Lena, my wife, is a wonderful, intelligent, trusting woman. She is a far better person than I am, and tends to see the good and the honest in people she meets. These are admirable traits in a person, and if we had more like her, the world would be a much happier, safer, and well-run place. Without those traits, on the other hand, I would have no story this week.
About two weeks ago, Lena got a postcard in the mail asking her to participate in a telephone survey on water quality. In return she would receive a sample of a new Tide detergent product from the survey company. All she needed to do was check the box and put the postcard back into the mail. It used to be that Lena (always on the prowl for a deal and happy to get some free detergent) would have popped that card back in the mail on the spot, but overexposure to me caused her to go look up the “deal” online. As it turned out, there was very little information on the card to reference, other than the statement that the survey company was unaffiliated with Tide. (This is important to note, as I have no wish to be sued by the Tide people.)
In any case, lacking any credible reason not to, Lena checked the box and dropped the card back in the mail.
A few days later she got a phone call. It was the survey company, with questions about our water usage, numbers of family and pets, how often did we bath or wash the car, did we drink water from the tap or have automatic sprinklers, etc, etc… Lena answered all the questions and and gave the woman our address so that she could send our sample of Tide in the mail. “Oh we can’t mail it.” The survey woman said, “It has to be delivered in person.”
“What? In person?” Lena was temporarily put off-balance by the news, “Okay I guess. Just tell him to leave it on the table by the front door… up on the porch.”
“I’m afraid we need an appointment.” the survey lady said, “He will need to take a water sample from your tap as the final part of the survey.”
By this point Lena, always a busy person, was starting to feel the pressure of having spent so long away from her work. “Fine, he can come take a sample. Whatever slot you have open.”
“2:30 Tuesday afternoon?”
The appointment set, Lena called me on the intercom to let me know and ensure that I’d be wearing pants when the guy came by for the water sample. (We both work at home. Pants are reserved for cold days.) I said I’d try and went back to drawing comics.
Tuesday rolled around and at exactly 2:13 PM the doorbell rang for Frank, the water sample guy. (I put on my pants on the way to the door.) I opened the door and let Frank and his two enormous black plastic suitcases into the house. “How much water do you plan on taking back with you there, Frank?”
I indicated the dining room table to him and said he could stash his stuff there while he got his samples. He said he needed to “set up” in the kitchen, next to the sink. Set up? Maybe I spaced while Lena was talking about this. Oh well, I said silently to myself as she came down the stairs, it’s Lena bag now. “Lena, this is Frank, Frank, Lena.” I paused as they said hello. “You kids have fun now. I’ll be in the next room working.”
“Oh you can’t go.” Frank said immediately.
“Hunh?” I wittily replied.
“You have to be here too. You can’t go.”
“You need me to watch you take a water sample?” I didn’t want to poo-poo on Lena’s arrangements, but this kind of seemed like it was starting to get silly. Then Lena herself chimed in.
“Why do you need him here? No one told me you needed both of us.”
“Oh yeah, he has to be here too.” Frank cleverly non-answered.
I eyed the two plastic suitcases, wondering which one might be more likely to contain the Tide samples and whether or not I could wrest it away from him while shoving him out the front door. Frank looked pretty old. “How long is this going to take?” I asked.
“Forty five minutes at least.” he said, “Probably more like an hour. There are eleven tests to do…”
Lena broke in. “Nobody said anything about this. I wasn’t told about a forty five minute test. I just wanted the Tide.”
“I’m sorry honey,” I said to Lena, “I don’t have forty five minutes to spend here.”
“I think I have some very valuable information for you here.” Frank continued as if he were in the room with two entirely different people, “I’ll just get set up right over here on the counter and we can start testing that water.”
“We don’t drink that water.” Lena said, “We drink the Culligan water.”
“I’ll have to test that too then.” Frank said, moving as if to get to the kitchen counter which I was blocking. I made no move to get out of the way.
“No offense Frank, but even if I did stick around for this, I’m not going to want whatever it is you’re going to try and sell me at the other end of it.” I said, hoping to inject a note of finality into my voice.
“You’re a salesman?” Lena asked, the impact of this final betrayal of her confidence evident in her voice. “What are you trying to sell me? I thought this was a water survey. I thought I was being environmentally responsible!”
“I’m not selling anything here.” Frank the Fabricator fibbed, “No one has ever heard the information I have and not been glad to have it. If I can just get to the sink…”
“Who do you work for Frank?” Lena was clearly irritated by this point. I stopped worrying about me upsetting the apple cart and settled back to watch. These people had done it to themselves.
Finally catching on that he might not be making a sale here today, Frank started to get a little defensive. “I just make presentations. I make so many presentations in a day… that’s how I get paid… There’s a sheet…”
“Who signs your paycheck? What do they sell?”
“I work for (company name removed to protect the clearly guilty). But they don’t…”
“What do they sell Frank? Lena asked.
“They sell home water treatment systems, but…”
“I can’t afford a water treatment system! I just wanted a damn box of Tide!”
“Okay then!” I said moving forward, hand outstretched. “Frank, it’s been good to meet you. Hope you have better luck at the next stop!”
Frank shook my hand as if new to the gesture. Looking to Lena, he made one final go of it. “I have to do the presentation first if you’re going to get your Tide.”
“Gee, let’s see…” Lena said, tapping her chin and looking sideways into the air, “If your presentation only takes forty five minutes, with two of us here that’s an hour and a half of billable time at a hundred dollars an hour… Hunh. I don’t think I can afford your Tide either!”
Frank looked from Lena to me. “You have a hundred and fifty dollars on you Frank?” I asked.
Frank the Fabricator left in an obviously foul mood while Lena and I stood shaking our heads. She ranted a bit about the woman on the phone who had conveniently left out so much pertinent information and I listened politely. After she wound down Lena went upstairs to her office and I took off my pants and went back to mine. I sat thinking about people who deliberately seek out the best among us to leech off of, knowing that regular folks wouldn’t give them the time of day. What a way to live your life.
A couple of days later, I went to the grocery store and bought a much cheaper bottle of Tide. It took seven minutes.