Back in the days of the Cold War, one form of propaganda (hey, there’s a word you probably haven’t heard in a long time) was to show people behind the Iron Curtain waiting in line for staples like bread and meat. The lesson: people in communist countries did not have the constitutional right to go down to 7-11 and get a massive cup of soda pop that would eventually give them diabetes and other maladies.
Now, even in so-called Communist countries, like China, capitalism is chic. People have – to use one of my favorite portmanteaus – affluenza. Yet here in the United States, the country that took capitalism to its zenith, we seem to have lost the concept.
Capitalism, after all, is the precept that if enough people want something, some smart cookie will build it. So why can’t I get what I want? To wit:
Groceries. I walked into the brand-new Safeway store in our neighborhood, at least 50% bigger than the store it replaced, and it has seemingly an entire aisle devoted to yogurt. Greek yogurt. Low-fat yogurt. Non-fat yogurt. Fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt. Store-brand yogurt. But you know what? No soy yogurt. At least, not the brand of soy yogurt that my wife – in her effort to consume less dairy – wants. How could they miss the one thing I wanted?
Technology. A couple of weeks ago, my Hewlett-Packard laser printer finally died. It was so old I couldn’t even remember how old it was. It wasn’t even the printing mechanism. A little prong on the plastic cover had broken, but it prevented the cover from closing, which in turn apparently made the printer think it was still open.
But when I called the technician that serviced it previously, I got voice mail and left a message. No response. I called again and got a human; asked him if he could replace the plastic cover. He said he’d check and I never heard from him. I left another message and … still haven’t heard from him. I’m still not sure how he makes money, and I didn’t have the heart to explain capitalism to his voice mail.
Figuring I’d gotten enough use about of the first printer, I bought another HP LaserJet. I took it out, plugged it in, downloaded the drivers … and nothing. Just an arcane error message and blinking red lights. I called the support number that came with the printer, and the technician’s response floored me. “I’m going to send you a reconditioned printer,” she said. “No, you’re not,” I told her quickly. “I just bought a new printer. Why do you think I would accept a reconditioned printer?”
I took it back to Office Depot, where there was a little bit of a kerfuffle because they’d given me the option of e-mailing me my receipt. I couldn’t show it to them, of course, BECAUSE THAT WOULD HAVE REQUIRED A WORKING PRINTER. Hesitantly, I exchanged the printer for an exact same model, the only difference between the first one and the second one being that the second one actually worked when I plugged it in.
Phones. Last week I finally got fed up with being razzed for having a flip phone, so I went to the local outlet of Sprint – from whom I get wireless broadband, cellular service, and a 4G-enabled iPad – to upgrade to a smartphone. I was told the wait would be about 20 minutes. I spent most of the time thinking about some case studies I’ve been writing about wireless carrier T-Mobile, which is making extensive efforts to provide exceptional customer service to win customers away from competitors like Sprint.
After twenty-five minutes, there were still two people ahead of me, so it seemed less important to move from the 20th to the 21st century, cell phone-wise. Realizing that Sprint is now attempting to acquire T-Mobile, I left, much sadder than when I walked in.
Tumblers. We had a couple of coffee travel mugs that, after many years of use, were getting harder to clean. So we set out to find new tumblers with two parameters, neither of which we thought of as daunting. We wanted them to be dishwasher safe, and we wanted them to be made in the United States. [Insert raucous laughter here.]
In our search, we mostly found tumblers from China. Sometimes only the lids were dishwasher safe (who the hell cares if the lid is dishwasher safe?). Thermos makes plastic tumblers in the United States, but they don’t hold coffee. Their coffee tumblers were built “in the Orient.” I wanted to inform Thermos that referring to Asia as “the Orient” was considered racist, but I didn’t want to prolong the interaction. They were, however, dishwasher-safe, so I ordered two.
These are just the recent examples. I could tell you stories about shopping forays in the pre-Internet past that were just tortuous, especially after the realization that the moronic salespeople not helping me were probably allowed to both drive and vote.
I can only console myself with the realization that, as we’ve gotten older, we just don’t need that much stuff anymore. That’s good, because if this keeps up, I’m never buying anything ever again anyway. Take that, capitalism.