15 Jan. 2007
SETI League
PriUPS Project

Nobody Beats the Wiz

All this blog babble about cameras tickled my memory.  And if that hadn't done it, the sight of an empty box that's been sitting on the same shelf for almost a decade would have done it eventually.  This is my own personal story about not beating the Wiz, at least not in any way that was valuable to me.  I don't feel all that bad about it because I did get the last laugh.  Twice, in fact, as I just discovered in a Wikipedia article.

The year was 1997, and a friend of mine was turning 50.  I'm not much of a present dude.  That's especially true now that eBay has helped me fulfill all my spectrum analyzer fantasies and I have pretty much everything.  But it was largely true even then; my present giving/receiving was largely of the token or gag persuasion.  (I just read that economists estimate that the present-giving spasm we've recently undergone was roughly 70% efficient, compared to spending one's money on oneself, and note this without further comment.)  However I was keen to make an exception in the case of my friend.  Digital cameras of reasonable quality were just becoming available, and I knew he was a camera buff.  Indeed, I was, too, and had a film SLR and decent zoom lens to prove it, although the nuisance of film processing and the lack of interesting subject matter kept the camera mostly in the closet.  My friend wasn't likely to turn 50 ever again, and my curiosity about this new consumer gadget led me to the following splurge:  I would get him a digital camera, and I would get an identical one for myself.

A company called "Nobody Beats the Wiz," which I believe was their true corporate name, was at the time trading in a nearby shopping mall.  The Wiz was your typical electronic gadget superstore, similar to the unlamented "Crazy Eddie" and the present-day "Best Buy."  I drove over, purchased two identical cameras for about $300 each, and returned to the office.  It wasn't to be my birthday, so I had no reason to wait.  I removed one of the cameras from the bag, opened the box, and tried my first experiments with digital photography.  (The camera had, as I recall, a maximum resolution of .7 megapixels.  They were good pixels, though, and, along with a decent lens and a flash that actually flashed, I was able to take some nice pictures.)  I figured my friend would be as happy with his new toy as I was with mine.

And he was!  But not right away.  When he opened the present at his birthday party, the usual blizzard of leaflets, plastic bags and twist ties was ejected.  Digging further, he, and eventually I, were forced to admit that there was one item missing:  The camera.


The rest of this story could be prolonged indefinitely, as it played out over a full year.  But neither you nor I have a full year to waste in rumination, especially since the story is largely devoid of drama, aside from one brief visit to the Paramus, New Jersey, police department.  In outline, then:

  • Of course my first call was to the Nobody Beats the Wiz store.  Bought two cameras, only got one.  Please gimme my second camera.

  • In due course an "investigator" spoke to me and I related the story above, possibly with a bit more indignation.

  • In further additional course, I received a letter from Nobody Beats the Wiz asserting that I was lying and that I would receive no further cameras from them, evil scum that I am.  (I'm paraphrasing here; I was evil-scummed ever so politely.)

  • Since I had purchased the camera("s") with a credit card, I declined to pay for one of them, believing in the "consumer protection" protestation of the credit card company.

  • The credit card company denied my claim, asserting that since this was a "face to face" transaction I had the opportunity to discover the problem at the store.  I found this the most remarkable assertion, since nobody on earth opens (apparently-sealed) boxes at the checkout aisle before the clerk bags them!

  • I continued to refuse to pay the credit card company, watching interest charges pile up on everything else I bought since I now had an "unpaid balance."

  • Finally, when it became clear that the credit card company wasn't going to be of any use, I made a deal with them whereby I paid for the ectoplasmic camera and they cancelled all the interest charges.  At this point, I had suffered a true economic loss and so went to the police to report a case of consumer fraud.

I was prepared to sit in the Paramus police station indefinitely; I was not to be dissuaded from filing a criminal complaint.  Fortunately, forever came quickly.  Unfortunately I was dissuaded.  How?  "You can't file a complaint against Nobody Beats the Wiz.  They're bankrupt."

Revenge is mine!  Financial loss is mine, as well.  Emitting a sigh, I took up my file of receipts, letters, complaints and the empty box, returned to the office, and placed them all on the shelf where they sit to this day.  There was a brief, anticlimactic byplay when I discovered that Cablevision had purchased Nobody Beats the Wiz.  I sent a personal letter to the chairman offering him the opportunity to reverse my tale of woe.  In due course I received a letter from some functionary offering sympathy and a sop:  a credit of some modest amount, maybe $30 or so.  I recall that I promptly spent it on a Patti Smith CD and some other trinket.  It was a good thing I did; Cablevision gave up on them somewhat later and permanently closed the store chain.

Two for the Price of Three

My friend got his camera, of course.  I simply bought a third one somewhere else and gave it to him.  ("Gifting" seems to be a recent phenomenon; I just "gave.")  I got my meager revenge on Nobody Beats the Wiz, but I can't take credit for their bankruptcy since apparently it was in the works for a while.  According to Wikipedia, "The Wiz was notorious for paying vendors very slowly, and in its later years found it very difficult to secure products on credit."

I often fail to derive valuable lessons when bad things happen.  In this case, it might have been "Never buy anything in a sealed box without making sure it's actually in the box."  But I don't shop a lot and in any event am not keen on being assassinated by the people behind me in the line.  (And even if had checked, my caution wouldn't have protected me from, for example, scallop fraud.)  So I guess my real lesson has to be "this sort of thing happens sometimes."  Once in a lifetime is often enough, and if that's the case I got away cheaply!

NP:  "Angles with Dirty Faces" - Manda and the Marbles

Richard Factor

Yesterday  |  Tomorrow