Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Carded (thoughts on a Single No Kids income)

Persistence (which may be stubbornness by another name) is a funny thing. Take shopping. Sunday afternoon, I had some downtime between a leisurely lunch and my church’s evening service. With thoughts of recent monetary birthday gifts reducing the normal guilt of impulse shopping, I wandered into the Ross in downtown Berkeley.

More than an hour later, I had filled a basket with several boxes of cards I fancied, plus a few other sundries I had convinced myself would be excellent small gifts for several girlfriends’ upcoming birthdays. When I realized I had less than an hour to walk the 2.5 miles to church, however (I’m cheap like that), I decided to forego the long lines for the register and put everything on hold.

The lady said they could only keep six items for me, but after paring the cards down a bit, I went on my way with happy plans of collecting everything Monday after work — was not Ross open until 9 p.m.?

Monday came, I made the post-work walk to BART (another 1.5 miles or more — not much to a former New Yorker), and wound up in Berkeley sometime around 6. After dropping some shoes off for repair, I unexpectedly wandered into the Half-Price Books on Shattuck.

Let’s just say that by the time I left (around 8 p.m.), all thoughts of possibly spending my birthday loot on a new teapot from Ross had vanished, and I was happily weighed down with a stack of used piano books, two super-discounted pop CDs released during my early college years, and a couple other books. In light of these burdens, my subsequent discovery that Ross actually closed at 8 p.m. seemed almost a bit fortuitous, since the walk from BART to my home takes about 10 minutes. I resolved to try collecting my hold items after work Tuesday.

When I finally breezed through the discounter’s plate-glass doors last night, however, it was to discover that Ross holds items only one day, and though the various sections I’d shopped appeared largely undisturbed since Sunday, all six of my items had evidently caught the eye of other choosy shoppers, alas. There was a brief window of hope, when one of the fitting-room attendants suggested my hold items might have been stashed in the stock room prior to reshelving, but a mid-length wait later to chat up that woman’s manager proved fruitless. He didn’t even offer to take a look in the stock room.

Smarting a bit from this lack of sufficient sympathy over my loss of that one favorite $3 box of cards, I glanced at my watch and swiftly improvised a back-up plan: swing by the El Cerrito Ross, near my home BART stop. The next northbound BART even showed up moments later, enabling me to alight outside Ross #2 with 20 more minutes of shopping time.

I made my way to the card section and almost instantly spied the one remaining box of my prized vintage-look cards, nestled under the cluttered pile of journals and thank-you cards. Victory!

After a bit more browsing to find the perfect soy-candle gift (since I have recently learned that regular paraffin candles not only perpetuate our reliance on oil, but also produce more pollution), I made my way to the L-shaped line that stretched an alarming number of aisles toward the back of the store.

The thing about stores like Ross, you see, is evidently their discounts are partly funded by some scheme to staff stores — and registers — with the smallest operational crews possible. Maybe it’s some covert hazing scheme to test their customers’ desparation for cheaply priced goods like Tight on Time (an exercise DVD) and probably expired bags of coffee. Even when all three registers are fully manned, I swear the average checkout per customer is 20 to 50 percent slower than the post office.

So, like any girl cheap enough to wait a further 45 minutes in order to drop $3 on cards, I pulled out the latest baby sweater I’m knitting and settled in for the weary slog up to the cash registers. The blessing or curse of knitting, though (depending on your perspective) is that it leaves your mind free to wander — and, in my case, to ponder how much time I’d committed to buying the box of 12 cards wedged under one arm while I worked the rows back and forth.

I’m still not sure what I think of it — forget the appalling math of just how much such time would be worth to my employer; how did this vast time investment compare to how long I spend catching up with friends, or writing weekly letters to my siblings abroad?

When one woman standing in front of me asked what I’d found, I described my card mission. She said that I’d been lucky, then finally gave up on the line and put her things on hold. But as I watched her go, the card find seemed more like one more act of God showing kindness to the very undeserving. However much I hope the friends who ultimately receive the cards enjoy them, my three-day odyssey is in many ways a mad-cap act of selfish indulgence that, as a single girl with few obligations (except to moi) I’m free to do.

That doesn’t mean it feels right, though. Lately, when I recognize a certain commitment to get things no matter what (such as the discontinued red shoes I once spent several days trying to track down online and even from the manufacturer), there’s a certain check in my heart. What am I doing? Why am I investing my fleeting energy, time and youth in this?

Maybe in some ways it’s just the gradual process of recovering from the intensive months of book-writing that’s to blame for my shocks at leisure and needless consumption. But when I go to such great lengths to track down 12 pink-and-green cards, I have to wonder what it says about my values — not those I’d spout to you if asked, but those I act on almost without thinking.

Mostly strangely of all, I can’t always discern whether these pricks of conscience come from my connection to God or now living in a place so concerned with justice and using sustainable-everything resources.

More musings from the Spinster Ward Life coming ... sometime.

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