While much of the world is caught up with wars and natural disasters, a real danger is going unnoticed and unremarked-upon right under our very noses. What I am referring to is, of course, the sorry state of after-holiday gift returns.
I experienced this firsthand recently when, in a moment of weakness, I broke one of the most basic male rules by going to a local department store to return a Christmas present.
Now men, because we are remarkably focused, go to department stores only when we already know what we want so we can just bop in and bop out. And men never "browse." The things we stop to look at are things we really need, like 350-inch, flat-screen HDTVs with 1,000-watt surround-sound speakers, or leaf blowers powerful enough to tear the bark off trees.
If I had gotten either of those for Christmas I wouldn't have had anything to return, but I didn't. Instead, I got these little socks that come barely above your sneakers and a red plaid lumberjack-like shirt that would have been OK if made out of flannel but in broadcloth was just red and plaid and red.
Anyway, my wife was going to return a couple of things and I, in a fit of leftover holiday spirit, thought I'd go along.
So, off we went with two shirts, a bag of socks, a computer keyboard, and a nightgown, not even knowing (except for the keyboard) which presents came from which stores.
Our first stop, the home of always low prices, was also the keyboard's home but not the home of anything else. The return, however, went smoothly and I began to think that maybe this wouldn't be such a bad experience after all.
Our second stop, which can trace its roots to a five and dime and will soon merge with the original mail-order store, was another story entirely.
The woman doing the returns was nice enough. She said the bag of socks didn't come from her store but that I'd get a $4.67 gift card for the shirt.
OK, I thought, it's less than I expected but I'm never going to wear the shirt and I might as well get something for it.
So, I took the gift card and went to the men's section, where, lo-and-behold, I saw almost the very same shirt on a clearance rack for $9.
Savvy shopper that I am, I knew something wasn't right, so I hurried back to the return desk to let the nice lady know that the shirt they'd just given me $4.67 in plastic for was being sold for almost double that right down the aisle.
Not only wasn't she surprised, she told me that whatever the computer said had to be correct and I should be grateful that I didn't owe them money for returning the shirt (actually, that last part's not true, but I was beginning to feel as if it were).
Walking back toward the men's section, I had an epiphany and retraced my steps to the return desk where, after waiting in line again, I told the return clerk that I'd changed my mind and would rather keep my $9 shirt than have a $4.67 gift card.
No can do, said a manager standing nearby. Gift cards can't be canceled.
No problem, I cleverly replied, I'll use my $4.67 gift card to buy my shirt back.
Can't do that either, she countered. We can't sell you the shirt.
It's no wonder this company is having trouble, I observed.
We're doing fine, she responded. And no wonder, if they can sell $4.67 shirts for $9. But I had the last laugh because I left with my $4.67 gift card and I'm not going to ever use it, unless, of course, they put that really neat fishing reel with the sonar fish-tracking device and global positioning system on sale.