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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

HEY WHITEBOY


georgia o'keefe

Changing clothes yesterday before going into town for lunch, I thought I'd go over the face hair with clippers, trim it back. It was ragged, which I liked. Decided to leave some goat beard, shorten it by about half, got carried away with the clippers and mowed all of it. It will grow back. Now I don't have to mess with it for awhile. It is one of the great privileges of retirement that I can let my continually growing hair go and not fool with it. At home, I wear the same things all the time, changing shoes three and four times a day for going outside to feed the donkeys and slip n slide to the mailbox. At times feet become annoyingly frozen, I take the warm ones from the heater and put the cold shoes on the heater toward next change. I prefer not to smell in public like I look. I'm now one of the worst looking people in the grocery store. I'd best stay out of Walmart or my picture will appear online in collections of the freaks sighted in Walmart. Now that I go almost no place, I let appearance go. Laziness. Tired of shaving. I've been tired of shaving since the first time. My daddy lathered his face up with a brush in such excess I dreaded having to shave. He used the Gillette double-edge blades and finished with little dabs of toilet paper stuck to his face. He took time shaving like mother took with makeup. Serious business. I was unable to make such a ritual of shaving, and so glad when the Bic disposable razors came along. I'd take a small amount of lather from the spray can and smear it on my face, go over it with the razor and be done. I missed places and didn't care. I shaved less and less as I grew older. Shaving did not make me feel like a man. That was not the kind of man I wanted to be. I'll call it Obedience Man. I never wanted to be an obedient robot. Took a lot of hell for it in the early years. It just made me worse. 

marcel janco

In childhood play with neighbor kids, we were in the time of cowboys and Indians, before the time of cops and drug dealers. I only played the Indian, could not play cowboy in the early years for the same reasons I could not be a cop grown up and have a hard time not being ashamed of my status as a white man. White man has been an oppressor to people of any shade of any color for multiple centuries. I don't know where it came from in early childhood, but in the company of people of other shades of pigment I feel shame. I thought the Lone Ranger was cool for having an Indian his best friend. I thought Tonto was much cooler than Kimo Sabe. For me, the Lone Ranger was Tonto's sidekick. If I'd seen Dances With Wolves in childhood, I would have dove in, entered the movie and become Kevin Costner. I like Graham Greene the actor in movies. I think I had an identity problem in childhood. I did not feel right about being white. I was not comfortable with white privilege. I knew some Mexican kids and knew some black kids, liked them a lot. My best friend K-6 was Mexican, Mitchell Ledesma. He could not go to Catholic school for a reason I never knew. Maybe parents couldn't afford it. They surely could have. All the Mexican kids went to Catholic school. I had a sense he'd been into some sort of trouble, insubordinate or something. I liked Mitchell. He was a good guy. I didn't know then that the other kids took me for a Mexican-lover, wouldn't have cared if I knew. The other kids didn't have much to do with him, which was ok with me. He was more interesting to me than the others. Catholic school only went to the sixth grade for the Mexican kids. They entered the public school system in the seventh grade. Mitchell and I drifted apart through the seventh grade as he spent more time with his Mexican friends. 

anish kapoor

I never had any problems with the Mexican kids. They all knew I was Mitchell's friend. They were friendly to me. We went into the seventh grade in 1954, the year of school desegregation. All the time before was in the time of overt segregation. The varieties of skin tones lived in their own neighborhoods. My parents were barely tolerant of me having a Mexican friend, more because he was a Catholic than a Mexican, though Mexican was bad enough. To walk to the movie theater a mile and a half to two miles, the longest way was through white neighborhoods. The shortest way was through the Mexican section and the black neighborhood. I wished none of them any ill will and took the shortest way through their neighborhoods feeling safe. There was so much white teenagers beating up black teenagers in the time, a white kid was not safe where the black people lived. I felt no problem. I was not one of the ones bullying them, and they knew it. I did not know it, but they knew who I was and where I lived. They knew I was friendly with the few black people I knew. I walked by a bar I wanted to go inside so badly. It was the time of pomade and men wearing caps made of a woman's stocking during the day to hold the hair down for Friday and Saturday nights. I saw a number of the people there coming and going during my walks to the movie theater on Saturday afternoons, and no one even looked at me with a hint of a threat. Red-headed, freckled Irish-looking kid, ultra-whiteboy. They may have admired the kid's pluck, unafraid of them. I felt no ill toward them in my heart and had a faith it would keep me safe. A few old men sat out front during the days in wooden chairs, men who were not quite right, needed looking after. They were welcome at the bar, a place they could be safe during the day where everybody knew them and saw to it nothing happened to them. 

antoni tapies

Walking by the bar, I'd speak with the old boys leaning back in their wooden chairs against the wall of the bar. They'd smile big and I'd smile big. The time came when I walked through the black section every time, primarily to see the old boys in front of the bar. They recognized me and I recognized them, how you doin? The music on the jukebox was the music I listened to at home on the black AM station where the music was the best, Ivory Joe Hunter, Big Mama Thornton, Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed, James Brown, The Chantels. It was dark and smoky inside the open doorway. The jukebox played a song I liked every time I passed. It was the time of Ray Charles, Lonely Avenue, and Bill Doggett's Honky Tonk that was number one for a year. I probably would have been safer in there among the grownup black people than anywhere else. The way white people believed, I'd have been killed walking in the door. I believe I could have gone in and bought a coke at the bar and it would have been a friendly time. Though my heart believed I could walk in the door and be ok, my white upbringing told me to be afraid, white culture the only culture I knew, culture the same as reality from the inside. As throughout my life, I had conflicted feelings. My heart and mind said one thing and the culture I lived in said another, most often quite another. I watched Fifties cowboy and Indian tv shows pulling for the Indians, knowing they would lose, they always do, but they were my people, my team I fought with in the neighborhood Indian wars. According to ancestry.com DNA lab results, I'm mostly German, almost as much Irish, then English and Swedish. I'm a whiteboy. And I've never felt right being white. I grew up in a world of white people who looked down on anybody of any race other than white. I never saw any sense in it, yet it became a part of me, a part I shook off when I set out on my own. 



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