Snake Oil and Sleazeballs

Utrecht: Used Car SalesImage by harry_nl via Flickr

My hackles go up as soon as I see them coming. I do my best to steer clear of the beeline they’re making towards me, but I guess they’re used to being avoided and most of the time they catch up faster than I am expecting.

I keep my eyes on anything else…look at the lovely couch, oh, I think I need new ear buds, those red ones are pretty. Nice car.

But when they’re right in front of me, there is no more I can do to avoid them. I must engage.

Over the years I have developed an unhealthy attitude towards sales people, telemarketers, pitchmen and the like. I know that there are nice ones out there, but even they will almost never have a chance with me because I’ve already made up my mind that they are slimy snake oil salesmen before they have opened their mouths.

Several weeks ago I opened the front door to a young guy who I immediately was suspicious of. “How are you today?” he said. Lousy first line. I don’t want to tell an absolute stranger how I am today, why do they always ask that? He was young, inexperienced, and I guess that was the only way he knew how to introduce himself. I gave him a curt “Fine.” He knew that he was going to have to work hard to sell me anything after that.

Once more he tried to warm me up with a smile and a “Great weather we’re having…”. I rolled my eyes and shut the door.

I was torn between feeling bad that I had shut the door on him, and relieved that I didn’t have to deal with whatever he was trying to sell me. I immediately had a hot flash.

On a visit with my elderly parents once years ago, a young fellow knocked at the door and my father answered. I was within earshot and heard this young guy trying to get my Dad to give him money to help “fund” his “education”. Yeah sure. He would not give up. A lot of people are like my Dad, and they’re too polite, so these guys keep working them until they finally come up with some cash. But I wasn’t having any of it…I dashed to the door, surprising both my Dad and the visitor, and in a very assertive voice I said “He told you no the first time, now off you go!!” and closed the door. I’m sure it didn’t phase him, and he was off to harass someone else.

There are some store chains that are particularly notorious for their vulture-like sales people. I won’t mention the names here, because I’ll bet you thought of one right away as soon as I said that! The instant you walk through the door, they smell you and begin their approach. You are meat to them.

Yesterday I went with my daughter to look at a used car in a car lot not far from where we live. As soon as my foot hit the lot pavement, I swear some silent alarm went off somewhere…he was on me like a guided missile. I was quick enough to dart into the sea of cars and out of his path, but my young and less experienced daughter was not. He tried to put out his hand as he approached me, and it was my daughter who had to shake it. Well, at least I thought she did, but I had my back to them because I had no intention of making eye contact!

Why do sales people want to shake my hand? Do they think that we’re making a pact, and this will make me beholden to them to buy something? As far as I’m concerned, you shake hands after you’ve made a deal, not before. And I don’t want to shake hands with someone I don’t know, unless I am being formally introduced by someone I DO. Besides, I don’t know where that hand has been!

I turned around and said “I am just looking, and I don’t need any help, thank you.” And he took the opportunity to start his ramble “…we have more cars than the ones you see here…” but I was already off somewhere else. I didn’t see the car I was looking for, so we headed out. The sales guy was distracted by his next victim, thank goodness.

My daughter was furious. “Why were you so RUDE?” she asked. I tried to explain my despise for sales people, but she didn’t see that as an excuse. Later on when I was chatting with some of my friends at dinner, one of them said that the sales guys at that particular dealership were especially slimy…when she had taken a car for a test drive once, the fellow asked for her cellphone number, and then called her over and again for months after.

You see?? My rudeness somehow felt justified.

The worst of the worst are those in-home demonstration sales people. After our first child was born, we got a call from what we thought was a representative from the local fire department offering to demonstrate smoke alarms, so we set up an appointment. It turned out to be a woman who basically held us hostage in our own home for more than two hours, refusing to leave until she got a sale. She used every trick in the book…especially guilt. How can you not have smoke alarms in a house with a young baby? Well, we DID have smoke alarms, just not HERS.

She was so awful that it took us months to get over that experience. The fire department had approved the product, but they had nothing to do with the sale of it. That’s how they get in your door, these sleazeballs.

Okay, so now you can see how cynical and bitter I am. Two days after that young man came to my front door, I was watering my front flowerbed and noticed a little business card on the sidewalk. I picked it up and immediately remembered his visit. As it turned out, he was from a non-profit organization trying to draw attention to the cause, I guess.

On the card he had written “Cheer up…everybody has bad days.”

That’s what stupid feels like.


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The Band-Aid vs The Axe

Westmead Hospital EmergencyImage via Wikipedia

I was appalled to watch some of the news video of these so-called “town hall meetings” (more like bar room brawls) that took place over the last few weeks regarding health care reform in the US. The misinformation that was being spewed was bad enough, but when I saw a commercial running on US networks featuring a “Canadian” woman suggesting that she would have died had she stayed in Canada and waited for surgery for her condition, that nearly did me in.

Sure, people die. And sometimes people die because they can’t get help fast enough. But to characterize Canadian health care as so “care-less” is nothing less than fear mongering, and the pharmaceutical and health insurance companies who were behind the campaigns in the US should be ashamed of themselves. I’m sure they’re not because it’s all about the bottom line, just as it was for those lovely Wall Street giants who brought the economy to its knees.

I’m not against business, and I’m not against “big”, but health should never be about big business. I know that’s idealistic, but you don’t see Canadians wanting to get rid of our health care system in spite of its flaws, because we know and see what happens to people in countries who don’t have it. Imagine having recovered from a life-threatening illness, only to have to face the rest of that life literally paying for it. And then imagine being deathly ill and then turned away from a hospital emergency ward because you don’t have insurance.

I was in emergency at our local hospital at about 3am the other morning. I have been there before when it has been horrendously busy and it took hours to get attention. Fortunately, what we were dealing with at the time wasn’t life-threatening, just a scare. And the other night was similar, except for the fact that it was not busy at all and we got in to see a doctor almost immediately. The only card we had to show was our health care card number, which is something every Canadian citizen automatically receives. The staff and doctors were caring and helpful, and they were patient with our questions and concerns. And in the end there was a wave goodbye, but there was no bill. 

Personally, I have no vested interest in American health care and whatever the population down there chooses to do is their business. But don’t drag our system through the mud simply in order to keep your fat insurance companies booming, and to scare your population out of the idea or ideal of universal health care.

And last, but definitely not least, we each have to take responsibility for our own health. We can’t expect to be careless with our bodies and then simply walk into a hospital and say “fix me”. We know a lot more these days about the dangers of smoking or overindulgence of any kind, or what a bad diet and a lack of some form of physical activity can do to our bodies.

When we were in the hospital the other morning, a care worker came around to ask us if we would take part in a survey. She explained that the survey was taking place only on Friday and Saturday nights, because that’s when the majority of emergency patients are coming in because of the effects of alcohol or drugs. It galls me that people’s stupidity and carelessness can lead to a back up of services for those who have legitimate emergencies. And those who are seriously addicted to substances need real, long term help, which is not easy to find.

There are problems with our health care system, no question. But Canadians would rather keep it and try to fix it, than not have it at all. And as seemingly inefficient as it may be, I’ll take the band-aid over the axe any day.


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My Visit With Uncle Ken

REDImage by Roby&C. “Back” via Flickr

My cousin called me up last week with the bad news. “Uncle Ken is dying,” she said, and we started to reflect on his life which hadn’t always been a happy one.

My 80-year-old uncle never married and suffered all his life from bipolar disorder. Of course, they didn’t have a name for it when he was young, but everyone knew that he wasn’t “right”. And even after he was diagnosed, there were times when he would go off his medication thinking that he was cured, only to have another manic episode, which meant that he would have to go back in the hospital until the medications could even him out again.

When I was a kid, my Uncle Ken was sort of the adventurous relative to my eyes. He had a little sports car, saw the world as part of the Canadian forces, bought himself a sailboat and always brought Dairy Queen soft ice cream and strawberries when he came for Sunday dinner. I saw him mostly at family functions, when he was either very quiet or passionately arguing politics with my Dad and his other siblings. The Jackson’s were a political bunch even if only from the sidelines. 

When I had my two girls, Uncle Ken would send them each a beautiful little dress every Christmas. We lived in different cities, so the times I saw him were few and far between. He lived alone in the West End of Vancouver, and over time his bouts with depression, dementia and bad legs eventually lead to his being placed in a care facility. I don’t think he was all that happy with it at first, but after a time he began to get used to it.

The call last week was urgent enough that I knew I had to get there soon. He was suffering from pneumonia, choking on food and was hooked up to oxygen. My cousin told me that when she had visited, he hardly said two words the entire visit. I thought about leaving to see him right away, but I had invited a group of friends over for a barbecue as a homecoming for my husband, so I opted to wait a couple of days. Immediately I felt guilty, not knowing how long my uncle might actually have.

But within a couple of days I drove out to the ferries to make the trip to the mainland for what I knew might be a final visit.

I hadn’t seen my uncle for quite some time, and because of his dementia I wasn’t sure if he would even recognize me. They were giving him a sponge bath when I got there, so I couldn’t see him through the curtain.

Was he conscious? It seemed so. I heard him mutter something to the nurse, but it was difficult to get a sense of his condition at first. Then the nurse pulled the curtain back. He looked very thin because he had been refusing to eat, he was sitting up, hair combed and clean shaven, and there was no oxygen tube. There was a glass of beer on the bedside table, because it was the only thing he would consume. Well, I don’t exactly blame him for that! But he didn’t look nearly as bad as I was expecting.

At first he mistook me for my cousin who looks like me, but then he corrected himself and I apprehensively sat down on the end of his bed.

The conversation started out a little awkwardly at first. But we ended up having a very nice chat about a myriad of things; his life experiences, current events, the family, and he even told me where he wanted his ashes spread when he dies. We talked about Ted Kennedy’s passing, how marijuana can’t be all that bad, and he asked me about my cat, and I learned more about my uncle in that one conversation than I had in the last fifty-two years.

In the middle of our chat, a nurse popped in to say that he was being shipped back to his care home later that day. “Thank God!” he said, clearly relieved to get out of hospital and back to his own place.

He didn’t break a smile once during our conversation, but that was okay because I could sense that this was a “rally” day for him and perhaps the inevitable would be put off for a little while longer.

When I finally got up to leave after an hour-and-a-half, we clasped hands and he said with great sincerity “It was lovely to see you, lovely.” As I walked out of the hospital it occurred to me that I could easily have misjudged the timing and missed seeing him altogether. It was only luck or maybe some other force that I don’t know about, that brought me there on that particular day.

He is back in the care facility now, but we have been warned that things could take a turn again, especially if he still refuses to eat. His depression leaves him with little will to fight and his dementia has affected his swallowing reflex.

But for the moment, my old, cranky Uncle Ken is still kicking.

October 11, 2009 – Thanksgiving – My Uncle Ken passed away at 6pm, having refused food and medication completely for the past three days. I feel like he just decided it was his time to go, and I am grateful this Thanksgiving that I had that final conversation with him.
Goodbye, dear Unc. Love, Irene

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