My 80-year-old dad is a retired oilman from Bakersfield. He came of age around wheeler-dealers, some of them so crooked, he says, “You didn’t bury them when they died. You screwed them into the ground…. These were guys who’d shake on a deal, but then you’d need to count your fingers.”
But Dad managed to keep all 20 of his digits.
Over the years, he worked hard, saved, and was careful with his money. He amassed a decent retirement partly because he was not one to buy stuff he didn’t need.
I didn’t pick up on this change right away because he lives 1,200 miles away. But I do phone to keep in touch.
“What’ up?” I asked on our last call.
“Well… you know, I love to get stuff in the mail,” Dad says.
“Is that a hint?” I answer.
“Naw, I’m just ordering a lot of stuff I see on TV. It comes with age, you know, your grandfather did the same thing.”
“You never told me that.”
“At the end, he had something like six toasters, and four or five coffee makers. Some were still in the boxes. You know, you can even buy mattresses with just a phone call.”
“Yeah, and have you SEEN the advances in kitchen technology?”
“You buy appliances?”
“Not just that, even KNIVES now last a lifetime.”
“What does Jody think about this?” I ask.
“Bought her some super-silk flowers off the TV,” he says. “She likes them.”
“OK. So what are you collecting?” I ask.
“Nothin’….. Everthing. I buy stuff, and then if I don’t like it, I return it. I hated doing that when I was young, but now I don’t care.”
“What sort of stuff?”
“Depends. Costco will take anything back up to a year. It’s great. But I buy stuff off TV, too.”
TV? I thought. Could it be? “You watch late-night infomercials?” I ask. “You took the bait?”
“Yeah, well, I know. If it sounds too good to be true….” Dad says.
Whew, I think. This is my father on the phone after all. “Right, Dad. You had me worried there for a second.”
“But there was this ad, saying you could lose up to 50 pounds off your gut—no exercise. Amazing. They had before-and-after pictures. They were selling these capsules, you see, they had special unroasted coffee beans. They rev up your metabolism and the weight just melts right off.”
“And you could buy four bottles for the price of two. And if you bought six more, they gave you a super discount.”
“So they paid you to take them?” I laughed.
“How did that work out?”
“Well I got ‘em, looked at the instructions, and it said to take a capsule with 12 ounces of water half an hour before each meal. ‘Hell,’ I thought, ‘if I drank a big glass of water before each meal I’d have less appetite even if the things were filled with kitty litter.’”
“Might be healthier, too.”
“So I decided to see what their return policy was,” Dad said.
“Probably on all that fine print on the bottom of the screen,” I said.
“How’d it go,” Amused, I thought that finally, someone was going to get the best of Dad.
“Well, I wasn’t going to bother to return them, but then I got a credit card bill for $329.”
“Ouch,” I said, chuckling.
“So I called them up, and said, ‘I’m 80 years old, and I bought this stuff to lose some weight and help my heart. But I took a couple of these things, and started having palpitations. I called my doctor, and he took me in immediately to do an EKG.’”
“Wow. Really Dad? So how are you?”
“ I was going in to see my doc anyway,” Dad said. “But the guy on the phone started stuttering and saying: “Oh, I’m so sorry. PLEASE don’t take any more of those pills. We’ll give you a full refund. And I said: ‘So how can I ship these pills back?’ I thought I’d get a postage-paid envelope. But he told to keep ‘em.”
“Yep. Got a full refund.”
“So did you toss the pills?”
“Naw, I told my cardiologist the story, and he laughed his head off. He’s got a big gut, too. So I said ‘How about I give you 5 bottles, and you give them a try?’ He said: ‘What am I your guinea pig?’ But he took ‘em.”
“So how’s that working out for him?”
“Don’t know,” Dad said. “I had a call in a couple of days ago, and he didn’t get back to me.”
“Did you kill him?”
“Dunno. I’m watching the obits.”
“You’re going to get sued,” I said.
“The bottle says: ‘Safe when taken as directed.’”
“Well good luck with that.”
“I figure, if nothing else, I’ll roast ‘em and then put ‘em in one of my coffeemakers. You know, I’ve got three here, brand new in the box.”
“Yeah, I think they’re over behind the mattresses.”
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.