Monday, April 11, 2016


Summers in the City used to take on a carnival flair.  The baking concrete seemed to warm people's blood and there was a frenetic energy in the air.  Street Fairs and block parties blossomed like wildflowers and the toy phone version of the Piped Piper's song blared through speakers as the ice cream trucks made their rounds.  I remember walking around the sun-soaked streets on my rare day off and absorbing the atmosphere and trying not to trip on the curbs in my flip-flops.  Feeling slightly sticky and on the verge of being unpleasantly sweaty, I ducked into a bar to cool off.  The room with swirling overhead fans and bright yellow paint was mostly empty, save for one man and the bartender.  The girl behind the bar looked like she could have been Amy Winehouse's kid sister.  She seemed overly preoccupied with washing the same glasses over and over.  After sitting there for a few minutes with my cold beverage in hand, I could see why.  The man, sitting across the bar, was muttering to himself.  I knew what the girl was doing.  I had used the same trick in the past myself.  If you looked like you were preoccupied, it was easier not to engage difficult customers.  I tried not to eavesdrop, because if the bartender was trying to steer clear, it was probably smart not to show interest either.  But I couldn't help but overhearing a few things.  From the sounds of it, the person he was talking about was terrible.  He went through laundry lists of horrific deeds and I just assumed he had been dumped or that his significant other had cheated on him or something.  A few more people trickled in and as they did so, the man at the end of the bar got louder and louder. It was like he was feeding off their energy and used it to fuel his ranting.  One of the first things you learn when you live in New York is to raise your invisible shields and block out what you don't want to see.  None of us wanted to see this man.

Eventually his swelling diatribe made the energy so uncomfortable in the room that the newcomers started throwing their glances around the room desperately, as if they were looking for safety or some kind of solid ground.  They found me instead and we exchanged exasperated looks.  There's something about group dynamics where those who are not afflicted by the crazy seek reassurance in each other.  A silent communication of, "Can you believe this guy?" and "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" gets exchanged with a handful of expressions and a few eye movements.  The man picked up on our nonverbal interactions and broke through the wall.  Staring directly at me, he screamed, "HEY!  HAVEN'T YOU BEEN LISTENING TO ME?  I'M TRYING TO TELL YOU ABOUT MOTHER F**KING TERESA!"

At first I thought he was joking.  I mean, he was talking about someone who devoted her life to the service and care of others.  What he said was pretty nasty, but he kept talking and somewhere in his drunken fog and heat drenched madness, this all made sense to him.  Once he had our attention, his rantings took on a theatrical quality.  While he was expounding upon the supposed misdeeds of Mother Teresa, I noticed the bartender slip out of view.  I imagine she had placed a phone call to management, because not long afterwards, two VERY large men arrived and quietly escorted him out of the bar.

Even though it has been many years since that hot summer day, I still remember that man with his round, rudy face.  He was convinced that Mother Teresa was his greatest enemy and at least in that moment, it seemed completely real to him.  It didn't matter how many people she fed or clothed, she was still the baddest of the bad.

I think that in life, no matter what you do or how many people believe in you and your virtues, there will always be those that will cast you as a villain in their own personal movies.  You can devote your life to helping the needy and healing the hurt, and there will still be at least one crazy drunk guy in the crowd.  Why?  Maybe they're jealous?  Maybe they're insecure?  Maybe they are deflecting addressing their own problems and going on the offense?  Maybe they are the quintessential definition of a sociopath?  Or maybe it's like that song "32 Flavors" (sung by Ani DiFranco or Alana Davis, either version will do)... "'cause everyone harbors a secret hatred for the prettiest girl in the room..."?  I don't know.  And I urge you not to know either.  

The motivations that fuel the machinations of others are spiderwebs.  Rarely do they make sense.  There's no logic or reason.  If you try to get involved, you'll get stuck and eventually, if you're not careful, you'll get eaten.  It is a tangle and designed to trap you.  And it is best to focus on the positive, mind your own business, and do what you feel is right and good.  If you do your best and guide your actions with gratitude in your heart and a clear conscious, you can sidestep the sticky mess.

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