A Narrative Navigation of Assumptive Acceptance. Or: sincerely, thank you.
Two hours before sunrise, I turned off the a/c. I still woke up around seven. I tried to talk myself into going out for breakfast, but couldn’t decide where I’d go, so I made bacon and eggs and did dishes and I tucked in to readsleep again. The one place I wanted (possibly needed) to go wasn’t open until ten.
Around 9.30 I was up, headed to get a coffee out; I wanted to leave the a/c off as much as I could today. I needed second breakfast. I went to a market on the same street as the other place, got snacks I know and queued up on one of two lines, both long, both stacked with people who had full carts. The person ahead of me “did a record spend!” (his bill came to $248).
I had two bottles of water, two Epic bars, a flat pack of gum.
The person behind me asked: “Is that from Hindu or something?”
I’d like to state for this record that I understand the risks of visible bod-mod. I can recite short explications off by heart. I say, “thank you for asking!” when those (overcome with curiosity) ask to make tactile contact with the beautiful scar carved on my right arm. I say thank you for asking even when I say no, please don’t.
I know, even in Los Angeles, there’s an omnipresent objectification (notwithstanding bod mod) and it’s accepted that I asked for this because I’ve decorated or altered my own body. (More on this some other time.)
Whether the public consumes these isn’t my concern. Ink, scars, metal, curly hair (!) do not actually mean I am an interactive cultural anthropology exhibit.
It so happened yesterday two people (at a different market) commented on the labyrinth tattoo but they were rather sweetly awestruck and immensely more respectful. One approached me from outside my vision, whilst I dithered about which bourbon I wanted. “Excuse me, please?” I turned to see a store-uniform-wearing woman, young. I thought she was going to tell me I needed to put my stuff in a basket not my satchel.
“Your artwork is so beautiful, what is it?” I realize she means the tattoo between my shoulder blades.
“It’s a labyrinth.” I smiled. I could see her thinking, I tried to help, “It’s a path, it’s a walking meditation, there’s only one way into the center, and a different way leads back to the beginning. There’s an Ancient Greek myth of Daedalus -”
“Oh! Ariadne!” We shared a really big smile. Not everyone gets that one. She repeated her compliment, and I said thanks, and that was it.
The other interaction, minutes later, similarly “that’s wicked cool!” And then we talked about the scarification. He reached, but stopped himself: “Oh shit, I should ask!” though I hadn’t flinched. I said thanks!, but he reconsidered, because scars are cool and all that but “you mean you really actually had your flesh removed?” is a bit further afield for most.
This morning, with my Epic bars and and my waters, waiting behind the record-setter of a grocery shopper, a woman blurts “is that from Hindus or something?” which is a clumsy overture (if not ugly), and I really just want to drink all the water in the entire store and also all the water in all the stores and eat my bacon bars and I don’t feel like speaking, let alone explaining anything to anyone. I can barely figure out why the fuck did I come to Torrance? I’m groggy and cranky because I needed to eat an hour ago.
“The words are transliterated Sanskrit. From The Upanishads. Quoted by T.S. Eliot.”
This answer was pointedly deliberate intellectual snobbery. I wanted to avoid further conversation.
And I totally missed the fucking mark.
In the future, I will say: Please leave me alone, I want to eat second breakfast and to recall why the fuck I drove to Torrance.
She kept talking to me. “Yah but that maze thing?”
“A maze has multiple ways to get through. A labyrinth isn’t about confusion, it’s about clarity. It’s meditation.”
I wish to all the bacon that I fabricated any of her reply.
Oh, yeah, I was in Morocco? With a professor?! And we needed to have a piss and finally found the toilets, we called it the toilet labyrinth! and there was a sign ‘wash closet’ and — I’m Jewish, you see — omygad we found out later that we shit where the Arabs wash their faces. I don’t care! (laughs) They deserve it for all the things Arabs and Muslims did to us.
My mouth goes dry, gaping at her. I invoke the literal, trying to make a point. “They who? When you used the toilet?”
“No, but omygah!, I asked this tour guide if they could find out my dna from the shit I took because those people are totally going to come after me, right?”
“…in a different place there was much better signs: Turkish toilets and American Toilets. It’s better not to have to share that with them. Those people.”
What in seven goddamned evers has this got to do with my tattoo? I look towards the record-setter in front of me, all bent on optimism his tab was nearly calculated.
Then, Moroccan-toilet-storyteller took a step too close to me and grabbed my arm to see more of my ink.
I step away and pull my arm from her.
“Please do not touch me. I do not know you.”
She says, “Oh, I’m a cool person!” As if saying this means it’s ok for her to step toward me again and reach toward me again.
I step back again.
Slowly, calmly (I have sweet fuck no idea how) I say:
“You did not ask me if you could touch me. And you’re racist.”
I left the explicit unspoken. Here it is: racism is not cool.
She shut up and backed off.