The Scientist from the Hood
It was a chilly winter day. The sky was gloomy and the temperature was low. I met him near the Venice canals just before sunset.
He called himself a scientist from the hood. He really was. He was a lab chemist and grew up in Compton.
It was a second date. We sat at a table in the patio of a Mexican restaurant. He talked about his upbringing in South Central LA and some very complex and sophisticated processes of his work. He showered me with a collection of terminology I’d never heard of. I remember watching the flames in the fire pit and thinking, “I’m lost.” Like, was I just given an episode of podcast about science all to myself? While sipping on a margarita and munching on stale tortilla chips on a cold winter afternoon? Maybe.
My date was polite. There was sweet innocence to his nature. In contrast to his good manners, his body, though compact, had a sturdy athletic build. His hair was as wild as his passion for science. His skin had the kind of darkness only the world's most powerful kings deserve.
We left the restaurant and started walking towards the beach, still hoping to catch the sunset. Then I immediately sensed tension in the air. There was a man coming towards us with no shoes on. He locked his eyes with me. “Oh shit,” I said.
His head was shaved unevenly. His face was covered with dirt and anger that had nowhere to go. He was screaming derogatory words and phrases at everyone who passed him. And now, he’s found another target.
“Fucking chink” he shouted. At me, of course.
The Scientist from the Hood was furious. He acted as if he was the direct receiver of the disrespect. He took it personally, to his heart.
Me, not so much. Actually, not at all. The man with no shoes kept saying horrible, nasty things to me. Even I was surprised that did not affect me. I remained calm the whole time.
Right there at that moment, I remembered the time in college I received a compliment from a man at a grocery store. “You look like Lucy Liu,” he said to me. He meant well, although I look nothing like her. But my younger self was hyper-race-sensitive and believed the praise was culturally inappropriate. I was naive. If it happened to me today, I’d gladly accept the flattery. I mean, Lucy Liu is a gorgeous woman. But back then, I found the man’s innocent yet ignorant comment offensive and took it personally just like my date.
So much has happened to me since college. A few years ago, I decided I was not to take personally of negativity thrown at me by those I don’t respect. It was a conscious decision. The experience with the shoeless man and the reaction of my date only assured me of my growth. I was happy. I was proud of myself.
Needless to say, we split for the day. We never saw the sunset. I drove home drenched in joy, alone.
And I never saw the Scientist from the Hood again. I sincerely hope he’s doing well because I am grateful for the meaningful nuance he added to my epiphany.