Sunday, February 13, 2005


I am eating in Jordan’s CafĂ© on the corner of Slauson and Overhill this morning, and there are all of five children taking a seat at the table next to me. Its fairly clear that theirs is a minors-only affair. There are three boys, all fit and thin, who look to be in the 11 to 13 age range. The two girls look a little older, with a little teenage acne tipping me off. Since they arrived by car, I assume that the girl in charge is 16, but she is still very much a child.

They are good kids. After initially seating themselves, the girls notice that there are other patrons standing around. They hop right back up and find out if there is a waiting list to sit down. There is . So they wait, but they end up right back next to me anyway. If I had to guess, I would have said big sister was out for brunch with her best friend, but saddled with taking her little brother and his buddies along. Those car keys come with a lot of strings attached, sweetheart. But its worth it to her so she doesn’t even complain, today.

I conjure up some “just-turned-40” mother-figure somewhere in View Park delighting in her childless and suddenly tranquil home. She still has a beauty about her, but her face is rigid in spite of the soft signs of age creeping in. She is smiling now though, probably relishing the moment over the phone with her sister-in-arms. “Girrrrrl, I am so glad Tianna can drive now." Mom is still hanging on to her vanity and is a couple years shy of that humility and wisdom folks seem to acquire the moment their children are grown and no longer have to even pretend to listen. She actually catches herself in the mirror in mid-conversation and sees a glimpse of what she is going see later when those kids have left for good and don’t need her anymore, but she shakes off the panic at the letter "p", and comforts herself with the prospect of freedom from the last 16 years of semi-dutiful service...

The youngsters snatch me back from my cynical daydream with all of their unmitigated energy. Somehow they are demanding my attention without them actually desiring it, but they don’t mind me too much because I look just young enough to sorta, kinda understand, or so I tell myself. They look really happy to be out and unsupervised, but I only see flashes of their excitment because they are all wearing that same requisite "bored as fuck" expression. A man is strolling over towards this end of the cafe, and one of the girls lights up at the sight of a familiar face. They exchange kisses, hugs, and warm, familiar small talk, but he leaves quickly not wanting to wear out his tenuous welcome. "That was my uncle Bernard," she reports still beaming from the fact that Uncle Bernard is smart enough to say something sincere to his niece almost everytime he sees her to let her know how special she is to him.

With Uncle B. gone and out of earshot, its back to kicking it hard. You remember those first few experiences of glorious teenage freedom - that self satisfied feeling of budding maturity and unrestrained optimism about what the future held now that life might finally be really beginning? Oh yeah, a couple of these little angels are feeling quite grown judging by the way they are letting loose, now. Early on, I hear a “fuck” here and a “shit” there and I glance up trying to give them a look that says, “I recognize y’all little heathens from church AND I know your motherAND I will tell her how yall was cuttin' up in Jordan's today,” but my face betrays me. I cannot help cracking an amused little smile at the awkwardness of how young people sound when first learning to curse. They don't have the "fffah" or the "kuh" sound quite right, and it just sounds so un-vulgar. They decide right then in there, the dude that looks like a broke Bob Marley at the next table ain't tripping.

As I sit trying to read my magazine and do my best “sensitive artistic dude in the corner of the restaurant” impersonation, I keep picking up bits and pieces of their conversation. What they think of as just "everyday conversating" sounds like them trying to pick apart each other's self-esteem to me. Every word reminds me of how indoctrinated I was with destructive concepts of self image from an early age. “She is light-skinned with long hair,” I hear one of the boys say about some girl who is not present, but with an inflection that confidently confesses that it is not just his preference, but the obvious preference of all boy-dom. He is not old enough to be ashamed of the fact that he has accepted some ill-favored notion of beauty, nor is he cunning enough to mask his objectionable predilection. He is certainly not empathic enough to see that the two beautiful girls before him don’t fit that mold and are already resigned about it. Neither of them even blinks, but one matter of factly admits, “her hair is longer than mine.”

I start to feel sad for these girls. I start thinking of why my community still cannot break these cycles rooted in self-loathing no matter how many times we tell the next generation how it all started. Somehow the kids see through us and realize that we still haven’t gotten over our own issues, and are not practicing what we preach. Why should they be strong where we are weak? I want to interrupt their conversation and tell them its bullshit and that they don’t have to accept anyone’s definition accept their own…but I don’t. Maybe its because I am still struggling with how I define myself and feel some guilt over all the secret pleasure I took as a child in being light-skinned with "good hair". "Nah," I rationalize to myself. I need to listen to these kids because they are me, without the sophistication and pretense, and expertise at cloaking all of my own insecurities and uncertainties. They can teach me a thing or two not only about who I was, but who I am still. And besides they are just expressing themselves.

But they don't let me off the hook that easily. I think the oldest girl realizes she has a unique chance to demonstrate to all of the others just how grown she is, because half way through her brunch she decides her new favorite phrase is “nigga, please”. Startled by the fact that I thought she was talking to me (no other niggas around here), I find myself subsequentlyy eavesdropping behind my hoisted copy of Psychology Today. But after she drops that first one, she just starts letting them fly in spite of the fact that everything about her says, she NEVER speaks that way at home. And she isn't speaking to the imaginary nigga in the sky either. She is slapping down every other comment her brother and his friends make like Big Six on a domino table. She starts exploring the phrase like John Coltrane covering the melody of an old pop tune. First she stresses the "Nigga". Then she accentuates the "Please". Then she comes with the rapid fire "niggaplease", and finishes up her masterpiece: the staccato and drawn out "Nig-Ga-Puh-Leaze". I flinching?

Thankfully she stops here...She mercifully keeps "nizzle, plizzle" in the chamber.

And it seems strange that she keeps addressing these handsome little men with the term “nigga”, but what do I say? I have not exorcised the word from my own vocabulary and even if I cease using the word out loud, how do I erase it from my mental lexicon. Still, I don't think nigga is being used appropriately in this setting. These boys are not old enough to be niggas. They don’t even look like little niggas in training. Well, one of them does have on a throwback, but its almost cute like pajamas or something. Niggas are man-children who cannot take responsibility for themselves and blame their environment. Niggas are brothers with no sense of history or concern for the future. But these little fellas are still wide eyed and searching. Niggas are self-defeating and caught up in a vicious cycle…and know it. They buy those rims that never stop spinning, because they need to express to the world from somewhere deep inside their soul that they are stuck on the hamster wheel of trying to outnigga the next nigga. But I guess this is the age where it starts to happen…I am watching these innocent little children turn into niggas right in front of my face. They are trying to fight it, but the evidence is strong and compelling that the fight cannot be won at all. Afterall, sitting right there at the table next to them is black man who has been struggling against that same stereotype his whole life and knows how insidious it is. The furrow in his brow displays the wounds of a battle to stomp that word and everything it represents to death with his dynamic, unique, relavent, complex, and damn near brilliant self, and in spite of all that...the nigga is dead silent.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Wanted: Cathartic for the soul...

Do you remember that commercial for some feminine hygeine product when in the midst of an intimate walk in a meadow between an adult daughter and her mother, the mother tenderly prods her daughter to give up the goods on what is bothering her? The daughter finally gives in, but can only muster the non-descriptive query, "Mom, you ever get that not-so-fresh feeling?"

Now as a man, I have no idea what it is like to feel a bit yeasty, but I do know that every woman who was a potential customer for that product instantly knew what that vague feeling was that the daughter could only begin to speak of euphemistically. But the whole point of the commercial is that in spite of the fact that the daughter intellectually knows she is going through something most women will have to deal with from time to time, she still has to ask the woman she more than likely inherited her body chemistry from if she has ever felt that way too. The daughter steps out on a limb so the women of America don't have to, yet they get the sage advice that only our little hygiene-challenged heroine is courageous enough to go get.

You see there is this other vague feeling that I have never known how to communicate to anyone. I would say its something like good old fashioned shame, but it doesn't feel that dirty or filthy. Well whatever it is, it definitely doesn't feel that *turntables appear* fri-fri-fri-fresh. This feeling seems to be an unavoidable byproduct of living. Intellectually, I know that I am not the only one who has to contend with it. I just have never really known how to ask people about my vague feeling, because I cannot find a tolerable euphemism for what I essentially know everyone feels from time to time. Perhaps I should accept that, but it seems extra fraudulent to feel like my soul needs a douche and not say anything. But there is never a magical moment in the meadow where it seems okay to bring it up. Plus, whom would I ask? Sure, mom changed my diapers, but who do I trust and respect enough to give an honest and insightful answer to a conflict that nobody wants to admit to having...hell, her whole reasoning for having me might have been rooted in trying to keep that same feeling at bay.

Wilsonism #2: Nobody knows the meaning of life, but few will ever admit to actually having a problem with that. As a matter of fact, in western society it seems that success is personified by he who is able to most adequately convince himself this eternal mystery poses no problem at all. In other words we celebrate and hold up the people who appear to not give the slightest fuck that they have absolutely no orientation. In order to be a part of the social fabric we must all either fool ourselves, fool others, or foolishly betray our own feelings and emotions. Perhaps this is a psychic necessity for the continuation of civilization, but it does seem ironic that no one is actually encouraged to dwell on the temporal and mysterious nature of life for too long, but instead we are encouraged to develop faith in that which we have no experience of OR develop faith that whatever we experience IS the complete mystery. As for me, every moment that I pretend that meaning isn’t my most sincere curiosity, want, and need comes with the twinge of a slow, but steady betrayal of my soul. Here I am given the gift of consciousness and it seems every single sign external to my own mind is suggesting I ignore the inevitable desire that my consciousness wants to satisfy...and that doesn’t feel fresh at all.

Friday, February 04, 2005

A Loving Spoonful of Deceipt

This past weekend I was driving back to Los Angeles from Mammoth Lakes, when I asked the lovely Elizabeth to hand my a can of Rockstar from the small cooler in the rear seat of my Suburu...I popped the top and the following conversation ensued

Lizzy-Liz: You're not going to drink that without cleaning the top are you.

Wilson: I have never gotten sick from an aluminum can...if I don't see something disgusting, I pop the top and have it at it...its not because I am careless, but I just don't think about that kind of thing.

Lizzy-Liz: Well you know they have found traces rat urine and rat feces on those cans

Wilson: (apathetic shrug)

Lizzy-Liz: My cousin works in a warehouse and he told me....

Now I really didn't hear exactly what came next, but it was some kind of testimony about the disgusting conditions under which soft drinks are stored in warehouses. The reason I don't really remember what she said next is because I immediately had a very hot flash of anger, followed by disbelief, that left nothing but a dull, lingering sense of apathy in its wake. Why? Well, I have heard the rat piss story before and it just so happens that it is considered to be an urban legend. No credible news source has ever reported about a woman dying from drinking from a coke can, but I have gotten an e-mail or two in my day warning me that vermin-infested warehouses were coca-cola is stored are to blame for this horrible safety hazard.

So here is what my anger and disbelief was about. I don't know why people start urban legends, but some just have legs, especially those that don't require us to send money to Nigeria or anything else that would force us to participate in being swindled or otherwise run amok. But I am 99% certain that Lizzy doesn't actually have a cousin that works in a warehouse that told her that he/she has personally seen the horrible conditions under which these beverages are warehoused. No doubt, Lizzy probably forgot where she first heard the rumor about the rat piss, but it did probably strengthen her personal paranoia about Coke cans that I am sure existed long before the internet. I don't think Lizzy is really secretely attached to me to the point of being vigilant about my health concerns, but I think she likes me enough to want to see me stay alive and in her own estimation she was informing me of a very real concern. What I don't understand is why she had to personally vouch for the veracity of the story by incorporating at best some half-truth into her health warning about a cousin who told her what he had seen personally.

You see Lizzy was probably lying at that point, and the worst part is that it wouldn't have made any sense for my to try to find out if she was lying because it wasn't worth the conflict for me to sit up there and go into investigative mode. Who is this cousin of yours? Can you give him/her a call now so that I can ascertain under what conditions I should really be careful? No, she would have taken that as an accusation that she was being dishonest, and no one likes to be called a liar in spite of the fact that everyone lies from time to time. But why lie about something like a health warning? You can warn me about not wearing my seat belt, or about smoking cigarettes, or about talking on the cell phone while driving and you don't have to lie to give me a sense that there is a real risk that I am taking.

I have a theory:

Wilsonism #1: Many people will lie to you with no moral or ethical concern if they feel it is for your own good. But knowing that this is a common practice in society, how do we go about trusting anyone who tells us about anything "for our sake" when we are required to trust in the honesty and sincerity of the person who is "helping us"? If people will lie about cousins who witnessed rats pissing on aluminum cans, doesn't it only make more sense that they will lie about moral decay and hell? Or lie about the dangers of drugs and alcohol? Or maybe they will lie about the emotional and psychic harmlessness of casual sex? Or maybe they will perpetuate any lie in order to enforce their vision of the world or their perceptions and their reality. In a world where people will lie about tangible things, what is to stop them from lying about intagible things such as love, faith, meaning, happiness and even god? Which is a greater act of love: 1) The man who tells the truth and never misrepresents his experience OR 2) The man who joins the chorus of popular belief in order to not render people as faithless as he is?