A friend of mine (and recently-initiated student, go her!) requested that I post this story which was originally written for my personal journal, which is not public. I agree with her--a story this good deserves to be retold. And so, submitted for your perusal, "My Last Two Dollars and My Last Good Nerve."
August 30, 2005
I nearly punched someone today.
The scene is Book People, a Monday evening. The cafe area. Having spent the day feeling like ass and laying around watching TV bundled up in various wubbies on the futon, I decided to make a pilgrimage to the library, then on the way back to Mecca itself, my all-time favorite bookstore and Austin landmark. I can't count the hours I've spent at Book People curled up on a couch or in the cafe sipping chai and collecting recipes, or paging through the latest metaphysical tripe. It's a comforting ritual and a way that my last couple of bucks could support local business.
So I score a table against the wall, put down my stack of cookbooks and various other and my purse, grab my wallet, and head for the counter. (My purse is in plain sight, don't worry; I wanted it to mark my table.) Today's coffee jockey is an adorable pierced-and-tattooed boy en flambe, as most BP baristas tend to be. There's one woman in line in front of me, waffling between a decaf skim milk latte and some other thing.
Now, this woman...oy. There are thin women, and then there are Skinny Bitches, and my radar went screaming off on the latter immediately. She's standing there in her overpriced workout clothes--you know, the kind nobody wears to actually work out in, they just wear around town to make it look like they're oh-so-health-conscious. She has one of those stupid little pink leather purses that should have a dog in it, and an armload of magazines about pilates and yoga; her hair is that expensive streaky blonde that's all the rage in people trying to look young and hip. She's making fake small talk with the adorable pierced-and-tattooed boy en flambe, and taking forever to decide what she wants, talking herself into and out of a piece of cake about five times.
I'm barely paying attention, as I am scanning the menu myself (you know, making up my mind BEFORE I get there?), but she has one of those nasal voices that worms its way into your brain and makes your spine hurt, so before long I'm listening to her; I think she was trying to be flirty. Anyone with half an IQ would have known her charm was absolutely wasted on our friendly neighborhood cafe lad.
The woman is now weighing the pros and cons of having skim milk versus two percent milk in her latte, and she says, "God, I don't know, I just feel so, like, fat today. I feel like such a big fat cow."
Then she turns to me, and she says, GET THIS, "How do you stand it every day?"
The adorable pierced-and-tattooed boy en flambe blinks.
Several heads in the cafe pop up because nobody can believe this woman actually said this to a total stranger. I feel as if the sitcom camera is pulling in tight for a closeup on my reaction.
But the gods of snark are smiling upon me today. I reply, straightfaced, "You know, it's normally not too bad, but today I'm having one of those days where I feel like a shallow dumb bitch. How do you stand it every day?"
Just then the barista, who is holding back laughter so hard he's beet red, hands her her skim milk yuppie whatever and says, "Here you go, ma'am." She too is kind of pink, but she doesn't say a damn word, or leave a tip--she storms off, her cell phone already to her ear, because clearly she's the wronged party here.
The pierced-and-tattooed boy en flambe busts out laughing, and I notice a few of the popping-up-heads are laughing too. I'm both shell-shocked and proud of myself, because usually when I'm insulted I'm not quick on the draw enough for the witty retort. "Oh my God, I cannot believe she fucking said that to you," he says, shaking his head.
I can't, either, but at the same time I can. It's not the first time people have made comments like that to me. They only do it when you're alone, because if you're with friends you're upholding the Fat Girl Contract--you're playing the part of asexual sidekick to whoever is the pretty girl. But if you're by yourself, and gods forbid having a good time or--gasp!--eating something besides a salad with the dressing on the side, you're fair game.
If you walk up to a black man and call him that dreaded "n word" or tell him he should be tap dancing and eating fried chicken, you'll be thought of as a bigot, but if you insult someone's appearance to their faces in public or tell a fat woman she should be on Atkins, it's considered "helpful advice." You don't know this woman, why she's fat, or anything about her life, but it's okay to be cruel, because obviously she's lazy and self-indulgent and you, as a skinny evangelist, have the right to say whatever you want if you think it's for her own good. People don't believe this kind of shit happens, but it happens every day.
I order a cherry Italian soda. The adorable pierced-and-tattooed boy en flambe waves my money away. "On the house," he says. "The comeback was worth two-fifty at least."
I slip the two dollars in the tip jar and go back to my table, shaking my head, still too amazed at the whole thing to really process it. A few minutes later I hear a quiet laugh, and I look up to see the adorable pierced-and-tattooed boy en flambe holding a milk jug and grinning a little sheepishly.
He sees me looking and holds up the jug. "I think I gave her whole milk by accident," he says, and winks. "Oops."