>> A few weeks ago, my mother—who has a long-term mania for purses—found a really strange, cool bag with secret compartments in the handle and overflap (cost: $45) and gave it to me. She got it from the Rabbit’s Tail at Brookwood Mall (Birmingham, AL), and said they called it a “spy bag.” It was bigger than what I was used to carrying—a simple black leather shoulder-strap purse from Target—but it was pretty swank, so okay. I go to Valkyrie and Dr. Typo’s Halloween party, and the Lovely Emily immediately says, “I think that’s an actual designer bag!” Or, at the very least, a knockoff. She further advises me to Google something she’s heard of and see if it matches. So a week later I finally remember to do so, and guess what? I am the proud owner of a Fendi spy bag. Or at least a really, really good, forty-five-dollar knockoff in black leather.
>> My parents, somewhat unusually, happened to come home for lunch today. I’m sitting at the table in the den hashing out chapter three with my headphones on, they’re in the kitchen, and all of a sudden we hear this POOM! It kind of sounds like the cat jumping off furniture upstairs, only if the cat were about a hundred pounds heavier, and also, the cat is sitting beside me on the couch.
“What the hell was that?”
“The space shuttle,” says my stepfather.
“The space shuttle, breaking the sound barrier. It’s over Birmingham right now.”
“And we heard it?”
“It shook the house, actually.”
My mother, who loves shuttle launchings and landings, runs to turn Fox News (arrrrrgh) on, and we watch the shuttle come in. We hear the POOM! about ten till noon; six minutes later, it lands in Florida. That is some speed right there. Which may be a little hilarious, if you think about it: “sonic boom” don’t mean much to me, but Birmingham to Jacksonville in six minutes? Impressive.
Oh, speaking of my mother, she wanted me to tell y’all the second installment of the Television Incident (“BLOCKS OF WOOOOOOOD!!”). Sears had already charged her $65 for the hook-up she didn’t get, but poor Marcus told her that there was a rebate form she could send to get it back anyway.
Except that there wasn’t. Oh, there was a rebate; there was just no form in the papers that they gave her. So now, yesterday, my mother was on a lunch-hour quest to get her rebate form.
“So I go back to Sears,” she says, “and I bring back the cable Marcus had me buy that we didn’t need, and the salesman reimbursed me and there was no problem. And then we started trying to figure out the rebate.”
What I need you to understand about my mother is that while I enjoy telling you the Mominator Outburst stories, they’re really few and far between. The Sonic Incident and the Television Incident are really unusual for her—usually she Mominates in a very calm, polite tone of voice. She doesn’t need to yell, generally. She’s adored at her human resources job for handling things sympathetically and, above all, professionally. Even when someone pisses her off, she generally decimates them as politely as possible. If you ever hear her say “I’m sorry, but this is not acceptable,” that is the moment to run like hell. Actually, having seen Rendition a couple of weeks ago—I’d say she’s very much in the Reese Witherspoon Steel Magnolia mold, really. I’m really telling you this so that you know she didn’t get all “BLOCKS OF WOOOOOOD!!” up in the electronics department. In fact, this particular story isn’t really even about her. It’s about Gerald.
“I ended up going through about nine salespeople,” she tells me. “The first one, he was very nice; I returned the cable, he gave me my money back. I asked him about the rebate form. ‘You didn’t get one when they delivered the television?’ So I told him the whole story and he was just flabbergasted. So he started looking for a rebate form… except that we couldn’t find one. So he found another salesperson, and I had to tell the story all over again.”
And that salesperson couldn’t find one either. They found a third salesperson; no dice. I think at that point that other salespeople started gravitating towards my mother, just to see what was going on (“I was nice about it,” she tells me, “but I had decided that I wasn’t leaving without that rebate form”), and every time someone new joined the crowd she had to tell the story again (“to the point where the others just started chiming in, too.” I love the idea of half a dozen salespeople just following my mother around like a Greek chorus. “And he woke her daughter up, too! Didn’t call in advance like he was supposed to!” “And then he said, ‘It says ‘Leave in carton,’ I can’t do nothin’ but that!’”). So we’re up to eight or nine salespeople, all following my mother around the Sears electronic department in a desperate search for a rebate form for a Sony high-definition TV, and finally we’re up to the Senior Electronics Manager and he doesn’t know what to do, either.
“I think,” says the Senior Manager, hesitantly, “we’re going to need to get… Gerald.”
The other salespeople look at each other. “Gerald?”
“I think… I think we’re going to have to.”
“Gerald,” they whisper.
“COD, please come to electronics,” the Senior Manager says, quavering, over the PA.
Some ten or fifteen minutes later, Gerald arrives. It turns out that he’s head of—all of Sears at this mall, I believe? My mother describes him as a very stately, polished man; the way she did his voice, I immediately started imagining Laurence Fishburne, and I suggest you do so as well. “How Can I Help You, Ma’am?” asks Gerald.
My mother explains the situation. Again. She shows him the paperwork where, clearly circled, is the passage about hooking up the TV to the primary input cable, which the delivery men did not do, even though she had paid $65 for them to do so. Didn’t call, came even before business hours, woke her daughter up, leave in carton, etc.
Gerald scrutinizes the papers. “It Does Indeed Say That. You Should Be Reimbursed… I Agree. Did You Not Receive A Rebate Form?”
“They didn’t give me one, no,” says my mother.
“We Will Have To Rectify That Situation.” He turns to the original salesman that she consulted when she came in; the original salesman may or may not have wet himself. “We… we can’t find a rebate form.”
Gerald stares down at the salesman from on high. There may be scorn in his inscrutable gaze, my mother’s not sure. “Why Did You Not Just Put A Credit On Her Card?”
“We—can do that?”
“Do That.” He turns to my mother and says, “Please, Let Me Know If I Can Be of Any Further Assistance.” And then Gerald re-ascends into the heavens.
So my mother and her entourage return to the original saleman’s register, where they all proceed to deliberate over how to Put A Credit On Her Card. Except they can’t figure out a way to do that. And what are they going to do, summon Gerald back? And risk his wrath? “Push that button,” says one of the salespeople. “I don’t know,” says the original salesman. “I don’t know what that one does.” And if they blow up the Sears, Gerald is going to be so mad, you don’t even know. Finally, they decide to credit my mother as if she had returned another piece of merchandise, one costing $70.35--$65 plus tax.
“You know,” I tell her, “technically, you didn’t leave there with a rebate form.”
“I know,” she says, “but Gerald was worth it.”