After a certain amount of time spent with another person, I want either to get away from them or to see them dead on the street. (It passes quickly, relax.) This varies from person to person, but, generally, it happens after I’ve been around someone for a few days.
In this case, the breaking point came while The Student and I were in an area of Lille that seemed like we’d walked into the Gaza Strip.
We’d spent the earlier part of the day wandering aimlessly, talking not to exchange ideas or anything like that, but to keep some parts of our bodies moving so we would not turn into human icicles. I didn’t know how the homeless managed to keep alive during the winters, but I sure as hell respected them.
Anyway, after roaming through the Catholic university’s grounds for about half an hour, we wound up in the east side of Lille. I’m not sure what we were trying to find out there. I think, perhaps, that we’d found what looked like an upscale market, and followed the street thinking we’d find a pub or something like it. Instead, what we found was a street which, as we progressed, so too did the buildings from normal upkeep to what seemed like the slums.
I pointed this out to The Student, and he launched into a lecture about how I was allowing my middle-class, some might say bourgeois, sensibilities to effect the way I was seeing the world around me. The buildings, he said, may be decaying, but that did not mean that there was a correlation between their state and that of the residents.
The slowly increasing number of Middle Eastern folk glaring at us from doorways told me otherwise. Then, when we walked down an alleyway and saw a giant Palestinian flag mural which featured a couple of AK-47s crossed in front of the flag, I decided that The Student could shut the fuck up and die for all I cared. “We need to get out.”
He was staring at the mural. “Er.”
“We’re fine,” he looked around. A guy wearing a shirt featuring a red splotch on the Israeli flag was staring at us while leaning out of a window on the other side of the alley. The Student dropped his voice. “They don’t know we’re Jewish.”
“Are you fucking crazy?” I asked, my voice low—I might have been angry, but I wasn’t stupid. “We couldn’t look more Jewish if we were wearing tefillin, you schmuck. We aren’t welcome here. Let’s get out of the area where everything’s halal and there’s a guy with a blood-stained Israeli flag leaning out of a window.”
The Student looked at the man. The two made eye contact and the guy in the window retreated. A couple of other guys who’d walked past one side of the alley walked past the other end and looked at us. “Yeah,” said The Student. “Maybe we should.”
“Goddamn right. What the fuck,” I said as we walked out of the alley and back from whence we came. “Two American Jews traipse into a place with more angry Palestinians than East Jerusalem. What schmucks.”
We walked down the street at a speed just under running. In retrospect, we might have been overplaying the presence of a threat. Looking back, as we walked out of the alley and back to the market, the looks on people’s faces weren’t those of “I’m going to slit you open from navel to throat, ZOG,” but more of “Why are they running so fast?” Of course, there was the guy with the Israel shirt, so who knows?
At any rate, we made it out of the area without being harassed at all. Of course, I was now enraged at The Student for putting me in that situation in the first place. Even after we passed the market, he wouldn’t shut up. We walked down a side street back in the direction of La Musée Des Beaux Arts and he kept chattering about the various reasons for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how that bled over through Middle Eastern politics in the first instance, and Judaic-Islamic relations in the second instance. No doubt that what he was saying was wise, informed, and all of that bullshit, but after a few blocks of hearing about how, really, one could not easily lay blame to either side without being accused of xenophobia, I wanted to strangle the man.
“But of course,” he blabbered on, “I don’t know. The last time I’ve held an in-depth conversation with a Palestinian was in high school. And, if memory serves, that was about how much we both hated trig. Really, the media doesn’t paint the clearest picture, or is that a clichéd thing to say nowad—”
“Shut up,” I said. Then, for good measure, I tossed him up against the wall opposite. We happened to be right next to an adult video store and a suddenly silent and awkward bearded and glassesed busker with a cheap acoustic guitar. “You’ve been talking for twenty fucking minutes, God damn it. It’s cold, I’m cold, I’m hungry, I need a drink, and you won’t shut up about political nuances. For fuck’s sake. Just talk about God damned Star Wars or something for once.”
“S’il-vous plaît,” said the busker, laying down his guitar, “pardonez-mois, monsieur, mais vous-êtes—”
I shot him a look that said he should shut the fuck up.
“Now,” I said, “get out your fucking travel guide and we’re going to find a place that’s warm and where I can get a God damned beer.”
The Student, not changing his facial expression, took out his travel guide.
I took it from him, flipped to the drinking section in Lille, and saw we were a block away from an Irish pub that had been opened by a guy named Seamus the Scot who suffered from Multiple Personality Disorder. Seemed good to me. I flipped it shut, shoved it back to The Student, shoved my hands into my pockets, turned my head down, and walked.
I guess this happens to me because I’m fundamentally an individualistic person. I don’t like to be around exclusively the same people for long stretches of time, and throwaway conversation (stuff like, “Boy, I sure am glad it’s Friday!”) infuriates me.
While The Student’s one-sided discussion wasn’t nearly in the realm of TGIF-platitudes, what he was saying was incessant and just as unstoppable as Superman on speed. Was my reaction overkill and unnecessary? Yes. Of course it was.(In case you’re wondering, this is also why I would never be a good guidance counselor. Imagine: Some middle school kid walks into my office almost in tears about his parents getting a divorce. My reacion is to simply lean back with a wry grin on my face, bark a quick laugh, pull out a bottle of Jack nestled in my desk, and say, “Kid, that ain’t shit. Lemme tell you about how I found out my parents were getting divorced.”)