"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Tilting at windmills

curmudgeon (kər-mŭj'ən), noun. A crusty, difficult, irascible, cantankerous, ill-tempered old person full of resentment and stubborn ideas. (Origin unknown.) Synonyms: grouch, grump, crank, bear, bellyacher, sourpuss, crosspatch, malcontent, sorehead, complainer.
(From the Random House® Unabridged Dictionary)

One of the things I am most proud of from my restless youth is that during my college years, I had a girlfriend at another University in a nearby town who was active in the student protest movement of the day. One week I visited her at her school and while there, helped to organize busses to take people to a demonstration which was being held at the state capitol. The local newspaper got wind of this upcoming event and wrote a story about it in which I, personally, was referred to as an "outside agitator". I was thrilled beyond words.

Fast-forward to the present, and you'll find that over the years, this mindset hasn't changed much. You could charitably say that I sometimes have a tendency to stand up and buck the prevailing winds, an attitude that occasionally gets me in trouble. No matter how noble your goals, being the gad-fly in the ointment will often win you more detractors than it will friends. Take Ralph Nader for example, a (arguably) well-meaning yet crusty old crank if ever there was one. Don't get me wrong, I would hardly place myself anywhere near on a par with such a notable malcontent, however, one thing I do share with other such activists is that I particularly chafe when I perceive that "the little guy" is being screwed over by some soulless MegaMcCorporation. And these days, if I can't actually do anything about it, I can at least complain about it, which, you may note if you're a regular reader of this blog, I do. Often.

It seems that my curmudgeonly tendencies have been on particular display lately, and while I make a conscious effort not to "sweat the small stuff", it still seems that sometimes I get my shorts in a wad over relatively trivial issues more often than should be necessary. For example, our cable TV and Internet service provider has recently changed, and the quality of service from the new company has plummeted. Attempts to resolve the problems have so far been fruitless...and that irritates me. Also, Blogger is on my shit list for misidentifying Wind In The Wire as a "spam blog", which they still haven't fixed yet after nearly a week of trying to get someone to remove word verification from my posts (which is staring me in the face as I write this, grrrr).

However, nobody likes a grumpy old coot, and I really do try to stay serene and keep things in perspective. I've already got enough legitimate stuff to worry about, and even though I may have some serious health concerns, at the same time I recognize that I'm very fortunate in so many other ways; all it takes is a scan of the headlines to make me count my blessings daily. So then, it's with a sense of humor and good nature that today I'm going to rant about two giants of the corporate world who have recently been jerking my chain: Bank of America, and Staples. On the former I can claim victory after a six-month-long battle; with the latter, the skirmish has just begun and the outcome is by no means yet clear.

Last August during the final day of the Toasted Tour 2006 Road Trip, I spent the night in Jackson Mississippi at a little hole-in-the-wall motel. As the result of a snafu caused by an inexperienced desk clerk, I was charged twice for the room, which I did not realize until I received my credit card bill a month later. Calls to the motel went unanswered, so I disputed the amount with Bank of America. The resulting six-month foray into Customer Service Hell, including impenetrable circular voice-mail systems, rude and clueless agents (often located in offshore call centers), letters requesting documents that had been sent weeks earlier, charges, credits, faxes and re-presentments, is something that the U.S. military should seriously look into as a way of extracting confessions from Guantanamo Bay detainees. It can't be any less torture than what they're doing to them now.

I'll admit that a couple of times I got so frustrated that I was tempted to just give up and write it off to experience, but finally this weekend, a credit of $66.24 appeared on my charge card account. Whoo-hoo! I estimate that if I divide this figure by the amount of time I've wasted on the phone and writing letters trying to settle this matter, I've earned approximately 36 cents per hour on the deal. But I eventually got what was rightfully owed me, so I'm a happy camper. Justice has prevailed.

On to Staples. Three weeks ago, the office supply superstore (company slogan: "That was easy!") ran a flyer in our Sunday newspaper which featured a Toshiba notebook computer on sale for $849. This machine was configured with Intel's latest Core 2 Duo processor, a huge hard drive, and a 15" widescreen. Best of all, the advertised sale price was a GREAT DEAL, beating any other price I'd seen on this same model by at least $200. (I've been in the market for a new laptop since before Christmas, and have had my eye on Toshiba in particular.) So I decided this must be fate: the time was right, the deal was right -- let's do it! Let's buy that sucker!!

Not so fast, Geek Boy.

First I try my local Staples store, but they don't have any available. I check the web site and find that the computer is in fact listed there, but when I try to place the order, it says "out of stock". So I call Staples 800 number and the cheery sales representative tells me she's sorry, they don't have any in stock right now, but they should be getting more soon so would I like to put it on back order? I do, and she takes my credit card info (note: this time not my Bank of America card) and phone number.

Two days later I get a call and it's Ms. Cheery Staples again to say the item is available now and would I like to go ahead and place that order? "Hell, yes," says I, and even get a confirmation number and expected delivery date. I'm pleased as punch: oh boy, a shiny new computer is on its way!

In the meantime, Sunday rolls around again to bring another Staples newspaper flyer, and lo and behold, the exact same model Toshiba laptop is in there again, only now the price has been marked down to $799!! Although I'm just a little bit cheesed to think I could have saved another fifty bucks if I had waited a few days, I don't get too concerned about it until my "scheduled delivery date" comes ... and goes ... and no package arrives at the door. So I call Ms. Cheery Staples back to see what happened, only by now she is not so cheery.

"That item has been out of stock for weeks," she tells me, sounding tired and irritated, adding, "It's not going to be restocked, either." I get the distinct feeling she's had this exact same conversation with other customers many times today. So why was I told it was available, and my order placed, I ask?

"It must have been a computer error," she replies flatly, clearly ignoring the irony of that statement.

She then sends me an email cancelling the order which contains the classic "we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you" line that corporations spout when they can't say what they really mean, which is "tough shit, pal".

Although I was disappointed and a little pissed, I probably would have let it go there -- until a new sales flyer came out in today's paper, and guess what, folks? It's freaking still there! They are continuing to advertise this product when, apparently, not a single one of these machines is available for purchase anywhere in the entire Staples system!

I realize that these flyers are printed well in advance, and that they must have grossly underestimated the demand the low sale price would generate for this item. The ad does say "while supplies last", which gives them a back door to weasel out through. Still, while I wouldn't exactly call this false advertising or "bait and switch", the fact of the matter is that somebody screwed up here, and I think they should take responsibility for it.

So, Professional Curmudgeon that I am, I intend to write a letter to Staple's president and CEO at their company headquarters in Framingham, MA, politely yet firmly expressing my frustration. I don't think anything will come of it other than I'll get it off my chest, and might get another "we apologize for the inconvenience" form letter in reply -- but who knows? Maybe a nice shiny new laptop will show up on my doorstep after all. We'll see; sometimes the squeaky wheel does get the grease.

Thank you for allowing me to rant; the cranky bear is now going back into hibernation.


  • At 1/22/2007 10:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Would you mind going after Medco for me? It sounds like you're better at this stuff than I am.

  • At 1/22/2007 10:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What a trip you went on over that laptop. It's too bad that the Staple's rep was not honest with you when you inquired about the laptop. That would have saved a lot of aggravation. Sorry you had to go through it. I hope you do get that new computer. I hollered at Wal-Mart over a new chair that left grease streaks on my brand new nursery carpet. Wal-Mart sent me a new chair and replaced the carpet for free.

  • At 1/23/2007 11:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I still haven't gotten over the Netflix Anal Screwment I got - and they never fixed the problem. Down with the big guy!


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