Yesterday we had a conversation, in a pub, with someone who was talking about transatlantic cruises. This is something I've always wanted to do, I think it would be astonishing and incredibly relaxing to cross an ocean in a great big boat. This fellow goes on cruises at a rate and frequency which is a little astonishing and as a result he knew a lot about the boats and the entertainment offered.
As he was telling us about the 'buffet' I retreated into myself to wait. Everyone who goes on a cruise ship talks about the buffet, always at some length, so instead of listening I was getting ready to ask about issues regarding accessibility. I zone back in when the conversation about plates with piles of food seems to be ending. But before I could ask, he shifted into another topic about the boats so I listened, and waited.
Suddenly he is talking about going into one of the bars on the boat and finding it full of people with disabilities. He said it was like a cafe at Lourdes. "There were scooters and walkers and canes and crutches everywhere!!" He laughed and laughed. Then he moved on to telling us about a woman with a disability who was on one boat ... and in order for us to understand what she looked like he leaned back, dropped his head, opened his mouth and made kind of a groaning noise. The story he was telling was about her wheelchair and how she used it on the boat.
He noticed that I wasn't laughing at his little display, his little funny mocking performance.
I just looked at him.
I didn't say a word.
I wanted him to register that he just made an insulting display about disability to a disabled guy.
I think sometimes when people do this they do it with a 'you're not really one of them so you can join in at mocking them' sense of conspiracy. I've had it happen from co-workers, years ago, who wanted to include me in nasty jokes about 'lisping and mincing' gay people - their offer to me was 'we'll exclude you and keep you safe from our mocking because you are more like us than like them - right?'
I didn't take the offer then.
Back then I used a lot of words.
Now, I know, when silence is sometimes the best, the very best, response.