Little Ben

Little Ben shimmied into his man suit to go to the arena. He”d learned the hard way that he had to or people would step on him – sometimes literally. They just didn’t take him seriously most of the time.

Maybe it was his age. Maybe it was his joyful spirit. They just didn’t like being around someone who refused to get drawn into their glum gravity. His cheeriness in the face of their crankiness was disconcerting. It reminded them that they had a choice to be cranky, that it wasn’t automatic, or fate.

It was like sobriety – drunks don’t like to hang around those in recovery. It reminded them that there was a way out. They felt embarrassed, or shamed, by his presence. And while it would be easy to go along to get along, he chose not to. It had taken too much work to get where he was to fall back into bad habits again.

Fortune cookie.

They tried to teach us. They put their words into every bag, inside every fortune cookie. You ordered the meal and the cookie came along with. Maybe you opened the cookie. Maybe you read the fortune. And just maybe, if you were lucky, you had the insight to turn it over. It was right there, on the back. A word, in Chinese, with the translation. Collect enough and you had a sort of makeshift dictionary. You got fed in body and mind that way.

They had given us a chance, but so many of us ignored it, or overlooked it. So many of us did that all the time anyway, with everything. But not anymore. No longer do we have a luxury of being the Masters of our own destiny. No longer do we have the luxury of ignoring the signs that had been around us all these many years. For now, we are the minority. Now, we are the ones who have to meekly ask if the shop owner speaks our language. Now we have to go to tiny shops and strip malls in questionable neighborhoods to find a box of Cap’n Crunch or Jif peanut butter. Because now we are all Chinese. Now, English is a second language for all of us, and hot dogs have been replaced by Hunan cuisine.

There wasn’t a war. It wasn’t sudden. But the invasion happened all the same. They were here all along, quietly working, quietly saving, quietly planning. Their strategy was so subtle, so long range, that we didn’t even notice it. We thought they were OK with a second or even third-class existence. It seemed like a good system for everyone. We let them live here, let them own property, let them open up shops. We thought their ways were exotic if we thought of them at all. We certainly didn’t think of them as a threat. Sure, they assimilated, flew under the radar. They changed their names that we couldn’t (or wouldn’t) pronounce into ones like Jack, or Susie, or Joe. They put away their own clothes and adopted the anonymous uniform of America, all jeans and T-shirts, but never went so far as to debase themselves with sweatpants and singlets, not even in private. Even they would not stoop that low in playinf the game to fool us into not noticing them. Because that is what they were doing. They couldn’t change their skin or hair or eyes (though some did with lightening cream or bleach or even surgery to remove the epicanthic fold) so they blended in with all the other little ways that made us experience them as background noise. Hell, they could’ve been from Mars, looked like little green men as far as we’d pay attention if they only wore our costume and took our names. It was that lack of attention that was coming back to haunt us now.

(Written early July 2019)