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?