Over the past several years I've been a frequent shopper at Best Buy, the appliance and electronics retail giant. I've purchased a Maytag dishwasher, a Neptune washer and dryer set, a Hewlett-Packard printer, three telephones, lots of software, and at least a half-dozen portable CD players. More recently, in July, I bought two Sony Vaio PCs (a desktop and a laptop), a monitor upgrade, Epson printer-copier, cable modem, wireless router, MS Office, Norton security software — basically everything the blue-shirted guys recommended. I followed that up (using bonus points) with the purchase of a Sony 7.2-Mpixel digital camera. Wherever it was offered, I also bought the Performance Service Plan, eight or nine policies totaling about $1,000.

In early August, less than a month after I bought the Sony PCs, the laptop stopped working while I was in Boston on a business trip. I took the tiny computer back to the store, and the clerk couldn't get it to work either. He said they were having problems with the new XBrite LCDs and then gave me a brand new computer, box and all. I went away satisfied, but had a suspicion I would be back.

Fast-forward six months to February. I opened my laptop one evening to find two black marks (like thin triangles) on the left side of the screen, coming from under the bezel. I touched the display, trying to wipe away the “blemishes,” when to my horror a fracture, apparently on one of the inner membranes, propagated across the screen, distorting the image field everywhere below it. The distortion — multiple parallel lines running from the fracture to the bottom of the screen — leads me to believe it was a conductive membrane that was affected, but try telling that to the boys in blue.

The first thing I was told when I showed the laptop to a Best Buy representative was that the defect would not be covered. No condolences, no expressions of concern, no consideration whatsoever that my second laptop might in some way be defective like the first. After I explained I had the Performance Service Plan, I was told the policy doesn't cover “cracks.” Sony, however, would make the final determination, the clerk said, and I was told to leave the laptop with him so he could ship it out the next morning. About a week later, someone left a message on one of my Best Buy phones, saying the damage was not covered and that it would cost me around $700 to repair. The laptop is currently selling for about twice that amount.

As quickly as I could, I went to the store to talk to a manager. He, too, led me on a slippery semantic jaunt, telling me the problem is a “crack,” which by definition, is not covered. Never mind that this “crack” is between several layers of plastic without a mark, scratch, or crack on them. The issue is that it's there, not where or how it got there. After going round and round, he gave me the phone number for Best Buy's corporate customer service department.

Getting through to a real person was no easy task, but I persevered until I was speaking to a professional young lady. She argued from a somewhat larger perspective, claiming that “monitors” are not covered by any of the warranties, extended or otherwise. She told me I could get a second opinion from another Sony repair shop, but by this point I was tired of battling and I needed the laptop returned. I called the store and authorized the work. Three days later, the computer was back and I was summoned to pick it up. This is where it gets interesting, but I'm running out of space. Come back next month to find out what happened. It will be worth the wait.