Compassion

glos·so·la·li·a – noun
incomprehensible speech, sometimes occurring in a trance state, an episode of religious ecstasy, or schizophrenia.

In short, this word is used to describe all types of gibberish. Come to think of it, I should probably change the name of this blog to Glossolalia, but for now I’ll dish up this reference: Some venomous snakes are pacified by glossolalia but the ones that aren’t will bite you in the face.

I was on the phone with a miserable woman named Marnie Anderson. She was demanding that I tell her when Mr. Kline would be available to come to her house to take her album order from her daughter’s wedding. “Well…, never” was my reply. Even if he had time, which he didn’t, there was no way in hell he was voluntarily going to this woman’s house. Marnie was a repeat customer which, under normal circumstances, would have been considered a good thing. Mr. Kline had photographed her eldest daughter’s wedding a couple years prior and they were very pleased with the results so, when it came time to unload daughter #2, they knew who to call. Unfortunately, some tragic events had unfolded during the interim so, when we got the call from Marnie about Maria’s wedding, the conversation was heavy with “oh that’s terrible” and “we’re so sorry to hear that.”

Having been dealt an extraordinarily bad hand, it seemed that both Marnie and Maria were stricken with some type of inoperable cancer and they needed to get this wedding done pronto because no one was sure how much longer Maria was going to live. Naturally, they wanted Mr. Kline to do the honors but, due to the short notice, he was already booked. Carl was still available and we all assured the dying Andersons that Carl was an excellent photographer and that everything would be fine. During the initial consultation, while we sat around the table looking at photo albums and discussing logistics, Marnie hugged her arms around herself, coughed, hacked, rocked back and forth in her chair and got teary eyed. We all felt terrible about her situation and Mr. Kline tried to be as helpful as he could by offering her a very nice package, complete with bride’s album and two parent’s albums, all at half price. This pretty much meant that the studio was taking a hit in the name of good karma and barely breaking even.

“I just need to know when Mr. Kline can come to my house so I can tell him what pictures I want in my album” Marnie groaned at me. I’m not sure if her condition also rendered her hard of hearing so I repeated myself, again. “I’m sorry but he is not able to come to your house. You can either send your order in with someone else or you can tell it to me now over the phone.” “Well”, she continued, “I need to talk to him about these photos so you find out when he can come to my house!” I see, too sick to visit to the studio but not too sick to talk to me like her bitch. I was beginning to wonder if I had a speech impediment and that maybe she had I thought I said “if you make vague implications while raising your voice, I’ll find a time when he can swing by.” Mr. Kline, by the way, was sitting right in front of me refusing to take the phone and making it quite clear he wasn’t going to her house. I decided to try a different tactic. “Ok”, I said, “Mr. Kline can come by your house at 1:00 in the afternoon on November 15th”, a date that was approximately eight weeks in the future. As expected, she didn’t like that so she said “you tell me when Mr. Kline will be in the office so I can call back and talk to him directly!” Yeah right, like he was ever going to speak to her directly. “He’ll be in tomorrow” I told her and hung up the phone.

All three of us; Mr. Kline, myself and Carl, had gone through the photos prior to sending them out and we all knew they were fine, or at least as good as they could be. There was nothing spectacular about them but that wasn’t Carl’s fault because, as he explained to us, there were a number of obstacles he had to overcome just to get any shots at all and a lesser photographer probably would have hidden in the bathroom and cried. Upon arriving at the Anderson residence, where the photos were slated to begin, it was obvious that it was going to be a bad day. The house was in total chaos with all kinds of people running around yelling at each other and no one even close to being ready. Carl was told to wait in the living room. After clearing a pizza box and some empty soda cans off the couch, he made himself at home and spent a few minutes admiring the Christmas tree. It was July. After awhile a diapered, but otherwise naked, toddler came and sat down on the floor to watch TV. By the time the girls were actually ready there was no time left to shoot at the house, which was a downright shame with the trash and Christmas decor and all, and so they went on to the church and spent the rest of the day playing catch up.

There is only one customer service policy at Kline’s Photography and that is : unfounded complaints are not tolerated.

Eventually Marnie gave up on her mission to coerce Mr. Kline in to making a house call so she agreed to make the the trip across town to place her album order and talk about the photos. Despite being the newest, smallest and weakest member of the team, I was left to deal with the Andersons by myself, a slight that motivated me to set my sights on Carl’s position in the company which I acquired a couple months later. I mean, the way I look at it, if I have to do his job then I should have the title and the paycheck to go with it. Right? I refuse to take orders from anyone who would hide behind me.

I sat across the table from both Marnie and Maria. Marnie sat at the edge of the leather couch while Maria huddled with a blanket in the corner. Both of them looked rough but Maria was in especially bad shape: emaciated, completely bald from the chemo, black circles under her eyes and a catheter taped to each arm. Clearly, she had gone downhill since the wedding and I don’t understand why Marnie even brought her to this appointment in the first place. Maria never said a word but I could hear her labored breathing over the gravelly drone of Marnie’s griping. Marnie didn’t look too hot either but she did still have hair and, as far as I could see, only one catheter. She opened with “I wish we had hired a different photographer. I should’ve known what would happen if Mr. Kline didn’t take the pictures himself.” Honestly, given the circumstances, I don’t see how anyone could have done any better. When I didn’t respond, she followed with “I can’t believe we paid all that money and this”, pointing at the proof book, “is what we get. When Mr. Kline shot my other daughter’s wedding, the photos were soooo beautiful.” “Actually”, I said looking up and making eye contact, “you only paid half.”

Freeze frame right here. So what is this? Some kind of sick cosmic joke? A moral test of compassion? Have I become the proverbial Job while God and the Devil are making bets as to how long I can tolerate this trash talking corpse? Can I look past her rough exterior and see through to her inner pain, thereby cutting her some slack, or will I reach across the table, yank that catheter out of her arm and stab her in the fucking eye with it?

I decided to try, key word being try, to be compassionate. I can hardly imagine the horror the two of them, mother and daughter, must feel while watching each other die of the same disease. I have no problems that could even be called problems when viewed in comparison to something like that. The thing was though, like a blood sniffing jackal, Marnie could smell my sympathy, was turned on by it, and evidently felt compelled to use it against me; prying at my conscious like a lever, until something gave. I then said the stupidest thing ever. I said “What is it about the photos you don’t like?” Que flood gates at stage left. I may as well have given her a sack of hammers and said “here, throw these at me.” What followed was a deranged critique of every single image in a 30 page proof book. A mind blowing shit storm of ridiculous nonsense which was only made worse by my calm explanations for why certain photos were shot the way they were. I had lost my respect for Carl when he left me with this bone crushing hyena but I still wouldn’t throw him under the bus for Marnie because she was wrong and that’s all there was to it. Like a two year old that asks “why?” all day, Marnie’s interrogation went on like a broken record. “Why is this picture so close? It cuts off Maria’s hair.” Maria’s “hair” that day was an ill fitting brunette wig of the Marge Simpson beehive variety. It sat askew on Maria’s head and the bangs were too long. There was no way to get a close up portrait of Maria’s face and not crop out part of her hair which, given how bad the wig was, should have been interpreted as a favor. “Well, why is that one so far away, you can’t even see Maria’s face.” Yes you could. “Why is this photo slightly crooked, why is that one in front of that ugly wall, why is this one so far from the building, why this, why that, why why why???” She just wouldn’t stop, or listen, demanding explanations for nearly every single image in her proof book and accusing me of unjustly defending the quality of the pictures. Somewhere around page 6 was a whole set of very nice portraits of Maria with an old guy in a tux. In an attempt to create a pause in the bitter machine gun fire spilling from Marnie’s mouth, I said “Aww, look at all these great shots of Maria with her dad.” “Maria doesn’t have a dad”, Marnie spat at me, “that is the groom.” Stifling a chuckle I said only “oh”. Right then I heard a rustle and a thump as Maria slid into a coma and her head bounced off the arm of the couch. Marnie didn’t seem to notice. “why is this one in the sun, why is that one in the shade? I thought you said Carl was a good photographer? Well let me tell you these are the worst pictures I have ever seen! Why is this one vertical, why is that one horizontal, why does this one have square corners?” She was relentless in her attack of rhetorical questions and never once did it seem to occur to her that most of the things she was upset about were her own fault for completely disregarding the time line on the day of the wedding.

I tried hard to hold on to my compassion, to remember that she was hurting and angry, but god damn, this situation was getting out of hand. Is it possible that being a psychotic, irrational bitch actually causes cancer? Because that would explain a lot.

Marnie continued turning pages and berating me. For awhile I stopped listening, tuning in to the sound of Lydia’s raspy breathing and wondering if she was going to die on my couch. Marnie talked a blue streak, barely pausing to breathe. Having shifted her voice into the background, she sounded like the teacher in a Peanuts cartoon, wonk wonk wonk. This was probably the only time in my life I actually thought to myself “what would Jesus do?” Oh, I dunno, maybe swoop down from the sky on a magical dragon and smack her in the face with his sandal. I don’t know if that’s what Jesus would do but that is definitely what I would do if I were him. I didn’t hear anything at all from pages 15-19 and focused instead on the transformation of Marnie Anderson into a talking donkey pinata; beaten by a child with a stick and a Kool Aid mustache until her side split open and candy rained down, delighting both kids and parents alike. Somewhere on page 20 I felt my seal start to slip. Like a pressure cooker, it only takes a small breach in the seal for pinto beans to spray 30 feet across the room thus coating the whole house with a mutilated version of your dinner. She was going on about why, and how much they paid, and being disappointed when I surfaced from my trance and said “look, if you don’t like that picture then don’t pick it!!! You have over 900 images here and your album only includes 48 so figure out which ones you want and write them down! You can mail this form back when you’re done.” I snapped the book closed, signaling a premature end to this little convo, and pushed it, along with the paper work into Marnie’s lap. Then I locked eyes with her and folded my arms until she started gathering up her things, including Maria, muttering something about how she was going to tell Mr. Kline about the way I had treated her. “Yeah”, I told her, ” you can tell him all about it when he comes to your house.”

I guess everyone has a breaking point.

A few weeks later, Marnie mailed in her album order. Maria died before the albums were complete. Marnie passed away 3 months after receiving her order.

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