Like all writers, I have a muse.
Fortunately for me, my muse is the entire human race, so I am usually not in any kind of creative bondage to some elusive and temperamental phenomenon. My muse is everywhere, and it seldom fails to disappoint.
So I find myself in a bit of a quandary lately. Caring for my ailing mother means that I don't get out much and, when I do get out, it is to specific, predetermined destinations which puts me in a mostly controlled environment without much chance of surprises. For instance, last week I was given the assignment of gathering all of my mother's medical records from all of her various doctors. I really thought this assignment held some promise for inspiration, since I would be dealing with both retail (a UPS store; my mother is a low-tech kind of gal) AND several branches of the medical profession. No luck. Everyone was extremely efficient and friendly and helpful, damn them, which did me no good at all.
No, I was in the market to be mistreated and annoyed, a not uncommon occurrence with me, probably a result of some unresolved issues from my childhood. My perverse nature positively glories in the foibles of humanity and I get a high from the smug feeling of superiority I experience in my encounters with them. Does this make me a bad person? Definitely. But it also grounds me firmly in the camp of those fragile beings I scorn.
However, I managed to score, big-time, during a routine visit to the grocery store with my friend Rosa, who feels I need to learn to stick up for myself. Rosa had an upbringing similar to mine, which also resulted in childhood issues that needed to be resolved, the difference between us being that she has intelligently and successfully resolved them via years of competent therapy. She is concerned by what she sees as my unhealthily passive response to objectionable treatment from others. I understand her concern, but counter it by pointing out that Rosa has never worked retail - and has thus never experienced human behavior at its terrifying worst, thereby perhaps overreacting to lesser infractions - and Rosa doesn't write a blog, so she doesn't fully comprehend my methods of revenge.
Being the Friday before Superbowl Sunday, a day which is celebrated - like all American holidays - with a Bacchus-level food orgy, the grocery store was very crowded and there were long lines in the check-out lanes. This led me to reflect upon how, during the Cold War, Americans used to hear about long lines-for-bread (and everything else) in the Soviet Union, and would feel wonderful about the pre-eminence of our culture. This was, of course, before our culture - ruled by the demands of the stockholder and the ravenously greedy CEO - created its own version of the Soviet breadline by cutting back on all non-management personnel.
So only three lanes were open, aside from the do-it-yourself lanes which are an insult to the unemployed everywhere, and the lines were five carts deep. Normally, this would not be an unbearable situation but, on this day, Rosa and I had the misfortune (for her, at least) to be behind a dyed-in-wool nutbar. This woman promptly grabbed a copy of Star magazine and initiated a relationship with us, opening the conversation with, "Charlie Sheen sure looks good, doesn't he?"
If she would have been satisfied with our polite nods-of-agreement, these writings would go no further.
What she did instead was to take our nods as encouragement and proceed to page through the magazine, commenting on each and every celebrity - the majority of whom I wallow in grateful ignorance. She became increasingly unsatisfied with nods and escalated our discomfort by staring at us fixedly until we relented and responded verbally. Then she would beam with happiness, and turn the page.
At that point, a new lane opened up.
So fast that I didn't even see her, Rosa sprang into the new lane. Only to be - literally - knocked aside by a representative of my muse.
"Did you see that?" she asked, breathlessly, upon joining me back in our private hell.
"I did not," I replied, woodenly. "But I'll take your word for it."
Rosa looked at me, thoughtful for a moment, and then apparently decided that this was a good time for a lesson in self-defense. With difficulty, she made her way past the carts in the now long line in the new lane, and confronted the culprit.
"What, are you crazy? I'm handicapped!" he shouted, energetically slinging several cases of soft drinks before the befuddled cashier. "Mind your own goddam business!"
To her credit, Rosa took this in stride. "I sometimes forget that these people may have guns," she said, and generously helped our Tour-Guide-to-the-Stars load her groceries onto the conveyor.
"Indeed," I said, considering whether I would rather be shot or hear more about the problems of Katie Holmes.
But here is where my life experience trumps Rosa's years of therapy. I serenely watched as her nemesis walked out the door, knowing that I would never, ever see him again, and feeling calm and secure in that knowledge. This is one of the happier lessons one learns working in retail. I was infinitely better equipped to deal with this sort of ignorant rudeness than Rosa.
But as to the lesser of the two evils: Star magazine will always be with us, aggressively staring us down at every grocery check-out lane on the planet, blatantly allowing itself to be used as ticket into polite company by the socially inept. To that, alas, there is no defense.
Perhaps it's a good thing. Truly, one never know when The Muse will visit, and often she comes when least expected, from uncharted corners of the universe. Which is why I am never without a notebook and a pencil. And the next time I find myself waiting half-an-hour to pay for my groceries, I'm going to read the Star. And take notes.
Maybe I'll also be moved to poll my fellow shoppers, and draw inspiration from their reactions to being held captive and being subjected to unsolicited opinions.
As a tribute to my muse.