He was off to a bad start, the poor bastard.
In fact, that was half of why I indulged this poor character in his fifties or sixties who’d come up to hit on me in front of my mom as we sipped coffee and chatted. I felt terribly for him. You didn’t plan this one too well in your head, my friend, did you? I thought, as he fumbled through trying to fund our mochas like they were cocktails.
“Well…today’s your lucky day,” he said as he paused by our table.
“What are you drinking here? I’ll buy it.” he even gestured toward the Starbucks barista.
The only thing missing was him shouting “Serving wench! Bring us another round!”
Truly, I expected to hear it. When I didn’t, I responded carefully.
“These are… paid for… but thank you,” I said, trying to avoid an implied facepalm via sarcastic “um” at the start of my reply – instead asking his name while offering mine. As part of my poorly executed spiritual path, I try to see the good in everyone and be kind to them. This is challenging with individuals like John, here. So I must try very, very hard. Even so, what I can’t control are those first thoughts that roll on in through my mind like an unprecedented sandstorm. Way too mentally disorganized to be an effective serial murderer, I thought. My mom seemed reluctant to stay and talk with him. She started fidgeting and doing the modern age equivalent of wrist-glancing by checking her cell phone (almost more effective in her case because it means she has to make an ordeal as she pulls out a handbag the weight of a pharaoh’s pyramid block to retrieve the time displaying device).
I’ve learned to try and disregard this habit, though on this day I half wanted to play the white rabbit too.
He’d already kinda failed my character test (which I call affable-until-proven-asshole. Actually I just made that up. For him. Moving on) by trying to compare my mom to his grandmother he’d taken care of toward the end of her life. Then, to make sure his foot was fully digested, he went for the whole thigh, “I’m not saying by any means that you’re – ya know – toward the end of your life,” he tried to say to my mom.
“But YOU might be, if you remain in the vicinity for much longer,” I had to actively grind my teeth to avoid saying.
He went on to hint that he was working with some secret group to take down the one-percenters and talk shit about J.P. Morgan – and as he did, I started to wonder if maybe that grandmother he referenced was rotting in a swivel chair somewhere in his current domicile. Now, don’t be judgmental, I thought, bringing up his military experience. I mentioned how my dad was inviting me to come chat with vets via Wounded Warriors. When he countered by talking shit about them too, he was over three quarters of the way to losing my patience. I can only handle so much lack of yes-and in a conversation before my heart starts getting all fluttery – like it’s trying to fly the rest of my body to a new locale where people are better conversationalists.
“What’s your experience with them?” I wondered.
“Well not doing what they say,” was his vague reply.
“Oh?” I probed: “Did they promise something and not deliver?”
“Well the VA…” (he went on to complain for a while about immaterial personal issues.)
“Ahah, and how’s that… relate to Wounded Warriors?”
“Well, they just have celebrities endorsing it and you don’t know where your money is going…”
This seemed like a non answer – also irrelevant to my original information. I hadn’t mentioned donating money.
“You’re too young to be Vietnam,” my mom said.
“Yes, yes I am. But I remember signing up and…” his voice trailed off for a moment before adding, “getting out.”
Wait, wait?! I thought. I need more inform-
’cause this is normally the point where I’d just sardonically put you in your place for not giving me a straight answer and wonder out loud if you’d even seen more combat beyond catapulting leaky pens at people from behind a desk. But by falling silent from my formerly talkative state, I think I drove the point home more. He got flustered enough that he started tripping over words even worse than before – and when my mom volunteered that I’d be doing the one-on-one bit with people – not donating money – he tried to backtrack. But I just couldn’t dredge up anymore compassion than I’d already spent on this negative person who was now not only bringing me down too, but asking too many personal questions and wanted us to come to his murder mobile to exchange contact information. I politely declined. My mother’s approval of this move was so thoroughgoingly obvious that I could see it even in my peripheral vision.
You know, I’m happy to chat with strangers. As a chick, I have to go into it, knowing they might want too much from me, and being ready to assertively and politely stand my ground. It ain’t easy. But the reason I do chat with strangers is because my tendency is to feel so disconnected. I want to connect – but in a positive way. Most people, whether they realize it or not, do too. I think they just dunno how, so they end up putting down your mom and organizations that’ve helped saved some of your friends’ lives after war. So, as a pro tip to any coffee shop trolls out there, bring some levity and openmindedness to your game. Don’t get caught up in thinking that just because you’re old that you’re wise or have learned all that you’re gonna. Tweak your approach and, while we may not stay in touch, it’ll make both’a our days a helluva lot better and brighter than had we all had a cerebral circle jerk over conspiracy theories and shade-throwing at the light-workers of the world.
In sum: take some interpersonal lessons at the local college on how to be endearing rather than offensive.
Also: don’t ever compare my sexy, distinguished, albeit a bit neurotic mom to your dead grandmother.