Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"There's Help and There's Help"

As I mentioned yesterday, a class I was signed up for at UCLA Extension was cancelled. “Pulitzer Prize Winning Plays.” Apparently, not enough people enrolled. Ten million people living in Los Angeles, and there weren’t ten of them (the minimum for a class) who wanted to study some of the best American plays ever written. If the class were “Crappy Screenplays That Sold”, it would have been “Standing Room Only.”

Okay, so I got my enrollment money back on the phone. They were debiting my payment on my credit card. However, if I wanted a refund for my books for the class, I had to return them to the campus bookstore. (The books, which I had purchased on line, had been delivered to me by UPS.)

Fine. The books cost over a hundred bucks. I want my money back. So I get in my car, and I drive to the UCLA campus.

Parking in the campus parking structure costs ten dollars.

“I’m returning some books, because my class was cancelled. It will take ten minutes.”

“Ten dollars.”

I don’t want to pay ten dollars. This road trip is about getting money back, not giving them more. As an alternate to the campus parking structure, I am advised to park at an on-campus parking meter. Against enormous odds, I find a spot.

I will park at a parking meter. I will not pay ten dollars.

The parking meter arrangement is high tech, which, for me, means it’s more than dropping a quarter down a slot. There’s a machine at the end of the row of parking spots. You do something over there. I get out of my car. I walk to the machine.

It’s very sunny out. The glare makes it impossible to read the instructions in the glassed-covered window. I move in close, squint, and I finally decipher it. The first instruction says:

“Punch in parking space number.”

I have no clue what my parking space number is. I walk back to my car. As it turns out, I have driven over my parking space number, so I can’t read it. I get in my car. I back up a little. I get out of my car. I read the parking space number. It’s 5768. I walk back to the machine.

I punch in my parking space number – 5768 – and I press “Enter.” The next almost-impossible-to-read instruction concerns choosing how long I want to park. I punch in twenty minutes, and I press “Enter.”

I’m doin’ pretty good.

The machine says the charge for twenty minutes of parking is one dollar. (Yippee. I have saved nine dollars.) It is now “Method of Payment” time. I press “Credit Card.” The machine says: “Insert Credit Card.” I insert my credit card.

The machine will not take my credit card. No matter how many times I insert it, it won’t go in. There’s this rejecting whirring sound, like a little cough. I’m thinking I’ll just pay cash, but the lowest denomination I have is a five-dollar bill, and I refuse to pay five dollars for twenty minutes of parking. I continue inserting my credit card. The machine continues its rejecting cough.

The preceding was a set-up. The real story begins here:

As I struggle with my credit card, I’m aware that there’s a woman standing behind me, waiting to use the machine. I am holding her up. I turn to her and say what I regularly say when I’m dealing with machines:

“I don’t know how to work this.”

The woman immediately volunteers to help.

“You have to slide your card out faster.”

I slide my card out faster. Nothing happens.

Really fast.”

I slide it out really fast. Nothing.

“That was too fast. A little faster than the first time, but not as fast as that.”

I follow her instructions. Nothing.

“I think it needs to be smoother. Fast – but not too fast – and smooth.

You can’t get mad at a person who’s helping you – because they’re helping you – but the woman was starting to piss me off. I’m doing the best I can, and she’s telling me I’m not “sliding” right. I was “this close” to handing her my credit card and saying,

You do it!”

when the machine belatedly complied. I retrieve my receipt from the plastic-doored receptacle at the bottom of the machine – which the women tells me how to open – I return the receipt to my car, and I place the receipt inside the car, behind the driver’s-side front windshield. I scoop up the books I’m returning, and I head to the bookstore.

“May I help you?”

“My extension class was cancelled. They told me I could return these books.”

“Do you have certification that your class was cancelled?”

“I do.”

I hand the bookstore attendant a slip of paper mailed to me, indicating that the class had been cancelled, and that I had two weeks to return the books for a refund. The bookstore attendant studies the slip of paper carefully, as if he’d been hoodwinked before by forgeries.


I breathe a sigh of relief. But not too long a sigh. We were just getting started.

“Do you have a receipt for the books?”

“I have a ‘Shipping Statement’ that came when the books were delivered.”

I hand the “Shipping Statement” to the bookstore attendant. He studies it carefully. The bookstore attendant then turns and goes into what appears to be the office of his boss, I am guessing, to ask his boss if a “Shipping Statement” is as good a receipt. The decision on this matter takes some time. Perhaps they are looking up the statute. Finally, the bookstore attendant reappears.


Ten minutes of my parking time have now elapsed. My return walk will take a minute. There is still plenty of time.

The bookstore attendant gathers up my stack of books and heads to a large desktop computer. His assignment now is to log the books back in, check the prices, and then, as with my tuition fee, arrange for a corresponding debit on my credit card.

It is clear the bookstore attendant is having problems with his assignment. He calls over a second bookstore attendant to help him. Together, they work on the transaction. But even with two of them working together, the assignment is defeating them. I can see them literally scratching their heads.

Time is becoming a factor.

The conundrum necessitates a repeat visit to the boss’s office. An extended meeting takes place concerning an apparently simple transaction.

Tick, tick, tick…

The bookstore attendants finally emerge and come over to me to explain. Apparently, one of the Pulitzer Prize winning plays I’d received – A Streetcar Named Desire – had not been recorded on the “Billing Statement.” My refund could, therefore, not include the price of that play.

That was the problem. There was a play among the stack that wasn’t recorded on the “Billing Statement”, and they didn’t know what to do. Their boss had made the call. The price of A Streetcar Named Desire would not be included when they calculated my refund. My response to this decision?


The difficulty having been overcome – as they say in Latin – the bookstore attendants return to their computer to arrange for my refund.

Tick, tick, tick…

It is taking forever. My time is running out. Since I’m not getting a cash refund, I impatiently ask,

“Do I have to stay for this?”

The bookstore attendants are too engrossed in their assignment to respond, but I figure out the answer for myself. They still have my credit card. So, “Yes.”

Tick, tick, tick…

The bookstore attendants finally complete the transaction, return my credit card, and hand me a “Confirmation Receipt.” I race frantically out of the bookstore.

When I arrive at my parking spot, a “Parking Control” officer was rolling up in a three-wheeled vehicle. The situation was clear. If I’d returned a moment later, the bookstore attendants would have “helped” me into a sixty-dollar ticket.

I appreciate their efforts – the woman at the parking meter, and the two bookstore attendants – I really do. I am incapable of living in this world. I need all the help I can get. However, though I’m fully aware of how disgustingly ungrateful this sounds, what I’m compelled to say in response to this experience is this:

Help me better.


dodz said...

help is everywhere it depends on people who are welling to help.

gih said...

Every time you're in trouble, there are many helping hands outta there. Just say it and those kinda hearts will go with you. well, despite the negative others.