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Shining light on our service economy

As time goes by and our nation, according to the experts, loses its manufacturing capabilities and becomes instead a service-oriented economy, various clues to our success at this are popping up.

Those clues are not reassuring.

I purchased two spiral fluorescent lamps from a local grocery store. You know the kind I mean. All spirals light up slowly and screw into an incandescent socket instead of a normal light bulb. "Save up to $154!" That's in big red letters on the pack. Great! Who doesn't want to save big bucks?

Wait. I put on the readers, read the fine print, still barely visible, and it said: "$77 per bulb." There are two in the package, and if you want to get the big bucks, you have to use them both. At once, one must assume.

I only really needed one. But I want all the savings. So I purchased a "wye" socket, whereby I could screw them both in at once and turn them both on at once. I turned on the light switch, getting ready to call my banker and invest my $154 big ones.

(I really know better, but this is a much funner way to tell this story.)

One bulb didn't light up at all; the other lit up with a funny, orangy kind of color, like the sun on a foggy day. Uh uh. Nope. Not my color, not bright enough, these are going back.

The next day, I returned to the scene of the crime -- the place where I bought them, which a great many people do believe is a crime, foisting upon us these stupid bulbs that look funny, don't put out enough light, and can't be thrown into the garbage.

"This one doesn't work at all," I told the lady clerk, "and I don't want this one because it vibrates at 3,000 fluctuations and I want light at 8,000 vibrations." (The higher the oscillation, the whiter the light.)

She took the package from me, saying nothing. She looked at the package. Then she looked at me. Then she looked at the package. All this looking. Looking, looking, looking. Time stood still. Ah, the service industry. It gets paid by the hour.

"You have to leave them on several minutes before they fully light up," she told me, giving me a look. That look was looking for my look, hoping that my look would tell her: "oh-I-didn't-know-that-let-me-take-them-back-home-and-thank-you-for-the-lesson."

Me? Look, schmuck! I had several possible retorts ready, one of which would have been, in a sarcastic overtone that could have peeled skin at 50 feet: "Reeeaaallly? Deeeaaarrr me! Isn't that stupid of me? Oh, wait! What world would I have come from that didn't ever see a fluorescent bulb warm up before? Oh, yeah. NO WORLD! THAT'S WHERE!"

"It wouldn't light up at all," I calmly told her. "It's defective." Whew. Close call. "Plus I did some research, and I need the brighter white."

She went back to alternating looks between me and the package, giving one to the receipt every now and then.

I needed $10 back. At the rate we were accomplishing that, it looked like I'd be making about $3 an hour.

She turned toward the cash register and my hopes rose.

She dashed them on the rocks when she turned back to me. Her eyebrows rose. Her eyebrows said to me: "I hate you. I hate these bulbs. I hate my job. I ... I ... I ..."

Another clerk walked by, saw the bulb bust going down, and chipped in: "I hate those bulbs! I don't know why anyone buys them, and they never put out enough light."

Time once again ground to a stop. Good thing I wasn't in a hurry. I contributed my little bit to this rant by saying, "You need the high-lumen ones that vibrate higher in the visible light spectrum."

That got me looks from both of them. She added: "It's some kind of plot." Yes, there's definitely some kind of conspiracy going on here, but I don't think it's got much to do with your light bulbs, ladies.

I wanted to add: "I'll bet, without looking, these things are made in China" but didn't. Mention China to any decent conspiracy theorist and you want to get ready for the mother of all rants, beginning with the president, spiraling through Canada and Mexico, then to cows farting toxic gases, jack-booted thugs opening our mail, cars that listen to what we say, and carburetors that could get 100 miles to the gallon except Big Oil bought them and destroyed the evidence.

In fact, just about everything we have here was made in China. These bulbs sure were. All of them are. That's where our industry production moved to.

Good thing we still have a stellar service industry.