"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around." ~Leo Buscaglia~
While working at Oil Can's yesterday, I enjoyed my usual small talk and chatter with the guys. There are some that I am myself with, some that I am my bar self with and some that I am simply polite but distant with, since I'm not well acquainted enough to share either side of me. For those of you who haven't been in the gay bar environment with me, my bar self is easy to explain. It's me, times five and with a heaping dose of sass. Not straight girl sass, but drag queen sass. It wasn't until I started working with Margie that the guys would order their burgers as "Swiss, American or Naked". My reasoning was, why call it a hamburger when "naked" sounds so much more delicious?
Well, I was mixing it up with the patrons, teasing the regulars and talking trash with the more flamboyant ones when two strangers approached the table to place their orders. It was chaotic and busy and the guys must've been worried that they were standing in the wrong place or blocking other customers because the older one motioned me over. He was one of those gay men that embody the old culture: well groomed, nice shirt and trousers, cultured speaking voice with well-modulated tones and gracious. Not that all the bars are filled with grungy disgruntled gay men who can't complete a sentence, but you know when you've run across an old school gay man who probably did own Judy Garland albums or hell, who even knows who she is, who her daughter is and why she's famous outside of her smash 1939 film success, a little picture known as "The Wizard of Oz". The old school gay knows that Judy went to heaven (hopefully) on the wings of barbituate bliss. The modern gay man would probably cock his head to one side and wonder aloud why she did enough at once to O.D. instead of saving some for later.
Anyway, this gentleman asked if they should wait for their order elsewhere or if they were okay standing where they were. I was surprised at his concern, since most of the clientele are more self-centered than that. I replied that where they were was fine and when he again expressed his worry, I smiled and said "Oh, honey, really, you are perfect where you are!"
Imagine my expression when he leaned in so I could hear him over the music and very sincerely, with a most genuine light in his eyes said "No, you are perfect. You're sweet and nice and absolutely gorgeous." He didn't give it the normal gay man slant, where the compliment rings false and shallow but simply let it be what it was: kind words. I laughed and thanked him and said something like oh, I strive for perfection, and again he insisted "oh, but you are." Mystified but pleased, I went about filling other orders and having much more forgettable conversations with other people.
This morning the conversation replayed itself in my head several times until I realized why it kept popping up. There are two kinds of people in this world, the complimentors and the complimentees. Sometimes you are both, but those are fleeting moments. As a complimentor, it was outside my usual realm to be receive such a lovely compliment. As a member of the gay community, it was even rarer to receive a heartfelt compliment from a stranger. In the gay world, we'd almost always rather criticize than compliment, although it's always done with humor and most parties know it's all in good fun. At any rate, this man's words stayed with me and have served their purpose in making me feel special and unique.
I do receive compliments from the ones closest to me. It's not like I'm always saying sweet things with nothing in return. But to hear something so nice from someone I don't know spurs me to grow. I want to be that stranger, saying something earnestly and in good faith, making someone else feel good with no cost to myself other than the breath it took to vocalize the words. And I want to be that sincere person, without guile or pretense, who you may happen upon in the bar, be pleasantly surprised and remember them the next day, even though you never caught their name. So...Mr. Genteel Old School Gay Man, thank you for your compliment. You made me blush and you made me think. I hope the next time you turn on Judy, you have a perfectly mixed cocktail in your hand and sit there, enjoying her strong voice washing over you and knowing that life is good.