Thursday, August 5, 2010
Only Mildly Offensive to Everyone
Not the organic, hormone-free, Tahitian gelati made from The Pope's cows in Switzerland vanilla purchased at Whole Foods but generic vanilla from a paper carton purchased at the I.G.A.
The town wasn't exactly lily white. We had our rednecks who are white, but hardly lilies. And there was the little strip of houses on the edge of town leading out toward Salem Ridge where all the black people lived.
My face still burns with shame when I think about how I would lie flat in the truck bed with my cousins and our gang of rowdy friends as my aunt drove through that cluster of houses on her way in and out of town. From the safety of their assumed anonymity, they would shout nigger and I would laugh because I thought they were being funny and daring and subversive.
I was too stupid and too young to know that hate isn't subversive. It's frighteningly mainstream.
I didn't use that word much. I did once when I was quite young and my mother heard me, wigged out and blamed the person she rightfully assumed I'd learned the word from.
"Paul, fix this," she hissed. "I don't ever want to hear her say that again."
My dad is a real pedantic sort. "If you ever say that word - if you even think it -, the nearest black person is going to come and cut your ears off."
Terror is an effective teaching tool. I rarely used that word or even thought it. For years after, I could sleep only if one ear was pressed firmly into my pillow and the other was covered with a blanket. I wasn't taking any chances in my sleep.
So the other day, when I wrote about the mixture of classes and ethnicity at Nate's school, I failed to mention that my vanilla face might have stood out a little. While we still have Sophie firmly planted among the clod hoppers and people not unlike herself (except for that whole having a Jewish dad, a non-believing mom and having been born North of the Mason Dixon and if you think that doesn't matter, you're wrong), Nate is now attending a school where mocha, cinnamon and free-trade organic dark make up the dominant culture.
Nate's sense of relief in his new setting is almost palpable. He did fine at his old school, making plenty of friends and such, but he never felt quite at home. Many of the kids with whom he attended school were quick to remind him of his outsider status. Even trading "going to" for "fixin' to" didn't earn him full status. Language always plays a part, doesn't it? He'd forget his y'alls and drop in a you guys - the linguistic equivalent of dissing the Confederate flag or referring to "it" as The Civil War.
So now he's settling into his new role of still being somewhat of an outsider, but for whatever reason - the influence of TV, maybe? - he seems more at home in his new place. He's careful not to go too far, of course, because he doesn't want to be tagged with the dreaded wigger label. Those guys are laughed at by both the black and the white kids.
It's clear, though, that this atmosphere with a varied complexion is more to his liking. Let's just say he's always been more inclined to listen to hip hop or rap than to country or even skinny, sensitive white guy music.
This summer as he played baseball for his new school, he made new friends and, as often happens, he's learned and shared some new words and phrases with us. Being a word person myself, I can't help but play around a little with these shiny, new toys. And kids, especially teenagers, love it when adults adopt their style. They think it's really cool.
As I've tested out some of these new phrases, I've found the results to be mixed. I guess there are still a lot of really stuffy people in this world. I thought reality TV and having an African-American president had changed all that, but I was wrong.
Nurse during my physical: So when did you have your last period?
Me: You don't know me like that. Beeyotch. Shiiiiiiit.
Grocery Store Clerk: Is that credit or debit?
Me: That's what she said.
Nathan to me: I can't believe I'm up at 5:30 a.m. to go to school.
Me: Your mom's up at 5:30 a.m.
Nate: Mom. No. See....
Me: What? You don't know me like that.
Nate: Dad! Make her stop!
Me: Your mom's gonna make her stop. Yo.
MathMan: My mom's dead.
Me: Oh. Right. Sorry, honey.
Me: Bitch, take the shit out of yo' mowf and eeeee-nun-see-yate
Sophie: We just found another stray kitten. Can we....?
Me: Go back to being an unintelligible hillbilly. And NO!
Chloe: I'm getting anxious to go back to school.
Me: Your mom's getting anxious for you to go back to school.
Chloe blinks, shakes her head, walks away.
MathMan, nodding at my empty wine glass: How many have you had?
Me: Shut up, bitch. You don't know me like that.
MathMan, who has taught at the above-mentioned school for seven years and has yet to make an ass of himself by trying to sound like a teenager, ignores me and points at the glass: How many have you had?
Me: That's what she said?