Sunday, December 2, 2007

Terms of Endearment

Why do we feel comfortable addressing some people with sweet terms of endearment while sticking to "Sir" or "Madam" for the rest? With all the problems in the world, you're wondering why I even care. Possibly because it's a nicer topic than war, famine or politics. But the simple truth is, it's because it happens to me. A lot.

I've never been sure if it's my towering 5'1" height which visually signifies me as a not full grown adult or the fact I have a polite disposition and am nothing to fear. But there's something about me which makes people substitute one of those terms instead of utilizing the name my parents slapped on my birth certificate. Then again, maybe childhood is where it all started and I just got use to it. When I'd call Mom's name to ask for something, she'd often reply with, "Yes my Darling?". Dad use to call me "Shug", which in the south is short for Sugar. I grew up...well, chronologically...but the sweet name calling followed me into adulthood.

Most grown women I know bristle at being called "Honey"...unless it's by a handsome hunk of mankind rather than a guy with a comb over working on his 5th sexual harassment suit. I've gone to lunch with a group of women and everyone was addressed as "Ma'am"....until the waitress cheerfully inquired of me, "And what can I get ya Honey?" Adults have aimed such terminology at me for so long I mentally cataloged it as "Short southern female with normal I.Q. not allowed to age."

Except on Friday, it did matter. Because my ears picked up on intonation which was both funny and eye opening.

Friday is bowling day for my senior citizens and we utilize the alley at the local air force base. They refer to it as "fun socializing" while I consider it "cheaper than a shrink". Hey, where else can you throw things and not get in trouble? I'd missed several weeks due to a head cold and scheduling problems. As the "Go-To" person in charge of making sure everyone else has fun, it's nice when people notice you're missing...and aren't angry about it. The morning started out with my 90 year old lady stating, "We've missed you Dear," as she put her arm around my shoulder and softly kissed my cheek. Another lady, my Mom's age, added, "Hey Darling. Give me a hug". My group hugs a lot. Being in public doesn't slow them down. I just know someday they'll misread a stranger's somewhat taken aback expression and scurry over with arms wide open to include them. After being greeted with another "Hey Honey!", my brain and curiosity started keeping track of Who said What. I listened to the seniors greet each other. By name. Out of fourteen people, not one called me by my birth certificate designation.

The Alley staff is mostly retired military, from the desk help to the maintenance guy. My body went into alert mode the moment Maintenance Guy, in an unusual display of public affection, draped his arm around my shoulder. Translation: I was talking to someone else and didn't notice it was him until too late. Don't get me wrong. There has to be some redeeming qualities to him besides the fact he can fix whatever breaks. At least two women found him attractive enough to marry, even if the first one changed her mind. Envision a small, wiry guy with gray hair and a mustache. Add to that an ego larger than his body and a mouth to match. The seniors have never been sure how to take him because he has two modes: a scowling "Don't bother me!" and the rare "Hi, I acknowledge your presence but I'm busy."

Arm draped around my shoulders Maint. Guy growled, "And where the hell have you been?" This is as close to, "Gee, we missed you," as he's capable of uttering. Answering that I'd been sick, he replied with a disparaging comment about my mental health with all the suaveness of a third grader. Thank heaven I don't have pigtails to pull. Then, sounding much like James Cagney in a 40's gangster flick he added, "Well Sweetheart, now that you're back, try to keep them from breaking the equipment." With that he walked off. As 90% of me internally jumped up and down at being released, 5% of me made a mental note not to launch the bowling ball in his direction, while the remaining 5% muttered quietly,"Sweetheart?"

The Assistant Manager had the day off but he'd come in to see us anyway. He's five years younger than I, but just became a grandfather for the second time. I jokingly call him "Dad" or "Grandpa" because he can't believe I'm the older of us. We use Friday to commiserate on work conditions. Whoever had the worst week talks, the other listens. It's like dealing with a male version of myself...only one who bowls much better. When he asked if he could bowl with us on my lane I answered, "Sure Sweetie." My brain instantly shot back: dear lord, it's contagious. Just because he's like your male counterpart doesn't mean he has to get called that stuff too.

Then there's the new guy at the counter. We've seen him bowl and he's impressive. He's only been there with us a couple of times over the last month but sadly, the seniors seem a little afraid of him. Okay, even supposedly open minded me did a double take the first time he stepped up to the line in the lane next to me. In his late 20s, he's an average white male...except for the number of tattoos, piercings and body hair as art. As I recall, his hair was spiked with a purple streak at the time, he had a wicked looking goatee and his black tee shirt featured an intimidating phrase. The kind that made you take a step back after reading it. When our favorite employee, the Asst. Manager, advised this guy would be working the desk, the seniors' expressions were akin to being told a small version of the world's meanest Hell's Angel was now their caretaker. Now that Tattoo is working the front desk, his hair color and style are back to boringly normal and the face jewelry is at home. Friday the Asst. Manager announced Tattoo had bowled a 300, the first person to do so this year, and was getting his PBA card. The seniors burst into applause, then looked startled at their spontaneous acceptance of him. Later on, when I paused in my conversation with the Asst. Manager to point out that Tattoo needed to ask a question, HE was startled to be acknowledged. As he apologized and offered to wait, I felt somewhat ashamed. Did I actually deserve to be called all these "sweet" names if I had the ability to make another human being feel he wasn't allowed to speak until spoken to? Had my attitude somehow silently conveyed our differences made him inferior?

Nope. Thank heavens. Turns out that like me, he's just polite.

We've bowled there for almost ten years now. Most of the seniors have become accustom to reminding the counter person who they are...every week. After one week, Tattoo knew their names. As I waited in line to pay, I listened to him ask how they were or how they did. By name. When it was my turn, he said, "Hey [insert my birth name here]. Glad to see you! We've been worried about you. And I do apologize for butting in earlier. I could've waited."

Matching my sincere tone with his, I laughed that I'd actually interrupted myself... which was a nice change of pace since most of the time other people did it for me. We talked for a minute and I found myself noting what a nice smile he had and the twinkle in his eyes. I wished him a good weekend and he replied, "Thank ya Darlin'. You too. See you in a couple of weeks."

Redemption comes in the strangest forms. Next time, I'm gonna ask him to tell me about those tattoos. And if he's not careful, my attention to detail might get him hugged by a bunch of grandmas overflowing with love.

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

Listen here, sweetie... or is that darlin'...? yeah, I know what you mean... here I am almost 60 and kids in their 30's and 40's working the counters or registers or whatever always greet me with how are you today honey? one even called me baby!!! dang! Now there are times it does bother me, like whan a man, not my husband or friend or relative, calls me honey in that derogatory tone that tells you he doesn't care to know your name, because women are...fill in the blank... Up north we don't do a lot of sweet talk to strangers, we are polite, but not overly so... it took me some time to accept this southern way of greeting, but I'm adjusting... truly I am, honey! :-)