I was getting some bodywork, on account of a spine that in the last few years has started to feel like one of those twisty drinking straws your kids will beg you to buy, then use once and forget all about. Only of course your back you can never forget about since you use it every day, along with the muscles in your core that hold it up.
There I was anyway, prone on this massage therapist’s table, my face pressed into that padded doughnut-looking thing they have at one end.
I was doing my best to get through the part where they use the tip of an elbow to press the living daylights out of your calf muscles – since, as they explain, everything is connected to everything else in the body and if you want to ‘open’ the tissues higher up, you have to start by undoing any kinks closer to the floor.
“Breathe through the pain,” she had just said and God knows I was trying to. Then, as she was walking around me to get at my other leg, she asked what I did for work.
“I write,” I said in a voice muffled by the foam of the face cradle. “A column,” I managed to add. “For various newspapers.”
She started in on my other calf and as the lights inside my head began to dim and billow with that point-of-the-elbow move, she went on:
“What do you write about?”
“Oh I don’t know,” I squeaked. “ Our common life I guess. It’s mostly observational. “Sometimes it’s funny,” I added.
That’s when she asked the question that leads me to bring you into this sacred-seeming room in the first place:
“So what is your writing like? Is it cynical and sarcastic?”
Puzzled by the question, I stayed silent for a beat. “Oh no! Not at all!” I finally blurted.
“Because I mean I can be pretty sarcastic myself,” she said.
Cynical and sarcastic?
The words kept echoing in my ears. In all the interacting and people-watching I have done in the course of my career, I have never seen anything that would prompt me to write in a cynical or sarcastic fashion. In fact 99% of the time what I see is either funny or uplifting.
Here’s one example: This week in Starbucks I got a free coffee, because, as the barista told me, that man in the blue shirt by the windows had told him he wanted to pay for the beverages of the next ten people to walk in the door. “A random act of kindness,” the man smiled when I went over to thank him.
And here’s another: I sent a skirt back to the J. Peterman catalog people, asking for a refund, since, as I wrote in the “Reasons” section, it seemed very ill-made.
Then, not four days later, a fresh J. Peterman box arrived holding two precious-to-me documents, which I had inadvertently enclosed in the box with the poorly made skirt.
No note accompanied it these documents, no scrawled first name on the “Packed By” card you sometimes see. More importantly, no charge was posted to my credit card, then or ever.
Someone in the shipping room had lifted out the skirt, seen the photo of the 14-year-old Brooklyn boy and the citation, done in gorgeous calligraphy, awarded to him four years later and understood what these might mean. This person then wrapped then in fresh tissue paper, adorned it with cream-colored ribbon and shipped it right back to me.
So I ask you now and I really do wonder: In a world with such generosity and kindness, how can anyone, ever, speak cynically and sarcastically?
And now, just for proof, the two documents sent back to me by that good person in the shipping room at J. Peterman.