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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation


June 15, 2002

So, you got your balls. And you got your air.

And the trick, of course, is to keep all of the former aloft in the latter without dropping any or stepping in something. Harder to envision, harder, still, to do, unless your name happens to be Chris Sorg, in which case you are so accustomed to having all aspects of your existence whirling madly in the air above while you bob and weave and go on tiptoe through life's tulip patch, that one ball more or less barely registers.

Chris and his partner, Sherry Lindlay, own the Maximilian Corporation which encompasses Mac's Fireweed, the popular book store that someone once described to me as "the heartbeat of beautiful downtown Whitehorse," as well as Maximilian's, a charming little gift shop in the Porter Krik Mall. Maximilian's Gold Rush Emporium is one of their Dawson properties, as is Jimmy's Video Shop. Zack's, a treasure trove of items on their second - some times third, and occasionally, fourth - time around, recently closed its doors for the final time. Open for three years, it was given time and resources to become a success. When it did not, it was shut down with considerable regret for a concept that, for some reason -- poor location, lack of parking space, whatever -- missed its mark.

But nature abhors a vacuum and Chris tends to endorse a similar line of thought, one door closes and another one opens, that sort of thing. The small space in the Maximilian universe, engendered by Zack's demise, could not, would not be borne; God forbid we (that's the Royal "We," you understand) become complacent and comfortable in our corporate endeavors.

And so, Paradise Alley, which began with a gentle lusting on Chris's part for the reproduction of an establishment he had once encountered on a visit to Banff, was brought, more or less, to completion after a year of bobbing, weaving, along with a bit more than a modicum of creative tippy-toeing.

The new store, its theme still a work in progress, has an air of cool and classy serenity.

Muted green and silver wallpaper contrasts nicely with the oak of the slat walls and gleaming laminated wood flooring reflects back the sparkling glass and modern chrome of counters and cabinets. A wrought-iron security grid over the windows divides the glass and gives an illusion of mullioned panes, popular a hundred year ago. Set into the wall near the end of the room, a large salt-water aquarium bubbles somewhat murkily as its only inhabitants, a pair of lackluster clams, stake claims on coral real estate against the arrival of colourful and finny immigrants, due to arrive within the month. Nicely framed prints of birds and wildlife cover the rear wall for the nonce. In time, they will shift over and make room for an electric fireplace and a few deep-cushioned chairs, a haven of rest where shoppers can relax and catch their second wind.

Large ornamental plants in wicker baskets provide a lovely green counterpoint to the gloss and shine and at the front, near the entrance, a player piano beckons shyly, hoping for an intrepid customer with both the savoir-faire and leg-power to fill the long, elegant room with the rollicking melodies of an earlier time.

Paradise Alley has segued into an opening without much fanfare. Shelving and cabinets are still in the process of being installed, more stock arrives daily, displays are tentative and subject to change without notice. (On opening day I happened to leave my old tapestry briefcase open on a counter while I went over to the Rincanada shelf to do a little gentle lusting of my own, and when I came back I found it had been built into the Windstone arrangement and was providing a home for a pair small winged spirit wolves and a chartreuse-and-blue lap dragon. Looked very nice, too; they are nothing, if not inspired, over there!)

Of course, I like to think that Jim and Connie and I, the stalwart and intrepid triumvirate who man the front lines in Receiving, deep in the bowels of Mac's Fireweed, absorbing and redistributing stock for all the MaxCorp stores, could be inspired too, if we wanted. Or if we had the space. Or the time. Or the energy.

Given space, time, etc. we too could have made delightful and inspiring displays with the mountain of pretties as they arrived for Paradise Alley. Had we really wanted, we could have draped velvet backdrops over the conveyer belt and marched all the Blue Mountain moose up and out of the cellar, hung crystals from the conduit and festooned the fixtures with silver chains and beaded toe rings. But only after that mountain had been unpacked and unwrapped and identified and entered into inventory and priced and re-wrapped and re-packed and stored in every available space until travelling through the basement became an nightmare, each teetering pile promising barked shins and bruised arms, every sharp corner, an incipient goose.

And on top of the threat of physical damage to our vulnerable little persons, there was the daily haranguing and harassment that took a mental toll.

On one hand, there was Chris, rosy with the challenge of a new enterprise, the light of adventure beaming from every orifice, as he exhorted us to "Forget returns, forget the books. Don't even think of doing pulls. Just get the Paradise receiving done, faster, faster, tote that barge…"

And on the other, there was Jan, Mac's own manager, sniping and cranking because her shelves were going bare and Orders and Maps were whining that they were running out of excuses for the long delays on the Specials.

Encouraged, we were. Induced, motivated, perhaps even inflamed. Small wonder we left the inspiration and artistry to those who had the vitality. And the room.

It came as no great surprise then, that when an occasion arose to extricate himself from this pressure cooker, for even a short time, one day Jim did exactly that.

He had come to work that morning, troubled in mind because he had left his lovely partner, Cecile, with a problem. Seems that her cat, a curious creature by legend and nature, had set out to explore the space in the wall where the dryer exhaust hose exited the house. The hose had not fit the hole tightly, and now, it seemed the cat was bunged up in the wall, crying hysterically and when Jim left for work, Cecile was starting to hyperventilate just the least little bit herself.

Shortly after lunch, Jim received a personal call. Connie and I hunkered at our work stations, snickering a little as the gruff Jim murmured soothingly and at some length. Finally he hung up the phone and blew out a huff of air. "That was Cecile." Jeez, how could we have guessed? "Dumb cat's quit meowing, now Cecile's crying, thinks the damn thing's dead."

We made appropriately commiserative noises and kept on receiving. Beside us, Jim picked up a piece of glass ware, made a notation on his invoice, bit into his apple and threw the core into the garbage. "Hell with it. She's crying, for God's sake. I should go home."

"Why don't you do that, Jim?" Connie agreed. "It's just gonna bother you if you don't and Cecile will be glad of it."

"Yeah," I added. "Go on home and be a hero, save her cat. Better take a bottle of wine, too. If the cat's alive, she's gonna be real grateful."

Lise, from Book Orders had come in to complain but remained now to chivvy. "Hey, and if the cat's had it, Cecile will need comforting. It's gotta be a win-win situation." Now, the ladies in the office came out to join the fun and finally Jim left, his ears ringing with ribald suggestions should he effect the feline rescue.

Upon arrival, he found that Cecile had taken matters into her own hands. The window was out. And cracked. And she had broken out a two by three foot hole in the drywall all around the dryer hose. And still no cat. Jim handed her the wine and hunkered down, the better to survey the damage. As he crouched there, he heard a muffled mew. Turning to the dryer, he reached over and with controlled violence, pulled open the door and let the cat out of the machine.

"What did you do then?" I asked.

"Well, it was a nice afternoon. We took the wine and went out onto the sun porch and drank it." He smiled philosophically. "I'll get to the wall another day."

I turned back to the mound of glass mugs with the hand painted periwinkles I was categorizing. Yep, I thought, you got your balls. You got your air.

And sometimes, you even get that little taste of Paradise.

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