I had a customer who I used to call “The Nazi“. She was a little German woman who had fled Germany and Hitler when she was fourteen years old. She was always very nice to me and my staff and without fail, brought everyone a gift for every major holiday. We looked forward to seeing her and when I was transfered to a different office, she was one of the customers I missed the most. A year and a half after I had moved offices, I was transfered back to my original office and when I saw my Nazi walk in for the first time, I got up and gave her a big hug. We talked about how much we missed each other and started “catching up”.
I do need to say that I didn’t start calling her “The Nazi” until the day I returned to the office. She was one of those customer’s who loved to talk and could easily keep you for 30 minutes. There were times when her husband would have to come looking for her because, as I found out later, she didn’t drive and he was always outside waiting for her. On this particular day, she was so excited to catch me up on what had happened with her in the year and a half I’d been gone, stories were just pouring out of her.
She and her husband had recently moved to a senior community and she was telling me how she felt that she had never fully fit in and felt comfortable in the predominantly white, bedroom community she had just left. Where she had felt most comfortable was her little cottage home in Oakland, Ca. I love to hear life stories about where people have been, so it was interesting to hear her talk about Oakland. The Oakland she described was pre-Huey Newton, Black Panther‘s, Civil Rights Movement and White so it was interesting to hear how neighborhoods that I know as being predominantly Black or Hispanic, once were.
She went on and on about her little home and the life they had there and then the music stopped because the next sentence is what earned her the “Nazi” title. As we strolled down memory lane, she forgot what year she was in and who she was telling her story to so when she started to get upset because she “had to move from her home” the next statement took me back to Dave Chappelle‘s 2000 comedy show, Killin‘ Them Softly, where he asked, “Have you ever had something happen that was so racist, that you didn’t even get mad? You just said…damn, that was racist!” Yes. Yes I have.
As we walked down the once white neighborhoods of Oakland, Ca., she hit me with, “Kirsten, you know who I blame for the way Oakland is? The blacks…they ruined Oakland!” WTBLEEP? I sat up straight and said, ” Actually, Black people didn’t ruin Oakland” and she cut me off and said, “They did! They did ruin Oakland.” I had just been hit with some unexpected racism! I had a choice, either I flash on her and act a damn fool at work (I wanted to so badly), or I figure out how to get through this…I chose to keep my job because as my momma always said, “You can’t argue with crazy” so I just glazed over and went to a different place…one that didn’t include my Nazi.
There were several thoughts running through my head: “O.k…remember you’re at work. This old woman is crazy! I’m sorry…am I not black? Who does this? Ooh I wish I could hop this counter!” When she completed her rant about how “The Blacks ruined Oakland”, I had to laugh because she came too and realized what she had just done and her face changed and she smiled nervously! She was so nervous that she couldn’t get out of there fast enough!
It’s funny how people allow themselves to get comfortable with someone who they don’t have a close relationship with to the point where they forget to self-sensor. Just because you have known someone for a length of time does not make them your friend and in my case, we had more than the counter separating us. Needless to say, the Nazi knew that she had gone to far and from then on, she didn’t spend a whole lot of time hanging out at my counter…if only she’d thought of that before she inserted foot in mouth!