Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Chickening Out on Future Deals

Ultimately, of course, it's my own fault.  I bit the bait.  As the old adage reminds me, "If it sounds too good to be true it probably is."  But we needed new sheets, so when the "Deal Chicken" offer landed in my "inbox" trumpeting 1200 Thread Count sheets at 79% off the retail cost I couldn't resist.  "Deal Chicken", for the uninitiated, is the Groupon-like daily "deal" promoted by the newspaper.  That, too, should have prompted dissuasion since months ago I lost respect for that publication and cancelled my subscription.  Still, and despite all the internal cautionary voices, on December 5th I pressed "purchase" and allowed myself the indulgence of anticipating that promised luxurious night's sleep.

By December 20, when I still had neither seen nor heard from the order, I spelunked  down through my emails, found the order confirmation, excavated a Customer Service phone number and called to solicit an update.  The kindly voice on the recording confessed that the seller was experiencing higher than usual call volume and encouraged me to call again later.  Click.  I did.  How many times I have long since lost count.  Ultimately I emailed my query and received in return a FedEx tracking number whose detail indicated that the shipper had, indeed, been notified on December 12 of an impending package.  There had, however,  been no activity since.  The seller's website had proudly assured that all orders placed prior to December 12 would be delivered before Christmas, so trusting the integrity of this vendor that I knew nothing about, I resolved again toward patience.

Until, that is, December 26 when I resumed my telephony.  A subsequent email query had garnered me the same tracking number that reported no additional movement, and I was determined to hear a more detailed explanation.  No longer was it really about the sheets; it was now the principle of thing that irked me.  Numerous calls later, and just as I was about to hang up, a human actually answered the phone.  She offered me a tracking number.  I allowed as to how I already had that, and that it only reported the vendor's negligence.

"I beg your pardon?" she asked.

"The tracking number merely reports what you intended to do, not what actually happened.  And what has actually happened is exactly nothing."  I recounted the notches on the calendar and their promised Christmas delivery.

"Well," she ventured, "I am aware that FedEx has had some delivery delays."

"That's rather disingenuously opportunistic, don't you think?  If I had placed this order on December 23rd I might accept your dodge. In fact, however, I placed the order a week prior to your web-announced delivery deadline, well before the shipping company's unfortunate Christmas woes.  Don't throw FedEx under the bus.  This is your fault, not theirs."

The customer service agent was disinclined to continue the conversation, but I hung up only after being assured that the package had, in fact been shipped.

A week later I can report two things.  First, I'm still waiting for delivery although I can see, using the tracking number, that the package has in truth been sent.  Second, something has changed in me.  In the ensuing weeks the aggravation has transformed into something closer to fascination.  I've almost lost interest in the sheets.  Instead I am simply curious how -- if ever -- this process will be completed.  The company's "free shipping" offer apparently took advantage of FedEx's ant-back delivery method.  The package's progress is almost glacial.  Since leaving New Jersey it has traveled about 30 miles each day.  I have squash bugs in my garden that make more progress than that.  I may not live long enough to take delivery.

One thing I have learned through this is not to trust "the Chicken."  Yes, I know their offers plainly absolve themselves of any responsibility; that fulfillment of the offers is solely the obligation of the seller.  I simply expected a more careful vetting of the merchants they represent.  It's in their interest, after all.  I'll not likely remember for long the name of "Luxor Linens" or whatever the name of the company who has allegedly sold me sheets.  But I will remember "Deal Chicken" with something considerably south of satisfaction.

Perhaps the larger lesson for me, however, is one I already knew, but had largely applied to different kinds of purchases.  "Shake the hand of the farmer who feeds you," I have taken to heart for sometime now -- buying eggs from the guy who lifts them from the coop each day; buying meat from the guys who have opened the gates and pulled the calves and backed up the trailer; buying vegetables (when I need to buy them) from the CSA whose care and farming practices I try to emulate.  There is, this silly shopping experience has reminded me, good reason to practice the same kind of relational localism when it comes to other goods as well.  I may not be able to shake the hand of the person who weaves the sheet, but I can darn sure shake the hand of the merchant who will be behind the counter when I have a question, a compliment, or a concern.

It may cost a little more in one form of currency, but will be far cheaper in another.  My blood pressure, emotional tone and marriage are already assessing that "79%-off" as quite likely the most expensive discount I have ever received.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Speckled Plume of Blessing

A pheasant flew across the road this morning as I made my way toward town.  The stubbled corn field perhaps looked more promising than the mowed hay field it was leaving. Or perhaps it was simply bored with its view and was ready to move on.  I have little experience with pheasants -- turkey, quail and doves were the game birds common to my growing up -- but I instinctively recognized it…
...the speckled feathers
...the plumed tail
...the bottom-heavy flight that seemed little more than an airborne “scoot.”

And in a moment it was gone, lost in the camouflage of the bordering culvert, and me further along the gravel road.  

Blessings are commonly like that -- surprising, glancing, easily missed for our constant motion, and theirs; but recognized somehow, even in their unfamiliarity.

I rather believe that advent -- this subtler time of watching, waiting, hoping, even aching that precedes the celebration of noteworthy fulfillment -- is intended to be a training season; a time spent practicing the discipline of paying closer attention; of willed awareness and studious openness for that being of beauty and wonder that, at any random moment, might wing its way across the roadway…
...of my heart
...of my loves
...of my insight
...of my soul.

It’s not that December is more fertile than other seasons, as though blessings are more plentiful this time of year.  Quite the opposite might well be true.  There is snow on the ground, after all, and virtually anything still protruding from it is stripped and brittle and dormant -- if not altogether dead.  People shuffle cautiously along, mummified in goose down and scarves and gloves and hoods, concentrating on safe footing and expedient return to someplace warm, reluctant to pause and chat. 

The season’s austerity, however, just might benefit us by affording a clearer, more unencumbered view.  And it is worth the practice, because there is almost no telling what we might manage to see fluttering and flitting across our path…

...if we are looking.