Monday, May 5, 2014

I Am Not Portuguese

It was bound to happen. We all knew it. I mean, I've been making inappropriate murder jokes for the last three weeks, because I knew something was bound to happen to me when I was running alone. I mean, really. I attract all the freaks and weirdos. They can see me coming from miles away, and I draw them to me with my ability to politely listen and feign interest in their stories even as I internally panic and look for the nearest door, policeman, machete, or getaway vehicle.

Yes, I met someone running yesterday.

He was mid-sixties, normal-looking (as most freaks and weirdos are), and he seemed (again, as most freaks and weirdos do), friendly and non-threatening. And really, in the scheme of things, he was nonthreatening. He was weird and racist, but not in a scalp-you-and-leave-you-for-dead way, just in a grew-up-ignorant-and-uneducated-in-the-rural-Midwest sort of way.

I was following the app when the man waved, smiled, and said "have you seen any mushrooms around yet?"

(This is a normal greeting where I am from. It is mushroom hunting season. People of all walks of life use every spare second traipsing through the outdoors looking around the bases of trees for morel mushrooms, which are then consumed or sold at an excessively high price. I found one mushroom, once. It tasted like a mushroom. The sort you can buy at the grocery. Mushroom-hunting isn't my sort of springtime hobby.)

"No," I said. "Are they up yet?"

(This is the normal response.)

"Well, they're really tiny now. We'll get them in the next couple weeks, once it gets a bit warmer."

This was when I thought the conversation was over. But no.

"Do you mind my asking, what's your father's name?"

(I get this a lot, too. Everyone knows my dad. So I told him, because everyone already knows Dad.)

"That's what I thought," he said. "You have the kind of face I'm looking for."

My brain automatically filled in, "as a mask to cover my own face in the Satanic spring rights I plan to perform after ritualistically murdering you and using your blood to season the mushrooms I am currently collecting." He didn't say it, but he didn't have to.

"It's your eyebrows," he continued. "I've been doing lots of research, trying to look up all my family's background. After a while, you can tell a person's ancestry by looking at them. You're from Portugal. I can tell by your eyebrows. You have Portuguese eyebrows."

This is wildly inaccurate.

"You have a Portuguese last name, too."

Except no.

My last name is so German that German people read it and pronounce it the German way automatically, because it is still spelled the way that it's spelled in Germany. German people tell me I'm pronouncing my own name wrong so often that I've begun to tell them, "That's not what the officials told us on Ellis Island," even though none of my family ever went through Ellis Island.

I corrected him, to no avail. He went on to explain to me how my last name was derived from an actual Portuguese word for "boot" whereas the German word for that was totally different. I tried to explain that we weren't named after shoes, and that my last name means "purse-maker" and is hard-core medieval, but he was already on to explaining his own ethnic and racial background.

"I was Amish," he said. "I'm not anymore, but I used to be. I grew up only speaking Pennsylvania-Dutch, and when I started first grade, I couldn't speak a word of English!"

Amish people don't usually murder people and make clothes out of their victim's skin, do they?

"My mother was 5/8 Cherokee," he said. "The Portuguese were the first people over here. They came before anybody else. They were here before the Cherokee were here. Back then, the Cherokee were Aztec, because "Cherokee" means "Aztec." The Portuguese were here, and then the Cherokee came through, and then they married and had kids, and then the Europeans and Columbus came."

I don't even know where to start with all of that.

"My one daughter looks Cherokee. She has the v-shaped jaw. My other daughter looks Portuguese."

I wanted to ask if his wife had any guy friends who looked Cherokee and/or Portuguese, which would explain why his daughters looked so dissimilar. But I thought that might be rude.

"Yeah, I can trace my ancestry back to 260 B.C."

At this point I really began to wonder where Mum and The Brother were. They were behind me with Darcy. See? Crazies even find you when you are smart and you run with people. They hunt you down and tell you they can trace their family line back to the Mesozoic era, when their ancestor was a bit of algae clinging to the toenail of a dinosaur after it trekked through a pond on its way to die however dinosaurs really died.

"You know Jacob and Esau?" He asked. "One was real pale and fair. The other was all dark and hairy. He was the first Indian."

The last time I heard that argument I was in an African American literature class, and we were discussing the Jim Crow laws, the one-drop rule, and the religious propaganda people produced to tell people why it was okay to not treat others equally based on their skin color. Plus, the whole idea of walking up to someone and insisting you know their race or ethnicity or nationality isn't just racist, it's also beyond rude. You need to know a great deal about anthropology before you can look at someone's bone structure and tell with certainty what their background is. Five minutes on a website isn't going to cut it.

Finally, I broke away and finished my run. I passed my mother and brother, then had to wait for them to catch up at the end of the trail. Guess who beat them to the trailhead?

If you guessed the You-Are-Portuguese Guy, you were right.

He continued on his bizarre tirade almost exactly where he'd left off. And he proceeded to tell me that any name with a "ton" at the end, was not Anglo-Saxon, but actually Portuguese. That meant that instead of being English, both the German--I mean Portuguese--and the English side of my family were actually Portuguese, making me double Portuguese because eyebrows.

I told him he was wrong, and that "-ton" was pure Saxon.

"Everybody conquered everybody in those days," he said. "You're Portuguese. I speak Dutch. I know about the Portuguese language."

(Except Portuguese is a Romance language, and therefore Latin. Dutch is not Latin-based. So he would know nothing about Portuguese at all, unless he had studied it or Latin.)

Now, Portugal has a rich and beautiful history. I am way pro-Portugal. But seriously, I am not Portuguese, and I was getting pretty offended that he kept telling me I was, especially because I know all about where this sort of "science" he was using comes from.

Ever heard of anthropometry? The Nazis loved it. Here you go.

Fortunately, Mum and Paul arrived before I decided it was a good idea to punch the man in the face or tell him just how racist he is. But they arrived just before I lost it completely. If I had been in possession of a match, I would have lit myself on fire just to escape the conversation. It would have burned off my "Portuguese" eyebrows, perhaps shutting him up for good.

Why do these freaks and weirdos seek me out? Do I have a "come talk to me about racist/offensive stuff" face?

Clearly bringing a buddy running with me is only effective if they keep up with me, because having Mum and The Brother along did nothing to discourage Racist You-Are-Portuguese guy. Maybe pepper spray would have, but he wasn't being threatening in any way.

I am buying pepper spray this weekend anyway. I will brandish it to discourage conversation in case I ever see this man again.

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