Visions of Buffalo Dancing on Our Tile

Fancy-Schmancy (not its real name) tile store.



“No. I don’t accept. Cancel our order!” Jerry said.

We had driven north of Phoenix, way out in nowhere. It took forever to get to the Fancy-Schmancy Tile & Stone Company. For all I knew we had reached the Canadian border by the time Jerry and I pulled into the tile store’s parking lot. Eh?

Before embarking on our long drive northward, I had called various tile stores to inquire about terracotta tile, the kind of tile I wanted for our atrium. Only Fancy-Schmancy had what I wanted.

As Jerry and I stepped inside the upscale tile store, a friendly saleslady greeted us. To protect her identity, I’ll just pick a name out of the air. I’ll call her Renee Zellweger. Let’s say Ms. Z to keep my typing limited to fewer letters. We told Ms. Z the purpose for our visit to the shop: the kind of tile we wanted, and how much we needed.

The store featured designer rooms with tile in every design and shape I could ever imagine. Kitchen-rooms, bathrooms, living rooms featured glazed and unglazed tile set in floors or on the walls with custom painted border designs. Customers could imagine what the tile might look like in their home.

After hearing our desire for glossy, red terracotta tile, Ms. Z said, “You want Saltillo.” She explained, “Saltillo is a tile handmade in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico.”  She showed us various designs and shapes of Saltillo. Jerry and I agreed it had the rustic charm and natural beauty we wanted for our atrium. We placed the order, along with a decorative and colorful Mexican-design tile for a border.

This is Saltillo. We ordered the rectangular design in three different sizes. 

Ms. Z typed the order on her computer and Jerry helped himself to the ‘made-yesterday’ coffee and star-shaped Christmas sugar cookies provided for customers.

“Yes,” Jerry said, “We’ll take some of that Saltine tile.”

Ms. Z stopped typing and turned toward Jerry, “It is pronounced Sawl-tee-yo. I think you would want to know the proper pronunciation so you’ll know how to say it correctly.”

I said to Ms. Z, “He said Saltine on purpose.” She, of course, is not familiar with Jerry’s propensity to make up his own words, his own way. He has a complete vocabulary that only I understand. He just told me today that “rapple” means rotten apple.

Ms. Z continued with her typing. She held a serious, all-business expression. Tap, tap, tap. Suddenly she burst out laughing, “Salty tile,” she said, “That’s funny.”

She told us she would leave for a moment to “run our card” and finalize the order. She asked Jerry to read the paperwork, which required his signature to the sales agreement.

Jerry decided to read every word. After all, Fancy-Schmancy wanted an arm and a leg for their distinctive tile known for its rustic nature and unique personality. Before forfeiting our extremities, Jerry wanted to make sure it would be worth our while.

The moment Ms. Z re-entered the room, Jerry said, “It says here there’s a certain amount of breakage with our order?”

“Yes,” said Ms. Z. “You will have 5 to 7 percent breakage.”

“I ordered just the amount I need. Now you’re telling me I will have breakage?”

“Yes,” said Ms. Z in a rote reply. “5 to 7 percent breakage. You might want to order extra to cover the breakage.”

“No, no! That’s not right,” said Jerry. “I mean, where else do you buy something and you’re told to expect some of it broken? Would I order window blinds and expect 5 to 7 percent of the blinds broken? Would I buy a car from Japan and expect to pay for it even if the boat sank on the way over? Sorry, your car is underwater. You want me to accept broken tile?”

“It’s industry standard,” she said flatly. “The roads in Mexico have pot holes and breakage could happen when the tiles are transported in crates.”

“Isn’t that a loss your store absorbs, instead of the customer?”

She’ll only be happy if she’s fortunate enough to receive a vacuum cleaner that animals have stomped on.

Jerry frowned as he read more of the paperwork. I envisioned the gears working overtime in his brain, clicking, “You’re getting conned, con job, con job, con job, connn…”

Jerry pointed to the paperwork and belted out, “Hah! You’re kidding, right? It says here that I might be fortunate enough to have animal prints set in my tile.”

Ms. Z replied in complete robotic sales pitch, “After being poured into molds, the tile is left outside to dry before it is fired. Sometimes coyotes or other animals in Mexico will walk across the tile during the night and leave paw prints.”

Jerry’s brain now clanged with alarm, “CON, CON, CON!”

I interrupted, “Jerry, I don’t mind paw prints. It might be cute.”

Jerry said, “The whole idea of accepting breakage with the amount of money you are charging is unacceptable to me. And now you want me to buy more tile to cover the breakage? And to top it off, it says here I would be so lucky to have paw prints on my tile! Cancel the order.”

Ms. Z stood motionless and catatonic, dazed and speechless with a withering stare. Finally, she gathered energy and left the room.

I stood by Jerry’s decision to cancel. I decided we’d go to Home Depot for our tile, although I loved the Saltillo tile and hadn’t seen anything at Home Depot I liked. It was a matter of principle. We would rather have ho-hum tile than pay for broken tile.

Soon Ms. Manager strolled into the room with Ms. Z trailing behind. “Oh, there must be some miscommunication here,” Ms. Manager said to Jerry. After Jerry explained why he canceled, Ms. Manager said, “Oh no. We will hand pick every one of your tile. We will make certain your order has no breakage. I will even throw in three free tiles for you.”

Jerry and I agreed to that. Ms. Manager smiled.

As we were leaving the store, Ms. Z hurriedly phoned her therapist, asking for an immediate, emergency session to avert a breakdown from the anxiety and stress brought on by customers named Wilson.

“Imagine!” Jerry said later that night, “We could have our very own tile trampled by a herd of buffalo leaving hoof prints all over our tile and we’d be oh, so fortunate!”

“Jerry, I think most people just sign the paperwork and don’t even read the tiny print in the contracts.”

“I’m going to check and count every tile when it comes in,” Jerry said.

“I love the Saltillo,” I reminded Jerry. “Besides, buffalo hoof prints would be a nice touch.”

“If there’s a lesson here,” Jerry said, “it’s this: ‘there are sharks in the nicest of swimming pools.’”

“Swimming pools with beautiful tile,” I added.






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