Karma is a strange thing, especially technological karma. Most of my friends have bad-tech karma to one degree or another. My friend Marcus Vowell has bad tech karma which causes every new piece of technology he buys to arrive pre-broken, a syndrome he calls Marcus Got The Broke One. Spends an awful lot of time on the phone with warranty clerks. My friend Joe Evans has bad car tech karma and can’t seem to keep a car for more than three years without it self-destructing in wildly creative ways. My friend Matthew Jamison has bad personal tech karma which, combined with some rather freakish body chemistry on his part, causes his body to drain all the power out of wrist-watch batteries within hours of putting one on. As for me, I think my tech karma is merely flawed, resulting in what I call Eric Can Never Have Nice Things Syndrome. I have nice things, sure, and while they’re not exactly broken, there’s always a but. My car is nice, but the windshield washer fluid chamber leaks like an SOB. My stereo is nice, but it skips every 20 seconds when playing CDs. My VCR is nice, but it refuses to let me program it anymore. My Dish Network system is nice, but it keeps deleting some of my network channels and it can’t make the VCR do my bidding any better than I can. And don’t even get me started on my former vehicle—the blue, 1985, Chevrolet Caprice Classic, affectionately known as the Bent Turd—nor its many radiator problems.
I used to think that this flawed tech-karma was a result of my being a cheap bastard and my refusal to buy quality technological components in favor of cheaper, crappier ones that fell off of trucks. After some research, though, I found that it doesn’t matter how much I pay for something, or how few trucks it may have fallen of, there’s gonna be a flaw in it regardless. This is especially evident in my computer.
In 1999, before I left Tupelo, MS, I purchased a new computer, though I didn’t do it all at once. My cohorts in crime, Gordon Carskadon and the aforementioned Matthew Jamison–fellow charter members of the Manly Bladder Club and the two people who had served as almost full-time consultants for all my old computers–planned out a new and better system for me that they would assemble from new parts. They listed off all the parts I’d need and told me where to get them. A short time and several successful Fed Ex and UPS deliveries later, I had a new and wonderful computer system that left my old one in the dust. Gordon had even gone so far as to overclock the Celeron chip so that it worked even faster than it was designed to. Sure, it did need a special cooling fan, fitted snugly to the chip itself, in order to keep it from overheating, but that’s standard procedure among us computer geek-types these days. Didn’t matter. I just knew that for the first time in recorded history I owned a computer that surpassed even Matthew’s in speed and coolness. I had finally broken my flawed karma curse.
Nine months later, in my then new home of Charlotte, North Carolina, the hard-drive started crapping out on me. I ran diagnostic programs from the manufacturer’s website and the bad news was that the drive had less than a month to live. Fortunately, it was still under warranty so the manufacturer sent me a new one for free. Unfortunately, I must have caught a case of Marcus Got The Broke One, because the new drive came pre-broken for my convenience; a fact I didn’t learn until after I spent several days and nearly $300 in phone calls to Matthew attempting to format the new drive and install Windows 98 on it. The manufacturer had to replace it again, and I had to start over.
About two months ago, in my new, new home in West Virginia, my computer began making a kind of odd, repetitive noise that sounded like a 1987 Ford Festiva engine idling. It sped up and slowed down and sped back up again but never quite went away. Matthew and Gordon suggested I check the cooling fans, cause if they were bad I needed to replace them before anything overheated. Sure enough, it was the Celeron chip cooling fan, clogged with two years worth of dust and debris. I bought a can of compressed air and cleaned it out good, but it still sounded a little off. After another month, it began to sound less like a 1987 Ford Festiva idling and more like a Ford F-350 Lariat, that’s thrown a couple of rods, idling. It was time to buy a new chip fan.
Last Monday, I ordered one and I wasn’t playing around this time. I picked out a Celeron Slot 1 Heatsink with Dual Cooling Fans—which my wife contends will just be twice the parts to break, but bigger is better in my book. In order to have the fan in my computer as soon as possible, I paid $9.90 for Fed Ex 2 Day Shipping. (This is the part where Shirley the pianist plays a scary chord.) Within an hour, the parts company had e-mailed me an invoice with my correct shipping address, phone number, e-mail, etc., and said the order had been processed and would be shipped shortly. I figured the fan would probably be in on Wednesday… Tuesday at the earliest.
Here is a reconstructed diary of the week’s events:
DAY 1, TUESDAY
Not much going on. Fan still idling noisily. Have taken the cover off the CPU case to allow the cold, January, West Virginia mountain air that is constantly seeping in through the cracks around our windows to flow freely through the computer’s guts. Had to go to my library workplace at 1, but wasn’t expecting Fed Ex today anyway.
DAY 2, WEDNESDAY
Off from work today. Sat around waiting for Fed Ex but they didn’t show. My heart skips at the sound of every truck on the road, but it’s never them. Perhaps the parts company didn’t get it shipped until Tuesday morning. They were only in Ohio, though, so the new fan should be here tomorrow. Hands cold now. So very cold.
DAY 3, THURSDAY
Still no Fed Ex. Had to go to the library for work at 3, but sent e-mail to the parts company asking for the tracking number. Not sure if it got through, because I replied to their auto-responder message from Monday. Tried again before bed, sending message directly to the company’s official e-mail address. Need to find electric blanket. Damn base-board heating!
DAY 4, FRIDAY
Parts company still hasn’t written back. Busied myself making a broccoli chicken casserole for the potluck dinner we’re attending tonight at the home of one of my wife’s med-school anatomy professors. After the party, we’re supposed to go to the alumni center for dancing and booze (read, watching medical students get outrageously faced and stumble around the dance floor for four hours. And since the wife is a designated driver, we’ll have to stay till the bitter end. On the upside, at least I can take snapshots for use in future blackmail schemes.)
At 4:30, I got sick of waiting for the parts company to write back, so I phoned them. A very nice lady named Marlene answered. She said they were having e-mail server troubles, explaining their lack of e-response. She confirmed my fan had been shipped on Monday and should have been in my hands long before now. “We could have sent it ground mail and it would have been there sooner!” she said. Marlene gave me the tracking number. Fed Ex’s tracking website said my package has been in Beaver, WV, for two days. It said something about there being an incorrect address issue. Damn straight, since I live in Ronceverte and Beaver is 40 miles away.
At 5 p.m. I phoned Fed Ex to ask why my fan was in Beaver. The operator lady explained that Beaver is their local hub, so it would make sense for it to be there. She further explained that there had been some sort of mix up and that they had tried to deliver the package to the wrong address. I told her I was a bit put out that I paid $9 for two day delivery and still didn’t have my package and was wondering what sort of compensation Fed Ex was going to offer.
“Well, I don’t think they’ll pay for this,” she said. “In these cases, our drivers have until 7 p.m. to make the delivery before we consider it late. So the driver will probably be by to drop it off to you before seven.”
“That’s all well and good, but my 2 day delivery package was shipped on Monday. Today is Friday.”
After a moment of doing the math she said, “Oh.” She then apparently looked at her screen again. “Well, this says that they tried to deliver it on Wednesday the 9th, but no one was home. Did they leave a door tag?”
Was she just making this up now? She had just told me that they had the wrong address in the first place.
“No,” I said, after fuming for a moment. “They did not leave me a door tag.”
“Well, since there was no door tag, you can probably fight this and get compensation.”
“I would hope so.”
Ms. FedEx explained she would contact the Beaver Dispatcher and that he would phone me for directions to my house so the delivery could be made by seven tonight.
“Well, that’s going to be a problem,” I explained, remembering the dinner party. “I’m leaving shortly and won’t be home until late.”
“Would it be okay for the driver to leave your package there?” she asked.
“If he can find the address, sure.”
“Oh, that’s right. He’ll need directions.”
“Yeeees,” I said, nodding my head.
Ms. Fed Ex seemed at a loss for what to do, so I suggested that I leave the directions as the outgoing message on my answering machine so the Beaver Dispatcher could phone and get them. She agreed that this would probably work, but that if my package wasn’t to me before seven then it would definitely be here some time on Saturday and that the Beaver Dispatcher would be calling me for directions then.
“And who do I call about the compensation?” I asked.
“Well, first the package will need to be delivered, then we’ll reimburse the shipper who can reimburse you.”
I’m happy to report that when I called Marlene back to let her know this, she had already spoken with her boss and they were going to refund my shipping charges regardless of whether Fed Ex reimbursed them. They certainly didn’t have to do this, but it sounded like good business to me.
The dinner party was very nice and great food and booze were had by all. However, the evening was clouded for me by the fact that Fed Ex was being such a skid-mark in the underwear of my life. I decided to skip the post party drunken dancing session and head home to see if my fan had indeed arrived. It had not. Nor had either of my two working caller-ID boxes registered ANY phone calls while we’d been away. The Beaver Dispatcher hadn’t even attempted to call.
DAY 5, SATURDAY
Bad omens from the get-go. While helping clear out our extensive collection of paper piles, I stumbled upon an uncashed refund check for the amount of $6.25 from the Tombigbee Electric Power Ass. It was dated October 21, 1997 and paid to the order of my wife. Already the monolithic corporations were insinuating themselves into my day, even rising up from the far buried past in which I briefly didn’t exist. This did not bode well.
After spending the entire morning off the internet so as to allow free flow of incoming calls, I phoned Fed Ex to find out what was going on. Ms. Fed Ex #2 told me, in what I detected to be a haughty tone, that the Beaver Dispatcher had noted in my account that he had phoned me Friday night and that I had not been home.
“Uh, no. He didn’t,” I said.
“Yes. It says right here that…”
“No. He did not call because if he had it would have registered on my caller ID and there were no calls on it between 5:15 and 8 p.m. last night.”
“Oh,” she said. She looked at her screen again. She confirmed my phone number to make sure they had it right. They did. She tried again… “Well, maybe he just didn’t listen to the answering machine message for the directions.”
“That might have been the case, had he called at all. But, as I’ve mentioned twice now, he did not call.”
Ms. Fed Ex #2 said she would send a message through to the Beaver Dispatcher telling him to call me immediately. If he hadn’t phoned within an hour, she said I was to call Fed Ex central back.
I gave him an hour and a half before calling back.
Ms. Fed Ex #3 sounded like a force to be reckoned with. This was no namby pamby Fed Ex operator. She had the voice and demeanor of a large black woman who, very politely, wasn’t taking any guff from angry customers. Every time she sensed that I was getting pissed off, which was pretty much the whole call, she’d slam on the breaks, with varying degrees of success. Having worked in a call center myself, I could respect that. Still, I launched into my tale about the bastard Beaver Dispatcher and stopped only when she interrupted to make a point.
“Fed Ex doesn’t deliver to your area on Saturday.”
“We don’t deliver to your area on Saturday unless you specifically requested it.”
“I did!” I shouted.
“I don’t show that here, sir.”
“But I called yesterday and was told…”
“There’s no need to shout, sir. I show that you called yesterday and when your local dispatcher called you back, you didn’t answer your telephone.”
“NO!! He never called! I’ve got two caller ID’s and there were NO CALLS!!”
“Sir, I’m not going to get into an argument with…”
“I don’t care what he wrote there! He didn’t call!”
“Sir, I will not argue with you on this…”
“This thing was supposed to have been here Wednesday!”
“And I’m trying to explain to you that don’t deliver to your area on Saturday, unless by request. Now did you request Saturday delivery?”
“At this point, I’m requesting that it be delivered at all.”
I briefly ranted more about being promised Saturday delivery by the last two operators, but Ms. Fed Ex #3 explained that Ms. Fed Exes #1 and #2 had evidently been talking out of their asses and had not checked the local hub status or they would have seen that not only did the Beaver Hub not make deliveries on Saturday, but that it was not even open on Saturday. Bastards!
DAY 6, SUNDAY
Went to church. Prayed for patience with those more incompetent than myself, prompt delivery of my fan on Monday, and that the new year will bring a lot less Terry Bradshaw during TV commercial breaks. In other words, a miracle.
DAY 7, MONDAY
Week two of Fed Ex’s 2 Day Delivery Service, begins.
At 10 a.m. I hopped on the Fed Ex tracking site and saw that my package was still sitting on a shelf in Beaver. I wanted to call Fed Ex and yell at them. I wanted to hold the receiver into the open guts of my computer and scream, “Do you hear that hideous noise? That’s the sound of my computer slowly dying because it’s Celeron chip is over-heating! Sure, I’m the moron who keeps using it anyway, but that’s beside the point. Is it too much to ask that when you pay for a guaranteed delivery time of two days that you get it? Is it too much to ask that I not be repeatedly lied to by some guy in Beaver? It’s not like I had my package shipped by the U.S. Post Office, which openly admits their 2 Day Delivery service is merely an unrealistic goal to be ignored. You’re Federal EFFing Express! You’re supposed to be the Mack Daddy when it comes to getting people’s crap to them on time! Now somebody up there needs to get a boat, go get Tom Hanks’ and his volley ball off the damn island and bring him back stateside so he can whip your doughy asses back into shape! If this goes on any longer, I’m gonna order a new fan and have it send two day UPS and we’ll see which one gets here first, 7 day head start be damned!”
This I did not do.
Instead, I opted for the nice approach. When Ms. Fed Ex #4 answered, I asked for the status of my package. She took my number and scanned the now lengthy adventures of my non-delivery. According to her screen, the lying Beaver Dispatcher had not only added a second attempted call to Friday evening’s activity, he’d also touched up the record to include a failed delivery attempt at 5:41 p.m. on Friday. According to him, the delivery didn’t go through because “customer not available or business closed.” Someone was trying to cover his ass.
I informed Ms. Fed Ex#4 of his treachery. I was even diplomatic about it, suggesting that he may have had the wrong address and phone number. Nope. She rattled off the correct contact information to me. Again I was vindicated. By the end of the call, Ms. Fed Ex #4 said that her screen showed my package had been loaded on a truck and was headed out for delivery. She would, again, have the Beaver Dispatcher call me with an ETA. She also took down the directions to our apartment and said she’d forward them as well. While that was great, it still meant I was stuck in the house all day, with no access to the internet, least dispatcher bastardo actually phone and find the line tied up. I couldn’t even leave the house for lunch at my favorite Chinese buffet, but then I remembered that they had been closed down recently because someone found a tooth in the food. A human tooth. With pulp. A mixed blessing, really.
By 4 p.m. I had a headache from plotting my revenge against Fed Ex. Just as well, since I had to leave to pick up the wife at school. I left a note for the Fed Ex guy, giving him permission to leave my package there, as it would be just like them to turn up or call during the ten minutes I would be gone.
When I got back there was still no caller ID appearance and no package. The wife needed me to follow her as she drove her car to a nearby repair shop to get a new clutch installed–further proof that bad tech-karma is contagious–but I didn’t want to go. Fed Ex had probably let me leave once to lull me into a false sense of security so they could drop by as soon as I went out again, then refuse to deliver my package. They’d probably leave a door tag telling me to drive 40 miles to Beaver to pick it up. Why not? They weren’t making any money off this anymore, so what did they care? The wife saw the dementia in my eyes and decided to ask a neighbor to help her. It was a good thing too, because they weren’t even out of the parking lot when the phone rang. It was Mr. Fed Ex Driver. Finally!
The driver said he was on my road, albeit still not in the correct town. I laughed maniacally at him and then gave him proper directions to the house. When he arrived, I was almost surprised that he wasn’t the embodiment of evil I’d been expecting. He certainly did seem put-out that he had to trek down our narrow, winding, WV back road to deliver a package to a mere residence, though. No doubt I was a sight to behold, stalking to the door in my robe and slippers, unkempt and unwashed hair jutting in every direction, greedily snatching the package away from him. And while I was tempted to pelt him with some old UPS boxes I had lying around, I let him go back into the wild, unscathed. No use further tarnishing my karma.
There are now two codas to this story.
By the following Friday, I had pretty much settled back into my usual schedule of not obsessing about my hatred for Fed Ex when tragedy struck. I went in to the library at 1 p.m. and had not been at work for 20 minutes when a familiar face walked through the door. Yes, it was Mr. Fed Ex Driver himself, coming in to do some internet surfing on his lunch break. I logged him onto the computer and quietly pondered the many ways I could make his day a little crappier, were I the kind of guy who went around doing things to make peoples’ days crappy. His big ol’ Fed Ex truck was sitting right outside, with easy access valve stems on its tires. But that’s just not me, man. Ruining his day would in turn ruin the days of the dozens of people across the county who had stayed home from work to wait on their 2 day deliveries, and Fed Ex is perfectly capable of fudging that up without my help. I gritted my teeth and behaved myself. I didn’t even snoop to find out what sort of porn this guy might be surfing for.
Temptation to commit unethical acts was not through with me, though. Mr. Fed Ex Driver left the library a half hour later, but managed to leave his wallet behind in the process. (Them online porn sites is `spensive!) For one brief moment, I held in my hands the power to put a severe kink in dude’s life. Again, though, that’s just not me. It’s not like he was the Beaver Dispatcher himself, or anything. This was just some schmoe workin’ for The Man like the rest of us. I put his wallet in the safe-box and put thoughts of revenge out of my head.
An hour or so later, the wife came in to visit and I told her of the destruction I could have wrought, were I the kind of guy who wrights destruction. We and the library staff all stood around, laughing and loudly discussing Fed Ex’s incompetence for several minutes until Mr. Fed Ex Driver startled us by suddenly coming back. The room became suspiciously silent as the subject of our little bitch session stood before us, looking a little nervous about having obviously walked in on something not for his ears.
“You, uh… You wouldn’t happen to…”
“…have your wallet?” our librarian finished. “Sure. Right here.”
Mr. Fed Ex Driver looked incredibly relieved when we handed it back to him. After he’d had a moment to search through it he said, “Wow! And all my money’s still there! I didn’t expect that.”
Perhaps he was just doubtful of society’s good intentions. Perhaps he thought we were laughing about having lunch on him. Or perhaps I’m not the first to have contemplated exacting revenge on this lowly minion of the Beaver Dispatcher.
The second coda to the story is that during the time it took to compile this tale, the radiator of my near perfect Malibu developed a leaky gasket or two and the scent of antifreeze is once more a familiar one around Chez Fritzius. We’re taking it in on Monday. Fortunately, this car’s still under warranty. And I can always use the Power Ass. check to help pay the deductible.