Thursday, October 8, 2015

They're Going to Send You to Milledgeville

"They're going to send you to Milledgeville." This phrase used to be synonymous with "you're crazy" or "they're going to send you to the loony bin!" Milledgeville, GA is home to the Central State Hospital, which was once the world's largest mental institution. In the mid-1800s it was officially called the State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum. The hospital closed in 2010 although I believe a few wings are still up and running. Many southeastern residents today can still remember when saying, "You're going to Milledgeville," meant you were so far off your rocker that it was time you were locked up. This past week I felt like I had truly "been sent to Milledgeville."

A month ago I hosted two friends at my apartment and bought a queen-sized mattress from Walmart to accommodate them. Sometime after 2 a.m. and many bottles of wine we learned that I had mistakenly purchased an air mattress without a pump. Obviously the purchase was a bust and I went back to Walmart a few days later to return the air mattress. The girl at Customer Service told me that I could not return the mattress since the box had been opened. "But it wasn't used," I said, "I basically opened it, realized the mistake, and put it back in."

"All I can offer you is an exchange," the clerk responded.

"For another air mattress?"

"For this same mattress or one at a higher price."

I let this information sink in. "So I can just return this air mattress for the exact same air mattress, but in an unopened box?"


"Or one of a higher price?"

"From the same maker."

"So still leaving me with the problem of not having an air pump."


"Even though I don't want this air mattress or any other air mattress at all?"


I did not understand the point of that policy so I took the mattress back with me. Mildly upset, I called my boyfriend who told me to simply return the opened box for an unopened one. Then I could return the unopened air mattress. I realized this was cheating the system, but then I also remembered that Walmart sucks and what do I care if I pull a fast one on a company that used to lock its employees inside so they couldn't leave during Inventory.

This is also a time to mention that, although I have grown up in many small towns, I consider myself a city person. I thrive off the hustle and bustle and anonymity that living in a large city affords you. I love walking down a sidewalk and cramming into a subway car with hundreds of other people - way too many to constantly make eye contact with and greet. Returning or exchanging an item makes me feel uncomfortable because I feel like I'm doing something wrong, but in a city I don't care so much because I know the probability of seeing those clerks again, or being recognized by them, is very low. Who cares if I've decided the dress I bought was too small! I can exchange it at one Target and then shop at another one for the next month until I've decided my embarrassment has finally subsided.

Because Milledgeville is a small, rural town, I waited a week to make my exchange. I didn't want the same clerk to see me and possibly figure out what I was doing. So, a few weeks ago I went into Walmart and exchanged the opened air mattress for an unopened one. I wore a baseball hat because it somehow made me feel more anonymous. Thankfully, there was a new woman behind the counter. She told me to go get the new air mattress off the shelf and didn't even question why I was swapping out the exact same items. She stapled my exchange receipt to my old receipt and sent me on my way. I put the new mattress in my car and left it there for another week, again waiting until a time when both clerks would hopefully not be there. I left the store feeling devious, accomplished, and a tad insane.

Yesterday, after waiting another full week, I finally set out to return the offending air mattress. By now you may be thinking, "Why don't you just keep the air mattress? Or give/sell it to someone? This seems like a lot of work for $50." Well you would be correct. This is a lot of effort to go through just to get $50 back, but I am a poor grad student and a normal grocery bill for three weeks worth of produce is usually around $50. Also, I'm stubborn and decided that I did not want the air mattress and I'll be damned if I will not get Walmart to take it back!

Thinking Walmart would not return an item I had already exchanged I ripped the original receipt from the exchange receipt. Clerk #2 had stapled both receipts together in the middle of the paper and I assumed this was some sort of Walmart code to warn Customer Service of people trying to dupe the system, like me. So like the true crazy person I have become I set about disguising the original receipt to make it look like it had gone through Receipt Hell: I tore the top half, crumpled the paper in my hand multiple times, and then I actually licked the edge. That's right! I licked the receipt as a way to detract from the tiny staple holes that I took to be some sort of covert Walmart code.

With my air mattress and mangled receipt in hand, I strode confidently into Walmart. I waited in line at Customer Service as some woman returned two opened boxes of Family Sized Cheerios. Thankfully there was yet another new clerk behind the service desk so I didn't feel the need to don my baseball cap, which was squished into my purse. Cheerios Lady received a full cash refund and left. I stepped up to the counter, placed the air mattress in front of me and handed over the receipt. Clerk #3 scanned the receipt multiple times before looking up at me and saying, "It says you've already returned this."

My heart dropped. I had heard once that some people buy things from a store, return it, then go back to the store and grab the exact item they returned from the shelf and try to return it all over again - thus making money off an illegitimate return. My palms immediately began to sweat as I realized I looked like one of these people. Instead of confessing to having exchanged the original opened item, I let my blond hair shine brightly and feigned pure ignorance.

"Have you already been to Customer Service before?" the woman asked.

"I don't think so?" I said, wondering how weird it would look if I simply grabbed the air mattress and ran, "Not at this Walmart at least."

"I'm going to have to call a manager. Please step to the side."

I moved everything down the counter and casually pretended to text someone. Inside my head I was freaking out: It looks like I stole this! It looks like I took this off the shelf and am trying to make money off of it. Oh my god I am going to get arrested at Walmart. I played images in my head of being escorted to the holding room that stores reserve for shoplifters. Will they cuff me?, I thought, Or will they just keep the air mattress and insist that I must have taken it off the shelf? I looked around the check-out lanes that faced Customer Service. In such a rural area, I felt there was an 80% chance that someone I knew was in the store right now, ready to witness my shame as I was carted out of the building. The thought of being banned from Walmart also worried me as that would severely limit my shopping options for the next two years of my graduate school career (Milledgeville has a Kroger, two Piggly Wigglys, and a Food Depot - where will I get anything other than food if I'm banned from Walmart?!).

Finally the manager appeared. I thanked my lucky stars that she wasn't either of the first two clerks I had dealt with. If she had been, I was sure I would find myself trudging the long Walk of Shame out of the building with two Walmart security people holding my arms. Clerk #3 explained the situation. The manager and I went through the exact same exchange where I decided to continue lying instead of simply admitting that I had exchanged the opened air mattress for the unopened one and now I was trying to return the unopened one, thus finding a loophole in their system. I made my eyes wider, hoping the Dumb Blonde card would work and they'd take pity on this seemingly doe-eyed, clueless girl.

The manager turned and walked to a framed picture that I hadn't noticed before. The paper inside the frame read: AIR MATTRESS RETURN POLICY.


The manager turned back to me and handed over my receipt. "We can't return this," she said, "we have a 15 day return policy on air mattresses and it's been too long." I wanted to say, "But I actually haven't had this air mattress for 15 days! I exchanged it and this specific one has only been in my car for a week!" But obviously I couldn't. Defeated, I took my mangled receipt and air mattress and walked back to my car.

The mattress is currently still in my car where it will remain until I decide what to do next. Why don't I just suck it up and keep the damn thing? Or sell it or give it away? Or, better yet, buy a bloody air pump? Because clearly there is something in the water in Milledgeville. The aura from the Central State Hospital has spread throughout the town, making all those that move here evolve into crazy, irrational people. Or maybe I was always this loony and thus destined for Milledgeville. Either way, it's clear I need to get out of town soon and I guess my air mattress will have to come with me.

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