I am a shopaholic and a shameless people watcher. So what do I do when I have a free Saturday when my wife is out of town helping our daughter move into her new home in Washington, DC? I spend my afternoon shopping and people-watching at Coastland Mall in Naples, of course. That is exactly what I was doing on a recent Saturday afternoon. After purchasing a number of polo shirts I did not need; two pairs of pants I probably will never wear and a pair of shoes I have no place for in my closet, I decided to buy a cup of coffee and sit in one of those circular areas where they have tables and seats for tired shoppers and people watchers like me. It wasn’t too long after I sat down; I spotted a young man whom I presumed was a high school student walking lazily towards me. He was wearing standard teen issue flip-flops, baggy and crumpled shorts topped off with a white t-shirt displaying the very familiar face of Ernesto “Che” Guevara on his chest. I usually just like to watch people and not talk to them. The stories I make up in my mind about these people I see are always far better and more interesting than if I were to talk to them and find out about who they are and what they do. But in this case, I was very curious. I had been seeing a lot of “Che” t-shirts on young men and women lately and this young man looked friendly enough for me to go up and ask him why he decided to wear a “Che” t-shirt. After all, he was too young to have known who “Che” was, what he stood for or what he did. More than likely his school’s history curriculum did not include an in-depth study of “Che”.
I approached the young man, making sure I put on my best possible smile, friendly manners and non-confrontational attitude (somehow a difficult task for me; so my wife tells me.) “Hello” I said, may I ask you a question? “Sure Dude” he said “as long as you are not a recruiter!” I forgot that I was wearing my blue polo shirt with the USMC logo embroidered on its left upper chest. Although I had made a promise to myself NEVER to talk to anyone who calls me “dude”, I was too intrigued with the situation to stick to my principles. “No!” I said firmly, “not at all. I just wanted to know why you are wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt.” He looked at me like I had just arrived on the last spacecraft from Mars and said “hey, he is a cool dude, man!” I said “really? Is he still around?” Now he looked puzzled, he searched for an answer all around him, up in the sky, down on the floor and in the deepest crevices of his grey matter (an assumption on my behalf). “I really don’t know” he said, with a half-smile. “But I know he is a pretty awesome dude!” Not trying to look like an average history teacher on a Saturday afternoon hunt for less than average students to harass at the mall or a wise-guy from up North; I said “He is dead! He has been dead for a long time. Actually, he was killed in Bolivia on October 9, 1967.” “Oh! Dude” You cannot be serious” said the young man with the “Che” shirt. “I thought he was some kind of a revolutionary” he added. I told him yes, “Che” was a revolutionary all right; he was Fidel Castro’s comrade during the Cuban Revolution; an Argentinean by birth and a revolutionary by trade; he killed many, many innocent men and women in pursuit of establishing Communist societies all over Central and South America. (We used to call terrorists “revolutionaries” back then; sounded more romantic I suppose.) I had the young man’s attention for about thirty seconds. After listening to me he snapped back “Good story Dude; but he is still all right by me” and he walked away towards a group of his friends with similar baggy shorts, flip-flops displaying a multitude of earrings and chains for belts. I tried not to make eye-contact with any of them, walked cautiously over to Starbucks and ordered another “Grande decaf cappuccino”. I wondered if the young man would have picked up the same t-shirt and wore it all around town proudly, thinking “Che” was an awesome dude if he had known who he was?
As I sat back down to enjoy my hot and strong “Decaf Cappuccino”, I promised myself never to talk to my “people watching subjects” ever again I continued to think about my brief exchange with this young man. I remembered having a similar experience in Istanbul back in the late 60’s, a few years before I came to America. One weekend I came home from boarding school only to find a small crowd of undercover officers and local police at our door talking to my dad. My sister, who is two years younger than me was standing near them, with a look of sheepish puzzlement and a semi-guilty stance. I kept my distance since I knew very well that my dad, undercover officers and several local police officers at our front door was a lethal combination which may end up exploding on my head! In the totally unbiased opinion of my dad, I was always guilty before I could prove myself not-guilty. I say not-guilty because I could never prove myself innocent; just not guilty! After the cops left, I walked into the house and saw my dad in my sister’s bedroom, hastily taking down a huge wall size black-and-white poster of Angela Davis, with her unmistakably huge Afro hairdo! I called my sister over and said “Do you know who she is?” My sister had the same “duh” look the young man with the “Che” t-shirt had at Coastland Mall! She did not have a clue! Before asking her why she covered her entire wall with a poster of Angela Davis; I gave her a three minute lecture on Ms. Davis who at the time was a member of the American Communist Party; was considered a revolutionary and someone whose face the Turkish police would really not like to see on a young girl’s wall in the house of a local politically influential businessman! I slammed the question down to my sister with all the might of a Turkish older know-it-all brother; “Why did you put Angela Davis’ poster on your wall? She looked up at me and said “I think her hair is really cool!” Well, at least she did not call me a “dude”.
Everything seems to change over time but nothing really changes…
Currently a member of Marco Island’s Code Enforcement Board, Tarik Ayasun has given many years of community service to various organizations.