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002

As wars often do,
it began with shopping carts
and two kinds of people:

1. those who see patterns in everything
2. those who wish that pattern observers would get off their lazy butts and unload the dishwasher

Because this is a kind of true story, we’ll call the pattern observer Florence, and the one with the unloaded dishwasher, Seymour. They live on opposite sides of the street and do not know each other.

So, one fine Saturday morning, Florence woke up to see a shopping cart abandoned on Seymour’s side of the street. It reminded her of the cart she’d returned to the grocery store yesterday and how good she’d felt picking up after somebody else’s laziness. That cart had been on Seymour’s side of the street too, but it was okay because the store was on that side, and she had to buy eggs, anyway.

Then Florence went out to water her garden, and that’s when she saw the second cart. On her side of the street. On her patch of grass. Well, not technically hers—it belonged to the city, but it was her job to maintain the grass on which the second abandoned cart now sat.

Seymour woke up happy to see sunshine. While unloading the dishwasher, he noticed the carts through his window and hoped that someone would return them to the store. Then he drove off to play golf. Florence sat down to blog.

Both shopping carts were visible from her study window, which inspired her to write about the good deed she’d performed the day before in returning someone else’s cart. She ended her piece with a tidy little moral: If each of us would just do our part, what a wonderful world this would be!

During her fitness routine of 30 minutes cardio, 30 minutes yoga, Florence received 873 likes, 74 comments, 14 shares, and 6 reblogs. The carts didn’t move.

After playing eighteen holes, two under par, Seymour drove home feeling pretty good. He had a few things to pick up at the store. It was a nice evening, so he decided to walk. He didn’t notice that the shopping carts on both sides of the street were still there, but Florence who’d been at her computer all day, except for that hour of exercise, noticed Seymour ignoring the carts. That’s when patterns started forming:

People don’t pay attention to what’s around them. (I do.)
People used to take pride in their neighbourhoods. (I still do.)
That man who just walked past the cart on his side of the street is typical. (I’m not.)
Why hasn’t anyone on my side of the street returned a cart? (like I did yesterday)

By the time Florence reached “What is this world coming to?”, she felt totally exhausted but knew she wouldn’t sleep. She always had trouble sleeping. To help herself feel better, Florence logged onto Facebook. Half her friends posted about national and world troubles; the other half posted photos of their smiling family and pets. Some did both. Normally, she preferred the photo friends, but after checking for additional likes to her blog (there were none), she glanced out the window and noticed the man across the street remove his groceries from a cart and leave it on the grass, right alongside the other one. Now there were three abandoned carts with no one caring enough to return them. Florence felt the heat rising to her cheeks.

She scrolled through her FB newsfeed and clicked Like on every post where somebody complained. Aches and pains first—sympathy is always easy—then assorted bad news—sad face, boom, done. Finally, she moved on to posts that blamed one political party over another for all that’s going wrong, one religion over another, one nationality over another; and with every hit of dissatisfaction, the man across the street whose name she didn’t know, loomed larger in her imagination as part of the problem.

Seymour and his girlfriend, who’d arrived while Florence was educating herself on watershed issues in Kyrgyzstan, spent a happy night together. Florence needed three glasses of red wine and two pills to fall asleep.

The next morning, first thing Florence did was look out her window. First thing Seymour did was look out his window. The shopping carts were gone. Seymour remembered he’d forgotten to return his cart. His girlfriend had phoned while he was bringing in the steaks he would barbecue that night. He remembered the two other carts and appreciated whoever it was that returned all three. Then he headed to the kitchen where his girlfriend was making pancakes.

Florence had a headache. She imagined a grocery employee on minimum wage driving around all night picking up after people’s laziness. The kid probably had a university degree and debts up to his ears. That was the trouble with today’s economy: the haves and the have-nots drifting further and further apart.

Seymour and his girlfriend spent their Sunday at the beach. Last thing Florence wanted to do on such a beautiful day was write her blog, but readers were expecting it. She got as far as the title:

“Whose Job is it to Feel Good Anyway?”

That evening, after Seymour finished coaching at Big Brothers, Florence, who took three naps, ate burgers and fries for lunch, and skipped exercise, wrote her shortest blog ever, in answer to the question, whose job is it to feel good?

Mine.

~~~

© Elaine Stirling, 2014

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