Well, I ended up outside of Nashville at a Mazda dealership to get some work done on my car. It was rather odd to be, finally, in the Deep South, outside of what claims to be a city, and in the boonies with the average Southerner (whoever or whatever that is). I was a bit nervous about the long journey because it was the day before the United States was to bomb Iraq. On days like these, when xenophobia pervades (an already jingoistic) White America, I usually find myself in awkward or uncomfortable situations. A long-haired, earring-wearing, brown person like myself could expect no less…
Being an obsessive-compulsive type, I was the first in the waiting room. I sat down and a receptionist walked by, gave me an odd look, and drawled a hello. After a few minutes the waiting room filled up with people who brought their cars in for repair. There were four of us sitting on the vinyl couches; two older guys, myself, and a young man with a USMC sweatshirt on. He was obviously nervous and shifted around in his chair trying to start conversation with someone. I sat a few feet next to him on his right while the other two guys sat in front of him. The three White Americans checked each other out and all three looked at me out of the corner of their eye – checking me out too. Who was going to be included in the upcoming waiting room conversation? I was quickly made marginal – though I more or less marginalized myself as I brought some reading with me and was busy underlining passages and generally studying. To pass time they started talking with one another. Not surprisingly the conversation centered around the likelihood of a crisis in Iraq. The two guys started quizzing the Marine about chemical weapons and the like. The three kept glancing towards me sometimes antagonistically and sometimes with curiosity. After all, I was brown skinned, possibly a Muslim (gasp!), and maybe even in support of Sadam Hussein. They spoke in stereotypes –about these “crazy” and “stupid Iraqis,” about the nuclear bomb that “we” ought to drop on them, and about the need for the United States to control these Islamic countries. Their conversation and anger escalated as did the frequency of their glances towards me.
They obviously wanted a reaction from me.
The Marine was certainly scared and his need for reassurance was made obvious by the placement of his left hand –which held his penis through his pants. He squeezed it every few minutes as if to confirm that he was still a Marine, a man in every sense of the term, despite being nervous about possibly going to war.
I was clearly an interloper in the conversation that ensued. Was I a spy…?
I waited patiently and maintained composure throughout the conversation. I was, after all, diligently reading in preparation for the class I was to teach on Friday. One of the men speaking with the Marine got up to leave – the repairs on his car had been completed. When he left he paused dramatically and looked at the Marine, cleared his throat, and said “Good Luck.” The Marine reassured himself with a quick penis-grab and smiled. My car was also finished and I walked up to the counter to pay my bills and sign relevant forms. I turned around to walk away and the Marine looked at me as I am about to leave. He looked at me with pleading and then angered eyes. I paused dramatically and all eyes are upon me. What was I going to say? Was I the enemy?
“Death to the States”?
“Victory to Sadam”?
The tension ran high when I looked the Marine in the eyes. I broke my frown, put on a smile, and said “Good Luck.”
His eyes showed disbelief, and then reassurance. He smiled and says “Thanks.”
And squeezed his penis…