Jeffrey Goldberg

Jeffrey Goldberg

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 11 1999 9:30 PM

Jeffrey Goldberg

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I have a good job, and I make a good wage (not to mention the $10,000 Slate is paying me for this diary), but what I really want to do--what I'd even take a pay cut to do--is write for Consumer Reports. It's my favorite magazine, except for Soldier of Fortune and Cat Fancy.

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But let me step back for a minute in order to provide some context. There are certain advantages associated with being a home-based writer. One is that I usually don't shave until about 11:30 or so, which gives my skin time to wake up. On those days when I must appear in public early, I use the Gillette Mach 3, whose blades are inordinately expensive but thorough; on days when I don't have to shave until the late morning (or the late afternoon), I use a disposable, because I'm cheap and because I like to check how fast my blood clots.

Working at home has other advantages: I get to see my children whenever I want, I get to watch CNBC obsessively, and every day is dress-down day.

There are disadvantages, to be sure, which include isolation, desolation, panic, and ennui, but these are made up for by one other advantage--weekday shopping. On those days when I don't feel like dragging myself downtown for lunch, which, lately, is most days, I often use that window of time to shop, for a simple reason: Have you ever been to Price Club on Sunday afternoon? It's madness. I've seen homicides committed at Price Club on Sunday afternoons.

The point is, since I work at home, it has fallen to me to do much of the family shopping. I didn't like it at first. I was never a shopper, and, until recently, I never really owned anything. (Until about five years ago, all I owned was four shirts and a Walkman.) But now I'm something of an accumulator, and, dare I say it, a not-too-shabby shopper.

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Which brings me back to Consumer Reports, which has replaced the personal finance magazines as my obsessional read.

Consumer Reports is an old-fashioned magazine; it lacks flash, and even bylines, and it provides pure information--it's the Weather Channel of magazines. What other magazine provides so much pure information? The men's magazines provide pure information about tits, and that's it. Newsweek has replaced information gathering with buzz manufacturing. Even the proprietor of the fine magazine you're now reading stated publicly that he'd prefer not to run scoops.

Here's a scoop from a story about khakis in the latest issue of Consumer Reports: "$19 Farahs Held Up Better Than $55 Ralph Laurens and Looked as Good After Laundering." Now, that's investigative reporting. Eat your heart out, Isikoff.

Consumer Reports is an invaluable tool--its dissection of the complex diaper market was a classic of the genre--but I don't picture myself hunkered down in the Consumer Reports laboratory, making toast over and over again before moving on to check whether 1,000 Flushes is really good for 1,000 flushes. I'd need big doses of Ritalin in order to accomplish that sort of reporting.

What I'd like to write instead would be a column called "The Shopping Avenger," in which I would eviscerate stores and companies that provide poor customer service, and praise those that stand for such old-fashioned values as knowing what products they sell (heads up, "Toys 'R' Us").

The breakdown in customer service is not the fault of the retail industry alone: My inner Giuliani loves to see jackass customers slapped around a bit by cashiers and salesmen. Barbarians among the ranks of consumers can ruin a fine shopping experience just as surely as any lunkhead salesman can. I would therefore devote a portion of "The Shopping Avenger" to the outing of evil consumers, in much the same way Ed Koch used to out johns.

"The Shopping Avenger" would be dedicated, in fact, to the cashier at my neighborhood Fresh Fields who, earlier this week, did something I've never seen before: scolded a customer for blatantly abusing the express checkout lane. The shopper in question wheeled up to the express lane--15 items max--with 30 (30!) separate items. The woman behind the register rang her up, but couldn't contain herself: "This is 30 items," she said. To which the shopping devil replied: "Oh, I'm usually good at figuring out how much stuff I have." To which the clerk said, "What happened? Did you forget how to count today?"

I remain convinced that the abuse of express checkout lanes will one day be a Zoe Baird-style litmus test for those seeking public office, and so this encounter was the high point of my week so far--and it's been a good week. Who knows what the rest of today holds? Maybe I'll even leave the house.