Friday, June 01, 2007

21st Century Raptors

She is known as the Flower Hat Lady. Or sometimes only as M, now that we know her real name. Marilyn.

Marilyn is a weekly customer at the bakery where I work as a part-time retail employee. Her favorite things, from what I can tell, include headwear with faux floral attachments, sweatpants, and orange poundcake topped with chocolate ganache. Her least favorite things, from what I can tell, include powdered sugar, carcinogens, and having her time wasted by impudent pastry chefs who refuse to make orange poundcake with chocolate ganache on a daily basis. Her hobbies include shopping, bus transit, and passive aggression.

Each week, Marilyn takes a bus from the assisted living facility where she lives with two obvious goals in mind. One is to run her weekly errands. The other is to drive normally civil people to acts of outrage or violence. Shuffling through the doors of a local bakeshop or supermarket, in pigtails, with multiple shopping bags in her hands and tote bags slung from each shoulder, she is both hunter and gatherer. What she gathers are foodstuffs for the week ahead, pink lipstick, and additional bags that are likely used to store other bags. What she hunts for are part-time retail employees, from whom she hopes to wrest exasperated looks, curses, and whenever possible, the burning tears of utter frustration.

In the movie “Jurassic Park”, there is a scene in which the park game warden, Robert Muldoon, describes how the park’s genetically engineered velociraptors throw themselves at the electrified walls of their pen, looking for weaknesses. They never attack the same place twice, he says. They remember. When Marilyn enters the bakery, I am the electrified fence. She is the pack of cunning, prehistoric carnivores, systematically testing me for weaknesses. She hurls herself repeatedly against the edges of my social tolerance, teeth bared, talons curled like the handle of her cane.

In fact, Marilyn doesn’t attack a different spot each time, but rather goes for the same few spots over and over, which makes her not as smart as a velociraptor, but much more irritating.

A typical transaction with Marilyn goes as follows:

Upon approaching the counter, she inquires about the pastry offerings for the day, despite her clear view of the pastry rack, neatly labeled with signs, the contents of which she called a few hours earlier to verify.

You direct her attention to the pastry rack, highlighting today’s special items.

She then points to several pastries, having you name and describe them, after which she dismisses each one with a wave of her hand.

[The electrified fence trembles. Sparks fly.]

With a coy smile, she tells you how much she likes orange poundcake with chocolate ganache, to which you reply yes, I know, you told me last week, and the week before that.

She then orders two bouchons, as she does every time she visits the bakery, making sure that you examine the surface of each cake for any signs of charring. If any two cakes pass this inspection, they can be boxed.

As you do this, she tells you she doesn’t eat anything burnt, she’s had cancer three times, to which you nod, wondering if there’s actually any link between cancer and overcooked pastry.

Around this time you observe the line of customers, checking their watches, shaking their heads or simply gawking, that has formed behind Marilyn.

[The fence shakes violently. More sparks.]

She turns to the bread display and asks for one loaf of Buckwheat Walnut, specifying that it have the least darkened crust. You go through the loaves, setting two of them side by side so she can compare their complexions. She chooses one, waits for you to put it in a bag, then chooses the other.

[The fence bulges. Sparks, smoke. The faint smell of singed dinosaur.]

At this point you start to wish you were Robert Muldoon, who wouldn't hesitate to shoot Marilyn in the neck with a tranquilizer gun. Then you recall the scene in which Robert Muldoon is mauled to death by raptors after being outsmarted by them.

Miraculously, the fence holds. You suppress your animal rage. And after affirming her love for orange poundcake one final time, Marilyn allows you to package her order and complete the sale.

In the calm, buzzing aftermath, your co-workers congratulate you. It's clear you have the makings of a good, strong perimeter fence, basically impermeable to attacks from prehistoric predators.

But if “Jurassic Park” taught you anything, it’s that dramatic encounters with man-eating velociraptors can and will happen again. All you can do is look to next week, and brace yourself for the long, tiresome string of sequels.

Labels: ,