Community Riff

I’m in Miami. South Beach, to be exact. I saw more mini-dresses, three hundred dollar flip flops, and oversized sunglasses in one hour last night than I have in the past year. This morning I sat overlooking an aqua pool encased in glass so that it runs over into the ocean, almost. It was breakfast. For sixty dollars. When the bill came, I reached for it with callused fingers.

The conversation stopped.

“What…” The other woman at the table, Erin, asked, eyes already lined and mascaraed.

“…Are those?” Her boyfriend Travis finished.

They were pointing to the oozing scabs on my hands from climbing sandstone for the past two week straight.

“These?” I said. “You should see my legs.”

I’d like to say I restrained myself, but I didn’t. I displayed my bruises up and down my outer thighs, the scrub-oak scratches decorating my ankles. And then I reached for the check, again.

“Majka,” Travis said. “You’re a rock climber. Let the import/export guy pick up the tab.”

In South Beach, I am a rock climber. Clothes that I think are dressy are not even allowed into the nightclubs. My eyebrows are suddenly waxed 10 days too early. My legs? We already talked about them.

Anyone who splices communities knows what I am talking about—that moment when you are called out for not completely fitting in, for being “other.” With full time climbers I get it as a writer, with writers I get it as a guide, with Midwesterners eating genetically engineered corn I get it for being an organic girl from Boulder. With academics I get it for being a writer for a glossy magazine.

There is a moment, in every call out, that I want to protest. The other night in Ft. Lauderdale I was in the middle of a heated debate about China’s role in African politics and I wanted to call time out and head back to the books and know more. I wanted to run that conversation, I wanted to have thirty years of experience to relate. But I am only 31 and could not read yet thirty years ago. I sat at a table with people my parents’ age and education and life experience level and to them I was the speaker about Ethiopia. They liked that I was different. This morning, Erin and Travis liked that I’d taken off my bracelet and shown them my scabs. I am local color, flavor, spice. It’s both gratifying and demoralizing to an ego. Or at least to this one. So now I’m going to go wear a bikini for the first time in six months and see how the upper thigh brusises go over with the beach crowd.