The Himalayan Hammer strikes back

I like a bargain as much as the next dope. But the real issue is what, exactly, makes something a bargain? Or to put it crudely, when does a “bargain” turn into a crappy deal?

If price is the sole consideration, you might doom yourself to some serious disappointment. Cheap, no-name knockoffs are cheap, no-name knockoff. ‘Nuff said.

Then there are the “famous” brands you hear of on infomercials or the net. You know the ones: “Lard Loser! The only exercise machine guaranteed to take off inches, add muscles, whiten teeth and shrink hemorrhoids! Results guaranteed or your money back!” And on and on and on, promise after promise, exclamation mark after exclamation mark.

Those things are in same category as the wondrous items “not found in stores anywhere.” It’s true, of course — they’re not found in stores … and for good reason.

So forget the dreck. Surely you can’t go wrong with name brands sold online, way below retail price, right?

Wrong.

What if they send you the wrong color or wrong model, or maybe the right one, but it arrives broken. Then what? Then you do the only thing you can, which is send it back, all too often paying the postage yourself and thus losing any savings you made. And this doesn’t take into account the time, effort and psychic wear and tear you spent dealing with it. And all this depends on whether they will make an exchange or if they’re fly-by-cybernight gonifs who are just going to burn you.

You can do your shopping at the big box stores, since their prices are lower than small businesses’. But what if when you get home, you find out it doesn’t work right or it needs adjustments or the instructions are a tad confusing since they’re written in Chinglish? Chances are your only option is to hop in your Hudson Hornet and shlep back the 50 miles or so to have it settled.

No place like My Home Town

This is why I do almost all my shopping locally. Yes, prices might be higher, but in the long run I might end up saving a whole lot of hassle, and even money.

For instance, with sporting goods I buy all my stuff in Blue Line. If anything is defective, they either fix it there or return it to the manufacturer for me. Beyond that, I have access to the staff’s expertise, something they’re always willing to share and something I’m not going to find elsewhere. If a price was put on the hours Matt and Mark have helped me out, versus how much I’ve spent there in dollars, there’s no doubt they’d be on the losing end. And that said, they’re still nice to me.

Another example — insurance. I’ve been with IB Hunt Agency for over 40 years. Do I pay higher premiums than I would with a company that advertises on TV? I don’t know … nor do I care. What I do know is any hassles I ever had were dealt with immediately and efficiently by Carolyn Salls, who in addition to being the brains of the outfit, laughs at my jokes. You may laugh at Geico ads, but do you think the Geico peeps will laugh at your jokes?

Where you can get a bargain is with private sales. Someone’s selling a refrigerator and wants $150 for it. You offer $100. And then the horse trading begins.

Me, I’m lousy at that. Basically, I hate haggling. If it’s a fair price and I want it, I pay. If the price is too high for me, I leave. The whole back-and-forth, watch-me-get-over-on-you game may delight a lot of people, but I’m not one of them.

In Third World markets, bargaining is a way of life … and I’m lousy there too. And why wouldn’t I be? The people are poor, the prices are cheap, and you won’t find that merchandise here, or if you do, it’ll cost ten times more. So when the vendors ask a price, I make a half-baked attempt at haggling, but I never get a real deal. Or should I say, I never got a real deal … till the one I’m about to tell you.

A no-sweat sweater

I was going to Nepal, and before I left I asked my friends what they wanted me to bring them back. One guy wanted a native sweater, and I saved that buy for the end of my stay.

Keep in mind, I’d been there for two weeks, had bought a bunch of stuff, and had overpaid every merchant on every item. So when it came to the sweater, I decided no one was gonna burn me. In fact, come hell, high water, or the apocalypse, I was gonna win this onet!

I’d scoped out the stores the week before and knew which one had what I wanted. I also knew fiendish negotiations lay ahead, since there wasn’t a price tag on anything.

I went in as soon as the store opened, and for good reason: To Nepalis, the first sale of the day is good luck, so they really want to make it.

I walked around the store, pretending to examine all the sweaters closely, the owner hovering over me all the while. He’d point out this or that, extolling the wonderful design and workmanship, while I acted like I couldn’t care less.

Then I picked up one and ask the price. He told me and I gave him a condescending shrug, put it back and then moved on to repeat the same scene with a different sweater.

Now, here’s the thing: I’d decided before I ever came in the store that I’d pay no more than 800 rupees (which is about eight bucks). It was so low a price as to be an insult, but I had three things in my favor. One was the first sale of the day. Another was the merchants will sell anything if it’s at a profit — even a tiny profit. The third was I had steeled myself for this rumble and was not backing down.

Finally, I picked up the sweater I wanted and asked the price.

“Three thousand rupees,” he said.

I sneered, shook my head, and waited.

He dropped the price.

I shook my head again and sighed, as if he was trying my patience and wasting my precious time.

Then I made my counter-offer — 700 rupees.

He was taken aback – at my nerve or my trading sense. Either way, he knew he had a battle ahead of him.

As I expected, he lowered the price. As he didn’t expect, I refused to even acknowledge it.

His price dropped more and more.

I shook my head, looked bored, studied my fingernails, scratched my beard.

His price was now at 1200 rupees.

I counter-offered 725.

He went to 1,000.

I went to 750.

Sweat beaded up on his forehead. Obviously, this wasn’t going the way it always did with Yankee tourists.

“Nine-fifty,” he said. “I can’t go any lower.”

“Then don’t,” I said. “Because I won’t give you one paisa more than eight-hundred. Not … one … paisa.”

I made the throat-slitting gesture and when I did, his eyes went out of focus. He was going into shock. When I’d walked in, he thought I was some bungling feringhee he’d take to the cleaners, but now, when he looked into my ice-blue, stone-cold gaze, he saw his worst nightmare: I’d shape-shifted into an alternate persona — The Hammer of the Himalayas. And he was on the Hammer’s receiving end.

“Eight-hundred? Eight-hundred?” he stammered, panicked. “How abut eight-fifty?”

“See ya,” I said, pivoting and heading out the door.

OK, OK,” he said, defeated. “Eight hundred.”

I gave him the money, he gave me the sweater.

After I was in the street, I turned and looked back in the store. He was standing in the window, giving me a look that can charitably be described as murderous. I gave him a couple of eyebrow raises and walked away.

For me, this was an mixed experience. It was a battle of egos and wills – his versus mine. He lost and I won. But I’m not proud of it, since I could’ve avoided it all if I’d just paid a fair price early on – which I easily could have. But I didn’t, so instead it went to its ugly conclusion.

So he lost this transaction. But so what? He almost never lost, and no doubt, the next Yankee who came in would get royally skinned.

Besides, he was a businessman, and it was all just the price of doing business. In a short while, this loss of his would’ve been long forgotten.

And that’s the difference between him and me.

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