Originally published 11/11/2010
ALTA (Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association) is one of the oldest amateur team tennis leagues in the United States. ALTA boasts close to 100,000 members, so it’s no surprise that the suburbs surrounding Atlanta are chock full of a certain type of neighborhood known as the swim and tennis community.
When my children were much younger, we lived in a swim and tennis community. Off and on, I was member of various ladies tennis teams, but my fondest memories are of summer days spent by the neighborhood pool.
Every day by 10 o’clock in the morning we would load up the car with inflatable rafts and toys, water guns, splash balls, beach towels, sunscreen, hats, coolers full of drinks, snacks and sandwiches for lunch, and then drive the half-mile to the neighborhood pool. I always made it a point to introduce myself and the boys to the lifeguards at the start of the season, and 1998 was no exception.
Jared and Christian, three and seven respectively, kicked off their flip-flops as I dumped our stuff across three chaise lounges. I intercepted their attempts to get into the pool and herded them toward the lifeguard stand. Shading my eyes and looking up I noticed…oh my. The new lifeguard was a young lady with several tattoos, and no fewer than four piercings in each of her ears, a pierced eyebrow, and a pierced tongue.
“Can I help you?” She had one of those distinctive peirced-tongue induced speech impediments and peered down at us from her perch overlooking the pool.
“Actually, we just came over to introduce ourselves.”
“Oh!” She jumped down enthusiastically and landed right beside us on the pool deck. “Hi!”
“Hi,“ I extended my hand and suppressed my urge to stare at her multiple piercings and body art. “My name is Antoinette, and these are my sons, Christian and Jared,” who, I noticed, stood frozen with their mouths gaping wide open, blatantly staring.
The lifeguard, obviously offended by the boys’ gawking, squatted down to eye-level with Jared (remember, he was three years old), leaned rather close to him and huffed, “Didn’t your mother teach you it’s impolite to stare?”
“Yes, Jared replied, head cocked quizzically to one side and squinting at her pierced tongue. “Didn’t your mother teach you not to put jewelry in your mouth?”
Fast-forward 13 years. This past weekend, while accompanying Pat to an Oylmpic weightlifting competition, Jared and I were introduced to one of the female competitors. I’ll call her June. June seemed like a nice enough person. She had long straight dark hair except for two locks of peroxide-blonde-orange hair on either side of her straight-down-the-middle part. She also had tattoos on both arms that reached from her wrists to her shoulders and a piercing (and I swear I have never seen a piercing like this before) on her face just above her right lip.
After a few pleasantries we settled into a conversation about her trip to Savannah. Jared stood beside me, ostensibly listening attentively to the conversation, but really just ogling. Anyway, June lost her cell phone on the way to the airport and to make matters worse TSA officials singled her out, searched her bags and sent her through the full body scanner. The ironic part is that she was incredulous as she described her airport security experience.
“I mean, do I look like a terrorist?” she asked me.
Are you kidding me? YES. Am I the only person who is tired of pretending people who choose to make themselves look weird, don’t look weird? I wanted to scream YES. YES. YES. Have you looked in the mirror lately? but of course, I didn’t because If-You-Can’t-Say-Something-Nice and you know the rest.
You have funky hair. You are covered in tattoos. Your face is pierced. It’s not even pierced in a normal face place like your lip, or eyebrow, or nose. You’ve pierced your face. It’s weird. And since you asked, regardless of what kind of person you are and you seem nice enough, you do, in fact, look like a terrorist. What do you expect?
I know. I know. Didn’t your mother teach you that you can’t judge a book by its cover? Yes, maybe so, but she also taught me if you don’t want people to stare at you, make an attempt not to draw attention to yourself.
I glance over at Jared, looking non-plussed and had an immediate flashed back to that long ago day at the pool and stifled a chuckle at the thought of it.