Some People Just Won’t Quit

When I was in about second grade, I got into an argument with another kid over ownership of a pencil. After a lot of screaming and crying, it turned out that it was a custom pencil that actually had the other kid’s name stencilled on it. And even after I knew this (no doubt because he screamed it at me, though I don’t remember), I still wouldn’t give up the ghost. The teacher ruled against me.

I hadn’t thought about this in a while until a couple of weeks ago. I was staying with some friends in a hotel over New Year’s and one of them had arranged to have some packages sent to him at the hotel. According to UPS, the packages had been delivered that morning, but nobody at the hotel could find them. The manager became involved, presumably a reasonably well-paid guy whose job it is to figure out how to solve problems just like this, but he was completely committed to being in let-me-explain-why-the-package-couldn’t-possibly-be-here mode. Now I recognize that this guy probably has to deal with a lot of irate yahoos who are sure they are right about something when he knows they are wrong, so I can forgive him for at first suspecting that the mistake was more likely to be ours than the hotel’s. But we kept on looking at the confirmation from UPS, and it kept seeming more and more like the package must have been delivered–the address was right, the number of packages was right, and so on. Finally, my friend looked more carefully at the confirmation, and he saw that someone named Brown had signed for the packages. This caused the staff people that were present to compare notes on the last names of the people who had worked the morning shift, and they concluded that one of them was indeed named Brown. The manager’s response? “There could be a lot of people working at this hotel named Brown.” At this point my mild-mannered economist friend shed some of the mildness of his manner.

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