Oh Captain my Captain!
For medical reasons I won’t go into here (long explanation with a bit of gross) I wear an eyepatch on my left eye, which may well become a permanent addition to my wardrobe, since I am rapidly going blind in that eye and it looks really weird and creeps people out, so it’s easier to just cover it up rather than deal with all the flak for it. The patch, however, comes with it’s own problems.
The first time I wore it out in public, I was waiting in line at the coffee shop, and a little girl in line with her mother (I’m guessing about four or five years old?) noticed the patch and asked, in that just-below-a-yell voice small children have, why I was wearing an eyepatch, and if I was a pirate. I generally don’t like children, but oddly enough, I get along really well with them and can be creative when it comes to interacting with them, in spite of social anxieties. I turned to her and told her ; “Yup, I’m a pirate! We’re on shore leave right now while Captain Hook gets the ship fixed up…Pan and the lost boys took it out for a joyride last week and busted the hull. (in a loud whisper) No one’s supposed to know we’re here, though, since adults don’t know about Neverland, so don’t tell anyone, okay?” She responded with the loud child-whisper “Okay, I promise I won’t tell!” while her dad was barely stifling his laughter, and everyone else in line (and the baristas) were grinning and had that little shine in their eyes that nostalgia and childish wonder tend to bring. I loved that, so when a young child asks me about the patch, that’s my usual response, and has had pretty good results. If they’re an older kid, I might give them a heavily sanitized version of the medical reasons, and adults naturally get the medical explanation, sanitized as needed, if they ask politely. The kids aren’t the problem, however.
It’s the adults. Surprise surprise.
I’ve had a few who were pretty snide about it, a couple who wouldn’t call me by my name but just ‘that pirate kid’ or some other nickname, which I don’t mind that much since I hate my real name, but it gets a little old, you know? I even had one guy who, while I was at work, actually reached over the counter and tried to grab my patch off of me to see what was underneath. I have pretty good reflexes so I was able to jump back before he reached me and I told him I would appreciate if he didn’t try to touch me or grab at me like that, to which he just huffed and sulked. I’ve had a few accuse me of just wearing it for the attention…yeah, I’m really sacrificing my depth perception and 50% of my already crappy vision, wearing a patch under glasses which is SUPER uncomfortable, just for lulz…or been told that I shouldn’t be working if I’m disabled, or that they think I’ll creep people out and shouldn’t be in public, et cetera. I’ve had one or two who insisted on using pirate-speak the entire time I was talking to them…but I can handle that. However, people trying to take off the patch, yelling at me about it or purposely sneaking up on my blind side or doing other things like that is really getting old.
Any advice for how to deal with these adults who are either rude, obnoxious, nosy or sometimes flat out violent due to a medical condition I can’t help, particularly in a work setting when I can’t reply back snappishly or be rude right back to them as they so richly deserve? Especially if the patch becomes a permanent thing, which it’s looking more and more like it will every day. Can you or your army give me some scripts to deal with these jerks and preserve what sanity I have left?
Not Actually Hook’s First Mate
Oh, Matey, my Mate! Elodie Under Glass here, so very much rooting for you. I have been carrying you with me since you first wrote in. I have carried you through my life and thought of you and wished well for you.
For one thing, you are already excellent and your responses are already the best. I would like to send in my application to join your crew.
Scripts, yes – we can give you scripts. We can write you sassy lines and somber ones, ones that cut like a stiletto to the gut, ones that flash bloodlessly into throats so cleverly and swiftly that the person is still rocking on their feet grinning like a fool, not feeling that they’ve been cut, not knowing that they’ve been cut dead. We can give you scripts for strength and empowerment and prescriptions of you-go-Matey, and I want to, and I will. I also give you now a pair seven-league boots to keep kicking asses with, and a potion of courage and righteousness, and a cloak of warm encouragement. Equip these items and go forth, dearest Matey. We all think that you’re great.
But at the end of the day, there are two problems here. One is that you deviate from the definition of “normal” in a society that loves to pick at the white crow, that thinks it is justified in doing so. The other is that you work in a society where you need money, and I am not going to tell you to sass your customers if we are talking about your daily bread. In general, I am in favor of bread first, vindication later. Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, on a picnic blanket with a selection of side dishes and champagne, and a full and forgiving heart.
When I was very young, I was a starving scientist in the high North Woods. These were my Hunger Times, my winter. To have the money to purchase food during my quest for truth, I worked as a hostess at a Mexican restaurant famed for its female employees, who were all hand-picked by the manager to fit a specific type – short, curvy, white-skinned, with long red-brown hair and large drowned eyes, like miniature matching plumpish Ophelias. Unfortunately, the male customers of the joint felt that we were a sort of chocolate box, to be physically grabbed and generally creeped upon. And the manager said that we mustn’t be rude to them.
Absolutely bugfuck ridiculous right? But. I needed the free tortilla chips that the hostess job gave me. I needed the job so that I could afford to go to work at my equally poorly paid but infinitely beloved science job. And bless me, I needed the money. And as we all know, searching for another job when you’re already working two is a difficult and exhausting proposition. My mouthing off at any one point to any one person who had wronged me at work would have made me hungrier. Perhaps that wasn’t true. But it wasn’t something I could afford.
It wasn’t a very feminist job and it wasn’t a very nice situation. And I wasn’t as sassy and upstanding as I could be. I looked carefully at the money I was making, I looked carefully at the choices that I was making, and I realized that I was not going to get any support from my manager and that offending the Hamlets could cost me my job. Then I decided that for $10 an hour I could do it. For a few hundred bucks a week I didn’t mind being Ophelia. I would bitch about it, and later I would write about it, and I would make the Hamlets into fictional characters and have them be eaten by wolves. I would use them as fuel for my stories as I used their beautiful money to pay off my debts. Sure, my dignity was being violated and one day I would take it back with a small army of dragons, but this was my winter. Maybe for $10 an hour you can be a pirate. I do not know. I wish for you that you don’t need to.
The woods are a tough mistress. Lots of us live in them. Many of us can’t afford to stake our money on a principle. Many of us sacrifice our dignity on the altar of Customer Service, and we don’t do it because we enjoy it. Nobody goes to school hoping to be an Ophelia. Nobody wants to grow up to be a telemarketer. People don’t usually work in factories for spiritual fulfillment.
Can you, Matey? Do you live in the woods? Dr Glass, who is not from the woods, comes from a magical kingdom where the customer is always wrong. He thinks that you should sue customers for assault if they try to touch you at work and call the police if they attempt to remove your medical aid. He thinks that your line manager should leap up from behind the desk to throw these dreadful customers out by the collar. Once he was working in a shop and an annoying customer tried to touch him and he activated a trap-door known to all retail suppliers in the kingdom that drops them into a special pit of crocodiles, and his manager gave him a purple sash to wear and a minor knighthood. I don’t know if you’re from the woods or the kingdom, so I must only recommend that you spice your sass up or down accordingly.
I assume that you have already discussed your eyepatch with the people at your work, but if you haven’t, you may want to start with “I will be using this medical aid for the foreseeable future” and stating that it has attracted notice from the customers. Then ask how your manager intends to help you deal with that.
- ”Manager, my eye patch is attracting some attention, sometimes negative, from customers. Since it’s staying and so am I, how would you like me to handle that?”
- “O Dark Overlord Morgazor, is there a policy for handling customers who attempt to remove a medical aid?”
- “Captain Hook, may I ask you or a colleague to step in and deal with customers who become aggressive about my medical aid?”
- “Do we have a policy that states that rudeness or abuse towards customers will not be tolerated? Can we get one? Can we enforce it?”
- “Do we have a customer-service script for customers who are behaving rudely or aggressively?” (Note that some jobs actually do.) “Can we make one together?”
And at the point of contact at work, you may select any phrases you like from the chocolate box of Customer Service Announcements:
- “Sir, please step back, as you are not allowed to threaten me.”
- “Ma’am, I understand your concern, but touching me is inappropriate.”
- “This eyepatch is a medical aid. Please enter your PIN.”
- “That joke is very funny! But my name is X.”
- “I assure you, ma’am, that I am not using a medical aid for attention. Thank you for your interest.”
- “Thank you for your interest, but wearing my medical aid does not affect my job performance.”
- “I hope to provide the best service that I can, but if you are concerned about my disability, you are welcome to speak to my manager.”
- “Thank you for your concern. I wear this eyepatch because I have a medical condition. I am not in pain. Please spell your last name.”
- “I am sorry to hear that my eyepatch upsets you. Please step slightly to the left – no, the left – no, the left – yes, that’ll do. Manager! Another entry for the crocodile log.”
If the customers react poorly, as people who are overly interested in plucking out your feathers will usually do, look at them with vague blank interest and continue to serve them professionally to the best of your ability. Channel the mostly-fake but usually quite entertaining storytellers at Not Always Right - Not Always Right is not always true or believable, but it has remarkably good customer-service scripts. Repetition is mostly key, as people who feel that seizing eyepatches from people who are trying to serve them are not necessarily receiving signals from Planet Boundaries.
The other problem here at the heart of it all is that our societies don’t love the white crow. People whose appearances, abilities and ethics deviate from those of a static staring Ken doll seem are seemingly fair game for personal comments and boundary invasions. Pregnant people have their bellies touched and diets questioned; black people have their hair touched; people in wheelchairs find themselves being kidnapped; people with service dogs find their animals being petted; people get groped or attacked for wearing clothing; people of color are asked to justify why they’re not white; immigrants stand accused of hating various nations; people get awful nicknames or wrong names thrown at them like paint; everyone has at some point been assaulted with bad advice and unwanted public attention and deeply stupid conspiracy theories. Why? Because you were found guilty of being slightly different in a place where people on shore leave from Planet Boundaries could inflict themselves upon you. SO not your fault, Matey. I apologise that the crocodile pit is full. In the meantime, when you’re not at work, say to them just as you please.
The scripts for these things are always the same, with situational levels of sass and safety. Do you want to escalate the situation and feel vindicated, or do you want to walk away and feel safe? Are you in the kingdom or the woods? Do you want to carry a pair of pearl-handled revolvers or a cloak of invisibility? Do you scream “STOP HARASSING WOMEN” or do you channel your feelings into written words? All of them are good and fine. You cannot control the actions and reactions of these strange people from beyond our planet. If your daily bread and daily wage and daily sanity allow it, say what makes you happy, Matey. Say “Don’t touch me” and “That’s not my name” and “If you do that I will call the police” and “This is called an eyepatch. Fuck off.” They’ll be your words, not mine. Say them. You already have permission.
You are a fierce strong funny beautiful sexy person with one eye and a lot of spirit and worth to give. You’ve already found your words in your pirate stories for children. Find your stories for adults – the Army will surely help as well – and you’ll be even more golden. Stories are the way to the answer. “How Elodie Stopped Bring Ophelia.” “How Dr Glass Filled the Crocodile Pit.” “How the Little Kid In The Coffee Shop Decided To Grow Up and Change The World.” Each is the story of our becoming and overcoming, and no matter how small the victories are, each is a reclaimed power source like a wee little nuclear star.
We white crows are good things. We bring the winter out of the woods. We are hard monsters to be, but beautiful, for we begin the stories. This one is yours. I call it “How the One-Eyed Mate Went On and Kicked Ass Forever.”