The day after the right chair arrived in the wrong color, I called X Furniture to discuss the problem.
A young woman answered with a bright voice. "How can I help you today?"
I said, "Can you please pull up my order invoice and tell me what it says?"
Sounds of her clicking some keys, clearing her throat, breathing. She says, "Okay, I see it here. You got the chaise lounge in the ivory."
I said, "No, that's what I bought. What I got is a chaise lounge in beige."
She says, "In beige?"
She turns in her chair and it squeaks loudly into the phone. "Lemme check something," she says, and I hear the sounds of papers flipping. She makes thinking noises. "Oh, okay, I see here. The guy who sold you the chair typed in 'Ivory' as the description of the color, but he typed in the number for beige."
[Side-by-side comparison of ivory and beige]
I felt a little relief. "Oh, god," I said, laughing a little. "Well, I'd like to get the ivory one delivered, then."
"Okay, we can—" She stops suddenly. "Oh."
"That chair doesn't come in ivory," she says awkwardly. "It comes in black, sage, honey, and beige. But no ivory."
I scoffed. "Well, that's really irritating because I was sold an ivory chaise," I countered. "I mean, the guy offered it to me in that color, it's not like I just made it up."
"But that chair doesn't come in ivory," she repeated.
"YEAH," I said, getting louder. "I heard that. But that's what you sold me. So that's a big problem."
"You don't want the beige chair?" she asked, a little incredulous.
"NO, I want the chair I plunked down my credit card to buy."
"But sir, it doesn't come in ivory." Her voice took on a confidential tone. "Sir, I don't mean to be offensive," she started, signaling that what she was about to say would be horrifyingly so, "but the man who placed this order? He's, um...well, he's foreign."
[Some languages spoken by foreigners, none of which are English.]
"So maybe he got confused between beige and ivory," she finished.
"You think that being foreign makes someone laughably color blind?"
[Example of tests administer to determine color-blindness]
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that only a legitimate blind person would mistake beige for ivory!" I shouted, suddenly becoming very angry and, at the same time, very authoritatively gay, like Martha Stewart with a beard. This is never a good combination, although it does tend to get good results.
[Martha Stewart, beard not pictured]
"Sir, this isn't my fault." She was clearly confused and wanted off the phone.
"I realize it's not your fault," I said with quiet assertion. "I know you didn't cause this, but you're the one who's going to fix it."
"Well, that chair doesn't come in ivory." Sound of her going back to the book. "It comes in...black, sage, honey, and....and beige."
In my head I imagined the scene from Carrie when the girl, drenched in pig's blood, humiliated, taunted, bursts into anger and causes all the exits to slam shut with the power of her mind. In that moment I was that girl, covered in blood but it was beige blood, both bland and disgusting, and I, too, was being taunted by Z Furniture's color-blind, foreign staff who were unable to tell the difference between two unmistakably different shades of two different colors!
[Dramatization of me during this phone call. Do not attempt.]
A friend of mine once noted that nobody ever identifies themselves as being "evil," that "evil" is a label society constructs and places on other things, usually things outside of the body politic. And yet, every day, reasonable people are driven to the very cliffs of their sanity by retail industry workers. "I know," I said, "So it means you basically stole from me. You sold me a product that doesn't exist and now here I am with a chair the exact same color as my beige walls, my beige carpet, and let me tell you, this chair has become the invisible jet of chairs because in this room, Wonder Woman's the only person who can find it to sit in it!"
So the woman says, "Sir, we can exchange the chair for you if you will simply choose between black, sage, honey or...or beige," she seethed.
We were locked in an epic battle of wits. We each knew neither would relent or back down, but we also knew no one was hanging up the phone. There were principles to think of, our sanity to preserve...and plus, we had to win.
But suddenly, an odd calm came over me. I looked around my living room with its black furniture and gray couch. Would another color be so bad, I wondered. I remembered back to that day many weeks ago when I, younger and with an idealistic sense about the world of retail, walked into their showroom and sat momentarily in the black chaise lounge on their showroom floor.
I cleared my throat. Very quietly, I told her, "The only compromise I would be willing to accept at this point is getting a black chair."
I could hear the tension break. "Fine!" She said. "We'll have it delivered tomorrow. But you're getting the one off the showroom floor," she said quickly, her voice fading slightly as the phone moved further and further from her head. And then the line went dead.
And the very next day, much to my overwhelming surprise, this was delivered:
A black chaise. And you know what? It works.