Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sears, Redux

Lori tells me I have to post an update.  The Sears saga has come to some resolution, and I agree that it's only fair that the rest of the story be told. 

For starters, I did, indeed, receive a follow-up email from Sears after my second rather spicy provision of feedback.  It was, I have to say, a rather patronizing response that suggested if I had wanted a stove equipped a certain way I should have mentioned that at the time of purchase.  Never mind that I had done precisely that, and had included that information in my initial communications.  Nevertheless, the message continued...
"If you had an issue where an installation occurred from one of our licensed installers, and they connected the appliance to your propane gas line without converting it and telling you, then that is a separate issue. If such a case has occurred, please contact [number deleted], and we will escalate your case to our Installation Solutions, and they will discuss further options."

"Escalate."  I love that. So, I took my "separate issue" into escalation, dialed the number, and after two or three tries was connected to a helpful man in Florida in the unenviable position of working in the central office of "I'm mad and want to complain."  He agreed that my experiences were unacceptable, and that while his options were limited he anticipated that the local store manager would not want a customer "out there" feeling the way I do, and that surely he would want to "participate" in some resolution. 

At this point I anticipated that my helpful Floridian was going to suggest I call the store.  Cutting him off I indicated that I had tried that, but that the Sears phone jail system made it practically impossible to ever talk to anyone.  He mentioned that he had a "direct" number.  After being on hold for several minutes he came back on the line to tell me that the store manager didn't seem to be available, but that an assistant manager was on the line who would help me.  After introducing us to each other, my first helper left the conversation in our capable hands.  Much to my surprise, the assistant manager listened, empathized, asked questions about how much money I was now spending on what should have been covered in the first place, clattered around on a calculator, and offered me $500 to cover the extra expenses.  After I happily accepted his offer, he took my bank card information and relayed that he would call me back when the refund transaction was completed.

Hours later I got a call from our original salesperson, apologizing for the mess and reassuring me that he had looked up our order and confirmed that what we had ordered was correct; the problems had started after it left his and our involvement.  "Oh," he continued, "and I understand that the assistant manager offered you $500 to cover the extra costs."  I confirmed the offer.  "Well, the assistant manager talked it over with the manager and..."

It was at exactly this moment when I thought I was really going to have to eat crow.  "They are going to up the ante," I thought to myself.

"...and the most we are able to offer is $450."

"Really," I thought to myself; "you are going to jerk me, an already mad and mouthy customer, around for a lousy $50 bucks?  Really?  I can't believe it."

But that's where I left it.  I took the $450 and ran, thankful that I had come out of the aggravation with anything but more aggravation.  It will likely cover most if not all the expenses, and I wasn't, after all, out for blood.

Simply what I had supposedly purchased IN THE FIRST PLACE. 

As for you, Mr. Cheapskate store manager, take your spouse out to dinner with my $50 and enjoy every miserly bite.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Because Sears Won't Return My Call

Fair warning:  this is a rant.  Think of it as payback -- retribution, the very kind of thing that a decent Christian is supposed to eschew.  The problem is -- as happens so often in these circumstances -- I'm not feeling particularly Christian. 

In short, I'm mad at Sears.  I know that inducts me into a rather large fraternity.  Almost any time I mention Sears I am met with eye-rolls and groans.  We aren't talking high reputation here.  If my experience is representative, it is derision honestly and thoroughly earned.

As you may know, we recently moved.  Two months ago.  In the process we purchased new appliances...from Sears.  In contrast to previous experiences, we actually found -- and liked -- a salesperson.  He was friendly, winsome, and helpful.  He went -- and I don't say this lightly -- above and beyond.  So did we, I might add.  We bought several appliances.  Nice ones.  Plus the extended service contract.

On the appointed delivery day, all seemed to go well.  Again, the delivery personnel were efficient and affable.  But when I found a floor covered in water from the refrigerator a scant two hours post-delivery, I called the super, handy-dandy, elite service number and, after talking with nine different people -- literally.  Nine -- who each solicited from me the exact same information, I learned that they would be happy to send someone out in two weeks.  "It's a brand new refrigerator that hasn't been here two hours," I replied.  "And it is flooding my house."  Two weeks was the best I could get.  "Did I want to go ahead and schedule that service call?" I was asked.  No, I responded, and suggested that I would prefer my service contract back.  I called a plumber who came that afternoon.

Meanwhile, the stove.  I don't know anything about propane -- our new fuel of record out here in the country -- so I don't know how to assess "normal."  But in our two months of use we have wearied of the black soot that cakes on the bottom of the pots sitting over the fire, and subsequently smears on clothes, rags, rubber dishwashing gloves, etc.  It's gross.  It's persistent.  But as I say, who knows?  Maybe that's propane's normal.  Before resigning ourselves to the nuisance, however, I once again called our local repair service.  I was concerned that I might not live long enough to see a service call from Sears.  I called yesterday.  A technician was here at 9:00 a.m. this morning.  From him I learned that the stove was incorrectly installed.  There is a conversion kit required for propane -- the very one I was promised actually came with the stove -- and a second adjustment that is supposed to me made.  Neither action had been accomplished.  "I can't believe you have been living with this," he marveled.  "Besides, it's not really safe.  See those yellow flames?  They are producing carbon monoxide.  That, and the flames are way too large.  That's dangerous, too.  Something could catch fire."  Yes, I muttered, and cover the world with soot.

So now I have ordered, for $165, the conversion kit that I supposedly already bought, will enjoy a second service call, neither of which should have been necessary, and Sears won't respond to my invitations for conversation.

So, as I duly promised them in one of my queries, I am ranting out loud, cautioning anyone and everyone who might have an interest to save yourself the headache -- and maybe even your life -- and shop somewhere else.  Anywhere but Sears.  Please, God, not Sears.  Your heart will thank you.  Your blood pressure will thank you.  Your pots and pans will thank you.  And quite possibly your insurance company and the fire marshal will thank you, as well. 

So there, I've said it.  My rant is officially over.  Go back to whatever you were doing.  My stove still doesn't work right -- and won't until the parts come in -- but it's nice to get it off my chest.  And maybe now I can get back to being a reasonably decent Christian.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Menu choices of the Absurd

The setting was in every way extraordinary -- elegant, dignified, gentle while at the same time quietly assertive.  Perhaps its reputation had co-opted my objectivity, but I rather believe the restaurant truthfully was what it held itself out to be:  quite simply one of the finest restaurants in the world, at least as adjudged by the professional muses of such matters.  In Napa Valley for yet another foray into cooking, both our hosts at the B & B and our chef instructor for the week at the Culinary Institute of America had called attention to the place.  I, of course, had never heard of it before their mention, and I will leave it anonymous; more than a bit embarrassed to have indulged ourselves with such an extravagance.  If, however, a sin, it was a glorious one that we will never forget.   We were ushered to our "lovely table" that had been "prepared for us" as though we owned the place.  We tried to contain our giddy grins with the aloof air of people who frequent such destinations customarily, but I am confident that no one was deceived.  Any opaqueness was scrubbed when, after one particularly delirious course, I asked our demur server how she kept from giggling her way through each night's dinner.  "It is quite wonderful, isn't it" she replied. We were not, however, alone.  Behind our "lovely table" was another, occupied by a couple on whom the room's otherwise library-like decorum was quite lost.  They talked business  (the state of the global economy, for which the man of the table seemed to possess all the answers), politics (they were not independents or moderates), and wine.  By the end of the evening the sommelier had to be delighted to see them go, having dominated her time the entire evening with arcane questions of vineyard sites, vintages, lot numbers, colonial varieties and alcohol content.  Before the oenological carnage was finished, three opened bottles had been rejected and the fourth only tepidly approved.   But however annoying the pair was through the rest of the evening, they provided one enduring and delectable gem.  Surveying the rather adventuresome menu, the woman of the table almost yawningly observed, "it all looks interesting, though I am particularly drawn to the cocks comb and the trout.  Ah, but we so rarely have trout." And let's face it, cocks comb can become so tiresome night after night.   Smugness, the comment reminded me, no matter how elegant the setting, is ultimately oafish and demeaning.   Maybe that's one of the reasons Jesus counseled guests at a dinner to select the seats at the places of least honor.  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Putting the Garden to Bed

The sense of satisfaction certainly drowns out the melancholy, but the latter's voice is undeniably singing.  Yesterday, I drove out to the Baxter farm for the official wind down.  I took down the fencing and rolled it up for next year's use.  I surveyed the largely spent plants and plucked the languishing harvest -- a couple dozen more tomatillos, a couple of peppers, and some spicy lettuce.  There was an entire section of wispy green onions that for months I have been expecting to mature into something larger I uprooted and bagged.  And then the larger pulling and chopping began.  The marigolds that had offered such beautiful perimeters all season were the first to go.  Their dried golden blooms and weary stems came up easily -- almost grateful, it seemed, for the rest.  The tomato cages and the woody plants they supported offered themselves smoothly as well.  The okra plants refused to go -- roots apparently woven deep into the soil, no doubt accounting for their prolific output.  It all went quickly -- even with the digging and chopping required of the few; a surprisingly brief process given the hours and months invested in the creation.  The debris was hauled away to the burn pile, and then the work was done.

I have not been attentive to this precious plot of ground since the moving process began in earnest mid-August.  There is the only lament.  There were too many boxes to pack; too many loads to carry from garage to garage; too much to organize, thin and clean, and then the inevitable unpacking and fresh organization.  There was work to be done here, where the future is being built, but out there the plants continued to thirst and push out fruit as best they were able.  Regularly Larry and Shirley, the garden hosts, would bring me reports of its progress along with offerings from the late season harvest.  But it was tough to focus, given so much to do. 

It had been weeks, then, since I had made the trip up north.  The weather had changed and the season was passing.  Still present, its eyes were closing.  It had done its work as best it was able, and it was time to close this chapter.

I am profoundly grateful for the gift of the land that made the experience possible -- a generous wish to encourage my new passion.  My benefactors endured my routine visits for weeding and watering and mowing and tending around the edges of my professional life, early in the morning and late in the evening.  They looked after things when I couldn't, and offered advice and inspiration and encouragement throughout the months. 

And I am tenderly grateful to the plants themselves.  Some things turned out well; others shriveled without so much as a bud.  We gleaned too much of some things -- okra and tomatillos come to mind -- and too little of others, like the beats and the brussels sprouts and the melons.  But overall I am humbled by the results tendered to someone so utterly ignorant of the process.  It has been, from seeding to plucking, an educational experience.  I'm not sure what all I retain, but the plants have taught me well.  They had the temerity to sprout from their seeds in our living room window; the charity to forgive my ignorance about temperature and light, and the hardiness to withstand the transplanting and the tending and the vicissitudes of weather. 

And now the garden is clear.  It takes a careful look to recognize what actually went on there over the past six months; most signs of cultivation have been eradicated.  It's gratifying to learn that Shirley plans to sustain the project next summer, while I relocate my efforts to ground we have come to occupy.  But for now there is satisfaction in the completion. 

Until the seed catalogs begin to arrive.