every single word exchanged with them. You see, they’re really good mechanics, and they’re Christian zealots, so they don’y screw with us. They don’t screw with anybody, for they’re extremely afraid of hell. However, the particular cult they belong to believes in something akin to buying women for camels and bags of grain, and that is how I am treated. Like a commodity. We tried to leave them after this particular incident I will describe for you momentarily, but couldn’t find a better mechanic, so back we went.
    The last time I was there the brothers who own the place pissed me off to the point that I listed all of my education (not a short list, but a stupid thing to do) for them, just to point out that I would forever be smarter than either one of them could hope or pray to be, told them that hell would freeze over before I ever wore a skirt for God, and then pointed out to them that the only reason they celebrate their religious holidays when they do is because Constantine wanted to make Christianity more palatable for the Romans. I’m pretty sure there was a finger and an F bomb or two as well.
    So do what you have to do, and do it before you turn into Medusa, like I did. If a US Marines sweatshirt gets you respect, wear it every single time.
    They’ll never notice anyhow.

  14. It’s amazing what the military can do for you. I don’t have any clothes or even a hat that says military, but if I start out a sentence with “Well, when I was overseas with my husband when he was active duty…”, I’m not that naive old lady anymore.

    Wonderful story, Shelley

  15. I think it’s great that the manager has so much respect for the USMC (and that this helped you get the service you deserved), but I’m angry that if took that, and not just common business courtesy to do the right thing. Misogynistic prick! 🙂

  16. Nice work! Whether it was the sweatshirt or your confidence or the combination, you’ve inspired me to be a little more assertive when I next have to take my car in for service. I always feel like such a naive little girl when dealing with cars, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Thanks!

    • Oh, Abby, with your gift with words? I can only imagine you’d handle those folks with aplomb. If that fails, blind them with your killer smile, snatch up your keys and run like hell without paying the bill.
      Okay, no, you’re right. Assertiveness is probably the safer bet. (I’ll work on the plan B) 😀

  17. Why I continue to visit you week after week:

    “the Lickity Split Shuttle puttered into the parking lot with a young man behind the wheel who had either yet to realize he was out of bed, and not still sucking plaster off the walls, or had been told that this shuttle drive was literally his last chance at keeping this premium job, and if he didn’t follow the rules of the road to a T, he’d be back to emptying Port-O-Potties at the local Rent-A-Center. ”

    I’m hoping your spin of a phrase, excellent story telling skills and wonderful prose will rub off on me. Oh heck, even if it doesn’t, what fun to visit your words and Rob’s doodles. It took me some scrolling back to recognize the four yoga poses at USMC. Brilliant. I know just the person to share this with.

    I was only 9 when my dad died from lung cancer. Even so, I inherited his love of gardening, his orderly ways and his kind, kind heart. Gifts to last a lifetime.

    • Alys, you really are sunshine personified. Thank you for some of the kindest words written about my work. And in case you’ve not read the big secret for growing halfway decent writing skills, it’s just the simple deed of reading more than writing. The good, the bad and the ‘I didn’t know words could be put together like this’ variety. It does rub off.
      Now … on the flip side, it doesn’t matter how many of your photos displaying showstopping specimens of plant perfection I gaze at and study, I will never, ever, ever be able to grow life like you do. That is some sort of blessing you got from the earth that’s dished out to only a few.
      I bet your dad’s loving spirit is totally chuffed to continually see your successes.

  18. First of all, three cheers to the people who fight for the country so that we can sleep peacefully!
    And I am glad your sweatshirt made things easier for you 😛 As usual, your choice of words are funny and perfectly drives home the point you try to make 🙂

  19. That’s a great story for me as I head to the mechanic today to have them fix something they screwed up when I brought the car in last week (arrrrrrgh). Rob’s yoga sketches brought to mind an old love of mine, Gumby! I’ll be looking for hints of Goo, Prickle and the Blockheads in the future 🙂

    • I was just saying that to someone else–how now I’m craving a Gumby Guy for my desk so I can configure him into yoga poses whilst waiting for a brain fart moment to pass.
      Hope you didn’t have to bring out the big guns with the mechanic. Sometimes I think I should just go back to rollerblades.

      • I brought the Long Suffering Husband along. [Pause for giggle about big gun.] It worked! They kept asking what noise the car was making, and he spoke their language vividly (“When you turn a corner, it goes Ka-CHUNK!!”). Now, they stared in incomprehension when I said, “Something is loose and needs to be tightened.” Of course it turned out that the rear right stabilizer was loose and needed to be tightened.

  20. Good for you for sticking to your ground, Shelley, and what a wonderful Dad you have. I’ve had a few run-ins like that with car mechanics and building contractors in the past, but I’ve been lucky to find some decent open-minded and respectful firms round here. It works out well for them too, as they get my repeat business.

    If I ever do need to complain my secret weapon is to choose the right perfume. I have one that I can imagine being worn by a hook-nosed dowager duchess from the Victorian Era, who does not suffer poltroons nor fools gladly. They may not be able to smell it, but I know I’ve got her looking over my shoulder and cheering me on. 🙂

    Rob’s cartoon poses do worry me somewhat this week – am I supposed to be able to do that? Lots of fun though, brilliant as usual – the pair of you, both brilliant.

    • Okay, firstly, Laura, you have presented many of us with a doozy of an idea. I am going hunting into the back of my bathroom cabinet, into the bowels of detritus I’ve not seen for donkey’s years, and I am going to snag one of those perfumes that is nearly as old as some of my long dead relatives. Your secret weapon is absolutely perfect. It’ll be like having Maggie Smith poke me in ribs from behind with her walking stick. Perfect.

      And secondly, I now have my new favorite word of the month, thanks to you. Poltroon. I am going to use it everywhere.

      Love your comments!

  21. How did you know she looked like Maggie Smith? She’s an excellent ally, who would dare to back down with her steely gaze behind them? 😉

    I’m usually told my vocabulary is a little archaic, so it’s lovely to have it appreciated, thank you. 🙂

    • So glad you liked the essay. And I suppose the same could be said for just about anyone who takes advantage of those who are closer to the ignorant end of the spectrum. It’s just not a good practice, nor going to score you big points on the karmic scale.
      At least I now have a foolproof outfit–even if the fool is still wearing it!
      Cheers 😛

  22. Oh man, this was a great one. Loved the little bit at the end with the sweatshirt–it really tied the whole day together. 🙂 (and as always, the illustrations were great!)

    One of the first things my mom taught me when I learned how to drive was to never trust a mechanic. She showed me the parts of an engine, explained where they can try to rip you off if they think you don’t know what you’re doing (her own father had been a car salesman), and so on.

    We got into big trouble one year because the garage we took our car to lied about a service we’d specifically requested. We had a long road trip, and my dad was very anal about getting everything checked, and asked that the hoses to the radiator get replaced, even if they looked fine. He has good sense about these things.

    Well, they didn’t replace the hoses.

    And during our drive through the desert, halfway through to our destination, the radiator started smoking and spilling all of its neon green fluid on the road. We were VERY, VERY lucky that the “town” (gas stop) not far off had a tow truck, and nice enough people to set us up with lunch while we waited for our poor car to be fixed…. they didn’t even charge us.

    • Experiences like the one you just described (the ‘isn’t it amazing how people can surprise you with their generosity and kindness?’) are oftentimes too far and few between versus the multitude of experiences where folks don’t really give a flying fig about you. That makes me incredibly sad. BUT, it seems to be that when you do come across one of the former experiences, they have a way of making up for a slew of the latter.

      And good for you for having such a wide base of knowledge, mechanically speaking. I bet you save yourself a million headaches with all that extra knowhow in your back pocket, Alex.

      Really happy you liked the post. Cheers!

    • Yep. You make a great point, Susan. All too often I make that very mistake of thinking ‘this is it.’ When in fact, a lot of folks just don’t offer up the possibilities. It’s been a head scratching realization lately, but an education I plan to make the most of.
      Cheers!

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