Points North

By James Fife

In this cynical world, we all have a tendency to suspect that anything inconvenient or costly required by the ‘the System’ is there for the very purpose of causing us that inconvenience or cost. Taxes and customs duties that promote buying locally fall into that class. But irksome as they seem, I now realize they may render a hidden benefit.

Something about our two-country existence recently brought this to the fore for Marilyn and me. We are still in that delightful stage of trying to flesh out the décor of our new place. As we are still intermittent residents, the process goes in fits and starts. That suits Marilyn’s design personality in any case. I’ve never known someone with such infinite patience in hunting for just the right item of décor or style or colour; a leopard stalking its prey over a vast expanse of savannah has nothing on Marilyn for tenacity, once she has a firm idea of what she is looking for. So when it was determined that the ‘very thing’ that was needed in the new livingroom was a floor lamp, the hunt was on. This involved hours of weary (for me) tramping about nearly every furnishing and home goods store in the Capital Region looking for the ‘very thing’ in terms of floor lamps. I guess I can’t complain too much about the ordeal, since I can say that my knowledge of the Victoria-area geography grew exponentially as each new prospect had to be investigated. But, unfortunately, despite all the traveling hither and yon from Langford to Tillicum to Oak Bay, the right lamp just did not materialize.

But never to be deterred, the ‘leopard’ held firm to her plan and even after we departed James Bay temporarily, the hunt went on. Now high-powered tools were called into play. Instead of the old-school style exploration of hacking through the Amazon jungle, Marilyn was combing the breadth and depth of the Amazon website; instead of braving the frozen expanse of Hudson’s Bay in search of the elusive Northwest Passage, our Marilyn intrepidly plodded through giga-miles of offerings on E-Bay. No digital stone went unturned. And, at last, the hunt came to a successful conclusion. Somewhere, in some obscure corner of the Internet, on some trading website far, far away, there it was: The Lamp. 

Yes, the Holy Grail of household lighting fixtures was found. It was that most worthy of items: the ‘Very Thing.’ It was a floor lamp (check), was tall enough to stand above the back of the sofa (check), it had three lamps to provide fulsome illumination of the entire room (check), and it had the clean lines and functionality of the style matching the rest of its future livingroom companions (double check). It was just what was needed and wanted. But, one glitch: it was only available from a private seller in the US, so, after it was duly snagged, it would have to be transported or shipped to Canada.

Again, Marilyn is undeterrable when it comes to completing her vision of how the house should look. Besides, what could be so complicated in these days of instantaneous communication and global business in transporting one measly lamp from Point A to Point B to Point C? You guessed it: famous last words.

First, there was the very complicated business of actually obtaining physical possession. The seller lived in Beverly Hills, just 150 miles north of our home in San Diego, so instead of shipping it and risking damage (and also to allow a quick viewing and possible last-minute refusal), Marilyn arranged to come pick it up. But no date seemed to work and dates that were agreed were changed multiple times. Traveling companions (not your loyal author) had to be accommodated and then when all seemed set, it appeared the day before the trip that the lamp had failed to get moved from storage in Palm Springs to Beverly Hills. Reschedule. A firm date is then arranged. The lengthy trip made. After negotiating the transfer around the hurdles of the seller’s high-security residence and getting it duly packed for safe transport, The Lamp finally made its way to San Diego.

But now the fun begins. How are we to get this large, branching tri-lamp that does not disassemble to James Bay? Well, the obvious options are to drive it (as we just did with a load of household transfers), fly it, or ship it. Another episode in ‘Wagons North II—The Saga of an Immigrant Family’ was not due to occur for another many months, and the livingroom would be just too deficient to go without the ‘very thing’ that long. Flying was a quicker alternative, but the bulkiness of the lamp in its safe-shipping cocoon was much too great to be wieldy for us to get to and from the airports. Neither we, nor visiting friends who offered to take it, were likely to make the delivery without great mental loss all around.

So, shipping it was. That seemed logical: things get shipped internationally in this day of internet-commerce as a matter of course, so what can be better than entrust it to a professional shipper who moves millions of parcels every day, as I think they claim? Always one to attempt to sort these things out for herself, Marilyn spent uncounted hours online arranging the packaging, the paperwork, and particularly the timing of the shipment: we needed to send it with enough lead time to reach us during our visit over Labour Day, but not too long to miss our short stay. This seemed the simple, expedient way of just mailing it to ourselves.

Best laid plans of mice and men, and all that. The package got its send-off alright, but then the online tracking site showed no updates beyond the second day after shipping. It had left San Diego, but no sign of it registered after that. The day of our flight to Victoria came, and the status still did not change. It was scheduled to be delivered on the second day of our stay. Still nothing. Our ability to get out and enjoy our favourite haunts in James Bay was hampered by the need to be available for that dratted signature. We offered bribes to people to watch for its arrival; we called the shipper repeatedly; we checked their website almost hourly. We fretted, we grumbled, we wasted our precious time in Home North worrying about what part of Saskatchewan our lamp was mistakenly delivered to. It became terribly nerve-wracking. In the end, all the poor, harried phone-answerers for the shipper could tell us is that perhaps the label was lost and they would have to retrace its course, opening mystery packages in their shipping centers to see if any of them contained the Holy Grail (which himself misdescribed to the shippers at first, by the way). 

In the end, the day of our departure back South came and went with no sign of the one item needed to make our living space complete (at least, until the next needed item is hunted down). The whole experience made me realize that sometimes, perfection comes at too high a price. Even if the several dozen lamps we viewed on our search from West Shore to Cordova Bay were not the ‘very thing,’ they would have made our livingroom just as wonderfully comfortable and homey as we could possibly want (at least, that is, one of our opinions). And it would have saved us the stress and anxiety of the shipping nightmare.

Next time we’ll just ‘settle’ for one of the very nice models already in stock at Maclaren’s. (Never!)