About That Time I Forgot My Phone Number, and then Everything Went Wrong

So … I needed to get my car serviced this morning. Have a road trip coming up, and today was the only day available at a service center anywhere near my house (I had to drive an hour to get here) before we’re due to leave – later today. Booked the service a month ago, tried to make sure I got the day off, all that good stuff.

In fairness, when I scheduled the appointment, I entered my email and phone number correctly – I know this, because I was able to receive the confirmation notifications via text message, etc. The problems all started when I arrived.

I was a few minutes late, I’ll admit to that. I’ve never been to this part of New Jersey before, and I didn’t really anticipate what traffic would be like, and gave myself too little time to get here. I arrived maybe around 9:10 AM for a 9:00 AM appointment. A little late, but nothing major, surely.

When I got to the service center, they handed me a form to fill out, and walked away. Not entirely sure what that meant, I filled out the form with my name, service requests, and phone number.

But here is where it all went wrong. I wrote my phone number down wrong. It was a simple mistake – I mixed up two digits at the end of the number (49 instead of 94). I asked if I could head across the street to grab breakfast at a nearby diner, and inquired how long it would take; the answer was yes, and I don’t know but we’ll call you.

So I go have breakfast. I take my time, assuming that if there was anything they needed to let me know, they would call me. I don’t get a call. I assume everything is fine. I finish my breakfast, and head back to the service center around 10:30 AM – it’s been about an hour. I take a seat in the waiting area, and start to play Angry Birds on my phone to pass the time. I’m used to this – service appointments usually take a couple of hours.

Around 11:30 AM, I’m starting to wonder what the status of my car is – just idly wondering, not anxious or impatient or anything – so I go up to the front desk. The receptionist is on the phone, and as I’m waiting I notice they have a digital board on the wall with the names of each customer and their appointment times. Very convenient – I look for my name. It’s there for a 9:00 AM appointment … marked as “not arrived”. Well, that must be a mistake, so I wait patiently to speak to the receptionist. Then, as the list scrolls, I see my name again … as a 9:30 AM walk-in. Marked as “awaiting service”.

Now things are seeming weird. So the receptionist finally gets off the phone, and I ask if I could get an update on my car. They fiddle around in the system for a moment, and then, with a look of disconcerting bewilderment, call over a service advisor. The service advisor says to me, “Are you Chris?” I nod. “Chris N?” I nod again, somewhat dumbly. “I tried calling you three times. Someone else answered.”

At this point, I’m very confused. I haven’t received any missed calls, I tell them. Then they show my the phone number I wrote down. Incorrectly. My look of mortification must have been comical, because both the receptionist and the service advisor laugh awkwardly. “We didn’t even start the inspection,” they tell me, “because we couldn’t get in touch with you to find out what you needed.”

At this point, I’ve waited two hours for nothing to be done, and it’s entirely my own stupid fault. So I sit down, review some of the paperwork, and agree to the multi-point inspection, tire rotation … whatever stuff cars need to get done to them, I don’t know. Maybe a couple hundred dollars, I shrug it off.

I go back to the waiting room; I’m not leaving again, that’s for sure. I put on some headphones – making sure the volume is quiet, so I can hear my name be called again – and settle in for a wait. Not too much later – maybe 45 minutes – the service advisor comes back. “Here’s what we found,” they tell me. “You need a lot of work.”

”How much work?” I ask.

”Two thousand dollars worth,” they tell me.

I think all I could do was blink. “Two thousand dollars?”

”Your fluids all need changing. Your air filter has mold on it. Some other stuff …” Cue the sound of rushing blood in my ears, and the fading out of their voice.

I mutely agree and sign off on the work. I know nothing about cars. I assume that the things that are wrong are … well, actually wrong. They walk away to start the work, and after a few minutes of letting the news sink in, I start to Google what the various services they’re recommending should actually cost. In fairness, they’re all about on par – maybe 10% more expensive on average, but I’m at a authorized service center/dealership, and I assumed they’d be a little more expensive.

But still … $2,000? I don’t have that kind of money.

So now, I’m sitting at the service center, still in the waiting room where I’ve been patiently, quietly, humiliatingly sitting as everyone comes and goes around me, trying to figure out how many coffees I’m going to have to not buy in order to pay off a $2,000 car service. Divide by $4, carry the 12, take the square root of π … it’s a lot of coffees. It’s 2:30 PM. I’ve been here for five and a half hours, and there’s more waiting to come. My family are waiting at home for me to return so we can get a very, very late start to our trip.

The good news is they had all the parts …

Thought of the Week: What Makes Me Happy (?)

A very good friend of mine recently posted on Facebook, stating that he was going to rant about something, but decided instead to list things that make him happy.

I thought this was very clever. You see, as someone who suffers from some form of major depressive disorder (bipolar, unipolar depression … something like that), I don’t often take the time to think about things that make me happy. I tend to operate more on a guilt/shame line of feelings; I could endlessly list things that make me feel bad about myself. And when I stopped to think about it, I realized that I couldn’t, off the top of my head, come up with anything.

Which is sort of a shame, really.

What makes me happy? I thought. Do puppies make me happy? Not really. What about kittens? I like them, but they make me sneeze. Good music? Too much butter on toast? Little children using words they don’t understand? All sorts of things come to mind that, perhaps, ought to make me happy, but I can’t be entirely certain any of them actually do.

Then it occurred to me that although not everything makes me happy, there certainly are things that, if nothing else, help me appreciate the world a little more each day. Things that renew my faith in humanity, or inspire me to continue when things are at their bleakest. And to return the favor to my friend for inspiring this post, here is a list of ten things that, if not make me happy, at least make me appreciate life a little more than usual:

1. When Little Satis asks me to read to him at night.


There’s something awfully rewarding not only about reading to your child, but them actually wanting to be read to. Even better when it’s your own story they want you to read!

2. Talented people who don’t take themselves too seriously.


There’s something unparallelably adorable about Benedict Cumberbatch. Plus, he’s a freaking dragon!

3. Clever rhyme schemes.


Running uphill

Swimming against the current

I wish I weren’t

So fucked

Feels like I’m stuck

Lost in a sea

Of mediocrity

—Dream Theater, As I Am (Train of Thought, 2003)

Dream Theater’s lyrics are not always so clever, but this particular line often gets stuck in my head (possibly because it often reflects my own internal monologue).

4. Graphs and charts.


XKCD have some of the most marvelous and insightful graphs in the comic universe.

5. Typing the last word of a novel.

This is something I’ve done precisely twice. Those words are “laughed” and “spoke”, respectively.

Just realized they’re both past-tense verbs pertaining to speech. Perhaps the last word of Ancients and Death should be “giggled”.

6. Those months when you get paid three times.


Those of you on monthly salaries might not understand this, but when you get paid fortnightly, every so often there’s a month with three paydays. It’s like winning the lottery!

7. Really nice islay single malt scotch whiskey.


Not something I have all that often, but there’s something irresistible about the earthy, peaty flavor of a really nice single malt scotch. Those extra paydays help.

8. Browsing through independent record stores.

record collector

This is Record Collector, one of my favorite independent record stores. It’s in Sheffield, England, and I stopped in during our recent trip. My favorite thing is to buy a CD or record with an interesting cover by an artist I’ve never heard of and see what it’s like. It’s a shame there are so few of these wonderful shops left.

9. Mince pies.


Basically, it’s not Christmas without mince pies. End of story.

10. Lists.


I’m rather fond of lists—wish lists, in particular. I have a rather extensive list of albums and movies I want to listen to and see. I also keep an ongoing shopping list on my iPhone with probably around 200 items on it at any given moment. Not sure what the point of that is, actually.

11. (Bonus) High-resolution stock photography.

Broken camera

It may be slightly ironic that I took this high-res photo from an article about not taking photos from websites, but … I am linking to it (click above).

Featured image from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-sheridan/the-life-you-want_b_6044498.html.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 6.46.37 PM

Thought of the Week: Um…They Actually Prayed?

I’m going to apologize upfront, in case this twangs anybody’s strings. I should also point out that I don’t subscribe to any religious faith; it’s not something I give a whole lot of thought to, and I really don’t much care what people believe – to each their own. I also had to do a lot of rush research for this, so I may have a whole bunch of things wrong. Sorry about that, too.

So…that’s out of the way.


President Barack Obama

Today was the inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama. I kind of like him; he’s got presence and charisma, and I personally reckon he’s done some pretty good stuff, especially for the underprivileged. I also think George Bush Jr. did some okay things too; I don’t agree with a lot of the actions he chose to pursue, but he did a brilliant job of reassuring and uniting the general public of the United States after the frankly terrifying attacks on September 11, 2001.

The honest truth is that I just don’t care for politics much. I’m pretty okay with whatever those guys decide; in the end, someone’s always going to benefit and someone’s going to get screwed. Unless something radical like forced conscription is proposed, I’m happy to leave pretty much well alone.

But then today, I saw something that kind of took me aback.

Today was the first time I’ve ever had the chance to see a presidential inauguration. Having left the States at the age of 8 and only returned two years ago, it was never even a consideration for me. To be honest, I didn’t even really watch that much of it (my wife had it on TV, or I wouldn’t have thought to); I thought Kelly Clarkson and Beyoncé were entertaining, Barack was inspiring as always; that poet guy had a wonderful poem and read it appallingly. I was really just catching bits of it here and there.

Reverend Luis Leon

Reverend Luis Leon

And then, I noticed that there was a reverend up on stage. I thought, “what?”. Apparently he was giving a benediction, and something twigged in the back of my mind about the separation of church and state; this just didn’t seem appropriate to me.

So I did a bit of digging, and surprised myself with some of the history of religion and politics in the United States. Given the long-standing supposition that, in the United States, the church is not influential in the governing of the country, the inclusion of religion – specifically Christian-faith religion – in the inaugural ceremony struck me as out of place. It turns out that inaugural prayers have only been included in presidential inaugurations since Franklin Roosevelt’s in 1937. Prior to that, any religious ceremony – as far back as George Washington – was kept strictly private (I believe Obama attended a similar service this morning, which as far as I mind is fine – he has every right to attend church if he wishes to).

In fact, there was very little reference to god or religion at all in the early days of the United States. The presidential oath itself makes no reference to such:

I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

US Quarter

US Quarter

It is suggested that George Washington added the words “so help me god” to his inaugural speech, but this seems to be unsubstantiated; nonetheless, it has somehow worked its way into the ceremony to such an extent that it is now thought of as part of the oath itself.

Even more interesting is the near-ubiquitous mention of god on all US currency. The words “In God We Trust” are inscribed or printed on nearly all US coins and bills. The history of this little phrase itself is pretty interesting; apparently the first use of it is in The Star-Spangled Banner, whose own history is fascinating. The song started life merely as a poem called The Defense of Fort McHenry; it was later set to a popular British tune, which led to its widespread popularity. The song, however, contains only one couplet referring to god at all:

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: In God is our trust.

United States Seal

United States Seal

This, of course, is in an entirely non-state-related poem written from a personal perspective about a military victory. Its use in government comes in much, much later; it was President Herbert Hoover who signed it in as the United States’ official national anthem in 1931. From this poem cum song cum anthem came a petition from a protestant reverend during the US Civil War to acknowledge god on US currency. The Civil War had raised religious sentiments among both parties, and Congress passed the bill allowing this change to the currency. This became such an ingrained part of the culture that, in 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower chose it to replace the United States motto that had prevailed for 180 years: E pluribus unum (Out of many, one).

It could almost be argued, then, that it was this specific action that defined the United States as specifically a religion-based country. It’s interesting, tracing this history, to see how religion has slowly crept its way into US culture from a beginning that was explicitly secular, to the point now where religion is ingrained into state-run functions, actions and events.

Now, going back to the separation of church and state. This seems to stem specifically from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and it’s interesting to note that it explicitly states that religion cannot be the basis for any law or government decision:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

The implication of this seems pretty clear: the US government won’t interfere with your choice of religion, nor how you choose to practice it. And this actually seems pretty good, and pretty fair. However, what isn’t said is equally interesting. Nowhere does it suggest that the United States as a country is not religious; merely that, even if it is, it won’t impose that religion on anyone else.

So…what is it, then, when religious ceremonies are practiced at the inauguration of a United States president? Is it a demonstration of religious faith by the leader of the entire country? If so, is that then an imposition on the people to have such worship displayed – publicly — during quite possibly the most significant government ceremony of the United States? Should I, as a non-religious person, take exception to the fact that, if I wish to watch the official recognition of the leader of my country, I will subjected to such religious displays?

I don’t think there is necessarily a black and white decision about this; I would very much like to see such ceremonies toned back or removed from these public events, for no other reason than I can’t see their relevance to what is happening. Does swearing an oath with your hand on a bible make it any more binding? Would not having a benediction have damaging consequences on the next four years of US progress?

But…this is my opinion. After all – to each their own.

Hmm. What do you think?

Note: I’m aware that the vast majority of my references link to Wikipedia; I apologize, but I really didn’t have time to dig into the original source material.