Friday, September 9, 2011

Lovely Rita

I was almost late for an Emergency Coffee Date today because I was having A Moment with the meter maid. I’d put my quarter in and nothing happened and while I was cursing, I saw her walking to her car. I yelled, “Excuse me,” in that voice I reserve for people at whom I’m about to launch a hissy fit – although she didn’t know me, so she was unaware that my usual voice is not so shrill.

“I just put money in the meter,” I called over to her, “and it didn’t give me any time.”

She started toward me. “This happens all the time,” I added in a voice you could tell was exasperated whether you knew me or not.

“Is it jammed?” she asked. By this time we were both at the meter in question and she could see for herself that it wasn’t. “You can just leave your car here,” she said, and then she called me sweetheart, as if she were my grandmother and not an Hispanic woman 15 years my junior. “I won’t give you a ticket when the screen is blank like that.”

This certainly took some of the fight out of me and I realized that I was not going to be able to take out my crappy day on this particular civil servant. She gave me a sweet smile and told me I should go off and do my errands; my car would be fine.

“Do you want another quarter?” I asked, holding out the second coin I would have fed into the meter.

“No, sweetheart, you just have a good day,” she said.

I started thanking her effusively – too effusively, perhaps – and then I started to apologize. I told her I was having a crappy day and I didn’t mean to take out my bad mood on her or her parking meters. I had been apologizing for things all day already – a misunderstanding I’d creating in a hasty email exchange this morning, all the awful shots I made during my tennis game – and felt there was far more to apologize for. For not being the woman who lost her husband to a brain aneurysm or the mother who had to treat her child’s newly diagnosed leukemia, as was the case with two old friends this week. For acting petty and small with my family to cover up the fact that I’m feeling really vulnerable and scared about money and new schools and impending college searches. And soon, to my Coffee Date, for being late because I’m having A Moment with the meter maid.

I thought the meter maid was going to smile again and be on her way, but instead she stood right in front of me and said, “Sweetheart, sometimes we all have days like that.” Then she told me about her mother who had Stage 4 cancer and another family friend who just lost her 12-year-old in a car accident. I was still stressing out about being late for Coffee, so I had to re-play what she’d just said to me before it sunk in. For a brief moment, I stopped thinking about myself and I looked at the meter maid. She was dressed like a cop and had a beautiful French manicure. She looked like she had a little gem pierced into her face – it was tiny. Maybe it was just a mole. And her eyes were dark and sparkly; she looked right at me when she spoke.

“I’m telling you all this because we always need to remember that no matter how bad our problems are, they could be much worse,” she said, and then repeated one of my favorite little axioms about how people, when invited to drop their problems into a well and pick anyone else’s problems to take home with them instead, all invariably choose to take back their own.

I then hugged the meter maid and let her go back to her work. And I went in to meet my Coffee Date and ended up having the most delicious cup of coffee I can ever remember.

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