And that’s when the nastiness started.
Actually, it began before that. During the Renaissance Faire, we missed the joust and walked over to the tomato spectacle. In apathy, I shrugged. I saw nothing interesting about audience members pitching tomatoes at a target who insulted them with every breath; however, I saw no reason to oppose the idea of visiting the “Pay Your Money and Hit The Target” stand. Painted in huge letters ran the words “Do not play if you are easily offended” on the sign. In indifference, I walked past a woman who futilely aimed projectiles at a target who reciprocated by calling her “Urkel.” The fact that the 20ish or early 30ish man did not mention her style of dress or cut off his insult after pointing out her lack of throwing skill did not escape me. By calling her “Urkel,” he called attention to her ethnicity as if her African descent was worthy of an insult. Perhaps she was from Brazil or the Caribbeans, for she grinned and walked away as if the intent of the insult was lost on her. Or maybe she decided to ignore his desire to single her out due to the color of her ass.
In contrast, I was far less dignified.
“C’mon, Honey. I want you to hit that fucker in the face with a tomato.” I knew my husband had admirable throwing skills. Earlier in the fair, he had hurled an ax at a target and embedded the metal in the wood at the bull’s eye mark, much to the admiration of onlookers. After clapping in approval, I had teased him with, “I guess being Scandinavian counts for something.” On more than one occasion, I kidded him about his Danish ancestors’ fondness of launching axes at British folk in the sake of Norse shits and grins. Now I wanted revenge against the jackass who spat a thinly veiled racial insult against an innocent woman.
Such vulgar display was beneath hubby’s dignity. At length, under my encouragement, he relented, collected money from members of our group, and walked to the tomato stand.
“Did you get that haircut on the David Letterman show?” The target launched the first barb.
I winced. During his twenties, hubby had worn his hair long and thick enough to make Yngvi-Frey jealous. Now he was older and respectable, and had cut his hair as age and profession demanded. J’s aim went wildly off the mark. The second pitch, however, hits its mark. The section of the tomato smacked off the target’s brow and flew upward. The white man seemed surprised by the blow, but my whoop of joy shook him from his astonishment.
“Calm down, Lt Uhuru.” The target now turned his attention on me.
For those of you who were born too late to watch Star Trek, Uhuru was the regal communications officer aboard the USS Enterprise. She was known for her good looks and grace — and because she was the only African-American regularly featured on the series. In her old age, the actress emitted beauty worthy of legends. Now had the man called me “Granny” or “Bigfoot” or “Skinny,” I would have dismissed the insult. Maybe.
But he wanted to get racial with this thing. And we Americans know how quickly racism changes the course of events.
“Up yours, buddy!” I shrieked and hurled obscene gestures at him.
The crowd grew silent, perhaps sensing that my anger was genuine. The guy who had collected the money tittered. Apparently watching my Eastern US-inspired hand gestures of “fuck off” proved more amusing than watching citrus fruit ricochet off his partner’s head. Perhaps he knew the target’s eagerness to lace insults with racism would eventually yield its on rewards.
Eyes wide and drawing himself back as though I had pelted him with a missile, the target looked stunned that I had responded to his insult with such venom.
“That’s my wife you’re talking to.” J. launched a piece of tomato that bounced off the target’s nose and landed in the dirt. Looking shocked for the second time, the target recoiled.
“Right in the pus!” I yelled. “Give him another in the pus!”
For the rest of the round, the target kept his mouth shut. Either it hurt too much to talk, or he wondered why I had reacted so vehemently against the nickname — or maybe this was the first time he witnessed an African-American woman’s anger over what she perceived as unprovoked racism.
When my husband exhausted his supply of tomatoes, we turned to leave.
The man who had collected the money congratulated my husband. “Well served, sir.”
“Well served, sir.” The man who had insulted me echoed his partner, but his tone bore no rancor; in fact, both men sounded respectful. The insults were done, the money spent, and American life would go on as usual.