The Great Creme Brulee Conspiracy!
Did you ever have one of those mornings where you woke up, called the bank to check your balance, only to find out you were 800,000 dollars overdrawn? I did, a couple of months ago. When I spoke with a human being (after pressing buttons for what seemed like hours), she confirmed the debit "discrepancy." Apparently, I was the victim of identity theft, but the good news was that the bank had recovered all the money but 187 dollars, which I was then told was my responsibility to reimburse. That was the positive news because, obviously, I’d been recklessly giving out my last name and home address on the Internet to shameless types - like Amazon.com.
After I refused to pay (imagine that!), they refused to speak to me, forcing me to spend half a day in their office, and another half-day on the phone, being switched from operator to operator, each one responding with, "You’ve contacted the wrong department!" Facing the thought of bounced checks and jail time, I kept at it for another month until, out of the blue, a woman called me from the Fraud Department, said she had no idea why they wanted me to pay the leftover charge, asked me if I knew, then simply deleted it from the system. I deleted my account, which, given that the "patriotic" bank is sprouting up like Starbucks, is unlikely to cause them grief.
In our world, if it’s broken, plow on! My "equatorial" gym’s showers have not worked properly in eight years. They either don’t have pressure, hot water, or both. I’ve reported the problem, called to complain, and written letters. How did they respond? With an expansion! More equipment, more locations, more hot top trainers! The water works have gotten worse.
When my iPod’s battery stopped working two weeks ago, I grabbed my "greatest value" store’s warranty and asked them to fix it. The guy in charge of filling out forms was all smiles and sales and satisfaction guaranteed...until he noticed a dent. "We don’t cover personal damage," he said, leering at me, and showing said microscopic indentation to a burly co-worker, then marking "dent!" in huge letters, and circling it, before throwing the paper at me, and watching to make sure I signed. (It probably didn’t help that Liza Minnelli’s "Mein Herr" was still showing on the system’s playlist.)
I half expected the guy to put an orange cone and tape around the device - or me. Of course, I was the guilty party; guilty for not realizing how much smarter it would be to just pick up a new iPod (with that much-needed warranty service, natch!), since they can now do three billion more things than when I got my antiquated version a year ago; except find you the money to afford it.
Over the summer I called that 1-800 "fandamnyou" voice-sensitive movie-ticket number to grab reserved seats for an opening-night film. When I got to the point where I needed to press the "Purchase Tickets" key, my dog barked. The Stepford-on-Ex-Lax automated voice responded with, "Okay, if you’d like to find a theater in Clinton, Ohio, press One." It was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of, since my dog was actually trying to find a theater in Toledo.
The way our country’s been grandstanding, until recently it looked like the best news all year was going to be the success of Little Miss Sunshine, a smart, low-budget comedy that’s turning into a runaway hit. And one that’s truly enjoyable after you get past the concessions stand where you’re talked into spending more on the Value Deal larger popcorn that comes with the free Snickers, even though you just ate and you’re allergic to peanuts.
That all changed last week when the Democrats took control of the House and the Senate, Donald Rumsfeld resigned, and the President bit the hand of Karl Rove, the man that feeds him to us. More than 200 Socialist members of the European Parliament made a rare joint statement, saying it’s "the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world." For the last half decade, the United States has fallen victim to abuse, corruption, greed, lies, unchecked power, fascism, war, and imperialism (and that’s just in the Oval Office). Instead of fixing anything, we’ve adopted a policy of moving on, expanding, adding more theme parks to our upside-down Disney World with its Mickey Mouse figure head.
I’m thrilled with the voters, I give my thanks to so many people in this country who’ve strived to make things better, and I hope we’re on our way back. In the meantime, I’m being pragmatic: I’m not going to focus on the big, impossible dreams. Rather, I’m going to think small, hoping baby steps will slowly turn into giant mankind leaps.
I’m wishing that the people behind Broadway musicals will go back and work on shows about what they did for love, instead of moving on to bigger budgets, bigger effects, and bigger bores. When producers go with the former path, they hit Grey Gardens. When they choose the latter, they get greedy and revive the Chorus Line, prompting the original cast to change their tune and say they did it all for money. Everything might have been beautiful at the ballet, but, as we always learn when things get too big, it’s even prettier showered in green.
Before I read more about how easy it is, and free, to download TV shows, I want to read more about shows worth watching. I want a great sitcom to be the big news story, not that there are no great writers - that’s a lie; I’m one of a million of ’em. Before cell-phone service is installed in the subway system, I want commuters to actually flock to the center of the car during rush hour, instead of clinging to the doors like they’re waiting for the Barneys sale to open. Before more gossip about Reese and Ryan marriage woes, I want real conversation about more marriage ’mos. The next time I rent a DVD, I’ll be much happier about the prospect of it not skipping or going back to the first frame then I will be about the fact that all I have to do is stick it in the mail to get another unwatchable disc. And the next time I order a fancy dessert, I don’t want it to be another scam.
Perhaps I should explain that one. My mother (remember her?) was visiting a couple of weeks ago, and one night my friend and I took her to a French restaurant. She ordered crème brulee (her favorite dessert, and highly touted on their menu), and was tres disappointed. In the cab home, she was suspiciously silent. Finally, she broke her silence.
"I have something I need to tell you guys," she said in a half-whisper, fearful, perhaps, that the taxi driver might hear.
"What is it, Mom?" I asked, a little alarmed at her seriousness.
"That crème brulee I ordered...it’s a scam."
"What do you mean?"
"When I was in Boston last week, I also ordered crème brulee..."
She paused, building up to a revelation that, for better or worse, we needed to hear.
"Not only did it taste exactly the same, but it was served in the same exact dish."
My friend started to say something about the dessert’s dishes being rather similar in design, but I knew better and stopped him.
"What are you getting at, Mom?"
She shrugged. Did she have to spell it out for us? She leaned in, pulling us dangerously close.
"They don’t make it at the restaurant. They get it all from the same place...It’s a scam."
My God! Even crème brulee has been the victim of conspiracy. We’ve got to change the world.
Once, when I was a little kid, my mom, herself practically a child, took me on a walk. We rounded a hazardous corner only two blocks from home, and, after a car whizzed by and honked, causing my mother to grab me and practically throw me onto a neighbor’s lawn, she told me why she didn’t support men going to the moon. "When they spend money to put in a sidewalk here so that it’s safe, and plant trees in the park, and get rid of the smog, then they can go into space."
It was a simple statement about priorities, and I’ve never forgotten it, or doubted its wisdom. Since that time, we’ve seen space ships blow up and star wars fizzle, but we still have the pollution, not enough trees in our parks, and not enough safety in the streets. But I’m hopeful. They did put a sidewalk on that street, and it’s no longer a hazard to take a walk there. When I go home next, I’ll look forward to taking that path with Mom. The crème brulee conspiracy might still exist, but like I said, baby steps before the moon.
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