Monday, July 16, 2007

People are Strange

"You're rude. Don't talk to me."

How could anyone say that to me? I was literally taken aback. I'm not rude, I'm nice. And my manners are generally quite acceptable. Looking back on it, I think I should have realized right then that the women in question was obviously demented, and definitely not worthy of any of my precious time or emotional energy. Unfortunately, in the moment, my heart started pounding and I got increasingly upset. I really could not just let it go.

So here's the backstory. The children and I had gone to the Hiller Aviation to see some paper airplane demonstrations. We got there right as the museum was opening, so that we could see all four scheduled talks. They were wonderful! We loved them! And we also loved the man who was talking --he is clearly both a gifted designer and a wonderful human being. His airplanes were beautifully folded and did wonderful tricks while interacting wonderfully with his audience. He taught people how to fold a plane, he signed books, he was great. He even showed Ziad how to get past a tricky point in a complicated fold that Ziad had been unable to master on his own.

The demonstration airplanes were laid out on a table behind the floor where the talk was held. During the first three talks everything was fine, but somehow between the third and the fourth, things got a little chaotic. People started walking up to the table and playing around with the planes. Every now and then a museum person would ask them to stop, but as often as not the museum people were occupied elsewhere, and of the course the airplane designer was completely surrounded by fans. After having seen three talks, I was as fond of these planes as their folder, and I had a pretty good idea that he preferred them to be handled gently. So finally, when I saw a woman pick up a complex plane, and start to walk off with it, I couldn't take it any more. I followed her, and said (I believe apologetically, because I felt a little odd), "Excuse me, but that plane is for the demo."

So she muttered something apologetic, and put the plane back, and I went back to the table where I had been sitting (from which she took a chair that we had been using, thank you very much, without so much as a by your leave). She kept looking over at me, though, and finally came up and asked, "Do you work here?"

To which I replied, "No, but people just kept messing around with the planes ...."

And she came back with, "Well, I think he should have been the one to tell me that" (Who exactly she meant being left unspecified. Not that it matters.)

Now, I admit that my "Sorry" had more of the vibe of "Whatever" and was not, strictly speaking polite. Because I felt like "What's it to you, anyway? You shouldn't have been messing with the planes. Who cares who lets you know?" All of this flashed through my head in the space of an instant, during which she came back with, "You're rude. Don't talk to me."

From my vantage point in time, I think, "Well, if I knew you were demented, I wouldn't have." But at the time, I was speechless. Speechless, but mad. And I flat out do not accept that people can get me all riled up like that and then tell me to be quiet. So I walked over to her and told her that I didn't think she had any right to talk to me like that, whereupon she said, "You're harassing me. Leave me alone or I'll call a guard." Which sounded like a threat to me, and I really do not take well to being threatened.

So my response was "Fine, OK, you want the guard, let's go talk to the guard."

So we walked over to the guard. Whereupon she basically told him that if he didn't call the authorities she was going to report him (to who? Oh my GOD!) and although I mostly just let her talk I did occasionally interject my version of reality, while the guard was giving me this look that seemed to me to say "Help!!! Crazy woman! Make her stop!" When she finally stopped talking, he just proposed that we stay away from each other and cool down, which we agreed to do, although I really wished he would have mentioned to her that yes, those airplanes on the table are for the demo.

So we did. Until she was finally leaving the museum, when she saw fit to walk past my table and say "Have a nice day" in the nastiest way possible. I had been more or less expecting this, however, so at that point I was ready to just let it go. No way that sanity was going to make a dent on this woman. I have to say that she was always really nice to her daughter, but I still feel that in the end being raised by a madwoman is probably not going to be beneficial.

The odd thing is that exchange poisoned my whole day, and I can STILL, more than week later, hear her voice ringing in my head. I honestly don't know why she got me so upset. When the plane designer left, he pulled out four large, shallow plastic containers, the kind you might store rolls of wrapping paper in. He carefully packed his planes away in them, all facing a certain way, only a single layer, space between them. I know he cared about those planes, and I don't think I was out of line in letting that woman know what she was doing. I also know that until she got on my case about it, I was not any pushier than it takes for someone to walk up to someone they don't know and tell them that they're blowing it. So why should I even care what she thought, or said?

I still haven't figured it out.


Blogger Lesley said...

The woman said that to you 'cause she was ashamed. She did something wrong, and you caught her. She had no way out. No way, 'cept the CrAzy way!

Like you, I have stepped into similar situations. I've come away so angry I couldn't see straight... unable to get past the event for days or weeks.

But now I've learned to manage my feelings better with each exchange. (Because...oh yes.. I keep finding myself in similar situations...) I've learned to keep calm. And when I can't think of some clever response to their desperate attempt at "saving face"... I just give them a smile that says, "We both know what just happened here...and when the time comes, you'll get yours."

8:00 PM  
Blogger zelda said...

Wow. That's an intense exchange. I'm working on perfecting the hundred yard stare that prevents me from interacting with anyone in any public venue.

I'm sure she didn't see the lack of logic in returning what she perceived to be rudeness with something that was unmistakably rude.

6:01 PM  

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