Thursday, April 2, 2015


Back in February, there was a big sale at Sportmaster, a Russian chain of sporting goods stores. In celebration of Men’s Day, they posted signs all over our local store advertising a 50% discount on gifts for men. I discovered this when I walked in to buy one athletic shirt to wear to dance classes. The cashier explained to me that I didn’t actually get a discount that day; but that she’d give me a discount card and the money would show up on my card on April 2 and stay there until the end of April. I took home the shirt and the discount card and showed them to Alla.

Alla liked the shirt and encouraged me to buy another one to bring back to Boston, so I went to their original location and found another of these wonderful shirts in my size. And then I bought a tank top from the same company. I bought a couple of other small things too, and waited eagerly for April 2.

When I thought about the bonanza soon to appear on my discount card, I remembered my dad’s solemn advice: “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.” Was this too good to be true? In order to make it more believable, I dreamed up a story involving a cash-flow crisis for the company. They needed income right away and with any luck they’d still be in business on April 2 to give away a whole bunch of merchandise to the frantic people who had bought before Men’s Day. I wanted to be the first customer in the door today to buy stuff before they got cleaned out or went out of business.

The store was surprisingly quiet when I arrived, but they had plenty of goods in all departments so I went and asked the clerk how much money I had on my discount card. It worked out to over fifty dollars, which surprised me because I hadn’t understood until that moment that my single-shirt errand had inflated to a hundred-dollar extravaganza. Anyway, I could think of several interesting ways to spend the money and I took a nice tour through the store and picked out a pair of shower sandals. At that point I decided I’d already had plenty of fun, the place should still be in business tomorrow, and I’d save the rest of the discount card for Alla’s pleasure.

I handed the sandals and the card to the cashier, who asked me for money. “There’s plenty of money on the card,” I said.

“Sure,” she replied, “but you don’t get to use it on 100% of your purchase. We’ll give you at best 30%. I need money for the rest.”

“This isn’t right!,” I sputtered. “Let me see where it’s written.”

She handed me a brochure, which may have been available back in February but this was the first time I’d looked at it. It being in Russian I might have avoided it on purpose, but I don’t remember. It did say something about 30%.

So, in the very best case, if I bought enough stuff to use up the entire balance on my discount card, the total discount averaged over February and April would be 15%. I knew at the beginning that the 50% rebate was too good to be true. I just had no idea how far it was from true. They played me for an April Fool on the second of the month.

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