“It was like hamburger meat shootin’ out of his chest.”
His burger was rare; blood & oil ran down his double-chinned beard, down his marshmallow-chain fingers, staining his freedom fries. Nirvana on his face. Brown on the outside, pink on the inside. Just like a nigger.
That nicotine itch on the back of my brain. Dim lights, lukewarm coffee, waitresses preparing for the worst. Denny’s. Just after Friday, approaching 2AM, the bars letting out soon; the diner to be filled with drunk, obnoxious GI’s & 20-somethings who wished they didn’t live here anymore. All looking to fight or to fuck, some looking for both, maybe simultaneously. Our cue to leave.
Three of us: me, King, and Jones. This story’d be better if you knew ‘em. Hell, your life would be better if you knew ‘em. But I’m sure this story & your life will both be pretty good anyway, so let’s move on. We’re black, the three of us. I wouldn’t usually take the time to point that out, wouldn’t usually have to, but again, you don’t know us. Yet.
Waiting for the bill, got that paranoid itch on the back of my neck. Turn around — green eyes socketed into a blue-collar cracker, polo shirt that doesn’t fit on so many levels. Looks like he’s got something to say.
People stare at King. A lot. He’s not a fan of that. He engages our suitor, with a touch of menace in his voice:
“Yo, you need something man, or what?”
Guy picks up his burger.
“You ever seen that movie, Boondock Saints? Best goddamn movie ever made. They’re making a sequel. I killed a black guy once.”
Takes a bite; just like that.
He finishes his mouthful, and keeps talking.
“I used to work the graveyard at this convenience joint in the city, one of those 24/7 places, not the best neighborhood. Between the sirens, the gunshots, the yelling, couldn’t even hear the Beach Boys. And the ‘customers,’ Jesus, I was always surprised that they actually had money. I knew how they got it though, no surprises there.
One day this guy comes in, black guy, sticks a gun in my face, says, ‘Give me all the cash!’ Ain’t my money to give, but I don’t put up a fight; I got a surprise for his ass.
My boss was a Muslim or an Arab, one of those. They call ‘em ‘Sand Niggers.’ He always hated the term, not on account of the ‘N-Word’ or nothing, just because he found it insulting to be compared to black people.
After 9/11, people come around harassing him, threatening and the like. So he buys this shotgun, stores it under the counter. Loaded, just in case.
So I give the guy the money, he hears sirens, freaks out, turns to run away. I pull out the shotgun, ‘Good Vibrations,’ is playing on the radio.
I can see the anti-depressants draining out of his Jones’ face. Drunks stumble in. Bill arrives. Guy keeps on talking:
“It was like hamburger meat shootin’ out of his chest.”
His burger was rare; blood & oil ran down his double-chinned beard, down his marshmallow-chain fingers, staining his freedom fries. Nirvana on his face. Brown on the outside, pink on the inside. Just like a nigger. Once upon a time, he only would’ve been 3/5’s of a cannibal. We’ve come a long way since then; he’s the first to remind us when Jones tries to get real:
“So… you shot him in the back?”
“Damn right, I did.”
“Even though he was running away? Not a threat? You decided his life was worth that money, armed robbery, a capital offense, and you, his judge, his jury, his executioner…”
“Hey now, don’t get all preachy on me, man. I was well within my rights, ask the cops. He’d’ve done the same to me; they’re like animals!”
“That’s just great. Hey, don’t look at me like that; I ain’t no racist. Hell, I voted for Obama, and he’s black. And a Muslim too, but I voted for him anyway. So don’t give me that shit!”
They don’t even need a black friend anymore. I turn to King, thinking we’re about to lay into this guy, but he’s lost in thought, remembering the City of Brotherly Love…
Let me tell you ‘bout King — six foot seven, almost quarter of a ton, broad shoulders — big guy. Not the milk-chocolate sort of black, coffee black. Not the type of dude that people fuck with. At least not here…
Visiting his grandma in the city, no grocery stores for miles, an hour by bus to the nearest, you can only buy what you can carry back, even if you can afford more, and nothing too perishable. Mostly shop for food at liquor stores, no alternative. On the way, listening to his iPod, bumps into a brother half his size, B.E.T. stereotype gangsta, everything goes to hell.
You bump into someone in the city, you can say lots of things:
“What’s your problem?!”
“I’m walkin’ here!”
Or, for the safest bet, don’t say nothing at all. Don’t look back, just keep walking in a way that doesn’t invite interruption. One thing you don’t say, that you never say, that King did say, is:
“Sorry man, my bad.”
Four words, and this guy knew he was dealing with a chump; turns around, hand in coat pocket,
“You’re sorry? Yeah, we’ll see about that, nigga. Give me your money.”
He’s pulling out his wallet, lots of cash, tourist money, you know. Cell phone falls down, mugger takes that too. No resistance from King. He notices the iPod, playing the Roots into the ether…
I’m from the side of town/where shots get sprayed around/
so the (life) expectancy rate/ be 28 around…
“Nah…I don’t think you’re sorry enough yet. Your iPod, hand it over.”
“I ain’t fuckin’ around, nigga.”
Hand out of pocket, really has a gun. Hesitation disappears, possessions too. People pass by across the street, stop for a sec, keep walking. The mugger’s hungry eyes meet gravity; King’s life gets a little worse:
“Nice kicks you got there; mine now.”
They were nice kicks. Ordered ‘em special from the Nike website, customized, expensive. But at size 16 double-wide, resale prospects, not too likely. Didn’t matter, he pulls ‘em off; the street is cold on so many levels.
“Yeah. That’s about right. You’re sorry now, ain’t ya, boy?”
No reply. Aggressive motion, raised voice,
Eyes down, low voice,
“Good. Disappear, nigga. And watch where you’re goin, ya heard?”
He turns around, starts walking; he can see his breath, he’s sweating. With no iPod, he listens to the music of the street, walking back to his grandma’s apartment. Barefoot, no money for a taxi, no phone to call someone with. Head hung low, but he watches where he’s going.
Back up a few days; got that whiskey-charisma, tell her I’m a Scorpio. She asks if I fit the typical Scorpio profile, I tell her to be careful with those sort of questions,
“So I was at this party last week, this chick wanted to know if it was true what they say about black guys. So I slapped her around and stole her purse.”
“I would’ve knocked her up and abandoned our child, but I just didn’t have the time that night.”
“No, but really, it’s true. I’ve got a huge cock. You probably couldn’t handle it…”
Redhead girl, redneck boyfriend — He’s not a fan, she is. I tell him to calm down; I tell him sometimes they do go back, even if they’re not as satisfied, henceforth. The word, “henceforth,” seems to come out of nowhere. As a peace offering, I offer to buy him a drink; I buy one for her first. Innocent turns guilty, pushes me, on account of my mocha hue calls me “Obama,” as a racial slur. Just like that.
“You mother-fucking Obama! Fuck you, Obama mother-fucker. Think you can take me?! You wanna go?”
Incidentally, I did. And I did.
I make him into a mulatto too: black eyes, big lips, flat nose, crazy hair. Gotta say, looks much better on me. He was better off being white. And polite. Whole time I’m doing it, got this crazy urge, start yelling, “Yes we can!” with every blow, “Yes, we mother-fucking can!” Start laughing when I realize what I’m doing. Help him up, look around, skinheads in the bar. No surprise, it’s Arizona. The real deal too, Nazi tats and all, crosses burning in their eyes.
My friends get between us, parking lot looks like a chess board. Sirens heading closer and all of a sudden there’s tar, but no tar-babies (in the darkness we’re invisible as long as we don’t smile). Empty-handed handcuffs head back to the squad car, statistics get skewed. There’s something in the air…
We skip over to Denny’s to sober up; girl comes with us, still cute, totally worth it. Past midnight, have to work at nine, but it’s my birthday, goddamn it, official now; quarter-of –a-century: November 4, 2008.
We have the audacity Brother Barack — we just don’t have the hope….
Gun sales are on the rise since Obama got elected — happening all around the country, red states, blue states — doesn’t matter. White people buyin’ em, of course… after all, we already have ours, right?
I met one honest cracker who told me what the score is: he’s preparing for the riots and race wars that erupt when Obama gets assassinated. Not, if but when. Just like that.
The same guy who nods to me in the grocery store, asks about the family — stocking up to mow me down when I start breaking windows and setting fires. Holding little militia parties in the woods — am I the only one who notices that the target-practice figure is always a black man?
You wanna know how it’s gonna go down? Some patriotic motherfuckers gonna start bringing guns to his press-conferences, sayin’ they got a right to bear arms; they got papers. Obama could respond that they already can’t take ‘em to hospitals, schools, airports — probably shouldn’t let dissidents carry ‘em around the president of the United States, but he’d be caught dead before he’d come off anti-gun. Next thing you know, some Nancy Grace watching, blood ‘o Jesus washin’, eighth-grade talking, wife-beat walking hero gonna put his anti-Christ in the crosshairs and
From leader of the free world to hamburger meat — that’s some change you can believe in.
2015. We’re seven years removed from those historic days. As a Muslim, I now face the world with more sobriety (on several levels) — but in some ways, that makes it appear far more insane.
For instance, while gun sales continue to surge, and the Secret Service has mysteriously imploded, Obama has (tentatively) survived not only one term, but two. If you watch the news these days you’d be forgiven for thinking the race war happened anyway. But you’d be wrong.
Baudrillard once argued that the Gulf War didn’t happen. Sure, there were bombings, there were soldiers — but to call it a “war” would be overly charitable. It was a spectacle. And behind that spectacle, it was a massacre. And when it was over, the status-quo remained roughly intact (indeed, that was the purpose).
Less than 10 years later, Desert Storm’s indefinite sequel, the “War on Terror,” has itself become the status-quo. Perhaps more than a million have been killed in the name of security, without making anyone safer — in large part because there was never any existential threat to begin with. It should be a scandal, but the public has long grown bored with hearing about collateral damage abroad: while the “Arab Spring” has dried up and the rivers of blood flow more freely than ever — most of us changed the channel a long time ago.
How long before that wave of apathy returns to our shores? Before the media grows bored of our struggle too? Are they still occupying Wall Street? No. Are we still occupying the prisons? Yes. Will #blacklivesmatter matter? Will it even survive the 2016 election cycle?
The upcoming “race” is itself a sign of how little has changed: another turn in the rotation of Clintons and Bushes — interrupted only once since 1989, and perhaps not again until 2024. And what do we have to show for our interlude?
Did Barack Obama ever really take office?