Friday, August 30, 2013

The Music Man

The Music Man
seen on TV @ TCM

I was a door-to-door salesman once. Yeah. It's true! Of course, it lasted all of one day... Not even one day. This was sometime in the early 90s, before my entry into the exciting and glamorous world of video retail. Yes, it was a different time in the Big Apple...Times Square was still recognizable as Times Square (but not for long!), bike lanes were still only a pipe dream, and the Village Voice was still a readable newspaper. 

And it was in the Village Voice that I found the ad for this sales job, though at the time I didn't realize the full extent of what it involved: going from one store to another with a bag of cheap Disney knock-off children's books and trying to peddle them on unsuspecting customers, canned sales pitch and all. It was demeaning, it was humiliating, it was in the summertime, so it was hot, and after less than an hour, I knew it was not for me. I walked and never regretted it. In my defense, I can only say that I was young and completely ignorant and I actually thought I could do this... for a moment.

Anyone who's ever worked retail will tell you: the level of success you have is directly proportional to the passion you have for your product. Of course, if you're just a cog in the giant corporate machine, so to speak, in it only for the money, you're probably not gonna care one way or the other, but there are exceptions. When I worked in a comic book shop (I've done just about everything one can do in the comics industry at one time or another), I was totally passionate about selling comics, not just because I loved them, but because I believed I could make a difference in this particular shop, which could've desperately used the boost - but that's another story.

It was similar in video retail, although eventually it got old. I loved talking movies and recommending videos to people, but at the same time, there were other considerations. When I worked at the Third Avenue store (hi Steve!), we would have dozens of copies of new releases and we were expected to move as many as possible. Most of the time, that wasn't hard, but if, let's say, The Birdcage was all out, then the creative selling part came in, the part where I get to actually use my brain and recommend something similar to the customer, like La Cage Aux Folles instead, or a different gay comedy, or a different Robin Williams movie, or what have you. So while there were times I felt like a cog in the machine, at least there was room for passion.

Which brings us to The Music Man and Harold Hill, the ultimate salesman. Yeah, he's a con man, and he was totally ready to skip town with everybody's money after hustling them into buying musical instruments they can't play, but part of being the ultimate salesman means being able to sell yourself, and that's what makes him such an intriguing character, so much fun to watch. It helps that he never comes across as malicious. This is simply what he does, and I can't imagine anyone else doing it better than Robert Preston. Can't believe he wasn't nominated for an Oscar.

But I love this whole movie to death. Great, great songs, great dancing, funny, well acted; it's got it all. I imagine if Harold Hill tried to pitch his wares to my mother, she would've fallen for it easily; she was already half-convinced her children had to be musicians, I think. She was half right - my sister got the music bug and stuck with it. As for me, well, I tried learning an instrument in my youth - guitar for a little bit, then the Hammond organ, and even in the clarinet in fifth grade. In high school I had a keyboard and fancied myself a singer-songwriter for a brief period, but it didn't last, and I can't say I regret it much. Some people, like my sister, are musically inclined. I'm not, and that's okay.

Can I say a word or two about librarians? I mean, I love that song he sings to Shirley Jones in the library - and I know so many librarians! There's Vija of course, who works in a law library, and there's also Bibi - two of my best friends right there. A few years ago, I donated a number of old graphic novels to Bibi's library because she was lamenting the fact that they didn't have many. It's a small library.

When I lived in Columbus, I used their award-winning library system fairly often. Nancy was this girl who worked in the main branch downtown, and I saw her often enough that we became friendly. I only saw her twice outside the library, though: once when she was riding her bike in a parade, and the other time when she came to the opening of a art exhibition my friends and I had in a coffee shop - with her husband. So much for getting something going there.

I don't remember which library Sue worked at (different Sue than the one married to my old buddy John), but she was part of the circle of friends I hung with while over there. Delightful older woman. I adored her so much. I loved talking to her about all manner of things and we kept in touch for a few years after I returned to New York (she had a Facebook account but she never used it). She had some personal issues that kept her from hanging out with us often, but I'm grateful for the times she did and I still think about her from time to time.

At one point, the Columbus libraries were facing budget cuts and I not only attended a rally in support of the libraries, I even made a City Mouse poster. I don't know how the situation has changed, if any, over there, but Columbus really does have one of the nation's best library systems.

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