Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Right to Remain Silent

A Charm / A Blade - Phosphorescent (mp3)

“Guess my age,” she said.

“Fifty-two,” the drunk Indian said.

“Nobody can guess my age right. Most people say 42, but I’m actually 62,” she said.

She looked 65. A hard 65. Like, the adult version of a Ford F-150 that’s been used on a major construction site.

I sighed and rolled my eyes and looked across the table at the older mustachioed gentleman. He looked back at me and shook his head.

The drunk Indian sat down at our table at around 4 p.m. He bought in for $200 and got hot instantly. Within 30 minutes he was sitting on over $700 just from flopping a straight, a flush and a boat and getting called on all of them. His eyes were utterly bloodshot. He claimed he hadn’t slept four hours in the last three days and was playing purely on instinct.

Her response on his third big win: “Are you a legal citizen? Where are you from?” When he responded, “Atlanta,” she came back: “No, I didn’t mean yesterday. I meant where were you born?”

“India,” he said.

“I saw you out in the hall talking to a couple of women,” she said.

“That was my wife and her sister and her mother,” he said.

“They don’t speak English good.”

“No, no. But my wife understand English well. Her sister and mother do not.”

“I don’t think you should be allowed in this country if you can’t speak English,” she said. She then began a rant that never quite involved slurs or insults but contained that endless string of coded words and phrases that made it very clear where she stood on Fur’nurs.

When it became clear that everyone else at the table was ignoring her rants about Fur’nurs, she went more directly into the heart of the political briar patch. Obama, needy lazy people who sucked on the teet of government, people who drool at the thought of taking her pistol from her cold dead hands. It was all textbook FoxNews talk, nary a lick of mental fatigue spent forming independent or nuanced opinion.

About 10 minutes into this next rant, the only other woman at the table and one of the people who had tried to seem friendly, spoke up. “The last time someone insisted on bringing up politics, they killed the table. People just got up and left.”

The woman didn’t get it. And we couldn’t go anywhere, because there were only three tables, and none of them had an opening. I popped in my headphones and cranked me some Jenny Owen Youngs and Phosphorescent, my two latest musical acquisitions, and watched the woman mouthing things I couldn’t hear. Which was sort of funny.

I’d love to tell you this woman was gorgeous, or charming, but you could almost picture this woman without me describing her. She satisfied almost every stereotype of the bitter old gambler babe. Close to 300 pounds. Long straight but thinned-out chicken-shit-colored hair quickly losing the battle to white and gray, hair that hadn’t been washed in several days on top of a face and body that likely looked equally oily and unwashed. Thick cheap glasses, bad teeth, and facial flesh that better resembled a country road than a bowling ball.

She was Ugly. And I’m talking about how she shared herself with us, not how she looked. I found myself wondering if, like Dorian Gray, she had spouted hate and prejudice and division and spite so long that her appearance began to shape itself to mirror her attitude.

Right before I left for dinner, she had to leave for her charter bus back to Atlanta. She hadn’t even made it out the door when the entire table laid into her. Thank God she’s gone. What a terrible woman. How could someone have such a lack of awareness? Why couldn’t she just shut up? One older guy at the end of the table joked, “I almost ripped up my Republican card, but then I thought maybe I should rip up hers instead.” And another joked that he’d volunteer to take that gun from her cold, dead hand as long as we’d promise not to press charges.

Why did we remain silent? How rare is it that nine strangers around a table could so unanimously share a negative opinion of that tenth person yet say nothing, do nothing, but sit back and sigh.

Would we be better people if one of us had spoken up immediately, in defense of the drunk Indian dude? Or if one of us had backed the other woman when she spoke up? Or is our collective silence our greatest blessing? I tried playing the scenario out in my mind, little changes in actions here and there. None of them came out that much better.

Such is poker. Such is life. Right?


bunnyzero said...

I love this piece. good work!

TommyD said...

Love the post Billy. Spot on. Burke once said "Evil flourishes when good men do nothing." Your post makes me wonder if that also means speaking up, particularly in defense of those who don't have much voice. It is important that we teach that lesson to our kids and our students.