Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Brewpub (or How Horror Movies can Make You a Better Person)

So, this is the last day of the the Triple M Blogfest 2011 and I thought I'd go all-out and but myself a growler of Montana's finest microbrew at the Blackfoot River Brewery before launching into my next horror movie marathon.  When I pulled up, the door was locked and I noticed the hours were listed as 2 pm to 8pm. I was about 20 minutes early, so I walked across the street to the Lewis and Clark County Library, which is directly across the street. I wanted to see if they had any Jack Ketchum books, since I'd covered both Offspring and The Girl Next Door this weekend. They didn't have a single title, so I just browsed for awhile before finding Caitlin R. Kiernan's From Weird and Distant Shores. I then checked to see if they had any short story collections from Joe Hill, when a strange-looking old woman approached me.

I had seen her there before; she was hard to miss because her left eye was set a half inch lower than her right, her bulbous nose was a shade of purple-red that looked like it was about to burst, and she had a prominent gray mustache and long wisps of white beard hair. I couldn't help but think, this woman has the classic look of a witch. She said, "Excuse me, but you look like an intelligent and handsome young man, and I was wondering if you'd do me a favor." Like any self-respecting horror fan, my mind immediately went to Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell. I thought, I'd better be nice to this woman, or I am going to pay the price.  So I listened to her request, "I like to go for walks, but it's raining, so would you talk quietly with me  for a while until the storm passes?"

While the paranoid horror-buff in me remained, my rational mind said, This is a woman who is lonely because people ae put off by her appearance. I don't have any obligations, and I'm just waiting for the brewpub to open, so why not do her a favor and give her a little human connection? So I said yes, that would be fine. She asked, "Will you be witty and charming?" I responded, "Well I can't guarantee that..." She laughed, "You have a sense of humor. That's good."

Like most people without an obvious physical deformity, I'm always awkward around those who do, but she addressed immediately. "Thirty-five years ago, I was in a car accident," she explained. "It did this to my eye and left me blind, unable to speak, and with no memory.  They had to remove a big part of my brain." She indicated the left side of her skull."

"Oh," I said dumbly.

"I regained sight in my right eye," she said, "and eventually I got back my memory."

"How long did that take?" I asked.

"Three or four years," she said, "My mother was a CPA, and her busiest day was always April 20th, which was the same day of my accident. I wasn't able to speak for four months, but once my memory came back, she said, of all the days to get in an accident, you picked my busiest." She laughed, and I knew her mother must have had the same sense of humor.

She told me about how she had gone, when she was in college, to Africa. She stayed mostly in Kenya, but she and her sister backpacked across the border into Uganda. She said, "At that time Idi Amin was in power, and everywhere you looked, there were men with machine guns. And I wasn't the right color."  She didn't go into any more detail, but moved on to her other travels abroad.

I figured she just wanted to tell her story to a friendly ear, but she kept moving the conversation toward me.  She asked about my life, if I had a family,what I did for fun, and whatnot. I found myself being more honest and unguarded with her than I am with most people I know much better. She told me that she used to be really shy, but after the accident, she decided she could talk to anyone. I admitted that I'm painfully shy as well, but if someone approaches me, I can carry on a pretty good conversation.

She said that after her accident, she had to go through infancy, childhood, and adolescence all over again. "So I'm 57 now," she said, "but I'm really only 35." I told her that was my exact age. Then she said, I went back to college after my accident. I couldn't take 5 courses a year, so I just took one, and eventually I earned my English degree.  Not that it would get me a job..." I told her that I also had an English Degree, and so did my wife. I double-majored in English and Film, then went back for my Master's in English. She wanted to know if I taught, and I said no, and Hollywood wasn't a good fit for me either, but I found a job doing technical writing and graphic design with the state government.

We talked for the better part of an hour. Her brain damage was still apparent, because when she was really excited, she would lapse into speech that was completely unintelligible, and I just had to smile and nod. But  she was absolutely hilarious.  She recounted the story of how her sister had given her a teddy bear as a present, even though she was a full-grown adult, and how her British brother-in-law said, "Wait, we are a respectable family, and he cannot spend the night (he indicated the teddy bear) unless you are married." She said that he performed an impromptu wedding ceremony for her and the bear, and later on in the conversation, she referenced her bulging gut and joked about being pregnant by the Teddy Bear.

Did I mention that she was a nasty old woman, telling me stories about waking up from an all-night drunk a block from her house and completely naked. She told me about answering a call from a telemarketer by moaning and telling him she was in the middle of sex.

Eventually I said I had to go, and she began to thank me. I started to protest, but she stopped me, saying "I want to thank you for finding me in that alley three weeks ago, It was the best I ever had." I laughed uproariously, because that is exactly my sense of humor. She followed up with a genuine thanks for being nice and said that our conversation would put her in a good mood for the rest of the day. I thanked her in return for the best conversation I've had in awhile. She made me promise that if I ran into her again I'd say hello. I promised, and meant it.

There's still a part of me that wants to believe she really was a witch, and that my kindness will earn me some sort of good luck charm from her, but I'm satisfied knowing that a bit of conversation made her day. It made mine as well.

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