Coffee shop, SHOUTY LADY: Recent locally sourced eavesdropping

February 3, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 3, 2016

As is only proper for a 21st-century college town, Durham has a number of fine coffee shops, and as I wrote recently, one of my favorites is Respite Cafe.

But man, was I ever taken by surprise on a recent visit to Respite. Just the other day, when I walked in, I did a double take. There were a bunch of people in one of the back rooms, evidently because there had been some sort of leak, and one of the shop’s patrons — I could not immediately identify who it was — WAS SHOUTING AT THE TOP OF HIS OR HER LUNGS. The amount of hustle and bustle in the joint surprised me, and THE VOLUME OF THE CONVERSATION — OR MAYBE IT WAS MORE OF A MONOLOGUE? — took me aback.

I occupied my regular spot, doffing my jacket and pulling out my laptop computer. I ordered a pot of tea and an apple pastry and settled down.

SHOUTY LADY — for indeed it was a lady who was shouting, or AT LEAST TALKING AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS — was impossible to ignore. I surreptitiously recorded a short video that captured her voice (and my armpit, my sweater and the coffee shop’s tile floor) and began tweeting some of her exchanges with her companion.

SHOUTY LADY was sitting with a quiet companion and relating, at length, a story about her misadventures in a university in the state of Arizona. I joined the discussion in medias res, so I don’t know how the whole thing started, but for some reason, a cabal of sinister university administrators allegedly arranged to have SL mugged and/or to have her backpack stolen; to impugn her sanity; to have police officers confiscate her guns (yes, multiple guns); and to have her first attorney act in cahoots with them.

At some point, some person or persons attempted to trick SHOUTY LADY into signing some kind of document that would, she claimed, have forfeit all her civil rights for her entire life. SL made extensive efforts to find a second (third?) attorney to represent her, eventually locating one in another town. Somehow at some point, a court hearing about something or other was scheduled, but by this time SL had fled the state for fear of her own safety, and she did not wish to return to Arizona, and it turned out that she wasn’t allowed to testify remotely, but then it turned out that she was allowed to testify over a telephone or Internet connection, except that to do so she would’ve had to have given notice and/or to apply for the court’s permission to do so X days in advance, blah blah blah, and in the end, something happened and she testified using the phone or Skype or whatnot.

At some point, SL evidently doubled back in her narrative and began explaining why she ended up fleeing the state of Arizona. It involved a man (or maybe it was two men, or perhaps a series of men) showing up in multiple cars without license plates (there were definitely multiple cars without license plates) in and around her neighborhood and at least once at a grocery store that her mother was patronizing. “HE KEPT COMING BACK IN A DIFFERENT CAR, ALWAYS WITH NO LICENSE PLATE,” SHOUTY LADY said loudly.

And who was this man? SL set it out in black and white for her listener(s) in case it was not obvious: “THEY HIRED A HIT MAN TO KILL ME BECAUSE THEY WERE PISSED OFF,” SHOUTY LADY announced.

The cabal of university administrators was angry at least in part because when SL left the school, she sent a mass e-mail accusing a male administrator who had purportedly propositioned her of being a serial rapist. Or maybe the cabal was angry for some other reason and the e-mail was sent at a later point, thereby further exacerbating the divide between SHOUTY LADY and her antagonists.

At any rate, SL all but bankrupted her parents due to legal fees and was sent to live in another state; she settled here in North Carolina’s Research Triangle after an experimental stretch in Seattle, but it was not to her liking, evidently because too many immigrants have ruined the economy in that metropolitan area.

In the end, somehow SL landed in the Triangle without a place to live, a job, a car or money (although she apparently now has at least a place to live and a car). She started going to A Local School that Shall Remain Nameless, which I shall refer to as ALS; her companion, it later emerged, had been SL’s teacher at ALS the previous semester.

SHOUTY LADY told her companion that most jobs these days are done by machines, sent overseas or taken by immigrants. Shortly afterward, she said, in a softer tone of voice than was typical for her, “I’ve been trying to contact the anchors of Fox News lately to see if they’ll take my story.”

At some point, SL began discussing a shooting for which she seemed to hold administrators culpable to some degree. (I believe she may have been referring to this incident, in which one student was killed and three were wounded.)

The recitation of SHOUTY LADY’s Arizona tribulations and their aftermath eventually wound down, and the conversation took a weird turn. SL started asking her companion where she was from. The companion said she had grown up in China.

SHOUTY LADY complimented her conversational partner on her flawless English. The companion said that she’d grown up speaking English.

Then SL asked, to my astonishment, “THAT WHOLE FOOT-BINDING TRADITION, THEY DON’T DO IT ANY MORE, DO THEY?”

The companion, who to that point had been agreeing noncommittally with most everything SHOUTY LADY had said, responded with a hint of disbelief in her voice: “Are you from, like, the 19th century?” this individual asked disparagingly. “That hasn’t been done since, like, 1910.”

The companion suggested that SHOUTY LADY had heard too much Fox News. SL said that her misconception about foot-binding of female youngsters in China had come from when her mother read Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth to her when SHOUTY LADY was in elementary school.

But then, to her discredit, SL began sharing what she had learned about China from Fox News: “THEY MAKE IT SOUND LIKE IN CHINA EVERYTHING IS COMMUNIST AND LIKE CONTROLLED BY THE GOVERNMENT.”

Shortly afterward, SL said that she was surprised that her companion’s parents had decided to keep her because many Chinese parents aborted female fetuses.

“Where do you hear these things?” the companion asked disbelievingly. SL said that she heard them everywhere.

The companion gently began explaining that there were popular misconceptions about people in other countries that were typically wrong. Before she came to America, the companion said, she was told that Americans were constantly eating fast food and were all grossly overweight.

“IN CHINA, YOU WERE TAUGHT THAT EVERYBODY HERE IS MORBIDLY OBESE?” SL asked.

The discussion here took a tangent into SL’s body image. “I’M TECHNICALLY OBESE, BELIEVE IT OR NOT, BECAUSE I WEIGH 183 POUNDS.” She went on to say that she exercised a lot and had very strong muscles.

A moment later, in a reference to body mass index, SHOUTY LADY took a gratuitous swipe at the First Lady of the United States. “ACCORDING TO BMI, WHICH IS WHAT THAT STUPID BITCH MICHELLE OBAMA WOULD LIKE TO USE, I AM OBESE!”

SL returned to talking about her ideas about China. She said that she’d heard from National Geographic that the country were eight or nine male children for every female child. The companion said that there might be roughly 1.2 males for every female.

“SO LIFE WAS — OTHER THAN THE POLLUTION — WAS PRETTY NORMAL?” asked SHOUTY LADY.

“There wasn’t that much pollution when I was growing up,” the companion stated mildly.

Soon after that, SHOUTY LADY inquired about something she’d heard about China from a source she considered unreliable. “I HAVE ONE LAST QUESTION,” she said. “THIS ONE I GOT FROM A GROUP OF HYSTERICAL CHRISTIANS.”

SL went on to describe the time she attended a Christian school and one of the gym teachers, whom SHOUTY LADY described as lazy, instructed the class to break into small groups and read the Bible. When students complained, the gym teacher said that they should feel grateful to live in a nation where people were free to read the Bible. She went on to claim that people in China could be locked up for reading a Bible in public.

The companion replied that she’d never heard of such a thing and that there were a few churches in the town where she’d grown up. “Has he ever been to China?” the companion asked.

“SHE?” answered SHOUTY LADY. “I DON’T KNOW. BUT SHE WAS A VERY STUPID WOMAN.”

The companion said that she’d met a lot of people, but that she had never before been asked if foot-binding still existed in China. She compared it to asking if Americans still wore top hats: “It’s ridiculous.”

The conversation next unexpectedly detoured into George Washington’s death. Then SHOUTY LADY again complimented her companion on her perfect English. And then she returned to her problems and complaints with A Local School.

Evidently SL had issues with one of her current instructors, who had allegedly missed or been late for class, and who had supposedly spent some class time giving one-on-one instruction to a new student. (This student was apparently an immigrant who did not speak English very well.) A meeting with ALS administrators apparently loomed — something that brought up bad memories from SL’s misadventures at the Arizona educational institution.

“I’VE ALREADY BEEN DRIVEN OUT OF ONE SCHOOL ONCE FOR REFUSING TO HAVE SEX WITH A GUY WHO WAS 36 YEARS OLDER THAN ME,” SL reminded us. SHOUTY LADY, as she had a few times during the course of the conversation, said that she was close to having a nervous breakdown.

SL started looking into how to drive herself home. She pulled out her cell phone and apparently began struggling with a navigational app. “I ALWAYS HAVE THE DUMBEST SMART PHONES,” she complained.

There was time for a few more stories before SHOUTY LADY made her departure. SL talked about how her brother was worse off than she was, for reasons that I don’t remember. It emerged that both siblings had largely been home-schooled, which struck me as incredibly significant.

SHOUTY LADY asked, as she had previously, for help getting a job. There was also a discussion about volunteering at a hospital — SL had done a bit of this, but she was worried that she hadn’t done enough to become a doctor. (I was amazed that she had this ambition.)

I made note of one last SHOUTY LADY comment. “EVERYWHERE I GO, THERE’S MORE MADNESS.”

Shortly after that, she left the coffee shop.

~~~

A note to readers: I took notes on the conversation described in this blog post. Following standard journalistic practice, I use quotation marks to indicate spoken words that have been transcribed accurately to the best of my ability. 

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