What constitutes a good excuse for racism?
Say, you were raped for over five hours by six members of an ethnicity. Are you entitled to a certain dislike even if it stems from base Pavlovian conditioning where pain, fear, hatred and humiliation attached themselves to a group of people because a few members of it perpetrated a crime against your body and soul?
No, I don't think so. I am a liberal after all and a Buddhist to boot and neither my secular nor religious worldview nor my basic temperament would allow me to bathe on racism's dirty shores.
Yet a passenger told me a story of her rape. And as far as the epistemology of personal racism goes there are certainly weaker cases for it than her ordeal... though none ultimately justify the blanket sentiment of antipathy toward billions of people who happen to share similar genetic traits as a few criminals.
She said that she has told this story to another driver at my company and that he started to weep.
When I later ran into the said driver at the company office, I brought her up and he smiled and said, "Ha ha ha! She is crazy. She did so many drugs that she is out of it!"
"She had interesting life experiences," I said.
"Ha ha ha!," came the reply, "She is nuts! I can't drive her anymore. Did she tell you how she was raped by six n******?"
"Yes," I said.
"Crazy!" he said, "just insane! Ha ha! Don't tell her too much about yourself she talks a lot! Did she try to hit on you?"
"She flirted with me all the time. I can't drive her anymore!"
The contrast between this exchange and him shedding tears in the car was rather profound. What accounted for this moral discrepancy? Did she exaggerate his emotional response or did she have it right and was his retelling now a kind of a locker room bro talk meant to mask his tender, sentimental core that she saw and I never will on account of my male gender?
Don't know. Though the naive child within me was hurt by the idea of her seeing him as a friend and him presenting her as a wild freak with a crazy life to me; as if we were trading her horrible rape story like a handful of weathered baseball cards.
I can't put it into words right but these kinds of exchanges make me subtly hate human existence, hate our innately hypocritical and two-faced nature, hate the shitty civilizations with which we littered the green earth and where we now run around like headless chickens with our ambitions, lies and tender feelings.
When she informed me that the other driver cried when she told him of her ordeal, I felt a ping of discomfort at my own lack of misty eyes.
What was I supposed to say?
"You see Jane (not her real name), I am emotionally detached and process human suffering in a cerebral way; I will place your experience on a mental shelf reserved for such things where it will rest along with other horrible events -such as various 20th century genocides, revolutions and wars- that I have heard or read about. My empathy for you is real but also muted and abstract on account on my general alienation from humanity that created an iron curtain of thoughts and calculations between me and the rest of my Godforsaken species. Save for one girl with whom I am in love, I interact with all other people like a well functioning autistic kid or an intergalactic alien in human form who understands people well but can't get on the same emotional frequency with them because I don't see myself and the rest as similar creatures. We might be on the same boat but our rowing is out of sync. The girl I love gets long texts with smiley faces and genuine tenderness of feeling but everyone else is served up bursts of language that isn't exactly a lie but isn't exactly my real truth either. Yes, I wish I was different but maybe I don't wish that hard because I don't expect this state of affairs to change anytime soon. The other Soviet-born driver you had probably is more interconnected with humans and his emotions than I and thus delivered a more appropriate and touching response to your pain (though I later discovered he might be a heartless bastard, much worse than stingy-tears-Ivan over here. But who really knows?)"
Instead I went with, "wow, that is horrible, unbelievable," delivered in an awkward monotone and followed up with, "you are really strong for having survived that."
She nodded and told me that one of the rapists approached her after the conclusion of the brutal rape when she was sore and her with her mouth (as she expressed using different words) dry and filled with remnants of male excretions and said, "I'm really sorry, I didn't know it was going to go down like that" and handed her money.
As she often worked in the world's oldest profession to feed her habit, perhaps his internal logic went along the lines of, "its not really rape if I paid for it!"
Though this moral rational may work for a can of beer one pocketed at the gas station and paid for when confronted by the Pakistani clerk, it falls flat when applied to retroactive compensation for participating in an unfathomable act of sexual violence.
Then we started talking about other topics. Like the practical jokes she plays on her friends who indulge in crack cocaine.
Apparently many people experience deep paranoia when they're "tweeking" on the pipe. They close doors and window blinds and glance nervously through the cracks (no pun intended) to see if the police is coming.
Since she had no such phobias when doing crack she would come close to her paranoid brethren glancing cautiously at the outside world and proclaim, "hm, I'm not sure if the cops are coming, I can't see really well this way" and then proceed to pull the blinds or swing the door open if they were peaking under it.
To her pleasure, jokes like that would never fail to really freak them out. I guess pulling the blinds or opening doors at opportune moments is like these pranks that don't get old -- a whoopee cushion of the drug infested, forgotten American inner city.
One time their close friend got himself a sweet load of crack rocks and was about to settle into a pleasant (?) paranoid high. He readied himself for this mental treat, turned off the lights in his room, closed the doors and the windows in his house. Jane accompanied by her boyfriend then proceeded to bang loudly on the doors and the windows and scream, "Open up! Police!" In the proceeding festival of fear and relief, he got so distracted (being high on crack probably didn't help either) that Jane and her boyfriend helped themselves to some of his loot.
"I suppose all is well when all pipes are filled." I told her.
...then again, maybe not.
Another girl I drove told me about her rape. There was one perpetrator this time.
"It happened right here in an alley down the street," she said pointing to my right, "he asked me if I had a lighter and then raped me right in that alley."
We were talking outside the car in the parking lot of a public housing building where she stayed with her baby daughter (her fiancee -the father of her child- died in a car crash while she was serving time in prison). She said it was nice talking to me and offered me a hug.
"You don't have to pat me, I'm not a dog," she informed me.
I guess my detached empathy and vaguely patronizing ways have betrayed themselves through me patting her on the back during the hugging process.
FUCK YOU, CEREBRAL AND EMOTION-LIGHT EMPATHY OF MINE!
Why can't you be more subtle!?! Can we make this any more obvious? Maybe an "I'm kind of dead inside. I don't mind if you hug me but don't expect much" custom t-shirt I could wear at work instead of my uniform?
"You're family probably doesn't hug much," she remarked in a friendly way.
"True enough," I thought to myself. My grandma aside, I do my best to avoid physical contact with my kin as best I can.
The other day, I was sitting in a McDonalds parking lot in my work car between driving appointments and listening to a book through the stereo system connected to my I-Pod. It was a Russian novel (Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov) toward the end when the son of a protagonist who has passed away in the previous chapter is mentioned I experienced an unexpected burst of emotion.
It came out of the blue like a twitching of a phallus of a long impotent man. It's a sensation I described before on this blog (the near-weeping that is, not the phallic twitching), I didn't actually cry but sort of made an I'm-about-to-cry face and put my head in my hand in a burdened pose of a thinking man.
My eyes emitted some moisture that could theoretically form into a tear but didn't gain the critical mass to actually do so. And then it was over. In a few moments, the heavy doors of my heart closed and I was back to my normal drift. The boiling waters of my sentimentality, cooled by a flow of incoherent thoughts. I haven't really cried for years.
It was interesting to note that Russian fiction routinely extracts way more emotions out of me than my day-to-day American life, even if that life exposes me to people who have suffered more than the heroes of those 19th century classics I consume so eagerly.
When the Seattle girl I'm in love with and I weren't talking to each other, I remember laying in my bed in my Columbus apartment (that incidentally -on account of my messiness- resembled a crack house) and listening to a hypnotic track I found online that was supposed to relax me. The internet hypnotist lady with a soothing voice whispered through my portable speaker that I should conjure up a moment in my life when I was really happy.
The moment I unexpectedly retrieved from the abyss of my soul was when I traveled to Seattle back in 2012, I was living in Ohio at the time, and came to retrieve things that were lying in a rented storage unit. I met the girl at a hipster bar called the Oak (the tagline on the receipt was, "the Oak is a joke") and after chatting for about forty minutes she gave me a hug before departing for her house. The same day I typed out some desperate, needy and long winded emails to her and they scared her off with their heaviness. She did not reply.
That hug was the happiest moment of my adult life I suddenly realized. This made me sad. My romanticism will kill me before my depression gets me, I thought. And if those two work together... I'm totally fucked.
Recently I brought a hug up in a text to the girl. But it wasn't the Seattle hug with her.
"A lady criticized my hugging etiquette," I wrote, "She said 'don't pat me I'm not a dog'"
"Haha," she replied, "I hate it when people pat. No pats. And let go if the hug is over!"
"Haha," I answered, "Who do I think I am? The hug was on her initiative and I always let go! I've learned something new today. The only time I will pat now is if I have a consenting dog or a feline."
I might have added a smiley face at the end but I don't have the exact texting exchange in front of me as I delete all of them because with our conversations in the past I've always had the neurotic tendency to re-read them many times later (either feeling happy about our connection or kicking myself for not phrasing things better or for saying certain things at all).
With my new-found revaluation of myself as a clumsy hugger, I once again returned to the happiest moment of my adult life.
Did I pat that time?
Can't say for sure. But I doubt that I did.
One doesn't pat when he loves.