What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Entitlement Diva

The first day of fall semester had seventy-five students crowded into a room with only fifty chairs. Apparently the class was more popular than available and students lined the walls and even stood next to the white board facing the class, as if physical presence would get them a place on the roster. I'd arrived at the room a tad early and managed to secure a resting place for my tush while more students tried to squeeze in through the door like sardines pining after the tin. I was happy with my seat in that it wasn't so close to the front that the professor could see my notes (he might not understand the humor), but it was not so far back that I had swap spitballs with the drug dealers.

I was happy with my seat, until I discovered the place immediately in front of me. Whereas all the other desks in the classroom had hard soviet-issue metallic seats that seemed, like rabbit, to get tougher over time, this chair was nicely upholstered and actually looked plush. It wasn't elegant, but it wasn't my Kremlin model either. I looked around the room and, when the coast appeared clear, I picked up my books and backpack and jumped to the seat ahead.

No sooner had I settled in and allowed my body's weight to rest against the plush seat did I see the Entitlement Diva. She entered the room as if she owned it, elbowing aside a couple of thinner males who were plastered to the wall like a decorative molding. Her target destination was unmistakable: she was headed straight for my seat.

Entitlement Diva's walk managed to be confident, yet totally unattractive. She moved with the plodding determination of a musk ox and dressed stylishly enough, but it was her eyes that made her eerie. The Diva's eyes looked frightened. They glanced furtively around the room as if the other students were a threat. When we made eye contact, she held my gaze for a second before looking at the floor. Then, gaining resolve, she looked at me with a demand on written on her face.

"You are sitting in my chair."

I looked closely at the desk for the first time. It appeared to be a standard construction, college-issue desk. Nowhere was a name or "reserved" sticker stamped to the top and there were no books or personal belongings of the Diva under the seat. Maybe I hadn't heard her right.

"Excuse me?" I used my John Edwards smile.

"Look behind the seat, genius." I appreciated her compliment and turned to look at the back of my plush chair - or her plush chair, the pronouns get dicey. There, in bold block lettering, read: ADA Priority.

I may be a social nincompoop, but I am familiar with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which required a number of access changes to public buildings, offices and schools around the country. Apparently this desk was designed for the invalid, those who would not be able to operate in the Soviet desks. I understood and was willing to give up my desk, if indeed the recipient of my charity was disabled.

"What is your disability?" My question sounded innocent, but I was pulling a little bit of a fast one on Entitlement Diva. You see, the ADA failed to what a "disability" is, leaving interpretation to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, other regulatory agencies and the courts. There were a couple of conditions that were specifically banned as "disabilities" such as transvestitism, kleptomania and pyromania but, for the most part, there was no clear guidance. While she didn't look like a transvestite, I thought she might be overpronouncing her handicap. In my experience, most of the occupants of the ADA chairs were either very obese or very pregnant. Diva was neither of these. My trap laid, I waited for the Diva's answer.

"I don't have to tell you." I hadn't read that far. Maybe, I thought, she was referencing the HIPAA privacy provisions. Oh, she was tough. If only I were better informed on health legal issues!

I nodded my assent, an expression of defeat, and wondered what manner of vile disability had struck this woman to make her look so normal but to leave her her so wanting. Fortunately, the chair behind me was still available and I returned to my previous metallic home.

The Diva was silent as she settled into her pre-warmed seat and dug through her backpack for a pen. Apparently, she had forgotten to bring a notebook, because she turned to me and said authoritatively: "I need some paper."

I had paper, but those precious few sheets were supposed to be used to record timeless notes, like this one. Maybe she figured I owed her a sheaf or two as "rent" for my use of her seat. I didn't ponder for too long, but tore a couple of pages from the back and extended them her way.

"The edges are frayed," the Entitlement Diva said pointing to where the spiral binding had torn away the paper. I creased the pages over the factory-serrated separation line and tore off a quarter inch of defaced paper. Maybe, I figured, her disability rendered this simple motor task impossible. I felt sympathy for her condition.

"Good," the Diva said by way of thanks, taking the pages from my hand and turning around to face the professor who had just entered the room. After a roster check, which took over a half hour and left me sprawled distractedly in my seat thinking about girls, the professor asked us to open our books to the first lesson. Diva didn't have her book, a fact she announced to the entire class. The professor ignored her news bulletin, but the Diva's neighbor generously offered to share her copy of the text.

Apparently the two feet of space between Entitlement Diva and her neighbor was too far to crane over. Without warning or a glance for possible obstruction, she lifted her chair several inches off the ground and helicoptered to the left, smashing the ADA priority leg into the nail of my big toe. I inhaled sharply and tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yelp. I could feel the nail slide off the top of my toe and felt warm moisture collect on my sock. The pain was intense and hard to ignore.

"I'm sorry," the Diva apologized! "You shouldn't have your leg in my space," she added by way of pedagogy. As much as I appreciated her advice, I was in no mood for a lesson in spheres of sovereignty.

"I'm fine," I lied to the gentleman sitting behind me, a lie I knew I would have to repeat for several days.

During a break in lecture, I set up a study group with an old friend and a platinum blond from the back row. As soon as we had agreed on a meeting time, Diva, who had snuck up behind me during the calendar negotiations, announced that she was available during that time block and that she would be part of our study group. As if to will her away, we ignored her. Diva took our silence as assent and marched away. When I thought she was out of earshot, I set about changing the meeting time.

We were all consulting our electronic day planners, trying to find another day that would work when I felt the Diva behind me. I'd been caught with my hand in the cookie jar. Diva place her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows. Her accusatory posture stood in contrast to her scared, rapidly darting eyes. She said nothing.

That's when I apologized. The words started slowly and hesitantly at first, but then became a steady stream of self-depreciation. Soon a torrent of humble begging flowed from my mouth as I did everything but cry for mercy. Then I did start crying. Tears filled by eyes and overflowed down my cheeks, making a beeline for the floor. I buckled, falling to my knees and grasping the Diva by the legs. Would she ever find it in herself to forgive me? Please?

With the entire class' attention secured, Diva looked smug. She nodded to me - the first sign of approval she had ever extended my way - and said "that's better." Then she turned around and walked out the door.

It's going to be a long semester. And I'm already dreading tomorrow's study group.


you can call me batman said...

hey, what's with not posting some days??? it's bad enough that you guys take the weekend off, but to deprive us during the week? CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT!

Amë said...

What happened to my comment saying that I thoroughly enjoyed this post and was looking for the next one in the series? You are going to make this into a series, yes?

Jesse said...

its interesting to which parts of that are actually true and just embellished.