Archive for the ‘Excerpts from Don’t Hang Up!’ Category
Job loss often signifies much more than simply that. It can be an emotional loss – especially after long-term employment – or as bad as losing a dear friend of family member.
Many people experience something similar to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) as a pattern of adjustment.
What I saw, and experienced, were reactions that varied from anger, resentment, confusion, disappointment, mourning, fear, and bravado to sometimes, but not always, acceptance and/or renewed motivation. Unlike Kubler’s stages, these reactions had no specific order, tending to jump around or back and forth between one and the other, until settling into a specific mode.
I had bravado – oodles of it.
I could not admit to anyone, least of myself, that I was also out on a limb. No, I had to show them that I knew where I was going, and I told all and sundry just that. It helped that a lot of other co-workers had also been laid off at the same time.
So I pretended and then my pretense became fact and I chose to ignore that little inner voice warned me against it.
In other words, I had to show the world and to convince everyone, including myself, that I was not a loser.
“Every exit is an entry somewhere else.” Tom Stoppard
Here is another excerpt from my book about midlife job loss and making a new start Don’t Hang Up!
What Do You Do When the Good Times End?
Our favorite word is: “Salud.” Over drinks and lunch and more drinks, a group of the Ax Man’s victims share our dismissal from Paradise.
Most of us, in shock and disbelief over our situation, have dawdled in our job searches, blaming the delay on elusive contacts who promise and promise, but don’t fulfill. In the meantime, we live off our severance packages, while convincing ourselves, and each other, that we will find work before the money runs out. Some talk about potential interviews as if they were fact, and behave as if they are being pursued with job offers when they are, in reality, the seekers.
We are lost souls wandering through an unknown jungle. Stripped of our trappings, we have few survival skills. We are sinking, drawing down each other under our mutual load of delusions of past grandeur.
“Stop deceiving yourselves,” I tell them. “Once word gets out that you don’t have a job, ad agencies aren’t interested in you, just give you the runaround. I’m not willing to go through that hassle.”
They turn angry eyes on me for bursting their imaginary bubble.
Truth is, for me, the vista is barren. I can’t look for a job in another ad agency – they would have to call me first. And if I’m not seated behind a desk in an office, it’s doubtful they will. Nor can I, a former top executive, stoop to lower levels or bow my head before people who have been my inferiors. It would give the impression I’m a failure or have lost my edge – and who wants leftovers?
“I’m going to set up my own business,” I tell my friends. “And I can use any help you can give me.”
I have no clear idea how I can use them – the words came out before I could stop them – but I need my comrades beside me. They make me feel that I’m still someone.
“A restaurant and catering business.” I outline my plans as if they were fact and not being made up as I go along.
Their faces are eager, grasping at this hope I extend to them.
“Call it Pennie’s.”
“Pennie’s Deli sounds better.”
“Everyone in the advertising business knows you and they’ll flock to it.”
They all want a finger in my pie. It will give us a mutual goal, like working together on an ad campaign. The difference is that, in this case, I’m the one who will put up all the money. They assume I got a good severance package, and I did. Little do they know that a chunk went on taxes. Or that I’ve lost my focus and have only a vague notion of how to replace it.
Keeping up appearances and my five-bedroom house is important. I can’t give it up; it’s my children’s home. Their rooms are intact for when my older son, who lives in Dallas, and my younger one, studying in Italy, come to visit. For company, I have a live-in maid, a collie, a rottweiler, two chow-chows, and a floundering relationship with my long-time boyfriend.
After years of devoting my energy to the workplace, it’s hard to sleep at night. I stay up until the wee hours drinking Scotch, sleep late in the morning, and nap whenever I feel like it. No reason to keep regular hours. No kids to awaken, no office to go to. Who cares if I’m half sloshed? I dream of making a splash in a new field, and conduct a (frenetic) search for cooking ideas, scouring recipe books and magazines, and making lists, lists, lists.
Nothing will deter me from turning my restaurant project into reality. Not even if I have to invest all of my severance pay in it.
How did you react after job loss? Did you make some bad decisions?
Picture: Gustave Dore
“Beware of judging [people] by their outward appearance.” Jean de La Fontaine
When I worked in the phone room, I often misjudged people, assuming they were something they were not. I found out that many were very different from what I thought them to be at first, and vice-versa, others wondered what someone like me was doing there. Below is an excerpt from “Don’t Hang Up!”
“You Never Know Who You Will Meet in the Phone Room”
“Don’t you people have anything better to do on the Sabbath?” the man on the other end of the phone asks. “Today is the Lord’s Day. To be kept holy. Not for material gains.”
He hangs up before I can give him an answer as to what “material gains” represent to people in low-paid jobs. Things like a week’s groceries.
Why should I give a damn? I’ve had a good day. Not like the young man next to me who is struggling to get surveys. Perhaps it’s the slow, hesitant way he reads the opening statement. From his appearance, he doesn’t seem to be “one of us” phone room people. More like an executive doing a weekend stint here. Too well groomed. Trimmed dark hair and beard, suede jacket. Mid-thirties. Attractive.
It sounds like he got a survey until, throwing up his arms, he stands and shouts, “That f… computer just cut me off.”
Hope he’s not freaking out. I’ve seen interviewers break down over surveys gone wrong – bursting into tears, shrieking, or wrecking a phone. Crazies smash computers and one assaulted a supervisor.
“Don’t worry, that happens to everyone.” I try to keep my voice calm.
Anger recedes from his face. He nods and sits again. “What did I do wrong? I was half way through the survey and it went blank.”
“Sometimes it cuts you off for no apparent reason,” I tell him. “Ask the supervisor.”
He returns with a dispirited expression. “She gave me some half-assed excuse about how this happens when a quota’s full. Let me see if I got it right. First, to qualify, the respondent has to be between forty-five and sixty. Second, he/she ate dinner – no lunch or takeout – at this Chinese restaurant chain at least once in the last three months. Third, only week nights, but not Fridays. Come on. Talk about looking for the proverbial needle.”
In the next two hours, I dial over a hundred times, twenty people answer, four agree to do the survey, and only one qualifies.
Would it really affect results if a respondent went to that restaurant on a Friday? Or had lunch instead of dinner? Or is sixty-one instead of sixty?
By this point, I’m sure many interviewers, desperate to get surveys, are twisting answers. It’s tempting.
Every so often I glance at my neighbor to see how he’s doing. Only two surveys vs. my ten. The supervisor is sure to send him home yet, when she checks, all she says is, “Pick up the pace.”
Another sign he’s special? Lucky man. It’s not as if his livelihood depended on this. Tomorrow, he’ll be back upstairs thanking God he doesn’t have to work down here for a living.
Great. I get another survey.
I feel his eyes on me. Probably feeling exactly what I felt not so long ago. “You really know how to get them,” he says.
Why should it matter if he’s an executive posing as an interviewer? I say, “Let me give you a tip,” and tell him what I learned from Lucky León, our Star Performer, how to tweak the opening statement. “And put a smile in your voice.”
“Hey, thanks, I really owe you.”
Talk about coincidence. On his very next call, he gets a survey.
But with the quota filling, every interviewer is struggling with the almost impossible task of finding someone who fits the profile – and agrees to do a survey. My neighbor is literally begging people, a tactic that rarely works.
I hear him slam down the receiver. “Why can’t those high-and-mighty bible thumpers understand that people like us need to work on Sundays?”
“People like us?”
“Working poor, who else?” He gestures at other interviewers.
“Is that what you consider us to be?”
“What they pay here is just one step above poverty level.”
“How would you know?”
“My paycheck, for one. I’m almost embarrassed to cash it.”
“So you are working here?”
“As far as I can tell, though who knows about tomorrow?”
“Why this job?”
“Because it’s all I could find, and it’s work, and a lot better than being homeless.”
“Yes, homeless – as in people who live on the street. I’m sure you’ve seen them around, kind of a blot on the landscape of America’s finest city.” Sarcasm shades his voice. “Last month, I was one of them. Not that a lady like you would know anything about that lifestyle.”
“I can’t imagine you sleeping in a doorway next to filthy drunks and bag ladies.”
“I couldn’t imagine it either”
“Why the streets? Why not a shelter?”
“Ever tried to get into one of those places? Let me tell you, I did and on cold nights they’re stuffed to overflowing. I was afraid to sleep – they steal your shoes right off your feet – and there’re guys crying out from booze or drug withdrawal, or honking away because their noses are clogged up with shit. You get used to the smell but it sticks to your clothes even after you go outside. So I found a couple of homeless, interesting guys – one plays chess in the park and the other reads anything he can lay his fingers on – and hung out with them a few days.”
I shiver. Being homeless seems only a couple of steps from the phone room. “Dressed like you are today?”
“Course not. Hocked my watch, left my bag in the Greyhound terminal, except for an old army jacket and sleeping bag. You’d never tell the difference between me and the real thing, though people don’t look at the homeless – not if they can help it. Finally, I got hold of some cash and rented a room in a downtown hotel. Not the swankiest in town, but it’s heaven after that.”
As the day wears on, the room becomes silent. Surveys have tapered off. It’s hard to be cooped up in here while the California sunlight beams through the front windows. Three hours before our scheduled leaving time, the supervisor tells us, “Everyone, clock out for the day.”
I step into the bright, semi-deserted downtown. After the refrigerated phone room, the March sun on our side of the street is warm and welcoming.
“Isn’t this great?” My neighbor smiles as if we were old friends. “Days like this, who cares about leaving early?”
“$24 less on my paycheck.”
“Didn’t think of that.” He shrugs. “Hey, wanna go for coffee?”
“This your regular work?” he asks. “You don’t sound like you belong in a phone room. More like you should be upstairs with the executives. Sure you’re not just posing as an interviewer?”
“Funny, I thought the same about you,” I say and we both laugh at how misleading appearances can be.
“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” Wayne Dyer
How on earth did I ever end up in, of all places, Tijuana? A question I ask myself all the time. But what else could I do? I can hardly walk except for a few steps, and this is the one place where I may find an inexpensive cure.
Before, I’d heard Tijuana described as “a hellhole” and “a den of vice,” a city of whores and drug dealers. Now, I’ve discovered the real Tijuana. Apart from being a tourist spot and red light border town, it also has a burgeoning middle-class with the same family values as any others. Just don’t get mixed up with shady characters and mind your own business. And better pretend not to know what your neighbors are up to.
In the afternoon, I rest on the balcony that runs around the building. On one side, shacks cover barren hills and, on the other, the elite inhabit white condos in a residential area way out of my league. Next to our building, a junkman has his yard piled with growing mounds of trash. I keep the window shut so that the giant cockroaches climbing up the wall don’t get in, but they drop off the roof at night onto my balcony and I have to sweep up their smashed corpses.
A burning odor from the mechanic’s shop hangs in the air adding to the stew of gasoline, tar, dirt, and fried food. In front, two neat little yellow middle-class homes stand side-by-side to the house where a drug dealer – a narco – plies his trade. I know because my neighbor overheard men knocking on the door and giving the password, “Es el mero-mero,” meaning, “It’s the big boss.”
I watch the goings-on in the drug dealer’s house below. It’s intriguing to have such a neighbor, almost as if I’ve become part of a secret and dangerous clan – if only by proximity. What does a Tijuana narco look like? A normal person? A gangster? A corrupt politico. No way to tell.
He’s had a busy afternoon; Friday is good for sales. By my count, the two men knocking on their door are numbers ten and eleven, and it’s only four p.m.
A car tears into the street and comes to a shrieking halt in front of his house. The driver jumps out and runs to the front door, making it inside just before another car zooms to a stop. Four men leap out brandishing shotguns and splatter the house with fire. Windows shatter behind iron bars. Someone inside retaliates and I hear bullets thunk the assailants’ car as they crouch behind it.
I have a balcony seat to the Wild West, Mexican style. A rival drug gang? No, probably cops. Maybe a raid. Like in a TV series.
“Salgan, hijos de la chingada!”
The men outside regroup and shred the door with gunfire, then use brute force to break it down. No more return fire from inside. From my vantage point, I see two narcos emerge behind the house. One jumps over a fence and disappears into the maze of backyards while another zigzaggs sideways and crosses into the junkman’s yard. Four attackers enter the house followed by shouts and gunshots.
Not a sound on the street and nobody sticks out a head to see what’s going on. Let the gangs kill each other or the cops catch the narcos; they don’t want to get involved.
I hear a scuffling sound at one side of the balcony. Next thing, a skinny young man is climbing over my railing; he’s managed to get up to my second floor. Looks like a teenager, trembling, tears in his eyes – one is bruised and half-closed, a finger across swollen lips for me to be quiet. Not scary enough for me to scream. Anyway, I’m not the screaming type. So I just watch as he crouches at the end of my balcony. A smell surrounds him in the dusty air, a smell of fear and sweat.
He looks too young to be a narco. But are they ever too young? Rather, he reminds me of those mangy curs that roam the city, stalking food, growling if you get too close or groveling if you give them something. He could be armed and dangerous, only he doesn’t look dangerous, more like vulnerable, standing in the shadowy part of my balcony so he can’t be seen from the street.
Maybe that’s why I don’t scream at him to go away or maybe it’s because I’m rarely afraid of anything. Not of bomb scares, or life-threatening accidents, or earthquakes, or machine gun assaults – I’ve experienced them all and more – and he’s just a narco teen on the run. Though for all I know, the young ones are the worst. Probably has a weapon tucked under his shirt.
He hangs back while two men from the car yell at each other, glancing up and down the street and no, please not at my building. Then their cohorts reappear dragging a couple of drug dealers. My mouth opens, in surprise that they caught them so fast.
The boy whispers, “Please, Señora, don’t you scream.”
I’m not about to. Those men are busy taking turns kicking the dealers though they are huddled over on the ground. Crunch, howl, crack, yelp. Cuss words. Screams, moans. I’ve seen scenes like this on TV, and they are bad men, but I scrunch up my body as if they were hitting me. When, finally, the men pull-drag the narcos into the car, I close my eyes and rub my head in relief. What will happen to them? Prison? Or bodies left in the desert for the vultures?
The boy sits on his haunches, back against the wrought iron railing. “What’s happening?” he asks, in the jerky voice of a nervous teenager caught in the act.
“You heard.” Why should I play lookout for a narco? Because he’s young and scared or because, in a way, he threatens me and I can’t move to help myself. “Looks like those men are taking them away. Who are they?”
“Cops – drug squad,” he said. “Bad men, cruel. Find us, hurt us, our families. Say they know things about us. I don’t want to tell them, Señora, but they force me.” That explains his swollen lips, half-closed eye and bitter fear odor. “They tell me if I not help them, they kill my sister – rape her first, my little sister, she only twelve.”
“The cops would do that?”
No expression, and his eyes are so dark that they aren’t giving away anything. “The drug squad. They all threaten, make you do what they want. No choice. I must get to el otro lado, los Estados Unidos, and hope they never find me.”
“What about your sister?”
“To save her, I tell them what they want. If I go away, they not hurt my family. I will pray to la Virgencita every day that they will be safe.”
“What if you get caught as an illegal and sent back?”
“They will kill me.” He glances around, up and down, reminding me of a trapped animal. “Senora, how I get out from here and they no see me?”
“Only through the front gate. Or the way you got in.”
“Perhaps over the roof and across there.” He points to the junkman’s yard and beyond, the mechanic’s shop.
We watch for about twenty minutes while the cops probably tear apart the drug house, finding or not finding whatever they are looking for. Obviously, they do because they haul out another man, and at last, take off in a swirl of dust and screeching tires.
“They’re gone,” I tell him. “Now, you can leave.” If he wants money, I don’t have much. Nor much of value here.
He must sense my thoughts. “Don’t be concerned, Señora. You save me from those hijos de puta and for that, I am in your debt. Before they arrive, we have a good day. I have cash.” He shows me his wallet, stuffed with bills, and pulls out, counting them, five hundred dollar notes. “Here, for your trouble.”
I stare at the money, speechless, then shake my head. No way. It’s drug money, blood money. Don’t even want to touch it. “Thank you,” I say, “but I can’t,” wishing for all the world that I could accept them. Get another cartilage shot. And another pain relief one.
“Are you sure, Senora?”
I manage a smile. “When you get to the other side,” I tell him, “no more drug dealing. If they catch you, they will send you back here.”
“I promise,” he says. “My cousin will give me a job in construcción.”
Maybe he just tells me this to please me. I’ve heard that once a narco always a narco and, as he turns to leave, I notice the gun – tucked into the side of his pants.
Picture a room with clusters of telephone interviewers, bunched together according to some supervisor’s idea of a seating plan. I’d envisioned having a cubicle of my own, perhaps a drawer where I could keep my possessions. No such luck. Our location in the phone room changes every day according to the survey we’re doing. Not even a locker room, which means I have to carry my tote with me wherever I go. You never know with the kind of people who work here.
Interviewers rattle off a cacophony of introductions. Voices blend into a murmur that envelopes the room like a canopy.
This isn’t really me sitting here. Susan is not a person I know. Whatever happened to Penelope who once worked in solitary splendor in an elegant office? I envision it, if only to regain for a minute that lost sense of comfort and security for the days when I worked at a carved, Mexican colonial desk, or leaned back in my king-size leather chair and gazed out at the inner courtyard with its bubbling fountain and ivy-covered walls.
In the phone room, there is no view outdoors. The large windows at the front are too high up and far away so that I can’t tell if the day is sunny or cloudy.
I must not look back. But, how can I face this day-to-day proximity with between fifty to a hundred people, all of us breathing in the same air, farts, body odors, and unwashed clothing? Occasionally, there are eruptions of chest-wrenching coughs. Is the workplace infested with cold and flu germs, or maybe the air-conditioning, on so high that people wear heavy jackets and sweaters indoors, is the culprit.
Supervisors prowl the spaces behind rows and come up stealthily behind us, to catch offenders who goof off or don’t try hard enough. Some interviewers have a sixth sense warning system – a talent, I learn from Ahmed, acquired the hard way. Behind prison bars.
I punch in my number and the research questionnaire comes on the screen. I read, as told, exactly what it says. “Hello, this is Susan, calling from Kelly Research. This is not a sales call. I just want your opinions about…” and I name a fast food chain.
“Not interested.” Another ten dials. No answers. Only taped messages. On the eleventh, I get someone. I juice up my voice only to have the receiver slammed down on me. And so it goes for the next hour.
A supervisor leans over and picks up my batch sheet. “You need to get at least two surveys an hour,” she tells me and the implication is in her tone. If I don’t, I’ll be terminated.
But how, if nobody wants to do them.
Finally, someone says, “Why not? I like your voice.”
We get through the survey that, because of the asinine convoluted questions, takes fifteen instead of five minutes, and reach the last part where I ask age, educational level, ethnicity, and type of work. This can be tricky as some people balk at giving personal information.
This time, I fall down a hole into phone Wonderland.
“Professional firewalker,” he tells me. Oh no, not another joker.
“Er – Is that a profession or a hobby?”
“It’s what I do for a living.”
I hesitate. He must be kidding.
“You’ll find the Firewalkers Institute on the Internet,” he adds as if sensing my thoughts.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that …Where do you fire walk?”
“A lot of places. Some businesses use fire walking to build teamwork. It’s also considered an alternative health remedy.”
“In what way?”
“Helps cope with anxiety issues.”
My God, some people will try anything.
“What got you into that profession?”
“I was doing yoga and I wanted to prove to myself that not everything we’re told is true, including our perception of pain.” He sounds serious, credible. “Then I discovered I liked this.”
“Walking on hot coals?”
“It’s not about walking on hot coals. Not in your mind. It’s like you go through a cleansing ritual that clears it of bad sensations. Some religious orders fire walk as part of their training.”
I wish we could talk more, but I have to get on with my surveys. “I’ll definitely look up that Firewalkers Institute,” I say.
I’m getting lucky. Another man agrees to answer my questions but only if I answer his. Well, okay, I don’t suppose that’s against the rules.
“I like your accent,” he says. “My granddad came from Leicester. Ever been there?”
And, “Did you go to the Royal Academy of Art?”
“The Tate Gallery?”
“The British Museum?”
Or, farther afield, the Louvre, the Prado, the Uffizi in Florence?
I envision him to be a wealthy, cosmopolitan art connoisseur. At the end of the survey, I expect him to tell me he’s an academic or gallery owner or painter.
“Cross-country truck driver,” he says.
What? My image of the rough, uncouth trucker is shattered.
“Why are you so interested in art?”
“Because I’m pursuing my Masters in Art History.”
This country is full of surprises.
The next man I speak to answers my questions easily, but when I ask for his personal information, he acts as if I’m coming on to him, and starts flirting. “I’m thirty-six,” he says, “and ready and willing to meet you any time.” He teases me about my English accent, wants to know if I’m single, and where I live. I tell him I can’t give out that information.
“Your level of education,” I go on. “High school, some college, college graduate…”
“How much do they pay you for doing this? About $8.00 bucks an hour?”
How did he guess?
“Want to make $50 bucks an hour?”
His voice becomes husky, intimate. “You sound like a hot chick. That Princess Di accent really turns me on. Ever considered phone sex?”
I feel as if he suddenly stripped himself naked in front of me.
“Certainly not.” I tell him in my most hoity-toity English lady’s voice. “Shame on you. I’m old enough to be your mother.”
“Don’t get mad. Just think about it. Same kind of work, different script.”
Undeterred, he says, “You have my number. Call me if you change your mind.”
I thank him for doing the survey and hang up.
What have I come down to?
Princess Di, indeed.
I sit back in my seat, glance at the monitor, at the questionnaire that has just popped up on it. Look around the room, at my poor, drab fellow phone room employees.
$50 bucks an hour?
(Excerpt from “Don’t Hang Up!”)
“The attempt and not the deed confounds us.”
At night, downtown San Diego becomes the kingdom of the homeless. They lie, bundled in blankets, in doorways or in heaps against the walls. A graveyard of unburied bodies in a film about a city of the dead. Shadows blur into each other in the uneven lighting that gives a pallid, greenish tinge to white and black skin alike.
As I cross this underworld, the four blocks I walk to the trolley are fraught with hidden threats that bring all my senses into play. My breath becomes shorter, my steps more hurried, and my heart beats faster. I feel as if the walking dead are following me and if I’m unwary, they will spring out and devour me.
It is with some relief that I see the man come up beside me and say a friendly, “Hello.” Young, tall, close-cropped Afro hair and a black leather jacket. Smiling. A pleasant face, he might be a co-worker who got off work when I did.
“Hello,” I say, trying to place him in the dim light. I’m about to ask if we’ve sat next to each other when he lays a hand on my arm, though not roughly.
“Gimme your cash.” His tone leaves no doubt as to what he is and what he is not, but it takes a few seconds to sink in. Then, oh my God, here’s one that won’t be put off with a few bucks or a, “Get lost.” He’s not armed – or I don’t think so. I could scream, but what good would that do here?
My wallet with my driver’s license and U.S. residence card, worth a fortune on the black market, is in my tote, which also holds my earphones, thermos, eye glasses, a magazine, notebook, sweater, and scarf. Instead, I hold out a Ziploc bag that I use for cash since my change purse was stolen in a collective taxi in Tijuana. “There’s about four bucks here.”
“That all the money you got?”
“Yes,” I say. “I’m broke. Really broke.” Trying to control the tremble in my voice.
He shakes his head. “That all you got?” he repeats in a disbelieving tone.
“Yes, that’s all,” I say, which is true, in a way. I have about $50 in my checking account. Oh God, he’s going to get angry that I can’t give him more.
He seems uncertain, nodding as if listening to rap music. “You keep your money,” he says and removes his hand from my arm. “You carry your cash round in that, girl, you must be needy.”
Saved by a Ziploc bag. I guess for someone like him, you can’t get more down-and-out than that.
“Have a place to sleep?” he asks.
“Yes.” I can barely hold back from laughing at his question. Nerves?
“You sure? A nice lady like you shouldn’t be wanderin’ round here at night. I can take you to St. Vincent de Paul.”
A shelter? No thanks. “I’m all right. Just have to get to the trolley.”
“Sure you have a place to go to?”
“Yes,” my voice quivering.
I don’t dare say Tijuana so I say, “Chula Vista,” but I’m not good at lying, and I must sound vague because he doesn’t seem to believe me.
“You sure ’bout that? St. Vincent, they treat you good there ‘specially someone like you. Give you a meal and everythin’.” And so the conversation goes on, as if we’re bartering with each other about where I should spend the night. He’s so intent on doing a good deed that I fear he’ll force me to go to the shelter.
“Honestly,” I repeat for what must be the third time, “I told you, I do have a place to stay. I just have to get to the trolley.”
“Then I’ll accompany you. Not right for a lady like you be walkin’ here all by yourself. Not safe.”
I’m about to say that I get off work at nine every night and then think better not. “Thanks, but you don’t have to.” This switch from would-be mugger to gallant is unnerving. He could have something else in mind.
“I insist.” There’s no saying no to that. He takes my arm. Should I wrest it away and make a run for it or go along with him and hope I don’t end up in some back alley? But I’d never be able to outrun him or fight him off so I’m at his mercy.
Instead, he handles me as if I were, indeed, his lady or a precious charge. His extreme courtesy, “Please ma’am, watch out for that garbage. Ma’am, don’t pay no attention to those homeless and they leave you alone,” is almost exaggerated. He throws dirty glances at anyone who even looks our way.
We reach the trolley station and thank God, one is pulling up. As he hands me onto it, he says, “Hey, sorry, ma’am, didn’t mean to scare you.”
“That’s all right,” I say as I’m about to board. “Thanks for looking after me.”
What? I’m thanking him? For not stealing my money.
Something is really upside-down about this encounter.
“The traveler with empty pockets will sing in the thief’s face.” Juvenal
Book excerpt from “Don’t Hang Up!”
Photo by dama_negra
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- The Adventures of Cilgin Kiz
- To Gyre and Gambol
- Unlock the Door
- What Little Things