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Journals of an Insane Genius -- February 2000

Hmmm... If there was any doubt in my mind that I didn't know what 'exasperated' looked like, it has been removed. To say that Mel was regally pissed was an understatement, would itself be an understatement. I can sense that she is mentally preparing herself for the unpleasant task of killing without remorse, this time without the reward of a goat sandwich.

We're computer shopping at Best Buy in Tucson. We've selected a CPU, monitor, and printer. Typical of the big warehouse stores, everything on the shelf is a demonstration model and all of the boxes are up near the ceiling. We know what we want, we're ready to buy, we just can't get anyone to pull the stuff down and write it up. We've been hovering around the service desk for almost an hour now. We've learned that the phrase "I'll be right with you" can be roughly translated as "Yeah, right, whatever" in Best Buy speak.

Ridiculous times call for ridiculous measures. I pull five dollars out of my pocket, hold it up, and announce, "I'll pay a five dollar bounty to anyone in a blue shirt that will sell me a computer." The small mob of fifteen or so customers that are impatiently waiting (like us, most of them were patient for the first ten minutes) find this funnier than the overwhelmed crew that is struggling to keep up. Unfortunately they continue to work with the people they've been helping, at least two of which are known liars who claimed to be 'next' the last time an associate worked up the courage to approach the service desk. I notice that there are two people with no customers and apparently nothing to do behind the cellular phone counter. "Hold on", I optimistically suggest to Mel, "I'm gonna up the ante". I walk over and offer them ten dollars if they will sell me a computer. They laugh, and I can see that one wants to take me up on it, but they explain that they're not allowed to leave the counter. "Really? Management policy is that you're not allowed to help a customer? Interesting."

I attempt to go to the main customer service desk so I can ask a manager if that's really Best Buy's policy, but the line there is longer than the one in the computer department. I hate to do it, because I know that the counter people are swamped, but sometimes irrational, noisy people attract attention. Rather than wait in line to complain, I wave the ten-dollar bill and yell past the line to the people behind the counter, "Really! I'm offering a ten dollar instant rebate to any employee in this store willing to sell me a computer!" Once again my fellow frustrated consumers find this more amusing than the employees. But one person does get on the intercom and request all available sales associates to assist in the computer department. Satisfied that she's done all she can do for me she gives me a smile and a big thumbs up.

Available sales associates, as it turns out, are adept at ignoring the intercom. Mel instructs me to wait in line while she goes to deal with this. Despite her small frame, in her leather Darth Maul jacket she is an imposing presence. Rationalizing that she has been waiting at the computer desk longer than anyone in the line ahead of her has been in the store, she walks directly to the counter and uses her Sith mind control techniques. Waving her hand in a smooth horizontal motion she instructs the counterperson, "You will summon a manager". Less than one minute later she is talking to a manager. He is full of excuses, but she waves them aside with another Jedi mind trick. "You will assign someone to sell me a computer". Unfortunately, the manager must have some Toydarian blood in him because the mind tricks don't work. Dejected, Mel returns with his assurance that we'll be helped "real soon now".

For about the fifth time in an hour I'm whining that I can see the box I need when I suddenly listen to myself. I cast a devilish grin at Mel. "What?" she asks. "Well, you know... Nobody is actually preventing us from getting on their ladders..." I begin. Mel gets a gleam in her eye. Of course, saying that I should just climb up and get it myself is different from actually doing it. Mel is getting annoyed with me for hesitating now. She knows I'm considering whether I have any dignity or not and, as usual, she finds a convincing way to get me to drop the charade. Knowing that I've already met my minimum US recommended daily allowance of guilt (e-mail from mom telling me that it's been too long since I wrote), Mel provides me with another dose. She reminds me that the whole reason for dragging her along was to get her out of the house and cheer her up because she's recently recovered (pretty much) from pneumonia and has been depressed lately. "It's working", I'm sure she's thinking to herself, "All I need to do is give him one more little nudge to push him over the edge". She looks me right in the eye and says, "You big pansy!" (or slightly less printable words to that effect). Unable to think of a suitable rebuttal to her arguments, I climb the ladder.

I pull down a monitor and a printer from mid-level shelves. The CPU comes from a top shelf. The rest of the mob is giving us a mixed look of envy, admiration, and shock at breaking the "rules". Fortunately for them, none of their faces stick that way because it's not an especially appealing expression.

All we need to do now is find the printer cables because, like batteries, they're not included. Somehow I manage to keep from weeping when we cannot locate a USB cable. Mel takes charge again. She interrupts the computer department manager who promised to help her over ninety minutes ago. "Look all I need is this cable and we can get the rest done at the register", she explains. "Who got that down for you?" he asks accusingly. "We got it ourselves", she replies in a 'oh just you try and lecture me buddy' tone of voice. Apparently unsure of how to deal with this kind of freethinking anarchy, the manager immediately assigns a salesperson to chaperone us. I can't decide if this is a punishment or a reward, because this person begins writing up our purchases.

We exhale a nicotine-filled sigh of relief as we drive back to Sierra Vista, the sure-footed Plymouth Neon packed full of electronics. Setting the system up is a breeze and all of the tension caused by having to wait and wait with no apparent recourse disappears. The zip drive works, the printer works, the monitor works; everybody's happy. The last thing I check is the modem. I took advantage of the $400 instant rebate that Microsoft offers for signing up for their MSN Internet service for three years. With visions of carefree hours spent surfing the net I double click the icon.

The line is busy.

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