Sometimes All of Us Just Need Some Compassion

I played Trivia again this past Wednesday (by the way, my team won again for the 3rd week in a row – yay!) and afterwards my daughter, Tara, asked me if I wanted to go to a small tavern very near her place for a last call because one of our very favorite people, Emily, was bartending that night.

We arrived a few minutes after 1:30 a.m. and there were no more than 10 people there scattered around. Tara and I sat at the corner of the bar, chatting to Emily.

I do not know how we got onto this subject but I told Emily that somehow in the past year, I have been the recipient of un-asked for lap dances four times. By a straight guy, 2 straight gals, and even a gay guy once.

Emily asked in a surprised voice, “YOU were given lap dances? What were you doing, getting all wild and crazy, Mom?” (Apparently when you have a child, you lose all of your personal identity. Everybody has called me Mom since Tara was born 33 years ago, and I mean everybody.)

Tara was laughing as she told Emily, “No, I’ve been with her for all of those times and she wasn’t doing anything but sitting quietly, drinking her Coke, and yeah, we all know these people, and so do you, but they have at separate occasions just suddenly plunked themselves down on my mom’s lap and started grinding away. It was hilarious but very, very odd.”

And I nodded yes in emphatic agreement. I told Emily, “It’s like I have a hidden sign on my lap: Grind Away! And I never know what the hell am I supposed to do! What is the proper etiquette about getting a surprise, unexpected, and honestly, an unwelcome lap dance? Do I shove these people off and make them hit the floor? Where the hell do I put my hands? And am I supposed to reciprocate because, yeah, no, that ain’t gonna happen! So I just kind of grin and bear it with as much dignity as I can under the circumstances and hope like hell the song finishes real quick.” And Emily cracked up laughing.

She laughed even harder when Tara explained that I once got into the middle of a grind sandwich between two Ashleys while I was just trying to karaoke a song. Tara explained that I was standing up singing when the two Ashleys ran up, put me in the middle and started grinding away and that the look on my face was just so damned funny!

I told Emily, “You know me, hon. Do I encourage that kind of stuff? I don’t get it either but yeah I got a whole lot of butt crack peeks from one of those Ashleys and all I kept thinking is that I wish I had some Skittles candies so I could just drop them in there and maybe that would make them stop.”

And Emily started laughing so hard, she almost began to cry. And she laughed even harder when Tara and I told her exactly who these 4 people were and she said, “Oh my God! How I wish I could have seen even one of those bump and grinds done to you! And I never would have thought that any of those people would do that to you! That’s just too damned funny!”

I told Emily, “And I just don’t get it, but I sure do attract people who like to try and do weird things to me or say weird things to me.” And Tara whole-heartedly agreed, “Yes, my mom does, and I don’t get it either, but it sure is funny to see the looks on her face and how she tries so hard to maintain her dignity.”

Just then a young man walked in from the front door and sat on a bar stool just a few seats down from me past where the bar curved. And the atmosphere immediately changed…and not for the better.

Emily gave her head a tiny jerk at this young man and so Tara and I tried to subtly glance at him. He looked to be a few years younger than Tara, perhaps 24 or 25. He was behaving quite oddly. He was having a lot of problems sitting in his chair; he kept weaving around like he was about ready to pass out or something. But when he looked up and caught me looking at him, his eyes were very dilated and glassy. He was not drunk but he sure was high on something.

Tara and I looked away from him and we began chatting to Emily again who kept doing little glances at that young man and then back to us, trying to communicate that something was wrong.

The young man then got up again, still weaving and unsteady on his feet, and asked a guy who was playing pool near him if he could borrow a lighter.

He went outside to smoke and Emily said that he had come in about an hour before we had with a friend but the friend left him there about 15 minutes before we showed up. She said that he was talking very weird when he made a couple of attempts to chat other people up and they refused to carry on any kind of conversation with him because of the way he was acting.

Tara and I both told Emily that he definitely wasn’t drunk but he sure was high on something. Emily agreed with us and so we tried to figure out what he might have been high on. Tara said coke (cocaine) or maybe meth or heroin. We all agreed that maybe it was something like that.

Tara and I gave each other worried looks because you never can tell what someone who is high on something will do. Meth and heroin users do frequently try to rob businesses and people to pay for their addictions. And Emily was working by herself and would be by herself when she left for home.

Tara and I both told Emily that we would hang around while she closed up and then we would walk her out to her car, which was parked right next to mine, just to make sure that she could safely leave.

Emily, relieved, said thank you both so much, that our offer made her feel better about this situation. And that surprised me and Tara because Emily is a no-nonsense gal, she may be petite looking, but she never puts up with any kind of bullshit. So that gave me and Tara a clue that even Emily was very uneasy with this guy just hanging around.

This young man came back in and sat down again. He was fumbling with his wallet when he leaned over a little and said to me, “I’m going to do something that will make you mad at me.” And then he just sat there, expectantly smiling at me, and he didn’t say anything more.

Startled, I looked at him, looked at Tara and at Emily, and we all then took turns looking at him and at each other, waiting for him to explain what the hell was he talking about.

So after a few minutes of weird silence, I finally asked him, out of curiosity, “So what are you going to do that will make me mad at you?” And then Tara began elbowing me several times and I knew what she meant: Don’t encourage him, just ignore him, he’s strange!

He then asked me with a serious voice, “What are you drinking?” And I almost started giggling because I had a can of Coca-Cola sitting right in front of me, not a glass of Coke, a can of Coke and nothing else.

So I said, just as seriously in return, as I held up my can of Coke, “I’m drinking a Coca-Cola.” And this young man replied back, as he struggled to focus on the can of Coke, “You mean you want a drink with Coca-Cola? Like Coke and Jack?” (Jack Daniels whiskey.)

Tara was really bopping me hard now with her elbow and I whispered to her, “Point received, gotcha, but now I’m curious.” And she just shook her head in resigned defeat.

I said to him, “No, I’m having just a regular Coca-Cola. I don’t drink.” And then I waited with curiosity, just to see what he would now do or say because I still didn’t understand so far why he was going to do something that would make me mad.

He kind of slumped his shoulders down a bit and all he said was, “Oh. You don’t want me to buy you a drink?” I replied, “Well if you want to buy me a Coca-Cola, that would be okay and thank you, but no, I don’t want any alcoholic drink.” He brightened up a little and then he told me, “Wouldn’t it be neat if they still made Coca-Cola the way it used to be made?”

And I laughed because I knew exactly what he was talking about. Coca-Cola originally had cocaine in its formula, hence the Coca part of its name. It was sold as a medicinal product and it sure caught on quickly and became quite popular (gee, I wonder why!) until the United States government banned all products that contained cocaine in the 1920’s or around that time.

His smile got bigger because I had laughed and after I told him, “Yeah, I’ve often wondered what the original Coca-Cola must have tasted like and what did it do to you. Do you do cocaine too or have you ever wondered what the original Coca-Cola was like?” Sneaky, huh? I was trying to get him to tell us what the hell was he high on.

But then he just began to stare at his wallet again and he began to weave a little bit more as he just sat on his bar stool and didn’t say anything more for a few minutes. So I patiently waited and then I asked him, “So how were you going to make me mad?”

He didn’t respond for a minute or two but then he looked up from his wallet, looked me right in my eyes and said, with all seriousness, “Did you know I’m Satan?” And Tara almost did a spit take!

And I, just as seriously, kept looking right back into his eyes and I replied, in a dead calm voice, “Well, I out-rank you because I’m Lucifer.” And Tara almost choked on her beer again and she began to dig me in the side again with her sharp, pointy elbow.

I reached down and softly grabbed Tara’s elbow and she pulled it back, shook her head again, while she tried so hard not to start laughing because this guy drew back, and looked at me with open-mouthed astonishment while I continued to stare back as serious and solemnly as I can often do.

Tara knew that at that point that yes, a little devil had grabbed me, and perhaps it really was Lucifer, but she knew that I was now fucking with this kid’s head. I had been trying to be nice and polite to this guy, albeit he was acting and talking a tad strangely, but really? If he was going to say stuff like that to me, well, get ready, kid, because I will throw that ball right back to you, with more English on it, than you can probably handle.

He stared at me in open-mouthed disbelief and you could almost literally see him struggling with that thought process of what I had said to him.

Then he smiled a little smile, and he said, “Naw, you’re not really Lucifer. He’s a man.” But then I surprised him again when I, just as seriously as I had done before, looked him straight in the eyes and dead-pan replied, “Don’t YOU know that Lucifer can change shapes any time? Tonight I’m just an innocent-looking older woman enjoying a Coca-Cola. But I still out-rank you.”

And I calmly stared back at him as I took a sip of my Coke while Tara was trying so hard not to giggle. He visibly struggled with this new thought and he just sat there, occasionally glancing at me with a somewhat fearful look in his eyes.

Emily had come back to chat with us after she had served drinks to some customers at the other end of the counter. She kept giving all of us puzzled looks because she knew she had missed something good.

This guy then shook himself, straightened up on his bar stool, and he asked me, in a hopeful-sounding voice, “You’re not really Lucifer. Are you?” And I just smiled at him and I didn’t say a word. He then began to look through his wallet again but his hands were shaking now.

Emily was questioning us again with her eyes and her expression and Tara and I just shook our heads at her to indicate that we would tell her later. So she yelled out, “Last Call! Everybody drink up and go home!” And then she began to clean and straighten things up.

Meanwhile, it was an odd silence at our end of the bar counter. Tara and I looked at each other a few times and I gave her this shit-eating grin once because I had successfully messed this kid’s head up bad.

But then he leaned over to me and he said in the saddest, smallest voice I had ever heard, “People think I’m crazy and they don’t like me. Do you think I’m crazy?” And my heart melted.

This kid was truly fucked up and high on something bad, but underneath whatever the hell he was on, I sensed that he had just poured out his soul. I got the distinct impression that he was just a socially awkward kid, just trying to make connections with people but he really didn’t have a clue on how to do that and that there was real pain inside of him.

And now I felt so bad and so horrible for playing him like that, for twisting his poor fucked-up head around. That’s almost like kicking somebody when they are already on the ground, beaten and broken.

So I leaned over and said to him, “I don’t know you at all so I can’t tell you if you are crazy or not. But I do know this: we are all crazy in some way or another. None of us is really ‘normal’. And perhaps all of those other people who told you that you are crazy are really the crazy ones and so maybe it’s not you, it’s them.”

And he quietly and hopefully said, “Do you really think so?” And I replied back, with all of the honesty and sincerity I could put into my voice, “Yes, I really do believe that.” And he straightened up as he nodded his head, seemingly pleased at what I had said.

At this time, some of the other regulars had gathered around me and Tara and this kid to finish off their drinks before they headed for home. Emily was still putting empty beer bottles away and tallying up the credit card bills.

I then asked this kid, “Do you have somebody who can give you a ride home because you really shouldn’t be driving?” I felt Tara gaping at me and I turned and smiled at her to reassure her that I was not going to be the one to drive this kid home, oh hell no! And he replied, “No, I don’t drive. I walked here so I will just walk home.” But he seemed a bit depressed at the prospect.

I asked him, “Where do you live? Is it close by?” And he said, “No, I live in Munger and I walked from there.”  Now I am not that familiar with exactly where the littler towns are around Bay City but I was under the impression that Munger was probably about 15 miles away but it turned out that it was really only about 6 miles away.

I then told him, “You can’t walk that far and especially at this time of the night when all the cop cars are prowling around. You might even get hit by a drunk trying to walk home.”

And Danimal, one of the regulars, who is a big and burly guy, spoke up and said, “Hey, kid, I can drive you home because I know Munger pretty well. Or else you can take a taxi because you have plenty of money on you. Why don’t you do that?” This kid had been fumbling with his wallet and his money all night, and everybody had seen that he had at least $50 in his wallet. And all of the other regulars chimed in, agreeing with that suggestion of Danimal’s, then they were asking the kid where exactly does he live, how far away is it etc.

The kid sat there, weaving on his bar stool, trying to keep up with all of the questions and the suggestions now being thrown at him, and I think also surprised at all of the attention he was now receiving.

Emily, glad for the chance to get this weird guy out of her bar, grabbed the phone and told him, “I can call a taxi for you right now and it won’t cost much. Just give me your address.”

The kid said that he lives at such and such address but then he protested that he could walk home, it was okay, he walked here and it doesn’t bother him to walk because that is how he gets around every day. And we all protested that it was good to take a taxi home, that way we all knew he would get home okay.

Emily called a taxi company up, gave them the kid’s address, and when they confirmed that someone would be there within 10 minutes to get him, she told him what it would cost and asked him if it was okay if they did that.  He looked around at us in a dazed surprise, like he wasn’t used to being treated nice, and he agreed that he would take the taxi home while we all made nice, approving comments that we were glad that he was doing that so that he could get home safe and sound.

Tara and I then went out the back door to have a cigarette while we waited for Emily to finish her closing-up chores. She asked me, “What the hell was he whispering to you about? I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Why were you ignoring my elbow jabs, Mom? That kid could be dangerous, that kid was not acting right, you should not have been encouraging him to chat! I’m a bartender and I’ve seen all kinds of people and that kid is really weird, and weirder yet because of whatever he is high on!”

And after I explained about the other parts of the conversation, I told her, “Tara, all that kid wanted was some human interaction, that’s it. He wasn’t trying to hit on me, he wasn’t trying to do anything to me but just chat. Yes, I agree that he is weird, but aren’t we all? And I should not have fucked up his head with that Lucifer crap. That was mean of me to do. But, Tara, if you had only been able to hear the pain in his voice when he asked me if he really was crazy! Just imagine if many people were mean to you and told you all of the time that you are crazy! The only thing that kid wanted was a bit of compassion and I’m so glad that everyone else tried to help him to make sure he got home okay. Maybe it was just to get him out of there, but if me just chatting with him for a minute or two made him feel better, then what harm was there in that?”

She shook her head as she replied back, “Well, you might be a better person than I am, I don’t know. All I know is that I just didn’t want something bad to happen to you.” And I smiled at her as I told her, “Thank you, sweetie, for trying to look out for me.” And just then the taxi pulled up into the driveway.

Tara ran in to tell the kid that his ride was here and he said goodbye to everybody and followed Tara back outside.

After he had gone down the steps and passed me sitting on the bottom one, he turned around and told me and Tara, “Thank you for being so nice to me.” And we gave him good wishes and a good night as we watched him get in the taxi and drive away.

Tara and I walked back inside the bar to escort Emily out after she was done cleaning up. All of the other regulars had left out the front door at this point.

Emily was dying from curiosity so Tara and I filled her in on what she had missed. She shook her head at the whole weird evening and she nodded in agreement when Tara told her, “See? What were we telling you earlier? The weirdos are attracted to my Mom for some reason!”

I replied, “All that kid wanted was just to chat with somebody, that’s it! Did either of you ever get the sense that he was really dangerous, that he was trying to pick me up, that he was trying to do something bad to me?” And both Emily and Tara agreed that they had not sensed that but because he was high on something and acting strange, that’s the reason why I should not have responded back to his strange remarks.

And I replied, with a little bit of anger in my voice, “Yes, he was acting strange but is that any reason to turn our backs on him, to ignore him, or try to pretend he doesn’t exist? He’s a person, too; he has a heart and feelings too underneath all of his weirdness. And just like I told him, we are ALL crazy and weird in some way or another. He just wanted to chat with somebody but he just doesn’t know how, that’s all. And I felt bad because I had deliberately tried to mess his head up…and just because he was talking a bit strange. That was wrong and I shouldn’t have done it.”

Both Emily and Tara just shook their heads that they still believed I was wrong and Emily then said that she would be okay now that he was gone and that we didn’t have to wait for her. We protested that we still could but she insisted she would be fine so Tara and I both hugged her goodbye and we left.

I’ve been thinking about that strange incident ever since then. I chatted with my long-time good friend, Barb, today for her insights on it. She used to be a substance abuse counselor so she could give me a more professional take on it, and even better, her honest and personal opinion on it as my long-time friend.

Barb said that he might have been high on any kind of street drug but that he also could have been under the influence of a psychotropic drug prescribed for mental problems such as schizophrenia or bipolar problems. She said that if those are abused or are incorrectly taken, they could also have affected that kid too in the way he was acting.

She said she didn’t understand why Emily and Tara were so upset that I had just merely talked with him. She asked me if he had suggested we have sex, did he ask me for my number or where I lived, did he do any of those things? And I laughed and said no, he didn’t. That I still didn’t understand what he meant when he said he was going to do something that would make me mad, when apparently all he had in mind was just to buy me a drink, but he didn’t make any kind of out-of-line requests of me.

I also told her that him telling me that he was Satan was a bit out there but that I then had freaked him out a bit by insisting that I was Lucifer and that I outranked him and Barb laughed at that.

She said the same thing that I had tried so hard to explain to both Tara and Emily: that it seems like all he was trying to do was to initiate a conversation and that he seemed to be socially awkward, and maybe he was like that because he does have some emotional problems. She said she had seen many people like that: unable to chat like regular people and so awkward about how to initiate a conversation that they then make really off the wall comments.

Barb then laughed as she told me, “Maybe he thought you really were Lucifer and that he could then feel comfortable enough to confess to you that he was afraid he really was crazy and that you had the real power to tell him whether he was or not. But what you told him was the truth and that if he seemed comforted by what you said, then why were Emily and Tara so upset by just you chatting with him for a few moments? I think what you eventually did was good for him…and good for you too. You recognized his humanity and you gave him compassion when he so obviously needed it.”

I felt a lot better after talking it over with Barb and then after we hung up, I remembered something that had happened once to Tara and me.

About 10 years ago back in Genesee County before we had both moved up here to Bay City, there used to be a large Meijer’s department store near our home. There was a man who was so obviously mentally retarded who had a job bringing in all of the empty shopping carts from the parking lot.

This man always had a huge smile for everyone he saw and a hearty hello to all. I loved his infectious laughter and his always sweet personality so I quickly learned what his name was and I always stopped to chat with Mike for a few minutes whenever I saw him.

One time Tara was with me as we were about to go into the store to do a bit of quick shopping. Mike was out in the parking lot getting some carts and we happily greeted each other and he began to tell me about some of the things that had happened to him since the last time I had seen him.

We all walked in together with Mike eagerly chatting away to me. I gave him a hug goodbye and as Tara and I continued on into the store, I noticed she was strangely silent.

So I asked her, “What’s wrong?” And she said, “It’s embarrassing to be with you when you always chat with the weirdest people around! Didn’t you see people looking at you funny while that man was chatting you up?”

And I stopped dead in my tracks with my mouth open. I angrily told her, “Tara Noreen, what is the harm in talking to somebody just because they are a little bit different than you and I are? And when the hell did I ever give a shit what other people think? Mike is no different than our cousin, Larry, and would you like to see anybody ignore Larry or refuse to even say hello to him and chat with him for a few minutes just because Larry is also mentally retarded? Well, would you?”

And Tara hung her head and mumbled, “Well, no, but Larry is family, that’s different.” And I replied, “No it’s not different, because both Mike and Larry are human beings with feelings just like ours, with hearts just like ours, and I am ashamed of you for even thinking I should have just walked by and ignored Mike just because some people disapproved. Mike has always had a good word and a wonderful hello to everybody he sees and it breaks my heart to have seen many people just walk by him and ignore him like you wanted me to do. It hurts him and that is something we should never do to somebody: hurt them by ignoring them like that.”

Tara mumbled that she was sorry but I think that she still hasn’t learned a lesson, that I think that other people’s opinions are still more important than trying to do the right thing, no matter what other people may think. And if that is truly so, then it’s my fault for somehow not being able to teach her better.

All I know now is that I am very sorry that I did do something wrong, I never should have tried to bullshit that kid like that, when he was so obviously fucked up and because he was acting very weird, although at the time I did it, I thought it was a very funny thing to do. And maybe that is what too many people have done to him too many times.

It was a strange situation that ended up being a better one that I hope I helped in making it better for that kid. And I hope that whatever problems that kid has, whether it is a drug addiction, mental illnesses, or a combination of many things, I hope that he gets the help he does need. Because I don’t think he is a bad kid, or an evil, mean, manipulative kid; he’s just a messed up, struggling kid trying to make his way through this world, just like the rest of us.

















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