The obnoxious dinner guest

Yesterday I was at a dinner table with the most obnoxious man I have met in quite some time.

The evening started when I arrived late to a dinner being hosted by my partner’s company.

It was her work event, and I had arrived there straight from my own day at work, so I was dressed appropriately in a lounge suit, waistcoat and accompanying fob watch.

I apologised for my tardiness and made my way to the guest of honour who was retiring from the company. I knew five people in the room, four of whom I had only met once before, and one of whom I share a bed. Everyone else in the room of 18 people was new to me, and went to every effort to introduce themselves and make me feel warmly welcome. All that is, except a tall, blonde male standing the far corner of the room, who preferred to greet me with a regal nod rather than the open mouthed smiles of our dining companions.

He was introduced as Bob by the guest of honour, but I had no context as to how he fit into the band of people amassed in front of me.

I quickly learned that the dinner was the first of its kind within the organisation, as it was not only  held for the executive staff members, but also their partners. An opportunity to thank the partners for our understanding of the long hours worked by our counterparts and the compulsory debriefings we endure on sofas accompanied with wine, and supportively propped up in beds across Melbourne.

The perpetual wine was flowing as we took our seats, where I was sat between my partner and Jay, the wife of a staff member in the organisation. We began our polite conversation in the usual manner, and then quickly found that we had much in common. Our conversation flowed as we shared intimate aspects of our lives and personalities during the first course of dinner, and I was genuinely disappointed when it was announced that all the men will rise and move two seats to the left before enjoying the main course of the dinner.

I need not have worried, because I had the delight of sharing my main course with Ven, who whilst initially obeying the rules of conversational engagement, allowed our conversation to drift into newly found familiarity, and easily navigated Freudian conversations.

The desserts arrived and I prepared for my final move, before realising the chair to my right was now occupied by the tall blonde stranger, who until now had been holding court directly across the table from me, where I had observed the buttons of his black shirt straining to contain the six foot something torso that lay beneath.

“I believe we should talk,” he said, which struck me as an odd opening gambit for someone who I had never met. Did he mean that we should talk because that is what he had been instructed to do, or because it was part of a yet unseen plan that was soon to be revealed.

“I am Maddie’s husband Bob,” he continued. Maddie was the heir apparent to the guest of honour. Suddenly I was able to read him. It became clear that his manner which I had been observing was one of a man basking in his wife’s career success, as a Queen’s consort would leverage the prestige afforded to them in the wake of their partner.

I was slightly thrown by this unorthodox introduction, but continued with my tried and tested conversational formula that had yielded excellent results during the evening thus far. However, it did not take me long to realise that this man was three sheets to the wind, and was not responding to the usual cues. A firmer grip would be required on this conversation to minimise our awkward silences and inappropriate conversation paths; little did I know just how that was to fail.

“I just want you to know, I need you to know…black lives matter. It is important to me that you know that. I backpacked through Africa you know [He then continued to list a number of African countries in what appeared to be no particular order]. I was struck by the kindness and friendliness of the people. You know, I was in a few situations where I was in danger in Africa and black people came to my aid, and even left them fighting on my behalf; that would not happen in Melbourne. I even lived in Brixton after the riots.” “Well at least it was not before the riots,” I interjected. He looked at me through his drunken haze and decided to double down on the conversation.

“I am a film director you know”.

“Oh,” I said, “anything I would have seen?”

“I did a major piece for ‘Four Corners’ and another for ‘Foreign correspondent’.

“I am currently working on a piece on HIV. It is about the stigma of HIV in Africa. You know that people are still getting stoned in Africa and India for having HIV, but you would know all about stigma, being black”.

“Wait, what now” screamed my inner dialogue, trying my best to maintain my composure, and not let the offence register on my face.

“I want the documentary to follow this African woman’s journey to find her mindfulness,” Bob continued.

“Do you mean resilience?” I questioned.

“No, mindfulness,” he continued, “I cannot quite describe it, but a mindfulness to understand her oppressors and be aware of the stigma that people see in her, and help her to be comfortable with that. You must know this? I see the similarities between the stigma of HIV and the stigma of being black.”

“The stigma, of being black” I emphasised, needing to get the details of this future anecdote clear.

“Yes, the stigma of being black is parallel to the stigma of having HIV. I want to follow this woman on her journey to different countries and how she is received. She will stand in the street with a sign saying, ‘I have HIV, please hug me’ and see what the response is from the public.”

At this point I was speechless. He had no concept of black empowerment: channelling your rage for those who are racist, intolerant, or unaccepting of you, into being the best version of yourself, an appropriate retort, or even a smack in the mouth. No, he could only imagine a sort of mindfulness: wanting people of colour to internalise the racist aggression of others and find a passive zen that would allow white people to continue their attacks unabated.

I was exploring my empowerment response options when a sudden dawning came over his face.

“I know what you are thinking”.

“I bet you don’t” I thought, allowing him to continue to fill the silence left by my inner dialogue.

“You think I am a wanker” he pronounced.

“Oh, he does know” my inner dialogue continued, then I realised that that was way too much silence from me in supposedly ‘polite’ company.

“I am sure that you have clips or links to some of your work that might explain this idea better. Send me a link clips of this idea, in fact, I would love to see your Foreign Correspondent and Four Corners ABC work send me a link to those.”

There was a pause, then he shouted across the table “Maddie, give me my phone”.

I looked up to see Maddie, now rudely disengaged from her conversation, fumble around the table for his phone. Then sliding it across the food-stained linen cloth until it reached the mammoth white hands of its owner.

He opened the phone and scrolled through inboxes and apps in search of the elusive content.

There were a few minutes of welcomed silence as he scrolled and searched for what was becoming painfully evident was content that was, not so much elusive, as non existent.

“I do not have my glasses, and I cannot find any of the links or clips” he remarked.

“That is okay…I can wait” I said, knowing that his only response was to continue scrolling, now that I had given him permission to continue to fail.

Then an unveiled flash of inspiration crossed his face. The idea that was going to save him from the silence in which he was not talking about himself.

“You know what, you should be in the documentary” he said expectant of my response. “You are clearly one of the ones that is doing well for yourself. You know the stigma of being black, and you have the mindfulness of being black in a white world. You should be in the documentary teaching the black woman with HIV how to be mindful. Black, HIV, HIV, Black, it is all the same.”

I looked down into my lap and noticed that I had been wringing my hands as I would to loosen the joints before tightly wrapping them in cloth, inserting them into 16oz gloves, and stepping into a ring.

“No, I really do not think so, I am not the man for you,” I managed to reply, still focusing on maintaining an even keel to my voice.

“You would be great,” Bob insisted, “you could teach the woman, and maybe even a young panel how you obtain mindfulness in a white world. The wise old black man of my documentary”.

“I am not who you are looking for I am afraid,” I replied, hoping that I was successfully modulating my voice to contain my now barely disguised rage.

Suddenly from behind me came the voice of a woman, “Time to go Bob, I have an early start tomorrow”. I turned to meet the gaze of Maddie, who was now standing at my right shoulder. “Finish that drink and let us go”.

“One more glass?” Bob pleaded.

“No, finish the one you have and let us go”.

Bob now had the demeanour of a petulant schoolboy as he grimaced, necked the remaining wine in his glass, then staggered to his feet.

I spoke briefly with Maddie as we both ignored the obvious antics of her partner, then with as much dignity as she could muster, she ushered him out of the room, and away from the remaining guests.


As you can tell I have been giving this incident some thought.

Further reflection of the evening, overheard snippets of conversation and reading the body language of others in the room confirm my thoughts that Bob was living high on the coat tails of his hardworking wife Maddie. His demeanour was that of someone who felt that their position in the room was elevated, and that others will need to be deferential to him, or suffer the consequences in their work environment later.

Bob, a white man, felt he could embarrass himself by lecturing a black person on empowerment, and then insult me further by preaching how blacks should absorb the hate of others in a passive embrace that he calls mindfulness.

I would like to think that this stunning lack of awareness was an aberration, solely the result of intoxication, but he was too well practiced and the confidence in what he was saying was absolute. I believe that his inebriation only brought out who he really was. ‘In vino veritas’.

However, in analysing his behaviour during the evening I have also been forced to question my own.

This was my Chris Rock/Will Smith Oscars moment. I had been assaulted, in this case verbally, and during this prolonged attack, my response was to think of my surroundings, the political ramifications for my partner, and not be a stereotype in a room full of white gaze.

Should Rock have punched Smith back? In hindsight, no. He remained dignified and professional leaving Smith’s reputation in tatters and his PR in overdrive.

Should I have I have grabbed Bob by the back of the head and slammed his face into the white linen table while emphasising the act with “Shut your fucking mouth you racist motherfucker”? I am second guessing myself now, but I have no doubt that in later reflections, I too will consider my actions to be the only dignified response.


~ by jeditopcat on 25 March, 2023.

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