The following is the post I wanted to submit for Day 4, but it was well after 11pm when I started typing. I knew and knew it would not be done by midnight – so here we are..
My sons and I enter a diner on the Upper West Side after seeing “Logan”. Usually having a both available it was surprisingly crowded so relented to being seated at a table in a tight corner adjacent to a table with a solo diner. As I squeezed into the corner, the back of my coat brushed against a coat laying across the back of a chair at that table. The owner of said coat, an older caucasian male apparently not liking that my down coat made contact with his , shoved the chair in a way that caused the chair to strike me in my left cheek.
I was in a good mood, I was with my boys and some people are just assholes. I said a pointed “Excuse me!” at his rudeness and started removing my coat. I heard him speaking to the busboy, but was not really paying heed until I saw the busboy bring him a damp paper towel to which he proceeded to wipe down his coat.
My eldest was standing next to me with his back to the man and did not see it, but by the way my youngest’s entire demeanor changed as we sat down, I could tell he had and that I was not imagining things. It’s not as though the coat somehow slipped to the floor when I passed and was now dirty, the man was wiping it down because my down coat covered ass accidentally brushed up against his down coat.
I glared at the man about to say “You know even if I touched it directly, my Black won’t rub off on it, right?” when several thoughts rapidly crossed my mind…
.0001 seconds: Fucker, I should take your coat and drop it on the floor. Then it will need the wiping.
.001 seconds: We’re on the only people of color in this place who aren’t workers here. Let’s not get ethnic and become dinner gossip fodder.
.01 seconds: I don’t have bail money.
Determined not to live up to the stereotype, instead I turned my face to the window the fingers of my right striking the table with a rapid steady staccato that put both sons on notice, my youngest grabbed my other hand to keep me, or perhaps himself, from getting up. It became a bigger issue when the man spoke to the busboy and got up from the table to stand-off to the side. The diner’s greeter/host came to inquire and while the man’s voice was too low for me to hear, he waved his hand between our table and his with obvious disdain. Whatever the man said to him, the host clearly was not getting it.
“He can’t sit at that table anymore because we’re sitting at this one.” I spoke up indicating both tables. At the host’s continued lack of comprehension I expanded further “He was fine until you sat us here, now he has a problem and cannot sit there.” I can see understanding cross the latino busboy’s face as he looked from the man to us,then locked eyes with me and gave a sad little knowing smile “You get it don’t you?” He nodded once before clearing away an adjacent table.
The man stood there for quite a while, glaring at us, before going to stand in another section of the restaurant. I suspect he was hoping either he or we would be reseated elsewhere. The place was packed with people waiting by the door for a table – it wasn’t going to happen. The host, finally getting the gist of the situation, came over to us. I distinctly heard him call the man “scum” under his breath before asking if we were ready to order. All in all, glaring beside, it’s as though the man somehow knew not to say anything to us directly. I could all but guarantee you that had he said anything to us we did not like, all bets were off. Alas, God protects fools and children, and he was not a child.
Normally, after a movie, I’m famished and looking forward to a good nosh. Not surprising the three of us suddenly had little appetite. We had not even picked up the menus to peruse the options. Yet, the three of us knew – to get up and leave means he wins, and we were not having that. We eventually each ordered something. Still, something of a pall -perhaps because we were appalled?- loomed over the remainder of dinner that we could not fully ease even with his eventual departure.
In the interim, my thoughts and our conversation filtered through how our reactions may have been different were we three train stations north in Harlem, versus the posh Upper West Side. Would we have been more boisterous in expressing our anger if we were, say, in a McDonald’s as opposed to a nice diner? Would I have policed myself had it be I alone confronted with him? For that is what is was, self-policing. Or perhaps by silencing the stream of viciousness going through my head in that moment clamouring to get out God was protecting the three of us. Either way it sticks in my craw a little even now hours later.
To top it all off, in the Insult to Injury Files – upon receiving the check, the host, this same one who called the man “scum” earlier came to our table to explain to us that the man was actually a germophobe and that was excuse for behaving the way he did. And with a page right out of Get Smart the host had the nerve to end it with “And would you believe he’s a doctor?” He must have seen the triple sets of deep eyerolls calling him out on the bullshit of his, well, bullshit as he apologized and walked away. Even the busboy, who again happened to be near our table and heard it, just kind of looked at his boss as if to say oh please!
Last month there was a mini documentary of sorts circling the web where African-American celebrities told of The First Time I Realized I Was Black. Ging through the various stories, it was poignant, it raised some ire, some sadness and memories. Were I asked, I may not recall the very first time, but thanks to this one man, I can tell you the most recent.