Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Little Stuff

"Hey mister, you want to play?"

Mister? I'm a mister now?

Yep, the kid is getting old. I had a birthday this weekend, number 28 to be exact. In most people's eyes, particularly the old bastards at my job, I'm still a young buck. But, when I walked on to a baskebtall court filled with high school kids Sunday evening, I was "Mister."

Times are changing.

Sunday's encounter made me think about exactly how fragile self-image is. I've always been told I have a babyface. On Sunday, I had cut my hair down really low and shaved off the small amount of facial hair I am able to grow. It's the look my wife calls my "kiddy face" because it makes me look so young.

So, it was a bit jarring to have this young punk call me "mister." I had on shorts and a tank top and I was carrying a basketball. I shouldn't have been mister, I should have been "dawg" or "brah." Instead, this little bastard called me mister and shattered any illusions I had of blending in.

Has that ever happened to y'all? Not neccessarily the age thing, but just having your self-image irrecovably changed by someone who had no idea?. To them it was a random comment or a minor slight, to you it changed the way you viewed the world.

One of my earliest memories is of sleeping in daycare. I rembering waking in a dark room filled with children, and going towards a nearby door where I saw a light. After I entered the room, still blinking away sleep, a young Asian boy ran past me and punched me squarely in the stomach. I turned to the teacher, a young white woman, completely certain that she had seen this injustice and would make things right. She told me simply:

"You shouldn't be up anyway."

Another memory, came in middle school. Following the advice of my father, I tried out for the drama club. Pops always loved productions and would make my brother and I practice for hours on any speaking part we received. I can still hear him chanting "ennunciate" as he castigated us for not projecting our voices.

The drama club put on a production of "Ten Little Indians" that year. I thought I had shined at tryouts, but I was cast in a secondary role as a butler. Instead of being glum, I studied my lines diligently, learning them before everyone else in the club. I was ready for our big night.

Unfortunately, no one else in the play took their roles as seriously. On opening night they stumbled and skipped over lines, butchering the flow of the play. At one point, I was on stage awaiting my cue, when one bumbling actor mistakenly skipped further along in the script to a scene where the characters were supposed to discuss their suspicions that I might be responsible for several unsolved murders. I froze, uncertain whether I should flee the stage, or wait for the actor to correct himself and dismiss me with the proper lines. Eventually, I just walked off the stage confused.

Later, as the actors gathered backstage, one of the female characters chastised me for not leaving the stage when it was obvious that the scene didn't make sense if I was present. Of course, she ignored the fact that this incongruity would not have occurred if she and the other actos had learned their lines. yet, as I looked around the circle of actors, I saw them all nod at her words as if I was to blame for the mishap, not them. I didn't show up for the next night's performance. I was the only black kid in the drama club.

Both of those incidents, and countless others, were important to me, but likely very forgetable for the other individuals involved. These memories are cherished nuggets that I fish out of the darkness in my mind whenever I'm thinking about human nature. At times, I am ashamed of the prominence I've given such minor incidents, but I still cannot resist playing these scenes on a continuous loop in my mind.

I have a younger brother and we often remininsce together. It's always amazing how we can share so many memories, yet also see those memories from very differenct vantage points. In addition, despite the fact that we spent much of our young lives glued to each other's sides, my brother will often dredge up some incident that I can't remember at all.

Simply put, my life is filled with moments that were important to me and only me. I'm sure it's like that for most people. In fact, it's this reality that makes an event like Sen. Barack Obama's potential presidency powerful.

All us, those who admire him and those who despise him, can agree that right now is an important moment in the history of the world. That agreement and acknowledgement binds us throught the simple act of sharing realities. No matter what vantage point we view these events from, we can all agree on their importance and, thus, their power. It seems like a little thing, but it is not.

Not little at all.


Air-Cooled Head said...

28, huh Big Man. How old do you think this "punk" was? And the fact that he has enough respect to refer to his elders as "Mr." is to be commended.
But I know where you're coming from. EXACTLY were you're coming from. Been there, been thru that, often. Get used to it; ‘cause until you FEEL old, it'll continue to happen.
As I approach my mid-fifties, I jokingly ask my friends how their kids grew up while I didn't get any older.
Since I was a teen, folks have said I looked young for my age, and occasionally still do. But once in awhile, something smacks me up side the head and lets me know I'm not as young as I feel/act/think I am.
So get used to it, Mister! But keep the Young Buck in your heart.

the cat's meow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the cat's meow said...

I was at a school function with my sister, who's 5 years younger, and someone asked if I was her mom!!!
That comment will haunt me till the day I die..
I feel your pain, it just ain't fair

Big Man said...

I'm glad y'all can feel my pain. That little kid didn't know how much he hurt my heart.

He was very polite though.

And then I listened to the conversation he and the other kids on the park were having about random stuff and I felt even older. It was very hard for me to remember when I thought they way they thought.

Deacon Blue said...

I'm 40, with 12 years on you, I know how you feel sometimes. However, my 16-year-old son still thinks I'm pretty cool and his friends do too so far. And for some reason, he's certain that teenaged and early 20s checkout girls are flirting with me at the grocery as long as you stay young in your heart (I try to myself), I guess you'll exude some of that youth.

After all, the young cats DID invite you to play, so they couldn't have been thinking you were TOO old yet. You must be giving off a "cool" vibe at least...if not a young one.

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

I'm 35 and you just created one of those moments by having someone call YOU Mister. *lol*

I love how you brought this all home to Barry! Nice tie in to a very entertaining personal story and revelation about age and self-importance!!


Gye Greene said...

My first thought was remembering the first time I **didn't** get ''carded'' when buying wine (I think I was about 25).

But "Cat's Meow" reminded me of a better one: My brother's wife is in grad. school, so they live in on-campus ''family housing''. I was visiting them one time, and a lady he knew (she was about 30yo) said, "Hey! You must be Bruce's dad!!!"

I was 36 at the time, and my brother was 30. Granted, I have **some** grey in the hair...


MODI said...

Listen "Mister" Big Man, it is all down hill for you now. I'm 38 and have been working with teens since i was 24. Somewhere along the line the compliments went from being like a "big brother" to like a "father figure". OUCH! The shit just happens... nothing you can do...

...except some extra stretching before you hit that basketball court...

MCBias said...

haha I had a moment like that the other day. Basically I realized that the time I can talk to teenage and college girls is all but over, ha. Sigh, at least they aren't asking me if my son attends their school yet. :-p

Raving Black Lunatic