Blackhumouristpress's Blog

May 9, 2017

Happy Birthday to the White Earth

Percy sat in the room with a smile, looking unlike all the others in the room.
Eloise didn’t want her father, who was an assistant to the assistant
to the director of the EPA to discuss the fact that he had voted for
Trump and in a sense, was working for Trump.  She wanted no political
topics, discussions or debates to take place during the party for
their child who was turning one year old.  Little Sarah Mordecai
Terreblanche-Arnofsky.  The name Arnofsky, Jewish and Russian in
origin was the last name of the father, but not the husband of little
Sarah Mordecai’s mother.  Terreblanche, a French name, came from
France, then in the Acadia region of Canada then all the way down to
Louisiana where Eloise was born and raised along with her parents and
their parent’s parents before them.  And the name in English
translates to “White Earth”.  Oh and Mordecai?  Eloise and her husband
did not want to steer their biologically female daughter towards
acceptance of female identity.   They both feel that one day, Sarah
Mordecai should choose what gender she wants to be.  The gifts were
all neutral, most homemade gluten-free and vegan sweets.  The cake was
not really a cake but a bowl of honey mixed with picked fruit and
granola.  One of the Moroccans in attendance brought the recipe over
from North Africa.  In fact three men were playing dissonant sounding
Arabic music in a room with a hookah.
Percy poured himself a glass of wine, went out to the balcony and
looked over towards San Francisco from the condo he paid for in
Oakland.  Percy walked into the living room where all the young people
with their toddlers were sitting on the floor with their children.  A
young couple with ratty, matted dreadlocked hair wore shirts that read
“Resist!” in large letters, their small child also had on an onesie
with the same word on it.   Rainbows, Black lives Matter, Oakland is a
sanctuary shirts.  The guests ate vegan pizza, smelled of some sort of
oil and body odor.  Music indigenous to the middle east played.
Everyone was young and very militant.
Percy went to Oakland Coliseum to watch the A’s play a baseball game
earlier that weekend.  He wore a green and yellow shirt with a green
A’s hat.  The television in the living room had no volume on a
baseball game was on.  Percy ate carrot sticks and watched the game.
A young man in a beard, who shook his head a lot up and down, pulled
down at his beard and decided to engage Percy in conversation.
“I’m guessing this whole things ain’t your scene, man…  Everyone was
on edge wondering who the square was.  Maybe ICE.  Maybe FBI”
“Oh, I don’t know, young man… Square things can be a little round at
times…  You’re close.  I’m with the EPA”
The young guy laughed at the levity and tapped Percy’s knee in
approval thinking that Percy was only joking about being from the EPA.
Percy wasn’t joking.
“I looked at your whole get up man, and I was intrigued.  I mean
like, I just needed to know where you’re coming from, your bag, your
perspective.  You’re wearing baseball stuff and all.  I’m looking at
you and I’m thinking you look like the type that might have voted for
Trump…  So did you?  Are you part of the NRA?  Are you against a
woman’s right to have abortions?  Do you deny global warming?”
Percy lifted his glass of wine like he was toasting the young man,
took a drink, tilted his head to the side, adjusted his horn rimmed
glasses and gave a cryptic answer that only drew the young man more to
him.
“  Sonny…  I’m working with a realtor as we speak.  I’m trying to
find prime land on the equator on Mars.  I want a warm spot like
Phoenix…  You know like a balmy minus 10… Did you know?  No, you
couldn’t possibly know…  Anyway…I was raised in a house by a black
lady back in the early seventies who did all the cooking.  She had a
wide space between her two front teeth and she had bout twenty cats
running round the place.  If you wanted to finish your food, you
didn’t dare give a crumb to the cats til you were done.  If you did,
them cats would be all over you.  I had a mom and several men that
were suitors of some sort that courted my mom.  We lived in a home
where everyone contributed something and we ate together and the
adults hated the war and Nixon…  Did you ever live in a house like
that?  These were real Hippies.  They fucked each other in a loving
way, took a lot of dope and shared.  The music was good and people
really hated the president, the government and the establishment.  Can
you dig that a square like me was raised like that?  When you were a
tadpole in your daddy’s nutsack, my mom wore no bra, slept with
colored men with real Afros and wanted equal rights for women…  Now
this is the truth.  No bullshit, young fellow…  If abortion had been
legal in Illinois in 1965, I would not be sitting here talking to you
right now.  Yes sir…  I’m the son of a true, died in the wool, love
child.  She was only 15 at the time, if you can fathom that deep
thought…  Remember that nothingness is an experienced reality and
existence is transitory and fragile.
The young bearded man forgot that he had asked Percy whom he had
voted for and went on to describe an upper middle class upbringing in
a gated subdivision.
“Wow, young man.  That is truly a white milk, middle class,
homogenous, vitamin D, insulated life you lead.  Do you remember the
first black person you saw in real life?”
“It was probably at Dodger’s stadium in third grade…”
“Far out, man… I grew up practically a poor black child although you
would not know it to look at me…I grew up listening to Smokey Robinson
and Sly and the Family Stone.  We had a thing going on not unlike
Jonestown in Guyana.   Very cult like not unlike what is happening
today.  Free speech is acceptable as long as I agree with what you’re
saying,,,  Color didn’t matter.  Status didn’t matter…  You know, man?
People dying in Afghanistan and Iraq since before you could grow
whiskers and nobody cares if those young guys trying to make to the
end so that they can get their dough and go to college.  Nobody
protests the fact that we’re in a state of constant war.  Trump is the
problem…  Right?”
“Right on, man…  You said it!”
“Let it be soon, don’t hesitate…  Make it now, don’t wait.  Open your
heart and let my love come in.  I want a moment to stop when I can
fill your heart more love and more joy than age or time could ever
destroy…”
“That is some deep fucking shit, bro…”
“Yeah?  You can thank Smokey for that one…  Thing is that once the
war ended and people came home, shit began to fall apart.  Everyone
was worried about their shit…  It’s cool to take a stand when you have
food and shelter.  When you don’t have that shit…  Well, now…  It’s
survival of the fittest.  Origin of species, only the strong survive
and so on…  That’s just how it is.  A fire breaks out in this condo,
who lives?  Those with the best fight or flight response.  There are
people dying of famine in refegee camps in Africa…  Children dying and
some chubby white dude trying to win a Pulitzer is snapping off photos
of a kid about to die…”
“You’re one deep motherfucker…  Really man.  I mean, you show up here
and I think you’re going to be about as flat as the wall over here and
you’re deep as the ocean…  Keep talking , man.  I dig your vibe…  Do
you smoke?”
“The young man lit a joint and held it out to share with Percy.
“Not anymore, son.  I only smoke salmon now…  Where was I?  Old
people have issues with short-term memory loss.  Could have years of
smoking doobies as a youngster.”
Percy paused to hug his daughter who walked by with the baby in tow.
The young bearded man begged Percy to continue to talk.
“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he
is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give life a
meaning.  Better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knees and
that has nothing to do with submission or some homosexual
tendencies…  I’m cool with whatever you’re into, man… Freedom is
what we do with what is done to us… Putting your business in the
street, talking out loud… You better bring the chick around to the
sad, sad truth… The dirty lowdown.”
Percy mixed Boz Scaggs with Sartre and looked the young man into his
eyes like he was way out there.  The young man had no idea that the
old man was just yanking his chain, pulling his leg, putting him on.
After the Moroccan treat and ice cream, presents and singing, Happy
Birthday, Percy decided it was time to leave his daughter’s home that
he paid for.  Percy made it possible for his daughter to teach
philosophy at a junior college and still have a nice place to live
with her boyfriend whose job it was to try and stop ICE agents from
gathering up and deporting illegal aliens.  Undocumented…  You know
what I mean.
The young bearded man followed Percy out to a rented convertible car
and asked how he felt about President Trump.  Percy revved up the
engine on the rented eight cylinder Dodge…  A huge gas-guzzler.
“Son…  When you bought the boat and you’re rowing the boat, you’ll
take offense to those that will coast at your expense…  Just remember
this- Richard Nixon might have been the best suited man to have ever
been given the job of president…  Think about that and wonder why I
would say such a thing…  Some writers I know are damned devils.  From
them I say don’t believe the hype.  Their pens and pads I’ll snatch
coz I’ve had it…  Don’t … Don’t believe the hype… Peace be with you…
Man…”

September 7, 2011

The Road From Iraq to Detroit

Bill had finished two years in Iraq before being shipped out for four more in Afghanistan.  After six years of driving around in a light armored vehicle, he was fortunate to be alive and whole.  Bill had served one more year than his grandfather had in World War II and nearly five more than his father had inVietnam.  At the age of twenty five, Bill was hoping to become a police officer somewhere in the state of Michigan.  On Labor Day, Bertram volunteered to drive the school bus route that had been his since 1973, one more time to ensure Bill would be ready to go come Tuesday.

            Bertram had a late model Cadillac STS that he had saved up to buy for a number of years when his 1990 Pontiac had too many problems to throw money at.  Bertram sadly knew that the new Cadillac was probably going to be the last car he would ever purchase in his life.  At the age of sixty six, it just didn’t make too much sense to make a lot of long term plans like a thirty year mortgage on a house.  To buy a car out right in cash made more sense than to make payments into his seventies.

 On a bright, sunny and cool Labor Day Monday, Bertram met Bill at aConey Island off of Grand River in Detroit.  Bertram was finishing some eggs while reading about the Detroit Tigers huge win over the Chicago White Sox the night before.  Bertram, a tall and thin black man, clean shaven, wore a thin black tie on top of a long sleeved with shirt and dark tan slacks with shiny black shoes.  On the table next to the coffee and paper was a black pork pie hat. 

            Bill, a muscular young white man with four day old stubble on his head and face, walked in with a faded black sleeveless Detroit Red Wings T shirt from his high school days that proudly displayed a tattoo of a gothic D on his right shoulder.  He had a stud earring in his left ear, a furrowed brow and torn blue jeans as we walked into theConey Islandto meet Bertram.  Bill plopped himself down across from Bill as the waitress poured a cup of coffee for Bill.  Bill was tired and a bit hung over from being at the Tiger’s game the night before.  After the game, Bill and his friends hung out in the patio area of The Elwood, a bar down the street from Comerica Park.

 Bill thought it was a bit overkill to go through the bus route one more time but didn’t want to insult an old guy that gave a low level job, more respect than it deserved.  As they walked out to the parking lot, there was a huge boat of a car with the top down.  It was a 1973 Cadillac Eldorado painted light blue.

            “You evah driven one these old cars, young man?”

            “Can’t say I have…”

            Bertram tossed the keys across the car to Bill and got in on the passenger side of his own car.  The white seats were like new and the dashboard did not have a speck of dust.  Bill turned the car on.  Immediately the 8 track player began to play Summer Breeze by the Isley Brothers.  Bill still thought that the trip was pointless but looked forward to cruising around with the top down in a beautiful old car.  Bertram did most the talking.

            “So you gonna pick up the bus off Seven Mile…  My advice is to get there early so you ain’t lined up to get out there by the last minute.  You got you some fellas there with a chip on they shoulder, they gone try to cut and squeeze you outta place.  You gone want to bust them in the jaw.  My feeling is why go through that hassle the first day.  Get up early and take yo time and avoid all that mess…”

            Bertram spoke slow and in a deep rich voice.  Bill felt like he was driving in a time warp as he looked over at Bertram who was wearing a Pork Pie Hat and squared off Ray-Ban sunglasses.  Bill followed where Bertram directed him to go.

            “Make a right here onGrand River…  This is where you gone begin.  Now you gone find and make yer own way and I ain’t about to start telling you how you gone get things done.  That would be wrong of me.  I am gone to tell you how Bertram done things and you listen and decide whatchu want to do…  I started this here bus route afta losing my job at the Fisher Body 21 plant.  That’s that skeleton looking building you see off of 75 when you trying to git ovah to the 94.  I lost that job onna count I couldn’t keep mah self from drinking afta work.  You see…  I waddn’t married and I was young and had a few bones and so I would go out and have one and then one lead to anothah one and then a few moh and then before you knew what was going on, the sun be coming up.  So afta I missed work a few dozen times, they decided to drop me and they wasn’t nothing I could do even though I was in the union.  They only so much the union can do to help you when you off drunk every othah day…  Okay, here is where you gone make the first stop.  Lemme jus say this; the kids gone test you and the mo you try to act as bad as them, they gone try to git to you mo.  When I first started, there was a young guy with a large Afro and a pick stuck all up in his hair.  He came on the bus with a box blarin music loud.  I toll him to turn off the music and he toll me to do something to m’self.  My first thought was that not more than a year earlier, I was trying hard to stay alive in Nam and here some young punk who ain’t even got his feet wet yet in life gone step up to me?  I took his box and threw it out the bus and him with it.  The othah kids wasn’t scared.  They didn’t respect me no mo foh dat.  I didn’t git fired but I had to go and buy the punk a new box and aftah he looked like he did nothing wrong.  I ain’t gone throw religion in yo face cause we all got to find our way.  I started getting my life right and all the othah things in life fell in.  I began to think how I was gone to git the kids on my side and still git them to be respectful.  They gone swear and let they pants hang off they ass.  They gone git worked up ovah a pretty girl and act a fool.  How to let em know to act like young men and ladies and have respect foh each othah and they selves?  It wasn’t easy but I managed it, young man.”

            Bill had applied and accepted the job of being a school bus driver in inner city Detroit where most students were poor and all were black.  Bill looked to be a formidable looking young white guy with anger issues.  As they drove slowly downGrand River, the boarded up buildings and weeds growing in cracks in the side walk reminded him of driving in parts of Baghdad and Afghanistan.  Bill believed there were predators hiding behind windows of abandon buildings, ready to kill him and Bertram for the classic car not unlike what he had lived through in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Bill’s head was on a swivel.  He surveyed things from left to right and constantly used his peripheral vision as he drove an even thirty miles and hour.  Bertram wasn’t as cautious.

            “Yeah, I get what you’re saying.  The obvious difference between you and I is the color of our skin.  Them kids are gonna see me tomorrow and automatically are gonna hate me for what they think I am,” said Bill.

            “And you already decided that they gone look at you a certain way.  Imma tell you right now…  Some dem girls gone be workin you like a stick shift.  You a good lookin young man with a good smile and strong build.  Them girls look like women an probably they lookin as good as they evah gone look in they lives but you got to remember that they children trapped in an adult body.  Anyway…  All yo preconceived ideas and thoughts about young, poor black children gone ooze from yo eyes when they step on dat bus.  They already gone think that you some rich kid from Southfield or Royal Oak.  They ain’t gone think you jus some regular working class kid who jus live above 8 Mile all up in Warren.  They ain’t gone know you served.  They gone to think all the things they learned bout white people they whole lives.  How you gone to show dem they wrong?  I tell you what…  If enough white people and black people would put aside what they think and what they learned, we could bring this city back to what it was.  Black people blame whites and whites blame blacks.  How bout people who are black and white get together and say we Detroiters and we gone bring back this town.  I need you and you need me to do it.  I look at Nelson Mandela and the whole dang country of South Africa.  Them black people went from being nothing to running the country and they did not go aftah white people to punish them foh the past.  Why?  Cause a smart man like Mandela understood dat you need the whites to keep the country going. Detroitneed the whites to be in Detroit and if dat evah happens, things gone change.  Prejudice keep things where they at.  You ain’t gotta go to Mississippi, boy.  You got more racism in this state and city than you gone find in the south.  You and I both know cause we served in active combat that when you think might die, it don’t matter much the color of the skin of the dude next to you.  Somebody you know jus die and you not sure if you the next to git picked off and you lookin at the dude next to you and he from Hicksville, Alabama where they hated people from the north and they didn’t much like niggahs but he crying and just wants to be held like a baby and be told dat he gone make it, dat he ain’t gone die but if he does, he want you there wid him so that he don’t die alone…  Make a right up here.”

            Bill thought back to a day in Baghdad when a young boy had tripped a mine on the side of the road.  Bill had gotten out of his tank and tried to comfort a young boy that was missing a leg.  The boy, who was not more than ten years of age, died from a loss of blood.  Bill held the boy until fellow soldiers pried the boy away from him.  Despite all the gore and death Bill had witnessed, seeing a young boy die in a matter of minutes, hit Bill the hardest and had the greatest impact on him.  Tears began to stream down Bill’s cheeks.  Bertram asked no questions.  He just put his hand on Bill’s shoulder and rubbed it.

            “If I can give you one mo piece of advice, young man, I would like you to know dat you got you a finite number of days and yes when you young like you is, you can throw way years and still come out okay.  But them years gone roll like a Sherman Tank and take down evrah thang in it way.  Thirty, forty, fifty and then you git to sixty or mo like me and you wonder whatchu did with your life.  You ask yo-self if you lived or you jus existed?  What is the purpose of all this really?  I could have kept working foh a few more years but then it hit me in the spring when I had mah sixty sixth birthday; I ain’t gone be round much longer.  My wife dead, my son dead, two mah brothers dead and mah parents dead so long ago I sometimes think I jus made them up in mah mind.  If it weren’t foh pictures, Idda believe they was nevah here.  So I got to thinking bout what might make me happy and I decided that I will take this here car all the way toLos Angeles.  Imma go to California aftah living mah whole life in Dee-troit.  If you don’t count the two years I lived inVietnam, I ain’t nevah been nowhere else.  I got me an apartment picked out on computer where I can see the sun set ovah the Pacific Ocean.  Imma stay there all winter.  And so I tell you, young man, find now what gone make you happy.  Don’t keep saying someday cause that someday gone end up at the end of a road that you cain’t turn round on…  Speak of which, this here yo last stop.  Aftah here, you take dem right to school or you finished foh the day…  You gone be fine.”

            Bill drove back to the Coney Island and shook hands with an old man who had done more for him in an hour than most people had done for him in years.  After shaking hands with Bertram, Bill leaned forward and hugged Bertram.  Bill quietly spoke near Bertram’s ear before ending the embrace.

            “Not many people can begin to understand where I came from and where I’m going.  What I went through and where I could wind up…  I hope the west coast is exactly what you want and need.  Thank you for your time, sir.”

            At the second stop of the first day, a young black man with sleep still in his eyes stepped onto the bus with a straight brim Detroit Tigers hat and a white Tiger’s Jersey.  In the rear view mirror, Bill could see that the name on the back of the jersey was Verlander.  The young man sleepily stared out of the window while checking for messages on his cell phone that weren’t there.  His eyes met Bill’s several times in the mirror.  They both looked away.  Finally Bill engaged the young man in conversation.

           “Everyone thinks it’s going to be Boston, The Yankees or Phily.  We got Verlander, Valverde, Cabrera and Jackson.  Verlander might win the Cy Young but it takes a whole team and the Tigers are tough as hell this year,” said Bill.

            “If I could pitch like Verlander, I’d quit school today,” said the young man.

            “Most of us will never be a Verlander.  If we all just try to be as good as we can be everything will be alright.”  Said Bill.

            The young man nodded as he thought about what Bill said.

            “True dat…”

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