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Friday, January 23, 2015

Your Sad Story Welcome Here

Hello and belated Happy New Year and welcome to Buddhist in the Bible Belt. If you're a regular around these parts, you know that this blog publishes every Thursday, approximately, with the occasional special bulletins and mini-posts. We're all about things Dallas, things legal, things wacky and, oh yeah, Buddhism. And wacky Buddhist legal things that happen in Dallas.  You can contact me by commenting below, and you can follow me on Twitter, @jenstrikesagain. In case of an emergency, oxygen masks will drop from the compartment above your seat. Please secure your own mask before you assist your child, or someone acting like a child, or maybe Rick Perry. That it? I think that's it. Okay:

For God's sake, don't tell anybody, but I actually wrote a letter to an advice columnist yesterday. I don't normally do That Sort of Thing. I am not, as a rule, the sort of person who writes to advice columnists. I'm more the kind of person who reads advice columnists, mocks their advice, makes fun of the people who write in to advice columnists and occasionally leaves snarky remarks in the Comments section. Nonetheless I wrote to an advice columnist, because after having this problem for most of the last 45 years, I have finally come to the conclusion that I may never solve it.  And while Tarot cards are great for solving some problems, they're annoyingly vague a lot of the time.

Here's the issue. Ever since I was a child, people have walked up to me and Just Started Talking. And by people, I mean total strangers. It doesn't matter if I'm alone or out with friends, attending some gathering or just at a Starbucks trying to get some writing done. I can be just sitting there, minding my own business,and somebody will drop into the chair next to me, heave a big sigh and start telling me his (it's usually a guy) life story. Joan and I used to joke that I have a tattoo on my forehead that says "Your Sad Story Welcome Here." But, like so many other things, It's Not Funny When It's Happening.

I have no idea why this happens. Not a clue. My friends tell me that I'm a good listener, and that I have a calming effect. In short, that I soothe people. That's nice, I guess, but I hope it doesn't mean I have some soothing mandate because I'm about to have the tattoo removed, permanently.

The reason I wrote to the advice columnist is that I have finally, after forty odd years, gotten fed up.  It happened last weekend at a Starbucks. Twice. I was there with a group, kind of on the periphery (it was a sizable group) and the lady in charge was talking.  Then the woman sitting next to me decided she needed to tell me all about the novel she was writing.  So I missed the first half of whatever the lady in charge had to say.  I'd finally gotten a sentence in edgewise (something like "Excuse me but I'm listening") when another woman came in, sat down next to me, and began expounding that God told her to come to this meeting and she wasn't sure why but there must be a reason and maybe I was supposed to help.  So I missed the second part of whatever the lady in charge had to say.  And I wanted to be at this presentation.  I was actually interested.  That's why I didn't get up and leave, which is usually my first defense.

It's been a week and I'm still smarting.  I have, as they say, had it.  So I've been trying to come up with alternative strategies.  Joan suggested I try raising a finger (not that finger) or a hand, like a cop saying "Stop," and saying something like, "I'm trying to listen" or "I'm working" or "I'm in the middle of a conversation with my friends, here, and you're kind of intruding."  Good thought.  And I can think of plenty of other breathtakingly rude things to say that might permanently offend someone from wanting to talk to me, but unfortunately they're breathtakingly rude, and, well, I'm not trying to be un-Buddhist-y in public.  But I did have an idea that might just work.  It's maybe time to dig out my old friend, Public Embarrassment.

I got this idea from airline flight attendants.  I dunno if you've noticed, but if a passenger starts to get uppity with a flight attendant, the first thing he does is get LOUDER.   The idea, of course, is to get other passengers to look over there to see what's going on.  Usually it works, and the passenger in question, shriveling up under the glare of excess eyeballs, quits being an asshat and does whatever the flight attendant's telling him to do. Sometimes it doesn't work, the passenger gets louder, the flight attendant gets louder still, and the whole thing ends with the police being called. But that's kind of rare and there's usually alcohol involved.

So here's what I'm thinking.  I try once, with the upraised hand (or finger) to say, "Excuse me, I'm listening" (or working or trying to save the free world from imminent destruction by some supervillain's death ray).  Once. If he/she doesn't shut up, I will STart TAlkING LOUDER until everybody's staring at us. I'm definitely not above Making a Scene.  In fact, there are times it's the best way to solve a problem. Case in point: Walking with my then-girlfriend in an outdoor mall right before Christmas. Some guy came up to us, wanting to take a survey. We said no, politely.  Then we said no, less politely.  And then when the guy continued to follow us, I turned around and said, "SHE SAID NO.  BUZZ OFF."  The whole place came to a screeching halt for a second, the guy with the survey slunk away, and then life went on as usual.  As long as you know that all the people staring will by definition also be staring at you, and you're okay with that, this works. (And just incidentally, the guy with the survey caught up with us later and apologized.  So you just never know.)

So why did I write to the advice columnist, you ask.  Well, two reasons.  One, is I'm not sure how polite it is to Make a Scene, even a small one.  Second, in case it doesn't work.  Because I gotta have some kind of winning strategy in place before the next time it happens, or I'm likely to tear the head right off the shoulders of some poor innocent fool who just wants to know the time of day.  And that would definitely be un-Buddhist-y.  Cheers, all.

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