Do Intentions Matter?

Many times, what someone says that sounds offensive is just something that was said without being fully thought out. During the height of the OJ trial when he was on trial for killing his ex-wife and her friend. I was talking with my neighbor and somehow the subject came up. He asked me if I had been watching the trial and what I thought about it. I said, “I told him that I didn’t really watch the news.” And I didn’t but at that time you couldn’t really avoid hearing about the trial. I said, “It’s up to the jury, but he seems guilty.”

He looked at me for a second and took a posture like an older brother looking out for me. He said, “Personally, I think OJ did it, but you can’t say that because you are white.”

I said, “Huh? What does being white have to do with my opinion?”

He said, “No, you are right. I’m sorry. I was doing the same thing to you. You can have an opinion.”

I wasn’t the one that brought it up, but I also didn’t consider what he might have been hearing at work before I gave him my noncommittal answer. And he didn’t consider what it meant to tell someone that they couldn’t think about something because they are a particular skin color. This was just a polite neighborly conversation and neither of us were angry and neither of us were wrong and neither of us were bigoted. We just had a simple communication error that didn’t take much to fix. Thank god, this conversation happened face to face and not on Facebook.

Introduction, Blasphemy, and Youth Group

My name is Richard Braxton, and people always ask: do you go by Rich, Richey, or Dick. I tell them that I go by Richard, but I will answer to anything if I know that they are talking to me. I will even answer to “hey fuck face” if you say it politely. And I have been given many nicknames over the years like the obligatory “Big Rich,” “Big Man,” and “Big B” or their inverse like “Tiny.” When it meant something I was called Tony. But for one day, I went by “Mike.”

 

Being a young dick head, anytime I had to sign in for anything, I would sign my name as “Mike Hunt.” I was young enough to think that it was clever, but old enough to know that everyone had heard that one thousands of times before. But I had gone with a group of friends to their church youth group and the pastor expected us to sign in. Abought half an hour into the meeting, the pastor wanted to split us up into teams to play some sort of game, and by chance, he picked up the sign in sheet and began to assign teams by first name instead of just dividing the room in half.

 

I had been the last person to sign the sheet and I waited as people were called out by their first name until the pastor read out the name “Mike.” I sat back and watched my friends look around asking, “Who the hell is Mike?” And then it happened, the pastor repeated, “Mike, Mike Hunt.” I sat back quietly sinking into the leather armchair waiting for people to catch the joke then in exasperation the pastor said. “Where’s Mike Hunt?” And hilarity ensued. Eventually, someone realized that mine was the only name that was not called, and for the rest of the day my name was Mike.

April Poem 11: NaPoWriMo: Imposter Syndrome

He’s not a poet
And didn’t know it

What is it that made me think I could do this for a living? A Bachelor’s degree in English and one small victory just after college. An independent internet press picked up two of my poems. Wouldn’t you know it? It folded before they were published. My one accomplishment in letters, and there is nothing to show for it.

And they weren’t even my real work. I had this idea that I was going to add something to the poetic discourse. I had something new. That is why no publisher would touch it. It was too smart. Too cutting edge. I had rediscovered one of the Dadaist composition techniques. The fold-in may have had its heyday nearly a century ago, but I was seeing it with fresh eyes. Eyes that had seen the new millennium. Eyes that had seen the rise of the internet. Of social media. Of Twitter.

I had something that the Dadaists of the 1920s didn’t. I had my own writings to fold together. The essays, fictions, and poems from my college days. Nobody else had my writings. Nobody else had my ideas. I could take my mass of folded-in gibberish and find the important parts bring them together into poetry. It would be beautiful. People would love it. They would emulate me. I would win awards. I would sell poetry.

And here I am just another hack pumping out my ravings into the ether. What a sham! What a scam! What a dickhead!

2010 Personal Narrative Essay: Anchors Aweigh

The two days after Christmas had been consumed with busywork and travel. The first day, I filled out paperwork at the Los Angeles, Military Entrance Processing Station. The next day, I flew from Los Angeles, California to Chicago, Illinois. Although I was stressed and tired, I was happy to be on my own for the first time. Then I arrived at the Naval Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois. It was December 27, 1995 at 11:00 pm, and the brainwashing had begun.

Luggage in hand, the other new arrivals and I were filed into a small room with a row of desks and a chalkboard on the wall, and we waited. Periodically a man in a sharply creased, blue military uniform popped his head into the room and yelled for us to stay awake and shut up. After about an hour and a half, another man, dressed in a khaki uniform and a funny hat, came into the room with an enormous stack of paperwork and pens. He stated his name and rank, passed out large stacks of paperwork and a pen to each of us, and ordered us to sign each sheet. “You will complete this task before you can go to sleep,” he bellowed.

Upon completion of the paperwork, we were herded through labyrinths of halls and rooms. Each room had its own function; yet, all were designed to humiliate and degrade. We reached room one; we were given a total of two minutes for thirty of us to call home. However, there were only six payphones. We reached room two; our luggage and the clothes we were wearing were packed up and sent back to our families, and we stood in the middle of the room naked. Then, two clerks passed out our new clothes as we stood there embarrassed and cold, and we were ordered to get dressed. We reached room three; a barber, angry and tired, butchered our hair. He used quick strokes with dull clippers and ripped out more hair than he cut. We reached room four; it was a cavernous room with multiple stations set up to poke and prod. I received a series of injections culminating in a shot of penicillin in my left buttock that left me limping for days. Finally, we were sent outside.

In the dark and cold of a Chicago winter night we walked single file through the snow; we wore only sweat suits and jogging shoes. The horizon began to lighten as we arrived at our new barracks to sleep. First thing in the morning, I awakened to the sound of a grown man yelling obscenities and beating on a trashcan lid. The sun was just peeking into the sky. I felt like I had slept only three or four minutes and probably had.

For the next two months, I marched. I marched until my feet were blistered. I marched until the blisters on my feet popped. I marched until the popped blisters on my feet began to bleed. I marched until the popped and bleeding blisters on my feet began to ooze a stinking, green puss that glued my socks to my feet. I marched until the wounds on my feet healed, and the throbbing dimmed into a total lack of feeling.

I woke up when I was told. I ate when I was told. I exercised when I was told, and I did not stop until I was told. I no longer cared why I was told to do something; the only thing that mattered was that precise moment, and when that moment was over I did not think of it again. I was a cocked and loaded weapon; if a superior pulled my trigger, I would do as I was ordered without thought and without conscience. It took me a lot of time and distance from boot camp to fully deprogram myself of the military’s mind control, but I learned a valuable lesson. Self-control and individual thought is an illusion; therefore, to make sure I am dictating my own actions and not having them dictated for me, I question every action before I take it.

2012 Personal Narrative Essay: Road Rage

I anticipated an excruciating day of nausea and indigestion; I thought aloud, “That was a terrible breakfast.” My halfhearted words spoken straight at the windshield could have easily been ignored, but the bulbous man in the driver’s seat had a general need to contradict everything I said.

“I thought those hotdogs were delicious,” he replied. It was mid-morning, the second day of an interminably long trip down a Nevada back-road.  We were stopped at the lone gas station of a miniscule town wedged between an improbable lake and a mountain that shot straight up from the rock-strewn white line that signaled the westward shoulder of a meandering two lane highway.

The man to my left claimed to be Mexican, but his German name, his corpse-flesh whiteness, and his lilywhite accent did not agree. His receding hairline, swooping eyebrows, beak nose, and imperceptible neck made him look like an owl; his eyes bulged as he stared at me with mounting disgust. I despised this man nearly as much as he despised me, and I tried to remember why I was there.

I was waiting for my ride in a parking lot behind the Wal-Mart. I was excited to see the big blue truck lurching in my direction; it wheezed to a stop. Robert Gore had given me his name over the phone, and now he was pushing open the passenger door.  Stooped in the doorway, he inhaled deeply and nearly doubled his considerable girth. He grabbed my bags. “Get on board;” he said in a jovial manor, “We’ve got to make time.” His frame deflated as the gale-force words caused his lips to flap violently.

The gradual curve of the truck started at the front bumper ending in a senseless peak where the dusty white trailer began. The aerodynamic styling was obviously not functional. The interior was perfumed with the bittersweet mix of diesel fumes and human armpits. The seats were a mottled blue with large rings of amber from sweat that leached off countless rear ends. The armrests were streaked with a gloss of black grime where the oils from hundreds of bare forearms were laid to rest, but I barely noticed. My mind enthusiastically recounted the tales my cousin had woven; they were tales of excitement and adventure concerning his wanderings about our nation’s highways. My mind was brimming with possibility for adventure of my own.

Hours later, the sun drooped near the horizon, and we pulled over for the night. The truck stop was sparsely filled, and we easily backed into a spot away from the other trucks. As night turned black, the lot filled up, and I watched a lone truck weave tiredly through the lanes; it hoped to find an open spot that was not there on the three previous times around. As I watched, I wondered why Robert had been in such a hurry to leave only to sit around pointlessly at a truck stop. Later, I climbed up to the top bunk, a toddler bed but half as wide. I laid in the fetal position my head smashed against one wall and my feet imbedded into the other. The husky dwarf, Robert was lost in the expanse of a larger bed below. It was going to be tough, but I only had to sleep in this bed for one month; then, I would be out on my own.

My arm hung off one side of the bed and my leg dangled from the other when I jolted awake in the middle of the night.  My head was buzzing with confusion and alarm. I had heard a loud noise. Dismissively, I assumed it must have been the refrigerated trailer next to us; it must have started up automatically and forced my heart out through my throat. When the hum of the reefer started to sing its lullaby, I became aware of my mistake. My eyes began to water, and my nose stung; my taste buds withered from essence of decomposing walrus, and my lungs strangled. I needed air. As I opened the tiny vent, two more rounds burst forth from the rump-cannon on the lower bunk. I pressed my face against the vent and created a hermetical seal around my mouth and nose. The rancid barnyard smell, from the bull hauler two trucks away, was sweet ambrosia compared to the nerve agent released in the trapped air. Eventually, my nostrils died and sleep resumed.

Sunlight Streaked in through the vent hole as I awoke. Robert inhaled from one end and exhaled from the other, and I knew without having to look that he would not regain consciousness soon. Therefore, I trekked across the long expanse of urine-stained blacktop to the showers where I completed my morning routine. As I was walking back to the truck, I passed Robert with sleep in his eyes. He just woke up and was headed for the showers. Upon his return, I informed him of my dreadful night of flatulent terror. He was indignant. “I do not fart in my sleep,” he exclaimed; “I have never farted in my sleep.”

Before leaving the truck stop, Robert bought three of the largest bags of sunflower seeds I had ever seen. By midmorning, He had consumed half of his first bag and showed no signs of stopping. He tilted his head back and poured the seeds directly from the bag into his mouth. His cheeks bulged and his jaw ground the seeds from side to side like a cow. He chewed shell and all. The speed and efficiently with which he did this made my household garbage disposal hang its head in shame. He sucked out the juices; then, he expelled the fibrous paste into an oversized soda cup to ferment.

Three days and ten pounds of sunflower seeds later, I asked intentionally trying to anger him, “Aren’t you worried that all that salt is going to give you a heart attack?”

“How dare you,” black and brown spittle paste exploded from his mouth. “My health is my own problem.” A mixture of new and chewed sunflower seeds fell against the floorboards.

The morning dawned; we were headed down a lonely Nevada back road toward a lakeside town, and we wanted breakfast. A few hours later, we pulled into a dirt lot next to a quaint old gas station. The food inside was limited to pickled pigs feet in a filthy communal tub and shriveled, jalapeno-spiced hotdogs that rolled back and forth on a grease stained griddle.

I had no idea that I would recount these stories with great fondness. I found out the hard way: adventure is the bad, the strange, and the silly parts of life that can only be appreciated in hind sight. Great stories are ten parts misery and one part revisionist history. I no longer go in search of adventure; I can’t handle the aggravation.