“‘Twas the week before Christmas
And in the bowels of the store
There was a man wrapping presents
Though his work was quite poor.” *
* Adapted from the original.
During the last week before Christmas, it was no longer possible for the store to insure the timely delivery of the presents. At that juncture, the customers became responsible for transporting their purchases home themselves, be it locally or, more inconveniently, out of the country.
This altered arrangement affected the procedure of the toy wrappers. Rather than simply directing them elsewhere, a representative from the toy wrapping contingency was now dispatched to deliver the professionally wrapped parcels – I just giggled – to a kiosk – like a “Coat Check Room” – where the customers, upon the presentation of a “Claim Check”, would collect them, and carry them away.
Many of my co-workers, generically diffident, substandardly attired or missing prominent teeth, were resistant to abandoning the security of our toy-wrapping enclave. Not me. I could barely wait to be set loose amongst the populace.
“What do you get for being an Earl?” I inquired of an actual Earl, not a Jewish Canadian person named Earl. “Can you like, park anywhere you want?”
His Earldomsy seemed to love it, rewarding my colonial cheekiness with a generous guffaw.
There was an authentic table-hockey game set up on the floor, and I showed a pint-sized English kid how to use it:
“The red-white-and-blue is Montreal and blue-and-white is Toronto,” I explained about the team uniforms adorning the metallic game players. “We hated Montreal. They were always better than us.”
Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, no “Security” was ever summoned to escort me to the calaboose.
“Engaging a minor in unsolicited conversation.” That’s a trial I would readily attend at the “Old Bailey.” If the defendant wasn’t me.
There was probably a store regulation about “my kind” interacting with the customers, but I never thought about that. I was having way too much fun. Besides, it was mere days before my toy-wrapping assignment would be over. Let them fire me… during the busiest shopping week of the entire season. (It's nice when you have them over a barrel.)
My “Crowning Moment” – actually an inadvertent play-on-words but you will not get it until later – in the “interaction department” occurred perhaps a day or two after I’d been set free among the customers.
I love remembering this story. The best part is it actually happened. No. The best part is, it actually happened to me.
It was early in the afternoon. I was rolling a shopping cart laden with wrapped presents towards the “Pick-Up Kiosk”, located on Harrods ground floor, conveniently close to the exit.
I am just trundling along when suddenly, I hear the piercing shriek of an irate female voice pitching an unmistakable hissy fit.
Loud voices upset me. The discombobulating emotions. Identifying empathically with the attacker’s target. When I hear yelling, my primary objective is to get them to stop. Not to start fixing things. Just so I can calm down.
I roll my cart up to the distraught customer, and the first words emerging from my mouth are,
“Lady, you are giving me a headache.”
This immediately gets her attention, causing her to redirect her intensity to me.
Description? Mid-twenties. Dressed in highly polished black boots, a floor-length black coat, the sleeves and collar trimmed in… some black animal fur, which is undoubtedly the genuine article. And a fur hat to match.
The woman is exquisite in every detail, projecting the ineffability of certifiable quality. I can imagine a tag on her someplace saying, “Assembled at Tiffany’s.”
End of description. Though not of retroactive awe and eternal ocular appreciation.
I asked her what the problem was, and, still angry, she explained, that her presents had been inadequately packaged and were unsuitable for transportation, which in her case, she informed me, was to the “Continent.” (Read: Mainland Europe.)
I assured her that if she lowered the temperature, I would help her. Which she immediately did. So, after unloading my delivery at the “Pick-Up Kiosk”, I reloaded my shopping cart with her substandardly wrapped presents, and told her, “Come with me. I’m gonna take you someplace most customers never get to see.”
Giving no consideration to its appropriateness, I escorted the lady “behind the curtain”, to the dank and depressing “Toy Wrapping Area.”
There, to the consternation of my boss and the equivalent of the contemporary pirates who were my workmates, I sat her down on a large roll of corrugated cardboard, and I rewrapped her presents, inviting her, at the strategic moment, to put her finger on the knot, so I could finish tying the bow. The woman showed no resistance whatsoever to pitching in with the work.
All the time I continued talking to her in own particular patois, which is conversational and, though in no way disrespectful, lacking any acknowledgment of class distinction.
I then reloaded her now “travel worthy” presents and escorted her downstairs to the exit. (I believe we took the elevator. You’re allowed if you’re with a customer. Was the new rule I created on the spot.)
Now at the door, the woman rummaged through her purse, producing a five-pound note, which she presented to me with her sincere appreciation. I can almost hear the wounded howl emanating from my throat:
“I don’t want money!!!”
But the lady insisted, proposing that I donate the five pounds to my favorite charity.
And with that, she was gone.
Shuffling somewhat stunned back to the “Toy Wrapping Area”, I was suddenly accosted by a dozen or so, what appeared to be, high-ranking Harrods store managers and officials, bombarding me with questions about what had happened, and where I had taken her, all of which I answered honestly and directly, adding only one question of my own:
“Is she important?”
It turns out she was the Princess of Luxembourg.
And I had invited her “backstage.”
There were times it occurred to me that that story might make an interesting movie, expanded of course, to include the part where, at the last minute, she invites me to spend Christmas with her in Luxembourgian luxury. But I never followed it up.
Instead, I am relating it to you.
Tomorrow (no, the day after tomorrow): “Insurrection a-la Pomerantz.”