I think I have discovered, mostly by accident, a couple of incredibly satisfying stress relieving techniques. The first, in college, came with turning in major term papers and projects a week early. Of course there was the obvious relief that simply comes with being done. And I want to note, for the record, that I never pulled an all-nighter in the name of “studying” in my life. I was actually that dork who went to bed at 11:00 most nights and could sleep through anything in the dorms. But none of this is to say I didn’t work just as furiously and just as long as my peers. I just did it two weekends before the thing was due, instead of at the last minute (the penultimate completion, so to speak). But double or even triple the satisfaction of completion with every complaint from the other students in my class the week before the due date. As they furiously compared progress and soothed themselves and others with the common assumption that no one else had done anything either, I was that annoying bubble buster who got to feed off of their multiplied stress and fear that there just weren’t enough hours in a day (even when forgoing sleeping and eating and considering wearing a diaper) to get everything done. Most of the time I didn’t even have to gloat about being finished. I think they could smell it on me. And I knew that when they said they “hated” me, it was that same kind of jealous hatred my mother taught me about in junior high. Somehow by college, I had grown to thrive off it. I just wish I had discovered this scheme my first semester. My grades might have been better.
Last weekend, I was reminded of another stress reliever, as I drove more than an hour to a graduation back in Burlington. When my GPS told me I was going to be at least 25 minutes early (rather than 10 minutes late, as I had really hoped), I found myself once again overcome by the zen that results from driving slower than the speed limit. This started, admittedly, from my cheap nature and attempt to save money that first year that gas prices seemed to skyrocket by a dollar a gallon overnight. At the time, I was living in Burlington but still working in Greensboro, and had exactly a 25 minute one way all highway commute. My dad dropped me the tip that most cars gas mileage peaks at 55mph, so I thought, for 10 more minutes a day, what the heck. The speed limit for half the trip was 65 and 70 for the other half. I was in the habit of driving between 70 and 75 most of the way, which was generally the speed of traffic. Slowing down to 55 was drastic, for everyone involved.
Within three days, I was sold. I don’t even know if I actually raised my gas mileage, but I’m telling you, any sense of road rage I ever might have had, virtually gone. In fact, I started noticing it in everyone else, and developed a superiority complex of a whole new nature. I had this idea like, “I’m better than you because I’m not in a hurry today.” And no, I didn’t drive in the left lane. I didn’t drive in the far right lane either though, what with all the on and off ramps, it was really the safest to stay in the middle or second to right lane. This created a very bizarre effect where, in my small car close to the road, I could put my head back and imagine all the cars flying around me were the bubbles created by hot tub jets on the back of my neck. Getting honked at, someone handing me a martini. Flipped off? Extra olives. No lie.
This brings me to Wal-mart, last Sunday. For the record, Wal-mart was the closest, cleanest, cheap grocery store to campus when I was in college, so I endured it. Now, I rarely go. The fact is, I can, nearly always, beat Wal-mart’s prices. I hate their parking lot. I generally hate their customer service after 11am (when all the seniors’ shifts end) and I generally hate 75% of their patrons. Generally. But as a professional stay-at-home-mom who also uses coupons, I have come to a reconciliation of sorts, with long grocery lines, couponers, inept register clerks, and even ladies paying for a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, and a pack of gum in dimes. (That’s almost 70 dimes today people.) My secret, of course, is timing. Never go grocery shopping in a hurry. Never. In fact, my new tactic is to take the girls to the grocery store as a 90 minute time killer if they wake up early from naps or I need to push them through a snack until lunch.
So on Sunday, I was running several errands all on one side of town, and Wal-mart happened to be on my list. I needed tomato stakes, for my garden. I parked on the far left side of the building (knowing full well it would be easier to walk across the entire store in my heels from church than it would be to circle and navigate the front parking lot on a Sunday afternoon), picked up 6 stakes, a citronella candle, some plastic bowls and cups, and a pint of strawberries.
Certainly, all of these things could have been purchased elsewhere, but likely not in a one-stop shop. And even more likely (and here’s my stress-reducing secret), not using gift-cards. *So another confession: I am a secret shopper and a product tester, and many of the “companies” for which I test products pay in gift cards to get around the income tax issue. This is why I happened to have eleven gift cards in $5 increments to Wal-mart bound by a rubber band in my center console.
Let me tell you what. If you ever need a petty passive aggressive get-back at all the slow cart pushers, aisle blockers, crappy parkers, smelly shoppers, and bratty children, try this. With every glare I only became more friendly to those behind me, “Uh, you might want to find another line, some of my cards aren’t scanning right.” As they’d furiously begin slamming all their items back in the cart I’d top it off with a good-natured (and very innocent) laugh and say with a smile, “I know! And I have about eleven of them!” Then, rolling my eyes at myself I suddenly understood the meaning of “ignorance is bliss.” It really is. Even feigned ignorance feels pretty damn good.