“I hate southerners,” the man said over a mouthful of soup, “I’m a northerner, and we take baths. Southerners are always dirty. They stink.”

I froze; the whole unbathed southerner thing was news to me. Might be especially surprising to my North Carolinian mother, who never saw a thing she wouldn’t clean. Twice.

He sat at the next table over, facing me. A lady with wavy brown hair sat across from him, nodding and not saying much. “You haven’t smelled many southerners,” he warned, pointing his soup spoon at her, “I have. Trust me on this.”

I considered asking the guy, in my very best southern accent, if having your head that far up your rectum made it difficult to breathe, but he barreled on, making the next 15 minutes so intriguing that I never said a word.

Southerners were just the tip of the iceberg. “Of course, they’re not as bad as Oregon liberals. God!” he grimaced, shutting his eyes in pain, “In this state you gotta be a moron to be elected and you still have five braincells more than the stupid liberals who elected you. These jerks want to blow up perfectly good dams cause they can’t find anything else to spend money on,” he said, “Can you believe it?”

The man was in his late 50s, balding, chubby, in a dark blue windbreaker. “Liberals are the ones that let the communists in the schools. FULL of Commies around here, infiltrating all the textbooks and filling them with filth. It’s sad, really,” he said, shaking his head, “They’ve hired all the homos and queers, make everybody like them. In ten years all these kids will graduate and nobody will get married. Nobody will have normal sex in this state.”

Hmmm. In less than five minutes this guy had managed to trash about half the country, something I didn’t think could be managed even at a Klan rally. He was going so fast I was having trouble filing it in memory; I grabbed an old receipt from my purse and started taking notes.

“Does this soup taste like anything to you? It really sucks. Hey–don’t let me forget, we’ve got the anti-immigration rally in an hour,” he nodded to the woman, “Maybe this time the liberal filth won’t interrupt.” She turned her head and I saw she was fairly young, maybe his daughter. She didn’t smile, but so far she hadn’t stopped nodding.

“Damn Mexicans gotta learn they just can’t come in here like they own the place,” he growled, “Why don’t they just go back home and get their welfare there? If we gotta pay welfare, we pay it to Christians, not Mexicans.”

He turned to his attitude toward farmers (he hated them). I was running out of old receipts, so I started in on the parking lot slips.

“I tell you what they did to me at work? To ME? They gave that German trip to a SECRETARY! Now why,” he asked, stabbing the air with a fork, “Would you give a goddamned international assignment to a SECRETARY? I mean, they’re a dime a dozen, secretaries. If they can’t type, get rid of them and bring on the next moron with boobs; don’t send ’em overseas. How come I’m passed over just because some German asshole needs a cheap date?”

I could think of a couple of reasons.

“They’re prejudiced against white guys at work, anyway,” he added, “I don’t get the good computer, no they gotta give it to some Indian skank. At least I got Microsoft 2006, but that’s trash. I hate Bill Gates.”

Surprise, surprise. My waitress stopped by and I asked for some paper; I was running out of purse scraps. She brought me about two feet of blank cash register tape; I hoped it would last.

“You know, I found out Bill Gates had a really bad problem with technology when he was in college and that taught him that the way to become a billionaire is to screw your customer. That’s all he does. Like he needs any more billions.”

And on he went, missing no one from ministers (“scam artists”) to scientists (“commies”), tsunami victims (“they had it coming”) to motorbike riders (“homos”) to cat owners (“dog-haters”). He was one of the few truly equal-opportunity haters I’ve run across. They are rarer than you’d think.

It would be delicious fun to tear into this guy, to explain in pure vitriol about Christianity and Mexicans, why the bloody dams were being challenged, and the history of Bill Gates (which, as it happens, I’d once gotten from the horse’s mouth). To tower over this fuzzy-headed jerk and let him know just what I thought of him.

…and exactly what good would that do? Would it change his mind? Nope.

Aside from personal satisfaction, and a chance to get rid of a bad bowl of soup by dumping it on his head (he was right about the soup, at least), the best I could hope for was that I infuriated the guy until he keeled over and died in the Marie Callendars.

So who made me judge, jury and executioner? I wondered what it would be like to be so knotted up inside a mind like that, where everybody you met was an enemy and every step you took was another exercise in hate. I hoped he was just having a REALLY bad day, or maybe a brain tumor or a bad knock on the head. Then I looked into his eyes and saw nothing, just a genial-looking guy full of hate, probably going to be that way for the rest of his life.

He paid the check and rose to leave.

“I’m not going back to Dr. Rotgut whats-his-name,” he said, shaking his head, “All he does is ask the same stupid questions, over and over. Says I have anger management issues. He’s never seen me angry, so how does he know? Why doesn’t he just get into his damn German car and drive off a bridge?”