Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My White Face

I generally prefer to use this platform to bash all the people in my life who have done me wrong. Today I am going to focus on my own wrongdoing.

I was twenty, twenty-one, maybe. So we're talking twenty-five years ago. I was not in a good place. I was two years into a three year relationship that was doomed. We fought all the time, and it wasn't always her fault. We were both emotional basket cases. I was a community college dropout, working as a nanny. I'd been out on my own for a couple of years after my mom had kicked me out of the house for fucking up in school. Barely an adult myself, I had developed a deep hatred of authority figures after spending my adolescence fighting with my asshole father. One of my shrinks tried to tell me I had bipolar disorder and put me on Lithium, but it made me feel like a zombie. At least Angry Becky got shit done. Zombie Becky was worthless and there was NO fucking way I was going to rely on Mom and Dad to support me. I had to make it on my own.

It was winter. My girlfriend and I lived in midtown Kansas City because it was cheap and, at that time, it was the only place in the Greater Kansas City area where gays and lesbians felt safe, or at least safe-ish. The family that I nannied for lived in southern Johnson County, about a thirty minute drive on a good day. This was not a good day. It had snowed the night before, and I was running late, for no other reason than I was a worthless piece of shit who'd stayed up too late the night before, probably writing in my diary or working on my stupid fucking unpublishable novel or some such shit.

I was supposed to be at my bosses' house by 7:00am so that they could leave for their upstanding citizen jobs. He was a lawyer, she was a paralegal. They had a twelve-year-old, a two-year-old, and a newborn. She was one of those supermom types, left over from the eighties. Mall bangs and everything. I'm not shitting you: after she gave birth and returned from the hospital, she was up early the very next day exercising to some celebrity workout video in their home gym. I was like some fat fucking babushka over in the corner of their "hearth room" balancing the new baby on my belly as I fed her a bottle and sang Frère Jacques "again, again!" to keep the two-year-old occupied long enough to stay out of her mom's frosted hair.

It had snowed heavily overnight and many of the streets were still unplowed. Even though it was freezing outside, I had the driver's side window to my Ford Festiva cracked to help the windshield from completely fogging up. There were streaks everywhere from my gloved hand trying to wipe away the condensation. The heater/defrost on my tin-box car barely worked. I guess they don't need 'em much in Mexico in the factory where it was made. I'd spent a whole two minutes of what should have been a twenty minute job scraping the snow and ice off my windows because I was in such a hurry to get to work.

I was about ten minutes from their house when I noticed red lights flashing through the four-inch section of my back window that I'd managed to scrape off. I slowed down and pulled over as far to the right as I could manage on the snow-covered street to give the cop some room to pass me on his way to wherever the hell he was going. As far as I knew, there weren't too many criminals in this affluent neck of the woods. At least not the kind that got caught.

It took me a moment to realize he wasn't going to pass me.

"Nooooooooooooo!" I shouted.

He was after me.

"What the hell did I do?!" I pulled over on a side street where the snow was even deeper. My pathetic car could barely make it. I put the gear shift into neutral, pulled the emergency break, and killed the engine. I could feel sweat developing under my wool cap. No matter how cold it is, I always get sweaty when I get upset.

The cop knocked on the driver's side window.

I didn't even bother to roll it down any further. I was so pissed this guy was going to make me even later to my job than I already was. "What did I do?" I shouted through the three-inch crack.

"Umm, could you roll down your window, please?" the cop asked. He sounded a bit taken aback. Like he wasn't expecting to encounter any shrieking banshees in this neighborhood. This guy had no idea.

"Why? What did I do?" I asked. I could feel my face flush like it did whenever my dad would start in on me.

"Umm, well," he paused and began using an ice scraper on my window.

"What are you DOING? I NEED TO GET TO WORK?!" I shouted.

"Hold up, now. Lemme get some of this ice off your window..."

I cut him off, "Man, I NEED to get to work. My boss is gonna yell at me. Can you just tell me what I did?!"

He chuckled a little and then proceeded to begin scraping my front windshield. He raised his voice, not in anger, but so I could hear him through my still barely cracked window.

"You do realize that I could give you a ticket for driving this thing in such hazardous circumstances, don't you?" he said. "Did you even bother to scrape your windows before you headed out?"

Great, now I'm getting fucking lectured from a cop.

"YES, I DID," I gritted my teeth. "But I'm in a hurry and my defroster doesn't work very good."

"OK. OK," he said, shooing his hand at me like I was some annoying fly. He'd scraped off my entire front windshield by then and was working around to the passenger's side.

I sat there and fumed as he finished up the back. Thinking back on it now, what an ungrateful, spoiled brat. Here I was, sitting there like a pissy bitch while Officer Friendly made sure that my car was road safe.

"OK," he said when he made his way back to the driver's side. "That oughtta do it." He thumped my roof and said, "be careful out there" as he stepped away from my car.

I didn't even thank him.

I rolled up my window and made a big dramatic exit, my spinning tires flicking grey snow all over the officer as I maneuvered my car back onto the main road and sped up to make up for lost time.

There's been a lot of incidents in the news lately of young black men getting pulled over for minor traffic violations and ending up dead, shot by yet another bad cop. Maybe they were disrespectful. Maybe they were uncooperative, although most of the video evidence I've watched shows otherwise. If I had lived in an era of constant video surveillance I have a feeling my video evidence could have been used against me in court, or at least the court of public opinion. I was an ungrateful, spoiled brat. I didn't even get a ticket, let alone shot and killed. Despite my horrible behavior, my cop did his job helping me out, making me safe. Even if some would argue I didn't deserve it.

Maybe the cop who helped me on that shitty, snowy day was a good cop, and he would have treated anybody the same as he did me. Or maybe he would have treated me differently if, when first peering through the crack in the driver's side window, he had seen a black face instead of my white face.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pinko Commie

I don't recall what started the argument, but at some point it got out that I did not, in fact, support Ronald Reagan's presidency. I was, like, 14. A few months prior, Mom brought home a poster of President Reagan that someone was handing out for free and I took it and put it up in my bedroom next to my Duran Duran and Smiths posters. 1984. It was the first year I recall feeling any interest in politics and foreign affairs. I was reading about vegetarianism and pacifism and it lead to stories about conflict and war. I didn't know much about American politics, but I knew President Reagan was my country's leader, so I figured it'd be cool to put his poster up in my room.

The more I paid attention to the news, the less I wanted Reagan's poster on my wall. I found myself disagreeing with nearly every policy he stood for. Soon, I ripped the poster off the wall.

When Dad found out, he called me a Pinko Commie. It was the first political argument I ever had. It ended with me bursting into tears, running to my bedroom, and lying in bed listening to "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now."

Who knows why I was drawn to liberalism. My dad's a conservative and my mom's an independent. Probably that's why. Wanting to be my own person, with my own ideas and beliefs. That's what adolescence is all about, breaking free from your parent's bullshit. Right?

As I've matured I've met many friends who in fact didn't rebel against their parents' political persuasions. Most of them are apathetic. Most Americans--old and young, gay and straight, people who watch  America's Got Talent and people who get caught up in Good Mythical Morning--are apathetic about politics. I get it.

My dad's not, though. When I was growing up, Dad read the newspaper every day. He watched the evening news during weekdays and 60 Minutes on weekends. He watched the presidential conventions like Mom watched the Tony Awards. He voted in every election. Some of my favorite memories of my dad are on election day when he'd come home and hand me his "I Voted" sticker, which I'd wear proudly as I pretended to be big enough to vote.

I guess that's where I get my passion. My interest in what our political leaders are doing and feeling like I have some say in the way they govern.

I could never talk to dad about politics without getting into a heated argument with him. Dad is a yeller. I'm a recovering yeller. We did not have dispassionate dialogue which left us feeling empathetic and well informed. We yelled until our faces grew red and we could no longer stand to be in the same room as each other.

I moved out of the house when I was eighteen. Dad and I talk less and less, and when we do, it's rarely about politics. The other day I visited Dad in the hospital. He's 89. His kidneys were failing. The chaplain had been in and held hands and prayed with us. I thought he was going to die. I mean, I know he's going to die. We're all going to die. But I thought he was going to die REALLY SOON.

After the chaplain left to pray with some other family, Dad and I sat together and watched the TV turned to some news channel. It was something sporty, so I wasn't paying attention. Plus, I was thinking about Dad and wondering how he felt and imagining what it would be like to know your time is soon and all you can do is think back and remember the good times.

"Who are you going to vote for?" Dad broke my attention.


"You said you were going to vote for Bernie Sanders last time I saw you. Now that he's dropped out, who are you going to vote for in November?" Dad's face looked goddamn jolly. There was no animosity. Just curiosity.

"Oh, yeah, I'm gonna vote for Hillary Clinton," I said with a little lilt. Still a little afraid of what Daddy thinks.

"Yeah, I figured," he said and dropped it.


No comment. No follow-up questions. He just smiled and turned his gaze back toward the TV.

"Yeah, Trump's crazy. There's no way I'm voting for him," I clarified my position, even though I wasn't asked.

"Who are you going to vote for, Dad?" I said. I think I was so stunned by no lecture from my Dad that it helped me work up the nerve to ask him.

"Ah, I won't live that long. I'm not gonna vote this year."

"You don't know that. Nobody knows that. If you get a chance to vote this year, who do you want to vote for?"


"Trump? What?" I shouted, but it was more of a laugh-shout. A surprised-shout. Not an angry-shout. Like when your kindergartner says they voted for Trump in the mock election at school and you shout out in amazement at how fucking ignorant they are.

Oh, shit. I'd become my dad. The yeller. 

I forced my eyes to look at the TV screen and said, as calmly as I could muster, "Why are you going to vote for Trump?" I wanted to say, "Because you don't want to vote for a woman?" to poke at some old wounds, but I refrained.

"Ah, I dunno. Joyce's got me thinking that's the way to go," dad said in a quiet voice. He sounded a little bit embarrassed.

Joyce is my dad's live-in girlfriend. Evidently Dad does what his girlfriend says now. And you know what? Good for him. When Joyce came to visit Dad in the hospital he sat up in bed and began to glow. His kidneys have improved and are functioning on their own. He's supposed to get released from the hospital in a few days. Hell, he might even live til November 8th.

I may be a pinko commie, but I'd be glad to see Dad live long enough to vote for Trump.