Lame Adventure 394: Bragging Wrongs

See this bunch of spinach; it only set me back eighteen cents.

"I did not fall off a truck!"

“I did not fall off a truck!”

Yes, quite a steal because it was selling for $1.99 a pound. If there is one thing New Yorkers love to do it is brag about scoring something for almost nothing. I admit that I am guilty of this crime. And never more so, when six years ago I purchased a queen-sized, eighteen inch thick, pillow top mattress that was selling for $2,400; the Balthazar from the Simmons’ Shakespeare Collection. For you Shakespeare aficionados, surely you recall that Balthazar was a merchant in The Comedy of Errors. For everyone else, I drew a blank on that, too, until I Googled “Balthazar” and “Shakespeare’s plays” two minutes ago. When I went mattress shopping, I haggled with the salesman over price. I insisted that I was not going to spend more than a grand including tax and delivery. The best he could offer for this mattress was $1,600.

My eloquent response was a grunt in fluent monosyllabic, but he stopped me when I turned to leave. He insisted I wait for him to make a phone call. In the back of the showroom he made this vital call out of my earshot. Whether he was discussing the situation with The Powers That Be at his company or just counting sheep to dial tone, I’ll never know. He hung up the receiver and reapproached. He announced in a dramatic tone on par with Hamlet’s soliloquy or a cold sufferer that had experienced eight seconds of nasal relief via neti pot:

Mattress Salesman: There was a fire in a factory. The entire inventory has to be cleared. There’s one queen-size Balthazar. You can have it for $800. What do you say?

Me: Does it smell like smoke?

He claimed it did not. I agreed to purchase it. When I shared this news with my friends, one was certain that it would be delivered with a giant blood stain in the middle reasoning that it had probably been stuffed with a dead mobster’s body. But the mattress was delivered corpse-free and factory fresh. It truly was a great deal, especially when I ignore how impossible it is to find sheets that fit it.

My propensity to haggle has yet to extend to my grocer’s produce section. There, I search for what appears freshest at a price that is least extortionist. That day the spinach looked particularly verdant. If there was a spinach centerfold, this one was bursting with all the right leaves.

At checkout I noticed that the cashier ringing my groceries had not properly placed my spinach on the scale so the price for my bunch came us as eighteen cents. In these types of situations, I abide my personal code of ethics and point out the error. To knowingly remain silent would be theft or at least cause me a pang of lapsed Catholic guilt. Furthermore, I could tell this cashier was new. The cashier re-weighed the spinach. The price increased to $1.15. I reminded her that she needed to delete the eighteen-cent charge. The cashier then deleted the $1.15. I pointed out that error to her. She re-inputs the $1.15, but again, she fails to remove the eighteen cents. When I reminded her that she still needed to remove the eighteen cents, she added another $1.15. As the cashier removed the second $1.15, and I searched for a blunt object to bash in my own brains, a second cashier approached:

Second Cashier: What’s the problem?

I explained the situation, but strategically omitted the part about wanting to beat myself senseless with a lead pipe. She looks me up and down.

Second Cashier: You can’t afford eighteen cents?

Evidently, I looked like ten dollars that day, and I might add that in low lighting with my flab sucked in, I can still pull off eleven ninety-nine.

Me: It’s not the eighteen cents that’s the issue here. She needs to learn how to do this.

Second Cashier: Oh. Right. [To First Cashier] Let me show you how to do it.

The Second Cashier removes the $1.15. This goes on three more times. Neither of them can remove the eighteen cents. Both clerks are baffled, but only the Second Cashier looks ready to beat the register with … Hey, how about a lead pipe?

Me: Okay, stop. I’ll pay both the eighteen cents and the $1.15. Put the $1.15 back in.

Second Clerk: No. You’ve earned yourself an eighteen-cent spinach.

Documentation.

Documentation.

I return home with my essentially stolen spinach and immediately share this story with my friend and fellow haggler, Coco.

Coco: Wow! Score. You are on a bargain roll, paying couch change for greens.

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83 responses to “Lame Adventure 394: Bragging Wrongs

  1. Snoring Dog Studio

    You are my hero! My role model! I am so proud of you and I’m thoroughly impressed. This comes from the shrinking violet who would have ended up paying $1.15 plus a couple of bucks thrown in for their trouble. Of course, I’d have gone away disgruntled. I would have arrived home, demanding that my spinach outperform all other spinaches. I would have expected a $40 experience for the grief I had to go through. Could you please bottle up just a smidgin of that New Yorker hutzpah and send me some? I don’t need to go shopping for a couple of weeks, but I’d like to be ready.

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  2. You definitely deserved your eighteen-cent-spinach, V. The ethics gods rewarded you for trying! I don’t think New Yorkers are the only ones that love a bargain. My mother was the best of the best when it came to negotiating. Her favorite line when shopping in a antique store or appliance store was: “Is that your best price?” Almost always, it wasn’t…

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  3. Another title …. the Bargainess!

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  4. Popeye would be proud of you! You am what you am!

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  5. I got a good LOL. I can see it all happening. Thanks 🙂

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  6. Way to go! What did you do with the huge savings?

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  7. Hope you sautéed properly with onions and garlic and didn’t eat raw in salad. But you must do what you will.

    Take the “savings” and go look for another Elephant Man Muffin.

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  8. I apologize in advance if my first attempt at a post mysteriously materializes somewhere here at a later date. I had suggested that you sauté the spinach with your newly purchased garlic and, possibly, if you have one, an onion. I am not a big fan of raw spinach in salads. But to each his/her own.

    I had also thought you could take your “savings” and go in search of another Elephant Man muffin.

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    • Somehow your comments landed in the spam folder. I have no idea how that happened. It’s one of life’s great mysteries like Joe Biden’s hairline — where does it start and where does it end?

      I cannot eat either raw spinach or raw seaweed. There is something in both those greens that I quickly reject and the result can be a most unwelcome projectile. So, yes, I sauteed with garlic and olive oil. It came out well.

      As for the Elephant Man muffin, the tops have been disappointingly flat whenever I check them out in the muffin case. Another sign of life’s relentless downward spiral.

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  9. Hilarious, V. What was the deal with the 18 cents for cripe’s sakes?? But your good deed led to instant good karma. Don’t you love when that happens? Eighteen cents for that gorgeous plume of spinach was worth all that effort.

    P.S. Glad your mattress didn’t have any bloodstains on it. Or a big horse head, for that matter.

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    • That was the 18 cents that would not go away, that’s for sure, Brig. But I think what the store clerks wanted most was for me to disappear, “Take your spinach and get the hell out of here!”

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  10. Lame indeed – had you only dickered for another 7 minutes, (ab building time), I have no doubts your price would have dropped in half to only 9 cents.

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  11. V, you really remind me of me sometimes. I have a penchant for pointing out such errors with similar response from second cashier (“What? You can’t afford eighteen cents?”) To wit, somewhere in the archives of my blog is a story titled, “The Broccoli Episode.” And just the other day, I barely escaped the library before being dragged into a back room and pummeled by Patrick, the 13-year-old (or so he looked) new employee, because I couldn’t understand and — far from ever even hearing of Shakespeare — he and the other new employee were at a loss to explain in basic English why I was allowed only one library card rather than two (the second for another system in an adjoining county) and they were insistent on canceling the second card, despite my humiliated begging them not to, and renewing only the first card, which had expired. I’ve long regarded libraries as my place of refuge. So much for that. When I got home, without the book I wanted to borrow, I called the library in the other county and in one sentence the person kindly explained that the state had recently combined systems, so all I needed now would be one card.

    As a kind of backdoor positive, I must say I’m glad I’m not the only one that encounters this inanity. Thanks.

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    • I think the core problem here, whether it be the checkout line in my market or the checkout in your library, is training, assuming that everyone has at least a thimbleful of basic intelligence (but possibly I’m being generous). If people are not properly trained, when they encounter a ripple in their job that can lead to chaos, confusion, semi-free bunches of spinach and library books people want to read sitting on shelves, that sucks for all. So, I say the fish stinks from the head i.e., the problem is not the little guys in the thankless jobs, but their managers.

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  12. Once purchased a mattress, box spring and brass headboard for a relative pittance. Guy had me drive to some self storage facility somewhere in Jersey. Back in 1993 or 94–before I knew NJ very well. Was glad it, too, didn’t come with a body. But I did get distinct impression that it had fallen off a truck somewhere. Just cynical Italian in me rearing its ugly head.

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  13. Sometimes the best thing to come from a experience like this is a good blog post. So I’d say you really scored big-time.
    I must confess that I enjoy messing with young cashiers who have no concept of basic arithmetic. Sure, they can zip through complex calculus and trig problems, but give them a $5, two pennies and a dime for a $3.62 purchase and they’ll blow a brain fuse trying to calculate the change.

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    • Awwwwwwwww, thanks, Russell. I kinda thought I hit a new low over here writing about spinach. I recently resisted writing about zuchinni, my favorite squash, but just could not control myself this time. I love the image of blown brain fuses, probably because I have caused them on several occasions myself.

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  14. You deserved that spinach and a gold star for restraint since you did not bash your brains in.

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  15. Glad you stuck to your guns about that overcharge. It’s the principle of the thing – as well as the fact that the cashier should learn how to handle things. But we all love a good score at the cash register, don’t we? Recently I purchased a lot of fabric (for my quilts of course) because there was a great sale at a nearby shop. The 2 clerks cutting my fabric discussed the sale price and concluded that it was $4.50 per meter. I have no head for numbers, so I thought – sounds great. (It was $6 on sale last year.) Imagine my surprise when the cashier finished ringing in all 12 pages of my invoice and was approached by one of my clerks to say she had made a mistake – the fabric should have been $5.50. It was late in the day and no one wanted to do any extra work, so the cashier said, “Looks like you got a deal.” That saved me about $265 – not bad, right?

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  16. Result! Well done, LA. There’s a phrase about crime not paying, but those cashiers made such a song and dance about keying in the correct amount, that was a crime against cashiers everywhere, and, in fact, they should have paid you more for your time!
    I must say I flinched at the word ‘haggle’. I’m not confident enough to haggle. I now need to lie down at the very thought of haggling.

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    • Tom, they did pay me with spinach that I was more than willing to pay for all along, but I just wanted the cashier to better know how to do her job. As for haggling, I’m an advocate of the practice. Why pay more for something, when you can pay less — and then you can bore your friends for days yammering about it.

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  17. Good work! I’m quite glad someone is benefitting from the great ledger in the sky from when I was overcharged. Not often, but it has happened.

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    • Funny you mention that! I have been overcharged, too. But in those instances, I would not make a big deal about it to my friends, since there’s no brag involved in admitting I was charged twice for a guilty pleasure like dried fruit, something I might not want anyone to know I bought once. But I do tend to spill freely about everything to my go-to sounding boards, Milton and Coco. She has heard so many stories about all the socks I’ve lost at the laundromat, I think she hits the mute button on her phone the second I mention socks.

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  18. With my luck in stores, I would have been the person in line behind you. Always the slow line. Good score on the spinach though.

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  19. Little known fact: Balthazar was a mattress merchant.

    Second Cashier: You can’t afford eighteen cents?
    That line alone is worth the $1.15. And the reason I now go to the self check-out counter.

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  20. Oh this would send my better half through the roof. THB hates two things: incompetence and wasting time. But I have to admit, it makes for entertaining reading. Now I used to work with a register at a bookstore–it wasn’t that hard to remove a charge. These machines must have been designed my NASA or something and they didn’t have the right launch codes.

    Nice job with the mattress. Next time I’m in town doing some shopping I’m bringing you with me

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  21. Holy shit, LA, you have the patience of Job! I would have LONG before you, not only been tempted to bash my head with the lead pipe, but would have, in fact, done so. I’d say you earned your 18 cent spinach, if ever anyone did!

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

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    • There happened to be a lead pipe shortage at that moment, so I had no choice but to maintain the illusion of appearing calm and collected even if I was in point of fact screaming inside my head.

      Hugs back from NYC,
      V

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    • What’s with all the allusions to doing bodily harm to oneself this week? If anyone needed a thrashing it would have been a Fairway employee. However I want to be on record as NOT advocating violence of any kind. Even when it is deserved.

      Just think of me as a Quaker Wingman (sans the hat worn by the guy on the oatmeal canister).

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  22. I’m always curious to see how New Yorkers deal with life, and its everyday struggles. Thanks for showing us how human you all are. And it’s good to know that there are exemplary and honorable humans willing to persevere through all obstacles. ‘You can’t afford eighteen cents?’ … We all need our daily doze of humor. And, kudos to you, LA. 😉

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    • When you’re not a member of the 1% out here, you are kinda stuck being human, Arti. So, I know my lot in life. My usual response to a question like ‘You can’t afford eighteen cents?’ would have been ‘Eighteen cents is about all I can afford.’ But this wasn’t a situation that required my usual use of snark. Now that is indeed rare!

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      • As one of your loyal readers, I resent the implication that my family is either inhumane, or not human. I think we need to be painting with thinner brushes dear LA woman. Leave the hyperbole or your mayor-elect.

        Seriously how could NYC ever elect a guy who looked like the bookseller/terrorist wannabe (Alex Norton as Dennis Cooley) from Patriot Games starring Harrison Ford?

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  23. I’m not a haggler. In a previous life, I think I was a Moroccan rug merchant who died of starvation.

    I’m not one who cares much about mattresses, having slept on an egg-carton for a year+ in my twenties, although my wife cares about those things. However, if I were a 1970’s Lothario, I would LOVE to have that bed. I’d tell my dates, “You sure are a fox, Baby. I’ll bet you’d like to see my bed–it’s a Balthazar. Oh, yeah. And I’ve got awesome Star Wars sheets.”

    It’s that last line that melts the ladies’ hearts.

    And although I’m not a haggler, i was once the beneficiary of a wondrous and delightful computer era. Many years ago, when I was home from college, I bought a four-pack of Guinness from a local supermarket chain. The entire purchase came to $1.57–the price of a single can. I was moderately conscientious (although that certainly had its limits; see below), and pointed the error out to the cashier. She tried it again, but the computer was screwed up, and she didn’t want to deal with it, so she just charged me the $1.57.

    The error persisted for the entire summer. No matter how many cans of Guinness we purchased, it would always come to $1.57. However, we were crafty enough to purchase other items with our beer, so that no one ever again detected the error when we were purchasing. When I came from school at Christmas, they’d fixed the error. Still, it was a wonderful time.

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    • Thank you for sharing the tale of the era of the $1.57 Guinness four-pack here, Smak. That is something I would remember fondly, too. Of course, if shoppers were being charged four times the price of a $6.28 four-pack, $25.12, the shoppers would revolt, whereas essentially free Guinness had you coming back for “more, more, more” to get Billy Idol about it.

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  24. Very funny and well presented – my experience with too many cashiers, and persons with little power that feel the need to be in the drivers seat…

    I love spinach!!!

    R.

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  25. The happiest time of my life is when I get myself a nice bargain.
    Last time was with running gear, long story short (if I can), I ordered something online, they guarantee 2 days delivery, they didn’t delivered because it was damaged on transit. They didn’t have the products I’d ordered in stock so I had to get something else, that something was twice as expensive, but guess what? They didn’t charge me extra. I was delighted.

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  26. Ouch. I was ready to use a lead pipe on my eyeballs reading this. I see from your documentation that popcorn, garlic, and mushrooms were also purchased on this trip. Sounds like you had yourself a delightful saute of a meal for under $5. You are bargain-good.

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  27. A bargain is a bargain V. 🙂

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  28. I’m dying with laughter – you just made my day, and yeah, you earned every bit of that $1.15! 🙂 I, however, scored a bag of pasta for free this week and I’m not telling how.

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  29. I’m a lousy haggler but I’ll tell you right now, my dad would have loved you! I don’t know how an Irish Catholic became so obsessed with bargaining…oh yeah, the Depression, never mind.

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  30. BAHAHA! You can turn any of life’s small moments into the best story! Do those cashiers now consider you their new best friend or do you find them pointedly attempting to close their register for a coffee break when they see you approaching?
    FYI, I am the world’s worst haggler … sigh … However, I shopped online last night, after being pushed by some friends, and saved $600 on a fabulous cookware set for my daughter!!! No haggling required … but I felt like the best bargainer ever! (It was one of those “one day only” specials.)
    I hope you … and Milton too … have a joyful festive season! I know there will be hilarious tales coming. That’s your gift to us … no haggling needed!

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    • I have not seen either of those cashiers since the spinach debacle Patricia, so I suspect that you’re onto something and they are avoiding me like a bad smell.

      Congratulations on on scoring on the fabulous cookware set for your daughter. Snagging a good deal without having to haggle is infinitely healthier for the nerves.

      I promise you that Milton and I will undoubtedly be up to all kinds of shenanigans in 2014; that’s pretty much inevitable the way we roll

      We hope you have happy holidays, too!

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