Thursday, October 23, 2008

Would You Like Prejudice With That?

Last weekend, I went out to Benihana to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I was having a great time watching Kenny, our samurai-esque chef for the evening, create a smoking volcano out of onion rings, when another friend leaned over and whispered, “I think the table over there has a problem with us.”

Sure enough, I glanced across the griddle to find five or six middle-aged people glaring not very subtly in our direction. This came as a surprise, since we were neither drunk nor loud nor shouting obscenities. We were eight women with chopsticks sharing some stories and laughs. Oh, and seven of the eight were gay.

I say that as an aside, because it wasn’t the most defining characteristic of the group. Nobody was French kissing, there was no heavily-tattooed, spikey-haired uber lesbian grabbing our waitress’ ass and tearing up an 8x10 of the American family. We were nicely-dressed women in all shapes and sizes. We didn’t even all have short hair. We were all wearing lip gloss for Christ’s sake!

But someone at the other table must have seen the couples sitting a little too close. A look here, a touch there, and suddenly it didn’t matter that we weren’t shouting obscenities. We were the obscenity. And I say “we” because, even though I was the only straight girl at the table, in their eyes I was just as offensive. So they stared, hating me for something I couldn’t control, something they misunderstood. They hated me, essentially, for daring to eat chicken and sing “Happy Birthday” in public.

I’ve often told people that until you have gay friends or family members, you don’t truly understand how crazy it seems that some people can look at them and say, “Because of who they love, they are not as good as you.” As if, in some inexplicable way, who they share their life with negates the fact that they are great people.

But homosexuality didn’t prevent the birthday girl from showing up on my doorstep with her partner three years ago, hours after I was violently mugged, with $150 in cash to tide me over and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide to get the blood out of my clothes. It didn’t stop another friend from vowing to keep a change of clothes next to his bed after he felt he responded too slowly to a 3 am assault outside his window. And it doesn’t stop another friend in his 20's from being the sole caretaker for his ailing grandmother and her sister.

Knowing that strangers were viewing me with disgust when I hadn’t done anything to them was a terrible feeling. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to know that, whenever you go out, there looms the distinct possibility that someone will give you the evil eye just for being yourself. I have to admire the quiet, everyday courage it takes to be different, to live your life without apologizing for your happiness regardless of what the "moral" majority says.

Despite the lack of love from our restaurant neighbors, I did have a great time. My food was great, Kenny made a beating heart out of the fried rice, and our waitress took an awesome Polaroid of our whole group. As I watched it slowly materialize, I thought about how lucky I've been to meet so many intelligent, interesting, resourceful, funny friends since I moved to the Twin Cities.

Afterward, the rest of the girls decided to go out dancing at a gay bar. I declined, mostly because that's not really my scene, but partly because it would have been an ego blow not to get hit on at least once. Being friends with lesbians is a double-edged sword, man. Or, in this case, a double-edged samurai sword.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Exit Strategy

Let me start by saying that I'm all for saving the planet. I may not be out there embracing the nearest knotty pine, but I do my part. I recycle, use eBay and Craigslist like they're going outta style, and take the bus. I like to say I do the latter because I'm environmentally conscious, but really it's because I can't afford to pay for both parking and gas. I also greatly enjoy having the freedom to nod off for an extra half hour on the way to work without causing a 14-car pileup. And now, with the new hybrid buses cruising the metro, I can feel even better about my commute. Nevermind that they're freshly upholstered, smell like new cars, and don't guzzle gas. I love them for their entertainment value.

It's the back doors. If you haven't noticed, the back doors on the hybrid buses require you to push lightly in the middle instead of on the handles. If this tiny detail has escaped you, don't worry. You are not alone.

I have this mental image of the folks at Metro Transit, sitting around a table, trying to figure out the best way to communicate the exit procedure to riders:

"So we'll put two strips of bright yellow tape that run the entire length of the doors, right where you need to push on them."
"We should write some instructions on them."
"How about PUSH HERE TO OPEN?"
"Okay. That should be good. No one could possibly screw that up."
"Well ... maybe we should put little drawings of hands on there, too, so riders know exactly which appendage to use and where to place it."


I watched three people in a row try to exit the back doors yesterday, and each of them did the same thing: wait for the green light, grab both handles, push two times, look back at the green light, rattle the handles, look angrily at the driver, yell "Back door!" and finally give an exasperated but proper shove that sent them spilling out into the street. The week before, I watched a girl struggle, give up, and then run to exit through the front.

It doesn't seem that complicated, really. I mean, it's not rocket science, people. It's not even "Speed." It's just reading.

Now, I have been known to push on a pull door or pull on a push door, but I try not to do it when there's a fluorescent sign two feet from my face with very clear instructions to the contrary. And I'm not picking on any ESL learners. But even when I lived in Japan, I watched how people got off a train or onto a streetcar or bought a movie ticket or accomplished other necessary daily activities. There weren't diagrams ... there weren't even letters! I couldn't read a lick, but I paid attention.

Maybe that's why I can't help noticing all the botched attempts to flee our lovely mass transit vehicles. Old habits of observation die hard.
And so, apparently, do exit strategies.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Take It Easy

I have to begin by apologizing, because it's been almost a month since my last post. But I have gotten to do several interesting things in the last few weeks, one of which was attending the Eagles concert at the Target Center last Tuesday. I think it says something about their lasting popularity when a 30-year-old woman goes to see them with her parents, and they all know every word to every song. It was a great show, but three things troubled me about the whole experience:

1. Our seats. I realize these guys don't tour much anymore, but I think it's a little ridiculous that the best seats I could get for $57 apiece (roughly $6500 after Ticketmaster fees) were at the VERY top of the upper section. I mean the last row. Seriously, they should have put a disclaimer on the ticket warning us to bring oxygen. And I was a bit annoyed that the sherpa cost us an extra $10, although he was a pretty nice guy.

2. Idiotic videographers. (Say that shit five times fast!) The man sitting next to my dad arrived half an hour late and then proceeded to videotape the entire concert. Didn't care that it wasn't allowed, just sat there pointing his camera right out in the open. What I really didn't understand, though, was why he felt the need to sing along, extremely off-key, during every song. Which means that the microphone probably only picked up his pathetic yowling, drowning out the iconic professionals upon replay. I don't know whether this was a twisted version of karaoke, unchecked musical zeal, or simply stupidity, but if I were a bettin' woman, my money would be on stupidity.

3. My oldness. The group took the stage at 7:45 and played until 8:40, then took a break, came back at 9:00, and played until 10:45. Three hours. If you aren't familiar with the Eagles' work, the basic song structure goes like this: catchy opening, first verse, chorus, guitar solo, guitar solo, guitar solo, second verse, etc. I definitely feel I got my money's worth, and granted, Hotel California is totally kickass live. But around 10:00 I found myself wanting to yell, "We get it! You're good at playing guitar!" and then around 10:30, "Wrap it up! Some of us have to work in the morning!" My parents, on the other hand, were still rockin' out, and Don Henley was belting out tunes while playing a mean drum set.

Of course, none of this compared to the priceless moment when, just before the start of Kathy Griffin's show, two men embraced each other and kissed right in front of my dad. He simply turned and said under his breath, "That's the first time I've ever seen that in person." Talk about taking it easy.