Sunday, July 02, 2006

How to Not Be My Friend...The Abbreviated Version

Please, Aryan princess, hold nothing back. When I ask you an honest question, like, "why is it exactly that you don't like Memphis?" I expect an answer of at least equivalent sincerity. I have several possible answers myself, although I do not, of course, not like Memphis. Acceptable responses include but are not limited to:

--It's flat. And I like hills because they are pretty.
--There are few restaurants in town that could be characterized as, um, "healthy." And I get down with oats and veggies.
--The local politics are somewhere between corrupt and "handlebar-moustache-evil." And I like my politicals honest and forthright. Also, I firmly believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and everything I see on VH1.
--The city schools are poor and ill-managed. And I'm against disparity in public schools.
--I am passionate about football and prefer to live in cities that have a professional football team. Also, I like basketball but prefer to root for teams that do not feature anyone named "Pau."

And so on. Acceptable responses do not include:

--I feel uncomfortable living in close proximity to so many women who are so much more attractive than I am.
--I don't like clean water.
--I resent cities with a rich musical heritage.
--I think the Mississippi River is lame. Also, Huck can go to hell.

And so on. But, among the least acceptable responses, on this particular night, this particular Oklahoman hand-picked the most offensive. She sang her tune and it went something like:

"I've stopped through a few times and gotten lost and had to ask some really sketchy people for directions. It's just really scary."

At this point I, like you, am a little confused. I can't help but feel I'm missing information. Who are these sketchy people? And why does a girl with a seemingly boundless supply of intelligence get lost so frequently? She knows that most interstates are accompanied with roadsigns, right?

"What made these people sketchy?"
"They just scared me. I couldn't understand them."

Now we have new information. We know that these people are 1) scary and 2) speaking some kind of language alien to her particular brand of Heartland Mallqueenish. Still no answer as to why keeping her car on the same road is, simply put, an impossibility and a pipedream.

"And where were these horrible, mumbling monsters in the greater geography of the city?"
"I don't know where I was! I was trying to get downtown. It happened a few times."

And then it dawned on me. I think I know these people. I've seen them myself. "Oh," I thought to myself. "She means black people."

"You mean black people."
"Yeah, they were. One time it was someone hispanic and they couldn't speak English or anything. Like I said, it happened a lot of times."

And I'm immediately overcome with sympathy for the girl and, somehow, find her UNRELENTING HATRED for the city so completely understandable. Imagine a metropolitan area in which any given Nordic girl on any given day (at any given time of day, no less!) might get lost, need help, and have to endure the humiliation and suffering of asking a black, hispanic, Asian-American, Indian, or full-blooded Apache person for assistance. Would you want to spend any time in a city with a healthy, diverse population? Would you ever, IN YOUR LIFE, want to spend another second in a city with an underclass consisting mostly of minorities, standing on the sidewalk, ready to pounce at any moment and--gasp and drool--GIVE YOU DIRECTIONS TO THE I40 JUNCTURE?

Of course, I could say a number of things as this is unfolding. Citing my recent "vacation" to Tulsa (her hometown), I could state that her fear of non-white people is understandable, since non-white people do not exist in Tulsa. But, near as I could tell, white people don't either. There is in the heart of Tulsa a plaque that reads:

"In 1952, the greater population of Tulsa was attacked and defeated by mutant tumbleweeds. Today there stands only this plaque and, as a testiment to our past glory, three Taco Buenos. The surviving Tulsanians fled to more desirable destinations, such as Wisconsin, Serbia, and Communist Tibet."

I could've said this and more, but didn't. First, I have nothing against Oklahoma, Kansas, Idaho, or any of those states that people don't visit on purpose. I imagine, in my most colorless dreams, that they are idyllic and lovely. Second, a perk and byproduct of my specific upbringing (which may or may not be related to wherever the hell I'm from), is that I consider it rude to verbally attack a stranger's home. But the third--and, sadly, most deciding factor--was that I've heard this before. Enough times, in fact, to speak fluent "horsecrap."

I can seemlessly translate statements like, "Nashville is just cleaner and safer," to "Nashville is whiter and, also, I'm lame." This is intolerably dumb for two reasons: 1) It's statistically inaccurate. 2) Even if it were accurate, it's disingenuous. You're not REALLY talking about litter, right? So, "I like hanging out in this part of town the most--it's my favorite!" becomes, "I like overpriced drinks and asexual people. And, also, I'm incredibly lame."

And what I'm trying to say is this: The Beatles came from Liverpool, not Notting Hill. Ulysees was set in Dublin, not Paris. The Aryan royals of the world can take the money, take the tea rooms, take the feeder schools, take the tennis lessons, and stay in Lake Forest. Or Highland Park. Or The O.C. I'll take an actual city: one with an upper, middle, and lower class; one in which the minorities form a collective majority; one with actual, visible problems and tangible, unique strengths; one whose underdog spirit is not a source of insecurity, but a badge of pride; one that, when asked an honest question, cannot hold back because it is incapable of doing so. I'll take a city that doesn't always win, because those are the places with stories worth reading.

And, if I'm greedy, I'll take a city with hills. Because they're pretty.

Basking in the afterglow of my waning patriotism,


Michael said...


P.S. Seattle is a great city with hills.

ross k. said...

I'm going to admit my lameness as a step toward repenting it...I actually had a "got lost and was scared of black people" experience in Memphis, and told a black person about it. Not just any black person, but the great Marcus Finnie. This is awfully embarrassing now, but it was not the only stupid, embarrassing thing to him when I first met him, because I was in awe of his musicianship and had no social graces with which to hide it. We all trip sometimes. My excuse is that I still attended Vanderbilt at the time that this was happening and was more uptight about conditions in the real world outside the bubble. Anyway, if he was offended, he played it off well, and actually in this instance I believe he instigated the conversation by asking which town I thought was more racist, Memphis or Nashville. My first reaction was Memphis, and then he very importantly asked, "from the white people or the black people?" And I realized that it was from the white folks.

Interestingly, as we've said before, Memphis and Louisville (where I'm from) are much more like each other than either one is like Nashville.

Go to, Marcus is amazing. Actually, he is gracing Louisville's Jazz Factory with his music in August.

Cricket said...

I might love you a little for writing this.

Mimi said...

Where have you been all our lives?

Next time we hang, we can talk about racist idiots. I work up quite a steam on this and how they make all Southerners look like inbred ninnies.

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