Monday, December 31, 2007

Back In Gear

"I've been living at 12:54 for 2 months," I said, handing my watch to the repairman. "It's time to move on."

"Ten dollars," he replied.

This was not the first year my watch battery had died right at the end of Ordinary Time. My watch repairman is at the Mall, and I simply do not DO malls in the run up to Christmas. They're bad enough during times of less feverish consumption. But at Christmastime -- beginning the day after Halloween -- they are intolerable. So it seems I've developed a de facto Advent tradition of wearing a stopped watch. Today I decided as part of year end housekeeping -- filing six months of receipts, vacuuming six months of dust from under the bed, thinning out the towering bedside book pile before it topples over and crushes me -- that I'd get a new battery.

The Mall was jammed. "How can there be so much shopping," I thought, as I pointed my car toward one of the few remaining spaces at the outer limits of the lot.

I entered the mall and looked around. It's your standard Mall, huge, a bit downscale as Malls go, a mixture of big chain stores and a host of ephemeral little businesses, and for some odd reason I did not fall immediately into my usual state of Mall Spleen. Here were my fellow humans, shopping. I was also shopping. Human enough. We need clothes and food, goods and services. We need to work and earn money, so we start businesses. How could I be deeply moved by the sight of people queuing up for the Eucharist and be filled with scorn among people at the Mall ? Today I felt no scorn; in fact what I felt was kinship and compassion. We were all in the same boat. An ark full of gaudy crap and miserable cruelty, and of unspeakable beauty and mystery.

"Fuck, I'm going to start crying in the Mall," I thought, passing a remarkably beautiful array of gumball machines. Where was my D70 when I needed it ? Even the pair of Victoria's Secret window mannequins -- decked out in snowflake undies and Santa hats, legs stretched out to full, seductive length -- seemed less tawdry than usual.

I crossed the crowded food court, redolent of pizza and fried meat, stopping to marvel at a display of athletic shoes, each more massively architectural and flamboyant than the next. They looked like miniature Sports Utility Vehicles. I looked down at the stained white canvas of my own sneakers. Men's sneakers, actually, and a little too porous for today's slush.

But, no, I wasn't going to start the old wallowing in my own squalor routine. I pushed down the familiar litany: stringy gray hair, way overdue for a cut, ratty shirt hand-me-down from my son, and two buck discount jeans scored for me by kindly Nurse Maria who knows my retail aversions -- yadda yadda yadda. I am who I am: aging, reclusive, androgynous, unworldly, strange. And yet there I was at the Mall, cheerful, relaxed, taking it all in, window shopping even.

Was this a small example of what the prayer calls thy tender mercy ?

I looked down at my wrist. It was 3:30. My watch was humming along with the world's time again.

Thanks be to God.

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