Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tis the Season to Return That Gift

The Christmas season and its associated chores are almost over, all that remains is for us to return that gift we never wanted, can’t use, or already own. Frequently, there are returns for all three reasons. The British have created a special day for this: Boxing Day. While no one is exactly sure of the origin of Boxing Day, it probably had something to do with charity, goodwill, or gift giving. Recognizing the incredible foolishness of all that, today it is the British and Canadian equivalent of America’s Black Friday with a lot of gift exchanges and returns thrown in.

In keeping with the spirit of all this, I have my own merchandise return story. It is not exactly a story about a Christmas gift being returned, since I obviously love every present my wife has ever given me. (Including the pink dress shirt without pockets my wife once gave me. Really, honey, I loved that shirt-especially after I cut it into three inch squares to clean gun barrels.)

My story involves a restaurant supply store and a part for a missing blender. Since I am not entirely certain as to the statute of limitations involving crimes dealing with the postal service, I want to make it perfectly clear that this entire story is absolutely a work of fiction, is purely hypothetical, and probably the result of the brandy in the eggnog I’m drinking.

For a while, I lived on Galveston Island, and while there, I was conducting long term research on the perfect Daiquiri. During my investigations, I eventually destroyed the blades of my blender. Luckily, just a few weeks later, I was in Houston and happened by a very large commercial restaurant supply house. I explained my problem to the clerk, and almost immediately he was able to supply me with a replacement set of blender blades. Actually, he had two sets. It seemed that the manufacturer had made two slightly different versions of my blender with the same name and model number. The only way to be sure of purchasing the right blades was to bring the blender to the store and try them.

When I explained that my blender was over 50 miles away, the salesman had a great idea. “Why not go ahead and buy a set of blades? Take them home and try them,” he explained. “You have a 50% chance of buying the right blades, and if they don’t work you can bring them back and exchange them for the other set.”

Logically, this made perfect sense, so I agreed. I bought a pair, took them home, and immediately discovered that I had the wrong set of blades. I bet you already figured that out; otherwise, this would be a short and rather boring story.

About a week later, I was back in Houston and returned the blades for the correct set. I was waited on by the same clerk who promptly charged me $2.34 as a restocking fee. No matter how much I protested, he denied his previous offer and insisted that I owed a restocking fee. I was furious, but I had no recourse but to pay the restocking fee.

But then, as I left the store, I saw this shoe box on the counter with a little sign, “Take One! Customer Satisfaction Survey.” Inside the box were post cards with a set of questions on one side. On the other side, and this is the key point, was the store’s address and a preprinted “Postage will be paid by…” code.

Perfect! I took one. I would like to point out, remember hypothetically, that the sign was on the box, not on a single card. I took one box. (Hypothetically containing precisely 916 post cards. More or less.)

For the next couple of weeks, whenever I had a free moment, I filled out one of the cards. I put my name, address, and my somewhat clear and definite opinion about the store. I was very careful to politely request that they return to me the $2.34 that I believed they had charged me in error. Then, I would walk outside to the corner mailbox and deposit the card with the prepaid postage. As I understand it, this cost the store about $0.35 each to mail the card to them. Eventually, I may have done this with slightly more than three hundred cards. That is when I got the letter from their lawyer.

“Cease and desist!” the lawyer said. And a lot of other things, most of which were more or less threatening. The lawyer explained that those cards were for individual use, not to be monopolized by a single person. Continued misuse of these cards would constitute the felonious charge of Highway Mopery and Dragging a Rope. Or something like that-I’m not a lawyer.

Slightly after receiving this letter, I had a party that was attended by, among other people, a sizable portion of the Galveston Police Department. After demonstrating my recent progress on perfecting the ultimate Daiquiri, everyone read the lawyer’s letter. For some reason, everyone suddenly wanted to fill out their own customer survey card. Or perhaps cards: I don’t remember a lot about that evening, but I am sure that almost all of the cards included something about $2.34. I think about 35 people used more than 150 cards. Hypothetically.

There is almost certainly no truth to the story later circulated around Galveston that a couple of people emptied the cat’s litter box into a cardboard box, taped the box shut, and then glued one of those postage paid cards to the outside of the box. Besides, I’m pretty sure the post office wouldn’t actually deliver about ten pounds of cat shit and then charge the restaurant supply house first class postage for that. Right?

For the next few weeks about two hundred cards were mailed without a name or address, but including the cryptic message, “Somebody, Somewhere, needs a refund of $2.34.” They certainly were not mailed by me, even hypothetically. That was a very large restaurant supply house and had been in business for years. Those bastards probably owed lots of people $2.34.

Magically, at this point, the owners of that company suddenly had a religious revival. Their frozen conscience thawed, they realized their mistake, and they wanted to do the right thing. Either that, or someone figured out that in postage alone, they were out several hundred dollars not including whatever the lawyer’s letter had cost. However the change of heart occurred, I got a bank cashier’s check for $2.34. I received the check and a letter from the same lawyer ordering me to stop sending demanding postcards.

I never sent another postcard asking for $2.34. The rest of the 200 odd cards were mailed with “Thank You” neatly printed on them. I framed the check and hung it in my office.

At least, that is what I would have done if any of this had actually happened.

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