Last week I woke up one morning to the sound of my heat pump/air conditioner in its death throes. The fan in the outside unit clicked on. A noise best described as “ZZZZRUMPFFFF!” followed. The unit clicked off, then tried to function again a few minutes later. Each zzzzrumffff made the light on my dresser grow dim.
The AC tech came out that morning, hooked up meters and told me to turn on the cooling function at his signal. I hovered for a bit, but left him alone when my presence appeared to make him nervous. I got the feeling that he thought I didn’t trust him.
He ran a series of tests and told me that the motor on the condenser was seizing up each time it started. Extra power got pulled out of the electric line, and a kill switch turned off and reset the unit for another attempt a few minutes later. He told me that he couldn’t give me an estimate for a new model (he just did repairs), but added that my upcoming purchase of an air conditioner would be the last one that I’d ever make. I asked him, “So, how soon do you expect me to die?” He could tell that I was teasing him and started to laugh. I added, “Just how old do you think I am?” He covered his mouth, turned away and laughed again. “You sound just like my uncle,” he said.
Somehow the conversation drifted to genealogy. He mentioned that he had Asian ancestry and that he wanted to retire somewhere in Southeast Asia. He had grown up on Trinidad (his accent had a Caribbean lilt), and had lived in South Florida where he experienced little racial discrimination. When he moved to Orlando he found himself singled out and abused more. He told us that when he visited the Philippines he blended in with little trouble. He wanted to find a place where he could live in peace and do a bit of farming.
He looked intently at my wife and me and seemed to struggle as he tried to reconcile our friendliness to him with our skin color. He finally said, “You guys look European.” I said, “Judy’s people came to America in the 1700s, and I was born in Ohio.”
He tried to process that information, but returned to his default setting. “Yeah,” he countered, “but you look European.”
“We don’t look like our ancestors came over on the Mayflower,” I tried to clarify.
“European,” he said.
I decided that he meant that as a compliment, and we parted on good terms. Later in the day it occurred to me that European countries had colonized huge chunks of the Orient in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Native populations had been mistreated and exploited. Some of those invaders must have looked like me.
Judy’s folks originated in Alsace-Lorraine, and mine in southern Germany. Maybe we’ll retire some place in Bavaria, blend in and do a little farming. But I expect someone will eventually come up to me and say, “You look Australian.”