Tuesday, August 22, 2006

That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best - make it all up - but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.
Ernest Hemingway

Standing in line always makes me think of Karen Ross. Karen Ross is one of those people who I may not see that often though she frequently pops into my head. She is one of those bit players in my life as much as I am a bit player in hers. We add dynamics to each other’s worlds.

She entered my life when I spent endless lazy days at the Midway Market in Norman. This started in the time of Eric’s tenure there which is over ten years ago now. I had known Karen before I had gone back to school but then it was after I had gone back to school to complete my journalism degree that I remember her the most vividly.

At some point, during my second and final semester, I started a Midway Market Newsletter. In the newsletter, I made note that Karen and her husband - I do not think they had children at the time – had bought a local rooming house, a rooming house in which a student had gone mad and hacked a few others to pieces in the 1950s. Karen and her husband were restoring this back to its formal glory as a farmhouse. I thought them very brave.

The story is one of legend, the story of the hacking, that need not be repeated in this forum. Now, I am not even sure of the particulars – a student, end of the year final exam pressures, the increasing cold war, a girlfriend who dumped him, all of the ingredients to make a young man not yet twenty go berserk like some Okie Fassbinder.

Exactly who told me the story, I do not remember; it may have been my pal Midway Bob (now a councilman), or Bob V. Now, without a doubt if I asked Bob V, he would feign he knew not of what I spoke; oh, the intrigue of madness. Not that Bob V. is mad; I am referring to the madman who did the Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte hacking.

For a time, we talked about nothing but this house that Karen had just bought- this house and the hacking past of the house, the Lizzie Borden type dementia of this. Karen took this all in stride. She laughed with us. We always went too far but she still laughed.

Like me, she was raised in Bartlesville. She is a few years younger than me. She went to Sooner High School. Maybe she was a homecoming queen or cheerleader or something. I think she may have been popular.

Later, when I moved to Atlanta for a couple of years, upon return visits to Norman and to the Midway, Karen - who is one of the best bakers and pastry chefs ever - would bring me the most delicious turtle cheesecake. In my entire life, I had never had anyone prepare a turtle cheesecake for me. To say I was touched is an understatement.

Those lazy Midway days, I think about those wonderful lazy days often. Often, midday at Midway, Eric would play Clash Sandinista. Bob let Eric run the place. It was a cross between Sam Drucker’s, a speakeasy, and a Marxist Holiday Camp.

Bob gave Eric the privilege of ousting certain customers out of the store, customers that Eric for some reason (that never had to be explained) might not want to see that day. If for instance, one of the locals walked in and rubbed Eric the wrong way, if he just looked at Eric wrong; Eric just pointed his pointing finger at the cad to the door and the cad walked. Eric reigned during lunch. He reigned like some mad punk-rock – Costello circa 1979 - deity. Luckily, I never rubbed him the wrong way. I never got the pointer finger pointed at me.

Oh, by the way, I am standing in the line at the Jiadeli Grocer. Standing here in line made me think of Karen Ross which made me think of Midway which in turn made me think of Karen Ross again and Ross Dress For Less. Karen is one of those people that seem to cause a lovely commotion wherever they go.

Why this particular instance sticks in my mind, I do not have the slightest idea. During one of my lazy day jaunts out of the Midway and into the summer heat of Norman, I went out to the Ross (Dress for Less) out there in West Norman. This was perhaps when I moved back from New York the first time.

I found a belt or socks or underwear or something of the sort at Ross. I am standing in line. It is a typical midday weekday. For some reason, for no apparent reason, the line is unexplainably long. It seems the only people in the store are in the line. At first, I think nothing of it. As I often do in lines, I start daydreaming. What I daydream, I do not remember. I may have been daydreaming of Don Knotts but probably not.

After a few minutes, I shook myself out of my daydream and looked at the front of the line to see what all of the commotion - and non-movement of the line - was about. There was a woman with a stack of clothes exchanging some and buying some putting some on credit cards (a few different ones) and paying cash for some – there may have also been a personal check involved. As I was rolling my eyes, I noticed it was Karen – Karen Ross, the deliverer of turtle cheesecakes, the one and only. Of course, I started laughing and said somewhat loudly “Karen, I should have known it was you holding up the line.”
Shocked and surprised, she turned around and saw me behind her and just squealed. Both of us laughed. A few other clerks came up and opened other registers so I was then right behind her.

At the Jiadeli, I think about this, about Karen at the Ross. Afterwards she told me they give her special treatment because she could very well be a Ross since her last name is the same name as the store.

At the Jiadeli, I smile while I am in line because I think of Karen with all of her credit cards and piles of clothes that she was exchanging and buying. However, I am not daydreaming as I am daydreaming. I am looking around the store. I look at an end aisle marked ‘abstergent’ and I wonder if it is really a word or a Chinese approximation of a word. Under the sign are deluxe cans of Raid. I am buying sticky rice and beef wrapped in bamboo leaves. This I will steam for supper. With this, I have a big plastic bottle of the Suntory tea that I love and a small tub of Nestles chocolate ice cream.

Since I bought a big whopping television the other day which gets delivered Wednesday, I have decided to put myself on a budget, more for fun than anything. I am trying to see if I can spend 50 yuan ($6.25) a day or under. Sometimes, I can do it; sometimes, I cannot. If I were to buy a season of Arrested Development on DVD ($5), I would only have a smack twenty five for the rest of the day.

The Television (Elevation Don’t Go To My Head)

Saturday, I had a craving for a milk shake, chocolate. A mile or so from my apartment is a nice new somewhat-luxurious Dairy Queen. In that area, an enclave of American eateries all within a block of each other – Mr. Donut, Pizza Hut, McDonalds and a newly opened Papa John’s – which just makes me laugh, the voluptuous horror of papa john creach’s pizza.

Across from Dairy Queen (which serves only fountain drinks and ice cream products, no burgers or steak fingers here), Suning – a three story electronics chain store - was celebrating a grand opening. A stage was set up in front with dancing girls and a caravan in the shape of a dragon that housed a Chinese drum corps – gongs, Chinese kettle drums, various cymbals, shakers.

For the past few weeks, I have shopped for a flat panel television. The urge to buy one just hit me one day as something I had to do, something important in some sort of electronic Lee Harvey Oswald way. From the day, the subliminal message (Buy a flat panel, You deserve it, Assassinate John Davidson – Okay, do not assassinate John Davidson but c’mon buy the flat panel already) started playing on repeat in my head I have had this mission to find the perfect flat panel.

Oh, right here, I should interject that the part earlier about Karen moving into some sort of Stooges Deathtrip house is false. At the time, when the Ross’s bought the house we made up some crazy story about it being a axe murder sort of place but that was absolutely never probably true.

Back to the televisions…
At first, I was looking at the small ones – the 16 inchers. Then I thought, if I am going to spend the money, I might as well spend a 1,000 or so yuan more and buy the 27 incher. I am calling them inches but we may be talking centimeters here. I have no clue. I am shopping for a something that would be a major purchase and I cannot speak the language. I’m pretty smart (said with sarcasm).

Suning is calling me like the Hee Haw mule call called ex-playmate Barbi Benton who has absolutely never walked into any of my sex dreams. I usually reserve those for Lorne Greene, Ann B. Davis and Mr. Ed. Okay, I’m lying about Lorne Greene. Okay, okay, I am not lying about Lorne Greene. Okay, I am lying about Mr. Ed. As sexy as his voice is, I have never had a thing for him. Wilbuuuuur!

After I have downed my shake which was maybe one of the most delicious chocolate milk shakes I have ever had the privilege to suck down, I brave the throng of people watching the dancing girls at the Suning entrance and take the escalator up to the third floor to TVland.

However, this TVland is not showing Green Acres, Brady Bunch, My Three Sons. This TVland shows off the lime green and oranges of the bathing suits which the models on the television are showing to interest the consumer in the realistic look of these televisions. Naturally, these televisions are marketed for the male market. I stop at the Skyworth Television display area. Skyworth is an electronics company out of Hong Kong that has interested me.

A salesgirl approaches me and gives me the spiel. This has to be a variation of the usual spiel she gives to customers because I am the only foreigner that I have seen so far in this packed showroom. Her English is actually not bad. I look at the 27” models which are priced around 4999 which is more than I had originally planned to pay when I was looking at the smaller models. She is very helpful. I tell her I am going to look around at the other brands. She tells me that Skyworth is the best. I tell her thank you.

Here, I should address the difference between the electronic superstores here and the ones in the USA. The big electronic stores here, or at least the ones that I have visited, have each brand in its own section with sales people for each brand. These sales people all wear the same uniforms so I am not sure if they work for the brands or for the store or maybe a bit of both.

Across the aisle from the Skyworth brands are the TCL televisions. A few salespeople try to help me with limited English but no one is quite up to the task. While they are trying to converse with me, I notice a 32” for 5,500 yuan. The spiel I am given from the TCL side is much less verbal. There is a lot of grunting and pointing. This television, I keep in mind as I am walking around the store.

Most of the brands are these Chinese and Taiwanese brands. Elsewhere in the store, I come upon Sony and Phillips but they are both quite a bit more than the Skyworth and TCL. Even a piece of crapola like Sanyo is more expensive.

After I have walked around and looked at all of the televisions, I go back to the salesgirl and tell her that next door to her little Skyworth paradise, there is a nice TCL on sale for 5,500. No longer am I interested in the 27” that she and I discussed. I want to know if she can bring the price on down on the television that is one sale from 7999 to 5999. Can she bring it on down to 5,500? At this point, she tells me that TCL is a piece of crap. She tells me it’s Taiwanese - which is like saying the child is not hers it’s a stepchild that has not been reared properly – cheaply made.

She tells me she will be right back. She tells me to sit down. I watch the girls in the bikinis on multiple televisions showing their contrasts. The salesgirl reappears. She tells me she can knock one hundred off the price of the television. Plus they will give me a free gift which is a set of questionable headphones. I tell her thank you but I am going to go and look at the TCL television again. I leave.

I saunter back over to look at the TCL. Before when I was looking at the TCL, I did not think the picture was as good as the Skyworth picture. Picking out televisions is a bit like picking out speakers, with speakers you have to trust your ears, with televisions you have to trust your eyes. Maybe it is just that aesthetically the bikini-clad ladies look better than the washed out landscape that is featured on the TCL. I go back to the salesgirl.

She tells me that she can sell the television to me for 5,500 yuan. She then tells me the television she is selling me is a better television than the display which sounds a bit fishy. The television that they will sell me has a USB port on the bottom which sounds pretty dang cool. I can actually play MP3s through the television. And the television is guaranteed for 3 years. I am mystified.

I ask her how long she will be there. I tell her I have to go check my bank balance. I will be back before 7 pm. She tells me she will still be there.


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