This is the kind of story Gina tells best, but I’ll do what I can.
After Gina and Wes got back from the color run a little before noon, we all went out to a local diner. This is a common Saturday activity for the Fenzorselli side of the household, but Shaun and I usually don’t go for whatever reason — usually some combination of being still in bed, being out of money, or having other plans. Today, however, we went, and I was greatly looking forward to indulging in some delicious breakfast starches of the kind I eat only sparingly under our new diet. (Have we talked about the new diet here yet? I’m sure it’ll come up at some point.)
While looking at the menu and deciding whether I was going to have hash browns, French toast, or Belgian waffles (I know, I know, a lot of you are “and” people and will suggest all three, but my stomach really isn’t big enough for that), I was dimly aware that there was a cluster of people standing sort of behind me and to my left. I was sitting right next to a waiter station, so presumably they were all waiters who had something to do there. Now, when I say, “dimly aware,” what I mean is this: I had no idea who the people were, I couldn’t tell you now if they had walked past us to get to the station or come up from behind, and if nothing had happened then their presence would probably never have fully registered on my consciousness, and I would be honestly oblivious if someone (probably Shaun) made reference to “those three waiters that were standing behind you and talking before we ordered.”
They were brought to my active attention when I heard a woman’s voice directly over my left ear say, “Can I look at your tattoo?” I made some sort of uninvolved affirmative answer like “Sure,” or “Uh huh,” and then immediately cringed because I realized I was about to have that conversation again. The one where someone says, “Oh, that’s so pretty! What do W and A stand for?” and then I have to figure out how to say, “The names we gave to the twins my mom miscarried when I was six” in a way that doesn’t create that record-scratch Unexpected Sad Story moment.
(I imagine people who have lost someone close to them and find it coming up in response to casual social questions know this dynamic well, although it’s much easier for me since I’m not really sad about the twins anymore.) It’s my fault for only getting tattoos with emotionally heavy significance (the others are even worse!), but I do try to avoid or forestall that conversation in most situations if I possibly can. However, my mind drifts much too slowly from Dimly Aware to Actively Aware and Engaged with the Situation, and by the time it was there, I’d already said “sure.” Fortunately, what actually happened was much less expected and more hilarious.
Mind you, I still haven’t turned around, so I have no idea who the woman is who’s asked me to look at my tattoo, except I think maybe she’s a waitress? The next thing I know she’s pulling the strap of my wide-strapped tank top to the side, then lifting it away from my shoulder so she can peer underneath. I sort of freeze at that point, thinking, “Whoa, this lady is manhandling my shoulder and my clothing in a way I was not prepared for and am not really happy about.” My typical response to Unexpected Weirdness is freeze and detach, so I just went slightly rigid in the shoulders and kept staring at the menu like nothing was happening. Then one of the other people in the cluster, a man, said, “Dude, she didn’t say you could look down her shirt.” And she responded, “It’s just the shoulder, it’s not like I’m looking down the front of her shirt,” and then she added, “I just really like tattoos,” and maybe he said something else, I’m not sure, because I was just sitting there staring fixedly at the menu and thinking, “Why is this person touching me what is going on i don’t even know.” But something the guy said, or maybe just the way I was sitting there rigidly instead of turning around to engage in friendly conversation made the woman realize she was maybe being a tad inappropriate, so she let go of my clothes and patted me soothingly on the arm and said some half-apologetic patter. To which I didn’t really respond because I was still in my “I am so weirded out right now and your soothing pat is STILL YOU TOUCHING ME” frozen zone. And I think by this point she got that I was really uncomfortable, so she broke out the magic words to make it all better: “It’s okay honey, I didn’t mean anything by it, I mean, I like men, ha ha.”
And that was the moment that twisted my reaction from weird and awkward to GODDAMN HILARIOUS. She moved away and I turned to the rest of the table and made a giant :-O face, and they all cracked up. And then I had to recount it a few minutes later for Shaun, who hadn’t really been paying attention, and we all cracked up again. And then it was super-awkward every time that waitress walked by us, (which of course happened quite often) because I didn’t want to give her a friendly smile or anything that would make her think what she did was anything but Way Inappropriate, but I also didn’t want her to think I thought she was the scum of the earth. Or worse, that I thought she was a LESBIAN making LESBIAN ADVANCES. If I was the kind of person who addressed near-strangers with frankness and a desire to improve the world, I’d have stopped her at some point and said, “Listen, lady, I wasn’t weirded out because I thought you were hitting on me. I date women. I was weirded out because you were tugging my clothes around and peering underneath them, and even in such an innocuous area as the shoulder that’s not really okay to do to someone you don’t know. Keep that in mind for future reference, and also keep in mind that just because someone has a tattoo doesn’t mean it’s okay to touch them or put your face right up close to their body unless they invite you to. And also don’t touch pregnant women’s bellies unless they invite you to, because I’m 90% sure you probably do that too. In fact, in general don’t go around touching strangers and very casual acquaintances without their consent. Some of us really don’t like that, but we’re conditioned by social norms not to say anything about it and just to let it happen. And by the way, have you heard of rape culture?”
Okay, I probably would have ended my PSA somewhere before “rape culture.” But of course I didn’t give her any kind of PSA, because when someone is invasive and makes me uncomfortable the last thing I want to do is prolong my interaction with them by carefully explaining why what they did was wrong. I’m pretty sure it was an awkward experience for her too, so hopefully she’ll avoid manhandling inked appendages in the future, even if the story she tells herself is, “Some people are so uptight about their personal space, I just like tattoos!”
I’m just glad she didn’t glimpse the tattoo on my thigh.