• Deborah

Mean people, please don't be mean to me


In a week that included a root canal AND and a staph infection from a rogue blackberry thorn caught in my finger (long story... ending in antibiotics), my low-point came not from sharp needles but rather, from a well-dressed stranger in her 70s.

Location: A public parking garage in Beverly Hills. Fancy stuff, right?

Situation: After my said root canal, I walked back to my car, parked on 4th floor of said parking garage. I exited the stairwell (trying to get my "steps") and crossed the walkway towards my car. Heading in my direction was an old woman, agile on her feet, moving at a relaxed pace. She was at least seven feet away. I paused briefly in the open space, suddenly light-headed (either from the novocaine which still lay claim to my face or the unexpected bout of exercise in the stairwell - what was I thinking?!). Either way, my pause was brief. Then, the old woman began yelling at me, "Get out of my way, my God! Get out of my way! Really!? What's your problem?" Exasperated snorts included. She pushed past me, snorting some more, then stood huffing in front of the elevator door.

An old lady yelling at you is worse than a root canal? Don't you think you're being a bit... sensitive, Deb?

Yes! And No. Not really. Unlike my dentist (whose intention was to improve my life and who, during that process, apologized for all pain inflicted), this woman's tongue-lashing was done purely to spite me.

spite (verb): deliberately hurt, annoy or offend (someone)

I had done nothing wrong except stumble slightly, a safe distance from her. I don't think I even broke her stride. I didn't ask her for help. And yet, she was compelled to yell at me. You should have heard her tone. Mean, mean, mean.

So, what did you, Deb? Yell back? Or just stew in your car, writing this blog post in your head?

Yell back? I am a middle-child, for goodness sake. I was trained to avoid conflict. Now normally, I would have stewed in my car, for sure. I would have bemoaned the sad state of humanity and the loss of civility amongst us. I would have called my husband and railed against Donald Trump and the culture of bullying that now defines our most basic of public interactions. I would have talked to myself for most of the ride home. But not this time. This time, I did something I've never done to a stranger. I confronted her. In the most soft, injured, tears-in-my-voice kind of way.

I mean, what do you expect from a lady coming out of oral surgery with drool dripping down her chin?

"Excuse ma'am." I walked a few steps towards her and the closed elevator doors in front of which she stood. She flinched, as if I was a physical threat. "I... I... I don't understand. I'm sorry I lost my balance. But... why would you speak so mean to me? What did I do wrong?" I stood frozen, waiting for her response. I think some drool dripped to the ground.

"I don't... people do that all the time to me!" She shouted at her feet. She wouldn't look at me. The young man standing beside her kept his eyes glued on his phone.

Awkward, am I right?

I took another small step towards her. We were still 12+ more feet apart. In the same pathetic, sad voice, I asked her again, "But, I've never done this to you. I've never done anything to you. Why would you speak so mean to me?" I blathered something about people needing to be nice to each other.

She shook her head; at the elevator that wasn't coming or at me, I don't know. Then, she returned her stare to her feet. She would not look at me. Nor would the man standing beside her. I muttered another round of "Why?" and "I just don't understand" before I turned away and walked the short distance to my car. I turned once more, only to see her disappear into the elevator. No apology. No promise to be better next time.

I sat in my car and played out all the things I could have said... that maybe, I could have crafted an argument that would have changed her into a happier, nicer person. It was sad that she had been hurt so many times that she found it safer to walk through swinging her fists. I wiped a tear from my eye and the drool off my chin, then drove home listening to Jackson Browne.

That night at dinner, my husband suggested the woman would never have said that to a man -- that she only had the confidence to be mean to a younger woman because they weren't a physical threat. My kids congratulated me. They were sure she wouldn't snap at another stranger again without thinking twice about me. They thought it was funny that I "killed a mean ol' lady with kindness."

Me? Not sure what to think.

Although I'm certain the world is a better place when people are kind to each other. Drool or no drool, I'm gonna tell people that.