Thursday, July 1, 2010

Is that racist? Probably...

So, I’m walking out of a McDonald’s, double-quarter pounder in tow, when an older white gentleman with a red pen tucked in his shirt pocket stops me. I mention he’s a white guy because this McDonald’s is smack dab in the middle of Egleston Square in Roxbury—a place older white gentleman with red pens tucked in their shirt pocket tend not to frequent.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said from behind me.


“Uh, my last meeting just got cancelled… I was wondering if you had thirty minutes?” He seemed to be searching for his words, glancing around.


“I’m a VP of finance, and we have some job opportunities if you are interested.”

“What? Are you… from McDonald’s?” I mean, I had ordered my quarter pounder really well, but it seemed like an exceedingly low bar for corporate advancement.

“No, I’m looking for some new executives.”

“I’m confused… like on the street?”


“Well, I have a job.”

“Oh, where do you work?”

“At a non-profit over yonder.”

“Do you enjoy your work?”

“Yeah,” I laughed.

“You don’t want to learn your potential, expand your horizons a little?”

“I’m still confused. Are you scamming me or trying to sell me drugs?”

“This is no scam, this is a job offer.”

“Well, I have a job. If you’re recruiting, maybe you should talk to that guy over there on that bench that was just asking me for change. He probably could use the work.”

“Boss, spare some change from your lunch?” the homeless guy repeated.

“Hey! Still got nothing, chief!” I replied.

“He might have a job, just because he’s asking for money doesn’t mean he is unemployed,” red pen piped in.

“All right, granted. I’m just saying odds are more likely I’ve got a job than him. Why wouldn’t you offer him a job? Oh… wait. Is this a race thing? You offer it to me because I’m white and he’s black?”

“No, of course not.”

“You just roam around fast food joints looking for white boys to offer jobs to and completely ignore other qualified candidates just because they’re black?”

“What’s this guy saying I’m unqualified for?” asked the black homeless guy, as he got up from his bench.

“Well, I don’t really know what kind of job he’s offering, but I know he’s being racist… somehow.”

A car pulled up alongside us. A white hippie leaned out of the window.

“Excuse me, do you know where Heath Street is?” the smelly hippy asked.

I scanned incredulously up and down the street. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“What’s the matter, brah?”

“You pull over and ask the only two white guys within a five mile radius for directions. You expect me to believe that’s a coincidence? Fucking racist.”

“Dude,” started the other racist hippie who was now leaning out of the driver side window, “you’re the racist one for thinking we even knew you were a couple of white dudes.”

“I know where Heath Street is,” declared the homeless guy.

“Then hop on in and show us, kind sir,” asked passenger-side hippie.

“That’s some seriously reverse racist shit right there, man!” I screamed.

“We’re giving this guy a ride, how is that racist?!”

“You telling me you just hand out rides to random homeless dudes on the street? And no one has stabbed you? You’re only letting this guy ride with you because he’s black and I called you a racist.”

“You know what,” said the hippie, “fuck you. We’re out of here. Let’s go find Heath Street with our new friend.”

“Just keep driving ‘til I tell you to stop, boy.”

The car pulled away, leaving me and red pen standing alone outside of the McDonalds.

“You know what?” I asked.

“What?” prompted red pen.

“I don’t think you’re a VP of Finance at all.”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

So My Sister’s an Axe Murderer

Every family has those stories that become a part of their tradition.

… by the way, can anyone out there say that word without singing it like Tevye? I’ll give you a moment to get it out of your system.

Who, day and night, must scramble for a living, feed his wife and children, say his daily prayers?

Ok, back to me, people. I’m talking about the stories that get told over turkey carcasses and angel food cake, at weddings and wakes, in the middle of a game of Scattergories, or at the bottom of a bottle of Jack.

I’m talking about those moments that bind a family together and…

The Papas! Tradition!

Hey! What the hell did I say, man?! All right… all right. I’ll get on with it. This is one of those stories—the time my sister almost killed my brother with an axe.

Actually, I was still an infant when this particular childhood fable of mine went down. So, I might not be the best primary source—but I’d like to think I tell the tale the best.

It begins with my pops finally getting around to chopping down some bushes in our backyard after weeks of being reminded, prodded, nagged, and ultimately threatened by my mother. Now, my dad—a woodsman to his core—figured the best way to bring down these mighty bushes was with an axe. After about an hour of minimal success, he decided to grab a beer and rethink his strategy.

My sister, circa 8 or 9 years old, had been watching the entire time and had followed my dad back to the garage where he leaned the axe against his workbench. The man had two decisions at this point. One, hang the axe back up on the wall, well out of my sister’s roughly five foot reach. Two, trust that this sweet, innocent little child would take his words of warning to heart.

He chose… poorly. “Don’t touch the axe, Rachel.”

And, of course, no sooner then he had popped open his brew and walked away did Rach scoop up the axe. She confidently set off down the hill into our backyard, ready to do her part and help clear the bushes. Unbeknownst to Rachel was that her younger brother (and my older brother) Ben was waddling behind her, eager to see what she was up to.

Ben, as a child, was eerily quiet. Rather than crying as an infant, he would gently knock on my parents’ door and whisper, “I don’t suppose I could bother you for a moment?”

So it’s no surprise that Rach had no idea he was standing directly behind her as she eyeballed where to strike the tiny sapling in front of her. Of course, it would be no surprise if she knew exactly where he was… as my sister had, and continued to over the course of her childhood, demonstrated a few murderous tendencies.

As she reared back the battleaxe for the stroke that would fell the bush, she struck my brother square in the forehead. Now, it was with the blunt end, mind you. At least she knew how to operate the axe, otherwise I might never have been able to watch Alice in Wonderland without being reminded how my sister had offed my brother’s head.

The blunt end merely caused Ben to crumple to the ground, his forehead bruised and bloodied. But to his credit, he didn’t utter a sound. Rachel, curious as to why the bush still stood, walked over to Ben to examine the situation. Kneeling down next to his body, my sister lovingly soothed him with the following words.

“Tell Mom and I’ll kill you.” Which, I think you’ll agree, is a bit frightening coming from a girl with an axe in her hand.

So little boy Ben ran back to the house. When my mother began screaming about how what had happened, my brother simply declared, “I ran into a tree.”

Quiet and stupid he may have been, but he was no rat. Course, he squealed like a little girl when I accidentally filled his ass with buckshot, but that’s an entirely different story altogether.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sorry, Opie

Full disclosure—this post is not an apology to child-star, turned director Ron Howard. I have no reason to apologize to that scoundrel.

No, this post will serve as an opportunity for me to bring to light some of my past childhood transgressions against a former neighbor.

I don’t remember his name. But with the fiery mop, freckled cheeks, and gangly physique this kid was rocking, there was really no chance his given name was going to get much play anyway.

We knew him as Opie.

As a character in my life, Opie was one of those guys that you can’t root against (his plight is too heartbreaking,) but you also can’t really root for (he was quite the asshole.) Opie is one of those rare examples of someone getting pretty much exactly what they deserved. But even so, as the years have passed, I have begun to see the virtue of making amends. And being damn near the top of Opie’s list of tormentors, I’ve definitely got a few things to square up with him.

When I knew Opie, I couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10 years old, while Opie… well, Opie had to have been at least 14 or 15. You may be wondering, “How the hell does a 10 year old kid strike fear into the heart of a guy five years his senior?”

Here’s the thing—I never set out to be Opie’s bully. I was not the bullying type. I wore glasses and matching sweat suits. I participated in math competitions. In fact, if anything, Opie was trying to bully me. He just really sucked at it.

Like the time he tried to steal my backpack when we were walking to the bus stop. He raced past me and slipped his hand underneath the dangling shoulder strap (I might not have been that cool, but I knew well enough not to wear my backpack on both shoulders like some kind of NERD. Arghhh, hold on, my scoliosis is acting up again.)

Anyway, he thought he was going to make a clean getaway with my pencil box and tuna salad sandwich, but he wasn’t quite strong enough to rip the bag from my grasp. Instead, he spun around me like I had him on a leash. When he finally let go, he went careening down a hill, picking up speed as he cartoonishly tried to maintain his balance on veritable carpet of chestnuts on the hillside. An entire busload of children was witness to his crash landing.

Or the time he came over to play hide-and-seek with some of my classmates, confident in his belief that his junior-high intellect and physical prowess could show us young punks up. He certainly talked a big game before we started. For some reason, while trying to hide, he thought it was a great idea to attempt to climb through my basement window, one of those crank-and-fold contraptions that looks as if it can serve as a ramp, but I ASSURE YOU IT CANNOT.

The seek portion of the game became a lot easier when Opie greeted me at the front door, his leg bloodied, the glass shards still stuck in his knee a pretty good indicator that Opie could talk the talk, but not walk the walk—literally. He screamed at me, “Call 911!” Now, my mom had specifically told me not to have friends over when she wasn’t home. Also, I had the moral compass of a 10 year old… being 10 years old. So I didn’t even hesitate in saying, “No.”

Or, there was that time that I slept with his mom.

Oh… right. I knew there was some reason I was supposed to be apologizing to him.

Err, sorry, Opie.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gandalf the Retired

I used to draw cartoons in my high school study hall. Until I realized... I cannot draw.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Starting Along the Road to Dictionopolis...

"Interesting blog title," you may say.

And I may say, "Hey, thanks!"

Or, you may say, "I don't get that blog title, Nate. Your blog title makes no sense to me."

To which I may say, "You should really read The Phantom Tollbooth, a delightful children's story."

Of course, you might retort, "I didn't come here for a homework assignment, man."

Leading me to respond with, "Don't bring the the 'tude, chief. I'm just trying to share with you a book that meant a lot to me when I was a kid."

And you'll probably be all, "You think I have time to be reading all kinds of books? You have no idea how busy and important I am!"

And I'll be like, "First off, it's a children's book--it'll take you max 30 minutes to go from cover to cover. Second, if you're really so damn important, why are you surfing blogs at work? Third, you're ignorant."

Hopefully at this point we'll both realize that we may have started off on the wrong foot.

My point is simply this: the blog title comes from a book called The Phantom Tollbooth. If you haven't read it, it tells the story of Milo, a young kid who drives this sweet go-kart through a magic tollbooth and gets plopped in the middle of a fantastic land filled with talking dogs, puns, sunrise orchestras, and what I have to assume are some seriously A-grade mushrooms.

The moral of the story is to learn, laugh, and appreciate the little things along life's journey. Sounded like a pretty good thesis statement for a blog to me. If you agree, hopefully we can travel a ways together.

If you don't, well... you can go fuck yourself.