Today I got mad at a lady.
Not just any lady.
Today I got mad at a Southern lady.
Let me clarify. For starters, today was a ketchup day. Now, I’m in love with ketchup, and I can eat it on anything. I smother my chips in it, dip my veggies in it, squeeze it out all over anything fried, processed, and crunchy, and just plain treat the condiment with total adoration. But a ketchup day is not a good day. Not at all.
A ketchup day gets its entire connotation from anything blah: A partly cloudy day in February, brown leather shoes, Double-mint gum, the daily grind, a number 2 pencil, my Shakespeare teacher, and skin-colored hotel tissues. I think I somehow made this connection in 1996 when we ate fish sticks a lot because my mom had to feed five kids before waving to the babysitter and rushing off to work. Of course we ate our fish sticks with none other than: Heinz- The red stuff which, fifteen years later, tempts me beyond all reason.
So today was a Ketchup day. Blah. Slow. With worries. Not to mention that around 9:14 AM I became so unnaturally aware of my hands that I haven’t known what to do with them all day. I literally walked across campus pretending to count on my fingers in an inward conversation with myself in order for my hands to have some kind of occupation and not feel so…awkward.
When I walked into (an office) within (a particular campus building) to drop off a (pile of white sheets with which had been sent on an errand) I was greeted with a bothered drawl that could have been from Western Illinois (if you have attitude qualms with the unkind people residing in the land of Lincoln).
No, this lady was not chipper. She was not kind. She was not happy. She was the thumbnail, and I was the little staple she sought to remove. Her reaction to anything I said was a mixture of annoyance, and dumbfounded wonder that I had actually been born yesterday. At first I thought she might think me too blonde to drop some papers off in her office. But the woman was in her fifties and blonde, with pastor’s wife hair teased up and sprayed in an immovable bob.
I was angry, and I stood there looking at her blonde-do in disbelief, wondering at her unkindness. A Southern lady! Really? I mean, I’d expect such malarkey in the North, and certainly from the state of Illinois. But Tennessee…oh, it just couldn’t be.
Yet…her office was kind of bland. Like hotel tissues and arthritis, if arthritis had a color. And I stood there thinking of lined notebook paper and Tylenol, cloudy days, and February, and I felt sad. She was just having a ketchup day with her piles of files and telephone calls and I was another to-do on her list of rather-not dos.
As I walked back, I prayed this lady owned an apron. I imagined her waking up in the morning with her pastors-wife hair all matted to her head, and I hoped she made herself a pretty pot of tea and drank it in her side-yard with a little white dog. I prayed she stuck her pinkie out to take a drink and knew the solace of morning like I do.
I prayed she knew of things like Christmas parties and shivering smiles, all tight in the cold, and apple trees and beach balls, and rolling pins and flour all over the floor. I prayed she knew hard-cover books with old inscriptions, and sock feet sliding on the tile, brimming bubble baths and thunderstorms, and wild chives on her cutting board.
And I prayed she wouldn’t ever hear from the arrant-knaves ready to call her a lemon in that colorless, hotel tissue of an office she didn’t care to be in the first place.
No. It wasn’t the color of my hair.
Or the fact that I was the thorn in her tired, four o’clock side.
Or that I had ventured into the infamous “Registrar’s office” (said with much horror and renowned fear) where all Southern ladies with lemony mouths turn in an application and work with sour-faces and exasperated sighing.
It was just another ketchup day. Even for a Southern lady.