A cranky old coot was Mr. Calder, and he’d be the first to tell you so. Living 84 years had taught him cynicism. He did not suffer fools gladly, and he wasn’t much better at suffering the intelligent. Mr. Calder preferred his own company and that of his dogs, Daisy and Rufus. People might have been surprised to know that crabby Mr. Calder kissed the dogs’ silky heads and cooked them chicken livers every day. He’d have said that was nobody else’s beeswax.
So you would think that a private, cynical person like Mr. Calder would be the last one to fill out the ubiquitous surveys that accosted him on every side. You’d think he’d snort derisively at the telephone recording when it implored him to stay on the line and register his valuable opinion. You’d expect him to throat-punch the Kroger bag-boy when he said he got extra fuel points if customers took the online survey and mentioned him. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong, because Mr. Calder filled out every survey he could find. He even bought a laptop for that purpose, and went to a class to learn to use it. (The instructor could have filled out a survey or two himself.)
“It’s a way to say what I think,” Mr. Calder told Daisy and Rufus. “Things are just goin’ to hell nowadays, and it makes me so durn mad. I could tell ‘em a thing or two, but nobody wants to listen to old people.” The dogs cocked their heads as if considering his words, and then wagged their tails in approval.
In addition to answering the survey questions, Mr. Calder always added comments. In fact, that was his favorite part. “Other” was his go-to response, and then he let ‘em have it in the little box below.
“If my opinion is so durn important to you, why not hire some live people to listen to me?” he inquired in one little box.
“You wanna know what would make my shopping experience better? Quality merchandise that didn’t fall apart in two weeks, that’s what.”
“How could you improve the store? Start with cleaning up the carts. Those things are like germ bombs on shaky wheels.”
He’d smile when he hit Send.
Another thing Mr. Calder did was rate products on the internet. He bought almost everything online. “Can’t beat the convenience,” he confided to Daisy and Rufus. “Just click the mouse and in a couple of days your order shows up at your door.”
When he received the inevitable survey in his in-box asking him to rate his recent purchase, he did so, carefully calibrating how many stars to bestow and always utilizing the comment box.
One day the UPS truck pulled into his driveway and the driver unloaded a large box. He huffed and puffed it to the door where Mr. Calder stood watching. “Might as well load it back up, son. Didn’t order it, whatever it is.”
The driver checked the label and swiped his scanner over it. “It’s yours,” he said. “Maybe you forgot ordering it.”
Mr. Calder let that remark pass, but only because his curiousity bump was itching. As soon as the truck was out of sight, he got his utility knife and carefully cut open the box. Inside was a new microwave, much nicer than the old one in his kitchen. There was a note thanking him for his many helpful survey responses. The manufacturer wanted him to try out the microwave and requested the favor of his impartial review.
And so it began. Mr. Calder became a product tester, the UPS driver became Bud, and it was a rare month that didn’t see three or four goodies delivered to his door. In came a foam mattress and a food processor, then a fancy mixer and a coffee maker. He got sheets and knives and a camera. Mr. Calder sampled each product, conscientiously writing his comments in the little boxes. But there was a limit to what a man living alone could use, and stuff piled up.
Newly-weds Carly and Jake lived beside Mr. Calder. They seemed to be short on money – as he and his wife had been at their age. He knocked on their door one day and presented the bride with a top-of-the-line mixer, very slightly used. “Don’t cook much,” he mumbled, looking at his feet. “Thought maybe you could use it. You don’t have to take it if you don’t want it.”
But she did want it. She was delighted. Mr. Calder gave them the foam mattress. He gave them the hedge clippers and the bamboo outdoor rug. It wasn’t cheating, because they used the products and told him what they thought so he could write his reviews. They began inviting him over for supper. Then one wild night Mr. Calder drove Carly to the hospital when the baby came early and Jake was out of town. In time, that little girl called him Gumpa and squealed when Daisy and Rufus licked her face.
Mr. Calder didn’t have time to fill out surveys anymore. He didn’t really miss it. Not as much to get mad about as there used to be.