Vicarious Happiness and the Displacement of the Toaster Moment

This Saturday, I left for South Korea. I was supposed to leave last Sunday. Here’s what happened:

Friday morning at 6:45, I took a bus to Atlanta so I could get my visa from the Korean embassy there. Walking towards the embassy down Peachtree Street, I notice a few kids dressed in medieval clothing.Larping, I think. Interesting. Guess they do that sort of thing in Atlanta. Come to find out, I’d arrived downtown just in time for “the world’s largest fantasy/SF convention,” Dragon Con.

I get to the embassy around 11:30. It’s empty, so I’m immediately called to the clerk’s window. I hand in all my paperwork and ask how long I should wait. The clerk says, “Three days.” I think, She misheard me. Clearly, she meant three hoursThe visa process usually only takes two hours, so I ask again. She replies again, “Three days. Come back on Wednesday.”

Nooooooo! My flight’s on Sunday! Ok. Don’t panic. You’re an adult. Just explain your situation to her. It’s going to be ok. Everything always turns out ok…

So I explain that my flight’s already been booked and ask if there’s a way to expedite the process, but the clerk rejects my idea. I email my Korean contacts, and after a couple hours of waiting and numerous phone calls, it’s made clear that I’m not leaving on Sunday.

The clerk tells me I can bring back a prepaid envelope for my documents to be returned next week. Bummed that I’ll be missing my first week in Korea and afraid that my future employers now hate me, I battle my way through all the Katnisses and Banes on Peachtree Street to the nearest FedEx.

Hungry from not having eaten a meal all day, I arrive at FedEx around 3:00 and ask to purchase a prepaid envelope. One of the employees directs me to a computer workstation, then tells me that I have to create an account and print my own label. Really? I can’t just give you my address and let you print it real quick? No problem, I guess. Just do what the lady says.

After creating the account and 30 minutes of trying to get the faulty system to accept my credit card, I get up and ask the employee behind the counter for assistance. Without bothering to look at my computer, she tells me that I can’t pay with a credit card, only an account number. Why didn’t you tell me that half an hour ago?

I go back to my computer, where a zombie doctor has assumed the workstation next to mine. I finally get my transaction paid for, but now the label won’t print. I think, Why are we replacing jobs with computer’s when the unemployment rate is so high? Because your company is saving money? Well, technology isn’t always the best option, like now. I need a human! And this stupid machine isn’t working! 

Thinking I’m not going to get the envelope back to the embassy, I bow my head in defeat and try to quell the impending toaster moment.

Toaster moment – noun – The final event in a series of unfavorable outcomes that, though insignificant — for example, the burning of a piece of toast, causes one to collapse into a breakdown. Origin: a term coined by frustrated college seniors struck by bouts of anxiety whenever reminded of their imminent post-graduation unemployment.

A male employee walks over to assist the zombie next to me, so after he helps the undead, I present him with my predicament. He calls the manager over– Thank you. — and the manager takes me behind the counter to an employee computer where he prints the label. Why couldn’t we have done this in the first place?

I thank them for their help and get out of there as fast as I can. About a block up the street, I realize the address on the label is incorrect. Noooooo! Fighting another toaster moment, I walk back to the FedEx. The security guard in the building lobby greets me with a “Hello,” and I just want to hug him because that’s the kindest thing anyone has said to me all day.

Back in FedEx, I head straight for the manager and restart the process.

A little after 4:00, I drop the envelope off at the Korean embassy.

With about thirty minutes until my bus back to Charlotte departs, I try to grab some food by descending into Middle-earth, otherwise known as the mall food court. Every fast-food place is crowded with Transformers and spandex-clad miniskirt girls, so I choose the shortest line and take my afternoon tea/supper/dinner back outside where I can breathe.

Sitting on a bench with my overpriced, subpar burrito bowl, I start thinking about the melodramatic mindset I’d had all day and how I sounded like #firstworldproblems… #ewww. I mean, nothing really bad had happened. No one got hurt or sick or anything, just inconvenienced.

So, I start listing blessings from the day instead: free wifi from Emory that allowed me to email my contacts in Korea, all the waiting time that let me start reading The Catcher in the Rye, Fedex being only like five blocks away so I could walk there quickly, that nice guy in the food court who gave me tortilla chips for free even though I couldn’t eat them because of the gluten free struggle, the lack of rain despite the forecast…

All the while, around me people from Dragon Con are taking pictures in their costumes and striking up conversations with costumed strangers, fellow members of the cosplay community. It dawned on me that no matter how rough of a day you might be having, at that same moment, someone else is having the time of their life, and maybe instead of dwelling on your bad cards, you can be happy for them instead. Walking back to the bus, I tried doing that and found myself genuinely excited for the Dragon Con attendees, even though getting hit by their styrofoam weapons was still testing my limited patience.

The bus ended up being over an hour late, so everyone got to wait outside in the Hotlanta heat. But, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t bad, just inconvenient. C’est la vie. If anything, I learned something that day.

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