Monday, May 04, 2009

Trash Weekend

I was going to call this one “White Trash Weekend,” but, as you'll read, that title wouldn’t have been all-encompassing. Back in my 20s, I used to get these “vibes” along the lines of “why is the world closing in on me,” generally based on a combination of minor things going off-kilter in my personal life, coupled with random events on the street or at work, that left me feeling like I was under some type of cosmic attack. I had somehow displeased the gods, as if Zeus was hurling thunderbolts at me.

Well, I’ve since written that sort of mental state down to self absorption. The world wasn’t spinning around me. Good and bad things happen to everyone all the time, the only recognizable pattern being that sometimes they will be caused by my previous thoughts or actions, i.e., you’re gonna’ reap what you sow. And the random things that happen just walking down the street are just that. Random. I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time and being exposed to douchebaggery, which never makes anyone feel good, but as I’ve learned, just keep moving, and that shit is gone. In other words, no reason to question why you’ve stumbled on a very minor, temporary losing streak for a few hours or days.

Friday started with the news that an old friend had been diagnosed with a severe disease, and that’s about all I’m going to say about that, because that’s about all I know at this point. Never good to hear news like that.

When I went to leave for work that morning, I took my usual glance down the side street to see if there’s anything I need to address on my landlord’s sidewalk: graffiti on her wall, garbage on her sidewalk, etc. Sure enough, there was garbage on her sidewalk. Upon closer inspection, the remnants of an informal party: two pizza boxes stuffed with uneaten crusts and about two dozen cigarette butts. Three empty six packs of Heineken. Various plastic bags with napkins, plastic cups and shit like that. Someone methodically made a neat little pyramid pile of all this junk, as if they were sitting in a car, everybody got done, very nicely put all their refuse in one spot on someone else’s sidewalk: how nice of them to be so thoughtful.

That’s pretty typical stuff for me to deal with – I get that immediate flash of anger (“what kind of wretch would knowingly dump garbage on someone else’s property?”), but sooner or later realize no one else is going to pick it up and throw it out but me, and if I don’t, the asshole Sanitation folks may very well ticket my landlord for that. At this point, I know the drill: deposit whatever’s there in the garbage bin and get over it, because it will happen again, and there’s not much I can do to stop it.

Rest of Friday was thankfully routine. Saturday morning, I wake up to what smells like burning plastic and rubber. A really harsh “this is not good” chemical smell. This part of Queens is routinely under attack by various toxic orders, usually of two kinds. One, a very sickly-sweet smell like burning maple syrup, or cow shit. The maple syrup smell has since been identified as some type of confections factory in New Jersey (!) wafting its odor over the entire New York City area, and the cow shit is a sewage treatment plant about a mile away that’s has had ongoing issues with a failing turbine. It must be hell to live right near that plant, but this entire part of Queens, you get “that smell” sometimes, and it’s foul. Welcome to New York … and this has grown into one of the more “exclusive” areas!

I never did found out what this smell was – if I had to guess, I’d go with one of our bozo, broken English neighbors who occasionally get up to some weird, illegal chemical disposal hijinx that people normally do in zoned areas of factories wearing space suits and respirators. Not a good smell to wake up to, and I never did find out where it originated. There must be a trailer park in Athens that’s spiritual home to some folks around here.

I get online and check out my home county newspaper to find that the gang of teenage creeps who beat to death an illegal immigrant in Shenandoah, PA have all been let off with a simple assault charge, i.e., a bunch of drunken kids in a mob got away with third-degree murder. Horrible stuff, makes me embarrassed for my home county. (Can’t write it down to a typically Shenandoah thing: the trial took place in Pottsville, the county seat, and presumably had jurors from all over the county.)

An unbelievable verdict. I know how court rooms work. A defense attorney’s job is to create reasonable doubt at every corner – the O.J. trial is a tribute to this. And if you get people dumb enough on a jury, they can be lead like sheep, i.e., made to feel they have to toe a defense attorney’s line of reasoning instead of recognizing a few basic truths. There’s a dead body in the street. Not suicide. A bunch of kids were seen by numerous witnesses beating this person before he died. No one denies this. They killed him. Want to get picky over minor issues of who delivered the final blow, or what color his sneakers were? Go ahead. Somebody got murdered. Someone is accountable. Only two kids were charged. From what I gather there were more than five kicking and stomping this guy as they yelled racial slurs. This is reality non one refutes. Courtroom reality is no one is to blame unless you can prove it without a shadow of a doubt; this form of reality blows, and our world would be chaos if it existed outside a courtroom. It's not justice; it's bullshit.

Shenandoah has always been a mess of a town, but this takes the cake. I have one friend who lives there (and I wish he’d move), but that’s all I’m ever going to have to do with that town from now on. Frankly, if there are demonstrations and riots all summer long, so be it. This is foul. What kind of message it sends to these assholes, I have no idea. I can only hope federal and civil cases are in the works.

And just when I’m getting myself into a nice “white racism/bad” lather, something else comes along to remind me jackasses come in every color. Later in the morning, I got into my usual routine: laundry, groceries, quick sweep up of the landlord’s sidewalk. My Saturday mornings tend to be pretty busy, nonstop activity once I get rolling. So, I’m out there cleaning up the sidewalk – an easy one this time, probably won’t be out there more than 15 minutes. As I’m doing so, two black kids, couldn’t be more than 13 or so, who had been playing basketball at the schoolyard next door come sauntering by.

From the corner of my eye, I can see that dumb walk long before they get near me. Walking very slow with their heads tilted back, frowns on their faces: they’re already mimicking the affectations and attitude of street trash. Just goofball kids who can’t even walk down the street without getting into shit. When I lived in the Bronx, I would see this transformation occur constantly – from a sweet/open 10-year-old to a fake wanna-be thug by 13. I can see the logic in adopting a stance like that as a defense against the world, but right there, that's admitting cowardice and defeat. You can’t face the world as you are, so you pretend to be something you’re not. Teenagers of all colors are prone to this sort of insecurity, and woe unto the numerous adults I’ve come across who never break through this shithead barrier.

As they get near, one of the kid pulls out a plastic bottle of some garbage concoction, looks pink, and it’s frozen. He makes a big show out of repeatedly smacking it against the wall along the landlords property (to break up the ice) … thinking in his mind that this is going to antagonize me into a confrontation. Got news for you, kid – if I’ve gone through years of black and hispanic kids spitting as I pass them on the street, you’re going to have to try harder than this to get me to hit you. Kids don't realize what adults are up against if they get caught beating some them on the street: not just various assault charges, but also child abuse charges, and in this case, probably some type of racial intimidation thrown in for good measure. It doesn’t serve my purpose to lay a finger on this kid; it could open up a very bad can of worms that could haunt me for years afterwards.

But the kids keep walking. Understand, this is all peripheral vision on my part – I’m not even looking at these kids. I didn’t see it, but at the far end of the sidewalk, the other kid drops a foot-long scrap of tin foil, obviously on purpose as he sees me out there sweeping, and thinks it would be cool to make “whitey” pick up after him, because he’s such a playah.

Can I tell you how many times I’ve come across this Dance of the Dumb in my travels in New York? Dozens and scores doesn’t do it justice: hundreds, if not thousands. Always the same attitude, the same “please hit me” vibe that, clue me in, I outweigh both of these kids put together and would pulverize them in a street fight. They might be carrying guns? I strongly doubt it; try playing basketball with a gun in your waistband.

What they’re doing goes all the way back to slave days, although they’re probably unaware of that. They’re treating me as the authority figure who must be “secretly” taunted to show how smart they are and how dumb I am. I have seen this lame, defeatist attitude thousands of times with black kids. These kids don’t realize they’re already conceding power to me by acting this way, that instead of treating me as a normal, equal human being and passing, they’re viewing me as an authority figure they feel some need to get over on, because they feel inferior, although they have no reason to feel that way. I don’t see them in terms of inferiority or superiority – they’re just kids walking down the street. I’m just a guy minding my own business. If they saw me as inferior and wanted to prove it, they would attack me, which I would welcome!

You tell me – I’d love to be enlightened on this. Rank stupidity and total lack of self awareness strike me as debilitating diseases of the mind. I’ve seen this sort of role playing enough to note it as a common occurrence. Do I feel sorry for this kids? I feel sorry for their level of stupidity, sure. But, no, I don’t feel sorry for them at all. As noted above, you’re going to reap what you sow. You go around acting like that, bad things are coming your way, and I’d rather not be one of them. I let them pass on crap this minor, because engaging assholes like this in any sort of real dialogue is a waste of time. I wouldn’t know how to tell these kids that manhood is not allowing anyone else to control your actions, that you don’t go through life burdening other people with your bullshit.

Besides which, I know that sidewalk, little things get dropped along the way all the time, whether I’m there or not: water bottles, empty potato chip bags, etc. I’d be like King Canute ordering back the sea if I got into a physical confrontation with every scumbag littering out there.

So, this, too, passes. I take a nap, listen to some music, then head out to the gym later in the afternoon, normally a relaxing walk down to 30th Avenue, about half an hour each way, and a workout that usually clears me out nicely. But two blocks from my apartment, I come across something odd unfolding. A man and a woman, in their 20s, white, arguing. At least, it looks like arguing – from a distance, they could be monkeying around in that annoying way couples do in public that comes close to physical assault. As I get closer, I can see they're not monkeying around. The woman takes a swipe at the guy’s head, and he ducks back with a grimace on his face. He’s got club-hopper written all over him: grotesque Ed Hardy t-shirt, little square soldier’s hat cocked at asshole angle, pencil-line facial hair and soul patch. If I were to look up "douchebag" in the dictionary, there'd be a picture of this guy with the definition. The woman is pretty good-looking: angular, long black hair, blue eyes, a real looker. What she’s doing with a guy like this, I haven’t got a clue.

Nor does she at that moment. I hear her blurt out, “You’re going to jail! You hear me? Jail!” She’s trying to dial her cellphone. I get the vibe that I’m walking in on an ongoing, bad confrontation between a woman who, for whatever reason, must have a court order out against this guy to stay X number of feet away from her. It has that feel, the “couple gone seriously awry” sense of two people about to get physical, like many times before.

As I’m about 10 feet away, she looks at me, and this is where I decide how I’m going to deal with this. If her look in any way says, “please help me,” or if she flat-out states that, I probably will help her, which would could mean nasty business with Pencil Beard. I’m not too big on violence against women, especially with a guy who looks like this, on the street, in my presence. This guy can see me, too, can see that I’m walking straight towards both of them, not moving, making eye contact, letting them know I’m not intimidated, just want to go along my merry way.

But her look says, “I can handle this.” I look at the guy, and I can see the same sort of stupidity and arrogance I saw with the black kids a few hours earlier. Just a lost little jackass who can’t deal with a woman properly, which I don’t care about one way or another, just don’t do it in front of me. And for however attractive that woman is, the burning question: “Whatever possessed you to be with a lost little boy like this?” So if she looks like she can handle it, and she’s dumb enough to have this clown in her life, I feel fine just walking on by. Hell, for all I know, I’d side with the guy on this if their full story was explained to me.

But all in all, I had a pretty good weekend! Wrote this, cleaned my apartment from top to bottom, did my usual routines, got about 400 new songs transferred onto the iPod for an upcoming trip to PA, a very productive few days. This is how life is. I don’t understand people who carry on about being happy or sad. Life isn’t like either all the time – if you think it is, you’re delusional. In the course of a day, I’ll go through both emotions, and then some, a few times over. As far back as I can remember, life has always been like this. Trying to label your life, or periods in your life, is a luxury you shouldn’t indulge. Just get on with it.

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