A 6-foot-tall transvestite hairdresser is holding court in a particularly loud manner. "I tell you," she announces, "those cops are real muthafuckas." (She's obviously of the same mind as the woman at a recent screening of Ghost Dog. A policewoman gets blown away, and the lady loudly announces that cops should be minding their own business.)
The transvestite then goes on about the highlights in her hair, and how she recently bought a beautiful zodiac print for her home. Her audience starts to lose interest, so she strides to the counter and asks if Darnella is working. Darnella has the day off. The transvestite uses this as an opportunity to apologize to the manager about that commotion from a few days ago. The transvestite explains that she feels really bad about it, even though the manager was acting like a real bitch.
The manager is a beautiful black woman who takes none of that stuff. She tells the transvestite not to worry about anything, since the transvestite will never again be served at this White Castle?not even by her friend Darnella, who'll find herself out of a glamour profession if she disobeys her boss.
This outrages the 6-foot-tall transvestite. She tries to come up with the most withering attack that she can manage: "Nobody made you boss! You don't own this store!"?a pregnant pause, so to speak?"Hell, you wish you were white!"
One gringo has kept his own dignified?and intimidated?silence throughout this exchange. Yet now he finds it necessary to ask the transvestite a question.
"But," says the gringo, "don't you wish that you were a black woman?"
Zinga-zinga-zing. What a clever gringo am I. They should call me a zingo. That may also have been one of my last clever comments, were I not clever enough to keep sporting my cap from the Jersey City Police Dept. With thoughts of her pal Vega still fresh in her mind, the transvestite turned for the door almost as fast as she initially turned for me.
Which is only fair, since El Gringo did not deserve to have any unjust transvestite anger fall upon him. I wasn't making some wise-ass clever comment to goof on the funny transvestite. My comment was more an honest attempt to illustrate the absurdity of the transvestite's weirdly racist statement.
In fact, I try hard to not be another privileged white guy goofing on poor disenfranchised minorities. That's not a difficult task, since I don't really believe in poor disenfranchised minorities. The Blacks, The Latinos, The Transgendered only exist as a collective consciousness in the minds of The Lame, The Retarded, The Democrats. We should only goof collectively on those who try to ignore the individual. Besides, I'm already far enough in exile. Everybody knows that the media biz celebrates people who goof on white folks and Christians?and don't forget the Catholics. The only people who aren't allowed to hate Catholics are the people at Bob Jones University. But that's not a punchline anymore; it's simply a fact. So it's kind of forgivable when the occasional idiot gets confused. John Rocker thinks he'll play the shock-jock in a Sports Illustrated article. Fuzzy Zoeller?fittingly described as the PGA's resident wit?makes a joke about serving soul food to Tiger Woods. Jesse Jackson talks about how scared he gets when black men walk behind him at night.
Then the heat comes down on the transgressors. Fortunately, I don't have to return to White Castle to make my apologies. I know that insult humor went out with Horshack's nose. I wasn't trying to offend that transvestite. I was simply trying to shame her. People don't understand shame, of course. The mere word makes them nervous. This column has certainly gotten mileage out of the problem. This, however, doesn't prevent people from reminding me it's a shameless world. Consider the dolt who recently enthused that the Clash's Sandinista! album had aged remarkably well since 1980. He might as well have been praising Errol Flynn's 1935 classic Nazis Are Go!
And didn't we know that this topic would naturally lead to rock 'n' roll? As naturally as I was led to rock 'n' roll after my encounter with the 6-foot transvestite. And I'm not talking about my high school years this time. Nope, I left the White Castle and ambled off to the New York Music & Internet Expo?as featured in New York Press.
The event itself was really swell?I've never been more excited about so many options in digital downloading and online interface design. Sadly, I was rudely awakened toward the end of the displays. That's where I ran into the table for The Road Recovery Foundation, a musical organization out to illustrate the importance of "Making Music without Drugs." Like others, I always thought Stone Temple Pilots was the musical organization out to illustrate the importance of making music without drugs.
Road Recovery is a much more low-key outfit. I'm still not even sure if Road Recovery is wonderful or hateful. My only real concern was that Road Recovery head Gene Bowen isn't the best former heroin addict to send out to address the kids. I know former exercise addicts who don't look as boyishly handsome as this guy. But I was distracted by more than Bowen's good looks. There was also an horrific parade of (allegedly) antidrug PSAs running on the monitor set up behind Bowen's display. Road Recovery may not be specifically responsible for those spots, but these blurbs certainly don't make things any easier for the organization.
Rock 'n' roll remains, naturally, very much in favor of drugs. Bands still feel inspired to pen liner notes about how they "resist all attempts by Authority to marginalise people be it by lifestyle, sexual preference or drug use." (That's from a UK act, but a depressingly mainstream one.) It's understood that Road Recovery isn't in friendly territory. Still, my first look at the display had me thinking that they were being forced to provide equal time.
The Road Recovery monitors were showing a Partnership for a Drug Free America ad featuring Art Alexakis of Everclear. The popular recording artist was speaking about his past drug use, as assorted jump-cuts gave glimpses of his really cool outfit. Alexakis certainly made drug use seem pretty bad...that is, if you just read the closed-captioning provided for the crowded expo. His voice?and the imagery?actually dripped ultra-hipness as he discussed his ravaged life.
And the final message? Art says, "Don't listen to me." He invites the kids to decide for themselves?presumably through massive drug use. Alexakis' message, remember, is that he screwed around and managed the payoff of becoming a big rock 'n' roll star.
Now, Everclear isn't really established as a true lasting act. It was left to the next ad to illustrate the real long-term success of drug abuse. The members of Kiss gracefully morphed into each other while talking about how drugs lead them to become supercool rock 'n' roll heroes that still pack concert halls everywhere. That one had me ready to head outside to score a couple of grams of anything. It wouldn't have been too hard. Vega was probably already back out on bail.
As all this was going on, the talented Mr. Bowen was telling me that fear doesn't work to reach these kids. Judging from his backdrop, adoration had become Plan B. I tried to find a polite way to ask if anybody had tried utilizing shame, but Bowen distracted me by making an intelligent point about marijuana use. That's why I'm still assuming that Road Recovery knew absolutely nothing about the next PSA to hit the monitors. It was the lovely widow of Sublime founder Brad Nowell, who thoughtfully died shortly before his band's major-label debut. I still remember publicists calling with Nowell's exciting story, honestly thinking that I would help celebrate a man who was sadistic and selfish enough to leave his child without a parent. That wasn't likely. The O.J. trial hadn't been that long ago. Still, the magazines were soon littered with paeans to a total creep. The lucky bride believed the press, it seems, judging from how the ad had her talking about her wonderful late husband. Didn't anybody think to ask if it wasn't a little shameful for Nowell to be shooting up heroin even though he had a little boy?
It would have certainly been more effective to hear Ms. Nowell complain about the moron who left her alone to raise a child. The only problem is that she would have had to keep a straight face. This dame is probably the merriest widow in America. Is there anything better than a posthumous rock star husband?
Watching this display, it occurred to me that there may only be one antidrug PSA that was in fact useful and memorable. It must have been back in the 80s, since Lou Reed hasn't said a single coherent thing this decade. He looked straight at the camera and said?as I recall?"I stopped. Don't start." Now that sounded like a voice of authority. A guy like Lou Reed admitting to giving up anything carries a lot of shame. It would have helped if the MTV fans of the past two decades had any idea who Lou Reed was, but that's beside the point.
There won't be effective antidrug campaigns until we start invoking more shame. Proud not to wear fur? Great. Now stop funding the death of inner-city kids. Are you a proud member of Amnesty International? Then stop joining in a culture that creates slaves. And those good labor activists can start wondering why they can find their dealers standing out in freezing cold and sweltering summer heat during all hours of the day. That kind of thinking, however, might actually make people feel like lowlifes and hypocrites. There's nothing positive about that message.
On the other hand, I may have just talked myself into doing drugs for the first time in years. There has to be some kind of animal testing going on in Colombia. Maybe they're puffing that stuff into the faces of chimpanzees. Besides, it's cheaper than buying my girlfriend another fur. If anybody asks, though, let's blame those guys in Kiss.