No Good Deed

Sunday I went to my local electronics store to browse for a new computer, and a $500 laptop caught my attention. It lacked the massive amounts of memory and storage space that come with the $1000-and-up models, but I chalked that up as a virtue rather than a fault. I intend to use the laptop for my writing, and anything that prevents me from installing or enjoying City of Heroes is a boon.

But a salesperson approached me and, without preamble, declared the laptop to be steaming mound of uselessness. “That thing …” she said, letting the sentence trail-off and shaking her head ruefully. “If you’re even considering that, you should be looking at that Sony over there.” She gestured toward a model across the aisle that sold for about three times as much. “This thing is so slow, you won’t be able to use it for anything.”

Irritated, I adopted my msot cheerful tone and said “I’ll be the judge of that. Abruptly uninterested, the saleswoman squirted off without another word.

Then as I turned back to reading the system specifications, I was waylaid by seniors.

“What do you know about this here computer?” the old man demanded, in that tone of volume of voice that I’m wont to hear from the row behind me in the movie theater.

“I don’t work here,” I said, “but it looks …”

“I just want to play my games,” the woman interjected.

The man confirmed. “We just want to play our games. But these salespeople, they say this computer is no good for games. They say it won’t work.”

“It says in the ad that this computer is $500,” added the wife. “And now they tell us it doesn’t even work.”

She held up an insert from a newspaper, on which this very laptop was touted as an bargain on par with the Louisiana Purchase. Apparently that was this store’s business model: they advertise some item as being the greatest thing since oral sex, and then station salespeople around it to snort derisively at anyone stupid enough to even glance in the featured item’s direction.

“What kind of games?” I asked, suspecting that weren’t talking World Of Warcraft, here.

“I like to play poker,” said the man. Then he cocked his thumb back to point as the woman behind him and said “She likes to play the slots. And they say we need a thousand dollar computer to do it.”

“That’s ridiculous. We are in our seventies,” said the woman, as if there was a well-established, scientific prinicple correlating the age of a user to his required amount of RAM.

“If you’re just playing casino games, I think this computer will be just fine,” I told them.

“I knew it.” The man said to his wife, vindicated. “What about AOL? Does this thing have AOL?”

“Our son told us not to have a computer with AOL on it,” the woman said. “He says AOL runs a lot of programs on your computer and makes it run slow.”

“Well, it’s not a matter of a computer ‘having’ AOL or not, because AOL is an ISP not a …” I stopped and restarted. “This computer might have, like, a little AOL picture on the desktop? But if you don’t want to use it you can just get delete it.”

“How do we do that?” asked the man.

“Just drag the icon into the Trash,” I said.

The woman looked confused. “Won’t that delete the hard drive?”

This astoundingly stereotypical “technologically clueless old person” statement, combined with the phrase “hard drive”, actually made me wonder if they were having one over on me, like maybe I was being featured on “Geriatric Punk’d!” or something. Or perhaps this was an modern day version of that fairy tale where the King disguises himself as a pauper and goes out amongst his subjects, rewarding those who offer him charity with riches beyond their wildest dreams. Perhaps these people were actually sent out by the store management, and by helping them out I would receive a free CDR/DVD drive.

Alas, our subsequent banter conclusively disproved the latter hypothesis.

“We’re getting this computer,” the man announced at last, and set off to find a salesman. The woman followed, leaving me a little irked that I hadn’t even got thanked.

But there was one bright side: despite brushing off the saleswoman earlier, she had got me wondering if I really wanted this laptop, instead of that $1500 Sony over yonder. In explaining to the elderly couple that they didn’t really need more than this model offered, I had also talked myself into saidsame.

Resolved, I opened my mouth to address the salesman who was approaching me. “Excuse me,” I said.

“Hang on a sec,” he replied. Then he reached around me and put a bright red card on the laptop I was going to buy. It read “This model is sold out.” I looked over at the register and saw the old people handing over their credit card and looking satisfied that they had seen through the store’s bait-and-switch scheme.

“Okay,” the sales guy said. “What can I get you?”

29 thoughts on “No Good Deed

  1. Wow! My parents just bought a new $500 laptop? Hey, Matt, thanks for helping them pick it out! I’ll give them your e-mail addy so you can continue to provide technical support…

  2. XYZZY —

    I remember! When I found a port of Colossal Caves (Adventure) for the Palm Pilot, I had to call my mother to (a) tell her about it and (b) ask her how to put the bird in the cage (I forgot that he didn’t like the rod with a star on it).

    You’ve brought up some incredibly frustrating memories — I have to go beat something now.

  3. Delurking to say that my mother is the stereotypical technologically clueless old person poster … old person. When she spied me playing The Sims, she asked me if that was the Internet. She also expressed great concern that the person I was currently lambasting on my site would see it when they logged on.

    I have yet to receive my CDR/DVD drive.

  4. This is my life. I have a mother-in-law with about as much computer savvy as the two listed above. She is nearly 60 and she is deaf. Think about that. She lives 1.5 hours away, and I can’t do tech support over the phone with her and she doesn’t understand what I do tell her in person. When something breaks we drive there and fix it.

    Around Christmas her computer died, we had to make no less than three trips to her place in futile attempts to fix it (it had ME and no virus protection, it was nasty, 2 reformats didn’t cure it). By the time we got around to buying her a new computer her requirements were as such: it is black, it has sound (for a deaf woman!), it can run Yahoo chat.

    I am really glad I don’t work tech support, because those types of people are out there.

  5. oh MAN, i knew where this story was going as soon as the old man asked you a question.

    what a bummer. i can sell you my laptop, however, which i guarantee is crap as the keyboard circuits are fried…


  6. My mother-in-law once hid in the closet when she got a pop-up ad saying her computer was infected with a virus. I’m not kidding. It was a relief when one of her mooching friends “borrowed” the computer she was deathly afraid of and never brought it back.

  7. I know it can get boring reading stories about computer-incompetent people, but anyway…my uncle paid a home PC maintenance consultant good money to come to his house to install GAMES for him. This is not a stupid man. This is a man with a pretty high-flying legal career.

    I am planning to change career and make my living trying to help people like this. I’m not even kidding. I had my first customer yesterday. I spent 2 hours removing viruses and spyware from his 2000-dollar laptop. He had no anti-virus software, no firewall, and 3 children who shared the computer. He had 483 instances of spyware and about 20 different viruses which had been building up for a year and a half. Here’s the thing: I charged him an extremely reasonable rate, and I tried as hard as I could to explain to him what I was doing. That’s how I can make myself feel OK about earning money for doing what is, to me, the most basic imaginable tasks.

    After I was done he told me that he hardly ever uses it…for anything. He just got it because, well, you know, everyone has computers these days.

  8. This story ends just too damn cute. Like the punchline to a commercial. Mentos even. Go somewhere unexpected (and I don’t care that it really happened).

    Like buy the expensive one, then meet the people out in the parking lot, talk it up, then decide to take them up on their offer and go back to their place for the evening, which turns into a late night, and then an early morning. And the next day, while sitting up on their roof with them eating an amazing lunch, with $1,200 in your bank account from a brilliant online poker run the night before, you tell them you love them (though you also admit that it could just be this belly full of old person pills talking). They say, no, it’s not the pills, you do love us.

    But as it is, this story is pretty much a time waster. But then, I suppose, that’s pretty much the tail of the tape with blogs.

  9. My 69-year-old mother was one of the ones who bought an Osborne in 1980. She can still run rings around me in computer-geek talk. And I suspect she can still make her computer do stuff in DOS mode, or however it is you technical people say it.

    I use the same method on my computer I do with my car: I bash on stuff till it works.

    Remember, white hair does not automatically signal a technological doofus.

  10. Now, now. Somebody that computer-illiterate would probably just delete the desktop icon and not the actual program if they drug the icon into the trash. Also, AOL _does_ require some kind of special technique to uninstall (or so sayeth my comp. sci. ex-boyfriend.) Apparently, it replaces certain important files with its own versions, so when you uninstall it, it takes the important files with it. Past that, I can’t explain. And it was an excellent story.

  11. I can’t believe no-one has made the obvious ‘buy a mac, look cool and have no games to play on it’ comment yet. I know I’m not going to be the one who starts it.

  12. My boyfriend is self-employed doing network security and general computer and hardware guru. The best part is that people have paid him $75/hr to install their DVD player.

  13. That is the funniest story I’ve read in awhile. The sad part is, after you helped those older people get the laptop, you weren’t able to buy one for yourself. Ironic.

  14. Matt, you are too, too nice. As soon as the guy put up the sold out sign, I would have asked to speak to a manager.

    1) Ask the manager for a rain check on that model of laptop.

    2) When he says “not available”, quiz him on the number of models of that particular laptop they had in stock when they advertised the sale.

    3) When he hems and haws, inform him that his sales people were trying talk you and these old people out of the advertised model, and that it could look suspiciously like a bait and switch scheme if he doesn’t have any more.

    4) Inform him that bait and switch schemes are illegal (bonus points if the ad came in the junk mailer, cause then he can get hit for mail fraud, too). Expound on the possibilities of legal and civil action. Do this loudly. Continue until he offers you a comparable model at the same price.

    You earned it. I’ve talked to old people in computer stores. And my mother.

  15. I can’t believe no-one has made the obvious ‘buy a mac, look cool and have no games to play on it’ comment yet. I know I’m not going to be the one who starts it.

    Then I believe I shall! I’ve had this 12″ iBook G4 for a week on Friday, and I’ve not even touched my Desktop PC in that time, except for when I turn it on to steal all my files away from it. The Mac is so simple to use, sexy to look at, and the inbuilt AirPort WiFi card keeps picking up points everytime I boot it up. :)

    The best thing I’ve bought in ages.

  16. If you want something adequate for writing, light, tough, with a great battery-life, and guaranteed not to even come close to running City of Heroes, check out a Dana Alphasmart. (But seeing how cheap low end notebooks are getting, the Alphasmart is starting to seem even more expensive for what it is.)

  17. I have an Alphasmart. It is indestructible. It processes words: That’s it. I have never had to buy new batteries for it, and I’ve had it for two years.

    On the other hand, it’s basically a Radio Shack TRS-80 in a cool blue case. And though the new model has a slightly larger screen, being able to see only four lines of text at a time will slowly drive you crazy.

  18. I’m curious what store this is. I’m sure you won’t name names, but is it the one whose “Buys” are the “Best”…or perhaps the one whose entrance is a giant red electrical plug, inserted directly into the ground?

  19. When I was doing tech support for Dell, pre-India, I had an older man call in and tell me his printer wasn’t working. We went through some initial troubleshooting (ie making sure it was plugged in, had ink, etc.). I told him the next thing we were going to do was “make sure your computer can see your printer.” He quickly put the phone down and I heard grunting and furniture moving. He came back to the phone and said “Nothing changed.” I asked him what he had been doing just then. “You wanted to make sure the computer could see the printer so I moved the desk so that the TV part was looking at the printer.”

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