Disclaimer: This story is petty, trivial, and absurd. Why it is significant to me might not be obvious to you.
At the neighborhood bar Thursday (the day we go down there), I was repeatedly being bumped into by a 45ish burly oaf from New York. He spoke Queensish, or Brooklynese (like the difference between Aussie and Kiwi, my ear isn't trained enough). If he'd hailed from Boston, we would say he spoke the dialect of Masshole. Built like a lineman, his nudges sometimes propelled me forward like the silver balls in that click-clacking physics toy. You know the one, you pull back the dangling bead, release, and watch the "equal and opposite reaction" unfold. And that my friend, is about all I know of physics. Well, I know about leverage, but whatever.
Anyway, each impact came with a dip-shit flirtatious apology/comment. Let me say that this guy was not a bad guy, he was just too big for his control center. Likewise, his impulses outstripped his good sense and his wit. He was annoying. Nonetheless, I kept my tact intact.
The fourth time he bumped me, I looked at my friend Jessica and ironically said, as if addressing the NYC Burrough, "Hey, are you a Rock Star, because if you're not, why are you talking to me?"
The fifth time he slammed into me, he said in mock accusation, "Hey, three strikes you're out!"
(Because, of course, math is hard when you've been throwing back Long Island Ice Teas. I've no proof of this, but as long as I'm perpetuating regionalist stereotypes...)
"Oh, I'm sorry, do I need a time out?"
Polite exchange of laughter, then I turned back around.
In the meantime, the fake-titted, bottle-blonded, hard bitten, bar-owning contemporary of this Massive Buffoon, Mary (with whom I have never interacted, though I've been an irregular patron for the last four years), went into her storeroom and emerged with a child's wooden bench. Upon the backrest was carved, "Time Out." She set it on the bar and told me to get into it.
Let me be clear that while I have been known to instigate certain late night chicaneries (remember the cones), and even invented a drinking game or two (Beer-Bottle Bowling, sadly this one has never been tested, though I'm quite certain it would be fun), there are certain fraternity house antics in which I am not willing to participate. I don't do body shots; I don't mack on a brother on the pool table (this was actually a payable offense at the Sigma Chi house where I matriculated - fifty bucks was the house prize, I believe); I don't funnelate. Nonetheless, I am quite capable of making an ass of myself and quite often willing, but only when the choice is mine. Secondly, the conditions under which this occurs require a certain level of confidence in my audience, and more importantly, the knowledge that the work will be original. Acting like a donkey should be creative, not gimmicky. No resting on the hackneyed pranks an eleven-year-old with a mean streak would find amusing. So this obviously overused antic of the proprietress was not at all amusing to me.
"No," I said.
At this point, she wasn't really speaking to me directly. Or I should say, I don't believe she was looking at me when she spoke. She was standing around the bend of the bar, in the waiter area, but in full view. I was, however, looking at her. What I saw on her face was not something about pranksterishness, levity, or mirth. Instead, it was something hard and unsmiling.
"I heard someone call a time out, so get in the chair."
"I'm the one who said 'Time Out,' and I'm not getting in your chair."
"You need to get in the chair."
"No, I'm not getting in the chair, but I can leave."
At this point, she turns to the bartender (a man who is always immensely polite to me), " Bob, make her get in the chair."
The guy from NYC, turns to me completely transformed. He apologizes profusely for the mess I'm in because, really, he's not at all a bad guy. He's just, you know, big oafish, and over-tippled. "I had no idea," he says. I say, "It's okay. Not your fault. I had no idea either."
Bob is in front of me now. He is rather a man of stature also (as is Mary). He softly asks me to ascend the bar, "You'll get a free drink."
"I don't want a free drink." My jaw is set.
I think at some point he was actually looking down at the floor. Aw shucks.
I don't know what exactly caused it, but shortly thereafter I caved. It's difficult for me to admit, because I felt genuinely chagrined then and afterwards. But I'll get to that in a minute.
I hopped up onto the stool, sat in the chair for maybe two seconds, then looked at Bob and said, "How's that?" Without waiting for his reply, I got back down, only to hear Her strain like the unhappy black roots that were trying to escape the confines of her malevolent skull,
"That's the shortest Time Out I've ever seen."
I know it's a stupid story. One guy amongst us, could not for the life of him figure out what I objected to. But oh-my-God I was pissed off. That bitch came out of nowhere and dominated me so hard, I could feel the rancor at the first moment she opened her mouth. My body instantly rebelled in that moment. My heels dug in. There was no question that the answer was, "No."
So why did I demure?
Because I'm trained that way. Because I was brought up to be a good girl who doesn't make waves. Because my mother systematically tried to break my will on a daily basis from the age of three onward. Because the circumstances of my life have repeatedly demanded that I endure endure endure the hardship, the encumbrance, the discomfort, the humiliations. Because at times I was the kid in school who got bullied. A lot. Even though I was smart and pretty and funny. Even though I was sweet. Because standing up for myself was forbidden.
This is an area of my life that I've been consciously trying to address for a few years now, most intensely so in the last several months. There are parts of me which are immoveable. Never have you been able to make me do a thing I deem immoral or that causes foreseeable injury to another. But when the harm is only to the first few layers to myself, well, then I am often unable to withstand the pressure.
I was very upset that I didn't just walk out and leave it all behind. In certain spiritual practices, you are meant to remain within the moment and exist peacefully and neutral. In this way you help the aggressor transform their own negativity along with you. I would say I only accomplished some fratction of that. Because I was pissed.
Except this was funny: Later, I was speaking with two friends outside when Laurie, a feisty doll and the day bartender, came out and asked what had happened. I recounted. She looked at me and recited, " 'They're all going to laugh at me, they're all going to laugh at me, they're all going to laugh at me.' Yeah, I saw "Carrie," like seventeen times." Then she sped away.
How could I not laugh at that? She nailed 25% of it. Of course no one likes to be publicly embarassed, but moreso, it was about Mary's coercion, her meanness, and my own failure.
Sitting back at the bar, Bob leaned over to me and said. "Can I tell you something?"
"You're so beautiful it makes it hard to work."
"Thank you, that's very sweet." (a few beats while he smiled at me)
Then I said softly, "But if that's true, why did you make me get up there?"
He didn't answer.
Moreover, why did I make me?
That night I dreamt of having my hair cut too short. How apt.