The Quest for the Mystical Harp

Digging into the pre-blog archives again.

All I wanted was a harp.

Not a musical instrument. Not a Harp lager (though, by the end, I could have used an adult beverage). No, all I wanted was a lamp harp. For the uninitiated, it’s a detachable frame that holds up the lampshade over the bulb, so you don’t set your house on fire.

lamp harp
Lamp harp fitted to the lamp.

See, I needed to replace a lampshade the workmen damaged while remodeling my kitchen. Target was my first stop and I picked up an okay shade. However, when I got home, I ran into a problem because I couldn’t get it to fit my lamp. Silly me, I had mistakenly assumed lamp components are universal. Apparently, they’re not. Anyway, I took it back and then went to Walmart to see what kind of selection it had available.

Once there, I found the lampshades easily enough and there was one that looked reasonably like my damaged shade. Excellent. I looked and saw it required a harp. Now, full transparency, I had no idea it was called a harp until that day — to be honest, I’ve never paid much attention to lamps other than turning them on and off and changing the occasional bulb. But I had called my friend Leasa in Tucson, who is very knowledgeable about all things home-related, to ask her some questions about lamps. Always the educator, she thought it might go smoother if I wasn’t trying to describe lamp components while referring to them as doodads.

Anyway, so having found my lampshade, I checked around for the lamp harps because, naturally, they would be in the lamp aisle. Right? Wrong — I was mistaken in my assumption — there was not one in sight. So, I checked the aisle on either side. Still nothing. It was a harp-free zone.

I sighed to myself because now I was going to have to get help to finish my quest and from experience, that never goes well in Walmart. With my eyes peeled, I walked through the whole section looking for help but you would have thought I was a cop trying to serve an arrest warrant. So, I wandered into another section and finally tracked down a lady wearing a blue Walmart vest and asked her politely where one might find a lamp harp.

“Did you try the lamp section?” she asked. I look down at the lampshade in my hand and back at her.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I did.”

“Well, ya might of missed ’em. Let’s take a look.”

I knew it was a waste of time because I’d been diligent in my search, but she genuinely wanted to be helpful and was on a mission. And at that point, I didn’t want to alienate the one person willing to help me, the only one in sight who theoretically knew the lay of the land. I let her lead me back to the lamp aisle where she scoured the shelves and then the aisles on either side.

“Well shoot. That’s where I’d of put ’em,” she said, frowning, her arms akimbo.

Yeah, no shit; me too. And everyone else but the imbecile responsible for the layout of the lamp aisle. But I bit my tongue and thanked her for her honest effort.

“Try hardware and electrical,” she said waving me vaguely toward the vast interior of the store.

So I tried the hardware and electrical section (when I eventually found it) but struck out. On a hunch, I also tried the light bulb aisle. Nope. Not a goddamned lamp harp in sight. My frustration started to come to a slow boil. Compounding my problem, I couldn’t find another Walmart employee, just other customers wandering around looking at aisle signs with bemused looks.

I meandered for a while until, finally, I came across two redneck-looking workers behind the gun counter. Against my better judgment, I asked them for help finding the lamp harps. The younger, burlier one looked suspiciously at my lampshade.

“A what?” he asked. From his demeanor, I could tell he hadn’t misheard me; he just didn’t know what a lamp harp was but had decided it was not something that one man should be asking another man for in public.

The other fellow at least knew what I was asking about after I described it. He told me to go past the duct tape display and then take a left then a right and I would find the lamp harps down by the light fixtures. I thanked him and followed his directions to the light fixtures. I wandered up and down that aisle, squinting, afraid that I was overlooking them. But no. No, I wasn’t because they weren’t there.

For fuck’s sake…

Suddenly, I wanted to punt my lampshade down the aisle and start toppling displays in a tantrum like an enraged three-year-old as frightened customers scattered.

I had to fight the temptation to go back to the gun counter, to force them to acknowledge that there were no lamp harps anywhere in the store — at least not where a logical person would consider looking for them. But the experience had beaten me down by that point. Disgruntled, I hung the lampshade up on a hook in the Auto Center in defiant peevishness and trudged back to my car a half an hour poorer.

But did I let adversity defeat me and end my quest for a lamp harp? Well, duh, of course I did. I went back to Target and bought a whole new lamp, shade and harp included, and donated my old one to Goodwill. It was kind of ugly anyway.

Check out some of my writing: Light-Night Offerings to Mammon.


14 thoughts on “The Quest for the Mystical Harp

    1. Sean D. Layton

      So weird, this comment and several others from people who’ve commented before went into Spam. But I’ll take it under consideration, Bojana 😉


  1. I didn’t know it was called a harp either! And I have no idea what it’s called in Greek either.

    Walmart-like places are a nightmare. Not only because they have so many products it makes you sick, but also because sometimes there is no reason why some products are not placed next to their affiliate products (like lamps and lamp harps). You can spend hours roaming the aisles not finding what you need. And usually there are no employees around to ask.

    In the end, I’d do what you did. Buy a new lamp.


  2. Sean D. Layton

    I remember when stores here used to stress customer service, but I think they found it’s cheaper to pay their workers a minimum wage and not waste time and money training them in customer service because they’ll be constantly replaced anyway. They found out that annoyed customers will still come back for lower prices,


  3. Very informative. I am ashamed that I have a DIY blog and I had no idea that “harps” of the kind you describe here exist. I even did a whole segment on “lighting.” (It was my first post.) In any case, it’s often best not to ask for help, which is a terrible lesson to teach my son. When he was younger, I used to take him with me to the store and he’d have to follow me down several aisles while I talked out loud to myself and wondered why I couldn’t find anything. He would insist that I just ask someone, but when I’d ask, I’d get the same experience from employees that you describe here. Then, I’d turn to him and say, “This is why I don’t ask. I just make do without the things I need. They don’t exist. The whole purpose of life is to just give up.” Poor Alex. I wonder how much of that will sink in later on.


    1. Sean D. Layton

      Lol Cecilia. Hopefully he’s not giving a talk someday and saying “I’d like to thank my mom for making me the underachiever I am today.”


  4. I love how the frustration builds up with each sentence. But the story never loses the humor it’s grounded in. Hell, you’d easily be able to write a Catch 22 or a Waiting for Godot. You have this unique ability of drawing from the simplest experience and creating a story that never loses its magnetism.


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