I dreamt I wrote a column 8 years ago for the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest.
It went this way:
A WALK IN THE PARK: I think I was a hate-crime victim. Guy called me a white faggot as I walked through Scoville Park in the gloaming a few weeks ago. I didn’t stop. He and his friends were irritated at my not stopping. They were desperate for my attention, and I refused it. This was my offense, and so I got victimized. Or was I?
All the guy did was toss out a “white faggot” to an unassuming white fellow trying hard to mind his own business. I had passed them earlier. One was jawing at another, three or four others stood chatting each other up. It’s a free country, I thought, go ahead and jaw. I got a few steps past them and heard, “Hi, brother.” Who, me? I’m not a brother, I thought — except to an octogenarian in Gurnee and a septuagenarian in Arlington, Va. — and kept walking.
Again the call: “Brother.” I’ll bet it’s me, I mused. But out of 40-year-old misty memory came a guy yelling, “Hey, you with the collar!” in an open field at 13th and Loomis on a midsummer night in 1966, as helmeted police gathered all down Roosevelt Road. The caller had me cold, I wore the clerical collar. I ignored his cry for attention. Twenty-something and intent on mischief, he had an audience of five or six teen-aged boys, to whom he would have given a lesson in how to deal with the likes of me. No, thanks, I muttered, continuing my way towards the Baptist church at the other end of the project, where do-gooders were gathering ineffectually.
Ignoring this Scoville Park greeting came easy, therefore. But my response rankled, and when I returned 15 minutes later heading the other way, I was accused incontinently of being “a snob” who “wouldn’t talk” to them. I was “Sherlock Holmes” in my floppy hat (heh). I was told to commit an indecent if not impossible act. These were truly disgruntled youth. Later on Lake Street, I ran into them again. This time they tossed the N-word at a fellow African American, who was also told to commit an indecent if not impossible act. Now I ask you, were we all victims of hate crimes?
I awoke in a sweat, then drowsed off again, dreaming of more from the same column.
JUMPING TO CONCLUSION: You hear a lot about the school achievement gap, but what about the basketball gap? White kids can’t jump, but so what? So they don’t suit up or if they do, they warm the bench. That’s what happens to the American dream in a dog-eat-dog society. Look, white kids are grossly underrepresented on basketball teams not just in Oak Park and River Forest but nationally. I say enough. Let’s train our sights on this gap too. And nuts to this can’t-jump stuff, which is transparently racist. It’s environment, folks. How many white fathers shoot hoops with their sons?
THROUGH A PRISM DARKLY: The Oak Park District 97 strategic plan draft calls schools “the educational prism through which students realize meaning and purpose in their lives.” It says they are “to guarantee that each student achieves optimal intellectual growth while developing socially, emotionally and physically.” That’s all?
How about the prism through which students realize how to read, write, and do long division, not to mention shut up when teacher is talking and otherwise cooperate for the more or less common good? And who says schools are a prism in the first place? In what respect are they “a transparent optical element with flat, polished surfaces that refract light, the exact angles between whose surfaces depend on the application”? Beats me.
As for “realizing” — learning? achieving? both, splitting the difference? — the meaning and purpose in life, oh my. Are these schools or houses of worship? And there’s a guarantee of optimal growth? Listen to that carnival barker. Maybe we would all pay more attention to a plan that made more sense. Or did not belabor the obvious, favoring “a culture of inclusion that respects and promotes diversity.” This deftly undercuts the powerful exclusion and uniformity lobby, but it’s also grand language, impossible to disagree with, reeking of group-think and lack of imagination, cobbled together in meetings. The good news is, it’s a draft. So hello Baby, give us rewrite.
I woke from that with a grin on my face. And I’m grinning even as I write this.
Later: I submitted the white-faggot story and got a call from my friend the publisher, who told me two words were verboten for the paper: nigger and fuck, which explains my work-arounds both of these terms. I didn’t quarrel with him. He’s running a newspaper for a mostly progressive-democrat audience and knows the trouble one sees when one violates their norms. So it goes in blue Oak Park, Cook County, the state of Illinois, and many, many parts of the U.S. — in the Western world, for that matter.
Not that I’m dying to use either forbidden word. But I do not want to shy away from it when describing an experience. I am committed to clarity and essence-capture, which are hobbled by undue restraint.