ANOTHER NICE MESSBy Rip Rense
(Originally published in "The Rense Retort.")
Now, you have to understand two things about me before you read this:
First, I love Laurel and Hardy.
Second, I tend to view small events in terms of larger symbolism.
Okay. . .
When I was a kid, I watched Laurel and Hardy every chance I got. I found "the boys" endearing and funny. As I grew older, I came to understand some of the reasons for their appeal: their unflappable loyalty to one another, friends-to-the-finish spirit, noble perseverence in the face of relentless absurdity. . .
It's the last point that rings most true with me today. Stan and Ollie were, I came to realize, earnestly and honestly---if naively and somewhat imbecilically---trying to cope with a world of chicanery, deceit, treachery, injustice, and stupidity. They were indefatigable. They never gave up---come crackpot judges, rabid criminals, shrew wives, picayunish clerks. They bravely put their bowler hats back on, dusted themselves off, and bumbled along.
This, as far as I'm concerned, elevated them beyond the confines of simple comedy. I don't think Kurt Vonnegut was extreme in appraising them as "saints" in his novel, Slaptstick. These two sweet, clumsy souls comported themselves with dignity, decency, mutual respect, and optimism in a land of booby-traps and stingy hearts. Every damsel in distress they rescued had a murderously jealous husband lurking in the wings. Pianos that needed moving had minds of their own. Little white lies turn into divorce-fueling, house-wrecking cataclysms.
Laurel and Hardy's good intentions paved their way to hellish and ridiculous circumstances, again and again and again.
Which brings us to our little story for the day.
There I was, minding my own business. . .
I had gone shopping at a Suncoast Video, trying to pick up a boxed set of the "Absolutely Fabulous" comedy series (I recommend it) as a gift. And there it was, for ninety-nine bucks. I carried it to the front counter, and smilingly announced that I was going to shop around a little more. The clerk, an unassuming blonde woman around 30, smiled back and said, "all right."
Laurel and Hardy's mistakes often began when they generously sought to render a little assistance to a stranger.. As did mine.
A middle-aged woman and her elderly, cane-assisted mother entered the emporium. They shyly browsed a bit, hovering near me in the "comedy" section. We were the only customers in the joint. Fate was in the air!
After a few minutes, the blonde clerk swooped in with her "finding everything all right?" recording. I heard the middle-aged woman ask if they had any Laurel and Hardy movies! The clerk pointed vaguely toward a shelf, picked out one or two videos, and said, "these are the only ones."
Possessed of the do-gooder spirit of Ollie, I stepped in.
"Excuse me, ladies, if you are interested in Laurel and Hardy, perhaps you would like to know about the Sons of the Desert, the International Laurel and Hardy appreciation society. I have a guest pass to their meetings that I'd be glad to give to you."
I am a proud, lifetime honorary Son of the Desert (Way Out West Tent) you see, having written about the fine organization many times for various publications. I produced the guest pass and smiled. If I'd been wearing a tie, I would have twiddled it.
"Oh! Thank you!" said the shy middle-aged lady. "But I'm afraid we wouldn't use it. Better to give it to someone who would."
"Are you sure? They meet in the Valley almost every month. They show all the movies. . ."
"Oh, yes. But thank you, anyway."
"You're quite welcome, ma'am."
She and her elderly mother smiled. I smiled. I noticed that the clerk was sort of eyeing the whole scene. She wasn't smiling. I continued browsing.
A few minutes later, I overheard the lady---now at the front counter---trying to extract more information from the clerk: "Do you know which Laurel and Hardy videos are available, and where I could find them?"
Blondie grunted the prescribed responses: "It depends on. . ." and "We get different stock. . ." (Translation: hell if I know.) I endeavored to be of further aid. I swear I heard the voice of Hardy in my head, but the words were mine:
"Pardon me again, ladies. Forgive my intrusion, but I couldn't help but overhear your inquiry---"
They smiled at me.
"Oh, that's all right," said the middle-aged lady. "I love their movies! I only have four or five at home, and I watch them over and over. I've stopped watching television completely! I only watch Laurel and Hardy. They makes me happy. I'm probably crazy."
"On the contrary," I responded. "I would say that's a mark of sanity. Have you heard of Dipsy-Doodle Video?" (Not its real name.)
"Well, it's a specialty video store in the Valley. They have all the Laurel and Hardy films---every one that has been released to video. And if they don't have the official releases, they have copies of the films they've taped off of television. They actually give them away as free rentals, if you pay for one official rental. It's a kind of bootlegging."
Delight, surprise, even astonishment stole over their faces. The elderly woman stared at me in plain wonder. I could read her mind: "Gee---there are still nice young people!" (Or, perhaps, "he didn't ask for spare change!") They thanked me profusely, and left, repeating the name, "Dipsy Doodle." I stood, flushed with pleasure at having rendered assistance---at having been a Son of the Desert in the right place at the right time. I turned to Blondie, and smiled:
"Oh. I hope I haven't discouraged any business for you."
The wife bounced a frying pan off of Hardy's head. The piano did an about-face, and made a bee-line back down that long flight of stairs. Stan burned the house down, and burst into sobs under Ollie's recriminating stare.
"You shouldn't be talking about bootlegs," scolded the clerk. "We're supposed to report them."
I felt like Mrs. Hardy (Mae Busch) after she is told the boys survived a sinking ocean liner by "ship-hiking" home. Or Jimmy Finlayson when he screws up his moustache in exasperation and says, "Doh!" (That's where Homer Simpson got it.)
"We report bootleggers. It's part of my job."
I suddenly decided that the clerk was a sour-looking little mugwump with pointy teeth and pointy glasses. Probably didn't like Laurel and Hardy, either.
"Uh. . .Look, I was just trying to help these ladies out. They wanted so much to find movies that you don't carry. You're uh. . .not going to report that store I mentioned for bootlegging, are you?"
She shrugged as if to say, "could be."
"Oh, come on, you wouldn't do that, would you?"
"It's my job."
"Oh, there's no harm in it," I said. "You didn't have the movies they wanted."
The mugwump spoke in a voice as dry and deceased as King Tut.
"How would you like it if your company was losing money to bootleggers?"
"Oh, come on. Are you kidding me?"
"Don't you care that bootleggers are undercutting the official companies?"
In a Laurel and Hardy film, this is where Ollie would have looked sheepish, Stan would have sobbed, "well, I couldn't help it," and they would have been confronted by Edgar Kennedy, who would have sanctimoniously chastised them for the terrible sin of aiding and abetting bootleggers. But this is where the scene lost all resemblance to a Laurel and Hardy movie. As I said, I find symbolism in small events. Here was Good---in the form of Laurel and Hardy films---confronted by Evil---in the form of the obedient little corporate Nazi behind the counter.
"No, lady, I don't care!" I said. "I don't care at all! And you've jost lost a hundred-dollar sale. I don't want this 'Absolutely Fabulous' boxed set. What's more, I'll never shop here again. Don't you care about that?"
She was undeterred:
"Well, don't YOU care that---"
I cut her off.
"No, I don't give a (word that Stan and Ollie never used) about bootleggers. I don't care! In fact, I wish all bootleggers good luck! I don't give a flying (whoops---that word again) about big corporations, and I don't see why you do, either!"
"That's my job!"
"Good! And a good job it is, too. I hope you work here for the rest of your (yup, that word yet again, but with an -ing on the end) life, and get a cost of living raise every five years!"
I left before she phoned the video gestapo.
If only I'd had a nice, fat cream pie. . .
P.S. For information regarding The Sons of the Desert, and where your nearest "tent" might be, visit the website of the "Way Out West" chapter of the SOD at to www.wayoutwest.org. BACK TO ARTICLES AND ESSAYS
© 2002 Rip Rense. All rights reserved.