We’ve come a long way, baby. It’s not a perfectly tolerant world yet, not even close, but it’s a lot closer than it was when we were younger. Which is what this story by Bronxville, New York baby boomer Marc Zeitschik is about. It’s from a longer memoir he’s writing about his travels.
It was the summer of 1970 and I’d traveled north from London to Keswick, in northwestern England, to visit “the girl from the summer before.”
Keswick was a bit of an eye-opener, the first place I’d ever been where I was refused service because of the way I looked. I became persona non grata at an eatery in England. I’d thought this a progressive country but Keswick wasn’t like London any more than any city in upstate New York was like New York City.
I sat and waited and waited and watched other people being seated and having their orders taken and being served, but still no one was coming over to my table.
Looking around, I didn’t detect anything strange. Just the usual bunch of straight people. Combed, jacketed men. Women in summer dresses and light cardigan sweaters. I did start to notice that people were glancing at me, though. Not long glances. These are the English, after all. But glancing and glancing again.
I finally called to someone on the wait staff and asked about the lack of service and he informed me that “We don’t serve your kind here.”
“My kind?” Are you kidding me? No service in a public restaurant?
My first taste of real discrimination! Thank you, Keswick. Being white in America and a Jew in New York, I’d never before felt the touch of prejudice and the nastiness of discrimination. Of course I had heard many stories involving various acts related to anti-Semitism, but I had never, as far as I can recall, ever experienced it myself. I was a Jew growing up in Brooklyn. Everyone I knew was Jewish. It was years before I realized that there were actually some non-Jews in my neighborhood and that they sent their children to some parochial school somewhere. I didn’t even know where there was a church in my neighborhood.
One of my favorite jokes paints a pretty good picture of what I’m talking about:
This Orthodox Jew walks into a bar with a frog on his shoulder.
“Where’d you get that?” asks the bartender.
“In Brooklyn,” says the frog. “There are a million of them.”
That was my world. There were a million of us. So the closest thing to prejudice I’d ever experienced was, since letting my hair grow, getting some catcalls on the street from a truck driver or construction worker suggesting that I might have a sexual identity problem. But it was never more than that.
But here it was in the home of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. An awakening to be sure.
I got up from the table. I left the restaurant. Quietly. I was young. I was alone. I was, I think, in shock. The rage only came later.
I found someplace else that didn’t mind my presence and had my lunch. And I didn’t tell anyone about it for a long time.