Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Happy Asian Man

There’s an outside chance God will let me be a happy Asian man when I get older.

I had just changed lanes in a slightly less than orthodox manner so I could get into the turn lane, when I glanced to the right and locked eyes with the mirror image of this potential future self. We found ourselves so entangled due to his failure to cooperate with the nonchalant voyeurism that is a part of my engaged-detachment from a world in which I encounter glorious humanity at far too high a volume to process safely. In fact, the sheer number of people I see in a day cascades toward me at such an alarming rate; I have had no recourse but to erect a transparent, double-paned bullet-proof glass barrier for my own (and their) safety. And I am very much not alone in this. The result is a world in which we all seem to be free floating in our own bubbles, billions of us blown on the wind from some sticky wand in the hands of a careless child who just can’t seem to get enough joy from multiplying relatively identical free-floaters.  And we all gaze at one another as exhibits in the zoo, politely avoiding prolonged eye contact, taking turns playing animal and kindergartener, silent partners in a voyeuristic time-share pact.

All of us except for the happy Asian man: he made direct eye contact, smiled, and waved at me. Like some kind of escaped tiger. My ingrained response would have been to break eye contact without turning my head, so as to provide him with enough plausible deniability that he could safely allow himself to believe that I had only been facing the area of his general direction, and not generally staring directly at his face. Only the indiscretion was so shocking, time contracted and I was able to experience all five or so stages of grief before the light turned, thus enabling me to break tradition and respond in a most untactful way: I smiled and waved back, horrified.

I wouldn’t have, except that at first I thought he must be Joe, the nice older Asian man I had met last night, recognizing me out and about in one of those serendipitous moments that annoyingly removes people from the context in which you have grown accustomed to seeing them, where you last left them to stay until your return like good Labradors. But it wasn’t Joe, and my brain not only told me that fact; it then applauded itself for not being one of those racists who can’t tell the difference between Asian people. After a series of alternatives were considered and dismissed with equal vigor, I was left with only one alternative: this man saw a complete stranger and his response to that stimulus was to smile and wave, which, as it turns out, can be a highly and inexplicably contagious disposition, not unlike a yawn. Careless.

All of this in less than a minute, and then I turned left, and I assume he went straight, because for him to have done anything else from that lane would have resulted in something I would have heard about behind me. I’m worried for that guy because we live in a world where it’s not really very manageable to have unprotected connections with strangers. But maybe he’s worried about me, and I’d kind of rather gone in his direction than mine, so maybe God will let me be like that someday.

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