I see her on the street pretty frequently. She is a Jehovah's Witness, and I know this because she always has copies of "Watchtower" and "Awake!", in myriad languages, pressed to her chest, titles facing out. When the weather was nicer, I would see her every day when I took Boo
for his morning pee walk. She'd sit on the benches lining Morningside Park and offer me salvation rags and the same infuriating greeting: "Ni hao!"
(A little known fact is that for a decade of my life, I was part of this little cadre of zealous worshippers, before I read about the Enlightenment and decided that reason and science triumphed over the pocket-sized Gideon's Bible from which I read aloud incomprehensible lines every night until I was ten or eleven years old. I learned to read by listening to all fifteen hours of "My Book of Bible Stories" on tape; I learned to draw by copying pictures out of the same book; I scratched my head at the masturbation section of "Young People Ask," which addressed an issue that was still several levels of perversion away from what my young mind could fathom. I took great pride in my perfect prayer record. I absorbed the eschatological fantasies of my belief, and kept a shoebox under my bed filled with bandaids and hydrogen peroxide, ostensibly for an earthquake emergency but really, because I knew the end was near.)
That's a long digression from the story, though.
Anyway, this morning as I walked to the 2/3 train, she was walking out of a building and our paths crossed. And again, she said, "Ni hao!"
It's a friendly and well-meaning but ultimately really fucking annoying way to say hello to somebody that you presume is Chinese. I understand that she is motivated by goodwill, so I don't hold this against her. I remember the weirdly racist goodwill gestures that my dad used to pull: once he hired two Mexican men to paint our house, and he brought them a stereo and tuned the dial to the Spanish channel. Every day when my dad left these two men would retune the dial to 106.1 KMEL, today's hip hop and R&B, and every morning my dad would retune it to the Spanish channel. He also insisted on buying these guys burritos.
So this morning I said, "Please don't say that to me!"
And we had a polite little conversation. She said, Well, there are some sisters down on Bleecker Street who taught me a little Chinese. There are Chinese sisters!
And I said, I know, I used to be one of them!
And she said, Why are you not anymore?
And I said, I'm gay! I can't belong to a church that won't respect who I am!
And she said, Well, I understand that!
Well, I know how hard you work. Keep up your good work!
Well, you have a nice day!
Well, you have a nice day!
(cold handshakes, names exchanged, smiles widened)
It was a pleasant exchange. I want to say that it really made me feel heartened about the possiblity of reaching out to folks, to religious folks especially. It kind of did. It also kind of didn't, because I had this conversation, almost verbatim, with the same woman in August. Oh well.
At least she didn't call me a cunt and spit her testosterone-flavored saliva on the ground by my feet (a more sordid, but equally true, crazy-person-attacks-me-in-NYC story).