With the gift giving winter holidays behind us, I found myself standing in the dreaded “Returns Counter” line. At the tail end of the very slowest line, I consoled myself by rationalizing that I have more time to figure out how to explain the reason I am returning this item, and why I stuffed it into a green plastic trash bag, instead replacing it in its original carton.

This past October my daughter Jennifer decided to buy a Keurig coffee maker and take it back home to Israel. Because the unit was large, she removed it from its original carton, dismantled it and packed it piecemeal into her luggage. I don’t how she managed to get the Keurig past the prying eyes of security and customs and finally home in one piece, but she did. After judiciously following the coffee maker’s set-up instructions, she filled its reservoir with water and prepared to make her first fresh cup of coffee. When she inserted the plug into an AC/DC transformer, a gizmo, which converts American AC current to Israel’s DC current, the transformer began to melt and all hopes of a hot cup of Joe went up in smoke.

Two months later my granddaughter Tal, Jennifer’s daughter, came to visit for Chanukah armed, by my daughter with the Kuerig back to be returned for a refund. Jennifer had packed the unit in a green plastic trash bag, protected it on all sides with four thirsty terry cloth towels and stuffed the whole parcel into Tal’s oversized duffle bag. I could only imagine what security and customs must have thought at the airport—unless I course they were too busy patting down and groping 85- year-old grandmothers, to worry about a coffee maker.

With the coffee maker safely back in Cherry Hill, the consensus was that I should be the one returning it to the store. Knowing which battles to fight, I acquiesced and reluctantly agreed to undertake, what I perceived would be a daunting task. Gingerly I stashed the package into the trunk of my car and drove off to the appliance store, dreading the confrontation I was certain would occur on the battlefield of the counter of RETURNS and EXCHANGES.

The line was long, as expected, but the whole return episode was less problematic but decidedly more bizarre than anticipated. You see when I hoisted the trash bag, which contained the dismantled coffee maker with all of its separate parts, and plunked it on the counter top, the bag split open and unexpectedly a gush of water, which had remained hidden in the unit’s reservoir, cascaded over the counter splashing it contents all over the returns clerk. Pausing just long enough to unsheathe her most sarcastic tone from its scabbard, the clerk asked, “Is there anything wrong with it?” I was tempted to say, “Yeh, its water bag broke,” but held my tongue saying only, “Yes it doesn’t work right.”

With cash in hand, I strutted out of the store with all the bravado and bluster only a triumph can bring, pleased at the thought that my stratagem had worked. That, however, was only one battle in what would turn out to be a war. Unbeknownst to me there were still 48 unaccounted for coffee pods that had been stowed away in the corner of my granddaughter’s carry-on luggage, which eventually would have to be returned to the store as well. Of course they too were removed from their cartons and thrown into a plastic trash bag (This time the bag was brown.)

Returning to the store, I dreaded facing the same clerk again, because I was sure she would remember me and by now I was certain that her tolerance for me and holiday returns had worn thin. This time, I decided to take the offensive and boldly unloaded all 48 coffee pods on the counter waiting for her verbal counter attack. And rather than recoil and retreat I continued to employ the age old tactic of the best defense is a good offense. I blurted, “And here’s my receipt,” while boldly slapping it down on the counter in front of her. Her glare morphed into a glower and without even glancing down, she snatched the receipt from the counter top, crumpled it in her fist, and unceremoniously dropped it into a trashcan. Her silent expression of distain for me made me feel as if I was that reviled, mangled discarded receipt. Still held hostage in the grasp of her stare, I watched as she reached into the cash drawer, and without so much as a word, removed a handful of cash, then proceeded to slowly and scornfully count out a full refund—in small bills.

There was no truce, or even a cease-fire, but the coffee war had ended. And when the fog of war had cleared, there remained standing at the counter only two combatants, one victorious and one vanquished. With cash in hand, I turned and retreated, slowly slinking out of the nearest exit with that disquieting feeling that only defeat can bring.

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