Thursday, July 30, 2009

Shopping For Niceness 7/30/2009

Give or take the odd earthquake or two, my life here is quite undramatic.

Imagine my shock, therefore, when I was walking back from the gym this week, and witnessed an outburst of such uncharacteristic abuse, I nearly licked my ice-cream scoop clean from its cone.

Standing outside Whole Foods (I am seriously considering getting therapy for my addiction to that shop – it has easily replaced alcohol in my life), I was just minding my own business. I had just purchased a Baskin Robbins 50% fat-reduced vanilla cone, having tried the full-fat variety and instantly thrown it in the trash for being too sweet and creamy.

But I digress. So there I was, licking away, when I heard a commotion coming from the car-park opposite. Suddenly, a man with a red face emerged, shouting back at whoever had caused him such distress. “You homosexual!” he yelled. “Your mother’s a whore!”

The horror! The horror! Having spent most of my life in the UK, where insults are traded on a daily basis, and in just about every conceivable circumstance, I hadn’t realised how immune I had become to abuse. Since arriving in LA, I haven’t heard one person swear, much less raise their voice to another human being.

In fact, apart from the sound of my own screams when I am told how much I owe at the end of my daily shop in Whole Foods, noise of any kind is pretty absent from my life.

So, hearing the word “homosexual” being hurled with such venom (something I do not think I have ever experienced, even in the UK, although doubtless it occurs – probably in kids’ playgrounds) rather upset my equilibrium. And as for “whore” being used in conjunction with anyone’s mother, well, that was straight out of Cagney and Lacey, I was sure; and when did that come off the air? About 110 years ago?

You just don’t normally get this kind of behaviour in Beverly Hills 90210, the home of the TV series of beautiful people and even more beautiful Chihuahuas who everyone wants to make movies about.

Everyone here is so incredibly, wonderfully, nice, nice, nice. In Whole Foods, they ask me, every day, when I arrive at the cash register: “Did you find everything you wanted today?” and I always answer, very politely: “Yes, thank you very much.”

They are so nice to me, and I am so nice back, I have taken to helping pack my own bags, a gesture that has impressed them so much that they this week offered me a job.

But the man in the suit temporarily put me in a different frame of mind and reminded me how good it can feel sometimes just to let rip. I decided that next time the cashier asked me if I found everything I wanted, I was going to answer:

I wanted yoghurt and found it reduced to $2.69, and also white peaches at $2.49 a lb. I picked up cinnamon spiced bread at $7.49 a loaf which, quite frankly, is a joke – not least, because I didn’t want it until I saw it.

And besides: what do you mean by “want”? I want to find the meaning of life, but did I find it hidden among the packages of Vindaloo sauce at $4.99 a pack? If I bought a pot of your ridiculously priced water melon at $6.99, would I find the meaning of life in there?

I want to find a man who prefers to collect Marriott Rewards points than save money by going camping (fat chance, as I am discovering, among LA’s rather keen outdoor enthusiast males); or, failing that, any man.

I want to be able to play the piano to classical concert standard. Heck, I want to have a piano, which I think would help me in trying to accomplish this.

So, when you ask me if I found everything that I wanted today, the answer would have to be No.

Calming as all this LA niceness is, I’m still rather suspicious of the whole upbeat thing. I’ve always been a fan of what we call “healthy scepticism” in the UK, and have found the endless flow of LA goodness rather indiscriminate. How do you know what’s good or bad, if you don’t have some kind of scale by which to measure things by?

I mentioned this to an LA friend, who oozes kindness and generosity in his relationships with each and every person he meets. But how can you judge anything, if you don’t place the bar somewhere, I squealed across my salad, desperately trying to goad him into non-niceness.

His answer was that he doesn’t think we make the best judges, and he has no desire to acquire scepticism.

You see what I mean? Nice, nice, nice. God, I could have tipped his fish in Bechamel sauce over his head.

When I heard my car-park man in the suit ranting his rather feeble insults, it awoke in me a very strange desire: I suddenly wanted to hear someone say “You f*****g c**t” – just briefly; anything to remind me of who I once was and where I came from. So I phoned a British friend, who duly obliged.

The truth is, though: all this niceness is rubbing off on me. I realise how little time we Europeans spend in saying thank you to people for past and present kindnesses. We operate as individuals, often struggling against the tide, angry, and wondering why things are so against us. We are permanently suspicious, and not just sceptical, but often cynical to the point of nihilistic-induced depression.

Is it so bad to try to see goodness where you can? There’s more of it around than I realised. I may be suspicious of it, and probably, to an extent, always will be; I am, after all, a European at heart.

But no heart needs to be set in stone: the notion of its having the capacity to melt is not an utterly meaningless one. And I am finding that my suspicions are, to a large extent, unfounded.

So next time they ask me in Whole Foods whether I was able to find everything I wanted, I will acknowledge the truth, if only to myself.

For the reality is, that slowly, I am finding everything I wanted. I just hadn’t realised how long I’d been looking in the wrong aisles.

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