Christopher Columbus: Brute

In 1492 one of the most notorious sociopaths in history arrived in what is now the United States of America. The end of the story we all know. Brought over smallpox, raped, enslaved and slaughtered more than a significant portion of an indigenous civilization. Counting the smallpox deaths, Columbus could have caused the largest genocide in human history.

Imagine, you are lost at sea, but by some divine will you run into land, inhabited by a bunch of beautiful brown people with a culture completely foreign to your own. They offer to share their food with you and teach you about their way of life. Your response might be something like “holy shit, this is great, so much to learn here, such good food, great people.” You might have even blogged about it. But then you wouldn’t have a federal holiday.

If however, your first instinct was to send a letter detailing how easy it would be to exploit those who just saved you, you’d be Chris Columbus.

This concept though, is not an unfamiliar one. There is an ocean full of cognitive dissonance when it comes to morally unjustifiable historical events and people. When we compare them to our current “greatness” and moral superiority, shit just doesn’t add up.

Take school shootings for example.

So every other day when we have one of those school shootings, it’s become super popular, although not as popular as the shootings themselves, for authorities and reporters alike to avoid popularizing the shooter. I get it, don’t make the guy a hero. We are the good guys here, let’s act like it right? Don’t let this bad guy be the priority in a tragedy.

This logic is shitty though, because Columbus Day. I mean not only that, but if you have any cash on you and want to be reminded of which presidents owned slaves, pull out a $1 bill. Hell, there is physical evidence that Thomas Jefferson raped Sally Hemings and someone still said fuck it, put him on the $2 bill.

When I consider that, even just the money thing, I wasn’t really surprised when the Redskins refused to change their name. They literally have a logo that appropriates, arguably the most marginalized group of people in North America. Still they could not be bothered to provide even the mildest bit of respect to a request from the Native American community that could be of no real consequence to them? Punching down at its finest.

With that, I understand that multiculturalism is this new popular thing going around, especially in major U.S. cities above the Mason Dixon line and of course, in Europe. It’s a great idea.

Unfortunately, it seems to come with a caveat. One that maintains the “forget about it, it’s all in the past,” oversimplified bullshit one might encounter when having any conversation relating to race and/or gender. At Starbucks maybe? In my experience, most definitely on college campuses. How good it feels to have someone who’s most trying life moment has been this very conversation, attempt to tell you all about what hard work would do for disenfranchised communities. “Just pick up those pants and boot straps, drop the drugs and guns and you guys will start making some progress!”

Could it be worth it? Just taking the high ground, letting it all just roll right off your back again, and again? Taking sole responsibility for the detrimental effects of European colonization with a coke and a smile?

Probably not.

Pop Pop’s Birthday

Today is Earl’s birthday.

I know this because the text message I got from my mother said: “call pop pop and wish him a happy birthday.”

I’m not really sure how old he is, because he has always been old. Not like bed bound kind of old, but old enough to sound ridiculous when he says things like “hey Joey you tryna get in on this stripper party I’m havin?”

He isn’t really a blood relative, but he did reluctantly adopt my younger siblings and I. All of us, at times either looked up to, or loathed him. He was our sole male figure. We just stared up at hime and called him “pop pop.” There was never any question.

Earl is a brown skinned fellow with a salt & pepper goatee who loves the color red, just like I do. Loves red so much that he would regularly wear a red leather jacket with red leather pants without any regard for the weather. Wore it like Michael Jackson wore that red leather in the “Thriller” video. With the red leather he sometimes wore a black fish net shirt. It was also a belly shirt. A black, plastic looking belt with a black top hat and black shoes would set it all off. Under the hat was a sort of box cut/perm combo dyed black that he would comb vigorously, while avoiding any other form of personal hygiene one might perform in front of a bathroom mirror. I think what I’ve always liked most about him is that he sets the standard for taking a fucking joke.

Some other interesting facts about Earl:

My mother started, and continued having children from the time she was 13, dropped them off at Earl’s apartment (he was in a relationship with Ruby, my maternal grandmother) and I guess he was just like fuck it, I’ll take a few brats off your hands.

He used to beat my grandmother bloody, sometimes with a boot and force her to perform sexual acts after catching her stealing money or toys from us to buy crack.

Many say that he had sex with my mother (unverified but not unlikely) and that he could be my father, an interesting theory.

He is ridiculously heavy handed. I would have rather gotten all kinds of butt naked-post shower ass beatings than to be “popped upside the head” by him for doing something stupid.

He set, and still holds the Guinness world record for calling me several derivatives “pussy ass faggot,” to guide my budding manhood.

He works hard as shit, I mean the guy was born old and doing factory work, metal coating stuff, still does it. The entire time I’ve known him he has come home filthy and marred at least 5 days a week, and some of those days with cheap toys to entertain us or life saving groceries from Save-A-Lot.

He plays pretty hard too (see: aforementioned stripper party). Although he wasn’t as big on the hard drugs in my lifetime, weed and alcohol were always household staples. Colt 45 and Bacardi for him, Mad Dog 20/20 for the kids.

He’s really good at ping-pong for some reason. Like he met and trained with Forrest Gump back in his military days but never talks about it. It’s just strange.

I never got the chance to call, was too busy. I did finally accept that request on Facebook though.

Happy Birthday Pop pop!


Old acquaintances

There is something ominous about seeing people you went to high school, or even middle school with at your job in such high frequency. It’s an emergency department, I’m not exactly expecting people in their 20’s to loiter around here like teenagers in a Wawa parking lot. At least I hadn’t always expected that, I’m just an ED tech though, what do I know?

Thing is, the chief complaints aren’t even uniform: STD testing here, sickle cell crisis there, motor vehicle accidents, assaults, plenty of pregnancy complications and even a brain tumor (I know right, wtf). One guy from middle school escorted by police… wasn’t surprised.

The gentleman in question had once whooped my ass at one of those little traveling carnivals that went from playground to playground around Frankford before the pre-teens had guns and shit. I got busted making out with his sister (fact: the finest girl in 8th grade), in front of the funnel cake stand. He was a few years older and knew what I, and every other pubescent boy in the neighborhood wanted from his sister. That was the first time my nose was broken.

Whatever though, she wasn’t my true love, there was yet another. A lanky, nerdy as hell Puerto Rican girl with big full lips and light brown hair. She had hazel eyes that nearly met mine, since she was 5’8″. I did everything I could to position myself in her good graces; or her bedroom, whichever came first, but she wasn’t having it. At the time my efforts included: awkward staring, talking about things she liked but I didn’t, trying to make her laugh and of course attempts at displaying hyper-masculinity (a crowd favorite around the way). Not surprised at how little of that has changed.

Home girl though, my true love, my one and only, my sugar fly honey bunch definitely popped up in the trauma bay the other day though, damn near 15 years later.

I recognized her immediately, but more surprisingly she recognized me. The cuts on her face, the disheveled hair, the smeared mascara covering the bags under her eyes, had done nothing to diminish the fact that she was still just so beautiful. And with child! She was super pregnant too, as in she could have easily been at the hospital to deliver the baby. Her uncle was sitting next to her on a chair and gave a slight smile when I approached the middle of three stretchers in the bright trauma bay.

“Hey Joseph, how have you been? I didn’t know you worked here.” she said with the cutest little smile. Everyone always says “how have you been?” for every conceivable situation

“No, how have you been girl? You’re the one in the hospital right now, what happened?”

“You were never very perceptive, but I think you can figure this one out.” She looked up at me without moving her head, bearing a smirk that made us both chuckle a little.

She had already been worked up and was fine medically, just cuts and scrapes. She still needed to go to labor and delivery though and have a more thorough exam for the baby. I came back to her bed with a wheelchair to take her over. Her uncle had gone by now. I rolled her down an empty hallway, in a busted wheelchair with one arm rest.

“First one?” I ask.

“Nope, I have an older one at home, what about you?”

“Two of them, a boy and a girl, one starting kindergarten soon.”

“Are you still with their mom?” she asked, turning her head slightly behind her and upwards.

“No, haven’t been for a while, what about you?”

“My boyfriend is at home now, different dads.” At this, she sort of tires of the conversation.

That or the car accident, the poverty, the excessive working, the pregnancy, the men, the judgement or barrage of constant strife that accentuates her existence had moved to the front of her mind. We continued in silence. I swiped my I.D. badge to open the sliding glass doors to labor and delivery, she was checked in and I helped her get up to her bed without saying anything.

“Thank you Joseph, see you later.” she said.

“Anytime, good luck.”