The basic remit of The Simpsons is to present a familiar, common experience in the backdrop of some outlandish premise. While the show has mixed up that balance a bit in recent years (ex) Bart sells secrets to the Chinese government because Homer won't buy him a new bike), back in the day, when it did things right, it felt very familiar. In Season 9 Episode 24, "Lost Our Lisa," Lisa is taken down a peg when she realizes that, despite her precautions to the contrary, she has inadvertently gotten on the wrong bus. The show really does a good job portraying her growing anxiety as she realizes she's desperately lost.
Today, I realized the same thing.
It started with getting metaphorically lost. Today, I did something I do very, very rarely: I went to the mall to try on some new clothes. Specifically, new jogging shorts. At the beginning of this jogging season, I had three pairs of jogging shorts, each a few years old. The first two succumbed rather quickly to holes and tears. The last pair persevered, briefly, but finally the holes (and smells--don't use a single pair of running shorts, folks) convinced me it was time to face my nemesis.
And nemesis it is. The mall is the Moby Dick to my Ahab, and like Ahab, I responded by staying away from it at all costs. (Okay, I never read Moby Dick.) I hate traveling out of my way to get there. I hate depending on strangers for help with shoes and changes rooms. I hate looking at myself in the mirror and deciding whether these clothes suited my personality, and then having to decide what my personality was and whether I had one. Really, every shopping experience is an existential crisis waiting to happen.
But I went. Reluctantly, sluggishly, I went. I walked through the grocery store, and bought Portobello Burgers (which they don't sell at the closer grocery store, than you very much, Sobeys). I went to the GameStop and pointedly did NOT buy a game (which took a lot of the willpower I'd reserved for the clothes, sadly). And then, armed with my $100 gift certificate (thanks for the birthday present folks! Even if it was for the 2010 birthday. Did I mention I really avoid shopping?), I stormed in, bought two pairs of shorts, and left. I don't want to talk about prices, because 1) It's Sportcheck and 2) I think I overpaid, but let's just say there's not much of that giftcard left.
And then I had to take a bus back to the University, in which case I felt literally lost. Taking buses is still a new experience for me. September 2010 marked the first time I had a proper bus pass, and I still look at them with suspicion. I mean, pay money to get somewhere you can get with your own two feet? That's some racket, buddy. But at the same time, I recognize that they supply me with a mobility that even the bike doesn't. Coming out from the mall, I didn't know which bus to take. I'd taken the express line there, but I was fairly sure it didn't go back the same way (which, thinking on it now, is ridiculous; I know that express route, and it absolutely goes back that way). And the 9, my next safe bet, wasn't coming for another half hour. So, I got on to an unknown bus, the 31 line and hoped for the best.
I was reading for the first few minutes, so I didn't actually notice until a good way into the ride that I had no idea where I was. The street signs were unfamiliar, the streets foreign, and the people on the bus weren't students (most of my bus rides are to and from the university. Including this one, since the university is a bus hub. So I'm used to mostly seeing students for fellow passengers.) I felt like I'd stepped out from the world I knew into one I didn't. I thought I was working inside a system I knew, a system I had mastered, but I was faced with the realization that the world was more complex than I knew, that the city I thought I had understood had layers that were beyond my experience. I felt humbled, and disturbed. I felt lost. In short, and I'm not too proud to say this, I felt like a spikey-haired, yellow-skinned eight year old.
And then the bus turned up into a street I knew, and then we pulled up to the university, and I got on another bus and went home.
Sadly, the happy ending is rarely the narratively interesting turn.