Mar

22

 One 2AM in 1974 I was awakened by a call from an irate man who said, "Mr. Shay , the (expletive) Lifetime Warranty waterbed you sold me two years ago has a leak in the left front corner and the water is dripping through the floor and ruining our new dining room set downstairs. You're liable for it of course. It costs $1645.33 . My wife is hysterical and she's trying to call her brother who's a lawyer but he's in Washington, D.C. right now and can't be reached until the morning. He added he was calling from Eugene, Oregon, as if that and his lawyer's being in the capital carried the implicit threats that Eugeneites were not to be trifled with and that his lawyer relative was in D.C. advising President Ford for the day. And merely warming up for dealing with me.

It was not the first Womb Waterbed leak complaint I'd received over the four years that had passed since I financed my son's high school project. His canny business plan had incorporated a "Lifetime Warranty Against Leakage!" in big letters, followed by a weasel-worded 6 point type line : "or your money back".

"I'm sorry for your trouble," I said to my caller, "but I think you want my son Richard. He used to be in the waterbed business four years ago. It was his high school business project . You've called me on his temporary phone number at the time."

"Put him on!" said my complainant.

"I can't," I said affably. "He's in Italy , somewhere in the Dolomite mountains, working as a dog minder for a Mafia family. They have 12 big guard dogs that love him and the family doesn't let him use their phone for anything that's not dog related. Give me your address. I'll have Dick send you a refund. $29 less shipping? Right? Do you happen to have your Womb Waterbed receipt in front of you?"

He uttered a string of expletives and hung up.

Aside from laying out about $ 800 for some 50 Taiwanese waterbeds that smelled as if they'd survived a barber shop tsunami, my most important contribution to the business , I think, came the day following an article on Womb Waterbeds in the local Deerfield Review. CBS wanted to come out and do a 12 minute segment at Dick's 80 buck a month one-floor-up headquarters. I advised Dick that whatever he and his girl-friend employee Jody did,whenever the TV guy came close to quizzing them on why people liked waterbeds- for God's sake to forgo part of his usual sales pitch, delivered with an innocuous shrug: "People say it enhances their sex life."

After the CBS show in which Dick deftly fended off anything about sex, (not easy for a 17 year old being pushed by a 1 and l/2 entenderist, a wannabe Mike Wallace) ,Womb Waterbed sales climbed nicely.

When Dick left home shortly afterward to seek his fortune abroad, all I got stuck for was three or four leaky Wombs, one month's rent and two months of storage. A cheap business learning experience for someone with three other enterprising kids.


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