My house is on the market, and each time an agent shows my house, I am banished to wander about town for up to an hour and a half. Today, I had run all of my errands, spent most of my extra money, and since I am still in recovery from surgery, I felt like sticking as close to home as possible. The only problem is that I live in a very small town with very little in the way of entertainment or restaurants. I normally go one town over, where transplants to the area have made a quaint old town into a miniature social mecca with choices for bars, restaurants, a coffee shop, and retail shops, across from a revamped park that my mother used to visit as a teenager in the 50’s when malt shops were the favorite past times of teenagers. Today, I did not feel like driving more than 2 miles. I remembered a coffee shop that I once frequented about two years ago, prior to transition. I still have a bit of anxiety about going places (especially locally) that I have not entered since pre-facial hair. I thought that surely I looked so different now, that I would be like a stranger and could just sit in the corner with my laptop, none the wiser, and I could work on an article I am attempting to write for a local paper.
Much to my chagrin and simultaneous awe, the owner greeted me with cheery exclamations of “Long time, no see!” and “we have soy milk now!”. I couldn’t believe she remembered my intolerance to lactose, but I realized that my tattoos make anonymity nearly impossible. I was pleasantly surprised at how seamlessly our reunion went, and I was delighted to have made an impression on this person that she would be excited to offer me an alternative to black coffee. But now, I wanted to slip away into a corner, set up my computer and THINK. That was not going to be in the cards today.
With my faux fleece-lined jacket draped backwards over my chair, I set my laptop to the center of the small table, my coffee to the left, and sat back against the soft cushion I had created. Breathing a long, deep breath, I leaned slightly forward with hands on the keys, and began typing. I was unable to complete one sentence before the barista yelled to the other people in the cafe to see if anyone wanted some extra soy foam for their coffees. I looked up and around the room, thinking that was a sweet offer so as not to waste anything. The crowd all seemed confused. Half a dozen people sat across the room from me, and all of them looked like she had spoken a foreign language. One older man, wearing a thick head of curly silvered hair, boisterously shouted back, “WHAT kinda foam? I’d rather have dog poo in my coffee!”. The others chimed in with laughter, making small comments on milk alternatives. Grey haired man quieted after his remark to open the floor to Miss Know-It-All, who enjoyed imparting knowledge about the most mundane of things. Miss Know-It-All continued to (loudly) exclaim that some almond milk has a trace of dairy in it, and she knew this because…. I tuned out of that conversation and went back to writing. A customer walked in and Miss Know-It-All broke her run-on sentence to greet them with a “Good Morning,” and then back to her database on almond milk knowledge, which had shifted to Seattle coffee shops. Grey-haired man shouted at this arriving customer that the owner had some “what do you call that foam stuff? Soy? Dog poo for your coffee if you want some!” and laughed with the satisfaction of a man who believed himself to be a comedian.
I realized by this time that writing my article was going to be impossible here. Instead, I was on Facebook Messenger telling my friend about this surreal experience. I stay in such a tightly knit circle of friends, that I forget how ignorant the world is outside of my social group. I stopped typing long enough to shout at the grey haired man. I said, “Hey now, don’t be disrespecting my soy milk,” with a combination of assertion and humor in my tone. I am from the south, and though I lived half of my life away from this place, I know how this works: I knew he would back-peddle his remarks and calm it down. He said, “I just don’t like STUFF in my coffee!” I asked in return, “So, you drink your coffee black, then?” He peered into his mug and paused for a few seconds before responding, “ok, I just like MY stuff in MY coffee.” We both laughed, and that would have been that, except Miss Know-It-All could not let sleeping dogs lie. She chimed in with “Now, I haven’t tried soy milk, but I have tried almond milk!” I wanted to say, “Yah, I heard you were a self-proclaimed expert on the subject.” But I am too nice to take my frustration out on others, so I smiled and turned back to my computer for a few short seconds before she interrupted again. “That foam looked very nice and thick – is it?” I took my time to reply, demanding time to complete one damn sentence on my laptop. “Yes,” I said bluntly, “it is.” Before my head could turn back to my screen, she was off on another tangent about coffee and Seattle. She had that kind of voice which penetrated the murmur of the crowd. All voices, other than hers, were muffled and I could not hear any individual words, for they must have had some manners. She talked above all others, as if her voice were the most important event in the world, recounting mundanely detailed stories about Seattle, coffee shops, and…. doughnuts?? People would want to hear what she had to say, I am certain she was thinking, because she sure liked the sound of her own voice. I turned back to my computer and began heatedly typing this last exchange to my friend on Facebook. “This Mount Holly crowd is an obnoxious bunch!” I typed. By contrast, he was at the sister cafe in Belmont, and no one was disturbing the peace, there. I wished I hadn’t ordered such a large coffee, now.
My usual coping mechanism for frustration is laughter, so when I began to feel that tightening in my chest, I started finding humor in my situation. I pictured unrealistic events that would happen in any given frustrating situation if life were a cartoon and no one would ever have been harmed. I mean, how many times has the Coyote walked away from an anvil dropping on his head? He might be accordion-shaped, but he walks away, am I right? I started typing a scenario out to my friend. I wrote, “I keep picturing myself walking up to Miss Know-It-All with a wad of napkins, balling them up theatrically, then shoving them into her mouth to muffle all these boring facts that began as almond milk and has morphed into Seattle coffee shops and then into donuts! All while maintaining eye contact and no expression on my face.” I would want to say something in the style of Jim Carey, such as “When in public, USE YOUR MANNERS! No one cares about how many kinds of damn DONUTS Seattle has! And no one wants to see PICTURES OF THESE DONUTS! GAAAAAAHHHD!” This is my cartoon world, because I actually do have manners, and I do realize other people exist, so I would never create such a scene outside of fantasy; however, I did find myself sighing and I said aloud, but under my breath, “shut. up. jeez!” There was a guy at the table next to mine and looked over and let out a big smile with a muted laugh.
My article was ruined. The creativity had been stifled. So I ended up writing an article that illustrates the need to be aware of yourself in public spaces. We all have to share these spaces, and there is often that one person who feels the need to dominate the personal spaces of others. Just know that if you are that person, someone in the room, if not more than one person, is wishing you would shut the hell up, and is imagining ways in which to achieve silence. I am of the belief that interpersonal communication should be taught in elementary school up through college, and continuing ed courses would even be a great measure. I am not as adept as I would have it sound, but I do strive to better my communication as I catch things that could use improvement. Public space does not belong to one person, but to all who are sharing it at any given time. Think beyond yourselves. But if you find yourself the victim of a dominating presence, enter your cartoon world and deal with it in a safe, hilarious way. You’d be surprised how much that helps!