by Lillian Csernica on March 27, 2019
The Younger Boy (TYB) and I were out running errands the other evening and we stopped in at our favorite pizza parlor. There are six, count ’em, six big flat screen TVs. We’re regulars, so the staff lets us have a remote and watch whatever we like while we’re eating our food. Most often we watch cooking shows or paranormal investigations or whatever YA show TYB prefers at the time.
On this particular evening, I witnessed the ritualistic behavior observed by another regular patron. I’d seen this woman two, maybe three times, but I hadn’t noticed the details that would have cemented her in my memory. That was about to change.
For the sake of both anonymity and clarity, let me call this woman Barbara.
We were sitting in our favorite booth eating pizza and watching a show TYB chose. Most of the flat screens in the pizza parlor are set on sports games, so I’m in the habit of making sure the close captioned subtitles are on. That way I can keep the volume down and still know what the people onscreen are saying. This is important. Bear it in mind.
Barbara comes in, sees us sitting there, and stops dead in her tracks. She looks up at the screen we’re watching, looks back at us, then goes to the register to place her order. She keeps glancing over at us, then chooses one of those bistro tables where the chair and table legs are extra long. From the bag she’s carrying, Barbara takes out a seat cushion, plumps it, sets it on the chair, adjusts the angle, plumps it again. She moves on to the napkin dispenser and pulls out several paper napkins, unfolds them completely, then takes a long time making sure there’s a solid layer covering the tabletop.
This particular pizza parlor is kept in a good state of tidiness. I’ve seen it messy only during the lunch hour all-you-can-eat buffet when turnover is rapid and the staff are busy making more food. The floor is always clean. If I ask, somebody comes out right away to wipe down the table where we like to sit.
Even so, Barbara takes extreme pains to prep her chair and her table. Then she looks up at the flat screen across from her. It’s the one designated #3. TBY and I are watching #4. Barbara comes around the railing that divides the bistro tables from the booths. She ignores me completely and greets TBY by name. She’s vaguely familiar, so I figure she must be somebody we knew from the years my boys went through the local school system. TBY doesn’t recognize her, and has no interest in doing so. This makes no difference to Barbara, who begins explaining how she’s going to watch a certain show now, she really likes that show, so would that be OK with him? He gives her a polite yes. This is making him uncomfortable. Barbara goes through it again, still not making any eye contact with me.
At that point I realize what’s really going on. When I want to change the channel on #4, I ask anybody who’s sitting in that area if that’s OK with them. Most people aren’t even paying attention, but they do thank me for taking the time to check first. Barbara wasn’t trying to be polite. Barbara was telling TYB what she was going to do. There was a script running inside her head and we weren’t giving her the replies she was after. I suspect we were watching the flat screen Barbara usually watches. The disruption of her ritual might have caused her the predictable rise of anxiety in someone who has OCD or OCPD, which are two separate and distinct diagnoses. I could be wrong. This might have been nothing more than one more garden variety control freak with territorial imperative, which is a lot more common than clinical OCD or OCPD.
Barbara had crossed the line into Bothering My Child, so I gave her a smile that didn’t reach my eyes and told her we understood. Translation: Thank you, now go away.
I thought that settled the matter. Nope. The staff brought out Barbara’s order. That prompted her to scurry back to her table and begin the process of arranging her plate, drink, plastic cutlery, etc. OK fine. None of my business. Barbara was in my line of sight, so watching her was something I couldn’t really avoid doing. That’s what helped me spot the problem when it happened.
Barbara’s show came on set #3. She cranked up the volume so high it intruded on all the other sets and on general conversation. Other people started giving Barbara annoyed looks. To say she was oblivious is an understatement. The way she sat in her chair, leaning forward and hanging on every word spoken by the main characters, told me this show was really important to her. Again, OK fine. We had the close captioning on our set, so TYB kept watching his show and didn’t seem to mind. He did turn the volume up a little bit.
Barbara aimed the remote she was using at “our set” and dragged the volume down to nothing.
Not OK. Trying to be a grown-up about this, I let myself assume Barbara did not know that each remote can affect the other sets. TYB set the volume at the polite level.
Barbara promptly turned it down again.
When this happened a third time, I was more than ready to tell this woman off.
Fortunately, I’ve learned to take a breath and weigh my options. TYB was done eating. It was time to move on. This particular TV show seemed to be very important to Barbara. Maybe I was witnessing what amounted to a Big Night Out for her. It’s also possible she did not connect turning down the volume on #3 with having any impact on us. Keeping these thoughts in mind, all I did was return the #4 remote to the guy at the register. He glanced over my shoulder at Barbara, sighed, and rolled his eyes. Clearly this was a regular event.
People do have issues. Sometimes those people are also rude. Is it worth it to call them on it? I could see Barbara had a genuine problem of some sort. In all fairness, I must say she did make an effort to be polite and reasonable. Now I know what might happen if and when we cross paths at the pizza parlor again.
Times are hard. In the big picture, this incident was odd and irritating, but really no big deal. It costs me nothing to be charitable to people who are probably just doing the best they can.