She didn't understand why he had to make fun of the pink camo desert hat she tried on.
"That's a San Francisco hat."
"What do you mean?" she asked curiously. The strange man did not bother to explain, but laughed and mumbled something she didn't quite hear. For thirty-eight years, she generally did not think carefully about regular conversations with people. And most of the time she only ever purposely looked for fault when she argued with her husband. She had always believed everyone had good intentions, never wanted to see or hear the negative in anyone until they forced her to. One more reason learning was difficult.
"I'm all girl," she said first, not understanding. Then he told her that "Men just don't wear pink." Catching on, she replied that real men wore pink and that her husband looked hot in pink. Seeing she was undaunted, he gave her a few "helpful" tips. One was that some hunters wore pink because deer don't see that color as well as they do orange. " She must have seemed an airhead to him. (She did not understand his statement or any of the similar references she had read until she was reflecting during her journal writing.) Then he asked to see the hat which she handed to him. He explained that the tail is supposed to be worn in the back, so when you get the tail tight enough, you tie a knot in it. She ignored his remarks and stared at him. A good friend had explained to her once about "tying a knot in someone's tail." Had she fully understood his veiled references and foreseen how the conversation would end, she would have bought the pink hat and found an orange one, too, despite her lack of shopping funds.
Thought he'd given up trying to frazzle her. A hat in each hand, she was internally debating which hat to buy. And even if she did not like the content, he was giving her information. She had to learn the ugly stuff to become wiser, more alert to what went on around her. So she listened as he spoke of his days as a history teacher. Said most high school students thought all wars were "one war." Couldn't differentiate. Said anyone who knew how to read it "right" could read his hat and know where he'd been. This, she knew, was true. He pointed to the young man walking toward them, said the guy worked for the post office. He was wearing a p.o. hat. The dude assumed the young guy was a vet cause he worked for the post office, but he was not. To be so young, he was smart. Knew not to waste his time like she was doing. Still learning. She tried to stop listening to the sad man, though, when he told a disgusting joke about Arabs, as if she weren't a 'lady' standing there, to the cashier who at least had the gentleman's sense to be embarrassed.
Her husband was finally ready to check out. She said she would pay for her own stuff, try to stay on budget. The dude, listening to their exchange, told her "You work for the government. You can write as many checks as you want."
"Why do you think I work for the government?" she asked him, "What did I say that made you think I work for the government? I'm unemployed." Too much information. Instead of answering the question, he replied that his wife worked for the government. But he suddenly thought he had an opening. Relocate and work to keep out illegals along the border, he suggested.
"I don't like how there are some people shooting at the people trying to cross," she told him, diving headfirst into the mud. He began talking over her to explain why it was "okay," that they were taking jobs, that it was breaking the law.
"Nobody minded when they built up this area for the Olympics," she retorted.
"What Olympics?" the history teacher popped and then asked again when she stared at him momentarily, not believing he had just asked her that.
"The one in Atlanta." In her head, Duh.
"And when was that?" he shot back angrily.
"1996," she almost laughed. He didn't have a good answer for that, just started talking again about how "you can't have it both ways." But wasn't that what he wanted? For illegals to work certain jobs cheaply and then leave when money was tight? He was in no shape for construction or other outdoor work. And she doubted he would enjoy washing dishes or cleaning toilets for others.
"Well, there is one way to uphold the law, and then there is another way," she argued, "and some of those people are women and children." The dude was unphased. Her husband realized she was not listening to him and pulled gently on her arm. She followed, secretly glad that he was taking her. Got the last word, though. Maybe she shouldn't have, but she tried to appeal to the humanity she hoped was deep down in there somewhere. The lesson for her, however, was dynamite, hit home hard. Keep your mouth closed and look the part, she told herself.
She did not understand why this "would be lord of an empty lake" thought shooting unarmed people who tried to cross the border was "okay." She never argued that border crossing was against the law. Never tried to say "do nothing." Just that there was a more humane way to uphold the law. She did not even bother trying to convince him - who would be impossible to convince - that every suggested legislation was shot down, that it would never be "good enough" for anyone who opposed legalization. In fact, she had openly supported Bush's plan for illegals from all other countries, not only from Mexico. For one, they and everyone else could be documented, and the country would be safer. They would also be eligible for more or better benefits, like social security, college loans, insurance for the children. Eleven million people could buy health insurance and car insurance, and many more of them could attend college. Spend money on so many other things. What they could put into the economy was far more than they'd ever take out.
She loved her country, was thankful for being a citizen more than ever. She would wear the cool USA hat with the American flag, because she wanted for the Superman motto to be real: "Truth, justice, and the American way." Since the law was the law, she would wholeheartedly be willing for the government to spend more money for jobs on the border in order to treat crossers humanely and not to see them shot down like animals.