Strange Encounters LA: Starbucks Bathroom Brawl

I think everyone can agree that mental healthcare in this country, heck this WORLD, isn’t where it really should be. We can rightfully assume this is because mental health hasn’t been at the forefront of American concerns over the last 100 years. It’s only now starting to morph into it’s own cause with more research, awareness, and understanding.

The following post isn’t at all meant to be incendiary; that being said, I’m going to approach this with humor (shocker) in the hopes that my readers will chill the freak out and not badger me with claims of insensitivity.

It all started when I walked into one of my two neighborhood Starbucks Coffeehouses (both are always packed, not unsurprisingly). This one is at the corner of a very well-known intersection and usually has a line stretching to the door at any given hour of the day. Its location may be ideal for some, but I personally despise it. It’s statistically impossible for me to secure a table most times I go–since I work from home often, it’s easier to focus in public without Netflix nagging me (I purposefully leave my headphones at home).

This morning, though, I walked in to one of the most beautiful sights to appear before my eyes in what could be my entire life.

HYPERBOLE!

Shining forth in the glinting sunbeams of our Solar System’s own star was a table situated in front of a gloriously large window with an electrical outlet right beside it.

An ELECTRICAL OUTLET, PEOPLE.

Do you know how prime a table like this is?! You’re more likely to successfully fish a needle out of a 50 foot haystack. While wearing a blindfold. In the snow.

Naturally, I screamed loud enough to rattle the windows and attracted more than a couple of stares from other patrons (just kidding, no screaming, at least not audibly).

I placed a book on the table to reserve my spot, ordered my white mocha and pumpkin bread, and returned to my table where I took a good ten minutes to unpack my gear and settle into what I thought would be my home for the next few hours. This ritual is not unlike that of a dog circling it’s bed 1000 times to make sure it’s just right before they plop down and begin to drool in a happy slumber.

I enabled the internet connection and had just started to respond to some pressing emails (like my subscription to mommy blogs, LEGO rewards points, etc) when she walked in.

Mussed hair, angry expression, 3 coats including a very large parka, and 4 different bags including one on wheels. She was either about to set sail on a cruise to the Arctic, or she was homeless.

She pushed her way through the crowded store and into the bathroom. Did I mention that my table was the one closest to the Whizz Palace (thank you, Leslie Knope, for that endearing moniker for the toilet room).

She brushed past me on her way in, whacking me with her coat, which I ignored because it was probably a mistake. Right?

Not 5 seconds later, I jump out of my skin when I hear this woman absolutely lambasting someone in the restroom.

That’s rude, I thought. She probably doesn’t even know the other person in there.

And then…I realized it wasn’t that kind of bathroom.

photo-8

This was a “one person at a time” bathroom and unless she had someone hiding in that suitcase, she was yelling at herself. Loudly.

At such a volume that everyone in the store began staring at each other with a look of “well this is AWKWARD” plastered all over their faces. Eventually, the people nearest the commotion settled their eyes on me as I was the one closest to the door.

Here’s where my life froze for 10 seconds. On the one hand, she could just be an unstable lady that yells at herself and causes no harm to anyone. On the flip-side, she could be an unstable serial killer, pumping herself up in the mirror to kill everyone enjoying a hot beverage in the waiting area with yours truly being the first one to knock off.

“Stop it,” my brain commanded, “she’s not going to kill you. Or is she?!”

I got up, calmly walked over to the baristas and let them know, “Hey, there’s some lady in the bathroom that doesn’t seem to be ‘all there’ yelling at herself.”

“Oh goodness,” a particularly mellow baristo (is that the male form of that position?) casually said while the girl standing next to him followed me back to the bathroom. She put her ear to the door to confirm that the lady was indeed inside and was almost blasted backward with the force of the noise from the woman holding herself captive in the bathroom. She knocked (not sure that was the best move) and received nothing in response.

“Well, we called the cops” came the Mellow Man, and each of them walked back to do their jobs. He paused for a moment, looking at me from over his shoulder and said, “you might want to move, just in case she comes out.”

It took me about 5 seconds to move all of my junk and settle into a table on the far side of the room–no ritual this time.

5 minutes later, the cops still weren’t there and the woman walked out of the bathroom, muttering loudly, and made her way to the bus stop. She boarded a bus without paying some 10 minutes later. I’m not sure if the authorities were called off, but they never did show up.

In retrospect it was kind of funny that I ran the entire gamut of emotions in that 15 minutes that woman was in the store. In the moment, though, I was genuinely afraid for my life as were the other people in the store (judging by some of the looks on their faces).

Why is this woman wandering Los Angeles by herself? Where is her family, and what can be done to help her?

I think the sad answer is ‘nothing’ which kind of put a damper to the Holiday music streaming from the speakers.

Just another reminder to be thankful for everything I have–most especially my friends, family, and sanity.

Advertisements

Operation Santa: Finale

Last time I wrote, I’d just picked up 8 special letters addressed to Father Christmas from some very deserving individuals [skim back 2 blog posts to begin at the very beginning of this Yuletide Saga]. It was then time for me to strap on my boots, crimson ensemble, and rouge my rosy cheeks to take on the most challenging role Hollywood and the World Over had to offer.

No, I didn’t actually dress up.

But I did have a Mrs. Claus in my roommate, G.

Even my fake persona has had more luck in the Love Department than I have. But I digress.

First, I made a list of all the kids and what they had specifically requested (if anything). Then, I checked that baby twice. Everyone was deemed well behaved (nice) and coal didn’t make the gift list this year.

Since there isn’t a Wal-Mart in Los Angeles that could confidently guarantee my safety and well being after dark, we headed to Target–the one at the foot of the Hollywood Hills.

What we found was more than a little discouraging in that the toy aisle had been sufficiently picked over and the merchandise was absolutely sparse.

Granted, this was only a few days after Black Friday, but one would think they would’ve restocked already!

Also, can someone tell me how a hunk of molded plastic costs so darn much?! The toys for the under 1 year olds are $30 a pop! What is Playschool trying to do to me besides rob me blind?

We skipped the electronics aisle altogether and went straight for the more traditional toys. Matchbox cars were on sale, some of the smaller lego sets were under $10 and we got a giant bag 15 mini-jars of Play-Dough. We also picked up some art supplies, puzzles, clothing, and toy dinos.

All for under $100. That’s less than $10 for each of the 11 kids, which, to me, is a mega deal.

photo-5

Now, I have to wrap the presents in festive wrapping paper, and load them into mailable packaging. When I get to the post office, I’ll pay the postage (they’ve given me the zip codes) label them with the number associated with the individual letter, and the head elf at USPS will slap on their mailing address.

Since I ended up saving quite a bit on toys by shopping discount and sale items, I think I will pick up a few more letters since the Post Office is constantly receiving them through Christmas.

I’ve heard from quite a few people reading my blog who were disappointed that Operation Santa wasn’t held at their local Post Office. It’s a real shame considering kids from all over write to Santa and some will never get anything in return.

Next Fall, I intend to start a fundraising campaign to get enough money to serve 100 children in my area.

Until then, I’ll invest in some reindeer and a wheeled sled (since the odds of a white Christmas in LA are fairly slim), and continue to live vicariously through the children for whom I am purchasing these freakin’ awesome toys.

Follow my blog by clicking the “CLICK ME NOW!” button to the right to stay up to date on my adventures!

Operation Santa: Part II

See that little button to the right that says “CLICK ME NOW”? Do it.

In case you missed it, I just explained the basics of Operation Santa in the post right before this one. If you haven’t read it yet, the contents of this blog may be a tad bit confusing, just sayin’. Shuffle back a step and fill yourself in first.

Armed with the address of the only post office in Los Angeles that participates in the program, I hopped in the whip and headed to South Central…you know, the part of the city that’s notorious for gang wars, the advent of both the Crips and the Bloods, and the movie “Friday”, “Next Friday”, and “Friday After Next” (they really pushed that franchise past its expiration date).

Yeah. That’s where you gotta go to participate in this program.

Is it any wonder that they can’t get the fru fru people from Beverly Hills to come participate?

I journeyed to this fabled land of street crime in broad daylight; however, it’s reputation did have me a little nervous since, for all intents and purposes, I’m from the suburbs. The violence has dropped dramatically, I should note (although, if I hadn’t noted it, I could’ve kept you on tenterhooks wondering if I witnessed a drive by or a street pharmacy transaction).

I walked into what must be a USPS distribution center to a small room filled with Christmas decorations:

photo-7

Cute. Quaint. There were cookies.

I ate quite a few of them…which isn’t going to help with my half-marathon training. But I digress.

On each of the 4 tables, piles of letters addressed to Santa at the North Pole lay scattered. Some were obviously scrawled by small children, others were certainly written by teens and, yes, even adults. Apparently, there are a number of people who have heard about this program and wrote in with requests for their children and yes, even for themselves.

photo-6

Unfortunately, a majority of the letters were written for the sole purpose of requesting laptops, iPads/iPods/iEverythings, gaming consoles, and other assorted electronics that cost more than my monthly wage.

Not gonna happen, at least not from me. It’s surely a sign of the times that small children are more concerned with those types of things than a doll, train set, or a nice Christmas sweater.

There was one letter that specifically asked for on iPad, a bed, and money to pay for his Aunt’s cancer treatments. Oh. WOW. And I actually was lucky enough to personally put that one into the hands of a wealthy businessman who pledged to fulfill as much of that list as he could.

For myself, I decided to search for letters that didn’t automatically jump into the $200+ category. I ended up with 8 letters serving 11 children in the LA area. Here are some of my favorites of my bunch (all spelling, punctuation mistakes, and grammatical errors are original. I’ll cut them some slack since they’re children.) :

1) From Angela, age 8: “Dear Santa Claus! My name is Angela, I’m 8yrs old. May you come to my house, please. I do not want anything, except to see you. Please. To: Santa From: Angela Please give it to Santa at the North Pole”

CUTE, right? This next one tugged at my heartstrings like 2 Christmas elves playing holiday tug-o-war:

2) From Litzy: “Dear Santa Claus, How is your Health how do you feel by going around the world and seeing different places. I want my life to change in shcool and in my house, And I also want to fix everything want I did wrong. And I hope you read my card. Love Litzy.”

MAN, if that isn’t a letter filled with emotional baggage, I don’t know what is. How does Santa get through all of these without having an emotional breakdown?

I also picked up a letter from a 22 year old mother of 2 sons under 6 years old that requested those pesky electronic items. At the end of her letter, she acknowledged that those were astronomical requests, and that she would just like Santa to bring something for them.

One letter, written in black crayon by a little one named “Robert” asked simply for toys, clothes, and shoes.

Another little one wrote a letter with 20 very specific items including a a Lego girl set, a puzzle, 1 fake flowr, a La La Loopsy Roller Coaster, and lip gloss. I knew I couldn’t fill every single wish she asked for, but I would sure try to get most of her list.

So, it was off to Target for me! And that’s where I’ll begin Episode 3.

If I Was a Fat, White, Jolly Man…Part 1

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Why?

PRESENTS.

Don’t act like that’s not your favorite part of the Holidays. Whether it’s the giving or the receiving, most human beings enjoy the ceremony involved with picking the perfect present for a loved one or picking a really horrible one to see their reaction.

Have I done this before? Maybe.

Guess I shouldn’t have re-gifted that rose colored ball of twine.

I love presents, no shame in my game, and I’ve always been lucky enough to receive them throughout my life. My mother wasn’t always able to afford them on her own, I came to find out:

Sometime in middle school, I remember opening up a bunch of presents that I hadn’t specifically asked for. ‘Great!’ I thought, ‘bonus gifts! Some of these are weird, like that XL Eeyore sweatshirt that clearly would never fit me. But I’ll take it!”

Then, I opened a soft-backed copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My mom knew I had that book already–I was obsessed with it and had read it several times over. Why would she buy me one again?

The Angel Tree that sat by the altar of our Catholic Church immediately flashed across my memory. I realized that the poor children my class had been collecting gifts for were going to my sister and me. I wasn’t ashamed, like I think would be my response now as an adult; rather, I simply became fully cognizant of how ‘in need’ my family was. My mom did a great job of shielding our poverty from us kids and it must have been really difficult for her to admit she couldn’t give us a big Christmas that year and to ask for help.

My mom rocks. 

And I still have that Eeyore sweatshirt and HP book.

Santa is integral to my holiday season. I don’t know when I officially found out he didn’t exist, but it certainly didn’t scar me for life. And in case you haven’t had your daily cry today (am I the only one that has one of these?) you can:

1) Watch surprise military homecoming videos on YouTube,

2) Go chop some heinously strong onions, or

3) Picture a child waking up to absolutely nothing on Christmas. 

Do all three of those and your tear ducts will be drier than the Mojave desert in July.

I had to do something because #3 is a reality that hits millions of kids globally every year.

While watching a Netflix documentary (yay!) called “Becoming Santa”, I came across a program organized by the United State Postal Service called “Operation Santa”. Children (most of them impoverished) mail letters to the North Pole every year and ask Santa to bring them presents since their families can’t afford any. A citizen takes the letter, buys the gifts, pays for wrapping and shipping, and returns it to the Post Office for them to affix an address label to send to the child.

Unfortunately, it’s not very well publicized and it’s really only available in big cities. Click the above link to check out the program and to see if there is one near you.

I decided that this Christmas, I’m going to give back through this program and I hope you stay tuned to read about my magical transformation into the overweight grandpa we all know and love.

operation-santa-claus-1-797592