Tuesday, February 10, 2004

My computer’s being held hostage

I like to think of myself as an easygoing person, someone who doesn't lose her temper too often. But in the past few weeks, I'm embarrassed to confess, I have lost my temper twice. And coincidentally, on both occasions, the target of my wrath was a store manager.

The first incident actually began last September and involved a large electronics store. One day, my laptop computer began to randomly shut off and then turn back on, as if it were possessed. Finally, it shut off and stayed off. No amount of coaxing, sweet-talking or threatening would make its little screen light up again.

So I returned the computer to the store where I'd bought it. It was sent off to be repaired free of charge under my service contract.

Well, the technicians who repaired my computer goofed up a few things in the process and ended up keeping it for six weeks. During the fourth week of those six weeks, my service contract expired.

That was in November, and I haven't seen my computer since. Why? Because it's being held hostage for $688.

The technicians insist that because my service contract has expired, I now have to pay for the repair. And I told them I don’t think it’s fair, so I’m not going to pay them a cent. I’ve tried to convince everyone from the custodian to the general manager at the store to take my side, but to no avail. In fact, I probably would have made better progress if I had spoken to the trash receptacle out in the foyer.

Meanwhile, as the stalemate drags on, my poor computer is collecting dust on a shelf somewhere, and I am forced to use an old computer that’s so slow, I can read War and Peace in the time it takes me to get online. Still, even though I am getting desperate, I refuse to give in and pay the $688. It’s the principle of the thing.

The second incident occurred just a few days ago when I decided to go shopping for Barbie dolls at an area toy store that is going out of business and selling everything at 20-40 percent off.

Well, any die-hard Barbie collector, which I have been for the past 40 years, knows that the condition of the box Barbie comes in is as important as the doll itself, so I spent quite a while searching for flawless boxes. No scratches, no creases, no dents. Perfect.

I finally brought my selections up to the register and carefully set them down on the counter. The clerk rang them up, then suddenly whipped out a thick, black permanent marker and scribbled out the bar codes on all of the boxes.

I gasped. "What are you doing?"

"We have to do this so people can't return the items," she said. "All sales are final."

"Well, I don't want them now," I said. "You've ruined the boxes."

"Too late," she said. "I already crossed out the bar codes, so you have to take them. No returns."

Upset, I immediately tracked down the manager, a young guy who listened expressionlessly to my complaint. Finally he said, "Look, people ask for discounts on damaged boxes all the time. You're already getting 20-percent off, so what's the difference?"

"The difference is that those people who asked for discounts knew in advance that the boxes were damaged!" I said. "I, however, was under the impression that I was buying a perfect item. Why don't you mark the sales slips instead of the boxes? That's what Ames did when it went out of business and it worked fine for them! Or maybe you should warn people in advance that you are going to scribble all over their purchases!"

He shrugged. "We have to do what the holding company tells us." With that, he turned his back toward me and started talking to someone else.

I wanted to ask him how he’d like it if he went into a clothing store and spent an hour trying on pants until he found the perfect pair. Then, when he went up to the checkout counter to pay for them, the cashier took out a permanent marker and drew a big smiley face on the seat and told him he still had to buy them!

But I held my tongue.

So now I am the proud owner of three Barbie dolls with scribbled-on boxes. And any day now, I expect to receive a ransom note for my computer.

Forget easygoing. I can feel myself rapidly transforming into a crabby old lady.