Seriously, Shepherd Boy, What the Hell?

I got to know this song way better than I probably needed to while preparing for my Candlelight Procession experience last week, and was struck by a verse I’d never really noticed before:

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king
Do you know what I know?

A Child, a Child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring Him silver and gold.

Silver and gold is nice and all, but I bet a blanket would be of more immediate value.

XKCD Comic: Zeno's Advent Calendar

XKCD by Randall Munroe (CC BY-NC 2.5)

Still, that got me to thinking about how the most salient characteristic of Christmas, if you go by popular culture anyway, seems to be consumption. And heck, the pile of presents we give our kids is ridiculous compared to what I got growing up. Sometimes I think we put too much pressure on ourselves as parents, friends, and spouses to make this occasion or that one AMAZING!!1!, and one gift could always backfire and not be AMAZING!!1!, so the only way to be sure is to bury our recipient with more gifts than we can really afford to be giving. And of course, all these gifts have the effect of making one a bit blasé about gifts, and so the whole experience becomes . . . unamazing.

Can you tell I’ve stressed about this a bit?

From there, though, I got to thinking about buyer’s remorse in general, and things I’ve regretted buying for myself. That seems like a more fun train of thought than your typical post on the commercialization of the holidays, so here goes:

Death Star Dishwasher

Shown: A machine to wash dishes almost as well as a less-expensive machine.

The most recent purchase that I regret is the new dishwasher we bought this year. Our old one stopped working after ten years of service; ten years is more than the expected lifetime of a dishwasher anyway, and Lowe’s had some cheap ones on their website, so it didn’t seem so frivolous to buy a new one instead of maybe bringing out a repair-person. But when we actually attempted to put our clever plan into action, the salesmen at the stores we visited saw us coming a mile away and smoothly upsold us to some crazy top-of-the-line death star of a dishwasher. (With stainless steel siding!) (But not smudgeless steel!) This dishwasher promised to do everything except physically put the dishes back in the cupboard for us. You know what, though? It doesn’t wash dishes any better than the bottom-of-the-line one we installed ten years ago did when it was new. What’s more annoying, ergonomics lost out to aesthetics when it came to designing this thing. I could get more dishes and such loaded into my old one with less wasted space. The new washer has a series of incomprehensible buttons hidden on the door, and I have no idea how to get the wash I’ve been accustomed to all my life, so I basically press them all and hope something good happens. I kid you not: washing the dishes now takes overnight. And on the topic of those hidden buttons, I have to painfully jam my finger under the lip of the counter to hit the START button.

A battery I bought (at my expense) for my school laptop this fall was the last straw when it comes to me buying any electronics from vendors that don’t have storefronts I can return crappy merchandise to. The battery looked right, but didn’t physically fit into the computer. I can’t help but wonder how many batteries this non-factory seller shipped out to people that never actually powered a computer at all. I’ve also, in the past, bought batteries that worked for a month or two and then died, or batteries that did not even remotely match the computer the website claimed they were for. And discount toner that came already exploded in the box. Returning things to those vendors is a hassle, and typically involves shipping at your own expense and a restocking fee. And woe to you if you fail to get proof of mailing: I had one internet vendor claim never to have received my return and thus not process my refund. I’m pretty sure my success rate with discount online electronics is less than .500 at this point, so with this battery I decided I’d had enough. Now I order stuff from Staples and have it shipped to the store, where I can immediately demand a refund if it’s not right.

Warning: Triggery stuff ahead. . . . Back during the first year or so of my career, alarmed by how quickly I was gaining weight, I talked myself into buying a membership at Bally.

Bally Total Fitness

Photo by Philip Beyer (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

And then I let myself get talked into buying a second membership for my wife. Perhaps you’ve heard of how sleazy sales practices at the gym are (or at least, were). We got sucked into a long-term committment. To add insult to injury, every time we walked into the place we were bombarded with high pressure sales attempts to get us to buy their amino acid products. And while one might argue they’re not to blame for this last bit, I also found going to this gym and dealing with the personal trainers to be one of the more humiliating experiences of my life, and so I quickly stopped going. It took like three years to pay off the debt, but I can count on my fingers how many times I actually crossed the gym’s doors. It would have been cheaper to simply buy an elliptical, a treadmill, a weight bench, or an exercise bike each visit. Yeah, I try not to think about the money I poured down the sink that time.

There are definitely other purchases I’ve regretted, but those are the most obvious ones that come to mind right now. What about you? What purchases have you made that you wish you could take back?

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8 Responses to Seriously, Shepherd Boy, What the Hell?

  1. Jonathon says:

    One of my most regretted purchases is an Epson inkjet printer. Our old HP was out of ink, and it was a little problem prone, so it seemed like a good time to replace it (you know, since new black and color cartridges cost about as much as a printer anyway).

    The Epson was slick and easy to set up, but it was an ink-sucking monster. It cleaned the print heads every time it printed anything, which meant that it needed new cartridges (both black and color, even though we hardly ever print in color) after about three months. And of course it wouldn’t print anything if one color was out, so once the cyan was gone we couldn’t print plain black documents anymore.

    We sold the damned thing at a yard sale for ten bucks and pulled our HP out of the closet. We cleaned it out (it was pretty gunky from years of waste ink) and got new cartridges for it, and it’s working fine again.

  2. Joe Iriarte says:

    I have a color laser that I’m pretty much happy with–it was the absolute cheapest color laser on the market and it seems to be off the market now and utterly unsupported by anybody. But it does that same won’t-print-at-all-if-any-of-the-cartridges-is-empty thing and it drives me crazy. Sometimes it’s possible to fool it by turning it off and on or fiddling with the settings, but it’s just a temporary fix. What drives me even more nuts, though, is that toner cartridges are “officially” empty when they are clearly still capable of printing. What happened to the good old days where print quality slowly went to hell, but YOU decided when it was time to replace a cartridge?

  3. laird sapir says:

    I once bought a Kitchen Aid Professional (that was the important part – because the “professional” was stainless steel and really slick) coffee maker that I used like 3 times. Seriously. And it wasn’t cheap. And my $40 Bodum coffee press (that is 9 years old and ticking) is way better at making coffee than this machine. The machine is in my garage. I’m a sucker.
    PS: Can you mail the pony? Will he fit in a box? Do I get a choice of colors?

  4. Joe Iriarte says:

    Aw, geez, I’m sorry . . . the pony thing was 2011’s policy. Pity you didn’t get here a few minutes sooner! 😉

    I feel like a lot of my regretted purchases are either kitchen things or getting-in-shape things. What’s up with that?

  5. laird sapir says:

    Man, I am always late to the party! A pony would have been really useful, too. Like, to accompany me to the grocery store, sit shotgun as I ride around the neighborhood, things like that.

    I could (and might) have a garage sale one day consisting solely of unnecessary kitchen and fitness gadgets.
    Anyone need a used once Mandoline? How about a Coeur a la Creme mold? A 10 pound medicine ball? No? Going once…

  6. Joe Iriarte says:

    I’ve got one of those Mandoline things–never used. I don’t feel bad about that one though, because I didn’t buy it. Actually, come to think of it, I have no idea how the hell it got into my cabinet. Did someone give it to us? Who the crap gives a Mandoline as a gift?

    I did buy the quasi-bloomin’-onion slicer that I used exactly once. So far. (But it was cheap.) And some funky looking plastic thing for working out our gut and your lateral obliques. Abdominizer? That sounds about right.

    Oh my goodness, I just realized I forgot one of the main examples I had intended to include in this post: I have a crapton of top-of-the-line camping gear, hardly ever used. I used to like to camp when I was single, but all I had was crap for gear. Then I worked for a summer camp in the mountains that owned an outfitter store, and used my discount and an advance against my check to buy, seriously, the absolute best sleeping bag, backpack, and a combination sleeping pad/camp chair (self-inflating!). Like, nobody climbing Mount Everest has higher quality gear. I used it for the rest of that summer, got my first full time job in the fall, got one more summer’s worth of use out of it, and, other than occasionally dragging out the camp chair, never used any of it again. What’s even worse: It turns out that the best-of-the-best-really-super-duper-high-quality sleeping bag? Is less comfortable than a $20 Walmart sleeping bag. Totally. What you pay for is the fact that you can compress it into about an eight-inch square. But for sleeping it kinda sucks.

  7. laird sapir says:

    Well, if you ever have a garage sale…

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