Thursday, October 04, 2007

Let me tell you what I think

It was late at night in a wealthy suburb. The woman who opened the door was pretty, young, and visibly nervous. She held a Smith and Wesson .38 snub-nose revolver in her right hand, the hammer cocked, her finger on the trigger. It was aimed at my belly button.

“Would you mind pointing that some other direction?” I asked.

She was, admittedly, an aberration. Most of the customers I dealt with were pleasant if not a little paranoid. (Understandable since I was an alarm technician.) Some were poor, most were lower-to-upper middle class. A few were obscenely rich.

If you’re wondering, yes, the rich are different from you and me. If I had to sum up my impressions, I’d say as a rule they’re arrogant and demanding, their kids are obnoxious, spoiled and supremely conscious of their elite status, their houses are too big and too ugly, and they suffer from excessively poor taste in art and household furnishings. They drive nice cars, though.

This introduction is an apology for what follows, an illustration of the type of people I dealt with for 26 years. Prior to that I worked with gun-crazed bullies, alcoholics, losers, cowards, and lowlifes. There were a few real keepers there, too. Moving to rural Kansas offered a new class of individual, the stoic, staid, hard-working, near-mythic Midwesterner of traditional values and beliefs. God bless them, I love them all. But working in a retail environment has introduced yet another category of humanity, one I’m finding hard to cope with.

I’m not talking about the mother with the kids from Hell, the wife who wants to browse and the husband who wants to shoot himself, or even the woman who piled over a hundred dollars’ worth of merchandise on the counter and said, “I’ll give you seventy-five dollars for that.” Sorry, I’m not that desperate.

No, I’m referring to the customers who are so assured in their beliefs, so positive that they alone possess the answers, that their god has bestowed upon them a special dispensation of perception and clear-eyed cognizance, that they have no other choice than to share them with me.

A good example is the older gentleman who came in several weeks ago. Uncommunicative to the point of taciturnity, he deftly ignored my welcome and shuffled through the shop, grimacing at each item as if it held occultic meaning. I went back to adding up tickets. On his last approach he stopped in front of the cash register and said, “You know why America is in such bad shape?”

Startled, I shook my head.

“Because of those places men go to look at naked women.”

He said it so grimly that I almost laughed. When I asked if he was referring to gentlemen’s clubs (an oxymoron of note), he nodded, his eyes dark and brooding.

While I think the cause of America’s troubles are more complex and layered than the simple presence of businesses catering to lechers, one look at his expression cautioned against lengthy debate. “Whoa,” I said, drawing out each syllable as if the breadth of his erudition was overwhelming. “I think you’re onto something.”

A few days later a woman entered the store and marched right up to me. Flashing a gift certificate, she announced she was there to redeem it. “I really don’t need much,” she added. “All I need is Jesus.”

I stared at her. “Huh,” I said. I should have said, “Uh-oh.”

For the next 45 minutes I was privy to her conversion—every bit as dramatic as that of Saul of Tarsus—her church-going history (Baptists are Nazis, Methodists the chosen race), her theory of literature (“The only book you need is the Bible,” definitely not the thing to tell an author), the reason for America’s demise (abortion, gays), the way to peace in the Middle East (missionaries and bayonets), plus dozens of real-life Jehovian encounters, all of which were incontestable and meant to bring me to my knees. So zealous was she, so impossible to interrupt, that we stayed an extra 35 minutes after closing before I could politely usher her out the door.

I’m a nice guy, really I am. I love to listen and I love to talk. But where do these people get off thinking I care one whit for their outlandish opinions? I could overlook it if it was just a few kooks, but they seem to be multiplying. I need a way to combat them without going on the attack.

I’m thinking T-shirts. Something to get a subtle message across, such as “The answer to world peace is an asteroid,” or “The problem with America is you.” It’s tempting to wear an “I’m a godless liberal humanist pro-gay pro-prairie dog” T-shirt just to jerk their chains but that could instigate midnight bonfires. Plus, I’d probably get fired. The one I like best says, “Your prejudice is your own. Don’t blame God.” Problem is, I don’t know if these yahoos can read.

If you’re looking for answers to the questions that have befuddled man since the dawn of time, I am not your man. If you think you know the answers, please keep them to yourself. We’ll both be ignorant in our own benighted ways.

As for the woman with the pistol, I learned she was a new wife who found the mansion too big and too silent. When I was ready to leave, I saw the .38 stuffed in the couch cushions. With her permission, I gingerly removed it and dropped the hammer. She thanked me and let me out, quickly closing the door on a dark night swimming with sharks, predators and serial killers, and not only in her imagination.

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