Thursday, September 27, 2007

Amazon Adventures

I have been told by certain individuals in a position to say so, that I am a notoriously difficult person for whom to buy presents. I beg to differ, as I have hobbies (knitting, wine drinking, cooking, reading) for which many gifts can be bought. And because I never turn down money. Well, almost never.

But back in the Neolithic age of the internets, The Year 2000, I created an wishlist at the behest of those who wanted to get me something specific. It has not been updated in years, so I suppose now, you can take an amusing look back at my taste back when I was in college.

The list was filled with my own little asides and descriptions of WHY YOU SHOULD BUY ME THIS. For instance, I said Fiona Apple was “kind of like Sinead with hair,” and if you know me, you’ll know that is no faint praise. I kept my wish list public, thinking this would help my family and friends find it more easily.

And that may have been my first mistake.

At this time, I was also in the habit of supplying reviews of books, music, and movies on Amazon, thinking that My Opinion Mattered and that people were actually reading them.

Which, in fact, they were. Or one was, at least.

Sometime that summer, I was living at home, working a couple of jobs and generally trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life, when a package arrived on my door.

“Celeste!” my mother groaned. “Did you order something else from Amazon?”

(NB: My mother had recently chided me for blowing a large portion of the money I made at my two jobs on brand-new books, CDs, and movies from the very same. Yes, she had a point.)

“Huh?” I replied, probably because I worked the delightful 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift as a Safeway checkout girl the night before.

“There’s a package here from Amazon. With your name on it!” she said, holding up the mysterious cardboard square.

I hadn’t recalled ordering anything. But I checked my order history, just to be sure, in case that Pogues import I had tried to special-order had finally arrived from the UK. It hadn’t, and it wasn’t going to. Ever. Because Shane MacGowan had apparently broken his last tooth destroying the last copy. So what the hell was in the box?

The curiosity killing me, I ripped it open in front of my mother.

Inside, there were two small gift-wrapped objects. One was obviously a CD, the other, I wagered, a book. Now, I may have been a spendthrift when it came to Amazon’s wares, but even I wouldn’t pay for gift wrap for anyone, least of all myself.

“You gift-wrapped them?” my mom squawked and shook her head. Her daughter was truly a failure.

“I told you, I didn’t buy these!” I protested. The box landed on the floor with a thwup as I extracted each of them, which were painstakingly packaged in pretty purple paper. My eyes fell upon the invoice that was included, so I didn’t have to open the packages to know what was inside: a collection of Flannery O’Connor stories, and an album by Luka Bloom. The O’Connor book had been on my wish list; the album had not.

Each item had a personal inscription, written in italic on the invoice, which somehow made it creepier. For the O’Connor book, it said, I noticed this on your wish list. I, too, enjoy Flannery.

Whaaa? WHO ARE YOU? And you’re on a first-name basis with her, just like the pseudo-feminists from high school who called Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco by their first name and expected you to know what they were talking about, otherwise you were a tool of the patriarchy who was wounding their souls?

But more to the point. You enjoy Flannery. On toast? With a side of fries? While dancing naked around your living room?

Under the line item for the Luka Bloom album (I later figured out he’s the brother of the Irish musician Christy Moore), the mystery gifter had written, This is a bit of a gamble, but as you have other Irish musicians on your wish list, I thought I’d introduce you to Luka Bloom’s music.

Oh, why thank you, creepy mystery admirer. What are you planning to introduce me to next, the sex sling in your basement?

As I scanned the invoice, I noticed that they had included the sender’s full name and mailing address. His name was Clyde and he lived somewhere in Ohio.

“Celeste, what have you been doing on the internet?” my mother exclaimed, no doubt envisioning the scads of online romances I had kindled with lecherous older men throughout the world. Because, really, is there anyone under 70 named Clyde? Okay, maybe Clyde Drexler, but The Glide was, sadly, not my mystery admirer.

“I don’t know who this is!” I protested.

As I read and re-read the invoice, I suddenly realized what had happened: He had read one of my sparklingly witty reviews (at which I now cringe), clicked on my profile, and decided to reward me for my cleverness. Because a simple email would have been so much more laborious and expensive.

I never even unwrapped the book and CD. I called Amazon customer service, telling the woman on the other end of the line that I wanted to return the gifts.

“Sure, that’s fine, would you like to exchange them for something else?” she asked.

“Actually, no, that’s okay,” I replied. “And if possible, I’d like the money to be credited back to his account, without him knowing where it came from.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone.

“Uh, I don’t think we can do that,” the woman said cautiously.

I sighed. “Okay, here’s the deal.” And out came the whole story.

“Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything like that!” she exclaimed. Mind you, this was 2000. I’m sure she’s heard some doozies since then.

“Well, go ahead and send the items back, and we’ll do our best to refund his money.”

I did as I was told, and for a couple of weeks, heard nothing from Amazon. But then one day, I received a slim envelope in the mail. I tore it open to find...

A check, made out to me, from Amazon, for the cost of the book and CD.

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