He handed the coffee over and I said (as is my custom), "thank you, Sir!" I immediately regretted it, because "Sir" is somewhere between "bitch" and "retard" in terms of Things Not To Call People here. Nothing brings out the class tensions in everyday American life like the casual, surgically-precise connotations of the word "Sir".
"Sir" means "Eloi". "Sir" is an incapable, effete tower-dweller, and to address a person as "Sir" clearly places one at the bottom of that tower, holding up the pillars, one weary sigh away from throwing up one's hands and walking away and letting the whole fragile edifice fall down, crushing "Sir" as he plummets.
"Sir" is a silly, frivolous matchstick-man of a citizen. The world is an elaborate spectacle constructed for the benefit of "Sir", and when "Sir" is addressed as such, "Sir" is reminded that the people of iron and gristle and plain-thinking and starched workwear could, if they so chose, painfully divest "Sir" of all his comfortable misapprehensions regarding the security of the platforms on which he walks.
However, given the choice, "Sir" is still better than any term that calls attention to race or gender.
Downtown, I'm waiting at a crosswalk (that which we in the Antipodes waste perfectly good syllables by calling it a "pedestrian crossing"). A guy crosses toward me and grins urgently.
"Behind and to your left", he barks at me.
"Behind and to my left?" I turn to face him.
"Behind you now."
"Directly behind you. Look directly behind you. Look where I'm looking".
"Behind me." I turn to follow his gaze, spotting an unremarkable-looking woman with a nice dress and a confident walk approaching us.
"Huh??" The guy's grin is scarcely fitting on his face. Honestly, I've seen far more conspicuously beautiful women enjoying LA's neverending sunshine and heat, but I don't feel it's appropriate to be nonplussed when my man has gone to such an effort to share his girl-watching joy with me. Objectify or disappoint? Misogyny or antisociality? Make your choice!
"HelLO!", I say to him.
"That is what I'm talking about!", I add, with an enthusiasm that I hope doesn't sound forced. After all, the woman's all the way down the street, but my boy's right here. He looks at me expectantly.
"Yes!", I finish. I am rubbish at this whole wenching thing!
He grins, perhaps a little disappointed somehow, and walks off. The woman passes us, oblivious to the wedge she has driven between two fellows who otherwise had no quarrel nor warmth between them. Up close, she's actually quite attractive.
I think I saw George Takei walking out of the toilets at the Arclight, but the last thing I want to be is one of those white people who think every Asian guy looks like George Takei, so let's not chalk it up for sure.
I accompany my host to an open-mic poetry night where a fairly legendary LA beat poet is meant to be reading. He doesn't, but a guy who does read is a pro boxer who turned Delta Force before being honourably discharged and turning to black-ops private contracting in the Middle East. He tells a story about how he shot a guy who asked for it and that's when he knew he had to leave the life of the mercenary killer for hire. I talk to him later and he explains his growing discontent with the military-industrial complex and how it played out in microcosm during his final op.
When I talk to people like this my gut is always to process the conversation through two separate mental programs simultaneously: in the one window, I have the "this is one of the most fascinating people I have ever talked to" program, making the most of just what an amazing chat I'm having; and running parallel to that, the whole conversation is being put through the "this person is almost certainly a pathological liar and by extension in all likelihood a dangerous sociopath, so keep your mental distance" filter. I have a couple of friends who provoke in me this split quite strongly.
Walking down Lincoln, Venice, at 11pm on Friday night, I tell my exploration-partner about how Abraham Lincoln is one of my favourite American figures; how I like when I get a $5 note, because Honest Abe is riding about in my back pocket with me. She agrees that Lincoln sure is a pretty cool dude. I tell her that what I like about him is what a huge contradiction he was.
How he kicked slavery's ass despite being a pretty huge fucking racist. She agrees that there's something quite noble in that. How he was a lifelong melancholic prone to fairly massive bouts of depression. She tells me that's not the Lincoln people are brought up with, but sure. How strong evidence points to Lincoln's most heartfelt relationships being with men - oh good, a man's man! - but how their letters reveal that he was unwilling to go full anal, instead being praised by one lover for his "perfect" thighs* and the pleasures they afforded.
Apparently this is not the way Americans talk about Abraham Lincoln, though my co-explorer is suitably impressed by the possibility. I shrug. I tell her when deciding whether to believe something, I often just believe it if it makes the world a more interesting place. What difference does it make whether one guy believes Abe Lincoln liked it between the thighs? Or whether that guy thinks he went to an art exhibition opening with a boxing champ turned soldier of fortune, or whether that guy probably saw George Takei coming out of the toilet at the Arclight?
"Sir" can believe what he likes.
* Coincidentally, I had read that morning in the appendices to From Hell that femoral intercourse was a common "trick" among Victorian prostitutes, and that one longtime streetworker boasted she had been penetrated less than five times over her career through careful use of this method.