Monday, June 11, 2001

American Gods Blog, Post 79

On the advice of Terry Pratchett, who is a wise road warrior and is the only person I know who has signed for more people, and in more countries, than me, and seeing it's going to be six weeks of living out of hand-luggage (for there may not be time to check luggage, and I can't risk losing all my socks and black tee shirts to the whims of Northwest Airlines), I decided to buy a Toshiba Libretto, for the road.

(That's a very small, full-featured notebook computer that weighs next to nothing, for the non-technically minded among us.)

I take Terry's advice on things like this. He's always right. I still have, and still (once in a blue moon) use, the Atari Portfolio he talked me into buying about 11 years ago. It runs on a cut-down DOS 2.1 -- I wrote MURDER MYSTERIES on it and THE GOLDFISH POOL & OTHER STORIES and more episodes of Sandman than I can count -- and I'd use it more except I feel faintly ashamed of being seen using such antedeluvian technology when in the company of all the cool geek people I know. They have transparent plastic things that are violently green at you, and which take photographs, order take-out, check for the nearest good sushi restaurant, download basketball scores and double as mobile phones, all at the same time. My Portfolio is only good for writing stuff and storing addresses and phone numbers. Which is all I ever use it for, not having much interest in basketball, and being a writer. I think I once managed to prove it was possible to get e-mail on it some time in 1992, and never tried again....

Sorry. Got a bit nostalgic there for a second.

So. Flash new Toshiba Libretto. It's not a palmtop, it's a subcompact notebook, which seemed closer to what I wanted. I checked the web...

They don't retail them anywhere but Japan any more. But there's a company that imports them. And the new Libretto L1 has just been released. Like, a few days ago.

I sent an e-mail to the sales guy at the company yesterday and asked if they could get me one before I left on tour. His e-mail arrived today. Absolutely. Just call and order and they'd overnight it to me.

It seemed so simple. I was thrilled. I called immediately...

Someone answered the phone.

I started to order a Libretto L1, using a corporate credit card.

If you write for Hollywood, you become a corporation whose sole asset is you and whose function consists of lending you out. (Honest. You think I could make that up?) Mine is called The Blank Corporation, because I went blank when they asked me what name I wanted it to be when they were filling in the corporate paperwork. I think the company logo is a blank sheet of paper, roughly 8" by 11". So there is a Blank Corporation credit card that I never use, and I thought, finally, I can buy something that's an honest to goodness business expense with the card.

I gave the guy on the other end of the phone the credit card number. He said they could only send it to the Card billing address. I said ow, that wasn't going to work, as that address was in LA, and I'm not, and getting the people who run the corporation in LA to authorise things might take a couple of days -- I wasn't even sure if I knew how to talk to the card issuers.... Still, not to worry. Plan B seemed straightforward enough. I put the card away (still, I think, unused), and pulled out my normal everyday not-corporate-at-all credit card.

Gave him the number of the new card. He asked for the Billing address, and I began "P.O. Box..."

"I'm sorry," he interrupted. "We don't deliver to PO Boxes."

"Not a problem," I said. "I'll give you the house address for FedEx to deliver to..."

"But it's not the billing address?"

"No, the bills go to the PO Box, but FedEx doesn't deliver to PO Boxes, so we get FedEx to deliver to..."

"I'm sorry. We can't do that. We can only send it to the billing address."

"But you've just told me you can't send it to the billing address."

"We don't deliver to PO Boxes."

"So you're saying you can't send me the computer."

"Well, yeah."

"Um. If you don't mind me asking.... Does anyone else in America import Toshiba Librettos?" I figured, if someone else did, I'd call them instead.

"Nope. Just us." He didn't seem perturbed by the question. I guessed he heard it a lot.

"So you're telling me that you won't deliver to PO Boxes, and you can't deliver to the house?"

"Well, how do we know it's your house? You could have stolen a credit card, and this could be a deserted house down the block you want us to deliver to."

"Er, yes, but it's not. It's my house."

"People do it all the time. That's why we only ship to billing addresses."

"Yes, but you won't ship to my billing address, will you? Anyway, you'll have the phone number and the PO Box number. For heaven's sake, I've ordered a thousand things and this is the first time.."

"Hey, this is $3000 of computer equipment you're trying to order! People scam for a lot less than that. You can get phone numbers easy as anything, rent PO Boxes. We don't know this isn't a stolen card."

I thought about pointing out that, for $3000 of computer equipment, I was kind of expecting someone helpful on the other end of the phone. I thought about pointing out that, if it was a brilliant credit card fraud, and the card company approved the transaction, then they won't be out any money. I thought about dusting off the Atari Portfolio and pretending it was a grand retro gesture...

Instead I said "Look, I can't be the first person ever to try and order something who had a PO Box and wanted it shipped to a house address..."

"We can only ship it to a billing address," he said. He had that one down cold. "Or you could do a wire transfer."

I said that that wasn't going to happen. I was getting testy. I've been in the US too long, I suppose -- I'm sort of used to trying to buy goods and services from people who are actively trying to sell them to you. I said there had to be a way for him to sell me a computer and could we please resolve this...

There was a long pause. And then he said, doubtfully, "I guess we could send it by the postal service. They deliver to Post office boxes, don't they?"

I assured him that they did.

And he said, yes, they could do that, he guessed. They couldn't overnight it, but I'd get it by friday, with the US postal service. I said I hoped so. He took the details, said they'd fax me a bill for me to sign and send back to them.

The fax, when it arrived, included a charge for Fedexing the package. I carefully wrote on it "If sending by Fedex please deliver to ... " and the house address, before I faxed it back, not because I was trying to be clever, but because I had a sudden presentiment of the people at the company finding themselves suddenly and unexpectedly unable to get me a little computer, "because Fedex doesn't deliver to PO Boxes".

So I leave on tour in six days. Off to do the Magnetic Fields gigs and then to start signing my way across the States, the UK and Canada. With luck, I'll be keeping up this journal, typing on planes and in cars, and posting it from hotel room phone lines.

And with a lot of luck, I'll be typing it on a Toshiba Libretto L1, and not on an Atari Portfolio. Not even as a grand retro gesture.

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