So here’s a thing that happened last night:

I’m back in the USA on one of my biannual adjust-mom-to-my-expatriation visits. As always happens on trips back to the States, I’m reeling, but this time it’s worse: Paris was terrorized ten days ago, and Beirut eleven, and Kenya nine, and Mali two — or that happens tomorrow — or I don’t even fucking know. Everyone is reeling.

So last night,  I do one of the things I enjoy on these trips, which is I go out to dinner with a good friend, Patrick, who’s recently retired and deciding if and where to go. How to split. I encourage him and we commiserate about small Midwestern towns and eat some pasta and drink a bunch of wine and it’s great.

We talk about books for a while, then about the Packers, food, travel, our families, heartache, healing. All that shit. We talk about politics. We always talk about politics. I’m always outraged. He is too. Blah, blah, blah.

Things are a little different this time.

The previous day, one of the leading Republican presidential candidates gave an interview. (I’m not going to use his name, because I’m not contributing to Google hits on this assfuck, but you know — let’s call him Voldemort. For fun.)

You’ve no doubt already heard about this interview. It’s the one where He Who Must Not Be Named said that Muslims should carry/wear special IDs/badges. It’s the one to which every sane person in the reach of the Internet said, “You mean like the Jews during the Holocaust, you fucking racist fascist nutjob evil ablighitablab therearenotenoughhashtagstoexpressourshockandoutrage obligidoodidiblaaaaaagh!”

And every sane person in reach of the Internet is, of course, EVERYONE, right? Because, WE ARE ALL ON THE INTERNET. I’m on the Internet, now, ranting about this. You’re on the Internet, now, reading about it. Nobody is outside.

Sorry, I’m wrong. The Death Eaters are.

Anyway. Anyway. So here’s what happened. I’m talking to Patrick, and I verbalize, for the first time, the terrible thought that’s been burbling just below the surface of my consciousness:

What if we’re the silent Germans? The ones who were afraid, or just didn’t know what to do? That . . . That could be us, pretty easy.

So I say this, and I immediately feel better for having said it, because if we recognize that possibility, we lessen the chances, right?

Patrick’s eyes get real big, and he gets quiet for a moment, and then he’s agreeing with me: How can THESE PEOPLE be allowed to do THIS to THESE OTHER HUMAN BEINGS and WE let them?!?!

He’s making totally valid points. Rationally, emotionally, politically, all the ways. They make sense to him. I’m not crazy to be comparing the U.S. to Germany in the 1930s. This is real.

But he doesn’t realize what he’s doing. As he emphasizes THESE PEOPLE, he is jerking his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of our summoned, non-specific enemy. But he’s looking at me and gesturing toward an actual and very real woman in hijab with her teenage daughter, three tables away.

It’s late. The restaurant is almost empty. There are a couple of vacant tables between us, but I see it happen. It’s not what he meant, but it happens. The woman’s head goes down and her shoulders hunch up. Her daughter, thank fucking God, doesn’t react. Please let her not have heard.

I don’t know what to do.

I keep looking back over at them. This is making it worse. Fuck. Stop. Fuck. I am . . . What the fuck do I do?

Should I buy their dinner? That seems . . . maybe ok? I could leave a note on the receipt like . . . Like what?

Sorry, people are assholes, we’re not! <3, your neighbors.”

For a second, a minute, I honestly think about writing: “Hey this isn’t charity, I know you can afford your own dinner, I just wanted to say I’m glad you’re part of this community and I’m sorry people here are dicks.” But that’s really, really weird and awkward, right?

Yes. Yes, it is.

Is it?

And while I’m in this panic, Patrick pays the bill and gathers up my coat and lifts my elbow, and we walk out. That’s it.

I chickened out. I just kept quiet.

I mean, fuck. I’m an expat. I bowed out of this whole fucking game a while back.

I do not want to come back to the United States. I don’t think I’d be any good here anyway.

But I feel like I’m stuck on the sidelines, like I’ve eliminated myself at a critical juncture.

I don’t know what to do.

  1. Thanks for starting this conversation.
    I wish you had continued it though. Now what? is all I was left wondering at the end of that. So you went to dinner and your educated friend was racist, and you said what to HIM about it? I’d love to read the follow up piece where you explain to your friend that he is being racist in creating an other and that although you know it’s not exactly his fault, that this ignorance is part of the times created mostly by the United States in supporting Israel and then that horrible witch hunt after 911-but that “these people” is not how we refer to: people of colour or homosexuals or women or jews or muslims… I know the feeling of wanting to do something but feeling like you already made your choice by leaving, I’m in this sideline boat too. But you can absolutely cuff your friend over the head and teach them to know better. Putting up with racist remarks from your peers is just as bad as making them yourself isn’t it? How does that old saying go, “once you know better, you have to do better.” or some such. Might bring some peace of mind to you to teach someone tolerance too. And cheaper than picking up every woman in hijab’s meal.

  2. Patrick was not being racist. He meant how can we let racists and xenophobes treat muslims like they are less than human. He just mistakenly used pronouns that to the outside world sounded as though he was referring to the woman as the bad people when he was animated and gesturing to mean a wider audience. Good beginning convo. Missed you Tuesday. You would have enjoyed the conversation.

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About the Author

Annie Vanderboom has worked behind the curtain for La Cuadra over many years as an editor, general advisor and inebriate-companion hybrid. Recently, she has put pen to paper and is developing her own column for these pages. We welcome her to the front-end of the house and can't wait to see her in the mezcal bar instigating shenanigans and kicking ass.