Monday, September 5, 2011

civilization, interrupted

Picture this: Lazy hot afternoon. One week before school starts. A mom from my daughter's school and I, along with three kids between us, go to the Grove for lunch at the American Girl and some back-to-school shopping. I get a glass of Pinot Grigio, she gets two of champagne. The girls are properly hypered up by their respective shakes/smoothies. They want to please please please go on the cling-clinging, happy-happy trolley (which goes back and forth between the two ends of the outdoor shopping center). Lazy midweek afternoon, not too many people with the same idea. Even the usually tooth-paste-commercial-smiley and seriously be-dimpled Mario Lopez seems subdued under his pancake makeup.

Why Extra! tapes its shows at the Grove is still a mystery to me.
The flower child is his.
So we climb to the top of the double-decker and each plop down in a two-person bench. All following riders do the same.

Then this woman comes over and wants MY SEAT.

not actual woman from the trolley

Okay so maybe she wasn't in full burka, just a tasteful scarf. And I'm not exactly sure what she said to ask for the seat, her broken English was muffled by the delighted squeals of the child she was carrying. Nevertheless, once I get the gist of it, with a huff proportional to the occasion, I collect my shopping bags (yes, I did buy a new purse, how could I resist? I am but a mere mortal!) and move to the front to sit with the rest of my party. But I'm not happy.

I fume a little, my back to her. How rude, right? I was there first and everyone knows the first-in-line hard-and-fast American rule. We're a country of law and order. We don't all run to the open door the minute the plane lands, trampling on kids and grannies, we march in an orderly fashion to the exit when told to do so, mindful of our respective row delineation. We are civilized. At the entrance of the freeway, when two lanes merge at the stop light, we take turns, docile drivers that we are: one from each lane, in turn. We honk, scream from the window, gesticulate furiously, and altogether shit ourselves when somebody dares to break the sacro-saint yet unspoken rule. We are civilized. Right?

So I fume anew, feeling totally justified in my anger. Then I overhear her speak to her kid in an Arabic dialect that I do understand. So, on a whim, I turn to her and ask her in my broken Arabic, as nicely as my fury can muster: "Why did you get me outta my seat when there were so many other free spots in the back?" And before she answers, as I'm looking to the back, I realize they are all taken. By men. Plenty of room if you want to sit next to a man. And considering her scarf and her modest clothing, it is safe to assume that she is not allowed to be in close proximity to unfamiliar males. I'm already feeling pretty crappy about my outburst when I return my attention to her to hear the end of her explanation of how she wasn't trying to take my seat, just share my bench, and how sweet of me to give it all to her. She apologizes that she misled me with her poor English. She thanks me again profusely for my bench. My bench, pfft. All the rage leaves me all at once.

I am a horrible, horrible, little, petty person.

The more she talks, the worse I feel. She is delighted that I understand her so she tells me that she is a tourist from Saudi Arabia and it's her first day in Los Angeles. She loves it. She asks me how I can stand living in such a beautiful place (oddly full of road-rage nutcases like me, she luckily doesn't add). Asks me about life in L.A. in general. I mumble something about crazy traffic jams, and 9-to-5s, and life in general being too fast to enjoy the city. I am still mortified. Oblivious to my state of mind, she chatters away some more then hands me her camera with a facial question mark. I hastily oblige and take a picture of their smiling faces, with the Barnes and Noble building and its prominent American flags as backdrop. I want to crawl somewhere and disappear. Luckily the trolley finally stops and we disembark in a profusion of drinks, shopping bags, and little hands.

not the picture I took

I ponder about this for a bit on my way home, when little miss Em finally poops out and allows me the requisite silence to formulate full thoughts. What would've happened if I hadn't spoken her language? If I had walked out without hearing her out? How many people are misunderstood, how many things are lost in translation? Where does Mario Lopez get his teeth cleaned?

I didn't get to apologize to her, she did all the talking and asking. In this here public mea culpa, I am hoping to make amends for that.

Have you had any instances of "lost in translation"?


At 9/6/11, 9:49 PM , Anonymous Heather said...

I would've just said no and let her sit anywhere. Don't be so hard on yourself, you did give her your seat.

At 9/6/11, 9:54 PM , Anonymous Heather said...

Love the backstory and colorful description though. Can't wait to read next week's!

At 9/6/11, 11:55 PM , Anonymous Terri B. said...

Awesome! Love it :)

At 9/7/11, 8:47 AM , Blogger Janiece said...

I can't remember where the "Shovel of Doom" came from. Probably an offshoot of the "Loving Mallet of Correction" used by John Scalzi and based on my constant desire to hit asshats in the face with a shovel.

My online community provided the sound effect for me. Whenever I have to delete a comment due to spammage or trollling, I use the term "TONG" to indicate that the Shovel of Doom has been wielded to good effect.

Also? My daughter's LJ is called "Lost in Translation." Although she's an English Major, she has enough credits to double major in linguistics, and I think the phrase amuses her.

At 9/7/11, 9:11 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

That makes so much more sense now.

There was a book (and a movie) by that name too, some time ago, which might explain why the expression stuck. I seem to remember liking it.

What's an LJ?

At 9/7/11, 9:25 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Heather: Trust me, if I had done that (said no and moved on), I wouldn't have a story to tell :)

My giving her my seat was actually irrelevant. The point I was trying to make is that we tend to follow rules of conduct that we feel are appropriate and just... until they are confronted with a glimpse of the other's perspective. Which can be eye-opening and for sure humbling.

At 9/7/11, 11:04 AM , Blogger Janiece said...

Live Journal.

At 9/7/11, 1:44 PM , Anonymous Susan said...

Mario Lopez is a dad ?!?! Isn't he like 16?

At 9/7/11, 2:01 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

According to Wikipedia, he is 37.

He does have a baby face, though not when he is made up for taping. He is positively scary with the makeup, which errs on the side of orange and which is a look not a lot of people can pull off.

At 9/7/11, 2:06 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Janiece: the things I learn from you!!!


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