Privilege has gotten a bad rap lately, usually from the downtrodden and those who possess empathy. While I don’t fall into either category, I do see their point. The thought of some rich-kid rapist getting a suspended sentence then high-fiving the judge on his way out of the courtroom makes me weep for the world.
That said, I am not so anti-privilege as to want to give up any of my own. This isn’t the reactionary in me talking. It’s the survivalist. Chances are I would have been dead a long time ago if it weren’t for certain advantages handed to me at birth. I’m white, male, straight(ish), and born into a middle-class family in a first-world country. While that does not ensure a long life free of tragedy, it does allow me a certain number of do overs in all but the most egregious fuck ups.
A prime example of this can be illustrated by looking at two hotel-lobby incidents. The first involved Becca and I in New Orleans last year. We had gotten stinking drunk in a French Quarter bar as one does in such places. On the way back to the hotel, we each got a couple of slices of pizza and ate them as we walked. We were still eating as we entered the lobby. We managed to get more pizza into our mouths than on the floor, but not by much. There were no admonishing words from the guy working the desk. Our behavior was not loved, but it was tolerated.
Contrast this with what happened to an African-American guest at a Portland hotel last weekend. He got the cops called on him simply for standing in the lobby and calling his mother on his cell phone. Never mind that he was a registered guest there. You’ve probably heard about it. The incident was reported on both ABC News and CNN, though probably not Fox News. In case you missed it, the hotel chain recognized the PR nightmare they had on their hands they apologized profusely and fired the employees involved.
Of course, this is an anecdotal comparison instead of a controlled experiment. Not all staff are the same and perhaps the guy in Portland would have been treated better in the New Orleans hotel whether he was calling his mom, sloppily eating pizza, or both. It’s hard to say. Easier to predict is how I would have been treated if I had been calling my mom in that Portland hotel.
I’m not an expert on racism and other forms of bigotry. I’m just aware that they exist. I certainly don’t endorse the injustice that comes from that mindset and I’m not even sure I benefit directly from it. It’s not like there is some fixed amount of abuse that needs to be allotted somehow. All I know is that I dodge a lot of life’s bullets because the guns are pointed somewhere else.
When the stakes are lower, crises are not something one should take too seriously. Yet I often do. It doesn’t last long before I am able to take a step back and realize the absurdity of it all. But before that happens, I am a man obsessed.
The last example of this occurred on the afternoon of Christmas day at the Palms Motel in Portland. Becca and I had returned from a late Denny’s brunch (we’re classy!). Evidently, the 1400+ plus calories in the “Lumberjack Slam” weren’t enough for me so decided to tear into the leftover Chinese food from the night before.
No plastic forks were provided so I polished off my chow mein by tilting its container like a beer stein and sending the contents down my gullet. All that was left was an egg roll, but it was the size of a chimichanga and came with a vat of sweet-n-sour sauce with which to dip the thing.
I sat cross-legged on the floor and started eating. I dipped it in the sauce and took a bite. After dipping again, it disintegrated upon the second bite. With chimichowmein bits in my hands and a sizable gut bomb anchoring me to the floor, I doubted I could get up without creating a huge mess. I was also worried knocking over the sweet-n-sour sauce in the process.
Clumsiness had been plaguing me this entire trip. It began on the flight up from SFO. While digging in my backpack for my charger, I managed to drop my phone under my seat. I was about to go reaching for it when Becca stopped me, pointing out that a small child was seated behind me and any hand grasping on my part would look really bad. Until the kid’s mother woke up and could assist in retrieving my phone, I sat and pondered the grim possibilities. Was the screen cracked? Perhaps the video recorder had somehow been turned on and was now filling the device with “Underoo Upskirt at 30,000 Feet.”
My klutzy ways did not stop there. The next morning, I went to Plaid Pantry (a local convenience store chain I often refer to as “The Fartin’ Tartan”) to pick up provisions. In this case, provisions were a couple of canned coffee drinks, two Hostess fruit pies, a bag of powdered-sugar donuts, and a six pack of 16-ounce PBRs. It was all quite a bit to hold onto and the register was tied up by someone getting cash from a winning lottery ticket. After several minutes of this overlong Oregonian ritual, one of the coffee drinks slipped from my grasp and fell to the floor. Other than a small dent in the side of it, it was no worse for wear. One of the PBR cans was not so lucky. My fumble had somehow put a tiny hole and and a tiny stream of beer was spraying the guy standing in front of me. Before he turned around, he probably thought I was peeing on him.
The third incident occurred during Xmas Eve brunch at the Alibi. I went to pour two cups of coffee at the self-serve station and wound up with one of those cups dumped all over one pant leg. I only had one Bloody Mary when this happened and in the other two mishaps, I had nothing to drink at all. I can see now why it’s a good idea that I never drive: I am expected to do it sober and that is when I’m at my most dangerous.
I was likewise near teetotaling when the Chinese food fell apart mid nibble. I did have a PBR that morning because that’s what the baby Jesus would do, but that was six hours ago. Like before, whatever had gone wrong was all me. Helpless and fearing a mess might make me persona non grata at the Palms, all I could do was howl like a dying animal. Becca wanted to help, but there was only so much she could do with a broken foot and the crippling hilarity of my predicament.
In the end, I got to my feet and disposed of the food without creating a major mess. A quick vacuuming was in order, but nothing more. Looking back, I can now see that it was really no big deal, just like everything else.