Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lost in Translation

I just had one of those WWJD moments.
As in, What Would Jesus Do?
It was just weird, and the people I am about to talk about, two complete strangers to me, have just left the premises, minutes ago.

So I'm sitting here at Starbucks in the Chapters store downtown. It's just packed with people. To put it mildly, it's a proverbial barrel of fish. I had to wait quite a while for a table to open up so I could read my book and get my caffeine fix.
But sure enough [patience is rewarded] two people got up to leave and I hustled in there and nabbed the table.
So far so so good, right? Everything's been done fair and square? Survival of the fittest, and all that jazz? No dolphins were harmed, yadda yadda?

OK, I was happily re-acquainting myself with the latter stages of this excellent book called The Keep when, in my over-anxiety I dribbled some Pumpkin-Spice Latte ['tis the season] on the table and got up to fetch a napkin from yonder dispenser. These are over at the condiment center, a few yards away.
When I turned around to go back to my table there was a mother and daughter team already sitting at my table, pushing all my stuff to the side.... my book, my laptop, my John Irving action figure... all the stuff I travel with, it's all just pushed over and these two have basically MOVED IN.... and I'm left standing there, milling about.
I at least want my damn book back?

The truth is, I wasn't even angry or anything. Spending 90% of my life in coffee places has conditioned me for this sort of scenario. I quickly adapt to such horrific encounters with..... random human beings.
I asked some people at a neighboring table if I could borrow their one unused chair and then I dragged this chair close to "my" table, reached over for my book and said to these two Usurpers, these two Table Hounds, "I'll just sit over here."
I even smiled.
But from the look on the daughter's face I might as well have said, "I will shoot you both in four seconds."
She looked at me like I needed an exorcism. And said, "What?"
So, I repeated exactly what I had said before, but way slower, "It's OK. I -- will -- sit -- over -- here."
But this only horrified her further.
As though I was slapping them both in the face a second time.
In other words friends, I quickly realized that there was absolutely no sentence, put however nicely, that would not sound offensive, when all the while I was not angry or offended. I truthfully could not have cared less -- I mean sure, it was not comfortable to now sit in a chair and have to hold my coffee in one hand and the book in the other, but the point of what I am saying is that there was no good way for me to relate to these women that I was not scandalized by their intrusion into "my" table.
The younger woman continued to just GLARE at me. My God, it was unnerving.
Then the elderly woman turned completely around and said to me, "We will not be long, there was nowhere else to sit."
I just acknowledged with my eyes that I heard her, there was nothing to say.... all would have been lost in translation.
And the young one, the daughter, wow... the couple times I glanced up while I sipped from that cup that was burning the hell out of my left hand, her eyes cut me to shreds!

They just left, leaving muffin crumbs and plates all over "my" table, and as I moved back here the girl threw me a parting "look" as they both went out the front doors of Chapters.
That "look" was NOT lost in translation.
It said, "You've got some serious issues, buddy! Get some help."



Beth said...

You travel with a John Irving action figure??!! I want one.

Rebecca H. said...

Yikes. People!!!! (You'll just have to imagine the tone of voice I use when I say that.)

Cipriano said...

I do, Beth.
Got it at Wal Mart, believe it or not. You pull a string and the thing says, "All my books have transvestites and bears in them! Or... transvestite bears."

No kidding.
Sometimes, people, just plain old people, can be difficult. And it all has to do with the phenomenon of expecting the worst.
These people expected the worst, not the best, regarding human encounter.
As pessimistic as I am about most things, I still expect the best, in others. In other words, I would not have reacted as these people did, were the "tables" turned. Hence, I can only marvel at their lack of ability to do the same.

Arukiyomi said...

you know what... you might not like this but I'm with the people who sat at your table. You weren't around to ask and you don't own the table anyway.

One thing that pisses me off about our individualistic culture is that out in public we all get to demand a table, or a double seat on public transport for ourselves irrespective of how many people may be looking for one or how many seats we actually need. This puts barriers up between people that I don't think are helpful in society.

I think the people were just being people in community attempting to share a resource. Were you not somewhat facetious in your approach to them? That's what probably shocked them, that someone would be so demanding of privacy while out in public.

At least... that's my take on it...

Cipriano said...

Well, your "take" on it is wrong, Arukiyomi, because you are reading my entire blog story here wrongly. You are doing exactly what these two people were doing. You are assuming that I was offended at them sitting at "my" table.
All the while, the whole point of my tale is that I was NOT offended or "put out" by them sitting there. You are assuming that I WAS offended, just as they did.
I was SINCERE in my telling them that I did not mind at all sitting over where I was sitting.... and I was perfectly OK with letting them have my damn fuckin' table!
But that sincerity was LOST IN TRANSLATION!
I didn't care at all that they sat there and moved my shit to the side, but at the same time...I WANTED that shit. I wanted my book.
And when I ASKED for it, nicely, even with a smile, I was STILL an asshole as far as they were concerned.
My point is, was I supposed to walk away and leave my own stuff on the table I had just sat at?

The whole point of my story is that THEY were in the wrong, not me. They treated me with disrespect.
The problem in our individualistic culture is that we assume that every single person out there is a lunatic / psycho, when the reality is that the lunatic / psychos are very much in the small small minority. Most people are really terrific people [as I am].
And these two women would not give me the benefit of the doubt.

Isabella K said...

I think you're on to something, Cip. We have a whole lot of problems, as a society, with sincerity, or taking anything at face value. Everything has to be laden with nonexistent meaning or irony and it ends up sounding facetious or sarcastic -- it's almost impossible to talk to people anymore. (You should read Infinite Jest!)

Anonymous said...

You know, I would have been a bit less accepting of the situation than you were and I would have ripped into that younger one if she had given me a look. You're very patient and laid back I guess. If I had been one of these two watching you go for napkins I would have waited NEAR the table to ask if you were leaving, hoping to be invited to share. I wouldn't have just moved in and pushed your stuff aside.
They are seriously rude people those two and I can't see the reason they would think poorly of you when they muscled in on your space.
Jeech, the nerve of some people!!!
p.s. I have a new John Irving, it's Until I Find You. Can't wait to read it.

Stefanie said...

Wow, Cip, kudos to you for being so nice to those people! I don't think I would have. We are so used to having our "own" tables like that, when my husband and I went to London a number of years ago all the vegetarian places were so crowded and tiny everyone shared tables. We not infrequently found ourselves sitting at the same table with two complete strangers. It was weird and even weirder was everyone always pretended they were the only ones at the table.

kingmonkey said...

I would like to share the wisdom of a friend of mine, who's known online as CheapshotX2:

"It's okay to be bitter, bcause people suck."

You'd be within your rights to be upset. I'd probably have just sat down with them, or at least pulled a chair over from elswhere and sat back down and continued to read/blog/drink/play-with-action-fgure.

Anonymous said...

Arukiyomi - what's your deal? Are you just bitter that Cip threw a WWJD into his blog and didn't follow-up with a long narrative on all things religious? Breathe dude!

Cipriano said...

Thank you, Isabella.
The whole blog itself was about UNINTENDED SARCASM. You got it. One reader obviously did not.

Thank you, C.
Hey, by the way, I recently read that very Irving novel. It is fantastic, as all his stuff is. Be prepared for a lot of tattoo lore!

Thank you, Stefanie.
The whole ordeal was traumatic for me, mostly because it chagrins my spirit to see people as cynical as these two dames were.
Your London story.... reminds me of when I was in Bermuda. In Bermuda there is no such thing as a CHEAP place to eat. But I found this one KFC, I could not believe it. So I ordered some chicken and sat down, and promptly these three guys sat RIGHT AT MY TABLE and commenced blabbing away like I was as Bermudian as they were. Being a tourist I was wary, but the thing was... it seemed OK. They were completely hilarious and that helped ease my initial thoughts of "I never imagined I would die in Bermuda, but go figure!!"

Kingmonkey, yes, it was an awkward situation... but the biggest awkwardness involved the younger girl's immediate assumption that I was Osama Bin friggin' Laden!

Thank you Anonymous for saying what I would rather not. Every once in a while one is subtly reminded that the average Christian out there in the Wide World is ready and waiting, equipped with enough self-righteousness to suck the moisture out of any three camel humps!

Arukiyomi said...

I think living in community, we have to be proactive in giving people the benefit of the doubt. It's easy to love people who thank you nicely for giving up your table to them. But that's not the point of love. The point of love is that it applies when people misunderstand you, misread your motives and blatantly do you harm.

I see a conflict between genuinely being giving and loving one minute (sincerely giving a table) and then castigating them in public the next (this post). Love must be consistent for it to be genuine and, if unconditional, is entirely unrelated to the behaviour of the loved.

Melwyk said...

I agree with Kingmonkey.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god Arukiyomi...I could hardly bare to finish reading your comment...almost had to puke!!! What a load of crap...typical holier-than-anyone else Christian bulls&$!. Try to read the blog might understand it the 3rd time through...although if it isn't in King James, you likely will consider it sacrilege! The whole point was the concept of someone not giving someone else the benefit of the doubt and a mini-social commentary on that situation. Not a love-fest for or against the people. Your posts are great examples of why Christianity in its current state is slowly dying.

Cipriano said...

I just want to go on record as saying that I do not personally agree with [endorse] the DEGREE of the vehemence of this anonymous commenter, above. Even though I myself have said similar things.
This whole topic [this whole blog posting] in itself may have descended into too much of a personally felt issue.
I want to respect the right of all commenters [anonymous or otherwise] to respond to Bookpuddle blogs, so I shall let be.
But I would prefer that we refrain from any more Arukiyomi-bashing.