The Joy Of Giving... Money To Large Corporations
Column written by on Sunday, December 12, 2004
I hate Christmas shopping. I hate celebrating the birth of a carpenter from 2,000 years ago by exchanging overpriced gifts that will sit unused for years until they show up on eBay with a 10 cent opening bid. I hate pretending to be "merry" while racking up a huge credit card debt that will haunt me for decades. I hate how society believes that making multiple pilgrimages to the mall or Claw-Mart Supercenter is a requirement for celebrating Christianity's most sacred holiday.
What I hate most, however, are the hoops that shoppers must jump through to get reasonable prices on electronics at stores like Debt Buy, Cubicle City, CompUSSR, and Markup Mart.
Believe me, I know. I've just wasted the last two weeks of my life attempting to buy presents for my bratty nieces and nephews. Despite the time and effort to find bargains, I still ended up paying more than full price for made-in-Asia crap that my relatives won't even bother to pretend to like.
I had originally planned to skip Christmas altogether and not get any presents for my herd of nieces, nephews, third cousins, and various other assorted nuts... er, relatives. After all, the little punks never get me anything good in return. I'm still waiting for the present my nephew Billy promised to get me three years ago.
However, I simply couldn't say no to the cute little darlings. When I look in their sad, puppy-dog eyes, I just know that they are planning to drape my house with extra-think toilet paper soaked in rotten eggs if I don't get them at least a $100 gift.
My whole ordeal started two weekends ago at my non-friendly, non-neighborhood Markup Mart. The store was advertising a new computer system -- complete with Wintel Hexium® Processors ("now with less floating-point errors!") -- for only $99.95, after rebate. But even though I got in line at 4-dark-30 in the morning, I still didn't it. They only had one in stock, and it was a "manager's special" -- the manager made sure he got it first using his special employee discount.
Markup Mart also advertised an iFad Music Player for only $39.79, after rebate. But, naturally, I was the second person in line and the person in front scooped up all fifty in stock.
I finally settled on getting my nephew Billy a ProcrastinationStation gaming system, which was 50% off the 75% marked up price. But the only remaining unit was sitting on the top of the shelf, out of my reach. I frantically tried to flag down an associate, but I couldn't find any. By building a makeshift ladder using dust-covered Microsoft Bob software boxes I found lying around in the Software Department, I was finally able to retrieve the ProcrastinationStation box.
After waiting in line at the store's only open register and then listening to the cashier make the same tired joke about my credit card number ending in '666', I was finally heading out the door with one present bought and dozens to go.
But not so fast. After being totally invisible for the last hour when I needed them, every store associate suddenly appeared out of the employee lounge and made a beeline for me at the door to inspect my bag and double-check my receipt and ask if I wanted an extended warranty and triple-check that I wasn't a thief and ask for my ZIP code and confirm that I didn't want an extended warranty and demand that I join the Markup Mart Customer Database Loyalty Saving Card Club and inspect my driver's license to make sure I wasn't on the Terrorist Watch List and finally tell me that dozens of people would get pinkslips and be unable to feed their children unless I bought an extended warranty right now.
Somehow, some way, I was eventually able to escape from the store with money remaining in my bank account. I'm still not sure how.
The next name on my list was Monty, the spoiled brat offspring of my no-good millionaire brother Mycroft who made his fortune as a spammer promoting anti-spyware software that contains spyware. Given the opportunity, I would much rather give Mycroft a bullet to the head. But while I could probably find a sympathetic jury, I didn't want to take the risk.
Monty the Brat has reached that dangerous age when he is young enough to look cute and innocent but is old enough to file a lawsuit. I needed to choose a gift carefully.
I figured I would try my town's new Claw-Mart Supercenter, the sprawling store that boasts, "We'll match any competitors' prices -- then we'll bankrupt them" and "At Claw-Mart, we claw the competition to bits."
But since Claw-Mart carries every product ever produced, finding anything is a bit of a challenge. After getting lost several times looking for the Toy Department, I finally snared an employee who reluctantly handed me a fold-out map of the store. Studying the map for several minutes, I calculated that I could reach Toys by following the Grocery Section Bypass, turning right and continuing through Aisle 153 beyond Pet Food, then zig-zagging through Young Women's Clothes in a northwesterly direction, then taking a shortcut through Aisle 73 (Size AA batteries) and Aisle 74 (Size C batteries) before making a clockwise loop around Automotive, Guns, Fishing Rods, and House Paints.
There is one silver lining to all this: people who shop at Claw-Mart end up walking over two miles per visit, which provides much needed exercise. But if you're in a hurry to buy gifts so you can turn to more important matters (such as watching grass grow), then Claw-Mart is a horrible choice.
To make a long story even longer, I finally found a toy that Monty might like: a deluxe money counting and sorting machine. According to the box, "The Greedomatic® Money Manipulator can take a $10,000 stack of random bills and turn them into perfect bundles suitable for any size briefcase, including all standard mafia-approved formats."
But escaping from Claw-Mart with my purchase wasn't any easier than leaving Markup Mart. After checking out, I approached the exit only to have an alarm go off, the doors slam shut, and a portcullis drop down behind me.
"Shoplifter Alarm! Shoplifter Alarm! This is not a drill!" screamed an automated voice while ear-piercing klaxxons raged throughout the store. "Security to Exit 16! This is a Code Red emergency!"
Unfortunately, the entire Loss Prevention Specialist Team (their fancy name for hired security goon squad) was out to a birthday lunch. The door greeter only said, "Sorry, Sir, but we can't let you out until Security arrives."
When the hired thugs finally arrived they took one look at my receipt and the first one said, "Oh, sorry, must have been an equipment malfunction. You're free to go."
The English language doesn't have adequate words to describe my sheer rage at this point. Since I had been completely embarrased in front of the whole store already, I figured I had nothing to lose by making an even bigger scene.
"Well, you see that sign there -- Satisfaction Guaranteed Or Your Money Back," I yelled in a voice loud enough to be heard all the way back to Aisle 592. "Dammit, I'm not satisfied. Where the hell is the store manager? I want my money back!"
"Or else what?" retorted the second thug. "Are you going to give us some empty threat about not shopping here anymore? Like that's going to happen. We have stores in every US city -- with the rest of the world coming soon. You can't escape from the vast claw of Claw-Mart no matter how hard you try."
I shot back, "False imprisonment is a Class B misdemeanor in this state punishable by up to one year in jail."
"Oh, I'm sorry, you must be new here," laughed the third rent-a-cop. "You probably missed the sign stating that Claw-Mart customers renounce all Constitutional rights when entering and forfeit their right to file charges or lawsuits for any reason. See... it's the small sign in Flyspeck-3 type on the bulletin board covered by the business card for Slow Eddy's Used Double-Wide Emporium."
There wasn't much else I could argue at this point, so I yelled "Fuck you!" as loud as possible and wandered out to the parking lot, where it took twenty minutes to locate my car in Row 913.
After regaining my composure, I stopped and bought a cup of coffee at McDonalds on the off chance that I might win the lottery and accidentally spill the hot coffee in my lap and be able to sue for millions. But the coffee was merely lukewarm, came with a lid that was impossible to open, and had giant warnings that said, "DO NOT HOLD IN YOUR LAP WHILE DRIVING, YOU IDIOT!"
After giving up that dream, I scanned my shopping list, and decided that Debt Buy would be a good place to get DVDs for my remaining nephews Larry, Gary, and Jerry, who are big into the "When Facelifts Go Bad" and "Lesbian Eye For The Puritan Guy" series of unreality TV shows.
I should've known from the beginning that Debt Buy as a bad idea. The door greeter insisted on patting me down to make sure I wasn't smuggling any pencils, notepads, or calculators that I might use to take notes for illicit comparison shopping purposes.
The greeter also mentioned that the store had recently installed cell phone jammers to "enhance the Debt Buy experience by gently guiding our valued customers to focus on shopping and not yakking on the phone." Of course, the real motivation for the cell phone ban is to prevent people from calling their friends to check on whether $250 for a 128MB SecurelyIncompatibleStick memory card is a good deal or not.
Unlike Markup Mart, stores associated kept following me around asking if I needed anything and pestering me with offers for an extended warranty.
"I haven't bought anything yet!" I replied.
"But if you buy an extended warranty right now, you can save over 20% from the price of buying it at the checkout counter!"
"So why are you so adamant about selling extended warranties? Are Debt Buy's products so inferior that they are guaranteed to fail?"
"Yes, that's right," the salesdroid said. "But good luck trying to find higher quality products at another store. Everything is made at the same assembly line at the same factory in China. So unless you want to get screwed, you better get an extended warranty."
"Well, could I also avoid getting screwed by simply not buying anything here?"
"That option has never been attempted. You will buy something... you WILL buy something... And then you WILL purchase an extended warranty contract."
Indeed, I did buy something -- a $29.95 DVD for the complete first season of "Wall Street Week Without Louis Rukeyser". And, yes, I did buy an extended warranty for it. They made me.
When I got home, I soon realized that the DVD was blank. "Wow, maybe this extended warranty will actually come in handy now!" I thought.
Yeah, right. Upon returning to the store the next day, I immediately had trouble finding the Customer Service Desk. I thought I had seen the Customer Service sign on the left side of the store, but when I walked there, it was nowhere to be found. Then I caught a glimpse of the neon sign on the opposite side of the store, but when I finally journeyed over there, it was gone. Like a mirage, the Customer Service signs seemed real enough at first sight but were even more of an illusion than Microsoft security.
On this day, the sales associates were nowhere to be found. They must have developed some kind of top-secret device for detecting "problem customers" that want a refund or exchange. It's a wonder I hadn't already been escorted out of the store and told not to return -- after all, I was breathing Debt Buy's valuble climate-controlled air without spending any money.
Desperate to get the attention of somebody, I made a big show of pretending to shoplift something by sticking a RAM memory module in my coat in plain view of a camera. Within seconds, half of the store's army of associates appeared in my aisle. Mission accomplished.
"Where the hell is the Customer Service Department?" I yelled.
"That information is top-secret," said a pimply-faced salesman. "Now drop the RAM chip and nobody gets hurt."
"I wanna talk to the manager!" I bellowed.
"Sorry, but the manager is currently in Toledo receiving a national award for the Debt Buy Store With The Lowest Rebate Claim Rate And Highest Profit Margin. You'll have to speak with Bubba, our Head of Security. But only after you hand over the hostage RAM chip unharmed."
"Here, have your fucking RAM chip!" I screamed as I hurled the PC-2100 chip at nearly 2100 MPH at the nearest flunkie. "I demand satisfaction!"
"Sorry, Sir, but we do not guarantee customer satisfaction. You'll have to go to Claw-Mart for that."
It was then, out of the corner of my eye, that I saw the Customer Service Department materialize one aisle over. It seemed to waver like a weak mirage. I broke away from the crowd and raced over to it, hoping I could reach the desk and ring the bell before the mirage vanished.
I barely made it. "Hello," I offered, trying to be polite. "I bought this DVD with extended warranty yesterday, and there's a problem with it. Can I get a refund?"
"Well," said the clerk. "Our policy is to only give out refunds in Russian rubles or Iraqi dinar."
"How about an exchange?" I asked.
"Let me look at the fine print of your warranty... uh huh... okay... uh huh... I see. Yes, your warranty is our Class-A Very Limited Warranty, which does not cover anything. Basically, you get the privilege of telling people you got an extended warranty, but without paying the hard money for a real warranty."
"This is starting to sound like a bad Monty Python sketch."
"It's funny you mention that, because we are having a 50% off sale on our collection of British comedy DVDs, after rebate."
Suffice it to say, I ended up leaving the store without a refund or exchange, but with a $200 collection of Monty Python and Fawlty Fabulous DVDs. And this time I made sure I got the Class-B Only Somewhat Limited Extended Warranty that actually covers some problems, such as accidental damage by falling pianos. I didn't want to buy anything, but they made me do it. Those damn hypnotic sales associates!
Naturally, when I got back home, I discovered the DVD collection was actually $300, and that I had to send in a rebate form to get the other $100 back. The rebate form said, "Debt Buy now offers two easy ways to claim your rebates! One: Send in this completed form postmarked no later than one (1) hour after your purchase. Or Two: Hand-deliver this form to our corporate offices in Bermuda within 2 (two) weeks after purchase. At Debt Buy, we strive to make things easier for you!"
I contemplated killing myself right then and there, until I realized I would need to go to Kur-Mart to purchase rat poison, sleeping pills, a pistol, or some other effective way to go. Standing in line at another store seemed like a fate worse than death. So I gave up that idea.
But then a miracle occured. A commercial appeared on my TV that provided the answer to all of my problems. It was for Slaveizon cell phones.
I instantly knew what I could get my troublesome nephews and the rest of the family: "pay as you go" cell phones with only 3 months of airtime. This would be just long enough to get the little pricks hooked on them. Then they would have to pay through the nose to keep the phones going. Bwahahahaha!
It would be the gift that keeps on costing... them.
Despite all of the crap I had just endured, despite all of the money I had blown, despite all of the health problems caused by my severely elevated blood pressure, I finally went to sleep that night with a great big smile on my face.
So maybe Christmas gift giving isn't such a bad thing after all.