It’s my day off and I need a new pair of black shoes.
My old waiter clogs are getting ratty. New Year’s Eve will soon be upon us. I need to look my best. So I decide to drive over to the mall and buy a couple of pairs with my newfound Christmas loot.
Of course the mall is packed with people converting unwanted gifts into iPods. Parking spots are scarce. Now, I’m not a lunatic with parking. I’ll look for a spot close to the store, but if I can’t find one I’ll settle for a distant spot and walk.
But today’s my lucky day. A car pulls out just in front of the entrance to the mall. I flick on my turn signal, wait patiently for the soccer mom to maneuver her four wheeled tank out of the way, and glide right in.
I get out of the car and double check to make sure I haven’t parked in a handicapped, pregnant mother, or otherwise differently-abled spot. Nope, I’m legal. I can’t believe my good fortune.
As I start to walk towards the mall I hear a shrill voice cry out.
“THAT’S OUR PARKING SPOT!”
I turn around. Sitting inside a late model Mercedes are two old ladies. And they look pissed.
“Excuse me?” I say in disbelief.
“THAT’S OUR PARKING SPACE” the harridan driving the car screeches.
“We were waiting for that spot!” her blue-haired companion adds. A patent lie.
“Madam,” I reply politely, “No one else was waiting for this spot.”
“It’s our spot!” the driver says, “It’s ours!”
“We’re old!” her companion shouts, “We can’t walk very far.”
I’ve always considered myself a gentleman. I believe in the value of the strong protecting the weak. These ladies are old and I’m not. They probably need to park in my spot. There’s a value in respecting your elders – even if these particular elders are rude cantankerous old hags.
“Very well ladies,” I reply, sighing. “I’ll move my car.”
The ladies smile at each other. Of course they don’t say thank you. But Dad always said virtue is its own reward.
Losing my choice spot I end up parking on the other side of the moon. From my new vantage point the mall seems like a city on a distant hill. Oh well, I need the exercise.
I walk over to the mall, go to the shoe store, and pick up a couple of pairs of Rockports at 50% off. Happy with my purchase, and proud of sticking to principles even when it was disadvantageous to me, I decide to treat myself to a Cinnabon.
I go over to the food court and purchase a sticky caloric disaster of cinnamon goodness and a cup of coffee. Grabbing a plastic seat near the water fountain I dig in. Yummy. I love Cinnabons.
Then, two old ladies wearing track suits power walk right past my table. They’ve got hand weights and are moving at a pace that would wind an Olympic sprinter.
It’s the old ladies from the parking lot.
“Those bitches!” I say in amazement, “Can’t walk my ass!”
A mother with two small children at the next table looks nervously at me.
“I’m sorry,” I say quickly.
The mother returns to shoveling French fries into her toddler’s mouths, telling herself she didn’t hear a thing.
I can feel my face getting red. I was conned by two old ladies. I resist the impulse to run them down and give ‘em a piece of my mind. But somehow I think mall security would take a dim view of me yelling at senior citizens.
Suddenly I remember what my old sociology professor once taught me, “A value doesn’t become a value until you suffer for it.” He wasn’t kidding. I adhered to my values. These ladies suckered me. Now I’m pissed. I’ve suffered.
And now I’m eating a Cinnabon.
Now, you might think I’m being vain glorious here. You might say that people suffer, really suffer, for values everyday. Think of human rights activists imprisoned in Burma, soldiers fighting in Iraq, hunger strikers starving to protest governmental oppression. Those people are really suffering for a value.
But most of us aren’t peace activists, soldiers, or revolutionaries. We’re just well fed people trying to stumble through life the best we can. It’s in the little struggles, like giving up your seat on the subway, writing a check to the Salvation Army instead of buying a gadget you don’t need, or biting your tongue when a friend says something stupid, that we suffer for values everyday. Character is forged in the smallest of struggles. Then, when the big challenges come, we’re ready. Or so I like to tell myself.
But, having said that, I still can’t stop fantasizing about running those old ladies down with my car.
I finish my Cinnabon, get up, throw my garbage in the trash, and walk towards the exit. I see the old ladies again. They pretend not to see me. When I get outside I resist the impulse to slash their tires. I get in my ride and, chuckling to myself, drive home. If those old biddies are the worst people I ever encounter I’m way ahead of the curve. Besides, I got shoes at 50% off and a Cinnabon. Lots of people are happier with much less.
And yes, I do look at the world that way. Sometimes a good sense of perspective is all that stands bewteen me and insanity.
You can start the proceedings for my canonization now.