While my night on the town began, as related here, at Starbucks, it didn’t end there — nor did it continue in precisely the same vein of tolerance and understanding.
A few hours after I left the iconic cafe with my bag of free coffee and attended a family dinner, I ended up in a local bar doing what I do in bars: acting as designated driver and herder of tipsy friends. I am widely valued for my public temperance, my modestly imposing physical presence, and my capacious vehicle. (I drink, but only moderately and always at home. )
As I sat at a table watching my friends and the other patrons and nursing my third Diet Coke, a youngish woman appeared at my elbow and began talking. She informed me that she was a nurse, that she saw a lot of early-onset dementia, and that she thought people didn’t appreciate how big a problem it is.
(No, I didn’t take it personally: whatever doubts I may occasionally have about my own grip on reality, I do a pretty good job of keeping my peccadilloes under wraps. She was obviously just making conversation with this rakishly good-looking fellow trying — unsuccessfully, apparently — to keep counsel with his own thoughts amidst the noise of a crowded bar.)
I didn’t say much in response, beyond periodic sympathetic noises and an occasional attempt to soften her more hard-edged observations. She thought people live too long and didn’t approve of that; I suggested that we die too long, but that it seemed understandable that we might cling tenaciously to life for ourselves and encourage our loved ones to do the same. But I agreed that senility and dementia were sad and difficult challenges, whether occurring in the geriatric crowd or among my own relatively youthful cohort.
Despite her incipient intoxication, she noticed that I seemed to have a hard time hearing her, and she commented on the volume in the bar. I told her that I have a slight hearing deficiency (true), the product, I believe, of too many years riding motorcycles, scuba-diving, and shooting guns (also true).
“Do you like guns?” she asked me.
“I love them.”
“Do you have a MAGA hat?” From her tone, I took the question to be intended humorously.
“I do. It’s in the car,” I answered. As, in fact, it was.
That’s when the ugliness of the passionately uninformed revealed itself.
“I wouldn’t have guessed,” she said, sounding sincerely perplexed. “You listened so politely while I was talking.”
What went through my head at that moment was almost precisely this:
“You little idiot. Sixty million people voted for Donald Trump. Do you think they’re all such mean-spirited intolerant wretches that they can’t listen to someone talk about the challenges of managing dementia in the hospitalized elderly without feeling compelled to give vent to their inherent misogyny and/or fascist tendencies? What kind of bubble do you live in?”
That’s what I thought. What I said was that I didn’t understand why that would surprise her.
I listened to her prattle on for another little bit. She wanted to educate me on the “truth” about abortion law, but I told her I was pretty knowledgeable about it already, and that she and I probably wouldn’t agree. Then she told me about her “ex-boyfriend” who was recently arrested for sexual misconduct, though she thinks he’s been falsely accused. Seriously. She couldn’t have teed it up better if she’d tried, but I let it go: don’t argue with foolish people, and particularly with drunk foolish people. (Friends who know of the incident later assured me that she’s mistaken, and that the fellow in question is pretty awful.)
I don’t know how many on the left share this silly woman’s bigoted assumptions about the half of America that voted for the Republican. I do know that, when I wear the hat, I make a special effort to be pleasant. I’d like to think that, by being unexpectedly nice, I’m responsible for a little painful cognitive dissonance, a little uncomfortable opening of smug little minds. Certainly, that’s my hope.Published in