Grumpy Old Men

barn outside Walla WallaWalla Walla, as far as electoral politics go, is conservative. In the last Presidential election, the county went 58 percent for McCain. Culturally, it’s also a right-leaning place, as I’ve written about in this blog before—the handing out of scripture at the Christmas parade, the strong Seventh Day Adventist presence, the many evangelical people who go door-to-door selling their church’s services—it can feel intimidating to a bleeding heart liberal, especially when the conservative presence is coupled with angry sentiment. It’s a bad economy that doesn’t feel any better to people even as the latest unemployment numbers show a one percent improvement. I understand this anger; I’m frustrated too.

But I don’t wish death on my fellow human beings.

Long-time readers of this blog will recall a certain miscommunication I encountered when trying to find the YWCA in order to take the Census worker’s test. I’d driven instead to the YMCA, a decidedly different, albeit close by, building. Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I did it again, this time to meet up with a coworker before heading to the Tri-Cities an hour away for a meeting. Not sure if she’d be waiting for me inside the building and say, not in the expansive parking lot, I went inside and sat down with a Sudoku puzzle.

Two older men were seated in the lobby, talking to each other, old timers from the city who either have loved living here for 70 years or who are somehow unaware that there are more connected cities with many more resources than Walla Walla contains. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, I promise, but as they were three feet away from me and yelling like my mother does because she seriously needs a hearing aid (I love you Mom, but it’s true), I really had no choice but to hear their conversation.

Quickly it devolved from talking about the lovely spring that is unfolding here to grousing about Obama and the socialists in Washington, DC. I bit my tongue, searching for a number in the puzzle.

“Sometimes I think Americans are stupid as tree stumps,” said the taller of the two, reminding me of the guys in the box at every Muppet performance.

“Well, not all of them,” said his friend. “Just the ones on the West Side.”

That means Seattle and Olympia, where the population centers of the state are. So many Democrats live on the West Side and they keep the state blue in the major elections, which the Republicans on the East Side can’t stand.

Now then, I wasn’t really in this conversation, true, but on the other hand, all three of us knew I was privy to it, especially as they kept looking my way to see my expressions or perhaps assess my likelihood of joining in the trash-talking fun. If they were gauging whether I held similar beliefs to theirs, I indicated next to nothing, but I suspected my eyebrows were betraying me. With every new declaration, they pushed the boundaries of ludicrousness—the people in the west were responsible for the whole wreck of the state’s economy, the death of thousands of innocent nuns, whatever occurred to them, they blurted it out and it sat in the air like a bad fart.

I stared at my Sudoku and prayed I’d find a critical 6 in the top right section. Where was my boss lady? Could I send someone into the dressing room to scout for her?

“Too bad the tsunami didn’t hit Seattle,” said the man on the long couch.

I gasped; I couldn’t help myself. After watching the disturbing news footage from Japan, where waves dark as night crashed through miles of land, sweeping up whole buildings, carrying FIRE, fer crissakes, and the death toll passed 10,000, this ignorant, crass man would wish such death and destruction on people? Really and truly?

I thought of the people and places that I’ve met and have known in Seattle, in that flashing-in-front-of-my-eyes way. Small children, earnest young parents, baristas galore, the Lucy Lawless lookalike who works in South Lake Union, the couple who live out of a van next to a park, my old friend from graduate school, Susanne’s best friend and his sweet girlfriend, and their two dogs who show affection through licking. This idiot would prefer that rampant devastation rain down on the state’s biggest population center so that the political balance would shift to his side. That I let all of that go with a simple gasp instead of ramming my iPad down his bigoted mullet was testimony to something.

They looked at me, because I had drawn in a good quantity of air and now had fuel for speaking. They were still gauging. Maybe this was all for their benefit, maybe they had spotted me as a liberal from the moment I walked into the room. They could be playing with me, I imagined, which would only make them slightly less offensive.

My phone buzzed; my colleague was ready for me at the YWCA. Not the YMCA. My irritation shifted from the men to myself. I stood up, momentarily towering over them. If they wondered whether I was going to wreak some of my own havoc on them, I quickly ended the tension, turning on my heel and heading out the door. But I felt free to mumble something about ignorant assholes on my way out.

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