Welcome mats and doormats
Yesterday I approached my Meals on Wheels route with a heavy heart. I can’t explain it. I think it was because that damn Bon Iver song “Skinny Love” was playing on the radio as I pulled out of the food distribution center. That song makes me sad. I fumbled with the dial, trying to find Bananarama or something else stupid and peppy and retro. Nope, Bauhaus was playing for fuck’s sake. Radio. Turned. Off.
I ruminated about my mood as I drove to my first meal drop-off. I decided it was because I felt like an empty vessel – and today of all days I needed to be shooting compassionate and patient pixie dust out of my ass. These people relied on me. Yet, I had nothing to give. As my wise friend Karen says to me when I’m facing a difficult task or visit home: “Just send your better self. Just for this one thing. It will get you through it.” So I tried to summon my better self, but I wasn’t sure if she was the one driving the car at the moment.
My first drop-off was easy – I just had to put the food in the cooler, as was the case with the following two deliveries. No human interaction required, yet I still cried in my car between these easy drop-offs. Better self, where are you? I asked myself.
Next on the list: Ed. Sometimes he waited outside for his food, sunning himself on the back deck; other days he left a cooler for me. With twinkly blue eyes and ruddy Irish skin, he reminds me of my grandfather, had my grandfather lived to see his late 70s, instead of only his early 60s.
I pulled up to his house and headed to the back of the house. The cooler was there on the back deck, in place of Ed. Alas, there was no ice, and I’m not allowed to leave the food in the cooler unless it contains an ice-pack.
“Who is it?” said a gruff voice.
“It’s Meals on Wheels,” my better self cheerfully shouted through the closed door.
“What a glorious voice,” he said as he opened the back door.
I handed him his his meal and asked, “How are you doing today, Ed?”
“Tired. I just woke up. But my day just got better the minute I saw you. You look like a damn movie star. A movie star! It should be a crime to be as pretty as you are.”
Taken off guard, I squeaked, “You know, Ed, I was having a difficult morning, and you just made my day.” Putting my hand on my chest I said with less-squeaky conviction, “I will carry your compliment in my heart all day long. Thank you. You have a great day yourself.”
I practically skipped back to my car, with tears in my eyes but a big grin on my face. Yeah, yeah, Ed is practically blind, which probably makes my bovine-sized thighs look super-model svelte, but perhaps he can sense inner beauty. Or maybe I am pretty. Huh. Foreign concept for me.
After a few more easy stops, I reached Meg’s house. She always tries to give me something: brownies, eggplant, earrings, necklaces, a wooden angel. She won’t take no for an answer. We chatted for awhile and then she showed me her garden, as if for the first time, even through she shows it to me every time I visit her. I don’t mind. I like gardens. Besides, it’s a testament to her strength: 88 years old with a bad leg, she spends hours out in her garden, tending to the tomatoes and zucchini and beans.
“I have something for you,” she said, grabbing my hand and leading me out to the garage.
“Meg, I can’t possibly take anything else from you, you have been more than generous,” I argued.
She opened the garage and presented me with an empty Kmart shopping cart.
“I grabbed this when the store down the street closed. I’ve got no use for it, in fact I have an identical one in the basement.”
I stifled a laugh. A shopping cart? Too bad she didn’t have a job or boyfriend waiting for me in the garage.
“Meg, you are so sweet. I can’t possibly take this. I live on the third floor, in a 500 square foot apartment.”
She signed resignedly and said okay. I hugged her and walked down the driveway giggling to myself. “See you next week,” I shouted over my shoulder.
As the morning rolled by, I visited with two other of my favorites, and managed to coax another one of the clients outside her door. She usually leaves the door open just wide enough for me to slip the food through. Victory.
My better self finally emerged, due in no small part to the welcome mat that always seems to be put out for me. Whether I visit with these people or am left with a cooler (but no person) to deliver to, I feel welcome, needed, maybe even loved.
However, my day wasn’t over yet. On an afternoon walk with my dog, I would find out that the welcome mat doesn’t exist in some people’s lives; instead they seek to treat others like doormats. These days, I prefer actively stepping over the threshold of the welcome mat, not being the passive doormat. And the Cruella De Vil who tangled with me yesterday afternoon was met with my better, non-doormat self’s smart mouth and a sense of new-found confidence.
“MaDAM,” she shouted.” “MaDAM (annunciating the DAM on the downbeat). “MADAM! Look at me.”
I looked up from my dog and turned around to see this tall, impossibly thin, older woman standing behind me, her hands on her hips, narrowed, unfriendly eyes, and her mouth scrunched in anger, further deepening the wrinkles that framed her mouth.
I had felt her trailing me for about two blocks, as I limped along on a sprained ankle wrapped in an ankle brace. The hair on my neck stood up as I sensed the stink of her anger and arrogance. I kind of knew where this was going, but I wanted to avoid a confrontation.
“Yes?” I answered.
“I zink it’s rude of you to have your dog on zis lawn. Remove zit at once,” she coldly said, with an accent.
Probably French. If the French hate us so much, why do they come over here? Go back to your baguettes and fromage and Chanel. Leave us to our fast food and cheap clothing and bad manners, I thought.
My 14-year-old, horribly arthritic dog had stopped for a little rest (and a proper grass sniffing) on the very edge of a large lawn, which spreads out in front of a huge apartment building that mostly houses older, wealthy folk and a few Brown med students. So close was my dog to the sidewalk in front of the lawn, that I was comfortably standing on the sidewalk within the length of her leash, grasping a bag of dog waste. She wasn’t pooping, she was just resting. So here’s how the rest of THAT conversation went:
Me: Please cut me some slack. I don’t have a yard and I have to walk her in this neighborhood. And if you had asked me politely, I might have considered moving her. But you didn’t, so, just leave me alone.
She wouldn’t budge. She held her stance, bony hands firmly gripping her hips.
Cruella: You, MaDAM, zou are the impolite one. Remove zit now!
Me: Nope. Not going to move her.
Cruella: Get zit zoff my property at once.
Me: I think you need to mind your own business. My dog isn’t defecating on the apartment building’s lawn (holding up and waving my full poop bag to show her what a responsible pet owner I am). Look she’s about 6 inches from the edge of the lawn and taking a rest. She’s old, for God’s sake and it’s hot. Seriously, how is this hurting you?
Cruella (voice slightly raised): But zis IS my business MaDAM. I zlive here. Zou are trezpazzing on zmy private property.
Me (my voice raised): Trespassing? Are you kidding me? Look, I am so sick of you snotty old Wayland Square ladies getting your knickers in knots over dogs stepping on one blade of your perfect grass or pooping within a 5-mile radius of your perceived private property. Now please, leave me alone. I’m not moving her.
Cruella: Zou are very rude, indeed, MaDAM. Zou are raising zore voice at me. Zi am being perfectly calm. Remove zit now!
(Hmmm. Remove my voice? Or remove the dog? Or do I have a big pimple on my nose? Now I was confused.)
Me: You know what, if this is your biggest worry in life, good for you. Or maybe I should feel sorry for you. Perhaps you should be worrying about something more important, or take up a hobby that doesn’t involve accosting people on the street.
Cruella (with a snotty shake of her head): Zo zo impolite.
And with that she turned her back to me, as I shouted “Have you ever heard about not sweating the small stuff? Look into it!”
She ignored me and kept walking. She lives a block away from me. I CANNOT wait to let my dog linger on that lawn again. It will give me great pleasure.
And it felt so good to defend myself (for once) and my elderly dog. I am constantly met with this behavior on the East Side of stuck-up Providence. (Read my COL letter here.) I’ve been sworn at, yelled at, confronted, screamed at from passing cars, been the recipient of numerous stink eyes, etc. at least 50 times in the last seven years that I’ve lived in this urban area with little green space for dog walks. I clean up after her, I am considerate, I respect other people’s property the best I can. And when I do face confrontation, I usually tuck my tail and run. No more. Miss Doormat (or perhaps MaDAM Doormat) is done with sucky people who create telephone poles out of toothpicks. (I know, I know, probably hypocritical coming from me, a person with anxiety disorder. But at least I keep my telephone poles to myself for the most part.)
You see, here’s part 1 of my philosophy: You need to choose your battles wisely and strive to let empathy be the guiding force when making such a decision. I chose to fight because the whole thing was so rude and ridiculous and, well, nobody messes with my dog (or calls her “it”). A little empathy toward a woman hobbling down the street in an ankle brace with a very obviously old dog would’ve been the correct choice yesterday. Cruella chose incorrectly: she made my harmless 2-minute stop on the edge of the lawn into an enormous fucking telephone pole.
And here’s part 2: When I find myself getting annoyed with a person, for example when the woman ahead of me in the express lane has 82 items, I take a deep breath and ask myself:”What is this person going through? Maybe she just found out she has cancer, maybe she lost their job, maybe her son just got shipped off to Afghanistan.” Is it really that big a deal – enough to make a big deal out of it? Nine times out of ten, probably not. And believe me, I don’t always take the high road; I am deeply flawed, as all humans are. But I’m aware enough to know WHEN I’m embarrassingly traveling the low road. I doubt Cruella is that self-aware… she is too busy being aware of her precious grass.
As I reflected on standing up for myself and kicking the doormat away yesterday, I thought that perhaps my Meals on Wheels, welcome mat, better self had been replaced by my less-better, smart-ass self. Nope, she wasn’t. (My less-better self would’ve acted like a doormat, for sure.) And in fact my better self is still here today, happily typing away as I sit outside in the shade.