A little consumer terrorism is healthy, and even needed, from time to time.

I think the statute of limitations has probably run out by now, if what I am about to write here actually describes the commission of a crime.

For long as I can remember, a certain major retailer of home electronics has been the bane of my existence for customer service, such that I might, maybe, possibly, go there once a year. If I have to.  And I’m drunk and forget that I hate them.  Or maybe brain damaged.  Or have EOD.

I didn’t start out hating them mind you.  It took years of this place wearing me down. a water torture of long checkout lines, inept “sales” people, and dirty tricks like never having the thing on sale from the Sunday flyer, but oh hey we have tons of the next model up for 25% more!

One day I snapped.

In the early fall of 1999 the hot device to have was the new Palm V. I’d been jonesing for one that entire summer and after bonus day at Microsoft I drove to one of the locations of this retailer to pick up a ton of DVD’s and a new Palm V. I only had my lunch hour to accomplish the task so I quickly scooped up the DVD’s I wanted, and made a beeline to the personal electronics counter.  There amongst the other PDA’s, digital cameras, and assorted gadgetry like WebTV, was my prize sitting behind display glass.

It was perfect!  So slim.  So sleek!  It’s little yellow price tag clearly on display. I had already ordered a cell modem for it.  I was going to have mobile Internet! Not that WAP crap, but a real browser! Cue a montage dream sequence set to “Everybody’s Talking at Me” with me and the Palm V laughing at a picnic,  playing minigolf, running hand in hand through a field.

The kid who worked the desk was off showing WebTV to a cute girl off to the side so I set my DVD’s on the counter to wait.  The store wasn’t crowded.  Minutes ticked by while the kid continued to tell the girl about WebTV’s features and I began to get impatient.  Another store person walked by just at that moment and I flagged them down.

Hi,” I said, “I just need to get these DVD’s and a Palm V, I have my card right here and I’m ready to go.” 

The worker apologized, but they weren’t authorized to open that display case.  They moved on while I stood there.  Time continued to pass and now I was starting to butt up against my need to get back to work.  The kid who was supposed to be working the area was still chatting up the girl about WebTV.  I knew a lot about WebTV at the time.  I knew its feature list took, maybe, a minute to explain, let alone 15.

Another worker walked by.  I tried my spiel again.  Stack of DVD’s, credit card in hand, wants to buy expensive item.  No go, not authorized to open that display case.  Apparently that display case was the J. Edgar Hoover safe of the place.  Or perhaps the Hellraiser box for all I know, Jesus wept.

Finally the lord of the display finishes and comes over.  At this point I’m really pressed for time so I basically rattle out “HIJUSTNEEDAPALMVANDTHESEDVD’S PLEASEKTHX”.

Kid looked at me, looked at the Palm.  To my disbelief, he actually snorted and said, “Yeah good luck buddy we’ve been sold out of these for like two weeks.”

I looked down at the Palm in the case.  There’s no “Out of stock” sign or even the little rain check tickets they normally put next to out of stock items.  I’d just wasted 20 minutes when I could have bought the DVD’s and returned later. And motherfucker, did he actually snort at me?

Ok.” I said, being calm about it, “that’s a shame because I was all set to buy all these DVD’s too, but because there’s no indication here you are out of stock and no one would help me I’m just not going to be buying anything today because you’ve wasted my time.” Ha! I thought, take THAT. Fuck you, stripey bag!

I don’t care,” the kid replied, “but you have to go put those back where you found them,” he gestured to the DVD’s.

There’s a moment, thankfully rarely reached, where you actually are propelled straight from annoyance, passing by anger, rage, homicidal rage, scorched earth rage, to perfect divine retribution. I realized in a flash this kid was probably in charge of the DVD section too.

“Of course!” I replied, and took the stack of DVD’s.  I rounded the corner and proceeded to put them all back in the wrong places.  Then I looked at my watch and thought, screw work. Why stop there?

I made it all of the way through drama and most of the way through comedy before they caught me. I should probably also mention this was on a Tuesday, new DVD release day.  I had completely scrambled drama and comedy, not just scrambling the alphabetical order but also the genre.  The kid spotted me and I was caught sorting Ghostbusters and Contact together under Drama, “Z” by him and his manager.

The manager took it all in for a second and asked me what I thought I was doing. I calmly explained the entire situation as described above.  The kid took one look at me and said “I’ve never seen this guy before in my life.”

Well of course he was going to say that, I thought, but the manager looked at the amount of work he was going to have to pay someone to do to fix this, looked at me and said “I’m going to have to ask you to leave this store and never come back sir, or I will call the police.”

I held up my hands and said, “No problem, I totally understand. But do me a favor.  I bet there’s a security camera on that display case.  I’m going to leave, but I suggest you pull the tape and watch it real quick. If you see me talking to him, and you will, you’ll know from his one statement just now that everything I said was true.  You’ll see how long I waited too, and maybe you’ll do something about the customer service here.”

I turned around and left.  For sure they didn’t sell practically any DVD’s that day. I know that every large business has bad customer service moments, and that’s one of the reasons I’m not naming the store here. Certainly people have had reason to complain against Microsoft and specifically Xbox too.  But while what I did was petulant and certainly juvenile, great merciful fuck it felt good to do.

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