Friday, November 24, 2006

Michael Richards is Dead

An ongoing debate between my wife and I has long been the appropriate way to respond to racism. My way: a swift kick in the bigot's ass or her way: ignoring him until he goes away or engaging him in dialogue. Enter Michael Richards. As I watched hatred spew like caustic bile from Kramer's lips I could not help but wonder what I would have done in that situation. Hmmm? Let's imagine this for a minute.

I have just paid my twenty or thirty dollars or whatever they are charging to get into comedy clubs these days. I've ordered the first round of drinks to satisfy the two-drink minimum, an orange juice mixed with Sprite for me and a glass of red wine for my wife. I'm wearing the $180.00 Armani pants my ex-wife bought me along with a grey and black shirt I picked up from Burlington Coat Factory's godsend of a big and tall section. My shoes are freshly polished and my socks match. My wife has spent more than an hour on her hair and make-up and her clothes are brand-new because she insisted that everything she owned made her look fat. We are giddy and excited because we don't get out very often with three kids and me with two jobs not including my writing and besides, that wacky guy from Seinfeld is performing tonight and he's got to be funny. He's funny on the show.

The night begins and the comics aren't bad. Not my usual cup of tea, I prefer Dave Chapelle or Kat Williams or even Chris Rock, but these guys aren't exactly terrible. My wife is starting to relax about how her new shirt bulges around her midsection where she's still trying to lose her pregnancy weight. We touch across the table and smile at each other in between laughs. She orders another glass of red wine and I think to myself, "What the hell, it could be a while before we get to do this again." and I order one too which makes my wife smile. I take a sip of wine and my wife laughs, reading my mind and knowing that I was sitting there wishing that I had stuck to orange juice and Sprite. I hate red wine. Then Michael Richards takes the stage.

His first couple of jokes are met with weak sympathy laughs from the audience. We laugh too, more out of memory of the crazy things he said and did on the show as Kramer than for any of his current material. I'm getting bored and fidgety and my wife reminds me that he just started and it's bound to get better. Then some young kids in the back start talking rather loudly amongst themselves and Michael Richards, the lovable Cosmo Kramer of the long running hit primetime sitcom Seinfeld, zeroes in on the group of young African Americans and attacks. My wife and I sit in stunned silence as "nigger" flies from the comic's lips over and over again. We are all for freedom of speech and so we wait patiently for a punchline as the hatred continues to spew from the comics lips in an unending tirade. My wife looks at me both worried that I'm going to jump up on stage and beat the life from this racist idiot and surprised that I have not already. I have more self-control than she gives me credit for and besides, I am stunned. I look around the room searching the faces of the audience and they are all just as shocked and confused as I am. Some of them have expressions teetering between humor and disgust as if still waiting for Richards to say something that would make it okay for them to laugh off the sudden and oppressive uncomfortableness. I look over at the brothers who the rant is being directed at and I see that same outraged, angry, shocked, hurt, embarrassed and confused look that I know must be on my own face. I hate ambiguous emotions and so I chose one and run with it, the one emotion I can act on, anger.

"Fifty years ago we would have had you upside down with a pitchfork in your ass."

I snap. I leap up from my seat. Security guards rush to intercept me at Michael Richards frantic insistence and a straight right, a left hook, an elbow and a knee, drop all three of the without slowing my momentum for even a second. As, I leap up on the stage, I see that look on Michael Richard's face turn from mocking insolence to abject fear and that's all I wanted. For him to realize that this is not fifty years ago. That Black people in this millennium will not sit passively by as we are treated like second class citizens, debased, dehumanized, and humiliated for the amusement of the ruling class. I wanted him to realize that Black people today do not have to and will not take this kind of shit from anyone no matter how rich or famous or white. My fist pistons into his face smearing his nose across his cheek in a spray of red, an elbow cracks his jaw so that it hangs stupidly as the comic tries to simultaneously apologize and call for help. I lace my fingers behind his neck and pull his face down into my knee over and over again, thrusting with my hips and driving my patella into his mouth in a spray of blood and teeth. He knows that he has fucked up. He has said the wrong thing to the wrong people. Every white face in the audience knows it too. I hear them whisper and mumble to one another:

"I knew that was gonna happen."
"I tried to warn him."
"You can't go runnin' your mouth like that nowadays."
"You know those niggers are naturally aggressive."

I see my wife's horrified expression as Michael Richard's face and head begin to lose shape, literally pulverized, the bones crushed into a lumpy pulp that resembles very little of the lovable quirky Cosmo Kramer. His head now looks like a ruptured sack full of strawberry jello. Blood runs like an open faucet from his nose, mouth, and ears. He's making a wretched gurgling and whistling sound as his hands claw the air reaching for anything that might save his diminishing life. I release his head and he flops onto the floor twitching and spasming in his death throes. I step down from the stage and grab my coat, take my wife by the hand and help her over the unconscious bodies of the fallen security guards wondering if any of this would be captured on tape, planning my defense on the grounds of a genetically and environmentally induced self-preservation response triggered by a genetic memory of slave beatings and Ku Klux Klan raids. The brothers in the corner who were the victims of Richard's diatribe give me a Black Power salute as I hastily make my way out of the building, making eye contact with me and letting me know with their expressions that they appreciate me sticking up for them. The few remaining white patrons look at me in horror and disgust obviously feeling that a few careless words uttered in anger were not worth a man's life and hoping that I'm given the death penalty when I'm caught, fearing that some liberal jury might let me off because of what Richards said before I pile-drived his face into my knee half a dozen times. My wife is still silent.

We drive all the way home to Vegas with me pulling baby wipes from the glove compartment to clean Richard's plasma off of my Armani pants while checking the rearview mirror for cops. My wife is shaking both in fear and anger, pissed off that I ruined the evening, scared that I will be arrested and she'll be left to raise our kids by herself, royally pissed that I can't control my anger in situations like that and that if she confronts me about it I'll accuse her of condoning racism, scared that she really won't ever understand what a Black man feels when he hears a white man say those words to him in anger, afraid for our children who may one day be put in the same position. I'm scared too and I'm angry. Angry because that asshole made me lose my temper. Angry that I had to stop kicking his ass and some gifted surgeon might manage to save his worthless life. Pissed off that I was the only one in the audience to get up and put that racist cracker in his place and wondering what would have happened if I hadn't been there. He'd have probably gone on David Letterman and issued some fake-ass public apology and then revived his career after enough years had gone by for everyone to forget. Then I hear the news on the car stereo. Michael Richards is dead. And I smile. Power to the people.

My wife watches the smile cross my face and shivers, wondering if I'm insane, wondering if she really knows me, wanting to ask me if I really think the man deserved to die for calling some kids niggers. I sit there trying to think up a reply before the question inevitably comes, because right then and there I can't think of a thing. All I know is how I felt, sitting there in my best clothes, out to have some fun with my beautiful wife after weeks of working hard, and hearing this rich white man get up on stage and call us all niggers. All I can think of are the generations and generations of my brothers and sisters forced to endure those words in silence. I don't know if Richards deserved to die like that, all I know is that I don't regret a thing.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Politics

So, the other day I was at the gym preparing to spar with one of my fighters. Since he was training for a fight there were about four other guys also preparing to spar with him and then with each other. Somehow the topic of voting comes up and one of the guys mentions that he's a Republican. Now imagine five fighters, in a cage, talking about politics. Sounds like the set-up for a reality T.V. show doesn't it?

The previous day the topic had been Tokyo, Hong-Kong, and Brazil, and which one possessed the wilder night life and the better looking strippers. Apparently Brazil won. I've never been there but I too think Brazilian women are a class unto themselves when it comes to sheer sex appeal. From the back the African blood in them is amazingly, wonderfully obvious. The day before that the topic was fighting. And the day before that it was regrets and highlights from our own fight careers. This day the topic was who has fucked this country over the most, the Democrats or the Republicans.

So there we were, locked in a cage, warming up to beat the hell out of each other while bashing each other's political beliefs. I of course overpowered the conversation because I was the biggest guy there and the second oldest, which automatically makes me right. My point was an obvious incontestable fact. Republicans are bad for the economy.

Whatever your views on abortion, gay rights, civil rights, law enforcement, foreign affairs, censorship, separation of church and state, etc. There is one thing you have to agree on. During my thirty-six years on this earth, whenever there has been a Republican in the White house the economy has taken a nose dive. Why is that? Because trickle-down economics don't work and borrow and spend but don't tax is the road to financial ruin. Just ask anyone with a credit card what happens when you spend more than what you bring in and just borrow the rest. You quickly wind up in debt. So why does America go for it?

There are a few quick easy answers. The first is greed. Nobody wants to pay more taxes even when it is the right thing to do. All you have to say is that you won't raise taxes and the world will beat a path to your door. What no one bothers to read is that they won't raise taxes but they will increase their spending. They'll just cut social programs, educational programs, welfare and social security, and then borrow whatever else they need. But Americans don't care about the long term repercussions of this as long as our taxes don't get raised. Who cares if our kids won't be able to afford to retire because they've spent all of our social security dollars on tanks we'll never use and helicopters and experimental aircraft that don't work. Greedy and short sighted.

We are told is that by giving tax breaks to large corporations and rich people it will allow them to keep their businesses in America thus creating more jobs. That's what we are told but has it happened? I don't care how many breaks you give to these corporations it is still cheaper to hire labor in a Mexico and Taiwan than it is in LA or Philadelphia or Detroit. Tax breaks for major corporations doesn't do shit but keep the corporation's pockets fat. It doesn't do a damn thing for the average guy on the street.

The other reason for America;s continued support of the Republicans is fear. Fear and desire. The two great motivators of human behavior. Republicans are great at playing the fear card. "They are destroying our family values! They are soft on crime! Vote for them and they'll be promoting drug use and homosexuality. There will be murderers, rapists and drug dealers walking the streets and molesting your children. Saddam Hussein will be your next door neighbor and Osama Ben Laden will be putting bombs in day care centers!" These politicians create their paper tigers and all of America falls in line behind them out of fear and hatred. But let's take a look at a few of these paper tigers.

When they say that they are the protectors of family values (meaning Christian Values of course)what they mean is that they should be free to force their own values upon all Americans. Make them pray to their God and be subjected to their religious based morality. What they mean is that they will convince all of America that if they believe anything other than what they believe (like as long as two people love each other it doesn't matter what sex they are) that they are evil perverted sinners. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free and we'll make them into Christians." They don't mean that they will lock up child molesters and throw away the key. That would destroy the whole page system. They just mean that they won't allow abortions and gay marriages. That will keep America safe, because gay marriages are the real threat right?

When they say that they will clean up our streets what they mean is that they will put all the poor criminals away for long stretches for even minor offences and then let them out after ten or fifteen years with more hatred in their hearts and more criminal knowledge than they ever would have gathered on the streets. But if you're wealthy or famous you can get off with probation. They won't spend money rehabilitating criminals. Just punish them real good and that'll keep them from doing it again. Damn what the statistics say! They won't waste a dime trying to prevent crime by providing inner-city youth with more opportunities for education and jobs. They won't increase the minimum wage to something that people can actually support a family on without resorting to crime. Punishment and threats. That will work. Look how well it's working already. America has the largest prison population in the world. We are also one of the only industrialized nations without free healthcare and free college education and where you can buy a firearm at WalMart and drive around with it in your car. Could there possibly be a connection?

More jails, more guns, more bombs, less education, no healthcare, lower taxes, higher spending. Sounds like a real recipe for good government.

Anyway, so that's about how the conversation went. I was getting increasingly agitated and wanted to just put the gloves on and pound the truth into everyone's heads in true Republican style. Actually most of the other fighters were in agreement with me. Most fighters don't come from lives of privilege. There was only one who was in disagreement and he was of course the least accomplished of all the fighters present. I couldn't wait to get his ass in the ring. I figured I'd show him just how rehabilitative punishment is. Then we all changed the subject and a very lively training session ensued. Afterwards, as everyone sat around counting their aches and bruises. We all agreed that there will be no more discussion of politics in the gym. Next topic: Religion. "Is your God a homophobic, sexist, racist?"

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Things To Tell My Children

One of the unique gifts we as human beings possess is the ability to learn from the mistakes of others, without needing to make those same mistakes ourselves. Our sense of history allows for us to build on the experiences of those who have gone before us without needing to repeat those experiences. We gain knowledge from the experiences of people who died centuries before we were born or who live thousands of miles away through books, movies, music, and television. We gain it from the stories told to us by our parents and grandparents. As humans we have the ability to transfer knowledge and experience across great distances of time and space. Yet, still we have idiots who continue to make the same mistakes of past generations. Like voting Republican and thinking they are actually going to help the economy or lower the crime rate.

I am now two weeks away from the birth of my third child and so I am thinking about what things I would like to tell my children about this world we live in and how to negotiate the many obstacles and traps dotting the landscape of life. Here are a few that I've come up with.

1.) If you feel you are right about something, if you've weighed all the evidence, tried and tested it, and in your heart and mind you know it to be true, then stick by that belief no matter how many others believe you are wrong. Truth is not decided by majority vote. Make them prove you wrong. Make them show you the reasons, arguments, and evidence, that contradict your belief. It doesn't matter how popular or well respected a belief is or on what great authority it rests. If it can't be proven there's no reason to believe it.It is possible for everyone in the world to be wrong except you.

2.) Never be cruel and never tolerate cruelty. We are all connected in this world. Doing unto others as we would have them do unto us is not just some trite religious dogma. It is the very cornerstone of a successful society. Mutual co-operation towards mutual goals is the key to a happy and successful society and therefore a happy and successful life for each individual.

3.) Love with a whole heart. Heart break is inevitable. It will happen to each of us again and again. But being too cautious with your emotions and letting the opportunity for true love slip by out of fear of being hurt again is a far worse fate. We have all been hurt and we have all survived it and we will all survive it again. Know all the possibilities when you enter a relationship and be prepared for the worst, yet still give it your all. Just know when you have reached that point of diminishing returns when what you are putting into a relationship is greater than what you are getting out of it and get out when that happens no matter how much love you still have for that person. Trust me, it aint worth it. Just don't carry that bad relationship around with you when you enter the next one.

4.) Don't stay in a bad relationship. The person who loves you should never intentionally hurt you physically or mentally. If you are in a relationship with someone who is physically or mentally abusive than you need to get out. The heart has reasons that reason never knew and can often lead you astray. Always lead with your mind. Love is blind, stupid, and reckless. It needs to be controlled and guided. Your heart will lead you to do stupid things,like staying with some abusive idiot. Be smarter than that and value yourself more than anyone.

5.) Always seek the truth. Always ask Why? Too many people float through life without ever questioning anything and year after year they remain as ignorant as they were the previous year. Knowledge just doesn't come to you. Experiences come to you. Knowledge is what you filter from those experiences. You can have a lifetime of experiences without ever gaining an ounce of wisdom. The key is seeking lessons in those experiences, asking "Why did this happen?" "How did it happen?" "What did it mean?" and not excepting anyone's answers unless you can prove them. Unless they stand the test of reason. Never believe until you know. The unexamined life is not worth living.

6.) Always stay happy. Okay, this sounds trite. It isn't. Everyone has the ability to choose their own attitude. We cannot always change the world only how we respond to it. Their is very little in the world worth ruining your day over. Problems and vexations are the norm. If you expect anything to go perfectly you will inevitably be disappointed. All you can expect is that whatever happens you will handle it and you will survive it. And that no matter how much pain and ugliness there is in the world there are equal amounts of joy and beauty. Find it and hold onto it.

7.) Take risks to increase your happiness. Never go to your deathbed thinking "I wish I had tried this." or "I wish I had taken a chance on that." The only sin I truly believe in is wasted potential. Everyone of us has the potential to be wealthy, famous, influential, or powerful. The means to that end are different for each of us. You need to gamble a little to find out how far your individual potential could take you. If you always wanted to be a stand-up comedian, why aren't you hitting the amateur nights at the local comedy clubs? If you always wanted to be a famous inventor how many patents have you filed? If you always wanted to be a singer then how many demo tapes have you sent out? If you always wanted to be a famous writer than why aren't you writing or why aren't you submiting what you have written? If you always wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer then why aren't you in school. I just heard a story about a homeless orphan who became a crack whore and gang member who then signed up for classes at a local community college, from there went on to a major university, and from there to law school and is now an attorney at a major law firm. If she can do it then you can. Take the chance, Have the strength and determination to make your dreams come true.

8.) Learn from other people's mistakes. Taking drugs. Selling your body on street corners. Robbing people. Shooting people. Selling drugs. Drunk driving. Being a drunk. You don't have to ever make these mistakes. There are a world of idiots who have made them for you along with countless others. No need for you to experiment. Those experiments have been done and the great majority of them didn't turn out great. Many of them were even fatal. Anything that has a high probability of leaving you dead, hospitalized, incarcerated, hopelessly addicted, finacially ruined and socially disgraced is probably a bad choice. No need for you to be a Guinea pig in something that might fuck your life up forever. Be smarter than those who have gone before you.

9.) Don't take shit from anyone. Don't be a victim. Self-pity is disgusting. Be strong. It is that simple. You don't have to be a kickboxer or boxer to be a fighter. You just have to refuse to be taken advantage of in any way by anyone. Someone hurts you, make them pay for it. Sue them. Have them arrested. Complain to their employers. Cuss their asses out. Kick their asses if you have to. Just don't sit there crying and complaining and feeling sorry for yourself if you aren't going to do anything about it. I'll kick your ass myself if I ever catch you acting like some weak helpless little mark. Whatever you have to do. Just don't ever let anyone get over on you. Get even and then get over it. Don't carry that shit around with you.

One difference I've noticed in my eight years building homes for the over-privileged between the rich and the poor is that the rich don't take anything lying down. They feel entitled to be treated fairly and most often to be pampered. If they feel they are being treated unfairly they will scream to anyone who will listen until someone rights their perceived wrong. They will call the president of a major corporation to complain about something a stock boy said or did to them. They will sue at the drop of a hat. And you know what? They most often get exactly what they want. Us po' folk have gotten used to being trampled on so we just lie there and take it even when there are things we could be doing about it or else we try to get even in the wrong ways, by picking up a gun or something stupid like that when a carefully worded letter or phone call to the right person would have done wonders. Example:

My wife and I just bought a new house. As in all new houses there are little repairs needed here and there, things that go wrong and need to be fixed. The other day the Air-conditioning guy came over to balance the A/C and he walked into the house without shoe-covers on and tracked dirt all over the floors and the carpet. When he went up into the attic he dropped all kinds of insulation onto the floor and smeared dirty handprints all over the attic-access door and then left without cleaning up behind himself. My wife called me up complaining and I asked her why she let him into the house without shoe-covers on? She replied that she didn't want him to leave and not do the work. I told her to get the superintendent's phone number so that I could make him send a cleaning crew over to the house and she kept arguing with me that she would clean everything herself. She vacuumed the carpet and wiped the floors all while nine months pregnant. I was furious. I called the superintendent and told him that he'd better send a cleaning crew to steam clean all the carpets. He apologized profusely. The cleaners arrive today. If you accept that kind of treatment from people that's exactly what you will get everytime.

10.)Never piss off Daddy.

11.)Be proud of who you are. Never let anyone make you ashamed of your race, your gender, your culture, where you were born, or what you believe. Everyone is different and the only thing that makes one person greater than another is what they do, the decisions they make from moment to moment. People with the worst backgrounds still have the potential to become the most successful people and people with the best backgrounds can be the biggest failures and disappointments. Fashions change too. One race, religion, or body type could be in fashion one day and out of fashion the next. When I was in Junior high I was considered ugly by the time I was in college I was considered beautiful. I looked exactly the same. If I let other people's opinions of me influence what I felt and thought about myself I would have been suicidal. Well, I did at one time and I was. What people think about you should never influence what you think about yourself. Always know that you are beautiful and special all that matters is that you believe it and I believe it.

12.) Value your loved ones above all else. There is nothing more important than friends and family. Your family will be with you forever. No matter what happens in your life you will always have your family to pick you up when you fall. Not all of them though. Some of your family members are bound to be worthless assholes. Just steer clear of them. But the rest of them. The ones who are there to share every success with you and to comfort you through every failure are your greatest wealth. And when you have kids someday. Your children will be your wealth as well. Treasure them always as I will always treasure you.