Friday, October 22, 2010

A New Ploy To Extract More Money From The Comsumer?

Is "Out Of Stock" the latest in the lame bag of tricks that companies will be using, since outright heavy price increases don't go over too well in this economy? I'd say being on the lookout for more of this, might be in order. Not so clever re-wording (or re-framing) of the situation, does not help it fly, at least in my book. Here's a recent email exchange, for an example:
-----Original Message-----
From: Greg Gillette <>
Sent: Thu, Oct 21, 2010 4:25 pm
Subject: kava kava

Thank you for your continued loyalty to Whole Health Products.  We are writing because an item you have on your Convenience Plan, Kava Kava Extract 200mg, 150 capsules is out of stock and we do not have a tentative date for its return.
However, we do have the 60 capsule bottle in stock.  This product is identical to the product you have been receiving, except for the different capsule count per bottle.  The current price for the 60-capsule bottle for our Convenience Plan customers is $14.98.  Because you are a loyal long-term customer, we will give you a discount of 15% off that price, reducing the price to you to $12.73 per bottle.
Your Convenience Plan order was set up with 1 bottles shipping to you every 75 days.  If we do not hear back from you before this date, we will automatically change your shipment to the new size bottle and leave the quantity of bottles the same.
Please let me know if you need to change the quantity of the order to correspond with the new capsule count.  I apologize for any inconvenience.
Thank you,
Whole Health

Sent: Fri, Oct 22, 2010 7:35 am
Subject: Re: kava kava


So, out of the goodness of your heart you are going to give me 60 (60% less) capsules for the exact amount (to the penny) that I have been paying for 150 capsules? Does 'out of stock' mean you can't find a slightly larger bottle in which to put 90 more capsules, in order to honor our original agreement? Or perhaps this is actually just your way of increasing the per capsule price to me by 250%, and then attempting to explain away the increase with this unsatisfactory excuse. In any case, this is absolutely unacceptable to me.

Do NOT attempt to charge my card for anything other than what I agreed to originally, which is 150 capsules at the price of 12.73 per bottle plus shipping. That is my reply to your email.


I guess I should be thankful that they weren't waiting outside my home, with a loaded gun, to rip me off, eh? Maybe this is a kinder, gentler robbery technique that we are expected to accept without complaint.

What a world.

Now, here is the final email from Whole Health representative Greg "Little Shaver" Gillette:

-----Original Message-----
From: Greg Gillette <>
Sent: Fri, Oct 22, 2010 9:36 am

Subject: RE: kava kava
The Kava Kava raw material price has gone up tremendously in price. Our price went up and thus, our customers’ price did as well. I will cancel your convenience plan for the kava kava.  

It appears li'l Greggy-poo doesn't like being called out on bullshit, does it not? I know he's merely a sales-kid, who was just slammed against the wall, slapped and then forced to say the truth out loud. And, of course, I'm at least as remorseful as he is "sorry for the inconvenience." Maybe more. But it seems to me that not being certain when an 'out of stock' item will become available, and knowing you are jacking up a price by 250% are so different that the term "deception" is MORE than kind. And isn't deception just a milder term for "lying"? I'm just asking.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Grimes Sisters' Murders

I wrote this as a ''Guest Essay'' for the Doings-Weekly of Burr Ridge, an online paper which is part of the  Sun Times Media group. Some of my old friends in Chicago will remember this time gone by.

By the time I was 8 years old, growing up in the far western suburbs of Chicago in 1955, I was already an avid reader. At that tender age, I already had a small book library of my own, and my aunts and uncles used to subscribe me to youth periodicals. Newspapers were a daily treat, with Sunday being the biggest of them all. I would lie on the living room rug, reading each section from front to back.

That year, in October, a story appeared reporting the apparent murder of three young boys. The Schuessler-Peterson murders, as they would soon be known, were the precursor to what would soon become the loss of innocence for our family, and actually for an entire city.

According to reports at the time, two days after their disappearance, the boys' naked and bound bodies were discovered in a shallow ditch about 100 feet east of the Des Plaines River. A salesman, who had stopped to eat his lunch at the Robinson Woods Indian Burial Grounds, spotted them and called the police. The coroner stated that the cause of death was "asphyxiation by suffocation.

The three boys had been dead about 36 hours when they were discovered.

The mental picture of the bodies of three young boys, naked and thrown in a ditch in the neighboring county, wormed its way into my young mind. It was probably then that the stories of what can happen when a child "accepts candy from a stranger" started to make sense to me. I know I had been counseled even prior to that time -- particularly by my mother -- but I think parents began to intensify their warnings after that event.

A little more than 15 months later, another tragic discovery would shock the city.

On Jan. 22, 1957, the frozen, nude bodies of Barbara and Patricia Grimes would be found 25 days after their disappearance. Three days after the Christmas of 1956, the girls went missing after going to the movies to see Elvis in "Love Me Tender" for the 11th time. During the next weeks, even Elvis himself made a plea for the missing girls to return home, based on the assumption that they had run away. The hope was that the sisters, both avid fans of Elvis, would be moved by his personal message.

Runaways or not, they would never return home again. There were a number of conflicting stories and unverifiable sightings in the weeks following the disappearance. But no matter what, the actions of the girls after leaving the theater somehow put them in harm's way and brought about a tragic end less than four weeks later. 

At 9 years old, I followed the story with a deeper awareness than I had followed the Schuessler-Peterson murders. My younger brother, not quite 7 years old at the time, had been killed in an auto accident just eight months before the Grimes sisters' bodies were discovered. Death now had a new meaning for me, and I was probably still in shock over my own loss by the time I read about the girls' bodies being found.

The phrase "nude, frozen bodies" became like a dark, evil mantra that stuck in my mind. It still affects me today.

Up until that time, I can recall coming home from school to an unlocked house -- my lunch on the kitchen table -- and returning to school alone, not bothering to lock up behind me.

Those days ended abruptly. 

I'm sure that the Grimes sisters' murders erased any vestiges of trust in humanity that my parents might have had. I'm equally sure that most of the other Chicagoans of that day reacted in much the same way.

If there was any innocence left in the mindset of the City of Chicago regarding the possibility of horrible crimes against children, I think it died with two teen-aged sisters early in 1957.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Time For A Rant

Okay, enough reverie. Anyone out there up for a little ranting? I see a hand do? No problem; one vote is sufficient--even an imaginary one.

Today's topic, boys and girls, will be what NOT to get someone for a gift when your best idea is a gift certificate of some type. I'm not saying gift certs--or gift cards--are bad. They are just fine, unless you get hoodwinked into thinking that a Visa (or probably any credit card company name) gift card is a great idea. It's not; trust me.

On the surface of things, a $50 Visa gift card looks like a no-brainer, gift-wise. Pretty much a fifty-dollar bill, only plastic, right? No, in fact that's not at all what it is. It's a plastic pain in the ass, with hidden stipulations which are little extra pains in the ass. My sweetie works in a bank, and she told me that when somebody walks in with one, they all just cringe. Last week I got my education, first-hand.

The $50 Visa gift card sat around for a couple months after Christmas, until we finally decided to use it at a restaurant. Our bill came to a little over $30, and I left a cash tip. The math involved, to come up with the balance, was simple enough and we put the card away for another time.

A couple months later, which was last week, we decided to take advantage of one of the nearby restaurant deals, where you get two meals for $14.95. With a couple iced-teas and tax, I figured I was going to be fine with nearly $20 left on the card and some cash for a tip. I was wrong.

As we finished eating, I took the check and did quick math in my head. The balance on the card and six bucks cash would pay the bill, and still leave an appropriate 20% tip for the good service. Wrong again. The server had tried to put a little more than the balance on the card, and it declined. When he came back to the table and told us the problem, I explained that I had failed to tell him the balance on the card, and he went back and tried again.

This next time, the manager came back to try to help clear things up. After a quick explanation, he was off to make the transaction all come out right. Well, he tried anyway. If you are starting to suspect that our embarrassment index was up, at this point, you are right. All the time I'm thinking, "It shouldn't be this difficult."

When the manager came back again, he offered a little experience of his own, regarding Visa gift cards. He told us he had learned that some card companies actually hold 20% more than the amount swiped, possibly to cover a belated tip or something. At this point, we just told the manager to charge whatever would work and we'd cover the rest in cash, meanwhile letting the server keep the cash I'd given him originally. (Adding to the embarrassment, the server actually came back holding the cash saying, "Do you need this back?") I just wanted this transaction to be over.

Finally, the manager came back again. He told us that he had phoned the company, found out the balance (which was the one I had known all along) but that it wouldn't ring for that amount. The manager then subtracted 20% from the balance that the card company gave him, ran that amount, and finally got it to go through. So, one-half hour after finishing our dinner, and a little red-faced, we finally got out of the restaurant having paid an almost 30% tip and getting a real education about Visa gift cards.

When I got home, I just had to know what the fine print was on the back of the card. I promise you, I had to put on my reading glasses and take out a magnifying glass to be able to read the print. It confirmed what my sweetie had told me about no cash value (isn't that interesting), but said nothing about holding back any percentage of the charged amount. When I went to the website, listed on the card, it showed one figure for that day: 20% more than the amount on the slip I had been given by the manager. His take on this sneaky little procedure was accurate. Also, per the extremely fine print, there is a $2.50 per month fee for not using the card, starting in the seventh month after activation. It almost seems like they want to take as much as they can from you, even after charging a fee for the gift card in the first place, doesn't it? The word scumbag comes to mind.

So, does this sound like fun to you? I didn't think so. Had we been given a card for that very restaurant, everything would probably have worked out perfectly, but we were still on a learning curve at that time. The person who gave us the card, of course, had no idea what a fiasco it could be, either. I've had gift cards from everywhere I can think of, and never had anything remotely like this happen...ever. Forewarned is forearmed. Just trying to help.

My suggestion, should you ever get this type of gift card, would be to not use it at a restaurant or anywhere a tip might be assumed to be a possibility. I can't say for sure, but I don't think they'll hold 20% back for a fuel purchase, for instance. That may be the ticket right there. Let's say you get a $50 Visa gift card. You go to the gas station, tell them put $25 on pump number whatever (at least a 1/4 tank, right?) and wait a week or so and do the same thing one more time. The card gets run for 1/2 of the value (remember: no cash value), and then, even if they hold back 20%, a week later you should be good to go for one more gas station visit. This way, you can get every cent out of the card, and avoid the possibility of having to wash dishes at your favorite restaurant.

You can probably be a little creative, but I wouldn't veer too far from my little scenario. Oh yeah, and be sure to make it all happen in the first seven months after you activate the card. Clear as mud? Yeah, that's what they're counting on, I imagine.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mackinac Proposal

Being a little skittish, after my first marriage, my unofficial engagement to my 'eventually-to-be' second wife was rather long--seven years to be exact.

After holding off for six years, I decided to officially and traditionally spring the question while we were on vacation at our favorite place in the world; Mackinac Island. We had vacationed on the Island, known for it's tranquility and absence of motorized vehicles, for all of those six years and it seemed the most appropriate spot for my proposal. I purchased the nicest custom diamond ring I could afford, months in advance, and began to plan my presentation.

When Summer was just about over, we left on our yearly excursion to the island. I put the ring, in it's elegant, velvet lined box, in one of the shoes that I had packed in my suitcase. My plan was starting to crystallize, as we took the catamaran across the straits from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island. I decided that when we got to the island I would put the ring in my camera case, which I took with me everywhere we went, to maintain the secrecy of my plan.

When we got to the hotel, I was notified that most of our luggage had been misplaced. Panic set in. Every negative scenario ran through my mind, including the loss of an expensive, and irreplaceable custom made diamond ring. Our favorite employee at the Iroquois Hotel, a great fellow named Keith, got on the problem immediately. He assured us that he would locate the luggage and have it brought to the hotel quickly. His confidence was infectious, and I left the matter in his hands.

Very soon after, the luggage was in our room (it had gotten on the wrong boat) and, when my Bonnie was in the washroom, I put the ring in my camera bag.

Traditionally, we took long walks from our hotel to St. Anne's Church, on the motor vehicle-free streets, taking time to stop by a small general store for a drink or snack. Across from the store, was a little green bench in front of the old Congregation Church. I told Bonnie that I needed to rest and get something out of my camera bag. When we sat down on the bench I took out the little box and handed it to her, without saying anything. My proposal of no words was immediately accepted by the surprised and pleased look on my Bonnie's face.

For the duration of our stay, it was a perfectly idyllic and serene vacation.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tripping to Ottumwa

When my second wife and I first met, I had weekends off most times. So we'd go for long drives to nowhere in particular. One 4th of July, she accompanied me on a quest to my dad's old home town, which I hadn't seen since I was 12 years old. When we got there, it looked like Elgin during the first recession of the 1970's....bleak, empty, old brownstone stuff (I heard once that Ottumwa had never truly recovered from the Depression of the 1930's) and here it was the 4th of July and not a damned flag, sign, streamer or firecracker to be found. Very sad; I could see why my dad left at 16 yrs old.

Anyhow, we found a Comfort Inn, or something, just outside of town and started thinking about dinner. (no restaurant at the hotel) We saw this place, called the something Corral Buffet (we have a Golden Corral Buffet here in TN) and felt that a buffet would be great for two hungry folks. Being in Iowa, farm country, I decided I wanted a cut of some of the local beef. No problem for these folks. Turns out they had two choices on their menu that included steak: 8 oz. steak with baked potato, bread and buffet, or 12 oz. steak with baked potato, bread and buffet. $9.95 for the former, $12.95 for the latter. Ever the carnivore, I chose the latter. Geez, the steak was huge, as were the potato and chunk o' bread, but the buffet!! Sheesh, it was probably four 8' tables long, with roast chicken, fried chicken, baked chicken, brazed chicken, smoked ham, baked ham, meatballs of a couple varieties, sliced this and that meats, fish of a few varieties, spaghetti etc. Then as you got to the end, to come back up the other side, they had baked potatoes, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, beans, corn....well, I think you may have the picture now. I won't go into the long list of desserts on the other long, long table. I don't think I got anything from the tables, though. I sat down and ate my steak, about 1/2 of the football sized baked potato and some of the 1/4 loaf sized chuck of bread and sipped a little of my drink. I think I was pretty full, by the time we waddled out.

The funniest part of the whole excursion, though, was that as we sat there chowing down, the people that walked by us were frighteningly huge. Charter-bus sized behinds on many of them. Don't get me wrong, they weren't just obese people like you sometimes see around Chicagoland; these were huge farm people. The gals were scary, in a biker-chick sorta way. I think the term "cow-puncher" applied. Before butchering, they probably just had one of these farm gals punch the damn cow in the head to kill it. These huge, wide-assed women, all decked out in Osh-Kosh by gosh, could probably pick you and me up at the same time and fling us across the barnyard without any effort, I'm sure. So, my sweetie and I were most definitely the skinny kids in town. Felt good.