(This is a fictionalized true story experienced by someone I worked with.)
It looked like it—like the container–only three shades lighter and whipped. Something always bothered him seeing it there in the container with absence of aroma. Cheap–it felt cheapened like so many things these days–cheapened and pretending to be something that it wasn’t. Whipped plastic–one or two additives short of it, that’s all it was, they said. Why was he not surprised reading about it over breakfast with the now bloody news that this stuff was no good for you, and that butter was preferable.
“The other day I got this bag of soy chips and couldn’t stop eating them. Carol are you listening to me. I couldn’t stop eating them. I looked at the label. Natural olive oil flavoring. Natural tomato flavoring. What is natural olive oil flavoring?”
“Why are you making such a fuss,” she said. “How many bags of junk food did you have this week. I thought you were watching your carbs?”
“Listen, you know Lester who lives on the block. Last week he passed out in a restaurant. Just passed out cold. Really! He’s allergic to MSG. Do you know that there are now hundreds of versions of MSG in our foods. Flavor enhancers. It kills brain cells”
“Maybe, that’s your problem too many brain cells. Maybe, one bag was not enough.”
“Carol stop it. This isn’t funny.” She sighed.
The radio was on in the background. They had not heard the first few seconds, but since they had an appointment there the next day, this message clicked into the brain cells, as many as there were left of them, and they turned to each other simultaneously, as the radio said, “H&R Block made a tax mistake and owes the government 32 million in back taxes.” They both started laughing and gave each other a hug–Carol patting his balding head, and he stroking her face with his hand.
“You’re still beautiful.”
“That’s because I eat only natural ingredients.”
He raised his hands to the sky. She always had to win. She always did win, he thought to himself, and went off to return the handless. 52 handles that he had bought for the kitchen cabinets, to be exact. The holes had all been in the wrong place. These days everything came in standard sizes, it seemed, and the freshly painted cabinets had been designed before those days and with different standards.
He parked and walked up to the entrance of the over sized super modern hardware store, which included moving walkways like one would find in the airport, and a pianist who was now on break, plus lighting that probably upped the price of everything by five percent. Looking at this monstrosity, one wondered how one had ever survived just going to the local hardware store down the block.
He walked up to customer service receipt in hand. “These aren’t the right handles,” the guy behind the counter said with pierced tongue and some black hole in his ear, which looked like a worm hole to another dimension.
“I know they’re not the right handles. That’s why I’m returning them. The holes are in the wrong place.”
“They don’t look like the holes are in the wrong place.” Already the boy’s eyebrows were raised, as if he was suspect. Lester’s frustration was mounting, and he could see this was not going anywhere, but into the realm of the bizarre.
Lester was fiddling with the change in his pocket, “The holes don’t match up with the holes on the cabinet door.”
“But, then there is nothing wrong with them.”
“I didn’t say there was anything wrong with them.”
“Then why are you returning them.”
Lester was already wondering, if this kid was getting some sadistic pleasure out of this. No one could be that dense. “The holes don’t match up.”
“But, these are not the right handles.”
“I said that already.”
“Well, then I can’t let you return them.”
Lester’s face was red as a beet, and the young man behind the counter was puffed up and looking at him, as if he were a proud respresentative of the store, who was protecting it from a fraudulent customer and getting his kicks for the day all in one box. “Get me the manger,” bellowed Lester. “Now.”
A young woman with a name tag bearing the name Sharon and echoing good will smilingly approached him. He explained to her what had happened, and she looked at her CS guy behind the counter. He waved the receipt, and she had to restrain herself from laughing, as she realized what happened. Lester, who was too short a distance from his wife’s laughter, found nothing funny about the situation. Sharon looked at him and said, “What he means is that these are the wrong handles for this receipt. Do you have another receipt?”
“Why would I have another receipt?” Steve was loosing his patience fast, and shouted, “Since when is one receipt not enough.”
“Well, did you buy other handles?”
“No and this is getting ridiculous. Why would I buy other handles. I bought these handles. All 52 of them. For the kitchen.”
“Well, then you can’t return them.”
Lester still did not get it. “Listen, I bought these handles four days ago, and this is the receipt they gave me.”
“I thought you said five days ago.” She was now trying to trip him up. “Do you see this code. Come with me. I’ll show you what handles they are for.”
He walked behind her with temptation of taking her long hair and twisting it around her neck once or twice. Richard was shown to a wooden wall with an array of hundreds of handles. The same ones he had seen when he picked these out. “This is the handle that receipt is for.”
“What? That’s impossible.” Richard looked at the handle that her French tipped nails were pointing to and wondered what she was doing working in a hardware store to begin with–one bend and the whole crevice of her derriere was going to be showing. There was this ornate conglomerate that the white tips were pointing to–faux renaissance style. “Look I bought these handles here four or five days ago. What the hell does it matter for God’s sake? The date is on the receipt anyway!”
This girl with white tips, pants down to her crack and tramp stamped no less had the nerve to tell him, “Sir, don’t swear at me.”
“Obviously, this is the only receipt that I have, and the holes don’t match the holes on the cabinets in my kitchen. What do you need a picture of my kitchen to believe me or would you like to drop in on me and my wife for a visit?”
The girl was thinking about her old boyfriend now and how every time he he had raised his voice, he had been lying. “You have that many cabinets in your kitchen. Well, aren’t you lucky!” She had wanted to believe him, but doubts were hording there way in.
He tilted his head and smirked at her raising the side of his lip that was not tilted downwards. He wanted to shout out that was uncalled for, but thought better of it. “The holes on our cabinets are not today’s standard size. They were made before all this standardization stuff. It’s an old house with old cabinets, and the holes are farther apart. These are not big enough.” Somewhere in the midst of this conversation and looking at the low slung designer jeans, the synapses in his brain misfired, and he suddenly felt like this whole situation was an affront to his manhood and remembered Carol stroking his bald head.
Sharon looked pleased, as if she had sensed his uneasiness and said, “If they are not standard size we need to special order. Usually takes about a month, and the special order handles cost more.”
“But, what do I do with these? I don’t want them, and I don’t want to special order. I want to return these.” He was getting upset again.
She knew she had him where she wanted, and came out with one of her standard lines to deter difficult situations with customers, “Mr. don’t take it out on me. I’m just doing my job.”
He felt like he was going to wilt. It had been a long month. It was hot. “Here’s what I can do,”she said. Yes, do something, he thought to himself.
“I can look at the lowest price for these within the last six months.”
“The last six months. I just bought these,” and he pointed to the date on the receipt.”
“Sir, we already went over this. It is not the receipt.”
“This is not my mistake. One of your stockers put the wrong code on this bag of handles.”
“We don’t do that here. It is done at the main warehouse.”
“Do you want me to help you or not. Its the best I can do. I can give you the lowest price over the last six months. That”s $l.75 a handle. It now was dawning on him that he was going to be out about $50, and he shouted, “I’m a customer and you are acting like I’m trying to scam you. Heads turned, and in the background the pianist had started playing, ‘Penny Lane’.
“We don’t know that, Sir.” There she was with the Sir again. “We have people coming in here every day trying to scam us.” Scam us, he thought. What did he look like a metro sexual or an internet porn star? After all, it was her pants not his that were hanging low, and that top. It belonged on a cocktail waitress, and she was tramp stamped. He made one last attempt to rectify things. “There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re not damaged.”
“Didn’t say they were.”
“The packages aren’t even opened.”
“Don’t need to be.”
Lester, walked out of the store with one third less than his purchase price and no handles, wondering what his wife was going to say to him. She asked, “Well, what are we going to do for handles?”
“Don’t know yet.”
“Lester, did you check the other bags.”
“What other bags,” he said as if he did not have an inkling of what she was talking about, but it was creeping in on him–a habit left from puberty. Again, he was red faced, and went out of the room shouting, “You can check the fuckin bags.” He wanted to say more. He wanted to say something that would really hurt her, but he couldn’t. He still loved her. He went in the bathroom, locked the door, looked in the mirror, turned on the water and started to cry. Where had time gone, he wanted to know. Where had time gone.
Dinner was perfect as usual–full of color and satisfying aromas. He’d go back to the store tomorrow.
The next day when he walked in the store, the staff was completely different, and he was grateful for that. He walked to the handles. Obviously, the girl and guy had not looked either. The bags all had the wrong code. This time he got the store manager and not the department manager, showed him the receipt and got his fifty bucks back, and a $10 gift certificate gratis. He bought a present for his wife. They could drive to the restoration center and see how much handles would cost there.