Barack Obama. Yes.

5 11 2008

‘And although it seems heaven sent
We ain’t ready, to see a black President’

Tupac Shakur, Changes (1995)

Is this the dream fulfilled?

Is this the day, the day when our country’s little children – and their little children and their little children – have been judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their characters? When suddenly what wasn’t even considered a possibility becomes a reality? When we turn our backs on what’s come before and look to the future and understand, reminding ourselves of the failures behind us, that we can all make a difference, that we can form, after all, a more perfect union?

He spoke and we listened and in turn, we spoke louder, together and fully. A generation that never had a voice has suddenly bellowed.

How could we have possibly seen this, even four short years ago?  Could we have imagined a black man, even in these times, not only winning this election, but defeating a war hero opponent by a landslide?

On this night, we see ourselves atop one of our history’s highest peaks. Of all of the mythologies that galvanize this great continent, few have enjoyed more staying power than the intertwined ideas of the Melting Pot and infinite opportunity, that this country was founded on diversity and possibility, and all it took to ascend indefinitely was a sharp and shrewd mind and a tireless effort.

But before tonight, those allegories have been nothing but words and simple fantasies, tethered to the sad fragments of our past, dark and damning ghosts like Jim Crow, the notion of three-fifths, the bullet inside Martin Luther King, Jr. Over time, the increase of blacks in the workforce and the influx of blacks with college degrees chipped away at racism, while the integration of sports and the importance of blacks in music, from blues to hip-hop sanded more of it away.

But then the Fortune 500 would come out, and as of 2006, blacks occupied only four of the CEO spots. At the end of the same year, median household income for whites stood at $50,673; for blacks, it was $31,969. The stats go on and on, and yes, stats only tell part of the story, but the most glaring message behind these statistics is that, outside of the thin avenues of entertainment and athletics, blacks rose to prominence in so few ways. Terribly few ways.

That mythology of equality, of all men being created equal, had such little resonance under the harsh glare of these facts. Tonight, that idea has roots. Tonight, it is no longer mere floating, hollow words, the preserve of rhetoricians.

We’d be fools to assume that this will change everything. But we’d be missing out on the moment if we don’t think that we just witnessed a moment that will irrevocably change the course of American life.


The Day

11 09 2007

The Weekly Standard had a problem (doesn’t it always?) with the Times’ pre-emptive 9/11 story, much like I did, pointing out that it’s probably very unlikely that most (or even a significant amount of) Americans sit around arguing about when commemoration of 9/11 should flag, and that the day is still ripe in our minds, still charged with emotion.

I tend to agree. How about you? But I’ve written awfully on 9/11 in the past, so I’ll defer to another source. 

For a beautiful piece written during the first waves after 9/11, before the invasions, before the conspiracy theories, before ‘WMD’ meant anything and the Dept. of Homeland Security existed, before our safety became a matter coded by colors, when America was one, unified and shaken mass, go to McSweeney’s.

A true American

10 09 2007

Today, I will become a true Lower East Sider. I will kvetch, spend minutes studying the menu, and ultimately, when the quest is over, I will be eating a bagel with lox and cream cheese from Russ and Daughter’s, rated the No. 5 Ultimate Experience by Rough Guide in 2007. Sounds dangerous. But while I’m preparing a rant/meditation/rant on a capella, enjoy these. These are why Youtube exists, aside from bringing down Carlos Mencia and allowing Kramer to bring himself down.

Six-foot-eight, weighs a fucking ton.

America, the unappreciated

5 09 2007

I had a conversation with a friend of mine last night, on a patio of a stylized Mexican place in Midtown, which is to say buried in a mass of folk in the belly of Manhattan. She’d spent the summer in Paris, enjoying the distinct sense of levitation that Gallic nights and general forays abroad provide the traveler. She raved, as one should rightfully expect, about the food, the wine, the people, the lifestyle. She loved the way that outdoor bistros in summer occupy the same position of importance for the French as altars do for cardinals.

But we arrived, on the same destination that such conversations always seem to, and the same one that should make us cringe.

“I can’t wait to go back. I hate it here.”

I thought, briefly, that here might have referred to New York. Or that patio, on whose tables over-mixed, frozen margaritas gradually melted, sending droplets of condensation rolling down the stems of the glasses. It didn’t.

You hear this a lot lately. At least I hear this a lot lately. And it’s sickening. A still-hungover Jack Kerouac is puking in his grave while Emerson shakes his head disapprovingly.

It’s easy to hate on America. Right now, it’s a fat, stationary target. So much is wrong. Foreign policy. Domestic policy. No Child Left Behind. John Mellencamp’s “This is our Country.” Any song by Toby Keith. NASCAR. The Bush Administration’s politicizing of the Special Olympics. And the best we can hope for, right now, is a brisk and complete change of fate, to wake up from the eight-year national nightmare we’re almost done with when the White House has new occupants in two winters.

It’s harder to care for America. To really give a shit. We’ve been sundered into poles: Red and Blue, Northern and Southern, Sox and Yanks. And with our international profile being what it is, coupled with an executive branch that is everything one shouldn’t be, life in America’s as pretty as Larry David’s scalp.

It’s then fashionable — and, on the same token, as brainless as it is gutless — to talk about how great everything is elsewhere. Textbooks have saturated us with high-gloss images of alluring sights across oceans and skies. Friends who’ve gone overseas have re-affirmed the ideas. Finally, our hyper-education licenses this flight of mind and body; it supplies the backing for turning one’s back on this place. Like being part of a country is the same as transferring schools, that what goes on here does not stack up to our blinding talents. In Catch-22, Heller writes of the chaplain’s discovery of protective rationalization, and that ‘it was miraculous…anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.’

The effect implies that if our current state does not agree with our well-heeled intellectualism, it’s ok to just pack up and run. Like we’re too good for it. But it’s cowardice veiled as intelligence, as if it’s OK to bail when times are bad, but smile and celebrate the good times. It takes just as much thought to blindly knock a country as it does to throw its flag in front of your eyes.

The sentiment of escapism drips into high culture. Almost every piece of fiction in the New Yorker, which should, theoretically, host America’s finest dozen-plus short stories, takes place outside America. It’s a ploy, a device to inject some instant intrigue into a story. The writing and editing remain, as usual, unimpeachable. But the intent is less so. This is a land, still, of possibility and beauty, of roads that require multiple horizons to conquer. To give up on it as an item of interest is to renounce history.

But the idea that other countries can better serve our talents — that this one isn’t enough — drips with narcissism and presumptuousness. No land is static. History is cyclical. We must make our donations, because we will run our future.

We shouldn’t buy into American Exceptionalism. But we should recognize the breadth and scope of this land, the rivers to the mountains and everything else that Woody Guthrie sang about. We should recognize the confluence of cultures and the people who will look you in the eye and ask how you’re doing without ever having met you.

I’m no blind patriot. But I am of the mind that this is a place worth fighting for. After all, like Johnny Cougar says, this is our country.

Cheers to Changes

31 08 2007

Sorry for the day-hiatus, you loyal dozens. I spent the last 33 hours taping up my life in cardboard, lifting those consolidated life-fragments into a U-Haul truck, driving to Pennsylvania with Tay, then sleeping for 2.something hours, then driving to New York, where our lives — still in boxes — have taken a new and exciting shape in a Lower East Side apartment that might have fit into the U-Haul. This thing will be up and running again shortly, full of overwrought analyses and disturbing clips.

But I’ll share this anecdote for right now, courtesy of Lynn Scheitrum.

My mom was a cheerleader in high school — a strange enough thought, given the role that cheerleaders have played in my life. But, yeah, cheerleader. Pom-pons. Rip-curl bangs. And so on.

She cheered for Bridgewater-Raritan High, whose initials were embroidered into the wool-derivative cheerleading uniforms. BR, right over the heart.

So anyway, the high school split into two — East and West — when she was an upperclassman. Such a change required, of course, a new high school, a new teaching staff and, among other things, new uniforms for both men’s and women’s sports teams, contemporary with Title IX.

But administrative ingenuity invaded. The people in charge of the uniforms, acknowledging cheerleaders in the same way that men do now — which is to say, with some curiosity but little professional regard — saw that, because of the placement of the BR, they could adapt the old uniforms to reflect the changes. By adding the location of the school, West or East, next to the BR, they solved this conundrum.

So my mom’s uniform, re-embroidered, read “BRWEST.”

The same standard held for the other school, designated by EAST. Spell it out.

Fear and Rolling in West Hartford

28 08 2007

This is one of my favorite anecdotes, reprinted without the permission of the Daily Free Press. I’m bringing it back for reasons dual: 1 – Tonight’s not the night for posting, in that I’m getting life ready for New York. 2 – It’s important to know how to roll out of cars to avoid being robbed or otherwise torn by stabby things. So please forgive the awkward freshman phrasing, and have at it.

From March 15, 2004

“Fear and Rolling in West Hartford”

The term belies reality. “Tuck and roll,” the evasive maneuver of choice for cowboys and Jedi alike, gets the first part right. You do, indeed, tuck. But when you hit asphalt at 35 miles per hour, you don’t roll.

You skip.

You skip like a pebble flung across water. One long leap, then successive bounces of descending size, until your body loses enough momentum and skin to scale your moves down to the roll. The roll is the goal. The skip is the reality.

It was almost exactly one moment after the fifth roll ended, the smell of asphalt all too fresh in my nose, my eyes filled with the sight of two red lights turning left and the right back door hanging off the car like a dog’s ear.

Exactly half a moment after I got off the phone with my friend, the other beat writer, who was left at the Mobil with obviously not stain-defending pants and a dollar in hand.

Where the hell was this in the job description?

I guess it’s important to start off from the beginning. I was the Boston University women’s basketball beat writer for The Daily Free Press. All year long, the other beat writer, Matt Stout, wrote about every turn in the women’s rollercoaster, which led them to the America East Tournament in Hartford, Conn.

So, I cut short my Spring Break in Allentown, Penn. in favor of trips to the University of Hartford’s Chase Family Arena. Stout lives in East Haven, 45 minutes from Hartford, so he offered to shack me up for the weekend.

Saturday, as we didn’t have a car to use, we bought a pair of round-trip train tickets for the scenic New Haven-to-Hartford-and-back swing.

The game’s at 4 p.m. Our train leaves at 1 p.m. So we get there at 2 p.m., after a cab ride to the arena and ride on the gravy train at the Media Hospitality (sandwich and cookie and Coke) room.

We stay late to send the story. Our train leaves to go home at 8 p.m. And we had forgotten to call cabs to get us to the station. Meanwhile, the University of Hartford campus, emptied by Spring Break, is barren.

So, we resort to the last thing. Asking strangers for a ride. At 18, I disregarded my mom’s advice.

We found a suitable ride, which is to say it was the first one that passed. One of those mid-90s Accords, painted that mid-90s burgundy color. Inside, the driver was practically lying down in his seat. I think his head might’ve been on my lap.

But, anyway, these two guys – the driver looked like Snoop Dogg – assure us they know where the train station is, so we hand them over a 20 after they had wondered about our willingness to be “straight up” with them. We were.

Five minutes later, they pull into a Mobil station. It’s 7:47. 13 minutes. Stout’s freaking out. I’m laughing. I am also an idiot.

“Uh, guys, we’re kind of in a hurry,” Stout pleads.

“Yeah,” replied the passenger who was a bit larger than the driver but not altogether large. Or eloquent. But they were crafty.

He gave Stouty a dollar to buy a drink at the Mobil. Stout looked at me. I assured him it was cool. The faster he picks up a bottle of Coke, the faster we can get back to East Haven.

And the faster they pull out of the lot. And the faster that Mock Dogg’s dawg could tell me that I wasn’t “going to no train stop.”

“Give me all your money,” he suggested, in a tone that seemed serious. I did momentarily question the seriousness of the statement, entertaining the idea that my America East press pass would strike fear in the hearts of evildoers. He assured me that he was earnest. I then decided leaving the car would be the best option.

He disagreed. And told silent Snoop to lock the doors and step on it, as “he’s trying to get out.” He understood! He also understood that the $20 I gave him was not all I had in my wallet.

“I know that’s not all you have, man,” he said to me. Turning to the driver, he told him to “take him to [Keeney] park.” Well, having eaten already, I was not for the idea of joining in their late-night picnic. Frankly, I was so against it that I decided to leave their party without saying goodbye.

I flipped the lock and flung open the door. Hitting the pavement and bounding, I think I thought of how cool it was, how Charles Bronson might have done the same thing before running to catch up with the car and throwing it into a river. Then the rolling stopped. Only scrapes and cuts. Success! Wallet and cell phone in pocket. Success! Stout’s bag on the street and my bag in the car. Ah.

A sweet lady picked me up and drove me to get Stout at the Mobil. You should’ve seen his face. Whiter than the neon sign. With the dollar in his hand. Technically, he robbed them. Got my back.

Two hours later, after going to the police station, where I was alerted to the fact that Hartford is the number-one city for murder in Connecticut, we were on a Peter Pan bus home.

Maybe there’s a moral here. Maybe there’s not. But if there is, it’s not ‘don’t get in cars with strangers.’ It’s ‘watch more action movies.’