Friends, I need to process a little here. An event occurred recently that has caused some inner turmoil. I’ve been feeling a lot of insecurity and self-doubt since it happened and made me ask myself some hard questions about my own character. Im going to relate the situation here and see if I can’t develop some insight as I write.
The incident occurred during an interaction with a homeless gentleman while I was working at the farmer’s market* yesterday. He approached on my co-worker’s side and I didn’t notice him right away as they were engaged in conversation. I did tune in time to hear him ask about getting some coffee. We were set up right next to the free trade coffee table where you could buy a cup or a bag. My table-mate seemed to be struggling to understand that he was asking for a cup. Since I speak “mental disability” fairly fluently, I caught on and led him over to get a cup. He was shaking a bit so in what I hoped looked like hospitality as opposed to condescension, I started to pump a cup from the thermos and when I asked how he took it, he told me I could put cream and sugar in as I saw fit. The coffee ran out before the cup was half full and my friend at the free trade table told us a fresh pot was brewing and went to get it We drifted into other activities. Soon, we reconvened there to observe that the coffee hadn’t come back out. He decided to go with decaf. As soon as his cup was filled, my friend emerged with the fresh pot. I immediately offered to take the decaf so he could have caffeine. We joked about needing caffeine and all seemed fine between until I offered to put the cream and sugar in. He immediately got defensive and said he’d do it himself. Now friends, I am used to irrational hostility. From grown-ups. In near proximity of my person. But for some reason, his defensiveness made me feel really nervous to the point that I emptied a full packet of sugar into the trash pouch. He continued to mutter at me and when I asked him what he said, he stopped muttering and said in an offended way “Ive said all Im going to say.” We went our separate ways but for the rest of the morning I spent time wondering how I offended him while telling myself I was being ridiculous as I know enough about mental illness to not personalize the outburst. I guess he decided to move on with our relationship and give me another chance because he did approach me for a light at the end of the market and didn’t seem too offended when I told him I don’t smoke.
Since the event happened, the guilt over offending him has dissipated but Im still struggling with why I felt so bothered by the thought that I insulted this man. I’m generally completely comfortable with people thinking Im an asshole (unless I really like them, and let’s be honest, the strong urine stench emanating from his person immediately prohibited any real soul connection from developing during our brief time together). Nor do I think Im above being insensitive to other people’s needs (remind me to tell you folks about the time I asked about a co-worker’s culture using the phrase “I understand you sleep with your young.” Nice. And then you eat them?). I even would go so far as to agree with the assertion that homeless people can be assholes sometimes. Generally, I can laugh off these encounters without too much thought, trying to learn from any social blunder Ive made but this guy threw me right off my game and I don’t know why. Ok so that’s the story and I still have no insights. Still Ill post this because who doesn’t appreciate a good “shunned by the homeless guy” story? Right?
* So when I use the phrase “im working at a farmer’s market this summer”, (go ahead take a few moments to laugh that out) I can understand how one could draw certain erroneous conclusions about what is transpiring there so we will take a moment and correct the assumptions folks might make that are clearly incongruent with everything you’ve learned or known about my character. First “work” is more like compulsory volunteering (no it’s not parole…) and does not involve any manual labor. In this context, work means I sit at a table handing out community events literature and chatting with folks for three hours on Saturday morning (or two hours since Ive not managed to get there on time for the first two weeks of the season). Lucy is also part of this gig which makes it even less work-like. Now that Ive defined “work”, you’ve most likely drawn the conclusion that I have nothing to do with anything farmer-y or vegetable-y in the market. You’d be correct. Im explaining all of this as the farmer’s market will most likely play into future posts and I can’t have you people think Im into vegetables or anything like that. I have a reputation to protect.