It was a plain, simple General Electric Toaster Oven -- the kind that heats popovers, thaws frozen lasagna and turns out a gorgeous, gooey grilled cheese sandwich in three minutes flat. When Rosalie Russ of Silver Spring bought a GETO the other day, she was happy with the product, and even happier to learn that it carried a warranty.
But Rosalie wasn't at all happy when she read a questionnaire that accompanied the warranty application. It asked how many people live in her household, her date of birth and marital status, her annual family income, whether she owns a town house or a condominium as a primary residence and the names of the credit cards she uses regularly.
"Why is this necessary?" asked Rosalie, in a letter to me (she must have known I barbecue two English muffins in a toaster oven every morning). "I don't like giving all this information to total strangers. Big Brother seems to be watching us, after all."
Indeed, Rosalie, Big Brother is hoping to get a peek at your personal business. But he won't cry his eyes out if he doesn't succeed. And best of all, he won't deny you a warranty on your GETO if you refuse to answer those personal questions.
"The warranty is in effect from date of purchase regardless," said Jim Harman, manager of marketing support for GE Consumer Electronics. "The consumer is not forced to fill out the form. If he feels the questions are too personal he does not have to fill out the form."
Asked why the questionnaire has to delve into intimate finances and living arrangements, Jim said: "Those are fairly standard research-type questions. They help us develop products for specific consumer groups. It's one of our research methods which help us to make future products better tuned to the needs of our consumers."
Well, not to single Jim out unfairly, but I think he's been spending too much time near Toaster Oven heating coils. They've turned his reasoning powers into grilled cheese.
Is General Electric seriously saying that it's good market research to hand out questionnaires with Toaster Ovens? Anyone who has suffered through Statistics 101 can tell you that no survey is worth its oats if too few people respond to it. And I will bet you that most of the people who purchase a GETO don't bother to fill out the questionnaire because they're offended by it. Can "products better tuned to the needs of our consumers" really be developed on the basis of such a small sample?
What's really going on here, my nose tells me, is that GE is trying to compile a list of heavily yuppie consumers who can later be bombarded with direct-mail advertising. That may or may not be successful. But the one thing it's sure to be is irritating to every consumer who's singled out.
It boils down to this: General Electric could make a lot of friends if it clearly informed consumers that they don't have to return the toaster oven questionnaire to be covered by a warranty. But GE doesn't do that. So now the company has an enemy in Rosalie Russ -- and I'll bet she's not alone.
The driver's name has escaped Jim Hunter, but not what was painted on the side of the cab. The words said: CLASSIC CAB NO. ONE. Very appropriate. Here's why:
Jim emerged from Classic No. 1 at the front door of the Humphrey Building the other day. Somehow, however, his wallet did not emerge with him. Jim was therefore without $125 in cash, and all the usual other irreplaceables.
But the next morning, Classic No. 1 was at his front door. The driver explained that he had looked up Jim's home address in the phone book. Then he handed over Jim's wallet -- contents intact. Jim was so delighted that he gave the $125 to the surprised and delighted cabbie.
This is a funny town for cabs. The Yellow Cabs aren't yellow. The Diamond Cabs have nothing to do with diamonds -- except that when you call one, it can take as long as a diamond lasts: forever. But Classic Cab No. 1 does indeed contain a guy who's a classic.
Good question from Bob Wales of Silver Spring about driving:
Have you ever wondered why, when you are in a hurry, no one else is? And why, when you are not in a hurry, everyone else is?
Reminder to Bloom County fans who may not have gotten the word:
Berke Breathed's dearly beloved strip, which normally runs immediately to the right of this column, has been suspended temporarily. Breathed was injured in a plane crash recently. He is recuperating, but he will be out of action for between four and eight weeks. Cheeverwood will appear in Bloom County's place until Breathed is back.