Friday, December 15, 2023

The White Boy

When I was a baby, people who were a different color from me wanted the same rights as me.  None of that would change my rights so I agreed. Many people didn't.  I was a baby, so maybe I was wrong.

When I was a boy, people who loved differently from me wanted the same rights as me.  None of what they were doing involved me, so I agreed.  A little later, women wanted the same rights to control their body that I had.  It was their body, not mine so I agreed.  Lots of people didn't agree.  I was just a boy so maybe I was wrong.

Now that I'm old, some people aren't happy with the gender they were assigned at birth so they want the right to change it.  They want to change their own assigned gender, not mine, so I agreed.  Lots of people don't agree.    I'm old now though, so maybe I'm wrong.

From birth to old age, nobody ever tried to limit what I could be, so maybe I just don't get trying to do that to others.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Toilet Trouble

 Before he went to Millsaps, my grandfather had never used a toilet before.  Founder's Hall had one.  (They would install a ladies' room before they tore it down.)  The KA House had a single-seater that I'm sure they kept as pristine and clean as the ones in the KA House now.

Where he came from, people didn't have toilets.  They had outhouses and chamber pots.  When we went to homecoming in the seventies, his little Methodist church in Hesterville had a port-a-potty where the outhouse used to be.  The only one willing to use it was my cousin Libba Wingate, who had trouble holding her water after childbirth.  Delta women act like they're frail as lace and require our constant protection and supervision.  It is a lie.  They've been climbing trees and shooting doves since they were four, and any man who falls for that trap deserves what they get.

In those days, there weren't that many buildings in all of Mississippi that had toilets.  Pretty soon, though, indoor plumbing became common, and every public building had bathrooms for three genders: Male, Female, and Colored.  If you think it causes a commotion now when somebody uses the wrong bathroom, try letting a white woman use the colored toilet in 1940.  They would have found a way to send three black men to jail for that.

After the sexual revolution of the seventies, people who had different ideas about how to express their gender started to feel like they had more freedom to do so.  Some people feel very threatened if they start to lose control over gender expression, and almost immediately, they become uncomfortable with the sexual revolution.  

A few years ago, internet trolls decided that if there was anything they hated more than transgender people, it was furries, so they started spreading the story that elementary schools in California had to install "litter box" bathrooms in all their schools for students who identify as furries.  It's not true, of course, but the trolls had a grand time watching guys with MAGA hats spew their nonsense on YouTube.  If you think about it, I'm sure you know somebody who has heard this story and believes it.

So, where does all this gender ideology and multiple bathroom business lead?  Where does it end?

A few days ago, in Iran, a sixteen-year-old girl was beaten to death by the "morality police" because she dared to uncover her hair on the train.  It's not the first time this has happened.  In Iran, women covering their heads is part of their gender ideology.  

It's so easy for us to hold ourselves as morally superior to Iran, but fifty years ago, they were the country in the Middle East that was the most like us.  They had a very popular, democratically elected prime minister, who made the mistake of trying to Huey Long, the British Persian Oil company, so the CIA had him taken out and replaced by a puppet, and they changed the name to British Petroleum and pretended like nobody did anything.  Twenty years later, the puppet government we installed was taken over by the Islamic Brotherhood, and an awful lot of law-abiding, peaceful Persians had to move to the United States.  

This girl was sixteen.  All she wanted was to express her gender identity in her own way, and she died for it.  She died because the adults in Iran believed they had to control these things, that it was madness to let a sixteen-year-old decide for herself whether or not to show her hair.  

I'm not saying that's where it will end in this country, but these things are a spectrum, and we're on the spectrum.  We like to think we're so very different from Iranians and so very different from them, but are we.

There are two kinds of people in the world.  Those who believe all cultural matters must be tightly regulated and controlled, and then there are people who believe that bacchanalia can sometimes be useful, that you have to let people express themselves in their own way, or it ends in tragedy.  

Friday, October 27, 2023

Story Idea - Time Travel

 I have this idea for a story. It borrows from other stories so, we'll see. The details are likely to change.

In the late 40s a boy named Tommy is ten years old and a student at Duling Elementary School in Jackson, MS. His teacher is Miss Becker. She's twenty-three and beautiful. Tommy's father died recently, and he stutters so he's extremely shy and has no friends. Miss Becker befriends him and tries to help him feel better about his situation.
One day, Tommy says "Miss Becker, I don't know what I'd do without you, when I get as old as you I'm going to marry you!" Miss Becker laughs
One night, there's a huge flash of light and Tommy wakes up in a room with glowing white walls and strange figures are around him. The figures are from the future. Their bodies look strange because humans no longer use their physical bodies. They've expanded his mind so he can understand what they say to him.
In the future, humans can travel in time, but they can only observe. They can't make any changes. Time travel is a device for their historians. Their machines can visit any point or place in time, before the date the machine was turned on. As their machines pass through time, their machines pass by unnoticed by the people living the regular time line, but one in a billion will become attached to the machine as it goes by, and Tommy was one in a billion.
They don't have a way to return Tommy to his body so he can live out his life, but they can return his mind to bodies of people who are moments from dying, and he can live our their lives, or a part of their lives.
There's a flash, and Tommy wakes up in the body of a twenty year old. Miss Becker is now seven. Realizing their roles in time have changed, Tommy gets a job at the school as a custodian. He watches Miss Becker grow up, but tries not to ever have her notice him.
When he turns thirty five, there's another flash and Tommy wakes in in 1969, he's a sophomore at Murrah High School, and Miss Becker (Now Mrs Thompson) is the principal. She has a husband and children.
There are a few more flashes, and a few more changes of age and relative ages between them, and one day he's at a facility like St. Catherines. Tommy is eighty-nine with COPD. Miss Becker is 92 and has progressing alzheimers.
Miss Becker can't remember the present, but she can remember the past. She and Tommy become friends. They are in different parts of the facility, but he visits her ever day. Because her mind is disjointed and floats around in time, Tommy is the only one she can really communicate with. Tommy is the only one who knows he's shared all these experiences with Miss Becker, but in different bodies.
One day, Miss Becker says her friend Tommy promised to marry her. It becomes all she can talk about. Her daughter asks Tommy if he actually has asked her to marry him, and he says he hasn't, but another boy named Tommy did, a long time ago.
Miss Becker starts to get upset if anybody tries to tell her she's not going to marry Tommy. She doesnt' recognize Tommy in this new body with a new name. Finally, Tommy says, he can't legally marry Miss Becker because of her illness she can't give consent, but if it will make her calmer and happy to pretend to get married, he'll do it.
The doctors are unsure about this idea, but they know she may not remember it the next day, and even if she did, neither she nor Tommy had very much time left.
The nurses push the wheelchairs together, and they have a pretend wedding with Tommy and Miss Becker holding hands. When she says "I Do", she looks at Tommy, for the first time, and realizes who he is, and how he's always been with her, but she's too weak to talk about it. That night, both Tommy and Miss Becker pass away in their sleep.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

One Brief Shining Moment in Mississippi

For two hundred years, Mississippi was ruled by a cabal of single-issue (or nearly single) Democrats.  You couldn’t even say they were conservatives.  On issues like women voting, federal parks, trust-busting, and the gold standard, we were pretty moderate to liberal.   For anything involving race, dancing, or drinking, we were the most conservative voices out there.  

During the sixties, the ice began to melt around the heart of some Southern Democrats with regards to race (Thanks for Lyndon B Johnson) and drinking.  While most of Mississippi hated the change, by 1970, you could tell things were beginning to move.

By the seventies, clearly, there was a major change coming.  Conservative, single-issue (race) Mississippians began changing to the Republican party.  People who were more moderate on the race issue became moderate Democrats, and for a very brief while, they held most of the power in Mississippi.

I won’t describe the “Southern Strategy” the way Lee Atwater did, although he laid it out pretty honestly.  To paraphrase what he said: In the past, all you had to do was use overtly racist language, and conservative Southerners were all behind you.  Things changed in the sixties.  Nobody wanted to be associated with racist language, so they began speaking in code.  Any program that people perceived to be more of a help to black Americans than white Americans could be used to create a fear that the program would embolden the presumed baser nature of Africans and, therefore, a danger to whites.  

Despite the success of the Southern Strategy, In Mississippi, some new voices and new ideas could be heard, and for a while, they were growing.  

I don’t know if you can accurately say if my dad was either liberal or conservative.  He didn’t have much patience with a lot of liberal ideas and conservative ideas either.  Like many people, he was very interested in resolving issues of race so we could move on to the other items in the mountain of problems Mississippi had.  More than anything, my dad was Methodist, and that meant moderate.  He didn’t like to rush into anything, but he didn’t like being an idealogue or someone afraid of change either.  He advocated moderately considering your options and then reasonably and moderately dealing with your problems.  Mississippians tend to be bombastic.  This more reasoned approach wasn’t at all popular among some people but very popular among others.

Daddy surrounded himself with other moderates.  I can remember very well listening to my cousin Robert Wingate and his friend Charlie Deaton seriously cuss Ronald Reagan’s PIK program while eating boiled peanuts and tossing the shells into the woods.  To me, that was the core of the Mississippi Delta.

America was in a farm crisis, and Mississippi was getting it worse than most.  Guys who owned their land outright, without any debt, made money with the PIK program.  Most guys didn’t, though.  In Mississippi, it was common for farmers to buy their daddy’s farm, mortgage it to pay their daddy enough money to retire on, and then get back most of the principal from the loan when daddy died.  This went on for generations.  In the seventies, mortgage loan rates went higher and higher and higher, and a lot of guys started having trouble making their mortgage payments and began losing their farms.  Other guys started picking up these valuable farm acres from a bank sale, but then they would get in trouble because they borrowed so much money to do it.  

Some guys were in pretty good shape.  My cousin Richard Huzzey was in pretty good shape because his dad died before the mortgage crisis, and he owned his land outright.  At Millsaps, I was socially involved with a woman whose father wheeled and dealed and picked up almost a thousand acres from bank sales, added to the over a thousand acres he already had.  Romantically and with regard to whiskey, she was a libertine, which worked in my favor.  Financially and in matters of race and culture, she was a conservative, which worked against me.  She was one of the most beautiful women I was ever involved with, but there’s more to it than that, and the fates were against us.  Besides, all that drinking was just about to get me kicked out of Millsaps.

There was a sweet spot in Mississippi moderate politics that stretched from the election of William Winter through Bill Allain till the end of the Mabus governorship when the first-ever Republican governor was elected.  Among the most notable achievements during this era were the Winter and Mabus educational packages and Mike Moore’s stunning victory over the tobacco companies.  People talk about Huey Long’s victory over the oil companies; that aint nothing compared to what Mike Moore accomplished.  Moore had Richard Scruggs in his corner; that might have made a difference.

I went to an Ole Miss football game with my dad, Rowan Taylor, and long-time Mississippi Education leader Bob Fortenberry.  This was when they still had most of the big Ole Miss games in Jackson.  Before the game, after The Pride of the South played the national anthem, the announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm Mississippi welcome to the honorable governor of our state and his wife, Ray Mabus!”  and you could slowly hear boos come out of the student section, that moved like a wave over the rest of the home side of the field.  Mabus had just won a stunning victory for his education bill; what the heck were they booing about?  I looked to my dad to see his response.  “Were we in trouble?”  I thought.  Rowan just said, “I’ll be damned,” under his breath.

This business of new Republicans vs. moderate Democrats came to a head when John Stennis retired.  John Stennis scared the peanuts out of me.  I met him seven or eight times.  By that point in his career, he was entrenched enough that he didn’t have to be polite to anybody he didn’t want to, and a moose-shaped white boy from Jackson was somebody he didn’t want to.  

Running for his seat were two members of the Mississippi House delegation.  Wayne Dowdy, with an office in McComb, and Trent Lott, who is from Grenada but grew up on the coast.  

Lott was gregarious and popular.  He was a cheerleader at Ole Miss and ran for Student Body President.  Out of college, he went to work for Bill Colmer, representing Mississippi in the House.  Colmer was a very typical Dixiecrat.  After Brown v Board of Education, he was an author of the “Southern Manifesto” and presented it door to door in the House, on foot.  I honestly don’t have a lot pleasant to say about Bill Colmer.  When he retired, Tent Lott took over his seat, which was a relief.

Dowdy was a Millsaps Graduate.  He had new ideas about being a Democrat from Mississippi.  For one thing, he believed in the idea of a coalition of white and black voters that could carry him to victory, and it worked.  Even today, you’d think that was a strategy that would work in Mississippi, but often doesn’t.  

The year before, Ray Mabus beat Jack Reed with a similar strategy, so most people, early on, thought Dowdy was a shoo-in.  Lott was convinced Mississippi was ready for a change and pointed to the election of Thad Cochran and George Bush’s success in Mississippi as proof.  The race was pretty close for a while, but as it drew down on the wire, Lott began to pull ahead.  In the end, he won by seven points.

After the election of Lott, it became harder and harder to elect a white Democrat in Mississippi.  The Southern Strategy had taken us over.  

After this point, some parts of Mississippi continued to grow (Oxford being the best example) while other parts of Mississippi started to die (Jackson being the best example.)  Race is still just about the only issue that will win an election in Mississippi, so long as you don’t ever say that it’s race.  

There are a lot of guys now that I look at and think, “Man, I wish you had gotten the chance you deserve.” but Mississippi is different now, and those chances are gone.   There’s absolutely no doubt that Mississippi is in decline.  I’m not really one to point fingers, but it wasn’t always like this.  

Don’t let it be forgot

That once there was a spot

And for one brief shining moment…

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Notes On The Girl With The Painted Arm

 In the story, I said that we went to see “Batman” at Mann’s Chinese Theater.  My journals don’t actually say what the movie was.  Batman would have been a bit later on, but I wanted to give the impression that we had “The Perfect Date,” so I picked Batman.  It probably was something pretty mundane.  I tried to visit Mann’s Chinese Theater (originally Grauman's Chinese Theatre, now TLC Chinese Theater) every time I visited Los Angeles.  Besides Madison Square Gardens, it’s probably the most famous movie theater in existence.  Honestly, whatever the movie was, I doubt I would have paid much attention as I was deeply smitten and fascinated by my companion.  I think I’ve given a pretty accurate impression of how deeply passionate Julie was.  There are a lot of things that happened that day that I’ll never write about.  Many years later, and all that’s still pretty personal.  That Sunday still counts as one of my favorite days ever.

The book “Modern Primitives” by V. Vale and Andrea Juno came out in 1989.  It’s generally credited for sparking the body modification craze that took over the nineties.  Until “Modern Primitives,” most people with conspicuous tattoos were either bikers or sailors.  “Modern Primitives” made body modification popular among college students.  Even today, if I see somebody with a developed tattoo, I tend to think “art student,” not “biker.”  Jules was the type of girl who would be on the cutting edge of any fashionable trend, so I’m not surprised she scooped the world on this body modification bandwagon.

Jules (Julie, Julia) was a couple of years older than me.  She had an art degree from USC.  A trust-fund baby, she spent her first two college summers exploring Europe but her last two college summers exploring China and Japan.  Japanese art was a passion of hers.  Every motif on her arm was an exacting replica of a famous Japanese work.  Her tattoo artist traveled from Japan to Hong Kong to Los Angeles.  Julie said her tattoo artist had a world-famous reputation for their tattoos, and people came from all over the world to be her canvas.  

Julie’s tattoo took almost three years to complete.  Her art history professor helped her pick out the works she wanted on her skin, a process that took over a year before she ever had a mark on her body.  Her artist used both traditional and modern, powered tattoo inking tools.  Jules tried to get her tattoo done using traditional tools, but it was too painful, so she switched to the powered ones.  She paid for it out of the trust fund her grandfather set up for her.  She was well aware that she would probably have to occasionally go to have some of the colors refreshed for the rest of her life.  

When I met her, she was “on a break” from college and planned to return for her master’s degree and possibly Ph.D. so that she could teach.  I have no idea if any of that ever happened.  She was great at communicating, and she loved people, so she probably would have been a great teacher.

Traditionally, conservative Jews considered tattoos a very bad idea.  Julie’s mother, although she was born a catholic and converted to Judaism, hated her tattoo.  Her father, it seemed to me, was mostly involved in his daughter’s life by proxy, so if he had much to say about it, she never mentioned it to me.  Her grandmother had been born in Poland and seen quite a lot, so she considered the tattoo “not the worst thing that could happen.”  

Julie’s hair was about six inches longer than shoulder length.  In the front, it had sort of a swoosh, similar to Elvis, which she dyed blonde; the rest was dark brown, made cinnamon brown by the sun on the top layers.  Her mother’s hair was perfectly straight and hung well below her waist.  When I knew Julie,  her mother would be in her fifties.  We never met, but I saw photographs.  If that’s what Julie would look like when she was fifty, then I really fucked up letting that one get away.  

Her father’s story was pretty typical: a Jewish boy who grows up in LA and becomes a lawyer.  I was very interested in her mother’s story, but I never got to hear very much about it.  She was born in Colombia but moved to California as a child.  Jules had family in Colombia and Poland, which she never met.

I’ve made several attempts through the years to find Julie.  She ended up being the third woman with that name I would become entangled with.  They all had unusual and somewhat sad endings.  I called her father’s office a few times over the years and left a message, but never got a callback.  My hope is that Julie got married and changed her name, and that’s why I’ve never been able to find her anywhere.  All I really want is that considering how things happened, I’d really like to know that she was okay, that she had a happy life, and that she was eventually able to have all the things she dreamed about.  Most of us don’t get to have the things we dreamed about.  Considering what she was up against, I wouldn’t be surprised if things didn’t work out for her, but it’d make me very sad.

I don’t like saying I was “in love.”  I don’t think I knew her long enough for that.  I was clearly fascinated by her and remain so forty years later.  Many years ago, in the shadows of the bar at Scrooges, my friend Janie asked me which of all the girls I’d been entangled with did I wish had worked out and become the forever girl.  I gave her a name, then thought about it, and gave her another name.  Forty years later, and I’d probably still give the same name.  The thing that made that girl different from all the other girls was that she never wanted anything from me.  She just liked spending time with me, and talking to me, and just sort of being in my presence.  She wasn’t social climbing or looking for a savior, or a benefactor, or a guardian.  She just enjoyed my companionship.  We still talk.  She’s had a completely different life from me, but I’m sure she still knows there was, and is, something special about her–at least where I was concerned.

Julie was the same way.  Socially, I probably would have been seriously reaching above my grade.  Some of her dad’s clients were awe-inspiring, not to mention famous.  I have no idea what drew her to me.  I asked her a few times, and all she said was that she “saw something.”  What she saw, I guess I’ll never know.  Had she not been schizophrenic, who knows what our lives might have been like?  She was schizophrenic, though, and that changes everything. 

I’m aware that because she was schizophrenic, maybe I shouldn’t trust her attraction to me.  It might have been a symptom of her disease.  It might have been gossamer or a vaper, like the hallucinations schizophrenic people sometimes have.  I’m confident that my feelings for her were genuine.  An art student who grew up in Hollywood, with obsidian black eyes and actual art imprinted on her body, would have been like a wish from a birthday cake for me.  Birthday wishes aren’t real, though, and I would never have wished for the perfect girl who had trouble telling the difference between reality and the voices in her head.  That’s almost a cruel joke.

I’m not the right person to go to if you have a loved one with schizophrenia.  I have very harsh feelings about it.  What I know is that the current research suggests that the principal factor deciding who suffers from it and who doesn’t is genetics.  They’ve known that for quite a while.  Among other things, that suggests that whatever was in my brother that made him Schizophrenic is very likely also in me.  It’s possible there’s a common factor between the genetic markers for schizophrenia, ADHD, and major depression, which would explain a lot.  

There’s ample research suggesting a link between the use of narcotic and psychedelic drugs and a trigger for schizophrenia, especially among boys as they finish puberty and women after childbirth.  One of my best childhood friends had a mother who suffered pretty rough schizophrenic episodes after the birth of her third child.  She also, like many women in her generation, depended on narcotic tranquilizers to deal with being a mother in the sixties and seventies.  My mother would always bring that up when I had something to say about how she handled my brother’s illness.  I also pointed out that it didn’t really help to know that other people were having to go through the same shit we were going through.  I was just sixteen and going through pretty rough problems of my own, but none of that mattered if the whole goddamn world had worse problems than me.  I would have to wait my turn, but my turn never came.

Schizophrenia isn’t really curable.  You can become so much less symptomatic that it eventually becomes unnoticeable.  That being said, it must be pretty horrible living your life wondering when or if the voices would return.  

My brother never became completely asymptomatic.  I think, at some point, being symptomatic was such a part of his life that he just incorporated it.  He never returned to being the person he was before the onset of schizophrenia.  My brother was an extraordinarily gentle creature.  The schizophrenic version of himself was not.  Fortunately, that part of him never fully took over.  There was always enough of his core personality involved to prevent anything like that.  I don’t think I ever gave him enough credit for keeping all that in check.

I always thought that having your own mind betray you was about the worst thing that could possibly happen.  I know what it’s like when your body rebels against its master, but losing your mind is a particularly horrible fate.  As I’ve gotten older, I realize that schizophrenia was just the first assault that might try to take over your mind.  Later in life, you’ll be beset on all sides by forces wanting to rob you of your memories and personality.  Dementia and Alzheimer's are, in many ways, worse than schizophrenia.  Toward the end of his life, my father-in-law forgot that he was no longer my father-in-law and would call to check on me like he did when we were still related.  It hurt me to know that his memories were going, but no assault of age could take away his gentle personality.  When he called, I simply tried to be whatever he wanted me to be, knowing that he might not remember it later.

My brother’s at peace now.  He never had the life he deserved.  His doctor, the one I yelled at, moved away from Jackson, and he got a better doctor, but never anyone who could make it all go away.   I don’t know what happened with Julia.  She took a piece of me with her wherever she ended up.  She deserved happiness and every success, but knowing what I know about schizophrenia, it may never have happened.  

Monday, October 23, 2023

The Girl With The Painted Arm

 Pretty soon, I started to think that maybe getting arrested at a psychologist's office wouldn’t really help my case much, so maybe I should sit down and listen to what Dr. Draper had to say…Hmm.  Maybe that’s not the best place to start my story.  If I’m going to jump around in time, let’s move forward about ten years and start there.

Riding the wave between twenty-three and twenty-four, I found myself very tired, very unhappy in my job, not writing, not making art, and spending most of my energy helping this woman in her troubles with her father.  I can’t say that I was in love with her because, at some point, I believe the definition of “love” should include some amount of happiness for me, and there was none.  I was devoted, and I’d made a promise.  As unhappy as I was, she was far more unhappy, so that seemed fair.

“You should do something for yourself.”  She said.  “Take a trip.  Find a girlfriend for the weekend.”  She suggested.

This business of finding a girlfriend for the weekend was something I knew something about.  When the stakes were low, I was charming enough to make up for the fact that I wasn’t very handsome, and there were always women who were just about as lonely as I was and just as leery about making any sort of commitment.  A gentleman doesn’t normally admit to these things, though, so I’m not sure how my friend knew about this.  Maybe she was guessing.  Normally, my minimal requirement was that it be a girl to whom I was properly introduced.  In Mississippi, in the eighties, that wasn’t much of a problem.  I’d been introduced to hundreds of girls, and there would be hundreds more.  

The “take a trip” part held some interest for me.  Comicon was coming up.  My friends from Compuserve were talking about meeting up in Los Angeles and driving to San Diego.  During the trip, I made plans to spend time with Forest Acerkman, former publisher of Famous Monster’s magazine, whom everyone called Uncle Forry.  I’d corresponded with him since I was a little boy, but this would be the first time we’d met in person.  He told me that during the week I would be there, Ray Harryhausen, the world-famous stop-motion animator, would be in town, and they hoped to meet with Ray Bradbury, the author.  If I timed my visit right, I could meet all three, and did.  

Setting aside a whole week for the trip, I got a room at a hotel in Hollywood near the Shrine Auditorium.  The Shrine Auditorium was the host of the Academy Awards for many years and had been used as a set representing a Broadway theater in the 1932 filming of King Kong.   My year had not gone very well at all, but I was making sure that my summer would be full of magic.  I also decided this might be a good time to tour and apply for admission to UCLA and USC, possibly thinking about a career change to something more creative.

My CompuServe friends arranged for two meet-ups.  One, a cookout at the world Famous Black’s Beach.   I’d never been to a nude beach before, and since this was the land of beautiful people, I was curious to see what this might be like.  The beaches around San Diego were famous for their beauty, but they were also famous for their sea lions.  As we walked up on Black’s Beach, I saw it was dotted with bloated, copper-brown bodies I assumed were sunning sea lions.  They were not.  A little further down, there were some actual sea lions.  We decided that the best way to tell which was which was to look for the beach towel.  Older, fatter, naked Californians had them; sea lions did not.  

The next night, we planned to meet at a seaside steak house that had a very proud reputation among the locals.  My friend, whose screen name was “Petals,” sat beside me.  She lived in that area her whole life and suggested I get the beef stroganoff.  Apparently, they cut all their own meats, and the stroganoff was made from the scraps left over from cutting the filets.

These were people I talked to online every day.  Even though it was just text, we were still very comfortable with each other, even though I was the youngest member of the party by at least ten years.  This was in the mid-1980s, and what happened next was something I’d never been exposed to before.

Our waitress was a beautiful girl about my age, dressed in blue jeans and a sleeveless shirt.  Her entire left arm was covered in these intricate and elaborate tattoos, to the point where it looked like she was wearing a shirt covered in paisleys.  In the years to come, really intricate and large “sleeve” tattoos became fairly common, but this was the first time I’d ever seen one.  

I’d known girls who had maybe a small butterfly or a cross tattoo, but this was like a mural compared to a miniature.  On her arm, I recognized “The Wave” by Hokusai.  There was a blackmoor goldfish circling a scarlet, gold, and white ouranda, both swimming in a blue and white porcelain fishbowl.  A golden pheasant with a brilliant red breast sat among bamboo on her deltoid muscle, with its tail feathers trailing down her tricep muscles.  Among all the major themes were cherry blossoms intermingled with bamboo fronds and kanji that I had no idea what they represented.  Whoever this woman was, she understood a lot more about Japanese art than I did, but I understood enough to realize that she wasn’t just picking designs out of a “book of popular tattoos.”  Whatever was going on with her, it meant something.

I imagined the tattoo artist might be a lover or maybe a parent.  I imagined this elaborate dance between the artist, the subject, and her body as the canvas.  In later years, I learned that that quality of work, in that size, in that part of the world, represented about as much money as a new luxury automobile.   I also learned that, even in Southern California, in the mid-eighties, there were only so many people even capable of creating that type of tattoo.  Clearly, there was more going on here than just another waitress.

She stood behind me with her notepad.  “Hi, my name is Julie.”  She said.  “Hi, Julie!” my friends answered.  They were dorks.  Julie read off the dinner and drink specials for the night.  My friend Rabbit, a computer engineer, asked way more questions than would be normal.  In between sentences, she would drop her hand down onto my shoulder, the hand attached to her painted arm.  Her nails were painted ivory crescent moons over a pink nail bed.  She raked them gently over my trapezius muscle and then back to her notepad.  In my world, a French manicure represented good breeding.  I looked around at the other women in the restaurant to see if it was the same here.  

Julie left to enter our drink order.  My friend Petal leaned in.  “She likes you.”  She said and giggled.  Rabbit laughed.  “She just might.”  He said.

I was sitting on the corner of a table for six.  When Julie returned with our drinks, she again stood behind me.  She leaned over my shoulder as she distributed the glasses, then got out her notepad again to take our dinner order.  Even though she was behind me, I knew her hips were just inches from my shoulder.  When she leaned in to pass out the drink glasses, I could feel her hip pressing against my tricep muscles.  Again, she rested the hand attached to her painted arm on my shoulder when she wasn’t writing.  

After she had everyone else’s order, she turned around and faced me, standing between me and Rabbit.  She made that swooping motion with her head that women sometimes do to move their hair from one side of their head to the other.  Her eyelids closed halfway like she was very comfortable in her position.  

“What’s your pleasure, Shakespeare?”  She said.

I’d never mentioned that I wanted to be a writer.  I’d never mentioned anything about myself at all.  I thought about what Petal said about this girl likeing me, but then I thought she probably did this twenty times a night to make her customers more comfortable and maybe get a bigger tip. 

“The Beef Strauganauf,”  I said.

“What temperature?” she said, in a way that made me really very uncomfortable, in an ungentlemanly sort of way.  

“Medium Rare,”  I said.

She leaned in, putting her mouth a few inches from my ear.  “Good Choice.”  She said.

After dinner and a fair amount of abuse from my friends about this woman with the painted left arm, we all turned in our credit cards to pay.  When I got mine back, on the back of the receipt tape was written a phone number, with “Thanks for coming tonight.  Call me!  Jules” with a graphic swirl underneath that reminded me of the cherry limbs painted on her arm.

Upon returning to my hotel, I waited about an hour before I called the number.  I had no idea what time she would be getting off.  “Hey, this is Jules. I’m not here right now, but you already know that.  Leave a message!”

“Hi, Julie, this is Boyd–you know, Shakespeare, from the restaurant.  I was just calling to say ‘hey.’  This is my number at the hotel.  Call me.  I’d love to know more about you.”  

Before lunch the next day, she called back.  She was off that night and wanted to know if she could pick me up and we could get hamburgers; then, she would show me her city.  This could easily end up as one of those stories where I woke up in a bathtub full of ice, with both my kidneys missing, or be driven to an alley where her pimp demanded a thousand dollars, I mean, she did have a tattoo, but I was willing to risk it.

She showed up at about six in a convertible, Karmann Ghia.  This model of Volkswagon had been out of production for many years, and they never made very many of them, so the fact that she drove a sort of boutique car gave me confidence that my initial assessment was right.  Even though she was a waitress, she was an upper-middle-class girl with a fair amount of education.  Probably more than I had.

We ate at In ‘n Out Hamburgers, where she filled me in on all the secret menu items.  We ordered their largest-size cokes to drink with Peppermint Schnaps, which sounds pretty gross but was actually kind of nice.  We drove around the Hollywood hills, and she showed me the neighborhood she grew up in, and we talked, and talked, and talked.

Because she had almond-shaped eyes, I guessed maybe her mother was Asian and her father was military.  That was completely wrong.  Her mother was Columbian, and her father was Jewish.  Her eyes were almond-shaped because her mother’s family was much more native than they were Spanish.  She asked about Mississippi and Eudora Welty and Willam Faulkner.  She wanted to know about Medgar Evers, who was killed here, and Martin Luther King Junior, who was killed in Memphis, which I had to explain to her wasn’t part of Mississippi but probably should be.  She wasn’t a practicing Jew, but her grandmother was, who didn’t much approve of her lifestyle or life choices but still lavished her with gifts, especially good clothes because being poor was worse than being a sinner.

She wanted to be an art teacher.  I wanted to be a writer, she said.  I asked her how she knew that since we hadn’t discussed it.  “I know a lot of things.”  She said and shifted the car’s transmission with a sly smile.  She found a lonely spot in the hills overlooking the city and parked the car.  She put a tape with Joan Baez/Carol King handwritten on the label in the player.  “Let’s get smashed.”  She said, pouring a drink.  “But you’re driving,” I said.  “I’ll be sober by morning she said,” and made my drink to match hers.  “This might be the part where I wake up in a bathtub full of ice with both my kidneys missing,” I thought.

“You make me feel like a natural woman,” began to play.  She settled in close to me and pulled my arm around her.  Since I’d first seen her, I’d been wanting to touch her left arm.  Now I could.  Her flesh was soft and hairless.  I tried to discern if I could actually detect the tattoo scars or if  I just imagined them.  

Once our eyes met, I was transfixed.  They were enormous, with the outside edge sloping into a gentle teardrop.  They were the color of dark chocolate, with lashes and brows that required little augmentation.  When she didn’t smile, the corners of her lips stretched from the center of one eye to the other.  Her bottom lip was pillowy and full.  Her upper lip had a cupid’s bow with sharply peaked arches.  It was the perfect mouth.  

“Diamonds and Rust” began to play.  She turned toward me and reached in with her painted arm.  I could feel her finely polished nails touch my neck.  As fascinated as I was by her painted arm, all I could see was her eyes and her mouth.  All I wanted to see were her eyes and her mouth.

“What do you think, Shakespeare?”  She said.  I could feel her nails move from my neck to my cheek.  “I don’t know what to think,”  I said.  Time stopped, and we kissed.

She wore blue jeans with a sleeveless Oxford cloth shirt.  With an arm like that, I suppose many of her shirts were sleeveless.  Under that, she wore a white “wife-beater” undershirt and a dainty pink bra.  Her breasts were tiny and muscular.  As I moved my hand down her muscular body, I reached her belt buckle and began to disconnect it, and she put her hand on top of mine.  “It’s not time for that.”  She said.  I’d known her for almost twenty-four hours at that point.  It absolutely was not time for that.  Maybe if it was somebody I cared less about, we would have gone ahead, but this girl mesmerized me, and despite her painted arm, she was obviously a lady.  

I was in Los Angeles for two more days.  On Saturday, she drove me down to San Diego, and we walked the storied aisles of Comicon together.  On Sunday, we caught the matinee showing of Batman at Mann’s Chinese Theater, and then I flew home to Mississippi.

I’d been having pretty terrible luck with women.  I was pretty frustrated about it because I felt like I’d been doing the right thing.  I’d been a gentleman.  I put the ladies' interests and needs before my own.  I tried to seek out people with whom I had legitimate common interests and people with whom I had solid social connections,  but it wasn’t working out, and I was getting pretty beat up about it.  I believed pretty firmly that if you did the right thing, the universe would eventually reward you, but it wouldn’t happen right away, and it usually wouldn’t happen in the way you expected.  All that being said, I felt like this business with Jules was so random and so out of the blue and unexpected that there must be some sort of cosmic movement behind her appearance in my life.  

We talked on the phone every day and most nights for about five weeks.  I was sublimely happy, and so, it seemed, was Julie.  One day, I called and got her answering machine.  The same the next day and the next.  On the fourth day, I called and got not Jules but her roommate Lauren, who I barely knew existed.

“Hey!” I said.  “Is Jules around?”

“She’s not here right now.”

“That’s ok, just tell her to call me when she gets back.”

“Um, I don’t know when she’s coming back.”  She said.  “Jules had another episode.  It was a pretty bad one.”

“A what?  What sort of episode?  What happened?”  I was in something of a panic.

“I, I’m not sure what to tell you.  Obviously, she didn’t tell you.  I don’t know if I should be the one to tell you, but, um, well, Julie has schizophrenia.  She quit taking her medicine a few weeks ago.  She hasn’t been to work since that night she saw you.  Apparently, she thought she didn’t need them anymore.  She hadn’t slept for almost a week, and she had an episode, a pretty bad one.  Her dad had her committed, just until they get her medication regulated again.  I’m sorry.  I’m really sorry, but they don’t want anyone talking to her until she gets everything, you know, regulated again.  I know you liked her.  I’m really sorry.”

Schizophrenia.  It had to be schizophrenia.  This was no stranger to me.  My brother, one of the most important people in my life, had his first psychotic break just before I turned twelve.  It got progressively worse.  Eventually, he had to drop out of college, got arrested, became legally committed, and eventually moved home with us, living upstairs with me.

My brother was the only person in the family with talents and interests like mine.  I thought he might become my model until he started caring more about drugs than he did people.  I was convinced the drugs brought on the schizophrenia.  My mother tried to tell me it was the other way around.  

Living with somebody who has schizophrenia isn’t easy.  I learned later that Lauren was being paid by Julie’s father to live with her and watch out for her.  Until she met me, Jules was very cooperative about taking her medicine.  Something about talking to me made her think she didn’t need it anymore.  I had never told her about my brother.  It’s been forty years, and I still don’t know what it was about me that changed things for her.

Living with a person with schizophrenia isn’t easy.  Living with a person with schizophrenia who resisted their medication was unpleasant.  Living with a person with schizophrenia who resisted taking their medication, which you used to idolize, was torture.  I would wake up some days with runes painted on my bedroom door.  Not actual runes, but random symbols and figures that his auditory hallucinations told him to make.  I began sleeping behind a locked door.  

I argued constantly that my brother’s drug use was related to his schizophrenia.  My mother returned to college to get a psychology degree so she would know more about how to treat my brother at home.  She argued that there wasn’t any research linking the two.  Forty years later, fifteen years after her death, there is now quite a bit of research linking the two.  Being right long after it doesn’t matter anymore isn’t much consolation.

Despite his social isolation, my brother still managed to procure enough marijuana to consume it at least twice a day.  I knew what it was like to consume marijuana once a day, every few weeks, and if it did that to me, then I couldn’t possibly be good for somebody who had trouble with reality to do it two or three times a day, every day.  My mother said that his psychologist felt it kept him calm, and sometimes, with schizophrenics, calm was about all you could hope for.  

It was bad enough that I cared a great deal about my brother, and I had serious misgivings about his treatment, but to make matters worse, it was becoming very clear that since his life was much more difficult than mine, my mother was beginning to be much more concerned about his well being than mine.  I argued that sometimes schizophrenic people did sometimes murder their families and presented a thick folder of photo-copied articles about it.  

I was becoming convinced that, should my mother have to choose between what was best for me and what was best for my brother, I wouldn’t stand a chance.  I asked that they send me to boarding school.  No way.  “How would that look?”  She asked.  I asked that they have my brother committed again until such time he became more regulated on his medicine.  “You’d do that to your own brother?”  She asked.  Finally, I demanded that if this doctor said it was okay for him to get stoned all day, every day, then I wanted to talk to this doctor.  She agreed.

His name was D…

I better not.  I don’t think the guy still practices, but what I have to say could definitely be construed as damaging to his professional prospects.  Let’s say his name was Dr. Jacobs.

Again, I made a folder filled with photocopies of all the evidence I had.  At fourteen, I was determined to outwit this supposed psychologist who believed narcotics were fine for schizophrenics because it kept them calm.  

My plan was to be as rational and mature as I could be.  I was right, after all, and I believed I had the evidence to prove it.  Issues of power are important for teenagers.  Everybody else has it, and you have none.  That’s part of why I began spending hours every day lifting weights and eventually experimenting with steroids.  Physical strength is a type of power, and it was about the only one available to me.  If I couldn’t feel secure in my own home, then I would become strong enough that I felt secure anywhere.  In a lot of ways, that worked.  In a lot of other ways, it made me kind of an asshole and not as respectful of adults as I should be.  There’s a reason why teenagers don’t have all that much power, but I wasn’t willing to accept that.

No matter what happened in our meeting, I wasn’t going to show any emotion.  I wouldn’t give him that satisfaction.  That was the plan anyway.  Dr. Jacobs did the thing I hated the most in adults.  He dismissed what I was saying and wouldn’t even look at my evidence.  He was a grown man, a PH.D., and an award-winning disk jockey.  I was a puffed-up, over-privileged kid who only knew how to get things by pushing my way through like a bull.  I began to shout.  I stood up.  He asked me to leave.  I wasn’t going to touch him.  I wasn’t going to throw or break anything, but I wasn’t going to leave.  Before I messed up my voice, I could get pretty loud.  I must have been loud enough for the entire office to hear me because pretty soon, both Dr. Draper and Dr. Elkin stepped in.  

“Get him out of here!” Dr. Jacobs shouted.  That’s when I began to consider that my options were either to go and talk with Doug Draper, who was already my psychologist or get arrested.  I chose the former and not the latter.  Fortunately, he didn’t have a client for the next hour, so we talked.  We talked with a level of honesty that I’d never really been willing or able to reveal before.  

I’ve said before that Doug Draper was never able to heal me, but I’ve never regretted the forty-something years he treated me.  The roots of my depression went pretty deep.  Far too deep for any psychologist to wear away.  

I was still Doug’s patient ten years later when I got the message that my would-be girlfriend, the girl with the painted arm, was also schizophrenic and that something about talking to me made her go off her meds.  I called and asked for another session, and he said, “Sure.”

I continued to call Julie every couple of days for the rest of the summer, just to see if she was home yet.  Finally, one day, Lauren said, “Look, I don’t think she wants to talk to you.  She’s trying to get her life back together, and it might not be the right time for her to talk to you.”  

“Oh,”  I said.  “I understand.  Um, look, she has my number.  Tell her if she ever wants to call, that’s where I’ll be.  Maybe we can be friends again.  Um, I’d like that.  I’m really sorry about what happened.”  

“I’ll tell her,”  Lauren said, and that was the last time I ever spoke to either of them.  

I said I understood, but I didn’t.  What I understood was that, twice now, I’d encountered an amazing creature with a fantastic element about them, and schizophrenia took them from me–and there was nothing, nothing at all, I could do about it. 

I never spoke to Julie again.  After writing almost five thousand words about her, it’s clear that, forty years later, I still think of her.

Well, I'll be damned

Here comes your ghost again

But that's not unusual

It's just that the moon is full

We both know what memories can bring

They bring diamonds and rust

Sunday, October 22, 2023

UMC Ministers

 One of the problems I have with people leaving the United Methodist Church is that their stated reason is that they're afraid the UMC might approve the ordination of gay ministers.  It hasn't happened yet.  It hasn't even come up for a vote, but they're afraid it might happen.

To be eligible to become an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, you have to complete all the required seminary coursework and training.  Then, the candidates are evaluated and voted on during the clergy session of the conference, then you become a provisional member and are assigned to a church for residency, which can last as long as three years when you're again voted on by the clergy session and conference before you're even eligible to be ordained by the Bishop.  

That's a pretty exacting process, with several steps along the way where the candidate must demonstrate to existing pastors that their purpose is legitimate and their dedication and effort are equal to the life they'd be entering as a minister.  As a layperson, that's enough for me.  If you can pass through all those tests and still be judged eligible by existing pastors, then I don't much care what the candidates' sexuality might be.  If the candidate can reach all these other requirements and be judged by their peers, then I'm satisfied.

Now, I'm still gonna want to know that whatever their sexuality is, they are steadfast and faithful to whatever vows they've made, to whatever partner they have.  I think that's reasonable.

I've met and known gay ministers from other denominations besides the United Methodist Church, and they're pretty remarkable and committed people.  Their sexuality doesn't seem to have had any impact on how well they minister to their congregants.  Likewise, I've known ministers who were repeated adulterers, who always seemed to escape judgment by their church.  In both cases, I'm more than willing to let the church decide whether or not they're allowed to keep their ordination, although I do reserve the right to decide if I want them to minister to me personally or not.  With some serial adulterers, I sometimes am uncomfortable with other choices.  

The other issue I have with all this is that some of the people who are pushing for the break up of the UMC and pushing the Global Methodist Church aren't even Methodist.  This is purely a political and cultural issue for them, and they're just using us to push their agenda.  I have a really serious issue with that.  I'm not willing to reach out to other denominations and faiths and try to tell them what to do, and it disturbs me when they do it to mine.  

A Place To Hang Out

 Sometimes, the worst thing you can do to somebody is to say, “You can’t hang out with us.”  Several years ago, some of my friends on the internet were having trouble with this one guy.  His behavior was really erratic, particularly with women.  Eventually, we asked him not to hang out with us anymore and told him that he should pick another lobby.  When he refused, we got the admins to ban him from our lobby.  He took this bit of social rejection so sorely that he spent the next ten years stalking and harassing our social group.  It really kind of ruined his life.  He was arrested twice for violating a restraint order a woman in our group from St. Louis put on him.  He moved from Georgia to Tennessee to Texas, trying to stay ahead of some of the trouble he caused for himself, all because we said we didn’t want him to hang out with us.

Social rejection has always been a problem at Millsaps.  The Greeks have always been the social lions on campus, and the students who weren’t involved with them have many times felt under-served.  It particularly becomes a problem when you consider that the Greeks are overwhelmingly white, leaving independent black students with limited social options sometimes.  There’s really no way to deny that they had a very different experience at Millsaps from the white kids who were in a Greek Letter social organization.

I don’t know how many of you remember the great war between George Harmon and Kiese Laymon, but that’s what it was about.  Kiese wrote articles in the Purple and White campus newspaper about the differences in the social lives of white Greek students and black independent students like him.  Most of his criticism seemed to focus around the idea that the Greeks were loud and they were drunk.  Speaking as somebody who used to get drunk and fire off cannons at three o’clock in the morning, I can say he was probably pretty accurate.  (That’s one of those stories where some people will say, “You’re full of shit, Boyd, nobody shoots cannons at three a.m.,”  while others will say, “Man! I miss those days.” So believe what you will.)  

The white part of campus took what Kiese wrote as a sort of accusation.  For a bunch of nineteen and twenty-year-olds to have anybody question how and where they spent their free time probably sounded like a return to high school.  The idea of “I’m grown; I can do what I want!” was probably foremost in their mind.  They even had a town hall about it.  I don’t think KIese meant it that way.  I think he just wanted to write what he saw and be as truthful about it as he could.  That being said, there were other people on both sides of the issue who decided to use what he wrote to stoke the flames of their own pet issues, but, in my mind, that’s not really his fault either.  

Ironically, one of the people who agreed with Kiese’s position the most was George Harmon.  Since Harmon came to campus, he wanted to limit the power and growth of the Greek organizations.  He considered them a serious distraction from the school's primary purpose.  He also considered them a huge pain in the ass.  The board, on several occasions, held back some of his efforts to limit the Greeks.  My dad, even though he had been Number One of the KAs and most of his adult friends had been KAs with him, either at Millsaps or Ole Miss, was pretty open to Dr. Harmon’s ideas about putting the breaks on the Greeks.  Part of that was because, as chairman of the board, he’d get a call every few years from somebody saying, “My precious daughter just failed out of sorority rust.  I’m gonna sue Millsaps, and Chi Omega, and George Harmon, and Jim Campbell.  You can’t do this to me!”  Then Daddy would call Bill Goodman and say, “We got another one.” 

I’ve known a lot of lawyers.  Bill Goodman was probably the most impressive.  He was the lead counsel for Millsaps, and he was the lead counsel for the state of Mississippi in the matter of Jake Ayers vs Bill Waller, one of the longest-running, most influential legal cases in Mississippi history.  By the time the case was settled, it was Ayers vs Kirk Fordice to give you an idea of how long the case churned in the Mississippi legal system.  Privately, Goodman would tell you Mississippi didn’t have a very defendable position.  Publicly, he successfully defended Mississippi’s position against some remarkable pressures for over twenty years.  The settlement he eventually brokered was not only mutually beneficial but opened an entirely new chapter in the history of public HBCUs in Mississippi.  

For my part, this was a time when I had returned to campus for the state purpose of working on my writing–only what really happened was I became something of an unpaid assistant for Lace Goss.  From the time I was a teenager, Lance was somebody that meant a lot to me.  On my return to Millsaps, I immediately became aware of and concerned about the fact that, as he got further and further from sixty years old, Lance lost more and more of his confidence in himself.  

The year before, Lance produced “A Few Good Men.”  It was the last new play he ever directed.  Everything else he directed from then until the day he died was a repeat of something he’d done in the sixties or seventies, his “golden age.”  I spent between an hour and two hours every day talking with Lance, but we rarely ever talked about the future or even the present; all we talked about was the past.  

Repeating shows he had done decades before, Lance usually wanted them done the exact same way he and Frank Hains did it back in 1968.  I think this was a source of frustration for Brent Lefavor.   Brent never knew Frank, but everybody who knew both men knew that Brent was more versatile and more talented as a designer and technician.  There were a few times when Brent made it pretty clear that he was the more talented artist and pushed Lance to try something new, but most of the time, he just swallowed his pride and did it the way Lance wanted to.

I felt like the right people were in place to handle the Kiese thing.  I liked and trusted his faculty advisors.  I liked and trusted the Dean of Students.  People would always make a face when I said I liked and trusted George Harmon.  He was a remarkably difficult human being, but he was also brilliant, and nearly every decision he made worked out well for the college.

George Harmon had a short temper, and he considered students’ social complaints, no matter what they were, an annoyance he shouldn’t have to deal with.  Sometimes, being his Dean of Students could be a thankless position because of that.  Had he stopped to consider it, he might have seen that he and Kiese wanted the same thing, but he didn’t stop to consider it.  Once the Purple and White ran into financial mismanagement problems, having spent their budget for the year in two months, he shut it down for the year and hoped it’d go away.  The open conflict went away, but the hurt feelings didn’t.

The next year, Charles Sallis had lobbied for a while to delay the Greek Rush.  Harmon thought we should have it the second semester or just not have it at all.  He’d been quoted a few times as saying, “Why can’t we just pick the names of who goes into what fraternity?”  After much hand-wringing and negotiation, they ended up moving rush into the Middle of the Fall Semester.  That must not have worked out very well because they didn’t keep it that way very long.  

Bid Day finally came.  Bid Day for girls is about white dresses, giggles, and hugs.  Bid day for boys is more than a reasonable amount of alcohol, stripping down to your gym shorts and painting your body either purple or your fraternity colors.  The KAs had a tradition called “The Great Wazoo,” which I, and some of my larger friends, were a part of.  

For people not a part of the Greek system, I can see how this would have been a major annoyance.  There were cannons firing, music blaring, and over a hundred half-naked boys covered in greasepaint causing problems.  One of those problems ended up being with Kiese's girlfriend.  Words flew back and forth; threats were made, and security was called.  Normally, just the fraternity boys would have gotten in trouble, but Kiese went into his room, got what they called a baseball bat, and brandished it as a weapon.  To me, it looked more like a police baton or something that size.  Apparently, it was something like the bat they use for kids' T-Ball.  Had it been a full-sized baseball bat, he might have been able to stand his ground, but with what he had, I was glad he didn’t use it because the fraternity guys would have swarmed him, and a bad situation would have been worse.

George Harmon was already on campus.  He would often hang out in his office on Bid Day, just in case it went to shit, which it almost never did, but on that day, it really did.  By lunchtime, he was on site.  By four o’clock, Bill Goodman showed up to get the story from the security guys and see what, if anything, the security cameras caught.  For the moment, everybody was suspended, and everybody was sent home.

This was on a Saturday.  By Tuesday, Bill Goodman brought Ruben Anderson in to help negotiate the case, and everybody said, “Oh shit.”  Kiese and his girlfriend were represented by Chokwe Lumumba Sr., and even he said, “Oh, shit.”  Bill Goodman was a brilliant strategian.  One of his tactics was to take away the opposition’s weapons before they had a chance to use them.  George Bush called this “shock and awe.”  Bringing in Judge Anderson on a case like this was Shock and Awe.  It was as if Bill Goodman had brought a shotgun to a card game and laid on the table saying, “Y’all play nice and friendly-like.”  Nobody on either side was going to question Anderson’s presence or his judgment in this matter, nor would our alumni or the press.  It was, or should have been, a finishing move.  

Anderson’s job was to negotiate between the parties and oversee sensitivity training for the fraternity boys.  The idea was to demonstrate how seriously the school took this issue without risking damage to anybody’s academic career.  As long as everybody kept their noses clean for the next year, nobody would get hurt.

In 1985, Bill Allain appointed Anderson as the first black judge on the Mississippi State Supreme Court.  Bill Allain served in between William Winter and Ray Mabus.  His governorship wasn’t a continuation of Winter’s policies, but it was pretty close.  My dad, Rowan Taylor, and some other guys decided that they were gonna take this nomination of Anderson and really make it stick and inject him into every center of power in Mississippi they could reach.  

Before Anderson had even been sworn in, I came home one day to see my mother preparing for a dinner party.  She said it was for Ruben Anderson and his wife, Phyllis, to help facilitate some social introductions for them.  I asked who the guest list was.  She said Bill Winter, Rowan Taylor, Brum Day, Bill Goodman, Herman Hines, and Charlie Deaton.   

I asked her if I could stay and help serve drinks with Johny Gore.  Gore’s official job was with one of the downtown law firms as a sort of messenger, but what made him famous was knowing what every businessman in Jackson drank and their wives and their girlfriends.  Besides Cotton at the Sun and Sand, Johnny Gore was probably the most famous bartender in the history of Jackson.  Hiring Johnny Gore wasn’t cheap, and it demonstrated that whatever was happening at that party was pretty important.

I asked my mother what she was serving, and she said, “Shrimp and Grits.”  I made a face.  There was no way she was serving the judge grits for supper.  What my mother knew, that I didn’t know, was that she and Jane Lewis had just read Bill Neal’s “Southern Cooking” cookbook, and they would be among the first to serve gourmet shrimp and grits–a dish that soon was on the best menus all over the South.

Back at Millsaps, The plan was for the fraternity boys to be on super, double-secret probation, and Kiese would be, too, since he had brought a weapon.  I made a couple of visits to KA chapter meetings to make sure they understood this was serious business; if they fucked around, they would be gone from Millsaps without hesitation.  Everybody involved, including me,  believed it would be one of the fraternity boys to fuck up and get expelled.  The thought was that once that happened, it might defuse the whole situation, and everybody would feel vindicated and justified, only that’s not what happened.  

Kiese owed a bunch of money in overdue library fines and lost his library privileges until he paid them.  He could still go to the library; he just couldn’t check anything out.  His girlfriend asked him to bring her a copy of one of the school's old annuals from the library.  I'm not even sure what she was thinking.  It clearly wasn’t helping him stay out of trouble.  Unable to check the book out, he tried to sneak it out and got caught.  They even had him on a security cam.  

The lawyers were again convened, and the feelings of the group were that they had set out the conditions of the probation.  Everybody on probation from this incident knew what was at stake, and as much as it was a shame to waste such a promising student over a library book, he was expelled, lest the other students on probation charge the school with violating the agreement they made.  And that’s how the story of Kiese Laymon went from him writing about limited social options for black students to him getting expelled.

I honestly think Dr. Harmon felt some sort of relief.  The last two things he ever wanted to deal with were Greek stuff and race stuff, and this was both.  His vision for the college had nothing at all to do with social issues.  Some people would say that part of his success was due to his ability to put blinders on and block out everything except what he wanted.  What he wanted here was to finish the refit of the student union and the PAC and NOT to deal with any of the social issues of the day.  

A protest was organized under the potted oak in the bowl.  Kiese was not present, but his friends were.  It was pretty clear they were outnumbered.  I think the idea was that other black students would stand up for him, and some did, but not that many.  The press came, but it wasn’t a very big story.  One of my friends made it a mission to get the phone number of the woman sent from WAPT and did.  I think she kind of liked him, but young reporters get moved around a lot, and pretty soon, she was moving to New Jersey.

The part of this story I don’t tell very often is that I was a witness to the whole incident that led to everybody getting put on probation.  I had parked myself on the veranda of Ezelle to watch the Bid Day antics, and it all played out to my right.  

The way I see it, Kiese and the current governor have both staked their reputation on what happened that day, and I’m more than willing to let them battle it out.  Their version of the story is far more important than mine.  At the end of the day, nobody really cares about the perspective of an older, moderate white guy.  There’s nothing I can say that will bring any more satisfaction or justice to anybody involved.  I’ve told a few people what I saw and heard.  Dr. Harmon, of course.  Bill Goodman, my sister, and her husband, Lance Goss and Doug Man.  I don’t think I’ll ever commit it to writing, though.  I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job of chewing and digesting this over the years as a community, and I’m willing to leave it that way without trying to change anybody’s mind.

This was almost twenty years ago.  Since then, George Harmon retired and died.  Lance Goss retired and died.  We’ve had two presidents since then, and we’re getting ready to start with a third.  We still have an issue with balancing the social opportunities of black and white students, though.  It’s gotten better, but we’re still far from getting rid of it. 

The second oldest building on campus is a structure that’s been known as “The President’s House,”  “The Dean’s House,” and “The English House.”  In preparing for this year’s homecoming, there were a number of invitations to tour the “Black Student Union,” which is the current designation for that structure.

The last time I was in that structure, it was pretty ragged, so the first thing I asked Keith Dunn on Saturday at homecoming was, “‘what kind of shape is the building in.”  He assured me that, before turning it into the Black Student Union, they had gone in and reworked all the major systems (plumbing, electrical) and that the building was in pretty good shape.  That made me happy.  It’s a beautiful old house, and now it has a pretty significant history of its own.  There have been a couple of times along the way when it was slated for destruction.

I’m guessing that the Black Student Union will function like sort of an all-gender fraternal organization in an attempt to provide as many options for social gatherings for black students as there are for white students.  It also gives people who are interested a place to celebrate their cultural uniqueness and maybe organize community involvement.  

Sometimes, trying to provide an organized social experience for students doesn’t work out so well.  For the most part, most students basically want somebody pretty to make out with, someplace to party without getting in trouble, and somewhere to play Fortnite without getting disturbed.  Trying to provide a wholesome alternative to that can backfire, and nobody shows up.  Sometimes, it works great, though, and becomes a real asset to the community for quite a while.  Don’t be dismayed if the success or failure of this venture fluctuates.  Every four years, you get a new batch of students, and everything is new again.

Ultimately, I’d like to get to the point where there’s no real difference between the social life of white and black students.  It’s better now than it has ever been, and the Greek system is more integrated than it’s ever been, but it’s clearly not enough.  Fraternal organizations tend to be very culturally based.  I don’t know if there’s a way around that other than to continue to blend the cultures.

I think it's important that the school be proactive on issues like this.  As the black middle class and upper middle class grow, they’re going to be more and more of a significant part of the Millsaps community.  There was a time when most of the black students at Millsaps were the first generation of college students in their families.  While that still happens sometimes, more and more of the kids I meet at Millsaps are second and third-generation college students in their families, and that sort of thing is a real sea-change.  

There have been times when I felt pretty bad that we weren’t able to provide a more equal experience between white and black students at Millsaps.  We have pretty good luck with white and Asian students, particularly Indian students, but the gulf between white and black is still a significant challenge.  My entire life, we’ve had people, deep in the heart of Millsaps, working on these issues.  I guess I always thought it would progress faster than it did, but I’m very grateful for the progress we have made.

I used to complain to my dad about the size of a task before me, and he’d say, “You know how you eat an elephant, don’t you?  You eat them one bite at a time.”  At Millsaps, as far as race and culture goes, we’ve been eating that elephant, one bite at a time, for quite a while now.  Whenever I don’t feel satisfied with the progress we’ve made, I remind myself that it was an elephant to begin with, and a bunch of it is eaten already.  

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Uncle Frank - Film Review

 Alan Ball is a playwright and screenwriter from Mariette, Georgia.  He's a Southern gentleman of a certain age (six years older than I am).  This and other factors mean he often writes on issues that travel in my lane.

His most famous work was the film "American Beauty" which won the Academy Award in 2000 for Best Original Screenplay and for a while was considered one of America's best films until it was revealed that its star, Kevin Spacey, was about as creepy in real life as some of the characters he plays.  Among actors, this is a phenomenon known as "DUH!".  This isn't really a rule among actors, although it happens fairly often.  Vincent Price, for instance, was an exceedingly gentle creature, a dilettante and a gourmand; the only characteristic he had in real life that he shared with the roles he played was that he could be something of an effete.  In life, Price always kept his sexuality as a very private matter, but after his death, his daughter revealed that Price was a gentleman who enjoyed the company of other gentlemen.  Are you surprised?

Alan Ball is an American Buddhist.  He claimed that the inspiration for American Beauty was the trial of Amy Fisher and an experience he had watching a plastic shopping bag floating in the wind, a scene that was included in the film and attributed to one of its characters.  Critics felt that American Beauty helped redefine and conceptualize masculinity in the previous century as we cross the threshold into this century.  

Amazon Prime offers his newest film, Uncle Frank, free to Prime members.  Like American Beauty, Uncle Frank concentrates on the second half of the previous century but goes back thirty years before American Beauty and sets the film in the early 1970s.  Uncle Frank tells the story of a man in his mid-forties from a small Southern Town who found that a small Southern town could no longer contain him, so he moved to New York and became an English professor.  

Noticing a kindred spirit in his young niece, he encourages her to do well in school so she can choose any college she wishes.  She chooses the one where he teaches.  At a party at his New York apartment, Frank and his niece Betty (now choosing the name Beth) hear the news that Franks's father, Beth's grandfather, has died.  At the party, Beth also discovers that her beloved uncle is in love with an Arab Engineer named Walid.  She and her aunt are the only people in the family who know Frank is gay, and Beth is the only one who has actually met Walid, who they call Wally.

Frank and Beth borrow Wally's car and drive to their small Southern town for Frank's father's funeral, only to discover that Wally has rented a car and has been following them.   Wally fears that Frank may need his support on this difficult journey.  He knows something about Frank's past that might make this trip extremely painful for him.  They agree that Wally can come along, but he has to keep himself hidden from the family.

Wally knows that, as a boy, Frank's father caught him kissing another boy.  His father said he had a sickness, and God hated him.  Confused, Frank writes a letter to the boy he kissed, saying he can never see him again, with disastrous consequences.   These are the demons Frank must face when he returns home for his father's funeral.  

Any time you have a story where the characters spend a great deal of time traveling from one place to another, the story is either a travelogue or an accounting of a transition from one state to another.  In this case, it's a story about a man who never faced what happened between himself and his father but is forced to deal with it when his father dies.  He uses a lot of the elements of a traditional Heros Journey to describe what happened to Frank.

Uncle Frank isn't nearly as complex and sometimes disturbing as American Beauty.  It's much more emotional, though, and you end up much more sympathetic to its characters.   Paul Bettany, who you probably know as Vision in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plays Frank.

There's a line in Tennessee William's play "Orpheus Descending" where Carol Cutrere says, "Wild things leave skins behind them, they leave clean skins and teeth and white bones behind them, and these are tokens passed from one to another, so that the fugitive kind can always follow their kind."  I always think of that when I read work by Southern writers; they tend to leave bones and skins and clues in their work so that their kind can follow their kind.  Ball does that with Uncle Frank.

The issues of gay men, born in the South in the thirties and forties, ended up being something I found out a lot about, even though I never pursued it.  These men recognized something in me that made them believe I would hear their stories without the sort of prejudice they often faced from straight men in the South, so they told me their stories.  Sometimes, very happy stories, and sometimes very painful stories.  

In their sixties, seventies, and eighties, they told me stories about when they were young and beautiful and living a secret life in a world that would kill them if they knew.  Watching Uncle Frank reminded me very much of those stories.  For men of that generation, there could be a real brutality that men pressed onto other men, be they fathers, lovers, or just others who would judge them.  

Beth mentions Truman Capote several times as a writer she admires.  The character of Frank would be around ten or fifteen years younger than Capote would have been in real life.  In the sixties, Capote was the darling of New York intelligentsia; by the seventies, they had cast him out.  He was constantly drunk and paraded on the Tonight Show as something of a freak.  I think there are aspects of Frank's character that are intended to be echoes of the younger Capote before he became a parody of himself.

Ball writes the script in a way that people who would hate Frank for being gay would most likely hate this movie.  For people who, like some of the characters in the movie, are able to accept Frank's sexuality as just one aspect of a complex life, I think you might enjoy this.  It doesn't leave you as drained as American Beauty did, but that's okay.  Sometimes it's okay for a story to not tear your guts out.  

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Secrets in the East

I’ve been delaying working on this for a few days.  Sometimes, what I have to say makes me uncomfortable.

My father had eight children. Four were human: my two brothers, my sister, and me; four were not human: Missco, Mllsaps, Trustmark, and St Dominic’s. He tried his best to balance his time between us, but sometimes, living things are difficult to balance.  In the five or six years before his death, I would regularly meet my father and his office for a drink after work. He alone understood how dangerously unhappy I was and blindly helped me search for the solution neither of us could see.  On those nights alone with my father in his office, he told me many things as he reflected back on my own history and the history of my city.   

One day, not long before he died, he told me that he had searched as far into the west as he could see to remove anything that might be a danger to his children in the future, but he failed to look very far into the east. Anyone who grew up in a prosperous and successful and growing Jackson and then expected that to continue in their lives probably understands what he meant. Nobody expected the city to die. We were doing great, but we didn’t look into the east.

I always knew that my dad kept secrets.  I also knew that he kept these secrets because if he didn't, somebody would get hurt, and that made me sad for him.  What happened to Jackson, why it grew so rapidly, then broke and started to shrink, is a story he was deeply involved in.  Some of it he told me, and some of it he kept secret. 

To understand what happened to Jackson, you have to understand what happened in 1969 and 1970 when nearly half the white students abandoned the Jackson Public Schools and started something else.  I wanted to resolve, in my own mind, what his role was in all this.  He told me a few things through the years, but I wanted to validate what he told me through other sources.  I wanted to see his role in what happened to Jackson the way other people saw it.

My dad was in the school business.  Even if he weren’t in the school business, he would have been right in the middle of all this because that’s how he lived, trying to build his community.  He told me many things, but there were many more I had to find out on my own.  

I had dinner with my sister this weekend.  There are things in my universe where she really is the only person alive who can understand what I’m saying.  After everyone else had left, she waited with me for my Uber to arrive.  I talked to her about how I’ve spent over twenty-five years digging deeply and researching what happened to Jackson, our home.  I always felt like, because of who our family was and because of who I was, I might be in a fairly unique position to understand what went on here, why, and what the results were.

There’s been so much written about what happened in Jackson and in Mississippi during the “civil rights era.”  It’s become this really complex mosaic of different points of view and different perspectives, and I’ve tried to consume it all, to try and understand what happened in a way that satisfied my own mind.  Doing this for so long, I’ve cultivated a pretty substantial body of knowledge.

I told my sister I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with all this history I’d accumulated.  I could write a scathing tell-all that exposes all the secrets of Jackson’s society and its racist underbelly, but the story was so much more complicated than that, but even if it weren’t more complicated than that, even if it were just the story of a bunch of unreconstructed racists screwing things up, nearly all those guys are dead, and the ones who aren’t dead are in a memory care facility now.  There’s nothing I could write that could bring anybody justice, and there’s nothing I could write that would change the past or change the future.  Most of these guys are dead, but their children aren’t; their grandchildren and, in some cases, their great-grandchildren are still very much with us, still very much a part of Jackson.  Did I want to be the guy who put down in a book that somebody’s beloved Pop-pop did something horrible long before they were born?  

I still want to tell this story, but I have to be careful and be gentle with the memories people have of the people who lived here.  I have to try not to be a hypocrite here because I have already said some pretty rough things about Ross Barnett and Alan C Thompson, and I very much know their families and descendants, but I’m trying to make allowances for people whose histories are already part of public discourse, and people (like Barnett and Thompson) who made a particular effort to make things difficult.

That being said, in my studies, I’ve found that some of the people everyone assumes were the villains might not be.  My entire life, I’ve heard people from every angle blame what happened in Jackson on Billy Simmons and the Citizen’s Council.  I can’t posit that Billy was anything like a good guy.  He said, wrote, and broadcast some of the most vile racist stuff that I’ve ever been exposed to.  He was pretty bad, but If you look at the number of kids who ended up enrolled at the three Jackson Citizen’s Council Schools and the fact that they were out of business by 1981, you can’t really say they caused the problem.  There just weren’t enough kids in those schools to account for the nearly 50% drop in white student participation in Jackson Public Schools, and even if they were, they were out of business before the first class of kids who had never been in public schools graduated.

In 1981, former Nixon Aide and lifelong republican operative Lee Atwater was recorded as saying: 

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “N____r, n____r, n____r.” By 1968 you can’t say “n____r”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N____r, n____r.”

Here, he lays out the infamous “Southern Strategy” pretty plainly.  It was never more relevant than in 1969 and 1970 in Jackson, Mississippi.  There were guys who believed everything Billy Simmons believed but didn’t like the way he said it.  In their minds, as long as you didn’t say “N____r, n____r, n____r” then you were in the clear, even if that’s what you were thinking.  These guys wanted schools that ticked all the boxes that the Citizen’s Council schools ticked but without being affiliated with the Citizen’s Council.  They managed to introduce class into this gumbo of race, class, and gender.  They considered themselves in one class and Billy Simmons and all his Citizens Council pals in another.  I have a problem with that.  Billy Simmons had the courage to tell us what he was.  These guys who were the same thing but tried to tell us they were something different were less of a man than Billy, in my opinion.  I can’t say that any of the things he believed were right or decent, but he had enough respect for other people that he would at least be honest and upfront about it and not hide it behind dog-whistle words like what Atwater was talking about.  

One of my fraternity brothers, a man by the name of Dick Wilson, tried to tell me not to judge Simmons too quickly.  “He’s a lot smarter than people realize,” Dick told me.  It took me a while to understand what Dick was saying, but he was right, Billy Simmons was kind of a genius.  You can look at his library now at the Fairview and see evidence of this.  What might tempt a guy with such a vast intellect down such dark avenues is something I don’t understand, but I’d really like to.  I’m fascinated by his story.

The influence of Kappa Alpha Order is waning in the world, and I think that’s probably for the best.  In 1969, it was at its peak.   When I look at the names of the men who organized and funded these non-citizens-council segregation academies in Jackson, a good two-thirds of them were KAs, mostly from Ole Miss.  We’ll be judged for that, and I think that’s fair.  These guys were community and business leaders; they could have said, “Let’s take all this money and effort and dump it into the public schools, and the Justice Department be damned!” but they didn’t. 

In 1969, most of these guys considered themselves at war, not with black Mississippians, but with the federal government.  Kirby Walker, superintendent of Jackson Public Schools, had a plan to gradually integrate our schools.  In interview after interview, he was proud of the fact that he had introduced black students into every school without incident.  I honestly think Mayor Thompson wanted a big, violent confrontation like what happened in Oxford.  He kept buying equipment and building up his forces to be ready for it, but it never happened.  

In the Alexander v Holmes County decision, the court decided that “justice delayed, is justice denied” and ordered the Mississippi schools to be racially balanced immediately. And in some cases, like Jackson Public Schools, they put the Justice Department in charge of it.  Kirby Walker spent ten years out of a thirty-year career trying to desegregate Jackson Public Schools.  He believed he had done a good job, only to have it torn from him and given to Washington Bureocrats.  In 1969, he retired rather than serve under the federal Department of Health Education and Welfare.  Upon retiring, he told my grandfather to say to my father, “Tell Jim to get those boys into private schools.  I just don’t know what’s going to happen with Jackson Public Schools.”  

That caused a bit of panic in my family.  Both my mother and father were products of the Jackson Public Schools.  They were our best and most profitable customer, and even with Dr. Walker retiring, my dad had many friends who still worked at Jackson Public Schools.  At the same time, nearly everyone he knew from Ole Miss was sending their children to either JA or Prep, and his fraternity brothers served on every board.  There was a time when four members of the Jackson Prep board of trustees had consecutively been the president of the Ole Miss Chapter of Kappa Alpha after my father.  For good or for evil, in the second half of the twentieth century, we got mixed up in everything that happened in Mississippi.

Announcing that the Justice Department was taking over our schools caused a full-on panic.  In it, with pressure from his own father and his father’s friends, I think my dad also panicked.  In his mind, sending us to St. Andrews quieted the voices, yelling that he had to do something while not giving in to the pressure to join a “segregation academy.”  Without a doubt, there were parents who were sending their kids to St. Andrews because it was almost entirely white, but there were also parents who sent their kids to St. Andrews precisely because it wasn’t entirely white.

There were heroes in those days, although we don’t talk about it very much.  Andy Mullins couldn’t have been much older than twenty-five or twenty-six when he fought off efforts from without and from within to force St. Andrews to join the Mississippi Private School Association, so boys at St. Andrews wouldn’t have to worry about playing football against any black boys.  Andy went on to fight a number of important battles, but that one must have been pretty tough, considering how young he was and how uncertain the times were.  As I understand it, St. Andrews still plays in the league he got us into.

I’ve made no secret about how much I fought David Hicks when I was at St. Andrews, but there’s something important I need to say about him.  David pretty quickly assessed the situation in Jackson and what was going on with the other schools almost as soon as he got here.  He very firmly drew a line in the sand and said, “This is what they’re about, and this is what we’re about.  Don’t ever get it confused.”  The school still operates under that principle today.  

In 1950, Jackson had one of the most successful and friendliest public schools in America (so long as you were white.)  By 1970, nearly half the white students in Jackson Public Schools abandoned it rather than stay and be a part of the Justice Department's efforts to balance the school’s population racially.  They left, and they never went back.  People who couldn’t afford to keep sending their kids to private schools left the city.

I often think about what would have happened if the scores of families who left Jackson Public School had banded together and decided they were going to make the best of whatever the Justice Department had in mind.  I think, within just a few years, they would have realized that they could handle this, and with a strong public school that everybody supported, there never would have been the massive white flight that decimated Jackson.  There were efforts from several prominent private school educators in the 80s and 90s who returned to the public schools and tried to undo the harm they had done.

Jesus talks to us about shifting sands.  There’s even a pretty great song about it.  Mississippi twice built its house on shifting sands.  Once, when we started importing people from another part of the world to serve as slaves here, and then again, when we decided that we had to keep these former slaves under our thumb and forever separate from us socially and politically after slavery ended.  What Jesus said about building a house on the shifting sands was true; our foundations came tumbling down.

None of the people in this story meant to choose the wrong thing.  That choice was made decades before they were born.  The people in this story were trying to navigate the world as it was left to them.  Their biggest sin was not questioning the assumptions they were working under.

In the story of what happened in Jackson, there were bad actors, that’s for sure.  Because I’ve been doggedly pursuing this story for thirty years, I’ve uncovered a lot of them, even the ones my father tried to keep hidden from me.    Most people weren’t bad actors, though.  Most were regular people trying to do the best they could for their families during a time when nothing made much sense, not the world they knew before and not the world laid out before them.  Faced with a very uncertain future, a lot of them just panicked.  Moving their kids out of the public schools into a private school seemed like the safe thing to do, and when your children are involved, nearly everyone wants the safe thing to do.

So, here we are.  Fifty years later, and I’m keeping the same secrets my father kept.  Maybe that’s my legacy.  Maybe that’s what he was trying to keep me away from.  What I know is this:  there were bad men.  There were many painful and ignorant and short-sighted things–but most people were good.  They may have been short-sighted or misguided by our tangled and snarled culture, but they all wanted something better for their children, even if what they were afraid of wasn’t even real.  

Jackson survived.  It just moved to Madison, Brandon, Pearl, and Clinton.  The city itself sits like a scar on the landscape.  A reminder of the good we failed to do.  I wanted to know what happened to my city.  I wanted to know if my father or I were culpable for what happened.  I think he was, and I am, but so is everyone else.  People use the word “simple” to describe Mississippi.  “We’re simple.”  “We have simple minds.”  “We have simple lives.”  None of that is true.  There’s nothing simple about living here or about being born here.  Our history is a mass of rose thorns, kudzu, shards of broken stained glass from churches where no one meets anymore, cornbread, and piercing sunlight.  It’s really hard to make any sense of it unless you were brought up in it.  Look as far as you can to the West, but look to the East too, when you can, and sometimes decide to keep secrets.

Official Ted Lasso