295. Reality Testing

The doctor asked the 80 year old man with a split skull what day it was, what his name was, where he was. The patient managed a few words but fumbled the date and who was president on a follow up question. In the medical and behavioral health business this is called reality  testing. It seems pretty clear in a medical sense when a neurosurgeon is probing an old man with a head cracked open like a  pistachio. But there are many other types of reality testing.

At the coffee shop recently, okay, TODAY, I was enlisted for my off the wall opinion on the current status of the Awkward Aardvark Café  where I javanate daily.

“Burrito, what do you think of the homeless shelter atmosphere that has developed here over the past few years?”

“You mean the living DSM V museum of mental disorders and coffee? Nice hat and shades, by the way. Is that a fake beard?”

“Yeah, that. Focus!!”

“Well, if you added some washers and dryers in the back room, that would complete the design of a small town, dirty sock hors d’oeuvres ministry on a cracker budget. Then, if we installed pull down Murphy beds along the north wall, we could squeeze in about 20 folks per night.”

“But we are still a business not a charity.”

“What would Jesus do?”

“He didn’t run a coffee shop!”

“C’mon Andrea! I’m sure at the carpenter shop there were loungers on his chairs and benches. He probably had stragglers and loiterers, even litterbugs doing jitterbugs. 21st century America did not invent the slacker. I’m sure he had to whack someone or just give them a hard Galilean stare every now and then. I’ll bet he had a no smoking sign posted above his sawdust piles.”

“Tobacco hadn’t been discovered back then, Mr. Anachronism. And the jitterbug comes from the Roaring 20’s. But customers are complaining now, the paying customers who fund this shop’s business. And some other business owners are complaining that our slackers are creating an unsavory environment outside on the square. They want to speak to the manager, which is why I am wearing this disguise.”

“Yes, but why go all Nazi on these folks? They are still human beings, right? They are our slackers. I mean there is Brenda the bread lady, and Lola the sticker picker, and Shelly the director of the United Nation of human ruminations.”

“It’s not them. We all like them. They are sweet in their own odiferous ways.”

“So, it’s Dudley?”

“No. Everyone likes him. He’s harmless and follows all the rules. He smokes across the street not at the outdoor tables.  And then he sweeps up others’ debris.”

“So it’s me, isn’t it?  This whole  ‘let’s talk’ thing was just a ploy to get me to confess, wasn’t it? Then I’m supposed to have a glimmer of insight and change for the better on my own, but I’m…”

“Stop! No, it’s not you. I’m seeking ideas from you. I’m desperate.”

“Wow, you must be floundering like a… flounder on the desert floor, floundering in a red hot iron skillet, popping with olive oil and pumpkin seeds to consult me. Let’s see, I can propose a committee to study this and then issue a report for a subcommittee to study and then make a proposal at a later time to the full house. Then, there’s the funding question. How’s that?”

“Not helping.”

“Okay, if the actual measurable offenses come from only two slightly creepy old guys, why not tell them as soon as they say or do something inappropriate? Then you don’t have to ride herd over the whole of humanity, picking winners and losers, the haves and the have nots. This is starting to sound like Marxism.”

“Like how?”

“Well, when X says something… say, Mr. X! That is inappropriate. If it continues, you’ll have to leave.”

“That’s harsh. Could you say it for us?”

“Let me see if I’m hearing you right– you want me to come up with the solution and the enforcement of said solution?”

“Yep. We’re scared to push, you know, be too bold. We’re young girls. Defenseless. Weak. You are old and don’t have long anyway. Most days you fail your daily reality test. Can’t you be the coffee shop cop?”

“No, you just don’t know what you don’t know. Let me share a bit of self defense wisdom that I learned while getting my hair cut an hour ago. The best in-house defense you can use against an intruder is Bee and Wasp spray. If you keep  a couple of cans open and at the ready, you can hit a man in the eye at twenty nine feet, essentially covering the entire coffee shop. Brilliant, eh?”

“You’re serious, aren’t you? Wasp Away. Hornet Hit Man. Bumblebee Tumble.”

“Sober as a gun slinging hairdresser, Sweety. And I don’t mean a blow dryer.”

“What if we miss and hit the wrong person or poison a muffin? Hit a baby in a stroller?”

“Collateral damage, Ma’am. The cost of urban warfare.”

“You are no help, really. We’re trying to find a way off this spider web and you are smearing honey on it.”

“Andrea, your metaphor is a bit obtuse, but I think you have hit the bull’s eye.”

“What?  I don’t follow.”

“The coffee shop is the web. Some critters come for the honey, i.e., the coffee, which is good, right? Some come for inappropriate reasons, to meet deep psychopathic emotional needs. Those are the guys you spray. It’s aversion therapy for free. You’ll see. Folks will applaud after you have cleaned up the town. You’ll be the new marshal in town. Just trust me on this one.”

“Well, will you spray the first offender? I mean, there’s the liability, the police, the drama.”

“Andrea, that’s why we have Joel on retainer. He knows how to handle the legally insane. He is a member of the Coffee Summit, for goodness sakes.”

“Thanks, Burrito. When I doubt myself, I think of you and feel so much saner.”