Today I am spending most of the daylight hours looking for a parking space. In the latter days of December, people in Berkeley are still trying to be polite, but I can see that it is becoming forced. Their necks tighten as they mentally calculate the size of each space versus the size of their SUV. They troll slowly, but I can’t pass them because a) I can’t predict their next move, and b) I can’t ignore even a slight possibility that they might pull a gun on me as I pull into a parking space that they believe to be rightly theirs.
I go into Sur La Table on 4th Street to buy a six-cup Bundt pan and return the cookie press I bought in a pathetic surge of Christmas spirit last week. Sur La Table has thousands of everything. Gleaming, specialized kitchen equipment for the aggressive home chef is piled to the rafters in a market-square atmosphere with boutique prices—everything except six-cup Bundt pans: three-cup molds in many designs, eight-cup Turk’s Head molds (I’m not sure I know enough people to eat that large a cake), but no six-cup molds.
Karen Carpenter is belting out Silent Night in her synthesizer vibrato. If I had a gun, I would use it to shoot out the sound system. The cashiers look as sweetly brittle as the packages of ribbon candy before them on the counter—this music has been candying their brains for several hours.
Grasping my too-small but very pretty Bundt pan and purple sanding sugar (they are out of red and green), I get into the long checkout line. Grinding my teeth, shifting from foot to foot, I notice I am now singing along with Karen, “sleeeep in hea-ven-ly pea-ea-ea-zz” under my breath. There is a big white ceramic bowl of potpourri on the counter next to the ribbon candy, $6.50 to fill a small cloth bag with dried orange slices, bay leaf and cinnamon sticks coated with a perfume that doesn’t smell like any of those things, but somehow says Christmas. Hands shaking like a junkie, I spill pieces of leaves and bark all over the counter as I struggle to aim the large scoop into the small bag.
The woman behind me, eyes filled with concern, asks if she can help hold the bag while I scoop the dry bits into it like a starving child. Then she sniffs the mix and grabs the scoop almost before I have a chance to put it down. She starts shoveling as she shouts across the room “all you can get into the bag for only six dollars and fifty cents!” Three other women migrate to the bowl of sticks and leaves.
A bit high from inhaling the sugary smells, I get to my car just as the meter clicks to –0:00. I sit quietly behind the wheel for a moment doing Waterfall Breath, the breathing technique I learned in yoga class to calm myself and become grounded in the moment. Immediately, cars slow down as they see a human shape inside my parked Toyota. They circle like hungry sharks trying to position for my exit.
As I pull away from the curb, I breathe slowly, trying to stay in the moment. But The Moment, it turns out, contains only the plans for all the other moments of my quickly waning day: Meet my husband who is taking off work to buy a Christmas tree at 3 p.m.—allow 42 minutes not including parking. (Note to self: Remember last year’s tree bought in haste that only looked straight compared to the other trees on the lot, but trunk turned out to be corkscrew-shaped, which was starkly revealed when most of the needles fell off by December 23rd.) Allow 25 minutes for the Safeway where I will buy the necessities I ran out of three days ago. This store will be an oasis of sanity with its humble selections: milk, toilet paper, cat food, huge jars of pickles. The cashiers will be relaxed and friendly, wanting nothing more from me than my Safeway Club Card.
I must not be getting sufficient protein or fiber or meditating enough, because Christmas has become an uncomfortable, tiring trial. I still start looking forward to it in November though, in a conditioned response from childhood when it was purely about sitting on the fat man’s lap and asking for things. Today, the fat man is my husband and there is no lap. And I am responsible for making the days merry and bright.
But it will all be over (very over) on Dec. 26. In the meantime, I think I will splurge on buying that adorable Chicken-with-a-Hat ornament I saw at Stained Glass Garden earlier. I am sure that soon there will be a parking space, and when the colored lights in the trees twinkle on, it will offer a lovely moment. I am determined to ground myself in that moment as the sun sets over 4th Street in Berkeley.