Avengers of the Galaxy

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Customer service, or, Why Office Max can suck it


We have two main office supply stores in Rapid City: Office Depot and Office Max.  I personally have always been a bigger fan of Office Max, partly because of the Rubberband Man shtick a while back, but mostly because they’re the only place I can find in the city that regularly sells Prang colored chalk.

Well, I was a bigger fan of Office Max, until today.

A trip to Office Max

With the new school year starting less than a month away (eek!), it’s time for the annual late-summer parenting tradition of procuring needed back-to-school supplies, and this year it’s both the Ladybug and the Butterfly who need them.  In Rapid City, these supplies are based not only on the school and grade, but also, I was surprised to find, on the specific teacher too: Mrs. Smith wants five one-section notebooks, whereas Mrs. Jones requires one five-section notebook, and so on.  After a hour of weighing the pros and cons of neutral pink erasers versus hot pink ones, or whether or not this backpack or the other had the optimum number and distribution of pockets for a new kindergartner, we took our supplies to the skinny slack-jawed Office Max employee at the register.

The cashier, whose name was Chase, asked if we’d found everything all right and scanned the backpack, thus ending the complete list of things he did correctly for the rest of the transaction.

“That’s not right,” the Queen B politely noted when she saw the scanner report 37.49.  “It should come up as 25 dollars.”

Chase invalidated the item and rescanned the backpack.  The machine repeated: 37.49.

“That backpack is supposed to be 50% off,” the Queen B explained.

Chase looked at the tag.  “The backpack is originally marked as 49.99, so you did get a discount,” he explained.

“I got a discount,” repeated the Queen B, “but not the right one.  The price was reduced by 12.50, which would be 25% off.”

“Oh!” said Chase, reassured.  “No, the problem is that backpacks are only 25% off, not 50% off.”  He smiled, and pulled out a copy of the Office Max mailer that, presumably, every responsible buyer in Rapid City had been sent.  He flipped open and pointed at one of the pictures.  It read:

25% OFF ALL Backpacks
In Stock

“See? 25% off.” Chase said.

The Queen B gently moved his finger down to the picture immediately below it, which read

50% off ALL Reebok Backpacks
Selection varies by location

“No, 50% off Reebok backpacks,” The Queen corrected.  She then pointed to the backback, which was embroidered with the word Reebok in several places.

Chase read the advertisement, frowned, and read it again.  “Oh, I see,” he eventually said.  “The small print means the 50% discount is only on selected Reebok backpacks.”

“Well, the large print states the discount is an all Reebok backpacks,” The Queen B countered.

“But the small print…” Chase started.

“…only means the selection backpacks varies with the store,” completed the Queen.

“The advertisement says its 50% off selected Reebok backpacks,” Chase repeated.

“No, that’s not what it says,” argued the Queen.  “It says 50% of all Reebok backpacks.”

“No, it says selected backpacks.”

“No, it says selection of backpacks varies.  The discount applies to all of them.”

“Listen,” I offered hopefully, “the selected clause in the advertisement refers to the availability of Reebok backpacks, not the availability of Reebok discounts.  The ad says its a 50% on all Reebok backpacks with a selection that varies; your interpretation would require the ad to read as 50% on selected Reebok backpacks.  See?”

“Manager assistance, please?” said Chase into the earpiece he was wearing.

“This is why we really need Common Core Reading Standards in public school education,” I noted to no one in particular.

Chase continued his conversation with is own right ear, which is a neat trick if you think about it.  “I have a customer who has a problem with the discount on her backpack.”

“Argle bargle bargle,” went the earpiece quietly.

“She says the Reebok backpacks are 50%,” Chase said to his ear.

“Bargle selargle argle,” said the earpiece.

“I said that, be she says the selected backpacks is about what’s in stock, not what’s on sale.”

“Argle nargle largle,” said the earpiece.

Chase translated.  “The offers in the mailer are sort of ‘national’ offers, but they’re available only at participating Office Max locations.  We’re not running that 50% discount here in Rapid, I guess.”

“Yes,” said the Queen B, “you are.  You have a 50% off sign right above the backpacks in this store…. right here, right now…”

“I’m not sure we do…” said Chase uncertainly.

“I’m quite sure you do,” the Queen B replied.  “We were just there.  It’s one of the reasons we chose this particular backpack.”

“I can get a picture of the sign if you’d like,” I said helpfully.

“Um,” said Chase, and he tapped on his earpiece again.

I strolled back to the aisle with the backpacks.  Above them was a sign that read

25% OFF
all backpacks in stock

50% OFF
the marked price on selected brands**
** The 50% off includes Reebok

As I was doing so, a huskier Office Max dude stomped his own way to the backpacks from the back of the store.  He glared first at the signage, then at me, and back at the signage.  I snapped a picture of the sign with my phone and left the grumpy-looking guy behind.  Upon returning to the cash register, I showed Chase the picture from the phone, noting that not only was the discount being advertised in the store, it was explicitly singling out Reebok for the 50% discount.

“Yeah, um, the customer has a picture that shows we’re doing the 50% discount on Reebok,” Chase said into his glowing ear.

“Argle bargle bargle fine,” said the earpiece.  Simultaneously, the grumpy dude at the backpack rack stomped off to the back of the store.

Chase switched off his earpiece.  “My manager has decided that you can have the 50% discount.”  He scanned the backpack again, but was surprised to see that the machine, despite the manager’s blessing into Chase’s earpiece, still rang up 37.49.

“Um…” said Chase.

“Can’t you just put in the price manually?” asked the Queen B.

“I have to scan items in first for inventory, and then I can take off an additional discount,” Chase explained.  He stared at the 37.49 for a moment.  “But it’s already taken of 25%… so I just need to take off 25% more.”

He did so.  The register beeped: 28.12.

“That’s not right,” the Queen B sighed. “It should come up as 25 dollars.”

“The machine says its 28.12,” Chase replied.

“A 50% discount means half right, right?” explained the Queen B as politely as she could.  “And half of 50 dollars would be 25 dollars, right?”

“But the machine says 28.12…”

“The problem,” I interjected, “is that you’re assuming that 25% off of something that is already 25% off is 50% off, but that’s not right.  I mean, imagine if something were marked off 90%, and then you took off another 90%… it wouldn’t be 180% off, would it?”

The look on Chase’s face indicated that to him, it just might very well.

“Look, the computer already took 25% — a quarter of the cost — off.  That leaves us with three quarters of the original cost.  To in order to get to an end result of half off the original cost, you need to remove another quarter part, which is exactly one-third of what remains.  That means you need to take an additional 33% off of the 25% to get to 50%.”

Chase remained unconvinced, although I think he started to cry a little.

“Let’s try this a different way.  If you take 25% off the cost, you’re only paying 75% of the total cost, so you’d multiply 0.75 times the cost.  According to my calculator, if we multiply that by 0.67, we end up getting 0.50 (or so).  That means if we pay for 67% of 75% of something, it’s the same thing as paying only 50% of the total.  That means we need a 33% discount off a 25% discount to get a 50% discount.”

“Manager assistance,” he said to his ear.

“This is why we really need Common Core Mathematics Standards in public school education,” the Queen noted to no one in particular.

“Yeah, I’m not sure how to give the backpack people their discount,” said Chase.

Fargle shargle stargle!” snapped the earpiece loudly.

“The manager will be right here,” said Chaise as pleasantly as he could.

From the back of the store the grumpy manager re-appeared, stomping his way to the register.  He scowled at me (still holding my phone), then at the Queen B, and then at Chase.  He entered the backpack’s code into the register, overrode the discount, and put in his own.  The register beeped 25.00.

“Alright, you’ve got your discount,” said the manager tersely.

“Thank you,” said the Queen B and I.

“And just so you know,” continued the manager, “that’s the only discount I can give you today.”

“You mean we’re not getting any of the other back-to-school discounts you’ve got advertised?” I asked.

“No, you get those,” the manager corrected.  “But you’re not getting any more extra discounts.”

“It wasn’t an extra discount,” re-corrected the Queen, showing the picture from my phone. “It was the advertised discount.”

“Argle bargle fargle,” said the manager, and stomped back to his office, presumably to play with his dolls.

The rest of transaction went slightly more smoothly, with the only occasional argument over the semantics of an advertisement.  When we’d paid up, Chris said, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“A drink,” said the Queen B.


…Whereupon we immediately headed to the local On the Border, where we ordered margaritas and all-you-can-eat tacos using a promotional email coupon we’d been sent that very morning.

And yet, despite our waitress telling us the promo had already locally expired, the manager still honored the coupon, even without having my wife and I explain the English or mathematics behind it, because On the Border, unlike Office Max, is not staffed by a bunch of dicks.

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We’re back!

You might have noticed that things have been a little slow around here, and by slow I mean non-existent.  Well, that’s because I am extraordinarily lazy have been on a road trip with my family for pretty much all of July.  Moreover, during the trip, I had neither a working computer nor a chargeable cell phone wanted to spend lots of quality time with the wife and kids.

In any event, I’m back now, and will get back to the site as soon as I sift through one month of mail, both postal and electronic.  * Shudders at the thought *

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Edge of Tomorrow, as told through other movies

For a movie with the tagline “Live, Die, Repeat,” it should therefore not be too surprising that the movie Edge of Tomorrow feels a little… familiar.

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World War Z: the komplexified script

To be fair, New Jersey ALWAYS looks like this.

[ We open on a devastated, post-apocalyptic world, struggling to recover from a decade-long zombie war.  Life on Earth is nearly extinct, and humanity clusters in a few countries around the planet -- a thriving Cuba, a democratic China, a struggling USA -- while hordes of zombies still roam the ocean floors or remain frozen near the poles--]

Hollywood executive: Cut! Cut! Cut!  What the hell is this?  The zombie war is already over?  The movie just started!

[ Well... yeah.  The book is called World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.  The word "history" kind of implies these events happened in the past. ]

Hollywood executive: Yeah, yeah, TL;DR.  That’ll never sell.  We need to start at the beginning.  We need action.  Wait, did you say America was struggling?

[ Yeah.  In the book, America is nearly destroyed by a combination of the arrogance of its military leaders and the pseudo-scientific gullibility of its citizens. ]

Hollywood executive: No,  no, no, nix that.  This is America.  We win wars, dammit!  USA!  USA!  USA!

[ We open on the modern world, where everything is honkey-dorey... but we show a montage of news-reel footage to suggest the upcoming zombie apocalypse. ]

Hollywood executive: Great.  Now who’s the hero in this movie.

Max Brooks: That would be me, I guess.  I’m a United Nations agent compiling a post-war report for a special commiss–

Hollywood executive: Boooooooooring.  No, you’re a gritty, no-nonsense UN investigator.  Who’s good with guns!  And can fly planes!  Also, you’re Brad Pitt!

Brad Pitt: Kick.  Ass.

[ Brad, his wife Mireille, and his two daughters are driving through Philadelphia... when the zombie apocalypse happens.  Hundreds of slow, lumbering undead shamble aimlessly through the streets-- ]

Hollywood executive: No, no, no, cut, cut, cut! What the hell is this?  Slow zombies?  That’s been done.  We need something new: fast, aggressive zombies.  Something that’s never been done before!

Max Brooks: Well, except for the movie 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead or Quarantine or any of  the Resident Evil movies…

Hollywood executive: Didn’t I fire you?

[ Brad, his wife Mireille, and his two daughters are driving through Philadelphia... when the zombie apocalypse happens.  Hundreds of fast, agile zombies sprint through the streets.  They leap onto unsuspecting public, ripping into their skin, tearing our their flesh, gorging themselves on brains.  Blood flows-- ]

Hollywood executive: No, no, no, cut, cut, cut. We need a summer blockbuster here, people.  That means we need kids and moms to come see this movie too, alright?  Strictly PG-13, right?

This axis could have also been labeled “scares.”

[ Brad, his wife Mireille, and his two daughters are driving through Philadelphia... when the zombie apocalypse happens.  Hundreds of fast, agile zombies sprint through the streets.  They leap onto unsuspecting public, and bite them, once and bloodlessly, on their arms, and then move on, kind of like that creepy purple-plague episode of the Smurfs. ]

Still a better zombie movie than I Am Legend.

Hollywood executive: That’s better.  That’ll bring in the kids…

[ Brad and family commandeer an RV, drive to New Jersey, and meet a recently orphaned Hispanic kid. Brad and Angelina Mireille adopt him. ]

Hollywood executive: … and that’ll bring in the moms.

[ Brad and his family are helicopter-rescued by is UN buddy Fana Mokoena and brought to an aircraft carrier at sea. ]

Fana: Brad, I need you lead a team around the world to find the origin of the zombie virus.

Brad: No, I can’t leave my family.

Fana: Alright, but they’re got getting any more speaking parts ion this movie.

Brad: Fine.  I’m on my way.

[ Brad assembles a crack team of Navy seals and expert virologist Elyes Gabel, and fly to South Korea. ]

Elyes: I’m an expert on plagues and viruses and am humanity’s last hope for finding a cure for the zombie pandemic.  My mental prowess cannot be overstated.  We shall first need to locate the virus’ origin, deduce the mode of transmission from this, and reverse engineer a—

Hollywood executive:  No, no, no, cut, cut, cut.  The plan is to have some egg-head save the day with science?   What the hell is this, Fantastic Four?  No, that crap tanked.  Lose the nerd.

To be honest, Reed’s explanation at the end was Greek to me too.

Elyes: Pardon me a moment while I clean this loaded gun.

[ Elyes shoots himself in head. ]

Brad: I guess it’s up to me now.

Hollywood executive: Better.

Brad: Do any of you soldiers stationed here know where the virus started?

Soldiers: Nope.

Brad: Well, poo.  Where should be go next?

Soldier: [ Sneaks a quick peak at a copy of World War Z ] In the book, there’s a bit about Isreal…

Brad: Sold.  Let’s go to Jerusalem.

Soldier: Just remember… the zombies are attracted to sound.  The only way to get you back to your plane is to go… really…. quietly….

Brad: Sorry, I was setting by phone’s ringtone volume to 11.  Did you say something?

[ Brad's phone ring.  Zombies kill most of the soldiers and seals... but, you know, bloodlessly.  Brad flies off to Jerusalem. ]

IT’S MOO-VEE DAY! Turn off your cell phone!

Ludi Boeken: I’m a high-ranking official of the Mossad, the Isreali intelligence service.  I correctly predicted the zombie outbreak, and instructed the country of Isreal to secretly big a ginormous wall around the country to keep the zombies out.

Brad: Wait… you had enough time to build a 500 foot tall wall around the entire country of Isreal…. but you never thought to tell the rest of the world about the oncoming plague?  And how the hell did you keep it a secret?  Did you put a big tarp over the whole country? None of this makes any sense.

Ludi: Well, actually, the book explains this in great detail—

Hollywood executive: Details are boooooooooooring.  Pick it up.

Ludi: Oh, look. Zombies.

[ Zombies form a 500-foot-tall undead human bridge to reach the top of the wall and attack the city. One zombie bites the hand of Daniella Kertesz, Brad's newly acquired Isreali soldier. ]

Brad: Don’t worry.  I saw this once on The Walking Dead.

[ He effortlessly chops off her hand to stop the spread of the infection. ]

Brad: Wow.  That was significantly easier and less bloody than The Walking Dead led me to believe.

Results may vary.

[ Brad and Daniella hop on board a passing 747.  Zombies form a 30,000-foot-tall undead human bridge to reach the plane and attack the passengers.  Unfortunately, the plane crashes in Wales. Fortunately, it does so across the street from a World Health Organization -- or W.H.O. -- research facility, staffed by Peter Capaldi, Pierfracesco Favino, and the flower-dress lady from Agents of Shield. ]

Zombie trust exercises are rough, man.

Peter Capaldi: Hello.  I’m the Doctor.

Brad: Doctor?  Doctor W.H.O.?

Peter Capaldi: Just the Doctor.

Brad: I have a theory.  The zombies have a weakness.  Their weakness is weakness.  Specifically our weakness.  Our weakness is their weakness.  If we’re weak, we’ll make them weak in a week.

Peter: Good idea.  This being a cutting-edge research facility, we should easily be able to synthesize a pathogen that would trick the zombies into thinking your terminal…

Hollywood executive: What did I say about eggheads and science?

Peter: I meant to say, rats.  All of our deadly disease stuff is stored in a single room, housed in the deepest, darkest part of the building, overrun with zombies.

Brad: Right.  Here’s a crowbar, a bat, and an axe.  Let’s go bash some zombie heads.

Hollywood executive: PG-13.

Brad: …metaphorically speaking.

[ They go into "B Wing," and are chased throughout the building by zombies, Benny Hill style. ]

[ Eventually, Brad makes into into the deadly disease room, but gets trapped inside when he bumps into the chattering Cenobite from Hellraiser. He injects himself with a random syringe of disease, and walks right past all the zombies. ]

Peter Capaldi: The good news, Brad, is that your plan works!  We’ll be able to synthesize a camoflage virus in no time.

Brad: And the bad news?

Peter: You’ve got radioactive syphilis.  Next time read the label on the bottle, okay?

[ Brad is reunited with his family, and everyone lives happily ever aft--- ]

Hollywood executive: Hold it, hold, hold it, cut.  Two words, everybody: Se. Quel.

[ --but the war rages on. ]


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