One of the many ways this newsletter is saving my sanity
I feel like I’m inching toward a light bout of agoraphobia. Going outside feels increasingly challenging. Staying inside is easier. If my mom read this she’d get hysterical. “PUT THAT OUT OF YOUR MIND,” she would yell. “YOU JUST HAVE TO TELL YOURSELF, STOP IT.” She had agoraphobia when she was a mom to three young kids and she told herself to just cut it out! And now look at her, LOOK AT HER. She goes outside ALL THE TIME like it's NOTHING!
I don’t intend to stop going outside, really, but I see the appeal. Whenever I leave the apartment, I become ill at ease and sweaty. Of course it’s summer, which does not help the sweating issue. Not to mention: menopause. The slightest whiff of anxiety sets off a hot flash, which itself brings with it another wave of anxiety, and pretty soon I’ve got sweat running into my eyes.
I’m not truly agoraphobic; I don’t want to use the term lightly. I just feel a little unsteady, like my next step might be off a cliff.
The other day I was walking through an intersection. I checked I had the light, stepped off the curb, and a bicyclist flew past me, inches away, so close that one extra step and I would have been gravely injured, or worse. I stopped in the middle of the street and yelled at the bicyclist and at the universe, and then because there was nothing else I could do, I kept walking. So: not a cliff, but not not a cliff.
This is why I felt some pretty intense anxiety about going to the farmer's market on Sunday, which requires a long walk, filled with possible dangers.
A couple of things you should know, before I get into this story:
First, I am a rule follower. I grew up with a mother who would park in the no-parking zone at the local grocery store and say “IT’S FINE, THEY KNOW ME” and leave me in the car while I imagined the police knocking on the window, yelling at me for not insisting my mother find an actual space, and then towing the car away with me in it.
Because I’m trapped in this mindless obedience of the rules, I can’t help but become transfixed by people who flout them. Especially when I’m not related to these people.
Second, at certain stands at the farmer’s market, there are Rules. Stand here, pay here, etc. The Rules at one stand indicate that you cannot pick your own produce. You tell them what you want and they choose for you. Then you pay. The end. The stand is very clear about this. There are numerous signs showing a hand and a big red line through it. NO HANDS ALLOWED. Keep your filthy mitts off their pristine tomatoes. Don’t you paw at the banana peppers. And most importantly, hands off the corn.
When I got to the farmer’s market, I was proud of myself for having made it there unscathed. I was settling in, checking out the wares, when I overheard a woman with an Italian accent announce, “This fruit is disgusting.” I swiveled around and there she was: short, blown-out blonde hair, either 30 or 70, wearing a little too much makeup and perfume for a jaunt to the farmer’s market on a July weekend in Brooklyn. When she wasn’t talking in Italian to her boyfriend or son or parole officer, she was judging the produce around her, and finding it wanting. She strode up to one stand owner and demanded they admit that they spray their melons with pesticide. “Otherwise there would be flies on them. I read this.”
“No, no,” the stand owner murmured, not very convincingly.
“Then where are the flies? WHERE?” the Italian woman asked. She looked around for someone to exchange knowing glances with but I, a coward, averted my eyes. Still, I was in love.
I then saw my new Italian friend bop over to the stand with the No-Touching Rule, and my brain did a little happy dance. Would she touch? I hurried to join her. And oh, man, DID she touch. Did she ever! She made her way up and down the array of fruits and veggies, grabbing and poking and prodding, conversing in Italian with her unbothered spouse/ward and shaking her head. I stood back and watched, my heart gamboling in my chest.
One of the stand’s workers spotted her and rushed over.
“No no, you need to let me pick,” he said.
She waved him away like he was a nonexistent fly on the melon she refused to purchase. “How will I know which are good,” she said. She grabbed an ear of corn, and yanked violently at the husk.
“You can’t do that!” he said. “That ruins the corn. Here, let me pick for you.”
“No it doesn’t. I will look,” she said, and nodded. And went to town on another ear of corn.
“Please stop!” he said, “She’ll get mad.” He pointed at his boss, a white-haired, formidable-looking woman who was on the other side of the stand, ringing up customers, unaware of the rule-flouter in her midst.
Now, readers, nothing will make me sweat more than the idea that someone in a position of authority will be mad at me. I have organized my entire life around avoiding getting yelled at. So if someone looks at me and says, “This intimidating person is going to come over here and let you have it”? I would run for the hills. I would drop that corn and beg forgiveness until everyone agreed I was the best girl.
But not my Italian girlfriend. She waved a manicured hand and said, and I quote, “She will be fine.”
SHE WILL BE FINE. The gall, sure, but also, the elegance! The truth in it. Because she would be fine, wouldn’t she? We would all be fine, in the end, one way or another, Until then, let us manhandle the corn!
If I had known I was going to make this anecdote the week’s entry, I would have stuck around for the final boss battle, when the white-haired woman zipped over to the corn and let the Italian woman have it. But I was too busy requesting my own corn and tomatoes and could only watch the ensuing kerfuffle from a few feet away. There were raised voices and at one point the white-haired woman lifted up the entire bin, like I WILL TAKE THIS AWAY AND BECAUSE OF YOU NO ONE WILL GET CORN. The Italian woman gave up, or insisted there weren’t enough flies on the produce for her comfort, because the next thing I knew, she was gone—my angel!—and the white-haired woman was ringing me up. And I said, see how I follow the rules, I’m ever so good, won’t you love me? And she said, “Have a nice day.”
So I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m going to keep heading outside, even when the world scares me, because the chances that I might spot an Italian corn molester are just too good for me to pass up. And I need material for this newsletter, so thank you.