Missing The Target and Beyond — By Ben

I love SodaStream. I discovered club soda/seltzer/carbonated water during my waiting tables days, running through the kitchen and banquet halls of a massive Asian restaurant. Over the years, I went from buying a few bottles, to cases of generic store brands. Fyi, I don’t want any comments about club soda decalcifying your bones. Eventually I purchased a SodaStream on sale and have never looked back. You can carbonate them to whatever level you want, they last for weeks, and you’re helping an Israeli company. All was right in Ben’s beverage world. Then the pandemic struck and the Bed Bath and Beyonds (where I could use copious 20% off coupons on the canister refills) were deemed non-essential.

For weeks I had to drink boring, unstimulating, flat water. Sure, I bought some store bottles, but many of them have sodium (that doesn’t refresh you or make it taste better!!!) Eventually, I made the journey to a Target and got my four canisters refilled. But between waiting 20 minutes in the line around the corner of the super store and not being able to use my coupons, I yearned for my BBB days.

Then in June, the Bed Bath and Beyonds finally reopens for business. On this particular Tuesday morning, I had quite a bit to do (120 pages to read and make notes on, a conference call, two Torah classes, and my own personal projects). The point is I wanted to get in and out. I got in my car at 8:15 am to make it to the Manhattan Beach BBB by 8:45 to be right there when they open. However, while listening to a Torah lecture I went into auto pilot and got on the wrong entrance ramp to the 10. Not the biggest problem in the world; instead of going to the 405, I’d detour via La Cienega. But that route took me past the Target.

As I approached the giant red bull’s eye, I reasoned that it was probably better to just go to the Target. It would be another 15 minute drive to the BBB and of course a much longer return trip. Maybe Hashem wanted me to make the wrong turn for a reason? But then I saw the line around the corner (and also I really wanted to go to BBB) so I turned out of the parking lot and continued on my way.

I arrived at the Hawthorne Bed Bath and Beyond, eagerly awaiting the unlocking of their sliding glass doors. When the moment finally happened and I grabbed my plastic bag of canisters and coupons, I was immediately greeted by a masked employee. “You’re not here for SodaStream exchange are you? We’re all out.” I must have given him the look of a boy whose parents told him there would be no Chanukah and that his puppy had died. “Yeah, we had 200 when we opened the other day and they were gone by noon. You should call next time.”

“Okay…” I think. “You’ve been working on this bitachon thing. Whatever is happening is for the good. So what next?” Well I guess I should have gone to the Target after all. I try calling them, but of course, the automated service puts me on hold for 5 minutes before the line hangs up. Okay. There’s a Target 5 minutes away in Manhattan Beach. Just go there. I call them and get through just as I’m about to turn into the parking lot, “Sorry we’re out of SodaStream.” Okay, I saw an Office Max on the way to the Target. I drive there. “Hi, do you have SodaStream?” “Uh… We have soda?” No luck.

I continue to try the La Cienega Target, (the one I was at originally) and low and behold I finally get through (after about 8 minutes of waiting). They have SodaStream, but only three canisters. And they won’t hold them. I pull an abrupt right turn onto the 105 and race over.

I read one of my scripts as I wait in line, but instead of focusing, I’m contemplating what Hashem wants me to learn from this. Don’t waste time? Take things when I can get them? If I end up going in a direction I didn’t expect, just go with it? Finally I get through the line to enter Target and then proceed to wait in the customer service line (that’s where you exchange SodaStream canisters). Luckily the three SodaStream canisters are still there as the service rep brings them from the back and stands them up on the counter. A beautiful sight.

I’m about to pay when a man steps up to the customer service register next to me and says, “I’m here for SodaStream refills.”

In my mind everything grinds to a halt. Is it right or good for me to gleefully acquire the last three carbon dispensing cylinders of sublime beverage effervescence? Can I, in good conscience, condemn this man to the continued insult to injury that is a SodaStreamless existence on top of a lethal viral pandemic? Could it be that I was meant to purchase these very three canisters, after my multiple store odyssey to be standing at the Target customer service line, at this very moment, just so I could make this choice?

It’s at that point I tell the service rep that I am only going to exchange two canisters and to give the last one to the man next to me. The man in the lane over, after realizing that these were the last ones, thanks me with a, “That’s something I would have done,” and we share a moment conversing about our desperate attempts to attain our shared delights in the world of coronavirus.

But that’s NOT all folks.

What a nice story about seeing the meaning behind inconvenient events where I paint myself as a nice Jewish boy, who thought of the needs of others as well as my own. If that were all that was to it, I probably wouldn’t have shared the story. But it seems God wasn’t done testing me on this character trait. Let’s jump forward to this last Tuesday.

I decide I’m going to make the trek to Bed Bath and Beyond once again, but this time, I called first. The employee tells me they just got a shipment of SodaStream canisters and they have TONS of them. But I’m not convinced of anything anymore, so I ask him to hold me four canisters (I really don’t want to make this drive again anytime soon.) I’ve got three empty canisters and I start filling up my current bottles with as much CO2 as possible so I can deplete what’s left of my current one (which is still probably 1/2 full.)

I jump in my car and drive down, excited to finally be able to take advantage of my many 20% coupons. When I get to the store I go to the customer service line and tell the employee, a young man named Joshua, that I’m here for the replacement canisters. He remembers me from the phone, but then he tells me, “Sorry, I was just informed we have a policy of only three exchanges per customer.” What? I emptied my fourth canister for nothing? I ask to speak to the manager.

A strong willed, military style, hulk of a khakis wearing man marches out from the back, unhappy I’ve interrupted whatever essential paperwork he was trying to complete. I explain my situation: that I’d driven 30 minutes after being told not only that there would be four SodaStream refills, but that they were being held for me. And that I had even sacrificed my last remaining one so I wouldn’t have to come back anytime soon. With a firm and unyielding tone, he tells me he’s sorry but that’s the policy.

Now, I’ve worked in customer service for over 10 years, plus I grew up listening to my father insist, in his indignant authoritative manner, demanding to speak to the senior most individual! So I’ve learned that if an employee represents something to you, you’ve an ace of spades. At which point I throw Joshua under the bus. “Your employee told me that he had four canisters available for me when I called ahead. I’m sorry he didn’t know the new policy, but had I known only three were available, I would have made other plans.” The manager looks to Joshua who reluctantly backs me up. Then the manager, angry but defeated, authorizes the fourth canister purchase. But refusing to fully accede, he walks away saying, “Maybe you should consider the needs of other customers.”

I try to respond back with something to the effect of, I’ve worked in customer service for almost a decade, or what about when I came last month and didn’t get any? But the manager doesn’t even slow down.

I leave the store not terribly happy and decide to go to the Manhattan Beach Target because… well why not? This one doesn’t have a line around the store. But it’s after my Target shop that I can’t get the manager’s taunt out of my head: “Maybe you should consider the needs of other customers.” What is he talking about? I had given away my precious canister just over a month before!

Then it hits me. The thing I had been so righteous about mere weeks prior, I had completely botched in the present. What had happened to my bitachon? The trust that you don’t have to grab every roll of toilet paper. Just get what you need for now and when you need more, God will be there. But not only on top of that, as a yarmulke wearing Jew, I had just left a bad impression on not one, but two people. Do I have a right to claim what was promised to me? Maybe. But I had squandered the opportunity to show that Jews consider more than just their own self interests. I had undone the good I did before.

I proceeded to sharply turn into the Bed Bath and Beyond parking lot and wait, once again, in the customer service line. This time to exchange a full canister for an empty one. It took some explaining as Joshua was no longer manning the counter. The present service rep called the manager, but this time the assistant manager came. I half expected him to say, “don’t worry about it,” and that doing the return and getting an empty canister wouldn’t be worth the trouble. But that’s not what happened. The assistant manager instantly understood the situation and gave me the refund, then thanked me. It seems they really did need every canister they could get to satisfy customer demand.

Had I kept bitachon in my forethought, I probably could have exchanged the fourth canister when I went to the Target. I would have avoided the fight altogether and possibly put Jews in a good light, something that is essentially important in these days of increasing and very troubling anti-semitism. But hopefully with this exchange, I had managed to mitigate the negative impression to some degree.

Illustration of people praying at the Kotel in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel

We’re in the 9 days leading up to Tisha B’Av, so we’re really supposed to be examining our deeds and the things we need to do teshuvah for. Given that we’re still in this pandemic with the numbers climbing, clearly we, as the Jewish people, haven’t figured that out or made the rectification. But I believe the thing to take away from all this is that on a personal level we may think we’re on top of our game with regard to some mitzvah or character trait. But especially in those areas where we think we’ve mastered it, Hashem likes to throw us curve balls to really put us to the test.

As I took my empty Co2 refill and the refund receipt, I asked the assistant manager what the general manager’s name was. “David.” To which I responded, “Please tell David that the guy who demanded four SodaStream canisters says that he was right and that I’m sorry.”

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