I was standing in line at the bank the other day, waiting for a computer problem to be sorted out, when I fell into a discussion with the man standing in line behind me…
I mentioned that I was in a bit of hurry because I was hoping to have time to visit my friend John before catching my train.
“Oh? John who?” he enquired casually.
“His name’s John Smith.”
“No kidding? I know John”, he smiled, “…nice guy”
“He is indeed a nice guy” I agreed.
I asked my fellow waitee if he’d seen John’s new haircut.
“Haircut?” he chuckled. ”He doesn’t have any hair”.
I pictured John in my mind and couldn’t remember seeing even a bald spot on his head. Nevertheless, I continued:
“I’m hoping to arrange a game of racket ball with him next week-he beat me the last time we played.”
“John hates racket ball!” huffed the man “…and I really can’t imagine him hauling all that weight around the court!”
“Well…I wouldn’t say John was overweight” I politely mused, “In fact if anything I’d say he’s pretty slim.”
“You’re joking!” he said, looking a little irritated. “I told him just a few weeks ago he’s heading for a heart attack.”
“Well you should probably tell his wife that, if that’s how you feel” I said. “She’s the one who cooks all the food in their house”.
“You know he isn’t married-never has been.”
“Well of course he’s married”, I told him. “He’s been married for twenty-two years…”
“Oh, come on, said the man, “…how can he be married for twenty-two years? He’d have to be five years old when he tied the knot, and I know for a fact that’s illegal in Germany.”
By this point I was getting more confused by the conversation than I was anxious about the time this bank call was taking up.
“Germany?” I quizzed.
“Yeah…Germany. You know-where John comes from. Don’t tell me you haven’t detected the accent, it’s about as German as it could be.”
I had to confess I had no idea John was German: I’d never associated African-Americans with Germany before.
“But John’s white!” the man veritably barked.
“Hey”, I said, “…the John Smith I know is a slim, middle-aged, active, married African-American architect, and yours is…well yours is something else.”
“No” insisted the man, beginning to reach what may have been the top of his voice, “John’s a politician …!”
“But John hates politics-he’s never even voted in his life! Look guy” I said as calmly as I could, “I know an African-American when I see one! I think what we have here is a case of mistaken identity: my friend John Smith just ain’t the same guy as your friend John Smith-they’re two different people!”
“Look buddy”, the man growled defensively, “John Smith is John Smith, and you don’t have the right to lecture me on what he’s like!”
It was at this point in the debate that the woman in front of me turned around and poked her finger into my chest:
She stared sternly into my face and in a hushed but angry voice she said, “How dare you trample on this man’s sincerity! Why shouldn’t his friend John Smith be the same John Smith as yours? There can only be one John Smith you-know!”
Taken aback by the woman’s aggressive interjection, I waited in silent submission for her to finish speaking her mind. She did:
“Do you know your problem?” she hissed. “Your problem is that you’re just too narrow-minded!”