Sunday, July 29, 2012

It's Only Money...

It's been a trial keeping house numbers located near the road. I have a long drive, so cannot put them on the house. When I first moved in, we were allowed to have our mailboxes next to our drives. That alone ranked far too high up in my reasons to buy this place. It was so handy—a mailbox with proper numbers on it, next to the drive. If I felt particularly lazy, I could reach in from my car to grab stuff.

But someone ran into my mailbox. I worked hard to fix it. Then someone else ran into it, leaving a 4x4x24" splinter of wood and collapsed metal thing that had once been the box. (And they ruined my beautiful "Moose Crossing" sign, the one I used as a landmark to give directions to people.) The cops showed me where the person had actually gotten on the road shoulder and revved up to accomplish their foul deed.

The mail carrier says that this portion of her route has seen more assassinated mailboxes than any other place in the bi-county area.

So I got one of those "you can't destroy this" mailboxes and put it in. Someone tried; someone FAILED. Bwah-ha-ha, burn in hell!

Then the Post Office told us we had to relocate our mail boxes to the opposite side of the street. Poop! Oh well, I dug and re-cemented and even put one of those rubber mulch mats around the bottom of it to keep out weeds. It's located just beyond my neighbor's box, so you can't see the number on it if you come from the main direction.

(Over there it's still not safe. One day a rock deliverer who was approximately 150 years old, backed out of my drive right into the mailboxes. Didn't bother him a bit to do so. I had to call Scott Sand & Stone to inform them; they checked their truck for damage; they replaced my neighbor's box and repaired mine—within 24 hours, and with an apology to all parties. I love Scott Sand & Stone.) (And on a different occasion, the guy backed into one of my trees, even though I was shouting and waving at him right outside his truck to stop. He didn't think it was a big deal.)

After the lower level was stolen.

So I went to Lowe's and got some fancier-than-average cement blocks, the kind with the little lip so that successive levels sit back in a sturdy manner. I purchased four number tiles and a frame to put them in. Special glue stuck everything together, and I even included some heavy-duty wire so people couldn't pull my number plate out of the shebang.

One day I came home to find that someone had taken the entire bottom course of blocks. Left everything else, though. But now the numbers sat one layer lower, practically on the ground.

Sitting in my office, which sorta faces the road, I can always see delivery people trying to find me. A truck will drive slowly down the street and about 40 seconds later, they'll return to turn in my drive. Sometimes they'll be coming in backwards. They couldn't see the numbers well and had to logic things out.

This was not good for an emergency.

Last week I came home to find tire tracks coming out of my neighbor's drive. For some reason though we're in the middle of the block, people turn into her drive and back out to turn around. My drive doesn't line up perfectly with hers. Guess what does? Cement blocks and tiles were scattered hither, not to mention yon. Why should I repair this when it would only happen again?

I got a mason to come out. He was a surfer dude and didn't quite look sober, but he had a nice-looking portfolio and an upcoming vacation before which he said he could get the job done. Besides, he was the only mason in the book whose number hadn't been disconnected.

At my old place I had a HUGE rock wall/planter that I gave up on halfway through, which was about 5 years into the job. The guy I hired to finish showed up a couple of times over a series of months and then asked for the entire final payment when there was still quite a bit left to do. "Sure, when you're finished," I told him. A week later HIS FATHER calls me. Dad was also a mason, but one with a sense of ethics. He begged me to pay his son and assured me that the son would indeed finish the job. (Son had to go to Nashville to be a music star.) "Sure," I told Dad. "After the job is finished."

That night, all night, with his radio blasting (argh) C&W beneath my bedroom window, Son finished the by-god job. And I paid him on my way out the door the next morning. He had done fine work, too.

This Surfer Dude struck me much the same way, but this was a TINY job. Surfer Dude had forgotten to bring a contract but was enthused about writing one out for me. It even had all the information I needed on it. I gave him half the money.

We had discussed the project, which would not be a stone wall, but rather a boulder. "They'll notice it," Dude assured me, and showed me approximately how big it would be. We discussed how an impact monitor might be installed on it to activate Giant Killer Steel Ginsu Blades o' Death that could slash tires and a good part of a car/truck's back end.

"I'll see what I can find," he assured me. As I pondered the question, I thought that deer, dogs and/or kids might harm themselves accidentally on these. Perhaps they'd be best left off.

Dude returned three days later with the world's loveliest house number boulder! Isn't it great? I'm glad he didn't include the tile frame, as that might have cheapened the effect.

So I'm happy; people can find the house easily. Now I'm googling and discovered these. Yes? No?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Hairy Subject

About a year ago I finally had some professional headshots made. As a member of RWA, I am constantly reminded of the need for professionalism. Having that headshot available is a necessary evil.

I got the photos done at JCPenney (never again!) and requested no retouching. I've seen too many portrait photos with awful Photoshopping. Even I could do better!

And I believe I did. (Check my website.) But the sad fact is I had to add an awful lot of hair to my head via the clone stamp. I was losing hair in patches, and it bothered me enormously. Bless his heart, my dad often made it a habit to point this out. Loudly, and in public. I had to keep my hair very short so that the natural curl filled everything in. But when I was too lazy to color my hair, the gray-white against the pale white scalp made things look even worse than they actually were.

A co-worker had gone the wig route but wasn't all that pleased with it, though she looks great. I began to look at wigs. Raquel Welch—now, she had the looks I wanted! Take twenty... okay, fifteen years off her, and that's what I want to look like from beautifully-coiffed top to firm bottom.

Years ago I'd checked out the Hair Club for Men and Women. You know, the commercials have the guy on it who says, "I'm not just the owner; I'm a client, too!" Back then they'd said they could put me on a minoxidil & something else treatment for just $1500 a year and GUARANTEED my hair would grow back. (How could they guarantee medical results?) But did I have that kind of money? Heck, no!

I might be able to dredge up some now, so I hied myself over to Raleigh to do another consultation. They have a camera with high magnification that they run over your head and show you pictures. You compare the bald spots with the hairy ones. The ones on your head, that is. That is, if one has hair on one's head.

Nope, they now told me, these follicles are d-a-i-d, daid. Ain't comin' back, even with minoxidil. (Note: hair regrowth creme is in testing stages, should be available in slightly under 10 years.) I asked, how about a hair transplant? I'd heard that since women have smaller areas to fill in, their procedures are much cheaper than those men go through.

Nope, I was told. Actually, women's procedures are much more expensive AND they aren't guaranteed. (No, I haven't researched these claims. My bad. This is what HC told me.) In fact, they're practically guaranteed not to be permanent, because women's hair is different from men's, and the hormone whatevers don't match up. Most men have "permanent" hair in the horseshoe region of the head that can be transplanted and will grow permanently. Women don't.

But I could try a "permanent" hairpiece. It's actually a toupee, stuck on with really tough double-sided tape so that you can shower and swim, no prob. They told me that if I signed on, I'd never pay more for a hairpiece than I would during this first six-month introductory period. What about continuing the program? Would I be able to afford it? I told them what I could afford.

"No problem," the con... I mean, saleswoman assured me. "We can work with you. We have programs that will fit every budget." Well, how much would it be? "We'll have to see how you wear your hair, how quickly you go through it, and suchlike. Later on, we'll be able to give you prices." How about the hair itself? "We'll sit right here and get it just the way you wanted. You won't leave until it'll be perfect every day you have it."

All these statements were lies. When will I learn? Salespeople will look you straight in the face and lie, lie, lie.

The try-out contract runs for six months and includes three hairpieces. They made a "mold" of my head out of plastic wrap and tape, sent it off, and assured me my hair would be in within 8 weeks. Ten weeks later (this was when we were going through all the mess with Mom and Dad, so I was distracted) I called them up and asked when it would arrive. They told me they'd call me back. A day later I called again. They would look. Four hours later I called again. "Oh, we were just about to call you," they lied. Then they scheduled my appointment—four weeks from that day.

On New Year's Eve I left Raleigh with a new head of hair. They had told me it was made from someone with naturally curly hair, as every head of hair I received would be. It looked great!

Two days later it began to look not that great. Feverishly I followed the shampoo/rinse/enzyme regimen they'd told me about. I watched the DVD, which had a different regimen. Eventually I tried that. But my hair flattened out. (I asked about the "naturally curly" hair, and they assured me it was NOT made of such.) It was dry and ooky-looking.

I had monthly appointments and each time I went I saw a different stylist (the stylists are all very sweet women), who gave me a different regimen to use. Every time I left, the hair looked very nice, except for the times when it was left so wet that you couldn't really tell. And a day or two later... Bleah.

Once I was one full hour out of the salon on a non-windy day and attending a Heart of Carolina Romance Writers meeting. One of the writers turned around and told me, "My god, you look like you just walked through a lawn sprinkler!" ACCK! How mortifying! As soon as I could, I checked myself in the library bathroom mirror. She was right.

For my final wig, they did as much of a perm to it as they could. "If you don't like that," the assistant assured me, "next time I'll perm it on toothpicks!" Don't know how perms are done (having naturally curly hair I've never had to do the perm thing except once when I was a stupid kid and used that awful, stinky Toni home perm. What was I thinking? Everyone was doing it, so I had to as well), so I'm not sure what the actual process is, but for a good month, I had downright SPRINGY hair.

The co-worker with the wig pulled me aside. "It looks just like your real hair," she whispered furtively.

Over time it's calmed down and really does look like my own hair, except that it's less fussy, and even on its worst days (my fault), it still looks 3000 times better than my own hair on a medium day.

The regimen is not that bad now that we've whittled it down. Three times a week I wash my hair in the shower and kitchen sink: shampoo, rinse, enzymes. (The enzymes clean your scalp under it all and keep the itching down.) On Sundays I use a special shampoo to strip all chemicals off, then a special creme to put protein back in, then rinse and enzymes. Because the hair is so short and well-permed, it doesn't require much styling besides lining up the three bottles of spray product I have: spritz-spritz, spritz-spritz, spritz-spritz, go down the line and make sure all layers of the hair get some. (I wet the hair each non-shampoo day and then do this as well.) Then scrunch everything, trying to arrange it around a part-like feature, scrunch some more, and take off for work, hoping for the best.

That picture shows the hair still a bit wet, shot in the reception room of Hair Club. I'm told that my hairpieces don't have to be this length at all. I can go to shoulder-length or longer if I want. This is what I want:

So we started to approach the end of my 6-month intro. Each time I went in, I asked what the fee for continuing would be. "We have to wait to see how your hair works," was the answer I got every time I called, even though the program turns out to be quite standard. Three months to go, and the con... I mean, saleswoman told me that the prices were on the booklet I'd been given in my introductory packet, a booklet she personally tucked into every packet.

"If that were so," I replied, "you could have given me prices when I first signed up. Besides, I've received two introductory packets from you all, and neither has contained this pricing booklet."

The next time I showed up, lo and behold, the pricing booklets were on the coffee table in the waiting room. (They have not been there since.) "I can't afford this," I told them.

"We can work with any budget. You can afford this." They pointed to the $300/month lowest level of membership.

I then got out a notebook and pen, and asked them how much it would cost to get the hair taken off on my last appointment. Yes, just taken off, I assured them. And if I brought a wig with me, could I get it applied and styled by them? After all, it would be my first time with a wig, and I'd be leaving from the place to go out in public.

Within eight minutes, the con... I mean, saleswoman came into the salon room. "I talked to my manager," she told me, and then named a price a bit under the $300/month.

"Sorry," I said with a sweet smile. "Can't afford it. I told you what I could afford before I signed my contract. You said that would be fine."

Five minutes later she comes in with a new price. What was this, a used car dealership? I thought. And thought some more. At that time I thought I'd have to buy about three non-Hair Club wigs during the course of a year (wrong; since then I've been told it would be just one a year, unless I wanted a range of styles), and I knew what Raquel's wigs cost, plus their maintenance materials. Still, not having to apply a wig every day would be a better experience. If I scrimped and scrimped some more...

We signed the contract. It's an "unlisted" program, but I found out later it's also a "lie" program. Within the month, the con... I mean, saleswoman called me to ask if I could shell out an extra $100 just for that month (like she wouldn't be calling for the same thing month after month), because someone was doing an audit, and you know, they'd signed this new program for me as if I were a man, because men's programs are cheaper, and changed my name on the contract to "Carl."

"No, I didn't know that," I said. "You never told me. Can't afford the extra C-note. So sorry."

So I'm signed up for another year. Actually, it's just 11 months, since they screwed me out of a month with doubletalk, but they gave me an extra salon visit, which I thought was an acceptable substitution as long as it was just the one time. I'll be seeing them every 2 months now, and I'll get 3 heads of hair over the contract period. Product costs extra, of course, and said product is offered only by their company, no generic form available. (One of the stylists proudly told me, "Our products are chemical-free, unlike everyone else's." Yet the products' labels show lots and lots of questionable chemicals.)

I have extra glue and tape (tape works better, I've found) for when the hair loosens before it can be reapplied. Yes, they shave the part of my head that's under the hairpiece (they asked permission first) so the tape gets a better grip. I stare at myself in the styling mirror and make Lex Luthor jokes as I wait for the re-styled hair to be returned.

If you compare the cost to the cost of going to a hairdresser and getting your hair professionally dyed every month or so... Okay, and styled with maybe a manicure thrown in, it comes out close to the same, so that's a consolation. Only thing is, I was used to getting a box of dye from Walmart for under $10 and going to Great Cuts every 6 weeks for $12.

But part of the profits go to giving free wigs to kids who, for whatever reason, find themselves balding. That's worth shoveling out a little extra, thinks I. Too bad I can't write it off my taxes. And I do notice that it's close to impossible to get an appointment at the joint. Six weeks out is not enough time to guarantee you your choice of times. People come up from Wilmington and down from Virginia to find an office.

The thing is: yes, it costs a lot. But (despite the pic up there) it looks a helluva lot better than my regular hair. I used to worry about 13 hours out of each day about how my hair looked (that is, if I was out in public), and now that's down to maybe 1/2 hour, if that much. If I were really serious—and I plan to get that way soon—I'd repair my hair a few times a day like normal people do, and then it would be JUST FINE.

So if you're balding or facing an upcoming time of balding, you might want to check out the Hair Club. Just be sure to get everything in writing and doubt whatever comes out of a con... I mean, salesperson's flapping lips. And whatever you do, insist that they note that Carol A. Strickland of the Raleigh office recommended you visit. They'll give me some $$ credit for referrals!