FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Current Essays FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Contributors FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//About FRESH YARN FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Past Essays FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Submit FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Links FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Email List FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Contact


Cheese Mover
By Jeremy Deutchman

I am not an aggressive person. But something came over me, and I snapped, and I blame it on the one-armed man in the underground parking garage.

We were leaving the bookstore, my wife Michelle dragging me onto the elevator after a 15-minute tirade brought on by seeing someone purchase a copy of Who Moved My Cheese?. The book is about two intelligent, talking mice and their ability to respond to change in their lives, and is supposed to be a metaphor for the human condition. But in my mind, it was simply a waste of ink, more dangerous than Lady Chatterley's Lover or Catcher in the Rye.

It was precisely the type of book I hate. A hokey, simplistic reduction of complex problems into generic, easily digested solutions made palatable for the broadest possible audience. It quickly became an international bestseller. When it first came out, my boss at the T.V. station where I worked distributed copies at the office, where for weeks people walked around suggesting ways to turn our In Baskets into "Win" Baskets.

I knew many people found the book inspiring, but I resented its preachy and self-important tone. As far as I was concerned, it had nothing to say about life's larger questions, and was simply the tragic story of two perfectly harmless mice who were really fucking angry that someone had moved their cheese. It was a vicious act, and in my opinion their frustration was totally reasonable. I wondered how the author would have felt if someone had moved his country house or fleet of "S" class Mercedes.

By the time we stepped out of the elevator and got to our car, I was just barely calming down. I approached the exit kiosk and handed the attendant my ticket; he glanced down, saw my validation stamp and waved us through, raising the skinny mechanical arm that was blocking our forward passage. I inched ahead, moving slowly so I could fasten my seatbelt before pulling onto the ramp that led to the street.

Suddenly, the car rocked violently in place and we heard a loud scraping sound overhead. "Duck," I said to Michelle. "It's an earthquake."

"No it's not," she said, politely refraining from pointing out that, if it had been, ducking would simply have made it easier for falling debris to crush our lumbar spines. "Something just hit us."

We climbed out of the car. It was easy to see what had happened: as we passed underneath, the mechanical arm had come down on top of us, sliding across the roof as we moved forward and finally coming to rest on the trunk. The paint was scratched and peeling where the arm had hit.

The attendant emerged from the kiosk, waving his right arm. He moved it back and forth in long, vigorous arcs, as if trying to deflect attention from his left arm, which was missing entirely. For a moment I thought he must have tucked it inside his shirt, the way I might have as a child playing doctor, or pretending I qualified for the Special Olympics. Perhaps this was what passed for humor in the parking attendant community. But as I approached, it became clear that his arm was, indeed, missing. His left sleeve flapped lazily in the breeze generated by an electric fan.

Even with only one arm, the attendant came out swinging. "What did you do?" he demanded in Spanish. "Why did you break my machine?" He sounded personally affronted, as though he was Eli Whitney and this was his cotton gin.

"What do you mean?" I said, also in Spanish. I grew up in California at a time when, due to changing demographics, Spanish language instruction began at an early age. I had studied conversational Spanish for the entirety of my junior and senior high school careers. In college, I had even spent a year abroad in Spain. So while I wasn't exactly fluent, I was more or less able to carry on a conversation, even one about a faulty one-armed parking machine with an agitated one-armed man. "The arm came down on top of my car. How is that my fault?"

"Fuck," he said, "you waited too long. You have to go through right away. Now you broke it, and it's going to be very expensive." He shook his head as he said this, repeating his concern about the cost -- "muy caro, muy caro" -- so as to allow the gravity of our situation to sink in.

He didn't elaborate, but seemed to be implying that any costs incurred would be billed directly to me. His comment also indicated an apparent disgust with what he saw as my fundamental misunderstanding of modern conveniences. Not only was I financially liable, I didn't even deserve to be part of a technology-based society. If I couldn't properly use an automated parking machine, how could I be trusted with an alarm clock or a toaster?

I identified his strategy right away. Operating from the premise that the best defense is a good offense, his attack was timed to catch me off guard. Without missing a beat, he had managed both to shift blame and undermine my self-esteem.

I took a deep breath. I refused to succumb to the parking attendant's campaign of intimidation and fear. Maybe that would work with other bookstore customers, but I had a membership discount card which, the way I saw it, basically made me a silent partner. No one was going to push me around at my own office. I would not allow him to move my cheese.


PAGE 1 2

-friendly version for easy reading
©All material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission

home///current essays///contributors///about fresh yarn///archives///
submit///links///email list///site map///contact
© 2004-2007