A Coronavirus Misanthrope

I would describe myself as a misanthrope. A nice one. A nice misanthrope who actually has a few friends that I love dearly. I have always been able to entertain myself with no, or very little, interaction with other people. In the past, when I have been betrayed by friends, I was disappointed, but I never felt any life-changing pang of loss when I was no longer friends with someone. I have never felt that deep, saddening missing of someone who was still alive. I have felt deep sadness when someone dies, but a disconnection with someone who is still alive never greatly affected me. Overall, I would describe myself as not having much deep interest in other people…

UNTIL NOW.

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Oh my, my, my, how the tides have changed over the past few weeks. It’s as if the tides heard me boasting about my general, seemingly harmless disdain for other people. And then the tides all got together and conspire against me and against all of humanity, to teach a terrible, long-lasting lesson.

 

Dear tides: I GET IT. I AM SOOOOOO SORRY. WHAT CAN I DO TO FIX THIS?

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The answer is nothing. I can do nothing.

I suppose that whenever the coronavirus-related lock downs are lifted, I should not go out into the world, continuing to boast about how deeply misanthropic I am. It turns out, that although I am still not pining over missing friends who essentially dumped me for no good reason (I’m looking at all you lames who couldn’t get over my personal decision to not drink until inebriation), I am *totally* missing friendly interactions with strangers.

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Do you remember those people? Strangers? The Starbucks barista that you don’t really know but somehow remembers your name. The old lady in Target that asks you where the cat food is located. The even older lady in Palais Royal whose question about which pair of shoes look better leads to a long conversation about where she is going to wear the shoes (her sister’s funeral) and why she is nervous about buying a pair with high heels (she’s nervous that the graveyard soil will be damp and unsturdy). All of these are real things that have happened to me by the way.

I also miss hanging out with my friends. I know, gosh, who doesn’t, right? I miss laughing loudly in restaurants, always saying “yes” to bread baskets, and sharing crazy stories with them. I miss people laughing at my jokes. I miss laughing at stories about other people’s husbands.

I guess some part of me likes some people. Not many people. Only a few of them. But those few people really, really, do count. I miss my people. All five of them.

*all GIFs courtesy of http://www.giphy.com*

Thank You for Coming: A Story about Getting Ice Cream During a Pandemic

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“Thank you for coming,” he said, in a heartbreakingly sincere way. I immediately knew what he meant. I knew beyond what he meant. For a moment, I hurt with him.

“Oh, yes, of course,” I managed to fumble out, too uncomfortable to verbally acknowledge the worries and concerns that I knew the ice cream shop owner was experiencing. “Ha, yeah, umm, I want to, you know, umm, support businesses. Plus, ha ha, yeah, I’m lactose intolerant, but I do love ice cream so much.”

He smiled and his eyes seemed to look like how I bet they look when things are less grim and business is less slow. He smiled like it was a few weeks ago, before the dreaded COVID-19 had turned all of our lives into worrisome messes. He looked at me, really, really, looked at me, and smiled. It’s the first time that someone has smiled at me like that in several weeks. Most days, I am home, alone. On the times when I go to the store, people are avoiding eye contact. Or, when I do manage to make eye contact with someone, I only see fear. I no longer actively try to smile at people or make eye contact because seeing fear in so many people’s eyes creates a sadness that I tend to carry with me for the rest of the day.

“Hmm…,” I say, mulling over each ice cream label, carefully reading each one. I already knew what I was going to get. I always get only one of two flavors: Swiss Chocolate or Amaretto. He didn’t have Amaretto; I of course was going to get the Swiss Chocolate. But I stood there, allowing myself to just exist in the shop, and in the moment, and in the presence of this business owner who has perhaps only seen a few customers all day. I am silent. I almost wish he would chat a little bit. No, I absolutely wished he would chat a little bit. He seemed kind and open, but he’s probably scared, too.

“I think I’ll have the Swiss Chocolate. A kid’s sized cup, please,” I finally said, trying to seem like I had given the choice  much consideration.

“Yes, sure, of course!” he responded enthusiastically.

I looked at the restroom door. There was a sign on it that said, “Temporarily out of order.” I desperately wanted to wash my hands.

“May I use your restroom?” I asked anyway, hoping he’d let me slide. He didn’t. I respectfully understood.

He finished ringing up my small ice cream: over $5 for the ice cream and two scoops of walnuts. I handed him a $10, asking him if it was ok that I paid with cash.

“Sure!” he said, still gushing with enthusiasm. He slid a little white tray towards me for me to put the money inside of and push back to him. I’ve never in my adult life wanted to hand my card to someone or put a bill into someone’s hands so badly. A little tinge of sadness poked at my gut.

“Are you the owner?” I asked. He smiled and told me he was. I made the presumption based on his age and the somewhat slow and unsure way in which he mixed in the walnuts. His button up, unbranded golf shirt and genuine glee to have a customer also seemed to give away his status as owner.

He finished counting the change and put it back in the basket. As he counted, I thought about all of the times that I have struggled financially as a business owner. The worry, panic, anxiety, and sadness of being an entrepreneur is just a part of the freedom that comes with entrepreneurship. You lose a boss, but you gain even more perceived uncertainty. My heart went out to this man, who has likely had to take to tending his own shop because he can no longer afford to pay the youthful high school kids to come in and serve the customers.

“Please, keep the change,” I told him and smiled. He smiled again. I turned away, clutching my somewhat poorly mixed ice cream, heading towards the door before the tears could escape my eyes.

“God bless you!” he called after me.

“Bless you, too, sir,” I said, turning back and smiling before using my elbow to push open the door.

I drove down the street to an empty parking lot to cry and enjoy my ice cream. Even though it was poorly mixed, it was still so good. I love Swiss Chocolate.

Stranger Danger, Part 1

Let’s talk about interacting with strangers.

Interactions with strangers have provided some of the most interesting stories of my life. A friend once said to me, “If I were you, I wouldn’t even leave the house most days.” That is how often and how strange my stranger interactions are.

Stranger interactions are so common to me that nowadays, it takes a VERY strange interaction to get me to even think twice about it. Yesterday, I had such an interaction.

Yesterday, I was sitting outside of my local Barnes and Noble bookseller. One of my past times is to go to the bookstore and wander around. Sometimes I leave with $80 worth of books, but most days, I just wander around, enjoy the atmosphere, and if the guilt of “just looking” gets to me, I will purchase a copy of Psychology Today or some virtually unknown, paperback literary journal.

As I was sitting in my car, kind of fumbling around with my purse and finishing up an episode of “The Daily” podcast (my go-to source for short bursts of information and entertainment), a beggar approached my window.

I have pretty good intuition and I usually play it safe. I didn’t immediately feel threatened, and he stayed a bit back away from the car, silently waving, trying to get my attention.

He held up a quarter and made the universal hand motion for “spare a quarter?”

I waved him to the other side of the car, to the driver’s side, and rolled down the window.

“Hi there, ma’am, do you have even just a quarter you can spare? I think I can get a bus ride if I can just get a little bit more,” he started.

He was almost soft spoken, with a twangy Texan accent. He was short, probably around my own height of a little more than five feet tall. He had curiously bright blue eyes, dirty blond, long, stringy, greasy hair and the kind of dark, tanned skin that only comes from being exposed to lots and lots of outdoor elements. He was almost the shade of some parts of my own body, and I am a Black American.

I very quickly pick up on people’s natures, and even when I still give a person a chance to prove me wrong, my initial twinge of judgement about their nature has never once been wrong.

Regardless of this man’s past or present, I could sense that his nature was mellow, and perhaps kind.

Believe it or not, I have met lots and lots and lots of beggars. Regardless of what a person is doing, begging or running a Fortune 500 company, the nature of that person, at least to me, is almost immediately apparent, and I have learned to question my innate guidance less, having gone against my better judgement in the past and been proven dumb for having done so.

“Sure,” I said, and I began to clear the clutter from my dashboard cubbie to fish out some change.

“Yeah, you know, I have made some bad choices,” he confessed.

I didn’t ask what kind. One part of me didn’t care, but the greater part of me now operates from a place of peace and non-judgement that I happily live in. This place of peace does not have space for or interest in the the bad choices of other people.

“We all have made bad choices,” I reminded him, and smiled. His already curiously bright eyes lit up a little bit, and for a moment, I could kind of see the guy he could be, or perhaps he would be, when he decided to make different choices.

Disclaimer: Don’t worry, these are completely platonic, entirely asexual observations. This story does not end with me taking him home.

“You sure do have a pretty smile,” he said, seeming relaxed.

“Thank you,” I responded, still gathering together the coins, and wondering if this guy is going to make out like a bandit because I have approximately $87 worth of nickels and dimes in my car cubbie.

“I am getting all the change together,” I reassured him, wondering if he was thinking about how long it was taking me.

“Don’t worry, I don’t mind; I am just thankful that you didn’t shoo me away.”

At this point, I was digging my nails against the last few cents, and putting it all together in my hands.

“I can see God around you,” he continued. At this point, I am actually not having cynical thoughts. I am not thinking, “Dude, I am going to give you the money, no need to bring God into this” or “Dude, I am not going to give you dollar bills because you mentioned God.”

For a few moments, I was just having a purely pure interaction with a random, middle aged dude who was down on his luck.

I handed over the change (finally) and he took it, and thanked me genuinely. He put it away and took a step or two from the car, and came back.

I had not rolled up the window and I did not seem annoyed that he came back. That’s because I wasn’t annoyed.

“Hey, would you like to pray with me?” he asked.

“Sure,” I responded. Even though I am not much of a church going, Bible thumping, anything nowadays, the peace I currently live in also extends to any sort of religious beliefs that others have, including any that do not mirror the ones I was raised in.

“Ok,” he started with now an almost child-like, giddy energy in his voice, “you say the prayer. You lead it, and I will follow.”

This is kind of where this story gets weird, at least for me.

No one has ever asked me to pray for them aloud or to lead a prayer. In fact, in the church I was raised in, the misogynistic view of women in the pulpit or in any type of meaningful worship leadership, prevailed.

Although I do not subscribe to such horseshit now, and to be frank, I thought of it as horseshit as a kid, too, I was completely shocked, as a woman, to be asked to lead a prayer. A prayer for a stranger, in a bookstore parking lot.

“Oh, oh my goodness, no one has ever asked me to pray for them, errr, I mean, to, um, lead a prayer, I think,” I stumbled.

I was so shocked that I had put my right hand over my breast, in classic, southern lady shocked posture.

“It’s ok,” he assured me. “How bout this? You say a prayer for me, silently, and I will say a prayer for you, too. What’s your name?” he asked.

“Nicole,” I responded. “And yours?”

“Chris,” he replied.

I stuck my hand out of the window, heart full of both confusion and thankfulness, and opened my hand.

He seemed shocked. I am sure he is treated very poorly by most people, based on his appearance and current stage of life. He looked at my hand like it was an oddity, but quickly presented his own.

I squeezed his hand, smiled, and said, “Good luck, Chris.”

“Thank ya, miss,” he told me, turned away, and continued walking.

I believe that the universe (or God, or Yoda, or whatever you like to call it) is represented in all of us. Sometimes, I believe, the universe presents its strangest selves to us for us to see and experience the odd, yet beautiful.

What do you think?

Until tomorrow, my friends…

 

P.S.

I fell way off the wagon; I am afraid to count the number of days I haven’t written. Regardless of how my blog may now suffer from short term abandonment issues, I am back with something interesting to write about. Perhaps I should only write on days when I actually have something interesting to say?

Is the World Really That Bad?

These days, it seems like the world has gone to absolute shite. There’s seemingly so much violence, hatred, and lying. It is easy to feel that the world is terrible. I know I sometimes feel like it is.

I once read a quote by Eckhart Tolle that loosely said something like “If you think the world is against you, it will be.”

Even though I don’t always feel comfortable out in the world, and I certainly don’t always think about the world as being a warm and fuzzy place, sometimes, the universe smiles at me. Well, often times the universe smiles at me. Does the universe smile at me because I am paying attention and smiling back or because I’m special? I am hesitant to say that I am terribly special, so it must be the former reason.

Allow me to share two mildly heart warming stories from the past two days:

Yesterday:

I was driving along on my somewhat long commute to meet two students. I was just sitting at a stop light, not singing along to music or doing anything in particular, when I casually looked over to my left.

There was an old, rusted, silver mini-van, with several people inside. The driver, a skinny, young woman wearing a colorful head wrap and tank top shirt, leaned over the front seat passenger and waved and smiled, rather enthusiastically.

I looked, then squinted, trying to make their faces out more clearly. I didn’t recognize anyone in the car. The passenger then smiled sweetly and warmly. I returned the smile, with the same genuineness, mixed with a lot of confusion, to be honest. They then casually returned to talking amongst themselves and eventually drove away, like they really were just waving and being friendly strangers. They didn’t ask me for change or directions or anything. I suppose that they were just being nice. Smiling back was a welcome departure from the typically dirty looks I give other drivers.

Today:

Today, I had a bit of a mental block, so I went for a walk. I walked along the nearby trail, which passes a high school. When I got close to the fence of the school, I saw two teenage girls, mimicking walking and then jumping up and down. I thought they were mocking me. The shirt I was wearing was kind of tight and I am not a size two, so I kind of thought they were mocking me for walking and / or being chubby.

As I got closer, I could see their faces and hear their voices clearly. One shouted “YOU GO SIS!” and the other shouted, jumping up and down and cheering FOR me, “I AM SO PROUD OF YOU.”

I was so taken aback that I almost failed to wave back! It was so odd! It went against every negative expectation that I have about interactions with both strangers and teenagers, and these people were both strange AND teen aged!

I waved back and smiled. My head became so uplifted! I smiled all the way back home. I felt encouraged (something that I sorely need these days). I felt like the universe cared about me and was sending me little pats on the back. It was lovely. My mood was improved for the rest of the day and continues to be lifted until this very moment.

Thanks, universe. You’re not so bad.

Until tomorrow, my friends…

Getting Beat Up

Today I went to visit my elderly uncle. I’ve written about him before and today he imparted some more wisdom that I would like to share.

He’s 81 years old and is very gentle in nature. As long as I’ve known him or known of him, over 30 years, he’s always been the same. He’s not the guy who was a jerk before who became gentle. It’s just his nature.

Today, I talked to him about the challenges of entrepreneurship and having faith in myself.

He laughed very heartily, like I had told him a very funny joke.

“Do you know how many people have been beat up, so many times? And they just kept on trying. That’s what you will do.”

He said it with a level of confidence and surety that I honesty don’t always have about being an entrepreneur. Wait, I’m just kidding. That was an understatement. He seemed sure and I feel the exact opposite. But I’m still trying anyway.

I talked to him briefly about the often times crippling fear of uncertainty.

Again, he laughed, this time louder, and said: “You ever sit around and think about how every time you thought something was so messed up and some kind of way you figured it out?”

MIND. BLOWN.

No, my dear, ancient and wise uncle, I do not sit around and think about my successes. I have too many failures and near misses to think about!

That’s what I wanted to say, but I realized I was/am a silly worry wart and my uncle was right.

Trying is hard. Change is hard. Trying to do something new is hard. Failure is hard. But, for me, so is wishing for something different or settling for mediocrity.

Nowadays, I have no idea what’s going on in almost any aspect of my life. Everything from my health to my paychecks have big ass questions marks floating around them.

But, I’m doing it. I’m making it. I’m unsure, but I’m not dead yet. And if I wake up tomorrow again, not dead, then I have another opportunity to figure things out.

Take it from an 81 year old man: you can do it and it’ll be better than you thought, if you try.

Good luck…

Until tomorrow my friends…