The woman in line in front of me at Starbucks was intriguing, though it wasn’t in a pleasant way. She was stocky, with blond hair and a square, pockmarked face. She could have been 30. She could have been 50. She had an air of sanctimony, a knowledge that she was so much smarter than everybody else. What I found interesting, and a bit distressing, is that she seemed to lean in too close to the barista behind the counter. It seemed too intimate. Strangely, it felt as if she was invading my space, even though I was about five feet behind her. Then she practically threw her refill cup at the girl, and I thought, “How rude.”
After the kid (’cause I am of an age where I refer to people in their 20s as kids) came back with her coffee and rang her up, I noticed two things one right after another. First, the barista was either shaking something in her hand or had put it up to her mouth. Then the woman said, “Oh you’re the one who—“ I didn’t hear the last part. But it made the kid behind he counter very nervous. I looked at her and realized that this kid couldn’t stop fidgeting, couldn’t stop moving. She gave a nervous laugh and said to the woman, a little too loudly, “I’m sorry, I have a problem.”
I wanted to slap the customer.
When I was in college, my mother told me she thought I had Turrets. I was sitting on the couch, reading a book, undoubtedly fidgeting, and undoubtedly making some sort of noise coming from deep in my throat.
I looked at her. “No, mom, I just annoy you.”
It very well could be that I have some mild form of Turrets. Or some sort of OCD. I have quirks. If I touch something with one hand, often I have to also touch it with the other. This applies a lot to air. If I happen to exhale onto one hand or arm, then I have to blow on the other. Just to make it equal.
I believe in equality.
I no longer have problems walking down the street. I can’t actually remember what I did, but it had to do with rhythm. If I got out of rhythm, I would have to shuffle back in to the timing. I’m sure at times I looked totally spastic.
And I do have vocal quirks. But is that because of OCD? Or is it because of chronic sinusitis and asthma? I somehow doubt I would have to clear my throat so much if there wasn’t anything in it. Just sayin’.
I see some of these quirks in my daughter, too. She has recognized that she wipes her face a lot with her hands, then she licks her fingers. It’s rhythmic. She doesn’t realize she’s doing it. I think her other mom pointed it out to her, though, this summer in Florida. She came home with some lotion that my ex had given her to put on her face, which then stopped her from licking her hands. She begged me for more lotion. This is something she wanted to get control of.
Personally, I don’t care. She’s beautiful and funny and smart. And who the hell doesn’t have quirks?
I realize that this could be a problem if you let those quirks stop you, if not blowing on your right hand after you’ve accidentally exhaled onto your left makes you feel off kilter, and all you can think about is that the world won’t be right until you blow on your right hand. Then, of course, you do and you realize you blew too hard, so you have to even it up.
You can see how this can stop people for hours.
Somehow, as I’ve gotten older, I have been able to put mind over matter. Or mind over mind. Or mind over neurosis. My friend Jenny went with me to the grocery store this past Rosh Hashana. She is one of the few people I have confided to that I need to go out the same door I came in. Not always, but in some buildings or houses – hers being one of them. On the way home, as we rounded the bend to her house, she noted that I not only had gone out of the parking lot a different way from which I had entered, but I had also taken a different route back to her house. She was impressed. I laughed and let her in on the fact that as I made the right in the parking lot instead of a left, I realized what I had done and dismissed it.
Honor thy OCD. Then push it the fuck out of the way.
As the girl at Starbucks waited on me, I realized that she was, indeed, unable to be still. She kinda looked like she was bucking and weaving in a boxing match. She took my name, though, and put in my order. She could have OCD. She could be in drug recovery and having methadone jitters. She also had a really great smile and she made me smile with her cheerful attitude. Her body radiated energy – barely harnessed energy that was bursting to get out.
As I was waiting for my drink, the rude lady was sitting at the counter, saying something to the other barista’s about being blunt. She had no nuance. No sense that anyone would need nuance. And she was proud of herself.
The fidgety barista was busy at the other end of the counter, smiling cheerfully. Perhaps I was projecting, but I could feel her hurt. I could feel the sting this woman had inflicted upon her. I knew how brave she was being.
So, I went to my car, and pulled out my notebook and a pencil.
“Please know that you never have to apologize. You are interesting and energetic and that customer was way out of line. You’re not the one with the problem, she is. She’s RUDE.”
As I walked back in, the kid had just finished with another customer and walked into the back room. I waited for her, and when she came out I hailed her and gave her the note, telling her that I was behind the woman who was rude to her and I thought she needed to hear another perspective. She read the note as I stood there awkwardly (I had thought I could hand it to her while she was working and she would read it in private). She then offered her hand and said, “Thank you. I’m Ashley.” I’m Carrie, I answered as I shook her hand. “Wow, Carrie. You just made my day.”
We live in a world with so many expectations, so many “norms” that people are supposed to live up to. I find these norms boring, homogenized. The interesting parts can be found in the quirks. And I firmly believe that the measure of who we are is in how we treat people. I don’t care if Ashley was twisting her left arm around her right cheek to scratch her nose and blink her eyes five times – she was a lot kinder than the customer at the counter will ever be.