September 20, 2016
This was not my finest hour.
A while back Saarah and I had lunch at a local Brooklyn landmark. It’s an outdoor pizzeria that has been featured on the Food Network, Travel Channel, and many, many other places. It is nice and very casual and right in my backyard. I’ve been there more times than I can count in my life and never, not once, not even during a blackout when I was a kid in the 70’s, did the nonsense occur that happened last week.
It was crowded but we got a table outside along the fence. The other side of the fence was the sidewalk. We each had a couple of slices of pizza. I had a can of diet Pepsi, Saarah had a bottle of water. We were seated not 30 seconds, and probably much less, when a woman ran up to the fence from the other side, leaned over, and waved her arms all around in a swirly motion, like she was miming sweeping our food off the table. This was accompanied by fast- really fast- jibber jabber in a language that was totally not English. Nor did it use our alphabet. Or any sounds that remotely sound like human vocalization.
At this point I am going to explain that I am going to be delicately, politically correct and not say which foreign language it was, though I totally know what it was, because the point of this isn’t her race, the point is that I had no idea what the heck she was yammering about and why she was waving her arms in our faces and over our food.
Saarah and I had instinctively moved back- no make that jumped back- from her but when it became clear that she was crazy, but not dangerous crazy, I leaned back in and countered her lunatic fringe talk with some cultured and erudite English.
“What the f–k, lady?!? Get your hands out of my face!”
She leaned back over to her side of the fence, slowed down but didn’t shut up, and instead of waving was now making weird gestures at us, the table, the sky, Pluto, whatever. I had a few ideas. Maybe it was:
A- We had taken her table and she was politely asking us to please leave.
B- She was putting a spell on us.
C- She wanted the pizza. (It was really good pizza.)
But it was none of those. Somehow, and I have no idea how, but somehow I got the intuitive sense that she wanted our can and bottle when we were finished. And I swear, the fact that she had three bags full of cans and bottles sitting under a nearby tree should in no way diminish my amazing intuitive leap.
Having gotten her point, somehow, across, she walked up and down the fence doing more or less the same to every group unlucky enough to have sat near the fence. At some point she must have decided to do some exercises and started to walk in an almost exact approximation of the Monty Python silly walk.
I had zero intention of giving her the containers. My Dad once said that he never gave money to anyone who was wearing better sneakers than he was. (Dad was a New Balance man.) This woman was not wearing sneakers but very nice, clean new shoes. In fact, her whole outfit was clean, new, and fashionable.
But she really pissed me off by keeping an eagle’s eye on that can and bottle. She stared at them. When I took a sip she watched to see if I finished it. She eyed the clear water bottle to see how empty it was. No matter how far down the fence she went she still kept watch on our drinks.
Never was anyone more determined to get ten cents deposit than she was. She was putting $50 dollars’ worth of effort into that dime. The cynic in me would point out that if she put $50 dollars’ worth of effort into, oh, I don’t know, a job, she would have gotten $50 as a result. But I guess the cynic in me is just crazy to say a looney thing like that.
I had no intention of giving her the can (the bottle was still nearly full and would be going back with us) but I had every intention of screwing with her. She was putting $50 dollars’ effort into getting the can, so I was going to put $50 effort into screwing with her.
Sometimes as we were talking I’d pick up the can and “absent-mindedly” just hold the can and shake it, like you would tease a dog with a chew toy, and damn if it didn’t work every time. I never failed to get her attention. I think I may also have accidentally have recreated Pavlov’s experiment and made her drool too, but I wasn’t looking that closely.
Well, this went on a lot longer than you might expect and soon the pizza was eaten, the soda can really was empty, and Saarah wanted me to act like an adult, for once, and leave. I did, but not before I made sure that the can woman was at the extreme other end of the fence.
I stood up, and to make sure the woman knew we were leaving I did a big theatrical stretch, holding the can in the air as I did so. Her attention caught, I started walking toward the exit, and at the same time she started walking toward me.
I was lightly tapping the can against my thigh as I walked.
I got to the recycling container a good ten strides ahead of the woman and held the can over the hole. And kept it there.
I looked directly at the crazy woman as she hustled over to me, arms outstretched, a look of pure looniness on her face.
And then I dropped the can.
The woman howled- yes, howled– something that sounded more or less like “/lbdsg;lb, ;dlfb liuklqar ]0-35jn. Gb,” which is what I got when I shut my eyes and randomly punched the keyboard.
I politely said “excuse me” as I squeezed past her, and Saarah and I walked to my car.
“Did you do that on purpose?” Saarah asked.
Damn right I did.
Like I said, it was not my finest hour.
But maybe it was.