Saturday, December 27, 2014

He Who Hesitates...

Lucy and I share a love of thrift-shopping.  Rather then browsing at the mall we are likely to be making the "rounds" of the dozen or so charity-run shops within a half-hours' drive of our home searching racks of discarded clothing and shelves of books, CDs and DVDs for "something good".  We don't (usually) spend a great deal of money on these expeditions; the thrill, it seems, is in the hunt rather then the kill...

I think everyone, has had the experience of finding something for sale, deciding against buying it, and then having second thoughts the next day.  Sometimes the item is still on the shelves when one returns to the shop, often it has been sold in the intervening days.  When this happens--a hesitation followed by disappointment when the item in question is gone--the departed "great deal" assumes far higher value in ones' mind than might be considered reasonable.  Or rational.

I've been victim to this psychological escalation more than a few times over the years; that volume or gee-gaw seems much more important because I hesitated and decided not to buy it, then changed my mind only to find it no longer available upon a second visit.  It happens, and in most cases ends with my shrugging off the incident, casting a few desultory hexes at the lucky soul who has made off with MY "item", and resolving not to make the same mistake in future (knowing full-well that I will).

This week, however, the circumstances were a little different, and to me worthy of note.

As a way of escaping the insanity of the pre-Christmas chaos Lucy and I decided to hit the shops a few days back.  We weren't alone; many thrift-shopppers were abroad that afternoon, but we enjoyed visiting a few of our favorite haunts: the Goodwill, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and even the CHKD provided inexpensive shopping experiences as we browsed the day away.

It was in the Denbigh DAV that I ran across that proverbial "item".  It was a coffee table, only a foot tall and three feet square, thick and sturdy.  I immediately homed in on it as a candidate for a support for one of my telescopes, a job I had attempted to fill previously with very limited success.

The table was worn but rock-solid; I tested this by performing a few push-ups on it, which for some reason attracted curious stares from other shoppers.   It seemed perfect for my purposes, and its worn state would make no difference.  A done deal, right?

Then...hesitation.  Doubt.  Second-guessing.  I began to think of the un-finished projects cluttering my den and the dis-organised mess of the observatory.  I thought about money; should I spend dosh on this battered piece of furniture after my rather profligate expenditures of recent months.  Standing over the table I indulged in a moment of soul-searching.

I turned away.

Oh, foolish mortal!

Of course I began to question my decision that very evening.  Observing the moon from the backyard on that very evening I began to consider the utility of that table; by placing my Dobsonian-mounted 10-inch reflector on it I would raise the telescope by a foot, making its use easier by placing the eyepiece and finder-scope at a level where I wouldn't have to perform the limbo to aim and use the big 'scope.  Why, the table's introduction would make my "Dob" much more usable!

I resolved to re-visit the Denbigh DAV at the first opportunity.  Which, of course, would be the 26th of December.  Boxing Day.

Early on the 26th I headed toward Denbigh, my plan being to arrive at the doors of the thrift store at the very moment of their opening for business.  By this time the "item" in question--a beat-up, twenty year old coffee table, had assumed nearly cosmic importance for me.  I had to try again,to correct my error of two days before, seize that battered piece of furniture if it was still available, and make it part of my observatory equipment.

I drove westward on Route 60, and turned into the DAV's parking lot.  Soon I would know if the "item" was still in stock.  Soon, if I were lucky, I would be heading home with it.  Soon.

The table wasn't there.

Or rather, it was in the DAV store.

It was the store itself that was gone.

The familiar building was blackened, windows shattered, the doors gaping wounds in the smoke-smudged facade.  I braked to a halt short of the yellow tape enclosing the perimeter of the structure and choked on the thick miasma of smoky air surrounding the structure.  Gone the bustle of bargain-hunting customers, gone the helpful and friendly faces behind the counters, gone the cloying holiday music.  Through gaping doors I could just make out piles of fire- and water-damaged merchandise, now only debris to be cleaned away.

The building had burned in the early hours of Christmas Day, only hours after my resolution to return in search of the sturdy table.  The investigation was on-going, but there was already talk of arson. Now that table was burnt and broken inside the scorched building, placing into new and stark perspective my own, small obsessions and desires.

I paused to talk to a few employees of the store, there to help with clean-up.  In their faces I saw sadness and anger, confusion and rage against what could only be an unexpected, even monstrous event on what was meant to be a happy day of celebration.

How had this happened, and what lay ahead for these people who had relied upon this store for their livelihood?  What would the charity organization that employed them in order to do good for others be able to do for them now?

I had driven out to Denbigh with only personal, petty concerns of my own.  Making my way home in the afternoon I found myself caught up in the pain of a holiday season gone terribly wrong for good folks with far more important worries than I.  A lesson in proportion, yes, but a terribly expensive one for far too many people.

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