Friday, June 20, 2014

With a Little Luck

Sometimes, shallow things can bring you very up or down if you're feeling that they're "representative" of your whole place in the world at the moment. (See The Doors: "People Are Strange.") For instance, a couple of initially negative eBay buying experiences I've had in the past month. (Full disclosure: I've got 100% positive feedback on eBay, after maybe 500 buying/selling ventures over the past 11 or 12 years. So I'm a regular, not a flake, etc.)

In the first case, I ordered a print on photographic paper. The seller sent it in a tube that was nearly, I swear, as thin as a paper-towel roll -- you could easily squeeze the tube with your fingers. The tube was (not surprisingly) crushed during shipping, the photo torn and dented and undisplayable. I checked eBay rules: Even if the item is damaged during shipping, you get a refund. (In this case, it wasn't just the PO carelessness, though; it was also the flimsiness of the tube.) I e-mailed the seller , explaining the condition of the photo and offering to pay the new postage (but not my original $25 for the print) if he would send another copy of the print.  (The picture wasn't an original, just something he was selling copies of.) He initially admitted how much it cost him to make the copy/mail it --- with what I'd already paid + the extra postage I was willing to pay, he still would have made a small profit. Both of us would have been satisfied. But NO. When he asked for, and I refused to pay, another $25, I said I'd have to take the case to eBay to get a complete refund. The response? In brief, I was "what was wrong with America today"!! And if I took the case to eBay, he would sue me for libel. Etc. etc. (I kept getting increasingly nasty messages from him for the week or so it took eBay to review the case.)

In the second case, I ordered a tube of liquid hair product. I had various small packages arriving at the time, and this one showed up in a small padded mailing envelope. Not knowing what was inside, I cut the very top of the envelope off, no more than a third of an inch from the top. Well, there wasn't any extra room in the envelope, so when I cut the top of it, I also cut off the top of the tube inside! Hair product spewed everywhere! Had I been carelessly slashing away at the package? No, I had not! Was it stupid to pack a liquid in a padded envelope? Yes, it sure was! I e-mailed the eBay seller and told her what had happened; and I asked for what I thought was a completely reasonable partial refund of $5 (out of the $17 total) for the product spilled and the odd packaging for a liquid. Initially, the seller was quite honest: "I've been mailing my stuff that way because it's a lot cheaper." (!) And she said she'd refund $5 if I FIRST left her a positive review...  Whoa, Nellie! When I got that "offer," I checked with eBay policy... which said in black-and-white, "Don't leave a review until you receive your refund." By instinct, I KNEW that if I were to leave a positive review (which I didn't believe in), I'd have no leverage whatsoever if the seller decided to subsequently ignore the refund. So I e-mailed her back, citing the eBay rule, asking again for a $5 partial refund to officially "close the case." And then things changed from her end: I was careless in how I opened the package, there were a lot of untrustworthy people on eBay and she couldn't trust me since I wouldn't leave the positive review as a "gesture of good will." (Me: "My gesture of 'good will' was e-mailing you first before opening a case with eBay. And I in good conscience can't leave a positive review since this whole experience has been such a huge hassle!")

So both of these had been hanging over my head lately. I was actually low-levelly DISTURBED by the reactions from each of these sellers on eBay. A crappy mailing tube, a crappy envelope for a liquid --- while neither method had ever, apparently, "gone wrong" for these particular folks in the past, in my particular case, they DID go wrong. And once I called them on it, and asked for only a partial refund in an attempt to be fair, I started getting weird stuff like "You're what's wrong with America today" and I'm "untrustworthy."

Long story short: I got full refunds from eBay in both cases. A small thing, but it made me feel happy, like there's some sort of order and fairness in the universe...

And here's something else nice that just happened earlier this week: I've been ordering cigarettes from Eastern Europe for the past few months. The first time was a pure gamble, finding a random site online and then paying via PayPal for one carton. I had no idea if the carton would ever arrive. It was an experiment, and if I lost, I lost. I was prepared for losing some money. But no, the carton arrived in a couple of weeks. So the next time I ordered TWO cartons. They also arrived in a couple of weeks. But then... I ordered THREE. Thinking, "Hey, they've been completely reliable so far; I can trust them in the future with my monthly cig orders..." Over a month passed this time, and no cartons. My first e-mail of inquiry went unanswered. I was bummed out: I'd just lost $100. It had been a scam all along, as various message boards had warned. (The $100 loss was bad enough, but then there was also the worse future prospect of having to pay $70 a carton here in the US -- just as bad a ripoff, except PERPETUAL, since I haven't been thinking about giving up smoking.) But then, a week or so after I sent my first inquiry e-mail to the Eastern Europe company, I received a kindly, human response -- apologizing for the non-reception ("sometimes the mail is bad") and offering to re-send 3 new cartons. (!!!) I haven't yet received my replacement cigs, and I may never. But at the moment I feel hopeful. I could have heard nothing from the random online company. I could have been told in so many words, "Well, sorry, sometimes the mail is bad; you'll have to send us a new payment if you want us to try sending new cartons." But I wasn't told that.

And one last thing:

On the way home from work on the bus today, I got caught next to a "Crazeee." When he first got on, he sat at the back, and I only HEARD him bragging about his roll of money and bitchin' about how slow the bus was. He quickly got into a loud argument with another guy in the back and then moved up to the seat next to me. I was reading my "New Yorker." In response to his immediate insistent questions: "Yes, I like to read. No, I'm not from New York. Yes, it's called 'The New Yorker' but it's not necessarily about New York -- it's about art and books and politics and whatever. No, I haven't seen anything about Obama in this issue..." At this point, he starts going on about Obama, and I said I didn't care one way or the other, and he said he'll leave me alone to read, and I said "Great." Silence for about 10 seconds. Then he said he's sorry for bothering me and I said "Yeah, I really AM trying to read." He got out his roll of money again and said he was going to show some girl a really good time tonight. And I said, "Great." And then he started reading aloud from the New Yorker page I was looking at. At this point, I snapped and YELLED: "Are you REALLY going to start reading over my shoulder? Are you KIDDING ME?!"  This apparently freaked the Crazeee Guy out and he immediately moved to an empty seat across the aisle where, for the next 10 minutes until my stop, he muttered loudly about how fucking slow the bus was.

The thing about crazy (or semi-crazy) guys on buses (and this happened to me, or I've witnessed it, at least 8 times in the past 4 years): They see a white chick -- either young or, in my case, middle-aged -- and assume that we are going to be too polite to call them on their bullshit. So they feel that they can just continue to do their psychotic schtick, thinking they're scaring us or something. This time, you picked the Wrong One, you dumb fuck: Mean German/East-Texas Redneck who's been around the block a few times? G'head.

All of this wasn't the "With a Little Luck" nice part of the story. THAT came once I got off at my stop and was waiting for my connection to the next bus. A 20-ish Indian guy and his bike got off at the same time as me. I retreated the required 15 feet to smoke a cig (Austin bus-stop cig rules), and the Indian guy stayed for a couple of minutes at the curb, and then dragged his bike over to me...

HIM: Excuse me. Why would you let that man talk to you like that?
ME: [puzzled look]
HIM: I was sitting in front of you the whole time. Why didn't you tell the driver?
ME: That loud guy?
HIM: Yes! I couldn't believe you would just take that. Why didn't you tell the driver?
ME: Oh, I've seen so much worse! That wasn't even really a problem.
HIM: If the Austin transportation system wants to get professionals to ride, they're going to have to watch out for that kind of disturbance.
ME: [in short: No, really, I've seen a lot worse --- relaying the time last year that the gang-bangers were going on loudly about their sexual exploits the night before and I yelled at them to shut up, leading to a scary bus-standoff, where the driver finally had the guys get off]
HIM: Oh, I see.

We ended up chatting for several more minutes about how Austinites and Texans come from a car culture and don't yet know how to act on public transportation (as opposed to NYC residents, who for the most part view the public transport as a way to get around, not make personal statements). And how the #3 bus was so much worse than the #21 we were about to get on. Etc.

This conversation was a very good thing psychologically for me, because I'd previously just taken for granted that there were going to be creeps on the #3. If I felt that my space was invaded either physically or verbally by guys in seats nearby spewing out "Fuck this/Fuck that," then it must be something about ME that couldn't handle riding a public bus. What this young Indian guy helped me see from a fresh perspective was that it was the obnoxious people who were in the wrong, not me just sitting there reading.

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