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When Locked Out, Try Screaming

one of my classes in Bulgaria--1994

one of my classes in Bulgaria--1994

“Excuse me, please. Where’s the bathroom?” I asked. The woman was mopping the movie theater lobby. She was the only person in sight.

“No,” she said.

I’d had a few beers and couldn’t make it to the end of the movie–The Piano. Maybe my Bulgarian wasn’t clear, though it is hard to get toiletna wrong. “The bathroom, please.”

She shook her head and swirled the mop around. “No.”

“There’s no bathroom?” I refused to believe that a theater in Sophia a block from the main boulevard had no bathroom.

“It doesn’t work.” She moved the mop more furiously.

“I don’t care,” I said. Doesn’t work? The toilet was bound to be a hole in the floor. How could it not work? “Please, where is it?”

“No work!”

That was ridiculous. I marched off and pretended to go back to my seat, but I snuck back and searched the halls for the bathroom. It was locked. I really had to go.

The woman was still mopping. “Excuse me. Here is my ticket,” I said. She nodded. “Can I go across the street to the restaurant and come back?” She stared at me and I smile. “Please,” I said. “I’ll be fast.”

She nodded. But when I got back, she had locked the front doors. I could see her wringing out her mop and she could see me. I knocked. She turned her back on me.

I found a part of me I didn’t know existed. All my life I had never reacted to anyone like I did that woman. I grabbed the door handle of the glass door. I shook it as if I could bring down the building. I shouted. My Bulgarian language skills forgotten. I pounded on the door. Her back stiffened, but she did not turn around. People on the street began to stare, but I shook the door again so hard a twinge went through my shoulders.

The woman turned around. Slowly she came to the door. I was sweat and my hair tangles. She opened the door. “What?” she said.

I had to catch my breath. The water on the floor smelled dirty. “You,” I said, “are an f*cking b*itch.” I was 25 years old and had never said that to anyone in my life.

Burning and shaking with anger and shame, I went back to my seat. My traveling companion leaned over and whispered, “What took you so long?”

I took a deep breath. “Don’t ask.” I didn’t want to tell him anyway. I’d already learned he didn’t care.

“So,” he said. “Where’s the bathroom?”

Living in another country for two years, forced several different pieces of myself out–not all of them pretty to look at. Writing does that too. Or it can. Sometimes I want to see those unpretty pieces and sometimes I don’t, but I look anyway because I always want to be a better writer. How many pieces can there possibly be?

Have you ever taken a look at what you’ve written–or thought about writing–and wondered, even for a moment, that maybe something is wrong with you? Maybe you’re not the nice person you think?

5 thoughts on “When Locked Out, Try Screaming

  1. Well, your experience with the mop woman is what I dream about every once in awhile and what I sometimes believe is true – I am invisible and forgetable.

    And to answer your question: Yes.

  2. This reminds me of a time when I was in college and my best friend got married. After the wedding I had to take some things back to her apartment for her, but I couldn’t find anywhere to park. Since I was going to be just a minute, I parked in a reserved spot. When I got back to my car, the woman whose parking place it was was standing at her mailbox – just in front of my car, and she gave me an earful. I tried to explain my situation nicely, but she continued ranting. Finally I said loudly, “You don’t have to be such a b*tch about it!” I had never called anyone a foul name in my life, and I haven’t until this day either. And anyone else would probably just laugh at this story, but I’m still proud of myself for having the guts to say that to her.

    Not that I’m perfect, but in general I try to be nice, and sometimes I think if I weren’t such a nice person, maybe I’d be a better writer. Though I’m better at it now, I still hate to have my characters do anything wrong.

  3. I think I am the reverse. Too nice. I have to force myself to create confrontation, both in writing and in life. I’ve gotten better at it in life (although I could always put on the tough New York Beeyotch face in public with strangers) but I am still struggling with allowing bad things to happen in my writing. Or struggling with giving them the attention they need to become real.

  4. Have you ever taken a look at what you’ve written and wondered, even for a moment, that maybe something is wrong with you?

    Yeah. Almost any passage (beyond the first draft) in which the WIP’s villain/antagonist appears makes me worry about that. Just ick, y’know? Like Rowena says (well, implies), if I tried a little less hard to be a nice person I could probably write something that really kicks.

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