Hi, my name is Unknown. How may I help you today?

I need a new refrigerator, range, range hood, dishwasher, microwave, sink, and kitchen faucet.  I have a credit card in my wallet on standby. The contractor is waiting, tapping his foot, and ready to build our new cabinets. All systems are go for a blast off to new shiny stainless-steel goodness.

Simple process, right?

[Sound of buzzer signaling an incorrect answer.]

So sorry, that was the wrong answer and a trick question. I have learned that wanting to buy new appliances is different from actually buying new appliances. It’s a maze of frustration and disappointing retail experiences, and I’m lost in its high walls.

I’m an idiot. I wasn’t even thinking of a blog post when I went to these stores. I have a bunch of pictures of price tags, but none of the nasty stained stainless steel frig, which looked like an octopus made love to it at night. I have to remember to take pictures. Argh.

First there was Lowes on Sunday. My wife and daughter in tow, I walked around the appliance section for 15 minutes. We opened and closed doors, stuck our heads in ovens, flipped through the Consumer Reports kitchen issue, and generally did everything possible to look like customers wanting to buy new appliances, even considering filling the frig with charcoal from the BBQ grill section and putting a match to it.

There were two Lowes employees standing talking to each other, probably about how their Saturday nights were so rocking, and how helping annoying customers on a Sunday was the worst job ever. I refused to go up and ask them for help. Sorry, that’s not my job. That’s their job, which clearly they were under-qualified for.

Second up was Pacific Sales, which I must admit had the cleanest and best layout of any of the appliance stores I’ve been to this week. When the power went out in the store upon our arrival, I should have taken that as a bad sign from the shopping gods. And yet, there were hardly any customers in the store, which I noticed when the lights came back on. A perfect time to shop. Wrong. I saw a lot of employees talking to each other, which makes me think they were buying appliances from each other.

So, after about 20 minutes of confirming our Harry Potter invisibility cloaks worked, and failing to steal a range hood by hiding it in my frayed Abercrombie shorts, we left Pacific Sales, appliance-less.

Last on the list was our sorry experience at Sears. Again, very few customers and two employees standing around talking to each other. And again we left. But I did write Sears about the experience and told them they need to clean house by trimming the herd of employees who don’t help customers. And they need to clean the house because the store was filthy. Layers of grimy fingerprints coated the stainless steel refrigerators.

Several frigs were broken, like the $3K Kenmore that puked the ice-maker onto the floor when I opened the door, making a loud plastic BANG, which delighted my daughter as she was no longer the only family member to drop something in a retail store, she having a wee habit of knocking stuff over when we shop. I’m now in the “dropping noisy stuff on linoleum floors” club. Yay, I made it.

My grandfather took me to Sears when I was young. I loved it. He bought Craftsman tools. I buy Craftsman tools. My mother-in-law worked there for years. I bought a TV there, and Kenmore appliances. But this is not the same Sears. This is the Sears filled with apathetic  employees who will have poor work habits (apologies to the hard-working employees of Sears and mixing them with the ones soiling the company’s name and heritage). It’s not my grandfather’s Sears anymore.

This car is a classic.

These experiences made me think of the following: Retail stores are dead, but just don’t know it, with exceptions of course, such as women’s clothing and shoes, which my wife refuses to buy off the Internet. I can buy clothing and shoes off the Internet. In fact, I prefer it. So wait and watch as Sears and Pacific Sales go under. However, stores like Lowes will probably survive because it’s hard to FedEx 2×4’s and keep prices low.

Leaving the mall where numerous stores were papered up (bye bye Sony store), my daughter and wife had to listen to me rant the entire way home. The problem may have just been me and the fact I look scary with a paper bag over my head.

I worked in retail for over 15 years. And I did well, always a top salesman. If a customer was in the store, he or she was greeted and approached. If there was time to lean, there was time to clean. And we had managers who were crazy about these rules, not shying away from bootcamp-like tactics to make us feel lower than low if we did a poor job or goofed off. I wish we could dig up a few of these Ford Maverick-driving, divorced three times, politically incorrect, chain-smoking psychopaths, and unleash them in retail stores across the country.

The service would be a lot better and people wouldn’t depend on the Internet for product information. And best of all, true, knowledgeable sales people would make a comeback. But we’d probably still order off of the Internet to save a few bucks.

So, change is coming. What will the future of retail stores be? Will they be satellite locations for Amazon where we go to pick up our purchases? I don’t know. But if retail stores continue to provide zero service, they’re doomed. And that is kind of sad.

There won’t be stores and we’ll all be ordering solely from pictures on our computer screen, which in a way is similar to how they ordered products many years ago from catalogs, like the Sears Catalog, which makes me wonder if we’ve advanced. Internet ordering is more convenient and faster, but is it that fundamentally different from 100 years ago and a catalog?  I’ll think about this as I search appliances on the Internet tonight.

 

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We are not granite people

Zion, Aurora Borealis, Orion, Cosmos, Golden Sun, Copper Canyon, Golden Crystal, Espírito Santo, Purple Dunes, Emerald Green, Kashmir Cream, and Lapidus.

This was one of the most interesting granites we found. But even we don’t have the courage to go with a style choice like this. Fear of looking outdated overruled this choice and the fact we’re going with browns, oranges, yellows, etc. But still, this is one cool-looking slab of rock.

We spent Saturday walking granite yards.

It was dirty work and in areas of Los Angeles my daughter has never seen before. Areas with large power-line transformer towers, graffiti, murals on the sides of buildings, railroad tracks, and apartment buildings with cool-sounding names leftover from the 1950s and 60s.

I tossed  in a teaching moment and reminded her how good we have it compared to others. But it was a really a reminder for me, as I’ve been feeling envy of others in Los Angeles lately – the million-dollar home owners and those who can afford exotic granites with names like some of the ones I started this post with.

I should have no complaints about what we have and our good fortune. Driving through LA yesterday reminded me of this. We are lucky to have what we have, despite life  in Los Angeles and advertising constantly screaming that we don’t.

Another thing I realized yesterday is that I don’t like granite. Or, more accurately, I don’t like granite in kitchens.

Looking at large slabs of it is like looking at nature’s artwork. Beautiful, complex, deep – I love a 6 x 10 feet piece of rock. And if we had a kitchen island the size of a slab, we’d have granite. But we don’t even have a kitchen island. And granite when it’s cut into pieces looks busy to me, which makes me an oddball here in LA where granite countertops are ubiquitous.

If you listen to our real estate agent, everyone wants granite and that’s the only thing to put in for the best resale values. But we’re not going to because both my wife and I came to the same conclusion yesterday: we’re not granite people.

We don’t live in a house fancy enough for granite countertops. It’s not us. And we want a clean white kitchen, which is going against the grain of stained cabinets. Busy granite needs a mellow or white subway tile backsplash. We’re more backsplash people. And we want one that looks mind-blowing and is as colorful as an Andy Warhol painting or English garden in spring.

We want something fun. Not something serious and maybe a bit too proper or adult.

This slab is more in line with the colors we’re thinking. Goldfinger (completely random reference to James Bond who probably wouldn’t give a sh** about granite countertops, as he lived he life on the road away from home and ate in restaurants all the time.)

So, we going with quartz,  the number one choice of Consumer Reports for countertops. A nice neutral shade and solid color. And it will be nice and smooth like granite, which we don’t have right now with a crumbling-grout tile countertop.

If I had any courage at all, the quartz countertop would be colorful – orange or red. Or we’d paint our cabinets a color. But that’s not going to happen. We’re still adult enough to realize we will have to sell the house one day, which could be tomorrow knowing how much I want to move every time I deal with some of our neighbors and their demons.  We need to create a kitchen that appeals to a wider range of buyers. Or so conventional wisdom goes.

So, white it is with quartz countertops and an eye-catching backsplash. And though I’m not enjoying the remodeling process this time, I’m doing my best not to sweat it because I know how lucky we are and how many others are not. Kitchens are, after all, just kitchen cabinets and stone. They are not life.

A bad week sends me to the ER

Last week picked me up like a rag doll and slapped me against the ground hard.

It started with neighbor problems during Memorial Day weekend that led to emails and conversations with the police during the week. Then our yellow lab tore her ACL and went in for a $5,000 surgery for her knee. A rough week at work rocked my equilibrium in the way only work can do, and Saturday morning my heart lost its rhythm and off to the emergency room I went.

Home sweet home.

That’s the executive summary. Here’s the full scoop.

Our neighbor problems continue. Based on my complaint and other neighbors’ complaints, the police visited the parents to let them know the neighborhood was stressed about their daughter. I’m not sure how much it helped. The email from the officer stated the parents understood, but were “not appreciative of all the complaints.”

If we were renting our house, we’d be gone. Owning a home is overrated. My advice is to own a mobile home instead. I wish we did.

Now I spend every night looking at Realtor.com and every available house in our price range. No luck. There’s limited inventory these days. And something about having to move because of uncaring neighbors really upsets me. We may have to move, but it’s not going to be a fast process.

Our six-year-old lab hurt her knee last year. We went to the vet and he took x-rays. He saw a small speck, but felt it was nothing because she was walking okay. But our dog grew more bothered by the knee, so we went back and he gave us the name of a specialist, who diagnosed a torn ACL. In she went in for surgery the very next day. And now our bank account is light almost 5K. We love our dogs in this family. Or I should say we love the yellow lab because we got her when my daughter turned four. She and my daughter have a bond. I can’t explain it. It exists. And my wife loves the dog too.

I may work for one of the top 100 best companies to work for, but that doesn’t mean every day rains gummi bears and I spend half my day at the beach. The term “work/life balance” makes us laugh daily when we talk about the workload. I am going to write more about this in a future post. All I know is that both my wife and I work for large companies and I’m thinking it’s time they started hiring more people to do the work.

Welcome to the ER.

All of this led to my heart going into Atrial Fibrillation Saturday morning and an ER visit. It’s interesting because I thought a heart with no steady rhythm would be a big deal when I got there. It felt like a big deal to me. But despite the my pulse jumping from 60 to 160 and back again, they didn’t exactly rush to help me. I guess if I’d said I was having chest pain, first class service would’ve kicked in. It felt that serious to me. Eventually, they got around to doing something. They gave me a shot of ativan, an aspirin, and a large IV bag of fluid and my normal rhythm returned. But I wonder which came first, the panic attack or the crazy heart rate? I’ll never know.

Now I have to go see a psychiatrist. I know I have a problem with anxiety and need to manage it better than taking an occasional Xanax Skittle. The A Fib episode gave me a scare. I don’t want to go through it again.

And I should add this. I’ve had time to think about the week and what caused the stress. Yes, all of the above happened. And all of the above contributed to the problem. However, it was really the fear of what might happen in the future that pushed me over the edge. What if the neighbor retaliates and hurts my wife or daughter? What if I can’t negotiate my way through the politics of this project? What if I lose my job? My insurance? It really comes down to worrying about the unknown.

I don’t believe in God, but that doesn’t mean I don’t speak to her sometimes as if she existed. And I asked her for a sign. Something to show me I should continue and not give up. To continue to put up with the challenges of life. And she delivered one of my favorite songs, “Blackbird.” Interesting choice. I guess it’s like a dream – it’s my interpretation that matters most, not the dream or the song. And though I thought about not mentioning this part because it feels embarrassing, I’m leaving it in. It is what it is. And it happened.