Have you ever had a day where everything just seemed to line up, where from the moment you woke, small, positive things kept coming into your life and changing your view of everything around you? And on that day, has a crazy woman ever said you should kill yourself for being white?
Let me back up.
Wednesday I woke up later than usual. It was the day before I was set to start my new job (a temp job at the Council on Foundations doing general office work, a very lucky catch after a month with no work), and on waking I gradually scrounged through my social networks on my phone, delaying the inevitability of extruding myself from my sheets. The first and sweetest thing I saw was this:
My dear friend, Chris McCarthy, had made this video for his fiancee’s birthday and uploaded it to YouTube. Watch it, and if it doesn’t make you swoon, you might be blind (seriously, get that checked out). What better way to wake up than to see two of my best friends celebrating their love?
Next I jumped to Twitter, where I came across a link from the National Society of Collegiate Scholars:
Suffice it to say, I am often bored, and thus this link did so tickle mine fancy to exploriate and reviewitize. Bouncing down the rabbit hole, #22 on this list (“Turn old and unused objects such as books and magazines into practically useful objects such as these!”) led me to a site that featured an eye-catching project: “1. Hollow out an old hardback to create a nifty iPod case”
Following the link again (so much clicking!), I got to an instructional guide on how to make an iPod case out of an old book. And, wouldn’t you know it, I had all the supplies required. The picture looked incredibly clean and functional, and somehow I thought I could make something just as neat.
Well, five or so hours later, what I had was this:
Functional and attractive, though hardly as clean as the instructions. Still, I was feeling proud and handy, like I actually accomplished something useful with my life (see, mom?).
While making the audiobook, I noticed that the show Jon Benjamin Has a Van was recently added to Netflix. Now, I love Jon Benjamin, but for whatever reason I never got around to watching an episode of this series. So, feeling bold, I gave it a go.
I absolutely loved it.
Matt Walsh’s role in the first episode was hilarious, and the show’s irreverent structure and harsh but absurd sense of humor made every new sketch a surprise. It’s experimental, it’s loose, it’s often complex to follow. As sketch comedy series go, it’s definitely a winner, and made excellent background noise for my book-destroying art project.
In the middle of all of this, I got a call from a friend that shocked and awed me (Bush-style). It seems a certain old pal of mine has a new business venture. I won’t go into details lest I steal his thunder, but trust me, it’s both exciting and cool, and I could not be happier that he’s taking it on, not to mention how happy I am that such a business will exist at all.
On top of that, Ajia sends me an email while she’s on her break; she got us two tickets to a screening of Serenity at the Arlington Drafthouse next month. See? I married smart.
When Ajia got home from work (with beer, which she noticed I’d run out of, because she’s awesome), I was in such good spirits I announced that I’d be taking her out to dinner. A local restaurant that we’d been putting off trying out was calling our names. So we each dressed a little more nicely and set about the walk.
And it was here we made our first mistake.
Walking towards the corner of Franklin and Rhode Island, we saw a woman presumably waiting for the light. Nothing unusual about her that we could see; she seemed young, casually dressed, clean, and absently holding a bag of groceries under her arm.
It wasn’t until we got closer that I realized she was talking to herself.
I thought briefly that she might have a bluetooth in her ear or one of those inane earbud contraptions with the receiver on the cord. But then she turned and looked at us, and things got scary.
The first thing I heard her say was “And now a couple white devils f***ing walking through here.”
See, I thought the term “white devil” was a cliche that white people dreamed up to put in the mouths of black actors in movies like Crash. Apparently I was wrong. I was also extremely unlucky; the light turned red exactly when we walked past this woman, and now we had to wait for the walk signal with a crazy woman behind us. And, of course, she immediately started berating us.
Exactly what she said for the majority of the minute-or-so we were trapped on the sidewalk with her, I’m not entirely certain. I remember her insulting both Ajia and myself (I distinctly remember her calling me “the most misshapen motherf***er on Earth” and saying awful things about Ajia’s ass), conceiving of brutal ways in which we should both be killed, and chiding us for walking through her neighborhood, as though we were tourists strolling through to see how poor black people lived so we could feel better about ourselves.
At no point did we engage her, or even turn to look at her; we were both obviously terrified. Though, as Ajia pointed out later, she did say that Ajia and I “deserve each other,” which, though it was certainly not meant as a compliment, was kind of sweet.
The last thing I heard her say as we finally crossed the street was, “You both deserve to die in some kind of murder-suicide or some s**t.”
Now, before I go on, I should point out that at the time, I merely found this encounter kind of funny. Yes, it was extremely uncomfortable, and I was listening very carefully for her footsteps in case she tried to take a swing at either of us, or worse, but I couldn’t help but laugh. In retrospect, this experience has really stuck with me. It was the first time since we moved to Washington that I’ve felt real fear, and a crazy woman calling you a devil and waxing elaborately on how you should be killed is someone to be scared of.
But more than that, it highlights a narrative that has cropped up recently in both mine and Ajia’s experience, which is that, while our neighbors are extremely polite and sweet to us and say “Hello” when we see them, a lot of the people from our area have just stared at us, sometimes disturbingly, if we try to wave, or say “Hi,” or smile, or even nod at them. On that same walk with the devil woman, we passed an RV that’s been parked on the side of a nearby street for weeks. When we walked by it, having walked by it many times before and had no encounters, we saw two things: On one side of the street, a group of three people engaged in conversation. And in the door of the RV itself, the owner.
I tried to say hi to the group. Ajia tried to say hi to the man in the RV. We both got the same response: Glares. Not stares, not eye-rolls, not even nothing; I’d have preferred to get no response at all. But every one of them glared, a seething look that really disheartened both of us.
At what point did we do something to offend anyone here? When we moved into the neighborhood? When we were born? I recognize the irony in a white male bemoaning a narrative of racial discrimination at the hands of others. But honestly, up until now, it hasn’t been a problem. We’ve met some great folks in our block that don’t seem to care what race we are, just as we don’t care what race they are. And maybe it has nothing to do with race, maybe it’s because we’re young college graduates, or that we’re not from this part of the country, or maybe it’s just that we’re new and no one knows who we are.
But I gotta say, being called a “white devil” for walking down the sidewalk has really messed me up.
Okay, enough depressing racial awkwardness.
For dinner on we ate at this amazing Neapolitan pizza restaurant called Menomale. The meal was tremendous, and even though the place was packed, we managed to get seated right away. It’s hard to believe such a chic little eatery is only a couple blocks from a street where the only food is a Papa John’s and a Caribbean fast food chain. But if you’re ever around DC, well, first say hi to us, then check that place out.
Again, none of these things on their own was life-changing. And, in the scheme of things, this is probably a boring day to most people. But somehow, the way everything added up, I came out the other side of the Day of Small Amazements with confidence and a sense that everything in our lives is going to be alright. And really, that’s what I needed most.
Oh, and also, if someone calls you a white devil, just go to the next block, and don’t wait for the light.