Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Judge your neighbor

Heidi Buyak

Her order was very specific.  A large cup of coffee with sugar free Hazelnut syrup, could we do that?  Could we?  Really?  Because it was very important that she had sugar free because well, she’s a diabetic now, type II, she discovered that one day after fainting in the mall….. 

If she had been to the mall, it wasn’t to look for new clothes.   She looked like a startled bird under her big candy cotton high 1980’s dyed blonde hair and bright red lip stick, both of which she was too old for.

It was the Christmas crush and she was standing there in front of me in her vintage red and black buffalo check stirrup pants and Red holiday sweater with appliqué Christmas tree and presents.  Oblivious to the other customers piling up behind her like boulders in a flash flood she handed me a little packet of Christian Christmas goodies.  Without really looking I said thanks and set it down gently on the counter.  Our customers like us and sometimes they give us things. 

She leaned forward and whispered,

“I gotta tell you something.  Oh, no, wait, can I trust you?  Are you a Christian?”

“I am.”

She had to ask me again,

“Are you a Christian?”

“Yes, I am,” she could stop waiting for the cock to crow three times, I wasn’t denying it.

Relieved to be talking to ‘one of her own kind’ she leaned over the counter all breathy and conspiratorial and said,

“I know this is going to sound crazy, but, I was just across the street at the movie theater, buying a ticket to see Black Swan, again and, and, I got scared, you know, really scared, because, can I tell you?  Can I trust you?”

“Yeah, sure, yes, of course.”

Get on with it, I thought.

“After I bought my ticket, I saw some Muslim women, they were in the theater and I just got scared, you know?”

No.  I didn’t know.   
'Fear not, for I Am with you’ Psalm 41: 10-13, nah, never mind, sweetie, go ahead and fear.

She stood there, unblinking, childlike and lost, waiting for an answer from me.
Why would anyone take advice from me?  I wear a paper hat for a living.  The question was so unchristian.

“No, no, I’m sure it’s all right sweetie, they’re probably just there to see a movie.  Don’t worry; I’m sure it’ll be okay.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, yeah, go on, enjoy your movie.”

She toddled off.   Thank God.

Right after she left, the same three pretty teenage Muslim girls walked by, giggling and gossiping. 

We didn’t lose any windows in the blast, because there was none, and since I was in the same spot as before I was easy for my new friend to find.

She came back after the movie and took a free refill and I called her by name, now we were bonded for life, I saw it in her grateful eyes.  She then went outside to a table and was still there when I left for the day. 

The next day she was back. 

“So, who did you give the packet to?”

“What packet?”  I thought, the one I threw out?

“Oh, I left it here, I’m sure who ever took it took it because they really needed it.”
She looked wounded.

“Here, take another one and give it to someone who needs to be saved.”

Excuse me?  Was I to do her calling for her?  Evangelizing to people who you assume think like you and look like you, is not spreading the word of God, it’s preaching to the choir – and her brand of petulant pushiness left me cold and deaf.   Who was making her do this?   It was obvious that she was too afraid to really go out there.  If she was so ‘on fire’, why didn’t she go after those Muslim girls the day before?  

I smiled and took her little Christian Christmas packet which was also her tip, and she was on her way, this time to sit upstairs for a few hours, of sitting and staring.

My manager was laughing at me.

“Looks like you got a stalker.”

The next day I lied to her.

“So, who did you give the packet to?”

“Oh, I gave it to my friend she goes to Marsh View Church…”

It was the wrong lie.

“Oh, you mean you didn’t give it to someone who needed saving?  You were supposed to give it to someone who’s not a Christian.”

Wow, wounded and nasty about it.

She went away, dejected.

The store manager, had been watching and asked,

“Do you know who she is?”

“No.” So, he told me,

“I kicked her out of our other restaurant for distributing her religious literature to everyone there.  She’s a real pain in the ass; let me know if you need me to step in.”

I told him it was okay so far and I think he was relieved not to have to deal with her.

A week went by, and she returned, with a friend.  She and he gently pushed aside another guest and slid into place in front of me.  Introducing me she told him,

“This is my Good Christian friend.” 

Her friend was all shiny, pink and fat topped off with just the kind of unctuous comb over you’d expect.  He beamed at me like a televangelist that just had a little boy and looking at me he said to her,

“Oh, well, I could just tell and she’s got a nice smile too.”

I recoiled in disgust, and then smirked as I thought, at least he didn’t say mouth, even though it felt like it.

Of course he ordered a huge decadent sugar laden coffee drink but with non fat milk, so naturally I loaded it with full fat half and half, which he was going to enjoy suckling on in front of his diabetic girlfriend.   The customers just piled in behind him as he watched the backside of my shapeless uniform.

She was dragging him to yet another showing of her new favorite movie and they were gone.

I didn’t see her again until after the New Year. 
Things were slow so my supervisor had me whip up something cold and frothy to put in sample cups and walk around the store.  My stalker was right there talking at me while I was receiving instructions from my boss.  She didn’t care, leaning over the counter she whispered,

“Hey. I gotta talk to you.”

“No, no you don’t.”   I thought, but said,

“Oh, okay, well, I gotta go out there anyway and hand out samples...”
She became agitated with giddy anticipation she was actually going to see the puppet mistress’ legs and walk around with her, how exciting!

“Oh! You’re coming out here? Okay.”  And she suddenly didn’t know where to stand.

Turning to my supervisor I said to her under the din of the Muzak,

“Really?  You want me to go out there now?”
She smiled back at me and said,

“Yes.”  She was funny and as amused as I was.

Tray in hand I left my station and she stood there right in front of me as if it was all for her and said,

“I gotta talk to you.”
Okay, we all knew she was real good at ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ but if this was going to work, she was going to have to learn to ‘heel’.  I started walking, so did she, sideways, facing me, talking,

“Okay, I gotta tell ya.  The other day I came in and, you know, got my usual coffee with sugar free hazel nut and I was charged three sixty two by, you know, the guy?  The gay one?”

I stopped, turned and blurted out a laugh right at her and said,

“The gay one.   Wait, which one?  They’re all gay here!”

She was bewildered.   

“Really, all of them?”

“Well, no, but about sixty percent, and that’s just the men!”
How did she know, I wasn’t gay?  Oh, that’s right, that wouldn’t have made me a ‘good Christian’.

She didn’t take the hint and kept right on talking,
“You know the one, he works over there it’s just so obvious...”

I knew exactly who she was talking about, hard working, kind, funny; I’d sooner leave my kid with him than her.

Is it, Judge not, lest ye be judged?  Or is it Judge not me, lest I judge you, for I am so much more righteous than thee...? 
Then it occurred to me, I had just potentially ‘outted’ my new friends and opened them up to her irritation of them.  I changed the subject.

“You know, a dollar to someone, like me, who works in food service is a lot more than maybe somebody else, because we make so little to begin with.  I mean look at me, divorced, struggling to keep my house out of foreclosure – I need every dollar I get.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”  She said to my back.

I walked away and she stayed.   I had scraped her off.
I finished my sampling duty and returned to my station and cleaned something.

Forty five minutes later I was in the middle of a rush and she chose then to show herself pushing her hand between two customers she handed me something, I took it only because it was more efficient than not taking it.  I put it in my pocket, it wasn’t money.

After the rush I pulled it out and read the business card, it said,

“Hi this is God....  I will be handling things today, so....”
From anyone else, I would’ve really appreciated it.  I might’ve even bought the magnet version of it for my refrigerator.  But coming from her, it was too sincere to be sincere.  Then watching me read it she popped her head over the truffle counter and said,

“I’ll pray for you.”

Again, same thing.  My patience was wearing thin.

She was back a few days later and I had what I thought was the answer, I said,

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here I went to my favorite cosmetic meeting last night and I think it’d be wonderful if you came to a meeting with me!  You’d be great at it!  Or, even better, we should get together at your house and have a party!  When do you think we could schedule that?  I’m off this Saturday; we could do it this Saturday.”

I turned to hand someone their drink and when I turned back she was gone.

It was a couple of weeks later and I guess she had learned to vary her annoying routine as to avoid getting kicked out of every place she goes to.

The personality that had control that day found me in the bakery.  Someone must’ve slipped her some sugar because she was mean.

“I hate this place!  I like your other place better.  They’re mean here.”  She said pointing to the espresso bar.
“You know what those girls said about that guy?  They were making fun of him and laughing at him.”

Looking at me and excluding me from her harsh criticism she continued,

“Not you.  You’re nice.  I can tell because you’re a Christian. ”

Being baptized and going to church on and off hardly made me a good anything.  She toddled off and we didn’t see her for a while.

That night my dad called and I told him about her. 

“She shows up, stays for hours, sits and stares, lingers over a cup of coffee, says she’s going to a movie.....”  His answer was,

“Maybe she’s homeless”

Now I felt ashamed and embarrassed.   

I really had been brought up better than how I had been thinking about ‘my stalker’ and I told myself that if she ever came back I’d try and learn a little more about her, maybe. 

She came back the week before Valentine’s Day.  She had already gotten her coffee and was going to see her favorite movie again for now the seventeenth time and even though there was that one lesbian scene in it she assured me that was not why she was going again and again because she was a Christian.

After the movie she came back.  I was helping a man buy expensive chocolate truffles for someone he loved when she sidled right up against him her body actually touched his, it was rude.

“Hey!”  She said.

“Hey, how are you?  I’ll be right with you as soon as I finish helping this nice man.”  I told her.

She then got even closer to the man and tried to crowd him to the side so she could stand in front of me. 

I turned to get a box from the other side of my work space and she slid around to stay in front of me.  It was creepy.  It didn’t matter she needed to talk,

“I can’t wait to get married again so I don’t have to work anymore.  I hate working.  Don’t you?”

“No.  I love my job.  It’s fun.”  And to prove it, I kept working.

“oh, well, I was divorced in ’94...”
Judging by her wardrobe I would’ve guessed ’84, but...

“....and I just can’t wait to get married again so I can stop working.”

I finished up with the nice man and asked her,

“You work?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”  She took it badly.

“Oh, I mean, well, I don’t know, I always see you here, going to the movies, coffee, and,”

“I’m not always here!  I don’t always come here!  I work.”

“That’s what I’m asking, what kind of work do you do?  I was just curious, that’s all.”

“I make gift baskets and I can do a lot of my work at night in front of the T.V.”

Obviously, I had really brought her down; talking about work she probably should’ve been doing instead of wasting time and money going to the movies.  I tried to smooth her squirrel fur before she went and got me fired for hurting her feelings.  I said,

“Come on you know me, I was just...”

“No!”  She said.

“I don’t know you!  I don’t know you at all.”  And she stalked away.

1 comment:

  1. I guess the insurance she gets from putting together the gift baskets does not cover her meds. I also thinks she has a crush on you.You can be the Black Swan to her white swan.