Issue 40, The Retrospective: 1977 – 2004
(Originally in Issue 9)
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Excerpt from “The Traitor” by Gordon Lish
They looked to me to be Tibetan or Mongolian or – I don’t know, I just want to say it – Burmese. Oh, but this is inexcusable. This is embarrassing. Really, there’s not a blessed thing I know about national types like these, about what they’re supposed to look like or what you’d call them if you knew. I mean, maybe this couple had actually looked to me mostly like they came from Thailand, but I didn’t know how to say it, so I right away gave up on the likelihood because I could see ahead, see the situation of the adjective coming, and knew it would have me stumped frontwards, backwards, sidewards, knew it would have had me whipped hands down. Thailander? Thailander can’t be right. At least I would not bank on my ever having heard anyone say it – say Thailander. Great day, you’d know it if you’d ever heard anyone say it. But neither can I imagine what you might alternatively say, unless its Thailandian, which, now that I have actually said it, sounds to me excessively improbable and possibly, to Thailandians, insulting.
You may as well know I once got into some absolutely hopeless trouble over a thing like this – from referring to a certain person by this name rather than by that name. or it may have been the other way around. Frankly, it was not all that long ago, this misunderstanding. It remains to be proved, in fact, which, if either, was the case – that I misunderstood or was misunderstood. Not that the couple on the subway represented the opportunity for the same sort of confusion. Oh, no, theirs was a confusion of an entirely different sort…