I go to a respectable number of book sales each year. It’s not an every weekend thing, but six or seven times a year, one catches my attention sufficiently to make venturing off the homestead for it potentially worthwhile. The ones I like to dig into are usually put on “friends of the library” or other organizations who specifically take in book donations – they’re specialists rather than “used stuff” generalists. If I happen to be passing by an estate sale or yard sale, I might stop out of curiosity. I don’t generally seek those out even when someone advertises “lots of books.” It seems my definition of “lots” is wildly different than the average person’s. Nine times out of ten, what’s on offer is a box or two of kids’ books or beat to hell paperbacks.
There used to be a breed of person who frequented these sales called a book scout. They knew their business. They knew their points, editions, conditions, and values and could evaluate a book on sight. The best of them seemed to have a sixth sense about whether there was real value in a book – whether even the newest ultra-modern was a $2 reading copy or a $200 first edition.
Time seems to be replacing proper book scouts by roving bands of resellers. They ply their trade online, making their money in arbitrage – buying for $2 and selling for $3. Their business seems to be one of volume over quality. They’re hell with a barcode scanner and figuring out the spread on Amazon. They collectively seem to know price, but not value.
These resellers are in there like vacuums sucking up all oxygen in the room – sitting on the floors, sprawled out, making obstacles (if not spectacles) of themselves, trying to scan every barcode in sight. It feels tawdry somehow. There’s not a bit of old-fashioned book scouting about any of it. They surely passed over the $200 book I walked out with for $10 last weekend because it simply didn’t have a barcode to scan. It must be more cost effective to sell 200 books on a $1 margin, but there’s no soul in it.
I don’t think these guys are evil. They wouldn’t be doing what they do if there wasn’t a market for the $3 book. Increasingly, though, I wonder if my days at the sales are numbered. At some point the sheer aggravation of dealing with them won’t be weighed out by the utter joy of making a real score. There’s a big part of me that would rather just pay a dealer something close to retail than continue to trip over 101 resellers.
I’ve reached an age when I occasionally wake up in the middle of the night when I inevitably have too many tasty libations too late in the evening. Usually, it’s a quick trip there and back where I’d barely qualify as being awake. Most of the time it doesn’t feel like my sleep has even been interrupted. Fine. It’s an inconvenience of getting a bit older I’ve mostly learned to accept. Well, not accept exactly. Maybe tolerate for lack of other options… and unwillingness to curtail my after dinner “hydration.”
There’s the rare night when the return to sleep doesn’t happen immediately. Usually that’s resolved with a quick scroll through Twitter or calling up the dulcet tones of whatever BBC World Service presenter happens to be broadcasting at the time. A few minutes later and I’m happily back to sleep.
As it happens, Monday was one of those nights where I woke up. It must have been around 2:15. I know this because that’s the time stamp of the email receipt from Amazon… from that moment in my sleep addled mind I decided that I needed a shave ice machine.
Awake me would definitely not have ordered a $60 countertop appliance designed solely and exclusively for turning ice cubes into shards, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t recognize how having one would raise my level of frozen drink making to a new level. Yes, I could just send it back, but now I’m intrigued. I think I’m just going to write it off as a Christmas present from my subconscious.
It gets here Friday, so I’ll be over here looking for frozen drink recipes if anyone needs me.
1. One Day Shipping. I have no idea why Amazon even pretends to offer items for “one day shipping” any more. Of the last three items I’ve purchased that touted this speedy service, exactly none of them arrived when “expected.” When I’ve been lucky, the items may have shipped by the expected arrival date… although one of those never arrived at all and had to be reshipped, arriving a full week after I ordered it. At one time, Amazon was practically synonymous with “logistics,” but mostly now I think they just make shit up as they go along.
2. Anti-intellectualism. America has a long history of anti-intellectualism. I could give you someone examples, but since we’re currently living through one of them, I’ll save you the trip down our collective memory lane and hope that you’ll just accept that I’m telling you the truth. Maybe the space program in the 60s was an exception, but I suspect that was more because those with the right stuff were billed as test pilots rather than engineers – though in many cases they were both. I know the historical backstory of why Americans have a long tradition of hating the smart people in the room, but I’ll never quite understand why we can’t get the hell over it.
3. Peak savings days. Local electric companies are quick to hand out a few pennies savings for those who are willing to swelter a bit as afternoon temperatures hover in the mid-90s. All that really tells me is that increasingly, the local electric grid hasn’t been built out to meet actual demand for its product. Personally, I’d prefer to pay them a few pennies more during off-peak times so they can build a bit of excess capacity rather than sweating all the way through high summer. A little personal comfort feels like something well worth paying for, but maybe that’s just me.
1. One day shipping. I know there’s a pandemic (despite or apparent collective decision to ignore it). Shipping times have been all jacked up, but “arriving on or before” has been reasonably reliable throughout. I placed an order last Thursday that indicated next day delivery. It was, of course, a no show. By Saturday afternoon the order status changed to “delayed.” Then it was the Sunday and federal holiday Monday. On Tuesday the status changed again to “There may be a problem with your order.” By Wednesday, the status changed yet again to “We think we lost your order” and offering a link to request a replacement. I duly followed the link, requesting the replacement… about two hours before the original item arrived on my doorstep, delivered by a third-party carrier that was never once mentioned in any of the shipping information I received from Amazon. Sometimes I think they are true masters of logistics. Other times it feels like they don’t have any idea what’s actually rolling through their system.
2. Someday, just once, I’d love to know what it’s like to be part of an organization where the left hand has any semblance of a clue what the right hand is up to… or I could just continue to flail helplessly in a bottomless morass of abject fuckery until it’s time to turn out the lights. Either way, I guess.
3. Personal bubble. After a week of continuing to mute the hell out of people on Facebook, I’ve started doing the same on Twitter – Except this time I get to block whole words, phrases, and hashtags instead of (or in addition to) ignoring entire accounts. I’ve grown weary of feeds spewing uninformed content, virtue signaling, and purity tests so I’m opting to continue to curate my personal online bubble. There’s enough absolute shit to deal with day to day without being flooded across my social media platforms too. For what it’s worth, I haven’t needed to do a thing to Instagram and will cheerfully stay there… ummm… for the articles. The left and right hands.
1. “Strategic” Amazon ordering. It used to be simple. I’d drop an order with Amazon and later that day I’d get a notice that the item has shipped. In the days of the Great Plague, shipping delays have revealed a problem I find more problematic than even the delayed ship times. Let’s say I order a 30-pound bag of dog food on Monday, a paperback on Tuesday, and some plastic kitchen implement on Wednesday. Those things use to ship separately. Now, more often than not they end up in the same box. Like the last one I received – with the kitchen utensil mangled, dog food bag ripped open, and the paperback folded, spindled, and mutilated. So now I keep a running list of things I need to order from Amazon and let each one clear all the way through shipping before ordering the next. It shouldn’t need to be this way, but it is.
2. Social media. In this age of plague, social media has revealed a lot more about some of our friends and family than most of us probably wanted to know. I did my level best to overlook some of the more wild-eyed speculations flowing through the tubes of the internet. Eventually, though, I capitulated and started the liberal application of the mute option. Getting the worst offenders from both sides out of my feed has done wonders for my blood pressure, so maybe the initial annoyance was worth it.
3. Historically I’ve had the ability to fall asleep pretty much the moment I close my eyes. I’m not complaining about missing out on the lying awake or tossing and turning that some people complain about. The last week or so, though, has been jam packed with tossing and turning or somehow thrashing around in my sleep. I know this because when my brain stutters awake in the pre-dawn darkness, the comforter is halfway across the room, there’s a blanket piled up where the pillows should be, and my legs are utterly tangled in the top sheet. Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that, but I don’t feel any less rested than usual, so I guess it’s whatever.
1. Missing appointments. So far during the Great Plague, I’ve deferred my regular medical checkup, a dental cleaning, a crown replacement, and three vet appointments. That’s six things right out of the gate that need rescheduled over the summer – assuming the plague actually gets tamped down. It’s not all down side, of course. Having a full year’s worth of leave to cram into the back half of the year won’t suck. It’s mostly about the number of phone calls I’ll need to make to get everything made up.
2. Research. Reading things on Facebook and then doing a Google don’t make you a researcher. Going down an internet rabbit hole is not research. It just isn’t. Even in the softest of soft sciences, there’s a methodology to research, a way of doing things. Buying whole cloth, the wisdom of egirls selling cleansing tea on Instagram versus the nuanced explanations of actual scientists who have spent a lifetime studying their field makes you look like an idiot. Spewing that mess in public doesn’t make you a researcher. It makes you a clear and present threat to yourself and anyone unfortunate enough not to read your blathering with a critical eye.
3. Shipping. There’s nothing to be done for it, but it feels like we’re back in the olden days of online shopping, or more specifically of shipping those orders. Amazon trained me too well to expect items to tumble onto my porch the day I ordered them or at worst in a day or two. Now that we’re back to items showing up five or seven days later – or weeks later in some cases – it all feels so damned clunky.
After the better part of three weeks, Amazon and I have arrived at an uneasy peace. They’ve stopped repeatedly trying to get me to pay for an item that’s already been paid for (and one that’s already been returned) and I’ve grudgingly accepted that Amazon has become an almost indispensable purveyor of “stuff” for my household.
The fact that it took a last gasp, hail Mary email to Jeff Bezos to grab a human being’s attention and get them to override the automatically generated email loop from hell I was trapped in still doesn’t leave me brimming with confidence.
I spent a fair amount of the last three weeks looking at and ordering from other online retailers, so I know there are alternatives to Amazon. What those alternatives don’t provide en block, are free shipping and access to the same exhaustive product list that Amazon does, so I found myself replacing one company with perhaps half a dozen in order to cover the same retail territory.
With that experience, I will admit that when Amazon is working well, they’re a hard act to beat… but when they freeze you out, they freeze you all the way out. I was, despite becoming increasingly aware of the inconvenience, prepared to stay frozen out indefinitely, but I’m glad it didn’t come to that in the end.
Amazon is never going to be a company I love, but in the end they are a company I can do business with – at least when it comes to ordering things that can stand to be badly packaged and beat to hell and back in transit. As it turns out, achieving peace in our time doesn’t mean I’m going to stop calling them out for that at every possible opportunity. You could have probably guessed that.
1. Storming Area 51. The media has been caught up on stories of people who are “planning” to storm Area 51, or the US Air Force facility at Groom Lake, Nevada. I like to think most people have signed on as a lark, maybe because they want to feel like a part of the latest internet sensation. The internet is full of stupid, of course, so I have very little doubt that at least some of them are really “planning” to cross into the facility on or about the appointed date and time. It also seems likely that the type of people most likely to attempt this are the ones least likely to be prepared for what they’ll meet… miles upon miles of some of the most inhospitable terrrain in the United States, almost no services – including hotels, gas stations, and water, and some very irate and serious guards should any of them happen to actually stumble, sunburned and dehydrated, into the restricted area. Planning. I have deep reservations about whether that word means what the internet seems to think it means.
2. Prime day. Every year feels a little more like Prime Day is just an amazon garage sale. It’s certainly a “so what” event from a book perspective. I miss when amazon was a bookseller. Of course I’m still locked out of my Prime account anyway so it doesn’t really matter.
3. Water. The universal advice when getting over a cold is to “drink lots of water.” I’m increasingly convinced that no one who gives that advice has ever actually tried to do it themselves. Water, even the fresh, pure stuff coming up from the well on the homestead starts tasting disgusting after you reach a certain volume of throughput. That’s if you can say it really “tastes” like anything at all. All I’m saying is that if experts want you to flood your system with something, they should make it something that’s reasonably good tasting, I mean where’s the advice to drink lots of hot chocolate or good rye whiskey?
Lawyers. I’ve been running one annually recurring project for the last six years. For five of those six years we plugged along, meeting leadership intent, and getting the job done mostly by convincing a bunch of other organizations to play nicely in this particular sandbox. The key, mainly, was in finding ways to make it easy for all of these other organizations to say yes when we asked for something. Enter the lawyers. This year, we seems bound and determined to create roadblocks where there were none before and actively seek out ways to get to “no.” It seems to me there’s a difference between cautious and diligent and being just another toad in the road. I miss the cautious and diligent advice we use to get.
Amazon. Today I talked to Amazon’s customer service line for the 3rd time about getting my account un-suspended. That’s after spending a few hours pinging tweets back and forth with their Twitter customer service team. Current status is that no one is apparently able to tell me why the people who manage charge back issues haven’t and/or aren’t able to resolve this. I’m told the issue has been elevated to the next support tier… and I should hear “something” in the next 24-48 hours. That’s all well and good, I suppose, until just after that conversation, when Amazon sent me another email claiming that I haven’t returned something they acknowledged I had already returned several weeks ago, so that will be a separate, unrelated fight with my favorite online retailer as soon as our primary issue is resolved. I’m expecting that to be some time in December based on the current rate of progress.
High water. There’s a tropical storm headed for New Orleans. The city is already flooding. Grand total of things that we have collectively learned about living on the low ground since Katrina: Zero.
As a result of the fraud found on one of my credit cards a few weeks ago, the credit card company “charged back” a series of purchases made on the same day as the fraudulent charges. Several of them were legitimate charges that I authorized. One of those legitimate charges was to Amazon.
Amazon contacted me a few days later, asking to get paid. Since it was a valid charge, I provided an alternate payment method and we all moved on. Or I thought we moved on… until last night when I received a notice that my Amazon account was now suspended, pending payment of this same charge (you know, the one that I’ve already paid).
Everything in my account is currently being held in purgatory, apparently – ebooks I purchased, purchase histories, wish lists, ebooks published and linked to that account, including access to tax statements generated by sales on Amazon’s platform. It seems there’s no way known to man to access that material again unless I pay Amazon (for the second time) $225 and assorted cents.
As I commented on Amazon’s Twitter feed yesterday, this isn’t a process to resolve account disputes, it’s good old fashioned extortion. Either you comply with their demands or years worth of your online presence is obliterated.
So I guess I’m at war with Amazon now thanks to their decision to act like third tier thugs instead of one of the world’s largest corporations.