I work in a delicatessen, a family-owned business located in a quaint, little upstate New York town. I hold the position of cashier two to three days a week for the afternoon and evening, and I get to know the "regulars" fairly well. There's a young woman who comes in with her boyfriend and mother. They always appeared to be nice folks. The mother and daughter chat amicably and order sandwiches while the boyfriend quietly walks around, very rarely joining in the conversation. It never bothered me, I simply thought him a shy person. They came in tonight, without the mother. I greeted the daughter when she walked in the door and saw her boyfriend following behind. At first it didn't register; but then it did. When the realization hit, it struck like a blast of cold air. I was almost quivering. A chair, I just needed to sit down, to gather my thoughts - to compose myself. I had just seen the red patch of a swastika on the arm of this nice man's jacket.
To be totally honest, the first thing I thought of was not the Jews or the concentration camps. I did not think of Hitler and Nazi Germany. In actuality, the first thing that crossed my mind was an image of those unbelievable talk shows where they have white supremacists who recite their ignorant gospel to a disapproving audience. I had seen them on Geraldo, Donahue and countless others, and each time I wondered, Where do they find these backward minds and how can there be so many of them? These were the issues that made me angry enough to yell at the television, however futile that may have been.
As the couple waited for their sandwiches to be made, I continued to ring up other orders. My thoughts were still wandering. I wanted to yell at him and tell him how wrong he was. I wanted him to see and willingly change his evil ways. Business instincts came rushing back telling me, "He's customer, a paying customer." Then again, was I not morally bound to tell him that he should either change his views or change his choice of delicatessen? How do you approach a conversation like that? Maybe an ice-breaker along the lines of, "So, I hear you're in the hatred business?"
They had reached the register and I rang up their order trying to avoid him. I didn't want to see that red patch glare at me and remind me of all the uninformed, ignorant, malicious words that came from the mouths of fellow humans. I placed their sandwiches in a bag and quietly wished her a good evening. I had said nothing more. It was then that a half-glance upward brought a silver pin on the front of his jacket to my attention. Above two crossed rifles it read, "Experienced Rifler." I shuddered at the thought of the combination.
So where do they find those racist, obnoxious, white supremacists for this week's episode of Geraldo on hate?
Why, they're right here in my quaint little town of Warwick, just teeming with nice folks.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.