We were asked to write a tale of fraud, cheating or scamming. The most common fraud or scam is the pyramid or ponzi scheme. Sometimes this is disguised slightly with a rather pompous phrase as multi-level marketing, but the end result is often the same. I was pondering that when, from absolutely nowhere, the first sentence of this story slithered into my brain. It was such a marvellous sentence that I couldn't bear to let it go, so I wrote it down. Then I wrote the second sentence. Before very long, I found that I had a lot of sentences. It was finished.
It's a very silly story, even by my rather loose standards. But I like it anyway.
When David arrived at the Pearly Gates he found the Angel Gabriel emptying the spit out of his trumpet. Angel spit, David noticed with interest, was green. It hissed and bubbled when it landed on the white marble steps that led up to the Pearly Gates. David could see that the once pristine marble was now pockmarked with lots of little craters where gobbets of spit had splattered. Clearly Gabriel had been doing rather a lot of trumpet playing and as a result his trumpet had accumulated quite incredible amounts of spit.
"Youre the very last one to arrive," said Gabriel, sounding a bit tetchy. "Everybody else got here ages ago, but I had to blow my trumpet six times before you condescended to turn up."
"Sorry," said David contritely. "I did my best."
"Clearly your best wasnt good enough," growled Gabriel. "Most people set off as soon as my first trumpet call rang out. Everyone except a few stragglers had responded by the time I blew my second blast and I got them with the third one I played. Why did I have to play three more trumpet calls before I managed to attract your attention?"
"Ah," said David, sounding a bit embarrassed, "thats rather a long story."
"Weve got nothing but time up here," said Gabriel. "Tell me all about it."
"OK," said David. "It all started when I went to a tupperware party..."
* * * *
David rang the front door bell. Christine answered so quickly that she might almost have been hovering just behind it waiting for him to ring. "Come in," she said, opening the door wide.
"Thank you," said David. He could hear the hum of busy, excited conversation coming from somewhere deeper in the house. He followed his nose to the noise and found himself in a room full of chattering ladies. Tupperware containers were stacked in strategic places and every so often someone would pick one up, examine it carefully and then, equally carefully, put it back in its place.
Against the far wall stood a table which held empty wine glasses. A harried man who was standing behind the table kept pouring wine into them. As soon as a glass filled up one of the excited ladies would exchange her empty glass for the full one. Serving wine at a tupperware party was a never ending task, reflected David, rather like painting the Forth bridge. David helped himself to a glass and took a large swallow. It was very good wine, so he helped himself to another one.
The clang of a fork tapping on a wine glass echoed through the room and slowly silence descended. Everyone turned to face Christine who was standing by the largest of the tupperware piles. "Hello everybody," said Christine. "Welcome to my first ever tupperware party. Im so excited to see such a good turnout and Im sure youll all find lots of bargains to buy here tonight."
There was a brief smattering of polite applause and then someone asked, "How can we find bargains? I can buy plastic containers at my local supermarket for half the price that you charge. Selling tupperware is really just a scam, isnt it?"
"No it isnt," said Christine. She sounded hurt. "Its a proper business. Just because I run it from my home rather from a shop doesnt make it a scam."
"Its a pyramid scheme," persisted the voice. It sounded rather hostile and David could sense the tension in the room starting to rise. He grabbed another glass of wine while the grabbing was good. "You arent really here to sell us tupperware," said the voice. "You just want to recruit us to sell it it for you. And youll charge us a fee for doing that. The more people you recruit the more money you get because of all the fees you collect. And anyone you recruit will only be able to make money if they too spend all their time recruiting others. Thats how pyramid schemes work."
"No," insisted Christine. "It isnt a pyramid scheme, its multi-level marketing. Thats quite a different thing. I admit that I will make money if some of you start selling under my management. But I really do want to sell tupperware. I strongly believe in the product. Only tupperware has the special, patented seal around the lid that keeps the contents fresh for longer than any other plastic container can manage to do."
"I dont like seals," said David who was starting to feel the effect of the wine he had been drinking. "Can I have a walrus instead?"
Several people giggled and David felt the tension in the room relax a little bit. Christine reached behind the tupperware pile and picked up a container. "I filled this with ripe tomatoes three weeks ago," she said. "Pass it around, examine it closely. Take the lid off and give the contents the sniff test. "Youll find the tomatoes are just as fresh today as they were when I put them in."
Christine handed the container to David. Through the semi-opaque plastic he could just make out several round, reddish looking things that he was perfectly wiling to believe were tomatoes. He passed to container on to the person on his left. Soon it was circulating happily around the room.
"Ouch!" said a voice. David looked around. The lady holding the container of tomatoes was glaring at it as she sucked her finger. "I broke a fingernail when I tried to take the lid off," she said indignantly.
"Its the special walrus," said Christine and David grinned at her. He was starting to like Christine more and more. "Once the lid is fastened on to the container its an extraordinarily tight fit. Thats why everything inside it stays very fresh."
"So how do you get the lid off?" asked the lady with the broken fingernail. "I dont want to break any more nails trying to get the lid off. It hurts!"
"There is a knack to it," admitted Christine. "Unfortunately some people never quite manage to pick it up. Their tupperware lids have to stay on all the time."
"Perhaps people who dont have the knack shouldnt buy tupperware," said David. "Theyll just end up with cupboards and drawers full of multicoloured plastic containers that they will never be able to use."
"Practice makes perfect," said Christine, giving him a warm smile. "Thats what I always say."
* * * *
"I dont understand," said the Angel Gabriel. "What does a tupperware party have to do with your tardy response to my trumpet call?"
"I got a bit carried away," said David. "Probably I drank a bit too much wine. I bought quite a lot of tupperware that night. I spent about $200 on ordinary containers. I thought theyd look good in my pantry while they kept my biscuits crisp and yummy. But eventually I went completely mad and I bought myself a tupperware coffin for only $1,500. It was pink. I couldnt resist it. I thought Id got an absolute bargain!"
"And had you?" asked the Angel Gabriel.
"It was perfect to begin with," said David. "And once they buried me in it I thought it was even better. I felt very comfortable, whiling away eternity and keeping fresh in my very own pink tupperware coffin. It was only a lot later that I realised I might have a bit of a problem with it."
"And what was that?" asked the Angel.
David shuffled his feet and looked a bit embarrassed. "I heard your very first trump," he admitted. "And I wanted to respond to it straight away. I really did."
"So why didnt you?" asked the Angel. "Why did you make me wait until long after everybody else who had ever lived had passed through the Pearly Gates? What made you so very, very late?"
David blushed. "I couldnt get the lid off," he said.