Today, after running an errand, I went to the Elmwood Cafe. A cute cafe with pretty good baked goods, I enjoy going there on occasion. Standing in line behind a young girl ordering, I notice an old lady with her nurse enter. She walks right up to the counter, checking out the desserts and pulling out her money. Her nurse half-heartedly tries to get her in line, but with no success. I don’t think the old lady even heard her. Which was no big deal. The cafe worker looks up and without blinking proceeds to take the old lady’s order. I’m one to go with the flow, and maybe the old lady is a bit senile, so what the hell, let’s let her get away with being rude. Besides, I think she may have had a hard time standing. And who am I to judge? Then the nurse orders, which makes sense. She has to keep tabs on the old lady.
At this point I’ve been standing in line for about 10 minutes, when it probably should have been about 3, but as I said, no big deal. Then I notice this second lady, a real hag, so ugly and stretched – like plastic surgery gone wrong. She’s inching beside me, and I realize, Oh My Fucking God, she’s going to cut in front of me too. She gives me a really dirty look, for what I have no idea – and then proceeds to cut in line. The clerk at the counter, meanwhile, never bats an eye. At this point, I’m thoroughly embarrassed. I have been standing at the counter for a good 13 minutes completely ignored and I’m not sure what to do about it.
All of a sudden I’m transported back in time to when I was about 10 years old. I was at some beach town on a trip – Mendocino maybe, or Monterey, who knows – and I had to go to the restroom. I don’t remember who I was with, my mom, my dad, or my school, but I was told to go to the shop person, on my own, and ask where the restroom was located. Though quite the little school yard boss (I reigned with a just and kind hand) I was a rather shy and reticent young girl in public. I worked up my courage and stood in line.
Finally, at the front of the line, the clerk deliberately looks over my head to the next person. “How can I help you sir?” The gentleman lightly placed a hand on my shoulder, guiding me even closer to the register. “I believe this young lady was first.” His voice dripped with both gentleness and chastisement. The young clerk, perhaps a bit ashamed, looked at me and asked, “What can I do to help you?” I was embarrassed, proud, bashful, and thankful all at once. I asked where the restroom was and followed the instructions to the letter.
It was as if that gentleman had saved me. The invisible me – too scared and unsure of what to do in awkward social situations – had been spotted and even treated like a lady. I wasn’t into Prince Charming, preferring the idea of Tarzan – that wild beast tamed by intelligence, beauty, and goodwill – but here was a Prince if I ever met one. Of course, I was too bashful to even look at his face, though I am sure I managed to squeak out a “Thank you.”
Here I am, at 27, and still somehow invisible. Now it’s no longer appropriate to sit bashfully waiting for someone to notice me and save me from uncomfortable social situations. Nor do I think it’s what I need. I let the old hag go. Really, there is no way she didn’t know that I was standing there first, but it doesn’t matter. I have time. I’m still young. I can wait an extra few minutes. I did. Then I ordered it all to go. I’d taken all the punishment I could handle. No use staying in places where no one can see you.