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A New Year Resolution
by Richard Rupnarain
Guyana Journal, January 2006
After nearly a decade of staring at 19 television sets, and years of agonizing over whether or not to lay out the money for a big screen TV only to see a new technology make his investment obsolete, Bing Raheem finally accepted that there comes a point in time when a man has to bite the bullet and enjoy the best of what exists at the present moment. With Christmas just a couple of days away and the spirit of the season driving everyone to be a little profligate, or else be deemed another Scrooge, he finally capitulated to his familys plead for a big screen TV.
It was not an easy decision in the making. He agonized over the cost; how much was he prepared to pay for something that might go out of style before the end of the year? He debated the merits of a larger television. What difference does a bigger picture make? He flip-flopped between high definition, plasma, and regular TV. The picture on an HDTV was only better if he had HD signals, which he did not and was not prepared to buy. Plasmas, on the other hand, produced a clean, crisper picture. But why should he pay so much for so little? To aid his decision he visited the library and scoured through consumer reports to see what the experts had to say about competing brands and then, applying the diligence of a corporate lawyer, he scrutinized the fine print on manufacturers warranties to see if and why he needed to purchase an extended plan. When he was satisfied that he had covered all the bases and had applied due diligence in his research he finally decided on a Panasonic 52 HDTV.
Buying the TV, as it turned out, was the easy part of the transaction. Bringing it home was a chore he least expected to be a challenge of any magnitude.
Having settled on the price, the brand, the size and the merchant with the best deal, Bing & Son left home early on Boxing Day to get ahead of the thousands of shoppers who were anxiously waiting for the big Boxing Day blowout sale. Father and son were among the first group of people in line at the store. They stood in knee-deep snow, shivering to ward off the biting cold, made worse by a severe wind chill, and like the others in the line, their faces were barely visible under scarves, caps, and hooded parkas. No one in the line spoke, or hardly moved, as though they were frozen in standing positions. The only proof of life was the frozen breath that escaped from their nostrils. Yet, as soon as the doors were opened they charged into the store like angry bulls, dragging slush and mud into the store, much to the dismay of the female cashier at the checkout desk, every man heading for the aisle he had pictured in his head, in the hope of gaining an advantage over his competitors. Bing & Son were less aggressive, tamed somewhat over the years by a wife and mother who deemed such behavior hooliganism. Besides, they figured that the electronic rush was not about expensive items such as big screen TVs but for MP3 players and DVDs that were priced to move.
On entering the store they gravitated naturally to an Indian salesman and tackled him before the young man had a chance to sign into his cash register. He was no more than twenty years of age, perhaps just out of high school, and contemplating a career in sales. His name tag read, Rahularaj, Sales Associate. He was extremely pleasant, knowledgeable and energetic, and in less than half an hour he had made them the newest owners of a big screen HDTV.
They withheld their celebration but as soon as he departed to the office to complete his paperwork they began to high-five each other as though they had won the lottery. The salesman returned shortly after and what he had to say next put a damper on their enthusiasm. He explained that due to the large volume of sales over the holidays they were behind in delivery schedules and that they will not be able to ship the TV until New Years Eve, a day earlier at best. Bing & Son looked at each other like the air had gone out of their lungs, but when they heard the salesmans next set of words they recovered, like men on the Last Mile who were given last minute news of a possible pardon.
"But you can pick up the TV if you have your own truck," the salesman suggested, You will save the delivery charge.
"How much is the delivery charge?" Bing asked.
"Forty-five bucks," the salesman replied.
"Forty-five dollars?" Bing whispered to Son, "We can borrow or rent a truck for much less than that and still get the TV home in time for today."
"Well, let's call mom and tell her the plan," Son suggested, "She will be expecting us home soon."
"Okay, I will make the call. You start the car," Bing suggested as they ploughed through mounds of fresh snow and ice to get to their car on the far side of the parking lot. Though it was still bitterly cold, with the forecast calling for ice rain and sub-zero temperatures for the next few days, people kept coming into the parking lot in droves, with their children, bundled like Eskimos, hoping to snatch a deal. Many of them had crumpled flyers in their hands, and a determined look on their faces, as if they were officers of the court about to dispassionately enforce a binding contract. Others dragged boxes through the slush, items that they were returning because of displeasure, malfunction or just the wrong size or color. They stomped their boots on dirty mats at the entrance and joined the ever-growing line of dissatisfied customers at the Service Desk.
As soon as Bing got inside the car he dialed, the phone rang, and his wife, recognizing him from the call display, answered with a volley of questions, "Hello, hi, where are you? Did you get the TV? How much it cost? When you all getting it? Did you get it to fit in the car?" Bing rallied with his own volley. "Yes, we bought the TV. A big one! Panasonic! 52! You will like it. It can't fit in the car. The thing is really big! We have to get a truck."
"Why a truck? Don't they deliver?" she asked.
"Yes, but they can't deliver until around New Years Eve."
"So, let them deliver it then! It is cold outside. Besides that thing is heavy and with your back problems and all I dont think you should strain yourself. You all come on home before you get sick. You don't have to have it right now. You still have a TV at home."
You dont have to have it right now? That didn't go over well with Bing or with Son. "Am, hold a minute, dear!" Bing cried, frantically, covering the mouthpiece of the phone, "Son, mom thinks we should let them deliver the TV. What do you think?"
"But we are all home today and the next few days as well. I think we should just go and pick it up ourselves," he replied, clearly bent on finding any reason to get the TV home that day.
"Are you sure?" Bing asked, but not persuasively, as he too wanted the TV home as soon as possible. Son nodded and Bing removed his hand from the mouthpiece. "Listen, honey, the store is charging forty-five dollars to deliver and they are not guaranteeing delivery until the 30th. Son thinks we could borrow your friend's truck and bring it home ourselves today."
Didnt you say you know someone with a truck and he told you that you could borrow it anytime after you helped his wife with some problem?
"Oh, Johnny? I dont know him well enough to ask him such a favor. Besides, I don't know why you all want to go through all that trouble. The two of you have no patience at all. The place is cold and I don't know if Johnny is using his truck. This is normally busy season for delivery guys.
Can you please give him a call? Bing pleaded, and get back to me. If his truck is available, ask him for his address and tell him we are on our way to pick it up. If you can't find him we will come home and let the store deliver it."
Okay, I will give him a call but I still think that you all should come home and let the people deliver it. You are going to save forty-five dollars and you will spend more if you hurt yourself."
They sat in the car and waited for the phone to ring. It was so cold the heater in the car seemed to be blowing cold instead of hot air. As they shivered to keep warm they stuttered about the need for a Home Theatre and Surround Sound system to enhance viewing pleasure. Then the phone rang.
"Hey," Bing's wife cried, somewhat annoyed that she had to ask a favor of someone on Boxing Day, "I just caught Johnny. He and his family are heading out to the Mall in a few minutes but he says the truck is in the driveway and he left the keys under the mat. He thinks the truck might need some gas. Okay? So you all be careful!"
"Thank you, dear," a happy Bing replied, "I will call you when we are on our way home and you can mobilize the gang to give us a hand to fetch it into the house."
Mrs. Raheem did not answer and Bing wondered why she sounded apprehensive. He felt uneasy. She was always right about things. Maybe he should just forego the plan and let the store deliver the TV. But then again, it was a big screen TV, something that he waited ten years for, and he just could not wait any longer, not after he had already paid his money and endured close to two hours out in the biting cold.
Without further ado the two men made the twenty-minute drive up to Johnny's house. The street leading up to the house was covered in ice and save for the two of them, and a lone dog walker, it was empty. A few cars were idling on driveways and garbage from unwrapped Christmas presents was already pilling up on the sidewalks and littering the streets.
Neither Bing nor Son had ever seen the truck and they were naturally dismayed when they arrived at the house and saw a dilapidated rust brown GM truck, covered with snow and ice, parked off to side of the driveway, as though it was abandoned for many years. They circled it as though they were archaeologists inspecting a wondrous derelict from ages past and then, pressured by time and the cold, they reluctantly began to look for the key. They found it and with much apprehension pushed it into the ignition switch and turned. They little expected the engine to start, but it did, with a rattle and hum, the rusted muffler banging angrily against the underside, and the engine revving and slowing down of its own accord, trembling as if it was about to cut and then coming back to life with a shudder and violent vibrations that sent the snow on the roof into an avalanche down the sides. They soon learnt that the engine was about the only component on the truck that did work. The wipers were broken, the defogger did not work, the passenger side door could not be opened from the outside, the radio was disconnected, the back doors had to be held in place with a length of polyethylene rope, and the steering felt as loose as their bowels when the bald tires failed to hold traction on the icy road. Nevertheless, they saw the assignment as an adventure and as they careened towards the warehouse they passed the time by making endless jokes about the antiquity of the truck.
A little under two hours after completing their purchase they were again in line waiting to pick up their TV. This time the line up was at the warehouse. Like them, hundreds of other people, under pressure from impatient children, could not wait for their purchase to be delivered days later. They joined the serpentine trail of vans, trucks, pickups and trailers that began at the delivery bays and extended all the way to the street, some four hundred kilometers away. Everyone in line kept looking across to the exit lanes with envy at the happy customers who were already served and were on their way home. And the felicitous customers in turn stopped at the gate for the security guard to match their purchase with the delivery slip and as they were given the go-ahead they drove off, slowly, looking across at those in line, as if to tease them. Bing & Son saw big and small packages, carton boxes, some tied to the roofs of cars, some jutting out precariously from the trunks of vehicles, and others held fast with ropes in rented trailers. They tried to guess what was inside each box, all the while looking for a box with their model TV.
The line moved so slowly that it would make a snail feel like Carl Lewis. Bing estimated they had moved ten car lengths in the last hour and there were still over a hundred vehicles ahead of them. To satisfy his curiosity he exited the truck and walked up to the delivery bay to see what was holding up the line. The traffic controller at the gate explained that the warehouse was so large that some items were in different locations and that it was easier to go to a bay in that area than wait for a forklift to bring it across. The explanation did not suffice for one irate customer who felt that if a proper system was in place he should have been sent to the other bay from the outset, rather than having to queue up in one line for hours only to be told that he had to join another line. To make matters worse the guard explained to anxious drivers that they are going to have to be patient because some of the porters had taken the day off to be with their families.
Bing also noticed that large delivery trucks were cutting the lines and going directly up to the bays by way of a back lane. The porters all seemed familiar with the drivers who handed them wads of pick-up slips from their customers. The trucks tied up a bay for close to three-quarters of an hour to complete their order. It made Bing angry but then he cooled off when he realized that large volume customers are always given preferential treatment. It was the way of business and commerce. Cold and dejected, he returned to his borrowed truck, wondering if they will be served before the 8 p.m. closing time. The temperature was dropping by the minute and the cold was becoming unbearable in the truck. Son was shivering in the driver's seat.
"Wha...aaa..att happening?" he pushed his head out of the window and stuttered, "why are we not moving?"
"The Chinese guy at the first bay said they were short of staff," Bing replied, you know, with the holidays and all.
Why did they not employ more staff for the holidays? They know Boxing Day is always like this! Son replied, clearly frustrated at the explanation.
"I guess they didnt expect that too many people will be picking up their purchases. Besides, they want to frustrate you so that you will pay them the forty-five bucks. Why are you shivering? Is it that cold in the truck?" Bing asked.
"I turned the engine off because the gas gauge shows we are down to fumes."
"Do you think we should continue to wait? The worse thing that could happen is for us to run out of gas. There isnt a gas station for another mile. Besides, your mother will be worrying that we are out for so long."
"Well, it is almost 5 o'clock and we have been here almost six hours already. We might as well wait. Besides, the guard explained that everyone inside the gate would be served."
"Okay! But I wish we could get some coffee."
Me too! But there is no coffee shop around here. Only warehouses here.
They arrived at a delivery bay four hours later, stomachs grumbling and toes frozen stiff, only to be told they had to go to a bay further down. The checker explained that there was no line up there and that they should be served without much delay. He was a liar. They spent another hour in that line and when they opened the door of their truck to collect their TV, they noticed that they were only one of three remaining vehicles in the compound. How did this happen? They counted at least forty cars and trucks in the queue behind them at one time. But it was too cold to worry about all that now. They just wanted their TV and when the forklift banked around the corner with a huge case that said Panasonic 52" HDTV, all the harassment of the day, the biting cold temperature and the pain of frozen toes, vanished away. That is, until an unshaven redneck in blue plaid jacket looked Bing in the eye and asked, "Is that your TV?"
"Yes!" Bing answered, puzzlement over his face, Why?
"Can't fit!" he nonchalantly replied, sipping his coffee.
"What do you mean, can't fit? You never even tried," Bing cried out in frustration.
"My friend, another gentleman came here earlier with the same make of truck and no matter what we did, including stripping off the cardboard container, we could not get the TV to fit. So I am not going to waste my time or yours. You have to get an open back truck. That's the only way my friend. If you don't believe me you try it."
And try they did. They turned it to this side and that, lay it on its belly, stripped out the base of the carton, and still it would not fit. They stood there, after thirty minutes of failed efforts, their egos bruised and their fingers frozen, and they watched in disbelief as the shutters on the bays began to close and the lights were being turned off, one by one. How could this happen? Why could they not find out this information before? Why did they have to spend the entire Boxing Day in the cold, on a fruitless mission, when they could have been at home, drinking hot chocolate, eating Christmas delicacies, and just enjoying a day with the rest of the family? Worse, how could they possibly return home empty-handed after nearly ten hours in lines? What will they say to mother? No explanation will suffice. She will be sorry for them, yes, but she will blame them for not exercising due diligence in the matter. If that failed she would simply say, well, they were too impatient. So, they left, disappointed, and headed for Johnnys home to return his truck.
It was almost 10 p.m. when they arrived home, a full twelve hours after they began their not so excellent adventure. They left home excited and returned dejected, bruised, and cold. They left empty-handed and came home that way. As expected, mother expressed some empathy, but only because she saw the dejection on their faces, but then quickly added those dreadful words, You all are too impatient.
And so, tired and worn they fell asleep, quickly, without too much time to ponder the horrendous episodes of the day. They awoke next morning and the machismo in them inspired a new resolve. They were going back, this time with a rented open back truck and will bring home their TV. Once again mother watched them leave, a little more optimistic than she was the day before, and she smiled, shaking her head at her two men, impulsive still, impatient as ever, determined to prove that they will not be outdone or be overcome by yesterdays misfortune. As it turned out there was hardly any line up at the warehouse and in less than twenty minutes they had the TV loaded and were on their way back home. Getting it into the house was another challenge but they succeeded and after setting it in place they plopped down in the sofa for the next few days and stared at it as if they were trying to recover the viewing hours they lost on Boxing Day.
Five days later the family sat at the dinner table and as was their custom before eating they began to share their resolutions for the next year.
Bing, lets start with you, mother said, Share with us your new years resolution.
Why me? Lets start with Son, he deferred.
My resolution is to learn to be more patient, Son replied and then broke into a chuckle.
Good! mother replied, patience is virtue, and I hope the two of you have learnt that lesson.
Yes, I have, Bing chimed in. And they welcomed in the New Year with uncontrollable laughter, Bing & Son looking at each other and shaking their heads, very much doubting that should they require anything new, that they will actually wait for it.
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