August 15, 2014

Monsters Are Real

The more I think about it, the more I think we’re all on that plane with William Shatner flying through the Twilight Zone, seeing a monster on the wing that no one else does.

It’s one of the creepiest Twilight Zone episodes, not because the special effects were extraordinary, but because the episode tapped into our most primal fear and our most basic need: to be heard -- or at the very least acknowledged -- and the fear we won’t.

Shatner’s character sees a creature on the plane's wing. At first he tries to convince himself it’s only a manifestation of nerves, and his fellow passenger and flight attendant assure him that’s the case. And he desperately wants it to be the case.

Because he’d rather think he’s crazy then deal with the reality of the monster on the wing.

The events playing out in Ferguson, Missouri on the heels of an unarmed black teen’s killing by a police officer convince me that in some way, all of us are riding along with Shatner on his Twilight Zone bound flight.

All of us see monsters we think are real. Some of us try to convince our fellow passengers those monsters are anything but.

As a black person, I can tell you about the monsters I see from my window seat: a family history dating not only back to slavery, but lynchings on my maternal and paternal sides. I found out about the maternal side's tragedies through some jarring research only a few years back. On my paternal side, it was only in my thirties that my dad told me quite matter-of-factly, that
They killed your uncle. Shot him. Said he was a crazy nigger.

The menacing figure tapping on my window reminds me of a friend who really and truly believed someone on the job was committing acts of racial microaggression, only to have it fanned off by the higher-ups who said my friend just wasn't being a team player. Like Shatner’s character, my friend felt crazy and second-guessed what they saw, heard and felt.

 I suppose my friend’s higher-ups had a different window seat, or at least a different view.

Photo Credit: SciFi Channel

 
The other monster on my wing is even more sinister. It’s simply the understanding of what my mom meant when she'd warn my brother who’s big enough to blot out the sun that “You have a target on your back. You are BLACK and you are BIG.”

And I got it: the world thinks black men are scary. BIG black men are even scarier. They should be careful, watchful. They could end up dead...like that Missouri teen.

All while I’m seeing my wing-flying monster and hearing what it’s saying, I’m married to a white guy. He’s my protector, our daughter’s knight in shining armor, the guy who makes me crazy and who would fight for me. He’s the guy who spirits me away to Taco Bell to lift my sagging spirits and then tells me I still look good when my spirits have sagged too long after it’s been one too many trips to Taco Bell.

But yet, I know he sees something different from his window seat.

The gremlin he can see is one where news of the day seems to crucify white men for being white men.

The monster he sees hisses that people are judged only by what they do, and that color isn’t a factor when it comes to scuffles -- even those resulting in death -- with the police.

The same menacing figure reminds him that people don’t get stopped for driving in certain parts of the city. Like Shatner’s co-passenger, I tell him he’s seeing things wrong; there’s no monster on the wing: I get stopped all the time.

But from where my husband sits, it’s crazy-making. Because it is crazy.

While he believes me, it’s hard for him to believe me because he knows what he sees -- what he’s lived, from his window seat.

Until the day we’re riding in one of those places. He driving. I’m riding. A squad sidles up to my side of the car and the driver sees me. I say: We’re gonna get pulled over. My husband listens to the monster, and he waves me off…
...until the squad’s lights flash and the sirens sound.

He gets off with a warning, and he never doubts Driving While Black Syndrome again. And, of course, we talked about it.

And that’s the bottom line: we see different monsters, and we feel like crazy people telling the other person about the monsters we see. But we talk about them, and understand each of us is seeing something instead of telling the other person they don’t see anything at all.

And to me, that's the first step in getting anywhere in this racial thing we’re juggling in America right now -- in Ferguson, in Milwaukee, and in its posh suburbs: realizing that the monster a white/black person sees may be a different monster than a black/white person sees.

But if we stay on the route of arguing to the extreme, blaming, name calling, sullen silence, or denying that monsters exist at all, we’re all gonna go spinning off-axis and off-kilter into the Twilight Zone...each of our spirits killed by our own personal monsters.

Photo Credit: backtothecerealbox.com

July 18, 2014

The 6 Things I Remember Forgetting

Hey, I know it’s summer and everything, but it’s getting late. Bedtime, kiddo. Georgia and I were watching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. She had seen it before, so it wasn’t like she was missing out. We said bedtime prayers, and I kissed her goodnight.

The movie had sucked me in by that time and I wanted to know how everything would get sewed up in a tidy bow, so I went back to watching. It didn’t disappoint. I was entertained and nearly clapped as the credits rolled.

The next morning, I told Georgia what a clever movie it was. You watched the rest of it? Seriously, mom? Now I felt stupid. Well, yeah. I got hooked and wanted to see how it ended. She and Jamie exchanged looks.

Um, mom...you saw that movie already. At the movie theater. Don’t you remember?

Listen, my brain’s memory chip has been deleting a ton of low-priority information lately. But an entire movie? Like, a swath of time and place that I completely blanked out on? Between you and me, I still contend I did not see this movie before and will cling to that until my dying day; but really.

Truly.

There are more than a few things I can remember forgetting.

1. That meeting.
All my colleagues’ offices were empty. Then a colleague dressed in “meeting” clothes appeared in a rush out of nowhere and greeted me with Just so you know: we’ll be meeting in Suite A instead of Suite B.
There was a meeting?

2. The hot dogs
As the Chef-in-Chief, I declared We’re gonna have Chicago Dog Night! and headed to the store for Chicago Dog Night stuff. Came home, unpacked the bags: potato salad, chips, bright green relish, old fashioned yellow mustard, cucumbers, sport peppers, pickle spears, poppyseed buns...
..but no hot dogs.

3. The dog’s leash
Charley-the-Shih-Tzu-Poo quizzically stared at me as I left for the day. Momma gave you your treat already. That’s all I can do, honey. I’ll be back soon...okay? Georgia and I piled in the car and I tossed my stuff in the passenger seat -- purse, phone, charger, lunch and…
the dog’s leash.

4. Deodorant
Did I put some on today? I think I did...but did I? Welp...can’t be too careful.
*leaves house wearing ten layers of Secret*

5. Any password
‘nuf said.

6. The name, drive and folder of any file saved and accessed more than four weeks ago.
And someone always needs it printed and copied in triplicate for the do or die meeting that’s happening in ten minutes.

...and I’m sure there are many, numerous other things that could be added to this list, but I just can’t, um...remember them right now.

July 7, 2014

Delayed Gratification


Call it a case of the Meandering Mondays or just go ahead and say I'm trying to kick a case of Writer's Block. Whatever you wanna call it, somehow I got stuck on banks. If you're old enough, you remember there was a time when people actually visited the lobby and talked to tellers. It usually happened Saturdays since banks closed at 5:00 weekdays, and most people were working and couldn't make it to the bank by that time. The banks were open on Saturdays, but only until noon; so everyone had to make it there before closing...and heaven forbid you had a kid in tow:

Through tall glass double doors and into the lobby, traffic’s noise gives way to The Most Beautiful Girl or some other muzak. Everything there soaks up sunshine – from the navy blue carpet, to personal banker desks flanking each wall, to the velvet ropes and signs that instruct Wait Here for the next available teller.

An intimidatingly tall oblongish table dominates the lobby’s center. On it are slips of neatly stacked paper resting next to pens that are attached by silver chains to the big table. One by one, customers approach the table, take a slip and pen, and scribble some kind of financial hieroglyph, crumple it up, take another and begin scribbling again.

The line of tellers stretches from wall to wall. Clad in polyester outfits matching the carpet’s navy blue, they count out loud…and that’s five, ten, fifteen, twenty… and each counted bill snaps against veneered countertops in rhythm to Knock Three Times.

Photo: Creative Commons Fly, Flickr
The velvet ropes where people obediently heed the instruction to Wait Here are heavy. Their metal ends clang a little when accidently shaken by nervous adult or purposely by a bored child. An anemic rendition of Afternoon Delight whines against the scribbling and the clanging.

Somewhere in the long line of customers fidgets a kid whose spine and legs threaten to wet noodle and drop them to the floor in fit of sheer boredom.

An available teller’s Next Please saves that kid (and parent too) from wet noodle fate. After the business transaction is transacted, the kid receives a sucker from the teller.

My childhood was filled with long, taxing lessons in delayed gratification like the weekly Saturday trip to the bank. I guess this generation’s kids of twenty-four-hour banking and ATM cards will have to learn the same lessons another way.

June 13, 2014

Thinking About Loving




Sometimes I think about it.

Sometimes it's a fleeting thought in the seconds before I drift off to sleep and glance at his arm around my middle and my brown hand resting on his not so brown arm. It always looks like a painting to me.
Simple and beautiful.

Sometimes it's the rare occasion when all three of us are captured in a candid picture. Our daughter between the two of us, making the picture look as if we're posing in graduating skin colors, from lightest (his), to medium (hers), to darkest (mine).
Her face, her skin a blend of both his and mine.

Sometimes he thinks about it when I'm oblivious. Like when I give him a little extra room at a checkout counter, but am still within his personal space, and the clerk helping him asks if she can help me. He lets her know that "uh...that's my wife" in a stern, sharp voice before I can answer.
He's my protector, a sensitive set of second eyes.

But most of the time, I don't think about it -- him being white, me being black and our daughter being both. 

What I do think about is the stuff that an average married with kids person thinks about: what am I gonna make for dinner, is the kid on the computer too much, when is that doctor's appointment, are we ever gonna get a date night, he could make dinner for once, and why for the love of pete are there towels all over the bathroom? I mean, REALLY?

See? Normal stuff. Normal. Married with kids. Stuff.

However, I will be thinking about our skin differences on purpose, albeit in a different way.

Today is Loving Day, so I'll be thinking about the Loving Verdict, handed down by the Supreme Court forty-seven years ago, which made it possible for couples who are of different skin colors to be couples. Just couples. Normal married with kids couples who can appreciate their differences, see themselves in their kids, and stand up for each other when they need to. Whether they ever figure out why towels are all over the bathroom is an entirely different blog post.

Thank you Mildred and Richard Loving.
Your verdict started a ripple effect that couples still feel today, even if they aren't thinking about it.

Happy Loving Day