Friday, June 6, 2008

Service with a Smile

It occurs to me what an asshole I am for going into paroxysms of pique when faced with the prospect of gassing my extremely safe, solid, heavy, premium-fuel-guzzling automobile. It is not just the price, although I always approved of higher prices as a means to limit American’s swinish oil consumption, but as the price does soar now it is hard to say this with as much conviction as I used to, particularly when the oil companies are showing record gains. I note that prices are over eight dollars a gallon in Europe. But, in addition to better baked goods, most of that continent is blessed with more efficient public transportation than there is here and a population that is willing to drive around in tiny cars.

I pulled into a crowded filling station this morning and waited for my turn at the pump for several minutes in order to partake of what appeared, based on price comparisons, the bargain price of $4.59.99 per gallon, for fuel. Himself and I have noticed recently that it is impossible at most of the stations we patronize to use a credit card at the pump and one has to stand in line and have a human interaction with a surly attendant. One is not allowed either to just say “fill it up” but is forced to underestimate as nearly as possible the tank capacity. My last fill, when I was informed I had to predetermine a denomination, I blurted, “sixty five dollars,” but the fill arrow never quite reached the top and it annoyed me for days that I would have to endure, the humiliation that buying gas has become, all that much sooner.

I finally got a place at the pump and inserted my credit card, hoping for kismet and to be graced with the convenience of filling directly from the pump rather than being subjected to inconvenience and anxiety producing scrutiny of the station employee. The pump began to buzz so I reported to the cashier, credit card and driver’s license in fist, only to be told that the credit card processing system was down and that no transactions could be processed. The fifteen year old had already preemptively asked that I not get into to gas buying trauma mode and I shut myself up until I felt I would simply burst if I didn’t clarify.

“It really isn’t JUST the price,” I began and continued to recount that when I was his age, gas was about thirty six cents a gallon and when you pulled into a gas station, someone would come out. He would fill the tank and check the oil and the water and the battery and the air in the tires, and then clean the windshields, fore and aft. Only after the tank was filled and the car was prettified and inspected would the subject of payment be broached and a charge slip on a plastic holder and pen would be discreetly passed to the customer, who would never have to leave the car. The fifteen year old has spent less time on the planet being slapped around and is not particularly moved by nostalgia for how civilized things were in the previous millennium. But I urged him not to forget about little acts of niceness and hope that one day he will impart my memories to his children so that they too will be inspired to believe that the world doesn’t have to be so friggin’ hard.

But then I think about what I find so friggin’ hard for ME ME ME and I see what an asshole I really have become. I just looked up some statistics about poverty in the world and it makes my gasoline rant look pretty shallow and it makes me sad that we have already lowered our standard of living this year, although our trappings are still firmly middle class, that I cannot shave off another penny to donate so that we can help feed and house and immunize and educate the billions of children in the world who were born into poverty. I further disrespect their plight by trivializing and envisioning it, merely to feel less dire about my own.

Himself is probably growling now so I will add, on his behalf, that yes, I know that rampant fucking and not using birth control causes a lot of the suffering in the world and when I am finally adequately remunerated for my vast intelligence and have big bucks to establish Casamurphy Foundation I will throw some cash towards Planned Parenthood. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to all the human beings on the planet, even the many were brought into it due to lack of impulse control and/or information about contraception and/or outmoded religious imperative.

I heard the cut Laughing from the seminal REM Murmur, released in 1983 which was when I was twenty-six years old and about the time I met Harry, and the sound lifted me and was as fresh and new as it was twenty-five years ago. We are spending a few days in Mt. Hermon at the end of the month and Harry, let it drop, casually, that he was leaving his job in an affluent community, where his office overlooked one of the most spectacular Pacific vistas in the world, to return to work in a less prosperous, agricultural community. Harry was raised to be of service to the less fortunate. I was raised to be of service only to furthering my own fortune. I do hold those Oxfam photos in my head and they are indelible and I often hear myself waxing sanctimonious and judgmental. It makes me sort of sick to think of myself as coming off like such an asshole. The whole morally superior posture is really all about self flagellation for holding the Oxfam pictures in my mind’s eye and still doing nothing, except expend hot air, to assuage any suffering outside my narrow, and at least compared to the other half of the world, privileged milieu.

I think about buying a Prius, even though there is a waiting list and they are selling for way over sticker, it would still be cheaper I think in the long run than operating the behemoth Volvo. I’m lazy about recycling and I’m thinking that maybe the Prius would clean up my karma but then I worry about how I would fit both carpool and dog in vehicle, although as we edge closer to five bucks a gallon, it might be time to think about poor Rover remaining at home. See how pathetic my sacrifices are? Although, in Europe, dogs ride about on public transportation happily with their human companions, so while I would fatten on the baked goods laden with better quality butter, I would not have to sacrifice my dog's happiness for the sake of the environment.

Himself held me this morning for a bit before I had to rise and feed and transport his spawn and I realized that in addition to requiring nourishment and shelter and medical care, we also need to be touched. I am not going to volunteer for the Peace Corps or renounce my worldly goods this weekend but I hope to remain mindful of my blessings in what can be a fucking cruel world. My mother has been released from the hospital and is back ensconced in the hotel. We have been unable to reach Himself’s father but we have invited him for a Father’s Day lunch next week. I am useless in combating hunger and illiteracy and just about all of the evils in the world, but I will go and put seventy dollars worth of gas into the Volvo, and take my children, to visit our aging parents and we will touch them.

Shabbat Shalom.


harry said...

Lovely reflection for the sabbath Mrs. Murphy. What a thought that we can keep learning about how to live, even as we pass 50. Maybe especially as we pass 50.

The prophet Micah responded to the question of what God expected of Israel by saying "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God." [insert unique value as god]

FionnchĂș said...

I also recall how the card that was returned to you was tilted up away from the tray, on display at an angle. When I had to fill up once at the corner station, when there was still an attendant, fifteen years ago, twice in one day, I felt ashamed, as if the attendant would recognize my profligacy.

The station earlier I went to, in Echo Park, I patronized because the attendant had a nice dog. I wonder where those people work today. Ironic that the machines that meant to replace the station orderlies now lie suspiciously out of order as the prices skyrocket. Sensing a conspiracy akin to that with the airlines, indeed our lives in transit turn more onerous. But, you are still spared what happened to me yesterday, sitting behind a denizen of the Blue Line needing more than Old Spice to subdue his manly scent.

P.S. "Laughing" is a great song, and merits recall too. A more pleasant recollection than bums on the MTA line, ever more crowded. I need to get out of this city.