A Wrenching Tale at The Home Depot

I know we live in a technological age. But sometimes...

Earlier this afternoon I was putting together a stand for the patio. During the process, I discovered that for some reason, the bolts used in this stand were metric. Now, personally, I'm fine with the metric system. I wish we had switched over to it during the '80s like we were supposed to, before Reagan became president and decided that the metric system was Un-American and For Commies Only. But we didn't. And therefore, I don't have any metric wrenches.

So, because I did not want this half-finished stand lying in the garage, I drove over to The Home Depot (I learned several years ago, when working on a branded web site for them, that the company name must always be referred to as "The Home Depot" and never as just "Home Depot") to get a 10mm wrench. As I scanned the tool aisles at The Home Depot, I discovered something interesting... a single Husky Pro 10mm wrench was $22.99, but an entire set of 10 metric wrenches was $44.99 - less than the cost for two of them. Well, Cynthia Henderson didn't raise no dummies, so I decided right on the spot to get a set of 10 metric wrenches, so that if I ever encountered a metric problem again, I would be all set.

I paid for the wrenches with my debit card, and drove back home to finish putting together my patio stand. No problem, right?

Except that when I got home and opened the package, I discovered that one wrench was missing... and of course, you guessed it, it was the 10mm wrench which was the only one I actually needed in the first place. So, making sure I had the receipt, I drove all the way back to The Home Depot, and stood in line to exchange my set of wrenches for one with all 10 in the box.

The return cashier seemed flummoxed by my explanation. "There were only nine?" he said, staring at the package. "Yes," I replied, indicated the empty slot for the missing 10mm tool. "Uh, I have to call somebody", he said. He then muttered into the phone, cupping his hand over the mouthpiece so that I could not hear what he was saying.

I tried to put myself in his place. I imagined that, perhaps, a mob of wrench thieves was running amuck. These fiendish ruffians would purchase a package of wrenches, remove a single wrench from the package while cackling with glee, and then return the package to get their cash back. What a horrible plot!

Not wanting to have The Home Depot suspect me of being a tool thief, I spoke up again. "You know, I just want to exchange it for exactly the same thing", I interjected. "I just want the missing wrench, and as you can see, I bought this less than an hour ago". I waved the receipt to emphasize my point, hoping he would notice the time stamp.

He finished muttering into the phone, looked me up and down, and decided that apparently I was not a member of the Wrench Ripoff Ring. "Well... I have to give you a refund", he said.

"That's not necessary, I just want to make a straight exchange", I smiled.

"I'm sorry, sir. I can't do that. I can only do refunds".

"OK". I pursed my lips and said nothing more.

He scanned my receipt, then frowned. "You paid with a debit card", he said accusingly. "I can't issue a credit for a debit".

Instantly, I flashed back to years of accounting and finance classes in grad school, where I spent untold hours calculating columns labeled "Credit" and "Debit", for amounts both large and small. I suddenly had an image of my first accounting professor, lecturing about how Credits must always equal Debits. Should I educate this fellow, this diamond in the rough working at The Home Depot's return counter? Should I tell him that, in fact, the only way he can refund my Debit is to issue a Credit? Should I do my part to spread knowledge and education throughout greater Broward County? I quickly decided the answer was a resounding "No".

"Um," I said instead.

"I'll have to give you cash. With tax, that comes to $47.54". He muttered that I was taking all of his cash, but then dolefully counted out the exact amount, including the change - two quarters and four pennies.

"You are just getting the same thing, right?" he said as handed me a Refund Receipt, showing I had been issued cash for my wrench return. I nodded in the affirmative, afraid to say anything more out loud for fear of confusing the issue further. I clutched my $47.54 (that's Forty Seven Dollars and Fifty-Four Cents, remember) and walked back to the tool aisle.

I found another package of the metric wrenches, and counted carefully through the bomb-proof plastic to make sure that there were, in fact, 10 wrenches. I also checked carefully to make sure that the all-important 10mm wrench was there.

I stood in line to pay for the replacement wrenches at the cashier one over from my friend the Refund Dude. The woman rang up my wrenches. "That will be $47.55, sir", she said with a smile. I frowned, and placed my cash on the counter. "Well, I have $47.54", I said, pointing.

She looked at me with concern. "I'm sorry sir, but you need another penny", she said, apparently thinking that I was not very bright, and perhaps needed help counting my change. "I know that", I said accusingly, "but he only gave me $47.54 for the same wrenches. He owes me a penny!" I stabbed a finger at the hapless refund cashier, who was already helping another customer.

Refund Boy turns around, his eyes glazed. Smiling Cashier points at me. "Did you give him a refund for some wrenches?" she asks. He nods, and points at the wrenches I am buying, then turns back to his customer. I show Smiling Cashier my previous receipt, with the Credit Receipt. "Hmmm", she says. "I guess the different computers calculated tax differently, huh?"

I thought to myself, "That's the stupidest thing that I ever..." And then it occurred to me, that after working in the software business for over 25 years, nothing really surprises me anymore. So I nodded. "Yup, I guess so", I said. I prepared to leave. She gently put her hand on my bag of wrenches. "Sir, I still need that penny", she said with concern.

I stared at her. She stared at me. Refund Boy turned around slightly, obviously not wanting to get involved. The people behind me in line were starting to shift from one foot to another. I sighed... this is 21st century America, after all. "OK", I said.

But of course, I didn't have a penny. Or a dollar. The only thing I had in my wallet was a twenty dollar bill. Solemnly, I handed her the twenty, which she snatched from my hand and happily tapped into the cash register. "Your change is $19.99" she said with excitement, and counted out my change.

I drove home, dumped 99 cents into my change jar, and finished putting together my patio stand with my new 10mm wrench.

Years ago, I could walk into a hardware store, say "I need to exchange this", pick up another one off the shelf, and walk out with a smile. In fact, when I used to work at Osco Drug in 1981, this was exactly how we handled exchanges. But now, in 2007, things are so much more efficient.

At least I'm all set for metric wrenches now. If you need a patio stand assembled, I'm your man.

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