Christmas Day 2004 was almost over. Everyone had the usual cadre of unwanted, ill-fitting gifts that needed returning. My wife asked me what I planned to do the next day. I knew that this was wife-speak for here's what you're going to do. After twenty years of marriage, you learn these things if you want to survive.
As I had the day off, one of the few vacation days I take in a year I might add, I told her I was planning to go to Pensacola, Florida and return a pair of golf shoes that didn't fit. "Well, as long as your going to be in Pensacola, would you mind returning a few things for me?" she asked. I thought what the heck, I can return her gifts as well and still stop by the Moors Golf Club for a few hours of practice. Bear in mind, I had never in my life tried to return anything the day after Christmas.
So, at precisely 11:00 AM, I loaded the car with, not a few but six gifts to return. I also noticed that most of them were ones that I had given to her. At any rate, I was off into the hell that was going to be my vacation day.
As is typical of most men, I have little patience for anything long such as lines, conversations, trips, movies, books, etc. As such, I planned this assault carefully in an effort to minimize my line time and maximize my golf time. As my wife had given me many more packages to return than she had implied (few means no more than two to any man in this world), I felt the best tactic was to park as close to each individual store as possible, thus eliminating the need to carry, much like a camel, these packages all over creation.
The first return was at Dillard's. I was going to return one pair of my dress shoes and get two more for almost the same price. I also had a bath robe to return for my wife. I stood in the return the pair of shoes line for 15 minutes. I finished the shoe transaction fairly easily. As I bathed in my success I spoiled the moment by placing the bath robe on the desk and saying, "I'd like to get a refund on this as well." Even before I got the last word out of my mouth I noticed the eyes of the person I was speaking to had begun to enlarge and roll over much like a shark as they sink their teeth into their prey.
"We don't do that in this line," she said. "You have to go over there." She pointed to another line, even longer than the one I had just endured. I muttered a short expletive and moved to the other line.
Twelve minutes later, I proudly threw my Steinmart bag that my wife had package the robe in upon the Dillard's woman's desk and asked for a refund on the bathrobe. "We don't accept Steinmart robes," she said. "No kidding!" I wanted to say. I explained in lengthy and great detail, mostly to aggravate the salesperson to the extent I was aggravated, the reason for the bag and presented the Dillard's receipt, a look of both annoyance and satisfaction upon my face. Check, I thought.
As my master plan of annoyance had obviously worked, the clerk presented me with a printed receipt rather than the cash I had anticipated. "My wife won't accept this," I blurted out, realizing only after the fact what a weenie that made me sound like to everyone within earshot. I actually heard a giggle. I began to blush.
"You take that receipt up to customer service upstairs in the back of the store and they will give you cash," she said with a look satisfaction and utter disdain upon her face. Checkmate. Game over. Move out.
Now, looking back on this, I could have saved myself a considerable amount of time by simply doing one of two things. I could have given my wife my cash and kept the receipt for later, or give her the receipt, tell her to go through the line the next time she's there, and run like a deer across a four lane. Trained as I am, however, I did neither.
I persevered on to the next fight, bathed in humiliation and looking for a verbal battle with some unsuspecting clerk, preferably diminutive. It's at this point I should have realized that this is a battle that you can't win. But, as my wife likes to say about me, "He ain't right."
As I walked the back corridors to the customer service desk I was greeted with the sounds of women arguing (Who would have thought it?) over an exchange that should have occurred at the desk downstairs, where I had just come from no less. The woman was foreign, she looked and sounded Iraqian to me or so I surmised, and had a large suitcase and a shirt, for which she had no sales receipts. I should have run, but remember, I ain't right.
It seems the zipper on the luggage she had purchased months earlier had broken and, in her attempt to fix it, she had super-glued the entire mechanism shut, thus rendering it quite useless. She wanted a new one and was prepared to make my life, as well as the rest of those in line, miserable for as long as it took the store to make good on her mistake. I have to say that she had chutzpah.
She also had a shirt for which she said she was overcharged twenty bucks but, again, had no sales receipt. My life passed before me. "I'm going to die in this line," I thought.
You want time to stand still? Be in a long line, be mad, and look at your watch every 30 seconds wanting to be anywhere else like the golf course on your vacation day trying to return some else's gift.
As the ranting and raving droned on in my ears, I became somewhat delirious. And, in my delirium I began to wonder why an Iraqian woman would super glue her luggage shut? The answer was obvious. A bomb! She's one of those suicide bombers! I began to panic as she got louder. Blown up in the Dillard's customer service line was not how I planned to go out. I forced myself around this mad and dimwitted woman and loudly demanded that I get my money for the cash receipt – now! And they did it! Wow, I had just learned something that the mad woman, and probably women everywhere, already knew. The crazier you act, the more likely it will be that you get waited upon and get out. She's probably the president of Dillard's by now.
It's after 1:00 PM. It has been over two hours and I've only returned two items. Golf practice is not looking good.
The exchanges at Parisian's went well and by that I mean quickly. Two pair of shoes returned for cash and I was out of there. I was feeling perky. Hello golf course.
Next, I drove around the corner to Best Buy. That is to say I drove around the corner but had to park two city blocks away. The walk actually helped me to calm down.
My goal here was two-fold, return a phone set and purchase a digital photo maker, whatever that is. I found the digital thingamajig and proceeded to the line that said "Exchanges and Refunds". As usual it was long, but I only had two more stops to make after this place.
A lady in her sixties with hair dyed bright red, I'll call her "Lucy" since she had that Lucille Ball hair color, was standing in front of me. We began making small talk. "You know why they make it so hard to return stuff?" I asked. "So you won't return stuff. It's a racket like hurricane insurance," I said. We laughed. Lucy asked why I was there. I told Lucy I was taking a day of my vacation to return stuff for my wife. She said I was sweet. "It's more like fear, basically," I stated partly in jest and partly in truth. She seemed to completely understand. They smell fear you know.
"Do you know where Linen's and Things is located?" I asked. "Its right next door," said Lucy. I could walk right out of here to the car and return with the goods in a matter of minutes. A look of contentment began to spread over my face.
Then I noticed a young lady setting up a table behind me and to my left. Those little hairs of fear began dancing on my neck. She got up from her table, moved half way up the line, and asked, "Does anyone have unopened packages they are returning?" Lucy and I raised our hands without hesitation and just as quickly lowered them. The clerk was up to something. We hoped we hadn't been seen and turned our backs to her and began looking at the various blank CD's on the stands behind us.
Then the girl waved her arm between two people ahead of us like she was slicing bread with a meat cleaver and announced, "Everyone from here back must go to the table to your left so we can expedite this line."
"Uh-oh!" Lucy and I muttered in unison.
Like so many lemmings, we moved in mass to the new line. In the meantime, the old line was filling up with new people that were not following the new rules. Lucy was not a happy camper. Neither was I.
It only got worse when, after getting a small stamp placed on her unopened box, Lucy was told to return to the line she had just left. Yes, that same line that was now two thirds longer than when we left it, had to be re-entered – in the rear. In her efforts to expedite the return line, the young lady had doubled our stand in the line time. Then it happened. Lucy blew, God bless her, like Mount St. Helens.
She marched up in the new line past two thirds of wide-eyed standees and found the lady she had been standing behind originally. She raised her arm and began waving it in that sales clerk meat cleaver style she had so quickly mastered. Then in the loudest screech possible she proclaimed that henceforth and forever this was her rightful place in line, her glowing hair an iridescent red by now. And she dared anyone to screw with her about it. And - this is the best part - she held a spot for me. She called for me and the masses parted like I was the second coming. I almost expected to get my feet washed at some point. I could have kissed Lucy right there. I made a mental note to put her on next year's Christmas list
After almost an hour of line standing in the Best Buy, Lucy and I parted ways. I vowed never to forget her. I walked the two city blocks back to my car and got the bed cover I had to return. Then I walked back. Funny, I was not as happy about the soothing effects of the walk as I was the first time I made it. I was tired.
I walked into the store and stood in that line for only 10 minutes. Golf course here I come I thought. As I placed my return on the counter I was almost giddy. I gave the girl my receipt and then she said, "You have the WRONG store. We're Bed, Bath and Linens and you want Linen and Things on Airport." Lucy was no longer my hero. I made a mental note to remove her name from my Christmas list immediately.
I walked the two city blocks back to my car and headed to the real store. I found it and walked in whereupon I immediately set off the store alarm. Security descended upon me. "I have a receipt!" I exclaimed. You can't be stealing if you're walking in, only if you are walking out, right? Wrong! Let me explain to you as it was explained to me in the little room they reserve for all the criminals that come through their door.
For the uninformed, it seems the scam goes like this. The shoplifter takes the merchandise he or she wants plus one extra that is paid for in the usual way. One item is returned for cash while the other is kept. Usually, these are stolen from another store only to be returned for cash in another city. My wife had bought the item in Montgomery, Alabama and I was in Pensacola, Florida. Not only was I in another city, but in another state as well. "I'm screwed," I concluded.
Remember this, evidently mad people, as opposed to crazy Iraqian ones, look guilty as sin and, if that is the case, I was going to get the death penalty for returning a stupid sheet. It is a lesson I learned at great expense of time. I now pass this on for free. Mad doesn't always work. Mad is different from crazy.
After much deliberation and detective work, it was discovered that my time line matched that of the computer. I was telling the truth. By this time I wanted that Iraqi woman's glued up bag. "Take them out all out at once," I calmly thought to myself. I have nothing left to live for anyway. I was snapped back to reality when the cashier that tried to have me arrested placed the money in my hand and cheerfully said, "Have a nice day sir." "You have got to be kidding me!" I muttered.
Now all I needed to do was to drive over to Edwin Watts Golf Shop and return the golf shoes that didn't fit. It was the only reason I had come down to Pensacola in the first place. As I parked the car I reached into the back seat for the box of shoes. No shoes. NO SHOES! My mind raced as I retraced my steps. In my haste to load the car to return my wife's things and get to the golf course and practice I had forgotten to get MY GOLF SHOES that were lying on the floor of the den. "(Expletive)! (Expletive)! Double (Expletive)!" I screamed at no one in particular. I pounded the steering wheel as if that would help.
I had just spent over four hours returning everyone else's stuff. I had endured all the lines, the suitcase bomb lady, and the other crazy people, only to get to the one place I wanted to go to, that didn't have any line at all by the way, only to discover that I had nothing to return. Now I had to go to the bathroom….badly.
I lurched onto I-10 East intent on at least 1 hour of practice at the golf course in the daylight that remained and immediately came to a screeching halt. The mother of all traffic jams was stretched out for as far as I could see. We moved ½ mile in 10 minutes. At this rate it would take over three hours to go the 10 miles I needed to get to the golf course. As my bladder began to protest, a sense of urgency hit me. After 50 plus years of owning this bladder, I knew that time was short.
I looked around for a viable alternative and noticed an emergency crossing lane immediately to my left. I was now a desperate and crazed maniac. I veered to my left, deftly moved between the big orange barrels, and screeched onto the opposite lane between oncoming traffic. Off in the distance to my right I noticed a state trooper doing the same thing about a mile away. "Surely not," I thought.
I hit the gas, deciding that he really didn't see me and raced for the exit just a few hundred yards away. The blue lights were already on when I saw him in my rear view mirror. Now I really had to go to the bathroom. I refused to look at him as he pulled along side of me in the false belief that if you act as if you didn't anything wrong, you wouldn't get into any trouble.
We exited together. As he approached the car my bladder began to take on a life of its own. I squeezed as hard I could with my right hand while lowering the window with my left hand.
"What's the hurry?" the officer asked, slightly bewildered as he stared at me as I held my private parts in a death grip. I'm certain he felt he had a pervert on his hands. "I tell you what," I begged and pleaded. "You can write me a ticket for four hundred dollars if you'll just let me go to the bathroom." His brow unfurled. "Give me your driver's license and I'll follow you," he said. My hero I thought. He can go in Lucy's empty place on my Christmas list.
I drove to the Denny's beside the same exit I had left almost 30 minutes ago and raced inside to the bathroom. Now I had two things to do as this had shaken my intestines as well.
Ten minutes later I walked back outside, thanked the officer, and told him I'd take that ticket now. "You know, I halfway believe your story," he said. "Here's a warning. You just saved $115.00. Merry Christmas!"
I sat there and watched as night began to fall. I would never get to the golf course in time.
I took inventory of the day‘s events. I had begun this trek at 11:00 AM and it was now 4:30 PM. I had stood in nine lines in five stores, some twice, to return six items. I had not eaten lunch and it was almost supper time. My golf shoes were still at home, un-wearable and unreturned. I'd have to make another 120 mile round trip on another day to exchange them. I had almost been arrested twice, once for returning a sheet that I owned and once for needing to pee. It was too late to practice any golf and one vacation day was burned all to heck. It was a day that had become a combination of Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond. As tears of anger swelled in my eyes, I just wanted to go home.
As I sat in my chair at the house and explained to my wife how, in her or my lifetime, I would never again try to return anything for her or anyone else the day after Christmas, she got this bemused look on her face. I've seen it before. We've all seen it before. That smirk, that knowing smile, that look that says "gotcha".
She didn't say anything else. She didn't have to. I knew what she had done. She knew, as all wives do, what hell awaits those who dare to return Christmas gifts, especially the stupid ones us husbands' give sometimes, the day after Christmas. A painful, well taught lesson had been learned.