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Mr. Nigga: A List of Things

  • In third grade, an older boy asked me, “What’s up, cuz?”  I told my mother that I had a cousin at school that I didn’t know about.
  • In fourth grade, we learned about Africa and thus Dahomey.  The other students found “da homie” hiiiiilarious and paired the phrase with their best 90s rap hands.  I was unimpressed.
  • In fifth grade, Pete asked whether or not I would date the Filipino girl, Mary, if we never got any black girls in our class (Congrats, Filipinos!  You are the next closest thing to black).   I responded, “I guess so.”  I should have acted on that quick because Mary is and always was awesome.
  • I went to a corner store and was shocked by the price of the Marvel Comics trading cards and left empty-handed.  The owner accused me of stealing from his shop.  My mom talked to him and we settled on good terms.
  • I too have endured a lifetime of people who wanted to touch my hair.
  • A “friend” from church once explained the scar on his stomach by saying that he was stabbed.  The detail that made it believable?  A black guy did it.  Because black guys. It was an appendectomy scar.
  • Another “friend” repeatedly insisted that I join the church band as a rapper just because.  “Come on, man.  I know you’ve got that soul in you.”  I never go to that church anymore.
  • I’ve been told, “Of course you’ll get into University X.  You’re black.”  Though well-intended, my resume is strong enough that that the comment is meaningless.
  • A woman in Squirrel Hill complained about the house nigger security guard at the laundromat for enforcing the rules as he is paid to do.  One can assume that if he didn’t have a job he would have been a regular nigger (or a field nigger if you are concerned with completing dichotomies).
  • Everyone assumes I can dance.  Ask my salsa class about this.
  • I once exited my college dorm on Forbes Avenue after a young white woman walked by.  She ran three blocks in her jeans.
  • An excited Vietnamese man in Ho Chi Minh City asked me if I was a professional basketball player.  I am 5’4″.
  • A dear friend assumed that one of my parents was white because that’s how you make me make sense.
  • After a weekend of prolonged exposure to the sun, a woman I was dating told me that I was now too dark to meet her father.  I think she was joking.
  • Following that same weekend, a co-worker laughed at how dark I had gotten.  She is a sweet girl, though not one knowledgeable of American racial dynamics.
  • At the end of a company Christmas party, a co-worker’s wife said, “Good night, Carlton.”  My name is Eric.  I laugh about the nickname I had and didn’t even know about it.  I may have others.
  • I am the world’s most well-spoken man according to middle aged white men.  This should probably feel comforting, but I fear that I’ve surpassed a low bar.
  • A young Mexican girl came to my place of work and asked, “What kind of Black are you?”  I told her what I knew of my family’s history.  She doesn’t know her grandfather’s name.

I feel like I never respond to these situations properly.  Sometimes I speak up and sometimes I say nothing.  Laughter is my default response to things that make uncomfortable.  Sometimes my blood boils, but I hold back for fear of going overboard.  I ask myself, “Am I being sensitive?  Sometimes people say stupid things.  Are they joking?  Are they trying to be funny and failing?”

And then I wonder am I failing?

Should I be angrier?

I used to be an angry guy.  I’m not anymore.  A lot of that is because I’ve divorced myself from “the small stuff,” among which many of the above incidents qualify.  Am I being complacent to ignore them?  Am I doing a disservice to the black and brown folks who are unable to ignore them?  Have I abdicated my responsibility to be an agent of change?

I don’t know.


Jonathan Ng’s Requiem for Romance

Stunning.  Find more at Jonathan Ng’s home page.

Walking With Bison, Fleetwood Mac, and Adventures in Yellowstone National Park

I will always be the first to confess that I know next to nothing about Fleetwood Mac.  If an armed gunman were to burst into a room and say, “I will shoot the first guy who confesses to know next to nothing about Fleetwood Mac,” my hand would dart up into the air and I would proudly volunteer, “I am that guy.”

Who is this charming young devil?

Who is this charming young devil?

The things that I know or think I know about Fleetwood Mac are as follows:

  • They loved drugs
  • Everyone had sex with everyone
  • They were manufactured for an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music
  • Music critics adore them although no actual human beings do

Perhaps I’m being unfair.  I know of at least one human being who cares about them a great deal.  Someone who finds their music to be majestic.

Angie was one of eight Pitt students on a month long field course  held at Yellowstone National Park and its surrounding areas.  She was wise (or at least old) beyond her years for she enjoyed the music of Fleetwood Mac and recommended that it be played during our lengthy car rides.  “Everywhere” was Angie’s jam, so to speak.


And how could it not be?  Listen to that intro.  It is magical!  Pixies are comin’, y’all.

We started each day at the K Bar Z Ranch (the website is almost unchanged since 2002), close to Cody, WY and the Montana border.  We loaded up two vans with instructors and students and drove to some hardcore hiking in the Beartooths, the Abserokas, and in Yellowstone itself.  We went to Cody to see the rodeo and Fleetwood Mac followed us.  “Everywhere” was everywhere.

Young hooligans.

Young hooligans up to no good.

The trip was split into three portions, the first focusing on geology, followed by biology, and then a historical and political review of the development of the West.

During a particularly brutal and desperate hike we devolved into rampant lawlessness.

During a desperate moment we devolved into rampant lawlessness.

The hiking was hardest in the geological segment, but also the most giving in its beauty.  The Yellowstone region is essentially a laboratory where you witness almost every significant geological process at work.  Old Faithful is merely a fraction of what is fascinating about the region.  I saw gorgeous blue pools that could melt your skin off, young kettle lakes, stones transported by glaciers that were large enough to crush houses, and the collapsed remnants of an ancient volcano.  The whole place could still blow up soon.

In the Beartooths.

In the Beartooth Mountains.

Rushing waters.

Rushing waters.

I was impressed beyond the geology because the wildlife was also incredible.  We drove to the park long before the sun rose to search for wolves and we encountered a baby bear on the side of the road eating flowers, so unlike the ruthless killer it would eventually become.  The mysterious watermelon snow could be found at the tops of the highest mountains in June.  We walked through a field of hundreds of bison and came within 30 yards of the massive creatures.  We wore boots for the hiking and also for protection from rattlesnakes.  There were midnight raids from curious black bears.

Vicious honey bear at work.

Vicious honey bear at work.

I’ve done a good deal of international travel since 2002, but I regard the Yellowstone trip as the most important of my life.  It gave me a sense for how large, weird, and wonderful our world is and how you don’t have to go that far to see it.  Perhaps it is a naive memory on my part, but I feel that even the politics were different out there.  I recall that Red State/Blue State flag-planting was muted by a strain of libertarianism that existed before high school philosophers thought it was cool.

Cody, Wyoming children traumatizing a calf.

The young children of Cody, Wyoming traumatizing a calf.

That Fleetwood Mac would be my most dominant memory from the Yellowstone trip seems appropriate.  The band seems like it would be a hit with the “turquoise and silver” crowd, the kind of guys that wear cowboy boots, bolo ties, and t-shirts with wolves on them.  There’s a lot of that in one of America’s last sanctuaries of nature.  I never seek out “Everywhere”  for a listen, but the song is a time warp for me during our scarce encounters around the radio dial.

A better kind of turquoise.

A better kind of turquoise.

Deep blue pool.

Deep blue pool.

From within Yellowstone.

From within Yellowstone.

Also from the park, possibly from the top of Mt. Washburn.

I will never forget.

Bad to the Bone

I nailed an interview yesterday.  My suit was sharp, my walk confident and as I exited the building, “Bad to the Bone” started playing on the radio.  It was surreal and made my day.

The most rewatchable and greatest action movie of all time.

Regarding Saturday Morning Cartoons Theme Songs

Eric: So I heard that they’re going to be making a Captain Planet movie.

Friend: *singing* Captain Planet, he’s our hero / Gonna take pollution down to zero

Eric: That was definitely a memorable theme song.  You know what was the best series theme though?

Friend: The Perry Mason theme?

Eric: No, I actually don’t know that one.  I was going to say the X-Men theme.

Friend: Ahh… Well I don’t know that one.

Eric: What?!  You’ve never heard it?  You’ve gotta listen.  *googles the youtubes*

Friend: Well, let me find the Perry Mason theme too then.

Eric: Here it is.  The animated intro isn’t too shabby either.

Friend: Yeah, that is good.  Well, here’s the Perry Mason theme.

Eric: Oooooh.  I do like that.  But you know what…


*dramatic sting*

It’s the same song!

Pimping My Friend’s Shiz

I want to veer wildly off topic and give a shout-out to my friend Matt and his new blog. I’ve known Matt since 2004 and we’ve been Facebook friends for just about as long, which is funny because we barely know each other.

His wife, Marie, WHO STILL WILL NOT BE FACEBOOK FRIENDS WITH ME EVEN THOUGH I WANT TO TELL HER THAT SHE WAS ONE OF MY MOST INFLUENTIAL TEACHERS EVER, was my instructor for two courses during my Semester at Sea experience. I saw Matt and his kids frequently around the ship, but we were friends although I could tell that he was a cool dude. Early 2005 was the Wild West days of Facebook for us non-Ivy League types, so when his friend request came through I initially thought to myself, “WTF?” andly had to update myself as to who he was. Like anyone else I’d seen at least one time before, I approved his request, but had no idea what awesome writing he would deliver.

There’s no other way to say it – Matt is my best Facebook follow. His status updates work more like mini-essays and cover all manner of topics from sports to politics to parenthood. His humor, kindness and genuine concern come through in his writing and it makes me feel like we’re friends even though we’ve never talked. And he’s sneakily convincing – I think I’ve incorporated some of his leanings into my own political views.

So why bring this up? He’s a new blogger and so am I. Maybe shining a light on him can keep him writing regularly. His blog is in a nascent state at the moment, but check back frequently and show him some love.