Anyone who works on the serf-side of the tile and stone world will tell you that this is a material where, if it can go wrong, it is guaranteed that it will because tile, a product that is often beautiful, is also synonymous with mental anguish. Hand crafted artisan tile in particular is essentially a bitch goddess.
For example, a customer approves a sample of a ceramic tile that is white, the material is ordered, but what the customer receives looks yellow. The sales associate is asked to explain this phenomenon. A flurry of phone calls are made, samples are shipped back and forth, the customer grows increasingly frustrated and the sales associate descends into the second coming of Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend.
Or, something can go terribly awry with the installation. The customer that paid a king’s ransom for a gorgeous stone goes irate, and even though the material was perfectly fine, he screams it is defective when it was the sub-contractor that did not supervise his crew, five brothers named Clem, that lied through their missing teeth to get the job.
My role in the tile universe is to oversee the tile samples displayed in all of my company’s retail showrooms. Our showrooms are shrines to tile so it is imperative that what we display looks perfect. The second I sniff the scent of anything peculiar, I hop onto my Acme brand pogo stick and propel myself into my superior’s office. Recently, I noticed that a color code differed between a sample and a tile vendor’s literature.
Many times when I contact our vendors what I spew is the first they’ve heard of the situation. My company has a reputation for being insanely anal. In this instance, the vendor is a guy I’ve known for many years. He is not sure if our sample has since been reformulated or the label was mistyped. He offers to send us a mini-sample kit with a condensed version of his entire line at no charge. Free is my liege’s second favorite four-letter f-word.
Liege brings to mind a quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V, “Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting.” I must urge my sidekick, Greg, to reference that bit of poetry to Elsbeth, our boss, but it might prompt her to ask me confidentially if Greg has masturbation on the brain. I could suggest that she must have he and I confused, and also remind her that he is the one with the longer sideburns and I, the flatter chest.
I am sitting at my desk crunching numbers for a sample order I must place. This task is so underwhelming that I fill the concert hall of empty space in my head with my total recall of Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire. Greg approaches me.
Greg: Hey, Elsbeth’s mini sample kit arrived.
Greg: Should we open it?
I follow Greg into our warehouse and see a large box. He slices it open with a box cutter. We are now staring at a massive pile of packing peanuts that reminds us both of Cheese Doodles.
This inspires us.
Me: Let’s melt one!
Greg scoops out a peanut, pops it into a drinking cup, and then pours hot water from the water cooler into the cup. It dissolves instantly and our office reeks of corn. All of our colleagues rise out of their stupor.
Ling: How bored are you that you’re melting packing peanuts now?
Under Ling: I want to see the melted peanut!
The Quiet Man, the rock star working in the back of our office, removes his headphones and speaks for the first time since last Thursday.
The Quiet Man: That biodegradable packing peanut you melted there is made from cornstarch so that explains why it smells like corn. Technically, it’s edible, but I wouldn’t recommend you eat it since it’s unlikely that it was produced in food-safe conditions. I’m sure they have no nutritional value, either.
Greg and I absorb this speech. We resist the urge to applaud. The Quiet Man reinserts his headphones and resumes ignoring us until October.
Me: I’m sure they taste better than that bowl of organic twigs I called breakfast.