My last customer on Saturday got the full brunt of my exhaustion and craziness, brought on my speaking with 800 people in two days. She wandered in five minutes to closing time with none of the required paperwork and I was too tired to argue with her about the deadlines she'd already missed and the extra work we would both have to do because of it. I just shoved an extra entrance form at her and said, "Fill this out."
She immediately started filling it out wrong.
I snatched it back and shoved a fresh form at her. "Read the instructions."
She looked at me. "Are you gay?"
I could tell by the look on her face that my own face had just done something new and terrifying.
"Excuse me? Did you just ask me if I'm gay?" My co-worker and Tall Boss stopped what they were doing and stared at the person who gives presentations on good customer service about to have a huge fight with a customer over her asking me if I was gay.
It wasn't the strangest thing that had happened over the last two days, but it was close.
"No," my customer said meekly, "I asked if you were okay."
"Oh." I thought about it for a second. "Clearly not."
I turned to Tall Boss after she left and said, "As soon as I get out of here, I'm going to go to the bodega, fill my water bottle up with beer, and go drink it in the park."
"I love it," he said. "That's a great plan. Are you gay?"
When I got to my bodega about an hour later, I was dragging. The two-event I'd just finished is easily the most difficult thing I do every year at work. It's not the biggest event we have, but it takes the most out of me because I have to talk to so many people over such a short amount of time. I'm shocked I got out of it with only one bad customer interaction.
But man, it was a bad one. Are you gay? Who gets that from "Are you okay?"! She was trying to be nice to me and I took it to a really bad, weird place so quickly. I scolded myself as I grabbed a tall boy from the beer case at the bodega: that's a bad, bad, Big Island Rachel! Are you gay? She must have felt like she wandered into some Charles Bukowski novel, where disheveled women snarl at you from behind plastic tables and black and gold balloons.
The girl behind the bodega counter took my beer and said, "I'll put it in a short bag." She gently slipped the paper around the beer, the top of the bag just hitting the red and silver rim of the can.
She looked at me and took me in, the whole greasy, frizzy, dead-eyed, scowling, unkempt mess of me. "Do you want a straw?"
I could see by the look on her face that mine had just done something wonderful. "Yeah I want a straw!" I gasped.
I bounced out of the bodega with my big girl drink and walked down the street, swinging my purse and slurping my beer. I'd never been so happy to drink beer with a straw, and I absolutely LOVE beer with straw. It's one of my favorite things in the world. And I needed it right then. I really, really needed it.
I went to the playground on Columbia Street and sat on a bench next to the peach-colored tulips. I knew it was illegal to drink beer in public, and furthermore, somewhat morally reprehensible to drink beer at a playground. I didn't care. Beer with straw makes everything better.