In a cab, just now. The driver: "Where ya from?" I told him I grew up in Maine and had lived here for twenty-two years. I didn't tell him that I was born in D.C. because I didn't think he'd give a shit (in fairness, I barely do). I didn't think he gave a shit where I was from anyway; he seemed to be doing what cab drivers do sometimes, especially old-school ones, where they feel you out and see if you might be interested in talking about how Jews control everything, or how the "fucking Asians" are ruining New York -- and, also, shouldn't be allowed behind the wheel of a car, ever -- or how Muslims are going to blow up the world.
"Yeah me? I've been here for sixty-eight years. Born and raised," he said, and I didn't get a chance to respond because then he told me about how we weren't going to take the FDR to the Brooklyn Bridge because it was a parking lot, so we were going to take the "scenic route," and I fake-laughed at his non-clever turn of phrase and said that was fine.
"Yeah me? I'm a dinosaur."
"Uh huh," I said.
"I don't actually exist."
"Ha ha, yeah," I said.
"I'd need a cellphone and a fucking turban," he said, referring to the fact that many cab drivers in New York talk on their cellphones while driving, even though it's illegal to drive a taxi and talk on your phone at the same time. And referring to the fact that we have a lot of Sikh cab drivers here (who, almost to a man, wear turbans). Although my guess is that it wasn't just Sikhs he had a problem with; that Arabs, Jamaicans, north Africans, sub-Saharan Africans, Haitians, south Asians, east Asians, southeast Asians, and probably Russians and Ukranians were also on his shit list: the immigrants who make up about ninety-nine percent of yellow-cab drivers.
This was where I was supposed to say, "yeah, fuckin' Arabs," or something, and then he and I could talk about how things used to be alright before there were so many non-white people.
I didn't say anything; I pretended to mess with my phone.
But I thought about John Self, Martin Amis's protagonist in his novel Money. Self -- alcoholic and misanthropic and self-loathing and English and generally miserable -- arrives at JFK from London and takes a cab to Manhattan. After careening off the Triborough and onto the FDR and then into the surface streets of East Harlem, his driver gets going on the topic of the large number of "niggers and PRs" to be found in New York, and attempts to draw Self out on this topic.
"Only need about a hundred guys, a hundred guys like me," the driver says, to get rid of all the niggers and PRs.
Self is horribly hung over and doesn't have the energy to do anything but humor his driver: "A hundred guys? That's not many guys."
"They think, you know," says the driver, "you drive a yellow cab, you must be some kind of a scumbag."
The irony is, perhaps, too much for Self, even in his weakened state: he sighs and leans forward and says, "You know something? You really are a scumbag. I thought it was just a swearword until you came along. You're the first real one I've met."