Despite recent evidence that I bear an uncanny similarity of likeness to Elenor Roosevelt, I’ve always thought I have a pretty non-descript face. I don’t possess the striking features of a Hollywood movie star, or even a Bollywood movie star. By the same token, I don’t think I’m completely repulsive either. Not completely. At least to the point where people can stand looking me in the eye and having a conversation. I have the kind of face and “look” that’s pleasent enough at first meeting, but forgotten once out of sight. Pleasent, non-descript, average. And that’s just fine with me.
However, there is apparently something about my “look” that makes certain groups of individuals feel comfortable to tell me strange, personal, and occasionally alarming things. These certain groups typically fall into three categories: potheads, overweight, emotionally unstable single mothers, and weirdos.
Example 1: The Potheads
In my post-high school youth, I earned my paycheck at the Santa Rosa Bible Church/Rincon Valley Christian School as a Custodial Services Technical Engineer. A janitor, to the lay person. I was working very late one Saturday night with a friend I had coralled into helping me when a couple of potheads showed up at my janitors cart. I knew they were potheads by the t-shirt one was wearing that had a picture of a smoking joint on it, the smoke making the Nike swoosh. Under the picture it said Just Doob It. So, that kind of tipped me off. Plus it was about 1 AM and raining and the only people dumb enough to be walking around in the rain at 1 AM in the rain are potheads and janitors who put off their work for too long. But I digress…
The four of us chatted for a few minutes about, among other things, if they could take my broom in order to break it. I replied in the negative. Finally, one of them asked, “You guys smoke weed?” My friend and I both said no. Then one of them looked right at me and said, “Yeah you do.”
“No, I don’t.”, I retorted.
“C’mon dude, yeah you do.”
“No, seriously I don’t.”
“Yeah you do.”
“Noooo, I don’t.”
“Ok, dude. Whatever.”
Then they left. Just for the record, I don’t know that I’ve even actually seen a joint in person, much less smoked one. What made this knuckhead assume that I was a fan of the hippy cabbage? It was late, maybe my eyes were bloodshot.
Another time, on the way back from a missions trip to Mexico, our bus stopped in Santa Clarita for dinner at an In ‘n Out Burger. On my way across the parking lot back to the bus, in a group of about 8 to 10 other people mind you, I’m summoned to a parked pickup truck by some shady looking individuals.
“Hey,” they inquire, “do you know where we could get some bud around here?”
“Uh, sorry. I’m just passing through.”
At least these guys didn’t insist that I was a reefer addict. But still, they surveyed the group, saw me and said, “That guy probably knows where to score some grass. He looks like a toker.” What the crap!
Example 2: The Single Moms
Jen and I lived in a rented condo our first couple years of marriage. Our next door neighbor was a single lady named Ann and her four year old son. We’d cross paths in the parking area from time to time, or talk over our back fence. She was clearly very alone and was always eager to chat. She was a very apologetic person, always hoping she hadn’t bothered us with her yelling at the kid, or her loud, old washing machine. I had come home for lunch one day, and as I was on my way back out to work, we met in the car port and exchanged the usual, polite neighbor-speak. Hi, how are you, how’s the kid, how’s the wife; that sort of thing. I don’t know how or why, but we ended up standing in the carport talking for about 45 minutes. Well, she did most of the talking. My end of conversation consisted almost soley of uh-huh’s, yeah’s, and hmmm’s. She basically told me her life story; that she wasn’t always overweight, about her back problems, how she used to be a pyscologist, how she ended up a single mom, etc. To top things off, she wept through about half the talk. Here I am, a 23 year-old janitor whose been married for all of about two months and I’m now suddenly the confidant of a forty-something single mom with some serious emotional and health problems. Jen and I were working at the same place at this point, and she had been trying to call my cell phone when I didn’t show up back and work on time. She was beside herself when I didn’t respond, convinced I had been killed in a grisly auto accident. She forgave me for making her think that when I told her what was really happening.
During our heart-to-heart Ann had mentioned that he hadn’t been able to unpack all her stuff after she moved in because of her siatica. I offered to help. I was not prepared for what I was going to see. It looked like a dirty bomb had exploded in her house. A very, very dirty bomb, filled with trash of every kind. I was literally shocked when I walked in the door. I actually felt my face twitch. There was a mountain of papers and old mail that was stacked on the kitchen table that almost reached the ceiling. The kitchen counters were piled two feet high with food, food boxes, and other garbage from end to end. There was hardly room to walk anywhere. “It’s not that bad, is it?” she asked. I don’t like to lie, but I did. “No, it’s not that bad.” On second thought, maybe it wasn’t a lie. It was wat beyond “that bad.” That condo should have been condemed. I did what I could, but this needed a national emergency declaration to get cleaned up properly.
This was not my only experience as a “willing” ear to the single mother. I worked with a woman named Debbie who was a lot like Ann. She was also a single mom, overweight, with clear emotional problems. She would often tell me the tales of her deadbeat ex-husband who would quit jobs in order to avoid paying child support for her two kids. She assured me that she once had a very oval face, not the chubby round one she had now, and she used to like to go out dancing. She had had some very hard times, and as a result, I believe, was always looking for ways to cut corners or shift blame to make things easier for herself and her kids. On the one hand, I couldn’t blame her, but the reality was that many times doing this worked to her detriment. She was so concerned with losing her job that she wouldn’t fess up to mistakes that were clearly hers. She even went so far as to declare to one colleague that she never made mistakes. I knew better, seeing as I spent a good part of my day correcting them. One particular night, we worked the graveyard shift, we got to talking about life and God, and she told me a story about a dream she had about her dead brother she said she had never told anybody before. Now, we worked together and talked quite a bit, and I attempted to be as compassionate as possible, but why choose me as the one person on earth to tell a very personal and upsetting detail of her life to? Debbie’s fear of the lay-off eventually proved true, a story perhaps J Crew can share sometime.
Example 3: The Weirdos
As disagreeable as the potheads are, and as baffling as the single moms, by far the most disturbing are the weirdos. I may have felt indignant toward the stoners, and uncomfortable with the single moms, but the weirdos make me feel creepy and weirded out.
When I was working at the church, I was sent down to the hardware store to pick up some rope for sectioning off portions of the sanctuary. The rope we used was a white, satiny nylon rope. I asked Bob the hardware store guy for help. As he was unspooling the length I needed, he kind of rubbed the rope between his fingers and said, “That’s really soft. Would be good for bondage.” I was utterly speechless. I don’t think I even said anything. I just stood there like a deer in the headlights. What on earth could have made this idiot think I would want to hear that? Is this standard hardware store chat? I was dumbfounded. I got my rope and left, vowing never to return. I say again, what the crap!
What is it about me that makes people want to say things to me that they wouldn’t necessarily say to other random strangers? Is in the baseball hats? The baggy shorts? The gotee? Ok, maybe the stoners make a little bit of sense. Am I the only one this happens to? Maybe this happens to everyone. If you have similar experiences, by all means, share them. It would be good to know I’m not alone.