No free lunches anymore, but...

I like the concept of free things- The 'buy one, get one free' concept you see at grocery stores, the free PDF of business information on it, or even the free quote you get before you launch into a garden makeover or a re-carpeting project, but the truth of the matter is there is always a cost associated with 'free'. A cost which is higher in some instances than in others- Let’s say you buy a shampoo which has a free conditioner attached to it, while technically the conditioner is free, a sacrifice had to be made to make it so. The workers (usually in third world countries), who stacked the products onto aeroplanes, the transit van, the van driver, and the freight workers, right up to the wages of the person who put the product on the shelf all paid for the ‘free’ attached conditioner. Not to labor on the point unneccessarily, but often it is the largest personal contributor- “the little man” not the largest corporation,who generally loses out in this production cycle.

The other thing about "Free" is that it implies value. If the idiom that "you get what you pay for" is true, then offering your services for free means that they may not be that good. People will offer their services for free because they are willing to learn something and are clueless about how to do something. One prominent middle eastern christian minister quoted about his video ministry that all of his expertise was offered for free, and very few people actually watched it. When he decided to take said videos off the internet and sell them in a DVD set, they sold like hotcakes! Again, the value was attached to a price.

So get to the point, Ben!

The point is that I will be offering some of my work for free on this site. I can't afford to offer all of my work for free, as I have done in the past. I am by no means Charles Dickens or Ernest Hemingway, but my work does take a good while to write and edit and I do believe it is of comparitively high value.

...all of that being said...

You can read my Short story P.E.T.S; which is a short story from my book 'Nice Shorts'. All of the rest of the book is free (after you pay for it )    :)


“This is the computer you want!...” said the salesperson after considering Mitch’s questions, and his general disposition and countenance. John, the friendly salesman watched him carefully. No commissions would be given today, at least not from this man. Mitch seemed like a matter-of-fact, no nonsense kind of guy- dressed in his high visibility wear, and a grotty baseball cap with grey hairs peaking through the gap and wearing dirty ill fitting jeans, the man seemed to have just come off a building site, and perhaps he had. Although he knew nothing about computers, he contended that he was on a strict budget and made inferences that he would haggle. John sighed inwardly, perhaps thinking of job opportunities lost, and the difficulties of selling things to resistant people in a failing economy. He then took a deep breath and continued his train of thought.

“...It is the computer you want, because it does all of the basic things that you want. Comparatively fast internet, the latest operating system, plenty of memory for what you’re looking for, Microsoft word is included in the package, and of course the basic games you get with each PC. It comes with the optional speakers if you wish to watch Television online...”
“No, thank you”, said Mitch concisely, and then a thought came to him.
"... but if I choose to not get the speakers , can you drop the price a couple hundred?"
John sighed inwardly again, and tapped into his considerable reserves to be polite. 
“I’m sorry sir, It comes as a package deal, the speakers are a sort of optional bonus for free if you want them”
“Free! Sounds good mate!” said Mitch.
‘I thought it might’, thought John, smiling his 'retail' smile.
“So is this the type of computer package you were after?”
Mitch paused for a moment, and briefly looked at the other computers. None of them were cheaper, and all of them looked the same to him, and although he was not prone to sentimentality, he did like the look of the little computer he was getting. 
“Yep, looks great buddy! Sign me up!” Mitch said in his characteristic brashness.
“So would you like to sign up for PETS for an additional $100?”
Mitch looked at John in befuddlement. He had seen the gaudy blue and white stickers slapped generously around the computer store about PETS, but he hadn’t really read the fine print underneath the bold white lettering. 
“Mate, I’ve got pets at home- A retriever named Jack!” he said, hiding his embarrassment with an attempt at humor.
John groaned inwardly again, but instinctively smiled his best retail smile. 
“PETS is our Technology Support company that we use when we need help with installing software and setting up computers. If you pay an extra $100, you can use PETS for free for two years. Generally with other places you may have to pay for tech support for each problem you can’t solve yourself”.
Mitch looked at John, who returned his gaze with helpful politeness. Mitch suddenly imagined himself struggling inside a box with various cords, and reading strangely worded manuals in chinese or even gobbledegook english, and scratching his head in frustration. 
“Yep, I think I’ll have the PETS thing, champ!” he said after a slightly uncomfortable period of time.
“Excellent!, can I just get you to sign this Registration form please?” said John.
“What’s this for?” 
“The registration is just to let the company know your details. Once every three months they will call you to see if you are having any problems with your PC”. 
Mitch tried to sound a bit more intelligent.
“Well that sounds...very comprehensive” he said, looking up from the sheet of paper and at John, earnestly he wrote his name, address and phone number in basic block letters and scribbled a small signature at the end. 
“A wise choice sir”, he said, carefully taking the piece of paper. 
“Enjoy your new computer!” John said sincerely, ripping off a bar code from the bottom of the page, handing it to Mitch and then politely gesturing that Mitch should join the line that was standing at the checkout area. 
“Thank you Son”, said Mitch with a slight air of patronising, resting the little paper bar code on to between his two fingers whilst holding the computer box awkwardly with both arms. John nodded, smiling and then proceeded to turn and walk towards the software area where a puzzled looking middle aged man was holding up two very similar looking DVD cases and speaking animatedly to an offsider.
“They both look the bloody same!” he said to his friend.

“Can I help you at all?” said John in a friendly way, intercepting the beginning of a frustrated 
tirade.The sound of their murmurs trickled out of Mitch’s ears in all in the midst of the general hubbub of the store. Mitch followed the queue of people until he stood at the counter with his box. The much younger lady smiled and said "How are you today?" In her professional voice.
“Very good, thanks love!” said Mitch. 
“May I have your bar code for PETS?” asked the cheerful sales rep.
“Yep, I have it here!” Mitch said, handing over the little bar code that was in his hands, where the lady promptly scanned it, along with the computer, making the two characteristic beeping sounds.
“That will be $550 please. How would you like to pay for that?”. Mitch grabbed a well worn black leather wallet from his pocket, producing some dirty notes.
“With cash please”, he said, carefully counting out 11 fifty dollar notes with his pudgy workman’s hands and handing them to the cashier. 
“Thank you for your purchase!” said the sales girl as she printed out the receipt, 
“...and don’t forget to keep your receipt for warranty purposes”
Mitch took the computer off the bench, and grabbed the warranty off the smiling girl at the counter.

* * *

Mitch walked through the door to his house and put the computer box in the corner of the lounge room, adjacent to the worn brown couch where slabs of beer sat, unopened, next to the wall. Perpendicular to the slabs of beer cans stood an old desk, cluttered and filled with odds and ends, coffee stained paperwork and household items hardly ever put away. Mitch put the kettle on and chose a teabag from a badly cluttered cupboard, surmising that he may need a cup of tea to think properly whilst assembling the machine. After finding a slightly grotty cup from the cupboard and putting the tea in his cup, he sat on the floor with crossed legs looking at the words on the box and opening the box with a Stanley knife. Inside was an oblong monitor, fastened securely next to a tower with the help of some styrofoam packaging, and surrounded by a security shield of plastic. Cords were in the box too- one cord, two cords, three cords... and then came the speaker system, with a power plug coming from the outside of the speaker, with another wire attaching to the other speaker. Mitch took out all of the elements including the instruction manual and then put the styrofoam, plastic, paper and cardboard rubbish in the box, scanning the box at the last minute for anything else he may have missed, noticing a small cord with a square end, and putting it behind some of the other parts of the machine. 

‘I think I may need something stronger than tea’ he thought to himself, putting the tea aside and grabbing a beer from one of the crates.
Mitch went upstairs to grab his reading glasses, and after descending got on with the job at hand. ‘So...the instruction book said to first connect the the monitor using Cable three... Okay. So... which one is cable 3?...and is that a tower?’
Suddenly the phone rang. 
“Hello this is Mitchell Smyth”
“Yes sir, we know, How are you going with setting up your computer? It is Kyle from PETS”. 
Mitch was flabbergasted. He had only signed up for tech support 3o minutes before, and didn't recall ringing them. 
“Um... I’m a bit... surprised to hear from you”, he said, trying to understand.
“Yes, sir we get that a lot! Would you like some help with setting up your brand new computer?” the technician said with a knowing tone.
Still trying to orient himself to the bizarre nature of the call, Mitchell found himself agreeing. 
“Now tell me, Mr Smyth, are you on a phone that extends over to where you are working on setting up the computer?” Mitch blinked, and puzzled, looked at the phone. After a few minutes pause he said “It’s one that can be moved”.
“Excellent” said Kyle
“So what do I have to do first?...and how did you know I was about to assemble my computer?” 
“Well, the first thing you need to do is clear a space. If you are putting the computer on a computer desk you need to clear a space there so you can attach each of the pieces”. 
It hadn’t escaped Mitch’s notice that Kyle didn’t answer the second part of the question, yet Mitch busily cleaned off the mountains of paperwork, pencils and DVD cases off the desk, putting the paperwork on the floor, whilst placing the items that didn’t fit into a cardboard box he found. 
“Okay, done that!” he said, so engrossed in his task now he had forgotten about his other question.
“Excellent...Now put the cord that is labeled ‘three’ on itself- place the bit with three holes in it in the back of the computer, and the plug side into the power source”. Mitch did as he was told.
“Is there a light showing in the top right hand side of your monitor now?”
“Yeah, yeah there is!” Mitch said a bit excitedly.
“Excellent Mr Smyth” this means that you have successfully plugged in the monitor”. 
“Yes” said Mitch, who beamed to himself about this new achievement.
“Great, so the other big item in the box is called the tower- you will notice two cords. One is in the shape of a power plug and one is in the shape of two little colored wires... now go ahead and plug the cord at the back of the tower into the source”
“Done that”.
“Good” said the voice at the end of the phone.
“...Now put the green colored cord in the green colored slot, and red with red at the back of the monitor...Can you see that?” 
“Yes”, said Mitch, inserting the little cords into the computer, and then suddenly realising something.
“Hang on- how did you know to ring me! Are you stalking me! Who are you anyway!?”
There was a sigh at the other end of the phone, before a well worn explanation was given. Kyle spoke slowly to avoid confusion.

“My name is Kyle and I am from PETS. We help with tech support for anyone who gets a $100 warranty with their product. We noticed from our records that you brought our product about half an hour ago, and so, guessing how long it might be until you get it home, we rang in case you needed help".
Kyle let this sink in for a few moments.
“But that’s invading my bloody privacy!”
Kyle spoke again in a soothing and measured tone, oft used to assuage clients.
“PETS co stands for Pre-Emptive Tech support. We are a new company and we try to give clients the best support possible by contacting them Pre-emptively, or as soon as they may need help. We all have employee numbers, and are a legitimate company. We comply to all State and Federal laws and we value your privacy as much as you do! If there is a problem at our end, in terms of our internet programs for example, we are likely to contact you before you experience difficulties. We ask only for your phone number and address in case you need help or need a replacement”. 
Kyle thought this over for a minute. 
“So you aren’t stalking me?”
“No sir, and I can give you my employee number if needs be...” 
Mitchell thought again for a minute. He was not a suspicious person by nature, and tended to trust people at face value, and certainly had enough instinct to know if something smelt off. 

“... Sorry mate. Didn’t mean to blow a gasket”
“No problems at all Mr Smyth. Would you like me to help you set up the rest of the computer?”
“Yes please”, said Mitchell, now slightly ashamed of his former outburst. 
“I’ve attached the red cord to the red slot and the green cord to the green slot”, he said helpfully.
“Excellent”, said Kyle “So the next part is plugging in the mouse. Can you see the little rectangle slot on the other side of the cord?
Mitch clumsily picked up the mouse, looking at the underside of the mouse and the cord protruding from it. 
“Haha- You guys work for PETS! Bet you sell mouses too!” Mitch said
Kyle rolled his eyes and laughed politely.
“That’s clever Mr Smyth” he lied.
“...okay, so insert the little square bit protruding from the mouse into the monitor”. 
Mitch traced the length of the cord, following it with his fingers to the little square box with the USB symbol on the end of the cord, and then plugged the cord into the monitor
“Now Mr Smyth, there should be the speaker system not plugged in yet, is that correct?”
Mitch was astonished at his progress. Everything was plugged in and turned on, except for the Sound system which sat on the floor. 
“Can I plug that in now? I think I know where the bits go together myself this time!” Mitch said with a sudden confidence. 
“I might just walk you through it anyway sir, if that’s alright”
“Okay then” 
“So look at the sound system. One plugs in the power and there is only one other small plug. That goes....”
“To the back of the computer!” Mitch said confidently.
“That’s right sir! Try that!” Mitch did. 
“Okay Sir, One last test. If everything is plugged in, please press the button on the side of the monitor. If the computer is working you will hear a start-up chime, and then you can start working on your computer!”
The computer made a whirring noise at it was turned on, followed promptly by a satisfying chime that both of them heard. Mitchell grinned at his nice new toy.
“Thank you sir, and that last piece of equipment is for a printer, should you choose to buy one”. Mitch looked at the ground and noticed the small cord he had pulled out earlier, and he tucked it into the cardboard box along with all of the other household items that were on the desk.

“Will that be all for today Sir?”said Kyle courteously.
“Yes Thank you. Thank you for all of your help, Champ” said Mitch.
There was a knock at the door.
“You should answer that. It’s Johnson’s hardware with your order of carpenters tools. Bye”. Mitch hung up the phone and answered the door. It really was the delivery man for Johnson’s hardware! 

'Those funny call centre people are so intuitive! He must’ve somehow guessed I was a Tradie!' thought Mitchell, as he sat back enjoying the rest of his beer.