Monday, February 20, 2006

Sinister Sublet Dialogue

My search for a sublet in the Bay Area has been going well, save for one bitter, older "mselinger@rcn.com," who launched a vitriolic and ageist tirade in response to my generic mailer giving a paragraph of info about myself and my needs...(this is not indicative of my interactions with other potential roomates)...here's the text of our exchange:

"hello, my name is ben, and i'm a 23yr old outgoing and personable college grad. i arrived recently from the east coast in search of greener pastures and a more open cultural, artistic, and political environment. though i'm currently staying in berkeley, i am looking for a sublet in the mission for a few months so that i can be closer to my non-profit job in downtown frisco. i'm looking to sublet from friendly and creative people who like music, film, and all types of tasty food. i could live with students or fulltime working folk. i'm flexible about my requirements, but i would like to rent a room that is furnished with a full bed and sufficient windows. ideally, i would like to be able to use kitchen and living room space for cooking and relaxing. lookin for people who enjoy hanging out but are also clean and organized. my cellphone is 410-499-5900, and i'm interested in checking out your place whenever you're around, preferably sometime sunday or tuesday evening. talk to you soon!

ben

--------------------------

hi Ben-

Thanks for your interest but I am not looking to sublet. This is a mature
household, not a one step removed from a dormroom, tempory housing shelter.
I am looking for a roomate who and is mature, stable, and who is also looking
for a stability in a home. I've been living in this flat for approaching 4 yrs and I
have never had a roomate live here for less than 18 months. That works well for
me. I have some very strong candidates already, and who aren't requiring "fully
furninshed room with a bed."

Good luck kid,

M.

-----------------------------

thanks for your witty condescension, i am of the belief that this is precisely how we as intelligent mammals can make this world a better and more livable place. my goal each and every day is to wake up and reinforce the notion that i am vastly superior to all those who are of fewer years than myself. without a doubt, nomads are sinful types, and they ought to return to the land from which they came. age is a precious commodity these days, and it appears that you are fully appreciative of your hard-earned years. good luck recruiting a mature and rotting vegetable for your nursing home, you bitter septuagenarian creep.

zestily and zealously,

ben

------------------------------

"Good luck recruiting a mature and rotting vegetable for your nursing home."
"you bitter septuagenarian creep." Ben, I just love that. I mean it, that's really
good stuff. That's exactly the kind of fighting spirit that I like to see. In the
past 10 days, I have probably met upwards of about 20 people. Nobody, not
even the "mature rotting vegitables" nor the young guns like yourself who will
inherit the Earth and will cut a path of swashbuckling glory, has demonstrated
more heart, fighting spirit, or were more true than you. You're still not going to
get a chance to see the room, simply because you are not the guy I need or
want, but you have earned quite a measure of respect from me. My only advise
for you is continue to be strong and true, and don't take no shit from nobody.
( That's a double negative, but you know what I mean. )

Continued good luck kid. Best regards,

Michael"

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Berkeley Freaks

If y'all didn't know, y'all better know. Berkeley is host to all types of freaks, eccentrics, lunatics, shapeshifters, and assclowns. Between 1600h and 1700h Pacific Time today, I had ridiculous encounters with 3 characters of the sort that are unique to this crosssection of Cali life. For lack of government names, I will label these three Agatha, Mr. Fab, and Fascista.

The twenty-five minute session with freakshow Agatha began when I approached her table on Telegraph, which is the main commerical artery south of the Berkeley campus. She vends a number of knitted goods, including hats and dolls. The first outrageous claim mentioned by Agatha was that she is in the Guiness Book of World Records for her number of hat creations, which was a dubious assertion. Though rather portly and unhealthy in appearance, she claims to have been a martial arts champion and one-time runway model. Her ashy arms and messy dreds reveal that she has been subsiding in squalor for quite a while, pushing her cart of knitted goods, books, language-learning tapes, and political propaganda from East Oakland to Berkeley daily, since she claims that the "Black Negro" busdrivers refuse to pick her up anymore. One of the most persistent aspects of her undeniable psychosis is a profound racial consciousness that results in a horrible sense of self-loathing. Claiming to prefer the company of cowboys, rednecks, cops, and militiamen, Agatha professes a lot of hatred for those of her self-identified "darkie" skin tone.

Here's an example of one of her monologues, uttered as she manically paces back and forth in front of her table, helmet perched on her dreds and Israeli flag curiously draped over her shoulders: "I used to be a gdamn student here, I'm almost a genius I would say. Shit, I studied language and culture, and I have almost 400 languages. I've lived in 5 countries and married almost as many men. Berkeley is a fake liberal town, and those black Negroes robbed me over New Year's but thankfully two Asian guys ran after them to get my goods back. Oh, I like Asian guys. Had an Asian husband once, have a Finnish husband now. But, Finnish is one of the only languages that's been hard for me to master. I have 400 languages. Here, look at this writing in Macedonian, Hebrew, and Russian. I got Bulgarian, Arab, Persian, Chinese music, but these black girls always come by saying 'Why you gotta be frontin' with that whitey music.' They don't even understand that black music is not the only music. I love Johnny Cash, do you know Johnny Cash? You aren't some Arab or white liberal are you? I hope you're not one of those types with tight jeans and cellphone walking around dating Asian girls but don't even know she happens to be Korean and not Chinese. Yea, these people didn't mess with me when I had my tall Finnish husband here, but I know if I had a darkie husband here, then they would all give me shit. The cops are always messing with me, they don't even know that I lived at Bob Marley's house for 6 months and that I am marketable. You know about marketing? The reason why I'm marketable is that I could go down to Southern California..."

So she never hesitated to read off everyone else's ethnicities. The Tibetans across the street who were oppressed by the Chinese, the white t-shirt guys who didn't get messed with by the cops because they had the right skin tone. This woman was racially obsessed to the extreme, bipolar, and at least moderately schizophrenic. Agatha insisted many times that she was borderline genius, had lived in 5 countries, and hated governments. She was a quintessential Berkeley freak, but she really lamented the liberal elite, so maybe she didn't fit into the local mold so well.

The next character I came across at a sneaker boutique down the block called So Fresh Kicks that vends high end footwear to fashion-conscious NorCal ballers. Mr. Fab is a rising Oaktown rap-star, with five-figure gold fronts and ultra color-syncronized hat-t-shirt-jeans-sneaks combo. Not only was he pulling out several different wads of Benjamins from his Evisu pockets, but his 5'5" sidekick with a 4X long black tee was consulting him about what color laces he would need to appear in Houston in order to sync up with the Astros colors. Damn I love sneaks, but some of these dudes are buying up really played out styles that makes your eyes sore just gazing at them.

The next freak I met I will call Fascista, for she harangued me for stepping 6 inches off the curb and into the street while the crosswalk light was still red. Our dialogue occurred as follows:
"You know what you're doing is illegal, right?" she said.
I responded, "Oh, yea, I'm from back east, so we cross the street when we feel like it."
Then she screamed ,"Did your dad teach you that? I bet he doesn't cross the street when it's red. Your generation is the most uncivilized yet."
"Well, actually, my dad happens to cross wherever and whenever, but there's nothing criminal about that on the East Coast," I replied.
She contemptuously responded, "And, murder of a pedestrian is illegal."

So apparently, she had some kind of a guily conscience about - maybe hitting someone who had been crossing the street? These Californians can be very strict in their application of anti-libertarian government regulation. It's a very highly regulated state of things around here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dis-abled Lives

Last night, I was awakened to the reality that lots of people in the world have physical handicaps that make it impossible to function in a so-called normal way that most of us are accustomed to. I had forgotten how fortunate I am not to have a physically disabling condition that would render my interactions with the world far more difficult.

So, last evening, I had the privilege of meeting a fellow named Victor, who enjoys the use of very few muscles due to a seriously incapacitating form of muscular distrophy. In order to get around town, he needs friends to chaperone his hooked up van with an electro lift, and in order to get upstairs to chill with us, we had to guide Victor through the building's back entrance to the elevators since his highly versatile and mobile electric wheelchair cannot scale stairs.

In addition to transportation difficulties, Victor faces enormous challenges in breathing, dressing, eating, and most every other imaginable ordinary human pursuit. This leads me to respect him ad infinitum. I cannot conceive of how serious physical handicaps allow for "normal" lives, but I suppose people generally attempt to make the best of what's on their life's plate.

Berkeley, the alternative, colorful, and iconoclastic hamlet where I reside currently, has historically been a mecca for both physically and mentally handicapped people, who have access to community services and sensitive legal structures that ease their lives. For those of us who don't have friends or family in the position of requiring such extensive social aid, I think it's rather difficult to fathom the handicapped lifestyle. At what point does one come to terms with a debilitating condition? Is it something that one gradually is uplifted by or does the passing of the years wear one down to a greater extent? Of course, there are the FDRs and Larry Flynts of the world who manage to get by in wheelchairs; there are Cambodian and Bosnian landmine victims who overcome interminal adversity to lead satisfactory lives.

Do handicapped people have recurring dreams of being "normal" again? Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump certainly never acclimated to his disabled state. Maybe the ability to be satisfied with your abilities varies according to whether you were born with the condition or experienced a life-altering catastrophic event that initiated your disability. Vision problems, nervous disorders, heart conditions, lung deficiencies, brain damage: the list is unending of how the human body can fail, leaving one vulnerable to the generosity that one's social network and society are willing to provide in order to make moment-to-moment existence more favorable.

It really is paramount to realize our good fortune and to attempt to take advantage of the finite abilities with which we are endowed. We could all be chopped down from our heights of greatness. There will never be a fully satisfactory answer to the queries posed by the Book of Job. Bad fortune strikes at will.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Cartoon Contest

The world has been gnawing away at its fragile cultural barriers lately. People seem to exalt offensively "free" speech because a hegemonic control over organized violence and information exists to put the uppety and powerless in their "place." To push those ethnic buttons, each group in this interethnic strife appears keen on staking out a claim on what aspects of its culture are sacrosanct and what assets cannot be claimed by other groups.

In my mind, the satirical cartoons of Mohammed aren't so different from a news video I recently viewed about a public high school teacher calling his pupil "niggah." Ok, so the prevailing theme seems to be that there are certain offensive ways of addressing one's own people or heritage that are only acceptable if engaged in by members of one's own group. Many Muslims are privileged to cite Mohammed and the Islamic creed in justifying political behavior. Similarly, in their estimation, black Americans uniquely possess the cultural right to address one another by racially sensitive terms. But, when the hegemonic power usurps this ethnic privilege in order to critique or deconstruct the ethnic speech or behavior, there is a violent and indignant reaction. Ethnic groups don't like to be told how to govern their own intra-cultural exchange.

The most evident and pressing notion that emerges from these controversies is that white/Western society controls, to a significant global extent, material and informational flows. Attained via the use of constant and concerted organized violence, the West maintains its domination over most of the vast non-Western sea of peoples. So, when the West affirms that it has the right to label or define the terms of someone else's intraethnic culture, violence is bound to erupt. Spasms of such conflict occur essentially only in the non-West at this historical juncture because the Western world has attained such an extreme level of wealth and control that underprivileged white people no longer need to revolt in a violent fashion - leaving such outbursts for the so-called ethnic entities that the West enjoys labelling as morally inferior because of this need to engage periodically in violent struggle with the West in response to their subjugation. When pushed to the limit, this paroxysm of anti-hegemonic fervor on behalf of the subaltern classes functions as an expression of inferior material status and invites a crackdown on these rebellious, ignoble savages.

This discussion of ethnic battles cannot possibly begin to explain the extent which certain groups have been included/excluded from the West. In America, the integration of Hispanics and Asians incorporates entirely different factors and is beyond the scope of this blogline. The cyberoisie might address such things later on, but these groups, like all other ethnic groups mentioned and assumed to be homogenous, classifiable, and generalizable are so complex that it becomes very difficult to reach any conclusions that could begin to be judged as scientific.

In the eyes of the subjugated groups (those actually present within the geographical confines of the metropolitan West, those who inhabit the periphery, and those of Western heritage who sympathize with the non-Western powerless), the Mohammed cartoons and the white use of the N-word are attempts to irreverently rub in the fact that the West is the ultimate legal arbiter of speech and violence. Though the West largely fashioned its dominance out of a persistent tradition of violence carried out under the aegis of the Judeo-Christian godhead, Western reactionaries feel that they must preserve their control over the discourse. The indefatigable power wielded by the West to crush resistance invites unfortunate violence upon the epicenters of Western life. A clash of civilizations exists empirically because people perceive it as such. However, normatively, a statement that there is an ongoing clash serves merely to egg on the perpetrators on both sides who seek to exacerbate tensions. There are huge numbers of Muslims and blacks who seek to justify their monopoly over their own cultural deities. Provocation of this desire to preserve the barriers of cultural exchange invites a seemingly irrational reaction on the part of the dominated groups.

Is this justified? Do white people have the right to toss around the n-word just because black people have this right? Do white people have the right to characterize the Islamic prophet because Muslims possess this right? To understand cultural barriers means that we must observe limits. There is undoubtedly humor in racist jokes and classifications that cannot be enjoyed by those outside the specific group because such labeling appears to threaten the group's power over its own destiny and image.

Retaliation for obdurate white behavior brings on the potential for cartoons satirizing Jesus with a machine gun aimed at the barbarians/infidels or depicting a Jew swiping a gentile's possessions. Ethnic stereotyping always consists of truthful (and potentially hurtful) elements. The hegemonic civilization is held to a higher civilizational standard, however, precisely because it already is in the lead. (Thus, Danish newspapers are said to be compelled to observe standards not observed in the Arab press and the Israeli government is obligated to abide by rules not followed by other Middle Eastern regimes). The West is castigated for pushing Islam a la limite. My sympathy goes out to those Danes and those Muslims who aren't engaging in the fundementalist discourse. The reactionaries on both sides fall into foolish assumptions about the intentions of that mysterious Other. The Other is exotic, seductive, dangerous. The more we seek to understand the Other, the more we erect barriers around Us that excludes Them. Thus, additionally and paradoxically, the more the Other seeks to call attention to its status, the more it identifies itself as different and separate. There will never be an end to ethnic, racial, or cultural conflict. It is a permanent feature of human, tribally fragmented civilization. Of course, its permanency ought not be exalted, but it's idealistic to declare postmodern society as postethnic. Ethnicities hybridize and collate, but they do not disappear.

I simultaneously mock, celebrate, and condemn ethnic divisions because it's so incredibly difficult to preserve a one-sided perspective. Though my voice arises from the hegemonic West, I cannot stop myself from advocating the position of the oppressed Other. I find myself caught in the middle of the civilizational schism.

So who wants to submit a cartoon satirizing Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed? Can we extract ourselves from the ethnic categories to which we belong and critique all our affiliations? Or are we limited to labelling/classifying only according to the cultural and "legal" rights ascribed to us?
 
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