How to start a cult.

Posted in General Life with tags , , , , on October 12, 2009 by Sam Slaughter

(a new fiction piece)

Step 1: To start a successful cult, you need a reason for the cult (hereon referred to as “cause”) to exist. Monetary gain is a good reason, but this needs to be veiled by reasons that will lure people in. Try, for example, citing made-up celestial beings or aliens. Messages received through direct contact with these beings are a good way to get people to believe in your cause. The messages come from a higher or more advanced power, are untraceable, and are relatively simple to create. Look at the Bible or any other major religious tract for examples. You need to make sure that the messages you say you received are equal parts tremendously hysterical nonsense and grounded notions of stereotypes and beliefs that your target audience believes in. The second part is key so that they do not write you off as another crazy person preaching from a soapbox (or, in this day and age, a weblog). This cause needs to offer possible converts something that their normal society does not offer them. An escape to somewhere is a good example, and used often. One other thing to consider is a name. It needs to be snappy, yet formal, really draw people in. A logo would help, too.

Step 2: Once you have a reason established, you will need a figurehead. This choice may seem easy—yourself—but think about the decision a little bit before finally determining the lord and savior (hereon L&S) of your operation. The first thing to think about is, what do you want the public to envision when they see your cause? If you want them to believe in a higher power, then you will need an artist’s interpretation. Find an artist that won’t ask too many questions, or, if you are skilled in Photoshop, use that. Use a picture of yourself and morph it so that, while it may not look like you at first glance, the more people stare, the more they will believe that you—the ordained speaker of this being—shares a similarity to the higher power. It will affect them on the subconscious. If you want a more concrete L&S, you will need a really good friend. It helps if they have long, stringy hair. A beard is a plus. This person will need to be willing to dress in an odd assortment of clothes predetermined by you. While this may seem fun remember, they are your L&S and they can turn on you if you cheat them. The L&S must also be comfortable walk about preaching the words you make up. This leads quite conveniently into the next step.

Step 3: Create a sacred text. You can also go one of two ways with this step. You can create one almighty sacred text that only the L&S is allowed to see and speak from. If you choose this, you are allowed a little more freedom in what is actually contained in the concrete text. You can design a book, have it bound, and put nothing in it—if you trust your L&S enough. This way, you do not have to come up with an entire sacred text at once. You can develop and tweak it over time in order to respond to your following’s needs and wants. If you are quick on your feet, this is probably the best way to go, as it will allow you to coax more belief in your cause quicker if the converts feel they are being spoken directly to. Having only one sacred text that followers are unable to handle also adds a little bit to the aura surrounding your cause. It gives everything a mystical feel—the converts do not know what is coming next and will keep coming back, hoping for more good news to guide them in their lives. Your other option is to create a sacred text that is disseminated throughout your target audience. With something concrete to hold fast to, converts may flock to you, once they realize the insight you have into life, granted to you by the aforementioned fictional higher power. The problem with this form of sacred text is that it must be completed at once. Yes, your L&S may be able to extrapolate on principles in homilies, but the text is set in stone. If you go back and edit your sacred text, weakness may (and probably will) be detected. You need to be able to draw your followers into a point of no return. This will lessen your chances of having a mass exodus away from your cause at any time. One thing you might also want to consider is using multiple media for your dissemination of knowledge. The Internet is a powerful entity, these days, and it could prove useful in the initial stages of you cause creation campaign.

Step 4: It has always been important to own land, and creating a cause is no different. In order to create a place to escape to, and where people cannot escape from, you need to find a large tract of land. This land can be anywhere, really, as long as you are willing to work with your environment in order to create the ultimate paradisiacal compound (or at least a compound that gives the illusion that it is everything a follower needs). It needs to be able to comfortably house as many people as you think your cause will have, as well as all buildings necessary to daily life: medical center, volunteer fire department, school, place of worship, town hall and food supply building or mess hall. Any other buildings, such as post offices, police departments, department stores, libraries, bars or shops that sell such frivolities as flowers or toys are not needed. I will discuss why in a moment. Before the buildings are constructed, though, it is absolutely necessary that you find and are able to maintain reliable a reliable source of power and water, but not Internet. You do not want any connection to the outside world. A large, impermeable-without-any-sort-of-concerted-effort fence will help you greatly in this endeavor. Barbed wire is also a plus. If you make sure your land is large enough that the fence is place far from view, except perhaps for the entrance gates (in order for the community to greet new converts to the cause), then your community will have a sense of freedom even if they are locked in for any given amount of time that they do not necessarily know. If they are brainwashed enough, they will not care that they are there indefinitely. Also, you will not need establishments such as police departments because of the rules of conduct you will set up once your cause has gained a large enough following to necessitate the move to your compound. As you have probably noticed, these steps are very interlocked, and it is no difference with this next step.

Step 5: People may wonder why there is no police department or other related necessities, unless you have created an effective protocol for daily living. Since there will be many in the community, a bond will be necessary. A good way to begin this is to make every member give all of his or her earthly possessions to the cause upon entering. This will help pay for the purchase of the land mentioned in step four. This is a tactic utilized by many cults and is quite successful in terms of monetary gain for those in charge, just as long as it is not perceived as monetary gain for the leader by the followers, this would ruin your cause and you will end up murdered in bed or, at the very least, in jail for a very, very long time. You need to assure your followers that everything will be provided for them upon entering. This means securing enough couches, beds, tables, chairs, mirrors, toilets, showers, bathtubs, and other household essentials for every follower. While not the target audience, children will also need toys to play with. Make sure each child has one or two toys. They shouldn’t be too stimulating or allow them to think too openly about the world. Computers, video games or anything that may have the ability to contact the outside world are not recommended. You need the children who are raised within the compound to believe that is their only world. All of the books they will read will be located within the school building and will be pre-determined by you. Again, try and find texts that do not go against what your beliefs are or texts that will allow for much thinking outside the box, as the term goes. This is fairly easy with very young children’s books, but will prove a little more difficult with books for older children and teens. As for a police force, this is where a sense of community is again built up and sustained. By creating a community watch, everyone takes part in the policing of crime, which, as creator of your cause, you abhor and see to it that everyone else in the community does, too. By working together, people will create bonds within the community, reinforcing the lack of need to leave the compound. Another area that will help establish a sense of community is in the field of food production. If you choose an area that is suitable for growing any sort of food whatsoever, do so. Even if it is not a staple food, grow it so that you can harvest and then sell portions of it to other places around your compound. It is important only you leave the compound to do this business. You do not want to allow your followers a chance to escape; this would not be good for the cause.

Step 6: This is the final step in creating a cause and, some may argue, the most important. You need to have an end point. When you have people convert to your cause, they will want a guarantee of something, anything really. For example, tell them that at a given date and time the supreme being will take every follower to his home planet (in the case of aliens) and bestow upon them a life of ultimate hedonism. This promise of a bacchanalian life makes the sacrifices of living in the compound worthwhile. Followers will look forward to meeting their supreme being. The problem with this final point is that, when the predestined date arrives, people will be disappointed if nothing happens. One way to circumvent this problem is to escape. With your money and earthly treasures, escape to an island or other sufficiently-hidden place where you will never, ever be found. Change your name and appearance. Once people realize they have been duped, they will make it their life’s goal to commit as many treasonous acts unto you as humanly possible. The other, less painful option is to convince the followers that something ingestible is needed in order to finally commune with the greater spirit. Saying that a trance or being asleep is a convenient way to do this. If they are true followers, they will not question you and take whatever you tell them, too. Kool-aid has been used, but why follow trends, especially when this is your cause. Why not try something that, in history books later on, the cause will be remembered for. Try lacing banana bread with something. Committing a mass murder like this will be tricky, but having a patsy is a great way around this. Here you see another benefit to not being the public head of the cause. You will be blamed for everything, making living after the cause is over very tough. People don’t tend to look too kindly on mass murderers, especially those that did it just for monetary gains. Riotous mobs don’t generally give thought to the idea that it is not your fault you gained so many followers, that so many people were disillusioned with life as they knew it to the point that they were willing to give up everything they had in order to start a whole new life. They simply know you did something wrong and want your blood for doing it. If you have a patsy, though, you can easily be free and clear. An effective way to establish a patsy is to make sure that no one really knows whom the head is. This is a little tough, if you have a very public figurehead, but if you manage to keep enough about your cause under wraps, then this will become much easier. While everyone is in the compound, select a scapegoat. Obviously, do no tell them, it will ruin everything. Up until the cause has run its course, you need to create an assortment of documents that all point to the selected person being in charge. This may be difficult, and you need to make enough of these and spread them around the compound so that they are easily found, but in the end it will be worth it. As long as there are no rolls on file and you seem to be just another member of the cause, you can slip away unseen, pocketing everything. When the police get wind of the mass suicide, they will see the “beloved leader” dead with the others, just another member of a lost cause.

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The Jolly Green Giant is an Asshole

Posted in Food with tags , , , , on October 7, 2009 by Sam Slaughter

When I was really little, we shopped at ShopRite. Big, with lights that were always too bright, it scared me on a very basic, primal level. I was little, it was big. A simple dichotomy that had me as the loser in every encounter. But that wasn’t necessarily the problem. I did not have nightmares about going to supermarkets.  I haven’t yet either, and I think that’s very good, all things considered.
Everything was fine for the majority of the trips. We would have just eaten Burger King as part of our Saturday night ritual (church, dinner, food shopping) and I was sated, just another happy little blonde kid. I would sit in the children’s seat, kicking my feet against the back of the cart and watch my mom or my dad as we went up and down each aisle. I would point to things, get told no and we would continue on. If people came up to me, I shied away. This was the usual routine. It wasn’t my fault I had (and still have) an eyelash-eye color combo that should be featured in fashion magazines worldwide,  but people didn’t have to come up to me and tell me(1). I knew it, even at three, and my parents did, too. This process would repeat itself until we got to the canned vegetable aisle. Then, darkness settled over my little world and I would be carted through a couple hundred feet of hell.
The Jolly Green Giant scared the shit out of me as a child.  On every can on both sides of the aisle, his green face would be staring back at me. Thousands of miniature giants, all smiling, all staring, all ready to hop off the label and kill me. I may have had an overactive imagination as a child, but to me this was still within the bounds of the possible.  He was ready to kill me, I was sure of it. His vegetable business was really just a front. Everyone has to have a day job, right? His just happened to be that of a greengrocer.
So there he was, staring out at me, silently plotting, planning, getting ready to find me in my sleep and choke me out with leafy tendril arms. Turn me into a plant. I wasn’t sure what his MO would be, but it would be leafy and horrific. What made everything worse was that my parents bought his product. They willingly let that monster into our household. They let someone who wears a dress made of leaves into our house. Who has ever worn a dress made of leaves? Eve did and look and her, banished for being a sinner(2).
And my parents let him into our lovely home—our historic home that I grew up in. He hid in our retro cream and brown-trimmed cabinets. It was bad enough that I was paranoid with thoughts that every night someone was going to break into our house and I would not go anywhere in my house at night that was not well lit. Now, I had to deal with a serial killer hiding and waiting in my house, too. I tried to avoid the cabinets, but hunger called from time to time and there he was. Smiling out at me. Such a fake smile. I could see past it, even if no one else could. I knew what he wanted. How else would he ever get that big? He ate children. I knew. I didn’t get why my parents didn’t see this either. My vocabulary being limited, I wasn’t at liberty to sit down and discuss this with my parents, but I just hoped they would get it eventually.
I had heard stories—hell they told me stories—about monsters and giants and witches stealing children away. My grandmother always told me if I made too much noise, the gnomes that lived in the basement would come get me. I didn’t believe that one—I would bang on the floor in defiance, or try to shout to talk to them—but the stories built up and as a kid I had to believe in something. So I chose giants eating children instead. Those I couldn’t prove. I knew that gnomes didn’t live in the basement—I went down there every once and a while and could just tell they weren’t just hiding.
I would have nightmares about the Jolly Green Giant.  In them, he was there, holding an axe. If I were a normal child, he probably would’ve been gardening and I would’ve helped him and at the end of the day, after singing some songs and drinking ice-cold lemonade, I would’ve learned something good. That’s what would’ve happened on TV, at least. But no, instead, he had an axe and he was looking for me. I would run, my little legs pumping like I was running on a floor of balloons and I needed to pop every one. I would keep running, but it wouldn’t matter. The Jolly Green Giant would catch up to me and raise his axe high above his head. For some reason, we were the same size. He wasn’t a giant, just some crazed green man in a dress with an axe. He would swing. I would scream. I would wake up.  This dream happened more than once.   Then everything would be okay, until the next week.
*
We eventually stopped going to ShopRite. This ended the Giant’s reign of terror over my dreamscape. He no longer haunted me. Eventually, too, the cans disappeared from our cabinets, dropped in favor of bags of frozen vegetables. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see frozen green beans.

——

1)This is a hint to any fashion mavens and/or magazine publishers out there. Please take it.
2)To add to the whole leaf dress debate, why would he make a dress (I know some of you are probably screaming that it’s a tunic, but I don’t care, it was a dress to me) out of the same leaves that his hair was composed of? Was he trying to be the equivalent to the ascetic John in the Bible? When I learned about this Biblical figure, I hoped not. I didn’t want the Catholic Church to be behind this one. At that point, I still had faith.

First Food

Posted in Food with tags , , , on September 30, 2009 by Sam Slaughter

(so it’s been a while since I’ve posted. i apologize. more essays soon.)

The first food I ever remember creating, which wasn’t made of play-doh, was when I was about three, around the time I was in preschool. If I could go back now and name it, I would give it a name that was Latin-sounding. Something that made it seem at least a little classy. The Vomitorium Maximus or something equally obscure. That way, it would at least have something going for it. If I could go back, too, I would stop myself, if only for what it probably did to my stomach afterward.
***
I was alone, roaming my house like I normally did, bouncing from room to room, staring in, leaving, and bouncing on to the next room. I talked to myself as I did this. Some kids have imaginary friends. I didn’t. I had myself and I talked to myself as if there were two of us there (this worked out great when I was playing with Legos or action figures as I had both sides, good and evil to battle) . Finally, as I made my way from the third to the first floor, I ended up in the furthest room back in the house, the kitchen. I don’t know where my mom was at this point. Watching TV, maybe. My dad was at work and my sister was at school. I was hungry.
In my mind, a lot of things already tasted good. The foods that my family kept on the lower shelves of the fridge were the best and most familiar to me—the condiments, deli meats, pickles. I ventured higher sometimes, to the shelves that stored the dinner leftovers, the milk and juices, and whatever else my parents could cram into the fridge.  I wasn’t afraid to try anything at least once. In my head, I can remember picturing a picture of a sectioned-off tongue showing the different taste receptors. I saw it once on a PBS show and I hadn’t forgotten it. When I ate food, I pictured that tongue and I tried to make every piece that I tasted go to the right area on the tongue in order to fully experience the food, no matter how simple it was.
Blue cotton candy from the Saint Val’s carnival, tip of the tongue. Lemon wedges at the bar at a wedding reception where I was stuffed into a monkey suit, back of the tongue. Salted pretzel rods at snack time at my babysitter’s house, front half of the tongue, right behind the sweet spot. Every time I ate something, I catalogued it like that. When I didn’t know better, I thought in fronts and backs, middle lefts and middle rights. I still remember that tongue when I eat something new.  I also tried to get as many different receptors in each meal as I could. If I was on my own, this was limited to things that didn’t involve a can opener or knives, both still forbidden.  I would mash things together willy-nilly and hope for the best. I didn’t plan it, exactly, at least I didn’t see it like that back then, I just threw things together until I was full.  This time though things were different. I wanted to hit every sense; I wanted to taste everything at once.
I pulled a chair over to the island counter next to the stove and climbed on up. Opening the cabinets, above the stove I was greeted with a whole new slew of items to choose from. I hadn’t ventured up onto the counter before. I hadn’t realized how many tasty things were hidden away at twice my height. Peanut butter. Raisins. We even had Spam and, since my dad ate Spam for lunch on the weekends, I liked Spam. I started grabbing things. The peanut butter came first. Then I visited the spice rack. And the lower shelves of the fridge. And the pantry by the back door. Pretty soon, I had a pile of ingredients on the kitchen table.
Now came the fun part, assembly. There was still no sign of my mom, so I continued on uninhibited. Without a knife to use, I had to pull the crusty roll apart with my hands. I got bread under my nails. It pushed up under them and, if it weren’t for the feeling of something pressing against my skin, I wouldn’t have realized it was there. It was the same color as the tips of my nails and I liked that for some reason. It made me feel like I was doing something good, I was, to sound very Zen, one with the bread. If I knew about Zen or anything beyond simple facts like the muppet babies were awesome, my best friend’s name was Anthony, and I wanted to be a teenage mutant ninja turtle when I got older, I might have even considered this back then.
Peanut butter went on first. I scooped it out of the tub with my little spoon and spread it on with the back of the utensil. That spoon, as well as the matching fork, were my all purpose tools as a kid. I used them for everything. Every meal, even holidays, those two utensils, with their white plastic handles with the little blue designs that I can only describe as Incan sun gods on them went everywhere with me. Next, I surveyed my options. I knew when my mom made sandwiches she put something creamy on the bottom or top then put meat or something more solid next so onto my sandwich went the sliced pepperoni I found in the meat drawer. Thick cut and oily, I made a line down the center of the peanut butter.
Next, I sprinkled on salt, pepper and garlic powder, the three spices my mom seemed to use on everything as a kid. I remember they were always on the dinner table. My dad would bury his food in salt. My mom would sometimes add some pepper or garlic or red pepper flakes, especially if it was on pizza.  I would mimic her, shake too much on, and suffer through my first experiences with heat in food. I think. If I did, I sound like an adventuresome little kid. More likely, my mom probably brushed it off or did the time-honored motherly tradition of giving her food to her hungry child.
Finally, I added my spread my last ingredient on the other half of the bread. Mayonnaise. Thick-set and jiggly like day-old pudding, it quivered on the end of my spoon as I lifted it from the jar. Now, the thought of mayonnaise like that stresses me out to the point of giving me a complex. I can’t eat eggs and oil like that made up like that. The taste is one of those that, for me, sticks to the back of my throat, climbs onto my uvula and hangs there, gagging me until I want to throw up.  Back then, though, I loved mayo. I would make mayo and ketchup sandwiches when I was hungry. It wasn’t unusual for me to eat one or two at a time, the condiments spilling over the sides of the bread and onto the paper plate below.
So I had my sandwich: peanut butter, pepperoni, salt, pepper, garlic powder and mayonnaise on a crusty roll. If it weren’t for the peanut butter, the sandwich itself might have been a passable, normal sandwich fit for a college student on a tight budget. But there was the peanut butter there to mess it all up. That sticky, full taste of peanuts invading the other flavors would ruin it for me today (that, and the overuse of mayo). But then, as a stupid kid who was ready for anything except going downstairs at night in my house because it was really dark and I was paranoid that there were either ghosts or burglars ready to kill me, I ate it. I ate the entire sandwich. Every disgusting bite. I don’t remember what it tasted like, but I ate it. I think the only reason I did eat it was because I was young and slightly dense. I liked all of those foods separately, so why wouldn’t they go well together. I had no sense of flavor combinations yet, but I was happy and at that point, that was all that mattered.

Interview With Norman Ollestad

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 27, 2009 by Sam Slaughter

Go here to read my interview with the writer Norman Ollestad, author of Crazy For The Storm.

 

http://www.absolutepunk.net/journal.php?do=showjournal&j=3993

Dear Guy Who Runs Warped Tour

Posted in General Life, Music with tags , , , on July 8, 2009 by Sam Slaughter

Dear Guy Who Runs Warped Tour, First of all, yes, I know you’re name, but right now I don’t feel like using it. In many societies, using one’s name intimates a close relationship with another, a friend, if you will, and this, sir, is not what I want to be with you. We are at odds I feel over some choices about this years Warped Tour. I know, I know, you’ve heard this all before “we hate Brokencyde,” etc, etc. This little missive isn’t what that is about. It involves Brokencyde, yeah, but also the Millionaires and god knows who else. It came to my attention recently that the Millionaires were caught lip-synching at warped tour when their track skipped. They were left flustered and unsure of what to do. To this, all I can do is start a slow clap. I mean, really, not knowing how to go with the flow? Even Ashley Simpson recovered fairly quickly from her little disaster on SNL a couple years ago. Then again, she’s a consummate performer compared to the likes of the two aforementioned bands. This is not saying much. So, to this issue of lip-synching, I have some questions that I really, really hope you can answer. I will put them in a bulleted list to make reading easier:

1. Why did you let bands like this on the tour to begin with? This questions seems to be a crux of many arguments. I understand Warped is for a wide variety of music, that it allows for all sorts of “scenes” to come together, but these two groups seem more fit for a festival like Z100’s (NYC) Jingleball, where they flaunt the latest talent to come from the minds of some fat old men sitting in offices writing songs for twenty-somethings to shake their asses and fake tits to in order to sell music. (Sidenote: Do you think when those girls are growing up they think specifically about selling their soul to the devil in order to be seen as a sex symbol?)

2. How much of this is about money? Seriously, I understand this is undertaken as a way to m bring music to the people (it sounds very communist when it is put that way) but now that Warped is over a decade old, does that matter to you anymore? This seems to be the way that most punk-related music festivals go. Look at Skate and Surf–gone. Look at Bamboozle–the headliners include, among other odd choices Fifty Cent, that are decidedly not in any way related to the music scene. I know it brings in revenue, but are you aware you, too, are selling your soul like those ladies mentioned in point 2.

3. What about real bands? There are plenty of bands that have busted their asses to reach a stage even remotely close to Warped, and now they are being shut out in favor of ways for you to make money and embarrass yourself, frankly.

4. What about real bands? Ah, you see my little literary device here, repetition. I feel it was necessary to get across the enormity of this point. Have you been to NJ recently, or really any time in the past fifteen years or so? Do you know how many bands there are? There are probably as many bands as there are stray cats or Chinese restaurants (Though the stray cat number may be reduced by the Chinese restaurants significantly, it is still quite high–another bad thing but that letter would be addressed to other people). Anyway. Those bands, the ones that deserve it. What about them? I understand having bigger bands, they are your main draw, but groups like Brokencyde and Millionaires aren’t big. Big in the sense that the majority of the crowd at Warped, the kids who bust their asses at Starbucks and McDonalds and on paper routes (and inevitably the group who just get their parents to buy them a ticket) think they are big. I know, when I was younger, Warped Tour was the highlight of my summer. I could see friends, snag some cool, cheaper merch and see a ton of bands that I absolutely loved. Now, I fear, I will not be returning. Warped has been, well, warped.

 

You are serving the kids a lie, man. I do not appreciate this.

 

Disheartened greatly,

Sam Slaughter

 

p.s. I’m sure you will have plenty of people defending you about business tactics and shit, but I do not care about that. I’ve said my piece.

A Dirty Love Affair With Air

Posted in General Life with tags , , , , , on July 6, 2009 by Sam Slaughter

There are two kinds of air I love. I absolutely would, if they were physical beings, have sex with them. The first is winter air. At home in Jersey, away from the industrial mess along the turnpike that everyone associates with the state, away from the smog and smell of burning rubber, in the winter as it gets colder, the air gets crisper. At dusk, right as the sun is going down and right before the temperature plummets, there is that short time where you can still see your breath—thick and slow-moving like cigar smoke—and you can still feel your face. Being able to feel your face is important, once it goes numb and your nose starts running, phlegm and snot clog the airways and breathing becomes a hassle. Sucking the air in deep, all the way down to the diaphragm, it chills then stings your insides. What feels like an icicle stuck from your throat to your stomach stays there until you exhale and watch the breath wisp away.

When I was a child, I was intrigued by the idea that I could look like a bull if I snorted hard enough in the cold air. I would stamp my foot and exhale as hard as I could, at the same time trying to catch a glimpse of the air before it disappeared, sucked up by the fading sunlight. I adore the crisp feeling of the air. Feeling like, if my lungs were outside my body, they would crack in half after a deep breath. It is the same in the morning when, right after you wake up, walking outside for the mail you can stretch, inhale and shake awake instantly. It is a jolt. And I like jolts.

The winter air is also comforting. It is a safety net that I know will be there every year. The temperature begins a gradual slide and one day I’m able to see my breath again. After sweating profusely for many months it feels good to see only my thick breath leaving me, not what seems like gallons of sweat in the summertime. As the summers get longer, though, and the winters get a few degrees warmer, with fewer nights showing me my breath, it worries me. Will it all be gone by the time I’m an adult? Will it be warm constantly? Will snow completely disappear? All I can do is hope not. I pray that I’ll have snow when I’m older, that, even when I’m thirty, I’ll be able to stand outside, arms stretched to the sky and breathe in deep, exhale slowly, and watch my breath drift away from me in the same smokehouse-fashion as it does every winter.
The second kind of air isn’t the kind I should love. But instead, I have a dirty, hot, heavy, secret relationship with it fit only for back alleys and two-dollar whorehouses—the kind of relationship I’d come out of with a disease. It is city air. Let me be more specific, it is New York City air, and the air in the subways and on the PATH, the air that goes between Jersey and the City. Other city air isn’t the same. Boston air? DC air? I was immersed in the good City air every day for four years on the PATH twice a day to get to and from my high school. The air is dense, muggy and slightly saline—from the sweat of thousands of immigrant workers and white-collar businessmen, or the dollar peanuts, or some other viscous, vagrant-emitted substance.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about the air now, six hundred miles away from it, are toxic-bright yellow lines on dead-gray concrete, the three-inch thick line commuters swarm to, watching rats while waiting to get on the subway first. There was a time when I was younger that I would point out the rats as they scrambled from under tracks to pick up crumbs and back. Now I watch as little kids, their first time in the city, do the same. I can’t believe I was that stupid. It’s a rat, who cares?

The City conjures those images—the lines, the rats—and steam in my mind. The air, even inside the PATH where they pump air conditioning, is steamy and heavy. It sits on your shoulders like a conscience, reminding you that the City is what it is—dirty but full of everything, anything you can think of. But then what is that new smell? A whiff of flowers or something. Perfume. Cologne. Whatever. Something new to the mix, strangling the original scent of the air, another reminder that things are changing. Slowly. The aroma stays for a few moments then goes, but comes back when another tourist boards. It is slightly omnipresent, like a ghost, in and out, there but not. I don’t like the perfume. I love the stale, heavy air. It reminds me of day trips to the City—the American Museum of Natural History, the Intrepid, Radio City Music Hall. It reminds me of high school—all those days dressed in khaki and dress shirts, watching as bums begged four feet away, and hoping that they wouldn’t come close enough that I’d have to interact, have to fake that I didn’t have any change. Then again there is always that burst, that fresh scent again, and my attention is back to a tourist in a cowboy hat or an “I Love New York” shirt, forcing his or her way into a seat, oblivious of the old, black grandmother, two grandkids in tow that couldn’t make it fast enough from the platform to the seat. The subway dings and dongs, then rattles off.

White Mother Fuckers

Posted in General Life with tags , , , on July 5, 2009 by Sam Slaughter

(a draft of an essay about racism and other lovely things, like sexual harassment) 

It was English, but English in a Bajan dialect, a backwoods Bajan dialect at that, and the guy’s voice sounded like a machine gun firing underwater. White motherfuckers. It took a moment for my mind to process the words—slow them down and spread the clipped language out a bit. When I did finally get it, I let out an involuntary cough. Motherfuckers? What the hell?

The man pulled off a hat and shook out his granite-colored dreadlocks as he crossed the dirt road towards where we—myself and the two girls I was with—sat on crudely cemented concrete blocks. The U-shaped, three-foot high structure was, or was supposed to be, a bus stop somewhere in one of only two landlocked parishes in Barbados.

We continued to sit quietly. The girls didn’t seem to notice what he said and I decided not to bring it up. The man, old and gaunt, was now talking to another woman who sat on the other end of the U. After being on the island for over a week, I still couldn’t get over how immensely different the English language sounded. It tumbled out to a cadence so lyrically different that I might as well have been in Java or India. I was used to a Caribbean lilt and what it did to words; I liked it even. It had a calming effect on me whenever I went to a Caribbean restaurant at home or heard it walking down the streets of New York City or elsewhere. The levity in the air that backed up any word the person said made me smile. Saying go away was just the same as give me a big hug. 

Maybe it was the media that kept this fantasy in my mind, an inundation of “Come to Jamaica and feel all right” commercials or an endless playlist of Bob Marley songs at anything that could even slightly claw at calling itself a reggae or Rasta event, but I still couldn’t help but keep the image of a happy Caribbean in my head. Some other part of my brain told me that everyone had the capacity to be mean, and really mean it, but I was choosing to ignore that.  I wanted it to be all smiles and laughter.

Even if I wasn’t really on vacation (I wasn’t), I wanted to at least feel like it in some way. I was in Barbados to learn, but I was there to learn about the culture. I needed to be among the people every day in order to do that. Sure, in order to fully see the culture, I’d need to see the people happy, sad, angry, and every emotion in between, but I was content just seeing the happy side. It would make the trip more fun. I knew they would get angry at some point, I didn’t need to see it.

But here, on the easternmost island in the Caribbean, an island only one-hundred and sixty-six square miles large, the interior of the island was another world. I had felt more comfortable in Germany the first time I was there—a few months of beginner language classes at least allowed me to pick up a word here or there, smile politely, and give an answer resembling what I hoped was the right response. If not, I could just smile sheepishly, shrug and mumble something else about not understanding. Here, though, when the Bajans looked at you—the ones that didn’t work in the tourism industry at least—they just expected you to know what they were saying.

The two Bajans continued talking. I tried to focus on the crossword puzzle book in my lapbut couldn’t. White motherfuckers. I couldn’t get over it. I really hadn’t done anything to him. Hell, I was helping him, even. In Barbados, tourism is the lifeline of the economy as well as the Achilles’ heel. If it died, there goes everything. Stores, restaurants, hotels all survive because of the tremendous amount of tourists that visit the island every year (somewhere around a million per year). A week here for one family, two weeks there for honeymooners, they all add up. I was doing more than that; I was there for three weeks. I needed food and transportation and everything else everyone who lived on the island would need.

If the guy couldn’t figure that out by the fact that we had ventured to nearly the center of the island, far away from any beach, then a bartender I met who had referred to the inner part of the island as backwoods, was starting to seem more and more right. I had laughed the comment off originally. It was the liquor talking; the bartender had spent some time in the states and was probably just joking around. He had heard the term and now used it freely, like I did with y’all when I was at home in the North, far from the line that separated the acceptable southern drawl zone from the you-do-it-and-we’ll-harass-you-mercilessly zone. I don’t say it because I think I am a southerner, I’m not and I never will be. It falls off the tongue easily and at some points makes sentences shorter. That’s all.  The bartender didn’t know what real backwoods was. It was the rum talking. He lived in paradise. Paradise, for Christ’s sake. Sun-baked beaches, a seemingly eternal font of Mount Gay, the world’s oldest rum, and enough fresh fish to have it three times a day every day.

This man, though, old, grizzled and grumpy, a tall, Rasta seventh Dwarf of sorts, was making that drunken comment a reality. Every once and a while the two locals would glance in our direction and then continue their conversation. They couldn’t get off the topic of us. How kind of them. If I were just there for sun and sand, would I bother making my way to a giant stone lion on a hill that takes all of five minutes to see and maybe take a picture of? I wouldn’t. Most young adults wouldn’t be caught dead doing that type of thing, on vacation or not. Senior citizens on air-conditioned bus tours did that. Five minutes one place, snap a photo, hobble back onto the bus and off to the next captivating vista. Okay ladies and gents, speed up those walkers, we’ve got eight more sites to visit and only a little bit of time before your ship departs. Instead, I’d be culling a painful cherry-red out of my pores while ice cubes slowly diluted the rum punch that sat next to my beach chair. I did that anyway, but I also saw the things that tourists wouldn’t—like the pottery factory located on top of what the Bajans would consider a mountain. It was high enough in elevation, far enough away from the sandy flat coast that our bus’s bumping and stalling caused visions of friends at home to flash through my mind, rolling in front of my eyes as steep roadside banks passed under them. Making the effort had to count for something.

A few more minutes (or moments, it all seemed slower, the pace of everything on the island was slower) of hushed conversation passed and the two locals walked down the block away from us, and got in a car together.  The car rolled by and as it passed and the man shouted something else over the sound of the struggling engine before driving off down the dirt road towards Bridgetown. It took me another few moments to process this word—I was and am not good at the “being fast” thing. It seemed to be one syllable and came out “Rist.” Rist. Wrist. No, he wouldn’t say wrist. It made no sense. I figured he was missing a syllable or two so I had space for another sound. Realist, rapist, Rehnquist, racist. Racist. Yes, racist. That seemed to fit the vein of one-sided conversation the guy had with us, really? I didn’t shout at every person I saw on the island to get back into a sugarcane field (something not so far removed from an island that was begun as a plantocracy). All I was trying to do was get the hell away from his little tin house, anyway.

First, I’m a white motherfucker, and now I’m a racist?  Clearly this guy really didn’t realize that my being there was helping his island. Everyone else on the island seemed to. People in the capital or on the street and in restaurants were nice enough. Cab drivers lauded their island to no end, delighting in telling stories and the history of little landmarks passed on short rides. There was a passion behind their words, an energy that belied the same excitement a Labrador shows when waiting to chase down a ball. That made everything more interesting. They really cared and it showed. They loved their island. They bled blue, yellow and black—the nation’s colors. Why couldn’t this guy be like that, too? A smile, a wave, a hello, something that didn’t insult me. Even if it was fake, like I’m sure some of the people I had encountered had been, it would’ve been fine with me. In the moment, it would be appreciated. I know not everyone would really love their country, love the fact that tourists clogged their capital and beaches and bars everyday, but, because I am a tourist, couldn’t they act like they do?

Even some ex-patriots got in on the action of picking on tourists. This I found the most stunning, since at one point they had been in the same position as I was.  They were at one point fresh young tourists, looking for a little adventure, getting a lot of sunburn and somehow falling in love with the place anyway.  Now, decades later, they had established themselves, living out their days slowly and comfortably, rising each morning to fresh fruit and the hot Bajan sun, going to bed each night, soothed by an orchestra of the little chirping frogs of the island, a cacophony worse then an army of crickets, that one eventually gets used to (by the end of the trip, unless it was pointed out, I didn’t even hear them).

I was standing at the bus stop down the road from our hotel on our second morning then when one of these ex-pats decided to get a little feisty. Our class, divided into small groups, had been sent out on a scavenger hunt to familiarize ourselves with the island. Our teachers told us to take the public buses as opposed to privately owned “zedders,” vans that shook and thumped along to reggae music and got you to the same destinations faster while adding a splash of danger and excitement to your life. After one ride, sitting next to the window, seeing just how close these vans came to other cars and people, you might have visions flash through your head—first kiss, best home-cooked meal, first sexual encounter—like I had. Being the good students we were, not yet ready to break the teachers’ rules—we didn’t feel like getting in trouble nor did we exactly trust the crazy looking vans yet, even though they turned out to indeed be better transportation in the long run—we were waiting for a public bus, watching and waving off zedder after zedder, telling them we were waiting for a different bus.

An older woman, who’s skin was a shade somewhere between Gran Marnier orange-brown and melting caramel, before queing up for an upcoming zedder herself, turned to our group.

“Are you too good for these?” she asked. We shook our heads.  No, we were told to wait for the… “Are you racist against these things? Why do you have to wait? These are just as good…better, even.” We were told, we began again. More of the same guilt trip. Finally, she got on and left. After waiting another thirty minutes, we gave up on a bus and did the same as her.

*

Later on that day, I was confronted with my first language problem and in retrospect, one worse than the racist comments by the angry old man in backwoods Barbados that I’d hear later on. Part of the scavenger hunt was to visit one of the department stores on the island so off we went to Cave Shepherd, a Mecca for duty-free seeking tourists. I needed a book for class, so we went up to the book section of the store and after fruitless searching I gave in and asked someone. His words were fast and as far from understandable on the spectrum on clarity as they could get.

I wasn’t in Germany anymore; I couldn’t smile and shrug here. Hell, I had asked him for help. If I did shrug it off and blindly agree to whatever, I think I still might be some sort of paradisiacal sex slave. Something, most likely stupidity tinged by the fact that the sun was actively frying my brain even after only a little exposure, caused me to ask an old man in the book department where the poetry section was. He was wearing the same tan color as some of the workers and I, for some stupid reason assumed that he, an old guy just standing around doing nothing in particular, was a worker, too. He was just standing there not working, jut standing. I didn’t think to take three steps over to the register to the cheerful looking cashiers, their English tinted by British schooling at some point. At home, I don’t go up to random people who might work in the store and I still cant’ pinpoint what part of my brain told me this would be the time to start doing that. If I do find out what part, it’s got a thorough poking with a Q-tip coming its way.

He started talking to me some more and I could feel my brain thwacking against my skull going stop, no, stop, no I. Don’t. Understand with all the force of a Swedish death metal band. He finished what he was saying, made some hand gestures towards me, and smiled. His gums weren’t totally pink, more like purple in spots, and the few teeth he had were a ripe corn yellow. So on top of speaking too fast, he was mumbling through pudding gums. There he went, talking again as I took slow steps backwards. More hand gestures and I managed to recognize a few words. Something about sex and going somewhere. Sex and going somewhere and hand gestures. Did this old guy want to have sex with me? No, he couldn’t why would he want that? Right in the middle of a store, no less. It had to be my mind, I was convinced, just playing tricks on me. I had heard things about sexual harassment and my overactive imagination was taking it to the next level. My subconscious was creating a way for me to be the center attention, this guy was harmless, utterly harmless. But then he repeated himself and like listening to a song on repeat, I got more words this time around. My mind finally jumpstarted, an lawnmower kicking back to life after a long winter. There was no way I was going to be his little white sex slave.

No. No, no, no was my mantra as I took another step back and bumped into a bookshelf. Flower arranging books shook in their spots. He took a step forward but stopped when I held up my hand and shook my head. He took an over exaggerated look around the store and mumbled something about gills. Girls? Did I have any girls for him? Did I look like a pimp? was all I could think. I was trying to give this guy the benefit of the doubt, I was just an tourist with an overactive imagination and he was just a regular Joe, living his life, looking for some books. I really tried, but as he worked his gums and spoke again, repeating himself, it was hard not to judge him. Why would he be doing this? Did he do it often and if he did, did any tourists ever actually agree?

Our teachers had warned us about the girls being sexually harassed by locals before we came, that is why the guys were put into the various groups, to stop that. Hah. I think I might’ve been the first male traveler to Barbados to ever be sexually harassed.

Luckily, the only other offers I got the rest of the time were to buy drugs. Being a more common part of their society, though still a detrimental one, I found this more tolerable. Addicts with open sores and bloodshot eyes did this to me all the time at home. I was used to it. No, I don’t want to smoke up. No thanks, my veins are all filled with cocaine already. Ecstasy, you say? Well, shucks I just took a tablet five minutes ago. Maybe tomorrow.

*

Sitting with my feet dug in the sand, watching the brown hump of a turtle rise and fall under the surf fifty feet from shore, my mind wandered. No matter how many things I had encountered every day or how many new people I had met, both nice and not so nice, I kept thinking about the angry old man and the pervert. They hung around in my mind like men at rum shops, there all day with nothing to do. Was I took quick to judge them? Was I just overreacting because my mind couldn’t process things fast enough and just chose to freak out instead? At least, with the perverted old man, I knew mostly what he was saying. He said it enough times for me to get a good idea of the words that zipped by me. Context clues. The other guy, though, was I completely wrong? He wasn’t smiling and his body posture was more I-want-to-hurt-you than come-let’s-have-a-beer. But maybe he just didn’t want us there.

I tried putting myself in his shoes. When I saw tourists in my town (or even in New York City, close enough) how did I act? I ignored them like my life depended on it. Tourists ranked somewhere between vagrant and guy in a hot dog suit. With their cameras held out constantly, snapping pictures of everything, every last disease-ridden pigeon. I’d take a wide arc around them, even purposely not waiting for a light to change and crossing the street to away. They clogged the streets. They took up precious space in small cafés and delis, eager to try “true New York Deli.” Maybe this guy thought that way, too. He didn’t want tourists on his island, he was happy enough without them. He fished or grew cane or something that didn’t depend on foreigners. He did all he could to avoid the pale-skinned foreigners that ambled down streets in packs like cows being led to slaughter. Sure, they brought money to the island, but was he getting any of that? Probably not.

My mind bobbled the same thoughts in it for the rest of my stay on the island. This guy, just living his life, just didn’t want us there and I freaked out for no reason. But, what if he did call me a racist? Why would he do that? Even if I did put myself in his shoes, understand that he didn’t want us there, when I see tourists I just ignore them, I don’t open my mouth and harass them. If I saw him on a New York Street, waiting for a bus, I’d ignore him, that’s all. Why couldn’t he have done that? Was I missing something?