January 17th, 2006

Me 2012


I spent Sunday with a couple of local friends, Corwyn and Ysenda. Well, nearly local friends, at least. Their apartment is in another town, and it's about 45 minutes to get there from mine (an hour if you get lost along the way and need to call to get fresh directions). Ysenda is only sort-of local because she's going to college in NYC now and was only home for winter break. Which is nominally why I went to visit them, since she'd be home. Of course, in the three (four?) years that I've known her and she'd been living there, I'd only come to visit them once before. I'm such a homebody.

The weather on Sunday was lovely, especially for January in the Emerald City area: clear, little wind, and 67 degrees. After lunch, we weren't very motivated to go back to their apartment: better to stay out and enjoy the nice weather. My friends drove down to the downtown shopping district for their town, and we got out to walk around. There were a startling number of neat little shops, making the experience a lot more fun then walking around a mall. I've been in malls from Victoria, Canada to Orlando, Florida, and y'know: they're all the same. But downtown shopping districts often have some variety to them.

Instead of window shopping, we went inside several shops to browse through clothing. In the "vintage clothing" store (whose prices weren't much higher than the average thrift shop, as it turned out), Corwyn entertained himself by finding the most garish and appalling clothes to show off. (Corwyn, holding up a yellow, blue, and orange dress with the colors flowing together down it like melted wax: "What do you think?" Me: "It looks a little small for you.")

At an eclectic dress shop, whose offerings mixed the hand-made creations of its owner with manufactured lines from overseas -- mostly India -- Corwyn found an Irish-American gentleman to talk to. I half-listened to their conversation as I flitted in and out of the dressing room, trying clothes on and looking at things with Ysenda. Corwyn discussed a variety of topics with his new aquaintance: politics, where Corwyn is emphatically liberal and the other man decidedly conservative, and religion, where the Irishman proved to be Catholic while Corwyn is an atheist, or perhaps agnostic. (And an ordained minister, but that's another story). Though they agreed on almost nothing, the conversation remained civil, good-natured and friendly throughout.

After his conversational partner had left and the shopkeeper was ringing up my purchases, the shopkeeper confided in us that it had been quite an effort to restrain herself. "I so wanted to get into the thick of things!" She said. "I love talking politics! But I would've been too strident."

"Oh?" I said. "Which side would you be on?"

"Your friend's, of course. I'm the extreme end of liberal on just about everything. I didn't agree with anything that conservative had to say."

"He was a very polite conservative," I said.

"He was," the shopkeeper agreed, and my friends nodded too. "You don't meet that many good-natured conservatives."

"I don't know," I said. "I'm a conservative, too. I'm just quiet."

"You are not!" she said, touching my arm in disbelief. "Are you really?"

"I really am," I said, smiling. "Maybe you meet a lot of good-natured conservatives, and they're just too reserved or polite to argue with you."

And I wonder about that, now. Is the real reason that we think of the "other side" as characterized by strident hotheads that most of the polite ones keep quiet? Not that the majority of people hold moderate views, or don't believe in the same extremes that the ferocious ones do. But that the majority doesn't want to be confrontational, so they only speak up when they think they're among their own kind. So the liberals think "all" conservatives are blowhards, and conservatives think "all" liberals are vituperative, because most of the people who'll speak up in the enemy's spaces are ones like that.

And the civil ones keep quiet. "I don't want them to think I like that."