Thursday, December 14, 2017

Euphoria At The Burger Joint

The line at the popular local burger joint was much shorter than usual when my fiancée and I arrived arrived with visions of freshly seared beef and milkshakes dancing in our heads. We couldn’t believe our luck: aside from the people currently ordering, there was only a middle-aged woman and a young couple standing in line in front of us. We didn’t notice anything amiss, at first.

Then I saw that the woman was not actually in line, but she was approaching the couple in front of us, apparently looking to strike up a conversation. Her hair was a bit unkempt, her make-up slightly excessive. And she was holding a thick wad of cash in one hand. She was beaming from ear to ear as she asked the couple in front of us, “Are you two on a date?”

“Yeah, it’s our first date,” said one member of the couple.

“How wonderful!” the woman exclaimed. “I can see love, and I can just tell that you two were meant to be together.”

The couple chuckled nervously, and the the woman started talking to them about the importance of Love in the Universe.

I watched what was happening in front of us with growing unease. I’ve seen this kind of irrational exuberance—and lack of boundaries—before during various psychiatric rotations, in patients who were manic or high. It usually didn’t end well. I noticed that my fiancée and I were standing closer together by now, and I glanced at her with a worried look that said, “What do we do?” She shot me a look back that said, “You’re the psychiatrist, you tell me!” We were both quite hungry, so leaving was out of the question. We stayed in line to await the inevitable.

Eventually, the woman held out a $20 bill to the male half of the couple and said, “Here, take this! I want to celebrate your beautiful young love!” As he reached for the money, the woman moved in closer, wrapping her arms around the guy and giving him a big kiss on the cheek. I think it would have been on his lips had he not turned his head at the last second. “Whoa!” he said, as he hastily backed away to free himself of her, with a new $20 bill in his hand.

Thoughts of worst-case scenarios crossed my mind. What if this lady got really agitated if we didn’t want to talk to her, or we didn’t want to take her money (or kiss her, for that matter)? I tried desperately to remember the brief training I got as a psychiatry resident on how to maintain a defensive stance when dealing with potentially aggressive patients. I stood a bit sideways to the woman, so my vulnerable belly was not as exposed. I kept my right foot, which was closer to her, pointed towards her and my weight on my left foot, in case I had to move in either direction. I crossed my arms and then pretended to stroke my chin with my right hand, so my arms would not be sitting uselessly by my side if I needed them.

Sure enough, the woman approached and asked us, “Are you on a date?”

I made sure not to look at her too directly as I mumbled, “Not really, just here for some burgers.”

Still, she held out a $20 and said, “Here, I have a present for you!” Not wanting to escalate the situation by saying no to her, I decided I might as well take it. I stuck my arm out as far as I could towards her, so that it would be more difficult for her to step closer for a smooch. I held my breath as she put the money in my hand and swiftly moved on to the next person in line behind me. “Whew,” I thought. “Guess that training really worked!”

As I looked at the $20 bill in my hand, I asked my fiancée, “What should we do with this?” Again, she would not let me off the hook. “You’re the one who took it, you decide!” I briefly debated paying for our meal with that money, but it just felt a little…crass. I paid with a credit card instead, and put the bill in my wallet. Once we got our food, I turned back towards the entrance to see what the woman was up to, but she had left, presumably to do good deeds elsewhere. I felt guilty, of course. It would certainly have been worse if she had been giving away Benjamins, but who knows what percentage of her personal savings she was wasting like this, one 20-dollar bill at a time?

But would it have made sense to call the police on her for causing a disturbance, or for sexual harassment, given her unwanted kissing? Even if they came, took it seriously, and hauled her to the nearest psychiatric ER, would there have been enough to involuntarily detain her? What if she had just won the lottery and was being very happy and generous?

Still, those burgers and shakes were tasty, and well worth the time spent standing in that particular line.

Readers, what do you think you would have done in this situation?