It is a rare occasion when I make an effort to piss off a complete stranger. As someone who typically tries to avoid confrontation like poison ivy and the plague, I often allow irritating situations to slide by without argument. Although I generally like my conversations with new friends to be free of conflict; I also generally dislike being bullied. When I feel intimidated, sometimes I can't help but get a little sassy.
Last Friday, I found my seat on the airplane to Lynchburg with no intensions of making me seatmate uncomfortable. When a middle aged man with more salt than pepper in his hair joined me and offered a warm “hello” , I was delighted to have a chatty friend. I had been out of town for 2 weeks and had experienced entirely too much “Erin alone time”. Finally, Someone over the age of 18 for me to talk to, I thought to myself.
Saltn’ Pepper was visiting his daughter and family in Virginia. He majored in Music in college and enjoys reading poetry. As soon as he told me that he was a minister at a church in Ohio, I knew that our conversation would inevitably turn awkward/blog worthy.
When I told Salt’n Pepper that I was originally from Vermont, a look of concern and worry tormented his face.
“That’s a pretty um…. Liberal state isn’t it?” He said as he put the arm rest down between us. It was as if he thought that my political views were contagious and that skinny arm rest was his only hope of making it off the plane without being infected.
At this point I was tempted to tell him about how excited I was that my brother and his boyfriend were finally getting married, but I thought better of it. He had not yet said anything rude to me and fabricating a brother and future brother-in-law was not necessary.
After a moment of silence, Saltn’ Pepper pulled out his wallet, and handed me a homemade business card.
“ Part of my job is to counsel people in need. You seem like a really nice young lady and if you ever feel that you need someone to talk to. Please know that you can always call me.” He said.
I thanked him for this kindness and placed the handcut piece of construction paper into my purse.
Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.
“ Are you Dutch?” He asked me.
“mmm…no..” I was polite, but very confused.
“ I alway’s say.. If you aint Dutch.. you Aint much” He laughed, clearly pretty proud of his own joke.
I laughed too. There are few things that I enjoy more than rhyming.
He then told me that he had a bumper sticker with the phrase on it and proceeded to tell me about the other funny bumper stickers that he had seen. This was turning into a very nice conversation after all.
“ I’m just glad that I’m not Polish” he said. “ I wouldn’t be smart enough to but a bumper sticker on my car properly”
I stared at him for a moment in utter disbelief. I really wasn’t offended, but I was shocked that a minister would say something of that nature, especially to a perfect stranger. I come from a strong polish heritage and I was tempted to tell him so, but I decided that it wasn’t worth the battle.
As our flight continued, I was amazed by the number of polish jokes this man knew, and how he was clearly not shy to share them with anyone who would listen. I could tell that he was joking and if I had known him better ( or at all for that matter) I would have probably found it funny. I sometimes make fun if children with lisps, I really cant judge.
I decided that although I was not going to tell him that I was Polish that it was the perfect time to end the conversation and read my cosmo magazine. As I opened my $4.50 of trash, I was sure to place myself at an angle that would allow saltn’ pepper to read “100 ways to make him hot in bed” over my shoulder if he so desired. I have always been good at sharing.
This is where the story gets interesting.
As the plane was landing, Saltn’ Pepper made a few more jokes, all at the expense of my ancestors. He stood next to me as we were waiting for our bagged luggage and the polish jokes continued until my bags arrived. As I gathered my belongings, he extended his hand toward me .
“By the way, I’m Alan Smithe” He said forgetting that his business card had his name printed on it.
All of a sudden, a rush of courage and sass filled my mouth.
“ It was nice talking to you, Alan. I’m Erin Giebutowski” I said, borrowing my mother’s maiden name.
I smiled and watched the color drain out of Alan’s face. Without another word, I walked to my car.