Home » Progress » Wednesday Afternoon, 5/16/2012

Wednesday Afternoon, 5/16/2012

Bus Stop and Shelter on the A499 at Y Swan. Th...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The scent of hot yeast and sugar was thick as I walked to the bus stop. I supposed it was from from a commercial bakery, radiating relentless information downwind without being seen. Along with uniform slices of the whitest bread, I imagined cookies — bleached flour and sugar, eggs from caged hens, artificial vanilla and butter flavorings. In those moments after leaving the public aid office, I couldn’t imagine ingredients in their more natural states, or conglomerates of thought that would care about such things. I waited under a shelter for my bus, angry that the smell of awful food had made me hungry.

The caseworker at the office had been pissed off about something. That was obvious by the curt expression she shot at me when I rounded a corner and asked if she was the one who had called my name, and later by the way she expected me to understand her truncated sentences as if I knew everything that she knew and should spare her the aggravation of having to make it clear.

She found my file in the computer and became one more person to tell me that I didn’t put anything down for rent. I told her, as I had everyone else during so many other visits, that I owned the house. This time, I gave her the monthly total of my property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, the only expenses they allow for besides gas and electricity. I hoped that giving the information in a new way would clear up the trouble that had been going on since January. She added the figure to my file, and refused to let me hand her the copies of receipts they usually ask me for. I tried hard to give them to her, but she was adamant. I realized it wasn’t her job to add anything to the paper file. I would have to come back again when the next letter requested them.

I dared to ask if she had any idea how soon a new letter might come. She glowered and sighed out, “In a couple of weeks,” as though the air behind her words would keep their volume from reaching that of a scream. But the sound was insidious, creeping slow like the sting of a paper cut.

Later, as I waited for a bus, smelling what passes for bread and cookies at the edges of food deserts and wondering why the left side of my head was beginning to throb with pain, a woman who had also been waiting in the office while I was there, came to stand at the opposite side of the bus shelter. She wore earphones and fiddled with the dial of her mp3 player, and soon was twitching and singing lyrics to the trace of tinny music I heard leaking out past her earbuds. Her tuneless voice sang, in very explicit language, about what she wanted her boyfriend to do to her, all night, every night. I watched, hating her careless, loud voice and body language that said I didn’t matter, or that no one did. Her eyes never once met mine.

I wondered what it would be like to live that way, without a filter dependent on propriety. I know what it’s like to make a mistake, to feel awful about it, exposed and sorry — but to barrel through public moments with extreme selfishness, without giving any thought to those who can see and hear me? I can only imagine that way of being. It seems seductive, definitely freer than I am. More and more I find myself wanting to taste that way of being, let it roll over my tongue and inform my actions, but wanting to reserve the right to spit it out, and that can’t happen. A head injury can’t be given back, or a poison, or a state of birth. I’m stuck being who I am.

After a while, at the bus stop, I looked away from her and reached into my purse (ostensibly to see what time it was, but probably to do anything but be still during her less than musical barrage.) When I opened my bag the aroma of Zum lavender/mint bath salts wafted out. During the Mother’s Day weekend at Whole Foods, the company’s representative was giving out sample packets good for one bath. I’d appreciated it more than she could have known. I don’t take baths, couldn’t if I wanted to, but I was keeping the packet in a drawer at home while I waited for the right time to use the salts in a foot bath or two. The fragrance that lingered in my bag diverted my attention to something pleasant as I tried to disregard bureaucracy, obtrusive awful behavior, and the artificial sweetness tightening around me like a vise. For a moment, it helped.

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20 thoughts on “Wednesday Afternoon, 5/16/2012

  1. You write so eloquently about your troubles, Ré. We’re taking this journey with you now and feeling the grinding frustration along with you. Bureaucracy sucks big-time. I hate it with the same passion you do. I walk the path with you, my friend.
    (PS. Did you pick a photo showing the Welsh language on purpose parralleling the linguistic minefield you are having to tread ? No insult to the Welsh intended. My great-great-grandmother was Welsh.)

    • That means a lot to me, Al. As for the photo, I didn’t look at it so carefully when it came up on the Zemanta. I was just looking for a vaguely similar bus shelter. Your explanation works much better, considering the post, so now I’ll go with that.

  2. I felt like I was standing there with you. The feeling of helplessness in the public aid office? I could never have survived it. They would have locked me up ages ago, because I would have lost it the first time the forms were wrong and demanded that Something Be Done. (OF course it would NOT have been done, but even understanding this intellectually wouldn’t stop me from demanding it.) I wanted to pick up the whole truncated bureaucracy up by its ears and box it for you. Ugh. I hope they get it right soon.

    • Thanks for the solidarity, Jessie. I had begun to wish the government used those awful psychological tests so many employers insist on these days. Then I got the awful feeling that maybe they were.

  3. Really good writing. I’ll have to explore your blog more to understand what you’re doing with it.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, LadySparks! Earmarked it to return to it later, re-read, then comment.

    Funny how smells, sights, and sounds can temporarily take us away from our troubles. I’m thankful for those small beauties – gifts, really. For that woman at the bus stop, her music might have done just that. Who knows? For all we know, she could be shielding herself from something harsh as well, with those crass-*** lyrics and suggestive body language, but this ain’t about her, right?! 🙂

    I love how you capture the emotion of feeling dismissed or invisible while still relishing what appears to be a carelessness or reckless abandon of someone that may appear to be freer and possibly even detached from reality. It’s a difficult space. I’m not sure if you understand just how successful your writing is in communicating this complexity. I love when writing strikes me this way!

    Merci!

    • I’m glad it resonated for you, Ms. Empress. I was trying to get something out of that situation that wasn’t so ugly. All I could think of was the writing. Thanks for letting me know it worked for you.

  5. This was one of my favorites, Sparks. Despite my horror at what you had to go through, I feel it helps me through a bad day to have someone to comiserate wtih. I worked for a long time with the public and I sympathize with bad days where maybe some abusive person made her workday difficult and other visitors might not know that – but government employees and especially those who work with people whose needs aren’t being met, honestly, they should be held to a higher standard than say someone working at a McDonald’s.

    I had to laugh about the iPod – I suffered through that for almost 33 hours on a train. And at one point I was in the “quiet car”! It’s bad enough when someone forces their music on you, but to sing off key as though you’re the Most Important Human On Earth, honestly. It makes you wish for the olden days when parents taught kids to be good members of the community. Demonstrative behavior is THE most annoying thing when you’re already stressed.

    Love the scents in the bag though, I carry charms and I’ve looked up herbs that are relaxing – lavendar has to be one of the top 3. Lemon balm is nice too. That could be a whole post for those of us who are stressed!

    • Thanks, Amelie. I agree with what you’re saying here. Wouldn’t it be great if we could ‘polite’ someone out of a bad day?

      I’ll have look into calming herbs and see if I can purchase tiny amounts, just for the aromatherapy qualities. Maybe they could help me sleep. Thank you so much for the idea.

  6. Oh, Ré, I’m sorry you had such a hideous day, and that bureaucratic horribleness creates so many such days for you. And I hear you so strongly on “I wondered what it would be like to live that way, without a filter” — in fact, last night I wrote exactly that in a document I thought of turning into a blog post but ultimately couldn’t bring myself to share (my post today was a very, very filtered version of it). I don’t know how to live without the filter either, but today I found a small way to do it. Since one of my filters is my tendency to shrink away from possibly awkward encounters, today I deliberately went toward them instead: walking directly into people’s paths instead of taking a long way around them, checking out interesting signs instead of staying away in case I wasn’t supposed to get too close, etc. It felt good — as if my usual habit is to take up less space, but today I was saying, “No, dammit, I have the right to take up space.” I don’t know if you find a similar small way of chipping away at your filter, or if you’d have the energy, but I found it a very affirming experience.

    As to the Zum scent, I used to get their soaps so I know how nice their fragrances are. 🙂 I remember reading once in their catalog or on their site that their employees don’t mix the products if they’re having a bad day, so the bad feeling doesn’t get into the products. On one level I thought that was hokey, but on another level I totally loved (and still love) it.

    • I hear what you’re saying, Lisa. There are times when I do fully inhabit my right to take up space, but I still wonder what it’s like to absolutely not care about other people’s senses and their feelings. I can’t imagine completely imposing my will on other people as if they don’t matter.

      There was this one time when I was chewing gum on a bus (I happened to be really hungry at the time, but I guess that’s beside the point) and this woman got on with her husband and she sat next to me. She immediately began to have a fit about, “…all this chewing!” I hadn’t thought that my mouth was open, so I made sure it was closed as I chewed, but she continued to have a fit. I got so mad that I stared in her face, opened my mouth, and chewed hard. I think her husband got scared, because he tried to get her to stop bothering me. That’s the closest I’ve come to being publicly obnoxious, but I really think she was overly sensitive. In fact, the memory of her husband’s behavior reminds me of myself with my ex-husband when he’d get weird in public.

      I love that story about Zum products, too. (Maybe that’s one of the reasons their stuff costs so much!) I hope things keep getting better for you as you navigate your way through so much change and excitement. Sounds like you’re working at taking care of yourself. Yay you. 🙂

  7. I’ve also craved the unfiltered life. For me, I was eighteen, and never in my life had I acted young. Instead of making mistakes, I tried to encourage responsibility. After several years of teenagers telling me I was “uptight” and needed to get off their backs, I caved. I felt arrogant for wanting to be so good, for wanting others to be good. I began smoking cigarettes as a way of letting go and doing something “bad.” It took a year for me to stop (Slight addiction, and I enjoyed them immensely) but then I realized that I was just around the wrong type of people. Since I wanted to save people from their horrible lives, that’s all I surrounded myself with, and thus why they were annoyed with me. It took some time, but I finally found friends who appreciated acting mature, and I couldn’t be happier now.

  8. And honestly, those people may be “free,” but being courteous is always a better trait in my book. To be completely free because you don’t care, or to be respected because you care. I pick caring, every time.

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