Music: Theme From Shaft

MY OLDER BROTHER had spoken of it when he’d first left for Yale in 1992: how the black kids ate and hung out only with each other, how some kind of racism, or reverse racism, coursed through “their” social dynamic. Twelve years old at the time, I’d nodded energetically at his keen cultural observation, wondering what it would be like to live out there in the “real world” (Yale, at the time, seeming to me as such).  Six years later, my white classmates and I noticed pretty much the same thing. Yale intentionally fills its dining halls with long, narrow tables to spur discussions with new people during mealtimes. But once two black classmates sat down at the end of the table, and were joined by three more, and four more after that, from a distance their conversations tended to be loud, a little profane, punctuated with tics of diction and dialect not our own. These groups seemed to cordon themselves off from the majority, and if a white kid ventured to sit there, he looked conspicuously progressive, performing for the rest of the dining hall as if to say, “Look at me!  I’m sitting with the black kids so I’m definitely not racist!”
This self-segregation, and the self-consciousness it engendered in the white kids, was most evident at lunch and dinner, but it extended to classrooms, libraries, and particularly weekend parties. Though rarely spoken of—certainly not by whites—the dynamic remained a quietly understood aspect of this strange new milieu in which we lived. In college we were asked to become part of (and most of our parents paid small fortunes for us to become a part of) a manufactured civilization, a city-within-a-city that trumpeted a long list of lofty ideals inscribed in Latin on the stone archways.  As freshmen, we wanted to take ownership of our new place within this structure, to begin leaving our mark as the Class of 2002.  At the same time, we emulated the upperclassmen and their established social pretexts, begotten from the upperclassmen before them, and we succumbed easily to pressure—academic, of course, but social even more so.  White students went to frat houses, one of five popular bars, outdoor quad parties; black students did something else, of which we knew little except that rap music was most likely playing very loud.
The beginning of our first semester entailed much desperate scrambling; we scrambled to choose our classes, most with at least vague notions of future majors; we scrambled to find extracurricular groups to be a part of (sketch comedy troupes, film societies, social activist committees, etc.); we scrambled for friends and social lives that—though we weren’t necessarily aware of it then—would define us for the next four years. We were inclined to engage with cultural presentations like drama school plays, guest lectures, and singing groups—to immerse ourselves in “The Yale Experience” colorfully advertised in our orientation materials (these inclinations would fade quickly, as all we really wanted to do was get decent grades and find free drinks; “Thursday is the new Friday” was a de rigueur expression).  We sought out the adventures that, we all assumed, would form the basis for conversations at our tenth reunion in fourteen years: “Didn’t we once…” “Remember that time when we …?”

Above all, we did our best to define—and in most cases redefine—ourselves.  Jocks, intellectuals, humorists, student leaders, partiers, stoners, debaters: an electric feeling manifested that here, now, any one of us could be any person he wanted to be.  No one knew what anyone else had been like in high school, and during the fall of 1998 we walked to classes and to parties and to meals on a blank slate. These first weeks were an ephemeral, transitional time, a collision of nervousness and self-consciousness and ambition and independence and confusion and bravado that sparked a collective blossoming—and in some cases, wilting—of twelve hundred teenage identities.
I had no awareness of this then (of course I didn’t, even though I lived with two black men and spent four hours every afternoon training with my racially mixed track teammates), but a deeper transition affected people of color in this dazed context. Before course selections and extracurricular sign-up sheets—before bags could even be unpacked in rooms—black students had to situate themselves within their own race. The process was complicated, conflicting, usually silent, highly fraught—and wholly invisible to their white classmates, most of whom had never actively had to consider the role of race in their lives, most of whom tended to see black culture as monolithic. Hence the “black tables” in the dining halls, viewed by the people sitting there as a filial group of like backgrounds and interests—West Coast or Caribbean Island or Brooklyn, say—but viewed by those watching from afar as inherently exclusive. Others were seen as “acting white” when they sought out the majority-centric opportunities (an expansive humanities curriculum, a capella groups, or, as in Ron Peace’s case, the water polo team).  A latent variance also existed within the demographic, among black students of affluent backgrounds, lower class, and all the graduations in between. Rob, being both black and poor, was in the minority of the minority.  Of our class, 12 percent were black.  Of that subset, 20 percent had grown up at or below the poverty line-about thirty classmates who could relate directly to where Rob had come from.  And since he’d come from a city where he had been in every way a member of a majority, the transition was unsettling, and it must have inspired some level of resentment.

However, Rob was incredibly skilled at not showing how he felt.

He was also skilled at concealing who he was and who he wanted to be.  In high school, he had been all things: an athlete, a leader, an academic, a partier. In college, he went about his days so very quietly, slipping in and out of the  room with a head nod and a ” ‘Sup,” his canvas book bag slung over his shoulder—the same book bag his father had bought him for Oakdale, scuffed and threadbare, which he’d taken everywhere in the neighborhood to Newark-proof himself.  At meals, he usually sat alone near the entrance, at a small round table just behind the station where Jacinta Johnson, one of the dining hall ladies, swiped our ID cards. Jacinta was an overweight, light-skinned, red-haired African American woman in her forties who had a grandmotherly aspect. Rob usually kept a textbook open in front of him but he talked to her over his shoulder, and he made her laugh a lot.  When I sat with him sometimes, his reserved demeanor and the open textbook elicited the question, “Is it cool if I sit here?” as if I might be intruding on intensive study or simply a desire to be alone-which was a desire that I myself valued highly, as solitude could be hard to find in college. He would shrug and say sure, and his dialogue with Jacinta would continue as he paged through the textbook and I opened a paperback from a Shakespeare’s tragedies or romantic poetry class, King Lear or Wordsworth.  During that time, I didn’t know him well but I appreciated the quietude that surrounded him. Any other table in the dining hall carried the threat of having to perform for new acquaintances, to prove how clever or wordily or socially connected you were in the context of conversations about foreign policy, Ptolemy, the best bars on campus. With Rob, there was no judging, no need to hone any aspects of personality or tout knowledge. I could just sit, read, maybe joke about our roommate Ty’s weird sleeping hours and weirder culinary routines (he would eat half a dozen microwave soy burgers at midnight, run five miles, and then go to the library until seven).  An added benefit came with knowing that no one else would venture to sit with us, both because Rob always chose the smallest table and because our classmates still kept their distance. I hailed from a small school and small town, and the social onslaught had been intimidating. Rob provided a buffer of which I, selfishly and without truly asking if I was welcome, took advantage.

Then he met Zina.  I wasn’t ‘privy to their brief courtship, or really to any part of Rob’s social life. From my perspective, one day our dorm room was what any dorm room shared by four eighteen-year-old males was: a shambles of clashing furniture and clothes and books, but habitable and generally peaceful. The next day, this girl was camped out on our futon (which she’d folded out into bed mode, such that it took up half the common room) along with half her possessions. And she was not just any girl.  Everything about her—her towering bun of coiled hair, her skirts that ballooned around her sprawled legs, her various moisturizers and conditioners, her high and creaseless voice-consumed space and oxygen.  She was a senior from Jamaica, and though she had an off-campus apartment she took up residence on the fourth floor of Lansman-Wright Hall, such that she seemed to be there at all hours, even when Rob was not. I observed from this too-close vantage point as, over a span of less than a month, they succumbed to the dating tendency common among college students—they behaved as though they were married.

I’d already observed this among others in our class: with college just weeks old, a few couples had formed who ate breakfast in their sweat pants while reading the Yale Daily News, clasped hands while walking across the quad between classes, held court during dinner as if this were their home and they here hosting a society party, studied in adjacent library cubicles, and planned their weekends solely around each other.  I could easily see why this happened; we were on our own for the first time, and people wanted to feel like legitimate adults. And then, in almost every case, the inevitable parting happened, impelled by the realization that they were not in fact adults, that codependence actually impinged on these precious four years of freedom.  For those on the outside looking in, the subsequent breakup always presented good fodder for speculation (as the newness of college began to wane that semester, so did thee compulsion to discuss “serious” topics, replaced by the old reliable group: gossip).

Rob and Zina were different, carrying something more consequential in their dynamic that precluded gossip and left one only to watch, often bewildered. They fought all the time. As in a marriage, their fights began with little things (our messy room, him not calling when he said he would, etc.) that escalated into big things (suspicions of cheating, he being fundamentally an asshole, she being fundamentally a bitch, etc.).  Because Zina had neither pitch control nor self-awareness about being overheard, Dan and Ty and I were privy to these fights with an intimacy none of us desired (I soon began to study in the library).  They sounded scripted, like the domestic arguments policemen overhear in TV procedurals before they burst into a project housing drug den.

“Robert, you just smoke and eat your face off and don’t do nothing,” she yelled at him. She was in her spot in the common room; he was in his bedroom, with a door closed between them.

“Shut up, I’m trying to read.”

“You’re not reading!  You’re just sitting there all fucked up in your pigsty room!”

Rob said what I, overhearing from top bunk, had been wanting to say for quite some time (Zina nagged me about the mess, too):  “You think the room’s too messy, get the fuck out and go back to your own room.”

And so on.

I asked him once, with carefully premeditated phrasing, “What do you and Zina do for fun?”  Meaning: Why are you with this woman?

In response, he showed me a leather jacket he’d been wearing lately-real leather, and the only possession of his that he seemed to take good care of, always folded and hung. I hadn’t realized that it had been a gift from Zina.  He said, “She’s a real woman, not like these other Yalie bitches.”  Then he laughed and brought out the Facebook (this was before; the Facebook was a paperback room listing of the entire freshman class, with head shots, that boys spent hours combing through with highlighters to note those they would let sleep with, realistically or not).  Rob had marked a handful of pictures, not for himself but for me.  The “Freshman Screw” dance was coming up than week, in which one’s roommates arranged your date for the night. “Which one you into?” he asked.

I looked over his listings that he’d taken the task seriously, and the girls he had in mind for me were by and large attractive.  After I thanked them, we huddled over the book together for the benefit of our other two roommates. Rob had it in his mind to “screw” Ty by setting him up with a less-than-desirable face.

Rob and Ty got along well. They were both taking intro biology together, the precursor to premed classes. Like Rob—like almost all the students now surrounding us—Ty was a fantastic student accustomed to straight A’s in high school. Unlike Rob, he was tremendously competitive and pulled all-nighters with particular pride, intent on being at the top of the class. Rob, who was laid back about schoolwork, had no problem with Ty’s academic approach. Rob’s problem had to do with the “thug” persona that Ty nurtured with near-equal intensity. He wore a heavy jacket with FUBU (an acronym of “For Us, By Us”, alluding to black people) printed huge red letters across the chest, and he came to be referred to as “T-Money,” or, as he signed off on his emails, “T$.”  He talked “hard” and seemed to loop every other story about high school around to some fight he’d been in, some girl he’d slept with, some bad neighborhood he’d hung out in.  Ty had grown up in the suburbs and spent money freely. He bought new clothes frequently to the point that they burst out of our shared closet and onto every hangable ledge (including the FUBU jacket, which Rob told me cost upward of $300, noting that the “For Us” part of the slogan did not apply to poor black people),and he ate a lot of take-out food from the overpriced delis on Elm Street, because dining hall food-already paid for in his tuition, roughly $25 a day—was unappealing. He considered himself quite the ladies’ man, kept his shirts ironed and his Tommy Hilfiger cologne stocked. Obsessed with his physique, his desk was rowed with industrial-size containers of GNC products like creatine and whey protein powder; he sometimes lifted weights in the Pierson gym at three in the morning. He was friendly and funny, but he was all but incapable of daily chores like laundry, bathing, disposing of half-eaten soy burgers (squirrels began sneaking into our common room for leftovers).  Rob, who had been responsible for his own household since 1987, didn’t like it.  So when Ty was pounding his chest about someone who’d “punked” him and who had a “beat down” coming his way, Rob just laughed and said, “Ty, we both know you ain’t gonna do shit, so quit fronting.”

This word “fronting” was important to Rob.  A coward who acted tough was fronting.  A nerd who acted dumb was fronting.  A rich kid who acted poor was fronting.  Rob found the instinct very offensive, and in college he saw it all around. He felt as though people were in a constant state of role-play before teachers, before each other, even before Jacinta in the dining hall (some students would pass her briskly as if in training for futures filled with ignorable service workers, while others would stop and chat with perky but manufactured curiosity). When he spoke contemptuously of this, about midway through that fall, I was surprised. For the last two months, because of how he carried himself, I’d figured him to have nothing more than marginal interest in all but a few of his peers. I learned that he tracked the people around him with the observational intensity of the novelist I aspired to be. And he was not above judging them, often harshly.

“It’s like nobody’s real here,” he said to Zina, late one night. Ty was at the library. I was in bed with the door closed. Rob and Zina were in the common room, curled together beneath a blanket. It’s like you can’t have a real conversation with anyone.”

“You’re real, baby,” she told him and made a cooing sound as the sheets rustled and the futon creaked.

“You, too,” he replied.

I didn’t overhear any more, because I’ d buried my head under the pillow in the event of imminent lovemaking.  But I thought about those words often, along with other more oblique references to what he saw as a fundamental flaw in the social construct we now inhabited. I didn’t know then the degree to which surviving his childhood had necessitated his own brand of fronting, the many different masks he wore on Chapman Street, at St. Benedict’s, in East Orange; I didn’t know about the Newark-proofing he had mastered. I’m certain that, if presented with his question, he would have argued very precisely that what he did growing up—what he still did when he went home—had not been fronting at all. He would have argued, and I would have believe, that his various manifestations of self represented the height of authenticity, that he was each of those people. “I’m not fronting,” he might have said. “I’m just complicated.”

(The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, Jeff Hobbs, pages 132-140)

Who’s the black private dick
That’s a sex machine to all the chicks?
(Shaft) Ya damn right

Who is the man that would risk his neck
For his brother man?
(Shaft) Can you dig it?

Who’s the cat that won’t cop out
When there’s danger all about?
(Shaft) Right on

They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother – (Shut your mouth)
But I’m talkin’ ’bout Shaft – (Then we can dig it)

He’s a complicated man
But no one understands him but his woman
(John Shaft)

shaft: male organ, penis
(to be continued)

July 2, 2017. About Me. I’m still depressed.  I’ve not made any an important message from me announcements on the subway, I’ve not gone to Times Square TKTS to hold up my website sign.  I’m too depressed.


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Names The Cross, Black, green, and gold
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Jeff Sessions
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84th United States Attorney General
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (born December 24, 1946) is an American politician and lawyer who is the 84th Attorney General of the United States. Sessions served as the junior United States Senator from Alabama from 1997 until 2017, and is a member of the Republican Party. From 1981 to 1993, he served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. Sessions was nominated in 1986 to be a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, but his contentious nomination failed. Sessions was elected Attorney General of Alabama in 1994, and to the U.S. Senate in 1996, being re-elected in 20022008, and 2014. During his time in Congress, Sessions was considered one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate.

The purpose of this website is to expose the Mormon Church of Satan and all enemies of Jesus Christ the Way the Truth the Life, the Prince of Peace. This website is also the beginning of a presidential campaign to elect Caroline Kennedy President of the United States. I prayed to Jehovah God to please, by means of His son Christ Jesus, please, arrange national events and world events in such a manner such that Caroline Kennedy is elected President of the United States.  I know Jehovah God hears my prayer and will answer my prayer because that particular prayer of mine is one of my deepest desires and Jehovah God has promised me that he will satisfy all of my deepest desires.  All of the information posted at this website is interconnected; directly connected to the Mormon Church of Satan’s illegal sting operation surrounding Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide, and me. The illegal sting operation that encompasses every human being on earth, and has resulted in the LEGAL CASE, unlike any other, ever. The LEGAL CASE, headed to The Hague, Netherlands. cc all Mormon attorneys

As the Storm Approaches,
Maintain Your Focus on Jesus!
(Matthew 14:22-34; Hebrews 12:2)
(Concluding talk, Jehovah’s Witnesses Convention 2015, worldwide)