Monday Madness (January 14, 2008)

Hola Everybody,
Sheeesh, the networks get so horny to sell commercials that any potential hurricane, Nor’easter, or other natural disaster gets 24-hour coverage. The really funny shit is when it’s a dud, like this one. There’s no snow on the ground here! LOL! My sister practically built an Ark! LOL!

* * *

Shame

“We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinion, of our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins.”
— George Bernard Shaw

The whole fifth grade class was laughing at him. Including me.

His father stumbled into the middle of a spelling test and began arguing with our teacher. His clothes were ragged and he was unkempt. He was there to make a case for his son, Kevin, who sat next to me. Kevin and I were the smartest kids in the class, but Kevin was painfully shy and no one really liked him to begin with, so now everybody, including me, was laughing at him because his father was a junkie and he showed up in the middle of a spelling test totally out of his mind. He was nodding out even as he argued his son’s case.

I don’t remember all the details, but I remember the shame. I remember the shame on Kevin’s face, the humiliation in the knowledge that now everyone knew his deadly secret – that his father was a junkie. I remember my own shame too, because I felt hypocritical.

It’s so easy to join the mob, so easy to feel a part of the crowd at the expense of someone else. The mob mentality has no mercy.

The fact was that I knew too well that shame. My own father was a junkie, and I remember when all my friends one day encircled me and chanted, “Your father’s a junkie, your father’s a junkie,” and I felt so ashamed, so humiliated, and so angry. Most of all, I couldn’t resolve the anger and shame I felt about my father because I adored him so and all those feelings– I didn’t know how to process al that. I just stood there in the middle of that circle and cried tears of anger until I lashed out at the first one fool enough to get close to me and I punched him in the nose. And that’s when the mob turned on me and I went home with a split lip and torn clothes.

I hated him – my father – for making me go through that, but I adored my father. He was so smart. I used to love to sit on his lap and put my ear to his chest and listen to the soft rumble of his voice as he taught me something or spoke. My father was like a God to me. And now I hated him and I hated myself for that.

I just didn’t know how to handle all that. So I guess somewhere, somehow, I internalized all that and became ashamed of myself for everything: for my father and for my feelings.

My father was one of the greatest storytellers and on some days, he would gather all the kids on the block and tell us stories. I guess it was a testament to his storytelling gift that he would keep us transfixed on that stoop on that Lower East Side block and you could hear a pin drop. I was raised in a neighborhood where junkies were a common part of the urban landscape. As children we would place bets on how far a junkie would nod. Some junkies would nod so far, bent over by the waist that you would swear they would tip over and fall. But they never did.

My father would nod when he told my friends stories. At first, we would sit there for what would seem minutes because invariably there was a punch line, a moral, or a resolution to the story. At first, my friends wouldn’t say anything, but then my father’s nodding got worse and one day while arguing over a game or a rule, as boys are won’t to do, it came out: the outspoken truth that my father was a junkie. It was a hard lesson to be learned at such a tender age.

Yet I sat there and laughed at Kevin just like everyone else did and even in the fifth grade, I knew it was wrong. I knew that I was being a phony because I didn’t want to feel that shame anymore, I wanted to be like the others, so I joined in on the cruelty. I wanted to reach out to Kevin, but he refused, sensing something worse: that I pitied him. Eventually, I told Kevin my secret and while we never became close friends, in the fifth grade we stuck it out together. I did so even though even talking to Kevin made me an outsider, but that was OK, because I think it was at that time I decided I would always be an outsider. I reasoned that no one could really know me if I was an outsider, so fuck them.

Shame is a prison. I don’t know for sure, if this was all the beginning, or the setting of the table for my own life, but I certainly know that our secrets kill us, as surely as cigarettes or drugs. Secrets kill because embedded in our secrets is our shame.

If you notice, I have a pretty large friends’ list. I’m not that particular about who asks to join this madness, but I am particular about making someone – even a stranger – feel excluded because I know that feeling intimately. It has haunted me for most of my life. Not many people can successfully accuse me of not having a sense of humor, but I abhor humor at the expense of another.

Even now, sometimes it’s easy for me to join in with the mob and feast on another’s soul so that I could feel better about myself. It’s the easiest thing – because it trips that “You belong” button. I’ve done it here on 360 and felt stupid after when the object of ridicule was kind to me.

But really: how many of us are laughing or forming cliques because we too have secrets? How many of us can say we’re not ashamed at some level?

Love,

Eddie

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