Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Lady on the Bus

So I was on the USC shuttle bus that carries employees from one campus to another, and I heard two ladies talking.  One of them had a familiar accent.  The other asked her, "So are you going to Hungary, to visit your aunt?"

There aren't a lot of Hungarians in L.A.  Well, there aren't a lot of Hungarians anywhere.  I did something I've never done before: I didn't introduce myself.  People who know me will be shocked.

I've had a couple of experiences lately with my fellow Hungarian immigrants that have left a bad taste in my mouth. 

I met this Hungarian guy who has two kids.  His kids are older than my kids, and he lives far away, so it's not like I was thinking that I want my kids to play with his kids, so that they can learn Hungarian.  I flat out told the guy that I would be interested in having coffee with him once a week, because weeks go by when I don't speak Hungarian with anybody.  That's all I wanted.  One November afternoon, when we were doing that, he mentioned that he and a bunch of other Hungarian parents were going to have Saint Nicholas--Mikulas--arrive on December 6th at the house.

The Catholic feast Day of Saint Nicholas is on December 6th, and he arrives bearing gifts--unless you've been a bad kid--in which case you find that a lump of coal has been left in your shoe.  When my brother was a kid in the height of poverty during the Stalinist 1950s, the orange that somebody brought him from Italy was a huge treat.  There is no Santa Claus on Christmas Eve in Europe: he's already long gone by the 24th.

I said, "Wow, that's great.  My kids have never participated in a Mikulas."  I suggested that it would be neat for my kids to learn this Hungarian tradition.  He gave me a "Yeah, sure" that I took at face value.  I waited a couple of days--not wanting to appear pushy, and brought up the Mikulas topic.

No response.

December 6th came and went, as did the 24th.  We didn't run across each other.  I didn't call him, he didn't call me.  The New Year arrived, and several rainy months later, it's Easter.

We haven't talked, or emailed. 

I was talking with a friend while walking down the street, yesterday, and I saw the Hungarian guy.  I pretended not to see him.  He drew closer, and I worked increasingly harder at not seeing him.  Finally, he said, "Hi, Tamash!!"  I gave him a "You're interrupting my conversation" look, barely acknowledged him with a slight raise of my eyebrows, and returned to my conversation without breaking my stride.

The truth of the matter is that he might not have any idea why I'm pissed.  The other possibility is that he didn't have control over the guest list, and didn't know how to tell me that.  Simple.  If the Mikulas was being held at someone else's house, he could have said something like "The other kids' mom can only handle 6 kids" or some other contrived excuse that makes it clear that it wasn't his choice. 

I would have beenokay with that.  Like I said, he lives really far away, and my kids are a different age from his kids.

I think the reason my feelings were so hurt was that I felt like he had told me "Hey I'm a member of this exclusive club, and you can't join."

There's another Hungarian guy I met recently, and I think in his case he's just so into his job, that he has no social life, at all, but I lumped him in with the other guy.

Then there was the Hungarian woman in Claremont who was with her husband.  Same story there.

There were two Hungarian guys at work at USC: both mathematicians.  They were nice. One moved back to Hungary, the other to Japan.

Here's the thing: I have other Hungarian friends who really are friends, not merely casual acquaintances.  people I can talk honestly with.  People I can trust. 

So, while I'm walking around, feeling sorry for myself, pissed off at my fellow Hungarians for being a bunch of elitist snobs, I already have what I want.  And what I need.

I need a new pair of cufflinks.  By weird coincidence, I was wearing my Hungarian coin cufflinks, that morning, when I ran across the lady on the bus.  My wife got me those cufflinks for my birthday, one year.  I had wanted to wear my Indian Head Penny cufflinks, but had chosen to wear the cufflinks made out of Hungarian 2 Forint coins from the Communist era, in order to let my wife know that I appreicate them.  I got off the bus, thinking to myself, "I am not introducing myself to that Hungarian lady."

Pling!  I looked around, and saw a golden coin rolling down the street.  Shit!  That's the 2 Forint coin off my left cufflink!  In the 80s you needed a 2 Ft coin to either (a) make phone call, or (b) use the public toilet.  I scrambled down the street, and grabbed the coin.  I have no idea which way the Hungarian lady went...

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