I swear to God, I think I could walk down to the corner and buy black tar heroin easier than I could order replacement contact lenses.

Apparently, it all started when my online vision store (which may or may not have been LensExpress) was bought out by 1-800-Contacts.

All I know is one still exists, one doesn't, and the one that does sent me an email saying it was time to reorder. That sounded about right-since I was wearing glasses at the time.

So I took the hammer and broke the glass encasing the ONE credit card, in my entire family, that's dedicated to online purchases (we're oddly paranoid luddites when it comes to financial transactions and the web, always ready to cancel that card at a moment's notice should the number get hijacked and somebody tries to go on a wild spending spree with its $1000 limit). Whoever buys anything with it just pays the bill when it arrives.

Then I clicked on all the Yes boxes confirming I want exactly what I always get, and progressed all the way to the "virtual" checkout line when the site tells me I should call "1-800-Contacts" (see, I think it's pretty obvious I KNEW I could do that to start with, because of the catchy title, but that I PREFERRED to use the internetand avoid the auto attendant).

I call them and repeat the exact same information I have painstakingly typed in. A few days later, the box arrived, and the order was wrong. This time, I didn't bother with a website, and went straight for a human being (and that human being turned out to be, as I recall, Dionne Warwick singing "Do you know the way to San Jose?").

Eventually, I got to the customer service rep, who started out syrupy,"No problem Ms. Reeves," pretending to listen patiently while I explained the error.

Then it started to get complicated.

She offered to send me labels. Prepaid labels. Labels I could affix to some sort of shipping container to return the incorrect lenses. Postage free.

OKI wasn't that worried about the three bucks, but whatever.

Then she'd ship me the new ones.

But first she'd need my credit card number. Because the CORRECT lenses are about $30 bucks more expensive than the crap they already shipped me (now at this point in customer service-ie., the point where they've screwed up and cost me time and money-this is where she should've said, "they're on their way Ms. Reeves. Enjoy 'em in good health!"

I explained that she already HAD my credit card number, and I'd like for her to just go ahead and charge the difference.

This is where things took an ugly turn.

Impossible. Horrifying scenarios were duly detailed: What if they SHIPPED me the new stuff and I KEPT the old ones (yeah, I was planning to keep 'em and practice putting them on the dog or the interns or something-just for fun).

They wanted to wait for the return; issue a credit on my account; and then RE-charge the full amount of the new ones.

OK. Fine. I was annoyed, but acquiesced. Whatever.

Again, she asked for my credit card number. And I told her she clearly HAD it in the system, or I wouldn't be calling with an exchange. But no, she needed it again (why? to prevent fraud? How? Do people randomly call them up and try to execute elaborate $30 dollar grifts in the contact lens resale market?)

Here, things got uglier.

I said I didn't have that number with me, and I didn't-mainly because I NEVER buy anything online (maybe you're sensing why, aside from my commitment to shop locally)-and that I'd have to find my mom and track it down, because she had it, and was out on the lake (where she usually is this time of year).

I gotta admit: even I thought it sounded a little shiftybut here again, what kinda con would this really be? How much trouble would a criminal really go to in order to score free vision supplies?

Finally-aided by some intrepid park rangers and an escapade that might or might not have involved the Coast Guard and a ship to shore phone-my mother and the number were located, and I re-phoned the order in.

Three days later, I get an email with a subject line about my vision that begins, "Dear Rhonda, here's the bad news"

First, I'm not one to stand on ceremony, but here, I objected to the informality ("Ms. Reeves" is always appropriate for people who don't know me and who are trying to sell me things; an acceptable alternative might've been "Diva," but we are definitely NOT on a first name basis, especially since the email was signed anonymously, "The Doctor Network Team.")

Second, why would anyone in business EVER kick off an email with the implication that they have BAD NEWS about your vision? Am I going blind? Do I need expensive opthalmological surgery? Am I suffering from macular degeneration (because I know people who are, and it's pretty tragic)? And why would THEY be the ones to break this to me?

It was none of those things. Turns out, they just wanted to give me a shout that "Your eye care provider has informed us that your prescription information is invalid, so we couldn't fill your order." (As usual, they were wrong. They called my opthalmologist who doesn't prescribe contacts-presumably so he can make a killing doing laser surgery-as opposed to my optometrist.)

In case you're wondering, "The Good News" was that I could get "$50 Savings on Contact Lenses, Discounted Eye Exams, 30% off Eyeglasses." Also, they "apologize for any inconvenience or delay."

I sent back another email, which I really can't repeat, but which might've included the suggestion that they can reach me directly at 1-800-KissMyAss.

Why would people go so far out of their way to make it that hard for you to spend money with them?

I see it all the time.

I went in to the cellular store last month, thoroughly ready to upgrade. I'd settled on a model with a mini keyboard (handy for text messaging my coworkers at 3 a.m.) that also plays downloaded music (so I can listen to "Shoop" by Salt 'n Pepa when I'm in line at the grocery AND simultaneously annoy other customers, especially when I sing along: "See what I want slip slide to it swiftly/Felt it in my hips so I dipped back to my bag of tricks/Then I flipped for a tip, make me wanna do tricks for him/Lick him like a lollipop should be lickedShoop shoop ba-doop/Shoop ba-doop/Shoop ba-doop ba-doop ba-doop." Trust me, the line ALWAYS moves when I do this).

The only real question I had, prior to writing the check, was "does it come in gunmetal gray or Barbie pink?"

I still don't know the answer to that, as I walked out empty handed, while drug dealers bejeweled in hood ornaments were catered to obsequiously by the sales reps.

I jotted down my 800 number; left it in the suggestion box; and took my business elsewhere.