Thursday, April 2, 2009

At least it's not a petting zoo

A few weeks ago, not more than two blocks from work, a young woman walked up to me, looked me directly in the eye, and said something to the affect of "you are so cute. I've never seen a midget in person before." This doesn't happen often. But when it does, I refer to it as the 'zoo affect.'

I probably didn't learn as much as I should have in college, but I have retained a few useful bits of knowledge in my experience. More specifically, I've acquired a few useful tools that I use to gauge how I interact with the world around me and how that world affects me. One tool I learned from my friend Rohit as we drove north up Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, talking and having a good time. Rohit was behind the wheel. Another car cut him off. I swore under my breath. He kept driving and smiling. "Doesn't that piss you off?" I asked. He considered my question a moment, then answered. "Maybe," he said. "But I'm going to forget about it in ten minutes anyway."

I remember Rohit's words, and try to apply them as a litmus test, measuring the importance of situations that really annoy me, from cars that block the bike lane, to bicyclists that blow stoplights to ignorant use of derogatory language. His insightful words have many times helped me avoid dwelling uselessly on benign hassles. But when looking into the eyes of the woman who spoke to me, or at me, as if some animal at the zoo I knew I'd be lucky to forget what she said in ten years, much less ten minutes.

While searching for a witty or devastatingly sarcastic comeback, I came up empty, and settled for honesty, telling her I felt like a chimpanzee at the zoo. I guess she'd never heard a monkey talk. She broke out laughing and strode away, staggering under the weight of her laugh.

I guess sometimes, just like with bad traffic, there is nothing you can do. Next time the woman sees a person of short stature, I hope some of the novelty has worn off. If not, I hope she remembers to wear her seatbelt.

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