Friday, December 19, 2014

gentlemen's disagreement

I was waiting at the public library reference desk. The librarian had gone off to fetch something for me from the back room. Another man came up, evidently in search of assistance. "Merry Christmas," he said to me, in a more aggressive tone of voice than the sentiment would indicate. I suspected that he was one of those aggrieved religious partisans who wanted to see if I'd take offense.

As I believe that the point of saying something generic like "Happy Holidays" is to show common politeness towards strangers whose choice of holiday you do not know, and as he had certainly proclaimed his choice of holiday, I had no problem in replying "And Merry Christmas to you." (Had I wanted to be nasty, I could have said, "Happy Kwanzaa." He was, of course, white, as am I.) He then made a remark about the string of lights running across the front of the desk, and I was just about to continue the conversation in the form of commenting on the fun of going out in the evenings in search of gaudy displays, when he picked up one from a stack of informative bookmarks on the desk.

"Affordable Care Act," he read from the bookmark. "Is there such a thing?" he asked with his aggressive tone. I read this as a further weak attempt to bait me, the first having failed so spectacularly, but responded as if it were a mere confession of ignorance. "Of course there is," I said. "You should read the news."

At this moment, the librarian returned, and I was spared further colloquy.

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