Here are personal stories about my encounters with corporate America and international business. There’s no general theme here. But all are interesting.
Shoes are first. About 15 years ago, I bought a pair of walking shoes made by an American firm that I found extremely comfortable. I have been wearing the same model shoe ever since. Don’t laugh. Former mayor Mike Bloomberg buys the same shoe every year. His are Italian. Mine are made by New Balance. Their current iteration is 813. But they change the model number with some sort of ‘improvement’ every year or two, which has been both the joy and the problem.
The first ones I bought, as I recall, were model 805. I didn’t notice where they were made at first, but I did when they moved to 808 and advertised extensively that they were now Made in America. There was an American flag on the tag. I looked at my 807. It was perfect. It was made in Mexico. The 808 was not only American made, but it was also terrible. Sometimes the right shoe in my size would be too big and the left, in the same box, too small. They hurt my feet. At that point, these shoes were selling for about $70. I had bought the 808s at Gubbins in East Hampton. I reluctantly returned them and went back to my 807s. I did buy the 809, however. It was also Made in America and was a really good shoe, but it cost $119. I’m a patriot. I bought them. And wore them a year. I was supporting America. American labor is more expensive than foreign labor.
I think it was the 811s that first had the big trouble. They were still Made in America, and somehow the price had come down to about $85. I figured it was the competition. A problem happened one day when I went out in a downpour. They leaked. My socks were soaked. I hadn’t stepped in a big puddle. Why was this? The next day, when the 811s smelled terrible, I put them in the washing machine, and that stopped it. At this point we are up to about 2011. Last year they came out with the 812s, which also leaked and smelled. And this year, we’ve got the 813s, which are a great shoe, sell for about $85, don’t leak, and are made in Indonesia.
The next story is about a Canon M870, which copies, faxes and scans. We’ve had it about two years and it is up at a desk in our bedroom, where we work, looking out at Three Mile Harbor.
It’s a fabulous machine with hundreds of parts inside, made, I think, in Japan. Canon is a Japanese company. Two days ago, I was copying something when it made a hissing sound like a rattlesnake and gave off a message reading RESTART OR CHECK MANUAL. I restarted it and it hissed at me again. I called Canon and spoke to a service technician there who told me that a tiny rubber tube in its innards which, on cue, pushes a puff of air into an ink cartridge, had come loose. I told her, tell me where it is—I’ll open it up and push it back on.
The technician told me it could be dangerous for me to put my fingers in there, and said the best thing is to just get a new copier. They are cheap enough, he said. And there’s a new upgraded model called an MX911 that allows 250 sheets of paper in the holder rather than just 125 and goes almost twice as fast.
How much? I asked.
He said $95. Cheaper than servicing.
My new MX911 came the next day from Amazon. It works fine. But how could this be $95? The work building this, it had to be over $400 to make a profit. But I figured it out. A set of cartridges for the MX911 cost $65. And they are slightly different than the cartridges on the MX870, so you can’t use the old ones. So those MX870 cartridges, just throw them away?
A set of cartridges comes with the $95 MX911. So the cost to me of the copier is actually $30. They could actually give the MX911 away. Canon is in the cartridge business.
There’s something you can do to recycle old, empty printer cartridges. But whatever it is, it’s not worth it to have them put on a plane or truck or boat to send them to wherever that is, as far as the environment is concerned, in my opinion.
Meanwhile, what’s to be done with an MX870 with a hissing plastic tube inside? It weighs 18 pounds. Just throw it away, Canon said.
I asked my wife if she had any ideas. She said call Al Gore. I’m really wanting to know how many parts are in this thing, but apparently it’s dangerous to count.
What I could do is simply drop it out the second story window to the bricks by the swimming pool. Then we’d see how many there were. We could gather them up in a sack and take it to the dump that way. Now that’s recycling.
* * *
For a number of years, ending around 2010, I sent cash to a member of my family who was living in a remote area of the world where there was no other way to get money to him except by sending cash. I would stand in line at the supermarket with others sending out cash—mostly blue-collar folks—and hand the cash to a supermarket person using the Western Union software to send it along. I would get a receipt that it had been sent. I never got a confirmation from that company later that it had been received. Indeed, I came to learn years later that several times the cash I sent had never been picked up. I had kept the receipts. Maybe there were other times?
I called Western Union—they are based in Colorado—to ask them to send me the history of my account. What was sent back did NOT include the three entries I knew did not get picked up. All the others were there.
When I complained, I was told that was all they had. They owned me nothing, I was told. I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in Colorado. I also called our state assemblyman Fred Thiele, who got a law passed saying if money sent by companies that do wireless transactions is not picked up within
90 days, it had to be returned to the sender.
In 2011, I learned that some people named Tennille had filed a class action lawsuit to get all the money that hadn’t been picked up returned. A settlement had been arranged that Western Union was to set aside about $190 million for those claiming they were owed money. Appeals followed for three years. Eventually, a commission was set up to pay out money to everyone who had filed a claim that they had sent out money never picked up between 2000 and 2011.
Western Union was not making this easy, however. At first they told me they would just send the interest and, on request, they’d send the rest of the money to the states where it had been sent from, so people could pick it up as “lost property.” That never happened. I got to know the people at “Tennille vs Western Union” by name. They had good jobs in hard times. They’d always say the money would be coming “soon,” they just didn’t know when. Then last March, six years after the lawsuit had been filed, they told me there was a new plan, and they’d be sending me the money directly.
Last week, I got a check from Western Union for $575. Had Western Union hoped that the people whose money they held would die? They’d be able to send back less.
One week after I got this check, Western Union was in the news for having to put aside another $586 million to cover lapses in its anti-money laundering controls.
Is my check laundered money?