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The Christmas gift

Shopping online was supposed to be easy.

The story begins the first week of December. My son Jon had been a good kid through the final two quarters, so I promised to buy him a game system, the Nintendo GameCube, priced at $200.

We went to Best Buy early, to avoid the holiday rush. Best Buy was out. We tried Target, Funcoland, Toys R Us. They all sold accessories and games, but no systems. You couldn’t buy the basic console in any store in my home state.

I tried Internet outlets–Amazon, CompUSA. Likewise–no dice.

I went to eBay. A couple dozen auctions were underway for Nintendo GameCubes. But final prices exceeded the list price of the product, as frantic fathers bid the systems up.

Jon was begging me to quit the idea. He did not want me spending more than the minimum $200 for a system. I ignored him, and bid $240 for a system from a man in Toronto named Marko, who for some reason had several GameCubes to sell. I paid through PayPal, the online auction bank.

The system was costly, but not obscenely so. It guaranteed that on Christmas morning, I would not be a chump to my son. It was Dec. 10–plenty of time for the system to arrive.

But it didn’t arrive. On the 21st, I e-mailed Marko asking what gave. I had bought something sight unseen from a scalper in a foreign country, at a moment when federal investigators were ripping every electronics parcel coming into the country to shreds. Nevertheless, Marko assured me it would arrive by Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve came. And went. This was a drag because 2001 was a lean year. That toy was Jon’s Christmas.

The day after Christmas I bused to Ohio on family business. This business took two weeks to resolve. While I was away, my son bugged my wife Rachel into buying him a Microsoft Xbox instead.

When I finally returned to Minnesota, there was still no GameCube. I wrote Marko in Toronto that he was a cheat. He denied it.

I filed suit with PayPal to get my money back. PayPal informed me it had a strict 30-day limit on liabilities. By calling on Jan. 11, I was five hours past its statute of limitations. Sorry.

For a week I smoldered. I hated the whole world, but especially Nintendo, Marko, eBay, PayPal, and the U.S. and Canadian postal services. Also the terrorists, but maybe not quite so much.

Then, a break. The U.S. Postal Service sent me a tattered label with my address on it. A package sent with this label had come apart in the mail. Fill out the enclosed application and they would put a search out for it.

Fat chance, I figured. I pictured some happy postal worker toting my GameCube home to his kid.

But two weeks later, on February 14, the U.S.P.S. delivered the GameCube to us. One corner of the box was smushed, but it looked OK. Only now Jon didn’t want it, because he had his Xbox.

I wrote Marko apologizing for my accusations, and asking if he would want the set back, or if he could get reimbursed from the Canadian post office. He forgave me, but said he did not really want the smushed GameCube back, and the post office there would only reimburse him if the equipment, not the packaging, was damaged.

I carefully slit the package open, with an X-acto knife, much as the CDC must have done with the anthrax letters. I needed to see if the equipment was OK, but without voiding my warranty.

Sadly, the system was in fine working order. I was stuck with it.

The GameCube went on the shelf. February passed. For a while a school friend of Jon’s seemed interested, then–not interested. That’s OK. I didn’t need that kid. I didn’t need anybody. I’m through with eBay and PayPal. I’ve given up on everyone.

Summer’s coming. You can feel it in the air. Beyond that, not so very far off, is December.

But tell me: Won’t Nintendo have a new product by then?

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