As I sit here, another Christmas day upon the world, I can’t help but think back to the day Shrek 2 helped teach me the true meaning of Christmas.
Growing up, Christmas was pretty much summed up best by the greatest holiday movie of all time. A Christmas Story epitomizes what Christmas means to kids, but that movie is so much more than just the tale of Ralphie. It is a tale of the meaning of Christmas throughout one’s life.
As a small child, like Randy, Christmas is so much more than just a singular gift. Consumerism hasn’t quite taken a hold on a small child. They are happy to just be where they are, in the moment, getting whatever gifts they get, excited to see Santa just because.
Growing up, we become like Ralphie, letting marketing schemes pollute our minds, turning manic and ravenous in our lust for toys.
Then you have the Old Man. The dad, like many adults, is occupied with the world throughout the movie. Christmas is just another day that he has to take time out for. Gifts really don’t mean much anymore at all; instead, a can of Simoniz is just as swell. He was once a child though, so he thankfully hasn’t forgotten what is important to children like Ralphie. So he gets Ralphie a Red Ryder BB gun, thus completing the cycle of life.
There is no confirmation email, no indicator light to tell you that you have gone from “Ralphie” to “The Old Man.” It sort of just happens. One day, it truly does feel much better to give than to receive.
It was the holiday season of 2004, and working at Hollywood Video, we were quite busy. We always ran deals on previously viewed DVDs: 2 for $20, 3 for $25, etc. The rentals were flying off the shelves as well; movie companies loved to release their home media around the holiday season to maximize profits.
This time of year always brought out the grinch in my coworkers and me. Kids running around; the store a mess more than usual; people stressed because they have family over, they’re broke, they’re tired, and here is this teenage kid telling them that they owe late fees. These people always made work laborious.
The hot movies were usually major blockbusters and, especially, children’s movies. Shrek 2 was the hot movie this holiday season, and as such, was always out of stock. Customers would get legitimately angry if we didn’t have something in stock. “My kid has been waiting forever for that damn movie! Isn’t there anything you can do for me?!” (“Sure, let me wave my Hollywood Video magic wand and conjure up your DVD for you, one sec.”)
The worst was always the customer who swore we had some in stock “in the back,” as if we were hiding the movies from the customer for our own devious reasons, rubbing our hands together when the customer walks out defeated, laughing a menacing laugh that only true evil incarnate could laugh. It’s like they believed, truly believed, that we wanted to hear them bitch and moan.
It was Christmas Eve, and I was working the morning shift. I had requested to work the day on Christmas Eve, and the night, if need be, Christmas Day, since that worked with my schedule. Hollywood Video was ahead of its time in being open for 365 days; a true capitalist pioneer.
At least at our store, it seemed the customers came in waves rather than a consistent stream. After the morning rush, there was a lull around noon. My manager had excused herself to go get some lunch – probably some meal from Carl’s Jr., with a side of extra chicken tenders. Such a perfect meal for someone who was a recent recipient of the famous lap band surgery. The next worker would be coming in around 1 p.m. or so, probably so my manager could leave earlier than her time on the schedule.
As I’m leaning against the middle counter, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on the TV above, a man comes into the store. I had never seen him before. When you work at a local joint, like the local video store, you tend to remember faces more easily.
I smile his way, a little wave, just a quick acknowledgment of his existence. He smiles back and heads over.
“Hey, uh, was wonderin’ if you got any Shreks left?”
“Sorry man, all out. I can call the other stores if you would like?”
“Oh, uh, none huh? None in the back room there?”
He let out a quick little chuckle with that last question. I wasn’t amused. Still, I told him to wait one second while I check. I didn’t always do that for customers. I mean, what’s the point? I knew there wasn’t any back there. This guy seemed nice though, innocent. Besides, no one else was in the store.
Rummaging through the boxes on the floor really quick, I predictably didn’t find any Shreks. Ready to head back out to bear the bad news, I saw something out of the corner of my eye.
There was shelving in the back where we kept all of the concessions. Often times, we would hide stuff there that we wanted to potentially buy later. I noticed that a box of Dots candy had been torn open. No one ever bought Dots, so this stood out to me. I looked in the box, and, not unlike the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent Vega looks in the briefcase in Brett’s apartment, a glowing luminescence filled my face with the glory of a pristine copy of Shrek 2.
I didn’t even think about the possibility that I was potentially about to offer one of my coworkers’ hidden stash, I was just so excited to be able to give this guy good news. I burst out of the room and exclaimed that we did, in fact, have one in the back. His face swelled.
“Is that a new copy?”
“Umm, yeah? It’s a new copy of Shrek 2, never opened. These are hard to get right now! I would suggest grabbing it, it won’t last, I can guarantee that.”
At this point, a couple came in with their kid in tow. They looked exactly like the type to want to steal this guy’s copy of Shrek 2. The dad made his way over.
“Excuse me, would you by any chance have Shrek 2 in stock? Previously viewed or new, it doesn’t matter.”
I looked nervously at the first guy. His head hung low as if he was witnessing the decimation of his kid right there at my hands.
“Sorry, we are all out.”
“Ah shit, really? My little girl has been crying about that fuckin’ movie for weeks now. I figured I’d get it for her for Christmas, and just forgot. I’ve checked all over this side of town, you gotta help me here.”
I noticed the first guy had started to stealthily make his way out of the store. I called out to him to wait one second, until I was done with the other guy. He looked weak, but stood by the drop box.
“Again, sorry. I just checked in the back a little bit ago, and there were none. I can see if we have one in the drop box?”
“How the hell is that going to help me? Babe! Babe, c’mon let’s go! They don’t have it!”
The lady was rummaging through our previously viewed movies table, making a mess, trying in vain to locate the movie they knew was not there. The couple stormed out with their kid trailing behind. The kid looked at me like she was just happy she wasn’t the one that had got yelled at that time. I then noticed my manager’s car parking outside; she went somewhere else.
“Hey, sorry about that. I didn’t want to give your copy away to them. Why didn’t you want it?”
“Well…I never buy new movies. Too expensive man. Your store’s dope ’cause you have good deals on older movies. It’s okay bro, thanks for lookin’ out.”
Here was a person who had never bought a new movie due to economic reasons. Then, I thought about how cool it would be for that person to get a new movie, the first one ever, and give it to their kid. This had to happen.
“Look, I’ll be honest, the previously viewed Shrek 2’s probably won’t go on sale for a bit since it just came out. Tell you what: You come back tomorrow after 5 p.m.; I work again tomorrow. I can’t do it now, because my boss is coming back. But, come back, and I’ll sell you this movie as part of the deal we have going on for the older movies.”
“Really? Thanks bro. I may not have time to come in though. Is it ok to come in a little after 6?”
“Sure thing man, I work all night!”
With that, he extended his fist for a brotherly bump, and I obliged. I then hid the movie under a stack of other movies under the till. Before leaving for the day, I snuck the movie to the employee bathroom/stockroom/junk closet, and hid it amongst the debris.
It was Christmas Day, and upon arriving at work I was in good cheer. The night before was another fun night with my immediate family, and the day that was just passing was a nice day amongst my Mom’s side of the family. I had forgotten about the deal I made with the Shrek guy, but sure enough, sometime around 6:30 p.m. or so, he came in.
Christmas was always strange to me when working at Hollywood. It got packed, and we always wondered why people were at a Hollywood Video rather than with family celebrating Christmas. I guess it never dawned on us to ask why we were at a Hollywood Video as well (holiday pay, obviously).
I was out on the floor when I felt the timid tap on my shoulder.
“Hey bro, I’m here.”
“Oh, hey! One sec, ok?”
I raced over to get the key for the stockroom, then started over to get the goods. Along the way a woman asked me: “Do you have anymore Shreks?” “No, sorry.” “Are you sure?” sigh “Yes.” I got to the door, and put the key in. That same lady had followed me. “Oh, is that the back room? Is there any Shreks in there?” I wanted to say, “Actually, there is a Shrek in here! And you aren’t getting it! Wooooo!” I just said no, went in, shut the door, and grabbed the movie.
I didn’t know if that lady was out there, waiting for me, waiting to see if I did indeed get the movie, as if she knew somehow that this guy’s copy of Shrek 2 was in there. I peeked out; the coast was clear. I started walking over to the guy, who was perusing the previously viewed movies. It was then that I realized he had brought his daughter with him. Surely the movie was for her, and I couldn’t spoil the surprise, so I snuck over to the counter.
The line was getting pretty big at that point, so I called out to him, and told him to just get in line when he was ready. After wading through customer after customer, the Shrek guy came up.
“So, did you pick out another movie as well?”
“Yeah, figured I’d go with Bad Boys 2, haven’t seen that one yet.”
“Good choice, that was a funny movie. Good action too. I noticed your daughter. Is that who the movie is for?”
“Yeah man, my princess. She was down with the first one. I took her to see this one and now she just wants to have the DVD, ya know? I liked it too.”
After ringing him up, adjusting the pricing in the computer so that it would be about the same as a 2 for $20 deal, and putting the movies in the bag, his daughter came up.
“Daddy, are you done? Can we go home and open presents now?”
“Yes baby, but first we have to go to your mom’s house. She has presents for you too.”
“Aw, I don’t wanna go to Judy’s house! I just wanna go home!”
“Listen, we will be home later, ok? You have to go to your mom’s, you know that.”
I walked them over to the side of the store, past the theft detectors, and handed him his movies.
“Hey bro, thanks again. You have no idea how much this means to me and my girl. Now to go deal with my ex….”
That last statement was filled with an exhaustion only people that have to deal with ex’s can understand. I bade him farewell, and got back to work.
Later that night, I couldn’t help but wonder how Shrek guy’s daughter reacted to opening her gift to see a brand new, not previously owned, Shrek 2 DVD. I like to imagine that the Shrek guy fooled her a bit, put the Bad Boys 2 DVD on top of the Shrek 2 DVD, wrapped it up, and gave it to her. She tore open the gift, was puzzled and a little disappointed at the DVD that lay in her hands, then, realizing there was another underneath, exposed the brand new DVD of the movie she loved more than the whole world, hugged her daddy, begged to put the movie on, and fell asleep half way through from all the hubbub of the day.
Either way, I couldn’t help but realize that the best part of my Christmas in 2004 was when I was able to do something for someone else. Ever since then, I have been so much more pleased giving than receiving.
Santa doesn’t die, he doesn’t ever go away; he lives in all of us. We are taught how to be Santa, and when the time comes, we take up the mantle. That’s what the true meaning of Christmas is.