I’m a feminist, but I try not to be too prickly about it. A lot of what younger women get upset about — catcalling, being told by total strangers to smile, having men simply assume they can impose upon my time without permission — simply doesn’t happen to me anymore. And I’m older now, and know that everybody, no matter their age or station in life, is figuring it out day by day. Which is to say: I try to forgive. You never know.
Saturday morning is my gift to myself. Almost every week, I get up early and go to the Eastern Market to drink in the glory of fresh vegetables glowing under the rising sun, or at least do a little people-watching. Then I stash my haul and take myself out for breakfast, at a coney island (non-Detroiters, read: diner).
I almost always sit at the counter rather than tie up a table. I usually order the hippie hash with eggs over easy. I’m in and out in 30 minutes.
On Saturday, seating was tighter than usual. Only two single stools.
As I sat down, the guy next to me started talking. To me.
“Man, I love this place,” he said. “It’s a dying breed. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore.”
Three statements, one an opinion, the other two incorrect. Just smile and nod, said the angel on my shoulder. Set him straight, countered the demon on the other.
“Of course it’s not a dying breed,” I said. “There are probably dozens, no, hundreds of coney islands like this, all over the city.”
He nodded. “Yeah, it’s a great place,” he said.
OK, so maybe we’re dealing with someone not quite all there. He didn’t look homeless or mentally ill, didn’t smell drunk, but you never know. He was wearing a day-glo vest that suggested he had a real job, working near traffic. But the devil had led me into temptation, and now we were having a conversation.
“They just know you, they remember your face,” he enthused. “See? She brought you coffee, the way you like it.”
Too late, I smiled and nodded, then picked up my phone and started scrolling Twitter, the universal symbol for we’re-done-talking.
He wasn’t done talking. “It’s so great here,” he went on. “I love this place. The food is so good.” Kept scrolling. “Excuse me if I’m talking too much,” he said. I smiled and kept scrolling: Oh look, the president is yelling about Puerto Ricans. Someone sat down on the other side of him, a man, and he started in with him, only it was about football. The guy gave him two replies, then picked up his own phone. Back to me.
“They really serve the best corned beef I’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s so…good.”
The angel reappeared on my shoulder. This poor man probably lives by himself and has no one to talk to, she whispered. Can’t you be a good person, just this once?
“I’m not much for corned beef, but I’m sure it’s very good,” I said, still looking at my phone.
“And the hash browns!” he went on. “They’re so great!”
WTF, I’m thinking. This isn’t a conversation, he’s just babbling. His food arrived. Corned beef and eggs. He started to eat, briefly stopping his patter, but not for long.
“Mmm, I just love this,” he said. “Sooo good.”
By now I was staring fixedly at my phone and actually turning my body away, to the extent I could without imposing on the person on the other side.
“Look at that yolk!” he crowed. “Just look at it!”
I turned back to him and snapped, “OK, that’s ENOUGH.”
He went on chortling to himself: “Mmm, these eggs, so good.”
My own food arrived. I bolted it, grabbed the check and left. A stranger, a man, had successfully ruined my breakfast because I lacked the spine to shut him up immediately.
This is my life now. Squabbling with crazy men in diners.
Of course, when you turn to the news, you get this:
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) October 3, 2017
Without taking an iota of glory away from first responders, I am increasingly uncomfortable with what happens pretty routinely now after these tragedies – the deflection of horror into generic praise for first responders, who are, after all, doing the jobs they signed up for. Maybe those who do are only looking for something, anything, good to say when confronting oceans of blood. But there comes a point where Mister Rogers’ advice is simply what it is: Comfort extended to children. It’s fine to look for the helpers. But if you can’t, or won’t, look at why the helpers were called in the first place, you’re simply deflecting.
Yep, I’m politicizing this tragedy. Join with me. Let’s politicize the shit out of it. Because it happened due to a failure of policy. Policy is decided through politics. So let’s get to it.
Happy Tuesday, all.