Sunday, May 6, 2018

I won't back down

This is a story of resilience, tenacity and resourcefulness. And, if you're not careful, you may even learn something.

First, the learning part of this story. As spring tries to emerge from a winter that just doesn't want to loosen its icy grip, Passover, the harbinger of the vernal equinox and the Jewish holiday that commemorates.... er...Pharaoh and Moses and plagues and letting my people go... concluded just last week. In preparation for Passover, my family has always observed  and practiced the traditional rituals associated with the holiday. Over the years, we have become more lenient and relaxed in some areas, but Mrs Pincus remains firm on cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom, ditching everything in the refrigerator and restocking it with food that is certified "Kosher for Passover." For those who are not familiar with the "rules" of Passover, or keeping kosher, besides the basics of "no pork, no shellfish and no mixing meat with dairy" which apply all year long, Passover foods are like starting fresh. They are prepared and are kept clear of non-Passover foods. Plus, depending on your family's specific, sub-ethnic heritage (now, it gets really gets complicated), some foods — like corn, peanuts and rice — are strictly forbidden during the eight day observance. To make things more confusing, some foods are "Kosher for Passover" all the time and their packaging is so labeled.. (Yeah, it took me a while for the concept to "click," for me, too.)

In the week or so prior to the first day of Passover, my wife makes a trip to a supermarket about thirty minutes from our home. Sure, most supermarkets in urban areas stock an aisle with big boxes of matzoh, glass jars of gefilte fish and matzoh ball soup and a few shelves of Passover baking mixes that are just terrible enough to make one vow to just refrain from consuming any Passover cake the next year. The Shop Rite that Mrs P goes to has a rather large and varied selection of Passover foods not available in the average "let's accommodate the Jews for a week" section of our local Acme Market. The temporary Passover department is adjacent to the extensive Kosher section that opened to cater to a pocket of ultra-Orthodox Jews that reside nearby. Among the regular stock of kosher groceries is a packaged meat and cold cut display, many of which is clearly labeled "Kosher for Passover and Year Round Use." Bingo! That's the stuff! Mrs. P scooped up several packages of pastrami, corned beef and salami — all to be enjoyed by her and her meat-eating parents. I am a vegetarian. She filled her shopping cart with other Passover-certified items and headed to the checkout  lane. When she got home, and began to unpack her purchases, she noticed that one package of corned beef was not vacuum-sealed, its contents a pale, sickly beige. It looked small and drawn as it sat awkwardly in its unnerving ballooned package. Mrs. Pincus frowned. She shuffled through the many plastic grocery store bags and located the receipt, making a mental note to return the meat after the holiday was over.

Well, Passover finally ended. I think it may have even run a few days longer than usual. Anyway, after Mrs. Pincus got the kitchen back in order, she threw the suspect corned beef in a bag, grabbed the receipt and we headed out to the Greater Northeast, a misnomer that has attached itself to the far northern tip of the Philadelphia city limits, not far from where I grew up.

We parked and with determined steps, Mrs P bee-lined straight for the Customer Service desk. She presented the receipt and the debilitated package. She pleaded her case to the disinterested young man on the other side of the counter. Suddenly, he seemed to focus on the "Kosher for Passover" legend on the label. Immediately and without listening to another word from my wife, he grabbed a nearby phone and paged a manager. Within seconds, a gentleman in shirtsleeves and a necktie appeared at our side. He interrupted Mrs. P's explanation with a very rehearsed "We are not taking returns on Passover merchandise." And then he grinned a shit-eating grin. Mrs. P furrowed her brow and took it from the top. She patiently (and I mean with the patience of Job) explained that this corned beef, as well as other items, are labeled "Kosher for Passover" all the time. Items that this very store sells all year long. Items that this store stocks at this very moment. The necktied manager with the shit-eating grin nodded and said, "I understand, but we are not taking any returns on Passover items." He continued grinning. Clearly, he did not understand.

Mrs. Pincus began again. Slowly and carefully, she repeated her points. Mr. Manager had obviously lost interest, but stood with his head lolling to one side and pretended to listen. This time, he allowed her to finish before repeating his mantra about not accepting returns on blah blah blah blah blah. Mrs. Pincus was beginning to get a bit tense, much in the way one would get debating important issues with a turnip. I stood a few feet away from the building confrontation, but when my wife mentioned — again — other items bearing the "Kosher for Passover" designation all year round, I took it upon myself to run over to the Kosher deli section and bring back a current package of the same corned beef brand we were returning. And I did just that.

I gave the freshly-picked package to my wife and she waved it in the managers direct, pointing out the words "Kosher for Passover" emblazoned on the label. "My husband just got this from your shelf. If I bought this and returned it tomorrow, you wouldn't accept it?," she asked. With his familiar robotic inflection, he repeated, "We are not taking returns on Passover merchandise." This time, he added that we were welcome to come back tomorrow and speak to the store manager. The store manager? Who the fuck was this guy the whole time. Mrs. P squinted at his name badge. Oh, the assistant manager. "but he won't take the return either.," the assistant added.

"Look," Mrs. Pincus growled thorough clenched teeth, "I am not leaving until I get a refund or a store credit or something." And she meant it. I've known her for 35 years. Oh, she meant it alright. The manager... I mean assistant manager sighed and reluctantly picked a store gift card off a rack. "Okay," he said, "I'll give the amount on a gift card, but I am going to get in so much trouble for this." He loaded the card with the refund amount. Seven dollars and ninety-nine cents. That's right. The assistant manager quarreled and quibbled and disputed over less than eight bucks. Speaking of misnomers, that "Customer Service" sign hanging over our heads was a blatant one.

The next day, my wife called the store to speak to the actual manager. He was receptive, respectful and attentive. First, he apologized profusely for the behavior of his staff. Then he expressed his appreciation of the explanation and said he would be enlightening his staff with this new information about the labeling of Kosher foods.

Guess who'll be the recipient of his first lesson?

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