It requires neither special talent nor a graduate degree in biz ad to buy a refrigerator. Even a high school diploma, while no doubt personally satisfying, is not essential to the process.
Mexicans from Pacoima, barely able to speak English, and comedy writers from Encino, barely able to write English, buy refrigerators and have them delivered in reasonable periods of time.
There is no need for security clearance, proof of citizenship, a lie detector test, a urinalysis or the ability to write your name in other than large block letters. If there were, the Reagans would still be using an ice box.
I am a person of reasonable intelligence, a steady income and an appearance that has never been described as grotesque, although some believe I am too short to be a newspaper columnist.
I was both sober and cheerful when I visited the Sears store in Canoga Park on Dec. 23, a date I recall specifically because I am not always sober and cheerful at the same time.
My intention was to purchase a refrigerator at the catalogue desk and have it delivered to my daughter in Oakland. I selected the model, gave the young man my credit card and told him what I wanted.
"Oakland?" he said with surprise.
The boy answered in a tone that suggested I had just asked to sleep with his mother. "With mom?"
I'm not sure what puzzled him, but I suspect he was holiday help and had probably never heard of Oakland.
I assured him there was such a place. He shrugged, made a telephone call and returned.
"No problem," he said. "The Oakland store has that model; they'll call Monday to confirm delivery."
What a nice boy.
Monday came and went. No call. Christmas came and went. No call.
I telephoned the Canoga Park store and spoke to someone who I thought said her name was Mrs. Pryor. I have since been told, however, that no Mrs. Pryor exists. Perhaps it was a passer-by who answered the phone.
At any rate, the mysterious Mrs. Pryor called Oakland. Oakland said first it had never heard of the refrigerator and then, yes, it had heard of the refrigerator but the order was returned. Why? No one seemed to know.
My daughter, meanwhile, pursued the matter from within Oakland. They told her to call San Jose. San Jose said it was ridiculous to call San Jose to get a refrigerator from Oakland. She should call Oakland or possibly Chicago.
My wife took a shot at it. A woman named Jan in Canoga Park said that to get an order to Oakland, one must call Sacramento and have it sent from San Lorenzo.
Sacramento? San Lorenzo?
Jan had done just that and the refrigerator would be delivered within 10 days.
Two weeks passed. No refrigerator. I telephoned Sacramento. They said call San Lorenzo. My patience, never in abundant supply, was draining away like water from a toilet.
I called San Lorenzo. They were out of stock until Feb. 9. On the same day, my daughter was notified that they were out of stock until Feb. 17.
January had meanwhile passed and February was fading. Great events transpired. The Giants won the Super Bowl. Ronald Reagan failed to recall what he was doing at any time after 1980. It snowed in L.A. Oliver North sued America. The Russians invaded ABC.
Still no refrigerator.
My daughter telephoned San Lorenzo. They were out of stock until March 3.
I felt like a chipmunk on a treadmill. I telephoned the Canoga Park store. I explained the problem to someone who said I would be called back. In a few minutes, Ida called.
"You want to order something?" she said.
"Lady," I said, "I may never order anything again."
I explained for about the 30th time.
"The computers are behind," she said.
" Two months behind?"
"What'd they tell you in San Lorenzo?"
"That they're out of stock until March 3."
"That must be it then."
"I don't believe any of you," I said.
"Then you'll have to talk to Charlie Clark."
I was done talking. I was into canceling. I asked for the credit department and got something called "convenience."
"Listen," I said to the lady who answered, "and listen carefully." I was beginning to hyperventilate. She may have thought it was an obscene call. I got three minutes of elevator music.
Then Jan came on the line.
"I am homicidal," I said.
Jan thought she remembered me.
"You're the card table?" she asked.
"No," I said, "I'm the refrigerator."
I refreshed her memory.
"How awful," she said. "I'll call Clark myself and find out about it. You'll hear from me tomorrow."
Bessie called the next day in place of Jan. The refrigerator will be in San Lorenzo March 6, she said.
"How long will it take to be delivered?" I asked skeptically.
"Who knows?" Bessie replied.
It really doesn't matter anymore. My daughter has given up on the refrigerator. She'll settle for a card table at Christmas.
Any Christmas will do.