Buddy, Can You Spare A ….

I had dinner the other night at a local Thai restaurant with my friend, G.  It was rather late when we got there and the place was pretty empty.  Early on in our meal, an African American  couple with an infant in a carrier came in, placed it on a table for four that was right next to ours and sat down.    I’m not sure why, with so many empty tables , that they chose to sit right by our table, but they did.  We (G and I) were involved in a fairly serious conversation so I was less than pleased by what I foresaw as trouble.  And sure enough, within a few minutes the baby was fussing and starting to cry.  G, who tries not to get stressed about these kinds of things , refused to be annoyed and  started cooing and making faces at the baby…almost enjoying him.  He seemingly wasn’t  bothered at all  by the fact that this couple could have sat anywhere but had instead  placed a crying baby within a foot of us.  G’s placid demeanor in the face of this storm made me feel as if  I was having dinner with Ghandi.  So, it was left to me to be the sole repository of any unhappiness with our situation.   And of course, I rose to the occasion. I’ve seen (and been part of) this exact dynamic that often takes place in  couples (for clarity’s sake, G and I are not a romantic couple).  Often, when one of the parties gets upset, it’s not unusual  for the other to stake out the opposite position even if it’s at odds with their inclination.   In this case, either G could see me getting upset or made a very reasonable guess that  I would soon be bothered,  so he easily moved over to a position of insouciance.  (As an aside, very occasionally  the reverse happens…..most likely on the tennis court.  G is more apt to be bothered by some intrusion to our court than I am. I simply adopt a  beatific smile reminiscent of the Dalai Lama and let him take care of the steaming for both of us.)

The baby calmed down, we continued our conversation and the meals we had ordered were served.  Me, Pod Thai…G, a plate of pork chops.  We began eating and soon after, the baby’s father looked at G’s platter and said, “Man, those look good…can I have a bite?”  Yes….a stranger who we don’t know from a hole in the wall says just like that, “CAN I HAVE SOME OF YOUR DINNER?”  These folks were already on my list of people who:  I want to know where they’re  going to be eating next so I can avoid that restaurant.  They now moved easily to the top of that list.  G,  who doesn’t get rattled easily said something like “I like your style”  or  “go for it” and  obliged.  He cut a piece, put it on his fork and extended it to the stranger sitting next to us. 

We ultimately finished eating , paid our bill and left the restaurant.  Once outside, I asked G if he would have reacted differently had it been a white guy asking the same question.  He said, “No, not at all”, and I take him at his word.  The reason that  I asked  is that I sense in myself  the instinct to “bend over backwards”   in a situation like that where I’m dealing with someone who is  a minority.  Almost an overcompensation based on some internalized guilt.  It brings to mind Malcom Gladwell’s premise in Blink.  Even when we make what may look like a quick decision, it is formulated by a lifetime of information that his been processed by our brain.  In the case in point, had I been the one asked to fork over some meat by a white guy, I think I probably would have asked him if he was crazy.  But if it had been a black guy….I think my brain would start firing all its neurons, protons, all kinds of particles….everything, calling up every piece of  the history of the oppression, prejudice and racism that had ever come its way.  And in a moment that looked instantaneous, a “blink”, I think I probably would have offered the guy my pork chop, the  side  dish that came along with it, my beer and possibly a ride home.

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7 Responses to “Buddy, Can You Spare A ….”

  1. jackie Says:

    I always wondered about you and G.

    • ironicman Says:

      i’ve kind of wondered also. but, you’re jumping to conclusions. “G” could easily be a pseudonym for another initial, say…”R” or “B”…i think you get the idea. thanks for your comments. see you thursday. just go easy on the vodka, ok?

  2. ed Says:

    Well you can forget about the Supreme Court.

  3. Me Says:

    You should have asked for a sip from baby’s bottle.

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