Alternate

The Car

It’s the alternator, estimated at $320.  And the car still isn’t ready.  Supposedly it’ll be ready tomorrow (Tuesday) morning.  Blah.  I took a cab to work this morning.  It wasn’t bad except that it was expensive.  $30.  The stupid thing is that I have two co-workers that live in the same apartment complex.  Actually, they’re the ones who recommended that I live here when I told people that I was moving to the Northern VA area.  But for some reason I didn’t have their phone number or address.  Ironically, they live literally across the street.  If I stuck my head out of the window I could see their apartment.

You better believe I’ve got their number now.  I’m glad that’s relatively taken care of. But I have to go to the company Christmas party tomorrow night.  I’d rather work.  But I’ll go this year.  I’ll stay until every one gets too drunk or until the food runs out.

The Leika

I need that car back so I can start Christmas shopping.  I need to check on Leika, too.  She’s sick.  Some kind of burst blood vessel in her ear.  I’ve never heard of that before but my aunt said that the vet said that he sees it all the time.  Leika’s in good hands, though.  She’s being spoiled, pampered and taken care of up there.  My aunt even got her groomed and got her nails clipped.  The royal treatment.  I miss my pup.

The Truant

I’m missing my Landmark seminar class tonight.  Since the car’s in the shop and I’m feeling a little under the weather I decided to skip it.  I suppose I could have made it if I put a lot of energy into it.  I sent an email to the whole company asking for a ride to Pep Boys to get my car (I thought it was going to be ready today).  I didn’t get any responses but it’s out of the way and there’s the whole diffusion of responsibility thing.  My point being that I could have tried even harder to get someone to take me to the seminar.  Or I could have taken a cab.  But I already paid $30 today on cab fare.  I have no desire to pay nearly $100 on cab fare on one day.  I might have been able to get a ride back but I don’t think that anyone lives down this way from the ride-hitching I’ve seen happen before.

So I’m here at home right now.  Relaxing.  I have to get upearly tomorrow to catch that ride to work.  Ugh.

Hmmm.  I hope someone in the seminar group got my email that I sent.  Guess I’ll find out later.

Group Therapy

You know what?  I’ve got a problem with groups.  That’s kind of a fatuous statement considering that every conglomeration of more than one individual is a group.  But there are bonafide groups.  Those groups are defined by the fact that the comprising individuals partake of and relate to others from that collective identity.

When I went to work for Apple years ago I heard the HR director give a talk that still resonates with me.  He said that some employees say that they love Apple.  He told the audience, never love a company.  A company, a corporation, is an entity with one goal — to make money.  A company can never love you back.  Save your love for people, for individuals.

Good.

Maybe there’s some sour grapetitude here.  I’ve never really felt like I belonged to any group … except one.  In college I got a scholarship to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County through a scholarship program.  The purpose of the program was to increase the numbers of African American PhD’s in the country. The best and the brightest in the state of Maryland.  That’s what people said anyway kind of like the tagline.  I had been accepted to MIT and UVA but turned them down to join the program at UMBC.

Bonding was built into the program.  Before college started we spent six weeks on campus taking courses to prepare us for our freshman year.  We went on cultural field trips and visited companies.  We were, in effect, shown off.  And we even had a code of conduct.  Basically, we were supposed to be on our best behavior at all times because we were high profile.  A 30 minutes PBS mini-documentary was made about us.  I doubt you’ll ever see it but if you do you’ll see me in desperate need of a hair cut mentioning something about “the psychology of racism”.

I remember we took a trip as a group, about 20 of us, to New York City one day.  We went and saw the stage performance of “Driving Miss Daisy” with Hoke played by the grandfather from the Cosby Show.

Dr. H, the father of the program so to speak, went to talk to someone and after a few words “Hoke” — dang it, what is his real name– came out to visit with all of us.

Then we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  People would literally stop and stare to see 20 young black men wearing suits and ties walking in a group.  A black security guard stopped me to ask who we were and what we were about.  I told him about the group and you should have seen the pride in his eyes.  He was moved — and he wasn’t the only one — by the fact that all these young, black dudes were about something positive and constructive.  Not ashamed to be smart and excel.  We had musicians, artists, martial artists, track stars, chess champions, SAT acers, you name it.  An amazing group of guys.  The security guard looked at me and nodded.  With his eyes he said, “You show them.  Show them what we can do.”

A few of those guys are still like brothers even though we’re spread around the country.  That was a good group experience.  Had its ups.  Had its downs.  But it was larger than our individual selves and in this case there was a deeper, positive underlying purpose.  It was amazing and an onus at the same time.

Outside of that I can’t think of many group situations that I’ve felt good about.  This continues from the story I wrote about in a previous blogging.  About not belonging.  Alright, let me tell you something here.  This is one of those issues, one of those stories, that I’ve been holding on to for about two and a half years now.  I’m not going to get into it fully but I’ll brush the surface.  This is one of those things that you don’t let go of because you just know you’re so damn right about it, so justified and so wronged that you don’t want to let it go. I still think about this way too much for it to be healthy.  I’m sick of it, frankly, so I’m letting the light shine on this one.

Bad.

My trip to France in 2002 was … whoo boy.  In retrospect, I really should have known better than to go in the first place.  I was naive, though.  It was an opportunity to travel to France and who knew when I’d get another opportunity.  Even though a number of the people in the traveling group were good friends, they had bonded (they were singers and I was playing bass in the rhythm section) and become pretty tight during the course of the year.  They were a unit of six.  I just happened to be there, too.

Thefirst full day we were in the hotel in Paris I woke up jet-lagged and my friend whom I was sharing a room with wasn’t there.  They had all hung out the night before and I had stayed in the hotel room and fell asleep.  He didn’t come back to the room until the morning.  I kind of half woke up when he came in the room and then he left but it was that phase of sleep where you don’t know whether or not you’re dreaming.  About half an hour later I woke up.  I didn’t know where anyone was so I figured I’d walk downstairs and check out the hotel.  Ding!  The elevator door opened and out walked the six of them, laughing, singing, having a great time.  They all noticed me at the same time and there was silence for a second.  It was kind of comical.  They all started talking at the same time.  “Gary!  Hey!  Hi!  Where are you going?  Breakfast?  We just came from breakfast!  The sausage is really, really good!”

Then a simultaneous awkward silence.  Then, “Well … okay.  See you later.”

I’m not sure I have a point with this other than venting but stick with me for a minute.  Maybe I can go somewhere constructive with this.  That was my original intent.  Honest.  That and I just feel like writing.  I’ve been in a writing mood lately.  That’s what I did all weekend with my car being in the shop.  Might as well just go with the flow and let the consciousness stream.  It’s low bandwidth consciousness streaming but we work with what we’ve got.

They went their way back to one of the hotel rooms.  I was crestfallen.  There was, like, an overwhelming sense of shame, humiliation, embarrassment, betrayal, confusion.  By the time I got into the elevator to go to the dining area I was literally trembling with a mash of emotions.  And that moment set the tenor for the remaining three weeks of the trip. 

Our seminar instructor recently said, we don’t get upset about what’s happening in the present.  When we get upset it’s really about something in our past.  Something in my past that that moment in time — that frozen moment standing in the hall of The Meridian Hotel in Paris realizing that I was in hell, that these were not my people, these were not my friends, this was not my world, I didn’t belong there and I wanted to go home — resonated with.  Which one, though

Little Red Schwinn

Aaaaaah.  I know which one.  Man.  Drama.

When I was in the first grade I had a friend named Derek from around the way.  He had a friend named Sam.  We would play around the neighborhood, ride bikes and whatever.  One day we were outside Dereks’ house.  I remember his grandfather was sitting on the porch just enjoying being outside.  The house was situated on a short, gravel alleyway.  Across from the house was — can’t quite remember — the back lot of one of the many churches in our area.

I had a sparkly, deep red Schwinn bicycle with a plush silver, glittery banana seat.  Streamers hanging off of the handlebars.  It was a nice little bike.  All the kids in the neighborhood would ask to ride it and I usually let them.  Derek and Sam asked me that day and I let them ride it.  I got kind of bored and I wanted to go home so I told them I needed the bike back but they wouldn’t give it back.  Boys being boys, the situation escalated.

They had the bike at one end of the fence in front of their house.  I was standing at the other end.  I was very frustrated, powerless.  They said that if I wanted the bike I had to come and get it.  I walked towards them and they had one of those kid brainstorms.  They started throwing rocks from the gravel alley at me.  I stopped because getting hit by rocks stings like a %$#@%$#@!  I almost cried.  They saw that and it intensified their taunting.  I started walking again, not because I was brave but because I didn’t know what else to do.  I couldn’t go home without that bike.  Derek’s grandfather was telling them to stop but he was too feeble to do anything about it so they didn’t listen.  I did reach them and grabbed the handlebar.

They looked at each other.  Then they pulled the bike away and took it to the opposite end of the fence.  There was no shortage of rocks there either, unfortunately.  “You have to come get it.”  So I walked and they threw but I reached them again, this time out of determination.  I think they got bored then and they gave me the bike back and went inside the house. 

I’ve always prided myself on being stoic (one apparently or professedly indifferent to pleasure or pain).  If you ever see me looking stony or impervious when you know that I’m under duress, that’s when and where I learned it.  I’m standing in that alleyway walkingtowards the slings and arrows of childhood drama.  Refuse to show pain, refuse to flinch, deny your “enemies” the satisfaction and they can’t win.

 

Standing in the hallway of that hotel in Paris resonated with standing in that childhood alley.  But the sparkly red bike is just a metaphor for wanting to belong or to be a part of something and to be affirmed.  That’s what was taken away when I saw the six of them walking off of the elevator.  The group’s subsequent ditchings and sporadic indifference toward me during those three weeks in France were the stinging rocks in the alley.  In this case, though, after a certain point I just walked away, more or less.  Fight or flight.  And that’s not to say that I didn’t add to the ugly cycle.  I became an anchor and started to earn the “stick in the mud” moniker I was given.

 

Schadenfreude

After we got back to the states the group made an effort to hang out and continue to be a tight-knit unit.  A hookup made an attempt at being a relationship.  All of it fell apart.  It would have been depressing to see that camaraderie fade if I didn’t hate it all so much and if I didn’t hate them so much.  Oops, did I just say that?  Guess I did. It was satisfying to see in a twisted way; pure schadenfreude.

But I suppose that I make a strong distinction between the individuals and the group.  The people that were my friends before the trip are much closer friends now even with the 3,000 mile distance.  Somehow.  And for some reason.  I like to think so, anyway.  Why, I don’t know.  Kind of doesn’t make any sense.

Meaning(less)

(Amended 12/22/04)

8 year olds have weak, raggedy arms (as long as you protect your eyes and your heirlooms).  And it sure didn’t have anything to do with a group of singers from California.  Thoroughly unrelated and yet it hit the same mark for some reason.  And even the one recent very minor experience that was even vaguely similar — and it’s a far stretch — hit the France 2002 sore spot and rang the same gong, which caused me to quietly and internally overreact.  I let the past be dredged up to relive the negativity.  I got a grip on it quickly, though.  I kind of realized what was happening.

In truth, we all wanted the same thing from our trip.  We wanted to get the most out of France and enjoy the thrill of being on tour in Europe.  Y’know?  The group and I just had different ways to do that.  For them that meant pure, uncut hedonism and uninhibited fun.  And they did what they had to do to achieve that, beginning with purchasing liquor from the corner grocery store.

For me that meant … wow, what did it mean for me?  What did I want from that trip?  And why did their fun seem so incompatible with me and mine?  If I went (or go in the future) with another group of people would I find myself in the same situation?  Did it have anything to do with my being the only black guy traveling with six younger white people?  I was fascinated by all of the French Africans. Was it a cultural thing?  Different tastes in music, for instance.

I wanted to be there with friends — or even one friend — with similar interests.  I wanted to hang out with someone and check out the jazz scene in Paris, for instance.  Maybe walk around the city and get a sense of more than just the major tourist spots.  Sit at a cafe and talk about being alive.  Take time out to make or play some good music.  Collaborate and write a song about it.  And I really wanted to make friends — meet some of the locals. And I had a fantasy about meeting a beautiful French woman and seeing the country from her perspective.  I guess I’m always looking for connection.  Once you have that connection with people there’s fun to be had anywhere and doing anything.

But the situation I was in was like … it was like a 30 year old (who doesn’t drink) trying to hang out with college freshmen (though the ages of the group ranged from 19 to 25).  Very different approaches to getting the most out of life.  And different metabolisms, too.  Ha ha.  I was so physically exhausted and remained jet-lagged throughout the whole trip.

Different expectations.  Different lifestyles.  That’s all it was.  It’s like being mad at a bee for stinging you.  You know, that “Ow!  You sonofabitch I’ll kill you!”  Bees just do what they do and stinging you costs them a great deal, too.

It’s like hating a dog for peeing on a hydrant. “I’m stuck here in this dog park for three weeks and all these canines want to do is run around, sniff butts, hump and bark!  How dare they!”

People do what they do.  We do what we do to get what we want and the rest be damned.  I know I do.  If that France situation were somehow reversed would I be any different?  Uh … actually, yeh I probably would.  That was some busted shite!

Live and learn.

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