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WILY WOMAN

RBAF8 17-RED BLUFF, CALIF., 24 221P MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO., LOS ANGELES, CALIF. MY ORDER WAS FOR AN UNABRIDGED DICTIONARY. I HAVE JUST RECEIVED 1,000 BABY CHICKS. PLEASE ADVISE.

HORACE L. BECK, RED BLUFF, CALIF.

DEAR CUSTOMER: We are in receipt of your letter concerning unsatisfactory merchandise. Our motto is "Complete satisfaction or your money cheerfully refunded!' It is necessary that you return all papers concerning this order to enable us to adjust the matter to your complete satisfaction.

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO., LOS ANGELES, CALIF. (Form GL16A--20M)

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO., LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

April 5

DEAR SIRS: I sent you a wire almost two weeks ago. Today I received a mimeographed postcard asking for return of all papers. The papers are being returned air mail special delivery, and meanwhile do you realize the fix I am in? What I ordered was a dictionary. That's all I wanted and that's all I intend to have.

Yours in haste,

HORACE L. BECK, RED BLUFF, CALIF.

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER COMPANY LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

DEAR CUSTOMER: We are sorry about the unfortunate mistake concerning your order. While we make every effort to promptly and accurately fill orders within 24 hours of their receipt, an occasional error creeps in.

We are sending you the correct item ordered. Please return merchandise received by mistake, with an attached letter of explanation. Our motto is "Complete satisfaction or your money cheerfully refunded!'

Yours sincerely,

ADJUSTMENT DEPT.

(Form X218F--25M)

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO., LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

April 18

DEAR SIRS: Just what do you suppose this is all about? The thing I wanted to do is return the merchandise sent me by mistake. I don't believe, frankly, that you have thought this thing through.

Also, your mimeographed Form X218F--25M contains a split infinitive.

Here is the problem: To keep your merchandise from dying or otherwise depreciating, I was forced to purchase two brooders--500 capacity each--at $47.89 apiece. I might have saved a little there with a cheap model, but I knew you would want your merchandise to have the best of care. Wages for myself and helper, at a nominal charge of $1 an hour, comes to exactly $1,000, figured at a conservative 20 hours a day for 25 days. Feed for your merchandise has cost $32.26. Drinking founts were $6.87. Feeders were $8.23. Needless to say, the chicks no longer will fit into the original shipping cartons, and anyhow, these were used in the construction of a temporary coop for the emergency. A roll of plastic-coated mesh for this coop cost $4.19. The lowest bid for constructing new crates--I am all fingers and thumbs --to return your merchandise is $95.50.

As you see, I am not charging you a dime for anything but time and materials. I will gladly return your merchandise on receipt of what it actually has cost me, $1,242.83. This includes sales tax, though in figuring labor I have not taken into account Social Security, State Unemployment Compensation, Income Tax Withholding, possible union dues in case myself and helper are organized, and whatever else is involved these days. You would know more about that than I do. Please advise immediately.

Yours in haste,

HORACE L. BECK, RED BLUFF, CALIF.

P.S.: I received the dictionary. I am sure it is just what I wanted, though I haven't had time to unwrap it.

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER COMPANY LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

DEAR CUSTOMER: We are in receipt of your letter concerning unsatisfactory merchandise. Our motto is "Complete satisfaction or your money cheerfully refunded!'

It is necessary that you return all papers concerning this order to enable us to adjust the matter to your complete satisfaction.

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO., LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

(Form GL16A--20M)

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO., LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

DEAR SIRS: Were you in the Army? It does not seem possible that so complete a snafu could be accomplished without special training.

Let me start from the beginning. I will use simple words. Somehow, I have not made myself clear. Maybe that is why my stories always come back. But I am going to try my best, tired as I am and late as the hour may be.

Now. On March 7 I ordered a dictionary, No. 339B188GL, Unabridged, India Paper Edition, $32.50, postpaid. On the afternoon of March 23 I was in deep thought when a voice called, "William! William Shakespeare!' I ignored it. "Shakespeare!' the voice called. "Mail!'

I arose from the cot and went out. The person who had called me was, if you wish to confirm the following incident for your records, Miss Adeline Yost, Red Bluff, Calif. In case you contact this person, however, may I suggest the use of extreme care? Do not be misled by a pretty face and a charming manner, or make my mistake in assuming the corn-fed type will leave you alone if you leave it alone. What I mean, sirs, the pink cheeks and open manner may be but a mask for a power-mad personality. If you should drop this person a polite little mimeograph, do not be surprised if said person attempts to assume management of the Mammoth Mail Order Co. I am advising you from personal experience. I came out into the hills for privacy and seclusion necessary to my literary career. And the mere act of thumbing a ride to town one day led to-- Well, sirs, the following will illustrate the extent to which this person was trying to dictate my life:

She had arrived in her father's pickup. "Look at your eyes,' she said as I emerged from the cabin. "All puffy. You've been sleeping again.'

"I was,' I corrected, "thinking.'

"Maybe this time you do need rest. Oh, Horace. I'm so glad. I never did believe you were just a lazy bum, not worth the powder and lead to blow yourself to hell. I always did say you were worth the powder and lead.'

"Was there mail,' I asked cautiously, "or did you just want to annoy me again?' This person was in good spirits, which was a bad sign. Ordinarily, she merely nagged me to get a job and called me a worthless, good-for-nothing dope. But when she became nice--well, frankly, this person was not above using all the sly artifice of a woman's wiles to get her way, and upon two occasions she had lured me into predicaments from which I had extricated myself only with the greatest embarrassment. Indeed, upon the second occasion it was only with the utmost ingenuity that I escaped going to work.

"Bounced right back,' she said, handing me a large Manila envelope. "I'm glad you're through kidding yourself, Horace. You can't write for sour apples.'

"Editors never read unsolicited manuscripts,' I told her.

"I opened it,' she said. "It stinks.'

"That's a federal offense.'

"Practically use of the mails in an attempt to defraud. What corn! And I never in my life heard people talk like that.'

"You have never lived in high society.'

"Have you?'

I did not wish to quarrel with this person, for, after all, she served a purpose in bringing groceries and the mail, saving me the six-mile hike to town. "Did the dictionary come?'

"What use will you have for a dictionary?' She began unloading cartons from the pickup. From these cartons came the sound of cheeping.

"What are you doing?'

"Your baby chicks came.'

"Huh?'

"The thousand baby chicks. Where's your coop?'

"Wait a minute. I don't want any baby chicks.'

"I'll help you get them started. One thing about you, Horace, when you decide on a thing, you do it in a big way. Where's the coop?'

"Look. I haven't got any coop. I don't want any chicks.'

She put fists on hips. "Horace L. Beck, do you mean to tell me you haven't got things fixed ready? In there asleep on your lazy back, and 1,000 baby chicks coming!' She sighed. "Maybe dad's right. Maybe you're not worth the powder and lead. Maybe Crummy Jacobs has got you taped.'

I did not wish to go into the subject of Crummy Jacobs, who had been in my outfit overseas and has spread the story that I had decided to be a writer because there was a mere Pfc in the company who was a writer, and since I had risen through merit to T/4, I thought I would be a better one. Crummy also claimed that I got my Purple Heart from tripping over a bucket while running to a shelter during an air raid. Anyone interested may refer to the official records, which show that my war injury, a broken ankle, was sustained in enemy action. The injury makes it impossible to pursue my former profession of night-club hoofer, and I receive a small pension, which allows me to devote full time to literary composition.

I examined the labels on the cartons. The chicks unquestionably were addressed to me, and had been shipped by your company.

"There has been a snafu,' I said, and began putting the cartons onto the truck. "You can send them right back.'

"Well, I never,' the person said, and began putting the crates onto the ground again. "I'm ashamed of you. A decent impulse for once in your lazy life, and now you're trying to back out.'

"I tell you it's a mistake! I didn't order any biddies.'

"You mean, really?'

"I mean really. I ordered a dictionary. What would I do with baby chicks?'

The person began to laugh. "This is the funniest thing I ever heard in my life! A thousand baby chicks by mistake!'

I laughed. "Crazy, isn't it? Well, we'll send them back.'

"Oh, but you can't.'

"Why can't I?'

"Chicks don't need feed for a couple of days, but after that they've got to have constant care. You wouldn't want these poor little innocent things to die. Oh, Horace,' she said, peeking through the holes of a carton, "aren't they the cutest little darlings?'

"I haven't got a place to put them. And I don't know the first thing about biddies.'

"Oh, I forgot.' She got a booklet from the car. "With every order they send free instructions.'

"I wonder who got my dictionary?'

"Horace, this may be the making of you. I have a theory about mailorder houses.'

"So have I,' I said bitterly.

"Historians have ignored an important factor in the development of American independence, initiative, and inventive genius. What might this country have become without mail order? A farmer selects a mowing machine from the catalogue. A couple of weeks later some gunnysacks full of odd parts are tossed off at his mailbox. With nothing but a rusty monkey wrench and a hammer he assembles them. Perhaps by mistake he has received a thresher, a concrete mixer, a tractor, or a windmill. Nothing daunted, he converts it into a mowing machine with a little baling wire and scrap iron, and has enough parts left over for a wheelbarrow. That's something you could do as a writer, Horace--tell the real story of what made America great. Though I guess you won't have time from now on.'

"Couldn't your dad use these chicks?'

"Oh, dad's got his this year. Everbody has. You're late. But better late than never.' She got in and drove away, leaving me with 1,000 cheeping biddies.

Well, sirs, I did my best to protect your merchandise. I sat down to read the book of instructions. Presently I was wondering why my stories bounced back when such writing as that got into print. For example, the book said: "Chicks should be fed four times daily.' At what times, it did not say. How was I to know if they took a second breakfast, afternoon tea, or a midnight snack for that extra meal? "It is very important not to allow young chicks to overeat.' How, may I ask you, do you know when a chick has had a square meal, but shouldn't make a pig of itself? I can imagine nothing more futile than asking a chick when it's had enough. "Feed the chicks scratch grain and mash.' Which seems plain enough--smash up the grain--until the next line: "The mash is fed alternately between the scratch grain the first week or two, and then placed in self-feeding hoppers.' What writing! Mash apparently was something similar to what corn whiskey is made out of. But was scratch grain a food or a utensil similar to a self-feeding hopper? Or was a self-feeding hopper a type of insect similar to a grasshopper which ate the mash and then leaped into the mouths of the chicks? And where did the book get that "first week or two' stuff? At that age, you're dealing with half a chick's lifetime. "Milk should be supplied if possible. The particular form of the milk does not matter.' How many forms has milk got? It is whatever shape the utensil is that you pour it into. Certainly the book could not mean it didn't matter whether you fed chicks fresh milk or powdered. I was overseas, and I know that does matter. If that book was hinting that I might inflict powdered milk on helpless baby chicks, I was through with it. Anyhow, it was full of generalities and obscure technical terms. Ironically, its title was Chicken Raising for Beginners.

I walked over the hill to the Yost farm for a little practical information. Mr. Yost, incidentally, is the father of the person I have previously introduced. I found the family at dinner --the parents, the daughter, and the brat.

"Just in time, Horace,' the daughter greeted.

"As usual,' the brat said.

Instead of beaming at the brat, Mr. Yost told him to shut up and beamed at me. "Ah, Horace, for myself I am glad you have what you call it "come out of it.' A thousand baby chicks. Yes, my boy, it is a job you now have for sure got!'

"It was a mistake,' I said. "I ordered a dictionary.'

"That I like, the spirit. Very funny. Brooders in shape?'

"Pardon me?'

"Your brooders. They are O.K. working?'

I might mention, sirs, that Mr. Yost's English was slightly broken, though I will not attempt to put it in dialect, not wishing to confuse you further.

"The last I heard,' I said, "my brothers were working.'

"Fine, my boy, fine! But watch them. Do not them smother let.'

"I think, Horace,' the daughter said, "you need some help.'

"I think you are right,' I said. "But I want it on a business basis. The mail-order company will pay for protection of its merchandise.'

During the meal Mr. Yost kept talking about raising chickens. I kept telling him it was all a mistake. To no avail. He was convinced I had turned over a new leaf.

Later, when my helper and I were going over the hill, I said, "I didn't realize your father had such difficulty understanding the language.'

"Dad's proud of you. He likes your attitude--that it was all a mistake. Admirable modesty. He hates people who blow their own horns, like you used to about being a writer.'

"I don't care what he thinks. It was a mistake.'

"Or are you turning over a new leaf?'

Which illustrates the attitude of everybody during the next few weeks. People suddenly became friendly, much to my annoyance. I wanted nothing to do with the local yokels. All I wanted was privacy and seclusion to pursue my literary career.

I hope it will not be necessary to detail the steps necessary to protect your merchandise. That, like childbirth and the day of induction into the Army, is best forgotten. Suffice that with no equipment, we housed the chicks the first night in my cabin. My helper left at midnight, and I got no sleep at all. The next day while my helper was making the coop, I drove the pickup in for a list of things and sent you a wire concerning the crisis.

You can imagine my consternation when, two weeks later, I received a mimeographed postcard asking me to return all papers, so you could adjust the matter. I did that. You then sent the dictionary and told me to return the other merchandise. I wrote concerning the practical problems, and today I received a duplicate of the first postcard.

My point, sirs, is that you have the papers. And I still have the chicks. I trust this explains everything, and please advise immediately.

Yours sincerely,

HORACE L. BECK, RED BLUFF, CALIF.

P.S.: The following expense has been assumed in care and protection of your merchandise:

Labor, self and helper $1,680.00

Supplies and materials 275.78

Estimate for crating mdse. at present size 137.50

$2,093.28

H.L.B.

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER COMPANY LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

DEAR CUSTOMER: Our catalogue is prepared six months in advance of issue. We do our best to estimate future needs. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes, because of business failures, unforeseen shortages, labor troubles, price changes, and government regulations, our suppliers find it impossible to meet their commitments. But we want you to know that we do our very best under the circumstances to live up to our policy of "Complete satisfaction or your money cheerfully refunded!'

If we are temporarily out of an item, we try to furnish a similar article of equal or superior value rather than disappoint a customer or keep him waiting. We were trying to please you in substituting a different item from that which you ordered.

Inasmuch as the merchandise that we sent is of a nature to make its return inconvenient because of difficulties of crating and shipping we are prepared to make you an extremely attractive proposition. The catalogue price of this item is $173.50. We are willing that you should keep the merchandise at just one-half this price! Could anything be fairer than that? We trust this will be completely satisfactory to you, and

( ) We are refunding the difference of ----

(X) You owe us $86.75.

Yours sincerely,

ADJUSTMENT DEPT.

(Form MR2L83--50M)

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO. LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

May 19

DEAR SIRS: While I appreciate the spirit behind your kind mimeograph of recent date, I frankly do not see that the merchandise you sent was an adequate substitute for an Unabridged Dictionary, India Paper Edition, No. 339B188GL, $32.50, postpaid. That's what I ordered and that's all I wanted.

I hope this makes my position clear.

Yours,

HORACE L. BECK, RED BLUFF, CALIF.

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER COMPANY LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

DEAR CUSTOMER: We are sorry about the unfortunate mistake concerning your order. While we make every effort to promptly and accurately fill orders within 24 hours of their receipt, an occasional error creeps in.

We are sending you the correct item ordered. Please return merchandise received by mistake, with an attached letter of explanation. Our motto is "Complete satisfaction or your money cheerfully refunded!'

Yours sincerely,

ADJUSTMENT DEPT.

(Form X218F--25M)

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO., LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

June 3

DEAR SIRS: Now I have two dictionaries. Please let me make myself clear. I do not want any more dictionaries. I want fewer baby chicks. If you cannot understand this, at least be man enough to come out from behind that mimeograph and tell me what bothers you.

Yours,

HORACE L. BECK, RED BLUFF, CALIF.

RBAF17 6-RED BLUFF, CALIF., 7 417P MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO., LOS ANGELES, CALIF. CHICKS OUTGROWING COOP. SHOULD I ENLARGE?

HORACE L. BECK, RED BLUFF, CALIF.

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER Co., LOS ANGELES, CALIF.

June 11

DEAR SIRS: This is to advise you that while coop was in process of enlargement, a skunk got in last night and killed 11 items of your merchandise. I am doing my best, but I could use some cooperation.

Yours,

HORACE L. BECK, RED BLUFF, CALIF.

RBAF 11 12-RED BLUFF, CALIF., 14 348P MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO., LOS ANGELES, CALIF. HAVE GOOD OFFER FOR MALE PORTION OF YOUR MERCHANDISE. SHOULD I ACCEPT?

HORACE L. BECK, RED BLUFF, CALIF.

DEAR CUSTOMER: We are in receipt of your letter concerning unsatisfactory satisfactory merchandise. Our motto is "Complete satisfaction or your money cheerfully refunded!

It is necessary that you return all papers concerning this order to enable us to adjust the matter to your complete satisfaction.

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO., Los ANGELES, CALIF.

(Form GL16A--20M)

MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO., Los ANGELES, CALIF.

June 29

DEAR SIRS: I want to explain everything. There has been a horrible mistake. As I intimated in a previous letter, my helper has been entirely too nice of late. I should have known.

Last week as I was toting a sack of feed from the pickup, my helper left the door of the coop open. In a case like that, time is of the essence. I didn't even have time to put the sack down. When the chickens were rounded up, I noticed a car had arrived and a man was watching.

"Are you from the Mammoth Mail Order Company?' I asked.

"No,' he said, "I'm from the Veterans Administration. Quite a demonstration for a man with a permanently injured ankle.'

And so now, sirs, it appears I must work for a living.

On top of that blow, the following day I drove to town for some grit, and blew out a tire that had been thin for some time. In getting the jack I found an envelope addressed to me, and from your company. It had been opened, then stuffed between the seat and back cushion, to fall into view when I removed the seat to get the jack. This envelops contained the papers and original order that you always mail back to a customer at the time you ship the merchandise. These papers showed that on March seventh I had ordered one thousand (1,000) baby chicks. The order was in my name, but the handwriting was that of my helper.

When I returned, my helper was feeding the chickens. Silently and accusingly, I handed her the evidence of her duplicity.

"Oh, you found it,' she said calmly. "I knew you would. That tire must have given out. It was overdue.'

It was I, rather than she, who was nonplused. "Just another of your underhanded tricks to put me to work. You've tried before.'

"Yes,' she admitted happily. "And, oh, Horace, you've proved it. You are worth the powder and lead.'

"I ordered a dictionary. You sent another order in my name for 1,000 baby chicks. Then you intercepted the dictionary and the papers concerning the baby chicks.'

"Maybe you'd better lie down,' she said. "You're all red in the face.'

"For a corn-fed yokel, you could give lessons to--Just why,' I yelled, "do you have to taunt me with it? You could have kept it from me! You didn't have to shatter my illusions! I was beginning to feel there was a faint spark of decency in you.'

"I wanted you to find out. I'm not one to live a deception, like some I could mention.' And she kicked me on the ankle.

"Ouch,' I said. "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if you arranged that demonstration for the Veterans Administration man.'

"It is a citizen's duty to protect the taxpayers' money. Though I didn't expect you to have a 100-pound sack of feed on your back. That was just luck.'

"Where's that dictionary I ordered in the first place?'

"Oh, it's home. I'm saving it for you. I thought maybe next winter when you have some spare time--'

"Beat it,' I said, "before I haul off and sock a woman.'

"Oh, now Horace. Don't you see? I was only proving that you were worth the powder and lead. You rose to the emergency. I'm proud of you.'

"Get out of here!' I yelled. "And take your chickens with you!'

"They are not my chickens.'

"They are your chickens.'

"They arrived in your name. You accepted them. You raised them. Anyhow, what do you want to do, starve to death?'

I turned and rushed into the cabin. I didn't want to run amok. I was packing up when she asked from a window, "What are you doing?'

"I'm a night-club hoofer. Why I came out here I don't know.'

"What about your chickens?'

"To hell with the chickens.'

"What about your place?'

"To hell with the place.'

"What about me?'

"To hell with you.'

I continued packing. She came in and began fussing around the stove. "It's not that simple, Horace. You owe me for the price of 1,000 baby chicks.'

"That's your business.'

"You hired me as a helper on a business basis. I have witnesses. You owe me wages from back in March. You owe for the use of the pickup. You blew out a perfectly good tire. Don't think you'll just skip your bills, either. People up here won't stand for it, a night-club hoofer doing that to a girl.'

"Why don't you get out of here?' I yelled.

"I'm fixing a little something to eat. You'll need energy to think over your problem.'

"For the last time, get out of here! I wouldn't eat another bite of what you cook! It might be poisoned! Now, scram.'

"Well, all right.' She went out and drove away.

I sat down to face my doom. There was no way out. She had whipsawed me. I was confronted by a life of grim toil getting out of her debt. To hell with that noise. I would skip during the night. Horace L. Beck would become just a nameless bum on skid row, on account of a woman. I decided I needed some nourishment for the six-mile hike to town. But I couldn't find the salt. My helper had been attending to the cooking, and she had a woman's devilish habit of tucking things away. I walked over the hill.

The Yosts were at the table. "Just in time, Horace,' my helper said brightly.

"As usual,' the brat said.

"All I wanted to know,' I said: "where did you put the salt?'

"Oh,' my helper said, producing the shaker from a pocket of her slacks, "I must have carried it off.'

"You knew I'd come for it,' I said. "Why do you do things like this?'

She said, "Don't you know?'

There was something about the way she said it. Her eyes big and her mouth soft. Suddenly I understood everything. The dumb little bunny, she loved me. Me, a night-club hoofer! The crazy little kid. I hadn't so much as laid a finger on her. I wasn't the one to fool around with the cornfed type.

Then I saw her parents beaming proudly, and I was conscious of my overalls and work-hardened hands, and I wondered what had happened to the night-club hoofer. I remembered how empty the cabin had been after my helper had left, and what wonderful food she cooked, and how pleasant it was even to work when she was around. And I really hadn't tried to find that salt. "I'd kept looking in places I knew it wouldn't be.

And there was one way to get out of her debt.

"Yes,' I said, "I guess I do.'

"Adeline,' her father said as she arose, "you have not your supper finished.'

"Papa,' her mother said, "she does not the supper want.'

"Yaah!' the brat said. "Lovey dovey gooey!'

And without going into further detail, sirs, here is the situation: I am now in the chicken business. I have on hand three dictionaries, Unabridged, India Paper Edition, No. 339B188GL, $32.50, postpaid. Two of them belong to you. The third, which I ordered in the first place, will come in handy. My wife says that in our spare time next winter we can write the story of how the mail-order business fostered American initiative, independence, and inventive genius. The real story of what made America great.

I would appreciate any data on the subject you might be kind enough to forward.

Yours happily,

HORACE L. BECK, RED BLUFF, CALIF.

P.S.: I am returning by parcel post the two dictionaries, together with the papers concerning the order.

H. L. B.

RBAF14 13-RED BLUFF, CALIF., 16 419P MAMMOTH MAIL ORDER CO., LOS ANGELES, CALIF. I RETURNED TWO DICTIONARIES. HAVE JUST RECEIVED 1,000 BABY CHICKS. PLEASE ADVISE.

HORACE L. BECK, RED BLUFF, CALIF.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Taylor, Samuel W.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1986
Words:4755
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