EXT. TRANSFER STATION (AKA. THE LOCAL DUMP), RURAL TOWN—DAY
A WOMAN in her “thirty-tens,” but often mistaken for younger (not-so-humble-brag owned) drives into the transfer station. She makes her way around the short loop to pull up next to the dumpsters. Two men work at the station: SAM and MEL. They both are of average build and height and appear to be in their late-50s or early-60s. SAM is stoic, polite. MEL is a talker. He is also a local; he knows everyone and, of course, everyone knows MEL. MEL is happiest with an elbow draped on the side of your pick-up truck chit-chatting, jokey-joking, hee-hawing it up with you. That MEL! What a character (is what he assumes those laughing, smiling people say).
An SUV-type vehicle is ahead of the WOMAN, idling in front of the dumpster designated for all household trash. The WOMAN parks next to the dumpster for recycling. She shuts off her car and begins hauling out flattened pieces of cardboard boxes. Because everything from pajama pants to avocados magically arrives on her doorstop these days, there are many cardboard sleeves to fling into the receptacle. The back hatch of the SUV is raised. The DRIVER and MEL are looking at some kind of small tractor or tiller or, possibly, one of those terrifyingly cute “robots” made in the dubious labs of Boston Dynamics. He and MEL are engrossed in conversation. The WOMAN is from the big city where holding up the works to chat as if you were at a neighborhood cook-out is a punishable offense. She is stubbornly resigned to the rules of small town living. This could be a while. The WOMAN retrieves a bag of trash and carefully circumvents the two men to toss it into the dumpster. It’s only then that MEL and the DRIVER seem aware of someone else in line.
The truck starts and the DRIVER pulls away. The WOMAN grabs and tosses, grabs and tosses, mostly her recyclables, saving the heaviest bags for last. At some point she hears MEL, his commentary unclasped from the conversation with the DRIVER to find new purchase with whomever is closest. In this case, SAM. The WOMAN picks up the volume of his voice, turned her way, registers the sound of his work boots mincing the gritty, sandy ground. To be a woman is to develop the auditory powers of a bat. The WOMAN hears:
MEL: (laughing)…don’t mind, but it’s those mean, little women who come around that you have to worry about!
The WOMAN rakes a bag of cans and paper toward her. She hopes she’s wrong about what is surely coming next, knowing that’s about as likely as a Brittney Spears Oscar win.
MEL: Are you one of those mean, little women?
The voice is at her shoulder. Without stopping her gathering, without looking in his direction, she responds:
WOMAN: I’m not a little woman at all.
There is a breath of hesitation. A precious few seconds for the prefrontal cortex to make a series of calculations it has made millions of times.
MEL: Young girl?
The mask hides the teasing leer on his face, but it cannot chase it from the tone of his voice. There is another beat of hesitation. It is less than a few seconds for the prefrontal cortex to make a series of calculations it is making for the first time—surprising its own ancient intelligence.
The finality of her sentence is palpable. There is no lift to her tone, no suggestion that she, like he, might be “just joking.” Because in that instant the WOMAN became clear on something that she hadn’t been before: when someone abuses humor to Trojan horse their douchey behavior, you do not have to play along. You do not have to return their joshing to diffuse the situation or prove you are “cool” or tactfully excuse them from having to take responsibility for their stuff. No. Way. Oh! Says prefrontal cortex. Noted, like, 4-EVA.
The energy washes out from the interaction the way sidewalk chalk runs in the rain. MEL manages a weak chuckle. The WOMAN remains silent. SAM takes what turns out to be the most cumbersome bag of trash out from the car. MEL reaches for whatever is left. The WOMAN thanks both men politely, gets back in her car, and drives out.
The WOMAN takes her mask off and drops it onto the passenger side floor. She turns onto the main road, grinning at her own reflection in the rear view mirror.