Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The River Denial

Some years ago, when I was living in L.A., I had joined a women-in-theatre membership group. They advertised meeting for a get-to-know-you lunch at a local restaurant. Networking, yanno. Seemed like a good idea; and, hey, lunch, what could be bad, right? So, I went.

When I got there, it turned out there were only two women at the reserved table, neither of whom had ever been to the group before either. (Already this didn't bode well). They were both considerably older than I: I was in my early twenties; they must've been in their comfortable middle years. One seemed pleasant enough. Kind of quiet. The other...

Well, she seemed pleasant enough as well, at first how-de-do. Right away I did pick up that her energy, in retrospect, although i wouldn't have put it in such terms at the time, was a bit...odd. But she looked all right. Large frame, large eyes, large lipsticked mouth, a shock of short white hair, chatty. By the end of the luncheon, I had her firmly associated, physically, with Ursula, the mer-octopus villain in Disney's "A Little Mermaid..." But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, we sat down, we looked at menus, we talked about this and that. The place is busy. A waiter rushes past, once, twice; the white-haired woman signals that we're ready to order, but he doesn't see us. Or maybe he said something like "I'll be with you in a moment, ma'am." It was a long time ago. It blurs.

What I remember much more vividly was the next part:

Ursula's cheerful smile changes--instantly--to a snarl of rage. She slams her hand down on the table and shouts at the top of her considerable voice,

HELLO?!? CUSTOMERS HERE!!! WE WANT SOME GODDAM SERVICE!!!

Somewhere while I'm still remembering to breathe, the manager comes over, or something happened; whatever ultimately transpired, we were -not- thrown out on our asses, and indeed even got some goddam service, eventually. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because the other, more soft-spoken woman talked them all down; maybe Ursula did another 180 as soon as the manager came, turned the charm back on, some goddam thing.

After they left, before the food arrives, Ursula turns back to us, grins, and says, in a normal speaking voice,

"That's how it's done."

The other woman is acting like this is all completely normal. In retrospect, I think that's actually what freaked me out the most.

Eventually they notice I've gone oddly quiet.

Ursula asks me something probing, I can't remember what.

So I say, oh no, I'm fine, really, just, we've been here so long, my meter's probably about to expire. I should really go feed it; I don't want a ticket.

I get the impression that Ursula is rather suspicious. But she allows me to leave, or I allow myself to leave. Politely. Apologetically, even.

Now, here's the kicker. I went back in.

Why in God's name? Of course she knew as well as I that it was a transparently lame excuse to peel the hell out of there. I'm sure I knew by that point that there was absolutely no "networking" that I wanted any part of to be had here. Did I feel guilty for having ordered food that I wasn't going to consume and thus pay for? Or was it some other guilt, of some deeper, murkier origin?...

Somehow we got through the rest of it. She said a few things that I thought were kind of, well, insane, as we ate our lunches (Caesar salad, I think, was mine; not very good). She laughed a lot, loudly. But nothing else seriously dramatic happened in the next, oh, forty minutes or so.

Eventually, the bill came. I think there was a further production about who owed how much, to the penny. When it was over, she gave me her card. We walked to the parking lot and went our separate ways, amicably enough.

And, while I can understand why the restaurant, a business, after all, didn't maybe want to make trouble with an obviously unstable and pugnacious person, still I don't really have a clear answer:

Why didn't the other woman seem to notice that anything was remotely wrong with this person, or rather even this situation?

And why in God's name didn't I leave, when I knew how badly I wanted to, and that there was nothing else for me there?

Because it was "no big deal, really?"

Because I didn't want to hurt her feelings?

Because I was afraid of the implications of acknowledging, even to myself, just how crazy this was, when no one else seemed to notice?

25 comments:

Cassandra Says said...

With me it would have been not wanting to stiff them for the bill, but your reasoning may have been different.
It's an interesting question, though. Most people respond to instances of someone going batshit my kind of freezing up and backing slowly away from the crazy person. Why don't we say anything?
I'd agree that the other person acting like all was well would have probably been the freakiest thing for me too.

belledame222 said...

It probably was mostly not wanting to stiff them for the bill. Still, today I'd handle it differently: tell the manager or a waiter on the way out that I need to leave, I have an emergency, I can pay for what's ordered if it's already been prepared or plated, something. If they were assholish too, I'd figure a plague on all their houses and just go.

belledame222 said...

and the reason we don't say anything, often enough, is for the very possible consequence that Crazy Person will then turn hir craziness on -us-. GIT IT OFF ME MAW!!

Eli said...

and the reason we don't say anything, often enough, is for the very possible consequence that Crazy Person will then turn hir craziness on -us-. GIT IT OFF ME MAW!!

DINGDINGDINGDINGDING!!!

I'll humor them politely until I can make my escape, and then try to just stay the hell away from them for the rest of my life.

Wariness of Teh Crazy is one of the reasons I tend to be kinda noncommittal around people I don't know well - I really don't want to say anything encouraging that might get me sucked in.

On the other hand, I can think of at least one recent occasion where the craziness was so surreal and inventive that I just let it wash over me. Something about an ex-fiancee who told him she was possessed by the devil and intended to kill him. He didn't believe her and gave her his sword and turned around, but then he saw the moon flicker, which his ninja training told him meant he was being attacked, so he whirled around and went into his disarm-and-disembowel attack routine, but a beam of light told him to stop just before he cut out her heart and chopped off her head in such a way that they both hit the ground at the same time.

He had just been mildly eccentric and personable up to that point, but that story totally blew me away. There is something to be said for serendipity - too bad I'm not a writer...

Cassandra Says said...

RE Getting the crazy off oneself, that is kind of my logic behind just not engaging with a certain person whose name shall not be mentioned even as a non-searchable acronym. Because she has ways of finding things out, you know.
My most interesting one in recent years was the apparently sane up to that point coworker who, over drinks, suddenly said "when a man sleeps with a woman he owns her."
All righty then, don't think I'll be going out for drinks with you again, oh MRA in training.

Emily said...

God, I am sooooo sensitive to people being shitty to waitstaff. Since I quit my job after working 4 years in foodservice, if someone does the slightest impolite thing to the waiter or cashier or whatever, it really sticks in my craw. Sometimes I want to get up and cuss out other customers at restaurants for being assholes.

I probably would have done the same thing you did, but since my hands shake all the time and anything that remotely disturbs my psyche makes them shake even more, my distress would have been very visible. But then again, I'm just not the kind of person who will meet up with some strangers for networking. Sometimes meeting up with people I already know is stressful enough. I would have had a hard time calling out a stranger on behavior like that, especially in a situation where I was somehow "involved."

belledame222 said...

eli: -that- is...wow. I mean...wow.

It sounds like a dream.

What was the context, can I ask?

kactus said...

I have a Very Good Friend who is like that--and like you said, bd, oftentimes I let her act crazy stupid because if I try to resist we end up screaming at each other and I want to kill her.

But this is a years long friendship and political partnership that has had its ups and downs.

I personally think she's very, very bipolar, but since she believes that psychiatry is a tool of the White Man (remember the old "therapists=the rapists"?) she refuses to get help or even acknowledge that she needs help. Or just to get laid, maybe, who knows?

So in the end I've just found myself disengaging from her and feeling sorta shitty about it, because when she's good she's very very good, but when she's bad, well you know the rest.

And I kinda think the other woman in your story had been through this with her before and knew that she'd better pick her battles very carefully.

Oh yes, and my Very Good Friend has been known to be exceptionally rude to waitstaff, too.

Eli said...

What was the context, can I ask?

I was out taking pictures, and this guy came up to me and started talking to me about how much he admired photographers for their ability to see beauty and art in the world around them (I think; I may be projecting my own thoughts a bit), and telling me some local history, and a good chunk of his life story.

The supposedly homicidal fiancee was the daughter of this guy he had done some stonecutting work for and admired very much. The bizarro ninja story was towards the very end of this.

He was a really nice guy, although I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and for him to say or do something that would put me in an awkward or even scary position, but it never did. Bizarre ninja stories I can totally deal with - any time you want to lay one on me, you just go right ahead.

(He might not have actually said anything about ninjas, but it was definitely some kind of eastern martial arts discipline involving edged weapons, and it pleases me to abbreviate that to ninjas, because, well, I like ninjas.)

belledame222 said...

kactus: oh yeah, i think i remember you talking about that one.

"the rapists" :eyeroll: well--I'm a big fan myself. In fact...well, no, i'll wait to make any more announcements on that score.

the funny thing is--admittedly it was over ten years ago, but i could swear I remember they'd only just met that day themselves.

belledame222 said...

CS: yick.

ProseHack said...

Oh, so you've had lunch with my mother?

Imagine being unable to leave...

Dan L-K said...

How's that expression go? "Someone who is nice to you, but mean to the wait staff, is not a good person." Or something very like.

(Replace "wait staff" with "sales clerk," "cab driver," "librarian," "girlfriend," "pornstitute," etc., etc., as appropriate.)

Bint Alshamsa said...

Okay see, I'm probably about to be banned off of your site forever Belle because I have a slightly different perspective. I guess because I have, on occasion been Teh Crazy. I have an absolute rule about being courteous to wait-staff and absolutely EVERYONE who works at the hospital, I mean down to the guys who clean up the rooms. However, I've found that in many interactions, like dealing with salespeople or service providers, folks just aren't willing to take a POC seriously unless you turn into what I call "Unstable Negro". If it looks like you're willing to get screwed over without putting up much of a fuss, then that is exactly what some will do. However, if I'm civil and polite, and the salesperson won't even show me such treatment in return, then I reserve the right to show them that I have no problem getting batshit crazy if that's what it takes to make them take me seriously. But I do at least give them the chance to avoid seeing "Unstable Negro" before I foam at the mouth. :)

belledame222 said...

yea, i hear you. i don't think that was the dynamic here, though. it was the whole zero-to-sixty thing that really freaked me out, as I recall.

nexy said...

while it can be severely uncomfortable to be in the presense of someone losing their mind, i'm with bint on this. sometimes one has to yell, scream, and jump up and down to get any kind of service in a public accomodation. especially if you happen to be one of those people who deviate from the norm. like a poc, or if you have teh gay or tranz dripping off you. it's like they think they'll catch it or something. like cooties.

belledame222 said...

well--it -was- a long time ago. but: as i recall,

1) the only POC there, if any, were the waitstaff

2) like i said she LOOKED fairly mainstream, at first

3) there was other stuff, too. like holding the gaze just a little...too...long, while waiting for a response. and...stuff she said. it was over a decade ago. i just remember feeling "ack" throughout the whole thing, pretty much.

belledame222 said...

i guess what i'm trying to say is--she did not strike me as someone who had simply reached the end of her rope that day, for whatever reason. she was very...controlling of it. like, on and off, like a fountain. that was what freaked me out.

she didn't seem in the slightest y'know embarrassed or apologetic either.

also, there were three of us, it was crowded, and truth to tell we actually hadn't been waiting -that- long.

midwesterntransport said...

well, yeah, and it's the whole "that's how you get it done" comment that really puts her Crazy for me. And..you know..Entitled.

Girlfriend and I had an interesting experience trying to deflect The Crazy a few weeks ago. We were on the 4 train heading downtown, and soon after we sat down noticed a man singing to a woman.

But not in the sexy, romantic way. she was sitting stiffly, trying not to look at him while he moved ever closer, crooning and staring at her face.

i thought, "that's fucked up."

then i thought, "maybe i should try to help her," while putting my headphones on and looking towards Girlfriend. she looked right at me and said, "is that man bothering that woman?"

"yup," i responded, and we both turned to berate him.

the situation ended up being fine. we successfully got the man to stop singing at the woman and she thanked us as she got off the train. he was all agog that we thought his actions were harassing - because in his opinion, they weren't "intrusive" - and nothing violent or dangerous happened before Girlfriend and I got to our stop.

but it could have been Not Fine. had Girlfriend not been with me, i probably would not have said anything. which makes me sad and upset - at both myself and The World. 'cause there were plenty of people on that car who noticed this harassment taking place and who didn't utter a word.

No one wants to Attract The Crazy.

That guy could have been really dangerous. i've tried saying things to harassers before when i was without friends about, and there have been some seriously scary moments. i think the key in this situation was Girlfriend's sense of humor. she had the whole car rolling with laughter at this dude, keeping the situation light, pointing out the absurdity of this guy without being aggressive.

i was grateful for her presence. and frustrated that more folks don't try to help others because we're all so Wary of The Crazy. myself included.

Eli said...

Letting the anger fly when needed is not a strictly POC tactic. I'm a pretty mild-mannered guy, but every once in a while I will let myself give in to righteous anger when I think I'm being seriously screwed over. If I don't, they assume that I'm okay with getting screwed over, and continue doing so.

belledame222 said...

that was a good thing you and the GF did, mwt.

eli: I am starting to think that the real definition of "crazy" is simply "wrong time, wrong place, wrong degree." it always makes -some- sense, somewhere...

belledame222 said...

...and to the wrong person(s), obviously.

midwesterntransport said...

belle, i think you're onto something.

it's all about the context.

JackGoff said...

Apropos, no?

lilcollegegirl said...

Oooh. I also had a Very Good Friend (a best friend even)who was full of the Crazy. First sign of something wrong would be the speaking to people who I couldn't see (although I'm still not sure if she really saw them or not, since they tended to be characters from anime or some such.) But in itself, that's pretty harmless and didn't really bother me, especially since she had lots of good stories due to this. She also had anger problems when I met her, but I figured this was just because people teased her constantly and she had no other friends. It was only after she amassed more friends and started being paranoid and getting really angry and hitting one for really minor stuff that I finally extricated myself from the crazy. It took so long because I felt really guilty because all of her other friends had gone by this time too (though they were still friends with me, which made her crazy jealous.) I'm not very good at distinguishing between harmless crazy and scary crazy...