Kurtiss Limbrick is an American Poet, born in the Midwest, but raised all over the country. He now resides in St. Petersburg, Fl, and composes poetry, lyrics and stories. It his belief that there is no greater muse than our shared human experience, and the spirit that lies within us, which holds the potential to rise above it all, and to observe this great drama we call life.
Encounters With Ego
A woman sits at a table, with her hands folded neatly in front of her and a kind, open smile on her face. She works with a small co-op up in her city to help make prosperous the lives of those willing to let abundance into their lives. Some days, her job entails setting out a sort of Information Table, at which she sits, patient and smiling for passersby to take interest and approach her with inquiries into what her booth is about, what her cause is, and how they might benefit.
Today happens to be one of those days.
A man walks up - and he does so the way men will, with his shoulders hunched and his arms crooked, posed alongside the hips as if he were walking through the Wild West; ready to Draw his Weapon, ready to Prove himself a Man to anyone he comes across.
He saunters up to the table and nods his head once at the woman, puffing out his chest to emphasize his height and position above her. He asks:
“What’re you doin’ there?”
She looks at him with a calm expression on her face, after having watched his performance, and very courteously waited for him to finish making his entrance, and she promptly replies:
“I’m collecting signatures! You see sir, I work up in town with—”
“Now hold on, hold on—hold your horses there, girly. You’re doin’ what now? Collecting signatures?”
“Well, yes, I’m asking people who live nearby to sign up to—”
The man interrupts again, waving away her expletive and shaking his head as if he had been misunderstood.
“You want my signature?” He asks her, rearing back and spreading a burly hand upon his chest, acting as if she had asked him some audaciously personal question. “How dare you,” he barks,
“demand of me,” getting down to eye-level with her and leaning his face in close to hers, “ANYTHING!”
With that he stands up straight and breathes in as deeply as he can, like an ill-tempered child preparing to stomp his foot at this snide, pompous woman in her business-casual suit. Got her a little stand to do some R n’R around the neighborhood! Well goody for her but,
“I don’t need some girl coming into my neighborhood and telling me how to make it better! I lived here my whole damn life, and you know what? I love this town! I’d never change a damn thing about this town! I don’t care what you have to say, you oughta be ashamed of yourself, coming here and spouting all this bullshit about who knows what. I bet you ain’t never even been here without getting paid for it! You think you’re better than folks like me because I don’t wear a suit and I don’t have direct deposit! Well, you go take a good hard look at yourself because you ain’t learned anything yet! I’ve been here! I don’t have worries! You know why? Because I take care of me and mine! I always have!”
On and on he rages, his face growing a deeper and deeper shade of red as he yells. At the end of each breath his face contorts more and more in cramped fury. His words are punctuated by little stones of spittle, thrown by his tongue as he screeches. He flicks his hair out of his face incessantly, pushing it back with his hands, as if it were going to catch on fire if it rested too long
on his broad forehead, which by now was getting to look more purple than red, and was heavily beaded with sweat that rolled down and into the man’s eyes. This, in turn caused the man to bluster and tear up, as his salty perspirant stung his vision.
The woman, however, looks on with an expression similar to that which one might make when observing an alligator devouring its lunch within the mote of its enclosure. One understands that there is a reason some things are removed from the public sphere, but also, that there are some things in which the public still benefits from seeing.
As he starts to tire himself out, the woman moves to make a comment, hoping to resolve whatever misunderstanding this man had interpreted from her presence collecting signatures, but before she can even finish inhaling her breath the man rears in defiance and assumes a wider stance. He takes a couple steps back as if preparing to open fire, and draws his breath from deep within his gut to bark at her
“NO!!!! You listen to Me.”
To which She merely sat back and folded her hands together before her on the table, raising her eyebrows the way a teacher would when facing a particularly derisive child. Dishevelled as he was by then, the man still mustered his most vile, and after some time, began to remove himself from the vicinity, still shouting over his shoulder, turning to continue his vulgar concourse, growing smaller and smaller as he grows more and more distant, until finally he’s nothing more than an irritable speck, shaking it’s incomprehensible fist at some unseen provocation.
Shortly thereafter, another man makes his way up to where the woman is sitting. She is still wearing her smile, beaming encouragingly at any who may have the courage to approach. Sure enough this man walks up to her as well. He is donning a small, closed-mouth smile. He settles across from her and, resting his gaze on her nose, casually greets her.
The woman, of course, can tell immediately that this man is deliberately avoiding looking into her eyes, his, but doesn’t raise an eyebrow, writing it off for the time being—perhaps he has a hard time talking to people. She’s happy enough to oblige the man for being willing enough to discuss her work, and the ways she intends to better their community! She gives him all the details he asks for, and even elaborates on specific items that he shows interest in, to which he seems to actively listen to, but at the same time, something seems to be distracting him. He appears to be only half-listening, his eyes breaking off from her nose to inch down toward her shoulders, or up to her hairline. Her enthusiasm waning, her eyebrows beginning to arch she looks at the man and asks him:
“So, what do you think… ?”
“I’m sorry,” he says, shaking his head and chuckling, as if he’d been humorously misunderstood,
“look, there’s nothin’ wrong with everything you’ve got… going on here,” he says, gesturing to the table and herself,
“but honestly, hon, I really think you’re in over your head here!”
With her head cocked, the woman sits up straight ready to reply, but the man raises his hands up to intercede any interjection, and continues to instruct her on miscellaneous and misinterpreted half-truths he had “deduced from whatever jargon she had been prattling on
about”—information he hadn’t so much as gathered from her as he had made up entirely in his self-proclaimed omnipotence.
Graciously, he tells her he will sign up for her cause, but just because he can tell she’s going to need the help. He can be generous when he wants to be! After all, he’s been here and there, seen this and that. Who knows in what way her business might be useful to him. He does all of this without once making eye contact with her.
He scribbles his signature on the list and, chuckling between soft-spoken comments of a patronizing and deprecating nature, and prepares to leave. He turns nonchalantly out of his chair, sighing in grief for the time he’s wasted in sitting down to discuss something so clearly beyond this woman’s reach, and pushes himself up out of his seat. Just as he is about to jam his hands into his pockets and turns his slumped shoulders away from her for good, he accidentally glances into her face, and their eyes meet.
Immediately his smirk is gone. He straightens his posture and faces her directly, as if he were standing at attention. The clarity of her eyes hits him like a sock stuffed with bars of soap. He realizes that she sees straight through him, and suddenly he feels vulnerable. It dawns on him that she’s not doing this for her… she’s doing it for him… and others like him! His head fills with nauseating paranoia. All of his secrets rise like boils. She knows she doesn’t have to say anything, she can see the fright in his eyes. Instinctively he holds a hand over his crotch. He tries to say something, but stutters and coughs, barely able to lift his voice over a mumble. She looks up at him expectantly. Looking as if he might vomit, he abruptly leans forward and scratches out his signature, then briskly turns and begins walking quickly away, looking to either side as if he were being followed, but not once daring to look back.
Not long following his departure a third man approaches her booth. He appears to be somewhat timid, a little shaky—not altogether unlike a small dog of sorts. Our hero is sitting with her legs crossed, but still smiles. Her hands are set lightly on the table. She has the same welcoming look on her face as the man walks up as she did for the other two. As she does for everyone. Politely, he says hello, and gently asks about her mission, sort of acting as if she were a lost child. She however, felt quite the opposite, sensing him to be the one that is lost. He, afterall, was the one approaching her. She knows where she is, what she’s doing, and why she’s doing it. He’s the one with all of the questions.
They chat about the base points of her organization at first, and as they talk he grows more animated and amicable. She cordially and generously replies to his queries and invites him to look through some literature at her side. He eagerly takes these and tucks them into his back pocket, swearing up and down that he’ll read that at home, so he can share them with his family. The woman explains that they contain factoids, spreadsheets, data and other irrefutable truths about the good of a community that has its denizens, as well as those that they come into contact with, at the heart of its intentions. He continues to nod and agree and shake a little, uttering the occasional string of nervous laughter.
“It’s really so simple,” she reassures him,
“all of this paperwork is to show how dedicated we are to transparency. We’re laying it all out for you so that you can rest assured your best interests are at the heart of our actions. Nothing we offer is apt to harm or hinder you or your loved ones. If you’d like to sign up for the
program, just sing your name there on that sign up sheet, and feel free to take a card. That has my email on it, and my office phone as well”
He gladly signs the form, takes a card and asks about the next group session so that he might continue to participate, to which our heroine happily provides him all the information he needs. He grows more and more at ease as she’s telling him where he can park and how to get a pass from the city. He really starts to settle in. He thinks that she’s going to take care of him. She’s going to help him make improvements in his life that he has for some time now been wanting to make, but alas, has been unable to push himself to perform—the way he’s been wanting to get new furniture, but doesn’t want to pay the price, and is unwilling to load and unload the box into his apartment, and then to sit on his knees on the tile floor for an hour trying to screw it all together! But, if She thinks it best…
The two eventually even begin to collaborate, discussing with zeal future possibilities for the co-op, ways to spread its message, to expand its programming, to make it a state wide affair. For a second, it’s almost as if the two are friends. She finds their conversation to be very gratifying, and is happy to have found one person willing to come with her into the open arms of her organization and ideals, as simplistic and rational as they are.
Finally, after the two had shared a plentiful bout of conversation, collaboration and platonic discursion, The good lady extends a hand and introduces herself, adding that she looks forward to seeing him again sometime. The man, caught somewhat off-guard by this, looks at her quizzically, his eyes going from hers to her outstretched hand.
“What is this,” he asks, looking about,
“Some sort of initiation?” He laughs, a little nervously.
“No,” she replies with a confused tone,
“I’m just looking forward to building our relationship!”
“Wait. I thought I just had to sign your sheet of paper, I didn’t think you wanted me to like, go to work with you.”
“But, you asked me specifically for information on how to become an active participant within the co-op and the community. You were the one that told me that this is something you want. Is it not?” She asks, looking at him with what he sensed was derision.
Her question embarrasses him, makes him feel flustered, and looking a little clammy he says to her impatiently that while yes, he would love to be an active member within the community, he has a lot on his plate! He is constantly being dragged around by his job in the city, and besides! He has other priorities! Friends and family he has to spend time with—he can’t be expected to just leave them all to rot because she wants him to participate in some, fundraiser, or whatever this was supposed to be!
Frankly, he says to her,
“All I wanted was to have my voice heard, but you expect too much. It’s like you want to have a relationship with me and it’s unrealistic! You can keep my signature,” he says as she looks at him in bewilderment,
“Hope it goes to good use. But don’t you dare try to contact me! I will not hear of it. You don’t know the sort of things I have to put up with. You couldn’t possibly understand! Sitting in your chair all day, smiling at everyone. Some men have work to do! Some of us have lived long enough to know that you can’t just expect someone to walk up to you on the street and give you whatever it is you’re looking for! You have to earn it!”
The man’s tone was now indignant, infuriated even. He was practically barking at her. He too was on the verge of working himself into a tantrum as he rose grumbling from the table. With one last look at her , he informs her frankly that she has no right to be out here, harassing people on their way to whatever. Hell, all of her “followers” probably just signed to get her off their backs. Or because they haven’t enough GUTS to know a scam artist when they see one!
With that, he pushes his nose into the air and turns haughtily away from the table. The woman looks at him no longer in shock but just utter disappointment. She should have known better, she thinks to herself as the man marches himself out of sight.
After he’s disappeared, she sits for a while longer. When no one else comes, she gathers together her stack of signatures, her clipboard and pen cup, tucking them all into the cardboard box that holds her extra pamphlets and other literature beneath the table and folds the flaps shut. She then collapses the table, folds up the chairs, and marches them each as she is able to her car. She puts them away tidily, into the trunk, and places the box into the back seat, strapping it in with the seatbelt.. She then climbs into the driver’s seat, starts the car and straps herself in. Before driving away, she rolls down the front windows, and breathes in the fragrant evening air. She lets out a long sigh and chuckles to herself, looking in the rearview mirror at the box of paperwork.
“You get what you give,” she says to herself.
“You get what you give.”