Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Over The Rhine And Through The Woods To Grandgansta's House We Go

I lived in Cincinnati and needed to get a job, pronto, before my boyfriend bludgeoned me in the head to death with a plastic thing he'd bought initially to shove up
his ass. I found employment in a blood plasma center in the middle of Over-The-Rhine, Cincinatti's well-publicised answer to the ghetto. I was a small, skinny white boy, and signing up for this was tantamount to saying that active-duty in Afghanistan gives me tittie hard-ons.

Because blood-plasma centers are not known for drawing the future standouts of the local board of education.
Becuause blood-plasma centers are not generally a gathering place for lively discussions of post-modern approaches to music and literature.
Because blood-plasma centers have yet to be considered a haven for the concept of free thought.

And because I was tiny and white.

This was a slight few years before the Cincinnati riots of 2001 broke out, and although the reslults were less than honorable, not that they were without
good reason. Some fucking cop shot a kid just because he had 14 outstanding warrants, not getting that, duh, all of them were non-violent. But this was simply
the straw that broke the camel's black. This kind of shit had been happening for years and the people who lived in the neighborhood had gotten sicker and sicker
and sicker of this shit until one day it fucking broke and Helter Skelter came raining down. The mood was there, in '87, when I arrived, and years of white
cops getting away with killing black kids for no real reason was uppermost in the minds of the community. It hadn't reached the point of crazy looting and kicking
in windows and screaming "Fuck this!" But it was getting closer and closer. White motherfuckers were coming into a historically black neighborhood and killing people, including children. This is when I landed my job in the middle of Over-The Rhine as an intake clerk.

"Hi," I said to the people gathered in the lobby, "I'm new here!" I waved cheerily like a faggy white boy. Not the best plan.

My co-workers were mostly black, educated and gave me the low-down. "You gotta prove yourself as something different than the cops. This neighborhood can
be cool with white people as long as they distance themselves from the people who are killing their kids."

Sadly, 'Fuck tha Police' wouldn't come out for another few years, so I had nothing to go on. I would have thought that as a freaky punkazoid, sporting
hair down to my shoulders on one side, buzzed off on the other and sporting eyeliner; while wearing a white lab coat to denote me as an employee of
the place that would give them cash money for the malt-liqour infused stuff from out of their veins, would have distanced me enough from the five-oh.

But no. You have to prove yourself in a place like this. Appearances count for nothing. Much as it should in the real world.

This was about the time I took up smoking. I did it so I could learn some really cool magic tricks involving cigarettes. Not that if anyone knew this it would boost my street cred. This was back in the day whereyou could smoke pretty much anywhere, and I thought perhaps my newfound fondness for coffin nails would make me seem just a little cooler and therefore less like an opressor. Unfortunately, my job consisted of having to stab anyone who came through the line in the finger with a pointy thing that drew enough blood to smear on a little card for processing. If someone does this to you, most likely you are not going to consider them on your side, even if you get a teeny-tiny check at the end of the maze.

But I lit up, just to show the inner toughness of the guy wearing Maybelline. But I'd just started and I was no good at it so right after I stabbed a
local gang leader in the finger I coughed loud, hacking sobs and blew most of the contents of my nose on his specifically-colored shirt.

You would think of course that I'd be instantly dead but instead the hoodlum showed a remarkable instinct for subtle sarcasm (my favorite kind) and said,
"Been smoking long?"

I thought this was hilarious, but the woman working alongside me wanted me to live to see another day. "He been smoking forever!" she shouted,
"Don't you know asthma when you see it?"

This is what saved my life. Not her version of cunning strategy but the fact that me and the guy who now had my phlegm across his shirt looked at one another and cracked up together. We both thought it was the stupidest thing to say ever, as if, "Oh yeah, that's gonna work" and shared a moment. And THAT is what turned the tables and made my being there no longer an onslaught of fear.

He spread the word that I was ok. If that woman hadn't said that completly dumb thing it could have been oh so horrible. But because we laughed together, my life in the plasma center got a whole lot better by the very next day. The cold crowd of stare-you-down thugs became warm, personable and funny. They would insult me and I would insult them back and we'd laugh together. I loved it. Me, the whitest man
in America, connecting with the most dangerous part of town. I don't know this for a fact, but I'd like to think that some of them saw the beauty in the very same thing.


  1. The whitest man in America? I think you're confusing yourself with Martin Mull who, as Paul Rodriguez once said lovingly, is "Hitler's wet dream."

  2. Phlegm comes in all colors.