Bad karma is when you buy a dress you’ll never wear at H&M that’s accidentally on sale for $7, mere petty cash, the cost of lunch, and then later, purposefully crumble the receipt into a ball and return it for $49.90 in store credit. You get nervous at the cash register, hesitate writing your information on the form needed to file your return, and awkwardly stare at the security guard by the door as you leave. You tell your mom, your boyfriend, your best friend. You feel guilty, even though H&M you don’t like H&M and all the dresses seem to fall apart after a while. You are damning the man, you are damning the trend, you now have $50 to spend. You slide the merchandise credit into your wallet and pretend it was given to you as a gift card to use on a rainy day.
Bad karma is when you wait two months to use that credit, despite your casual walks around the stores after work. Nothing really catches your eye. H&M on Walnut is geared toward the young professional, H&M on Chestnut is aimed toward the Philly high schooler. Friday afternoons the place is packed, miniskirts and graphic tees strewn across the store. Today, a Wednesday, at the Chestnut store, you find a badly needed cardigan, free of pulls and pills, and a soft gray long-sleeved tee. You don’t think twice about pulling the merch card out of your wallet. You leave the store wanting more.
Bad karma comes to get you when you swing by the Walnut store after the Chestnut store, just to see what’s there. You put down your purse and your bag of new purchases to try on more cardigans. You need more cardigans – your business casual wardrobe is waning as the weather is warming, and you’re going to stick to sundresses as long as you can. Ten minutes later in line at the register, purse across your body and cardigans in hand, you realize your other hand is empty.
You run around the store, looking for the pink plastic bag. “Has anyone seen an H&M bag?” is a really dumb question to ask, and the security guard you once feared is now your friend. He shakes his head. You leave your name and number at the register after using the last of your credit on a 2 for $20 deal.
As you walk out of the store, pissed but accepting because you knew this was coming – you really did – you believe in karma, the doctor calls to tell you that they can’t help you, they can’t fix what they’re supposed to fix. You stay on the phone, crying, sucking back snot behind your giant sunglasses, walking through Rittenhouse Square. I’ll return the cardigans, you think to yourself. I’ll give the store credit to a homeless person, I’ll do anything. You don’t deserve this. You may have swindled $42 out of a sleazy corporation but enough is enough. You’re a good person. You offer “god bless yous” from across the street, you ask the elderly if they need help carrying bags or getting out of their cars. You compliment young mothers on cuteness of their children. You hold open the door for strangers, you smile at people you don’t know.
You are almost home now, on 21st and Spruce. You are profusely sweating and the tears that have run down your neck are not helping your damp situation. Out of the corner of your eye, you spot an upside-down debit card on the ground. “Good karma,” you say out loud. You pick it up, read the name, immediately call Wachovia. This is good karma. You are saving this card from being placed in the wrong hands, you are saving it from being abused. You are helping this woman, this Lucy McDonald, and you feel great. You can’t reach personnel at Wachovia, but slip the card into your pocket to be dealt with later.
When you get home, you wonder how you could find owner of the card. Craigslist? Facebook? In college you returned many an ID card via the Internet, but in a major city, it could be more difficult. There is one Lucy McDonald in the Philadelphia Facebook network. You click her name and see her info, only to discover that she’s an Account Executive at the public relations firm you’ve been trying to get a full-time job with for months, and have been on the phone with this week regarding a possible internship. You send her a message, offering to cut the card in half or return it to her sometime tomorrow. You also let her know you’ve been interviewing, testing, calling.
Good karma, good karma, good karma, you repeat to yourself like a prayer. Good karma.