Friday, February 1, 2013

Hey, Guess Which Finger I'm Holding Up.

My only black collared shirt is fading and that is unacceptable because...goddamn I look sexy in a black collared shirt. Despite the heightened level of sexiness a black collared shirt brings me, I don't want to pay a lot for a replacement. It is with this mindset that I waltz into to my local Burlington Coat Factory so I can later "brag about it" as one is wan to do after shopping at a discount store. I ignore everyone's envious gazes as I simultaneously execute a perfect box step while perusing the men's business casual section*, find a suitable shirt at a reasonable price, and proceed to the register where the cashier begins the transaction by asking for my phone number. I know you're thinking "Of course she did you sexy motherfucker! You were dancing around the store all unbathed and shit! Every girl wants a guy that is both fashion and price conscious dressed in slightly imperfect clothing!" True, I am dashing and all, but they ask that of every customer at BCF. With that in mind, my answer to this question requires a preemptive explanation.

On the preceding night, two of my children brought a form home from school that I was required to fill out and return. It had to do with "school provided dental care" of which I've never heard in the six years my children have attended public school. The form gave me three options: (A) You have no insurance and you wish for your child to receive school provided dental care; (B) You have medicaid and wish for your child to receive school provided dental care; or (C) You have health insurance, your child has a dentist and therefore you DO NOT wish for your child to receive school provided dental care. My children have dental insurance so it's Option C all day long.

The thing that bothered me about this - apart from the school providing dental care when the quality of their primary service, education, is mediocre at best and the possibility that the school nurse will be pulling teeth with little to no dental training** - is that Option C required me to list my health insurance  information.

Much like Catholic School dentistry.

If I am declining service, why must I provide any further information? I simply wrote "I refuse to provide this information" and sent it back. I truly expect nothing will come of it but I was annoyed by the invasive and unnecessary attempt to get personal information.

I know it's a pretty pathetic way to stick it to the man. There was nothing on the form that stated exactly who was requesting the information or why. The form didn't look like a typical federal, state, or local government form and I didn't see the need to provide my personal information. I wonder how many parents listed the information simply because the form asked for it.  

The next day I had to run some errands. The first place I went was DSD Nutrition because I was nearly out of whey protein and they had a "Grand Opening" sale which made me feel really special because, unlike the rest of the surrounding population, I was there. It was like a celebration just for me. At the register the roided out clerk assumptively asked for my name and email address so he could enroll me in some "rewards" program where I can get a 5% discount for every $350 spent, or some gimmicky shit like that. Before I realized what I was doing, the information just fell out of my mouth. I'd been swindled, duped, bamboozled, hornswoggled even. They got personal information from me just by asking. I told myself it was just my name and email address but, in truth, I paid with my check card and who knows what information that gives them access to. 

Next, I went to Auto Zone where I was told they no longer sell wiper blade replacement inserts because an entire blade assembly, housing and all, "only costs a couple dollars more". This explanation was, in a word, retarded.

Yes, about that retarded.

Anyone that has ever purchased wiper blade replacement inserts knows that two blades come in a pack versus the single blade when purchasing the entire assembly. You may have noticed that all modern autos have two different sized wiper blades and wondered why. Because fuck you, that's why.

Let's dismantle the logic of the Auto Zone explanation. For a "couple of dollars" less I could have purchased two blade inserts for each wiper so when the first one wears out, I have a backup. I'm getting four blades for a lower price which means the replacement inserts are the smarter and more cost effective option. It costs more to purchase two separate single blade assemblies and, unfortunately, the assembly doesn't make the blade itself last any longer. Therefore, when that blade wears out, an entirely new, more expensive assembly must be purchased. It would seem that some young upstart with a degree figured out that failing to offer blade inserts strong-arms customers into buying the more expensive assemblies which, in turn, yields higher profits and repeat business. The CEO obviously fell in love with that idea. As a result, I left without purchasing anything.

Next stop was BJs Wholesale Club because I've got a lot of fucking kids and some shit is just cheaper by the pallet. The lines were horrendous so I opted for self checkout. It's not the first time I've done this, but it is the first time I felt indignant about it. Most of the time I use self checkout because it's faster, I hate waiting in line, and I don't have to talk to anyone. On this day, while scanning a 15 lb. package of chicken, I realized that I drove there, got my own cart, filled it myself, and was now ringing up my own items which would, of course, result in my paying BJs for doing fuck all. I don't work there. In fact, I paid them for doing their job for them. Some young upstart with a degree figured out that people like me will ring themselves up to avoid waiting in line and BJs can save money on cashier wages. When you extrapolate those savings across each store in the country, the corporation yields a higher profit. The only employee that "helped" me was the one by the door that looked at my receipt to make sure I wasn't stealing anything.

It was then that I proceeded to Burlington Coat Factory to get my freak on. By the time I reached the register I was a little aggravated with my overall consumer experience for the day. I know why they are asking for my phone number. It's for marketing information. They want demographics. They want price point information. They want to know what they can sell, where they can sell it, and how much they can sell it for. Ordinarily I would just give the cashier a fake phone number complete with a made up area code to do whatever damage I can to their data set. Why? Because I'm an asshole and I think the marketing industry is completely evil. On this day, I wanted to make my defiance obvious just to see what would happen. Here is the result:

Cashier: "Phone number please?"***
Me: "777-777-7777"

At this point the cashier has a choice. She can take the hint and enter the number as I gave it , enter any phone number real or not, or she can try to pry some trivial personal information from me. She holds no personal stake in whether or not I give the correct information, she is going to get paid regardless. She is only asking because the company makes her and she has probably never questioned why they require her to do so.  

Cashier: (smiling) "C'mon, we need a real phone number."
Me: (smiling) "That is my real phone number."
Cashier: "I know that isn't your real number. We don't use it for anything."
Me: "Great, then you don't need a number at all."
Cashier: "I can't ring you up without your phone number."
Me: "How about all fives?"
Cashier: (not amused) "I can't use a fake number."
Me: (chuckling) "Sure you can. I give a fake number every time I come here."
Cashier: "If you don't give me your number I can't ring you up."
Me: "You'd turn away my money over this?"
Cashier: (smacks mouth) "I can't ring you up without it."
Me: (smiling) "Okay, have a nice day."

Yes, I walked out without the shirt. I want to make it clear that I wasn't rude and I never once raised my voice. I know first-hand what it's like to deal with crazy asshole customers. Yes, she clearly got annoyed with me, but the overall exchange was light. I do not believe this was a battle of wills. I think she truly believed she could not enter a fake number. I, however, knew she could because I routinely give made up numbers in that very store. She has just never questioned her orders.

Marketing is the study of how to make you spend money you don't have on shit you don't need. Advertisements don't sell products, they sell a lifestyle you can't have. They are in the business of creating wants.

Now that they've mentioned it.... 

Companies get your information by asking for it at the register. They ask you to participate in a survey. They have "rewards" cards that track what you buy (think grocery stores). The information collected is used to market goods in your area. Your personal information tells them what sells, who buys it, and at what price. Surveys are used obtain customer opinion on goods, services, and preferences.You best believe they use all this information to their advantage, not yours. Some companies even sell your information to marketing research firms.

As a culture we are very conditioned to give out certain personal information without question. Despite my awareness of the practice I routinely fall victim to it and it's infuriating. These companies make enough money without my labor, without my information, and without my opinions. I know it's easier simply to give give in and get on with my life but I wish, as a culture, we would stop falling for this bullshit.  Here's a list of things I think we should do:

  • When a cashier asks you for personal information, ask them why it's needed and then give false information. If you don't want to harass the cashier, lie first and then ask for the manager and demand an explanation. 
  • Walk up to a self check out and immediately press the need assistance button. When the clerk comes over, tell them to ring you up. Any reason they give for not doing so will not be logical. If they refuse, ask for the manager and demand an explanation.
  • When McDonald's or any other restaurant hands you an empty cup, hand it back and say "Can you please fill this up for me?" If the only drink fountain is on your side of the counter say "Can you please come out here and fill this up for me?" If they refuse, ask for a manager and demand an explanation.
  • "Rewards" cards are often necessary to get deals. Lie on the application (it's not a job application after all). Use a fake name address, and phone number. Make sure the phone's area code doesn't match the zip code which doesn't match the city which doesn't match the state.  
  • Only participate in surveys to say batshit crazy things like "I like Romney because he wants to tattoo swastikas on the bottoms of every newborn's right foot." Or "Best Buy is awesome because the store manager always let's me know when it's a good time to buy or sell their stocks." 
  • Don't sign up for store issued credit cards. In fact, pay with cash whenever possible. When they ask you "debit or credit" look at them like you're confused and ask if they accept drachmas.
  • When a company stops carrying a specific item, don't fall victim to their more expensive substitute. Find it elsewhere. Go a step further and boycott these stores because they are trying to force you to spend more money. Go two steps further and get the corporate address and CEO's name from the internet; shit in a box and cover it with a note that says "Just giving you my opinion of your company's decision to stop selling ____"; and mail it to the attention of the CEO. Make sure you print the address label on a public computer; do not include a return address; apply correct postage; and only handle the box with gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints****.
It's my shit in a box!
  • Attempting to thwart government attempts to obtain your personal information is kind of pointless. They can get whatever information they need. Defy them simply to add to their expense and troubles. Here's an idea - fill out their forms but hand draw pictures of titty fucking in the left margin of each page in such a way that the stack of forms can be used as a pornographic flip book*****. 

You don't have to be rude to low level employees. Ask them why and then ask for a manager. Why should you do this? Because fuck these companies. They have too much influence over government. They have too much affect on your daily life. They are making a fortune off of us and hot carling on us in return. You shouldn't be asking why this matters. You should be asking them why they want so much information from you.

This message has been brought to you by the loving memory of Bill Hicks:

* In case it isn't obvious, I was not really dancing in Burlington Coat Factory.
** I don't know who actually provides the dental care.
*** I believe this was a question.
**** I'm pretty sure that this isn't legal and following these steps will not ensure that you escape legal trouble. This statement was intended as farcical comedy and I do not endorse such actions. Attempt them at your own risk.
***** I'm pretty sure that this isn't legal. This statement was intended as farcical comedy and I do not endorse such actions. Attempt them at your own risk.


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