Sunday, November 26, 2017

simply the best

In 1996, Wilco released their second album, Being There. On my lunch break from my job at a suburban Philadelphia legal publisher, I drove around the corner to a nearby Best Buy to purchase a copy of the album, as I had seen it advertised in their circular that came in Sunday's newspaper. Despite the poor reception their debut effort was afforded, I was a fan of Jeff Tweedy's new project. However, at the time, Wilco was nowhere close to the respected elder statesmen of alt-rock that they are today. They were a little band made up of the remnants of a dispute between Tweedy and band mate Jay Farrar in another little band called Uncle Tupleo. Nevertheless, I wanted to hear what Tweedy, an obviously talented and visionary songwriter, had up his sleeve for a sophomore release.

What's the World Got in Store
I parked and entered the cavernous Best Buy, headed for the sprawling CD department. I scanned the "W" section, flipping past dividers separating albums by the likes of The Who, Wham!, Stevie Wonder and Whitesnake. There was nothing by Wilco. I looked again — nothing. Now, I looked around the store, trying to locate a salesperson. It seemed as though I was the solitary person — employee or customer — in the building. I finally spotted a tall, lanky fellow in a signature blue Best Buy polo shirt and flagged him down. He slowly made his way to the aisle in which I was standing... and stood there, waiting for me to state my reason for needing his attention. "I was looking for the new Wilco album.," I asked. He tilted his head to one side. "Is that a band?," he asked. I frowned. "Yes. Their new album was in your Sunday ad circular.," I explained. "I never heard of 'em.," he replied dismissively. "So that means they don't exist?," I countered. He offered no reaction. Instead, he pointed to the racks of CDs. "Did you look under 'W'?," he asked, as though he solved my dilemma with his breakthrough suggestion. "Yes, of course," I said. "Then, I guess we don't have it.," he concluded, turned on his heels and lumbered away into the depths of the store.

And that's it. This happened over two decades ago and it's still my impression of Best Buy. Although I have bought items at Best Buy, I dread going there. Sure, over the years I have made sporadic purchases there. I bought a washer and dryer, a microwave, two computers and dozens of computer accessories and, of course, numerous CDs (when I was still buying CDs). The experiences were all very similar. I had to know exactly what I wanted to buy because the staff was less than informed about the products they stocked and even less than happy to share their limited knowledge. That is, of course, if you can find a member of their staff. Sure, they're there, but they all seem to be off somewhere just out of customer earshot.

Just last week, Mrs. P got an unsolicited email offer from our friends at Best Buy. The offer touted a  guaranteed gift certificate with a value between five dollars and five thousand dollars. We drove over to our nearest Best Buy and entered the store, the printed email clutched tightly in Mrs. Pincus's hand. As my wife had a cashier scan the bar code on the email to determine the dollar amount, I optimistically headed toward the colorful 75" flat-screen smart TVs. However, I was halted in my tracks when the scan revealed an award of five bucks.

We wandered up and down each aisle of Best Buy, trying to pick out something for five dollars, realizing, of course, the choices were slim. Suddenly two smiling employees approached with the obligatory opening line, "How're you folks doing tonight?," like a couple of textbook used car salesmen. We returned a forced "We're just fine" to the pair and tried our best not to engage them in conversation. One of the sales associates asked if we'd ever been to Best Buy before — my favorite question from retail employees, as though we were just dropped from a passing space craft as emissaries from a distant civilization sorely lacking in the "big box electronic store" department. Without waiting for our reply, he continued. "Well, Best Buy has changed a lot," he boasted, "The cool stuff is located in the center of the store and the..."

I interrupted. "Are you implying that the items around the perimeter of the store are not cool?"

He laughed nervously. "No," he stammered, "of course not. I mean the TVs and computers are in the center of the store and the..."

I interrupted again. "The washers and microwaves are over where the non-cool stuff is. Look, we bought a pretty cool microwave here a few months ago." The other salesman giggled.

Realizing he was getting nowhere, he changed the subject. He extracted a phone from his pocket. "You want to see a really cool app?," he asked, then inquired, "Do you folks have smartphones?" He asked his question the way you'd ask your great-grandmother if she has seen the remote control for the television. My wife and I frowned and displayed our phones for the salesman. I added, "Is this smart enough for you?," as I waved my Samsung Galaxy in the air like a Fourth of July sparkler.

He laughed nervously again, and continued. "Here's the app — watch!," he said. He tapped his phone a few times before announcing, "I just opened and closed my garage door." A smug smile spread across his face.

I shook my head disapprovingly. "If you want to really impress me, show me an app that can open and close your neighbor's garage door. That would be something!"

There was that nervous laugh again. Again, he changed back to his original topic of explaining how Best Buy has changed. He said if there was anything we needed, we should let him know. He smiled and wandered away with his silent colleague in tow.

Mrs. P and I exchanged confirming looks. Best Buy hadn't changed at all.