Friday, July 9

I've been plowing through David Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day in the week. I bought it because I'm going to Geneva, Switzerland in 8 weeks and I wanted to read his stories about fumbling with the French language. The stories were funny, but I was a bit disappointed because none of them had to do with France or French. Finally yesterday I got to part deux of the book, not surprisingly the section with his stories about Francophilia and -phobia. One of the funniest is about his ride in the Metro alongside two American tourists who told each other that Sedaris stank and was probably a pickpocket--all spoken in English, thinking that Sedaris wouldn't understand. They made all kinds of rude remarks and assumptions about him, and he thought about saying something to the couple, but in the end didn't. By not saying anything, the couple continued to make asses of themselves, and he got a great story out of it. The writer always has the last word! (Well, the editor does, actually, but "the editor gets the last word" is not a motto made for shouting with a finger held in the air.)

A couple weeks ago, on the street near my house in San Francisco, I had an encounter similar to Sedaris's. Granted, it wasn't in a foreign country, but it did have to do with... well, I'll just tell the story.

I was walking home alone after meeting a friend at a bar, and was lost in a haze--half of drink, half thought. As I walked past a group headed toward me on the sidewalk, a familiar voice said, "Mason!" It was Lee, my old housemate's ex-boyfriend. We hugged and started chatting. We're not the best of friends, but we used to have fun talking until Lee had the messy break-up with my housemate. I hadn't seen him in over a year and was curious about what he was up to.

Just after we started talking, a couple--a man and a woman in their mid-40s--came from behind him, headed down the sidewalk. Lee and I were standing in the middle, so the couple couldn't walk abreast around us. But there was plenty of space for them to go around us. The man grumbled, "Are you going to move off to the side. Or are you going to get married there?"

The couple did walk around us, though, and Lee and I didn't budge. The man's anger caught me off guard, especially after having spent the day at the huge annual gay pride parade that marched down Market St. But as they walked around us, I said, "Just go around us. It's not that hard!" Then Lee and I talked for a moment and he cut things short. His friends had slowly strolled up ahead, and he didn't seem to want to talk that much anyway. We said goodbye, and I continued down the street. Perhaps it's best, after all, that my old housemate broke up with him.

I'm a fast walker, and after a block I caught up with the couple. The man seemed to be in the middle of a heated monologue. I caught him saying, "I just don't see why they didn't move off to the side." Normally I just let things like this pass quietly. As I walked past the couple, I turned around to glare at them. Suddenly I realized I'd opened my mouth I'd said, "I can't believe you're still talking about that." The man stopped talking. The woman's mouth fell open and she covered it with her hand, both showing and trying to hide her shame. She stammered, "I try to teach him manners, but--well, it's not working yet!"

I just smiled--both to show them I had no hard feelings, and because it's fun to nail someone for being petty. I walked away, still smiling, giddy at my bravery. I didn't hear any more comments from the man. Even if he did start talking about me and Lee again once I was out of earshot, that's OK. I know that as I writer I can always have the last word, and if I'd thought it of it at the time, I'd have been smiling about that too.


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