Fourteen Ninety-Five

Brittany Frandsen

Anson Electronics paid my rent the summer after my parents kicked me out and before my boyfriend took me in. I functioned as a combination secretary/receptionist/accountant/ general-office-manager-of-one at Anson’s headquarters, a dumpy little building squeezed between a failing bakery and a thriving pawn shop. You know the type. No air conditioning but plenty of bugs.

I walked into work that Thursday morning to the shrill ringing of the phone. Wincing, I threw my brown lunch bag into the fridge with one hand and picked up the phone with the other.

“Anson Electronics. This is Heather.” I seated myself at the three-legged card table which served as my desk.

The voice on the other end brought the phone three inches from my ear. “I want to speak to your supervisor!”

“Please hold,” I replied. I set the phone down and walked back to the front door to prop it open with one of the bricks that had recently fallen from the hole in the ceiling. Returning to the card table, I attempted to switch on the Apple computer my boss had recently purchased and which occasionally worked. The computer whined feebly before returning to its lifeless stupor as I scooped up the receiver.

“This is Meridith,” I said.

“Hello? Hello? Are you there?” said the voice on the other end.

“Yes, ma’am. How can I help you?”

“Well, I don’t really think you can. Do you know, I’ve called six times this morning and this is the only time anyone’s picked up the phone?”

“We don’t open ‘til eight, ma’am.”

“Well, you should certainly have an answering machine. We purchased one six months ago, and I don’t see how any functional business can run without it.”

“Thank you for your suggestion, ma’am. I’ll certainly bring it up at the next staff meeting. You have a nice day now.”

“Where are you going? That is not why I called.”

“All right, what else can I do for you?”

“I need a refund on the toaster I purchased from your company.”

“Have you spoken to the store you purchased it from?”

“Yes, and they said they can’t give my money back, that I have to go through you.”

“May I ask why you’re unsatisfied with this appliance?”

“You certainly could! I have never been so unhappy with a product in my life. For one thing, the plug doesn’t fit into my wall socket.”

“Doesn’t fit?”

“No! It’s too wide. My husband tried to bend the little metal things that actually go into the wall so they’d fit and they still didn’t, so we had to pay an electrician to install a whole new wall socket.”

“Do you have the box the toaster came in?”

“Yes, that’s how I found your number. I’ve got it right here.”

“Look on the front of the box, lower-right-hand side, under the picture of the rabbit.”

“Okay, I see the rabbit.”

“Great. Right under there, it says to check your wall socket before you actually purchase the toaster to make sure the toaster will plug in.”

“Well, I didn’t see that before I bought the toaster.”

“Ma’am, I recommend that in the future, before you purchase an item, you read the print on the box. You have a nice day now.”

“Wait! That isn’t all.”

“All right. What other problems do you have?” I leaned back in the chair and put my feet up on the card table, which swayed and almost dumped the Apple onto the floor.

 

“Well, once we got everything set up and plugged in, we tried to toast some bread. But the toaster started to smell like burning rubber every time we used it! And then whatever we made would taste just like the toaster smelled.”

“Mm-hm. Ma’am, do you still have the toaster box in front of you?”

“I do.”

“Great. Open the box and look on the inside of the lid. Do you see the writing there?”

“I do. There’s a heading that says ‘Instructions.’”

“Great. Those are the actual directions for operating the toaster. Did you follow all those directions?”

“Give me a minute. There’s a lot of writing here.”

“Skip down to the fifth paragraph in the middle column. It says there that you need to make sure you remove the rubber tabs placed along the bottom of the inside of the toaster before you actually try to use it. Did you do that?”

“Well, no, we didn’t read this before we tested it out.”

“Ma’am, I recommend that in the future, before you use an appliance, you read the instructions. You have a nice day now.”

“Hold on! I still have complaints!”

“All right, go ahead.”

“It’s too slow.”

“Pardon?”

The voice on the other end started to grow in intensity and volume. “Your toaster is far too slow for my needs. I’ve timed it, and on average your toaster takes two minutes and twelve seconds to adequately toast a piece of white bread. This means that my kids are spending valuable time that should be spent at their honors clubs or studying for their Advanced Placement classes in front of a smelly, dysfunctional toaster. This means my husband has to get up earlier every morning and go to bed later every night to make his breakfast before work. This means not only does it take me longer to get my breakfast, but I have to run around trying to help everyone else whose time your toaster is wasting! I demand full compensation, and I can assure you, I will never recommend your product to anyone.”

By the time she reached the end of her sentence, her voice faintly resembled that of a seagull. Somewhere towards the commencement of her monologue, I had reached into my purse and pulled out a magazine. Thumbing through its contents, I stifled a yawn.

“Ma’am, I understand your situation. I understand you’re upset. However, I need to point out that Anson Electronics is not responsible for the current situation.”

“How can you say that? Your toaster is the cause of all this.”

“I hardly think our toaster is the issue here, ma’am.”

“Oh, really? Well let me tell you something. My neighbor runs a small electronics store downtown, and we took your toaster over to him last night, and he said it was the most ridiculous excuse for a toaster he had ever seen. He said it should never have passed inspection, and he’s actually the one who advised us to get a refund. He knows absolutely everything about things like this, and if he says it’s faulty, you know it’s true.”

“All right. I do understand that. But if you don’t mind my asking, ma’am, why didn’t you buy your toaster from him?”

There was silence on the line for a few seconds.

“Yours was on sale.”

“And how much did you pay for this toaster, ma’am?”

“Fourteen ninety-five.”

“And you would like a refund for fourteen ninety-five?”

“I most certainly would. Are you going to be able to do that for me, or will I need to speak to someone higher?”

“Well, ma’am, the very best I can do for you is nine ninety-five.”

“Nine ninety-five? Why is that?”

“There’s a five dollar processing fee.”

“Why is that? I hardly think I’ve gotten five dollars worth of function out of this toaster.”

“You know what, ma’am, it’s just a processing fee, and it’s not even something we deal with. It all goes through the government.”

“All right. Well, how do I get this nine ninety-five?”

“You’ll need to package the toaster in the original box along with any accompanying attachments and ship it to our office.”

“I know. I read that on the box.”

“So, you have read our refund policy?”

“Yes. I found it on the bottom of the box.”

“All right. Do you have any questions about that?”

“Yes, I do. Do you have any idea how much it costs to ship a box containing your toaster to the address listed?”

“I do not.”

“Priority mail costs nearly twenty dollars. That’s more than the cost of the toaster itself.”

“I understand that. But I have no control over the price of the mail, ma’am. If that’s your complaint, I can see if I can find you the number for your senator.”

“That will not be necessary. Isn’t there anything you can do?”

“My hands are tied unless I have the toaster here in the office.”

“Well, do I have to send in the whole toaster?”

“Of course. We can only offer you a refund if you return the product. I think you’ll find most companies operate in the same way.”

“Well, can’t I just send you the receipt?”

“No, ma’am. In order to give you a full refund, we need the toaster. You can keep the receipt.”

“How can that be possible? I can’t pay for a refund.”

“Do you have any friends that will be visiting our area? Perhaps they could bring it in for you.”

“We do not.”

“Well, then I really don’t have any other options for you. If you want the refund, you need to return the toaster. If you’d like, I can waive the five dollar processing fee, but that’s really all I can do for you.”

“That is not acceptable. I’d like to speak to the director of the company!”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. The director is out of the country at a business conference.”

“Well, get him on the phone!”

“I can’t do that, ma’am.”

“Why not?”

“He is in meetings all day improving our company. He has far more important things to do than deal with a fourteen ninety-five toaster.”

“Are you saying my needs aren’t important? I’m your customer! Without me, you don’t have a business at all!”

“It takes a lot more money than fourteen ninety-five to run a business, ma’am.”

“Excuse me?”

I spoke a bit louder. “I said, it takes a lot more money than fourteen ninety-five to run a business, ma’am.”

“Well, I— I have never spoken to anyone so unprofessional! How old are you, anyway?”

“I hardly think that that is relevant information.”

“It most certainly is! You’re probably just some punk teenager they pulled off the streets! You’ve probably never even seen one of these toasters!”

“Ma’am, if there is nothing else I can do for you today, I’m going to have to hang up. I have several other customers waiting.”

“I’ll be reporting you to the Better Business Bureau!”

“Is there anything else I can do for you, ma’am?”

“You’d better not try to sell any more of your toasters around here! I’ll make sure none of my friends use your products.”

“You have a nice day, ma’am.”

I hung up the phone and gazed thoughtfully at the computer screen, which had just lit up with alternating purple and green bars that floated across the screen, blinking on and off. It held my gaze for only a few seconds before the phone started ringing again. I rolled my eyes and picked it up.

“Anson Electronics, this is Marie.”