Ten years ago, my friend Nate got us a seasonal job handing out mints for a well-known gum company in Chicago. It paid $14 an hour, which was huge for a couple of lazy theater majors in 2006. Our task was simple: show up at a Chicago landmark at the scheduled time, receive your mints from the manager and and hand them out to apathetic passersby. Lime green polo shirts had been provided for us and we were required to wear white jeans, I suppose so that we’d resemble human mints. Nate and I were also given “bike duty”, which meant that at times we would ride around the city on a lime green tandem bike and hand out mints.
Our manager hated work as much as we did, so after a fraction of the required time at a given location, she’d cut us loose. Since I had a car and access to my parents’ suburban garage, they would hand off the 5 gallon bags of mints to me to make it appear as though the product had been dispersed. The product was dispersed eventually. Thanks to my parents’ active social life and our large extended family, no one left our home that summer without a bag of the mints to last them for the next few years.
Nate and I were part of a designated team whose members were two other inconsequential college students and a 30-something housewife named Laurie. Laurie made it very clear that she didn’t need a job, she just needed something to do before she drove back to the suburbs in her BMW. Of all the jobs to take when you don’t need one, it was beyond me that she chose one that required her to find city parking and to stand in the sun during a Chicago summer. Of course, there was probably more to that story. Laurie was quick to bring up her husband’s job, her Beemer, their Chihuahua, and again, his job, whatever it was. She was always coifed, with a popped collar (of the aforementioned green polo), well-manicured nails, and a Coach bag. Despite her attempt at a sophisticated front, Laurie was ignorant. She squawked about the pigeons and the homeless downtown and marveled at the existence of Nate, a happily functioning homosexual man. Every opportunity she got, she referred to him as “Gay Boy”. She’d say things like, “Wow, you are SO gay!”, “That was such a gay thing to say!”, “You look extra gay today!” When on the phone with her husband in our presence, she would mention that she was “with Kate and Gay Boy”. Yes, me and my trusty sidekick, Gay Boy.
Our last gig at this job was our biggest, and my first ever “business trip”. We rented a car and headed east to the Detroit Downtown Hoedown. When we arrived in Detroit, Laurie called her husband and told him that she had gotten there safely and had driven down with Kate and Gay Boy. This was after a five hour car ride, the most amount of time we’d ever spent with her, in which she had ample time to comment on Nate’s gay music tastes, gay clothes, gay voice, and his general gay presence. We in turn, were actively dismissive of her. And this, dear reader, is the whole reason I wrote this, the whole reason I thought it worth sharing. Just one loud sentence, heard by only me…
Nate pulled up to the fest and dropped Laurie off near the team and I stayed with him to park. The door closed behind her and Nate screamed, “READ A FUCKING BOOK, LAURIE!”
Sweet Nate, so slow to anger, so chill, too chill most of the time, had lost it. My first reaction was fear- “Did she hear that?!” She didn’t. 10 years later, I wish she had. Not that it would have changed a thing about Laurie, but wouldn’t that make for a neater ending to this story?
If you’re lucky enough in life and humor, you acquire favorite lines, a greatest hits of memories. This is on my list. It says so much, so simply, with so much conviction.
Thanks to this election season and the internet, that line has sprung to mind in the last six months more than it ever has in the past. When I read Amateur Belly Dancer’s YouTube comment that says, “BUILD THAT WALL! AMERICA FIRST!”, I thought, “READ A FUCKING BOOK!” When I listen to baby boomers explain away impoverished urban areas by saying it’s a result of “bad parenting”, I think, “READ A FUCKING BOOK!” When I see a human creamsicle in a starchy red hat that says, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”, I think, “IT WAS NEVER GREAT!” and also, “READ A FUCKING BOOK!”
You get the idea.
Of course this is a very broad generalization, as there are plenty of really awful books out in the world, proselytizing intolerance.
But you know what I mean.
Read a fucking book.