Dick Move, Lego Store Lady. And thank you, New York.

Posted on
Jan 5, 2012

Standing in the stall of bathroom on the second floor of Nordstrom’s, I lost it.

I stood, sniffling, as women around me buzzed in and out of stalls, chatting with friends and helping children wash their hands. I tried to compose myself: it wasn’t working. I was holding back the tears, but only barely.

It was stupid, really, when I thought about it. We’d been in the Lego store in Aventura Mall in southern Florida. The friggin Lego store. Not exactly the place you’d imagine would be the site of spite and vitriol. We wandered around with my cousin’s kids, who were excitedly pointing out things that they liked. I pointed to something, and in the process, came within a foot of touching a fellow shopper – a well-dressed middle-aged woman. I did not, I would like to note, actually touch her. But I am sure I interacted with some molecules that later grazed her personal space, and for this, she was not happy.

She gave me a look one usually reserves for little pieces of poo we find at the bottom of shoes after a pleasant walk in the park.

I sighed heavily. It had been a stressful few weeks. I decided the best way to deal with this woman’s clear irritation at the sight of me would be to kill her with kindness.

“I am so sorry,” I said brightly and as sincerely as I could muster. I gently patted her arm, “It’s so crazy in here, and I was just pointing something out at the kids. I didn’t mean to point at you, of course! I’m really and truly -”

The woman cut me off.

“Look,” she said gruffly. “It’s over now. The thing that I want to know is, why are you still touching me?”

I froze. Wait, what?

She looked at my hand, which was gently patting her forearm, the way one does when trying to tenderly extend a bit of humanity and kindness to a stranger in an otherwise cold and miserable world.

“You’ve touched my arm TWICE and YOU ARE STILL TOUCHING IT. WHY are you touching me?

I don’t know what I replied to her next. I’m fairly sure I simply walked away. I was shaking. Perhaps because it was so unexpected. Perhaps because I was simply trying to be nice. Rand saw the whole thing, came over to talk to me.

“I … I …” I had no words.

“I know,” he said, looking at me sympathetically. “She’s … trouble.”

I nodded. I tried to pull it together in the hustle and bustle of the store, but couldn’t. One of the men who worked there saw the exchange and gently told me, “Yeah … that woman is in a bad place.”

And she’d put me in one, too.

She’s the one in white. May it be engraved on her tombstone: “You cannot kill evil.”

Later, when it was far too late to do anything about it, I came up with a dozen or so brilliant responses to her question, “Why are you touching me?”

  • “I always pet my food before eating it.”
  • “Why? Is bitchiness communicable?”
  • “Sorry. I thought you needed a little human interaction. I didn’t realize you were another species.”
  • “Oh, honey, don’t worry. The clap isn’t that contagious.” (I like this, because it implies that either of us might have the clap. Which we might. GET YOURSELVES CHECKED, KIDS!)
  • “You remind me of a hamster I once had. It’s dead now.”
  • “Does this mean French-braiding your hair is now out of the question?”
  • “Because god knows your husband hasn’t in a while.”
  • “Because Snuggle Club meets in FIVE MINUTES. And you’re the newest inductee.”
  • “Your mustache reminds me of my father.”

    My father is the only person on the planet who can looked pissed off while eating ice cream. (Love you, dad!)

  • “I like how squishy you are. You’re like a human version of those little stress balls.”
  • “Because I’ve always found angry, middle-aged Jewish women to be sexy.”
  • And lastly, my personal favorite, “Fuck you, you miserable whore!”

See? All of those would have been great. But no. I was too shocked to even stay in the store. I know, I know. I was being ridiculous. My life is not hard. It’s ridiculously easy and wonderful. How the hell did I expect to be tough enough to travel the world if I couldn’t handle a crazy woman screaming at me in an upscale Florida mall?

But instead of saying anything, I told my husband I needed a minute, and walked out of the Lego store, through the post-Christmas mall crowds, and straight into the bathroom at Nordstrom.

For the record, when it comes to bathrooms, Nordstrom’s is a godsend. Just be sure to walk up a flight or two, as the bathrooms are cleaner there than on the main floor. There you can have a nervous breakdown for as long as you like, and except for the sympathetic looks you’ll get from the concerned 60-something Spanish-speaking woman, no one will even notice!

And so there I stayed, and there I cried.

Let me be clear: I wasn’t really crying about the woman yelling at me. At least, I wasn’t crying just about that. The real reason I was standing in a bathroom stall and sniffling to myself was a mixture of so much blubber, I think that admitting it will make me sound like a crazy person.

Of course, that’s never stopped me.

I was crying because some friends of mine recently had a death in the family, and I haven’t yet made them a lasagna or sent them a card, and I felt like an ASS for it. I was crying because another friend – one of the most important people in my life – had just had a baby and I was nowhere near her when it happened, though I promised I would be. I was crying because just a few hours prior, my little godson looked at my husband and said, “Rand, can I tell you something? … I love you.”

I was crying because life can be incredibly sweet and fragile and unbearable and we can’t do a damn thing about it. And it’s so fucking short.

I was becoming unhinged, and this woman was the catalyst for it. If I managed to piss someone off when I was trying to excessively nice, what hope did I have when I wasn’t  trying? Indeed, what hope did any of us have? If we are able, as a species, to be so damn hostile to each other (in malls, in Lego stores, on battlefields, in marriages) HOW THE HELL WERE WE GOING TO MAKE IT?

This crisis of existence followed me to New York, where I was sufficiently petrified I’d lose it again, somewhere amidst the crowds and shoving, the madness and rush of the city during the holidays. I was going to end up screaming at someone who gently patted my arm. The cycle of crazy would continue. I just knew it.

I sat, eating lunch in a cafe on 47th, thinking about how doomed we all were. I watched the people who passed – thousands of them. Tall German girls blessed with exquisite cheekbones and long legs. A pack of Italian college students arguing over where to go next. A woman with a Southern accent and tall hair who said “thank you” so sincerely, my heart melted. A tall Londoner in an exceptionally fabulous coat. A young mom with her son, his hair meticulously braided into cornrows.

They slid past one another. They held open doors. They smiled at strangers. They rushed and bumped but they still turned to shout, “Sorry!”

And suddenly, it dawned on me: New York City is a testament to our ability to be tolerant and decent to one another. No, seriously, think about it. There are 8 million people in the city of New York. They speak dozens of languages. They’re all competing for the same taxis, the same apartments, the same spouses. And despite that, they haven’t resorted to cannibalization. Tourists aren’t cooked over bonfires, their children aren’t served as hors d’oeuvres. We’re slightly better than rabbits, and that’s a comforting thought.

Had the people of New York all been like that woman in South Florida, yes, we’d have been doomed. But they were not. Instead, they had already realized what I soon did: that we were all in this together. That life is stupidly short, that it can be stupidly difficult for some people, and that all we can do is make it easier for those around us. Things don’t get any better by yelling at strangers. They don’t get any better by being angry.

I thought back to the woman who had shaken my faith in mankind so. I’m sorry she felt so angry and alone. If I see her again, I’ll let her know, I’m here for her. Waiting to pat her arm, or hug her, or open-mouth kiss her on the lips, if she’ll let me. If you see her, do the same, okay? Just run up, and give her a big hug, and let her know that we’re all in this together. No need to wash your hands beforehand. It’s okay if they’re sticky or covered in mud. Just hug her. Tightly.

And then run like hell. Because she will eat you.

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