Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Paranoid Corey Ford

As a person who is naturally shy and easily gets flummoxed in social situations, I certainly empathize with the nameless drip in Corey Ford’s “Wanted, Dead or Alive,” as he details the excruciatingly painful (to him) process he went through to open a charge account at a department store.

He starts off like this:

One of my ancestors must have robbed a bank. There must be something in my family history to account for the guilty way in which I stammer and blush and glance shiftily out of the corner of my eye whenever I try to cash a cheque, or give references for an apartment, or open a charge account in a department store.

I feel his pain, though my anxiety may stem from the time that Dad and his brother Sjaak, as little boys, locked themselves in the sole pay telephone booth in their village of Santpoort just prior to World War II, forcing the postmistress to go in search of Frau Davidson to extricate her boys in case a call came in on the line.

Ford continues in a comically anxietal vein:

“Garters,” I explained huskily.

The clerk appeared mildly interested.

“Don’t want to buy ‘em,” I added in short gasps. “Don’t want to pay for ‘em, that is,. Want to,” loosening my collar, “charge ‘em.”

“In whose name?” asked the clerk.

In the name of the great Jehovah and . . . Ford,” I checked myself. “My own name. I want to open an account.”

Of course, as we all know all too well, such paranoia only can grow, as Ford tells us:

“I see,” said the clerk quietly, with the sort of look that seemed to add: “And maybe this will clear up the mystery of those solid-silver belt-buckles that have been disappearing lately.” And he exclaimed in a loud voice: “Mr. Messersmith.”

There was a slight odor of sulphur, and Mr. Messersmith appeared, rubbing his hands. “Ah?”

“This is Mr. Ford,” said the clerk significantly.

“Ah. Of course,” said Mr. Messersmith, casting a grateful look at the clerk.

“Mr. Ford,” added the clerk, with an ill-concealed smile, “says he would like to open an account.”

I could see a look of almost respect creep into Mr. Messersmith’s eyes, as he contemplated this bit of sheer bravado on my part. At least, he reflected, this crook had his nerve with him. “Won’t you come with me?” he urged, leading me gently by the arm toward the elevator.

Little bureaucratic niceties, in the eyes of the paranoiac, assume gargantuan significance:

“And now,” said Mr. Alvord [a Messersmith minion] presently, handing me back my license and blotting his questionnaire grimly, “have you ever had a charge account before?” “No,” I lied bravely. “Are you sure?” frowned Mr. Alvord. “Think,” Mr. Messersmith added darkly in my ear. I sagged. “Once,” I admitted weakly, “I opened a charge account with Brooks.” I leaned forward impulsively. “But that was years ago, Mr. Alvord . . . I was a mere boy then. Surely you can’t hold against me the follies of my . . .” “Any other account?” patiently. “No,” I insisted, watching him like a cat.

Of course, Mr. Ford gets his account – though he leaves the store without the garters, too ashamed of his assumed criminality to buy them, even on the account the Messrs. Messersmith and Alvord have so politely set up for him.

Aye, sometimes looking into a person’s motivations is akin to looking into an empty room. Corey Ford reminds us of that well.

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