Friday, July 23, 2010

At The Station That Night Cringe

……continued from previous cringe, Gas Station Cringe……..

Marty entered into research mode. He read up on the mechanics of breakaway gas station hoses, their costs, and what typically happens when fools drive off still connected. In most cases, the driver cringes, apologizes, pays for fuel only, and leaves. The gas station attendant usually reattaches hose to pump, muttering “asshole” under his breath. Transaction complete. My shakedown was irregular.

Marty called his childhood friend, Tom, who now works as a Connecticut state trooper. After Tom howled, he advised Marty to head down to the local police and request that an officer “facilitate” the return of money. Tom confirmed that the station had clearly been dishonest and felt that a visit from a cop should result in the swift credit of $120 to our american express card.

At around 7:00p.m., we took a family trip to our town police station. The family included me, Marty, 2 ½ year old Christopher, and unborn baby Brendan. As Christopher spread informational pamphlets with titles like, Signs of Domestic Abuse, all over the lobby floor, our lawman appeared.

He looked like a porn star portraying a policeman in a 1980s adult flick. I expected tinny Bowm Chicka Bowm Bowm music to mark his entry into the room. Forty- something, chip-on-shoulder, slightly graying feathered hair, Magnum P.I. bristly moustache, tight uniform. Porncop had never upped the waist size of his polyester blues since graduating from the academy some twenty years ago—a quick pursuit would surely bust seams. He greeted us with a bored gaze that expressed that we were interrupting real police business occurring behind the sealed door he just came from. He picked at his nails while Marty introduced himself and cliffnoted the shifty cringe down at the Shell.

Porncop glanced up to meet my eyes at the part about me driving off attached. The flicker of "dumb chick" registered on his mustachioed mug as a nonverbal mutter. Porncop raised his hand and cut Marty off before his summation.

“Well, let’s all go down there and check this out.”

Later, when we told the story to Tom the state trooper and my stepfather (a former NYPD detective), they both let out cries of incredulous shock-- amazed by Porncop’s procedural lapse. They insisted that the first chapter of Policing 101 includes: investigate rip-off claims individually—do not drag victim(s) to scene of alleged fraud.

I was already cringing. I did not want to go down there.

“Christopher’s tired. Can you drop us off before you go?” I pleaded to Marty.

“Aren’t you the one with THE PROBLEM?” Porncop snapped. “I need you there.”

At the station, I crouched down in the passenger seat, practically below the dashboard, as Marty, Porncop, and Mean Gas Man Owner argued by the pumps. At first, Marty and Mean Gas Man exchanged heated words. Mean Gas Man ran to the garage and grabbed a hose for show and tell. He pointed and yelled and threw the hose on the blacktop. Marty held pieces of paper and thrust them at Mean Gas Man, pointing at them and challenging the old man to read the information. All the while, other cars pulled up and received gas from the same pump I had used earlier that day. The pump that the old man was now claiming I had irrevocably broken. Somehow, my station wagon morphed into a tank that afternoon, permanently shredding a hose that is engineered to withstand extreme tugs.

A woman ran out of the mini-mart, the Mean Gas Man’s wife. She began to scream and shake, pointing to her husband’s chest. She protested he had a weak heart that could not withstand accusation. I slouched down further in my seat as I saw Marty pointing towards us. I caught some words and phrases, You should be ashamed to treat two pregnant women like that and Liar! and That's Bullshit! I could hear this through shut car windows.

Now Porncop was in the mix. His face was very close to Marty’s and there was bobbing and pointing between them.

“Why is Daddy yelling at that Policeman?” Christopher asked from his car seat behind me.

My cringe was about to jump out of my chest and break the windows.

“Ummm….Daddy’s just having a little disagreement with that policeman.” I offered, holding my breath. Just one of my eyes was cracked open.


“Why don’t we play I Spy?” I attempted to distract, hoping that one of the objects would not be handcuffs around Daddy’s wrists.

Fortunately, Marty stormed back to the car, arms swinging freely. Porncop had been useless. We found out later from another cop in town that the Shell Station is where Porncop gets his free coffee, newspapers, and whatever else.

Bowm Chicka Bowm Bowm.
Next week....Part three.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gas Station Cringe

My good friend, Elise, waddled over to the mini-mart to get us bottles of water. I write waddled because we were both eight months pregnant in the extreme June 2006 heat, and thirsty. When she got back and handed me the drink I chugged it, and forgot that my gas tank was presently being filled with fuel. The water felt so cool that it led me to turn on my ignition with pep, put swollen ankle to metal, and take off. (Note to non New Jersey folk: I am not so spoiled that I don’t pump my own gas. It’s actually illegal in the state.) The foreign station attendant screamed out in his native language as I felt the resistance of the hose breaking away from my car.

“Trace! The gas! You’re not done!” Elise warned, wide-eyed. Man, I was done. I lumbered out of my car and looked over at the mad gas man, holding a rubber hose in the air, still yelling.

At first, I just cringed. I was a total idiot. A big-bellied one. I looked around and hoped that no one besides Muhammad had witnessed my stupidity—not just anyone I knew, but anyone at all. Then I tried to process the incident. What had I just done? Was the gas station going to blow up? Was my car going to explode? Was I going to be handcuffed and arrested for reckless endangerment? I wanted to split, but stood confused.

An older man ran out from the mini-mart, waving his hands and chastising me in half English- half something else. The message was easy to decipher: stupid pregnant baffoonyou’re in trooouuuble.

The old man shoved the length of hose at me and pointed wildly to the end of it. He demanded $120 cash. There was an emphasis on CASH. I don’t have $120 in cash in my wallet, I protested. Elise and I pooled our money…but we weren’t even close. The man frowned and yelled some more.

“Should you call Marty?” Elise suggested.

Ahhh….Marty, my husband. Marty would never drive away from a gas station with the nozzle still attached to his vehicle. Calling him at that moment and confessing that I once again had lived up to Spacey Tracy (my father coined that nickname for me from the time I was old enough to forget things), seemed too cringe-prolonging. Plus, I feared that some form of law enforcement might arrive and cart me to jail to give birth. I told the mean old gas guy that I could pay him with a credit card. He scoffed, but finally ushered me inside to swipe my card.

120 Lottery Tickets. That’s what the receipt said. That was the first hint that I was somehow getting scammed. But at least I could get out of there. When I got back to the car, Elise told me that another worker at the station approached her and whispered that we were getting scammed: those gas lines are designed to break away, because, amazingly, I’m not the only moron to make the mistake.

Safely away from the scene of the cringe, I called Marty. He didn’t need the aha! 120 lottery ticket bill to know I had been taken. Not to worry, he told me, he would go down to the station that evening and get the money back. He had a few choice words for the proprietor…and he wasn’t surprised when I revealed which station in town it was. He always knew they were shady (expletives). Some intensely primal anger ignited inside Marty….the fact that his pregnant wife had been so mistreated needed rectifying.

To be continued….PART TWO next week….. entitled “At The Station That Night Cringe”

And then PART THREE…. “Another Cringe At The Same Station” the week after.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hot Todd Cringe

Todd is a handsome thirty-two year old construction supervisor who works with my husband. Todd is also an exceptionally talented self-taught craftsman. He was hired by our neighbors, Kendra and Rich, to renovate their second floor as a side job.

Mitsie lives across the street from where Todd is toiling. We all live on Church Street, which sounds very proper and demure. Mitsie’s eighteen year old daughter and several girlfriends took notice of the “hot guy” sawing on her neighbor’s front lawn. They liked his blondish hair and his well-developed tattooed surfer arm. If a guy like Todd had been working in my neighborhood when I was eighteen, my girl gang would have found many reasons to cruise up and down Church Street for views. We may have even feigned that we were lost (on my own street) and asked the hardworking man for directions.

“Who’s the hot guy on the Colburn’s lawn?” The girls asked Mitsie.

“Oh, he’s Marty’s friend, Todd. He’s fixing Kendra’s upstairs.”

Mitsie started to refer to Todd as Hot Todd.” The name stuck. Kendra followed. Yeah, Hot Todd is almost finished with the mouldings—they look great! Hot Todd is coming over again tonight—I think I’ll make spaghetti for him. Hot Todd is so nice.

A few Sundays ago, Mitsie walked across Church Street with her seven year old twin boys to enjoy a glass(es?) of wine with Kendra and let their boys play together. Todd was stationed out front, bent over his power tools. Mitsie asked Todd about his interest and availability for a project at her house. Todd agreed to come take a look. She called her twins to leave.

“Why?” they complained.

“Because “Hot Todd” is coming over to look at our fence.”

Her wine glass almost slipped from her hand. She used the other to cover her mouth, which was now surrounded in deep crimson. She bolted back inside and fell on the couch, enveloped in cringe. Her boys looked at Hot Todd curiously. Kendra retreated to her kitchen, feeling her own cringe coming on.

Like most good dirt on Church Street, the story traveled. Mitsie called me to confess the cringe the next morning. I told Marty who got a kick out of it, and promptly teased Todd at work. The legend of Hot Todd (and his phone number) traveled with the story—there was a cute, reliable guy available who could fix things. Church Street was abuzz.

Many on Church Street attended our annual Ryan Fourth of July shindig, as well as Todd. The ladies took cover from the 100 degree swelter in the air-conditioned kitchen. Their red solo cups were filled with wine and even deadlier concoctions like iced-tea flavored vodka (very tasty and refreshing - by the way). When Todd entered the kitchen, he was met with the giggles and shouts of tipsy suburban mavens—teenagers-times- two (or 2 ½). He was greeted as “Hot Todd” and women who hadn’t met him gasped, “Oh…you’re Hot Todd!”

Poor Hot Todd let out a pained cringe, quickly fetched ice for his drink, and escaped outside to the scorching heat.
Thanks for reading The Weekly Cringe. If you are not yet on my email distribution list, please write to me at Thanks, Tracy

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ferry Cringe

It took me roughly ten years to answer a simple, “New Jersey”, to the question, “Where are you from?” I spent a decade explaining my circuitous route to the garden state. My husband and other native Jerseyans regularly call me out as a snob. They protest that New Jersey is not as bad as it is portrayed on television. I say yes and no to that claim. Yes: I see women very similar to the Real Housewives of New Jersey all the time. If I drive just twenty minutes to a county park, I am surrounded by crass, heavily made-up loudmouth mothers, following after their spoiled brats with Louis Vuitton purses slung over their shoulders, kitten heels, and keys to flashy vehicles grasped by acrylic nails. Another yes: the turnpike is a lousy road and does reek in Elizabeth. No: there are lovely spots in New Jersey, and I am lucky to live in one-- one hour from Manhattan, and seven minutes to decent beaches here in Monmouth County. The acrylic nail ratio is low in my sleepy town. Lawns are green and kids ride their bikes to school.

Another plus to this location is the availability of ferry transportation to the city. Companies based out of local marinas ship commuters to New York City in just 45 minutes. My friend, Ted, rides the ferry to work.

Ted and his wife, Dana, were recently at a dinner party. A woman who Dana had met from the neighborhood had invited them to their home. Dana noticed that Ted seemed bristly at the gathering of three couples. He spent most of his time speaking to the host’s husband. He seemed to ignore the other male guest. It was strange.

“You kind of left that one guy out tonight,” Dana commented as they walked home after the party.

“Yeah, well, I pushed that guy once.”

“What do you mean, you pushed him? Like at hockey?” Dana withheld her initial cringe, hoping that the push was athletic even though this was an unlikely scenario. Ted is a burly six-foot-four ice hockey force—the snubbed dinner guest was slight with a pencil-thin moustache and foreign accent. He resembled the Pink Panther.

“Nah. I pushed him on the ferry.”

“What are you talking about?” Dana stopped to let her cringe flow. She felt dizzy under the streetlights.

Ted explained without apology. He had watched the guy blatantly disregard ferry boarding etiquette for weeks. Ferry commuters follow a simple system each morning. Two lines form on each side of the ramp, and passengers feed on one-by-one, alternating from the two queues. One from the left. One from the right.

The Pink Panther rudely charged on each time, failing to pause for the opposite line. It caused the cut passenger behind him to hesitate, followed by a bumping domino effect. A series of slight jolts often accompanied by spilled coffee. Ted was sick of this guy. He finally had the chance to right the situation. As Ted reached the platform one morning, Pink Panther was directly opposite. As always, the jerk darted ahead. Ted stretched his long leg forward and abruptly threw a Heisman jab to his left. Impact. The startled man swayed back and tap danced in place to steady himself. Ted moved ahead and found a seat, unruffled. He opened his newspaper with a satisfied snap.

“Ahhh…Ted! You can’t just go around pushing people….because then we end up like tonight-- having to feel awkward. I am mortified! This is a small town.” Dana was now cringing as she walked, as if there were little hot coals underfoot.

“I didn’t feel awkward. He’s the one who should feel awkward. He’s an idiot. And guess what? He now follows the rules.”

Sometimes a little jersey push is all it takes.