Friday, November 25, 2005

Holiday Cheer, Another Bumper Sticker, and Growling in the Parking Lot

[note: because of the holiday much of this was dictated to my wife in the car, the act of which reminded me a bit of the scene near the end of Amadeus when a frantic, feverish Mozart furiously dictates his haunted masterpiece to Saliere, only without the genius or the murder.]

I spent the first twenty-one years of my life in Lexington, KY, a smallish city with big aspirations. Each time I go back home I see those aspirations realized in the most souless way possible. Lexington was once an artistic college town, dominated by the University of Kentucky, horse farms, and a quirky music scene so talent-rich that a young Vince Gill was the bassist in a Lexington-based band which wouldn't let him sing or play guitar. But now Lexington is aiming for a new niche, characterized by unplanned suburban sprawl dominated by luxury houses and shopping centers.

Lexington is home to the state's largest mall, Fayette Mall, and this morning I had the great misfortune of being there on the busiest shopping day of the year. I wasn't shopping, mind you. I was just searching for a parking spot.

My mother, much like Lewis Carrol's famous Queen of Hearts, is uncannily able to believe impossible things. Earlier this week she called me to ask if it would be alright for her to take my son to the portrait studio on Wednesday so that she could get a picture of all four of her grandchildren together. This suited me just fine since we were planning to show up to her house Wednesday anyway. However this did not suit the studio at all, since they were already booked up, which brings me to my mother's first impossible belief of the week: you can call a portrait studio the day before you wish to show up and they will have exactly the time you want.

Thrwarted but undeterred, she made an appointment for the next available time: 10:10 am on Friday morning. One small catch, Friday happens to be the day after Thanksgiving, and the studio happens to be in a major department store in the state of Kentucky's capitalist capital, nay, Mecca. People from all over the state drive to this mall just to shop, and the day after Thanksgiving, as everyone presumably knows, is the day that retailers count on to finally turn a profit for the year.

But my mother has no trouble believing impossible things, and so she foresaw no problems with going to the mall at a peak shopping time on the peak shopping day with four small children spread out over two cars. So optimistic was she that we didn't leave until a few minutes before our appointment.

Entering the mall's parking lot was a lot like running into a wall, except that it is perhaps easier to get through the wall. There must be some sort of force field around the perimeter of the parking lot which requires that you abandon all decency and humanity before you enter. People stuck in mall traffic are, perhaps by necessity, as rude as it is possible to be. I had to fight through a sea of raging automobiles with foam-faced drivers just to drop my wife and child off near a mall entrance. Then I had to re-enter to fray to struggle against great odds to find a precious parking spot. Usually I exaggerate situations which irk me because, frankly, I enjoy doing so. This is one story which needs no exaggeration. It literally took me over half an hour to get to a place where I could actually park the car. From that parking spot it took me another fifteen minutes on foot (in 20 degree weather) just to reach the mall.

While searching for my parking spot I noticed a great many drivers doing unspeakably rude things, things which, under ordinary circumstances they would never consider doing. Like me that had been circling this crowded lot for longer than they could ever have imagined, suffering through the vile rudeness of others. They were tired, impatient, and even angry. They felt threatened by every move made by every other driver. They were in a Hobbesian state of nature, the war of every man against every man, fighting for an all too limited resource. They were ready to disregard all sense of decency and cooperation, and any semblance of law and order. It was dangerous.

When I got home this evening I read about riots and stampedes at malls and shopping centers today, and I was not surprised in the least. Holiday shopping, and the hassle it entails, brings out the worst in us. And yes, in each of us, there is that worst ready to leap out if given the opportunity.

While I was in the state of nature masquerading as a mall parking lot I saw a bumper sticker which I though explained the situation perfectly. It read:

Ever wonder if there is a life after death?
Mess with this truck and you'll find out.

I have a big, beautiful black lab mix named Pepper. Pepper is a great dog, and is the perfect home security system. He's very gentle, but his head is roughly the size of a refrigerator, and his teeth would make a Great White jealous. He also has, as far as I can tell, absolutely no idea whatsoever how to fight.

Of course he wouldn't want the dogs in the park to know this. If they find out that he can't tear them apart and feed them to our two cats he might be vulnerable. So, every time Pepper sees a dog in the park across the street from our house he strikes his most menacing pose and barks ferociously. He then, after having gotten their attention, growls ominously, baring each of his razor sharp teeth.

No wonder dogs pee on everything. You couldn't see this display and not be a little bit intimidated.

Humans, it seems, are not unlike dogs. How else do you account for the popularity of Hummers, vehicles as ugly as they are inefficient? They serve only one purpose: to intimidate other drivers into some sort of primal submission. Many bumper stickers, like the one I saw in the mall parking lot, serve the same purpose. With our cars and what we put on them, as well as with our mannerisms, we often unconsciously growl at others so that they give us the respect we think we need.

In the mall parking lot today, stuck in my Hobbesian state of nature - a war of all against all with no alliances and no quarter - I gave and received a great many automotive growls. I was as threatening as I was threatened, and as menaced as I was menacing. But after having valiantly fought my way to a parking spot, and then proudly trekked my way to the mall, I had to wonder what the fight was for.

I must have aged a decade today, and I doubt I'm the only one. And what did I gain for it? The right to fight even more once inside the mall to get items that I don't really want anyway?

Oh well. Happy Thanksgiving. And, let's all try to chill out and cooperate a little this holiday shopping season.

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