I’m eating a ritzy brunch on the outdoor patio of a ritzy restaurant in a ritzy town. The cars gliding down the ritzy street are all new and expensive and the ladies at the next table are wearing ritzy shoes that cost more than what regular folks make in a month. Even my Eggs Benedict are ritzy. I don’t know whether to feel ritzy myself or economically inadequate to the point of suicide.
“How’s your food?” my date, a classy brunette, asks.
“Expensive,” I mumble through a piece of egg sodden brioche.
“It’s such a lovely day,” she says, stretching languidly while looking up at the flawless blue sky. “Don’t you think?” Even the weather here is ritzy.
As my date and I aimlessly chat about the weather a woman driving a battleship grey Audi TT pulls into a parking spot in front of the restaurant. I also notice that she’s taken up one and a half parking spots. Munching on my expensive Canadian bacon I see the woman start reading a book. And as she turns the pages she’s oblivious to the black Mercedes trying to squeeze in behind her. But since Audi Lady is hogging up so much space the task is beyond the capability of even the most skilled parallel parker.
After a few minutes of trying to make two pieces of matter occupy the same space at the same time, a visibly annoyed man jumps out of the Mercedes and tries directing his companion into the spot. After she tries and fails several times the man’s face flushes red with anger. “Look,” I say to my date. “This shit’s starting to get good.”
““Why can’t that Audi move up and let them in?”
“I think the driver’s on another planet.”
By this point the Mercedes is blocking traffic and cars are clogging the street. Not to be deterred, the man walks over to the Audi and taps on the window. Audi Lady looks at him sweetly and makes a “Sorry. I’m not leaving motion.” Apoplectic, the man throws his hands up in the air, storms back to his car and the couple drives away.
“Why go through all that frustration?” I say to my date. “There’s a perfectly good parking lot across the street with plenty of space.”
“Serendipity,” she says.
“In this town everyone’s rich. So when everyone’s equal serendipity becomes a status symbol.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Have you ever found a parking space right in front of the place you want to go?”
“Yeah. That’s killer.”
“Well the guy in that Mercedes wanted that experience. He wanted to pull up with no muss or fuss and be on his way. But when he couldn’t get that experience he flipped out.”
“Why not park in the lot?”
“Probably beneath him or something. That’s why he spent five minutes all worked up trying to get that spot.”
I never though of serendipity being a status symbol. But when I think back to my waiter days my date’s insight makes sense. I can’t tell you how many times people came in off the street with no reservation and asked for the best table in the house. Sometimes I was able to give it to them, sometimes not. Most people were gracious, accepted the fact it wasn’t their lucky day and sat elsewhere. But some customers, just like that man in the Mercedes, flipped out. It was as if they thought the table belonged to them by divine right. Maybe telling them “no” trashed their delusion that life should just be one series of effortless moments after another.
“That guy in the Mercedes is in for a world of hurt,” I say.
“Why do you say that?”
“Serendipity’s a happy experience because it doesn’t happen all the time. Not getting it is what gives it meaning. If he doesn’t grasp that he’s fucked.”
As we finish up our meal I look at the woman in the Audi again. But she’s not reading anymore. She’s drinking Grey Goose straight from the bottle.
“Jesus,” I say, shaking my head. Would you look at that?”
“Oh my God,” my date says. She’s not on another planet. She’s hammered.”
Audi Lady takes one more immense guzzle from her bottle before stowing it under her seat. Then she gets out of the car, grabs what looks like a couple of rolled up paintings from the trunk and stumbles onto the sidewalk. She’s emaciated, pale and shaking. I worked with alcoholics for years. This lady’s drinking far more than she’s eating. I have no idea why’s she’s a drunk but it doesn’t matter. She may have a nice car and a great parking spot but if she doesn’t get help she’ll die within the year – beyond serendipity’s cool touch forever.
Suddenly this town doesn’t feel ritzy anymore.