Today I Look Like a Librarian.

That’s what I’ve been told. My reasons for that are very logical. My eyes have been bugging me, so I’m wearing my stern glasses instead of my contacts. My hair is finally long enough to put up into a French twist, so I have it up instead of tangling all around my shoulders and distracting me from the tasks at hand. My hair color is brown again, because I thought brown hair would go better with fall colors than blondy streaks. I can’t help that people imagine librarians with brown hair.

Sometimes, I feel like looking like a librarian.

That’s my prerogative.

I’m hungry, but I ate an Atkins Endulge fake candy for second breakfast instead of going downstairs to our cafeteria for eggs and bacon. That’s because it was already 9:30 (too late) when I thought of going to the cafeteria. It is not because…

The Downstairs Colombian’s Particular Insanity

There’s this guy who works in the cafeteria downstairs, who makes the custom salads and pastas as opposed to slopping the non-custom stuff onto plates. He takes pride in the fact that he is Colombian, unlike the other workers, all Mexican. He used to live in France with two women who enjoyed having sex with him on a regular basis. I know this because he told me, one day while he custom-made my salad. I smiled and nodded, because my general rule of thumb is to remain complacent with the people who are preparing my food. (It cuts down on the spitting.)

So he tells me all this stuff about himself, as people tend to do, then hands me my salad and says, “Oh, but I don’t even know your name.”

And I say, “I know.” And then I take my salad and go. And this guy (let’s call him Phillippe, even though that’s not his name) looks sad and slightly embittered, but oh, well. That’s life, Phillippe.

I already know, Phillippe, that you used to hit on my friend and coworker Lisa G, who is the second most beautiful woman in our company. She told me that you used to tell her stories about your swinging international pre-cafeteria life, and that you went so far as to slip a note into her salad box. She said the note smelled like Hai Karate. How many women have you hit on before asking my name, Phillippe? I assume you’re going through the ranks, from top to bottom. I appreciate that you spoke to me eight months and x-number-of-women after you hit on Lisa G – I’m sure that stands for something. I’m sure I should be proud.

So, after that, I go back for salads and other nutrition as necessary, with no hard feelings in my breast. Phillippe goes back to mumbling words at me instead of telling me fabulous tales. And that’s fine. Except… that… also… he starts calling me preciosa, too.

Preciosa means precious. But that’s not what it means. See, precious is something you call a child here, or else something some old Southern woman calls whoever she wants. It’s what my dad used to call me, actually, when I was very young.

In Spanish, though, it’s something you call your lover. Or maybe someone you want to be your lover? Or maybe they call their kids that, too. But either way, I know for sure that it’s not something you call a stranger for whom you occasionally make salads for money.

He whispered it at me when he handed me my food. Very passive-aggressive. Was it supposed to be loud enough for me to hear? I don’t know. Did he know that I had a rudimentary understanding of Spanish, because the Mexican workers who knew it told him so? I don’t know. Either way, he started calling me preciosa every time, earlier and earlier into our interactions. “Okay, okay, you don’t want onions. You don’t like them, huh, preciosa?” he would mutter, very very quietly but not quietly enough for me not to hear.

So you know what I told him?

Nothing. You know why? Because I didn’t care.

I knew that Phillippe meant to disrespect me. Believe me, I knew. He is smarter than his job requires, obviously, but because of circumstances that are probably beyond his control, he’s forced to make salad for a living. In his past, allegedly, he has traveled the world. Whether abroad or on North American soil, he is a connoisseur of women – a man of taste. He knows exactly what he finds attractive and what he doesn’t. Although he didn’t at first find me attractive enough to notice, he eventually was good enough to inform me of his sexual prowess and ask my name. And, unfortunately, I didn’t give him my name, probably because I’m a man-hater or a lesbian, or both. Now, he’s getting back at me by calling me terms of endearment under his breath, perpetrating an intimacy that doesn’t exist. Insulting me and my honor as a woman. I understand all that. I just don’t care.

God knows that I’ve felt bitterness, too. God knows I’ve felt irrational hatred, and I’ve acted passive-aggressively to people who most likely didn’t deserve it. I haven’t overtly sexually harrassed anyone, but who knows? Different cultures find different practices acceptible. Maybe I’ve hurt someone with my eyes or my hemlines? We all have our sins.

I only have an hour for lunch. I want a salad without spit or rat droppings. I’ve seen crazier, uglier, more effed-up people than Phillippe in my time. I enjoy watching people be crazy and ugly and effed-up, as long as they don’t encroach on my space. I simply can’t be bothered to remonstrate with Phillippe for calling me preciosa.

My Dad’s Buddhist Monk Anecdote

My dad and my brothers (who learn stories from my dad) like to tell me this story of a hysterical woman confronting a Buddhist monk because the monk tempted her husband away into Zen or some such. The woman runs up and, typical hysterical over-emotional female style, bawls out the monk in front of all his homies. And the monk says nothing, and eventually the stupid woman wears herself out and walks away.

“Why,” say the monk’s homeboys, “did you let that ho talk to you like that, man? I would’ve karate-chopped that bitch upside her chickenhead.”

“Because,” says the monk, all David-Carradine-like, “that woman brought her anger to me, but I didn’t take her anger from her, into myself. That’s not how I roll.”

The first time I heard that story from my dad, I said, “Are you calling me hysterical?”

The second time I heard it, from my brother, I said, “Is that why Daddy’s so introverted and emotionally unavailable?”

The third time I heard it, it was out of my own mouth, when I was telling my friend Letty the story of Phillippe.

If monks don’t have to take on the anger of hysterical women, then I don’t have to take on the passive-aggressive hostility of sad, horny men.

Knowing that makes me feel free.

Phillippe Goes Too Far

The other day, Phillippe had to help Ana at her breakfast steam table station. Ana chopped sausage while Phillippe took my order. “Buenos dias, preciosa. Como puedo servirle?” is how he decides to take it. Good morning, precious, how can I serve you.

I don’t know why he said that in front of Ana. Maybe he’d taken my hitherto silence as tacit agreement that I was, in fact, his precious. Because, all white women are sluts, aren’t they? And do I not look white?

Ana turns to Phillippe and says, in Spanish, “Why in God’s name are you calling a customer precious?”

Let me interject, at this point, that Ana knows, from our previous non-romantic breakfast taco preparation conversations, that I am half Mexican and half white, with the whiteness on the outside and the Mexican mostly hidden on the inside, and that I’m also one of those young whippersnapper Latinas with only a very rudimentary Spanish lexicon at my disposal. I got the impression, however, that she thought I couldn’t hear or couldn’t understand their conversation at that point. Ana looked scandalized (but not too surprised) at Phillippe’s incredible lack of respect.

Phillippe says in explanation, in Spanish, “What? I’m just kidding. Because, look at her – she’s so serious.”

Ana looks at me, puts on her fake customer service smile, and says in English, “He is saying ‘Why are you so sad?'”

I look her straight in the eye and say, in English, “I’m sad because strangers keep calling me preciosa.”

Ana laughs her ass off, and Phillippe looks humiliated. For good measure, and because I enjoy making people laugh, I look him in the eye and say, in Spanish, “I understand everything, but say nothing.”

Ana laughs harder. In Spanish, she says, “Tell us everything you’ve understood. What else has Phillippe said to you?”

I shook my head demurely. “No… My boyfriend told me that when the men in the cafeteria say weird things to me, I should forget them immediately and walk away.”

“She has a boyfriend!” Ana told Phillippe in Spanish. “See? Leave her alone!”

I hated bringing a man into it, but sometimes, in my culture, you have to do that. A respectable woman needs a man to protect her, and a man to blame.

Letty and I Plot to Save the World, Part MLXXVI

As part of a long, long lunchtime conversation about men, feminism, sexism, our culture, shame, hatred, and sadness that the men of our culture so often feel the need to sexually harrass us, Letty and I took two different paths.

Letty, a trained sex-abuse counselor, said that now, when Latino men take verbal liberties with her, she busts out a stock phrase that translates roughly into “Uh, no. You are going to respect me.”

I, a former sex-abuse evacuee, said that I didn’t even care to do that.

First of all, I don’t think I could memorize any new Spanish if I tried. Second, I don’t think it’s my responsibility to tell perverts to respect me, any more than it’s my responsibility to tell muggers not to mug me, or to tell jealous haters not to sneer at my new faux python bag.

Lessons Learned

I can’t control other people. I can only control myself. You can whisper preciosa at me for as long as I’m too lazy to seek salads elsewhere.

But, at the same time, if I end up humiliating you in front of your coworkers, there’s no use getting mad.

Also, Einstein Brothers Bagels makes really good salads. Maybe I will drive there for lunch today.


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Posted in Letty on 10/24/2005 04:24 pm

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