Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Countdown to the New Old House: BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH

In the "you really can't make this up" category . . . .

Our big Lowe's order didn't get placed Wednesday night, on account of how seasonal allergies got the best of Spouse, who elected to pass out and snore in lieu of accompanying me to the house to count switch plates.   Instead, switch plate counting took place Thursday morning.  It was pretty much a surgical strike, as much sheetrocking was going on, and we didn't want to be underfoot for too long.  (You know what they say:  if the house is a-sheetrocking, um, don't spend a lot of time categorizing electrical outlets.  Okay, they don't say that at all.) 

Once I had my switch plate specs, I was prepared to head to the office, except Spouse wanted me to follow him to Fort Worth Tire, because his air conditioning belt had slipped for the fourth time in as many months.  We agreed that he could have my car for the day, if necessary, and leave his car for repair.  Our detour to Fort Worth Tire turned out to be fortuitous, because when I made a sharp 180-degree turn into one of their parking places, I SMELLED THE SMELL THAT I ALWAYS SMELL WHEN I MAKE SHARP TURNS, being the same smell that no one at FWT has been able to duplicate, notwithstanding multiple attempts.  Needless to say, I jumped out of the car as soon as the engine cut off, FLEW over to where Spouse was talking to Peter the Mechanic, grabbed Peter the Mechanic by the front of his shirt and DEMANDED THAT HE SMELL MY CAR - both the interior and under the hood. AND HE FINALLY SMELLED THE SMELL.  We discussed the circumstances in which the smell arises, and we agreed that there is a leak somewhere, but as of yet Peter the Mechanic is still noodling on what the smell smells like, which will give us an idea of where it is coming from.  I consider this progress, and this progress excites me, the way all progress excites me when it has a component of, "See, I'm not  ACTUALLY crazy, and, in fact, far from it, I'm actually a little bit more perceptive than you, SO THERE."  I feel a little bit like an intern on "House, MD" who just provided the aha moment of the day.

Unfortunately, the day started to go downhill from there. As I am calling in to my office, letting them know that I got waylaid at FWT (this happens kind of often, unfortunately, due to aging car issues and stubborn drivers who like to get a lot of mileage out of their vehicles), Spouse flings open the car door and rather testily asks me to get off of the phone.  Actually, what he did was glare at me until I mumbled an apology and hung up, and then he informed me that WE WERE NOT LEAVING HIS CAR, BECAUSE THEY FIGURED OUT THAT THE A/C BELT KEEPS SLIPPING OFF BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT A BELT DOES WHEN THE COMPRESSOR THAT DRIVES IT GRINDS TO AN ABRUPT HALT. The problem was with his A/C compressor, and this is where I stepped in it:

"Huh, weird. Didn't we just replace my A/C compressor a year or so ago?"


"Oh.  Sorry about that.  Hey, while we're over in this neighborhood, want to go to Kitchen Source and look at countertops?"

In retrospect, it was not the best idea to suggest that Spouse look at countertops when he was twelve kinds of peed off.  He was - how shall I put it delicately? - less than helpful, bordering on hostile. Nevertheless, we got stuff accomplished.

So then I went to work, and I worked for awhile, and then over the lunch hour I made a spreadsheet of things I needed to purchase at  Lowe's, which my coworkers found hilariously anal retentive - but only at the time. A few hours later, they were complimenting me on my foresight.  That's foreshadowing, folks.

I ended my lunch break with a Web chat with a lovely Rugs USA customer service rep who I would guess lives in the Greater Bangalore area.  I wanted to know if she could confirm for me that the Moroccan-inspired geometric design on the gray rug I picked out for C's room was actually a saffron yellow like it looked in the picture.  She didn't have much additional information to give me, but she did opine that it sure looked like a saffron yellow to her. And I decided that this made the rug a solid "maybe," because I would put stock in someone from Bangalore being able to identify a good saffron yellow.   So  I ordered the rug, which is 100% wool and hand-tufted and ordinarily retails for $750 in the 5-x-8 size, but I got it  for $136, inclusive of shipping.  Another peak in my day.

Now let me tell you about my BIG, BIG VALLEY.

Logged onto Lowe's around 4 pm, remembering to access the Web site through Upromise so that the kids could get college money out of the deal.  Tried to buy the garbage disposal first - the same garbage disposal that Spouse played for me at the store on Wednesday. informed me that no one had that model in stock and I would need to have it shipped - as in actually shipped to me, not shipped to the store for pickup at a later date.  This bothered me, because I was pretty sure that "pick it up at the store at a later date" ought to be an option. However, I did the math:  $259 garbage disposal, less $26 discount with my 10% off coupon, plus $8 shipping was still a savings.

So I put the disposal in my virtual cart.  (Well, I thought I did. More foreshadowing.)

Bought two kitchen faucets next.  No problem with those - available for pickup from my White Settlement Lowe's in 20 minutes.

Then I ordered the pendant lights for the kitchen,which I knew were special-order.  I was advised that those would be available for pickup from my White Settlement Lowe's in seven days.  Wait, what?  You can do that with lights but not with a garbage disposal?

Plow through.  Just plow through.

Started ordering cabinet hardware and switch plate covers.  Hit a switch plate cover that was not in stock at my White Settlement Lowe's.  No problem - I pressed the virtual button that told the Web site that I would pick up that item at my South Fort Worth Lowe's.  Hey, I own a home by one, and I currently live by the other. Not a big deal to make two trips.

Except . . . the Web site would not allow me to agree to make two trips.  Either EVERYTHING got processed through one store or it all went through the other. Needless to say, neither store had my entire list in stock.

I decided that I could live without a 10% discount on the white switch plates, which I would purchase in person at my South Fort Worth Lowe's at another time.

Finally reached the end of my FIFTY TWO-ITEM LIST, which, when all was said and done, contemplated having three items (disposal plus two special-order switchplates) delivered to me, four more items delivered  to my local store next week and the balance ready for pickup that evening.

I tried to enter my 10% off coupon code. And the Web site wouldn't take it.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhm. I called my White Settlement Lowe's and was assured that, if I completed the purchase online and then brought in my purchase confirmation and coupon, they would rebill in-store and give me the discount. So I hit the "buy" button.

And the Web site informed me that I had successfully purchased a disposal, two pendant lights, two cabinet  pulls and two switch plate covers, but that "purchase of [two faucets and various hardware] is not permitted on this Lowe's card."

WHAT THE WHAT?  Basically, the site processed $450 out of my order, and denied $550, on a seemingly random basis.

First call went to Spouse:  what's our flippin' credit limit with these people?  (High.)  Are we near the limit? (Nope, nowhere near so - very small balance that remains because we are taking advantage of zero interest financing.)  Did we miss a payment?  (Nope.  Electronic transfer credited two days prior to the due date.)

Second call went to Bangalore:  what gives, people?  I was told that my account had a fraud alert associated  with it and was asked to hold while they transferred me to that department. Mid-transfer, my cell phone rang (I was calling from a land line).  It was an unknown number.  I had the fleeting thought that it was someone calling from Lowe's, BUT SINCE I WAS ALREADY ON THE PHONE WITH LOWE'S, I decided to continue to dance with the ones that brung me.

Somewhat hostile fraud account specialist got on the line:  they had detected suspicious activity on my account, and the computer system  reflected that I did not respond to a call to my cell phone to verify said activity.

[Serenity now, serenity now.  OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHM.]  "Is it possible that the alleged fradulent activity occurred, like, within the last ten minutes, and the call to my cell phone was, like, thirty seconds ago?"

"It's possible. The system doesn't reflect a time stamp."

"Ohhhhhkay.  So, listen, I didn't click over to talk to you, BECAUSE I WAS ALREADY TALKING TO YOU."

"You didn't answer your cell phone, ma'am."

"Right, because - okay, I concede the point. My bad - sort of.  Can you describe the 'fraud,' please?"

"You - or someone pretending to be you - charged more than fifty dollars, and that did not match up with your prior account history."

"Really?  Because I'm thinking that my charge history goes like this:  fifty dollars, fifty dollars, THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS, fifty dollars, fifty dollars, THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS.  Which translates into 'maintenance, maintenance, BIG HOME IMPROVEMENT JOB, more maintenance, more maintenance, ANOTHER BIG HOME IMPROVEMENT JOB.'  I'm gonna go out on a limb here and speculate that pretty much everyone's credit history with you looks EXACTLY like that, on account of how you are Lowe's."

"So you can confirm that you made three purchases today?"

"No, I can confirm that I made one purchase, which I have no problem believing that your dumb-butt computer system broke into three purchases.  Actually, I would like the record to reflect that I did not even make an entire purchase, because your dumb-butt computer system only let me make FORTY FIVE PERCENT of one."

My use of percentages stopped her in her tracks for a minute.  But then she continued:

"Well, our system shows three transactions, in the following amounts, and one says Philadelphia, another says North Carolina and the third says Texas."

"Yeah, that's pretty inexplicable - except those amounts add up to the fractional purchase that you allowed me to complete. So I'm gonna go further out on my limb and speculate that the 'three separate purchases' represent items that are shipping directly to me, items that  I'm able to pick up right now, and items that I am able to pick up at the store next week."

Put-out fraud specialist agreed that her system would identify such segments of my total order as separate purchases, arising from the respective relevant warehouses.

I opined to put-out fraud specialist that her system was really, irretrievably stupid.

She lifted the fraud alert on my card and invited me to place THE REST OF MY ORDER - AGAIN.  (Here's where I felt pretty smug about my anal-retentive spreadsheet, by the by.  Made for much simpler re-ordering.)

I invited her to put a note on her computer that if her system thinks a transaction is fraudulent, it should consider refusing THE ENTIRE TRANSACTION.  Perhaps with a note to the consumer to "please call cardholder services."  As opposed to processing roughly half of it and then stopping.  Seriously, how does that work?  I'm imagining the Lowe's computer brain scanning my purchases:  "Faucet, another faucet, twenty four cabinet knobs - OKAY, I'M GONNA HAVE TO CALL THIS ONE AT 'NINE DRAWER PULLS.'"  By the way, who bogarts a credit card and goes on a knob-buying spree?  Do we have statistics on this?

So I resubmitted the rest of my order.  Then I returned to actual work for awhile, result being that I didn't depart from the office until about 6:30.  Called Spouse on the drive home:

"So, we're going to have to go into Lowe's tonight, because the coupon expires today, and so we're going to need to claim the in-stock items, and then return everything, ON TWO SEPARATE INVOICES, and then repurchase everything with the coupon.  In other words, it will be just like we did everything in the store in the first place, except, at least, they will have assembled some of the stuff for us out of backstock?  Want to have dinner over in that neck of the woods?"

[Long pause.]  "It's Thursday.  I play tennis on Thursday."

"Okay, yes, I acknowledge that you generally play tennis on Thursdays, but IT'S ALSO SPRING BREAK. And, as you well know, Girl World shuts down during Spring Break.  No Woman's Club, no Junior League.  So, you know, you might want to give a girl advance notice that Boy World remains open, because, seriously, what the heck?"

I gave him a hall pass - told him that I would handle everything at the store, with kids in tow, and then feed the kids dinner.

Here's how THAT played out:

I realized that I did not have a complete invoice to take into the store. We had problems printing out the invoice from the home computer.

A few minutes after Spouse left, I realized that my only set of keys to the apartment were missing.  A hard-target search ensued.  We were ultimately able to leave the house, and lock the door behind us.

Given our delayed start, kids and I agreed that we would do Lowe's first and THEN have dinner.

Michelle in customer service greeted me with a big smile, and when I started to explain my situation, she said, "Oh, you must be Kathryn McGlinchey."  GOD'S HONEST TRUTH, I HAVE NO IDEA HOW SHE KNEW MY NAME, BUT CLEARLY MY TALE OF WOE UP TO THIS POINT HAD BECOME THE STUFF OF LOWE'S LEGEND.

We returned batch of items #1.  The computer instructed Michelle to give me a penny - notwithstanding that we were crediting my Lowe's account.  We both shrugged, I accepted a penny, and we moved on.

The computer would not allow her to credit the disposal to my account.  We were finally able to determine that the disposal purchase was never actually processed - notwithstanding that it was identified as the part of the initial sale that did go through.

We got everything credited.  Then Michelle advised me that she could not ring up special orders directly, so to apply the 10% to one unified sale, electrical would need to invoice electrical special order stuff, hardware would need to do the same, and then she could add those invoices to the bill for the in-stock stuff.

I was introduced to Incredibly Helpful Lowe's Employee #2.  As a "hardware" employee, he was only supposed to process my two special order cabinet pulls - because, in the weird world that is Lowe's, switch plates aren't "hardware," they are "electrical."  Whatever. He summoned the cabinet pulls on his magic handheld computer.  He prepared an invoice.  At this point, the kids (who were doing everything they could to try to kill each other, and take out a Lowe's big box in the process) started threatening each other with the giant wood staples that were in a box on the counter.   I confiscated staples from PJ. I confiscated staples from C.  I told C to produce the staples that he was palming in his other hand, or else.  And, out of the corner of my eye, using my supermom peripheral vision powers, I caught it:  "You are invoicing the polished nickel pulls.  They need to be satin nickel."  Minor catastrophe avoided.  Pulls invoiced.  Then HLE #2 offered to pinch-hit for "electrical" and see if he couldn't pull up the other special order items for me.  We found the pendant lights.  I confirmed the item and model number, but - after Nickel Hardware-gate - he was skeptical:  "Are you sure that these are the ones?"  Yes, because at this point I have ordered them THREE SEPARATE TIMES.

Second special-order invoice processed. Fifteenth threat of death to squirmy offspring issued.

HLE #2 proceeded to try to find my hammered bronze switch plates for the hallway. Item and model numbers assigned to said product corresponded to lawnmower parts.  God bless him, he typed those numbers in over and over, like he thought he might beat the system into submission.  The whole time, I was saying, "You know, I really only care about getting the discount on the big-ticket items.  I don't care if we leave the switch plates out - we're talking pennies, anyway.  And Michelle gave me a penny, because the computer told her that she had to.  Also, I am afraid that one of my children will eat the other one, a la the Donner Party, if I don't feed them soon. So,  if we could just move on to the disposal, we'd be golden."

The disposal ended up being my Waterloo.

HLE #3 and  #4 were enlisted, because, once again, the numbers assigned to the disposal did not seem to correspond to a disposal at all.  Hence the reason that the computer would not allow Michelle to credit me for it:  I never purchased it at all, because it was, online, wholly unpurchase-able.  The six of us (me, the three HLE's and the kids) ended up taking a field trip to the other side of the store, where we located the demo model and the actual item number.  Third invoice was processed - using my phone number but with an 817 area code substituted for 682.

"Um, I'm not that guy in Arlington - I don't live in Arlington, and, technically, I'm not a guy - and Michelle said that she would access all of the special-order invoices using my phone number . . . ?"

"It's okay, she can change it from her terminal.  Are you sure you don't want us to locate those switch plates?"


I was reunited with lovely Michelle - the sunniest, funniest and most helpful HLE of all.  She confirmed that she could NOT, in fact, apply invoice #3 to my account using the phone number of some random guy in Arlington. HLE #3 was recalled and invoice #3 was re-rung.  Michelle processed my order.  She scanned my 10% coupon . . .

. . . and it was rejected.  Because the Computer from Hades determined that it expired on the 12th, notwithstanding the fact that the face of the coupon clearly stated the 15th.

Here's the part that makes everything worthwhile:  the White Settlement Lowe's backs up to the Joint Reserve Base.  Lowe's gives a 10% discount to service members, and - because they use that code a lot - they have the SKU right there at the register.  It was decided that the service member discount would be substituted for my coupon promotion.

Given that I would not have spent the last seven months of my life fighting a soul-sucking battle with USAA if I hadn't been born an Army brat, I thought that my honorary service member status was entirely appropriate.

We left Lowe's at 8:50 pm.  I had promised my kids, in addition to food, a trip to the nearby Best Buy to see if we couldn't locate the new "Justice League:  Doom" movie.  Best Buy was about to close, so we prioritized Batman ahead of sustenance.  (It was a unanimous decision.)   We almost didn't find the movie - as we were leaving the store, PJ spied it at the bottom of a "new releases" rack.  It really does help to be low to the ground sometimes.

We tried to order pizza from the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut combo on Camp Bowie.  Then Mom remembered that it's just a Taco Bell now.  Boys were set on pizza.  At this point, Fort Worth being Fort Worth, I looked up and realized that the car in front of me on Camp Bowie was Spouse's - he had just left tennis.  I radioed ahead, and Spouse agreed to pick up pizza.  It was the least that he could do.

And the boys and I went home to watch Justice League.  All's well that ends well.

Forgot to mention that just prior to my Lowe's debacle I remembered that today was the deadline for submitting dependent care reimbursement claims to our cafeteria plan.  I was fairly sure that, with all of the craziness post-flood, I hadn't turned in all of our camp receipts last summer.  Sure enough, I had left $500 in the couch cushions that was going to be forfeited to the IRS.  Scrambled and faxed in receipts, so let's review:

I bought roughly $1,900 worth of rugs, light fixtures, faucets, kitchen appliances and hardware today.

Promotional discounts got that down to $1,300.

Then I found $500 to throw at the $1,300.

So, $1,900 in value for $800.  Not a bad result, and makes up for the loss of $10 in college savings that I lost when we reversed the Web purchases.

By the way, that Web purchase ended up costing me two extra hours out of my day.   I bill $250 an hour.  $500 of my time, for $10 of college savings.

I like my first math problem better.

The next time you hear me say, "Hey, I could process this online and earn the kids $10 for college," please consider pulling a ten-spot out of my wallet and shoving it in my mouth.

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