GCSPrank Is Here

For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

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Gil C. Schmidt was born. Lucky for him and some 416 people, many of who don't seem to know it. Lives in Puerto Rico, which is convenient because he also works from there. Gil writes about dozens of real things (with relish) and dozens of imaginary things (like phantasmagoric pickles), in separate forums. Author of several books and a son, Gil gets in trouble when he's bored. Please head to the egress now.


Monday, February 28, 2005

My Uniform

For a guy who practically made a fetish of being different, who seemed to expend a great deal of energy in not conforming and who pretty much made sure to never be mistaken for being common, I dressed like a nobody.

Now I understand that college isn’t necessarily a fashion show and that the majority of students dress more for comfort than for style. Kudos to all. But what is irritating is to have someone settle—settle, I tell you—for a uniform instead of making a small effort and developing a style.

My clothing was almost always the same: T-shirt (never a polo shirt or anything with buttons), jeans, white athletic socks, tennis shoes and a jacket. The jacket was red (a bold choice, but not when repeated every day), with a dual white stripe running down the sleeves. Of a style popular during the 70s, when leisure clothing was a way of showing you were health-conscious and a slave to fashion, I wore it because it was at hand.

For fall and early spring, I would add a sweatshirt to the uniform and winter would see me cover the whole thing with a heavy leather jacket, one blessed with a flannel inner lining.

If you looked at my wardrobe, you’d see 10-11 pairs of jeans, 14-16 T-shirts, 19-20 pairs of white socks and a red jacket. (Boxers? Briefs? Ask me later.) Substitute the jeans for 13-14 pairs of shorts during the summer. Week after week, month after month, I pretty much wore the same clothes, in a monotonous litany that expressed nothing except maybe a disdain for shopping.

I did have moments when I wore a cap or stocking cap touting the Pittsburgh Steelers. I would get clothes for my birthday or Christmas, but unless they conformed to my uniform, they would languish in obscure corners of my closet. I grew an inch or two, added a bit of weight, changed my social style, but never got rid of my (foolish) consistency.

This is not an exercise in hindsight ranting. It is the pointing out of a glaring inconsistency. I was the guy who refused to get a haircut while taking AFROTC courses, to the extent that my hair was shoulder-length in a world of crewcuts. They called me “Custer” behind my back. Therefore if I wanted to stand out so damn much, why fade into the background with a uniform?

Or did I? I was so recognizable in my haute couture that Don used the jacket as the only article of clothing on GCSPrank. But he knew me well; saw me practically every day. Did the many others see me? Did I simply fade from view as someone who just couldn’t “catch the eye”? Was that the point, not catching anyone’s eye? Or was the uniform my way of creating an image that would stand out, that would brazenly make it obvious that I was not trying to fit in, to show that I didn’t care what fashion or peers were saying?

I don’t have an answer now. And that’s the problem: I didn’t then, either.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Nat

He died before I was born. His whole career spanned a time when the color of one’s skin meant more than the content of his soul. But Nat sang through that and emerged as a voice that transcends time.

Music was not important to me until I got to college. I don’t remember ever turning on a radio to listen to my “favorite station,” though often I would turn one off to stop the caterwauling. Pisses people off when you do it in public places.

If I had a favorite music it was Christmas songs. The only time of the year when we listened to music in our home was that magical time between Thanksgiving and the day I opened all my gifts. My dad’s LP collection was heavy on crooners, so Bing sang “White Christmas,” Dean sang “Rudolph,” Ella did her “Jingle Bells,” Johnny his “Winter Wonderland” and Nat his incomparable “Christmas Song.”

So when it came time to buy music of my own, I started with the decades that my dad enjoyed. And I discovered Nat “King” Cole in my own way. I bought a tape of his “Greatest Hits,” with songs I had heard before and discovered many more wonderful surprises.

“Mona Lisa” was considered by no less an artiste than Duke Ellington to be “the greatest vocal recording ever made.” Songs like “L-O-V-E,” “Route 66,” “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” “Orange-Colored Sky” and “Send For Me” showed a touch of swing that stayed in your bones. The “choir” arrangements of “Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer” and “Rambling Rose” had the power and verve I often feel with Southern Gospel music. Nat was a consummate pianist, which he displayed often with no better example than when he and his trio recorded a bouncy “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” which he also wrote.

A close friend of Nat's urged him to record in Spanish and Nat’s three albums of favorites, including songs in Portugese and Italian, were huge best-sellers, his rounded vowels and accented phrasing adding charm to his masterful musicianship. He might be the only American singer of his time whose recordings are still being used in Hollywood, national commercials and regional anuncios far south of the border.

It was in love songs, the quiet ballad from the heart, that Nat excelled. “Tenderly,” “Answer Me,” “Stardust,” “Too Young,” “That Sunday, That Summer,” “Nature Boy,” “Sentimental Reasons,” “Darling Je Vous Aime Beacoup,” “Smile” and “A Blossom Fell,” along with many others, are gems that retain their deep feeling despite the years. “The Very Thought of You” nursed along my first love, “Unforgettable” defined it and “Autumn Leaves” was the paean of its departure.

Nat became the music of my thoughts, the backdrop to my most creative hours. And over the years, his voice and songs have been a faithful companion. He never ages, while I do. Somehow that makes it right.

Coda: Duke Ellington wrote “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Nat’s version strikes the perfect balance between wistfulness and bravado. In the lyrics, he sings:

Thought I’d visit the club,
Got as far as the door,
Awfully different without you,
Don’t get around much anymore.

It was only last year that I realized that Duke was referring to the club’s door, not his door. That probably says more about me than I ever wanted to.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The South Ain't Riz

The best of the South—and there is plenty—is often obscured by its worst. It won’t take the average visitor very long to realize that the South’s biggest enemy is its attitude, not so much about the present, but about the past.

When you hear someone say “They burnt my house,” relax. It won’t be on the nightly news. (If it is, then you’ve saved yourself some stress anyway.) The house they are referring to is most likely the family shack burnt by “damnyankees” back in the “War for States’ Rights.” Nothing “Civil” about it.

It’s not that atrocities were not committed. It was a war and atrocities are an inseparable part of such activity. It’s the sense that what happened way over a century ago should have any bearing on what you feel today.

The issues were obviously taken personally then, but there is no reason—no reason at all—to keep making those issues a valid influence in the present. But try as you might, when faced with one of these “The South Will Rise” fanatics, you will never get them to change their point of view.

But it is possible to shut them up.

Robert was an ex-Navy midshipman who bragged about living on the same patch of land for “over 150 years.” He was 27, but he had “lived” on that land since the 1820s. He constantly spoke of “the stolen lands,” “the raping of our women” and “how the North won’t ever let us forget the War.” If we spoke for more than 20 minutes, he’d unleash a salvo worthy of a “Son of the Confederacy.”

Drove. Me. Nuts. If it weren’t for the fact that he knew how to play Shogi and was the most intense sub-creation writer I ever met, I would have avoided him like I avoid stabbing my eyes with forks and pro wrestling.

His day came. Over a very early breakfast, he went off on the dreaded subject. His whole spiel was coming out like a well-oiled tapeworm when I cut him off.

“Is there an organization like the Sons of the Confederacy in the North?”

He nodded. “Yeah. It’s called the Grand Army of the Republic.”

“How many members does it have?”

He smirked. “About 500.”

I took a stab at it. “How many members do the Sons have?”

Pounding the table, he crowed “Over 22,000 strong!”

I had him. “So who won’t let who forget the freaking war?

I never heard another word on the subject. Not that we spent much time together after that.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Ruby's Chinese Restaurant

You would call it nondescript. A low brick building with a small semblance of a pagoda design on the roof above the front door, set in the left corner. The parking lot was shared by an apartment complex and there were plenty of times when I know residents had to park far from their spot because the restaurant was full.

People would drive two hours one way for dinner at Ruby’s. The moment you walked in, you left the routine behind and entered a tiny corner of the exotic. The overwhelming impression was of red—on the floor, the walls, lanterns, booths and decorations. But not the same red: shades of red that called the eye and made the room warm and expansive.

Everyone who worked at Ruby’s was Asian. Extremely polite, ranging from reticent to friendly, but always attentive. The menu was huge, and if you tried pronouncing the sonorous dish names in Chinese, the waiter or waitress would say the number; if you said the number, you’d hear the words. I stuck to the English descriptions, and over the years, tried all of the almost 200 dishes they served.

I had my favorites—Mo Shu, Sizzling Rice Soup, Mongolian Beef, Moo Goo Gai Pan—and whether it was a favorite or a new dish, I was never disappointed. Not once. In the middle of my run of weekly visits, I actually focused more on seeing if something would go wrong rather than on enjoying the experience. Fortunately, that ended quickly.

Most of the time, I’d dine alone, so food was the only focus. I learned to appreciate green tea, my consumption rising over the years from one cup to a pot or maybe two in the winter. If I ate with a group and Bill was there, we’d both pass on entrees until the Mongolian Beef appeared, then we’d pretend not be hogging it as we polished off the plate.

Dining at Ruby’s was always… spiritual. Believe me, I tried to avoid using that word. Recorded as an incident, a visit to Ruby’s was prosaic: one entered, ordered, was served, ate, paid and departed; nothing intrinsically metaphysical about any of that. But the time one spent there was somehow sharper, brighter, clearer, more real.

Maybe it was the night I’d arrived a bit later than usual and as soon as I’d finished eating, Ruby’s began closing around me. As I got up to leave, one of the waiters came to me and, without a word, motioned for me to sit at the long table that flanked the kitchen entrance. It was usually reserved for special parties as it oversaw the entire L-shaped restaurant. (The private room had a smaller table, tucked in the short arm of the L.)

I sat down as the door swung open and every employee of Ruby’s came in carrying a bowl, tureen, plate or pot. Without a wasted motion, almost a dozen dishes were arranged with artistry, water glasses filled and tea served. Ruby’s owners, a middle-aged couple with friendly eyes, came in, sat down and everyone began to eat.

I hesitated. Chinese was flitting back and forth interspersed with laughter and food floating onto plates all around me. The owner caught my eye and smiled. He pointed at a dish placed in front of me that somehow I had missed. Mongolian Beef. No one had touched it.

My hesitation ended. I took a small portion and passed the Mongolian Beef into the stream criss-crossing the table. Dishes came my way, contributed new flavors to my plate and were passed on. The only words I spoke during that meal were “Thank you” and “This?” No one spoke to me. No one needed to. I was asked to share their private moment and had been welcomed.

I never went to Ruby’s after that expecting to be invited, but I never turned it down, no matter how much I’d eaten. I marveled at how comfortable I could feel while being the only non-speaker at the table. I was both guest—-honored and treated with deference—-and family, maybe like the quiet cousin from a far province.

On a wintry November night, at the end of the meal, I announced I was leaving town. As if rehearsed, everyone bowed to me and then converged, patting me on the shoulders, shaking my hands, even gently tugging my hair. As I groped for the words to thank them, the owner and his wife handed me a small box. It contained a small dragon, made of golden wire with red lacquer. A strip of paper was curled atop the figurine, adorned with Chinese characters. Tapping my shoulder, he pointed at the paper and said: “Wherever you go, our heart follows.” I nodded as my throat tightened. “You come back anytime.”

I nodded again, said good night and walked out into the cold, never to return. In some way, I never really left.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Library Girl

Roam a library long enough to become familiar with it and you discover its quiet spots. Theoretically they are all quiet, but we denizens of the bookshelves know better.

The quiet spots attract a certain type of person, one who can close out the world in wonder at what the printed page shares, who can almost occupy two places at once, body anchored to a chair; mind and soul exploring the Universe.

It takes hours to meld into a library, to learn its rhythms and cadences, to pattern its ebb and flow of humanity. Sometimes you explore the books, ambling the spine-stepped paths, letting whatever words and ideas come to mind serve as Muse. Other times, you cast your eyes upon the readers, writers, browsers, talkers and borrowers who enchant or infect the sanctuary.

I turned around a tight stack searching for I forgot what. Black hair, red blouse, white shorts. I know I didn’t make noise, but the quiet enhances senses and she felt my presence. I learned what if felt like to be transfixed by another person’s eyes. She smiled. I nodded and scampered away.

Against my instincts, I worked my way around to the other side of the bookshelves and peeked. Peeked! And she caught me. Her face and expression were perfect for a Renaissance noblewoman. I smiled and she laughed softly. She lifted the book she was reading so I could see the title. I understood: She thought I was looking for that book. Of course I was.

Have you ever seen someone you consider attractive, but when you get close to them, they drop down the attractiveness scale faster than a dive bomber? It is an awful feeling, like having a wonderful prize snatched from your grasp. But the reverse? Pure joy, a joy almost impossible to contain.

We spoke for over two hours in that disjointed, scatter-shot way two people engage in when interests are shared and neither have a clear agenda. The hell with that: we clicked. Smiles and laughing were frequent, muted and enhanced by our surroundings. After some time, she stopped being real. Or everything around her faded into unreality. If I could explain it, I’d be a poet.

She looked at her watch and reality crashed into me. She had to go. I looked at her and blinked in self-defense: she actually looked disappointed that she had to leave. Then she said exactly that. We each gave a short wave. Twice she turned to wave again. I behaved like a gentleman and replaced her book, a history of Victorian art.

Many times I searched for her, there in that quiet spot. Only once in a while did anyone use that table. But never her. Never her.

Once I found the same book on Victorian art atop the table. I grabbed it and searched every nook and cranny of that infernal place, to no avail. When I went to replace it, an index card peeked out from the book. Three words: Thank you, Gil.

I replaced the book and stopped going to the library. Goodbyes can take so many forms.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Frisbee Golf

It isn’t complicated: you fling a Frisbee until you hit the target, then go on to the next target. Fewest throws wins.

Seems like every sport or game can be reduced to a simple, even simplistic, summary. In the case of Frisbee Golf, that genteel blend of hippie freeform with corporate ritual, it is that simple. Throwing a Frisbee can be learned by a toddler and you can play the Golf version anywhere. At least the way we played it you could.

Our targets were trees, stumps, signs, poles and hydrants. We roamed the campus, the nearby woods or a part of town, most notably the cemetery. We played around traffic, through pedestrians and amidst the silence of the long-departed.

Two friends, two Frisbees and time to share. That’s what Frisbee Golf boils down to. You play to win (okay, I play to win), but the game itself takes second place to sharing conversation and soaking up the view.

Then there’s imagination. After you start playing, wherever you go you begin to look at angles and locations, adding hazards and complications, so that any natural or urban setting becomes a playground. I still do it, park or plaza, eager to try out the difficulty of that long shot over a 2-throw penalty area versus playing safe. In my mind, I’m always going for it; in practice…

Sure, you can muck it up with complications, like different Frisbees for different throws, and three-hooped chain targets and rigidly-delineated courses. We added penalties as our only complication, risk versus reward, a simple concept that adds a spice of challenge. And our courses changed as often as we wanted them to: a few seconds of discussion to agree where the target was and how many throws were par and off we went.

Sure the game lacks the edge of danger that some find necessary. There is always the danger of embarrassing yourself, of playing atrociously or of choking when the pressure's on. But if it’s physical danger you want, well, there was one moment…

Don and I were playing in the “bowl” we had chosen as our “short course,” close to some dorms, with a few tall trees and the challenge of making no throws on level ground. Don was standing near the tallest tree when suddenly a loud crack startled us and a large branch thudded to the ground, missing him by less than three feet.

We were quiet for a few seconds. My second thought, uttered aloud, was “Are you okay?” He nodded.

My first thought had been: I almost won by forfeit. Told you I play to win.

Friday, February 18, 2005

End of the Line

The bus left Miami and within 20 minutes, I was staring down at a redhead in a topless convertible who was naked from the waist down. I blinked. She looked up, waved at me and drove off. I considered getting off the bus right there because nothing would ever match that moment. Thirty hours later I was regretting denial of that impulse.

When asked why I was taking a bus across the Deep South I answered that it was because I wanted to see what was out there, instead of looking at clouds at 30,000 feet. They believed me. What I actually had in mind was some formless idea of getting off the bus somewhere and roaming until my money, nerve or luck ran out. I was in no hurry to get anywhere so long as I kept moving. Could be the story of my life.

One long day and one interminable night later, I got off the bus in the tiny station of a town I never knew existed until it sent me a letter. The stationmaster (busman? ticket agent?) pulled out a box and a large suitcase. None were mine. The bus took off like whales out of Purgatory don’t. I asked the guy about my suitcases. He took it as a matter of routine and walked back in to pick up the phone.

The station area was dirty and faded. I looked up and down the street. Nothing caught my eye. I walked into the station and asked the guy when the next bus was passing by. That snapped him out of routine. He looked me up and down and said “You just got here.”

I nodded. “When?”

He opened his mouth, then closed it, glancing at a schedule. “Five hours. Goes to Jackson.”

I walked out of the station as a cab drove up. The driver got out, a burly guy, with a crew-cut, reddened face, rough features and gray eyes. Gray hair. “Take you in?" he asked. I was slow in answering so he jerked a thumb over his shoulder and said “The university. Get you settled in.”

I agreed and got in the cab. He said his name was Earl and he’d been driving a cab for 14 years. He asked me where I was from and I said Miami. He’d never been there. He told me his grandchildren had gone to Disney World, but he stayed behind because he was too old for that.

He dropped me off in front of a red brick building with columns. Less than an hour later I was staring out of a sixth-floor window, wondering what to do. I called the station. My bags were in Atlanta. I called the cab company and asked for Earl. They told me they would send a cab immediately. I told them I’d only go with Earl. The dispatcher hung up while saying something that sounded a lot like swearing.

Earl drove up half an hour later, looking worried. “You asked for me?” I said yes and asked him if that was a problem. He told me that lots of people asked for him, more than any other driver. It did give him trouble because the other drivers and the dispatcher complained about it. He shook his head. “Where do you want to go?”

“Any store that sells clothes and personal items. My bags won’t be here for a few days.” He took me to a small department store. I told him to wait. He looked uncomfortable. I bought what I needed in minutes and he took me back.

Along the way, I asked him if he liked living here. He thought about that for a while and said “I like other places more, but this one suits me fine.” He gave me a sharp look. “Fixin’ to leave already?”

I shrugged. He kept glancing in the mirror to look at me as I stared out the window. Back at the dorm, as I got out of the cab Earl said to me: “Call me when your bags come in and I’ll take you to pick ‘em up.”

“Won’t that be a problem?”

“Not this time.” He waved my money away. “Call me.” I watched the cab make a left, a right and disappear from my sight.

I walked back into the dorm as my formless idea faded away.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Ms. in MS

The problem with Advanced English Literature, or any Advanced Literature course, is that it implies mastery or strong familiarity with the “basic” literature. Since nobody agrees what “basic literature” is, who’s to say what “advanced literature” is? The upshot of this is that then you’re a victim of the professor’s whims, notions and preferences within a framework that relates to literature like a camel resembles a horse.

My case: She was a feminist. Long-skirted, peasant-bloused, stubbled legs, no makeup and no bra. Many guys would have called her a word similar to “Dutch seawall,” but that would have been jumping to conclusions. My objection to her wasn’t the fact that she was a feminist, but her insistence that everything we read could be viewed only through a feminist lens.

By the second week of class, I took umbrage, a fancy phrase for “acted out.” When she remarked that she’d be teaching a course on “Great Women Authors,” I asked “A one-hour seminar?” Her reaction was a paragon of suffering patience. From that point on, not a class would go by without my challenging her statements.

It came to a head when we were discussing Jane Eyre. She assigned a paper on the topic of “Abused Jane.” Our professor insisted on seeing Jane as a puppet, downtrodden and emotionally-starved by a cruel society centered on Rochester. I went at the subject from another angle: Jane as the expression of free will.

I read dozens of commentaries and analyses of the novel (before the Internet, folks, so this was library-time galore.) I made sure to include views that supported her position along with excerpts that supported mine. My paper was a 12-page examination that framed her viewpoint while clearly stating the reasons for rejecting it in favor of my own.

I got a “C.” I shrugged, annoyed but not combative; I could take criticism half as well as I could dish it out. (Maybe less.) Until I read some of the other papers the students shared with me. A two-pager that misspelled “Eyre” four times and “Jane” twice got an “A.” But it called Jane a “poor suffering woman” and Rochester an “evil monster.” Another confused Jane with Rochester’s wife and remarked that “Rochester caused Jane’s madness like she caused the fire.” That one’s three pages, one of which was the title page, got a “B.”

In her office, the conversation was strained. I pointed out that my paper, if graded by the same standards as the rest, deserved more than a “C.” She said I had “flawed reasoning.” I asked her to point out where and how my reasoning was flawed. Silence. I placed the paper in front of her so she could refresh her memory. She shook her head and remained silent. I pointed out that I had all day, that I really wanted to hear where and how I’d gone wrong in my analysis of Jane Eyre.

I asked if my paper was disorganized. No. Was I off-topic? No. Did I use improper or irrelevant sources? No. Had I seriously misquoted or misrepresented any source? No. Did I commit major grammatical or spelling mistakes? No. Did I hand it in late? No. Was my paper’s tone disrespectful or sarcastic? “Not really.”

I looked at her. She had barely moved since I’d stressed how much I wanted to hear where I’d gone wrong. “I got a ‘C’ because you don’t agree with my opinion.” She nodded as if her neck was iron. “And that’s the only reason.” Another creaky nod.

I stopped going to the class and skipped the final. I was in college for my own reasons, not hers.

My final grade for Advanced English Literature was an “A.” When I dropped by to see her, she handed me my paper. She had written notes along the margins and on the backs of most of the pages. And she had changed the grade to an “A.”

I had to say it. “I don’t deserve this.” She gave me a sour look. “I’m through with you.” She walked past me, down the corridor and I never saw her again.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Mejoni

A missed backhand volley got the ball rolling. (I pun because I can.) A stream of self-directed cursing came pouring out in my rapid-fire Spanish: Me cago en la crica de Marta. Don asked me what I had said and when I translated it—when I actually grokked what I’d said—I was appalled. But in the mysterious way that curse words from another language are picked up quickly, the phrase stuck and was used whenever needed.

Another time, on another tennis court (what is it about those fuzzy balls?) I said Me voy a patear el culo, to which Bill asked “What about your cooler?” So “cooler” became our catch word for “butt.” It backfired on me one summer day when I saw a big handsome guy walk into Mr. Quik with his cheerleader-pretty girlfriend and requested “Ten pounds of ice for my cooler.” I spewed Coca-Cola all over the floor just trying to imagine how big that bee sting on his ass must have been. He thought I was crass. She laughed with me or at me. Who knows.

Another time, Bill and I were with the pseudo-Freudian Tim climbing a watch tower in some forest. Tim was practicing his Spanish with me and was inviting me back to his house to drink café bueno. Bill piped up “You’re doing what with guano?” Cracked me up. So “guano” was good. Probably still is.

One day Bill suggested we make up words that sounded like Spanish. Yes, your tax dollars as college grants at work. We came up with several, but the only one I remember was mejoni. It meant whatever we wanted it to mean, and to this day, it’s the word I use to deliberately confuse people who actually speak Spanish.

But the Acme Moment belongs entirely to Don. We were working a blood drive, me on the blood bags and Don in the snacks area. I had noticed students from La Tertulia, the Spanish club, meeting behind the snack area. At one point, Don tried to pour ice into a cooler (don’t giggle: a foam ice chest) and some of it dropped on the floor. I smiled. Don could be adroit and clumsy at the same time, sometimes in rapid succession. With no wasted motion, he collected the stray ice and I went back to handing out blood bags.

A few minutes later, he came over to me and said: “You know that phrase you taught me? Well, when I said it, those people over there gave me the strangest look.” I almost fell out of my chair laughing, imagining the look on their faces as they saw Don—-a blondish über-gringo-looking guy—-spewing one of the vilest phrases it has ever been my misfortune to utter. Repeatedly.

I explained and Don didn’t even start to blush. Cool.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Wolfman

They howled whenever they saw me, up on that tenth floor. It started out, as it always did, by one guy suddenly noticing that I wasn’t… normal. That in some way—like those odd pictures that hide images you have to find practically cross-eyed—once you’d “seen” me, you couldn’t seem to stop “seeing” me.

I don’t mean that it happened all the time, only that it happened. I made the process easier by having hair that brushed beneath my shoulders, by acting like I didn’t need the world and like the world didn’t need me. I never made much of an effort, if any at all, to fit in, to try to pass as “one of us.” I didn’t care for “us.” So I was always one of “them.”

The guys in the corner room just two doors down from me were “normal.” Three in that room with friends that came almost every day to share loud music (heavy on hard rock and metal and most of it quite good), beer, some marihuana and a howling session if I happened to drop by.

Because I had an odd routine, we never met in the communal bathroom. I wonder what would have happened if they had walked in while I was showering. A fight, I’m sure. If it’s at least three to one and you’re naked, you negotiate or flee only for further humiliation.

For weeks, they howled. Several times, in the early A.M.s, they’d pound my door and yell “Wolfman! Hey, Wolfman!” shout obscenities and howl like maniacs. Once they dragged a protesting young lady “to see the Wolfman.” I opened the door that time, actually carried on a conversation with her and when we’d finished, I heard her ask “Why do you bother him? He’s okay.” Maybe I was.

I superglued their lock shut, even down through the doorplate. Took Campus Services three hours to get it open. The next night, my door was glued. Took the same guy ten minutes to open mine, cursing most of the time. While he worked, we stared at each other, four guys in full understanding that a line had been crossed.

The muttering worker left and as soon as the elevator dinged closed, I walked towards them. Six steps. They backed up, into their room. I stopped at their door and they sat down, ignoring me. The TV came on, one grabbed a magazine and the third pulled at a longneck beer. I stood.

“You started it.”
“No.”
“You glued our door.” The TV guy wouldn’t turn around.
“You don’t know that.”
They all turned to me. “Who else would do it?” Beer guy sucked at an empty bottle. Nerves.
I shrugged. “Same guy that puts superglue on the toilet seats.”
They started. One of them mumbled morosely. “We’re even.” They looked at me.
“No.”
“What are you gonna do about it?” Magazine guy was pissed.
I pointed to the lock. “Guess who’s got a master key now?” I walked back to my room and shut the door.

The howling stopped. I even got a surly “Hi” every now and then. It wasn’t peace, but it was tolerance.

Things would have been different if only they figured out that the answer to my question was “Not you.”

Monday, February 14, 2005

Thank you, Carol

We’d seen each other many times, usually at the Cafeteria. I always sat at a table near the main entrance and saw you walk in dozens of times, books clutched to your chest in a tight embrace, on pixie steps I’ve never seen since. You were always cheerful, and even when frowning, your face was always on the verge of smiling.

It got to the point where I’d wonder about you if a few days went by without seeing you. I found that odd for we never said “Hi.” Not then.

The day you walked into the office, I froze. I remember hoping you’d be charming, interesting, funny… any of them. You were all of them and so much more.

I already had the reputation of working alone until wee hours. You began to work shifts, even the graveyard hours I practically owned. Maybe I was slow, or stupid, but it took me weeks to realize you were often choosing my shifts, or dropping in when I was around. (Hell, I was always around that office.) I was sure it had to do with the others. It did, but for once, I was one of them.

Do you remember our first kiss? It started as a playful tussle and the playing continued for a long time because I was so afraid I was wrong, afraid that I was projecting my feelings on your actions… One kiss, and I was never the same.

We spent time together, but it wasn’t in the burning fashion of Romeo and Juliet; it was deeper, calmer, more a sense of sharing than of consuming. You studied often and hard, and your ferocious will awed me. But in the middle of your reverie, when I felt I was miles away at arm length, you’d reach out to me, to hold my hand or run your fingers through my hair. You’d suddenly close your book and embrace me. Or I’d be busy and you’d come up to place your hand on my shoulder or your arm around my waist. Those moments made the universe and my place in it right. It changed me. I never told you that. I should have.

Reading, watching TV, cooking, playing, walking, driving around or just sitting together, it all felt right. I don’t know how else to say it except that everything we did together made sense. It was you, Carol. You accepted me. My rough edges and fears, everything I tried to hide and the pain I had to reveal. With you I was embraced body and soul. I’m crying as I write this. Sorry. It’s taken me all this time to truly appreciate what a rare and wonderful gift you gave me.

When you left, we parted softly, gently. For the only time in my life, summer held no warmth. We stayed in touch as you plunged into your new job in Texas. I was happy for you, but I grieved for me.

Two months later, just before midnight, I threw clothes in a bag and took off for Dallas, driving for nine hours straight. I surprised you on your doorstep that evening. We spent a few hours together and in a moment ordained by Fate, when “The Twelfth of Never” came on, I asked you to hold me close. You did. We did.

We stayed in touch. Three years later, I received your wedding invitation. My car was in the shop, but a bus would leave the night before and get me there two hours before the ceremony. Carrying my best suit, I rode six hours. I changed in the bus station and was the first person in the church that morning.

Suddenly you appeared, ablaze in your wedding gown, with that brilliant smile I could never forget. You raced up the aisle and greeted one of your friends with that musical “Hello” no one could match. You didn’t see me and I was glad.

The wedding was wonderful. Your father arranged a ride for me to your reception. I stood in line and then, dreamlike, we saw each other. You were so surprised. You turned to introduce me to Lonnie, but your husband and I had already met. You smiled at me, held my hands and gave me a warm embrace. We spoke for a few seconds and I ceded my place to the next person.

I left then, walked to the station, changed into jeans, shirt and sneakers and rode six hours back home. We exchanged one or two more letters, the last of many, and I did what I have always done: I faded away and out of touch.

There are memories in a life that are kept tucked away, in a special place of the heart, touched with the lightest of thoughts as if these moments were made of the finest, most delicate porcelain. Memories so beautiful that peering into that special place is to welcome a sweet yearning ache. For many, the joy is in the remembering. For me, it was a joy best left untouched.

And yet… Half a day just for a moment to see your smile, hold your hands and embrace you. Would I do it again? Oh yes I would. I would until the day I die.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Animal Moment #1

Spring Break, 1981. I decided to skip trips to anyplace interesting and stayed in my dorm to read, play wargames and watch TV. If I bottled that stuff it would outsell Valium 4-to-1.

It was the week when the sun first went long, when night didn't leap on your head 90 minutes before a decent dinner hour. I wanted to stretch my legs and buy some apple juice at Mr. Quik. The sun had set and I moved across a very quiet campus, thinking deep thoughts, or at least pretending to.

For years I've been startling people by walking up to them and standing at their side before they notice me. Scares the crap out of my mom. I guess I lack the "presence" needed to register on people's radar, aura or whatever pseudosense it is that notices another human being close by. Alternate theories: (A) I am not human. (B) I walk very quietly. Okay, B.

Between the Cafeteria and Infirmary was a block-long promenade of grass lined by trees along both sides. It separated two large parking lots and bordered the main back street of the campus. As I walked into it, I saw a bulky shadow on the ground ahead. I slowed my pace and peered closely. It was a rabbit, a fairly large one, eating something leafy. Its head was pointed away from me, so I walked softly towards it, expecting it to bolt at any moment.

Three steps, four, six, eight... I was less than ten feet from the deer-brown rabbit, still eating quietly. Two steps, then a third and then one more. I was three feet from the rabbit. I watched it eat, nose and cheeks twitching madly. There was no other sound aside from my heartbeat.

I leaned forward and said "Boo." The rabbit bolted away from me in frantic bounding, burst from between the trees onto the back road and was crushed by a pickup truck. I saw it bounce twice and lie still.

Not ten seconds had passed since I'd said "Boo." In horror, I ran to the rabbit. It was breathing fast and shallow, eyes glazed, a foreleg twitching. The back legs were pointing towards me. The forelegs weren't.

I almost threw up. Before I could think, I was running back the way I came, running without control to the campus police station. Before I burst in, I stopped and surprised myself by wiping tears from my eyes and cheeks. I told the guards on duty there was an injured animal near the Infirmary. I raced out, back to the rabbit.

Three squad cars appeared. I didn't even think about a wisecrack. All I could do was stand at the edge of the promenade and stare at the rabbit, both of us struggling for breath. Five campus cops stepped out and surrounded the rabbit. The dialogue would have shredded a screen hack's soul:

"Looks like a rabbit."
"That's a rabbit."
"There are some rabbits around here."
"Looks hurt."
"It ain't running."
"Back's broke."
"And the legs, too."
"I don't see no blood."
"Blood's there on the tar."
"It's gonna die or we have to kill it."
"Gotta kill it."

They all looked at me. I looked back. "That's why I called you guys." I was relieved my voice didn't break. "I can't kill it with my cap."

The fattest guard nodded like I'd quoted Scripture. I'm fuzzy on the Old Testament so maybe I did. He pulled out his nightstick, a smooth baton over two feet long, hitched his belt and slacks underneath a basketball belly, stared at the rabbit for a few seconds, then whacked it hard atop the skull. I flinched at the meaty thunk.

Another stare, from all six of us. The rabbit was dead. Fat cop picked it up by the ears and said "You want it?" He wasn't talking to anybody in particular, but I noticed we all said no quite distinctly.

Like one unit, the five guards turned and got back in their vehicles, the rabbit dumped in the trunk of his killer's squad car.

Correction: his executioner's squad car. I was the killer. That's not melodrama or guilt-tripping, it's simply a fact. I didn't mean to do it, but I caused it.

I wondered for several weeks if I'd been a coward by asking the campus cops to do what I didn't have the nerve to do. I decided a coward would have run away and left the animal to suffer a lingering death. That's what I told myself. I pretended to believe it.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

A Smith-Corona and Me

It was displayed in a large glass cabinet at a newly-opened discount store a couple of miles from my apartment. It was a lazy summer Sunday afternoon and I had wandered in to see what the fuss was all about. Normally I avoid crowds, but in this case, I was bored enough to mix with the masses.

My eye was drawn to it immediately. Blacke matte finish that just ached to be touched. Sleek lines and a low profile made it look refined, the artful combination of form-to-function that great design always has. It was a Smith-Corona typewriter, or more accurately, word processor.

I stared at it like I'd found The Holy Grail. I didn't even know I wanted it until I saw it; a triumph of modern consumerism, I guess. People pushed and bumped around me, trying to get better views of whatever else the large cabinet held. Outweighed as I was by even slender women and large children, I was rooted to my spot in front of the Smith-Corona.

The description was brief: A small screen allowed two lines to be viewed at once, it could save about two pages of text, printed with a "one-off, high intensity" ribbon and included more than 150 "international symbols." Price tag: $99.95.

I checked again. $99.95. It didn't make sense. A blue-jacketed drone walked by and I actually grabbed his shoulder to ask "Is that the price?" He peered closely, bumping his nose against the glass and said "Yeah. Discounted from $249.95." He lumbered away.

The original price I could understand, though I knew very little about word processors in 1982. (Yeah, this is a period piece. Please adjust your timeframes.) I searched the cabinet and found nothing like that Smith-Corona except some clumsy monstrosity priced under $70.

I know I walked home, but as soon as I got there, I turned around and walked back to the store. Still there. (The store and the Smith-Corona.) The price tag practically glowed like neon: $99.95. I walked home again. I know I did. I just can't remember anything about that walk except the numbers 9,9,9 and 5.

See, at the time, I was down to $110 to my name and didn't have a job until the semester started in six weeks. Could I make it another month and a half with only $10? What about the rent? Food? Pizza? (Pizza was a definite expense category during my college years.)

Monday morning, nine A.M., I was the first customer to enter the store. I walked to the glass cabinet and the Smith-Corona wasn't there. It wasn't there. It wasn't there. The ragged edges of a disturbing panic clouded my vision. I whirled to find a drone and suddenly saw the Smith-Corona, in a small display case, with a price tag of $90.00. No other nines, no five. I put my hand on the display case and yelled "I'm buying this!" (I wanted to lie and say "announced." Honesty prevailed: I yelled.)

A member of the near-dead came to sell me the Smith-Corona. The whole transaction moved like rust. From display case to solid cardboard box, passing through insertion into molded foam endpieces, use of plastic wrap, placed in large plastic bag, the bag taped shut, inserted wrong in the box, then right, box flaps closed, then opened to insert smaller plastic bag with Owner's Manual and assorted papers, close flaps and finally taped shut. I wanted to scream.

I paid, ignoring the quiet voice that told me rent was due in two weeks. After I'd paid, the zombie came to life and told me to wait one more minute. From some cranny beneath the register, he pulled out a small white box. "Ribbons," he said. "There's only a few in here, but you can have them." He shrugged. "Can't sell them." I grabbed the box and practically ran home.

The next two hours are etched in my mind like some people grok movies. Everything I did with the Smith-Corona seemed so right: it fit my desk perfectly, the cord was exactly the right length, the ribbon practically installed itself, it hummed at just the right pitch (neither too loud to cause distraction nor too low to make you wonder if it was turned on), the keyboard was made for my fingers and the clicks it made were marvels of audio engineering. I wrote with ease as every function was exactly what I needed and printing was a smooth flow of beautiful letters.

The small white box had eleven extra ribbons. Eleven! That and the five reams of paper I had were enough to ensure that I might starve, but I could write until I fainted from hunger.

I wrote. That day, the next and deep into Wednesday. I took two short naps, ate Oreo cookies and drank apple juice. No TV, no radio, just the Smith-Corona and me. Wednesday evening I slumped back, turned my new workhorse off and gathered several dozen pages that had scattered themselves all over my apartment.

Thursday morning, I walked into the local paper's office and offered some samples. The editor took half an hour to read them (slow news day, apparently) and then surprised me: "I like two of these. How much do you want for them?" I stuttered. I hate stuttering. He chuckled and offered me $30. Each. I nodded a lot. I hate nodding a lot.

With a check in my pocket and a request to present more pieces, I floated home. The summer went from lazy to focused, my perspective switching from lump to explorer. Writing went from "once in a blue moon" to daily ritual. But what remained as crystal light in my mind was that I had gambled, had plunged ahead once again and in an unforeseen way, I had won. Call it a leap of faith or fortune favors the brave, it doesn't matter. What matters is that passionate risks are the only ones worth taking. And we tend to forget that as the years go by.

(Closing note: I was late with the rent, but the owner was out of town and didn't collect it until mid-September anyway. The Smith-Corona wrote over 60 selling pieces with me and my first novel. As part of the last box of belongings I had sent to my new home, the Smith-Corona was lost. I received $400 compensation for the lost box. I never cashed the check: that box was worth many times more.)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Food for Love

I learned to cook because my mom made sure I could take care of myself. Cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, sewing, ironing... you name it, she either taught me how to do it or made sure I knew what to do. Her argument was that she never wanted me to hook up with a woman simply because I was useless in the self-care department.

For a while, I quipped that I'd make a great wife for some lucky guy. Uh-huh.

More as a form of amusement than anything else, I bought two good cookbooks and spent some very merry (you think I'd say "gay"?) hours experimenting with meats, poultry, seafood, vegetables, legumes and more herbs than you could ever grow on a windowsill. Two things emerged quickly: I loved it and it was the perfect hook for getting dates.

First, there was the surprise factor. "You? Cook dinner? Yeah, right," was a common response. The riposte was easy: "What would you like to eat?" Didn't matter what they said: I either had the recipe, or in those pre-Internet days (early 80s, people, early 1980s, okay?) I could find it at a bookstore or by calling a restaurant for some pointers.

Second, there was the "comfort" factor. I never asked any woman for a date unless they had known me for a while. By the time I asked, the woman would know two things about me: I didn't ask just anybody and what I said was the whole agenda. If I invited her to a dinner and a movie, that was it. I played no games, made no demands, eschewing the wolf act in favor of what was described as a "stress-free evening."

Was I aiming low? Certainly. But I rationalized that my batting average was excellent: I was only turned down once in three years. (Her fiancee was in town for the weekend, so she gave me a "rain check" for Tuesday. She actually said "rain check.") By being a gentleman, and a good cook, I gained a reputation that also helped make getting a date much easier, going out once or twice a week.

Whether in my apartment, the car, the restaurant or just walking to keep the night alive, the questions would come eventually:

** Why don't you try to kiss me? Don't you find me attractive?
** You seem nice. Why don't you have a girlfriend?
** You're not what I expected. Why are you alone so often?

And other variations on the core question: Why are you strange? (Sometimes hiding "Why are you strange to me?") I was strange because I am. Sounds like a vapid response, but it was/is the truth. When I entered college, I was 16, skinny, small, acne-scarred and half my face hidden by Coke-bottle glasses. My hair was long in a time and place that considered long hair a slap against nature. I saw challenges everywhere, chips on both narrow shoulders and hated the notion that anyone could label me and be accurate.

But label me they did. We all do it. So rather than continue to receive the "little weirdo" or "bratty braniac" label, I chose to morph it into "mystery guy." Not in any James Bond way, but in the sense of defying expectations. Lo and behold, it worked. I got dates, on my knowingly-limited terms. I discovered that interesting women are worth the time invested in getting to know them, and that most interesting women are hidden gems. And I learned that my self-image, even my public image, was mine to alter as I saw fit. Sadly, it was a lesson I forgot years later.

Did my acne clear up? No. Did I hit the gym to add muscle and bulk? No. Did I dump the massive cheaters for contacts? No. The terms may have been limited, but they were still my own. "My way" is not a song title in my life. The bottom line was, I developed a passion for cooking, met some beautiful women and grew up enough to not care so much what others thought about me. I may have been alone often, but eventually that was by choice, not timidity. In many ways, my kitchen became my best classroom.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Cop Baiting

When you sleep an average of 3 hours a night, it gives you plenty of time to get bored. Freed from the tyranny of a college schedule (I took classes as optional, more a diversion than a routine), my schedule morphed to a vampiric style: I'd go to bed just before dawn. I'd still be up between 7 and 8 out of some strange urge to be awake when classes were proceeding without me.

Nights became a personal playground. Understand I didn't drink or use drugs or have any urge to be around people who did, so I spent many hours on my own. With some exceptions, I was my favorite person to hang out with. But even true love needs a break from itself every once in a while.

Late at night, after the bars had closed, was a perfect time for me to leave my little digs and walk around the small college town. Everything was quiet and faintly glowing. The town was a good place for a friendly stroll in the daytime, but at night it became a fabulous terrain of hidden paths, odd corners, undiscovered angles and thinking space.

With the occasional troll. For even a nice troll is still a troll. Once a week, maybe more, I'd be stopped by one of the town's finest and be asked to identify myself. I always refused until I'd been given a valid reason, even if I knew the troll and had engaged it several times. (How different now, when you can be arrested and detained without reason, as Bushie the Cretin and his Suckturd Sycophants have decreed.) In the spirit of adventure (also known as "acting stupid") I'd inject inanity into the dialogue:

"You have a name, son?"
"Yes."
"What is it?"
"A three letter word."

Or:

"Why are you walking at this hour?"
"Cuz flying at night is dangerous," or "I tried crawling, but I hate getting dirty."

According to many, I should have been pistol-whipped by any number of Southern cops. I've only given you a few examples, but the "cop asking for I.D." scenario happened dozens of times over a two-year period and I never--never--complied without acting like a wit or openly challenging the process. Stupid? Granted. But I was well within my rights to not comply and as soon as any valid reason was proffered (report of a Peeping Tom, possible burglar in the area), I presented identification and answered simple questions.

It seems odd to me that what I thought was a nuisance then is actually a fond memory now, back to a time when one's normal activities were considered innocent and the idea of slapping police action on normality was insane. True, times have changed; the world is no longer what it was 20 years ago. But I leave you with this: Although I was seriously threatened several times, not once did any of those "dumb Southern cops" ever cross the line. They may have been pushed to the limits of their patience, but they remained guardians of the law. Any one of them had more integrity than the entire gang that currently seeks to treat us like the coward's "them." Yeah, I wasn't a terrorist. But neither are the vast majority of us.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Miz Evelyn

Her house was diagonally across from the cemetery where William Faulkner is buried. The house had seen better days (so had Faulkner), but it retained a degree of sober elegance, much like its owner.

Miz Eveleyn was rail-thin, white-haired and her cane was more battering ram than walking stick. She moved slowly but implacably and forced herself to walk around the block on every sunny day; a 5-minute jaunt for me, a 45-minute epic for her.

She spoke clearly and directly, never wasting words. She rented out the second floor of her home because "Money is a tool and I need tools." She selected her tenants on two criteria: "Good manners and good grammar." A former English and literature teacher, she was forever challenging whomever she spoke with to "Drop that 'ain't'" and "Nothing is broken so don't say 'fixing'."

Her two great joys at the end of her life were baked potatoes and pancakes. During that lazy summer, I'd frequently bake a few potatoes and share them with her. A couple of times a week I'd mix up some pancake batter, knock on her door and make breakfast for us. She was always a gracious host and in the battle of wills over who would do the dishes, I won because I raced to the sink ahead of her.

She told me a little about her life. After getting married, she discovered that her husband "Was not good for anything or anyone," so in the mid-20s, in her mid-20s, she went to Europe and bicycled around the continent for two years. She came back because "Europe was headed for disaster." She didn't get a divorce because her husband "did the smart thing and died." I asked her if she missed him and she glared at me and asked "Would you miss a bad toothache?"

Our conversations that summer were frequent, but brief. I had my own interests, whatever they might have been, and Miz Evelyn reminded me too much of my paternal grandmother, in both looks and attitude. I felt drawn and repelled. The months went by, I saw her every day... and yet I didn't really see her.

What could I have learned from a woman who biked around Europe in the Jazz Age? And what could I have learned from a woman who referred to Faulkner as "Billy," as in "Billy was always a brat" and "Billy thought he was clever, but all he ever did was tell secrets?"

Miz Evelyn is gone now, when and how I'll never know. Youth often disdains old age, almost always for the wrong reasons. I missed a golden opportunity to explore a life utterly unlike my own, to live a time that will never return. I once read that what you do and regret you can recover from: what you don't do leaves a regret that never heals. How true.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Manners, Chicken and Glee

William was a journalism student, a year ahead of me. I don't remember how I met him. We weren't close friends, but we hung out together quite a few times, discussing everything from ancient sports to political theory.

Several times, we'd meet somewhere on campus, start talking, walk several miles and end up in town eating greasy food and drinking something non-alcoholic. If I could recover times past, I'd ask for recordings of those conversations. They weren't earth-shattering or historic, but for a guy with so few friends at the time, the idea of talking for a couple of hours with anyone is more than a fond memory: it's a rare spiritual gift.

On occasion, we'd play basketball. William was a lanky 6'4"; I was topping off at a skinny 5'9". I was definitely the more competitive of the two, playing with a fiery will, but maybe the fact that William was tall, lanky and black made him play basketball with a sluggish disdain, as if the whole exercise were beneath him. He once swatted 9 of my shots in a row and when I asked him why he didn't do that more often, he replied "You don't shoot more often." Cracked me up, then I ran off eight straight baskets. He won more often than I did, a fact that still galls me, because he did it without passion, as if the outcome didn't matter to him, though it always mattered to me. (Ask me about "Bismarck" some day...)

We discussed racism a few times. At first, I was tentative, not wanting to offend him or come across as "a white brother." William got me past that quickly by pointing out that talking about racism with him was an education for both of us. I remember those conversations and I read everything he suggested to me. But what I remember best was his attitude, his disengaged intimacy with life as a black man in a southern U.S. state.

The shining moment came in a KFC, then a Kentucky Fried Chicken. In his own nonchalant way, William stood in line, just ahead of me, and blocked my view of the counter. We waited, then all of a sudden a blue-eyed blonde young lady wearing a hideous outfit peeked around William and said "Yessir, may I take your order?" I was taken aback and was fumbling for a response when William, voice pushed down to a deep rumble, said to me: "Yah, massa, ya orda' fo' me."

I collapsed laughing. For as long as I can remember, I've been a sucker for the clever quip that tweaks the nose and parlays anger into wit. For make no mistake, I was heading towards anger. Maybe not for the right reasons, but the impolite and offensive behavior of a twitty countergirl was the perfect target, one William knew I could never pass up (to which he gently remonstrated me more than once.)

I laughed so hard I cried. Every time I tried to stop, I'd look up at the gawping blonde and lose it again. Just when I was getting control, with exquisite timing William said "Hurry up, I'm hungry." I lost it again.

I can't help but smile even now. I finally pulled myself upright, choked out my order and turned to let William order. He looked at me with gently mocking eyes and said "Naw, you order cuz you're paying," words that had me rolling on the floor again.

See, he'd invited me to eat. It was his turn. But the opportunity was too good to pass up. As we ate, I asked him if the incident had bothered me. "Yeah," he said thoughfully. "I had to wait for you to stop laughing. And I wondered if you would pee yourself and embarrass me."

"Don't you mean I'd be the one embarrassed?" I asked. "Naw," he replied, drawing himself up regally. "You lack my quiet dignity."

He was right. William graduated a month later and I never saw him again. It's been many years since we shared the same space, but I'm convinced that wherever he may be, he still has that quiet dignity I lack.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Racism and Intelligence

Go together like being dead and breathing. The only way "dead and breathing" happens is if you're brain dead, and for the reddest of necks out there, I'm saying you have to be brain dead to be a racist.

I'll use an analogy: "All white cars are superior to black cars, yellow cars or brown cars." It's obvious that this statement is idiotic and that whoever utters it, believes it and lives it is an idiot. And don't give me that feeble-minded retort of "Cars are not people." That's obvious too. By saying that, you're stupidly attacking the elements of the analogy (mere props) while ignoring the underlying principal.

Again, for the brain dead, I'll explain: Outside color is no indication of internal quality, whether the topic is cars or human beings. To insist that this statement is false requires willful ignorance, defective thinking and cowardice.

** Willful ignorance: You choose to ignore or avoid the evidence of genius, passion, heroism, talent and humanity in persons whose skin color doesn't match yours.
** Defective thinking: You conclude your views are rational based solely on emotion, leap to conclusions based on no evidence and filter thoughts according to criteria that have no logical basis.
** Cowardice: You are a racist because you are afaid of "them". Instead of facing the fear and exposing it as a silly wispiness, you choose to wrap yourself in it and boast about your moronic lifeview.

Think of any widely-acknowledged hero, in fact or fiction. (The stupid amongst you pick someone other that a person generally considered a monster, criminal or sociopath. I am assuming you can read and understand, so I'm probably backing a dead horse here.) Could you describe that hero/heroine as being willfully ignorant, defective in thought and a coward?

Being heroic, rising above the average to almost superhuman level, represents what's best about humanity. If what's best about humanity is the direct opposite of what racism represents, then what does that make a racist? Subhuman? The same word they often use to decribe "them"? Funny how the finger points in the wrong direction.

Babies are not born racists. Racism is not genetic. One learns to be a racist by having their intellectual and emotional growth stunted by lies, fear and cruddy thinking. So you racists, go ahead and blame your parents and family. They were idiots. Then suck it up and understand that you are responsible for still being one.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Origin of GCSPrank

We all have a dark side; some hide it better than others. Some expose it as a badge of honor, a shield or with the glee usually associated with a Halloween costume. My dark side was like a long sharp knife: hard to hide, flashed often and meant to wound, not destroy.

That's overly dramatic, but you've read this far so I'll be banal: I was quick to say nasty things, challenge authority, attack stupidity (or what I perceived to be stupidity) and keep pushing the issue until the other person attacked or gave up.

Quick question: How popular was I? Right. One good friend and a tiny handful of people I'd say "Hi" to who'd actually respond kindly. But, that good friend was worth any 50 other people. Maybe he didn't see deeply into me, but he saw me.

This friend would draw for the university paper, editiorial cartoons mostly. As a gimmick, like Herblock, he'd draw a tiny critter, a duck actually, with big thick glasses, long hair in (what else?) a ducktail and wearing a light jacket. The critter would often lambast what was going around him, often in almost the same words I'd use. My friend would get a kick out of showing me the cartoon, covering the critter, and then compare what I said to what he had written. He matched more than he missed and every once in a while, he'd "out-me" by being even more cynical.

The critter's name was "GCSPrank." My friend could never remember how the name came to him, but it was after staying awake for almost three days' straight, so it could have come from anywhere. A few people caught on, making the connection between the critter and me, but most simply accepted its presence and, to our surprise, the critter became a bit popular. I remember the first time I saw it on a bathroom wall, expressing revulsion at the overall hygiene level of the facility. His words were cruder than mine, but his presence was an unexpected delight. Too bad I couldn't take the damn wall home with me, though I tried.

For a year, GCSPrank was the occasional verbal bomber, dissing bathrooms and councilmen with equal fervor (they are almost equivalent in terms of hygiene, too.) Once my friend stopped drawing, GCSPrank faded away quickly. But his impact on me and my social self remained. I learned that others could be who they are without me having to attack them to prove who I was. I sheathed the long knife, then discarded it: it was always at hand, but no longer as cheap accessory.

About once a year, maybe less, GCSPrank comes back, flailing and stabbing at the world around me. Then, after slashing some of the underbrush and foolishness out of my life, he drifts off to whatever cubbyhole or treehouse he spends the days in. I like GCSPrank, but I don't miss him. To Freudians, he might represent the Id Unleashed, or some penile hangup only they can see. (Freudians and astrologers are two sides of the same worthless coin.) I simply see a persona who helped me cope, to whatever degree, with Life As I Knew It. And when push comes to shove, as it often does, I'd rather hang around GCSPrank than 99.999999% of the world's population.

That's still about 7,000 guys, gals and assorted whatnots. Good-sized posse, actually.