I was just having a smoke and I started talking to S., this guy who works in my building who I smoke with out in the courtyard sometimes. S. is a cool guy, 28, who’s deeply into hip-hop and who’s taught himself how to record his friends’ music. (And now he’s making videos as well—see below.) He has a pretty responsible office job—he dresses better than I do, anyway—even though he’s a little rough around the edges, by which I mean he has more than a little street in him. Racially I’ve always found him hard to pin down because he looks Latino but talks like a mix of black and white, going back and forth between the two worlds with easy fluency in both of them. (Unlike the goon I saw at the DMV yesterday, a white guy whose stabs at black speech and mannerisms were so forced that he made the white-dude-trying-to-be-a-black dude in Season 2 of The Wire look like the love-child of Beaver Cleaver and Eldridge Cleaver.)
Anyway, so just now S. was showing me the video he made for his half-brother’s band, and when he mentioned that his half-brother is black I said, “You know, I’ve always wondered about your ancestry” and he started rattling off his history—a Filipino dad and a German-English mother, etc., “and then when my dad went to prison, my mom started dating this guy she worked with, who’s black.” He sighed then, just like that older brother did in Capturing the Friedmans when the filmmakers asked an innocent question about his dad, and he told me that his father was sent up for molestation: he used to have sleepovers for the neighborhood kids, then he’d give them all (including S. and his two sisters) milkshakes dosed with roofies. The old man didn’t molest his own kids, but nevertheless when he got out (he only did seven years, I didn’t think to ask why such a short stretch) S. made a point of looking him up and telling him to stay far away from him and his sisters. That was 10 years ago and S. hasn’t seen him since.
Remarkable as all this was for a breaktime smoke, it was even more impressive because of the poised way S. told the story: it was so obviously the product of a man who’s worked his way past a world of shame. As he put it, “I used to tell people he was a bank robber because I was afraid that shit would rub off on me…” I just wish I had had it half as together when I was his age.