Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I, Bete Noir

Her name is Alice.* She works at the pita sandwich booth at the Wednesday Farmer’s Market. Sometimes she takes the same Sunday yoga class as me. She has shoulder length brown hair, a face that settles nicely around her large-ish nose, and wears her Old Navy tanks inside out to class. Also, she hates me.

Well, I dramatize. Hate is a very strong word and should only be applied to white Hummers and groups of richie rich white people who commandeer a tiny, struggling breakfast place and order off-the-menu like it is their divine right. (I’m looking at you Surfsand Resort a-holes.) Alice probably doesn’t lie awake at night biting pillows at the thought of me. In fact she likely rarely thinks of me at all—unless she shares my unfortunate penchant for obsessing over the minor bete noirish characters of everyday life—but when I stand before her, all 6 feet 200 (or close now that my body has been colonized by the growing alien-dinosaur-fetus-baby we call Purvis**), her lip curls in disgust.

Last Sunday, yoga class. Mr. Crud and I stand in the doorway that opens from the airy orange and pink yoga room to the foyer. I turn to step through. Alice approaches. I immediately swing into appeasement mode. Alice’s silent hostility towards me has been building for at least a year. We only see each other occasionally, but on every occasion she is all ice and averted eyes. I don’t know why I continue my quest to try and make her reconsider her opinion of me. The injustice that someone who doesn’t even know me, who I haven’t even had the chance to fuck over, dislikes me roils my blood. I’m nice, goddamnit. Then why does she breeze by me, not even a smile or acknowledgement that I demurred to allow her to pass through the door to the yoga studio before me? I step into the foyer, followed by Mr. Crud.

“Did you see that? She’s here. The woman who hates me,” I whisper.


“The woman in the green shirt. The one who just passed us.”

He makes a move towards the yoga room. I pull him back. “Don’t look,” I hiss.

He shrugs. “Whatever.”

Mr. Crud knows of Alice a.k.a. The Woman Who Seems to Dislike Me For No Apparent Reason. (Need to come up with a snappier name, I do.) But not unsurprisingly, he does not keep track of her like I do. He humors me when I toss around my theories:

• Alice hates non-tippers. I tip semi-regularly at the pita sandwich booth. The sandwiches alone are $7. I’m not made of money.
• I once confirmed with Alice that my sandwich had chickpeas on it. The previous time I ended up chickpea-less and, needless to say, quite bereft and cursing the hand of the sandwich-maker who f-ed up my precious lunch. After I said “These have chick peas, right?” I notice she slipped me a side-eye. Should I have apologized for questioning her sandwich-making prowess?
• I have been known to perhaps flirt the tiniest bit with the owner of the sandwich cart. Are they married or something? (Note to Mr. Crud—I’m only doing it for the extra roasted shitakes!)
• Alice is one of those competitive yoginis who doesn’t like it when another student displays more yoga prowess than she. In that case she should love me now as my prowess has nosedived in the days of Purvis.

In the yoga studio Mr. Crud heads back to the room while I use the bathroom. I return to my mat and discover that Alice has chosen the spot next to mine. I detect a silent groan as I squat down on the mat and start with my pre-class twists. I turn to Mr. Crud who has claimed a spot behind me and nod my head ever so subtly in her direction. He gives me a puzzled look. We really need to work on this couple mind-reading thing.

The teacher enters. We breathe. We chant. We vinyasa. I try to ignore Alice, but as tends to happen I feel my ire rising with each sun salutation. Who the hell does she think she is to dislike me? What exactly did I do to her? So I questioned her sandwich…ONCE. I am a nice and respectful customer. I tip when I can. I can’t be the only person who doesn’t tip. What. The. Fuck.

After a few times through the thigh-burn-tastic vinyasa our teacher cuts us free to do our own thing. I breathe and flow from asana to asana, letting my Alice ponderings go for a few precious moments until we are somehow face-to-face in a semi-squat torture called horse pose. I review my vinyasa: did I mess up and do everything on the same leg twice? Why else would we end up facing each other unless one of us is off. I review the last minute. Nope, solid. Alice is the double-leg doer. Silly Alice. She looks past me. I look past her. Into yogic infinity or rather over each other’s shoulders. My inner Nelson awakens—HA ha. (And in this moment I am certainly NOT doing yoga, but rather what my first teacher labeled ego or what I label yoga jackassery.) I fight the urge to send myself into some difficult pose to show Alice who’s yoga boss. I release the moment, laughing at myself and the silly games my mind plays. (Now that’s yoga.) Oh Alice.

I don’t remember when I first felt the heat of Alice’s hostility. It may have been the sandwich stand where I noticed her purposefully slowing down her transaction when I was next in line in order to not be stuck making my sandwich. Or in yoga class when I gave her a smile of recognition—just a little “Hey you, I know you, I know you”—and she stared intentionally past me.

We move to the floor poses. We sit tall on our sitz bones, bringing our right leg in close to our bodies bent in an upside down V. “Marichyasana 3” (or C as us ashtangis call it), the teacher says. I twist gently into the traditional pose, but don’t get far before the Purvis region says an emphatic no. Twists are generally the first poses to go in the second trimester. So, I do as another teacher suggested and twist the opposite way, putting me face-to-face a second time with Alice. Out of the corner of my eye I catch hers. She looks at me and, I swear to G-d, rolls her eyes at me. You bitch! A teacher trainee approaches. She’s about to tell me I’m doing it wrong. I know how to do a goddamned Marichyasana C, I want to scream. The trainee bends over as my teacher approaches her. Seconds before the teacher can tap her shoulder and explain why I am twisting the opposite way, I say, “I’m pregnant. That’s why—“ The trainee nods. “I’m glad you told me.”

I want to look at Alice and say, “And also fuck you and your rolled eyes.” Instead I feel my eyes tearing up. I can’t discern if I’m upset at Alice’s rolled eyes or the insinuation by the trainee that I didn’t know what I was doing. I already feel awkward enough in yoga class modifying poses while others give me puzzled looks. While I look mildly pregnant, I’m still not obviously pregnant so my fellow yogis may mistake me for a chubby lady who doesn’t know her ass from her asana.

I breathe. I let this latest indignity go. Thank you, yoga.

After class Mr. Crud and I ponder my options.

• I could get all gangsta on Alice and get up in her grill as they say. “What?” I’d bellow fluffing up my chest in her face. “You got a problem, bee-yatch?”
• I could go overly sensitive hippie: “Hi, um yeah. I seem to have noticed some bad vibes coming from you where I am concerned. Did I do anything to offend you? Was it the sandwich because really, you are a terrific sandwich artist.”
• I could be aggressively friendly with Alice, melt her heart of stone or further solidify her conviction that I am an a-hole.

Or I could let the whole thing go and embrace my bete noir status. Consider it the circle of life. I have plenty of my own, a collection of people who have irked me for passing me at stop signs on my bicycle or breathing too loud in yoga class or a hundred other minor offenses that make me feel sheepish for even admitting how much they get to me. I could chalk this up to a fine opportunity to walk around in the shoes of the people who annoy me, to see how it does hurt just a little bit when someone seems to dislike you for no apparent reason. Wouldn’t that be mature?

I suspect that I will continue to oscillate between tamped down outrage, laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation, and, every now and then, a tug of hurt feelings. I will try be yoga about things and not intentionally fuck with Alice by putting my mat next to hers or accosting her with forced good cheer. Maybe I’ll get so yoga that I include her in my silent blessings every morning, sending her peace and ease and wishes for a good day. Or not.

* Names have been changed to protect the annoyed.
** To read more about our adventures with Purvis check out the Peabody Project Chronicles 2.