Sunday, January 4, 2015
A Moroccan restaurant on a Monday night. I was having a quiet dinner with Chris, one of my pit crew guys.
And all of a sudden, recorded music played— snake-charmer music. A belly dancer shook and shimmied into the dining room. She twisted and spun. The tiny cymbals on her fingers rang out. Her sequins shimmered.
She bumped her hips. She shimmied her way up to my table. She gyrated about a foot in front of me, all the time looking me dead in the eye, as if presenting a challenge. But a challenge to what? What was I, the chosen one among the customers, supposed to do in response to being chosen? I’m not up on my belly dancer etiquette!
I felt enormous stress! But it wasn’t her fault. It was my damn ambassador complex kicking in again! Damn that thing! I’ve worked hard to overcome it but it never really goes away. The ambassador complex is this psychological state cripples frequently find ourselves in where we think we are the de facto spokesperson for all the cripples in the world. It comes from years of being told that every interaction with the uncrippled majority is an opportunity to educate and break down barriers. Thus, we must make a positive impression because other cripples will be judged by our actions.
This was one such encounter. Out of all the customers, the belly dancer shimmied without hesitation right up to me. That’s not how it usually works. Usually, when given options, people will avoid cripples. When someone is passing out promotional flyers on the street touting free Subway sandwiches or 10 per cent off on aluminum siding, they usually offer it to everybody but me. Sometimes homeless people don’t even ask me for money.
But the belly dancer was different. She was open-minded, progressive. My first instinct was to tip her. Stuff a dollar somewhere. But is that appropriate? I wished she was a stripper. Then I’d know exactly how to react. Everybody knows stripper etiquette. Stuff a dollar anywhere you can stuff one. Make it rain! But this was a belly dancer. Belly dancers are classier than strippers, aren’t they? Don’t you have to go to school to learn how to belly dance? If I tried to tip her, she might slap me and say, “What do you think I am, a common stripper?” And then she would think every cripple in the world is a low-class pervert! But what if I didn’t tip her? Then she might think every cripple in the world is a cheapskate! It was a lose/lose situation. It wasn’t fair! There was no notice posted anywhere warning that there would be belly dancers! I felt ambushed! I desperately wished for something that I could interpret as a sign from above, a divine clue if you will. Like when you go to catered event and there’s a snifter on the bar with cash stuffed in it, that’s a hint. But no such luck here.
I was paralyzed with indecision. That’s what’s so insidious about the ambassador complex. In the mind of the possessor, it exponentially increases the stakes of every encounter.
Finally, the belly dancer shimmied away. For the rest of the evening and well into the next day I wrestled with remorse. When called upon to take quick and resolute action, I choked! “Dammit I should have tipped her!” I scolded myself. “No!” I barked back. “Better to err on the side of cheapskate.”
Finally I told myself that, like it or not, it was a decision I could not take back so I should find a way to make peace with it. And it was highly unlikely that because I didn’t tip the belly dancer, she now sees every cripple in the world as a cheapskate. The only cripple she sees as a cheapskate is me.