Monday, October 31, 2016

October 31, 2016-- Midcoast: Cultural Profiling

It was the morning after the third debate and the diner was buzzing with political talk.

Buzzing so much that my new hearing aids were overwhelmed so I resumed an old habit--pretending to hear and understand and thus doing a lot of nodding and smiling. Most of it inappropriate and of a non sequitur sort.

Before I tuned out I picked up that, as usual at the diner, opinion was split pretty much down the middle with half the folks liking how Hillary turned to her own advantage Trump's jibe, "She's a nasty woman," while the other half agreed that she is in fact nasty.

Concentrating on my French toast, I enjoyed the sounds of passionate talk I could not fully make out. I thought I need to ask my audiologist to make an adjustment he had indicated was just for this kind of situation--being able to hear someone across the table in an otherwise noisy restaurant.

I was sitting by the window and to distract myself turned to enjoy the rush of falling leaves when a mud-splashed SUV pulled up and out of it tumbled two very large couples. It was the first truly chilly morning and I was surprised to see that one of the men was not only wearing shorts--not uncommon among Mainers who when the seasons change dress for the previous one as if the best way to get through the summer heat or, more commonly, the icy winter is to assert mind over matter--not only was he wearing shorts but a t-shirt and sandals without socks. Everything, including a full-brimmed hat, totally emblazoned with camouflage. I realized that the hunting season was to begin in just a few days and it looked as if he couldn't wait.

From their outfits and deportment it appeared that all three of his companions would be happily joining him while stalking moose in the North Woods.

Oh god, I noticed as they stepped in, the only empty table was pressed close to ours which meant they would be sitting right next to us.

They were Second Amendment people for sure as well as, I was certain, Trump supporters. Even if I couldn't hear every word that I was sure was about to be broadcast by them, after the debate, where I suspected Trump did himself some good, I wasn't into listening to snarky political boasting.

So I took up the pace, indicating to Rona that I was wanting to leave as soon as we finished our breakfast.

"Humans are the only species . . ." I heard from the hunter with the bare feet, ". . . who do so." I couldn't hear much more and thus had no context in which to fit this. I thought he was also sounding like a Fundamentalist and was talking about the uniqueness of human religion. I could take a pass on that too.

"I never thought of that," one of the women said. I assumed not his wife who I suspected from him had heard it all and then some.

"It's true," he said.

Then the other man puffed up in a red flannel shirt with Larry-King size black suspenders said something I thought about the "natural world." Creationists to boot, I thought.

By then things in the diner had settled down to a murmur and my new hearing aids took over and I was able to hear pretty much everything they said.

"It is fascinating to think about," the first hunter said, "How humans are the only animals--and we are animals," he said with a wink, "how in the animal kingdom we are the only species to produce more young than we need for survival."

"If true," his companion said, "Why is that significant?"

"It means that we pose a danger to the global ecosystem. We are the only animals who overpopulate. And I don't have to tell you of all people what the implications are."

Rona, who was listening in to another conversation, one about how Trump will surely lose after the Billy Bush hot-mike tape gets more widely aired, was stirring in her seat, having finished her food and signaling to me she was about to ask for the check.

"No hurry," I said, confusing her.

"I thought you were eager to leave," she whispered, glancing quickly at the hunters.

"No rush," I said, wanting to hear more about what else was unique to humans.

"What do you think," one of the neighboring women asked, noticing I was eavesdropping.

Caught in the act, I stammered, "Oh, well . . . not that much." I slipped back into my familiar non-sequitur mode.

"About what John said about the human species?"

"Oh, I suppose that's interesting. But, you know, I never thought about that. I mean, it could be that . . ."

She smiled. "John's a naturalist. A journalist. Writes a column that's picked up in lots of papers around the country. Show him your card, John."

I thought he must write for Hunters World or even Guns & Ammo.

He fished one out of his bulging wallet and handed it over. Below his name was "Environmental Storyteller."

"That's a new one to me," I said, beginning to feel upset with myself for what I had imagined him to be.

I looked again at his card and read so Rona could hear. By then she had tuned into our conversation--"Continual wanderer of the planet, observing in perpetual wonder."

As I read this the other man, "T.W," slid his card to me. It identified him as president of Silver Creek Media, through which he told me with a twinkle he published--pointing to how his work was described on the card--"words and stuff."

And with that, as quickly as they had arrived, the four of them stood up simultaneously and headed to their car.

So there Rona and I remained, thinking about how I had mischaracterized them. I said, confessing, "You know of course about racial profiling. How police and others periodically are accused of stopping African Americans because of their race or young Middle Eastern men who without evidence are thought to be potential terrorists."

"You didn't do that," Rona said, "They look more American--whatever that means--than you. So it wasn't racial."

"True," I said, "But I think I did something similarly upsetting--I culturally profiled them, as with racial profiling, on the basis of their appearance."

"You did in fact do that," Rona said.

"Which means I have more work to do on my consciousness."

"That's one of the things I love about being here," Rona said, "How often we get surprised like this. It's really a challenging place to live."

"Wouldn't want it any other way."

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