Friday, December 30, 2005
Larry Gets Mugged by the Ghost of Christmas Presents
Now that the Christmas fever has abated I can tell this sordid little tale. I couldn’t before because it might have given away a surprise.
It’s a sad tale of the decline of the west, the slow spiral of the concept of customer service into the fetid sump of irrelevance.
It all started about two weeks before Christmas when Suzy Homemaker buttonholed me in the hallway just outside the cafeteria at the Yoni School for Wayward Poets.
“Larry,” she said, “I can’t find my Messiah, I’m missing the Messiah, do you know where the Messiah is? You know, Handel’s Messiah, I can’t find the Messiah, you’re the one who organized the tapes, where’s the Messiah, he isn’t where he’s supposed to be, can’t find him I know you must have put him away in the manger somewhere, where is my Messiah?”
I pointed out with some asperity that I had only organized my own Messiah and left everyone else to seek their own.
“But it’s Christmas coming and the Messiah nowhere to be found where is the Handel where is the Messiah I need my Messiah you know like dice need spots like cats need mice like pudding needs rice I must have Handel!”
I gently led Suzy to the taped copies I had made several years ago of her very own version of this Messiah, and I also showed her a CD of my own which I purchased several years ago also, because you can never have too many Handels.
This mollified Suzy somewhat. And for several days I called her Molly. This confused and mystified her and probably was the cause of her sentence at the Yoni School being extended indefinitely. “She’s not quite ready for release,” they said.
But it also gave me a wonderful idea. “Larry,” said Larry, “You’re going to surprise Suzy Homemaker by going out (unobserved and unattended) and buying Miss Molly Good Golly her very own brand new copy of The Messiah, performed by those very same Hawgtown Mendelssohn Singers and Hawgtown Symphony Orkesteers that she had before but now cannot find anywhere in this godforsaken Yoni School.”
So I set out.
Now, in Lunchbucket, there’s only one store I know of that would carry this sort of thing, and that’s a store called Twelfth Night. Why is it called Twelfth Night? I don’t know. Ask Shakespeare. Or maybe it’s because if you order anything from them, that’s when it will arrive. Anyway, they have an excellent classical collection, cuz they specialize in that, and jazz too, and independent local artists, and blues and folk.
I went there. Looked for Handel’s Messiah. Under Handel. No Messiah. Asked. Now, understand that I did ask specifically for this Hawgtown Mendelssohn Symphony Orkesteers version, which, although fairly well known, is also fairly old. Woman at counter said, “Oh yes, I know the one you mean. We don’t have it.”
“Can you get it?”
“I’m not sure it’s still available.” But she looked and sure enough, it was. However, it would have to be ordered. By now, I figured if it came on the Twelfth Night, that would be about two days after Christmas.
“If you order it, will it arrive in time for Christmas?”
“I can’t say one way or the other…”
“Cuz it’s kind of useless if it comes after Christmas, isn’t it?”
“I guess so…”
I stood and looked at the woman. Now, understand that my idea of service is that at this point, the clark says, “We have another recording here. Would you like to look at that?” Nothing like that happened here. She just stood and looked back at me.
“That’s it?” I asked.
“I guess so,” she replied.
And I left that store swearing it would be at least a gross of Twelfth Nights before I ever set foot in there again. “You just lost yourself a sale,” I muttered under my breath.
So. No Messiah so far. (And Suzy’s been waiting so long…will the Messiah never come?)
I went for the second choice. HMV. You know, HMV is a British company. Surely the Messiah would be there. After all, Handel was an honourary Englishman.
But here the story gets both goofy and complicated. I went to the store up in North Lunchbucket, hard by one of the thirty-six universities in this town (all called Lunchbucket U or Buck U by those who should know better). Straight to the classical section, arranged by composer. Look! There’s Handel. No Messiah here, though. I wandered all through the store looking for a Christmas display. One with some classical music. No luck. All the so-called “Great Gift Ideas” were the latest Hollywood DVDs and corporate logo CDs. No Handel. I did find something which said Messiah…but only highlights. Alleluia. Oh we like sheep…follow the insipid march of mass marketing…
I did find something that interested me, though. And this is the first big twist in the story. See, I’m a Seinfeld fan. Can’t help it. You need something to distract you from the daily poetic drudge of the Yoni School, what with Suzy Homemaker nattering about the latest development in dayglo yarn, LaLaLeo quietly quivering in a corner pretending he’s the alpha male and Cosmicat mewling about the place as if she were about to drop a poetic pearl from her prim lips. Malton McGuilty has been too busy on the Yoni School Election Watch to be of any use as a diversion. So that leaves Seinfeld.
And what do I spy but seasons 3 & 4 of Seinfeld on DVD…on Sale! On Special! A Two-fer! I snapped em up and walked up to the counter to ask about the Messiah.
There was a young woman, maybe twenty, sitting at the little computer that passes for inventory control.
“Oh, shepherdess of the vast consumer desert, I am following a bright star in search of the one who is to come, the Messiah. Where can the Messiah be found?”
Actually, what I said was, “I’m looking for the Messiah by Handel.”
Her response was a somewhat blank expression.
“The Messiah. By Handel.”
“Hmmm…let’s see what the computer says.” She typed in Messiah. A long list of titles appeared. “You mean the heavy metal band Messiah?”
“No. Georg Friedrich Handel. The Messiah.”
“Oh! OK!” She began typing…H…A…N…D…L…E…
“No, that’s HANDEL.”
Again a long list of titles appeared. In fact it was nearly endless.
“These are all discontinued,” she said.
Ah, so that’s it. Handel has been discontinued. (Just for interest’s sake, Microsoft Werd just tried to correct “Handel” to “Handle”.)
I said, “You do realize that Handel’s Messiah is the most popular and well-known classical Christmas piece there is?” I was heavily discounting The Nutcracker at this point. She gave me that blank expression again.
“Look,” I said, “Can you phone down to Glareview Mall and see if they have it there? I really don’t want to go there if I don’t have to.”
She got on the phone, but said while she was dialling, “They’re really busy down there, I’m going to have to just ask if they have Handel…”
Which, of course, was practically useless. But it didn’t matter, because whoever she spoke to at HMV Glareview said they didn’t have any Handel at all. By this time I was so frustrated I just shook my head and walked away. On the way out of the store, I put Seinfeld back on the shelf and swore it would be at least a gross of Twelfth Nights before I ever set foot in that store again.
But here’s the problem. I was infected by that Seinfeld Special. See, those marketing people are not so stupid as we all would like to believe. At Christmas time, they put together these deals that you won’t necessarily find at other times of the year, so if you want em you gotta get em while you can, even if you can’t stand canned Christmas music and lineups and crowds and all that crass commercialism oozing out onto the slick pre-Christmas pavement.
So what did I do? I spent the next three days travelling around to every bloody HMV store in the whole greater Lunchbucket region looking for those Seinfeld DVDs. Not Handel. I’d sort of given up on Handel. No surprise for Suzy. No, I was now looking to bolster my own flagging Christmas spirits. And guess what. Not a single store had both seasons 3 & 4. They all seemed to have only season 4 left. What good is a Two-fer if there’s only one?
And all the stores were insanely busy. I went to Glareview. Asked for help. The young man said he was just helping someone else and he’d be right back. Five minutes later he walked right past me without acknowledging me. I left.
At the Stoned Mall in Gwulph, a pleasant young man passed me off to a perky young woman. She led me to the place I’d just been to look on the shelves and discovered that there was no season 3. She hurried off to the computer to check. “Oh!” she said…perkily, “That’s just been sold out!”
The smile on her face made me want to scream. How can you smile like that…so…perkily…when you’re delivering news that you can pretty much guess is not going to please the customer? It’s like the doctor saying, “Gee, yer gonna die in a month, are you interested in our special this week…a hemorrhoidectomy?”
Sad to say, I finally admitted defeat. About three days before Christmas, driven by the obsession to find both seasons of Seinfeld, I returned to the North Lunchbucket HMV, hard by Buck U, and there, to my great relief, found that they, at least, still had both seasons. I meekly presented my debit card, taking care not to examine too closely the huge deposit I was making on the debit side of my Indignation Account, and left the store with Seinfeld under my arm.
Not satisfied with this level of abject surrender, I turned my thoughts back to Handel and Suzy Homemaker’s desperate desire to hear the Messiah once more. I had no better ideas. A surprise Messiah was the best thing I could come up with this Christmas. Dejectedly, I returned to Twelfth Night.
Fortunately, the woman who had annoyed me so much was not there. Two young men were at the cash. I took a look about the store, and there, near the front of course, was the Christmas display. And there, near the front of the Christmas display of course, was Handel’s Messiah. CD. And! DVD! I suddenly had a brainstorm. Since we already had a CD, why not get Suzy the DVD? Then she could watch the Messiah as well as hear him.
Both the CD and DVD were Mozart’s arrangement. (For Messiahphiles, that means there are trombones lurking in the horn section.) The covers of both CD and DVD had a lot of German writing on them. I asked the twin gentlemen, “Is this in English?” “Oh yes,” they replied, “It’s just Mozart’s orchestration, a little different from other versions, you know, with the trombones and South African thumbscrews and all that.”
“OK,” I said, “I’ll take the DVD.” And so I did. Christmas mission accomplished.
But no! Story not finished yet! On Boxing Day we cleared the detritus out of the Common Room at the Yoni School. They grumbled a little, wanting to watch reruns of the Mayor’s Levee, Mel Lastman backslapping and inadvertently insulting entire cultures. While fending off both a right hook and a left jab from Malton McGuilty, we reverently placed Mozart’s Handel’s Messiah in the DVD player. And watched a fine young tenor who looked as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth sing.
That bum Mozart! He takes an English classic, adds trombones and Zulu war drums, and has the nerve to get the libretto translated so his precious Salzburgian burghers can follow the plot. And there we were, Suzy and I, watching the Messiah arrive in Lunchbucket with subtitles!
Never fear, however, persistent reader! There is a tale of redemption yet in the Messiah. A couple of days ago, I returned again to Twelfth Night. Unfortunately, the woman who so annoyed me the first time was there this time. But it was not the same woman! It was an agreeable, accommodating likeness of the previously so annoying woman. I explained my problem and she accepted my disappointment with great equanimity.
“Is there an English DVD?” I asked.
She searched the computer and discovered not one, but two English versions. One of them was a special recording made on the 250th anniversary of the Messiah’s birth, recorded in the very town in Ireland where he was born, conducted by Neville Marriner and sung by Sophie von Rocky Raccoon, among others. That’s the one I ordered! I’m hoping it will arrive on the Twelfth Night.