On the plane ride home from Vegas on Sunday, I was seated next to a man who repeatedly pushed my buttons. Some examples:
1. Our takeoff was delayed because Air Force One was landing. To which the man replied, “F*ck that! Another f*cking reason to hate Obama and not vote for him!”
2. When a couple of fellow passengers erupted in laughter during the flight, he said, “They sound like f*cking retards [insert sound of taunting, imitative laugh].”
3. During the crew’s announcements, he said “Shut the f*ck up already!” He also never turned off his electronics despite repeated asks from the crew.
4. The man was all over his girlfriend during the flight. Thankfully nothing past first base. But still.
So many thoughts ran through my head. I thought about the vitriol that erupts around election time and how not black and white it is to support Obama or Romney. I thought about Tanis and Ellen and how much I hate when people use the word retard. I wondered whether this guy looked at me when I sat down and thought, “Oh great, a f*cking chink. I hate those people.” [You have no idea how hard it was for me to type that painful childhood slur.] I felt self conscious about the fact that I had Japanese take out with me.
I also felt angry. Angry about the derisive comments. Angry for feeling self-conscious about my Japanese takeout. And guilty. Guilty for not saying anything, particularly regarding the retard comment. But part of it was self preservation. Did I really want to pick a fight with my rowmates of the next 5 hours? Did I really want to pick a fight when I was fairly certain that whatever I said would not shift his perspective? On the other hand, was I losing an opportunity to open a dialog, enlighten, educate? Was I doing a disservice to friends like Tanis and Ellen, who have championed hard against the use of the word retard? I sat there nagged by anger and guilt. I also found myself overcome by the odd desire to find an opening to interact with the man; to find redeeming qualities. (Because I’m a glass half full kind of girl who repeatedly repeats her therapist’s mantra that the world needs all kinds of people.)
I ultimately did see another side to this man. In addition to the persistent making out and cursing (not at the same time), this man also said “please” and “thank you” when the flight attendants offered beverages. He smiled at me and said “excuse me” when he got up to go to the bathroom. He touched my shoulder to let me know he needed to scoot back in. I heard him speak affectionately on the phone to a friend when the flight touched down.
And as the flight wore on (believe me, it felt like an eternity), it became clear to me that, like the election, defining him wasn’t a black or white issue either. But I’m still nagged, wondering whether I should have said something to him. Would you have?