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