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June 26, 2005

Too Real for Memos

The other day I surprised myself by recalling a couple incidents in my youth that I don't often think about: two fights I had with a couple of gangbangers. Not for any good reason, though. I have very few thoughts worth supressing. But these two fights reminded me of the kind of person I am, tough. I probably haven't given myself enough credit for their influence on me, nor have I spoken much about them to anyone to see how others might reflect on them.

The first incident took place just off Crenshaw Boulevard one block south of Adams in the mid 70s as my brother and I came back from a church dance by bus. It was about 10 or 11 at night. Some Crip named 'Punkin' or 'Pookie' tried to jack me with a knife. I told my brother to stay on Crenshaw while Pookie and I took it to the alley. I basically told Pookie that he was chickenshit for fighting with a knife, and he wasn't going to get my money. Pookie was stunned that I never heard of him. The fact was that he was in my turf, and sure enough some of my buds happened by. Pookie took off.

The other time was at Vineyard Playground where we had supervised play. The Parks and Rec guy, having seen myself and another Crip trading blows offered to hold my glasses for me. I was a horrible puncher and wasn't doing a good job blocking blows, but the kid couldn't hurt me. He kept getting tired and asking if I quit. After a while the Parks and Rec guy got embarrassed and made us take our fight to the bathroom so we couldn't be seen. I emerged bloodied and defiant. The other kid kept talking shit but he knew he hadn't beaten me.

I know what it's like to look at my face in the mirror and marvel at the pain I feel even though it doesn't show other than black eyes and bloody nose. After Vineyard I remembered that my friend Teedee's father taught him how to box. My father never showed us how to fight with our fists, though we were naturally gifted wrestlers. I always thought that if I didn't wear glasses, the Vineyard fight would have been more completely mine. I wonder if I should teach my son how to fight.

I imagined that my own son might fight someone at school causing the lot of us to be lectured by a middle school vice principal. I could not forsee anything but a pseudo-intellectual drubbing including all of the dainty drivel that accompanies such conflict avoidance. And so I envisioned myself replying in kind with the following threat:

I'm going to write an essay with your name in it that will keep you awake at night and plague you with self-doubt for the rest of your life. You have studiously avoided physical conflict your entire life and you have no concept of right and wrong when fists start flying. All violence is senseless to you because you are willfully ignorant of the dynamics of combat. You are ruled by fear and you lackadaisically punt off your responsibility to third parties who take your outrage at face value. You are the kind of people who get people like me killed.

I imagine her face going pale and having the same sort of bewilderment as those two Crips. She is beaten in a way she never expected. This is part of that essay.

My daughter and I spent last Saturday together hanging out. She was wearing 'baller bands' from her Awana and Score classes. She gave me one of the brightly colored rubber wristbands to wear. The blue one said 'Strength' and 'Courage'. Even though it was missing 'Wisdom', I thought it very appropriate.

Lately, I haven't been able to get juiced up over any of the (insert insulting phrase here) that passes for political discussion these days. Especially over the Downing Street Memo, I simply cannot grasp the motivation of those who get amped over the 'smoking gun'. It's not a smoking gun, it's a memo. But like vice-principals, for these people a memo, a vitrolic essay is the currency of note. The Blogosphere self-ignites over these words and battles with words. I find myself just about as indifferent as the Cisco routers that spit and multiplex the bits across the fiber.

They say that nobody who survives to adulthood has weaknesses, per se. They simply overuse their strengths. When there is a crisis, people respond to the crisis with their strengths. Legislators legislate. Warriors war. Whiners whine. Bloggers blog. Everything just goes a little faster, and people are just that more passionate about their own passion. Very few actually change direction. Everybody who was a baby Bin Laden before 9/11 is just a little more encouraged. As MLK said, the test of a man comes during the crisis. Everyone is a bit more true to their true selves.

During war, people have their excuse. Somewhere on the planet there was a man who has lived all of his life in fear that his holy book would be pissed on, and when he heard the news he went out to fulfill his destiny. The Crip, the Vice Principal, the Secretary of Defense, the Memo Leaker. They are all doing what we expect them to do, and for most of their lives they will be meeting their expected opposition with their salient yet conditioned responses. How rarely are they gobsmacked with the unanticipated. It is said that you can see in 3D if your glasses are Red and Blue. I doubt it.

On the tube last night was 'The Girl at the Cafe'. It's a pretentious romantic comedy written and produced by Hollywood people doing what they do. And yet there is that juxtaposition of destiny and the unexpected truth in the moment we are all conditioned to know and never express or acknowledge.

In the news today is 'news' via Kelo that the Government can appropriate private property for their own ends without offering compensation. What a shock!

How Americans stand in abeyance of the fact of Crips wanting to take you to the alley and steal your money at the point of a knife is beyond me. We have so many laws and so many movies and so many essays and so many history books and so many memos. We have so many interpreters and critics and pundits and evaluators and negotiators. Where is the Strength, Courage and Wisdom? Where are the people who turn the desk upside down and stand eyeball to eyeball with the enemy?

There's no way to finish this essay. It was finished before I wrote it. I know the answer. I know that the answer is not a memo that keeps you awake at night riddled with self-doubt, and I defy anyone who says it is.

Since the 70s, I've never walked the city streets at night without a knife.

Posted by mbowen at June 26, 2005 10:21 AM

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