Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Smaller is Better

For a few months now, my roommate Carl and I have been considering getting a big-screen television. Actually he’s been considering buying one; I’ve been considering watching it, because I’m cheaper than a Thai hooker.

By the way, you might be wondering why I have a roommate, when I mentioned in previous posts that I was living with a wife and stepchildren. Well, my wife and I have parted ways, so she and her kids moved out. Why did I split up with her? Let me put it this way: Would you stay with someone who lies, cheats, and spends all your money? Well, neither would she.

Anyway, Carl and I are both middle-aged, which means that we know nothing about modern technology. (We still find dates by clubbing women over the head, which pretty much relegates us to dating roller derby queens.) But we figured that since everybody else has already bought screens the size of Quebec, how difficult can it be?

I have done a little research on modern TVs, and as a result I can confidently say that I am more confused than Rodney King at a job fair. There’s DLP, rear projection (not to be confused with projectors), plasma, LCD, HD... And the TV itself is not enough; you also need a receiver with approximately 13 zillion connector ports in the back, three of which you’ll actually use. And of course you’ve got to have Surround Sound, which means that you’ll spend thousands more to place 5 speakers all over the room. Remember when you’d just buy a TV, bring it home, plug it in and turn it on? God, I miss those days. Life was so much simpler. No plethora of technologies, special auxiliary equipment, premium channels, American Idol, security threat level colors or political correctness. We rode bikes without helmets and called people fat or crippled or deaf, and our television was just a box with one big tube and a bunch of little ones. When you wanted to watch a program you’d simply turn a knob. Then you’d prepare a three-course meal, which gave the tubes time to warm up so you could watch Ed Sullivan or Uncle Milty.

So I’m tanning myself last Sunday, enjoying the sun after a run of dismal weather. It’s Earth Day, and I’m one with Mother Earth, stretched out on the ground naked, causing planes headed for Baltimore to veer off course and land in Maine. I’m all warm and sweaty and enjoying the wonderful feeling that you get when you’re giving yourself cancer. Carl comes home and, in a flash of brilliance, says, “Hey Ben, let’s go buy a TV.” Of course. Why be outdoors when it’s 78 degrees and sunny? That’d be about as intelligent as giving soldiers body armor.

Against my better judgment I jump into his vehicle and we head to Sam’s Club. Carl bought a Sam’s Club membership the previous day, and he added me to it because each membership is for two people. The sun is shining brightly, beckoning us backward as we walk into the warehouse where about nine billion people are shopping. It’s nice to see that so many Americans celebrate Earth Day by driving their SUVs to warehouses and malls to purchase items that are produced in fossil fuel-burning factories. We look at all the big-screen TVs. Some are rear projection, some are flat-screen, and when I read the specs my eyes glaze over the same way they do when I’m on a date and she starts prattling on about her life. We find a TV that’s only $800. It’s not the highest quality, but it’s one of the biggest, and bigger is better in this country, as evidenced by the typical American waistline.

We grab a slip of paper with the TV's information on it. Carl waits in line with it while I go to the Customer Service line to get my membership card made. Some dickhead is returning something and arguing that his $7 rebate should be $9. He has one of those faces that says, “I am the world’s biggest jerk.” You know what I’m talking about. It’s nothing you can describe in words, but you can just tell by the way some people look that they are worthless piles of doody. His mother is with him, which figures. Obviously he lives with her. Anyone to whom $2 is that important can’t afford a mortgage. Or rent. Or dignity.

Anyway, I get waited on at the other register and get my card made. They take my picture with a little computer camera, printing a very flattering image of me on my card. I look like a thumb.

I join Carl in line, and after half an hour it’s our turn. The cashier scans the paper, charges him $800, and tells him to find an employee who will retrieve one of these models for us. We then go foraging for one of the two employees whose job it is to service roughly half the population of Sri Lanka. After about 15 minutes we track someone down. We hand him the slip of paper, at which point he shakes his head and says, “We don’t have any of these left.”

The place grows quiet. The display televisions interrupt their broadcasts to observe what just happened. “You mean you guys sold me a TV you don’t have?” exclaims Carl, a vein bulging in his temple. The televisions collectively laugh at us. “Yes,” replies the employee. “The cashiers are supposed to check to see if they have an item before ringing it up, but they never do.” At this point I want to give these people a rear projection, if you get my drift. Seething with a combination of anger and disbelief, we head over to Customer Service to get his credit card credited, the televisions cackling behind us.

The line stretches to Fiji. You know why? That same asshole is still arguing over his $2. He’s been there 45 minutes. Everyone in line, plus all the Customer Service people, want to strangle him. It would be justifiable homicide, but of course if you rid society of someone like that, for some reason you’re the bad guy.

Twenty minutes later the troll leaves, skulking back to his mom’s basement to watch gay porn and eat Cheez Whiz directly out of the can. Eventually Carl gets his card credited and we leave.

Ha! Fooled you. We don’t actually leave. Oh no, that would be too smart. We walk back to the televisions to look for another model. And we do find another. It’s slightly larger and only about $100 more. We call my 19-year-old stepson for some advice, because he is a walking encyclopedia of modern technology. We decide that it’s a good buy. We take some measurements to see if it’ll fit in the vehicle. It won’t.

Okay, now we leave. We go home and enjoy the rest of this gorgeous afternoon.

Ha! Fooled you again! You must be some sort of moron, because if you think we gave up that easily, then you also will probably vote for Hillary in the next election. (Or Newt Gingrich. I don’t want to be partisan here.)

What we actually do is go to Best Buy, because if there’s one thing men like to do, it’s shop. Yessir, I’d much rather lose IQ points dealing with idiotic salespeople and customers than, say, drink beer.

So we go into Best Buy and pick out a nice wall-mounted 50-inch television. It’s $1700, which is more than Carl was looking to spend, but it’s a very nice model. Unfortunately since it’s a wall-mounted set, you have to buy a wall-mounting kit. These kits range from $170 to $600. I swear to friggin’ God. You could buy a normal television for that much. So we pick out the cheapest wall-mounting kit, buy it and the television, and leave.

Boy, you must be retarded if you believe that. We don’t just buy the TV and leave. It is physically impossible to do that these days. No, what we actually do is ask a salesperson for help. Of course, by “help” I mean “a punch in the jimmies”. You see, salespeople – or “sales professionals” (which is the biggest oxymoron in history) – are a collection of smug, arrogant, know-nothing know-it-alls who don’t know shit about anything but act as though they do. They’ve gone through intense sales training, which consists of 15 minutes of learning how to act knowledgeable, and as a result they think they’re much smarter than you are. Their livelihood is based on commissions that come from fooling ignorant consumers into buying stuff they don’t need. My teenage stepchild knows more than all these bozos combined. Salespeople are exactly the same everywhere you go: Circuit City, CompUSA, car dealerships. They got beaten up in school and couldn’t get a date for the prom, and this is their way of getting even, because as any psychologist will tell you, life is just revenge for high school.

So a “sales professional” comes over to sodomize us. I don’t remember everything that was said word for word, because I was too busy imagining ripping the guy’s heart out with my bare fist, but our exchange went something like this:

Us:               “We’d like to buy this TV.”
Salesperson: “Sure. I’ll go see if we have it in stock.”

We wait a few minutes. He comes back empty handed. Crap.

Salesperson: “We do have that television in stock.”

(Then why didn’t you bring one out, you schmuck?)

Us:               “Great! We’ll take it.”
Salesperson: “Do you have an HDMI cable?”
Us:               “A what?”
Salesperson: “An HDMI cable. You’ll need it to get a good picture.”
Us:               “How much is that?”
Salesperson: “$100.”
Us:               “$100?! For a wire?”
Salesperson: “Not just a wire. An HDMI cable.”
Us:               “All right, then if that’s all we’ll need...”
Salesperson: “You’ll need a warranty.”
Us:               “Huh?”
Salesperson: “You’ll need a warranty for when the TV breaks.”
Us:               “You mean it’s not a good brand?”
Salesperson: “It’s a great brand.”
Us:               “Great! We’ll take it.”
Salesperson: “But you’ll need a warranty.”
Us:               “You just said it’s a great brand.”
Salesperson: “It is.”
Us:               “Then why would we need a warranty?”
Salesperson: “In case it breaks.”
Us:               “But ... you just ... never mind. How much is it?”
Salesperson: “$400 for 3 years.”
Us:               “Are you kidding?”
Salesperson: “No. Salespeople have no sense of humor.”
Us:               “Don’t your products come with standard warranties?”
Salesperson: “Yes. All of our products are warrantied for one year.”
Us:               “Okay, we’ll stick with the one-year warranty.”
Salesperson: “But the warranty doesn’t cover shipping or labor costs.”
Us:               “Then what does it cover?”
Salesperson: “You see this plastic piece of trim right here?”
Us:               “Yes.”
Salesperson: “If that breaks, you get it replaced for half price.”

At this point we put the $170 mounting kit back and leave, exercising gargantuan amounts of self-control in not pummeling every salesperson into a heap of smug, arrogant pulp.

By the way, every salesperson in there is male. You know why? Because only men are big enough jerks to screw people and feel superior while doing it. If women were hired as salespeople, the place would go out of business in a week because they’d tell the truth, which is that you are much better off paying $9.50 at the movie theater than you are spending thousands of dollars for a television that will eventually break and force you to go to the theater anyway.

This debacle was not a complete waste of our time. We learned some very valuable lessons. For example, you can’t buy a home entertainment system without selling a kidney. Also, 75% of salespeople’s commission comes from selling warranties. In fact, the sales “profession” is nothing more than welfare, because all salespeople do is take money when you buy stuff that other people made. The real producers in this country are in Chinese sweatshops. So the next time I go into Best Buy or any store of that ilk, I’m going to kick the first salesperson who sidles up to me in the groin and say, “That’s for what you’re about to do to me.”

Probably the best part of all this is that we now appreciate our 27-inch non-DLP, non-flat-screen, non-HDMI-cable-requiring TV with the non-working remote more than ever. The Simpsons and Family Guy are just as funny on this contraption as they would be on a 100-inch screen. Funnier in fact, because since we didn’t buy a big-screen TV, our asses aren’t sore.