art / memory / men / neurotic thinking / writing

Wedding Rings and Other Symbols

where I like to sit at my favorite coffee shop, write, and play with action figures

How do you feel when someone of the opposite sex who you don’t know strikes up a conversation with you? What do you assume?

My first thought is usually something like, “Does this person want money?” Then I chastise myself not to be so cynical. I have another thought. “Is this person hitting on me?” Then I remind myself not to be vain. I wasn’t a head turner at 20. I’m hardly likely to be one at 41 as a married woman with a kid. And, of course, I don’t want some strange guy hitting on me. What is wrong with me, anyway? Maybe he’s just friendly.

Or maybe he’s a writer and he sees I’m sitting here in this coffee shop drinking my latte and staring at the computer screen in a writerly way.

Or maybe he’s a psychopath with a newspaper clipping of Ted Bundy in his wallet.

These are the thoughts I had the other day when a guy sitting at the table next to mine at my favorite coffee shop (where I’ve been going almost every Tuesday evening for 4 years with, in all that time, one homeless guy asking for money and one nut job talking about how he can read lips & my art is juvenile–thank you) spoke to me.

First, though, when I reached down to plug my laptop into the wall, he reached over and moved the stool out of my way. It wasn’t really in my way, but okay. I said thanks. Then while I stared at my computer screen, he reached over and turned on the lamp on my table. I don’t need a man to judge the amount of light I need, but this thought is ungracious and maybe he’ll murder me in the parking lot, so I say, “Oh. Thanks.”

“What are you working on?” he asks.

Can there be harm in answering this question? Maybe he’s one of those over-friendly-talk-to-you-on-the-plane sort of people.

I answer. We chat for a moment. I turn back to my laptop. A friend of mine, N., shows up, sits next to me, and we chat merrily for a while about her project, and we get back to work.

I don’t like that I’m aware when this man gets up from his table. I don’t know what to think when he comes back and sits at the corner of my table to eat his pastry. “I’m taking a break,” he says. “Their desserts are good.”

I can feel my inner-self trying to strangle me from the inside when I say, “You should try the lemon cake.”

The other day, JES had post about super powers. Now if I were to claim a super power, it would be the ability to be nice when niceness is not required. In fact, I would even say I don’t have a super power as much as I have a stupid power. But there you go.

He and I chat about desserts. He talks to N. She isn’t entirely sure I don’t already know this guy, and she is nice too. Then two more friends happen by. They are dog owners, and I can’t resist telling them about the second dog my husband, son and I adopted over the weekend. We talk about adopted dogs. They go on their way. This guy now asks me about my dogs. Finally, I try to focus on my laptop.

The barista, M., comes over to see how I am. She always gives me a hug when I come in and I always turn off the ceiling fans for her at closing time (because she can’t reach the pulls!).

This guy reaches over and taps my wedding ring. “That’s a pretty ring,” he says. “Thanks,” I say and keep looking at the screen. “Very pretty,” he adds.

And another friend stops by the table. K. He says, “I’ve been here a while and every time I walk by you’re talking to someone different. it’s like you’re Mecca Marta. Everyone must come say hello!” K. thinks this guy is a friend and so introduces himself and I find out the guy’s name. K. continues, “You should start a salon. All these writers come and talk to you! I think this place should give you a cut of the profits for the people you bring in.” On and on he goes, until he goes back to the other room to write.

I excuse myself and on the way back to my table, Barista M. and I run into each other. We do that dance people do when you can’t figure out who will go which way, and I grab her hand. “We could dance.”

She spins me around in front of the counter with the creamers. We laugh. I sit down again and the guy says, “Wow, you’re tall.”

This is it! I think. Men hate how tall I am. So many men have stopped talking to me when they realize I am tall. “6’1 and a smidge!”

“I’m 6’3″,” he says. Well, I’ve known tall men who wanted nothing to do with tall women, so I don’t abandon hope.

Anyway. By the end of the evening this guy has asked about my son and my husband and he’s asked me what I like to do in my free time, and when he leaves, he gives me his phone number.

At closing time, I talk to Barista M. while she sweeps and I turn off ceiling fans. “You know, I didn’t know that guy.”

“Was he hitting on you?” she asks.

“No one ever hits on me,” I say.

“Maybe they do and you don’t realize it.”

“No one ever hits on me. I’m not kidding,” I say.

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” she says.

I want to offer my evidence. I want to tell her about the boyfriend embarrassed to be seen with me, the boyfriend who wouldn’t kiss me, the father who never said I was pretty. But that all sounds lame and pathetic and like a fishing line being cast for the ever glittery compliment fish.

Hey, who doesn’t like the compliment fish to splash her tail in his direction every once in a while?

Wicked little fish.

When someone wants to read my writing, I wonder–why? Whatever for? Really? Are they crazy? Are they being polite? Do they want something?

If no one wants to read my writing, I figure–of course not. Wait, why not? Am I horrible? Oh, my writing is terrible, isn’t it? I can’t polish it enough for anyone to take seriously.

But if I talk about it or ask someone to read my writing, am I fishing for compliments?

Honestly. Why isn’t there a pill for this kind of thinking? Or a magic fish?

And if you’ve got all the answers, would you mind telling me what kind of jerk compliments a woman’s wedding ring and then gives her his phone number? Or have I got this all wrong?

12 thoughts on “Wedding Rings and Other Symbols

  1. “But that all sounds lame and pathetic and like a fishing line being cast for the ever glittery compliment fish.”

    LOVE that line!

    Honestly, he’s making me nervous just reading about him. Sure, he might be just a friendly type. But just friendly types tend not to give out their phone number. They shake your hand and say something like, “Maybe I’ll see you here next time,” or something like that.

    And that he actually tapped your wedding ring? *shudder* Please don’t ever walk out to your car alone when you leave this place. And keep your pepper-spray handy, if you don’t carry a gun. He is seriously creepy.

  2. Count on it: this weirdo WILL show up again. And you WILL have to deal with him.

    A digestible coffee shop flirtation has Billy Cruddup sitting in a corner writing. You come in and, when you spot him, he’s looking at you, glances back down at his screen slightly embarrassed. When you go to pick up your latte, you check him and he’s looking at you again. This time he holds your glance for a second and smiles that Billy Cruddup smile that’s got multiple delicious parenthetical curves on both sides… slightly self-conscious and slightly hopeful. Later, when he passes your table on the way to the Men’s, you catch him angling to see your left hand and your screen. You give him a small, ironic smile, he gives you one back with the tiniest shrug, and you dream about him that night. Delicious. Caffeinated, but creamy and just sweet enough.

    Weirdo, on the other hand, sets my nerves jangling like a triple espresso straight up. Be very careful.

  3. Nance and the Falcon have this nailed. Harmless flirtation doesn’t involve tapping rings, discussing your husband and child (in fact, it usually ENDS there), and isn’t so danged CREEPY. Like them, my nerves jangled the whole time I read this, and that’s not being there to see it. Had I been there I probably would’ve asked if I could walk you out to your car just because. Even if I didn’t know you.

    This moved past friendly into frickin’ weirdo pretty quickly, and I’d be careful were it me in your place next time he’s around. And he WILL be around. He may have decided he likes you. And maybe, just maybe, some of those “outlandish” thoughts you had (which I also have, for the record) aren’t so outlandish after all.

    Be careful, Marta.

    On an unrelated note, I can only recall ONE TIME in my adult life when someone of the opposite sex hit on me openly. I didn’t catch her meaning at the time. I’m happily married now, but that one is the “what if” which sometimes makes me smile wistfully.

    Until the fifth grade, this happened CONSISTENTLY, CONSTANTLY. When I didn’t like girls and was too shy to know what to do about it. Sixth grade, new school, no more female attention, until the EIGHTH grade, when at the last school dance some girl tried to literally yank me onto the floor by my hand.

    Never since. *Sigh*

  4. Weird from the moment he reached up and turned on the light over your table. Maybe not dangerous, maybe just lonely, but he clearly has no sense of proper boundaries so either way, I’d have no more to do with him.

    I don’t think we can ever really figure out why someone wants, or doesn’t want, to read our writing. But we can figure out how true to ourselves we will be and what boundaries we will set for ourselves. Will we pander to the reader, write “nice” so they like our work? Or will we stay focused on who we are and what we want to say, no matter what the reaction? This guy hijacked your evening. Some readers (and agents, editors, etc) will try to hijack our work, try to convince us to write differently, to write “nice”. F**& that.

  5. Color me creeped out. I have to agree with others, above.

    In fact, it’s SO creepazoid I can’t help wondering if it was some sort of bizarre sociological experiment. It’d be funny to do the reverse-telephone-number-lookup thing and find out, maybe, that it’s the phone number of a new reality show which takes advantage of people’s natural tendency to trust one another. And funny in a different way to tell the story to a police detective, leaving the number with him to do as he saw fit.

    You will observe that I seem to be working overtime here to find funny responses. Do be careful. And you seem to have a good relationship with the folks at Joe’s — don’t hesitate to get their help if he shows up again. I’d say the same thing if he was “just” a tenacious Hare Krishna guy.

    About writing: I’ve gotten so neurotic about asking people for feedback that I’m actually researching online crit groups. Theory being that this way I wouldn’t have to ask anyone; it would just be expected. And they’d be strangers: even better!

  6. Agreed. Creepy. If he approaches you again, ignore him, excuse yourself and sit at another table, go up to the barrista and talk about him and make sure he sees you pointing. He could be harmlessly weird, but at the very least he needs to be taught where your boundaries are.

    I almost always assume the guy’s just being friendly, and sometimes later I’m embarrassed to realize he mistook my return friendliness as something else. Even so, I haven’t gotten a phone number in about 15 years.

    I’m with you on that stupid power.

  7. Thank you everyone for your concerned comments. Really, he struck me as lonely with poor sense of boundaries. But I’ve got a plan for this Tuesday. Several of my friends are going to meet me at Joe’s, and we’re going to talk about our kids’ first day of school and our husbands. So, I’ll be with a group and I’ll sit where he can’t sit next to me. And for the Tuesday after that, I’m meeting another friend too. By then, he ought to have found someone else to latch onto. Someone single.

    I’m an idiot. I want to be attractive but don’t want to be seriously hit on (if I was being hit on which seems weird), and if I am hit on I’d like it to be in that afore mentioned Billy Crudup style, not creep style, but for some reason, it is the creep style.

  8. I’m going to take this the entirely opposite way that everyone else took it. Weird guy not important. The important thing here is that you don’t believe you are worthy of that admiration.

    And your feelings about your looks are the same as your feelings about your writing.

    Yes. He was flirting with you. Rather than focusing on him being a creep, I want you to realize that people like you, they are attracted to you. You are beautiful. And your writing is phenomenal. I want you to start taking in the compliments and realize just because those certain men from your past were disturbed or took you for granted or weren’t able to express positive feelings does not mean that there is something wrong with you. All that stuff from all those guys years ago? That wasn’t about you. That was about them.

    You are sizzling, my friend.

  9. And that right there? How could anybody NOT love Rowena for laying it out in black and white like that?!

    I don’t know if that’s the best blog comment I’ve ever seen anywhere, but I bet it’s in the top 4 or 5. Thanks, R, for always speaking from the heart of wisdom!

  10. Pingback: Ordinary Mind and Melodramatic Mind Duke It Out « writing in the water

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