Saturday, February 27, 2010

31 Is the New 50

Earlier today (for the first time ever) I almost lied about my age to a stranger. I was in line at my grocery store, catching up with my favorite cashier – a late-teen refugee from the Ivory Coast whom I’ve taken under my wing. She often calls me “mami/mommy,” and today she introduced me to another nearby customer as her mommy. He looked back and forth from me to her in wide-eyed astonishment.

I don’t like when she calls me that, and I especially don’t like when she refers to me as such in front of other people. I’ve been thinking about asking her to cut it out or come up with some other term of endearment (preferably one of my own choosing). If she wants to stick with the immediate-family-member theme, why can’t she call me sister (or some variation of it)? I’m too young to be her mommy, and I faux-jokingly came out and said so during this afternoon’s irksome little exchange. The nearby customer in question confrontationally stared me down and asked me how old I was. I turned into a deer in the headlights. It was as if everyone in the store had stopped talking to wait for my answer. During a long pause, I was struck by an unfamiliar impulse to make something up – 25, 27, 29 – anything under 30. But I ultimately couldn’t (and didn’t) stoop to that level. “I'm 31,” I self-consciously said. And Nearby Customer smirked and nodded, as though it was what he had expected all along.

What the hell is it to him how old I am? As cheeky as I am, I would never ask a random passerby something that intrusive.

I learned something about myself today – I’m now officially cagey about my age. It just sneaks up on you like a bitchy little thief in the night. In spirit, I’m still about 19 - 21 tops. I sometimes forget that, chronologically, I’m actually no longer a part of that age bracket. That ship has passed without my blessing. My new bracket kinda sucks - I’m interested in renouncing it. With 31 comes a lit o’ bit of baggage. 31 is not-so-loosely affiliated with the specter that I’m now supposed to be something and be someone that I’m still so not.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Why Does Anyone Need to Be Luging?

The Olympics – who needs them?

As pro-Chicago as I am, I didn’t lose any sleep when it recently lost its Olympic bid – I want that circus as far away from me as possible. After the Rio games, I nominate Neptune or Pluto for the next locale.

I adore organized sports and healthy competition. But how much more coverage and glorification does the sports world need? And how healthy is the current state of Olympic competition? Nations shouldn’t be further baited into battling each other, even under the pretext of it being all in good fun, and even if it’s only a few times a decade. Gratuitous global one-upmanship puts a damper on global healing and these Games are breeding grounds for petty nationalistic mentalities (even if many of the participating athletes themselves don’t necessarily hold these mindsets). Before these 2010 Games even officially kicked off, notoriously mild-mannered Canada had already been called out for crooked conduct designed to give its people a competitive edge. Who knows what other dirty deals (and much worse than this low-grade unsportsmanlike conduct) are going down well behind the scenes, from Canada or anyplace else?

Of course the U.S. and a few other well-heeled (almost always Western) countries are going to have the highest medal counts - their histories and demographic profiles give them a leg up. So why rub it in to the less-privileged countries (which make up most of the world) that the U.S. and these countries are boss? The developing world and other smaller countries already deal with this song and dance in their daily, non-Olympic lives.

I feel the same way about World Cups or World Championships, but those events don’t have nearly the reach and PR machines (at least not within the U.S.) as the Olympics. World Cups/Championships aren’t thrown in my face the way the Olympics are, so I tend to leave them alone.

What’s wrong with keeping traditional athletic competitions at the intra-national level? Yes, then there’d be petty regional resentments. But we already have that with our domestic sports – so why not let it stay there instead of exporting it to the international arena? New Orleans vs. Indianapolis or Nova Scotia vs. Ontario is less potentially inflammatory than the U.S. vs. China or Russia vs. Germany.

In their public statements, those people who run the show try to spin the tenor of these Games and this tradition as something all-innocuous – this competition is a hearty, good-natured celebration of the world’s most talented athletes. This is a very simplistic and academic rendering, and I can’t be the only one out there who’s not buying it.

It’s always uplifting to see the smiling faces of the athletes when they take the medals podium, knowing that all of their hard work and honed talent has finally paid off; or to pick up on the pride and excitement of those who don’t make it to the podium, but who have made it to this level of competition. But if this is really just about global unity and a celebration of the world’s most talented athletes of the day, why can’t these athletes strenuously compete in their home countries and then have some kind of “We Are the World”-minded extravaganza for a couple of weeks? Every 2 years, they could get together the way they do now, but without the scoring and all of the well-publicized tallies of who’s kicking whose ass.

If all this weren’t enough, then there are those quasi-sports that these Games validate. If I’m going to be subjected to the deification of international athletic showdowns, at least give me something interesting. Hula-hooping, running in place, “Mother May I?” - anything but grown men on sleds. I can’t handle it, and don’t feel as though I should be expected to. What’s most troubling is that these sledders are making significantly more money than I am – for a sport in which they’re lying down. The figure skating isn’t so bad – at least there’s music. Although I’ve never completely figured out pairs skating – who was it that originally came up with the idea for a man to throw a woman into the air across a sheet of ice like that? Off the ice, are most of these pairs dating? Seems as though they should be. And then some of those skiing events are totally sketch – it’s like watching well-narrated home videos of a group of reckless white frat boys’ most recent trip to Boulder.

No way can I end this tirade without taking a shot at the commentators. Every now and then, one of them will say something that could almost matter. But, so much more often, it’s a torrential downpour of idle noise. A camera will zoom in on the sweaty, dejected-looking face of an aging figure skater who’s waiting for her scores, after having tragically fallen twice during her short program – and then you’ll hear a Voice from Hell saying something like “boy, would you just look at that disappointment?” Next comes a close-up shot of the skater’s visibly pissed-off coach since late childhood, sitting by her side. And there goes Commentator: “Her coach doesn’t look too happy either.” The other night, I had speed-skating on in the background. There was a black person in contention for the gold and I couldn’t turn my back on him – not when the lion’s share of Winter Games participants are as white as the snow and ice they glide around on. Quietly rooting for him, for a few moments, I forgot all about my anti-Olympic agenda and began to understand why so many people really get into this shit. And then the commentators just killed it for me. Are they getting paid by the word? There were no unexpressed thoughts. They were choppin’ it up about skater-boy’s current apartment situation and his single-mother-led upbringing on the South Side of Chicago. Then it was: “he keeps a journal and he writes in the journal.” These people need editors – bad. They’re not cut out for improv, live broadcasting, or censor-free living. I didn’t know where I had left my remote (and was too paralyzed with aggravation to think to jump up and lower the volume on the TV itself), so I wasn’t able to mute it all out in time. I manually covered my ears and watched my Brother take care of business.

Only about a week more of this to go. For now. Because the Olympics are like the really bad or embarrassing things you’ve said or done in your past. Just when you start to forget about them, they always have a way of coming back.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Making Out and Breaking Up with Dogs - For Real

I love animals. Dogs, cats, rabbits, sheep – any furry non-rodent. And they love me - sometimes a little too much, as you’re about to learn. I’m particularly popular with the dogs that get walked in Central Park during morning and evening rush hours. They see something in me. Whenever they first notice me (whether they’re two feet away or twenty feet away), they stop whatever they’re doing to rush over for a hyper-affectionate meet-and-greet. And I usually encourage it, even when their stunned owners do not. When I was walking home from work through the park the other night, there was a spry, strapping dog (sporting that post-urination glow) about a yard ahead. The moment she turned around and took me in, her eyes lit up something fierce. Like the Central Park dogs that have come before her, she maniacally sprinted toward me, panting, tugging at, and (by the looks of it) almost breaking, her leash. After a brief, but animated, ground-level petting session, she suddenly jumped up on me, wrapped her front legs securely around my waist, took a moment to gaze lovingly into my not-yet-unnerved eyes, and proceeded to vigorously lick my face. When I started laughing, she stuck her tongue into my opened mouth and forcefully swirled it around. The physical intensity completely overpowered me and I almost lost my balance. Her tongue felt twice as big as my entire mouth region – and she didn’t even put the whole thing in. It took me nearly half a minute to push her off. And that tail never slowed down. I feel a little sordid, a little changed - in the confused way an 18-year-old coed might react after getting stroked by her regular campus shuttle-bus driver or one of her elderly classics professors during an office-hours appointment. I started to look at myself more critically. Had I led this dog on? Was it something in my smile or in my eyes, in my walk or my touch that sent out a signal that I wanted it? Where was the dog’s owner during all of this? Right there, two feet away, watching from start to finish, holding his end of the leash, looking as though he couldn’t have been more bored. “She likes you,” he said. Here’s another one: One of the regular morning dog walkers on my route is a scruffy and petite middle-aged man. He walks behind a beautiful, human-faced Bernese Mountain Dog who always looks as though she doesn’t want to be seen with him. Every morning for weeks, when I passed by I exchanged kind smiles with the dog and then with her keeper. Then one day a few weeks ago, the dog more pointedly walked over and into me, instead of sticking to just the interested-glance routine. We stopped and messed around a bit and then her dude and I shot the shit for a little while. I can’t even really remember what we talked about. I vaguely recall him having schooled me on how Bernese Mountain Dogs are in the same family as the St. Bernard (and my responding as though I was fascinated). Then we parted on very cheerful terms. I had to be at work a little earlier the following morning, so I didn’t run into them the next day. But the next weekday after that, we were right back on schedule. As I barreled through our little section of the park, there they came toward me. I gave the guy a big toothy grin and a friendly “Morning!” He slowly and hostilely walked past, glaring at me the whole time. When I smiled at the dog, she looked up hella sheepishly as if she had been expressly forbidden to ever make eyes at me again. Next morning, same thing – only worse. This time the guy (still glaring) actually tried to use his arm and lower body to physically block the dog from even thinking about inching closer to my side of the path. The bullshit has been ongoing ever since, so I’ve completely stopped looking over at either one of them when we pass. And there’ve been days when I haven’t seen them at all. I miss that dog – she had been one of my favorite regulars. Just what, pray tell, does Mofo think I’ve done? Maybe right after I left them after our final pleasant interaction, Bernese Mountain started acting so strangely that her can’t-get-nothin’-by-me master thinks I cast a spell on her. With a reaction like his, I can only conclude that it’s along the lines of something that nuts. Trust me, if I had spell-casting abilities, I wouldn’t waste them on an innocent bear-like dog from the Bernese mountains. I’ve got a few (all bipedal) prime candidates who have just been asking for a spell to be cast their way. Now there are two Golden Retrievers who are really into me – but it’s not the same. At the end of the day, Golden Retrievers are crowd-pleasing patsies with the blandest personalities. As good as they might be for a short-term rebound, I need more than just a pretty face.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Inaugural Retort!

The Roving Retorter welcomes you!

I’m here because I lead a pretty effortlessly colorful life. It’s always seemed just a little more fanciful and farcical than the daily lives of most people I know. What’s meant to be a 10-minute round trip to my neighborhood grocery store for avocados, cream-cheese cake frosting, and paper towels too often morphs into a three-ring, neo-Shakespearean-esque escapade. Someone once referred to me as a lightning rod for the strange and disenfranchised, and I don’t think there’s any better way to put it. I’m full of fodder. Fodder which then triggers thoughts and threads in my head that I like to think of as a form of relatable social critique. And I gotta jot this stuff down. I gotta put this shit in writing.

The Roving Retorter is a little tech-age journal of my journey. One that will also conveniently allow me to kill multiple birds with one stone, as the public nature of this venue can serve as a one-stop shop for the relaying of the madcap high jinks and headaches that have recently unfolded in my life and times, instead of having to constantly repeat myself (per back-to-back incident) to each of my friends and loved ones.

In addition to the from-the-trenches reportage, I’m basically going to be writing and ranting about whatever I want – observations, irritations, ideas, ideals. It will all depend on my mood at the time. But this is not meant to be a tell-all forum – I’ll be very proud and choosy about how much of my personal life I’ll publicly reveal. This is just one of my written records, and I hope it turns out to be a good one. Because when I’m in my 90’s (and according to a psychic named Ava, I one day will be – she took one long look at my Nile River of a life line and pronounced that I’m going to make it to at least 100), I want to go back and read through all of this to jog my memory about what a trip it’s all been. I don’t know what’s finally going to kill me once I do reach the 100-year mark – but I like to picture myself sitting in a well-padded rocking chair (with a mug of coffee or a glass of wine at my side) with a distinguished web of deep-set, untampered-with wrinkles, a white-speckled afro, and my signature laser-steel eyes still at least somewhat intact. When I take my last breath, I want to be completely doubled-over and wheezing with laughter, after having just read a passage from a chronicle such as this.

So anyways, thanks for stopping by. I hope you check back in sometime real soon.

P.S. I was just re-reading a recent e-mail from my local wine shop (I’m on their list). In honor of Black History Month, they’ll be putting together a tasting hosted by a “winemaker of color.” For the rest of this month (and every February hereafter), I want to be referred to as both a blogger of color and a retorter of color (especially the latter).