In the summer of 2011, my friend Carol, a nurse, joined a mercy mission to Haiti to treat people still suffering from the January 2010 earthquake. A last minute volunteer, she hadn’t had time to fundraise, but was expected to buy and bring all kinds of medical supplies – bandages, Tylenol, alcohol wipes, rubber gloves. Everything.
To help defray the cost, Carol sent emails to some friends, and we donated to help defray her costs.
A week after she got back, Carol invited me and three women I had never met over for a glass of wine to thank us, celebrate her return and hear about her trip.
One of the women, Mary Grace, rubbed me wrong immediately. The middle-aged bleached blond wore a tight sparkly dress that screamed “I’m still 20!” with gold glitter-encrusted flip flops.
Before we were even introduced, I heard her say,
“Now they’re going after Michelle Bachmann because she has migraines!” I had just the day before posted this blog piece about Michelle’s migraines. Mary Grace and I were clearly not destined to be BFFs.
A minute later, she continued her political commentary:
“I’d push Nancy Pelosi under a truck. I just wish I could keep her clothes …”
“Carol,” I said, looking at the enormous glass of Pinot Grigio she gave me and trying to lighten the mood Mary Grace had struck, “shouldn’t you just pass out the bottles and save hand-washing these glasses?”
Everybody chuckled and we made some small talk. Drinks became dinner; Carol told us all about her trip.
Everybody but me had a few large glasses of wine, I was driving.
“Even after all the attention following the earthquake,” explained Carol, over grilled shrimp salad, “not much has been rebuilt. People still live in tents, with cholera, typhoid, other nasty diseases that poverty and no clean water bring.”
Mary Grace didn’t seem to be at all interested; she kept trying to change the subject. I was getting irritated because we were there, after all, to hear Carol’s story. I certainly was.
Carol described the terrible plight of the Haitians, especially children, and how difficult it is for them. Then Carol said the thing that set Mary Grace — and at least three large glasses of wine — off.
“The most wonderful thing about my trip,” said Carol, “was Sean Penn. He’s my new hero.”
“Ugh!” said Mary Grace with disgust. “No!”
Carol continued. “Right after the earthquake, he raised millions of dollars to build a hospital. A few months later, though, his money was still in the US. They couldn’t get it to Haiti.”
“Didn’t he have some crap Hollywood movie to make?” slurred Mary Grace. The rest of us rolled our eyes.
“Well,” Carol continued. ”Sean managed to get the money, architects and skilled workmen there – he brought them over. They designed a hospital, hired a whole lot of previously unskilled unemployed Haitians, and taught them the skills to build it. They did it! They built the hospital! It’s not done, but I treated patients there!”
Mary Grace rudely burst out “Sean Penn is scum,” she said. “What good’s he ever done? He just trades on his Hollywood connections. Hero, my ass.”
Now I am not a huge Sean Penn fan. But we weren’t talking about that; we were talking about Haiti. We were talking about someone who’d helped over there. We were talking about Carol and her incredible experience. And we were doing it in Carol’s house.
“He’s an alcoholic, drug abuser,” she said, holding up her enormous glass for a fourth refill.
“Drink up,” I said to her to stifled laughter from everybody else at the table.
I couldn’t believe her rudeness. Still, I was thinking I am a guest here, so I clenched my teeth, bit my tongue. But my heart raced and my blood pressure skyrocketed. I didn’t want to offend Carol, but I did want to throttle Mary Grace. Clearly, she didn’t care about offending Carol.
Kelly, one of the other women, said “Ooh, Carol, where did you get that sculpture?” in a transparent effort to change the subject.
But Mary Grace wouldn’t drop it.
“He just trades on his celebrity. Those liberals in Hollywood, they just trade on their names. What does he really do? People like Carol do the real work.”
“Carol did a great job. As a nurse, she has a skill that she can use to help people. It is great.” I said with more reserve than I felt. “But other people have different skills, abilities. If Sean Penn can manage to build a hospital, why are you putting him down? What’s wrong with using what you can to help people?“
“He does nothing good. Sean Penn hasn’t done anything good. Other people do good things.”
“Well,” I said, “you’re a person. What good things have you done lately?”
Without hesitation she told me:
She held up one finger. “I am a nice person. I don’t flip people off in traffic. I am always polite when I drive.”
She had me there. I have been known to raise a finger now and then.
Holding up her middle finger, she went on, “When somebody asks me how they look, I always tell them that they look nice. Even if they don’t.”
The rest of us sat in stunned silence, mouths gaping.
She held up a third finger: “And I was in Chipotle yesterday. Behind me in line were three soldiers. And I said to the cashier ‘their dinner is on me.‘”
For a minute, I expected her to continue. But she didn’t.
“Let me see,” I said, holding out my hands. I held up my right hand, palm up, weighing things: “On the right: Lunch at Chipotle.” I held up my left: “On the left: building a hospital for the poor people of Haiti. Yes, Mary Grace, you’re by far the better person.”
The table was silent. Everybody, including me, was watching Mary Grace to see what she would say.
She said nothing.
“Carol,” I said, rising from the table and fearing I’d just lost a friend, “I think it’s time for me to leave.” I grabbed my purse and headed for the door. Carol was mortified.
“I’m so sorry,” I told her as she walked me out to my car. “I tried to not be rude, but it was your trip and your hero!”
“You know,” Carol said in her lovely British accent, “Mary Grace wasn’t even invited tonight. She’s always crashing along with Kelly and Kate.” She grabbed my arm to make sure I heard the next part. “When I sent that email asking for donations? I got an email back from Mary Grace telling me ‘no’ and saying ‘Charity begins at home.’“
I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one to think Mary Grace a rude bore.
“Mary Grace has been rude to me every time I’ve seen her. She’s not my friend, yet she always just shows up.” she said, laughing. “But until tonight, nobody has ever managed to shut her up.”
Carol told me the next day that Mary Grace was insulting Bono along with Penn when she got back in.
“Apparently,” Mary Grace sneered as Carol sat back down, “your friend just couldn’t take it.”-.
Carol closed her eyes. “Mary Grace, please leave. You’re no longer welcome here.”
* * *
This piece is from my memoir class. I had to recount a memorable argument. I thought I’d post it tonight to celebrate two things:
- Michelle Bachmann’s Retirement!
- My 2nd Blogging Anniversary! Thanks, everybody. It’s been a blast!
This is long but it is taken from just about the view I have from my office!