Monday, December 10, 2012

Kale Migrates South for the Winter

Not long ago I realized that my racially-ambiguous self looks more Middle Eastern in some contexts than in others. In the airport, before and during flights bound south of the Mason-Dixon, I look incredibly Middle Eastern.

My initial discomfort among Southerners prompts me to imagine all sorts of awkward in-flight scenarios: suspicious frowns from Texans in Stetsons the size of an oil tycoon’s gut, or one of the many nervous, squat, secretarial gentlewomen in the waiting area turning to me and asking, apprehensively: “are you Muslim?”

Although nothing quite like that has yet happened to me, I have gotten selected for "random" searches before, and once, I even got my hair patted-down. This was in Texas. I laughed about it as it was happening. What else could I do? Who's heard of such a thing? I then realized that this laughter probably made me look even more suspect, which caused me to nervously-laugh a bit more, against my will and better judgement.

To assuage possible suspicions, I turned to the woman who flattened my wavy black locks and told her that I've never had this done to me before. Her response was: "that's why I just love them curlicues, heh heh!"


During my flight to Atlanta, I sat in the aisle seat, next to two women that had boarded together. Naturally, in an attempt to be social, I asked them if they were from our arrival destination.

The woman in the center seat smiled. “We’re from north Georgia.”

Uh oh, I thought: a place with a reputation! The other woman in the window seat looked slightly disconcerted by something; I hoped not my presence.

As I reflexively do whenever someone tells me that they’re from a certain place, I blabbered everything I knew about Georgia:  Peaches! The Appalachian Mountains! Farms! The women joined me in describing their beautiful countryside, and the conversation rolled on through the rest of their state. When I mentioned the obscure Atlanta suburb from which my very best friend comes from, southern or otherwise, both of their faces lit up in recognition. “We’ve been there,” they chirped, and nothing more was said about the place. The same friend would later describe his town as “a church and a strip mall,” but I think he’s holding-off, as I distinctly remember him mentioning that his town boasts a well-loved rock.

I asked them if they enjoyed New York. They lit up again. I began wondering if the disconcerted Georgian in the window seat probably had a slight fear of flight, not Middle-Easterners. A big, blue turbine was blocking her window seat view. Going south from LaGuardia gives airplane travelers a gorgeous image of the New York City skyline. The woman revealed that she never had a window seat before, and she had been looking forward to this one.

Fortunately, once the plane took off, a sliver of skyline was still visible. The two women excitedly snapped photographs of what they could. I was happy for them, I told them so, and I meant it.

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