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When To Say When
by Natasha Reed

Atlanta writer Natasha Reed bemoans the fact that too many of us just don't know when to shut our big, fat mouths. Not a southern thing, for sure. The problem's universal, unfortunately. Excellent essay.


Know when you're sitting around with friends, drinking a bottle of wine, and somebody comes around to top off your glass and they tell you, "Say when," and they begin pouring and you say "when" when you have enough?

It's too bad we can't do that with people who have a tendency to keep going when they crossed the "when" barrier in casual conversation miles ago.

Basically I'm talking about over-exposure. While there's supposedly nothing wrong with exposing who we really are, there is a line that can be crossed, and the ol' "TMI" rule goes into effect. Too much information.

For example. You're sitting around shooting the breeze with a chum, and suddenly she stands up and says, "Excuse me, I've got to go to the restroom." She then tacks on, "Those chili dogs I had for lunch have run through me like a freight train, and I need to unload 'em."

See? The first part was ok. The second part? Too much info.

Actually, if somebody really said that to me I'd probably laugh. If I didn't know the person very well, I'd even develop a bit of respect for them, for the creative interpretation of the removal of the fecal matter from their person.

However, that's poop and poop tends to be funny. There is a different kind of poop that does not need to be exposed.

This past Saturday I attended my first hockey game here in Atlanta--fairly interesting, good fun. The reason we found ourselves there is that a triathlete friend of my friend Roberto invited us along with a group of his friends.

There were about seven of us total, three of them were folks I'd never met.

We'd had dinner and beers first (beers because my friend David told me hockey is always better on beers, but I'm pretty sure there's nothing that isn't better on beers to him anyway), and all the people in the little group seemed cool. Three engineers, a scientist, and a veternarian--and us.

Yada yada yada, long story longer, we were watching the game, and it was about the middle of the second period when "Come on Eileen" perked up over the speakers.There was some type of corporate group sitting in the rows in front of us, and they made up a fairly motley crüe of individuals, carousing, singing, yelling, whistling, you know the drill. When that song came on however, two very well-dressed guys in the row in front of us perked up and began dancing quite heatedly.

The scientist sitting on my right nudged me with her elbow, and said, "I think that's a bit much even for a Dexy fan, don't you?" And laughed. I laughed back, because the guys were gettin' jiggy wid it. I then saw her direct the guy sitting on her right to the dancing duo. She gave him the same line she gave me, and he looked down at them. He then turned to her and said, "Freaky faggots," and shook his head, grinning.

The smile kinda froze on my face when he said that, and I slowly turned my head back to Roberto to see if he had heard what this guy had just said, but Roberto was lost in triathlete mumbo jumbo with his friend sitting on his left.

So there I was, trapped with my imagination, with no one to talk to about this. Scenes started playing through my mind, like some sociopathic thriller movie, wherein I see us leaving the event, walking to the $12 parking deck, suddenly seeing the two Dexy guys, and the guy from our group getting into some kind of gay bashing brawl. I'm serious, that's how my mind works--I'm weird, I know, but my mind has a tendency to race ahead, preparing for whatever worse case kind of scenario it can come up with when hit with unexpected data. I mean, here I'd been enjoying an innocent hockey gang, and suddenly one of them turns out to be a gay basher?

Aw, don't get me wrong, I can establish between reality and imagination--I'm simply sharing a bit of the whacked way my brain works here.

Of course nothing of the sort happened, zero else was said about the two dancing guys, everybody went to their cars, suffered miserable traffic, and made it home nice and safely.

The whole time we were trapped in traffic on the drive home, I was thinking about a conversation I'd had with a student a few weeks ago. They're entering Coca-Cola's Share the Dream essay contest, and the topic is "How to fight oppression in your community using non-violent methods." This student and I had a really long and drawn-out discussion that lasted past school hours last week--he'd walked me to my evening class discussing his idea on how to fight this.

I know, I know! I've taken you to a hockey game, and school, and there's no end in sight, is there? I'm getting there, geeeeez.

In that long discussion he and I had, he told me that the key to ending racism and intolerance is exposure. That the reason people don't get along is because they don't know each other. We simply had to learn how to show ourselves better to other people, and because he believed people were inherently good, they'd be more accepting. He brought up philosophy and such, claiming that if a person had one true good idea, it would speak to the truth in all of the population, and therefore that would solve the problem. The end of ignorance. This is his essay entry.

Pretty good, I say, for a 15 year old (he's new in that speech class--not only is he the only male, he is also the lone sophomore among senior wimin, poor fella).

This is where I asked him if he really believed that exposure was the key to a peaceful society. He certainly did believe it. I asked him what does he believe in, the individual or the society?

He answered that a good individual must exist for there to be a good society. And it was there that I pointed out to him the root of the problem with his idea. His idea of good is not the same as what my idea of good is. Good is too vague, subjective. He argued, saying he believed individuals were inherently good, and therefore if they would just listen and expose that goodness, it would work. To which I told him too much exposure is the crux of all society's problems to begin with. If it is society he is interested in preserving, then there can be no individuals, much less individuals running around exposing themselves--take the physical essence of exposure, and what one individual views as pretty as opposed to what another views as pretty--they will not be physically pleasing to all. If they were both equally exposed, I'm sure one might come up lacking, as defined by society's standards of what is "good."

He said that was physical exposure. I said there's no difference. I'd seen some ugly mental stuff exposed in my day that I wished I'd never seen, but to another individual it might seem tame, and possibly even innocent. He said they were ignorant and simply didn't know any better, and that if they saw what people who were different from them were really like, they wouldn't think that way. And then he called me old and said I'd given up on trying to make the world a better place.


And there's where I stopped arguing with him. Geeezus, I sat there trying to argue logic with a fella who actually believes his idea can make a difference, and I'm showing him the illogical rationale behind the idea? Certainly I was doing it in order to help him obtain a clearer picture of what he thought, but it was also me, seeing people for what they are--individuals--and thinking that this is the very reason our society is crap anyway. We will never be a society wherein everybody accepts everybody else as long as everybody has the right to express the way they feel about things.

And I'm good with that, actually. I'm good with having a mediocre society coupled with mediocre individuals, aren't you? Certainly the balance of things gets skewed from time to time, as the focus switches more to individuals, and I witness mean bigotry at its finest. These are the times I want to say "WHEN!" so people will shut the hell up. And to hell with exposure, because I don't want to see that drivel. Too much information for me.

Why couldn't that guy at the hockey game simply keep his observations to himself, instead of overexposing his homophobic tendencies? Because he feels he has the right to say whatever he wants. And he does. This is America, right? Land of the free, home of the brave, proud, loving, racist, and bigoted. Ohhh, other countries have those things, it's just that here in America we get to say it as often and as loudly as we like.

The problem with exposure is that it's too subjective. Where I would possibly respect a person for overexposing the side-effects of a chili-dog lunch, I would not respect a guy who goes around calling two men dancing "freaky faggots."

Sure, one has to do with the removal of poop, and the other has to do with talking poop, so you may not be able to make the connection, but I do. Both came from unexpected sources, revealing an aspect of their personality they chose to expose to me, so don't I have a responsibility to respond to it? Sure, people have many sides to them, and the guy at the hockey game may indeed be a gentleman in many respects . . .

But now I'm prejudiced against him, if I'm truly honest with myself. It was the first time I met him, and if I ever come in contact with him again, guess what the first thing I'm going to think is?

So does the problem lie in overexposure? Maybe. But this is America, and I can definitely say "when" as often as I like. Why didn't I say "when" to that guy at the game? Hmm. I could've blasted him for the horrible thing he said, or even gotten up and left. Maybe it was because I laughed at them when she pointed. Maybe it was because I was too surprised, and he didn't actually say it to me. Maybe it's because the moment was over and not mentioned again. Maybe it was my upbringing, where I was taught not to point out the discrepancies of other adults.

Or maybe I was a stinking wuss, and just sat there and acquiesced. While it was his right to say what he wanted, it was mine to sit there and say nothing, I guess.

But why do I feel like a steaming pile of manure and sit here writing, when I'm sure he hasn't thought twice about it since? But then again, maybe he has. Maybe he wished he hadn't said it as soon as the words left his mouth. Maybe he said it, and didn't really mean it, but perhaps merely meant to be funny? Certainly the dancing duo wouldn't have thought it funny, but that's their problem, isn't it?

See? That's how over-exposure works here in America--I can say whatever I want, and if you don't like it, it's your problem! Does what I have to say offend you? Piss you off? I'm not the one with the problem, you are. That's the rationale behind censorship, isn't it? Behind all this freedom of speech theory.

Are you just gonna let me ramble on this thing all night? I mean, I've just kept going and going. Would somebody out there say "when" already? Geeez.


Biography: Natasha Reed is a 32 year old resident of Atlanta, Georgia. She's lived in the South for most of her life. Write directly to her at Nateylon@attbi.com.

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