Moral Dilemma

Do you correct the cashier when he makes a mistake in your favor?

My father enjoyed petty theft.  I remember seeing him carrying his ski boots with this bungee-cord contraption, and when I asked him where he got it, he said "I liberated it from Wendy’s!", the ski shop in Manchester, Vermont where he’d dropped untold thousands of dollars.

And I can’t say I was that far off the mark.  I remember changing the price on a doormat at the five and dime in Burlington during college.  Yup, I thought that would be cool, to have one of those plastic doormats at the entrance of my dorm room.  The sticker said 79 cents, but I exchanged it for one on a cheaper model, that said 45 cents.  The cashier was none the wiser.

But then when I was in law school, in a big department store buying a robe with my girlfriend, I was caught by the cashier, this was a twenty dollar robe, not a sixteen buck one like the box said.

I played dumb, but my girlfriend didn’t believe it.  She was not conspiratorial, she was incredulous.  Had I changed the price?

Well, the robe was box-less, and I inserted it in this empty box…

After that I gave up bending the rules.

Oh, the big bad man who owned the department store was making millions, I was a struggling student.  But the disapproval of my girlfriend, that was too much.  And when I was sworn into the California Bar, I gave up petty theft for good.  Shit, I don’t even remember walking into another theatre in the multiplex after that, even though I’d been known to see three movies on a good day.  "Theft of Services", that’s what they called it.  I didn’t want to get busted.

But what if the store fucked up?  What if it wasn’t my fault?

I bought a pair of hiking boots at A16.  They were having a Memorial Day sale, the boots were one third off, they were $120.

Good deal, except they were a little snug in the forefoot.

But the wider ones, they were TWO HUNDRED BUCKS!  For day hikers?  That would last eighteen months at most?

The salesman assured me the $120 ones would break in just fine.

But when I told the story to Felice, she rolled her eyes.  She felt that fit was foremost.  Then again, money’s not her issue.

I waited for my emotions to calm down.  I waited until I returned from the east coast.  And then I tried on the hiking boots in the privacy of my own home.  They WERE too tight in the forefoot.  And pondering hours of hiking in discomfort, I resolved to return to A16 and exchange them.  Which I did today.

But when I got up to the counter, the cashier told me I owed $20 and change.  This wasn’t right.  Shouldn’t the difference be $80 AND CHANGE?

The dude was a doofus, he was clueless.

And the store, it’s vast.  But it was empty.  SOMEBODY was carrying all that inventory.

I told him I didn’t think he was right.

He thought he was.  But then, after doing a bit more study, he saw that I had purchased the first pair on sale, and that the difference wasn’t between the two retail prices, but the one sale price and the full price of the second pair of boots.

He called over his superior, she reset the cash register, and the dude processed my eighty dollar plus bill.

I was flummoxed.  I just lost a gig worth a ton of money.  Well, not the entire gig, but 5/6ths of it.  The difference in price was significant.  And this dude, he didn’t even THANK ME!

But I knew if I’d walked out of the store, the tell-tale heart would get me.  I wouldn’t be able to get my "deal" out of my head.  If I slipped and fell on the trail, I’d blame it on bad karma.

So I’m comfortable in my choice.  But I feel a little bit like a wimp.  It was their ignorance, this guy never would have paid a price.  I paid the price.  And what were they losing, their profit?  Through stupidity?

What would YOU do?

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