For a nice change of pace, I’ve been making a little money lately by using my brains. I’ve been writing summary reports on sociological criminology research for a guy who works for the federal Department of Corrections. The three projects I’ve dealt with so far have dealt with scientifically determining the best way to nip juvenile delinquent tendencies in the bud, before they blossom into full-fledged adult criminality.
The connection to 2/3 of my nuclear family’s careers is karmically interesting. My dad once ran a facility that housed juvenile delinquents, him bringing a hard-assed M.O. to the endeavor that befitted what you might expect from someone who once nearly killed an opponent in a boxing bout in the Navy. My sister also began her career by attending to the fundamental needs of at-risk youths, utilizing her touchy-feely demeanor to her treatment to treating her charges.
The guy I’m working for has his PhD in social psychology, whereas my background is in philosophy and religion. As such, he is much better-suited to deal with the material than me, but he has money, whereas I have time. I have an unfounded nagging suspicion that I’m really part of some kind of experiment. But I was also extremely baked when watching The Truman Show, and thought, “Hmm, a lot of interesting stuff happens to me, too…”
With the exception of The Simpsons, which requires my undivided attention, my inclination is to work online while watching (or listening to) a concert or TV show or movie on one side of the screen, doing my other stuff on the other. A waiter for three years, I’m a natural multitasker who does everything half-assed.
As I neared the finish line of a self-imposed deadline, I opted for the visuals of a Dead concert from ’77 to occupy half the screen. As any Dead fan can understand, the gyrations of Donna Jean Godchaux occasionally diverted my attention from the task at hand. It’s hard–pun un-un-intended–to concentrate upon informal social control theories and structural control theory while admiring her beauty.
Using my trifold vision, I noticed the eight-ish year old black city kid sitting next to me peeking views at what I was viewing while I typed, bobbed my head and lyp-sanc to the music I was enjoying. He was most likely thinking, in a curious and perhaps scared mindset, “What is that?” He was probably experiencing an admixture of curiosity and fear. For my part, I empathically romanticized the innocence of youth, imagining him playing a game where he is trying to rescue Dora the Princess from the INS or some shit, so I stole a glance at his online activities.
Instead, what I witnessed was that he was captivated by websites that featured graphic footage of adolescents and young adults beating the shit out of each other, in at least some cases involving unwilling participants, i. e., victims. Baltimore, where this country boy regrettably currently lives–[sigh]–made the national news last year for the recording of such an incident against an incapacitated individual. The beating took place at a time and place proximate to where I was.
I was appalled that the boy’s entertainment was informed by glorification of violence of this sort. It was not just that my reaction was based a priori on the evil of unprovoked evil, nor the synchronistic service I was doing to the US government. It was personal in the sense that I have been needlessly assaulted four times, in various degrees, in the three years I have been in this city. Three of those have involved, collectively, five such young black men. And a visual inspection of me, from my physical build to my face, reveals that I would not be able to take down easily in a physical contest. Only those who know me recognize that while I have cat-like reflexes, I’m at heart a pussy.
Earlier that day, I had teased a friend about wearing a Bill Cosby-esque sweater. In hindsight, I should have asked to borrow it. Maybe then, I could have pulled the lad aside, and given him the discussion that Cliff Huxtable would have given Theo. I could have given him a lecture about the virtues of MLK Jr. and Leave it to Beaver. We could have even eaten some Jell-O together, even though that would trigger Jell-O shot fantasies for me.
Instead, my desire was to take the hard-ass approach. “You think that this kind of shit is cool, you little fuck?! Here’s what we’re gonna’ fuckin’ do: We’re smoking some weed, getting you some porn, and see if we can find you some eight-year-old-going-on-twelve at the playground. Only it’s not the playground you’ll be going down on. These are all terrible things for you to engage in at your age, but they’re less atrocious than this violence-porn that’s captivating you. And the shit you’re watching is going to lead you down a path where you will be end up behind bars and unable to enjoy such pleasures.”
Of course, I did nothing. I could have at least alerted the librarian, but I just wanted to be on my way. I subsequently realized that I had replicated the same moral balk I had about two months prior. I ran into a peripheral acquaintance from Pennsylvania, and we set about a walk to the harbor to drink our 40s. Along the way, she confided, “I’m a prostitute, you know.” The look of sad resignation registered in her face as she said such revealed to me that she was not initiating a sales pitch, but rather engaging in a shameful confession.
My immediate sense was that she wanted me to speak morally to her. My dutiful instinct was to grab and shake her, ideally shocking her into awareness, and ask her, “What the fuck are you doing?!” Instead, I just acknowledged it as if it were nothing. I was still going to treat her the same way. I hadn’t planned on spending more than a 40’s consumption of time with her anyway.
Back to the story at hand. About two hours after I left the delinquent-in-the-making, I passed by a black guy of roughly my age.
“Yo!” he yelled loudly, “you got a light?”
“My nigger!” he exclaimed in appreciation, “I got this cigar, and I need a big light to get it smoking. Brother, you don’t look like you like hip hop, but I got these CDs…”
“Okay,” I thought, “here comes the Baltimore hustle. You could tell them you’ve got just enough cash for your life-saving insulin, and they’ll say, ‘but this is some great ready! How ’bouts four bucks?’.”
I was wrong. He was looking to promote his rap group, giving out free demos to facilitate the process. He told me to sell them for my own benefit or just give them away. Just get the word out. Word.
“I can’t ethically sell anything I’ve been given for free, but I’ll do my best.”
“Thanks, brother, I appreciate it.”
“You take care.”
I surveilled the song titles, noting the notice about explicit lyrics. The stereotype about rap music promoting antisocial values? Completely true in this case. Nonetheless, noting that there were no exhortations to “kill whitey,” I fulfilled my promise to a budding artist such as myself. I quickly distributed the free samples to wiling consumers.
Should it come to pass that the group becomes successful, resulting in the promulgation of thug values to kids like those I’d seen appreciated at the library, I’ll just acquit my conscience on grounds similar to the Eichmann defense. “I was just doing my job.”
Oh right, I just remembered, this is supposed to be exclusively a humor blog. So I guess the moral of the story is such: One’s lifelong nickname can be transformed from “Dude” to the moniker of “My Nigga” within a few hours.