Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Stalking the Wild Compy

In today’s press-one-if-you-hate-phone-menus world, we’d all like a little more personal attention. But be careful what you wish for. Sometimes problems just shouldn’t be solved and the customer isn’t always right.

My problem was simple; I needed some teeny mailing labels --Avery 6527, for return addresses. After writing my family’s address for the zillionth time, I was getting a little hysterical. So I walked into my local computer store. (Let’s call it CompNation, or maybe CompUniverse. Comp-Fifth Dimension?)

Red-shirted Compys circled us instantly: Hmmm … labels, you say? For return addresses? What about these giant labels for dot-matrix printers? Oh, you need tiny labels for an ink-jet printer? Wait here.

So I waited by the customer service desk, melting snow running down my neck, Benny squirming in the shopping cart. I fended off waves of Compy salespeople and Benny played with toner cartridge brochures. Our chosen saleswoman returned.

“Those labels are on back order,” she said. “But Sean’s looking into it. Just wait a few minutes.”

Then she ducked behind the service desk, put on a puffy coat and LEFT THE STORE.

We waited. Benny abandoned the brochures and started tugging at a PDA display. Two Compys approached, asking if I needed help.

“Oh no,” I said. “Sean is helping me.”

The two men looked confused. “We don’t have anyone named Sean. Who was helping you?”

“I don’t remember,” I said, feeling stupid. “She … uh … left.”

“She left the sales floor?”

“No. She left the store.”

The salesmen looked baffled. Benny shrieked and lunged for a robotic dog on display. “Do you mean …” one asked, looking around and lowering his voice. “Sean In The Back?”

“Sure,” I said recklessly.

The men conferred and left hastily, and we waited. Benny lost interest in the robots and started going through my wallet. Finally Sean In The Back appeared, wearing a snappy tie and a “I could be running Cray supercomputers” expression. He led us through an “Employees Only” door and into a cubicle maze.

I stood by his desk, hands clenched on my shopping cart. Sean pounded furiously on his keyboard. Benny pulled inspirational sales posters off the wall.

“I can give you 8,000 by Tuesday,” Sean said.

“EIGHT THOUSAND LABELS!” I squawked. Office workers popped up around us like prairie dogs.

“I can get you a good deal on that. Or you can get 2,000 for $10.79.”

“Fine,” I said.

So we waited. Geologic ages passed. Glaciers advanced and retreated. Lunchtime approached. Benny’s moans increased as he listed every food product he could name: cheese, meat, peas, cake, Ruffles. Sean hunched further over his keyboard, fingers flying. A grandmotherly lady wandered by and gave us pretzels.

“Our usual vendor doesn’t carry those labels,” Sean said finally. “I’ll go with someone else.”

We waited. Tap tap tap. Sean requested a credit card and drivers license. Tap tap tap. Sean peered at the screen, frowning, then picked up the phone.

“Jasper? Sean here at CompNation. Listen, I’ve got an order 9847B here with a GR reference prefix. The computer won’t let me enter the product registration number without an order equation and the square root of pi. Can I bypass all that and just type in the VST code?”

Jasper didn’t know, but he apparently had some handy tips, because Sean pulled down a hefty reference tome. Tap tap tap went the keyboard. Rustle rustle went the pages. Benny had finished his pretzels and was trying to launch himself out of the shopping cart.

Finally, Sean turned to me with a smile of triumph. “The labels will arrive by Tuesday at the latest,” he said proudly.

“Do I pick them up here?” I asked.

“Oh no,” he said smugly. “They will be delivered to your home.”

“How did you get my – oh.” I hated to say it. “Sorry, Sean, but our real address is on the back of the license. The one on the front is no good.”

Sean looked crushed. More frantic typing and another quick call to Jasper about canceling an order 9487B. “Perhaps you’d like to walk around the store a bit,” he said, eyeing Benny, who sat slumped over the shopping cart seat, a portrait in despair.

“No,” I said firmly. “We’ve been here an hour already.”

Sean grunted and returned to tapping and rustling. Finally, he handed me a three-page receipt.

“You said the labels were $10.97, right?” I said.

“Yes, plus taxes and shipping,” Sean said crisply.

“How much is that?”

“Well, with a six percent sales tax …” Sean gave me a look inviting me to pipe up with my own figure. I just glared. “That’s 11.63,” he finally said.

“And shipping?”

“Not sure. It varies. I’d need to check.”

“We’ll wait.”

Sean reluctantly turned back to the computer and mumbled, “Eight-fifty.”

“I’m paying EIGHT DOLLARS to ship 10 dollars worth of labels? I’m paying $20 total?”

Which adds up to one cent per label, my husband said after a giant box arrived on Tuesday. Inside was a large quantity of balled-up paper and a thin blue envelope.

So now I have 2,000 return address labels. I use them for envelopes, file folders and photo albums. I draw trains on them and give them to Benny as stickers. I use them as bookmarks, message pads, bandages and lint brushes. I'm ready to paint the labels pink and line the bathroom cabinets with them. If Ron sees me handwrite a return address before 2020, he'll probably divorce me.


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