A traveler in search of supplies gathers the documentation needed to enter Costco. | Photo by CardMapr / Unsplash

Some of us face obstacles in our lives. We suffer discrimination over immutable traits like punctuality. We lack spatialawareness. We have loving, nurturing parents on whom it’s tricky to pin our flaws. And yet, despite these challenges, there are some of us who, when challenged by the world, persevere despite the long odds against us, and achieve something truly extraordinary.

I am not one of those people.

But I did manage to do something pretty neat. I abused Costco’s generous return policy to a degree no one thought possible.

It started in April, which began in typical fashion, with me desperate and needing cash. My usual source of hard-earned, work-my-guts-out income had dried up. It would be weeks before I’d be allowed to donate any more blood.

But I was not deterred. This wasn’t the first time I had to overcome financial difficulty. Nor was it the first time I had to clear away a mental fog brought on by insufficient blood flow. If I couldn’t sell vital bodily fluids, I would sell something else. Or, even better, I would avail myself of the miracle cure for lack of funds known as the Return for a Full Refund.

It was in this spirit that I went to Costco. With confidence I strode past the membership card checker and entered the store through the exit lane. It always thrills me to enter Costco through the exit lane — it stirs my rebellious nature. I often imagine a scene in which I try to slip past Costco membership personnel, who spot me and give chase, brandishing receipt-marking Sharpies. In my mind I usually make it. But today, as I made my way through the exit lane, no one chased me, not even the skeptical jeweler selling wedding ring three-packs to polygamists. Disappointed, I approached the returns desk. Behind it stood a woman wearing a T-shirt that said “Kirkland.”

“Yes, you may help me, Kirkland,” I said, skipping ahead in the dialogue. “I lost my life savings when my blimp company crashed and burned. As a result, I am short on cash and need to return an item.”

“Certainly, sir. Do you have a receipt?”

“I thought you might ask that question. And I expected to have a receipt to give you. But unfortunately, I don’t have one. It was lost when my home burned in the fire.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Thank you for your sympathy. It’s more than I got from the arson investigator. But is a receipt really required to make a return?”

“Probably not. We keep a record of all your purchases, in the system.”

“Excellent. People can complain all they want about ‘Big Brother.’ But in situations like these I think Orwell got it wrong, though it still puzzles me why he was so critical of volunteer youth mentors.”

“May I see your membership card?”

“I should mention, Kirkland, before we pursue our relationship any further, that I am a bit outside the return window. I want to be clear about this. The last thing I want to do is lead you on.”

“When did you buy the item?”

“1985.”

“1985?”

“Yes. No doubt you’re wondering why it’s taken me nearly 40 years to return the item. All I can say is that in 1985 I sat down to play a new thing called Nintendo, and it’s taken me this long to get through Bowser’s castle.”

There was no way Costco would accept a 37-year-old return, I thought. In the history of retail, no merchant had accepted a return so long after the sale. At least not in America. That’s probably how they do it under socialism.

“It shouldn’t be a problem. We have a very generous return policy.”

Generous is a word. Ludicrous is another. How many 75-packs of Kool-Aid must a retailer drink before it believes such drivel as “the customer is always right?” I’m a customer, and the last thing anyone would ever say about me is “he is always right.”

“If it helps, I still have the original packaging,” I said.

From underneath my jacket I produced a kit for a pre-built gingerbread house and handed the box to Kirkland. She examined it carefully, shaking it up and down vigorously to see if anything would fall out.

“This box is empty.”

“Yes. I ate the gingerbread house at some point in the ’90s.”

“We’ll just say it caused indigestion. I’ll mark it down as defective.”

She scanned the barcode on the box. Her terminal beeped in protest.

“It doesn’t seem to match anything in our system.”

“Not surprising. I purchased the gingerbread house at K-Mart. But just as Mexico City stands atop the great Aztec city Tenochtitlan, this Costco now stands on the demolished ruins of that failed retailer. Will that be a problem?”

“I don’t think so. Since I can’t find it in the system, I can give you cash for the price marked on the box. Four ninety-nine.”

“Really? Walmart offered me six ninety-nine Canadian. Then again, I find it hard to put my faith in a monetary system built around the loon. I’ll take the four ninety-nine.”

Kirkland handed me a four-pack of one-dollar bills and a one-pack of ninety-nine cents. Flush with cash, I made my way through the exit lane and emerged into the shopping area, where many free samples awaited assembly into a tapas-style dinner. Costco — so much to buy, so much more to return. Someday I might even become a member.

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