Sunday, October 03, 2004

Telling Wideman's Story - Life Part One - Chapter i

Somehow we decide it would be right to visit my hometown. Detroit. De-lovely Detroit. She wants to see what makes me, me, as I never talk about myself. I do but not in the same obvious ways as others, she doesn’t have to time to try to read me, or she never assumes that I treat my life like a movie, giving out little clues to what’s going on inside, not trying to explain it away. It worked, however, as through the drive to de-lovely Detroit, even I came into a very talkative mood. Sometimes when the humidity is just right, the barometer has dropped just so, I can get into scholastic modes where I riff on uninteresting topics to others, but close to the epidemic that is me. She seems to enjoy this mode as she can find little ways for me to endear myself to her, if not the whole wealth of uncompleted thoughts lead her to this endearment.
Driving towards the epoch that is Detroit in my life, I find myself riffing on the subtext of growing up in one of the most compelling cities in the States. Detroit has a myth towards to it, only a few cities can garner such a reaction when you tell them that you grew up in a city like Detroit. New York seems impressive. Chicago and Los Angeles too. But Detroit has an extra sense of danger or awe, like growing up in a Far East. That awestruck that people feel that you’re still alive after growing up in such a dangerous city. Most natives of Detroit grow to abhor that reaction, that initial stupor that others reflect as if a slave stepped into the white daughter’s room. Detroit is dangerous; there are rules to learn, certain streets to avoid, nighttime is a no-no for anyone not just whites. One must mind their business and they’ll be fine—unharmed, as the evil only comes out of people as you stare them down into their eyes, into their vulnerability. People can adjust their hair, stop smiling, wash up, but no one can counter the emotion that their eyes relay to others. The shame, loneliness, the pity, suffering that evil eyes tell to potential victims. Eyes cannot hide. Do not cross that field of vision, that white rose with stems of thorns, do not see through that empty plea to the world that their ruined life has caused this bubbling, fiery hell of internal evil waiting to spout out and shame trees into ash, as they do not know that only you can prevent forest fires. That’s Detroit.
Detroit has that blue-collar appeal that many mistake for poor and downtrodden. Other cities like Pittsburgh, or Cleveland boast of the blue-collar attitude their city emits, but true blue-collar workers are those who’ll never admit it to others because there’s no time. Blue-collar is going to work everyday, making things a little better, but never having the time to stop and reflect on the nature of the work, blue-collar is going to work every day, because there is no other way how. Detroit has reached the lexicon of being the city that capitalism forgot. Outsiders insult the city as they don’t know of the internal heart that it possesses, and a heart that they wish their city could contain. The flashiness of other cities hides the internal belly-ache that their residents live in daily, that feeling of this is as good as it will get. Detroiters know that their city may be a joke to others but we earned it through no other way of our own merit. Any city that tries to rise up and become a burgeoning metropolis will always be just short of, will never be thought of in the same vein, as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. Who’d want to be outwardly inferior to others? Detroit will build its way up, but the natives will have pride for the city, regardless. We got what we got on our own merit, and we’re too busy working to relish in it, we’re too busy to want our city to be like others, because then it wouldn’t be ours. We’d never get that reaction of childish awe that comes after we say I’m from Detroit, that we all outwardly distain but internally cherish. A sense of pride that we’ve lived a real life without all the meaningless mesh into the mainstream appeal. We’re not like any other city, nor do we please to be.
I wonder if she’ll fully understand how I feel about my hometown, and what it can say about me. I hope she realizes that this little nugget I give to her, is more then I’d give up to anyone else beside her, but I look into her eyes, I see her vulnerability. I see more that she feels a superior endearment towards me, as if I were an impressionable child, foolishly relaying to her what some strongly-opinioned, stubborn old man told me about a city that he once loved too, back when we didn’t know so much about stuff outside our realm of physical being. She smiles like a mother, proud of her own superior intelligence to that of mine, and also smiling because she feels it’d be rude to show blank emotion, but blank emotion is what I’d rather receive. That could at least let me think that she’s taken to heart my deposition on my hometown and is trying to equate how her hometown lives up to the equation that I have thrown into the rant.
But I know she doesn’t feel the same way that I do towards her hometown. She’s never even given it thought. She’s too busy living her life, she’s too busy trying to find the future, instead of relying on the past, to even think how her hometown makes her feel. And this angers me slightly; actually, it makes me resent her, because she’s proven my point wrong. She’s the sum that I’ve tried to add up to, much like how I pride the natives of my hometown for not harping on an identity, she’s not doing that herself becoming everything I said I wanted a person to be, but she’s doing it outside the realm of being from Detroit. She’s not fitting into the exact parameters that I’ve set out for people, and that infuriates me into a passion that I want to unleash into a fury of sex, rather then making love, I hope she doesn’t enjoy those sessions better, because I don’t anymore.
In the past, trying to be a man, trying to be mature, I would have reviled in these parameters, and argued with her until she gave me a reaction or some sort of diatribe on her hometown, then I would drive her home and call the whole thing off.
I come across my old high school, an all-male school, and I am reminded of a teacher that I once had. He taught one of those sham classes that for some reason was required of all seniors, where its more for the senior to try to learn some sort of grounding before they’re thrust into society but inevitably a teacher takes it too seriously and misses the spirit of the class and tries to unleash assignment after assignment on us to make it appear to any outsiders that happened to have taken a day off work and were walking by the classroom, that this teacher is teaching this class. Students call this “busy work” and learn to loathe the term. Fortunately, this teacher understood the class. He was male by the way. After I say that, she gives me a look of faint feminism. As a woman she feels she must defend her sex, regardless of if she truly understands what the statement means.
I tell her that most female teachers feel the need to gain false control over the class by assigning meaningless work. Trying to reconcile not having any control in the outside world? Perhaps, but more thinking that all men, regardless of age, see a woman and instinctually turn it into a battle of the sexes? Exactly. I tell her that if most women realized how little men think about oppressing women, that feminism could truly take root and make changes in the world. I also tie-in how women often twist actions done by men as oppressing. She laughs that superior motherly laugh, as if she can’t believe what I’m saying, I’m clearly out of my mind if I truly believe I what said, and the laugh dismisses my point to childish conjecture.
This belief will now never lift past the roof of this car. There’s such a strong defeat from that one small laugh, that subsequently, my thesis will crush deep into my mind never to escape again. That laugh reduced it to rubble, she’ll never repeat it, because she has to blindly defend women merely because she’s a women. To that remark she does nothing, finally the reaction that I wanted, she’s taking it in, becoming immersed in it, seeing how her mind can twist it around to come out as a thought of her own in a later conversation about feminism and how women, for some reason, always defend other women’s actions just for the sake of feminism. The other members of the conversation will then in turn, do the same, and this notion will become public domain, with no royalties to the initiator of the premise.
Men do not defend ridiculous acts done by other men. If a man makes a mistake, most men will acknowledge it, call it out so all the public can see. Maybe that’s why men are better then women. No, men are better for many other reasons. This time she laughs more like a audience member paying to see someone on stage. That laugh signifies that all the points I’ve tried to make will be disregarded. I always do that. I have to remember that when I try to make a point, when I try to wax philosophically, I cannot tell a joke at the end, as whatever I say will be lost to that punch line, which ironically, had nothing to do with whatever I was saying as I reach for that cheap laugh. Oh, woe is the comedian—never fully respected for the intelligence they possess as laughter apparently overwhelms respect.
I see the teacher that thought that sham seniors-only class, I forget its name know, and I see him still teaching. What class, I don’t know as I did not talk to him for any way to find out. I see him through the window, and I look at how old he’s become. Its only been a few years now, not even. He was bald then, but now his baldness becomes more a part of how I think of him. Before, I never fully noticed or inspected his baldness, but now it shouts at me that this is a man lowered from the high esteem I had for him back in my youth, back a few short years ago, not even.
As one without father, I’m constantly, subconsciously, looking for male role models. Those that initially irritate me, I come to respect the most. I think its because they are a lot like me, and I hate losing that uniqueness that is me, so my mind wants to get me away from that person so I can feel that I am unique, as not being unique, I’ll wage into another battle with self-esteem. Much like the brain tells the body to eat its own organs as a defense mechanism, my mind tells me to hate those that are like me, as a defense mechanism against self-esteem. So if I am forced to be around the duplicate of me, long after that person has left my life, my mind brings down the forts, and I see how much I respect the person, and regret having left without using him or her to their fullest capacity to help me in some way, any way.
However, this teacher was different. I never saw anyone act like him before. I didn’t agree with much of what he said, as he was a deeply religious, old-fashioned conservative, me considering myself a new-school conservative, one who feels all should be left on their own devices, but feeling compassion only to certain failures where in which I’ll defend them in other conversations, if their story hits me at just the right time. But I admired the way he was so adamant in his stances regardless of how much the intelligently ignorant students furiously tried to argue with him. They couldn’t hold their own to him, I guess they never realized that he had at least forty-five years to mold his stance and they were just arguing off their own relatively short-lived rebellion to any in an authoritarian position. I never argued. I merely admired him as he never backed down, not even a smudge on his own beliefs. Back then I used to think that was maturity, having a belief and sticking to it, I mean, he did seem to act like he was really trying to see if an argument hurriedly yelled out to him from a teenager could make him think any differently then the way he had for most of his life, a point that even he’ll consider longer then the kid yelling it out to him as the kid’ll forget it as soon as the bell rings, or will just stop caring about it. That isn’t maturity for me, now. It worked for him, but my maturity couldn’t be adapted from someone else’s, it had to fit, I couldn’t just imitate a new exotic way of stature when I was confusing my astonishment to a new way of being an adult to that of respect.
The trip to my beginning continued when I saw all the other hotspots of my youth, those that could only mean something to me, not even those who owned them. The big rock at the corner of the street we turned down to from the major road. The one that allowed us to get to the section of streets that contained ours, and allowed me to know ho soon we would be getting home from a long drive. Even today, when I had a chance to read the street name, I didn’t want to know. The brick wall that separated the park from the apartment complex where I would pitch nine-inning games for the Detroit Tigers, the trail through that stretch of grass to Telegraph Rd. that was made by dozens of children all riding their bikes on the same line, the strip mall just far enough away to where it was a journey to go to, but not far enough that we didn’t want to do it everyday. Afterwards, we drove back to our little door in the ever-elongating hallway, to the little sense of home that we had created, a place or a feeling, I don’t know which. Something so entirely new to me that I confuse the feelings of astonishment with those of fear.