WALKING ON EGGSHELLS: The Fifth Excerpt

A good illustration of what my times in high school was like…

 

UPDATING MY PROGRESS WITH MY BOOK, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”: 

I’m beginning to make the final edits and printouts of my descriptions of having Asperger’s in a non-Aspie world; I still hope to have it (self) published by the end of December.

For now, here’s another excerpt of “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”, this one from Chapter 5, which is a pretty significant chapter as it focuses on my MANY social struggles in high school;

It’s called “Rough Times At Samohi, Part One”…

 

My alma mater is impressive in many ways and for a kid who is properly motivated and whose social skills are on the ball, Samohi (the first two letters of Santa, Monica, and High) is an excellent place to go to school offering everything that a student could want; strong in academics, sports, the arts, and a great place to launch yourself in whatever passion you choose to pursue.

Most unfortunately, as much as I’d like to say that the high school I graduated from in 1985 was great to me and I had the kind of wonderful time that you see on TV sitcoms, I simply can’t say that, largely because of what was – at least at that time – the root of Samohi’s academic and social philosophy and culture:

SWIM OR DROWN

Let me elaborate…

At Samo during the time I was there, sophomores – it was a three-year school in those days –  were expected to quickly catch on to the rigors and expectations of high school from Day One.

Being an Aspie (without knowing it), I had no knowledge of that as my mindset going in was that high school would be a simple continuation of my elementary and junior high years, where I was really successful – at least in the classroom.

I do NOT blame Samohi for the bad times I had there, the way I was such a misfit as I eventually understood why my alma mater’s environment was the way it was. Samo’s attitude was “Swim or Drown” because the powers that be wanted to teach us students what it took to succeed in the real world, how to thrive and survive after the high school days were done.

All right, now that I’ve gotten all that out-of-the-way, It’s high time for me to begin my detailed description of the hell that my high school was for me, socially and otherwise, from late August of 1982 to June 21, 1985 – the day I received my diploma.

My primary extracurricular activity during my three years at Samohi was the Santa Monica High School Viking Marching Band. Band camp (preseason band practice) started two weeks before school did, hence my stating that my high school hell not only began two weeks before I set foot inside of my first high school class, it began that very first warm, sunny morning of band camp on the multipurpose baseball/soccer/football field on campus that late August of 1982.

Any chances of being thought as “cool” by the rest of the 10th graders, by and large, were dealt a HUGE blow when during a break in band camp rehearsal one day, I was introduced to some fellow sophomores in the band by an ex-junior high band mate who had joined the band with me as someone whose “…brain was absent most of the time.”

Another unpleasant memory that stood out for me that first band camp was the senior that played baritone sax along with me, someone who was, for all intents and purposes, my designated mentor who from my way of thinking was supposed to be a good friend and have my back.

He will go by the name of Boyd*

Unfortunately, as much as I understand now that Boyd was trying to help me and as much as his intentions were good, it was the way he went about mentoring me that gave me such trauma. Combine that with my then-unknown aspieness, my need of nurturing and friendly support, and the way my mind subsequently worked in inappropriate ways due to my high-functioning autistic tendencies, and you had a match made in – I’ll go ahead and say it – hell.

One really warm afternoon on that North Field, when during a marching exercise I made a mistake on some maneuver, Boyd said to me – and I remember his exact words all these years later…

“You’re stupid, Derek.”

Real sympathetic and supportive, don’t you think?

I must emphasize that my struggles in that band were not all due to Boyd and others who were giving me such hell.

I completely recognize that there was crap on my end as I – because of my autism spectrum trait of not doing well with change – was lazy and for a long time felt that ability alone was the difference between success and failure in anything. Due to my particular aspie trait of digging in to what I believe and sticking to my guns no matter what, it took a long, long time to understand the notion of needing to work hard to achieve anything, and that made my name mud among a lot of people in that Samohi band…

One instance of this social ineptitude due to my autistic tendencies comes to mind;

One gray, overcast afternoon I was hanging out in the back room of the music building. There were two other kids in there with me, one of them a girl who played french horn and had, at least in my eyes, the total 80s look going on, complete with her hair cut in a sort of junior grade Flock of Seagulls way. It was her hair that I was looking at when I said, in a friendly way that was not intended as anything negative or insensitive whatsoever, “You sure look trendy.”

I’ll never forget the dirty “How dare you speak to me like that!” look that that girl gave me as she responded to what in my Asperger’s mind was a compliment with a solid and sturdy “Fuck you!”, as she walked out of the room in a very pissed off fashion.

Being the high-functioning autistic teen that I was, I was flabbergasted in a what-did-I-say-that-was-so-terrible kind of way. I asked the other kid there, “Why is she so mad?” as in my mind I wasn’t trying to insult her at all. That other kid told me:

“You just called her a poseur. Trendy means the same thing.”

Which I didn’t know.

Not even in the minute slightest as among us kids at that time, being called a poseur was akin to somebody Black being called the “N” word.

 

 

Change the gender and add a few years, and this largely describes me in high school, or at least the way it seemed…

 

 

THIS LAST EXCERPT DESCRIBES A TRAUMATIC VISIT TO DISNEYLAND WITH MY HIGH SCHOOL MARCHING BAND DURING MY SOPHOMORE YEAR:

I believe it was safe to say that no one wanted me along with them to play in the Promised Land that Mr. Disney built that day as seemingly none of the different “band buddy” cliques wanted me to hang with them; the only thing that saved me from being at that theme park all by my lonesome was a decree from the band director: “No one goes around the park alone.” When I brought it to the director’s attention that I didn’t have a group to go with, he went to some band mates who clearly (at least to me) wanted no part of me and ordered them to “take Derek along.”

So there I was, trailing along, seemingly three or four steps behind as I recall. The one place which I particularly remember going with this group to was the iconic Haunted Mansion.

We entered that Old South style house and walked along the hallways with the other patrons, hearing all about how there were 999 ghosts and how there was room for 1,000.

Near the end of the ride we all got into these big circular comfy-type chairs, which would take us around the rest of the house.

As we were passing through a mirror, the one which showed ghosts riding in the chairs with us, sitting in a chair all by lonesome of course – who wanted to sit next to a big dork? – I saw a reflection of myself, with a ghost putting his arm around me.

Let’s just say that I hated what I saw as what was looking back in the mirror at me was the most pathetically lonely African-American teen that I has ever seen in my life; I had never seen a teenager look that lonely since, it was so bad.

So much so that if I had a gun or a knife on me that day I probably would have come out of that ride as a dead 15-year old boy due to the fact that my depression and feelings of rejection in that nobody-likes-me way would have compelled me to off myself in that seat, blood pouring out of either my head or my chest with the ambulance and paramedics waiting for me at that ride’s exit to rush me to the nearest hospital, sirens blaring and no one knowing whether or not I would see the next day.

That’s the numero uno memory I have of that day at Disneyland; suffice it to say I did not have any fun in the very place where everyone else who visits it cannot help but have the biggest kind of fun.

 

COMING NEXT MONTH: An excerpt of Chapter Six, “Rough Times At Samohi, Part Two” as my mostly bad experiences of that place was so many, I was forced to split them into two chapters.

* = not his real name

 

 

 

How I saw myself much of the time during much of my mid-teens…

 

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HORRORS IN LAS VEGAS: Thoughts on the Largest Mass Murder in U.S. History

A nice shot of the Las Vegas Strip at night. Photo courtesy of topoftheworldlv.com

 

Nearly sixty people dead in a little over ten minutes.

More than 500 people injured.

 

I have been to “Sin City” multiple times, including on the occasion of my 40th birthday ten years ago.

And have enjoyed myself immensely each time as I consider Nevada’s largest city “Disneyland For Adults”, staying at places like the Rio, Circus Circus, and the Venetian.

I particularly like the buffets, which I consider the best on Earth – I especially recommend the buffets at the Rio and Red Rocks Casino/Hotel (wonderfully delicious!) – and enjoy playing video blackjack, video poker, and the slots; I once won $39 on a lucky video poker hand.

No, it’s not a lot, but still…

Being the baseball fan that I am, I even went to Cashman Field to check out a 51s, the local minor league team, game.

I was impressed at the $1 hot dogs and the other low prices, including the seat above the 51s dugout that I was able to get for around $7, when the same seat at Dodger Stadium would cost at least fifteen times that.

And yes, I’ve seen some shows, including the Pirates spectacular at Treasure Island and the show given in the Casino at the Rio, as well as that big fountain show outside the Bellagio.

So when I found out about those mass murders at that Route 91 country music festival on the Strip the other day, not only did it sadden me,

It led me to say a prayer of relief that my relatives and friends who live in Vegas were okay; thank God they weren’t near that concert when those horrors went down.

I won’t go on about how I’m tired of these shootings, which have been more and more frequent in this century; memories of that Sandy Hook tragedy where twenty first graders were gunned down, and that student at Virginia Tech killing those 32 Hokies are still fresh in my mind.

 

 

How could I possibly write an article on Las Vegas without including a picture of this sign? Unfortunately Mandalay Bay, where the shooter killed those people from one of its windows, is on the left. Photo courtesy of  urbanmilwaukee.com

 

 

Ditto with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killing 13 of their fellow Columbine High School students in April of 1999.

Nor will I go on about the need for gun control, as so many on both sides of the issue rave on about every time something like this happens.

The two questions going through my mind right now as I write this is,

 

“Are these killings ever going to end?”

“Is this evil ever going to stop?”

 

Of course I don’t even begin to have the answer to that, but I will say this…

If people stop going to Vegas,

Stop partying at the clubs, gambling at the casinos, eating at the yummy buffets, going to see big names like Elton John and Britney Spears at their shows,

Then Stephen Paddock (the man who was responsible for the evil carnage) will have won.

I, for one, plan to revisit that city when I get the chance, as soon as I’m financially able to enjoy myself there without going permanently broke as I’m not exactly Bill Gates – or even the average home-owner-in-the-suburbs-with-the-suit-and-tie-job guy.

It goes without saying that my prayers go out to the 58 people who are no longer with us, and their families who are grieving, due to Paddock.

I particularly pray that we NEVER have to experience what those folks experienced.

Or ever hear news like that again.

 

#PrayForVegas

#VegasStrong

 

 

 

A memorial to those killed in the mass murders at the Route 91 Music Festival in Las Vegas. Photo courtesy of chicagotribune.com

 

 

The Foods I MUST Have, No Matter How Broke I Am

Photo courtesy of caloriecounter.com

 

NO MATTER HOW LITTLE MONEY I HAVE, I MUST HAVE THESE THREE FOOD ITEMS

 

I’ll get right to the point, as there’s no reason not to do so…

Miracle Whip Light is on the top of my list in this category, as I use it on and in most of the foods I eat, light being my choice due to the fewer calories and fat.

I don’t eat canned tuna or chicken, or make any sandwiches that don’t include peanut butter, jelly, jam, or a combination of the three, without this condiment.

It can get costly, the average price being $3.50 to $4.00 at the grocery store I frequent.

But as I’ve said: I don’t care how broke I may be, I must have my Miracle Whip Light salad dressing, or else I feel deprived.

Salsa is another food type/condiment that I absolutely need regardless of lack of money, preferably the hot kind.

It’s been an essential staple of my diet for many years, and I’ve pretty much forsaken ketchup and barbecue sauce in favor of salsa in recent years because with tomatoes being the main ingredient, salsa is healthier for you; it has less sodium, sugar, and fat than ketchup, BBQ sauce, or any other condiment or sauce.

 

Another food I can’t do without. Photo courtesy of iheartnaptime.com

 

Which is good news for me considering my hypertension condition.

I usually buy my salsa in jars at the supermarket, but there are two places where the salsa is so delicious, I consider it a true treat when I obtain it…

Campos, a Mexican restaurant chain which has several branches in the Westside region of Los Angeles, CA (where I live) and whose food I grew up on in its original location in Santa Monica, has salsa that I can just eat all day, it’s so good.

So much so that I get at least four cups of the medium-hot salsa every time I go get food there.

The other place where I buy salsa is a place that I don’t get to go to as often as Campos, just a handful of times a year, but whose salsa matches Campos’ in it’s level of deliciousness;

The salsa at Burnt Tortilla, a Mexican chain in the South Bay area of Los Angeles.

 

The third of my main food staples. Photo courtesy of youtube.com

 

I go to the main branch of Burnt Tortilla in Gardena, where a friend of mine lives; every time I visit my friend and her family, I make it a point to go to Burnt Tortilla and get two large Styrofoam cups of their salsa, which lasts a few days.

Those large cups are not exactly cheap, costing $6.00 each, but it’s money well spent as far as I’m concerned.

Of course one can’t have salsa without tortilla chips, which is the third food I must have regardless of how little money I have available.

As tortilla chips generally have less sodium and fat than regular potato chips, it’s been one of my go-to things to eat as a snack, or even as a main meal when I don’t feel like spending any time cooking.

Eating chips and salsa, especially salsa from Campos and Burnt Tortilla, is something I can do all day if given a chance, and if it’s guaranteed I won’t get sick from eating too much.

Another thing I often do for nourishment is to mix light Miracle Whip into a combination of canned tuna and chicken, then get a bag of tortilla chips – Mission Tortilla Chips are my preference as their chips are sturdier – and go to town.

It makes for a simple and satisfying meal.

There isn’t much more to say about this, except for something I was wondering…

What are the foods that YOU absolutely MUST have, no matter how broke you may get?

 

My number one go-to food for snacks and (sometimes) meals. Photo courtesy of metrotimes.com

 

 

My Thoughts Regarding Athletes Protesting Before Games

Miami Dolphins kneeling before a game. Photo courtesy of si.com

 

MY ONE AND A HALF CENTS ON NFL PLAYERS AND OTHER ATHLETES TAKING A STAND AGAINST RACIAL INJUSTICES AND OTHER ISSUES BEFORE GAMES

 

It’s been another polarizing issue in a series of polarizing issues in this country as of late.

And it would be ignorant of me to not offer my views of Colin Kaepernick and other athletes, from the NFL and elsewhere, kneeling to protest police brutality and other racial issues while the national anthem is playing.

 

So here’s how I feel about it all…

I have family who fought and died for that starred and striped flag.

My great-grandfather fought in World War I

My uncle was killed in the Korean War; it’s been 67 years and his remains are still somewhere in North Korea instead of the Los Angeles National Cemetery where it belongs.

My father fought in the Vietnam War.

Which is why I personally choose to stand for “The Star Spangled Banner”, my attitude being “Might as well.”

 

However…

I am also an African-American male who has encountered racism, such as being profiled several times by the Santa Monica, CA police during the 1990s, including getting handcuffed in fromt of my house because I “fit the description” of a stalker.

I have been denied employment because of my being black, like when after a great phone interview for a job, I was told that it was being offered to someone else because “He asked first” upon laying eyes on me.

I was called the “N-word” on numerous occasions during my early childhood years by quite a few white kids in the then-rural community of Woodcrest outside of Riverside, CA, and hearing that word a few times in Santa Monica.

I have experienced various slights and microagressions that, looking back, I recognize that’s what I went through during my teenage and young adult years.

Of course it’s impossible to forget the many instances of African-American men being brutalized and murdered in the hands of the local authorities; incidents like the Rodney King beating and subsequent acquittal of those four Euro-Caucasian cops who did that dirty work – which triggered then L.A. Rebellion/Riots 25 years ago – and the murders of guys like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray come to mind.

 

Image #: 13530908 American athletes Tommie Smith (middle, gold medal) and John Carlos (right, bronze medal) at the Award Ceremony for the 200m race at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, October 16, 1968. The Olympics Black Power salute was a notable black power protest and one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games. DPA/LANDOV Photo courtesy of africascountry.com

 

So what does this have to do with NFL players kneeling before games – I know you’re asking that right about now…

In a nutshell, I support the athletes.

I know that many folks – mostly of the white and conservative persuasion, curiously enough – are foaming at the mouth over the kneeling, the arm-linking and the fist-raising, saying that while they have a right to protest, to do so on the job should be a crime punishable by virtual condemnation to hell.

What those folks don’t understand is that people like my uncle died so that Kaepernick and the rest of those guys in the National Football League,

And the National Basketball Association as I’m sure there will be quite a bit of kneeling at Staples Center and other arenas when that season opens in a few weeks – and every other sports league for that matter,

Can kneel, raise fists, or not come out of the locker room at all like the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks have been doing during the WNBA Finals.

To frown on that is not only a case of free speech,

But a case of denying human rights.

Of course this issue is nothing new, Tommie Smith and John Carlos getting expelled from the Olympic Games in 1968 after displaying their Black Power salutes on the medal stand.

As well as Muhammad Ali getting stripped of his heavyweight title the year before after refusing to be inducted into the army (and undoubtedly getting sent to Vietnam), losing three years of his boxing prime before the Supreme Court overturned his five-year prison sentence.

All of these incidents have one thing in common:

The protagonists’ color of their skin.

And as a black man, I feel I have no choice but to stand in solidarity to those taking a stand against racism, racist injustice, and the hypocrisy that American has exuded to those of its citizens who are not white, male, straight, wealthy, conservative, Christian, or any combination of those six attributes.

Though I wouldn’t kneel during the national anthem due to my family’s involvement in defending that American flag,

While there are many people, particularly African-Americans, who are boycotting NFL games due to this issue,

I would go if I had the opportunity to go to a Rams or Chargers (the two teams in my area) game.

But I would wear a #7 Kaepernick jersey in solidarity.

It would be very wrong to not give these athletes my support in this issue.

Not as long as there are millions of people in these United States – and other countries – that still see me as inferior and a “lesser” due to the color of my skin.

 

Two Los Angeles Rams making like Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Photo courtesy of sbnation.com

 

 

 

YOU HAVE ARRIVED AS A TEACHER WHEN…

Photo courtesy of atlantablackstar.com

 

(HAVING WORKED WITH KIDS IN SOME CAPACITY FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS, AND COMING FROM A FAMILY OF EDUCATORS, I THINK I’M QUALIFIED TO WRITE A PIECE LIKE THIS)

 

You enter the profession thinking you’re going to get three months off in the summer  just like when you were a kid, but you don’t because you’re teaching summer school because of little things like needing to pay bills and the rent.

You buy paper, pencils and other supplies with your own money because your students can’t afford them.

You find yourself keeping a stash of food in a classroom closet because every so often at least one of your students fails to eat breakfast due to their parents’ lack of money.

You’re praying that no one has run off every time you count heads on field trips.

Students give you every excuse in the book as to why they didn’t do their homework, when in fact they were too lazy to do it.

You find yourself quite annoyed on pupil free days due to the kids getting the day off, while you are forced to waste your time at in-service sessions with people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

You find yourself on the phone with parents every night because their kids are failing math or have disrespectful mouths.

Kids curse you out, flip you off, call you vile names, or a combination of the three when you tell them to get back on task.

You’re breaking up brawls in the classroom.

You’re calling the school police because a student threatens you with bodily harm.

A student throws a chair at you and gets off scott-free because his mom tearfully begs for mercy at his expulsion hearing; a former colleague of mine has had this actually happen to her.

You send a student to the principal’s office for the first time.

You catch a kid copying off someone’s paper during a test.

The parents of your worst students – the thugs, the gang-bangers and the stoners who show no interest in learning – live in an Egyptian river (the Nile) and blame you for their failures.

You get sent disciplinary memos for not wearing hard sole shoes and a button down shirt and tie.

After twenty years of award-winning service, your school fires you after one bad evaluation; I was told of that actually happening.

A straight-F student you’ve been working with all years improves by leaps and bounds and gets A’s and B’s; a golden example of hard work paying off.

You get cards, candies, and presents every Valentine’s Day, the day before Winter Break, and the last day of school.

Former students of yours come back to visit years later, and you marvel at how much they have grown.

You’re teaching the children of students you once had, which freaks you out.

A student gets a crush on you.

You get “Teacher’s Pets” who always help you out – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

You’re told by your class, or by individual kids, that you’re their favorite teacher.

You celebrate with your students when they get their college acceptance emails, especially – come on, be honest – when that college is your alma mater (UCLA in my case).

Your students wear that cap and gown at graduation, and you feel pride knowing that you’re one of the reasons they’re getting that diploma.

You realize that despite all the problems – badly behaving kids, low pay, no job security – it’s all worth it because you’re helping to make a difference in young people’s lives.

 

 

Coaches are just as much teachers as those in the classroom. Photo courtesy of changingthegameproject.com

 

 

THE FOURTH EXCERPT OF “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” – Being Rejected By People Who Looked Like Me

While I can’t draw anything like this guy and am higher functioning, I can certainly relate to him. Photo courtesy of intersecteddisability.blogspot.com

 

THIS EXCERPT FROM MY UPCOMING BOOK – “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” – FOCUSES ON MY FEELING ALIENATED AND REJECTED BY SEEMINGLY TOO MANY PEOPLE IN THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY, SPECIFICALLY IN THE INNER CITY AS MY FELLOW BLACK KIDS, QUITE SADLY, BULLIED ME MORE THAN ANY OTHER GROUP AS A CHILD, SEEING ME AS A “GOOFY MARK” BECAUSE OF MY ASPERGER’S TRAITS.

HERE IS PART OF CHAPTER FOUR: “The Black Alienation”…

 

Mom and I went to celebrate the…festivities at a (place) which was located in a pretty much all-black (at that time) mid-to-lower income neighborhood full of people whom the only thing I had in common with – quite honestly and regretfully – was the color of our skin.

To a nine-year old boy on the Autism Spectrum who had interacted almost exclusively with white kids up to that point, I’m being brutally honest when I say that the folks in that neighborhood seemed loud, aggressive, crass, and just not very nice.

I won’t lie; it intimidated me.

During that late afternoon, I was sitting on a front porch when I was asked something about knowing how to fight.

I fully understand today that (the guy asking) was trying to toughen me up, to teach me how to defend myself and to not be so vulnerable, but he may as well have been speaking Sanskrit as I had absolutely no clue whatsoever of what he was getting at.

The next thing I knew, all these fists were landing on various parts of my body, mostly my arms and shoulders, but it seemed like a lot more body parts than that.

My attempts at fighting back at the seemingly dozens of people who by now had joined in were quite pathetic and futile as it culminated with some big thuggish-looking girl, who looked about 17 and had a big cast on her arm, clocking me with that cast, leading to some hysterical crying from me and much unhappiness as I went home that night, that traumatic memory ingrained into my gray matter for all time.

Being a sheltered Asperger’s boy, in my mind I was being bullied and abused by people who looked like me for no reason.

In retrospect, that beat down was symbolic of my alienation, ostracization, and rejection from African-American inner city culture, though in fairness I have to emphasize that nobody knew anything about me having Asperger’s Syndrome – I wouldn’t know for another twenty years – and I don’t blame anybody for any conflicts that might have stemmed from our background and socialization due to the fact that they were so different from me…

Getting back to that incident:

That episode set the tone for many of my future experiences in (Santa Monica’s) Pico Neighborhood.

Because of where I came from, I had absolutely no knowledge of what was considered “cool” as I was now living in an area where there were four liquor stores in a ten-block radius, seemingly large apartment buildings, five times the number of children running around, and alleyways with strange-looking writings on them; what the hell did I know about gang-banging and tagging?

I had no clue that among many, if not all, black youth in the lower-income hoods, being academically intelligent and getting good grades was considered a nerdy “white” thing, nor did I know about having a good part of being “cool” depending on how tough and “hard” you were; your brawling ability and how many kids you could beat up.

I was likewise ignorant of needing to have good gross motor skills, needing to be able to catch, throw, dribble, shoot, and hit a ball to be accepted, and woe be to those who didn’t wear the “fresh” fashions as to not dress like the dancers on that TV show “Soul Train”, seemingly, was a crime punishable by social death.

In those areas of “Blackness”, I failed miserably and fell way, WAY short of the mark as with my autistic tendencies, it was sort of inevitable that I would.

…when my toughness or “hard” factor was tested by the other black kids in school (Marlon* mostly, but there were others) and elsewhere by being punched all of a sudden, I either ran to a teacher or I cried like a little so-called “bitch”.

(* = not his real name)

One can imagine how that went down, my reacting the way I did instantly relegated me to being “scary” and an easy “mark”, and being made fun of accordingly. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t just leave me alone or accept me as a young brother in the name of that Black Unity concept that was still all the rage in the 1970s.

 

This sort of says it all. Image courtesy of ollibean.com

 

This “mind-blindness” aspect of the Autism Spectrum Disorder rendered me as more or less incapable of knowing how to do what was necessary to be accepted and liked among too many of my fellow black kids in Santa Monica’s inner city community.

Another prominent word that too many of my young black peers in the Pico called me on a regular basis was the same name as one of Walt Disney’s iconic characters, a certain tall, skinny long-eared black dog going by the name of…

“Goofy”

That two-syllable epithet was something I heard from various kids – some of them white and Latino as well as many of the black kids – for years as “Big Goofy” “Goofy-Ass Mark”, and (pardon the expression) “Goofy Faggot” were just some of the taunts directed to me at school, on the playground, in the street, and pretty much everywhere else in that part of town. Being that I fell well short of the Pico’s coolness standard, I suppose it was inevitable that I was treated the way I was.

I imagine that some people may read this and think that I’m blanketing all African-American youth, over generalizing and saying that every black I encountered treated me like shit, bullying me and calling me all those bad names.

That, I need to emphasize, was NOT the case as I want to make crystal clear that there WERE some African-American children in the Pico who treated me well and became my friends, three of them living upstairs from me and Mom.

A prominent root of this general black social rejection and alienation (as a youth), besides having Autism Spectrum Disorder, was that being from a rural community where I was the only black kid in the immediate area that I knew of, having exactly one African-American classmate in the four years I attended school there, I was essentially an “Oreo”.

This was exacerbated by the fact that because I acted so “white” upon moving in with my mom, the white kids, by and large, were the ones that were friendly and accepting to me, and it pretty much stayed that way all through junior high and high school.

The social rejection and alienation was something I felt even as an adult as for example, during my mid-20s there was this young dude who lived next door and taunted me by shouting “Like a virgin!” (you know, that Madonna song from the 80s) every time I walked by him When I called him on it after enduring months of his ignorance he very tellingly said, “You act white!”

Along with everything else, this showed how much it hurt to have people who looked like you socially reject you.

It actually hurt a lot, to the point where I don’t feel like I’m a real part of the black community nearly enough of the time, as I feel that Black American inner city culture in particular doesn’t want me, a so-called “Goofy Mark”, around.

The pain that was put upon me during my childhood and over the years was deep, lasting, and though I know it shouldn’t has stuck with me as an adult, which is why – most unfortunately I must emphasize – don’t feel as naturally comfortable in the inner city African-American community (I feel more comfortable among the black middle class and elderly, probably because I didn’t suffer any bullying and “Goofy Mark” taunting among them) as much as I could and should, sad to say, because among my fellow blacks in the ‘hood I was shown too many times that in too many of their eyes, I was “Goofy”.

A “Mark”

A “Faggot” (sorry for the term).

An “Oreo”.

“Scary”.

“Retarded”.

 

COMING NEXT MONTH:  Excerpts from Chapter Five, detailing my rough times in high school.

 

No, I did NOT dress like this, and I was not nearly as clumsy or had his high nasal squeak, but I reckon that more than enough of my African-American peers during my childhood saw me as similar to Steve Urkel here. Photo courtesy of chron.com

 

 

 

If I Had A Son (or Daughter), Would I Let Him/Her Play Football?

The NFL’s  Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers getting it on. Photo courtesy of profootballweekly.com

 

I’ve seen it on ESPN and Fox Sports reports and documentaries.

I can vividly recall my heart breaking when I saw former Chicago Bears quarterback and basic sunglasses-wearing bad-ass Jim McMahon struggling to remember where his home was on outings.

Not to mention big names such as McMahon’s Bears teammate Dave Duerson and former San Diego/just moved to Los Angeles Chargers and USC  linebacker legend Junior Seau kill themselves.

And I’ll never forget the sad condition of Mike Webster, the Pittsburgh Steelers center from the Super Bowl glory days of the 1970s, who was the same age as I am now (fifty) when he passed away of a heart attack.

All because of Cardio Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which is essentially brain damage caused by way too many concussions.

Which these guys – and many more football players (and hockey players, too; can’t forget them) I may add – have suffered from for so long as recent research found that out of 111 brains of former football players studied, all but one showed signs of CTE.

It’s at the point where for the past couple of years, whenever I watch a football game one of my first thoughts is this…

“I hope his head’s OK.”

I think that’s a main reason behind me, despite liking the pigskin game as much as the next guy, preferring baseball.

A thought came to me very recently regarding all of this on a personal level:

 

CELEBRATING UNDER THE FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: Hart High School’s football team, from Newhall, CA, after winning a CIF championship. Photo courtesy of archive.signalscv.com

 

 

IF I HAD A CHILD – WHETHER IT WAS A SON OR EVEN A DAUGHTER (Plenty of girls have liked the sport enough to have played it and want to play it) – WOULD I LET HIM/HER PLAY FOOTBALL?

I won’t waste any more time on answering this:

If it was flag football in a Parks and Recreation league, sure!

That brand of the game is obviously much safer, with no tackling.

Now the big question; if it was a Pop Warner tackle league or a high school team…

My Answer: YES – if my kid really wanted to do it.

There would be one condition I would put upon my youngster before I signed the form, paid the entrance fees, signed up for the booster club, etc…

The first concussion my child suffered on the gridiron, he/she would be immediately pulled from the field by me – or I would order the coach to – and would be done for the season.

Like any other sane parent, I would take no chances with my loved one’s health.

He or she would be gone, then have a complete brain scan at the beginning of pre-season practice – and pass with flying colors – the next year before I would let them take the field.

I can’t make it clearer than that.

For all those parents and loved ones whose children are doing battle on that 100-yard space, whether he’s a eight-year old in Pee-Wees, a 16-year old under the Friday Night Lights, or a five-star recruit at one of the country’s collegiate football kingdoms,

I pray that your kid gets through this season concussion-free.

 

Action from a Pop Warner game. Photo courtesy of readingpopwarner.com