A while back I had to return a little 12-volt air compressor for airing up car tires. I’d bought it at Walgreen’s which is where I buy all the supplies for subsistence living. You know, stuff like hot plates and fix-a-flat and super glue.
I’d bought the little air compressor, hooked it up and used it one time, and then it stopped working. Yes, it was made in China. But the good news was that it croaked so quickly I still had my receipt, a monumental achievement for an under-organizer like myself.
So, receipt in hand, I marched into Walgreen’s and took it to the register and politely whined out my story to the checker. She told me I should go to the service desk. I should have known that anyway, but I think the trauma of previous trips to return items had blanked my memory.
So I went to the service desk, which was unserviced, and I waited, and waited. Did I mention I also hate waitng? There was a woman there who also was waiting. She engaged me in a conversation about the Walgreen’s coupons for cosmetic products. Apparently, it didn’t matter to her that an older man might not have much interest in coupons for cosmetics. Anyway, she was ahead of me, if and when an employee wandered back to the service desk.
Now, I hate to return items. I mean I really hate it. My extreme dislike probably grows out of the fact that, like many men, I don’t like shopping in general. Returning an item is sort of like shopping in reverse, but it doesn’t matter that the process is turned backwards, to me it’s still a part of the shopping horror.
Actually, it’s worse. At least when you shop, you may come away with something you need. When you return something, it’s because somehow a shopping trip didn’t work out right. It’s a mistake you’re correcting, so at the end of the transaction, you’re right back to where you were earlier. That doesn’t sound like progress to me.
While I was waiting for the service desk to be manned, or womanned, as it would turn out. I decided to go check to make sure they had another compressor in stock. If they didn’t, I’d have to get a cash refund, and then, guess what, another shopping trip to find a compressor somewhere else.
It turned out they did have one new one on the shelf. Standing there, looking at it, the devil started talking to me, saying how unfair it was that I had to wait around to undo a problem that wasn’t my fault.
I should just pick up the new compressor and walk out of the store, the devil said, leaving the dud compressor behind. Problem solved. Being a devil’s advocate, I stuck my dud compressor in the nearest trashcan, picked up the new compressor and headed for the front door. It was kind of exciting, like smuggling must be.
Then I saw those sensors by the door that set off alarms if you try to shoplift something, and I realized that if I tried to leave the store, it would go off. My bad. I headed back to get my old compressor out of the trash can and exchange it for the one in hand.
As I was walking past the service desk, somewhat agitated by my idiocy, a woman said, “Sir, did you have a return?” You guessed it, the prodigal service desk woman had returned and was now ready to help me.
Trouble was I didn’t have my old compressor in my hands. I had a brand new one. I felt like a deer in the headlights. I stood there pouring out the story of my loss and impressing the service desk woman with my receipt. It may have been the first time ever she’d seen a man with a receipt.
But, worst of all, she approved my return and was ready to take back the brand new compressor I was now holding. I had created a cluster fluster.
Just in the nick of time, inspiration came. “Just let me run back there and see if you have one in stock,” I said, refusing to surrender to her the box with the new item in it. You know that speed walking thing they do in the Olympics? I did that kind of walking as I went back, got my old item out of the trash and took both boxes back to the desk.
“Yeah, you had one,” I said, trying to act casual. “Here’s my old one. Thanks.” I think she may have picked up on my devious behavior, because my voice was about two octaves higher than normal, but I had all the elements required for a return, old item, new item, receipt.
So I got out of there, happy not to have embarrassed myself, happy not to be under arrest, happy to have a new compressor, and hopeful they were not going to check the videotape.
Did I mention how much I hate returning things?