F**Ck the Machine.

By Valannin, Circa 2007

In my neverending quest to make myself miserable, I decided this past Saturday to go shopping. I’m not a consumer whore, and don’t need every latest bleeping gadget; in fact, I wasn’t even looking to purchase anything for myself. The DVD player we use at school was broken (yes, we have ONE fucking DVD player. The NYC Board of Ed spent more money last year on photocopies than on supplying the teachers. But that’s a story for another day), and I wanted to pick up an inexpensive machine. Plus, I needed a copy of the movie Lord of the Flies as we had just finished reading the novel in class, and what better way to kill two hours than with a little cinema. Lastly, I figured I’d get a set of headphones for my bass amplifier to redirect the slap, pop, thump my neighbors have been hearing for the past two weeks. Don’t say I’m not a considerate guy.

As I have mentioned before, I consider myself to be a rather efficient shopper: I know what I want, speed myself directly to the store most likely to carry the merchandise, make my purchases and go home. But for whatever reason – call it fate, call it karma – I have been thwarted in almost every attempt to do this very thing. I blame this on the fact that I still have a miniscule shred of faith in humanity.

Knowing that the country’s idiots are still mostly sleeping before noon, I get up at 9 AM and head to Best Buy, the nation’s largest consumer electronic store and principal employer of high-school drop-outs (well, behind Wal-Mart, anyway). And before all of you “knowledgeable” Best Buy employees write to me and attempt to prove what experts you are in your field, let me stop you here and say, “No you’re not; you are troglodytic morons who couldn’t get hired digging cesspools even if you were born with a shovel up your ass.” And even though I already know this, I still managed to put myself through the torture that is shopping in a retail establishment.

My first contact at Best Buy is a tired looking black teenager at the door who attempts to greet me by breaking down his corporate-office-supplied script into a monosyllabic drone, accented in the brogue of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn:

“Hel-lo-and-we-come-to-Best-Buy. If-there-any-thing-you-need-be-sure-to-axe-a-ass-o-ci-ate.”

Frankly, I don’t want people greeting me at the door. Anywhere. For any reason. I see it as nothing more than retail welfare; for all intents and purposes, big box stores are providing employment opportunities to people with absolutely no tangible skills. Consider this:

The Best Buy near me is open Monday through Saturday, 10 AM to 9 PM and Sunday 11 to 7. That’s 74 hours a week, 296 hours a month. Considering that the New York State minimum wage is $7.15 an hour (and assuming that the robotic greeter doesn’t command a higher salary) that would mean that Best Buy spends $2116.40 a month on a person who cannot pronounce the word “ask” correctly. According to Adecco, a temp agency, greeters in Idaho make between $10-$12 dollars an hour. That’s an average of $40,000 a year wasted on employees whose jobs are essentially meaningless. However, as we will soon see, all employees of Best Buy are essentiality meaningless.

Like I said, I only needed to purchase three items, an activity that should take no more than 20 minutes. Plus, I knew exactly what I wanted, as I had looked them up on Best Buy’s website before coming into the store. My first stop was the DVD section. I don’t usually buy a lot of DVD’s, mostly because once I buy the latest movie, a week later the studio releases the “Super Deluxe Nine-Disc Platinum Collector’s Remastered Criterion Screaming Orgasm Edition” of the very same film. They actually had one of these for Clerks II. Who in their right mind would need two discs of director’s commentary on an hour and half movie about two fat guys making penis jokes? Other than people who work at Best Buy.

In any case, I perused the “Drama” subdivision of the DVD’s because Lord of the Flies is indeed drama. Not there. Then I tried “Action”. Still nothing. As I was looking, an employee with a painfully vapid expression on his face approached me and we had the following brief conversation:

Employee: Finding everything all right?

Me: No, but mostly because I’m not looking for “everything.”

Employee: (Failing to grasp my subtle humor) Can I help you find something?

Me: Yeah, I’m looking for the 1990 version of Lord of the Flies.

Employee: Oh, it’s right there in “Sci Fi”. (points me to it and walks away).

Why, I asked myself, is Lord of the Flies in the Science Fiction section? Could this be yet another example of the boundless stupidity of the Best Buy staff? I got my answer when I saw that the “associate” had directed me to a copy of Lord of the Rings. Which is a great movie, but I already have the “Twelve Disc Special Extended Widescreen Manic Obsession Edition” of that.

Long story short, they don’t carry Lord of the Flies. So I move on to the “Home Theater” section hoping that they don’t try to sell me an 8-track player. Luckily, this particular area was a barren wasteland, devoid of any “knowledgeable staff” and I was able to browse unmolested. However my frustration continued as, even though they had 23 different models (yes I counted) of DVD players on display, it turns out that they were sold out of every single one except for, you guessed it, the most expensive model. How fortuitous.

I’m not even going to point out that Best Buy, whose slogan is “Thousands of Possibilities” had exactly one model of headphones for sale and they appeared as though they were manufactured in Turkmenistan and crafted out of surplus ham radio components.

Alas, it seemed as though my quest was at an end. Dejected, I headed back to my car and faced the crushing realization that I would not be buying anything that day. As I drove home, however, I spotted the familiar sign of P.C. Richards, which, for those of you who don’t live on the East Coast, is a family owned chain of about 50 electronic stores scattered throughout the Tri-State area. According to their website, they have been in business for 97 years, which is quite a feat for a store selling merchandise which requires electricity.

Surely, thought I, a much smaller store would have a greater merchandise selection. Such displacement of logic can only truly manifest after spending an hour in a gargantuan retail wonderland such as Best Buy. Besides, I’d rather give my hard-earned shekels to Mom and Pop than to a soulless, avaricious corporation hell-bent on cornering the electronics market. So, with my hope elevated, I swung into the parking lot.

This was mistake number one. Upon entering the store (without the cheery harangue of a minimum wage greeter, I might add), I immediately realized why Best Buy was flushing these guys down the retail toilet. Most of the merchandise they had on display indeed looked as though they had been in business since the turn of the century. They had Walkmans. They sold car stereos with tape decks. I think I saw a Victrola marked down to 300 Green Stamps. And worst of all, they were completely sold out of any DVD player costing less than my weekly take home salary. And the only headphones they had in stock were pink. Enough said.

On my way back out of the store, I paused at a display of a $7000, 50” flat-screen television just long enough for one of the ravenous salesmen to catch a whiff of my existence. Mistake number two. Without an introduction or even a simple “hello,” a middle-aged salesmen sporting a JC Penny’s shirt and tie combo had sidled up endeavoring to persuade me, using every technique in his arsenal of marketing, that my life would be nothing more than a façade of tenuous fulfillment concealing a rotten core of failure and contempt unless I forsook my debt-to-income ratio and immediately purchased this particular television. Here’s the actual transcript in its entirety of our conversation:

Salesman: You know, that’s the new XBR KDL!

Me: Yes, it’s all clear to me now. I’ll take it.

Salesman: Are you serious?

Me: Yes. Can I have it delivered today?

Salesman: Well…no…actually, it’s not in stock. We can have it by Thursday, though!

Me: What a shame. I’m taking a vow of poverty on Thursday. Have a nice day.

Poor Shelley Levene. He actually followed me to my car with a calculator clutched in his hand.

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