I write under a pen name and keep the details of my personal life limited on my blog but I had an interaction recently that was just… oh, it was everything that’s wrong with our culture right now and I wanted to find a way to share it.
So let’s say I work at Taco Bell as an assistant manager.
Earlier this week, I was behind the counter covering for an employee on break when a man came in. I said, “Welcome to Taco Bell, can I take your order?”
He said, “Yeah, hi, I just wanted to come in and check this place out. I’m really into Mexican food.”
“Great,” I said. “What can I get you?”
“Oh, yeah, I don’t know. See… I’ve been eating Mexican food for a while now. A real long while. I started eating it in ’82 and I’ve learned a lot about it.”
“Ok…” I say, eyeing the line forming behind him.
“Actually, I’m a cook. I cook mostly Mexican food but I dabble in Guatemalan food, Cuban food. I’ve done a little Brazilian food here and there.”
“Sir,” I say, “Is there something I can get for you? Because I have other customers I need to help.”
“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I see. So you have a lot of like… Mexican food fans here, right? Not cooks like me. Chefs, really. I’m really more like a chef. Because, I mean, I can cook tacos and burritos but what I’m really into is mole, pozole, and I’m really good at tamales. Like, REALLY good at it. I could probably teach you. Yeah, I know at least 5, maybe 6 ways to make tamales. You’d be really amazed at what I could show you.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you could. That’s awesome but we don’t… uh… we don’t do tamales here. We just have… you know, what you see on the menu. Would you like to try a Crunchwrap Supreme? It’s no tamale, but it’s pretty good.”
“Nah, I’m not really interested in eating your food. I know your food, I mean, I’ve eaten here before a long time ago and I know your entire menu. I’ve eaten all of it. I could probably tell you some things about your menu that you don’t even know. Have you ever met Glen Bell? Because I have. He’s ok at Mexican food but I… I know a little something about it that he doesn’t.”
“So you don’t want to order something. You don’t want to eat here at all?” I ask. The employee is back from his break and standing awkwardly behind me. He’s trying to ask if he should open the other register. I’m trying to tell him yes but this dude just talks over me, loudly.
“Nah, I’m kind of just looking for a community, you know? I mean, I’ve got 37 years of experience here. I don’t want that to just go to waste. I want to, you know, be amongst my peers and really, get into the art of Mexican cooking again.”
“So, you want a job? We have an online application form. Or I could grab you the paper form. Let me just head back to my office and grab that for you.” I start walking away and the employee takes over my register. Customers waiting in line are pissy. And now there’s a problem in the kitchen I really need to take care of but this guy follows me behind the counter, still talking.
“It’s not really a job I’m looking for, per se. I mean, I have a job. Actually, I recognize your drive thru girl because she’s a customer there.” He waves at her but she clearly has no idea who he is.
I say, “Excuse me, I really need to take care of this,” and start talking to the line cook to see what’s wrong. He’s trying to explain but the guy is standing right behind me, still talking to me, absolutely oblivious to the other people in the room I’m trying to give my full attention to.
“Do you do Tacos Arabes here? Because people are really into Tacos Arabes these days. If you don’t have any experience with Tacos Arabes, I could probably teach you. I could even make them here, if you want. Just like, set up a grill for me and I could make Tacos Arabes for people and you could learn how to do it too for free, even because I mean, you don’t get this kind of Mexican food instruction for free most of the time. I mean, I’d have to charge other people for my Tacos Arabes because they’re pretty valuable but I could cut you a deal, probably.”
“Um… yeah, I don’t… think…”
“Tacos Arabes, Tacos Campechanos, Street Tacos, I mean… I can do it all.”
I grab him an application and tell him to fill it out and we can see if there’s anything we can do.
“Yeah, I’m not really into filling out applications,” he says as I turn back to the line cook to make sure his problem is resolved. “Maybe I can just stop by again and talk to you like Wednesdays or Thursdays are good for me.”
“Oh, yeah, I don’t know if I’ll be here just… just fill out the application. That’s the best way. You can just… write in all your special skills there and we’ll see if there’s anything we can do for you.”
“Yeah, yeah, maybe I mean, like I said, I’m not looking for a job. Just want to be around My People, you know. All these Mexican food lovers all cooking and eating Mexican food. I just know I have a lot I could teach them and it would be a benefit to me too just to be around other people like me and… you know, it’s just such a great culture, such a great flavor. Great flavors.”
“Ok, sure. So… go… fill out that application and we’ll see. Thanks for stopping by. Ok, bye now!”
And I went back in my office and closed the door.
Now… I don’t work at Taco Bell or any kind of food service. I actually work with children in an after school type activity. There were children in the vicinity at the time. MY child was there. So when a creepy man came in listing all the things he knew about our activity, it was mildly threatening. He wasn’t overtly threatening but the implications of what he was saying could be interpreted that way.
So when my “line cook” raised his eyebrows at me after the dude left and said, “Well… that… was a little extra. Why didn’t you just kick him out?” I told him the truth:
Fear. Caution. Reality.
Someone shot up another school yesterday. I don’t know the circumstances because if I read about it, I will absolutely freak out and never let my children go anywhere ever again. When someone comes into my child-focused business when there’s a room full of other people’s children learning from my husband near by–especially when my son is playing with his friends in my office–and starts telling me that he knows better than me how to Teach These Kids Something Real, I go into preservation mode.
This isn’t Mama Bear mode, not Fight or Flight, not SPRING INTO ACTION because there was no obvious threat. Just the threat of a potential threat.
Preservation Mode: when women smile and placate a man they’re not interested in talking to because WE KNOW at any moment, they could snap and murder us.
I told the “line cook” that based on his “polite” behavior, I could tell he had absolutely no aptitude for empathy. He wasn’t there to get information about our program or services. He told me flat out that he knew more than me and could teach me a thing or two. He didn’t listen when I told him I didn’t think I could help him. He didn’t listen when I told him I wasn’t available to continue talking about this on another day. He showed no concern for the fact that I had (misbehaving) children I needed to talk to instead of him. And in fact, he continued to tell me about his skill set while I reprimanded my son and his friend.
This is a man who could snap and murder me and the children I was responsible for if I didn’t smile and pretend that there was at least a remote possibility that he could have what he wanted. That’s the reality of the world we live in right now.
It’s terrifying. And we do what we have to do to survive it, even if it’s just listening to a douche bag’s resume when we’d rather be doing ANYTHING else.
Now, in my dream world last night, I actually met up with this man again, slammed his face into the floor, pressed my forearm to his windpipe while I dialed 911 with my other hand and instead of defending himself or escaping, he just listed all the ways he COULD defend himself if he wanted to. Oh and how he could teach me a thing or two as well.