Sunday, December 3, 2006

The big orange box

3 December 2006

Mr. Robert L. Nardelli
Chairman, President and CEO
The Home Depot
2455 Paces Ferry Road
Atlanta, GA  30339-4024

VIA FACSIMILE:  1-877-496-9470

Dear Mr. Nardelli:

With hopes that I would finally be able to replace my geriatric, leaking, but still serviceable Maytag dishwasher as well as join the 21st century by purchasing an over-the-range microwave oven, I drove to the Bastrop Home Depot on November 4th and began the arduous task of shopping for appliances, a chore I equate second only to root canal in terms of expense and tedium.  Within a few minutes, I was approached by James, who was wearing a Santa hat.  He was friendly and greeted me with an offer of assistance.  I remember thinking that perhaps this procedure would be easier than I first thought.  But alas, that was to be the first of many cognitive distortions about what was to ensue.

I explained what I needed and deliberated with James regarding the best products to meet my needs.  He recommended for both dishwasher and microwave the LG line, which he assured me was of very high quality and certainly appeared to be very impressive.  Both appliances were sleek, black, modern.  They bespoke the kind of quality that can only be acquired at some measure of sacrifice; in other words, they were expensive.  James made a very good sales pitch, however, and I imagined my kitchen transformed to an oasis of quiet, efficient tranquility, a shrine to post-industrial technology.  I saw acres of extra counter space gained when the old microwave was gone, imagined future dinner parties uninterrupted by the noise of my old dishwasher, and heard the murmur of approval (and envy) that my guests would emit as they sipped their pomegranate martinis in my newly transformed, sleek and shiny kitchen.

I was hesitant to order any appliances, however, because I had not measured my cabinets and expressed my concern about this to James.  He assured me several times that I didn’t need to measure because all of the appliances were standard.  Onward and upward.  James announced he needed to attend to another customer, and I was passed into the hands of a very polite but nervous fledgling employee, Johnny.  He was to complete my order, arrange for delivery and installation, and help me arrange for financing.  Apparently, this process is not simple: I now have in my possession 22 pages of documents in 10 point font that, for all intents and purposes, state that I have purchased a dishwasher and a microwave as well as the delivery and installation for same.  All of this took an inordinately long time, and it was reminiscent of the length of time it has taken me to write a dissertation proposal for the University of Texas.  I was very patient.  Johnny was new.  He needed assistance from other employees to complete my order.  I encouraged this, thinking that this would only improve chances of making sure that the order and details were correct.  Again, another cognitive distortion.

During this time, there was much deliberation among the employees as to how to arrange the delivery and installation.  I was told that I could have the appliances delivered on the
17th of November and installed on the 18th.  I was told I needed to have tiles removed in front of the old dishwasher to make installation easier.  I was told to expect the delivery on the afternoon of the 17th, between 1 pm and 4 pm, and I was told the delivery crew would call at least 30 minutes ahead of time to let me know of their estimated arrival time.  I was told that installation would happen the next day and that I would get a call from the installer to tell me when he would arrive.  By the end of the transaction, over a full hour later, it took four employees (including James in the Santa hat) to complete the paperwork, which was by now bound, signed, stamped and approved by all present to confer honors, rights and privileges to me, the purchaser, of owning a brand new shiny sleek LG dishwasher and microwave.

I left the store feeling somewhat dazed and overwhelmed, but with not a bit of buyer’s remorse.  I was elated to have a new dishwasher and microwave coming and set about the task of arranging my schedule to accommodate the tile worker, the delivery and the installation.  This might be a good time to mention that I run my own business, and that every hour I am doing something other than running my own business costs me money and inconveniences my clients.  I was thinking at the time of my schedule-arranging that I was fortunate to have the flexibility to schedule the delivery and installation of my new appliances, and that my time away from my business would not be too costly.  A third cognitive distortion, I’m afraid.

I arranged for a tile worker (who is not contracted by Home Depot) to come to my house exactly one week prior to the scheduled delivery date.  I rescheduled all appointments normally set for that morning to accommodate the tile worker, who came on time and very efficiently loosened the legs on my dishwasher, lifting it up and over the tile easily.  He informed me that the tile did not need to be removed in order to install my new dishwasher.  However, in removing the lower panel of the dishwasher and pulling it up over the tiles, he wrenched the door (which already leaked) and rendered the dishwasher totally inoperable as well as a hazard to shins, hipbones and pets.  To keep it from flopping open and decapitating the beloved family dog like a crude guillotine, I taped the door of the dishwasher to the countertop with packing tape.  How was I to know that by the end of the week, that same piece of tape would have collected enough debris to qualify for first prize in an elementary school science fair?  The tile worker left my home with $30.  Oh well, I thought, I can live without a dishwasher until the new one arrives, and thank goodness that will all be taken care of before Thanksgiving.  What a wretched cognitive distortion that was.  I was expecting guests for Thanksgiving and I expected to serve them the elaborate dinner I had cooked myself on china--not paper plates, and with crystal and silver--not airline tumblers and plastic utensils.  But oh, cruel fate!  In hindsight, I realize now that the amount of cognitive distortion I was experiencing began to qualify me for a diagnosis of psychosis and a lifetime supply of Haldol.

I passed the time waiting for my new appliances quickly and busily, trying to recoup financial losses and prepare for the funding of what I now fondly call my “Home Depot Adventure,” and the morning of the 17th, my scheduled delivery date, dawned bright and promising.  But again, I must remind you of my psychosis.  Things are not what they seem.  I arranged all of my appointments for the morning and did not schedule any (at significant financial loss, I might add) for the afternoon, which would, I was told by one of the myriad employees I dealt with on the 4th, be the time frame for delivery.  Imagine my surprise and consternation when, leaving my office to run an errand at 11:30 am (a full hour and one-half before what I crazily believed to be the possibility of delivery), I receive a message on my voicemail that the delivery crew has just been to my house and discovered I was not home!  Furthermore, stated the message, they were leaving since they had other deliveries to make that day.  I was incredulous at this development.  What had happened to the call I was supposed to receive to let me know of the delivery crew’s ETA?  What had happened to the agreement to a delivery between 1 and 4 pm?  Frantically, I dialed the number left on my voicemail log and someone answered.  I explained who I was and my confusion about the situation.  Politely, the man informed me that he didn’t know anything about what Home Depot told me, he was “just the delivery guy.”  Furthermore, the delivery would have to be rescheduled.  I begged, no I pleaded with every timbre of compassion-wringing tonality in my voice that the delivery truck must return because the installation was scheduled for the next day (have you lost count of the cognitive distortions yet?) and I was only 8 minutes away (if I’m driving 75 miles an hour).  Mercifully, Delivery Guy turned around and met me at my home, where I accepted delivery of my brand new sleek and shiny LG dishwasher and over-the-range microwave.  I later read Delivery Guy’s comments at the bottom of my delivery receipt.  They read, “Delivery went great!”  Further proof that I was losing touch with reality.

Sometime during the mid-afternoon, when I could have been making money seeing clients but for the ill-appointed delivery, the murky thought surfaced that perhaps installation arrangements were not firm.  So I called the Bastrop Home Depot, and after several frustrating segues through an automated phone menu and several minutes on hold, I managed to speak with Trevie, an extremely helpful person.  But alas, I was informed that no installation was scheduled, not for tomorrow, and not ever.  Furthermore, there was not a chance of installation until the Bastrop Home Depot received confirmation of my delivery earlier that day from Delivery Guy and Home Depot faxed it to their installation contractor.  At that point, I was informed, the contractor would have two business days to call me to schedule an installation.  I expressed my displeasure at this, and explained that I had been told by the employee team completing my order (to be exact, newly employed Johnny) that installation could be arranged the day after delivery.  I mentioned that four employees were involved in completing my transaction on the 4th, which certainly brings a fresh perspective to the concept of teamwork.  I also explained the miraculous circumstances of the delivery earlier that day.  Trevie offered me the phone number of the installer and encouraged me to call him myself, which I did.  He answered (or was this an auditory hallucination?) and told me that he had no record of any installation planned for me on the 18th, and furthermore, there was no possibility that I would have my dishwasher and microwave installed before Thanksgiving.  He delivered this last bit of news with a somewhat sadistic relish, like a hunter who knows he has trapped his prey.

I called Trevie again (and after being on hold and being transferred to every department but hers) and explained the situation.  She apologized for the inconvenience and stated she would do what she could to resolve it and would call me back.  She attempted to do so, but the situation remained unresolved.  During the next few days, I made several phone calls to Home Depot and spoke with various and sundry employees about the problem.  Faxes were apparently transmitted to the installation contractor, messages were left, but there was no return call from the installer.  During the two calls I subsequently made to the installer, I received a message that his mailbox was full and not accepting any more messages.  Then, by sheer persistence or fate, I did manage to get through to the installer on the morning of the 20th, who answered the phone and identified himself as Mark from Hot Shot Services (I remember later thinking that there was a lot of hopeful but misguided optimism in that business name) and who stated again he could not install my appliances the week of Thanksgiving, nor was he sure when he could.  He took my name and number and stated that he was arranging his schedule at that very moment, and would call me back in 10 minutes.  He never did.

An entire fleet of Home Depot employees were eventually to join in the effort to resolve this problem, all of them as helpful as they could be, but none seemed to be able to resolve the problem of locating an installer.  I was resigned that Thanksgiving would proceed with guests, cooking and china, crystal and silver as originally planned.  We would just have to hand wash the dishes, which might be kind of fun.  I imagined an hour of good-natured family bonding over the kitchen sink (and the week of chapped hands afterward) and decided that the situation was really not all that bad, it was just an inconvenience.  After all, my grandmother washed and dried dishes for 8 after many a Sunday dinner.  I decided that the large carton that housed the new dishwasher would be draped with a festive tablecloth and become the drink and hors d’oeuvres station; the medium-sized carton that contained the microwave was another issue.  It took up valuable floor space, as did the dishwasher, and did not appear to be readily transformed into any modicum of stylish or even usable furniture.  In the end, it became the repository for the newly hand washed and hand dried dishes, gleaming with the efforts of our collective labor.  I felt supremely adaptable, invincible, ever resilient and able to deal with stressors and inconveniences with the cheeriest of smiles and attitudes.  Home Depot, I can handle your curve balls any day.  Batter up!

The Friday after Thanksgiving, after being encouraged to do so by Trevie at Home Depot, I decided to hire a private plumber, who offered to come that very evening to install the dishwasher.  I decided to grapple with the problem of installing the microwave another time.  The destined hour came, and the plumber arrived.  He got straight down to business and pulled out the old dishwasher without much trouble (and no breakage of tile).  He uncrated the brand new shiny sleek LG dishwasher.  She was a beaut.  Black, streamlined, silently waiting to efficiently handle whatever life and the cook dished out (excuse the pun, but I’m running out of metaphors).  The plumber positioned my beautiful new LG dishwasher in front of the waiting portal.  I held my breath expectantly.  Up until this point, the plumber had been cheerfully running a monologue about his recent cruise to the Bahamas (which apparently his earnings afford him) and was bustling importantly about my kitchen.  Suddenly, all motion and sound stopped.  I looked at him and he looked at me.  A full minute passed before either one of us could speak.  I could see that he was trying to temper his remarks with the most sympathetic of tones.  “Ma’am,” he said, “this dishwasher is not going to fit in this hole.” 

Incredulous, I stumbled toward him.  “What?  But the salesman told me it was standard size, and that I didn’t need to measure.”  My plumber patiently explained to me that the cupboards would need to be cut on either side to accommodate the beautiful shiny sleek black housing of the LG and that the plywood underneath and to the back of the countertop would need to be shaved.  He said he “reckoned” he could do the cutting work so it would fit.  I saw dollar signs floating in a green miasma in front of my eyes, along with cupboards that were splintered and ruined beyond redemption, another $1500 expenditure to replace them in the offing.  I began to feel queasy, and I told him quietly that I would think about his suggestion.  He hauled my old dishwasher out into the back yard and left with $65, eager to sharpen his saw and book his next Caribbean cruise.  I sadly contemplated the hole where my once serviceable Maytag had lived, and felt sad that it now was relegated to my back yard, cold, alone and useless.

I already knew from my brief (but highly informative) call to Mark the Hot Shot that my cupboards would need to be cut and reinforced to accommodate my plans for an over-the-range microwave.  There was also additional work that needed to be done in order to make the microwave work (minor issues such as wiring and bracing), and this meant additional expenditure, out of pocket.  I lugged the 22-page tome of paperwork from Home Depot to my desk and began to run the numbers.  I faced a bill for $1293.74 for dishwasher, microwave, delivery (thank God) and installation (hah!) from Home Depot, had paid the tile worker $30 for a half-hour’s labor, my plumber got $65 for hauling my old dishwasher into the back yard (I was now contemplating a couple of old couches, a rusting ’65 Plymouth and a chained pit bull with mange to complete the illusion), and he planned to come back with his saw to hack up my cupboards (which meant I would naturally turn to Bastrop Home Depot to order custom countertops and cupboards to replace the ruined ones).  I had lost over $600 in billable hours otherwise spent with clients.  And--did I mention I was now certifiably insane?--I was contemplating giving up more time at the office, writing more checks, working harder to compensate.  Oh, how I wanted that shiny sleek black LG dishwasher!  It seemed I would do anything to feed the voracious monster of conspicuous consumption.

Saturday morning the 25th I awoke with a dull malaise and a heavy heart.  The feverishness of the previous evening’s plans to have my beautiful LG dishwasher installed had broken and I now was in a cold sweat.  I realized that owning LG appliances was not practical, and that I was just looking at one small hole in a dam that was about to break wide open.  Meanwhile, there was a gaping hole under my counter where the Maytag had once resided, and I had no replacement or alternative but to consider it as a makeshift bomb shelter.  Remembering how pleasant Trevie had been to me, I dialed Home Depot to request that they pick up the appliances and credit my account.  It turns out that I would attempt to call Trevie at least four times that day.  I was placed on hold, rerouted and given the pleasure of speaking to employees who had no idea how to direct my call, nor when they did, where Trevie was.  At one point, I was on hold for what seemed to be an eternity.  After five minutes, I put the receiver on speaker phone so I could free up my hands.  During this time, I cleaned the windows of my entire home (inside and out), planned a seven-course themed dinner party for 12, alphabetized my Rolodex, and read the first three chapters of War and Peace.  My patience was beginning to wear thin.  Just prior to five o’clock, I hung up and dialed again.  I was told that Trevie had gone home for the day.  This piece of information served to totally unhinge me.  I requested a manager and ended up speaking with a very polite man named Randy who assured me he would help me.  I explained the situation and stated that I wanted the appliances picked up on Monday morning.  I could not bear to look at them any longer, nor did I ever want to do business with Home Depot again.  Randy told me he would help resolve the situation but picking up the appliances on Monday morning would be dicey since “you never know what you’ll find on Monday morning.”  I stated that although I would like to be sympathetic to his plight, I had already been inconvenienced beyond what was reasonable by the incompetence of several Home Depot employees (not to mention its contracted entities) and had had my fill of fun.  He swiftly assured me he would be at my home early Monday morning.  Randy’s  arrival, as well as the removal of the beautiful LG appliances from my home on the morning of the 27th of November went very well.  In fact, it was the only thing that happened as expected and promised in my nearly month-long tortuous relationship with Bastrop Home Depot.

On Sunday, the 26th of November, I waltzed into the Round Rock Lowe’s Home Improvement Store and left 22 minutes later with three small slips of paper curiously resembling register receipts indicating that I purchased a new Kitchen Aid dishwasher.  I dealt with an exceptionally knowledgeable employee who helped me find the best dishwasher for my needs.  He took care to ask me about how old my home was, what kind of cupboards I had and what kind of housing and insulation was necessary for my new dishwasher.  He promised delivery to my home in Elgin the very next day.  I received my dishwasher as promised, and it was installed by my plumber the day after.  The process went smoothly and I am deliriously happy that miracles do, in fact, occur.  I am happy to report that the process went so well that my psychosis has gone into complete remission and I now feel like myself again.  No more nasty Haldol!

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the invaluable experience I have had in dealing with Bastrop Home Depot.  Without it, I would never be able to claim that I am now a loyal customer of Lowe’s Home Improvement Stores, and will cheerfully drive to Austin (or to Albany, or Aspen, or Aberdeen, or yea, even unto Australia) to avoid doing business in the future with any Home Depot.

Ever your faithful servant,
Vindaloo Tiramisu