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And Good Will Towards...

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Last Saturday was my street's annual block club Christmas party, an event I'd been forward to about as much as annual eye exam. That is, I had no problems going, but I would have just as soon postponed it or put it off altogether. The benefit and the bane of something like a block club is intimacy. You get to know people over time, and suddenly--usually by December, party season--you realize you don't want any more time to know them. You don't want a party. In those monthly meetings you've scoped out everybody's charm, and the less charming stuff that lies behind it you'd rather not scope at all. Our block club also has an annual street picnic in August, but that's different. It's out in the open; you can come outside of your house or not, participate or not. It's permeable. The Christmas party is like watching a play at a small theater--you're a totally confined audience. There is no intermission and no escape.

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And yet things were going well. For a while. We all had some secret trepidation about the site for this year's event, a community center located in a rather unpretty part of Inglewood. The idea was great in theory--be convenient, save money, stay local. Except that doing anything extracurricular in Inglewood always makes certain block clubbers testy. They always want to go somewhere nice, like Marina del Rey or Culver City. Somewhere relaxing, somewhere that's....not Inglewood. The ironies implicit in such a view agitate me beyond belief. But this year there was a surprising amount of agreement about the center. Even I had my doubts about it, but the consensus was certainly progress.

The dinner was splendid. The room was cozy and done up to look festive. It was primarily used as a preschool during the week, which I thought was a nice touch. My husband and I sat at a table with a group that included a couple we like without reservation--C & M. C is salt of the earth, burly and plain-spoken but infectiously upbeat. He always waves to me and my dogs and when we walk past his house, and we exchange pleasantries. He and my husband got into a friendly, lively discussion over dinner about the fortunes of certain pro football teams. Around the time the peach cobbler was being served and we were all feeling good, even a bit Christmasy, the conversation downshifted. People started telling stories. One of my neighbors who works for a DMV told us that transgender people who came in for licenses were sometimes unsure about what kind of information to put on it. And then C said: "I can't stand homosexuals. Never could."

He said it like he said the Eagles might take the Super Bowl this year. No big deal. I was silent. So were several other people. "Oh come on," I said, trying to sound lighthearted but failing utterly. "Gay people are human beings."

C fixed me with a look over his glasses. "Are they?" he said, ominously. It was the first question I remember him posing to anybody.

C went on to say matter-of-factly that he had nothing against gays, he just preferred not to have them next door, at work, that kind of thing. Etc., etc. I was shocked, though I had no right to be. I already knew that many of my neighbors had supported Proposition 8, which I vehemently opposed. But this was different. I accepted their homophobia in the abstract, but I resisting putting faces to the abstraction. Now I had no choice. And it was a face l liked, a good one. To make matters worse, this wasn't homophobia or bigotry, it was flat-out misanthropy. And it was C. A bad combination.

I've walked past C with the dogs only once since last week. He waved. I waved back. Neither one of us had anything to say.

The image associated with this post was taken by flickr user maubrowncow. It was used under Creative Commons license.

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