Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Unmasking Of A Handyman

This morning I was late for work. Raj spent the night at my place last night, and this morning when we woke up neither one of us was in a rush to get to work. I was sleepy and the bed was so comfortable. We lolled around talking for a while, and then finally forced ourselves to get up and start the day. He's more conscientious about work these days than I am, and actually cares if he's late, so I let him get ready first. By the time he was out the door, I still had to blow-dry my hair. This is all to explain how I came to be at my apartment at 10:20 a.m. this morning, instead of in the office, when my building's handy-man, Tony, knocked on my door to fix my air conditioning unit.

Tony saw my wet hair and said that he could come back to fix the unit after I had left for work, but added that he had done all the other units on the floor and that mine was the last one. I didn't want my lollygagging about to hold him up, so I told him it was ok if he came in and did the work while I finished getting ready. After all, all I had left to do was blow-dry my hair and grab my things.

Until this morning, Tony had always struck me as a "nice guy." During the past year, whenever I had drain troubles or any other minor work that needed attention in my apartment, he always fixed what needed to be fixed immediately. Occasionally, we would have brief conversations when he would come and fix things. One time, I was working from home and hadn't slept for a few days because of work. I remember telling him that I hated my job and asking him about Brooklyn (where he lives), because I was thinking about moving there to escape the golden handcuffs of my apartment. Occasionally, I would get the vibe that he had a slight crush, but it never struck me as more than harmless flattery, and I always put it out of my mind.

Today, once he was in my apartment I realized I had made an error in saying that he could do the work while I was still getting ready. I felt too awkward to blow-dry my hair while he was stepping around the clothes my boyfriend and I had left strewn across the floor in order to fix the air conditioning unit. Instead, I busied myself by tidying up the apartment (which is a freaking disaster area what with all the sorting/tossing/packing work that has been going on). We chatted a bit as he worked and I tidied.

Tony told me that he had heard that I was moving out of the building and asked me where I was going. I told him that I was moving in with my boyfriend, and continued to put clothes and shoes away. He asked, "the Indian guy?" I turned to him and smiled, and said, "Yes," because thinking about Raj makes me smile. (Incidentally, it makes Raj smile that I chose the name "Raj," which means "King," to refer to him in this blog). Tony's question didn't strike me as odd because I just assumed that he, like many of the doormen and other workers in the building, were familiar with seeing Raj and I together. I said I was a little sad to be leaving because I loved my apartment, but that it was a good thing. He replied, "I'm sad too," which made me feel a little bit weird.

After a few minutes, Tony completed his work. I was relieved because I was watching the minutes on the clock tick by and I was becoming nervous about how late I was going to be today. Even I have my limits about that sort of thing, and I am not impervious to work-guilt. As Tony (who is white, and yes, race now becomes relevant in this story) was about to leave, he told me (I'm also white) that he had once dated a half-black girl, and that his Uncle had hated her so much because she was half-black that he refused to allow Tony to bring her into his home. I commented that that was horrible. Tony asked me whether my parents "were bothered" that Raj was Indian. I responded, "No, my parents don't care about that at all," but added that Raj's parents would prefer it if he was not with a white girl.

I didn't mean this as a pejorative comment about Raj's parents. I happen to like and respect both of his parents very much. This issue is just a detail that Raj and I have to deal with as part of our relationship, and I mentioned it because it related to the conversation I was having with Tony. I suppose my guard was let down because I was late and was thinking more about that than the conversation I was having, and Tony had just told me that he had had difficulties with prejudice when he was a part of an interracial couple, so I thought he was coming from an enlightened perspective about these things. Boy was I wrong.

Tony said, "You know, I know it's wrong to have prejudices, but that's one I have. I hate those people. They are arrogant and they think they are better than everyone else. I just can't stand them." I was stunned and just looked at him for a second. Before I could say anything, he added, "If your boyfriend ever acts up, give me a call." That, of course, would never happen in a million years for a variety of reasons too numerous to list here. I couldn't believe that he had just attacked Raj like that, and I felt as if I had been struck. I looked at him and said, "My boyfriend is wonderful. He's nothing like that," thanked him for fixing the air conditioning unit, and ushered him out of my apartment.

It always shocks me when I encounter prejudice, because I just don't understand it. I don't understand how you can stereotype an entire group of people and how you can hate or dislike each member of that group because of a single characteristic they share (like skin color, culture, gender, or sexuality). It's mind-boggling to me. People are so different from one another, and it's impossible to truly know what a person is about unless you actually get to know them on an individual basis. I also can not comprehend how anyone could find Raj's brown skin anything less than beautiful.

This exchange with Tony was particularly shocking to me because he apparently knew I was dating Raj, yet that did not stop him from expressing his racist views to my face. I thought society had reached a level of political correctness (if not tolerance) where the racists had figured out that, even if they had racist beliefs, they were not supposed to express their racism to others who clearly did not share their racist beliefs. But apparently not.

The encounter with Tony left me feeling sickened. It also made me feel very protective of Raj. I hate that there are Tonys in the world, and I hate that they can sneak up on you like that when you aren't looking. Now that Tony has revealed himself to be the loathsome individual that he is, I will do my best to keep him and his racism as far away as possible from Raj and I. Short of a plumbing disaster, that should be easy, especially since I'm moving out of the building in less than two weeks (yikes!). But although in this case there's an easy solution, it's still disconcerting to realize that you never know what people are thinking and you never know what kind of prejudices might be lurking under seemingly non-threatening facades.

6 comments:

Dutch said...

Are you sure he was talking about Indians in general, or was he saying that he hated people who don't want their kids to date people who are of a different race?

Buttercup said...

Absolutely. Tony went on to say that "There many of them living in the building and they are the worst." He was absolutely saying that he hated Indians like Raj.

P.S. I told Raj this story this morning, and he laughed! How funny is that? He wasn't thrown off at all. His attitude was just like they're idiots in the world, and what can you do except for laugh and ignore them. Pretty cool.

belledame222 said...

He sounds profoundly clueless, for sure. Yeah, bright boy, way to get in good with a woman you have a crush on.

The whole "they think they're better than anyone else" is a bit of a tip-off; hello, seething resentments and projection. For whatever reason (learned at dad's knee? listen to Rush 24/7?) he's decided "those people" have a better deal than he does, dammit. It's not that *he* feels bad about his station in life, no; it's all the fault of *those people.*

Why and whether he thinks Indians in particular have a sweet deal overall is anyone's guess, but in that instance: hello. Big cartoon thought bubble over the head: "...AND THEY EVEN GET ALL THE GOOD WOMEN. IT'S ALL **THEIR** FAULT I'M ALONE AND CAN'T GET LAID. CERTAINLY NOTHING TO DO WITH MY GROSSLY DEFICIENT SOCIAL SKILLS."

Dutch said...

. . .but excellent handyman skills.

Bean said...

What an ass...I would have ushered him out pretty bluntly and quickly and told him to wake up. I hate it how there are so many racist, selfish, and ignorant people out there. They really need to get over THEIR own insecurities and see humans as we all are, HUMAN.

Bean said...

Long live the RAJ!!! hahaha