Wednesday, June 27, 2007

That wasn't so easy.

I'm not a very deep thinker. For example when someone forwards me a video like this on the mathematical principles behind moebius transformations, describing how a flat plane can be bent to do all sorts of crazy mathematical things, I think, "oh, pretty colors." I prefer to think about the more mundane things in life, the everyday things that happen around me. Simple stories. uneventful stories. Stories of things that really annoy the crap out of me and are only worth repeating during the walk to lunch with coworkers.

For example (and you knew there'd be an example), I walked into an office supply store yesterday, after my mother-in-law requested that I buy her a cordless phone system. She wanted one similar to the one we have, with one base and multiple handsets, one that would work well and be simple to use. That last part is crucial. My mother-in-law is a self professed luddite, daunted by technology. If it has a neat feature that doesn't involve receiving a call, making a call, hanging up the phone, or beating a prowler senseless with the handset, she doesn't want to hear about it. Frankly, after two years of using a Blackberry I don't blame her.

So as I was saying, I walked into office supply store yesterday. I won't mention the name, but its corporate colors are red and white. Doesn't narrow it down? Okay, well, the name rhymes with "Shmaples". As usual, there was perhaps one other customer in the store, a round creature rummaging through the clearance table perhaps hoping to find a sweet deal on an external floppy drive marked down for final clearance. I headed for the phone section. Now, Shmaples tends to be a pretty well-organized store, but I think the staff member in charge of the phone aisle must have left his headset out of his ear that day (if you've ever been to an office supply store lately, you'll know that these days all the staff wear special two-way radios in their ears so they can pretend they're members of Jack Bauer's field ops teams instead of the dudes in charge of making sure the Sharpies are lined up in the plastic bins with all their caps facing in the same direction).

On the display shelf were perhaps three dozen phone systems, each of varying prices, features, and quantity of handsets. One would EXPECT that directly under the display models would be the boxes of said models that customers could grab and take to the register with them. However, that expectation would be false. Instead, what I saw were perhaps four dozen boxes, strewn about the shelf like it was late afternoon on Black Friday and all the early bird sales had ended. Of the three or four models I was considering buying, I could not find a single matching box on the shelves.

Noticing my look of consternation, "Doug" walked over. I knew his name was Doug because his headset was clipped to his nametag, causing the nametag to flop up and down as he walked, thus bringing my attention to it. Finally I understand the purpose of the headsets.

Doug asked me if he could help with something. I explained I wanted to buy a multiple-handset phone system, I was looking at "these three" each one being priced between $59 and $79, but couldn't find packages for any of them. He replied with, "oh, if you want a multi-handset phone, follow me."

Confused, I followed him to the end of the aisle, where a several packages of six different models were stacked. However, none of those packaged sets matched anything I just saw on the shelf.

"I don't understand," I said. "if these are the multi-handset phones, then what are those back there?"

"Well, these are on sale, so I thought you would like to know about them."

I looked at the stack of merchandise. As I mentioned there were six different products on the rack. There was one price tag on the entire rack, stating $79.99 for a Sony model of some sort. I looked around at the products and noticed not one of them was a Sony. So I pointed to a Uniden model and said, "so how much is this one?"

"Um, I will have to check."

He disappeared and returned to tell me it was $129.99.

I said, "But the Uniden model over there looks pretty much the same as this for $69."

"I guess you're right."

This guy should get a job at the Apple Genius Bar.

At that point, my cell rang. Thank the lord, I had an excuse to get away from this amorphous blob of human indifference. After I took the call, I considered just leaving and going to one of the other red-and-white office supply stores, but "Manager Bob" stopped by.

"Can I help you find something?"

"Yes," I told him. "I would like you to go over to that shelf there and find a single box that matches any of these phones you have on display. I bet you can't do it." I wanted to make a snarky remark about the staff having lots of free time to get the shelves more organized since there were never any customers in the store, but he interrupted too quickly.

"Let me grab Steve, and he can help you out."

Bob called Steve over, and then Bob went to barricade the door so I couldn't leave without buying something.

Steve, surprisingly, was relatively helpful. He told me, "This shelf is a mess. Let's go to the computer and see what we got. Ah, I see we have one of this item (the one I was interested in) in stock, but I'll be damned if I know what it is. Tell you what, let's order it and have it shipped to your house for free."

Well, at least THAT was easy.

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