My trips to fill the gas tank have become uncomfortable of late, and I am not referring to the rising price of gas. "Why complain," you wonder aloud. "You lazy sods in New Jersey with your laws forbidding untrained lay pumpers to pump your own gas."
Lay pumper? I quite like that.
"What on Earth could generate feelings of discomfort while you sit in your car during the most inclement conditions watching weather-beaten attendants holding tight their nozzles, filling up your empty and voracious tank?"
Nope. It doesn't bother me having someone fill ‘er up. It’s a job, innit? My unease has more to do with a particular man who fills ‘er up. It all started with seemingly innocuous small talk during a warm day when my window was down along with my guard. The copper colored man, seasoned by age and the outdoors started us off.
“Spanish? You Spanish?” he repeated pointing at me with knobby finger.
“No, no, I’m not Spanish.” I did not offer more, assuming that he’d peg me for Jewish if I admitted my Eastern European roots. I fear outing my Semitic self to strangers. This fear is based on the theory that the majority of people around the globe fall somewhere on a particular number line: 1 being “I’ve never met a Jew before” and 10 being “Jews are responsible for all the problems in the world, and it is our duty to get rid of them.” Feeling particularly vulnerable with his nozzle in my tank, I kept schtum.
“Greek?” he persisted smiling wide with satisfaction having undoubtedly guessed correctly. I waited a beat to count the 5 teeth on the bottom of his mouth.
“Nope. Not Greek.”
“Not Greek? From Greece?” he asked again, sure that if he explained where Greeks live, I’d recall my heritage.
“No.” He studied my face a bit longer. Damn, my gas tank is big. He was going to keep guessing. I berated myself for feeling anything less than proud and shamed myself into confessing.
“I’m Jewish – from Russia. And Poland,” I offered not wanting to negate either side of my background. I watched him nod and continue to smile.
“Oh! Jew!” And he continued to smile as he took my debit card and made his way to the register.
“Where are YOU from?” I asked when he returned.
“India. Punjab. You go?”
“Have I gone? No, not yet,” I answered as if a trip to India was imminent. He handed me my card. “Thank you.” I said, and turned away to put my card in my wallet. By the time I was facing forward again, he had leaned the entirety of his upper body through my open window and proceeded to hug me for more than a few exceedingly uncomfortable seconds. Then, he released me and extracted himself from my car.
“Ok, bye,” was all I could think to say and drove away wondering what the hell had happened. Guess he doesn’t hate Jews, I thought.
A week or so later, I went back to that same gas station. The prices are the lowest in the area, and it’s close to my house. So nu? I should go out of my way to get more expensive gas? Because of one hug? Maybe he was on the sauce that day wouldn’t recognize me. Maybe he was mortified and wanted to put our gas station grope behind us. As soon as I pulled up to the pump, my friend waved and shot me a goofy, open-mouth smile.
I pretended to speak to someone on my cell phone as I opened the window and asked him to please fill it up. I closed my window and continued to speak to no one. He would not be discouraged, however, and when I finally did open my window to pay the man, he held on to my hand and fiddled with my wedding band.
“Married?” he asked
“TWO! You? Married?
“I have vife and tree children.”
“Oh that’s wonderful!” I gushed hoping that we had established some sort of boundaries. “I have to go get my kids now,” I said, and he dove in once again, delivering another full-bodied hug while I sat motionless, strapped into my seat.
Does he have a thing for Jews? Maybe it’s cultural. Gabriella’s people kiss both sides of the face. Italian men, women, children and even family members who haven’t spoken to each other in months meet at weddings and funerals and greet each other with a peck on each cheek. I started double-kissing in the UK and even tried to convince people that where I come from, my people kiss both cheeks AND slip tongue.
“Indeed. And where do you come from that they do that then?”
Needless to say, there was never any tongue slippage.
What to make of my Punjabi Petrol Pumping Pervert? Must I top my tank elsewhere? Do I tell him to find himself another Jewess or do I call his bluff and slip him some tongue? Seems wasteful not to take advantage of all that room in his toothless mouth. Such confusing times. I have a full tank’s time to consider my options.
|Sadly, not my gas station attendant.|