Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Judge your neighbor - revised as per writer's group critique....Please comment

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 cotton candy high 1980’s blonde dye job 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.  Doesn’t the bible tell us, ‘Fear not, for I Am with you’.....  Nah, never mind, 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.

“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, 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 I was 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 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?  The one I threw out?

“Oh, I left it here, I’m sure who ever took it took it because they really needed it.” I told her.

She looked wounded and handing me another one demanded,

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

Excuse me?  Was I to do her calling for her?  I wondered 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?  In her world Jesus died only for us white, middle class women.
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.

The store manager was packed in with my co-worker and our supervisor behind the espresso bar, helping us, mostly by eating samples off the sample plate before any of the customers had a chance to get to them.  Despite that, he saw everything and said,

“Looks like you got yourself a stalker.”


He just laughed.

I had had stalkers in the past, more like ‘fans’ really. 

Once in college, this guy became fixated with my voice on the radio when I had a show there and could not figure out why I wouldn’t ‘go out’ with him, because he liked me so much.  Curious, I told him I’d listen to him for one evening.  He was a mealy little guy so I wasn’t too worried and I had friends close by.  He kept talking in circles always coming back around to asking why I wouldn’t go out with him.  To which I told him I had a boyfriend, and no, I wasn’t going to dump him.  He said he was depressed, and seemed convinced I could help him.  I just listened. 

In the end and more for the attention than anything else, I heard he jumped ten feet into eight feet of water on the edge of campus. 

They fished him out with a butterfly net and sent him home wrapped in bubble wrap.  The stupid things we do in college.

He was disturbed.

The other one was here in Texas, a woman, well, a girl disguised as a woman.  She floated into where I was taking Aikido and decided that she wanted to be a black belt too, just like me.  Training her was an exercise in patience and restraint.  All she talked about was her married boyfriend who taught Krav Magrav but would only use it on her, and wouldn’t teach her.  Throwing her was like throwing an old woman to the ground. 

Then, one day at the dojo, she met my family, and she had a new goal, going so far as to tell me that she would be a much better mother to my daughter than I was.  I told my teacher who was also a police officer and he resolved the issue without anyone doing anything unprofessional.

She was insane.

This twit, with the big hair, was merely amusing by comparison.

The next day, she showed up again.

“So, who did you give the packet to?”  She asked.

I lied.

“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.

She went away, dejected.

The store manager, was standing behind her watching and listening, when she wandered off he 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.”

“Nah, it’s okay, I can’t make characters like this up, but thanks.”

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 pushed aside another guest and slid into place in front of me.  Introducing me she told him,

“This is my Good Christian friend.”

I was embarrassed and hoped no one heard her. 

Her friend was all shiny, pink fat and 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 she’s a good Christian, and she’s got a nice smile too.”

I recoiled in disgust, and then smirked and I thought; at least he said smile and not mouth, but it felt the same.

Of course he ordered a huge decadent sugar laden coffee drink with non fat milk, which I loaded with full fat half and half.  I knew he’d enjoy suckling on in it 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, after Christmas, so my supervisor had me whip up something cold and frothy to put in sample cups and walk around the store.  My stalker had returned and 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 instead said,

“Oh, okay, well, I gotta go out there anyway and hand out samples...”

She became agitated and giddy with 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.”  She was breathless and suddenly didn’t know where to stand.

Turning to my supervisor and under the din of the piped in music I said,

“Really?  You want me to go out there now?”

She smiled back at me and said,

“Yes.”  She thought it was funny.

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

“I gotta talk to you.”

Okay, we 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, like one of those little cartoon dogs.  She started talking at me.

“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, that guy?  You know, the gay one?”

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

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

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, If I was gay that wouldn’t have made me a ‘good Christian’.

She didn’t shut up,

“You know the one, he works over there it’s just so obvious...”

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

I wondered, was it, Judge not, lest ye be judged?  Or was 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 special kind of 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.”

For a second there I thought what an easy mark she’d be....

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

I had walked away and 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,

“Hello.  This is God.  I will be handling all of your problems and concerns today.  That’s my job. Your job is to give them to me and then trust me.  Have a great day!”

From anyone else, I would’ve really appreciated it.  I’d even buy the magnet version of it for my refrigerator.  But coming from her, it was not welcome.  Plus it made me feel bad because I had lied about the foreclosure of my house.  Then watching me read it she popped her head over the truffle counter and said,

“I’ll pray for you.”

No thanks lady.

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 with me to a meeting!  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.

My co worker who had been watching the whole thing said,

“Wow, I didn’t think she could move so fast, she was like smoke.  I guess she didn’t like her brand of sales turned back on her.  She’s really one sided.”

It was a couple of weeks later before she found her way back.
That day she 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,

“Everyone’s mean here, not you, you’re nice, because you’re a Christian.”

As if being baptized and going to church once in a while, made me a good anything, and without waiting for a reply, she toddled off.

During one of my weekly calls to my dad, I was telling him about this woman,

“She’ll come in and get a huge cup of coffee then goes sits and stares someplace for the rest of the day.”

He said,

“Maybe she’s homeless.”

“Oh.  Thanks dad, now I feel bad.”

He told me a story,

“Yeah, we had this woman, up here, she’d come into the library in the morning and spread out all these papers over one of the tables in the back and tell everyone she was working on her book.  Of course, there was no book, she was homeless.”

I felt small and scared.  Small, because I had been raised better and scared because part of me feared that I would fail in my post divorce life and become that homeless woman in the library with the papers.

Now I felt sorry for her.  What if she was homeless?  Or what if she only went out when her husband was out of town or something weird like that. Maybe I should be a little more compassionate, less judgmental.

But, by the time she returned, the feeling had passed.

It was a few days before Valentine’s Day.  She had already gotten her coffee and was going to see her favorite movie again for now the seventeenth time.

She wanted to let me know, and assure me,

“It’s a great movie, that actress is going to win an academy award, she’s just so good, even though there’s that one lesbian scene in it – that’s not why I’m going, it’s not, I’m Christian, I’m not like that, not into that.  The movie’s just really good that’s all.”  

Right, I thought.

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.  Her eyes were all bright.

“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?” 

I might’ve said it a little sarcastically because 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.”

That was the job she wanted to stop for marriage?  Would anyone do?

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 yelled.

“I don’t know you!  I don’t know you at all.”

Her eyes went dead and she suddenly really didn’t seem to know me or any of my stunned co-workers.  It was as if she had some kind of Asperger’s-of-convenience-syndrome because it took over and she just went blank.

She stalked off in a hard waddle and my supervisor and co-worker just stared at me and then laughed.  My supervisor said.

“Wow, psy-cho....  you okay?”

I was a little shaken up, sweetie there had gotten real scary real quick but I was more afraid she’d go to management and complain about me.  I wouldn’t be the first employee to lose their job that way.  Of course management already had issues with her and she was probably too timid to make such a confrontation. 

This time she was gone for months.  I have no idea why she came back but she did, only now, she doesn’t bother any of us which is a real God send.

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