January 26, 2003

I’ve never been one for road rage. I hear the stories of people shooting each other over fender benders, the man who threw the woman’s dog and got it run over, all the nasty modern era aggression. If I ever had a tendency toward that kind of rage, it would be abated by the fear of running into it on the other end.

I do however get road irritation. During drives the last couple of weekends I learned that “Sunday driver” isn’t just a cliché. San Francisco definitely gets out-of-towners who have a whole different way of getting around the city.

You get used to driving in the city when you do it every day. I know just how fast I can go on the main thoroughfares. I know which lanes to be in at any given section of those streets. I know where there are always parkers blocking the way, where there are no left turns, and where there are left turn arrows. I feel pretty comfortable getting around. And everyone else on the street knows the same things I know and feels pretty comfortable too. Except on the weekends.

So the last two Sundays I’ve noticed cars going unusually slowly, changing lanes suddenly, clearly gawking at addresses and sights, and generally driving me nuts, excuse the pun. Nevertheless, they’ve been Sundays and I’ve been relatively relaxed. I was irritated but no rage. There’s no rage on my days off.

I have, however, developed parking rage lately. I’m not sure it’s really better than road rage, but I think you tend to be less aggressive when you’re not moving, or not moving fast. What’s really pissing me off these days is inconsiderate parkers.

I’ve always been annoyed by them—the people who park at an angle or who park so close to the white line that you can’t fit in the space or the occasional double parker who parks you in indefinitely. But lately it seems like it’s gotten worse.

It seems like everywhere I go people are parked badly, as if they didn’t even consider the fact that they share parking lots and street parking with other people. I don’t get people who, when parking at the nearest space to the cross-street curb don’t pull as far forward as they can. Or those who have a couple of big parking spaces available to them but choose to straddle the white line, often perpetrated by those with expensive cars. Or those who park so close behind you that you have to play bumper pool to get out of your space.

Then last week I reached my limit. I was having the worst day in recent memory on Wednesday. I’ve gotten temporarily moved to another office for a couple of weeks, which makes me cranky. I miss my office and my co-workers. I’m having to deal with a mess left by a temporary employee. I’m in a crazier office but still have all my responsibilities from my other office in addition to all the craziness and the mess that’s been left at the new one. Meanwhile I’m also training a new employee.

There are other issues I won’t go into, but suffice to say it isn’t pretty for me right now. Add to it a co-worker blowing up at me for something that I had no say in, an inability to find anywhere decent to eat for lunch, and no tea to give me my mellow jolt in the morning (I left my tea at my other office and have been substituting Diet Pepsi) and you end up with a very unhappy girl.

On top of all that, Wednesday I couldn’t find parking in the morning except for 12 o’clock street sweeping spots. So I took one and figured I’d just have to move it at 12. I planned with my co-worker for her to relieve me a bit before 12 so I could go move the car then take lunch. At 11:45 I went out and got in my car and started driving. I drove around at least 10 blocks, over and over, looking for longer than 2 hour parking. I would have 5 hours still of work and couldn’t risk a ticket. I already have several I need to pay.

I was strung out already. The co-worker had blown up at me that morning. The mess was getting bigger every minute it seemed. And I’d only had time for a few sips of my morning Pepsi. As I drove around and around, and more and more of my lunch hour slipped away, I got incredibly depressed. I finally gave up and drove over to where there was a Taco Bell, thinking I could get something to go and eat while I drove around and around some more. At least low blood sugar wouldn’t be a problem.

I drove over and parked below where the Taco Bell was, forgetting that I couldn’t turn right to get into the actual parking lot. I walked up a hill, in medium heeled boots that were starting to really hurt me, only to find the Taco Bell was gone. I’ll take this moment to say that I’m alarmed by so many Taco Bells shutting down in the city. It’s the best fast food for a vegetarian and sometimes you just really need fast food.

My best lunch plans foiled, no parking still, and dangerously close to a full breakdown; I continued my quest, circling blocks. Finally, 5 minutes before the end of my lunch hour, I saw the street sweepers starting through. I got behind the sweeper and took a spot as soon as it was clean. It was the same spot I’d been in that morning. At that moment, it started to rain.

I called my co-worker and told her to go on to her lunch date. I went to Starbucks and got a bag of chips, a yogurt, and a frappuccino then returned to my desk. I ate quickly at the desk; something much looked down upon at that office, and hoped the day wouldn’t get any worse.

The day pretty much kept the status quo, not getting better but not getting much worse. I finally left for home only about a ½ hour later than I should have, much relieved. Only to arrive at my car…

A big Uhaul truck had decided to park literally inches from the driver’s side of my car. The cab probably left me about 6 inches to get into the car, but the storage part of the truck was literally an inch from the door. There was no way to get in that side. I cursed at the truck. I used more sailor words than I thought I knew. I reached into my purse for paper to write a nasty note. Then I stopped. I took a deep breath and just got in from the passenger side.

That made me angrier, the unhooking of the automatic seat belts, the sliding across attempting not to impale myself on the gear shift, all the annoyances that were pushing me further and further over the edge. When I got to the driver’s side, I looked out the window and thought about how close I was to the truck. I actually rolled down the window and fingered the keys in my hand, wondering what the best word to key into the side of the truck would be. I took a few more deep breaths. I put the key in the ignition. I started to pull out, backing up carefully, trying not to smash my driver’s side mirror, ending up scraping the back of the car against the truck.

I swore some more and drove back forward. I reached to take the keys from the ignition but stopped myself again. I breathed. I reached for my purse and started scrambling for paper. When I realized that the only paper I had was a little Hello Kitty pad I decided that didn’t send the right message. I breathed some more. I pushed my side mirror back for a better angle.

I made a couple of bad starts but finally got out of the spot. I pulled to the opposite side of the street and got out. I looked at my car and saw no damage. I looked at the Uhaul and saw some dark black scuffs. I hoped I’d caused them and the driver would get charged. I doubted both. I forced myself to get into the car and breathe a few more times. Then I drove off.

I was almost unnaturally calm on the drive home. I encountered parkers blocking my way and a few slow drivers but stayed mellow. I felt proud of myself for not succumbing to the rage I’d felt. I told myself that karma would take care of everything. I got the good karma for resisting my baser instincts. The Uhaul driver would get the bad karma—perhaps being damned to a life of constantly loading and unloading furniture.

I’m still proud of myself, days later. I’m glad I didn’t contribute to the general aggression and craziness in the world. I’m glad I didn’t become the drivers you hear about in the paper. And I’m glad I didn’t allow my rotten day to make me do something that goes against my nature. I’m not a vengeful person and I think it diminishes you to let yourself take revenge.

Today I was at the grocery store and when I came out, an inconsiderate parker had parked next to me. The car was parked at an angle in the spot so that I had to slip in to get to the door and pull out carefully to avoid hitting him. When I opened the door, it opened just enough to let me squish myself in. I didn’t even consider scratching the car. A nasty note didn’t occur to me. I wasn’t really careful about the door hitting their car, but I didn’t open it hard, either. I shrugged and shook my head at their stupidity and insensitivity. And I got in and drove away.

I think my parking rage is gone for now. I faced the demon and I didn’t let it get me. Probably another kind of rage will get me—shopping cart rage or grammar rage or landlord rage. But I’m not behind 2 tons of steel in those cases and nobody’s property will be damaged. And my karma will avoid a dip on the scale.

Posted by Alyssa at 12:58 PM
permalink | 0 Comments
January 05, 2003

I had something of an epiphany recently. I was thinking about love, something I do surprisingly often considering I denounce it at every opportunity. But I was driving and certainly listening to the radio which inevitably was a song about love--goodness knows no one seems to write about anything but.

Regardless of the trigger, I was thinking about love. And I realized as I thought and drove that I sort of feel about love how I felt about god around age 11.

As a kid I believed in god in that vague sort of way children do when they don't bother to really think about what they're believing in. I used to pray at night like most kids, which is roughly like writing a letter to Santa. "Please God, bring me a Barbie Dreamhouse, bring me breasts, bring me some pancakes in the morning, and by the way bless Mom and Dad." I believed someone was listening and that if I prayed often enough or hard enough that I would get what I wanted.

I remember that slipping away. It wasn't one big shocker like my house burning down and my entire family dying and being left on the street to live in a box and crying that there couldn't possibly be a god because no god would let such a thing happen. It was more gradual, a series of nights of praying when I actually began to think about what I was doing and who I thought I was really talking to.

I don't think my belief completely went away for another year or two as I continued thinking about it. I mean, what was the likelihood of there being some guy up in the sky who had magical powers (though they were never called or considered that--I actually might have believed more if someone told me that God was a mutant like the X-Men) and created the world in 7 days, or wait, it was 6, right?, and he rested on the last one which is why the Sunday paper is so big so he had something to keep him busy, is that it?

Anyway, I'd learned enough about fossils and the age of the world and evolution and, well, science in general, that the whole god thing just seemed increasingly unlikely. I even explored the other options, reading about Greek gods and Roman gods and Buddhism and talked to Catholic friends and Mormon friends and Jewish friends (well, the one Jewish girl in my school) and everything I learned just seemed equally unlikely.

Then there was Jesus. Man, he was a good story, I have to admit. But also the hardest one to swallow. I mean, this chick is suddenly pregnant and says it's God's son but she's never had sex (good cover by the way, of course no one would believe it these days). Then the kid's born, he's somehow (again) magical and heals people and changes water to wine. Then he's killed "for our sins" which I still don't really get after all these years. Then he magically rises back up. Then there's the hooker with the heart of gold he loves (very Julia Roberts) thrown in for added sensationalism and the incredibly gory way he dies--quite the blockbuster book. If someone wrote it today it might be a bestseller. But I don't think a third of the world's population would join a religion based on its tales.

Once the faith left me for good--I was maybe 13 or so--I used to have conversations and occasional arguments with friends about religion, specifically with a Catholic friend I had when I was 16. We would talk for hours about religion, arguing all its points, with neither of us technically coming out the winner. His arguments always came down to faith. There's just really no fact that you can argue when it comes to religion. You believe or you don't. And I didn't. It sometimes made me sad. I saw the strength he had from his faith. I wished things could be easier for me, that I could look to a book or a priest to tell me where to stand on moral issues. But I just didn't have it. I dug down, looking for it, wondering if there was some residue of faith left. It was gone.

It never came back. I'm 32 now and haven't felt that faith in God again and I'm no longer sad about it. I'm happy with myself and my moral center--even when it occasionally tips a bit. I've gotten by ok without killing anyone or committing most of the deadly sins or 10 Commandments or whatever. I even dated a Catholic and wasn't struck down. Though I occasionally wished he would be.

But that absence of faith in God, that feeling that there was something I didn't have that the majority of people did, has always been a little odd to me. I wouldn't call it an emptiness because that suggests I'm somehow incomplete. It's just as if I'm constantly walking around without underwear when everyone else in the world is wearing it. It's not that I miss the underwear but I'm aware that I don't have it on. And there's a small part of me that wonders if there's something wrong with me because I'm not wearing underwear and that it doesn't really bother me that I'm not wearing it.

So as I drove, literally if not metaphorically wearing underwear as it happens, and listening to the radio and the love song, I thought about how my feelings about love have changed drastically in the last couple of years. I used to be a true believer. It was probably the one thing that I had the most faith in. I never doubted, from the date of my first romantic feeling, that love was real and I would have it. In fact, there was probably a time when my God faith and love faith overlapped and I prayed to God for love.

And I've had love. I've had it verifiably twice. And I feel that I worshipped at its altar dutifully. I embraced it fully. I offered it sacrifices. Too many sacrifices really. And even when love let me down, I still believed in it. I didn't blame the church, I blamed the parishioners.

Since the last time I was in love, ostensibly 2 years ago, honestly probably a year or two longer than that, I've thought a lot about love. I would lie in bed imagining love and the future, and I started to think about what I was doing and who I was imagining. I'd always taken love on faith, that it would come in time, when the right person and place and time intersected. And it had happened twice, so I assumed it would happen again. There was a time when I believed everyone had only one real love in their life but I'd long outgrown that--so I thought it would come.

I've lived alone for the last year and a half, enjoying being single. After 5 years of very little time to myself, of sharing a bed, of having to discuss with someone my plans for every day, of negotiating which TV shows to watch and what music to listen to; I embraced the freedom. I slowly began to expand--that's the way it felt. I'd been constricted, rubber bands of relationship around every part of me and my life. The bands broke more slowly than the relationship, waiting for me to realize they didn't belong on me anymore, waiting for me to snip them off or simply expand beyond their breaking point.

I expanded into my life. I went out often, to movies alone or with friends, to bars or clubs sometimes with friends, to restaurants by myself, to the ocean, shopping, wherever. I would decide where to go in the morning when I woke up then go there. There was no middleman--no one saying he'd rather go for a hike, no one saying you can't see that movie--I wanted to see it with you, no one saying anything but me. I didn't miss what had been--I didn't miss being in a relationship--I didn't miss being in love.

Time passed and I wasn't solo the whole time. But I didn't feel love. I haven't felt love in a long time--not romantic love. I love my family, I love my friends, I love my cat, I love my apartment (though I hate my landlord). There's plenty of love in my life. But not the big L, the big Love. And I always thought I would miss it.

Over time I've analyzed it--Love--and thought about it in the same way I deconstructed God. It's this thing that seemingly everyone in the world wants, longs for, looks for, embraces. People worship it--it's the most important thing in so many peoples' lives. Most music is about it, possibly most of the movies are about it, thousands of books about it--not to mention specifically how to get it; then the dating websites, dating phone lines, newspaper personals... It's absolutely everywhere--everyone wants to get Love.

But why do we want it? Because it's what we've been taught since birth--like religion. We're supposed to believe, we're supposed to know deep down that it's the most important thing and we're supposed to find it, believe in it, embrace it, worship it, and get married. Everything else should be secondary. Even, arguably, God--though really they should co-exist, thus the marriage ceremony in a church.

A friend of mine tried to argue that it's biological--that Love is part of our genetic make-up, to make us reproduce and ensure the continuation of the species. That doesn't track, since Love may often lead to reproducing but it doesn't necessarily work the other direction. You can reproduce without Love; sex doesn't have to involve Love at all. We may have a biological need for sex, but I don't think Love has anything to do with our genes.

I think we look for it because it's what we've been taught to want. And when we find it, or even when we think or hope we've found it, it feels good--like a drug. It makes us want more. So that even if it goes away, we start looking for it again.

I stopped looking. I tossed aside my youthful learning and decided, good as it sometimes feels, that Love isn't the most important thing. That in fact I seem to be a lot happier without it. I've lost the desire to find it and it doesn't really bother me.

But now here I am without underwear again. People ask me if I'm dating anyone and if I simply say no, I see sadness even sometimes pity on their faces. Everyone around me is in a relationship and I'm the freak or sadsack for being single. I have to explain how happy I am, how much I enjoy my freedom, how I don't need a man to feel complete. But they believe, they're members of the cult, and I don't think they ever really buy it.

And I wonder if I really buy it, too. I certainly feel it--that I'd be happy being single for the rest of my life. I don't long for a partner to walk with me through life--I'm happy to walk alone. And then, of course, I'm not really alone. I have my friends who are more fun and less work than the Love relationships I've had. I have my family who loves me no matter what. But I remember the good moments of being in Love. And there were times I enjoyed being in a couple. And just because I'm happy the way things are, does that mean I wouldn't be happy if they were different? I don't think I want it. But what if I did? I wonder if I should be wearing underwear and if there's something wrong with me for not wanting to.

So driving along, listening to the radio, I realized that my absence of faith in God felt a lot like my absence of interest in Love. But the difference, it turns out, is that I haven't lost my faith in Love. I've just lost my desire to believe. The possibility of Love still lurks in me somewhere, but I've pushed it down where it waits in case my faith returns. I'm a lapsed Lovecatholic.

The same friend who postulated love as a biological urge asked me if I thought I'd ever get married. My usual response--I never rule anything out. I know it's possible to have a non-rubberband relationship. I know it's possible to be free and in love. I know in theory that it's possible to have it all. But I haven't seen it yet. And it's hard to believe in something you can't see.

Gloria Steinem, who denounced marriage for most of her life, got married a couple of years ago at the age of 66. I would have pegged her as a Love atheist. It turned out she was a Love agnostic--she didn't believe until she saw it for herself. If she can get married, then I wouldn't rule it out for anyone. I suppose where there's still an ounce of faith, you can always come back to the fold.

I don't go to church anymore. I don't look for signs. I don't expect a miracle. And I still feel like I'm walking around without underwear. But I've got some in my drawer. And I may put them on some day.

Posted by Alyssa at 03:52 AM
permalink | 1 Comments