Julian stood at the crosswalk of a historically preserved, upper-middle class inhabited, suburban town. Just down the street from the synagogue he raised his right arm in a Roman Salute, or HitlergruB or you might call it, “Heil Hitler!”. He wasn’t trying to commemorate a ruthless dictator or initiate a riot. What he was trying to do was get to 711 the safest way he knew how. In Julian’s reality stopping at the crosswalk begins with a pause in stride – a halt in recognition of the hand, flat, palm up. Then this image could quickly be replaced by a distraction – a catch of the eye to a biker’s leather gloves that reminds him of Michael Jackson which, in turn, reminds him of the Thriller album, released December 1st 1982 - a sunny day, like today, and a good day to walk to 711. Then the thought would continue, “Oh. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing!” This memory would prompt him to impulsively resume his stride. His original thought about the "Do Not Cross" sign would me millions of links behind in his never-ending conscious strain of thought. In reality, seconds would have gone by and the light would remain unchanged. So, to avoid becoming a hood ornament, he must improvise. Thus, the mimicking of the hand as seen on the crosswalk reminds him why he’s stopped in the first place.
He thinks he’s a dead ringer for the sign, but the raised eyebrows, gasps and mothers covering their childrens’ eyes don’t resonate with him. It’s hard for me to refrain from laughing at the irony of is own Jewish Heritage.
I didn’t push his arm down quickly or rebuke him harshly. That would just be my embarrassment of others thinking he was being controversial when they really don’t understand the context. They have no reason to jump to conclusions and I have no reason to be embarrassed. I do gently pull his arm to chest level as if he were a six-foot ken doll. I flatten his hand in a “stop” position and quietly say, “Like this.” He doesn’t fight it. I want to offer him an explanation of the correction, but history doesn’t resonate with him the way it does for many. I realized any accounts would seem trivial and silly. I imagined his query, “So, why does one asshole get to ruin a salute that predates his own existence?” I knew why. I could speak to it, but it still does strike me how we lump together the inconsequential details surrounding what is truly evil with the pure evil itself. Though they’re not the heart of the matter, those pieces to the puzzle can be enough to send someone on a very dark trip down memory lane.
I attempted, “Not so long ago a very bad man hurt a lot of people. People who followed him and some who didn’t were forced to put their arm in the air like you were just doing as a sign of respect. So, we don’t do that anymore." He seemed interested as he processed this new information without question.
I didn’t bother to tell him that tiny mustaches and fist pounding speeches were out too. I figured why cause more confusion when he’d never really showed a propensity toward either. Though, I myself was a little pissed about the latter as I’m prone to giving psychopathic motivational speeches to my dog and boyfriend while pounding my fists on the kitchen counter. I felt slighted that I’d never be able to bring it to the masses.