Adam Jones, "Inner City Street Scene", CCL

Tales from the Ghetto: Hubris vs. Pride

J.C. LaCroix Darkworking, Emotional Mastery, Power Tactics 3 Comments

Adam Jones, "Inner City Street Scene", CCL

Adam Jones, “Inner City Street Scene”, CCL

Pride is not a bad thing.

All it is, in reality, is a healthy admiration and respect for yourself, derived from self-love. It is just that it doesn’t conform to the normal social bullshit rule where you don’t share your overflowing self-love with other, lesser people. Contrary to popularly held belief, refusing to give in or settle for less than what you know you are worth is a good, good thing.

On the other hand, there is hubris. This is an irrational belief in yourself, that is actually motivated not by self-love, but by fear. Deep down, you don’t want to be seen as small, because the truth is in spite of what you project — you feel small inside and your worst fear is other people will see you that way, too.

It’s time for us to look at this issue, Darkworker style. Meaning, we use real-world examples and I have a perfect one. Settle in, amigos, because there is some necessary backstory.

So, I live in an area that can’t really be called the “ghetto”, depending on your bench-mark. If, say, you compare it to the worst-of-the-worst in Chicago — I live in a resort community. On the other hand, people from the better side of town (around here, called fucking “Hamilton County”), deliberately don’t exit the highway anywhere near my neighborhood. A better label would probably be “low-income with a dash of shady”. It is bad enough that during peak crime activity, police patrol in pairs (they are always suprised that I know this, which doesn’t help me have any confidence in them) and some houses have rags tied around holes where door-knobs should be. We’re in that weird middle-zone where gunshots still get people’s attention as more than background noise, but are at the same time common enough that they don’t drop what they’re doing and call 911.

The proximity to the highway and mass-employment centers, combined with a weird abuttment of a private college campus, means we get all sorts here and there. And, by this, I mean the area is surprisingly racially diverse, with non-poor randomly sprinked around. Truth be told, it’s majority (barely) white — but the kind of white people that standard white people are embarassed to admit exist. This fact sometimes lures unsuspecting upper-middle-class people to the area. It’s funny to watch them move in, patting themselves on the back for saving some gas-money, only to watch that joy slowly fade and sinking regret rise a few weeks later.

Welcome to it, former suburbanite. Enjoy the disenfranchied stew, we’re a rainbow united by the light that binds us — poverty and bad choices.

Glad you came.

My last job was as a Financial Analyst. I say that to say this — I definitely have the option to move on up to a better area, but I don’t. Fuck a lease break penalty. This place keeps me alert and on top of my game. I never can sink right down into complacency, which is why my enemies never catch me unaware. The vigilance training is a bonus, for me. Then again, I am not lost on the fact that this could be PTSD raising my thermostat to where this neighborhood is comfortable to me. Constant random solicitations for everything from sugar to a cigarette mean my ability to say no and give zero fucks never falls into disrepair. Not to mention, it is never boring. The place is so diverse and random, talking in terms of violence or otherwise, that time stays crisp and nights feel alive. Generally speaking, neighbors mind their own business, which I adore. If I ever tried to load a body into my trunk, I can count on the unspoken contract of discretion.

Most importantly, though, is the fact that it keeps me close to Sleepers and “the public”. I know what is happening for the average person, because I’m standing next to them. This helps me not just in terms of political activism, but also in terms of self-help. Most self-styled gurus fall into a common success trap. They blow up and move into upper-class social arenas, surrounding themselves with other Titans. That far up on the mountain, they forget what the climb was like and can barely remember the valley below. Before you know it, they have lost touch with reality and start making post after post about relationship dynamics or stock trades — shit that, while nifty, isn’t a power-boost for anyone not at that point.

And speaking of the valley below, that brings us to our current tale…

Grab some popcorn, kiddies, and come on up here to Asmoday’s lap. It’s story-time.

I have missed story-time.

It starts with old “Chewie-lady”. I call her that, first, because she’s so old that you always see her in a bath robe. After all, changing is a lot of work when your bones are half dust. And, secondly, because she has a cat named chewie. I know this because she comes out every night at the same precise time, and yells for the cat. She is, in many ways, my second alarm clock: I know when she yells its time to get my stretch in and start working towards the bed.

I’ve only interacted with her once. Walking across the parking lot, she asked me to help her open a window. Which, was odd, because it was a cool night. But, the units in the complex have these old-style latches that get stuck. Now, to be honest, I normally would have told her I was busy and kept walking. Which, before you think I’m an ass for not helping an old lady — you don’t understand the context. In this area, if people learn you’re compassionate and you live (as I do) right across the parking lot, you’ll get ambushed with every little thing from that point forward. It’s a logistical risk to help some people. But, the thing was, she was so damn polite about it. She apologized for being rude, admitted that I looked busy, and explained that she just couldn’t get it open and the air was stiffling.

For around here, that kind of class was refreshing. I wanted to reward it, so I went inside and opened the window.

The apartment smelled like old books and cat piss. Immediately upon entering, I noticed two things — she was older than I thought (early 80’s, easily) and what little stuff she had was all time-frozen. It was all from the early 90’s. The TV, furniture, dishes — everything. And, it was all stuff someone well-to-do would have purchased in the 90’s. Good china, not the knock-off stuff. A dual-unit VCR. A custom shelving unit that was pre-lame-looking Ikea. Even more strange was the kitchen. Most old women have kitchens loaded with a lifetime of acquired pots, pans, domestic doodads. Hers was empty by anyone’s standard. Not even a dish-rack.

Now, our AC/Heater units are identical, and all have this wooden access panel that sits by the window. Hers was covered with an inch of dust. A look at the mound of hand-woven blankets on the couch confirmed my suspicions and made me pause. They were simple. Elegant. Beautiful. One had a flock of robbins on it that took me in and didn’t let go. They were all done in a style that can’t be taught, but that I can spot at a mile — old school, farm-rural. You learn it from having lived it. Our eyes met briefly. I felt like I had just discovered her secret and she was none the wiser. Chewie-lady wasn’t always from the elegant stock. She had been elevated, and took pride in having earned it. But, either way, I could tell whatever happened back then, this was now and she was “social-security-starving”, without even money to run her heater on a regular basis.

Suck it up granny, save those electric watts for the really, really cold days.

For my young-ish fingers with their non-aching joints, the window slid right open.

I nodded at her and was turning to leave (she didn’t offer me tea or feel obligated to make conversation, a fact I could tell we both mutually appreciated), when I noticed a picture on the wall. It was her and another gentleman, obviously in younger days, shaking hands with former President Jimmy Carter. Now, this has just gotten interesting. Tons of questions rode on the tail-end of my growing curiosity. I decided to break the pleasantry that was non-pleasantry.

I pointed to the picture. “Husband gone?” I asked.

“Cancer.” she said.

A pause. I pointed to the knitting gear on her coffee table and then the blankets. “Ever thought about selling those?”

A snarl crossed her lips, but her WASP training quickly suppressed it. Of course, she misunderstood. I wasn’t offering to buy the blanket. I was trying to help her find a way to turn her heater on. Sadly, she had just downgraded me in her mind from “unfortunate but necessary shame of asking for help” to “opportunistic jackass”.

“No, he’s gone. They were his.” she sad.

I nodded. We shared an entire conversation in that glance.

Her husband died from Cancer, probably racking up medical debt as he went. This was the man who had found her and raised her from her humble origins. It must have been horrible, with her clinging to him as he left this world like her skin now clung to the robe. People from that time and place were defined by one thing, hubris. A hubris that I highly doubt would have allowed her to declare bankruptsy. The shame of sitting in front of creditors and hearing the gossip of neighbors would have been too much to bear already under the weight of grief. So, off went all that accumulated wealth. Piece by piece. Until, all that remained sat in that shitty, piss-smelling room. She was living from benefit check to benefit check.

Thing was, all her self-love was tied up in him.

He was the source of her belief in herself. As he goes, so goes it. Just like the blankets which held the best in her, it was his. My mind touched hers, racing through permutations and probabilities. I was looking at a woman who, from the moment of moving into the apartment, had spent the better part of decades just waiting to die. No chips left within her in sight, all having been given as advance payment to the ferryman for the River Styx. That robe wasn’t just another layer against the cold, it was a burial shroud. There was going to be no approach, given our age gap, that would reach her. I smiled at her in a helpless way — the way I imagine Doctors smile at patients when they know there isn’t a damn thing they can do for them. How does a young buck like me transform depression in someone who lived through the Great Depression and has used the stubborness gained by that survival to toss in the towel?

No dice.

So, all my questions were abrubtly answered.

With lose ends both tied up and tantilizingly dangling, I left it as I found it — window open.

Fast-forward to the night of our story in question. A new couple has moved in next to Chewie-lady, guy and a girl. I will call them the Derps. They are young, as in, barely just young enough to sign the lease. The guy looks like the kid on the cover of mad magazine did some time in juvenille prison, but is now all growed up. He doesn’t own a car, but his skeletor-like torso is covered in tattoos. Our lovely lady of this duo is awkwardly pear-shaped, and there is something off with her face. It’s just off, hinting at chromosome damage but not going into full-bore handicap. She talks with that blended black-kentucky accent that people in this area use, “Hay, hay, lookie ritchurrrrr for a minute.” Quality folks.

Well, Chewie-lady calls me to evening prayer, so I get my stretch in. Then, feeling brain-drain, I decide to grab some water and go drink it on my front porch.

Mrs. Derp is standing on her front stoop, facing the apartment. Their door is wide open, with the glass “screen-door” shut. They seem to have some aversion to shutting the front door that I’ve never been able to explain. Mr. Derp is inside, I shit you not, watching some Wrestlemania shit. I can tell because their TV is that big and the window is completely open. Their pit bull, importantly not on a leash as required by law, is wandering around the front of the building.

Enter the hook for our story’s dramatic action — the Black Kid. He’s wearing a jacket and one of those ear-flap snow caps. His friends are sitting in a light blue truck, ready for a night out. He is running over to them, smiling. As he does, he crosses the front yard of Mrs. Derp, running so close that he brushes her as he moves past. The dog sees this and is not happy about it. Dog decides to chase after him for a short distance. He doesn’t bite him, but he run-barks protecting his territory and his owners.

The dog is following instinct. And, what is about to happen now is that all these Sleepers are about to do the same thing. They are governed by their lower nature and conditioning. While fully capable of mastering it and embracing their human nature, this is not a choice they have yet made. Tonight, they will all weild the joint powers of reaction and stupidity at a level that can only be considered modern social art. Each cause will lead into the next effect, with no one stopping the merry-go-round and making a single true, deliberate choice. It’s like the village idiot version of the V for Vendetta scene, with the giant picture made from dominos.

The Black Kid, rather than jumping into the back of the truck to be safe from the dog, tells Mrs. Derp to get her dog before he “punches it”. I briefly wonder why you would stoop down and expose your hand to punch a pit bull in the face, given the variety of tactics at your disposal? She tells him that if he doesn’t want to get bit, he shouldn’t run through her yurrrd. Took me a second to understand she meant, yard. Which, while there’s some truth there, these are not yards. Rather, they are grass-decorated walkways with a patio and some stairs, no fences. Black Kid’s friends (from a place of safety inside the truck) tell him not to take any shit. He is about to hop in the back, but pauses and decides to kick the dog. Mrs. Derp screams. This activates Mr. Derp like some kind of Yasguard Sentinel, who comes outside. Almost as though they are a tag-team of idiot, Mrs. Derp grabs the dog and goes back inside as soon as she hears the glass “screen-door” open and close.

Mr. Derp approaches these gentlemen, and through a string of fucks and various other explatives, is trying to determine what the hell is going on. There is some brief posturing and while I can’t tell what is exactly being said, it is clear that these two don’t actually want to fight. I start to become disappointed — not that they’re not going to fight, but that I wasted time having to watch this moronic exchange when I had actually planned on meditating. Clearly, this will wind down and I just had to sit here and watch dump people yell.

However, then something amazing happens. Mrs. Derp reflects upon the situation and remembers that she lives in the age of the struggle for gender equality. Her place is indeed not barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, but on the front lines. After all, she is the equal of these men boys with penises. She decides that her best response is to come running out of the house with a baseball bat. Black Kid’s friends immediately exit the vehicle and stand with him.

My disappointment is replaced by excitement. This just got good.

I start swinging my legs on the stoop while I sip my water.

The Black Kid and Mr. Derp continue to posture, with Black Kid’s friends acting as a backup chorus. However, the situation now cannot de-esculate, because Mrs. Derp keeps periodically mock-swinging the bat at the Black Kid’s friends. Every so often during this exchange, everyone keeps casting me glances. They know I’m here and witnessing. They don’t know if I have called the police. Of course, I haven’t. I’m still confident this isn’t going to go nuclear. Cops have more important things to do. And besides, by the time they get here, this will be a non-issue. My spidey-senses are telling me not to pick up that phone.

Besides, the Derps and the Black Kid live here — it’s entirely possible they have priors.

Then, they get rounded up and I have slashed tires for my trouble. No thanks.

Anyway, this all finally culminates not because of the guys, but because of Mrs. Derp.

Full of fury, she turns to Mr. Derp and says, “You gonna let him talk to me like that? You really gonna allow that?” There is silence. Now, Mr. Derp is locked in. He doesn’t want to fight the Black Kid, but he wants to keep fucking Mrs. Derp. In the end, his dick wins this epic battle over his cerebrum. There’s a brief exchange. Again, I don’t know what was said, but this conversation must have been remarkably efficient. Apparently, they have agreed to settle the whole thing with a throw down. The terms are: No weapons, man to man, Mr. Derp vs. the Black Kid.

I am chuckling at this point, and I’ll be honest, half-full of admiration for the strange…civility of it. But, inside, I’m also going, really? Over this? We’re going to go full-blown gentle-tardly duel over an unleashed dog? Okie-dokie. Of course, this next part happens real fast, but this is where things shift for me. All these assclowns decide to shift venue. Mr. Derp goes inside the house. I don’t know what he’s going for and I’m hoping it’s not a gun. But, the Black Kid and his friends now drive the truck into my parking lot and exit the truck. Apparently, this means the fight is going to happen near my car. I may need to get involved on behalf of my ride. So, I stand up. I am shitty, because I have things to do and having to give a statement to the police is not on my to-do list.

The Black Kid gives me a look, like “this is stupid”. I smile and raise my water bottle to him, Petyr Baelish style. After all, he has every opportunity to walk away, especially now. He could have told his friends to just drive away. But, everyone here is motivated by one thing, hubris. He can’t stand the shame of his friends. Mr. Derp can’t stand the shame of his woman. And, Mrs. Derp can’t stand the shame of being both subjugated (as a woman) and walked-on (as his girlfriend). It’s amazing. All that fronting, not a drop of self-love to be had between any of them.

Mr. Derp comes back out and the battle is on.

There is some brief Muhammad-Ali dancing, then it happens. Mr. Derp throws and lands the first punch, which knocks the Black Kid straight on his ass. Mr. Derp, in a superior position, then pins the Black Kid’s legs with his leg, pins both of his arms with one hand, and starts to ground-and-pound him, MMA style. Black Kid’s friends then respond by running up. At first, I think they’re about to break it up, but then with cirque-de-stupid joint precision, go WWF on Mr. Derp. They each grab him, lift him perfectly verticle in the air, and slam him to the pavement. Where, he hits head-first with his neck at a 90-degree angle to the ground. The slap sound this makes is loud and rude, like Leonardo di Caprio tossing one down on a stripper’s ass after finishing a line of coke. Mrs Derp’s scream echoes through the air like the thunder chasing that lighting.

Here, is where I move. The rules have been broken. So, this thing is going to turn into a chaotic battle-royale. Which means, odds are good I’m going to have to defend my car, which they are only about 10 feet away from. Could be bad, because we’re in the open and I may have to engage up to five people. I go into my house, moving at military speed, and grab a weapon and my phone.

I didn’t see what happened, but in the time it took me to grab stuff, Mr. Derp has recovered and completely flipped the script. I can only assume, with the rules broken, that Mrs. Derp lovingly tossed him the baseball bat. Which, he is definitely using. He is chasing all three of them back towards the truck. The baseball bat is clanging as he hammers them all in the back with it. In between thuds and groans from them, they are yelling for him to stop.

Openly, I cackle (not laugh, cackle, full upward head-tilt and errrythang) at this point, because I find their repeated requests hilarious.

In fact, as their getaway unfolds, I keep cackling.

The truck’s windows are rolled down, and all three of these guys cram into that truck by jumping in through the window holes with a dexterity that would make Charlie’s Angels proud.

Nothing like necessity to bring out your inner-ninja.

But, there is one problem for Black Kid and his friends — the truck isn’t starting.

Mr. Derp starts hitting the outside of the truck with the bat.

Black Kid screams at his friend, “Go nigga!”

Driver screams, “Fuck!”

Mr. Derp, “You think I’m some kind of bitch?”

Now, glass shattering. Screaming wildly, Mr. Derp proceeds to throw the bat around in adrenaline-induced destruct mode. This is an old truck, the glass isn’t shatter-proof. So, with a series of swings, the windshield, rear window, headlights, tail-lights, and driver’s side mirror are no more. Broken glass is everywhere in the cab, and the guys, scrunched inside, are getting cut up because they have to move to avoid potential swings.

Truck finally starts and they peel off into the night.

Mrs. Derp immediately jumps into her car, I think to give chase, but only ends up moving her car and parking it on the other side of the lot.

“Yeah! Go nigga! My nigga!” Mr. Derp yells after them.

This is where he gets to do his victory monologue, like Alanzo from Training Day — which I would have respected, frankly — except he does it all Aryan Nations style.

He proceeds to pace and rant for about fifteen minutes in the parking lot. Eventually, it degenerates into him screaming “Nigger!” at the top of his lungs, over and over, like a broken pull-string toy made by Grand Dragon, Inc. Honestly, I don’t know how many times he yelled it. I lost count after 12. Finally, body calming, he just starts to pace. Then, he looks up and over at me. He raises his hand in an out of place way, and gives me a wave.

“Hey, buddy, did you see that?” he asks.

“Yup.” I say.

“Did you call the cops?”

“Nope.” I say.

“Thank you.”

“Uh-huh.” I say.

He stops dead in his tracks and continues to look at me. Before, he was just noticing me, but now he’s really looking at me. Seeing me. Much like a pit-bull, his head cocks to one side. I smile, because he and I are about to have “the moment”. You see, that’s the thing with Sleepers, and this happens to me from time to time. It’s not a binary state. You know, zero or one, you are one or you aren’t one. It is a spectrum. Much like physical sleep, you are always coming out of it, then sinking back down, over and over like a tide. The fight, the victory, the sustained rage — its given him a hightened sense of things. Brought him here, now, really close to waking. In this place, he can sense me through the Masking. But, he has no actual awareness, no connection to Self, no experience. So, it causes confusion in him.

This is the part where I wait to see what he chooses to do. He will either engage or disengage. If he engages, it will come as a random follow up question. For example, how long I’ve been living here or something. This happens because they know they see something, but have no context for it. So, they just start reaching in a kind of blind curiosity.

He picks the latter and turns to walk away.

“Wait.” I say.

He turns, “Oh man, I’m fine, not a scratch on me.”

“No,” I say, “be careful. They’re gonna come back.”

“Not after I gave them all that, they dumb if they do that.”

“You just pretty much destroyed that guy’s truck, and called the other guy a nigger so loud Al Sharpton heard it. Trust me, they’re coming back.”

“Man, I wanted a fair fight, you saw that sh-”

“I know. I know. Just be safe.”

Almost on cue a new car pulls up in front of his apartment.

“Besides, I got backup.” he says, turning and running over to the car.

A man gets out of the car. Let’s call him Sibling Derp. Turns out, he’s Mr. Derp’s brother. He looks like something the Duck Dynasty clan tried to abort, but failed. And, that’s what Mr. Derp was doing when he went back into the house — calling his brother. Who, not only emerges from the car and surveys the broken glass, but does so with his just-barely-a-toddler son in tow. This family is apparently glued together by shitty judgement. I bet they get excited at Thanksgiving, because mom whips out the fucktard gravy. I mean, what went through this man’s mind?

“Some guys are about to jump you bro? Cool bro, let me get my car-seat set up and I’ll be right there.”

Of course, Mr. Derp didn’t truly understand what I had said. My statement that they would come back wasn’t a moral one. It had no implication as to if they should come back or not. Nor did it place blame on any party for anything. It was merely a statement of fact. Cause and effect alone. Often, they don’t understand thinking on that level.

I go inside and finish up some work. Deep in sleep, it just barely wakes me up. The parking lot outside sounds like Beruit. I do nothing more than sigh and shake my head, trying to fall back into dreams.

Then, I hear it.

Chewie-lady. “My car! Oh my god, my car! My car! Why, my car!”

At this, I blink, forcing myself to come all the way awake. By the time I gey my clothes on and step outside, Chewie-lady is already back in her apartment. The Derps are on their front stoop, holding each other like they just watched their house burn down. Which, that would have been a random thing one could sympathize with, in no way a direct result of their actions. But, the aftermath remains and speaks to it all. Black Kid and his friends came back. Not knowing which car was property of the Derps, they simply went after the one parked nearest to their front door. As Mrs. Derp had moved her car, Chewie-lady’s vehicle was the winner of that shitty lottery. The car looked like it had just been hit by basketball sized hail based on all the dents and broken glass.

Also, as a sort of parting gift, Black Kid and his friends broke out the front windows of the Derp’s apartment.

One of my neighbors comes out — he’s one of those standard-but-duped whites I told you about before. He surveys the damage and I watch his face do that thing where he decides he is going to take the high road in response to all this abhorrant hooliganism.

He asks the Derps, “You two got kids in there or anything?”

“No.” They half-yell, half-mumble.

“Okay,” he says, “it’s gonna be a cold one tonight.”

I look over at Chewie-lady’s door, then back at him.

“Yeah,” I say to him, “but for who?”

He gives me a puzzled look. I wave him away with a dismissive hand.

The next morning, Chewie-lady’s car is covered with a tarp. She cleaned up the glass, but obviously doesn’t have the money to have it towed or repaired.

It’s been a few days since now. It just sits there. I’m wondering how long it will be before the complex slaps a “non-operational-vehicle” sticker on it, then tows it for her.

Mrs. Derp still parks her car on the other side of the lot.

On the TV, everyone is talking about Ebola. I don’t know why I’m watching this…oh, I’m normally not up this late.

Chewie-lady hasn’t called for her cat since.

In fact, I haven’t seen her at all.

Comments 3

  1. Wow! Amazing, fantastic writing, Asmoday. I thought I was a writer but I supplicate myself in awe of your superior talent. I was totally gripped by the story.

    I live in a similar neighborhood, a near-city mix of inexpensive condominiums and Section 8 apartments. It’s unusual NOT to see the Police helicopters circling overhead on Saturday nights, and any 3 day weekend brings out the squad cars to settle drunken domestic fights between people like Mr. and Mrs. Derp. Last summer I had to confront a young man who was in the street beating on his (supposed) girlfriend because she had stolen his bicycle and was attempting to ride away on it. How he caught up with her on foot I don’t know, but perhaps alcohol and meth gave him extra running speed.

    I’ve come to believe that people like these create drama and conflict because they have so little else in their lives. If they work at all, they work shitty, menial jobs where The Man bosses them around all day. They can’t afford exciting vacations, flashy new cars, shiny bling to show off, or any of the other things Americans are taught will bring them excitement and fulfillment. They work, they drink, they fuck (because that’s free entertainment) and they fight. “Living just enough for the city.” Sad.

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