Monday, September 20, 2010

Celebratory Masochism

This afternoon, I received a sudden flurry of good news - both on the financial front, the South Cackalacky Unemployment Commission, and a few more interviews lined up, and my guy at the agency is going to tout me as the best candidate, cause he's cool like dat. All this took place on the phone within a half hour, like a hailstorm of good karma.

Feeling buoyantly optimistic and cheerful, with significantly more money in the bank than I was expecting to keep (relatively speaking, the sum total of my liquid assets could only be referred to as "significant" in third world countries), I decided to go hit up Target for some things I've been needing for myself and for the house.

Let me be clear. I loathe shopping. It isn't that I don't like acquiring new things, but that is what the internet is for (besides porn). I can't stand large chain stores, the huge parking lots, the crowds, the seven trillion square feet of consumables. I have not set foot in an actual mall in nearly eleven years. I have to give myself a pep talk to run to Publix for a basket full of groceries. I can't really pinpoint what exactly it is about it that causes me such anxiety, but it does, and there's no reasoning my way through it. Sometimes, though, making a quick run to Target or someplace like that is the only option that makes sense. When I do this, I have a list. I get in the door, grab my air filters and eyeliner and DVD-Rs, beeline it to the checkout line, and am normally in and out in less than fifteen minutes.

But every so often, the things I need cannot be snatched up in such a frenzied, focused mission. Sometimes I need things that take consideration. Color. Texture. Quality. Size. Patterns. Price. Things like curtains, sheets, dinnerware, lampshades, gifts for others, thank you notes, whatever. Or, god forbid, clothes. These are things that require me to stand around in aisles considering the array of choices before me. This is the kind of shopping I did today.

For these occasions, two xanax does the trick. I can wander about the stores for hours without feeling the need to abandon my cart and bolt out of there. Problem is, that's exactly what I do. Wander about. For hours. Putting stuff in my cart, and often taking it out again later when I remember that's not what I came for. Sometimes I get obsessed with finding the perfect X, and will even go to the adjacent stores (World Market, Bed Bath & Beyond, Pier 1), looking for the tangible exact match of whatever I have pictured in my head. This NEVER works, because my imagination is too vivid, and dammit, if I suddenly want a cast iron bistro table with a white and green tile mosaic of vines, I will accept no substitute for the table I just conjured up in my mind's eye.

There are exceptions to every rule - I need not psych myself up to go places like... Staples. Most of you know how much I love office supplies, with an inexplicable enthusiasm. So when I noticed that the back to school supplies at Tar-jay were 75% off, I cheerfully zombie-shuffled my way over there in happy expectation.

I got nothing. Know why? Because EVERYTHING looked like this.


No folder, no binder, no notebook nor pencil nor backpack was free of vampires and werewolves.

If Stephanie Meyers ever comes near here for a book signing, I am going. I will camp out on the sidewalk all night. When my turn finally comes and I get up to the table, I am going to go all Buffy (pre season five) on her ass and make some snarky remark as I ram a broken table leg into her left ventricle. Sparkle sparkle, bitch.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Conversations With Strangers

The other day two Mormon boys in their white shirts and ties knocked on my door in the afternoon, introducing themselves as "Elder Josh" and "Elder Adam." I'm afraid I couldn't hide my smile of amusement at the titles. I know what it means in the context of their church and has nothing to do with age, but they looked all of thirteen or fourteen. For the first time in my life I actually thought "I'm old enough to be your mother, Elders." I stopped smiling then, because that was a bit disconcerting.

I'm always polite to people who come to my door in the name of religion (and politicians door-to-door campaigning), I never shut the door in their face, but I'm also quick to interject before they can begin that I'm perfectly happy in my own beliefs, and simply don't want to waste their time. In the case of the two Mormon boys, I explained that I'd actually been through this before. I've read the Book of Mormon, I'd had Elders and others come to my house and talk to me about it, I'd attended a Mormon church for about six months to check it out. This is all true, several of my friends during the first two years of high school were Mormon, though I left out the part in telling Josh and Adam that I was fourteen or fifteen when I did this. This seemed to trip them up a bit, and they seemed genuinely baffled how I could have done all that and not become a part of their fold. Their faith was true and sincere, that much was apparent. They got back on script and asked me why I left, and I told them the same story I tell the Jehovah's Witnesses, that in my late teens and early twenties I studied and explored a number of religions and philosophies until I became a Buddhist. Adam, who did all the talking, actually said "Oh, cool!" at that point, then immediately had that sheepish look of "I shouldn't have said that." It was becoming clear that this conversation was out of the ordinary for them - I suspect most people just don't answer the door, close it in their face, or are polite but firm and shoo them away. Again he went back to his script and told me he was sure that if I read the Book of Mormon and prayed about it, I would have all my questions answered. I told him that I didn't really have any, that Buddhism had given me the answers I had sought. I repeated again that I appreciated their stopping by, but I didn't want them to waste their time as I had checked it out before, did not join, and was happy in my current beliefs. (To clarify, I'm actually no longer a fully practicing Buddhist, and my beliefs are more complicated for me to label it strictly Buddhism, but again, I kept that to myself.)

We shook hands and I told them it was nice to meet them, and offered them something to drink before they went, or to take with them. They declined, but I got the impression they would have liked to sit on my porch and drink sweet tea for a while before going on to knock on more doors. Truth be told, I wouldn't have minded engaging them further in a dialogue about religion and their faith either, but their agenda and their mission is to convert the non-believers, and a conversation of that sort can't be had when one side is trying to convince the other to change their mind, not without giving them false hope, anyway. Still, it was sort of nice to chat with them for a few minutes. I never consider these people a nuisance, certainly not young boys who honestly believe they are doing God's work. I hope my cantankerous neighbor two doors down wasn't too rough on them, but he probably was.

My neighbor. Once I ordered pizza, and because the house numbers are hard to see on almost all the houses here, including mine, the delivery girl passed me and made a u-turn in the street in front of his yard. Apparently her wheel ran up on his lawn a few inches. As she was handing me my pizza, I heard yelling, and over her shoulder I saw him in the street, on a cell phone, hollering at the on-shift manager at Papa John's demanding she be fired. He's perfectly polite and civil - until his fuse is lit, which doesn't take much.

Just now, I got home from a few errands. My last stop was the gas station. When I pulled up, I noticed another car on the other side of the station parked next to a pump at a very odd angle. I didn't see anyone standing next to it. Thinking nothing more of it, I went inside, paid for my gas, came back out and filled up the tank. As I was closing the fuel cap I glanced over. Next to the sharply angled car was a frail, hunch-backed, tiny old woman with a cane, fumbling with the flap that covers the fuel cap. I pulled my car into a parking spot, locked it, walked over, and asked her if she needed some help. I half expected her to say no - it was a hot day, I was wearing a spaghetti strap tank top, nearly all ink visible. Most southern elderly women tend to have very visible thought bubbles above their head when they see me in the summer. Instead, she said yes, with a beautiful and grateful smile.

She was so tiny, her hunchback so severe, her arms so birdlike and liver spotted, and moved so slowly and gingerly with her cane, that I'd guess she was in her late 80's, early 90's even. There was no way she ever would have been able to remove the fuel cap, even if she'd gotten the cover open, let alone pump her gas. So I took care of everything for her - she handed me her Amex to swipe, even, and I filled her tank while she called me an angel and thanked me. "Sometimes I pretend I can do things I really can't," she said. I nearly teared up at that. I told her I was the same way, stubborn and independent, and how I nearly broke my back moving a four trillion ton sleigh bed by myself. "Be more careful, honey. No one is invincible," she told me. I wanted to say something about being careful of handing her credit card over to strangers like that, but bit my tongue. One of my biggest pet peeves is people talk to the elderly as if they were children, and I told myself that this woman had half a century of life experience on me, at least. She was old, she was fragile, but she wasn't confused or lost.

I topped off her tank, gave her her receipt, and helped her back in the driver's seat, and we wished each other a lovely evening. I walked back to my car, and was about to pull out, when on impulse I swerved and pulled out of the way to the side of the lot. I wanted to make sure she got out of there okay. I watched her car on the other side of the station for five minutes. It didn't move. I circled around, parked, and approached her window, asking if everything was alright. She looked frustrated to the point of tears, and grateful to see me. "It won't start," she said. "I don't know what's wrong." She turned the key again, and the engine rumbled to life.

"You brought me good luck," she grinned at me. I wanted to hug her. Instead I just smiled back, told her goodbye, and got back in my car. I waited for her to navigate towards the exit and pulled out behind her. She was going my way, towards my house. I made up my mind to follow her. Unless she was getting on the interstate, she was either going to Fort Jackson (unlikely) or my neighborhood, or through it to one nearby. I was nearly sure she hadn't seen what I was driving, and even if she had, I didn't care. I felt protective of her now. I wanted to make sure she got home safely.

But she turned left suddenly into a parking lot that either takes one to K-Mart, or used as a cut-through to another street. Cars were backing up behind us, so I kept going, and circled back around at the next intersection. I looked for her car in the parking lot and didn't see it. I pulled out through the connector, and she was nowhere to be found. I headed home.

Sweet lady, I hope you're home safe tonight. You made my day.