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Christa Lawler column: Here’s hoping holiday karma evens out in the end

Christa Lawler

About this time every year, we hear the true story of a human being who went into his or her savings account, performed a major cashectomy, and then lost the fat wad somewhere between the mall parking lot and the destination cash register.

It’s a holiday standard.

There are variations on these alternate endings. Case 1: A good Samaritan finds the envelope of money and is able to, miraculously, sniff out its owner based on the specific waffle marks of the nearest footprint, a Starbucks receipt and the unique order in which the bills were arranged. Case 2: The money is never returned. Its devastated former owner finds peace by imagining the money landing in the hands of someone who needs it more (and spends Christmas Eve chirping to loved ones “Merry Christmas. I hope you like gum.”)

Anyway, this isn’t that. This is a different kind of holiday story, a new standard. This is also a confession … and an apology.

I was driving home on a two-lane road at night and by the time I saw the plastic bag and its strewn contents, I had just a quick split to decide whether I would veer into the other lane or try to straddle the mess with my tires. I went with the latter, misjudged space, and heard a crunch from the right sector.

I immediately felt sick.

I had assumed it was garbage, but that noise indicated it was more.

“I just ran over someone’s Christmas presents,” I choked.

Sure enough, I noticed a man dodging traffic to retrieve the bag. He had the frantic gait of the kind of person who puts his loot on top of his car while searching for his car keys, forgets about it, drives off. I’d know it anywhere.  

This pretty much wrecked me for the night.

I tried to figure out how I could have handled it differently. I should have veered into the other lane. Was there oncoming traffic? I might have stopped the car, jumped out and placed the bag and its contents on the side of the road. I could have performed a U-Turn, taken him gently by the hand and pointed him toward a local boutique.

“Let’s replace it. Buy what you want,” I Daddy Warbucks him. “It’s on me.”

It’s possible it wasn’t a Christmas present. Maybe it was a tub of hummus and this guy is so flush he can afford all the hummus in the world in every flavor. Maybe someone else ran it over first. But that’s not how my fan fiction works. The more time that passed, the more elaborate the broken gift became in my mind — until, at last, it was a one-of-a-kind commission, something ceramic, for a beloved and ailing aunt. That wish-list thing to bring one last smile to those cracked lips.

Then came the series of inconveniences that showed me karma was watching me watch that man pick up broken pieces of his Christmas.

I noticed that my credit card had been charged $7.99 for something I didn’t buy at a store I’d not visited in a city where I don’t live. That’s how it starts, right? A simple purchase to test the card number, then when it clears, I’m on the hook for a Sleep Number Bed and a ticket to Iceland.

I called my bank and was on hold for 24 minutes before the automated system hung up on me and I had to re-navigate the tree for another 24 minutes.

“This is because I ran over someone’s Christmas presents,” I said to my partner, caught in a loop of the bank’s hold music.

“Well, technically your card was charged before you ran over the presents,” he replied. “So this is probably payback for something else.”

Ultimately, my card was suspended to protect further fraud — a major hiccup in Procrastination Station, where I tend to do most of my living and all of my holiday shopping.

There were other things that made me feel like I was slogging along, cursed: A struggle to reach the outlet for the humidifier, a lingering cold that continues to eek its way south through my respiratory system, a general moodiness, late for school because the toddler refused any food that wasn’t already on a spoon en route for my mouth.

I made coffee at work and flooded the entire breakroom.

“I’m suffering, too!” I wanted the man to know. “I smell like medium roast failure!”

Then it was over.

I got an email confirming a recurring payment for $7.99, a service I’d forgotten I signed up for a month ago. So that credit card thing wasn’t fraud after all. Everything else took on an air of lightness, too. The universe, it seems, has forgiven me. Hopefully, so has the man.

Christa Lawler is the arts & entertainment reporter for the News Tribune. She occasionally writes a column about pop culture — a broad topic that can include furniture, fitness trackers and sci-fi. Follow her on Twitter @dntane.

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