“I WORK IN A FUCKING BEAD SHOP”

I have always liked one particular type of moment.

I would describe it as a moment which is: unexpected; either funny or disturbing (or both); and deeply revealing of an absurd state of affairs or a background reality which is normally kept hidden.

Often profanity is part of the equation, too. So … fair warning. (I guess the warning, after the headline, is already too late.)

I wrote previously about a Sprint Mobile employee who was disciplined for making a sales pitch at the scene of a shooting. Below are four more examples of unexpected revelation.

First, store owner Mendy White re-opened her Melbourne, Fla., crafts shop in May after quarantine lockdown.

Because she was living with an elderly parent who had immunity issues, she posted signs requiring that her customers wear masks.

On the first day of re-opening, while working the register, she was confronted by a man who disagreed with the mask policy. When White asked a second time that he wear a mask, he lifted his shirt to reveal a gun.

So far this is just an everyday news story, unfortunately. In the U.S. we are well aware by now that masks are a political flashpoint.

What set Mendy White apart for me was this quote. She told a reporter: “I’m gonna be honest. I work in a fucking bead shop. Do you think I should have to carry a gun to come to work? It’s art. It’s craft. It’s design. It’s teaching people. I’m not coming to a shooting range. This should be the happiest place.”

Side note: I personally associate craft stores with last-minute trips to buy supplies for my kids to build replicas of 19th-century California missions for school projects. Not a happy place for me, memory wise.

Craft stores were also at the center of the Supreme Court decision Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which granted a religious exemption to a company that didn’t want to pay for contraception in employee health care.

That said, whether you are outfitting your child to build a miniature San Juan Capistrano or you are a cashier trying to pay for birth-control pills or you’re a store owner trying to sell some beads, yes, I imagine the unexpected brandishing of firearms does make the store a less happy place.

I work in a fucking bead shop.

For me, the statement of exasperation puts poor Mendy White into a separate category. When she said it, she was wasn’t really speaking for or against masks, she was more commenting on the overall insane state of affairs. She was an observer of the human condition.

Sure, there are businesses where we’ve almost come to expect guns getting waved around. McDonalds, Wendys, Target, and WalMart all come to mind as places where you might possibly want to keep your wits about you.

But the Karen and Friends bead shop?

Let me put it this way. When you hear a crafter dropping an F-bomb, you know we are off track, as a republic.

Another example of sudden, profane truth comes from the 1996 movie Citizen Ruth.

The two sides of the abortion debate are facing off against each other in a loud, chaotic crowd scene. The focus is Ruth, played by Laura Dern. She’s a glue-huffing pregnant woman who has bounced back and forth between the pro-life and pro-choice sides in a public battle over her pregnancy.

The pro-life side ultimately tracks down Ruth’s mom. The mom’s voice, amplified by speakers, booms across a huge crowd of protesters.

“RUTH! WHAT IF I ABORTED YOU?”

A hush falls as the crowd ponders the existential question.

Not Ruth. Jangled by the protests and the noise of a nearby helicopter — and by weeks of being pursued, lectured, cajoled, wooed, scripted, and paraded around as a symbol — she has had enough. She grabs a bullhorn from the man next to her and screams into the void.

“WELL, AT LEAST I WOULDN’T HAVE HAD TO SUCK YOUR BOYFRIEND’S COCK!”

The crowd is reduced to a stunned, disgusted silence.

Perhaps it doesn’t speak well of me, but I love this moment. If you could hug a moment, I would hug this one. As uncomfortable as Ruth’s shouted response is, as horrendous as sexual abuse is, the outburst reveals exactly who she is — a less-than-ideal mouthpiece for any movement, and an accidental genius of truth telling.

She is no one’s victim, as it turns out. She won’t be manipulated anymore despite her difficult background, her lack of education, her drug addiction. If you keep pushing and pushing on this woman, she will speak out loudly and, uh, plainly.

Her outburst also highlights the enduring irony of people focusing so exclusively on the fetus and sometimes sort of forgetting everything which may follow, including — in Ruth’s case — sexual molestation.

A less profane example of sudden truth comes from the movie Sideways, which like Citizen Ruth was directed by Alexander Payne.

Sideways is about two friends on a wine-tasting trip near Santa Barbara, Calif. One (played by Paul Giamatti) is a wine connoisseur undergoing a midlife crisis. The other is an old college roommate, a laid-back, has-been actor played by Thomas Haden Church (himself a has-been actor when the movie was made).

At one stop on the wine-tasting tour, we see nerdy Giamattai in all his obsessive glory, riffing to Church about all the hidden “notes” he smells in the wine’s aroma, including strawberry, passion fruit, asparagus, cheese.

Church generously listens to the spiel, even as he grows impatient to stop sniffing and just knock back the wine.

Finally, after both men drink the wine and look at each other in satisfaction, Giamatti’s face falls.

“Are you chewing gum?” he asks Church.

The line illustrates perfectly the two different personalities, their different takes on life, their radically different experiences of this particular moment.

Giamatti is buzzing with the energy of a troubled genius. A divorced, unsuccessful writer, he has been making ends meet as a school teacher in San Diego. He has actually stolen money from his own mother — on her birthday, no less — to finance the wine-tasting trip.

When he realizes Church was chomping on Juicy Fruit during the holy moment of tasting, it’s not just frustrated disbelief on Giamatti’s face. It’s deep loneliness. It’s that painful, alienating moment when we realize how specific and intense our experience of the world can be. We question whether our own view can ever really be communicated to, or shared with, a friend, spouse, reader, anyone.

More specifically the gum chewing reveals that Giamatti is in the wrong company. He isn’t with his tribe, he isn’t with a soulmate, a loving spouse, a grown child, or even the defrauded birthday parent who unwittingly paid for the trip.

Instead, the bumbling, dim-witted college buddy — the gum chewer — was the best that the unraveling Giamatti could find for the pilgrimage to wine country.

My final example of sudden truth isn’t funny, but is revealing nonetheless.

In a recent interview, the journalist Richard Behar described how his life was taken over by harassment, abuse, and litigation after writing about the Church of Scientology for Time magazine in 1991.

A libel lawsuit dragged on for years. Even though Behar and Time ultimately “won” the case, the personal toll on Behar was significant.

“Here’s the thing,” he said, “when you’re sued for libel, and it goes on like that, it affects your career because you become a half-time defendant, so you can only be a half-time journalist. … That’s how you defeat a reporter, in a sense.”

The whole interview is worth listening to, but Behar describes one particular moment roughly 20 days into his deposition by church lawyers.

The lawyers began asking whether he knew L. Ron Hubbard’s theories about the developmental importance of events which take place in the immediate environment of a fetus, newborn, or young child.

Even in his exhaustion, Behar realized where the questions were going.

Church investigators had uncovered painful facts about his childhood which had led many years earlier to Behar being removed from his home and declared a ward of New York State.

“I was tired. Sometimes I had my head on the table, and they’re asking questions — nasty, nasty, nasty stuff sometimes. At a certain point, I just felt, ‘Come on, is that the best you can do? The more you are awful, the more I realize I’m so glad I did that piece. So keep coming. What else ya got?’

“I don’t know if they realized who they were dealing with because, again, going back to my childhood, and going back to who I am, you know, I’m not a snowflake, and if you’re gonna come after me like that … it just shows who you are.”

The courtroom moment reveals to Behar exactly how shitty and cruel his adversary is willing to be, but it also reveals to him — and us — his own strength and his rightness in having taken a hard, critical look at the church.

I’ve traversed disparate topics in this essay — Covid masks, abortion, wine tasting, Scientology. What the moments have in common — for me anyway — is an unexpected blast of realness, a sudden intrusion of startling, inconvenient, possibly crude reality.

Whether the revealed truth is about an individual, a political issue, or just an enduring human problem such as loneliness, violence, or despair, I myself feel more human for having witnessed the revelation.

Laura Dern in the movie Citizen Ruth

About Kit Troyer

Kit Troyer lives in Los Angeles. He worked previously as a newspaper reporter and a criminal defense attorney. For the last 15 years, he has been a stay-at-home dad. But that gig is running out. Kids will soon be moving out and moving on.
This entry was posted in MOVIES, POLITICS, UNIQUELY AMERICAN BULLSHIT. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to “I WORK IN A FUCKING BEAD SHOP”

  1. Stefanie Zadravec says:

    Omg. I needed this. You need to publish on medium.

  2. BatSheva Vaknin says:

    “When you hear a crafter dropping an F-bomb, you know we are off track, as a republic.” Yes! And… thank you for taking the time to craft a thoughtful, winding, lovely essay. I enjoyed it immensely. Another member of your tribe. Keep writing, please.

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