Wednesday, May 31, 2006

An Open Letter to the Crazy Old Guy Who Failed to Sell Me an Awning Window Operator

(Dionne over at Rock, Paper, Scissors, Gun seems to have a lot of fun with this form, so I thought I'd give it a shot.)

Dear Crazy Old Guy Who Failed to Sell Me an Awning Window Operator:

Hello. I visited your window-oriented business yesterday in search of a repair or replacement for a broken awning window operator. You might not remember me. I fear that you might not remember much of anything—at least not in any coherent, logical order.

Your behavior, I confess, still has me wondering whether I briefly stepped across the threshold into an alternate universe when I entered your dingy little shop. I didn't mind the two dogs that barked enthusiastically at me as soon as I entered (soon joined by a third smaller, yappier dog); theirs seemed more like hey, look, a stranger barking rather than let's tear that thing's neck open barking, after all, and they were separated from me by a see-through latticework barrier that must have been at least a foot high—well beyond the vaulting capability of the biggest, fattest hound, I am confident, though I suspect that he could probably have bulldozed through it if he got up a good head of steam, but then he was winded from all the barking. They stopped threatening me as soon as they heard your griping and grumbling as you emerged from the bathroom, anyway.

I had been told that yours might the place to find a replacement for a broken awning window operator. (For the uninitiated, those are the things that, when cranked, make the awning windows swing. Kind of like what Viagra does for Bob Dole. I don't think they're what Ted Nugent was singing about in "Yank Me, Crank Me," but with the Nuge, you never know.). At first, I thought that I had indeed come to the right place. I explained what I was looking for; you took a quick look at the original, broken operator that I had brought with me, and voilà! out of one of many dusty boxes on dusty shelves you produced a very similar window operator. Fifteen bucks. For one fleeting moment, I thought that this particular problem had been solved.

It wasn't the same color as the original, but that wasn't an insurmountable problem; hell, it could be surmounted by a little paint, if necessary. No. The problem was that it wasn't quite the same size as the original. Oh, it looked very similar, and the distance between the two little holes on the bottom was the same, but the distance between the top hole and the bottom holes was a quarter of an inch or so more, and that little swinging arm doohickey that actually connects to the window and makes it swing was a little longer than on the original—and I kind of got the impression from poking about on the web that the distances between and dimensions of these various doohickey thingumabobs were, well, important.

Alas for the concern I showed that this awning window operator would not adequately replace the broken awning window operator! Alas for my furrowed brow, my quizzical expression, my continual turning the things over in my hands, and matching them up, and comparing this bit to that bit! To this point you had been at least vaguely helpful, slapping the new operator into my hand with confident determination, telling me that this is what I was looking for, and informing me that once I took it out, there was no bringing it back. When I showed concern that the new operator might not, well, operate—well, you went from weird, loud, abrasive, but at least vaguely helpful to weird, loud, abrasive, and pissed off.

You see, I didn't mind the odd, intrusive, off-topic questions you kept asking about my personal life. I didn't even mind the dismissive, condescending way you reacted when you found out that I taught. It was clear from the get-go that I already occupied a quite lowly position in the twitchy pecking order in your mind; what matter a slight demotion in the mind of a lunatic? But would it have killed you to have listened to me and to have tried answering my honest questions—just a little?

I admit it: I know precious little about the history and theory of awning windows. I never pretended otherwise. My ignorance of these things is why I came to you. I had been told that you were the best place to go for help with my awning window operator problem. Unfortunately, I had not been told that you are also batshit crazy. The person who sent me to you only told me that after I had experienced you in your full glory. At this point, I don't know whether to thank them or vow revenge.

My main question was really quite simple: Given that the awning window operator that you were trying to sell me differed in some key dimensions from the broken awning window operator that I was trying to replace, would the new operator successfully replace the old operator and, well, work? As I have said, I am not an expert in these things; you, presumably, are. I honestly do not know whether (a) an operator that's a quarter of an inch shorter here and a quarter of an inch longer there will work just as well in the window in question or whether (b) a replacement operator must have exactly the same dimensions as the original in order to work properly. I humbly beg forgiveness for my ignorance. But, given that you had already made clear that you would not take the new operator back once I'd bought it, it seemed, well, reasonable to me to ascertain that the new operator would, in fact, be an adequate replacement for the old operator—as opposed to merely an adequate replacement for a paperweight.

Ah, reason: servant of science; vanquisher of vanities; slayer of superstitions; powerless before the indignation of maniacs. Even now reason lays before me the possibilities, Crazy Old Guy Who Failed to Sell Me an Awning Window Operator:

  1. The slight dimensional differences between the old operator and the new operator—not unlike the slight dimensional differences between this universe and the one you inhabit—would not have mattered, practically speaking, and the new operator would have worked just fine with the window in question.
  2. The slight dimensional differences between the old operator and the new operator would have mattered, practically speaking, and the new operator would not have worked just fine with the window in question.
If (1) is the case, then all you need have done to have found yourself fifteen dollars richer and one awning window operator lighter was to have assuaged my reasonable concerns about those slight dimensional differences. For example, if these operator thingies are designed to be easily interchangeable, or if they're designed so that a quarter of an inch here or there doesn't make any difference in how they work, then you could have explained this to me—thereby addressing my reasonable concerns, increasing my confidence in the new operator's value and my knowledge of awning windows, and making the sale. Instead, you responded to my reasonable concern and curiosity by, first, peppering me with irrelevant questions about my personal life and, eventually, when I refused to be diverted and kept returning to my reasonable questions, snatching the new operator from my hand, replacing it in the dusty box on the dusty shelf, and petulantly proclaiming that you would not sell it to me any more, so there.

If (2) is the case, then you were trying to make a quick fifteen bucks by scamming me.

As I ponder this now, I still am not sure how to answer the question that weighs upon me as a result of our surreal encounter yesterday: Are you dishonest, or merely insane? Strangely enough, this is the same question I often find myself asking about our current national leadership. I did not expect to have a macrocosmic/microcosmic moment upon entering your establishment yesterday, but life is full of surprises.

I am proud, however, of the fact that, faced with your deranged truculence, I became amused rather than angry. I even said as I departed, very politely, "I'm sorry that we couldn't do business, sir." Mind you, I could probably have said "My hovercraft is full of eels" for all the good it would have done.

If you aren't really crazy and were just trying to scam me, Crazy Old Guy Who Failed to Sell Me an Awning Window Operator, then a pox upon you for your dishonesty. If you really are crazy, however, then I'm sorry you couldn't close the sale. That fifteen bucks might have bought some useful medication.

Vey nice! You might want to consider submiting that to McSweeney's, where they have a whole site full of Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Not Likely to Respond. A couple of my favorites there are An Open Letter to Keith Richards' Immune System and An Open Letter to Ann Coulter. Check it out, yo.
I'd report the old coot to the Better Business Bureau...
Glad I inspired someone to do something besides choose "close window" from the list of menu options.

I was inspired by McSweeney's to do the open letter format, as well as by a friend in Mexico. Why should we let McSweeney's corner the market on open letters?
Gen, D, I hadn't visited McSweeney's in ages and had not made the connection re. "open letters" -- thanks for making it for me.

Jules -- I really think the guy was just nuts, not a crook, and I doubt that the BBB would be the least bit interested, anyway. As I said, I found out later that the person who told me to go there had been told by the person who told them about the place that you could probably find what you needed there, IF you could get past the guy who runs it, as he's not all there. This crucial bit of information, however, did not get passed on to me in advance -- though I don't know that it would have made the attempted transaction go any smoother. Anyway, people who've dealt with the guy before apparently know what to expect. He struck me as being only a few steps away from either a nuthouse or a nursing home; I certainly don't want to make his life any harder. I'll just file this under What Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stronger.
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Thank you!
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