Saturday, December 29, 2007

Holiday On Sand

Normally in stories the author is supposed to wait until the end to reveal the moral or the life lesson the reader is to have learned. Most of the time it's actually best to not reveal the lesson at all and to let the reader figure it out on his or her own. I'm going to break the rules and just come right out with the lesson before we begin. Please take my advice. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I learned the hard way so you don't have to.

Never. I repeat, NEVER, pretend that you want to buy a timeshare when you don't just so you can get free stuff.

You know our plan backfired as these sorts of plans always do. The reader sees this coming long before the characters in the story and this is probably because the characters want so desperately to believe in something too good to be true that they suspend their own disbelief. In this case it was for the potential to receive a free breakfast and a $120 Visa giftcard.

After the madness and nudity which marked our boat parade party, my cousin Bella and I drove up to Orlando to stay at her parents' timeshare at the Val-You Vac-YAY-tion timeshare resort. Now before I get into how Bella and I ended up being faced with a three hour long seminar, I need to say a few words about timeshares.

Bella is my cousin on my biological father's side of the family. One day I will draw you a flow chart to explain how I am related to everyone, but that day is not today, so for now be satisfied with this. I have no relationship with my biological father who is some sort of fanatical, fundamentalist baptist preacher/ missionary type and who has five children and a wife who is in hospice care for cancer right now, which is very sad to me in the way that it is sad when I see the same stories about total strangers on TV, but no more. Although I don't know my father, I know his whole wonderful family and love them to death. Mommom Jewel is his mother and I have two uncles who are twins and they are the fathers of my dear cousins, of whom Bella is one. This family's last name is Holland. Got it?

The Holland side of the family, God bless them every one, is strangely afflicted with an obsession for timeshare properties. The Hollands are planners. I get my perfectionism and maniacal fixation with scheduling and lists from these obsessive compulsive relatives, and when I say OCD I am not kidding around. Bella is one of those freaks you see on TV who has to count everything 44 times and it takes her hours to leave the house because she must complete a circuit of rituals which involves staring at things to make sure they aren't turned on (lights, the oven etc.) or overflowing (the sink and the toilet). Then she has to pinch all the candle wicks to make sure they aren't lit even though they have never once been lit ever. I guess there is the possibility that someone else could have lit them just to screw with her and I've even considered lighting all the candles just to make her compulsion at least a little more logical and worthwhile.

Part of the Hollands' OCD is that they all have to go on vacation to the exact same places every year. These two places are Williamsburg, Virginia and Disney World. On occasion, my grandparents will venture off to exotic locales such as Branson, Missouri and Myrtle Beach, but for the most part it's knickers or mouse ears. The Hollands are also the sorts of people who only eat at low-end chain restaurants and any member of the family can give you a detailed rundown on the differences between the Millpond Applebee's and the Applebee's in the Orlando area.

Being very regimented folk, the Hollands all bought timeshares. Timeshares are fantastic for people who like to visit the exact same places every single year, repeating the exact same vacation in perpetuity. And yes I know that timeshare owners often trade dates and locations and get to visit other places, but not the Hollands. They are all about consistency.

This year something happened so that Bella's parents, Aunt Deenie and Uncle Byron, could not visit their Orlando timeshare. Since Bella moved back to Millpond last year, we haven't had bonding time, so we decided to use the timeshare and go to Disney and carry on the Holland tradition (I swear they are trying to break some of record. I can see it now in the Guinness book).

"World Record for Family Who Has Visited Disney The Most - The Holland Family, Millpond, Deep South, USA"

Bella and I opted to help them out with this.

On our first evening in Orlando, at the lovely Val-You Vac-YAY-tion Timeshare resort, we found an invitation under the door of our suite which expalined to us in all capitals with many exclamation points that we were invited to a free breakfast buffet and were entitled to a FREEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! $120 Visa giftcard if we attended a brief tour of their new model and filled out a survey.

Well, hot dang, we thought. That's easy money and you all know I will go to great lengths for free food. It seemed stupid not to sign up. We even made reservations and started figuring out how we were going to spend our easy fortune.

The next morning Bella and I showed up on time at the "Welcome Center" which was in a strip mall next to a tanning salon and a mortgage place that looked to be going out of business. Across the pot-holed parking lot was a Hardees.

Once inside, a woman with a voice like Harvey Firestein, who wore a Christmas sweater all adangle with brooches and ornaments, some of which played songs, signed us in and sent us over to the breakfast buffet. The room looked like a bleak combination of an old bank branch and a cult indoctrination center. There were fold-out metal chairs and card tables decorated with paper Santas. It was all quite church basement. We looked for the buffet but found nothing but a nearly empty box of doughnuts, a thermos of coffee and a pitcher of watery Tang. There was a bulk sized can of generic coffee creamer powder and someone had spilled it and then drizzled some coffee on top of that so that the table was slicked with a sticky, tan mud.

We asked Harvey Firestein lady where the buffet was.

"Right there," she growled, pointing to the doughnuts and Tang.

"That's not a buffet," said Bella, who let me tell you, knows her way around a buffet. The girl can eat like that Japanese guy who slams down 102 hot dogs every July fourth.

"I think they think it is," I offered.

I could tell Bella was getting low blood sugar. She was pissed because she had imagined Belgian waffles, an omelette station, hotel pans loaded with greasy bacon and sausage links and something that she could shake a spray can of whipped cream on top of.

"That's the buffet," repeated Harvey Firestein woman, whose name was Marlene, but pronounced as MAWL-een in her New York accent.

MAWL-een then left us, yelling as she fled, for someone to turn up the music because "Sleigh Ride" was playing and it was her favorite Holiday song.

"Be-cawz it's lovely weatha fuh a sleigh roid togetha with yo!!!" Mawl-een bellowed.

I plucked a munchkin from the almost empty carton.

A short Indian man with brown teeth approached. He was wearing a bad suit, a wide tie and patent leather ankle boots that zipped on the side (do they still make those?) and he had a disastrous, oily comb-over which began, I think, at his left shoulder and swooped up and over the back of his head, covering his right ear and creeping down to some undisclosed location beneath his brown, polyester jacket. Everything about the man was the color of the mud on the table made from the spilled creamer and bad coffee. He was many shades of beige. Except his teeth. They looked a lot like a Hershey bar. With almonds.

The Indian man sized us up instantly and we could tell he knew we weren't qualified to buy a timeshare.

"You are wanting a timeshare?" he asked.

"Yes I am!" I replied with a great, forced enthusiasm.

"Me too!" said Bella.

"Yes!" I said, "We each want our own timeshare!"

The Indian timeshare salesman eyed us suspiciously.

"You will see the model first then and sit for an approximately three and one half hour presentation, followed by a second tour of the model, a survey, then we can qualify you for mortgage right here and sign contract. You should be finished by 6:30pm and then we give you $120 Visa gift card."

Bella and I looked at each other. I considered a warm glass of grainy Tang.

"You are really interested in buying timeshares?" asked the salesman.

We exchanged another glance and Bella decided to try Plan B - throw a fit.

"Excuse me, but when we received the invitation to attend and when I made the reservations for this I was told there would be a breakfast buffet, a short tour, a 15 minute presentation and then I could just fill out a survey if I wanted to and then I got my gift card and could go and this is ridiculous. We had plans to go to Epcot!"

The man pointed to the "breakfast buffet."

"THAT is NOT a breakfast buffet!" Bella continued, "That is some munchkins and Tang!!"

The thought passed through my mind that Bella was definitely worthy of her pimp cup now.

The salesman went and got a guy named "Mike" whom we supposed was a manager and Bella went on her tirade to him.

This lasted about five minutes but to me it seemed like at least 20 and during that time I finished off the doughnut holes and had a styrofoam cup of Tang.

Bella and Mike went back and forth. Bella accused the Val-You V of misrepresentation, and Mike accused her of not being serious and then when that didn't work they started to bargain. He said we could stay for two hours. Bella stuck hard at fifteen minutes and demanded they order us some take-out from IHOP. Mike declined.

Finally, Bella and I left with our prize. Mike was hard to bargain with so Bella took what she could get and gave up. They wouldn't give us the Visa card, but probably to get rid of us once and for all, they shoved a crinkled envelope in Bella's hands which held two tickets to Sahara Stars - Holiday on Sand, featuring Camel-ganza and a real, live Unicorn.

"Are we really going to this thing?" I asked.

"It's FREE FOOD, and a live unicorn," Bella said.

"There's no such thing as unicorns."

"Well, there's Camel-ganza too."

"Because how could we pass up something called 'Holiday on Sand' featuring Camel-ganza?"

Well, obviously we couldn't and obviously Bella had not learned her lesson regarding free food from the breakfast buffet.

That evening we arrived at Sahara Stars, which is a very cheezy dinner theater type of production, along the lines of Medieval Times, except with a pseudo-Arabic theme. Picture a lot of scimitars and flying carpets, genie and lamp imagery, blonde belly dancers with huge fake boobs and all of this with an extremely non-muslim Christmas theme. While watching all this you eat not kebabs and pita, which might have been pretty good, but your choice of chicken tenders, char-broiled burger or penne marinara, all served with a side of shoe string fries, even the penne marinara. You also get unlimited refills on Pepsi, 7-Up, chocolate milk and purple drink. For dessert we had red and green "holiday" Jell-o or chocolate pudding cup. Yum.

The show was so unintentionally funny that we couldn't eat because we were afraid we would accidentally choke to death on a chicken finger. It derived its hilarity from the fact that it took itself very seriously despite the fact that it was atrociously ridiculously bad. It involved a lot of fireballs, smoke machines, multi-colored lasers, guys who really wished they were David Copperfield and most of the show took place on horseback in a big, circus-like ring with a sand floor. Periodically the horses would poop and a bunch of stage hands would clamor out into the ring to sweep it up. This was the best part of the show. The children in the audience loved it. There was also a fake sword fight, more lasers, a guy dressed in black bloomers and a vest with no shirt underneath it, who was the villain and he rode a black horse and stole one of the blonde belly-dancers right off the back of her white horse and carried her off somewhere so that the hero, who wore white bloomers and a gold vest and rode a palomino horse had to save her. This was all set to some music that sounded like Enigma if Enigma had come from the United Arab Emirates and were hairdressers who all played synthesizers. After this melodrama ended, happily thank God, it was time for Camel-ganza.

About fifteen camels, wearing their own satin vests and tassled bridles were led into the ring to more Arabic techno music and strobe lights. The camels then circled around, bowed a few times, pranced a bit self-consciously, pooped and left. A fake thunderstorm followed with laser lightning and the camels returned, this time being ridden by the belly dancer girls. They paraded again and Camel-ganza ended leaving Bella and I very glad we hadn't missed such a spectacle. It almost brought tears to my eyes.

Suddenly, the theater went dark and silent. Some people in the audience believed that something had gone wrong with the show, but they were just trying to build tension and anticipation for........THE UNICORN.

A disembodied, very deep voice began to speak as the ring filled with smoke from a fog machine. Lots of people coughed.

"For centuries this mystical creature, shrouded in mystery, was sought after by men from all around the world. Believed to posess magical healing properties and the ability to purify man's very soul, the unicorn has lived in the shadows avoiding capture and immortalized in artistic masterpieces, though never before seen by human eyes UNTIL NOW!!!"

The techno music pumped again.

"For the first time ever the mystical unicorn appears!" DUNH DUNH DUNH

The audience began to clap to the Arabic techno music, but slightly off beat and pink, purple and blue lights illuminated the smoke.

A small, slightly overweight, white mare stepped tentatively through the smoke and lights into the ring of sand. On her forehead they had somehow managed to affix a long horn that bobbed and flexed as the horse dipped her head with each step. It didn't look real.

"They did not do that to that poor horse," Bella whispered.

"I think they did," I replied.

Bella and I then began to speak for the horse, cracking ourselves up as we asked in desperation why we (as the horse) weren't good enough as we were without a stupid horn glued on our heads.

The real live unicorn trotted around the ring while a woman in an I Dream of Jeanie costume made histrionic gestures from the center of the ring. The unicorn ended by rearing up on her hind legs and departing back into the shadows from whence she came. The disembodied voice came back and promised us that our souls were now cleansed.

Since the unicorn purified us, we were ready for the big Holiday on Sand finale. Everyone -horses, camels, genies, belly dancers, sultans and sheikhs and of course the unicorn all came out and ran around to Manheim Steamroller for about ten minutes as foam snowflakes fell onto the faux-Saharan stage set. Holiday on Sand ended with Santa being pulled across the sand in a flying carpet shaped sleigh pulled by camels.

We gave them a standing ovation.

Now readers, I have already told you the moral of this story, but looking back with a week or so's worth of distance, I think maybe, just maybe, it may have been worth it to pretend that we wanted to buy timeshare property in order to receive two free tickets to a show as rare, as powerful, as emotionally moving and as truly magical as Sahara Stars, Holiday on Sand featuring Camel-ganza.


neurotic snowman said...

FANTASTIC! I want to be cleansed by a unicorn!

Rayne of Terror said...

Oh man, my mom's a Holland from KY/IN. It's not a common name so it startled me to see it.

drawer queen said... speechless.

6th Floor blog said...

hah. I think you would've been better off falling asleep during the timeshare presentation. Or think about how many blog entries you could compose. I bet you could've written a novel!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure with the stellar workforce that this company has hired that their representations are very accurate and above board. Who'd buy anything from a greasy combover type and an aging New Yorker that calls tang and yucky muchies breakfast?

Leonesse said...

A nasty presentation followed with a Unicorn Chaser!

Anonymous said...

I missed you while you were on holiday, but it sure was worth the wait!!!! Terrific story!!!!

Karindira said...

Thank you for this, because I reallyl felt like I was there at Camel-ganza with you and your cousin. It sounded even more astonishing than the topless revue I saw in Vegas where the Titanic sank... onstage. Which was almost as good as another part of the same show where Samson and Delilah (clad in leather thongs) frolicked around in a mild Biblically S&M themed display, and then Samson toppled a gigantic glowing-eyed multi-part idol made of painted styrofoam.

Let me tell you, Cirque de Soliel had a LOT to live up to the next night.

gulfsidebo said...

absolutely hilarious!

Anonymous said...

There are some really great Branson shows to see!

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