Patience, an important virtue that I lack, and an anecdote of sweet revenge

How quickly I forget. Today after work, as I stood in line to buy a loaf of bread, I became increasingly impatient… Sometimes it seems that I always choose the wrong queue. It doesn’t matter which I choose; the queues on either side are always faster. It’s like one of Murphy’s other laws.

Then when I reached the front of the queue, I noticed how unhappy the cashier was, and couldn’t help saying something to make her smile. How quickly I have forgotten how it is to be in her position.

According to Google, patience is defined as:


In a situation like mine today, being impatient is also being selfish… It’s a failure to consider the person with whom you are impatient, maybe a failure to see them at all. It’s a selfish lack of empathy for our fellow human beings, a failure to see their point of view and realize that they may not have any more control of the situation than you do. Being impatient, and expressing it, can be harmful and hurtful to other people, so we (impatient people like myself) all need to lighten up and remember that every interaction with another human being might have longer effects on them than we anticipate, so let’s try to be good to one another.

Having said that, let me tell you a story from years ago when I was on the other side of the confrontation; maybe if you are impatient and express it somebody will do this to you… or me, because maybe I’d deserve it.

Years ago, I worked as a bank teller in a small agency in Plumstead. We had those then, because that part of ABSA bank used to be a building society, and people could come do all their banking there.

It was a Saturday job, and on this particular day I had a queue going right out the door for most of the day. Finally when it got to closing time, there were five people left. Client number three was an unpleasant forty-something year old white man. (As I am now. Well, hopefully not unpleasant.)

They couldn’t see how fast I was working. To put you in the picture though… those terminals were painfully slow. You had to remember a number of obscure commands to get to the transaction screens quickly, then tab through all the fields entering the values, like name, ID number, account number, amount etc. I worked at such a frantic pace, I was always two screens ahead of what was displayed on the screen, so I spent most of the time waiting for the system to catch up with me. (And there were only two screens for deposits and withdrawals.) I also counted the money ridiculously fast. I can say with confidence that it was physically impossible to work any faster than I worked.

But for whatever reason, that third man in the queue… let’s call him Mr Poes, who had spent the entire time tapping his fingers, shuffling his papers, shifting from one foot to another and generally being a poes, waited until I was just finishing serving the person in front of him, and asked at the top of his voice, “Can he go any slower?”

So I did. I acted like a televised action replay: I reached out in slow motion to take his card and his cash under the glass, retrieved it in slow motion, then painstakingly hit one key at a time on the keyboard, also in slow motion. I counted his money in slow motion, one note at a time. The only thing I didn’t do was speak in slow motion because that would have been going too far. In the end, it took me ten minutes to serve the prick. And he said not another word. (You might think this was equally inconvenient to the two people behind him, but the woman behind him was laughing enough to convince me that my act was worth it.) Careful what you ask for, motherfucker!

Edit: The guy probably complained, but it didn’t matter. This was my Saturday job as a student. (More than twenty years ago.) It was for a little bit of extra cash and the frustration when serving idiots like that was greater than the value of the money earned, so I did not care about being warned or fired.

So watch out if you are impatient. You never know how someone else might respond to you when you deserve it.

An amusing anecdote about a girl whose strange belief sparked my interest in the psychology of belief in the unbelievable

I’ve been interested in the psychology of belief for a few years now, and only recently remembered the person who got me started on this strange fascination.

It was a time when I was not at my best… Around July 2009 I was a meth addict in a dark place at the end of a very long road that had spiraled downhill to get there. I’d lost my car, my house and nearly everything except my job, and was staying illegally in a single room with my one-year-old son and my girlfriend, and the dealer that she ended up sleeping with in front of me.

I’d lost all my friends and had nobody to turn to, so I went to a local internet cafe in Muizenberg to research rehabs as well as try to come up with a plan to get first my son, then myself, out of there. The plan didn’t come straight away because it’s difficult to do anything when you are high all the time, paranoid, sometimes delusional, always edgy, and have voices in your head day and night. But that’s not what I’m writing about this evening. The point of this introduction is simply to set the tone. That’s who I was; unstable, delusional and desperate as well as unsociable and intentionally unapproachable, trying against all odds to get my shit together.

So there I was, trying but mostly failing to wade through the quagmire of voices in my muddy mind, when inexplicably a twenty-something girl who worked at the internet cafe approached me and startled me out of my stupor with an acutely arbitrary question, “Excuse me, are you Jewish?”.

I get that a lot. Actually it’s a family thing. Maybe because of the schnoz? Muizenberg is a traditionally Jewish area; up here where I stay in a suburb of Johannesburg it’s even more so. (Here I get approached by Jewish addicts who think I look Jewish and so they figure they’ll get sympathy and money from me.)

Normally when I tell people that I am not Jewish, they politely go away. But not this girl. She was different. She insisted that I must be Jewish… That somehow I’d lost track of my true heritage. It didn’t matter what I said to discourage her.

At that point, though I’d rejected my Roman Catholic upbringing, I didn’t yet call myself an atheist. I explained to her that I used to be Catholic, that my whole family was Catholic,  going back as far back as I knew. She took that as a sign, a sign that I was truly meant to be Jewish! To her it meant that somebody in my distant past had been Jewish, and that my rejection of Catholicism was a sign that I knew it on some lower (instinctual?) level, so I was supposed to be Jewish. That is, contradicting her somehow confirmed her belief. She told me all about a website, some sort of forum I could join where I’d be able to find out about my Jewish roots. (I forget the details. This was years ago and I was very high. It’s a wonder I remember this at all.)

Thus I bemusingly came to understand her obsession. It was about “returning to Israel”. (Somewhere that she had never been.) That was the end goal… to go back to the promised land, not only her but all Jews. And into this group, for whatever reason, she had included me, a complete stranger of whom she knew nothing. She projected her fantasy onto me, and had constructed a narrative explaining who I was and where I came from, and she believed it sincerely. What fascinated me was not so much the details or even the subject of her obsession, but that she could project it onto me, a complete stranger. And she made it fit. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t Jewish – the narrative with fabricated details of my past such that I somehow “didn’t know I was really Jewish” fixed it up. Her dedication to her bizarre belief was not unlike that of people who believe in conspiracy theories, and people who think that vaccines cause autism, and other science deniers as well as crackpots. (Her obsession didn’t involve God, oddly enough. It was about being Jewish, about a sense of belonging, and it seemed that her sense of self was either absent or somehow damaged, replaced with a need to be part of something else, something bigger and more important.)

What also amazed me was that as high as I was, as mentally fucked up as I was, my mind was still less screwed up than that of this strange girl. I tried everything to make her leave me alone. (Without being impolite, because she was otherwise a nice girl. I didn’t want to be mean to her.) I even told her all about my situation at the time, my addiction, and details I haven’t written here that would be enough to scare off almost anybody. Almost anybody, but not her. All I got from her was respect and admiration. (And loads of clingy conversation. Sometimes I think that I’m a magnet for weirdos.) She seemed to think that because I was trying to get help, I was OK, and going back to the land of my ancestors with her and all the other Jews would fix all my problems. Even admitting to her that I’d had several hits before walking there, and that I was high at that moment in time, did not deter her.

At the very least, they (the internet cafe staff) could have watched me a little more closely. After all, they knew I was an addict because I told her, and addicts do crazy things… I was struggling financially, which happens when you spend all your money on crystal meth, and had found a way of cheating their system to get internet access for free. (Suspend the process of their kiosk software that monitors the time, then resume it just before leaving. So pay for a couple of minutes access when you have been there for a couple of hours.) Actually I found how to game the system by accident one day (and couldn’t resist taking advantage after that) when there was a problem with their software. It was a Windows XP system, where the kiosk internet cafe software ran full-screen and prevented visual access to the desktop, while the underlying system remained permanently connected to the internet, with an admin user logged in. (The software didn’t capture the Ctrl+Shift+Escape key combination which allowed opening a task manager and killing the kiosk process, which I did the first time. Thereafter I used Process Explorer to suspend the time logging process and would resume the process just 5 minutes before finishing.) But I digress… In the end I had to avoid going there when she was working – luckily they worked in shifts so it was a simple matter of only going there when she wasn’t on shift.

I don’t know what was wrong with that girl. I know that she wasn’t using drugs. (Trust me, one addict can spot another from a long way away.) Maybe it was some kind of mental illness – I’ll never know; but she seemed quite normal apart from her strange and obsessive belief. And I don’t know why she included me in her delusional fantasy, but ever since then, I have been fascinated with people who believe in the unbelievable. This was the spark that kindled the fire of interest for me, interest in why people who are otherwise rational choose to believe in nonsense, and that fire has spread as fires do. So thank you, strange and curious girl whose name I have long since forgotten, for inspiring this fascinating interest. I hope that one day you find what you are looking for in your promised land…