Is it sad that some of my best ideas happen in my car? Never mind. It’s a rhetorical question. It happened again, is all. The impetus this time? A license plate reading “Con Dios.”
The car wasn’t going very fast–an interesting idea in itself as God hasn’t shown much speed since creating the world and universe in only seven days. More importantly, however, was that the plate was in Spanish. And this is only important because I could actually read it. Yes, I can read in Spanish. I can barely hear it when spoken, but eventually, I do catch on.
How nice of this driver, I presumed a woman, to be wishing me to go with God. That’s a nice thought. I felt warm inside, despite the soul-zapping cold outside. I smiled to myself and hummed along with the radio, thinking back to my recent trip abroad where I impressed a Jordanian member of the “tourism police” with my (limited) Spanish speaking capabilities. He’d never met a bilingual American before and asked me to speak in Spanish to prove I knew how. I gladly obliged by asking him if he’d like a beer (and then laughed silently in my head knowing full well he didn’t drink). Ah, good times.
It’s a sure sign of my own hubris that I so easily amuse myself.
I glanced over as “ConDios” turned off to the right. Go with God, I thought silently wishing her well. Of course, I mused, technically that would be “Vaya con Dios.” Yes, the plate was missing an action verb. In fact, it was kind of missing a verb altogether.
I gave the short phrase a fair shake, grammatically speaking. If one took it at face value, it really only said “With God.” I had assumed the predicate relationship, entirely. I’m sure the driver had good intentions when buying the plate. On the other hand, without an action verb, or even a helping verb, the preposition created a singular statement of being. The driver was with God. Not me; just she.
Wait a minute.
It could be that my mistake was one of semantics: a classic case of two people using different words or phrases to say the same thing. “Con Dios” could be an abbreviated greeting for brevity’s sake. That idea held for a few minutes as I clung to my ideology that most people are good and want good things for others.
Then, I thought about what I know of other people.
Perhaps, my mistake was deeper, text-to-language, language-to-language, or the classic different-language-text-to-other-language-translation. Lost in translation, i.e. hermeneutics. I love the subtleties of meaning and nuance. Was this a nuanced license plate?
My hubris deflated. Maybe I didn’t get it, after all. It was very possible the driver was making an important distinction, which I had glossed over by translating poorly. In proclaiming her status as “With God!” she was, by contrast, denouncing mine. Maybe the value interlaced therein was rife with judgement:
“I am; you’re not.”
“I have God; you don’t!”
“He’s on my side; not yours!”
And then she turned to the right!
Good Lord! I’d been following the Tea Party!
I was near the office and had almost worked myself into an unrecoverable state of righteous indignation. At this point, I had to let it go. It was just a license plate, an overblown bumper sticker.
I’ve never been a big fan of the personalized license plate, primarily because it costs some serious cash. I don’t have extra moolah lying around. Besides, if I’m going to put my money where my mouth is, I need a lot more space. It sure as hell won’t be a license plate.
It’ll most likely be a blog.
Have you ever pulled up just short of your goal? That’s exactly what happened to Urb and Morg when they were careening through Earth’s atmosphere–
(Urb and Morg aren’t their real names. As I have no idea how they communicate, or if they even have a language, I am clueless how they refer to one another.)
–careening through Earth’s atmosphere when Urb suddenly pulled up on the brakes, stopping them mid-dive. As the atmosphere cooled around their ship and the flames died down, Morg awoke from cybersnoozis.
“What’dya do that for?” he huffed at his cabin-mate. Then, he cocked his wappadoodles–
(Again, as I don’t know how they communicate, I don’t know what they actually call the things on their extremities that interpret sound waves.)
“What is that horrible sound?” Morg granulated.
Urb retracted all five wappadoodles. “Dunno. But, I can’t take it!” he said through clenched siphonatics. “It hurts.”
“It’s a constant whelmatica. Ahhh! What can it be? Does it constitute as ‘life?’ Should we fotondrunda back that some form of life occupies this planet?”
“I’m not sure I really care anymore,” Urb replied. “Let’s get out of here.”
He threw the ship in reverse and jettisoned back into open space.
I thought about Urb and Morg this morning on my own commute, albeit one shorter than the aliens’, when a new song came across the World Classic Rock radio station.
“What is that horrible sound?” I asked myself. “It hurts.” And I turned it off.
Normally, I like certain kinds of loud music. But this particular song, for whatever reason, sounded like tinny cheese-grater jingle bells dragged across mismatched guitar strings overlaying poorly constructed harmonies. I couldn’t help but wonder if I were the only one having such a reaction. In fact, could any species, anywhere, endure such a noise? What if all those sound waves floating about in space were to intersect across the audio palate of an uninitiated life form?
I surmised it would likely be off-putting.
And what ramifications would there be if two such creatures really did stumble upon our planet and…left immediately? Well, for one thing, I thought to myself as I drove alone in my car, we’d have to give our theology a much closer review.
I’m not quite sure how I moved from bad music, to alien invasion, to the existence of God; but isn’t that the purpose of art, after all: to inspire, cause wonder, see the world as one might not have seen it before and be moved to question?
I threw my mind into reverse and jettisoned back to my Philosophy of Art class so many years ago. I nodded at memories as I continued driving.
Then I leaned forward…and turned the song back on.
“Hey, Kara, can I talk to you a minute?”
I swung 180 degrees from facing the computer to the window in my office. It was still morning. I spun 90 more degrees to look across my desk. Manny sat down opposite me. He looked upset. I guessed I had time.
“Yeah. What’s up?”
“It’s just,” he paused. “Geez. Ya ever get so frustrated with other people?”
I laughed. “All the time.”
“I mean, why do they have to keep bustin’ on me for bein’ Mexican?”
“Oh, man, that sucks. I’m so sorry. That should not happen.”
I felt immediately concerned. I wasn’t a manager or anything, but I certainly had a voice in the organization and I wasn’t going to stand by and let someone be treated unfairly. He had my attention.
“Yeah, it’s okay. I just wish I could get past this,” he said.
“Yeah. I don’t think they know what they’re doin’. They don’t get what it’s like.”
“They think they’re funny?”
He smiled wryly. “They think so.”
“I get it,” I looked him in the eye. “I’m pretty sure I know how you feel.”
“You do? You’re white!”
“True. But I’m also female. Don’t shake your head. I get it. I mean, when’s the last time someone told you you were no good at a sport just because of what you are–not who you are?”
He scoffed. “Never. I was always good at sports.”
I nodded. “Okay. When was the last time someone said, ‘You can’t come with us. No Mexicans allowed.'”
“I’d kick their ass if someone said that to me.”
“Right. As you should–well, not literally.” I smiled again. He didn’t. I wasn’t connecting. I needed a better example.
“Okay, I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told anyone here.” He looked up from his hands to my eyes.
“The first time I hit the glass ceiling, I was only 23,” I explained. “I got told I couldn’t have the next job up; that, in fact, I would never have the next job up because I was a girl. Not a woman, mind you: a ‘girl.’ I was pissed.”
He whistled softly. “No way. Someone said that to you?”
I nodded. “Even worse. The someone who said it to me was my friend. Still is, actually.”
“Why would you still be friends? Why didn’t you bust him on it?”
“It wasn’t like that.”
I paused briefly. I had been like that. What was I trying to say?
“The thing is, I knew my friend, my boss, my mentor, wasn’t trying to be discriminatory. He thought he was just being honest. I worked in comic books at the time. He told me, as a girl, I didn’t know comic books ’cause I hadn’t grown up reading them. As a result, no writer or artist would respect me; so it wouldn’t make sense to make me an editor.”
Manny nodded. “Oh,” he said. “I guess that makes sense then.”
A small volcano started to bubble up in my brain. I breathed in through my nose and exhaled slowly.
“No. It didn’t. It didn’t make sense.”
“But what he said was true. Girls don’t know comic books so no one would respect them if they gave orders about comic books.”
“Manny, that’s like saying Mexicans can’t be managers. Because they’re Mexican. And they didn’t grow up seeing Mexicans in charge, at least not in this country.”
He glared at me. “That’s bullshit! Mexicans can be managers!”
“I KNOW! And girls, women, can learn comic books and become very good at editing them! It’s a dumb-ass stereotype and it sucked. What he should have told me was I lacked experience, which was true, that I should learn more and work up to editor. But he didn’t say that. He said ‘never’ because I was female.”
Manny was still fuming about the ‘Mexicans’-can’t-be-managers’ example, shaking his head from side to side. But, I felt I was getting close, so I pressed on.
“Look, you have a daughter, right?”
“How would you feel if someone told her she couldn’t do something just because she’s a Mexican-American–or a girl?”
“That’d piss me off. And I hate the way her teacher talks to my wife. My daughter is frickin’ smart!”
“I know. I’ve met her. I bet your wife feels like I felt when my old boss told me that. Is that how you feel when the guys on the line tell Mexican jokes?”
“Yeah. It’s not okay. I hate that.”
He looked up from his hands, which he had started wringing, absentmindedly. “So, what did you do?”
“I kept talking to him. I didn’t get defensive. I asked if I could gain some more experience, editing some books on my own, just a few. He agreed.”
“And? Did it stop? Did they stop treating you like a girl?”
I rolled my eyes at the irony.
“Well, no, not exactly, but I did kind of get the job, or part of the job. Just not the title or the pay. Any pay.” I laughed. It had been my first “real” job. Like everyone does at the first go-round, I’d worked for peanuts.
“It’s lousy when people are like that.”
“Absolutely, but I did need the experience and it wound up being really good for me. I learned a lot. It’s just, well, the judgement crap sucked and I had to be patient and work with people on it. Still do.”
Manny was bobbing his head up and down. He placed his hands on his knees like he was getting ready to leave. Had I made the connection? Had I related and helped?
“I just wanted you to know that I know how you feel. I get it. As a woman, I get judged on sexism crap all the time.”
He gave me an appraising look. “I didn’t know that stuff still happened for women. I thought it was better.”
“You know, it is in some ways, but that’d be like me saying to you, ‘well, times have changed and people aren’t racist anymore.'”
He scoffed again. I wrapped up. “I just want you to know, you’re not alone and I get it. And I promise I won’t ever do that to you.”
He visibly calmed down as he moved to stand. “Thanks, Kara. And I’m sorry that happened to you, too. I think you’re pretty smart and would make a really good manager.”
At just that moment, a piercing itch at the bottom of my foot radiated up my leg. Immediately, I bent down, slipped off my sandal (it was summer) and scratched ferociously at my heel.
“Whoah!” Manny chuckled uncomfortably. “Don’t go doin’ that! It makes your boobs totally bounce together and is really distracting!” He was standing, looking down at me, kind of laughing.
The volcano started boiling again in my brain, an eruption of verbal evisceration about to break the surface.
I sat up.
“Are you for real? GET OUT!” I pointed to the door.
“What?” he shrugged as he left.
I bent back down and kept on scratching.
“How could you tell we’re American?” I asked the shop keeper leaning back against the wall of his store, casually smoking a cigarette.
I’ve got to get back out there. It’s just one of those things. But weekend after weekend, I find myself curled up in my leather chair with a cup o’ tea, a book, or my laptop.
The last week of January, Gayle Trotter, a lawyer from Washington D.C., made headlines with her testimony to Congress favoring gun-ownership. Her argument sparked more flares in the gun-control debate. She concluded: “In lieu of empty gestures, we should address gun violence based on what works. Guns make women safer.” (See the whole testimony here.)
This might be old news to many of you considering it broke “above the fold” almost two weeks ago. But, I’m not completely smitten with our “gimme now!” 24/7 news cycle. I like to ruminate a bit. I’m a thinker. And here’s what I’m thinking about Ms. Trotter:
I have two problems with this testimony: 1) That’s a big logical jump from “what works” to “guns make women safer.” In her treatise she offers one anecdotal example and then a lot of what we’ve already heard from the NRA; 2) The implication of her argument. Her reasoning implies that unless a woman owns (and presumably knows how to properly use) a gun, she is “less than.” Disagree with me? Then check out the headlines after she testified. Is that how we’re starting our new year, with the “women are the weaker sex” argument? Good Lord. Can we get past this already?