Gloria traced the rough texture of the bricks, the abrasive particles of sand and grit catching the tender skin of her fingertips. A concavity caught her attention, and she paused, cocking her head in curiosity. She scratched at the small hole, widening it, and flakes of mortar tumbled to the ground at her feet, littering her shoelaces with their crystalline dandruff.
She reached the bottom quickly enough, and lost interest when nothing of note appeared. She continued on her way, meandering back and forth across the sidewalk, never stepping on a crack for fear of breaking her mother’s back.
Cedric leaned against the street sign catty-corner to Gloria’s wandering dance, and he watched her with bright eyes. Such a girl would likely have some interesting stories to tell, he thought. His mind made up, he crossed the street, Gloria in his crosshairs.
Gloria froze, her sneaker toe millimeters from a large insect blundering its way across her path. She squatted and squinted at the poor thing–a beetle, she judged. She reached out a hand to touch it, and like that, it spread its wings and disappeared into the bright blue sky without a trace. Gloria smiled broadly, unperturbed that her plans had been so swiftly shattered by such an insignificant creature.
She stood back up and prepared to continue on her way, but a man blocked her.
Cedric knew that with his fighter’s build, he could bed intimidating, but he had spent years perfecting his kindly and disarming smile. He used that smile on Gloria, to an unexpected effect.
“And that’s how your mother and I met, kids.”
Stephen sank a little lower into the booth when he saw the person entering the restaurant.
The absolute last person he ever expected to see in this shithole.
His sophomore English teacher.
The music on the ratty old jukebox jangled on and on, the CD skipping every now and then: never at the appropriate moment for ambiance.
Stephen ducked behind the menu, studying it more intently than he ever studied The Iliad. Mr Wagner’s teacher sense tingled, and he peered over the top of the menu to raise an eyebrow at Stephen’s discomfort.
Mr Wagner signaled to Mabel, the waitress leading him to a table of his own. “I’ll go ahead and sit with my friend here,” he called to her, eyes never leaving Stephen’s.
Mabel didn’t care; She’d been waiting tables at this dive for the past thirty-one years. You couldn’t faze her if you tried. And Mabel would tell you, people tried. Boy, did they ever try. She just kept the fake smile on her face and poured a fresh cuppa joe whenever anyone ran low. Such was the way of the world.
Stephen let the menu slide down to lie on the table between them as Mr Wagner took his seat across the way. Any other teacher, in any other town, he wished. But it was time to take that skeleton out of the closet and face it, once and for all.
“Hey, Mr Wagner,” Stephen’s voice trembled a bit as he greeted the older man.
Mr Wagner looked down his nose at Stephen and raised an eyebrow, questioning without a single word. Stephen knew the question.
“I’m sorry, Mr Wagner,” he offered, as an intro. “I’m sorry we did that to you. I’m sorry it was my idea. I’m sorry for how bad everything turned out. I’m sorry we all lied about it. I’m sorry I lied about it…” The words came tumbling out of Stephen’s mouth, and he hadn’t the foggiest where all of this was coming from. He thought for sure he’d blocked it all out, forgotten everything that happened before his family had to move here, away from the ghouls of Stephen’s past.
But he remembered everything.
And so did Mr Wagner.
And now, the story you’ve all been waiting for! Drumroll, please.
Okay. Wednesday night Ian and I went to our first meeting of a local philosophical discussion group that we joined on Facebook because a good friend of ours started it.
And after that meeting, a nice, comfortable, whiny, she started it would be completely welcome.
This was only the second meeting, and the topic was Racism.
So we made it there, to the fancy private college, noted the five other vehicles in the parking lot, and went inside. When we found out that we had to go upstairs, that was it. I sent an apologetic text to our friend, and we called it a night.
Seriously, though, we went up, found the room, and smiled vaguely at the six other people already seated. Ian was amused on our way there because the Facebook page was blowing up with cancellations. Originally, 29 people had RSVP’d in the affirmative; we finished the count at 14. Five black, nine white.
Anyway, a few minutes after our scheduled start time, one of the two facilitators decided that it was time to begin. We went around the room introducing ourselves. I said I was a writer, just here for fodder. They didn’t know I meant it.
Just as we finished, a pair of black men came in and sat down. One wielded a huge, ancient dictionary like a weapon and wore a black leather satchel, knitted African cap, and beaded bracelet. If his dictionary had pictures in it, he would have been found under stereotypical activist. The other turned out to be a city councilman. They introduced themselves.
Unfortunately, this pair missed the part at the very beginning when the facilitator explained that we weren’t here to solve anything, simply to have a frank discussion. Although, in hindsight, that point may have been completely unfathomable to them.
We then sat through nearly two hours of lecture, as the latecomers monopolized the ‘discussion.’ It was extremely difficult for anyone to get a word in edgewise, even when either of the two asked questions and seemed to expect everyone else to answer.
I did learn a treasure of a phrase, though: at one point, the city councilman was complaining about all the small towns cropping up around the fringes of the big city that we were meeting in, promoting white separatism, and a fellow attendee talked about one neighborhood that was planning to make their own little shit city. Those were actually the only two words I wrote down on my note-taking paper. Priceless, right?
The dictionary-carrier read us the definitions of race, racism, and black man. He repeatedly expressed that this, hefting the dictionary, was where the real meanings of words could be found, not in the interpretations of any person or group. I could feel our friend, the linguist, bristling beside me. He also passed out year-old flyers about a celebration of the real founder of the city, a black man. I seem to have misplaced my DeLorean, so I can’t attend a party in 2014, thanks.
My own apathy towards knowing the history of the area I live in set off a chain of questions in my head: does it really matter who signed the paperwork to incorporate what was once just another shit city? How many people alive now dwell in the same area that their ancestors unto the umpteenth generation did? Is that number really high enough to matter? Why take pride in something someone who died so long ago did? It’s not like he invented gravity or the printing press or glitter adhesive. Note it in the historical archives if you need to stave off your own fear of immortality, but a massive celebration for a dead guy who hasn’t done anything for me? I’ll take a pass.
It’s the same reason I don’t care one way or the other about the great Confederate flag debate going on right now–I’m only a second-generation American. My father was the first person in my family born in America, and that was in New Jersey. I’d never even heard of this place, where I’ve spent most of my life, until my mother was accepted at the medical school here when I was eleven. I’m a Southerner, born and raised, but I have absolutely no familial Southern history beyond my own birth here. I just don’t have a stake in it.
And yet. I do understand the choice made to identify with one or the other of one’s ethnic background; I call myself Lithuanian, when I could as easily be Latvian. But both of those are from my father; my mother’s family are longtime Americans. I sometimes think that has much to do with my maiden name.
The only other person to get a decent portion of attention was a self-proclaimed historian. He took over toward the end to read from some articles he’d printed out from the internet. He said he would sum up, but he read almost the entire thing aloud.
Did you know that the pineal gland is calcified in white people? As we were told many, many times, you can do your own research. I did not; I was hard pressed to stifle my laughter at his repeated mispronunciations.
But the best part was when he started to explain the evil side of fluoride. The problem with water fluoridation is that the purpose is governmental mind control. Obviously. But do you know how it works? When you combine fluorine with sodium, you get an incredibly toxic mixture that decreases the IQ of black men by 21% and black women by 17%. It also makes them docile and easily influenced. It attacks black people because only they have melanin. Or melatonin, He switched it up a couple times. The amount of fluoride that is put in our local water supply–
Our friend interjected. She had done research in this area because she went to college with someone who was also rabidly anti-fluoride. No matter how many times she tried to point out that our water here is so high in fluoride naturally we actually remove some, she was wrong. But of course, you can do your own research.
The real gem is that we had an honest-to-goodness chemist in our midst. For such a small sampling, we certainly had an eclectic and varied mixture of people. Wouldn’t you know it, this chemist’s job was to make–wait for it–fluoride. He was shut down when he said it wasn’t toxic. Ah, well.
We wrapped it up with a few shouted suggestions for next month’s topic: guns, reproductive rights, cultural appropriation, media, and euthanasia. We haven’t come to a decision on that yet.
Afterwards, six of us went for drinks and a snack. We were all agreed in our perception that the meeting would have gone better without the lectures, but it was still generally entertaining.
And our friend plugged my book, so that was nice.