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Oh, I’m sorry, but I can’t talk right now.

by Sara John 2 months ago in Humanity / Secrets / Friendship
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The (almost) perfect escape

As I’m browsing a rack of sweaters, someone approaches me and says, “I need you to listen to me very carefully, you should not be eating food from McDonalds.”

“Oh god,” I thought. It was my neighbor, Debra. We had been neighbors for a while, and she often sat on her porch and stopped any willing neighbor to tell them something random she’d learned in a book or on TV. If you were having an unlucky day, you got to hear the new hot gossip about the black homeless man who she believed lived in his van and stalked Kennedy, a girl who lived in the neighborhood. Why was he stalking Kennedy? Obviously, the homeless black man was part of the group who killed President Kennedy. The black homeless man ended up being a blond man, who drives a black van. He did seem to live in his van; that part she got right.

I wanted to be nice to her, but throughout the duration of knowing each other, I found myself pretending to be on the phone to avoid her. An act that I pulled off many times, but it left me feeling guilty and mean – but not guilty and mean enough to stop using the tactic.

There are only two times the old “I’m on the phone and can’t talk right now” trick hadn’t worked. The first time, I really was on the phone with my mom, and Debra relentlessly wouldn’t let me pass until I knew she didn’t have AIDS, and that I needed to let Noi know too. I had no fucking idea what Debra was talking about, but I told her I was glad she didn’t have AIDS and that I would let Noi know. Noi is my good friend and roommate. I never intended to tell Noi, which, again, I know is rude. But considering we live under the same roof, we hardly see each other. It seemed weird to text him out of the blue to tell him Debra didn’t have AIDS. Although, if I had sent a text, I imagine it would have gone something like this, “Heyo Noi! Hope you’re MBA program is going well. I know we live together, but since it’s been a week since I last saw ya, I wanted to see how you’re doing. Also, Debra doesn’t have AIDS.” That just seemed weird, so I never told him.

A few days later I learned that Noi, who is a nice person and doesn’t pretend to be on the phone to avoid Debra, had seen her waiting for someone a week or so prior. She told him she was going to the Idaho Food Bank, which led to a whole conversation about how Noi loves the Idaho Food Bank, and he volunteers there every month through his job at the Boise Co-op. Have I mentioned that Noi is a great person? Noi told Debra if she ever needed some groceries, and she didn’t have a ride to the Food Bank, there is a place down the street that has a pantry. He didn’t know the stipulations, but he knew they had one if she wanted to check into it. Well, she did check into it, and that’s how this AIDS debacle all happened.

Noi attempted to be nice to Audrey, and that led her to ALPHA, Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS. Their homepage says, “regardless of your HIV status, socioeconomic status, housing status, sexual orientation, gender identity; whether you’re single or part of a poly-amorous arrangement; whether you use drugs or not, or are even in recovery, you are welcome here.” It seems to cover everyone! But it was completely offensive to Audrey, a Catholic woman who wakes up at 6 a.m. to listen to Mass every day, that Noi would assume she has AIDS. It must not have occurred to her that this organization was accepting of everyone and didn’t just give groceries to people with AIDS.

There was a short time when she stopped every neighbor to report her negative AIDS status and tell them the little Asian (this is how she describes Noi) thought she had AIDS. As a gay man, who takes HIV and AIDS statuses very seriously, Noi would never judge someone with a positive status, nor would he “out” someone based on their status. Noi was mortified, and I thought the situation was hysterical. Here is sweet Noi, talking to Debra and never pretending to be on the phone. Not only does he talk to her, but he offers a new pantry to her, so she doesn’t need a ride to get free groceries. I personally don’t care if Debra has fresh food, because every time she cooks, it smells like boiled cabbage, which makes me want to vomit. I don’t want her to starve to death or anything, I just don’t want her to have access to food that doesn’t meet my smell approval.

The second time was now, while I am shopping for sweaters. I had let my guard down, and she caught me when I wasn’t on “a phone call.” I tried to explain that I really like to shop alone, and maybe she could educate me on McDonalds later, but she had fresh info that had to be shared. Since Noi had to suffer through being known as the AIDS-accuser, the least I could do was listen to her story about McDonalds.

Turns out Debra had seen a program, and she was now on a quest to tell everyone that human body parts are being used in McDonald’s meat. This was going to be an easy out for me! I said, “Whoa, that’s crazy! I don’t eat at McDonalds, and I don’t eat much meat. So, I guess I’m safe.” It actually was the perfect escape, and it was true. But it didn’t work. Other restaurants were also guilty, and it wasn’t just in meat. I entertained the idea for a few seconds, even asking a question or two like, have the people been murdered who are in the meat? How old are the victims? And how was this discovered? Then, I said I was safe, and she didn’t have to worry about me. I promised I wouldn’t eat at McDonalds and continued to browse the rack as she started telling me about her psychic. Now this is something I did want to hear about.

I ask her who she sees, and I got the feeling she could sense my interest. However, my heart sank as she explained that she paid a fee up-front that equals $11 per month for a year for a psychic on the phone. Red flags are not something I always see in my own life, but I am great at judging them for other people. Debra is below the poverty line. She spends her days at coffee shops so she can use the free internet, and she tips the staff with coupons. I believe she likely has mental health issues. She claims to have worked as a journalist, but she doesn’t seem very educated. However, she is an avid reader. She is the type of person who could be targeted by scammers.

She explained that her psychic had started harassing her for more money, and he didn’t believe her when she told him she didn’t have any extra money. She wanted to know when she’d marry again, but he never mentioned that and instead focused on a large sum of money she would be receiving. She proceeded to buy an occasional lottery ticket and enter Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstake. What a sneaky move – the psychic tells her she will win money, so she will keep paying him.

As I stood in the store with Debra in front of me, I started to feel bad for pretending to be on the phone and not listening to her stories. I attempted to explain that the psychic could be a terrible scam, and she should stop talking to him. Her desire was clear, she wanted to know when she would marry again and if it would be forever. She wanted companionship and someone to love. After a short discussion, my phone rang, and it was my mom. I could have called her back, but instead I said, “I have to take this. Hi mom!”


About the author

Sara John

Storyteller with a passion for humor. Leo who likes stories about myself. This makes a great combo.

@jsarajo on Instagram

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