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Friday, August 5, 2011

How to Ruin a Surprise

I decided my wife needed an iPhone. She dropped a few hints about her next phone being an iPhone and I'd asked a few probing questions. She wasn't dissatisfied with her Blackberry (like I had been with mine) but I sensed a hint of envious longing, too polite to be pained, too practical to be demanding, it was just a hint. And I couldn't figure out why I hadn't already bought her one. I guess because she's never really been drawn to the gadgets like I have. I guess a part of it was just selfish self-centeredness. I hadn't really given it a lot of thought. But I decided to buy her one.

There was no urgency to it, so over the course of a few weeks, I looked at Verizon's webpage to see what options she had. She qualified for an early upgrade, which was great, since Verizon's retail price for an iPhone was $650, and the upgrade price was $199. Black or white. . . black or white. . . I paused in the act of upgrading the phone and closed the website.

Later that night. . .



"If you WERE to get an iPhone, what color do you think you'd want?"

"What do you mean? Like the cover?"

"Nono, I mean, they come in black or white. Do you think you'd want a white one, or would you go with the black?"

She paused only for a moment before saying, "Black."

A week or so went by. I remembered my plans to buy her an iPhone and revisited the website. I hit "upgrade" and selected the black iPhone. My iPhone had 32G of memory in it. It was more than half used up, but I had all manner of songs, images, and apps on it. Would she use 32G? THAT phone was $299. 16G or 32G. . . 16G or 32G . . . I paused in the act of upgrading the phone and closed the website.

Later that night. . .



"If you WERE to get an iPhone, do you think you'd need the 32G version, or would the 16G version work?"

"Oh, I don't know, Jim," she said dismissively, "you'd know more about that than I would."

"Well," I said, "mine is 32G and is a little more than half full, but I have all our music on it. Some of it I haven't listened to for years, some of it I only have on there because I want it in case YOU guys want to listen to something. I think 16G would work, but wouldn't want to short-change you on it."

"I'd trust your judgement on something like that. Why do you keep asking me about iPhones?"

I love surprising, almost to a fault. I'm not saying I do it constantly or anything, but I think spontaneous, unexpected gifts/surprises are better. And sometimes they're just stupid little surprises. . . going to the eye doctor to have my daughter’s glasses adjusted when she already thinks it's something she'll have to do later. . . cleaning the garage even though we haven't really talked about it, because it's hard to get both cars in. And when she calls the house and asks what I'm up to, I'll wipe the sweat from my brow and lie, "just watching TV" so that the garage work, when noticed, seems more glaring, more dramatic. I don't like TELLING her what I'm going to do. . . I like to have her show up and see that it's been done.

That said, it's not like I'm any kind of home-project-surprise-dynamo. . . I do my fair share (maybe even a little more than my fair share) of sitting around the house, captivated by the television, playing Words with Friends, or reading a book when her expectations are that the dishes should have been washed from supper already, or the kids' lunches packed, while she's occupying herself with other things that need to be done.

So it always bums me out a little when I can see she's curious/suspicious I'm up to something. It feels like less of a surprise. Even so, I'd already made my peace with it. She's not a stupid woman. You can't ask repeated questions about a hypothetical iPhone from week to week after she's already dropped hints about wanting one without some suspicion creeping into it. I explained that I thought when it was time to upgrade (not NOW, of course, bills are due, we're not sure how the account will look, iPhone 5 maybe available in September or the end of the year, etc) we'd get her an iPHone and I wanted to know what we were looking for.

A week or so later I again logged into the website. Again I moused over "upgrade" and selected it, picking the 16G iPhone in black. I put everything in the "cart", adding accessories, selecting options, and preparing to check out. The phone was listed as $650. What the. . .

I backtracked, reselecting everything, verifying she was qualified for an upgrade, selecting the upgrade. $650. I paused in the act of upgrading the phone and closed the website.

I called Verizon. I spoke to a customer service assistant. She confirmed the upgrade status, she apologized obsequiously and redundantly for the website and my difficulties on the website on behalf of her company and my order (I found it amusing that she was apologizing on behalf of the order, like the order was sitting there glaring sullenly at me for tattling). She confirmed that it was a problem with the site. I felt relieved. But I didn't return to the website.

A week or so later I resolved to finish the "surprise". I logged in. I selected the phone. Again I felt concern at the price shown on the upgrade, and again I backed out, deciding instead that I'd order it over the phone rather than risk having to play phone tag with someone in the future about the $650 I'd already paid in error, but as I waited for the automatic operator functions to cycle through. . . "Press 1 if you're already a Verizon Wireless Subscriber", "Press 4 for new order and upgrades", etc, I went back through the motions of ordering the upgrade, thinking it would be easier to order over the phone if I had all the details on the screen at the same time. . . and the price was correct. I looked it all over, and before I had a chance to "hold for the next available representative" I'd hung up the phone and was proceeding to checkout.

What made the "surprise" better was that she would be home with our daughter all day. “Working from home”. The website would send my phone Fed Ex overnight to arrive prior to 3pm for the low low price of $12.99. I wanted that. That made it more of a surprise. Bang! Done!

It was all I could do to keep from telling her that the phone was coming the next day. The following morning I got up and went to work, checking the website for the tracking information obsessively like a child looking for presents under the tree on Christmas morning. No status change. No tracking information. "Your order has shipped" the email had told me the previous night. Where was the goddamn tracking information???

I waited another hour before calling Verizon again. It was 11:30. The phone was due to arrive in 3 and a half hours and they had no tracking information? Nobody knew anything. I was transferred. They assured me they'd get the tracking information to me as soon as they had it.

"You're not understanding the problem," I told them. "The whole point of shipping this thing overnight was because someone is at my house to receive it today. Nobody will be there tomorrow and I'll have to drive aawwwwlll the way to Pittsburgh to pick it up if they can't make delivery." I left off the part about it being a surprise. I left out the part about Pittsburgh being aawwwwlll of an 11 minute drive away from my house, and on the way home from work. Many apologies were provided. And then I was disconnected while held for more information.

I fumed. A smoldering ember of frustration slowly blossomed in my chest as I thought about having to call again. . . explain again. . . wait again. . . and the slow realization dawned that there would BE no delivery today. No surprise package.

In the end, after many apologies on behalf of her company, my order, the website, and various other things too numerous to mention even in a blog of this length, Verizon refunded my $12.99 (at least they SAID they did. . . hmmm) and I agreed (after fighting down the panic that warred with my decision) that Fed Ex could drop the order on my doorstep without a signature). All I needed to do was leave a note on the door that indicated no signature was necessary and reference the tracking number that I still did not have. It would deliver the following day. I had to make my peace with that.

I knew I'd never remember to put the note on the door later, so I wrote out the note at work and shoved it in my pocket. When I emptied my pockets for bed, I'd see the note and add it to the door. I recognized in myself the flawed memory that would make putting the note on the door after she left for work the following morning nearly impossible, so that night after I put the garbage out on the curb, I taped the note to the door and went to bed. She'd go out the garage door anyway and wouldn't notice it.

The following morning she left for work and I collected my laptop and coffee, the kids' lunches and backpacks and walked out the door to put them in the car. She had stopped her car's slow descent down the driveway, slowly pulling to a stop and getting out of the van to walk back to the house. What was she doing? Forget something? I put my things in the car and rose up, looking at her, eyebrow arched questioningly as she opened the door to the minivan.

"I saw a note on the door," she said in answer to my unspoken question, "I came back to see what it was." She didn't ask what I was expecting shipment of. She didn't ask about the note at all. She just climbed back into the minivan, waving warmly as she drove away.

"Fuck," I said.

And THAT, is how you ruin a surprise.

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