Monday, March 05, 2007

Boundaries and Very Happy People


Kathie Shoop

Are people who cross boundaries, physically and verbally, happier?

Maybe? Yesterday, sitting in Panera Bread, enjoying coffee while toiling away on my current novel, my attention shifted to two elderly (meaning mid-80’s) women and a young man (60ish) who approached them.

He boomed his hello to both ladies then squatted next to the one he was less familiar with, put his arm around her shoulder, made constant and hard eye-contact with her, and hung on every word she said. He spoke periodically, injecting words conveying admiration for the woman’s gumption, get-up-and-go and vigorous life. How does he know all this after just meeting her sixty-five seconds before?

Maybe he listened in on them for a while before approaching—-who would do that, be so rude and profoundly boundary-adverse?

I stared, waiting for a patronizing word, expression or eye-roll on the part of the man. Nothing. The guy was spellbound, absorbed in this woman’s words. For real. His eyes crinkled in laughter, he grinned and responded as though he’d waited his entire life to squat next to this woman and hear her theory on the merits of Groundhog Phil’s latest prediction.

Squatty-man made me think of another fella my husband Bill and I met years ago. We frequented—though often separately—the Brueggers in Shady Side. We compared notes on the new manager, Tom—his mega-watt smile, questions about our dog, the fact he remembered we had a dog and figured out Bill and I were married based on the dog’s description, the way our orders were ready upon arrival, but mostly his grin—his obvious joy at being alive.

“What do you make of that manager, Tom?” I asked.
“Got me,” Bill said.
“Got you, what? You think he’s actually that happy, that nice?” I said.
“Maybe. Probably.”
“Probably, my ass. Something’s up with that guy.” I said.

Turned out Tom was that nice. Too nice. He got fired for giving his favorite customers freebies (which turns out Bill and I weren’t on the list of favorite customers as he’d never even tried to force extra napkins on us, never mind the seven layer cookie by the cash register). But when Tom turned up at a competing bagel chain in North Oakland, he was just as happy, not a trace of bitterness that his overly solicitous nature had bitten him in the ass. Just more of the nice guy stuff.

These types of people never fail to make me smile and then I immediately, mentally drown them in suspicious thoughts. I wonder what came first—their open, joy at living then their push past the boundaries most of us observe out of politeness, laziness or unconcern? Or are these people boundary jumpers by nature and in the end their risks result in a richer happier existence even with occasional negative consequences?

Since Working Stiffs is the Mystery/Thriller Writer blog of choice, I must offer this brainstorm I had on the turnpike yesterday—I looked up at the man taking my money and the image of him as serial killer popped into my mind—I don’t know why. But, what if he started writing down license plate numbers, stalking people??? Just an idea. Maybe it’s been done, but if not, feel free to use it!


Judy Schneider said...

I love happy people! They lift my spirits and give me hope, especially after I've been cut off in traffic or snubbed by a supposed friend. The sad part is there just aren't enough happy people to go around. We remember them because they are so rare.

Thanks for the post, Kathie. Today, I'm going to try to be more happy.

Joyce said...

Nice blog, Kathie.

I think some people are just naturally happy. My sister, Carole, is one of "those people." She's very bubbly and always has something nice to say--the total opposite of me.

I like the serial killer idea, too. He'd have to know someone in the DMV or law enforcement to be able to run the plates. Or maybe he found a way to hack into the system?

kathie said...

Judy, I love those happy people, too. It just takes me a minute to get past my suspicions. Because, I've had (everyone has) my share of phoney baloney experiences, too. Joyce, I agree a lot of this is "natural," there is no question people who embody this sort of every day joy have either figured something out or just managed a more resilient life, somehow. Then of course, there's always the ax murderer who "was always so nice and friendly!"

Anonymous said...

Very thought-provoking post, Kathie. There's a girl at the local video rental store that is like that. She's an extremely peppy, happy person. My husband and I often look at her in awe and wonder if she's really that happy working at video store or if it's a predisposition she feels compelled to perform because she's desperate to keep her job. The writer's mind does wonder, doesn't it?

As for your turnpike serial killer idea, I can see that happening. As someone who spends A LOT of time on the turnpike, I'll probably never look at those booth workers the same way again.

Tory said...

I think the joy is contagious, and makes people forgive boundary transgressions.

I'd just like to point out, however, that there are a lot of UNHAPPY people out there who aren't very good at boundaries. And that's a lot more unpleasant.

kathie said...

Hi Kristine, I know what you mean about the toll-takers. This guy's face just instantly appeared in my mind as a serial killer--never thought of it before and I'm sure none will ever bring that thought to mind again.
Tory, you're so right. Unhappy people with no boundaries are sure to create a swell of negativity instead of the reverse! I guess it's what makes the world go 'round.