Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sweet Revenge

I used to work in a small office setting with only a few other employees. Outside our office, at the end of a long, dark hall, sat an old vending machine. It was notorious for taking our money without delivering the goods. It worked about half the time and stole our money the rest. But whenever we were hungry, we'd crawl timidly down the hallway, pay our dues—seventy-five cents for a fruit pie—and had faith that the desired treat would appear. More often than not, our faith was shaken.

One day we discovered that if you put money in it, you'd get nothing back, which was not surprising. But if you just pulled the knob without any money, the treat magically arrived in the bin. It was busted—in the best possible way! As soon as word of this great windfall got out, vengeance day arrived. We stopped all our work and gathered around the machine, swiping all the candy we could. It was payback time at the office.

For better or worse, our consciences soon started feeling bad. Inexplicably, so did our stomachs. We'd already stolen and eaten about half the chocolate bars, fruit pies, Twinkies, and other equally nutritious trash, but maybe it was time to let the owner know about his broken machine. One of us finally called the service number posted near the change slot and reported what was happening.

The vending guy showed up very quickly. He repaired it then stopped in our office to thank us for acting as such outstanding citizens by reporting it. He was a small business and his only source of income was these vending machines he'd set up in offices. We nervously glanced at each other. He only made a few pennies on each sale and even the loss of one piece of candy took many more sales to make up for. All the stolen swag in our stomachs began churning in an odd way. He and his wife spent each day driving around the valley to check on machines and it wasn't an easy way to make a living. I waited for him to tell us about his disabled child and dying mother next.

We kept looking at the floor and rubbing our necks and wishing he'd stop making us feel like The Great Satan. Finally, he pulled out some candy and set it on the table for us.

"Thanks for being such honest people and reporting this to me," he said, then turned and left. As I recall, that candy remained on the table a long time before someone finally ate it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Paper Jobber

I swear I'm not making this story up. In fact, all the stories I relate through my blog are true. Mostly.

Have you ever had an experience that you later thought was "just like a Brady Bunch episode," or "just like something from Seinfeld?" I had an experience straight out of The Office. The Office is a hilarious sitcom in the U.S. about a fictional paper supply company. If you've never seen it, and that description seems boring, I defy you to watch an episode without laughing.

Anyway, in my experience, I needed to buy a large roll of cheap paper to cover some banquet tables. It was just one roll of paper, so how difficult could it be? I stopped at a nearby paper company and went in the front door, then up a long stairway to the second floor office.

Inside, the office was just like any other office you've all seen—people busy at desks scattered around the floor. Except this office had a massive cage in the middle of the room housing a huge, green parrot. The parrot saw me and squawked loud enough to hurt my ears. It flapped and blew feathers all over. Nobody at the desks even noticed, except for the receptionist who looked up and very politely asked what I needed.

"Uh, just a roll of butcher paper."

She smiled. "Do you have an account?"

I didn't.

"Then you can just drive around back to the Will Call dock and pick up a roll there."

That seemed easy enough. I thanked her, the parrot squawked at me, and I left.

I drove to the back of the building. A large gentleman wearing a baseball cap backwards greeted me at Will Call. I explained what I needed.

"No problem," he said with a smile. "Just go up these stairs here and pay for it, then we'll get the paper for you."

A tall and narrow flight of stairs stood next to the loading dock and led to a small doorway above the warehouse. I climbed up and walked in. A loud squawk announced my presence—I was in the back of the very office I'd just left.

Thinking I was in the wrong place, I asked someone at the nearest desk where to pay for Will Call items. She pointed me to the front receptionist. I walked back up to her.

"The guy at Will Call sent me back here."

"That's correct," she said. "You need to pay for the paper first."

"Then why didn't you—"

"Hold on a moment," she said. "Let me call up a salesman so you can place your order."

She dialed a number on her phone and another phone on a desk not ten feet away rang. That can't be who she's calling.

Sure enough, an older man sitting there answered the phone. "This is James."

"I have a man up front who needs to order some paper," the receptionist said with a totally straight face.

"I'll be right up." He hung up his phone and walked three steps to the front desk.

For the third time, I explained what I needed. He pulled a large catalog off the receptionist's desk and flipped through it until he found large rolls of butcher paper. "Is this what you need?"

I nodded.

He wrote the item number down on a yellow sticky note and handed it to the receptionist, then returned to his desk as though nothing strange was happening at all.

I turned back to the receptionist. "Couldn't you have just done the same—"

She interrupted again. "Will that be cash or credit card?"

I handed her my credit card, which she ran through her machine and had me sign a receipt.

"You can go back to Will Call now and we'll send the order there."

I carefully avoided the squawking parrot and weaved my way to the back door then walked down to the Will Call guy.

"I paid for the paper," I explained.

"Okey dokey," he said. "We just need to wait for the order to get here so we don't grab the wrong roll for you."

I glanced into his small office where a computer sat on his desk. It appeared the computer wasn't even turned on. How's he going to get the order without his computer on?

He started talking with me about the weather and sports and other important things. I kept looking at his computer, but he didn't seem concerned at all that it wasn't on. Soon, the door above the tall staircase opened. Another young lady walked out—and again I swear I'm not making this up—and she picked up a small basket that was on the stairs, placed a piece of paper in it, and lowered it down using a rope. When the basket reached a table below the door, she rang a small bell.

Mr. Will Call finally perked up. "There's an order now. I'll go see if it's yours."

I looked around and didn't see another customer in the whole warehouse.

He picked up the paper from the basket, tugged on the rope, and the young lady pulled it back up.

He walked back. "Yep, one roll of manila butcher paper, all paid for. Hold on, and we'll get this for you." He detached a walkie talkie from his belt. "Tom, we have a Will Call order."

"10-4," Tom responded through the radio.

Soon, a large forklift arrived with a young man inside. Mr. Will Call showed Tom the order and Tom drove the forklift a total of fifteen feet to the rolls of butcher paper, which happened to be on the very first aisle. He loaded one onto the forklift and drove back. He pulled up right next to the edge of the loading dock, and lowered the forks down to my waiting car.

Mr. Will Call watched the whole thing, then explained, "We always use machinery here, because we don't want to lift anything that might injure our backs."

I guess that included computer mice. I nodded to him, hurried out, and easily lifted up the light roll of paper and placed it in my trunk. Tom and Mr. Will Call waved at me as I drove away.

I think even the U.S. military couldn't come up with a better system than the one used by my local paper jobber.