Tuesday, January 22, 2008

King's Eve

It was a sunday at Vinny Testa's Restaurant in Brookline, Massachusetts, a neighborhood of Boston. I sat at a booth with fellow wait-staff, all of us enjoying our comp-ed shift meals and talking about what we were doing the next day. None of us had to work, and school was cancelled for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

"Back at home," I told them. "They had King's Eve, where everybody got together to drink forties and watch 'Boyz in da Hood' and 'Menace II Society.'"

Across the table, my boyfriend Peter gaped at me, horrified.

"That's not the proper way to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King!" he cried.

I shrank back in my seat, tried to laugh off my embarrassment. "So I guess that suggestion's out?"

A new topic of conversation billowed up-as it usually does when I say something stupid. And as usual, I agonized, replayed those words in my head, wishing I'd never said them. You're not in Phoenixville anymore, I admonished myself.

The damage had been done. From then on, Peter referred to me as his "racist girlfriend" and my friends back home were "your racist friends back home." Each time, I protested, "I'm not racist." Sometimes I even went as far as to say, "It's complicated. You're not from Phoenixville."

In Phoenixville, I explained, everyone makes fun of everything. Nothing is sacred. Irreverence, to us, is an art. I recalled late nights at the Vale Rio Diner, sitting around and trying to come up with jokes that offended or grossed out my friends. The point was to offend somebody. The object of the game was to shrug at the offensive remarks, to act like you're not offended.

And then, to further prove my argument, I referenced boys of the local Philly suburbs, gone famous-Jackass and the Bloodhound Gang. In the Jackass movie, the guys dressed up like pandas and skateboarded through Tokyo. It was supposed to be funny when they fell, weighed down in their costumes. It was also supposed to be funny because it's pandas in Tokyo, a stereotype shoved in your face. The point was to upset other people-because when people get upset, it's funny.

Or is it?

When we tell offensive jokes, we refuse to take responsibility for what we say. It's as if we are saying: Well, it's YOUR problem if you're offended. It's as if we shouldn't be expected to be conscientious or respectful of each other. It's as if it's okay to blur the line between humor and hurt. It's as if a good joke is worth another's feelings of self worth. Above all, it helps bad stereotypes prevail. You never know when an idiot is listening, thinking that it's okay to refer to female basketball players as "nappy headed-hos."

So often, we say: "It's okay, as long as nobody gets hurt." That's just not true when it comes to race.

We all know how well that rule holds up. How many people wrote letters to Comedy Central, complaining about the Dave Chappelle show? How many want to ban "Huck Finn" and remove "The Kite Runner" and "Nappy Hair" from school reading lists? Read the Letters-to-the-Editor in the paper this Sunday. Everyone's offended.

Perhaps it's because people are so damn touchy, the tradition of King's Eve lives on?

It's been seven years since I moved from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania to Boston. When I lived there, I was in high school. But studies show that adolescents are more apt to say what is on everybody's mind. Is it a Phoenixville thing? Is it a teenage thing? Whatever is the cause, the effect of offensive jokes is always the same. It's not harmless.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

On Being a Weirdo

There's nothing that annoys me more than a person who refers to him or herself as "weird." "Nerd" and "dork" are also labels I hear thrown around a lot. Ironically, it's always fully functioning, khaki-pants wearing, pretty-faced people that claim to be "weird" "nerds" and "dorks."

Back when myspace first started, Drew Barrymore had a profile, and it was really her. In her "About Me" section, she described herself as a nerd. Lord only knows how I happened onto her page, but when I did, I struggled to not send her hatemail. Nerd?! Drew, let me ask you a question: Did you get the shit kicked out of you by boys in grade school for being too ugly? Ever have your mother give you allergy shots? Wear glasses thicker than a dictionary? Nope. While I was doing all that, you were hanging out in Hollywood clubs and screwing the Coreys and snorting coke. Sorry, I still envy you. Well, at least for the clubs and the coke.

It's more than obvious what's going on here. This is self-deprecation at its finest. If you call yourself a weirdo, and you are obviously not, you are in a roundabout way, trying to call attention to exactly how NOT weird you really are. It's the same as fat girls complaining that they are fat, because they want you to tell them that they aren't; and guys saying that they don't want to make out with you, because they really really really do. Backwards psychology, or whatever. Yeah, it works on children. That's about it. The rest of us are exchanging knowing little smirks, wiggling our eyebrows and thinking Groucho Marx-like thoughts.

Take it from a REAL weirdo. When there's something seriously socially wrong with you, you try to hide it. You try to hide it, and you do a shitbad job of it. Which makes you seem all the more weird.

On that note, I'd like to say that from this moment on, I am a person who can call herself weird and actually have it be true. Want proof? Here goes.

A few weird things about AEJR…

1. My mother was a nun before she had me. No, my father was not a priest. Nor did she run away from the convent and get married.

2. My father is a bald songwriting CPA who considers Ronald Reagan to be one of the best things that ever happened to this country. He's not racist, not homophobic, and definitely not religious (despite my mother). He doesn't own a gun. But he voted for Bush. Both of them. Twice.

3. My mother wanted to name me "Minon."

4. When I was little, I was afraid to go to the bathroom with the door closed.

5. I have had chronic sleep paralysis and insomnia since I was four.

6. I can't eat fruit. It makes me gag.

7. But I love mayonnaise sandwiches.

8. I'm synaesthetic. This means that I see letters and numbers in color and I taste shapes. Hence the reason why I can't eat fruit and why I love mayonnaise sandwiches.

9. I once received a letter addressed "Weird Annie." And it wasn't meant in a good way.

10. Most kids like to sing silly songs. I used to walk around our block in Philly, serenading neighbors with Air Supply and Phil Collins.

11. I sucked my thumb until I was nine.

12. I believed in Santa Claus until I was nine.

13. At my first and only Girl Scout troop meeting, the girl scouts beat me up.

14. I hate Disney World. I always have. As a kid, when my family would go, I stayed with my grandparents. I thought it was stupid.

15. I don't like animals. They get on my nerves. They annoy me worse than people who call themselves weird. But I'm vegan. I don't like them, and I don't eat them.

16. I always preferred Luke Skywalker to Han Solo.

17. When my grandfather died, it was because he'd fallen and couldn't get up. Just like the commercial, you know: "I've fallen, and I can't get up!" At thirteen, I thought this was the funniest thing and went around telling everyone and cracking up laughing. People were like: "I'm so sorry!" And I was like: "It's so great! Just like the commercial!"

18. As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, I used to get so bored with my life that I prayed that Saddam Hussein would blow up my school, or someone would die, or my parents would get divorced-just so SOMETHING would happen!

19. My favorite Catholic saint is St. Lucy because she had her eyes gouged out.

20. I have two middle names.

21. Growing up, my best friends and I called ourselves the Beaconfingers.

22. My junior year in high school, I had six boyfriends at once.

23. I have played in bands called The Honkeys, Burned at the Steak, and Run It In Dry.

24. While in those bands, I wrote a song called "Do You Wanna Get Slapped, Motherfucker?"

25. I have an obsession with Buster Brown shoes. I wish they made Buster Brown shoes for adults.

26. My favorite places to write include closets and empty bathtubs.

27. I started teaching English to high school and college students in 2001. Since then, I've cancelled class once because I had trouble getting dressed. Okay, twice.

28. I once got stuck in an escalator at Barnes and Noble.

29. When I was little, I believed that celebrity endorsements were for real. Like they did commercials for free, because they really believed in certain products.

30. My idea of a fun Friday night is hanging out at the library and reading incredibly convoluted literary criticism of Romantic and Victorian period literature.

31. I check my horoscope religiously because I have a really hard time making up my mind.

32. I'm obsessed with Robin Hood movies.

33. I have no desire to get married or have kids and I'm almost thirty.

34. I once spent thirty dollars on a jar of miracle honey.

35. I used to teach a literature class down the hall from a morgue.

36. I hate going out on New Year's Eve.

37. I nearly killed one of my students on a flight of stairs.

38. I'd rather date a fat guy than a skinny guy.

39. When I'm having a bad day, I watch Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. It's cheaper than therapy, and doesn't leave you with a hangover.

40. I wrote my weirdness in a blog and posted it on the internet for all to see.