Wednesday, June 6

Truthiness: An Impossibly High Standard

LAST week's youthful exuberance about the process of deciding on a new furnace/ac combination fades into memory as the Elmer Fudd of my expectations meets the Trickster Wabbit of sales & marketing. I had imagined that this part of the process would be concluded by last Saturday. It's Wednesday. Later today a guy I don't want to talk to will drop by at his convenience, and he will run a line of patter that falls somewhere between a grad school psych major and a one man good cop/bad cop routine. He may allow as how his competitor's products are pretty good, except that little problem they've been having with heat exchangers cracking just after the warranty expires, or he might ask me what other brands I'm "interested" in--the correct answer is I'm not "interested" in any of 'em--and then poor mouth those like six cups of espresso.

I'm not going to begin trying to explain how asking my neighbor for a bit of friendly, over-the-back-fence advice (he briefly ran this grift in between swindling watercraft buyers and the users of salon hair-care products) has extended the process through our current cool spell and on through the next weekend where the weather maps are colored flame orange. He meant well. I'm supposed to come out of all this getting a "deal". I'm a white Protestant Middle-Westerner. I would rather give you an extra $1000 if it means you'll do your job swiftly, correctly, and without playing the radio real loud.

I did enter into the thing with some enthusiasm. I spent hours reading whatever I could, researching companies, reading internet Q&As with HVAC contractors. I was a Prepared Consumer, right up to the point where I met the first salesman, at which point I was reminded that 53 years of age is too old not to realize that your professional salesman/marketeer makes a career--and what's more, takes a wanton boy's delight--in yanking the wings off prepared consumers.

He had admitted that his competitors made good products; it's just that every time he got called out to write up a work order on a prematurely senile unit it was inevitably one of theirs. In this I'm guessing he hoped that I was too stupid to have read the nameplate on my own silent hunk of scrap metal. The second guy, later that same day, helped me re-establish my sense of self-worth. A tall, angular Hoosier a little older than me, he was no salesman. Rather, he was an HVAC lifer who'd managed to get his own business, and who did his own sales calls. "First thing is, there's too many choices. Second thing is, you've probably talked to ten people and gotten ten different stories." I hadn't, but only because he was second.

So here's the thing: we're a nation of swindlers, from Jamestown to that idiot speech that idiot George W. Bush just gave at Jamestown. That's certainly condemnation enough for a country whose pollster-swindlers like to assure us is 114% Christian, even before you factor in the intricate system designed to verbally deodorize the whole thing. I'm just left to wonder at all those Red State morals voters who are so key to our national elections that the Democratic Presidential candidates are now jostling each other for the best (read: nearest the camera) pew. They (the morals voters, not the candidates) walk into drug stores, supermarkets, big box retailers every day and get swindled. Not necessarily by excessive mark-ups, but by a perversion of the whole system, where choice is not determined by the quality of goods on the shelves but by the quality of goods given to the manager in exchange for that shelf space. God knows how many of these people actually make their livings somewhere along that chain. Most of 'em wouldn't dream of cheating you in a change-making transaction, but they are willingly sold on the idea that absent personal dishonesty on a corporate scale Wal*Mart would simply refuse to sell you any merchandise, or be unable to obtain any in the first place, and that without two or three intervening layers of whistle-wetters I'd be fashioning my own furnace from discarded coffee cans and a carton of butane lighters.

And so who are those folks mad at? People who are willing to come to this country and get swindled paycheck after paycheck.

By which I mean to say that people who imagine that having the morals of a hermaphroditic jackal is enough to dim Rudy Giuliani's chances probably need a new furnace.


Anonymous said...


...the Elmer Fudd of my expectations meets the Trickster Wabbit of sales & marketing...

Oh yeah. Oh, and "Oh yeah" to this as well:

...your professional salesman/marketeer makes a career--and what's more, takes a wanton boy's delight--in yanking the wings off prepared consumers....

Many years ago (1988), when I was getting ready to buy my very first brand-new automobile (I still own it, a Honda Civic), I remember doing my homework and walking into a Toyota dealership on a fact-finding mission. I was there for maybe a minute, but alas, I had a little pad of paper on which to write stuff down, prompting a Toyota marketeer to crow loudly to his colleague, "Oh ho! Look! We have a note-taker in the showroom!"

Buying a new car (or, I reckon, a major housing-related item or system) quickly puts you into an altered state of consciousness. Wings that are normally pretty firmly attached suddenly get awesomely easy to rip off.

Another great post, sir.


D. Sidhe said...

That was fantastic. Also, you sound exactly like my partner trying to buy a HD DVD player or whatever it is.

"I'll give you an extra ten bucks to not spend the next ten minutes telling me about the extended warranty."

Anonymous said...

I always take a copy of Consumer Report with me when shopping for high-ticket items. The salesmen's explanations as to why CR isn't very reliable are amusing. Best lies: "CR is a year out of date...the models they test are Euorpean"

In the end I'll go with Sears for A/C- Furnace, and get a warrenty to guarantee faster service.
(kathy in Sparks, aka Fozzetti)

Adam Stein said...

It can be easy to forget that, even if these people (I hesitate to refer to them as "jackals" because I was one for six months) have the Invisible Human Resources Hand on their shoulders, gently reminding them that if they don't make (sales quota, extended coverage/attachment and add-on numbers, the secret shopper happy) they may be out of a job, as awful as a job in retail is.

BeginningToWonder said...

Try living in Texas and buying an AC system in mid-summer - now there's some fun! For that matter, try living in Texas. Period.

Justin Wayne van Bibber Jr. Sign said...

My eyes are burning too much, although I'm rearing to read. I'm new in town and heard tell there was an outfit looking for a metaphor wrangler. @Aphoristically