Monday, June 26, 2006

What's with all the N-words?!

[Originally written about six months ago, when some television watchers in my audience started to cluck at my use of the word 'nigger.' This bears trotting out again.]

My apartment building in Harlem was of post-war construction, brick, six floors. The lobby led to an elevator, or to stairways at either side, left and right. The rickety economics of the time did allow a few architectural flourishes: The balusters of the railings may have been a bit ornate, and the floor was nicely tiled.

In the winter, I would hang out in the stairwell and smoke and pretend I was dangerous. (My roommate didn't let me smoke in the apartment. And I certainly wasn't going outside. Inconsiderate to smoke in the stairwell? Maybe... but the odor was nothing compared to the fish heads and curry that normally polluted the place.)

When it was bitterly cold, sometimes a homeless person would take refuge in the stairwell. If they didn't cause a problem, I think no one really minded.

I came home one evening to find a guy seated on the lower step of the stairwell of the third floor. "Oh, ah...I'm just waitin for Jimmy," he explained. No he wasn't. There was no Jimmy lived there. I knew most everyone in the building. He just wanted to hang out for a while. And I didn't have a problem with that, as it was about ten below zero outside.

(You need to understand stairwells: The building had six floors, each of which was a long hallway. Apartments on either side of the hallway. Stairs at each end. To ascend a floor, you went up one stairway with a dozen steps, stopped, turned left on this four foot-wide landing, and went up another dozen steps.)

This guy was hanging out on the bottom step --and not the more secluded landing-- for a reason: If someone wanted to jump you, they could take you from above while their buddy came at you from below. But if you stayed on the bottom step, you had three possible avenues of escape: Up the stairs, down the stairs, or down the hallway. This guy was no dummy.

"Hey, no problem," I said. "Take it easy." I went into my apartment.

It wasn't long before I would want a cigarette. I came out of my door with a pack of cigarettes and two beers. I walked down the hallway toward this guy. He eyed me, not knowing what I was up to. Most white dudes would have gone to the other stairwell. 'What's this dude want with me?' [Threat assessment begins.]

"Aw, man, I need a cigarette," I lamented. "And I thought you might enjoy a beer." He seemed surprised, but he took it anyway. Already we had something in common: Never turn down a free beer, especially a quality Czech model. (Not that I think he knew or cared.)

He still eyed me suspiciously because, as he had learned, and as I would come to know, white people lie. They're always up to something.

Oh, I was up to something all right: I wanted the company. I fancied myself the loneliest person in the world. This was a comfortable, self-indulgent pastime of mine. He soon understood that conversation was all I wanted, and he relaxed.

He told me of how he had been in the Army, and then later tried to make it as a civilian, and had been busted with some coke, and went to jail. I'm guessing he couldn't afford the competent representation that would have gotten your typical snot-nosed yuppie out of jail in six hours.

And now that he had a prison record, he couldn't work. He couldn't work because your litigious society has made it an economically unappealing prospect for an employer to hire him. He's got a record... You people file lawsuits like they're some novel invention... And so the employer doesn't want the trouble. "Your employee spat in my latte! He's an ex-felon, and you should have known this! I'm suing you because he's wounded my latte-drinking ability for the rest of my life! How will I ever pass the time with my mall-shopping friends?!"

You might say: "Hmm! He shouldn't have been doing coke in the first place. Serves him right." Yeah, you're right... We should all pay for a prescription first... Gotta go through the gatekeepers, you know... Can't cheat someone out of their cut...


"Johnny," says Mommy as she coaxes a dollop of potatoes from the serving spoon, "I don't want you listening to that Chris King Pop Icon. He is...profane...and he...uses the n-word. I understand what he's trying to say, but I don't like the n-word. Isn't that right, Honey?"

"That's right, Darling," says Honey, not really sure what his wife just asked him. He's watching television. He's watching the news. Something about mandatory minimum jail sentences.

Mommy/Darling takes note of the news, too. She starts muttering... "Put those fuckin niggers in jail where they belong, those fuckin animals." A niggerface appears on the TV, shackles on his hands. She springs to her feet as if she's going to hurl venom at her most hated professional wrestling star. She spills the gravy. "Kill that fuckin nigger! Fuckin apes! One of them spit in my latte!"


Yours is, I would argue, at once the most morally bankrupt and the least intellectually discerning society the world has ever known. Couple this with your economic and military might and your desire to tutor the world in matters of rightness, and you have the most farcical display ever, were it not so dangerous.

You talk a good game, I'll give you that.

Your society will destroy me. I get that part already. I've known that from the moment I first took to a stage, intent to do the material that I felt needed doing. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I would rather be destroyed by your degenerate society than to be judged complicit with it. So I can't lose...

And know that the Future People and I are laughing our asses off at you. So thanks for the material... You make this pretty easy.