The Mansion Delivery
Beauty & The Beast
I must preface this entry with a disclaimer/apology: I have only one more delivery-oriented episode to cover and, believe me when I tell you, it's the granddaddy of them all (and single-handedly inspired the writing of this entire memoir) so just bear with me through this one and I promise to make it worth your while!
Beauty and the Beast.
One of Disney's classic films and arguably my second favorite behind Wall.E. Sure there are other films that I might enjoy watching more than Beauty and the Beast...but you can never underestimate the power of sentimental value.
But I'm getting ahead of myself by jumping too far into the past.
So I was aware of the fact that we had one very special customer at the supermarket...but I use the word at very loosely. You see--no one had actually seen this customer, and with good reason: she never came into the store. Ever. She would only place an order over the phone for delivery.
So what's so special about her? Isn't she just another elderly woman?
Not in the least (to answer the latter) and a whole lot (to answer the former, and as I would come to find out). For one, the owner would hand-pack the order--the entire thing! Of course he would use his acolytes to round up the items but he would personally inspect each and every one to ensure that it was either a) precisely what this woman wanted or b) that it was the most expensive shit he could possibly sell her. For another, he would deliver the groceries personally to her; anyone else he would be simply too busy to deal with...but not her.
So who was this mysterious caller, driving my boss into such a fervid tizzy?
We're getting there.
You see, one fateful day I was on hand when the call came in. I was summoned to the front of the store and told that I had to help the owner put together "the order." He explained that this was a very important customer--his very best, in fact--and that everything had to be perfect: absolutely perfect. And thus he provided me with the (very specified) list and sent me off to gather the goods.
I'm pretty sure that I spent at least fifteen minutes gathering all of the groceries and bringing them up to the front of the store. Think about that. Think about how much shopping you can do in fifteen minutes at a store you worked at--a place where you spent zero time looking for things because you knew where they all were.
We filled at least three GIGANTIC boxes with groceries. It was easily a few hundred dollars' worth of goods.
At least I was clear on why she was his best customer.
After putting the order together, I went to return to my work but was stopped by the owner.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"You're coming with me, shimanoot."
I couldn't believe it. He was asking me to accompany him on the big delivery. (And obviously by "asking" I mean "telling and cursing at me in Yemeni.")
And so off we went. After loading up the minivan, I hopped into the shotgun seat and prepared for what I was anticipating would be an epic journey.
I had no idea.
For starters, it was my first time alone with the boss. I was surprised to find, through our bantering, that he could be not only a decent guy but a funny one as well. I truly enjoyed the conversation that we had during the somewhat-long trip to and from the customer's home (unlike the other time I accompanied him on a driving delivery in which he went off on some rant about people stealing and how he'd fire me or anyone else in a heartbeat if he ever found out that we stole from him (despite the glaring irony that he was pilfering money from our paychecks, but I digress). He also went off on a few other crazy tangents on THAT delivery and I knew I would be moving on from that job as soon as I possibly could).
So, perhaps as would be expected, along the way to the customer's house, the boss mentioned who she was and gave me a little bit of information about her. I did not hear the latter, though, because my heart dropped when I heard the former. I knew exactly who she was. As soon as I heard her name a flood of memories washed over me--not of her but rather of her daughter and of my childhood.
Beauty and the Beast.
From a technical standpoint, the first girl I ever had a crush on was probably in pre-school but I can't count that in the recordbooks because a) I was four/five years old and b) I don't remember anything about the crush other than being told that I liked this girl. For me, my first crush came in elementary school.
I'm not sure when it began, officially, but I would guess that it was in the first grade. I attended my elementary school beginning with Kindergarten, whereas most of the people I would come to meet began in pre-school (I had attended the local Catholic school for pre-K and HATED it.) There were two Kindergarten classes, likely broken up in this fashion: one was filled with the kids who had performed the best in Mrs. F's Pre-K class and the other was filled with kids who didn't do so well and new kids; I fell into the latter category as it was my first year.
I still remember, vividly, many great moments from Kindergarten--a testament to how amazing a woman my teacher was (the teacher of the other class would wind up being my third grade teacher--my second favorite teacher of all time; I was blessed to have been taught by two immensely talented and caring women in those early years). I did well in Kindergarten and was placed in the "Eagle" program (basically an elementary school honors program), beginning with the first grade.
That was when I met her.
I can't say that it was love at first sight...but it probably was, at least for a five or six year old boy. Blondes might have more fun but I've always been a brunette guy, which, I suppose, started here. I don't think it was any great surprise that I had a crush on this girl--more than a few other boys did as well. Truthfully, I don't even remember what it was that I found so enthralling about her but, then again, I also can't re-experience the thought- and emotional-processes of my then-six-year-old self; our past states of mind and affairs of the heart are but ghosts in the face of the present and the gulf of the future.
Wow. That was a pretty good line.
Anyway, so by third grade I was still crushing hard on this girl. I remember when we wound up sitting next to each other...I probably spent every night bowing in supplication to the seating gods, offering up chalices filled with little boy thankyouthankyouthankyous. As embarrassing as this next tidbit is, I suppose it speaks to the fact that I've been a hopeless romantic since I was a little boy. I remember going on a family trip with my parents down to Washington D.C. at some point, probably during the summer between third and fourth grade. I know that we left around five o'clock in the morning because I can picture how dark it was on the Belt Parkway as we headed towards the Verrazano Bridge. The romantic part of the recollection, though, is that I remember hearing Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting" on the radio and thinking of this girl with such a feeling of sadness--as if I was leaving for some year-long journey to a foreign land instead of a weekend trip down to our nation's capital. I remember sighing while I was listening to the song.
I'm shaking my head right now. I still can't believe this is true. She barely knew I was alive and there I am, all of nine years old, ruing the fact that I was going to be "away" from her. I suppose it's all part of the nature of boyhood crushes...but seriously: shaking my head (not like a leaf!).
So fourth grade rolls around...and a new crush begins. Seriously--I'm pretty sure that EVERY straight guy in that class had a crush on our teacher. She was young and hot. It was awesome. One of the only years where I looked forward to going to school every day.
The only thing that worried me about this year of school was that this particular teacher was known for having her students put on a large theatrical performance at the end of the year. It was one of those things where EVERYONE had to be involved. I had secretly hoped to be a stagehand and not have to be IN the performance...but it turned out that she awarded those positions to her students from the previous year.
Then it came time for casting. We were going to be doing the King and I...and I got the second leading male part. She had wanted to cast me as the lead but I was PETRIFIED and managed to talk my way out of it. Naturally, the girl I had the crush on got cast as the female lead...and my arch-intellectual nemesis took the role of the king. I was devastated and hoped that, somehow, someway, I would be given a second chance...
...and I got it.
For whatever reason, (I think it might've been pretty much everyone complaining about the choice of source material for the play) Mrs. S decided to change the play to...
you guessed it:
Beauty & the Beast.
The entire thing needed to be recast, since there was no simple way of converting roles from something like the King and I to a Disney classic.
Guess who has two thumbs and was cast as the Beast?
And then the girl I had a crush on was cast in one of the supporting roles.
It was all good though because the girl who played Belle was a PHENOMENAL singer--even at ten years old it was obvious that this girl had a set of golden pipes on her. I was proud to be on stage with someone as talented, charismatic, and just overall awesome as our fourth grade Belle.
Despite being a nervous wreck, I managed to perform well on both nights. The experience helped me, in a way, to get over my shyness and to be less afraid of speaking in public; being nominated the valedictorian the next year and having to give a speech in front of everyone and their parents really helped me. I believe I have the video of the play...I'll have to transfer it to my computer. Who knows--maybe I'll even post it on Youtube.
That summer, a lot of things changed. For one, the girl moved away and I never spoke with her again (she transferred to a private school that was more on her family's financial level...as in it costs like $80,000 a year or something. Yeah...doctor's daughter. Can you imagine?) I wound up having my first real date at the fifth grade prom and I left the memories of my first real crush behind forever...
...or at least until the day I went on the delivery with my boss.
(Oh come on--you had to know that was where this was all going!)
So he mentions her mother's name and I think to myself: oh my God! I hadn't seen this girl in at least five or six years and I never thought I would see her again...and now I'm going to be going to her house...
...to deliver her groceries...
...and by house, I mean mansion.
As soon as my boss told me the address I groaned. I knew the neighborhood well and, believe me, people, affluent is to indigent as mansion is to the types of houses in this particular area. We're talking million dollar plus homes back in the late '90s--you know, before a shitty rundown bungalow was going for $600k in my old neighborhood.
Then we get to the mansion (at least it really was only a mansion and not an estate). I do my best to find a way to disappear into the seat of the minivan but, with a shout of SHIMANOOT, I am summoned out to unload the gigantic boxes of groceries.
My boss heads inside to make small-talk with the girl's mother and leaves the door ajar. I pass through the enormous gate and begin to walk up the stone path towards the house. I look up at the eight-foot high glass window above the enormous double-door entrance and can see the sparkling light of a crystal chandelier. I cross the threshhold and enter the house...and step onto the marble floor. I don't remember for sure if it was marble or if that's even possible but I KNOW there was some marble shit in there for sure.
My boss told me to put the groceries down by the grand piano. A Steinway would be my guess.
I'm standing amid this opulence and I look down at myself in disgust: I am filthy. It was as if the Beast suddenly became Cinderella. I was wearing basketball shorts and a dingy grey muscle shirt and I was covered with all sorts of unspeakable deli excreta.
And I smelled.
Malodorous doesn't begin to describe it.
Repugnant is getting closer.
And then I realize that I'm in her house.
I take a quick scan of the room and see that she's nowhere to be found. I saw one of her brothers and, though I think he recognized me, the disdain in his eyes and in the way he averted them before I could make contact with my own said it all.
I went out and got the remaining boxes and waited by the door while my boss finished up his conversation. We got back in the minivan and headed back to the store.
Years later, I did see her from afar and I felt...nothing. Whatever remnant-childhood heart-swirls had ceased their centrifugal motion; she had become just another girl.
Now, almost a full eighteen years later, she has become just another errant memory of my childhood. I can only hope that life has been as good to her as it's been to me...
...because, in many ways, I still am the Beast (not in a creepy Antichrist/Book of Revelation kind of way) that I was eighteen years ago and, though I spent the bulk of my life from those early romantic yearnings straight through to the beginning of college lonely and searching for my soulmate, ultimately, my curse was lifted; the last rose petal didn't touch the ground:
I found my Belle.
It's nice to know that sometimes life can be a fairytale, complete with a storybook happily ever after.