You know that friend who has an interminable horror story of dealing with customer service on the phone? Well, we're friends, aren't we? Good. Rest assured there is a moral. As for a happy ending ... read on.

Last year I bought a gazebo, partly because it's fun to say, and some people think it's a rare African cow. It was either made of very thick wire or very thin straw. It had the soul of a kite; the slightest breeze took it across the yard. This year Target had a big gazebo that looked like something they'd erect for Caesars, so I ordered it online, sparing me the task of dragging all 147 pounds up the stairs.

It did not arrive. Ever. Checked the UPS website, and read: There is an EXCEPTION on your package. Well, unless it's leaking radioactive coolant, I don't care. Send it over. I called customer support; the rep said there "wasn't any movement on the package" for the last three days.

She typed some more, and said they couldn't find it. A box the size of a basketball player's coffin, and they couldn't find it. Called Target; they couldn't have been more apologetic. A new one was sent, with free shipping.

It did not arrive. Ever. Checked the UPS website, and hello, another EXCEPTION. With details: It had "an unrealistic weight/value ratio." My gazebo was unrealistic. I'd ordered the Salvador Dali model, then. Two dimensions! The roof rains from the inside! Delightfully absurd!

More phone calls, and this time I learned that the box was heavier than Target said it was. Over 150 pounds, Parcel can't handle it. That's a job for Freight. Fine; give it to Freight. Oh no! Freight and Parcel are two completely different companies, I was told.

They said I'd have to pick it up. So instead of driving 2 miles to the store to buy it, I'd drive 15 miles to the warehouse to pick it up? No. Called Listened to hold music that sounded like something from a Peruvian funeral. When I talked to the manager, I almost heard him weep. This would not be easy. He got UPS on the line for a conference call, inhibited by bleed-in from another phone line apparently picking up the sound of Ladies' Night in a biker bar.

Target: It's 147 pounds. UPS: No, it's 169. Target: ISN'T. UPS: IS SO. (I'm paraphrasing.) Me: Can you just saw it in half and send it via two trucks? (Silence.) The poor manager did his best to figure out a solution, which was pretty impressive considering he was in the Philippines. For him it was 3 a.m., and he's trying to get a box, shipped from Texas, from north Minneapolis to my house. Finally, he said, We will ship you a new one.

Three enormous gazebos trucked from Texas? Summer's half over! No! IT'S HERE! I CAN SMELL IT FROM MY HOUSE! FIGURE IT OUT!

After 50 minutes on the phone ,we started all over again with a new guy from Freight, who just said, "Sure, we can deliver it," and that was that. Except that it wasn't. Union rules prohibited Freight from handling it, so two guys from management took it over.

And so it came to pass that some nice fellows in the cleanest UPS uniforms you'll ever see dragged the box up to my house. UPS score: A+. (In fact, I Twittered the entire phone call; UPS read the tweets and responded.) Target score: ditto. Kenneth of Manila, take a bow.

One more thing. When the UPS guys arrived, they asked if I wanted both boxes. Both? Yes, the first missing gazebo was also in the truck. I sent it back. Odds the one I kept will be missing one vital screw, like they always are? Nah. This will be the EXCEPTION that proves the rule. • 612-673-7858 More daily at