“I could be Native American,” she said. “I mean, I like turquoise.”
It was Saturday morning and I was seated outside on the patio, at a small table in front of my favorite bagel shop, just down the road from my house. I had gone there to spend the morning writing in my journal, which was lying on the table in front of me, open to a blank page. I had just begun to spread low-fat cream cheese onto my lightly toasted onion bagel—that sweet, cherished indulgence I only allow myself on Saturday mornings after yoga—when I heard the voice of the woman next to me. I froze.
I must have heard that wrong, I thought.
I grabbed my felt-tip pen and began writing in my journal, shaking off whatever it was I thought I’d heard. She wouldn’t have said that out loud in public, I assured myself. Not in Arizona.
But the woman kept talking and I couldn’t tune her out. Journaling was going to be difficult.
Within a few minutes, I had figured out that the woman worked as a flight attendant for one of the major airlines. She did not live in Phoenix, but her father did. She was at the bagel shop with him that morning to catch up after the few months since they’d last seen each other. She spoke of a husband who had an affinity for antique dishes and who was adept at buying them underpriced from unsuspecting thrift stores and then reselling them at a premium to antique collectors. She did not share her husband’s taste for antiques, she hinted, but she did love turquoise jewelry, having first discovered it at a Native American marketplace in Gallup, New Mexico.
She carried on for several minutes, making tangential mentions of various aspects of her personal life as she delivered a kind of monologue about how she had developed a love for Native American jewelry. She spoke so loudly that I was too distracted to write in my journal as I had planned.
I had to steal a few glances to construct a visual understanding of this woman. She was an attractive brunette who appeared to be in her mid-40s, with thick, layered hair that fell past her chest. She had the tell-tale arched eyebrows of a middle-aged woman who has just had Botox injections; her brows were visible above the reflective silver aviators she was wearing. She was dressed in what I assume wealthy housewives must wear when they have tried hard to look as though they haven’t tried to look like anything: matching gray pants and over-sized gray t-shirt with three-quarter length sleeves, all made from an expensive blend of luxury cotton. She had accessorized with a coordinating gray scarf on a day that was far too warm for such a thing. She appeared to have an enviable, slender hourglass frame, hidden beneath that expensive but unassuming drapery. She was too tan for this time of year, and so I wondered if, as a flight attendant, perhaps she is one of those women who spends an unfair number of days drinking out of coconuts and gazing into tropical sunsets from behind her fancy aviators. I was so envious. If only we could all be so lucky.
Now listen to me, dear reader, because I do not think you should think less of me for what I am about to write. She was talking so loudly. And she would not stop talking. Her father could hardly get a word into the conversation. As I listened to her speak, I was in disbelief. I believed then—and indeed, I would still argue—that I had no choice but to write down everything she said, or at least as much of it as I could manage, given how rapidly the words were coming out. My journal was open in front of me and I already had a pen in my hand. Really, I had no other choice.
She spoke too fast for me to capture everything, but I did manage to assemble a partial transcript of her statements, which I present for you now with some annotations:
As I mentioned, the first statement I heard was, “I could be Native American. I mean, I like turquoise.”
And then she added, “They want you to buy stuff, but then, it’s like, they want you to get off their land. And I’m like, I’m buying your stuff; don’t be so rude to me.”
At that point, I noted in my journal that Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” was playing from the speakers overhead. As the woman carried on, Bob Marley cautioned, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery / None but ourself can free our minds…” But I don’t think she heard him.
She said, “One of my flight attendant friends had this beautiful watch—I mean, stunning —and she says it was handmade, like in a factory, in Detroit. Can you believe they still do that?”
“But you know, I went to a pow-wow and they had all the princesses there, like from the different tribes. And they were just so beautiful, I had to take a picture. You know, they don’t like for you to take their pictures, because they think it steals their souls. But I asked if they would mind and they said it was OK. Maybe they wanted money or something, but I didn’t give them any.”
“I guess in Oklahoma, there are a lot of Native Americans. I really had no idea. But I went to a pow-wow there once, too. I mean, I just love this stuff, can you tell?”
As she carried on, Bob Marley asked, “How long shall they kill our prophets / While we stand aside and look?”
“But anyway,” the woman interrupted, “the princesses were just so beautiful—I mean, stunning. Like if you want to see some beautiful Native Americans, just go to a pow-wow on a reservation, because they’re there. And they even have a queen.”
“What’s the Native American tribe that’s here in Arizona?” she asked.
Eventually, the woman seemed to reach a breakthrough. She said, “It’s just that some people are so ignorant. Like they have no idea how they come across. No interest in other cultures. You remember that cop? He was so rude to me! I wanted to say, ‘This is why people don’t like cops….'”
At last, the woman at the bagel shop stared out at the street in silence, having made her biggest point. She sipped the last of her coffee as her final words hung in the air.
Bob Marley sang, “Won’t you help to sing / These songs of freedom? ‘Cause all I ever had / Redemption songs. Redemption songs.”