On Mistaking an Actor for a Terrorist and Feeling Silly About it
December 23, 2009
I was on the 51 bus yesterday traveling between Oakland and Berkeley. Somewhere along College Avenue, an angular young man got on the bus and sat opposite me. He was muttering to himself and looking very shifty. He kept saying, in quite an upper class, tight-lipped colonial era British-sounding accent, "I have a difficult thing to do" and "I have decided they cannot live."
Although people are always muttering to themselves on Bay Area buses, this man's insistent and slightly menacing vocal repetitions and stooped over frame made me wary. Plus, he was carrying a big, black backpack. I found myself leaning in a little and perking up my ears to see if could hear a ticking sound.
Just then, a blonde, female UC Berkeley student got on the bus with a couple of very heavy suitcases. The young man immediately jumped up to help her. They struck up a conversation.
Much to my embarrassment and amusement, the man told the woman that he was practicing his lines for a play in which he was scheduled to take on the role of an Afrikaaner. I felt his accent needed a little work, personally. He probably did too, hence all the repetition. "I wish they'd cast me as Nelson Mandela," he told the woman with a laugh before launching into his version of Mandela's diction. "I can do a very good impression of him."