Sunday, August 14, 2011

The creepy corner store guy

Just last week, I caught up with some of my girlfriends from high school who I haven't seen for nearly a decade. We spent a few minutes bringing each other up to speed on what was happening in our own lives since we last saw each other. And then we spent the next couple of hours talking about everyone else that we went to high school with. You know how it is: "Hey, remember what's-his-nuts that you used to have such a huge crush on? I hear he moved to the big city and his wife left him!" or "Whatever happened to that bitchy girl from math class? Did I hear that she moved back to town to teach? Poor kids..." or "I bumped into your ex-boyfriend in the grocery store the other day! Are you ever lucky you dropped him! He's so boring!"...

Where I come from, gossip is a national sport. Everyone does it. The farmers go to the coffee shop every morning and and talk about all the things that the other farmers are doing wrong with their crops. At recess, the teacher's lounge in the high school is full of teachers gabbing away about the class clown's latest antics. And the high school cliques stick together and talk about one another. It's a stereotypical small town.

I left this small town over 17 years ago and moved to a much bigger city, leaving much of that kind of stuff behind. Don't get me wrong; people gossip in the big city, myself included. But it's somehow different. First of all, you are far more anonymous when you are surrounded by one million people as opposed to a couple thousand, and so your best friend's mom's brother's daughter has no way of finding out about what you did last night. You are also far less interesting when there are so many other more colourful people around you. So it's been awhile since I have found myself to be the topic of local gossip... or at least so far as I am aware.

That is, until yesterday.

Faithful readers will remember that the Beast is currently having to wear the cone of shame so that he does not lick at his recent bike-related wound (which, by the way, is healing quite nicely, and the Beast wants me to thank everyone for their heartfelt concern). As you can imagine, this generates some buzz when we are walking down the street together. Little kids have come running up behind me to ask, "Hey lady, why does your dog have that funny looking hat on?" Concerned dog-park neighbours who see us out walking have stopped us to ask us what has happened and to tell us that they can't wait to have us back in the park. Many people just give us a look of sympathy when we pass by. And every now and then, we even meet someone who points and laughs at him. (Fair enough - he does look kind of funny looking with that thing on, especially since he bumps into everything in sight!)

Then yesterday, as I was walking home with the Beast, I heard a gruff voice coming to me from across the street, "Oh for God sakes. What did he do to himself this time?"

I immediately recognized the voice as that belonging to - forgive me - the creepy guy who works at our neighbourhood corner store. Which under normal circumstances would cause me to pretend that I didn't hear him and just keep going. But I wasn't wearing my earphones so I couldn't get away with that trick. I was forced to acknowledge him and engage in some kind of conversation. "What?" I said. To which he responded, "Well, isn't this the dog that hurt his hip in a bike accident? What the hell did he do to himself this time?"

Why on earth did creepy corner store guy know about my dog's accident? I never talk to him because he is, well, creepy. So I just quickened my step, muttered something about the Beast being a klutz, and got out of there.

I spent the next few blocks trying to figure out how he could know so much about my dog. When I got home, I talked to my husband. Did he and the Beast, perhaps, walk past the corner store while creepy guy was working one day? Did creepy guy perhaps ask him why the Beast was wearing a cone? Did he perhaps tell creepy guy about the bike accident?

No, he assured me that he did not. Nor did he talk to anyone else at the corner store about the Beast.

"Well then, how could creepy corner store guy know what happened to the Beast if you didn't tell him?" I asked, with a slight edge of panic to my voice. I mean, the guy is creepy, so maybe he is following us around the neighbourhood and spying on us. (Of course that is the obvious conclusion that one would reach in such circumstances...)

"I don't know," said hubby. "He probably found out from one of our neighbours. What's the big deal?"

The big deal is that we are being gossiped about! By our own neighbours! And this bothers me!

I can't stop thinking about the gossip hounds and what they must be saying. In my head, it goes something like this:
The Beast and I walk down the street and the creepy corner store guy (CCSG) sees us and makes a comment about the cone to his co-worker (CW).
CCSG: "Hey, I recognize that girl from the bus. Check out her dog. What the hell is that thing on it's head?"
CW: "Humph... Will you look at that. He's got some kind of satellite receiver around his neck. Now why would they do that to him?"
A customer (Cus) is standing at the cash register buying a pack of gum. He pipes up.
Cus: "Oh, hey, I heard about that dog! My room-mate's black lab and him play in the park together sometimes. Yep, that's definitely him. My room-mate was telling me about him. Apparently, his owners ran him over with a bike or something like that."

Another customer (Cus2) walks in and overhears the conversation.
Cus2: (Incredulous) "Did I just hear you say that someone ran their dog over with a bike?"

CCSG: "Yeah, see that girl out there with the dog?"

CW: "Yeah - the dog with the funny hat on out there. She ran him over with a bike."

Cus2: "What the hell kind of people run their dog over with a bike!"

Cus: "Tell me about it! My room-mate says that the dog is a little bit sketchy. He barks a lot and jumps all over the place in the dog park. Must be bad owners."

CCSG: "Yeah well, I'm not surprised. That girl and her husband are always waiting out at the bus stop at 5:30 a.m. every day. I know cause I can see them from my apartment. Those two are definitely up to something..."

*****

And so on, and so on, and so on. I'm imagining a similar dialogue happening in every home in our neighbourhood.

I suppose it shouldn't matter to me what other people think about us or about the Beast. We know what happened to him, and we know that we are taking super good care of him. But it does bother me. While gossip is often quite harmless, there is an element of judgement to it. I know. Because I gossip every now and then, and although I don't mean anything malicious by it, I am passing a teeny-little-bit of judgement on a person when I am, say, making a comment on what they are wearing or who they are dating. And at the base of that is an assumption that I am just a teeny-little-bit better than they are...

So I guess it bothers me that creepy corner store guy thinks that he's somehow better than us. Because he is really freaking creepy...

Makes you think, doesn't it?