by Lisa

I sell gold and silver bullion and junk coin to small investors in a smaller town, and I have become as small as everyone and everything around me.

My work includes interacting with customers in a way that makes them comfortable with the act of handing me (what they consider) large amounts of money in exchange for a commodity.  I don’t sell pretty things, I sell metal, and this metal stresses people out.  I try to de-stress the process.  Sometimes.  Other times, I’m much more comfortable when they are uncomfortable.  Lately, I realize that comfortable people talk too much during the business of trading money for specific kinds of metal.

I used to enjoy my interactions with these nervous people who think I care about how much money they want to spend for what they want to buy.  (That was unpleasant snideness, a clue to the reason for this mess of an essay.) A dollar or thousands are all just math for me to do at the end of the day, and I only hope that I have what they want on hand and don’t have to risk placing an order and missing my price point because of a market shift. Sometimes I have too much gold, sometimes I sell out by noon, but there’s always more shiny metal in the world.

Sadly, my view from over the coin shop counter has dimmed.  I know that my very liberal leanings aren’t shared with most of our regulars, but I’m always a ready ear to every viewpoint.  Who messed with my work buzz?  A nice little old lady who came in for directions to the flea market.

She was a four-and-a-half-foot-tall bundle of hate.  Ninety years on this earth had not shown her that respect and love are the solution to everything.  Remember that. Everything and everyone deserve respect and love, even the hatewoman, so I held still while she leaned in for my lesson.

She leaned in to give a conspiratorial whisper about “confirmed bachelors” being against God’s will, and “even stupid apes know better than to put their wieners into other male apes”.  The Gays are “sick, probably because their mommies coddled them too much”.   She added that an ass-whooping or two would have kept them on Nature’s path, aligned with the Bible.

It went on and on, from the nastiness of women touching other women’s nasty parts and back to apes, and naturally on to race.  Lower forms of life, like <conspiratorial whisper> “the coloreds” that had ruined her neighborhood in North City, dirtying the streets one block at a time until there was nowhere for “decent” people to walk without seeing “darkies”.

This tiny old bundle of bigotry looked like everyone’s grandma.  In a way, she is everyone’s grandma, most of whom I’d hoped petered out generations ago, here in these small Midwestern towns.  Many generations away from ignorance about evolution.  About what makes a human human.  About acceptance of difference.

She lingered for half an hour over nothing more than directions to the flea market exactly one block away and my mute idiotic stillness which she surely interpreted as agreement.  I stood shocked and frozen by the words she expected me to accept.  She expected me to agree.  I said nothing, afraid to move, stranded by my role as neutral ambassador of the place I work.

While I stood listening to the hate spew sweetly from her mouth, not a single thing would come out of mine.  My brain reeled and spun so lurchingly that I couldn’t make words.  My shame at not speaking anything but repeated directions to the business she couldn’t find, though she drove right past it to get to us…

Stupid me.  Stupid, silent me.  All I did was stand with my mouth gaping a little bit and my eyes bugging out of my stupid head. She left, and I felt dirty.  What good did that do anyone?  None.  I did no good, when I’ve spent hours and hours learning exactly what to say to such nonsense.  I’ve studied her very neighborhood, know how and why and when the racial makeup shifted from white to black, how it wasn’t a Black coup but a presumed chance at better things, but manipulated in an ugly way by so many versions of White bigotry and prejudice.  Her family didn’t get chased out, they chose to leave when staying was just a little bit uncomfortable because of new-looking neighbors who before might have only crossed into her block to clean her mother’s house.

I stayed silent because I was uncomfortable.

I felt dirty because I let my role as Nice Shop Girl dominate, when this Little Old Lady preached to me about sins that I do not believe are sins.  I believe that sexual preference exists on a sliding scale, forever shifting and never wrong among consenting adults.  If I want to marry a man or a woman it is no business of hers, and she’d better stay the hell out of my bedroom.  I know straight White men who hover closer to apeness than her clearly defined “lower orders” of humans who don’t know better than to lay with the same sex.  None of this came to mind while she stood right in front of me.

Silence.  Nothing.  Muteness from me, fraud sociologist who’s really just a shop girl.

Here is my daily prayer to a god that has better things to worry about: May they all speak their minds, though I disagree.  Tell me about the plots and intrigue, One World Order or something or other, the hellfire that rains down upon us all, the road to damnation we’re riding as a nation.  To some of those conversations, I can genuinely offer a nod and a smile.  Just like everyone has a story, everyone has a truth.  Mine is mine, yours is yours.

When I am at work, I do my job, and sometimes my job includes keeping my mouth shut.  This time was different, because I want to think that if I’d run into Little Old Bigot Lady at the awesome flea market down the street and she’d spouted such nastiness, I’d have skewered her.

We’ll see.  I’ll have plenty of other chances to speak my true mind now that things are how they are, where I can do more than look pleadingly at the clock and fail at being a good person.