Consumer Retorts


          I’ll be sixty-three in a few weeks, which means I’m invisible to every marketer besides the ones who advertise on Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune. I guess I’m at that point where I simply don’t need anything, or at least not another one of the same thing. Madison Avenue must recognize that most of my purchases these days replace something that’s broken, worn out or outdated, not something new and shiny.

          I did buy a new winter jacket this past weekend because, for some reason, every jacket I own did not have nylon inner sleeves. This may be a trivial reason to buy a new jacket, but since ninety-nine percent of my winter shirts are flannel or corduroy, taking off a jacket without nylon inner sleeves is sort of the same as wearing clothes made out of Velcro and burdocks. If you combine that with the somewhat shortened range of motion of my left shoulder, watching me take off a jacket is the same as watching a turtle trying to wiggle out of its shell.

          In addition to nylon inner sleeves, I wanted a jacket with useful pockets inside and out, a collar that zipped up higher to keep out the wind, and a real hood, not a thin Rube Goldberg hood that unfolded out of the collar. I also didn’t want one of those newfangled layered jackets within another jacket within yet another jacket. It had to be a discreet color, lightweight and not have a zipper with two pulls. I have no idea why a jacket needs two zipper pulls. I have never, in my life, zipped up a jacket and decided that I wanted to unzip only the lower portion. I found a down jacket at L.L. Bean that checked all of my jacket boxes and remarkably, it only had one zipper pull. Sold.

          My consumer habits are pretty simple these days. I’m gradually replacing items that annoy the heck out of me. I recently replaced a pair of perfectly good slide-in slippers because they kept sliding off my feet, plus I couldn’t wear them to go up or down stairs and they forced me to shuffle when I walked. I kept envisioning the headline of my obituary: Local man killed by his slippers while shuffling down the stairs. I probably would have worn them a little longer, but my wife wisely said, “Why don’t you get slippers you like that won’t murder you when you’re walking up or down stairs?” So I did. I went online to Zappos and ordered a pair, which were on my feet fourteen hours later. I love them.

          The other aspect of my shopping habits is that I now buy what I want, not what is on clearance at Kohls that is close enough. This is within reason, of course, but in the case of the above-mentioned jacket and barring any unreasonable weight gain, I’ll be in my middle seventies before it wears out, if it ever does. As is the case with many older people, I’d rather have one good thing than five lousy things. I remember when I was about twelve, I inherited my grandfather’s wool Pendleton shirt-jacket and wore it until I outgrew it. That jacket had to have been thirty years old before it was finally retired.

          When I do go shopping in what is now called a brick-and-mortar store, I generally use a credit card because we get cash back and because I’m a practical older person, I appreciate somebody giving me money for doing something I was going to do anyway. Old people live for free money, which is why they search out useful coupons as if they were truffles. Not me, but other old people who have way more time on their hands, probably while watching Wheel of Fortune. The worst place to be in a grocery store check-out line is behind a senior citizen with coupons and a checkbook. If that’s the case, I hope you’re buying a chair, because it’s going to be a long afternoon.

          My phone is linked to my credit card because I like to pay for items electronically. It’s fast and efficient, which I appreciate. It’s gotten so bad, I’m annoyed when I have to take out my wallet and pull out a card and then figure out whatever idiosyncrasies the chip reader may have or in the case of a gas pump that doesn’t use a chip reader, figuring out which direction and how deeply the card goes in the slot and how quickly I have to do this. Why is the speed in which a card is put in and removed have to be so mysterious and magical? Who am I? David Blaine?

          There are times when I pay cash for items and the moment I do, I remember why I don’t.

          When did it become OK for cashiers to hand people a sandwich made out of a long, curly, thermal paper receipt which is under the bills which are under the coins? “Here’s your wad of whatever this stuff is. Now move along so I charm the next person in line with my indifference.”

          I’ll be honest here: I don’t believe anyone who works in retail can do any sort of math let alone make change without the machine telling them how much is due. I’ve never seen a cash register screen, but I’m pretty sure it says, “give them three paper slips with the one in the corner, the big, shiny thing that looks like a button and four of those brown things.”

          I like to be organized. I keep my bills in my wallet in order of value, the receipt goes into my shirt pocket and the coins go in the left pocket of my pants. What sort of parlor trick allows somebody to do all that with a disorganized collection of coins, rebate slips, scratch off discount nubs, Monopoly game pieces, regular receipts, survey forms, sweaty crinkly bra money and tri-folded bills without feeling guilty for holding up the line? I’ve seen women take upwards of an hour trying to rearrange everything in their purse after a cash transaction. Lately, I’ve been taking the time to slow the roll of the entire retail community and count my change. I put the receipt back on the counter, count the bills, count the coins and if it all checks out, I put it all away where it belongs.

          Yes, the fine line between me and check writers/coupon fiends is blurry, but I accept this because it’s my job as an older person to befuddle cashiers with my fussy old person insistence that there is a right way and a wrong way to do even simple tasks and the wrong way doesn’t fly. It could be worse. I could tell them endless stories about how we used to do things back in the twentieth century and how a cup of coffee was fifteen cents and a pair of Levi’s cost eight dollars and how we didn’t have forty-seven flavors of Cheerios or packaging that required a hacksaw and tin snips to get into. I could do that or better still, next time I’ll hand the cashier a twenty that has been folded into an origami swan.

            OK, now I’m heading straight to the Google machine to find out how to do that


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