I Am Trying to Avoid Referencing “Streetcar”

Today I’ve had the fortune of discovering Bitch PhD, and have been wishing I’d found her a lot sooner. Her writing makes me make little excited noises in the back of my throat, which is a nice reaction to have.

In particular, this entry touched me, to the point where I got a little bit teary, because underneath my sardonic, cellulite-ridden outer shell beats the heart of someone who just loves hearing stories about random acts of kindness. And now my cover is blown.

It reminded me of an experience of kindness I had last December. Late last year was a bad time for me, most notably because of my friend Bec’s death, but also because I was job hunting and house hunting and trying to deal with a bad bout of depression that had already been hanging around for a few months by then.

The job situation looked to be sorting itself out. I’d been offered a permanent part-time position at the shop where I now work, and was interviewing for a casual position with a major book retailer who shall remain nameless. I let Book Retailer know that I’d been offered another position that would require me to work Friday and Saturday, so they knew where I was coming from if they hired me. They were cool with this, and hired me anyway. I was elated.
Then they started trying to give me shifts on Fridays and Saturdays. Annoyed, but determined to not be a pain in the arse, and thinking that they probably needed to train me on those days for a reason, I rearranged shifts at my other new job, where I was still undergoing training, so I could appease Book Retailer.
Training came to an end, and they gave me my roster for the next month. It included at least one Friday or Saturday a week. I felt a bit worried at this point, as the woman I’d informed of my other employment status was my new manager. I brought up my other job again. She looked annoyed but agreed to swap my shifts over grudgingly. I’d made myself available for the other five days of the week, and had understood that they knew of my other employment commitments when they hired me, so I was feeling a little annoyed yet again by this point, but still trying to be helpful. Then she tried to guilt trip me out of taking a weekend away that had been planned and paid for months in advance – Stuart’s and my mostly-annual pilgrimage to the Meredith Music Festival. I thought about not going and staying home and working, but it had been planned for a long time, I didn’t want to disappoint Stu, and I realised that if I stayed, I wouldn’t be making enough money to cover the cost of my (non-refundable, as far as I knew) ticket anyway. I apologised profusely and assured her that I had no other upcoming commitments. The guilt trip was working.

Then came the news about Bec. As soon as I was able to function mentally again and knew the date of the funeral, I rang to talk to my manager because the funeral was on a Saturday and, you guessed it, it was yet another Saturday that they’d rostered me on (fortunately one that my other job didn’t need me for, in this case). I offered to work as many other shifts as they needed me for, in exchange for being able to attend my close friend’s funeral. The manager grudgingly agreed. “We need you to come in today or tomorrow,” she said, “there’s some paperwork you didn’t fill out properly.”

I went in the next day to fix up my paperwork, and to hear the lovely news that they had decided to fire me, because I was “unreliable”. Because giving them advance notice of my availability before they had even agreed to hire me, and daring to keep a commitment I’d made several months in advance are both obvious indicators that I don’t take employment seriously and don’t really want to work. Needing a day off to go to a funeral is pure self-indulgence, especially when the guy who started at the same time as me and knew the friend in question also doesn’t need the day off to go (I wish I was making that last part up, but the guy really did know Bec, but wasn’t going to her funeral, and the manager tried to use this against me, again to guilt trip me). Despite the fact that I’ve been praised for my diligence and hard work and good attitude in every other job I’ve ever held (with the possible exception of the babysitting gig where I used Barbie’s clothes and a Ken doll to educate my charges about transvestism), Book Retailer obviously had the real, true perspective of what I really was: a no-good bludger who wouldn’t know how to be grateful for a job being thrown her way in a million years.

Yes, actually, I am still bitter. How can you tell?

Anyway, that was rather long-winded, so I’ll get to the nice(r) part. After I was fired, I stayed in the office a while to fix up the form I’d filled out. I went into a kind of daze, not thinking about anything at all. I walked out of the shop and into the busy street, and feeling started to come back. Right, I thought, I can handle this.
And then I burst into tears.
I raced across the road and sat on the steps of the building opposite my now-former workplace, and cried and cried and cried. The only other time I’d cried in public before was not long before that; I’d been Christmas shopping in a suburban shopping centre when I’d gotten the news about Bec, and ran the long, circuitous route to get outside, crying and hyperventilating as I went.
This time, as last time, I didn’t care who saw, even though I am normally very private about things like crying. It didn’t matter anyway; no one stopped, no one even looked my way.
Eventually, though, I heard “Excuse me, Miss, is there anything I can do to help you?” and twigged that the speaker was talking to me. I looked up into the face of an elderly man and tried to choke back more sobs.
“Not really, but thank you,” I said.
He asked what was wrong, so I gave him the condensed version. He looked incensed, and sat down beside me and we had a long chat. He railed against the continued casualisation of the workforce and the government’s determination to strip lower-income workers of their rights (his words, not mine). He talked about his son’s employment status (with a major furniture retailer, which by the sounds of it doesn’t live up to their name when it comes to how they treat their employees). He commiserated about Bec in a way that didn’t sound forced or false despite the fact that a blotchy-faced young stranger was now unstoppably pouring out her story to him. As mentioned before, I’m normally a very private person when it comes to how things affect me emotionally, but this man, Dave, made me feel like I could talk to him, and listened carefully to everything I had to say.

When I was feeling a bit better, and grief and rage were giving way to embarrassment, we parted ways. But not before he gave me a homemade business card with his and his wife’s names and address and phone number on it, and told me that if I ever needed to talk to someone, to not hesitate to call him. He patted my shoulder and smiled at me and left.

I misplaced the card when I moved a couple of weeks later, but I still write Dave thank you letters in my head. What he did that day truly touched me and helped me in a very bleak moment when I wasn’t believing there was much good in anyone. If I ever find it again, I’ll write him one for real.

9 Responses to “I Am Trying to Avoid Referencing “Streetcar””

  1. kathryn Says:

    It is great when people actually take a bit of time out to care. Your ex-boss sounds like a total cow and you are better off not there.

  2. Alexis Says:

    A sad story with a great ending – i love it. :-)

  3. Dirk Thruster Says:

    People like Dave are becoming more rare and not entirely without reason; out riding one day, I stopped to help a middle aged lady who had a flat tyre and she hid in the car with the door locked and would only talk to me through the (closed) window, telling me that it was o.k., the NRMA was on its way.

  4. Aimee Says:

    Ah, that’s a shame, Dirk. I’ve had people react like that to me, too – like the time I stopped to help a little kid who was crying and I thought was lost, when it turned out that his mother was only a few metres away – she was just ignoring him.

    I wonder, though, how different (and similar) people’s reasons for not helping are? Not wanting to get “involved” in a situation, certainly, but other things as well; not wanting to be feared, like you say above. See, people (especially women, I would argue) don’t necessarily know whether you’ve stopped to help or harm. There’s a lot out there inciting women to fear strange men. This is frustrating in itself, moreso when it bites someone who was genuinely trying to help on the arse.

    To me it seems like a bit of a social contract when you stop to help a stranger, and we’re all so very, very nervous of any sort of social contract with someone we don’t know well these days. The person being helped may well be prayed upon (as I was on another occasion – my car broke down at a busy intersection and the guy who stopped to help me move it stole all the money from my wallet), but by time same token, the helper is potentially putting themselves in a risky situation also. I’m reminded of another car incident, when a young gay man stopped to help me out, but paused before doing so. His reason? Last time he’d stopped to help someone out, he’d narrowly avoided being bashed by a homophobe. Lovely.

    I don’t know, I’m rambling at this point. I just hope we never as a society get to a point where no one is prepared to do anything to help another random human in distress.

  5. Dirk Thruster Says:

    I would argue that it is a part of belonging to a society that you stop to help a stranger – or anybody else. I think it is a mark of an evolved society that all of it’s members take an interest in the welfare of all it’s other members.
    Reminds of a segment I saw on one of Micheal Moore’s TV shows. He had a person in New York pretend to be unconscious on the footpath of a busy street and other people do the same thing at the same time in London and Toronto. He then timed how long it was before anybody stopped to help. It was supposed to be a test of compassion or something. The New Yorker was the first to receive assistance – from an Aussie tourist.

  6. Steph Says:

    I was just thinking about this very issue. I’m scummy. About 10 months ago, a few blocks from my apartment, I had an opportunity to help and I didn’t do it. It was rainy and dark, the street was deserted. Passing me on the sidewalk up a slope was a struggling man in a wheelchair. I so desperately wanted to ask “hey man, want a push?” and help him to the top of the incline. He looked tired, like he’d been travelling all day. I so wanted to help him. But then I thought of the 60-odd women Ted Bundy killed, and how mainly he lured them by faking injury with a cast or a sling etc. And I noticed how strong this man looked.

    I didn’t help him. It’s motherfuckers like Ted Bundy that have ruined everything for us all. Plus, I’m a jerk. I guess I get paranoid living three blocks from the locale of Gary Heidnik’s murders.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Heidnik

  7. gypped Says:

    I remember how happy you were to get that job in the first place. those cunts.

  8. Aimee Says:

    Coming to the party late again, with the lampshade already on my head…

    You and I are actually in complete agreement, Dirk. I was just trying to point out why people hesitate to do things to help strangers. I do think it’s an unfortunate offshoot of our current society that we sometimes don’t, or feel we can’t, or that our attempts at assistance may be met with hostility.

    And yes, I saw that Michael Moore segment, I think it was from The Awful Truth. It was sad.

    Steph, you might have been overreacting. Or not. Impossible to tell from here. But considering the circumstances (ie that it was dark, and deserted, and I know you don’t live in the best part of town), it’s not unconscionable that you didn’t stop. Well, I don’t think so, anyway.

  9. naridu Says:

    Blog world and real world six degrees collide! While excited to see someone from the ol’ diaryland haunt I was immediately sobered when reading this entry in which you mention Bec. For some reason I have absolutly no doubt of who you speak for although I never met her myself this young woman was a burst of love and life for all those who did. My partner NS was a good friend of hers and was also quite torn up for a period of time, hence my six degrees comment. His web page is http://www.theotherguy.org (if it isn’t up wait a day or so, he’s been having server issues). Wow, I’m just a little blown away by connections at the moment. It’s awful that you had to deal with such a scummy employer at a time like that, I hope Karma has the good sense to sink bloody teeth into their arses for it.