I had to attend a monthly presentation today at work. The talks vary in subject matter, and are mostly interesting. I don’t like going sometimes because they’re coordinated by a person in my department whom I don’t particularly care for, and I’m obligated to go “because you have to” according to my boss. So I go, and sit behind the person I don’t care for, so she can’t stare at me during the presentation (she seriously will find a way to “watch” me to see if I’m paying attention and report back if I’m not).
So I’m sitting alone, minding my own business when a nurse comes in and sits a few chairs down from me. We exchange hellos and I ask how he’s doing. “Fine” he says, “I need to sit near the door because I have a meeting in a few minutes I have to attend.” I nod politely, and then he takes a deep breath and unloads this gem, “You know, I’m not discriminatory in any way but…” (Oh jeez…this can only be highly offensive) “…this woman (the one he’s going to meet, I assume)…” he trails off, making a clenching fist with both hands as if to strangle this imaginary person with his mind powers.
Now, we’re in a room which is relatively quiet. Today’s talk is four 15 minute segments of the summer students’ projects that these lovely college kids have been working their earnest little hearts out over. Two are sitting a row up, and exchange a side glance to each other. Great, I think to myself, now I have to either tell this guy he’s being ridiculous or jump on the yeah, I hate certain genders and/or ethnicities too bandwagon. Neither of these options are particularly engaging. So before I go in on him, I probe gently to see what he means.
“So, because she’s a woman?” I ask, trying to give him the opportunity to say something to correct the awful idea he’s implying.
“Oh no, a certain ethnicity,” he says, “Very shrill.” At this point, I have no idea where to go with this. Not only has he ignored the chance to correct himself, but he’s doubled down on race.
“Well, just take a deep breath and try to deal with her as best you can. You know, they make this amazing drug, called Xanax. Maybe you should consider it, because honestly, this sounds like 100% your issue and not hers.”
“Yeah, they also make (another drug I never heard of),” he retorts, thinking himself quite funny.
“Oh? What’s that one do?” I ask, thinking it’s something to help with anxiety, perhaps.
“Oh it’s what the pygmy tribes in the Amazon use in their blow darts,” he says.
“Pretty sure our employer frowns upon homicide.” I say finally, giving up any hope at saving this conversation.
“Yes, we work for a hospital, remember?”
At this point the presentations are about to begin, and I’m so grateful to stop talking to this person. As the speaker began, he was using the mouse to show on his presentation parts of the image that he was referring to. The director of the program gets up, walks up to the podium and gives him a laser pointer.
“Never come to a presentation unprepared,” he says loudly, flatly, and without humor. Another student chimes in that they’d had one, but the battery was dead.
“Don’t make excuses for him.” The director snaps and takes his seat.
The talk continues, but the awkwardness quota for the room has been sufficiently managed for everyone there. And that’s what I did today.