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A Coward's Lament

by Rose Madeline Mula

 As a child I was excruciatingly shy and timid. But I tried not to let it bother me because I was sure that when I grew up, I would magically become supremely self-confident. I guess I secretly believed that on the eve of my eighteenth birthday, Tinker Bell would leave a gift-wrapped assortment of poise, assurance and savoire-faire under my pillow. But I blew it. I twisted a neck muscle that day so slept without a pillow. No pillow, no package from Tinker Bell. As a result, the silliest things can still intimidate me, such as...

Walking through the cosmetics aisles of a department store where hordes of glamorous, highly-painted saleswomen block every path, spray me with their newest fragrances, and recommend various beauty potions and creams. Suddenly I'm painfully aware of every flaw, blemish and imperfection. Now convinced that I am hideous, how can I spurn the remedies they suggest? Anxious to appease them and escape, I relinquish my credit card and order one of everything. But does that satisfy them? Oh, no. They insist on demonstrating how the products should be applied. They plunk me down on a high stool and slather on their miraculous foundations, eye shadows, concealers, blushers, and lip glosses, as two dozen complete strangers gather around to watch. My worst nightmare! I'm a gawky fourteen-year-old again, and the homecoming queen and her court are snickering at me. 

I'm also intimidated by anyone in a uniform, including kids in baseball suits collecting for the Little League at the supermarket entrance. Why in the name of Lou Gehrig aren't they out playing baseball instead of begging in the streets? And since I feel this way, why do I always make a donation when I enter the store? And why do I feel so guilty when I don't put another dollar in the can the same kid thrusts at me on my way out of the store? Especially since I don't have a dollar when I leave anyway.

Uniforms alone are bad enough, but show me a uniform plus a badge and I'll show you a blithering idiot. No, no! Not the person wearing the uniform and the badge — me. I see a policeman fifty feet away, and I'm ready to confess to anything. I'm sure I must have been driving 21 miles per hour in a 20 MPH zone ... I was jaywalking in my driveway ... someone reported me for going through the 6-items-or less express checkout lane with a six-pack of Milky Ways and a package of gum ... or I had an amnesia attack during which I gunned down thirty-seven people. Just read me my rights, Officer, and I'll go quietly.

I also find uniformed Girl Scouts daunting. I'm really tired of that humdrum assortment of cookies they come around with every year, but do I tell that to the little girl in green? Of course not. I tell her I love them all, and I buy two boxes of each. Worse yet, over the next couple of weeks I stuff every last one into my mouth, even though I don't like them, and they're not on my low-carb diet. It's bad enough to be intimidated by a Girl Scout, but to be bullied by her cookies once she has left is really stupid. Why don't I simply throw them away? Because to waste food is a sin. (Oh, yes, God pushes me around, too.)

But it's not just the Almighty, uniforms, and inanimate cookies that intimidate me, I've also been known to cower before large dogs, chihuahuas, and an occasional parakeet (caged).

Hairdressers have this strange effect on me, too. I always feel so vulnerable with my hair soaking wet. And it doesn't help to have a haughty, perfectly-groomed stylist toss his luxurious mane in disbelief as he tsk-tsks about the terrible condition of my hair. When he informs me accusingly that it's dying (in fact, it may be too late — it's probably already dead), I feel like an unfit mother. I'm so ashamed I can't possibly refuse his suggested costly conditioners and special formula shampoo (the price of which makes the conditioners seem like a bargain). When he finishes styling my hair, it actually looks worse than it did soaking wet, but I smile and gush, "That's great! Thanks!" and rush home to rewash and restyle my disastrous "do" before I run into anyone I know ...

...which reminds me — I'm also demoralized by friends I bump into whenever I dash out for just a minute without makeup and in my grungy jeans to buy a quart of milk. They're all waiting for me — in the parking lot, by the dairy counter, at the check-out register .... And, of course, they all look fantastic.

Speaking of looking good, women whose tresses are long, straight and blonde are one of my bugaboos. I just know they dated the captain of the football team from middle school through college, that they sweet-talk their way out of speeding tickets, they never buy Girl Scout cookies, and they look so good with their hair soaking wet no one would dream of suggesting that they need special conditioners and shampoos.

I'm also reduced to a quivering mass of insecurity by men who are prettier than me, pushy car dealers, and drunks who misdial and wake me at three in the morning (I actually apologize to them because I'm not the person they're trying to reach).

But this worm is going to turn. I went to the library yesterday to get a book on how to be more aggressive. Unfortunately, they were all out. I'm on the waiting list—after the Little League fundraisers, the local police force, the hairstylists' union, Girl Scout troops 1 through 38, and the entire sales staffs of Macy's and Bloomingdale's. It's not fair. They don't need any help. I do!

I was going to ask the librarian to put me at the top of the waiting list, but I didn't dare. Librarians have always intimidated me.

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.

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