My game begins at once: a team of crack architects and city planners conspire to bring me to your city. People rejoice, and so do I, for the game is now afoot.
I am the Trader Joe’s parking lot.
My anger spawns from deep within — a brooding sense that I am not fulfilling my life’s purpose. I could have been anything, you know: a hospital parking garage, a charter school’s or a Whole Foods’ parking lot. Instead, I am a haven for hippie wannabes on the hunt for seasonal products and cheap grocery staples. What a waste I am! I long to destroy these shoppers, these fools! I hear the way you all speak about me with your snarky tweets and entitled complaints.
Your hatred fuels me.
As soon as you pull in, I am waiting. I am a sinister surprise masquerading as an average parking lot. Little do you know that each of my parking spots is precisely three inches longer and two inches narrower than the average parking spot. The designers say it is to save money and be economically friendly, but I know the truth: my only goal is to fuck you up. You may have parked your vehicle a million times, but these slots are specifically designed to create constriction, mimicking the feeling in your butthole during your entire parking experience.
What can I say? I have a twisted sense of humor.
The game begins innocently. Slow drivers crawl to a full stop as they wait for the hopeful glint of a taillight from another car in reverse. What once appeared to be a glorious splendor of asphalt now appears to be closing in on you.
You are surrounded.
I deploy my allies in the game: the old man reading the Fearless Flyer while hanging off the curb, flirting with crossing the parking lot, and making it impossible to pass, because every time you attempt to move forward, he does too — it’s an old-fashioned game of chicken, one which you will surely lose. As you break free and inch forward, a mom clad in Lululemon materializes, along with her trail of six children; the youngest still clinging to the tiny shopping cart that is usually reserved for in-store torture.
These are my minions, and we work in concert to set you on edge.
When you finally spy an open spot, you rush to it. It is a false flag: you will find a mess of discarded carts, a pair of chatting, dreadlocked yogis, or a small yet hip turquoise Vespa that is invisible to the naked eye until it is too late, all placed there by me and my fellow saboteurs.
Just when you have considered running from my twisted maze, a parking spot materializes. Your relief is palpable as you exit your vehicle. In a moment of smug bliss, you remember to grab your reusable bags from the backseat.
Traumatized from your brush with the game, you fill your cart recklessly with two-buck Chuck, mochi ice cream, and endless bottles of Everything But The Bagel seasoning. You are lulled into complacency: your battle-worn heart soothed by charming calligraphy. Your anger is assuaged by non-dairy milk, miniature ice cream cones, and frozen food from faraway lands. The employees charm you with their friendly smiles and cheerful demeanor. Your pain is forgotten.
What you don’t know is that the game favors the lot.
When I sense you are about to extract yourself from this tangled web, I draw you closer to my evil bosom. You make your way across the parking lot and load your overflowing bags into your trunk, being careful not to crush the $3.99 mixed floral bouquet you bought to raise your spirits. As you set out to reverse, my game begins again.
This time, cars wait behind you and despite your friendly “toot toot” of the horn to alert them to your soon-empty spot, there is nowhere to go. Convinced that sweet death will take you right here in this lot, you rifle through your bags until you find a Tetrapak of unsweetened vanilla almond milk and slurp it down to quench your thirst in this battle royale.
You reverse. Fear clutches your heart as I create obstacles that force you to slam on your brakes. Your beloved frozen palak paneer falls to the floor of your car. You will not discover it for months, until the air in your car hangs heavy with the pungent scent of rotting, sun-baked, spinach and cheese.
This is how I break you.
You arrive at the exit and see that there are signs indicating that neither a left or right turn is permitted.
“Are they changing direction every time I look away?” you wonder.
“No,” you tell yourself. “That would be crazy. It can’t be.”
You remember that you consumed nine Dixie cups of free coffee while browsing the aisles.
“It’s the heady mixture of caffeine & stevia drops,” you tell yourself.
No. It is I, determined to claim your joy.
The road is thick with traffic as 977 eager Trader Joe’s hopefuls wait and watch, ready to enter my madness. You realize this is now life or death for you. You close your eyes and pray, as cars careen about. You try to avoid them. You make a frantic escape, sharply turning your wheel and barely missing cars full of families, all coming in search of their own delights.
You won this time — or so you think. What you don’t realize is that I have planted an undeniable craving for Joe Joe’s cookies into your brain. You purchased zero boxes this trip, you idiot!
“Damn it all!” you curse, shaking your fists in the air. “How could I do this to myself?”
You’ve made it out this time, but you’ll come back, running once again to suckle at my sweet teat of suffering.
You always come back.