Well, Bless Your Heart

The best way to cheer the Sane One up is to mention Skeeter and Teflon. It never fails to make her laugh and we use them to cope with living in what feels like a foreign country, East Texas. We met Skeeter and Teflon at a gas station somewhere between Texarkana and Houston the first time I moved down to Houston. We were somehow not on a major highway, but a three-lane road that went through some small towns. It was probably around 10:39 in the evening, and we pulled into the station to see two gentlemen sitting on the bench outside the door. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure why there was a bench outside the gas station, but there it was. Now imagine that you are a snobby Yankee that has been all over the world and doesn't classify gravy as a major food group. Are you getting arrogant enough? Do you feel your condescension skills at an appropriate level? Good. Now, being this person, imagine the first image you would see when someone told you to think about a Southern Hillbilly. Got it? Well, congratulations, you just PERFECTLY described Skeeter and Teflon. Skeeter probably weighed about 125 lbs soaking wet, had greasy long hair, tattoos, a dirty wifebeater t-shirt, and I swear this is true, a toothpick in his mouth. Teflon looked about 300 after his Jenny Craig experience and was wearing jorts and a nondescript NASCAR t-shirt. He had the backwards trucker hat on and on his feet were a pair of bespoke New & Lingwood cordovan cap toe oxfords. Ok, maybe they were dirty hi-tops, I was in snobby mode pretty deep there. Sorry about that. Anyway, as we were slowly pulling in, I mentioned to the Sane One that it looked like a scene that a foreign movie director who had never been to the US would create if his character was in Mississippi. She asked me what I thought their names were, and I just shrugged and said, "I don't know, probably Skeeter and Teflon," and just like that, our heroes now had names.

Imagine the scene:

I'm getting out of the car to start pumping gas, we're getting some pretty hard looks from the Dixie Duo. My mind immediately goes to the worst case scenario. I'm in the South, I'm Asian, and I have a white wife. To make it worse, I have a full set of teeth and I'm also wearing a New Zealand All Blacks rugby jersey. Under the fern on the right side of the jersey, it says All Blacks. Many Americans fail to understand that New Zealand didn't give two shits about racial relations in the late 20th to early 21st Century in the United States way back in 1905 when they were given the nickname All Blacks because of either a typo from a London newspaper reporter who meant to say that the team seemed to be all backs or if the name was chosen because, get this, their uniform was all black in colour, save the silver fern on the chest. Either way, it's sometimes problematic to be a rabid All Blacks fan in the US because, well, people are fucking stupid. Now that the tangent has been accomplished, back to the story. I'm getting stared at. Skeeter and Teflon are sitting outside a gas station on a Friday night, so I am not looking forward to whatever conclusions they are coming to in their minds.

As I'm getting the gas pump and starting to fill the tank, Teflon starts the conversation with me. "What kind of car is that?" he twangs. I look back at him and if memory serves me correctly, I said "Seriously?" Skeeter chimes in "Yeah, what kind of car is that? We haven't seen those around here." At this point I'm thinking I might be on Candid Camera and I refuse to look stupid. So I reply, "It's a BMW." Teflon follows up by asking me "Is it fast?" I replied, "Buddy, no car is fast with you in it." OK, so maybe I didn't say that. Maybe what I said instead was "You can definitely get a speeding ticket in it." Teflon ponders this answer and says, "Well, it looks fast." Not satisfied with terminating this illuminating conversation on that high note, Skeeter then asked, "Do you think that a naturally aspirated inline 6 cylinder engine is superior to a twin-scrolling turbo 4 cylinder?" Of course he didn't say that. Instead, Skeeter asked "Where you goin'?" I think at this point I looked over to the Sane One and my look was "I'm tagging you in on this conversation, you take it from here." The Sane One sighs, and gives me a death stare that means we're probably getting two beds at the hotel tonight instead of a single king. She answers, "Minneapolis." OK fine, she didn't say that, but I really wish she had to see if Skeeter and Teflon would be confused at all. But she, of course, tells the truth and says that we are going to Houston. Skeeter and Teflon nod in familiarity. They have heard of this place Houston. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago, they were even there! They tell her that the gas stations aren't as good there as they are here. The Sane One nods in sympathy and says "Oh, that's too bad." I'm about to mention an interesting business concept for the two of them if they partnered up with Zagat or Fodor's and created a guide of the best gas stations to sit in front of in the US. They could become the Jay and Silent Bob of Petroleum if one of them would just shut the fuck up. The look that the Sane One gives me is "DON'T!" She really knows me too well, and correctly assumed that I wouldn't be able to resist an opening like this. But, I got the message loud and clear and just finished pumping gas. We politely wished them a good night, quickly got into the car, and continued southward to what felt like a completely different decade.

As we were driving away, we were kinda giggling about how silly that experience was. But I had to give Skeeter and Teflon credit. They didn't ask me where I was from, or if the Sane One was ok with being a traitor to the white race, or any other garbage that could have very easily have come out of what was the most stereotypical encounter of all time. BMW sold 311,014 cars last year, so they aren't exactly rare. But given the choices of having a conversation regarding what kind of car I drove or having to explain my ethnicity and why I spoke English without a foreign accent, I'll pick the former every single time, thank you very much. And I know I give the South a lot of slagging, but I do have to acknowledge progress when I see it. Because 20 years ago, I think the conversation would have been the latter. Because everything else fit the stereotype, it was pleasantly odd to me that Skeeter and Teflon made a different choice.

And here is the moral of the story, kids. Far too often, as international adoptees, because we are unfairly judged and placed into unwanted categories, I think sometimes we are even quicker to do the same. We experienced racism, discrimination, and hostility for something we could not help. Because of that, I think our senses are very finely tuned for opportunities where we have to be on high alert. While this region might drive me absolutely nuts on a daily level, I would be completely wrong to not recognize that we have had far fewer racially motivated conversations down here than we have had up in the Mid-West. And because of that, I now have several camo hats, cowboy boots, and on occasion, I'll try and find a bench at a gas station and ask people questions like "What colour is your pickup truck?" Short story long, Skeeter and Teflon probably won't remember us, but they will live forever in our memories with fondness and now, actually, a little bit of respect.

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