I was back at the bottom of the hill, it was night, and I had started my walk up it

Wednesday a.m. I was still stressing over CSS when from the other room came ooo, nice tingly tinkly xylophone on PBS Kids. Early millennium gateway to jazz of yesteryear. For the second time in two days I felt briefly upbeat. And then PBS took my new happy theme music away and returned to the Arthur show. I’d labored on CSS all night, a constant stream of water dripping sounds accompanying, courtesy of H.o.p.’s computer and a browser window he’d left open on Brainpop world. Altering my reality would have been as simple as me putting one foot on the floor, leaning over and turning down the speakers on his computer. But I’m so used to H.o.p. using these sound clips as background atmosphere, even when he’s asleep I don’t think to turn them off. That lethargy may change now. I’ve got new speakers on my computer, my others having died, and they are some good sounding speakers with bass end. Some of the music on websites H.o.p. likes to visit sounds considerable-different. His eyes go wide. Wow.

Lionelhampton.nl has a lot of samples available which is what I’m going through now, a couple of days later, Arthur again on because H.o.p. is crazy about cartoons. He likes the xylophone too. “Where’s that music coming from?” he asks. I show him. “Can I keep that song?” Sure thing.

Yesterday I posted the ramble on Loon via Coulter, which I’d written Sunday but quite often it takes me several days to decide, yeah, maybe I’ll go ahead and post. So last night I dreamt about my junior high…

Years ago whenever I dreamt about junior high it was always dark and I was always walking up the long hill of the dark suburban woodsy road that led to the school. But this gives the wrong impression of that junior high. When I attended was back in the 70s and my class was the first bussed in, integrated class. The junior high was right down the road, actually, from my grade school. But a block from that tan-brick, one story grade school the road made the shift from white suburbs to black apartheid land. Here, the manicured lawns ended, the Georgia pines grew thick, and choked with underbrush. This was the first stage of the uphill climb, a brief space of undeveloped land serving as a demarcation zone. Then, on the right side of the street the apartheid housing began. Some one room small with shingled siding brittled and crumbling, tin roofing. Rusting chairs on porches. Georgia red clay for yards. These and the larger wood houses half-stripped of paint were raised on concrete bricks. Dogs slept underneath. Then interspersed were a few standard small ranch homes, their tan brick standing out against the gray wood frames, looking like someone had hoped to change the face of the neighborhood by installing their success alongside the grimmer stories, but the hill was a veritable mudslide of poverty. Toward the end of the road on the right was then the fairly new junior high. And next to the school a nest of stand-alone one room shacks, would have once been a rent-a-cabin motel, deteriorated, driving by you could see through one side of the cabins and out the other, was still in operation but said to be used by prostitutes at the time (whether or not that’s true I don’t know). Across from the cabins was the first Seven Eleven in the area. I’d been stumped then why the Seven Eleven went in there but realized later, living in depressed areas, it was because the surrounding residents were hostage to it, a ghetto supermarket. The supermarkets were no closer to the white neighborhoods but everyone in the white neighborhoods had cars. In the morning in the black neighborhoods the city bus picked up the women who worked as maids in the white neighborhoods then returned them in the early evening.

This southern excuse for housing had taken me off guard when we’d moved there. Because I came from a place up north where there were was no white/black segregation, but then there weren’t many black families there either. One of my two best friends had been black (the other had been Jewish) and lived across the street and then we both moved to a newer neighborhood and she lived just down the street. There, the segregated neighorhoods were for the Mexican families who came up via working the fields and settled. My third best friend belonged to the latter group and not many people talked to her nor she to them.

Then I was down south where I first encountered the idea of white privilege and didn’t understand it because I had become a Yankee, and Yankees were not privileged down south, and because I was made fun of by black and white peers for physical features that didn’t fit in with the WASP mold. I was one of the members of my family who had the skin color down pat, but my hair wasn’t silky, my eyes not what was expected on the standard white menu. And here, if white didn’t think you looked like white ought to, if you were part of a subset with questionable quirks, then you were held in suspicion by both whites and blacks. My skin was too white and my hair and eyes not white enough. If the whites weren’t having you then neither would anyone else. I realized I wasn’t going to be making any black friends which confused me. I realized even faster I wasn’t going to be making many white friends, which didn’t confuse me. I did make Jewish friends. There was a large Jewish community that was almost but not quite white, was almost but not quite acceptable, not worshiping the right kind of god.

Some paths the primal mind won’t give up. In my dream I was back at the bottom of the hill, it was night, and I had started my walk up it. Same as all my other dreams of that school. The dark was as dense. The kind of pitch black where there’s never shown the moon or a single star and the light in the distance, toward the hill’s top, glows like green swamp gas blending into blue neon. My experiences are always muddled there. There is usually the sense of a controlling gang there that I would try to avoid but it’s impossible, they are always at the end of that road.

Black teachers and principals didn’t fare too well after integration. Candice Johnson, at the National Association for Elemetary School Principals, notes,

Whether it was a backlash to integration or a result of school consolidations because of desegregation, such treatment perpetuated racial discrimination in schools. Many school districts made it clear that they did not feel black principals and teachers were suited to educate white children. They also created an all-white structure of authority, rendering black school officials voiceless at a time when it was critical for their input to be heard and respected if integration was to work.

Our principal was black. I don’t recollect his name. What do students usually know about principals except rumors and what the older kids pass down to the younger, but one was aware this was somehow exceptional, a black principal over a class composed of about 50 percent white suburban kids and I don’t suppose it was much comfort knowing these were the kids who hadn’t been pulled and put into private schools in order to avoid the busing. Though the school was nearly shiny new there was nothing in it. Desks yeah, but teaching aids there were not and one knew why. The kids who ended up at the “other” junior high, the one in the white neighborhood, they had teaching aids and a broader range of electives. We were the first integrated class in what had the year before been a completely black school and we had nothing but the desks. As one knew why one had nothing but the desks, one didn’t feel one had room to complain about the situation. Not that Georgia was anything great as far as school went on any level, because the grade school I’d attended the year before had been a joke compared to the schools in Washington State and Missouri.

I remember the principal at the year’s beginning asking us all for help in making this work. I remember the principal telling us at the end of the year that he was proud of us all, that we did great as the first bused-in integrated class at the school.

The principal was liked. I liked him. When he asked us for help, I believed him. When he thanked us, I believed him. Some complained he was spending all his time dealing with race issues rather than education and we were all cheated because of it but like I said I’d not noticed Georgia having much to offer in the way of education anyway which meant “You’re being cheated” was the wrong kind of an excuse. My first day in a Georgia classroom had informed me that education was the last thing I was going to get. Grief, yes. Education, no.

One can imagine the grief the principal was likely getting daily from white parents who didn’t want their kids under a black principal.

The vice principal, a coach, was a total dick and was white. He enjoyed handing out abuse, in particular to a few, me being one of the few who he said he had built up records on a mile long that would follow us the rest of our lives and we’d never do anything. Made you just want to goad him all the more, to see how absurd it could get, how long your record could get. That was my second year there, and the principal stepped in just when I was put on detention for something like the remainder of the year, slapped restraints on the vice principal, emptied his little detention hall, said you will no longer do this and this and this and he became so invisible I don’t remember if he even ended his year at the school.

I look up the school and see it in the news for the same things that happened all the time back then. Bomb threats. And a female student cornered in the bathroom by a male and threatened with a knife.

We were always having bomb threats and having to go and wait outside until things were cleared.

There were no working toilets in the bathrooms most of the year as they’d been destroyed by cherry bombs flushed down the pipes.

Female students generally didn’t go around reporting if they’d been threatened or assaulted. If you reported you had been assaulted that would be well, y’know, an intolerable shame you’d have to bear the rest of the school year.

What has all this to do with anything present? Well, the day the Patriot Act was passed I was standing in my Decatur living room and the lights went dim and the air choked as Augusta, Georgia and its insufferable, bullying, faith-based corrupt conservativsm threatened to call itself again “My world.” I’m writing race and integration here so the connection may be difficult to follow, but Augusta is one of those towns which wholly lives Ms. Gordon’s totalitarian creed that “If uniformity is compromised then authority loses its hold”. I walked around with my back against the wall most of the time I was in grade school and junior high and high school, which wasn’t just a matter of a vice-principal but all bullies in general and a deep nagging confidence that all manner of authority didn’t appreciate me as a human being with individual talents and opinions. (Well, duh.) And then being a Yankee in the south I was, at the time, still literally considered to be the enemy by a fair number of white students and teachers. Seems a trite and small thing with which to compare Homeland Security, I know, a vice-principal stoked on power picking out those who for the most part didn’t fit an approved mold, monitoring the hell out of them and threatening to do them in for life with a grandiose list largely composed of meaningless infractions and declarations of autonomous thought. Except a bully is a bully. The country of Bush’s Homeland Security and anti-terrorism campaign is one in which torture is acceptable, free thought is threatening and dissent is written-up.

The Patriot Act is up for renewal (portions of it) at the end of the year. A number of people told me, when the Patriot Act was born and swallowed whole, that it was a temporary measure. Intelligent, thoughtful people who spoke in complete sentences (as opposed to my incomplete), who exhibited a breath-taking vocabulary (as opposed to my fragmented one) told me this, that I was unnecessarily excited about it, that the Patriot Act was a must measure for everyone’s safety, that it was this way otherwise it wouldn’t have been voted through, that Homeland Security had nothing to do with anything but ferreting out foreign terrorists, would never be used on the citizenry and would not be renewed.

Meanwhile. H.o.p. begs to know what’s that what’s that in the shopping area of Cartoon Network. Some toy that costs way too much money. Is something he wouldn’t even normally want but these days he wants everything. Can I have it, can I have it? he says. It’s one dollar. I show him that quantity is one dollar and that it was $32.99 and is now $27.99 on sale. I can’t believe the price for something that couldn’t be worth more than $3.00 “It’s on sale!” he says. “We have to get it! We have to get two!” Which he’s heard from someone other than mom and dad, probably from television, though he rarely sees commercial television. I feel really sad about this that he is so happy and eager to spend his money on crap, not knowing it is crap, thinking it is special. And this is some expensive crap. He runs and gets his little banking tin, pulls out a wad of one dollar bills and thrusts them, excited, in my face. “Count it, count it!” I count and tell him he has $19.00. He’s not good about numbers and asks if that’s enough. I tell him no and he asks if he can have the rest of the money from me. I tell him, H.o.p. this is trash. “Why are you calling it trash?” he asks. “Why are you saying it’s trash?” I feel guilty about it, but it is trash. I think about how others wouldn’t call a toy that attracts their child’s attention trash. Think about belittling my child’s views. But I have called it trash and I try to explain why it is trash and how it is almost criminally overpriced. I don’t tell him Cartoon Network is out to steal his money but that’s how I was seeing it. Seven-year-old H.o.p. with his small allowance looking seven-year-old googly eyed on things not in hand unable yet to comprehend how some people are just out to take your money. Rips my heart out.

H.o.p. decides he doesn’t want trash but keeps looking for something to get from Cartoon Network. Finally he happens upon a model of Aku for $6.99. He has been drawing Aku for a month or so. Again, excited, he thrusts his money in my face, “Count it, count it! Do I have enough?” He is so eager to spend. So eager to have. I say yes he has enough and he jumps for joy and reiterates for me, “I am so joyful!” He wants to know if the store is nearby. I tell him we’d be sent it through the mail. He runs and brings me an envelope in which he’s stuffed his money and licked shut. H.o.p. asks me if I think that toy is trash. I tell him H.o.p., I just think your drawing of Aku is one hundred times better than that toy.

“But mine’s just a drawing,” he says.

Oh, but his drawing is so much better, that he did in one quick sitting after one viewing of Aku.

And now of course it’s hours later and Marty’s brother is over and we’ve just finished eating Chinese and H.o.p. is bouncing happily around and I will go ahead and post this.

H.o.p. art, Aku

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Juli Kearns

Juli Kearns is the author of Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin. She is also an artist/photographer, and the person behind the web alter of "Idyllopus Press".

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