Tag Archives: race

Self-Portrait in the Form of Comments by White Supremacists on Me and My Work

Photograph by Jose Padua
The colossal ego of this “Jose Padua” cockroach is astounding.
He could go to some third world country, where he could walk
around and look like an unkempt, brooding asshole and no one
would pay any attention to him. A whiny attention whore. His
hurt feelings, his discomfort belies his own racism. The problem
I am afraid is that this butt-hurt breeder, who managed to take
a dump in the genetic punch bowl by impregnating some poor
delusional white woman with his discount-human sperm, knows
that he has the entire system behind him. He knows that he can
count on the system to publish his butt-hurt anti-white ramblings.
Stay out of my country, Jose Padua. Nobody owes you anything.
His wife’s a race traitor and he’s a wannabe white who’s pissy
because he knows he’ll never be accepted by whites. This seething,
jealous, angry anti-white non-white, Jose Padua. Fuck this garbage
and his sense of self-entitlement. What’s the matter, Jose? Weren’t
your own people good enough for you? I no longer smile at illegals.
I look them in the eye, and I’m not smiling—oh, they hate that. Though
my gut tells me you are correct. I doubt “Jose Padua” exists at all.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Art of Moving or Alternate Interpretations of an Old Blues Song

Margarita S. Padua
I’m not sure who took this picture of my mother, though it was probably my father. He was, for a time, interested in photography, especially when he first arrived here in the states. It was taken in the early 1950s in Kalorama Park on Columbia Road in DC.

For a while, up until my older brother Tony was around one year old, they lived close to this park at a building on 18th Street and Kalorama Road. But one day, as my mother explained to Tony years later, one of their neighbors knocked on their door.

“The coloreds are moving in,” he told my Mom. “You have to move.”

My Mom didn’t know what that meant. Apparently this white neighbor of theirs thought Filipinos like us were all right, but didn’t think the same about people he thought of as “colored.”

Of course there were places where we weren’t welcome either, like this place on the Chesapeake Bay called Mayo Beach. In the late 50s or so, when I was a toddler, it was being advertised on TV and radio as being the fun new beach to go to in the DC area. When we got there, though, the guy at the gate took one look at us, shook his head, and said, “No Flips!” Then he made us turn right around.

Tony and I were crying—we just wanted to go to the beach, but they weren’t letting us in. As for my Mom and Dad, all they knew was that the white people made the rules—which was why they left that apartment on 18th and Kalorama.

As my mother explained to Tony, “And the white man said we have to move. So we moved!”

Back then, whether or not you agreed with the white man, you didn’t question him, because that meant trouble and my family didn’t want trouble with anyone. We ended up at another apartment a few blocks away. And, we found another beach to go to on the Chesapeake Bay.

More than half a century later, here in my small town, I keep moving. At a steady pace—not too fast, not too slow—my arms by my sides. And trying, as much as I can, to stay safe, while breaking as many rules as I can along the way

-Jose Padua

On the Persistence of Color as a Way of Seeing the World

JPHD_1996_DC_CropFour
Less than fifty years ago it would have been illegal
for me to marry the woman I’m married to
in the state where I now live.
I didn’t know this until
I was an adult,
until I was old enough to start a family,
but young enough to understand
like a child remembering last winter’s stinging cold
during the slow burn of summer
that it was not
all that long ago.
Anyone who questions
the stubbornness
of my memory knows nothing
about the force of the wind
lifting dead leaves
in the last days of autumn,
nor understands the slow passage
of time when you’re standing
on the edge of town
in the late evening light
seeing the world
in vivid, living color.

-Jose Padua

The photograph of Jose Padua and Heather Davis was taken in 1996.

Searching for the Young Soul Rebels

Photograph by Jose Padua
After writing an essay in my freshman English lit class
in which I discussed James Joyce’s Ulysses as the next
logical step for narrative after Ford Maddox Ford’s
The Good Soldier, my professor, who was also the head
of the English department, had me speak to him
after class not to congratulate me on an interesting
premise or encourage me regarding a bold though perhaps
failed attempt to create a coherent picture of the development
of the English novel, but rather to accuse me of plagiarism.
It wasn’t that he’d heard this idea before
from some upperclassman or had read about it
in some renowned scholar’s critical appraisal of Joyce
but because he thought it was unlikely that
a freshman like me would have already read
Ulysses. I read it on my own in high school,
I explained, and the idea to compare Ford Maddox Ford
to Joyce was mine, I pleaded, and what, I asked
was so unusual about a freshman having read books
on his own? I had to summarize Ulysses on the spot,
explain the parallels to the Odyssey, define interior monologue,
stream-of-consciousness, and the glory of Molly Bloom’s
soliloquy before he finally showed he believed
this idea, whether brilliant or half-baked or half-assed,
was mine with a reluctant, smirking curl of his lower lip.
And I walked away, having learned that I had no future
with the academy, that I’d never be sheltered by the ivied
halls of learning, and that maybe I’d better just start
watching my back, refining my steps, and reading between the lines
before speaking to anyone in charge.

-Jose Padua

This poem first appeared in Vox Populi. Photograph by Jose Padua

A Brief Meditation on the Days as They Rise

Photograph by Jose Padua
The other night my wife and I were talking about the murder of Walter Scott when our eleven year old daughter asked, “Why?” And she looked at my wife and me. She looked for what felt like a long time. Exactly why would a policeman shoot an unarmed man—Walter Scott—in the back eight times? She knows about what happened to Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and so many others. She knows that these things happen over and over and that they have happened countless times when there was no one around to tell anyone.

As for what exactly happened, we tell her the truth. I shudder to think of the parents out there who, when their children ask them, will say that the policeman thought he was in danger. That it was an accident. Or that the person who was shot had used drugs, or had stolen something. Anything to justify the murder of the innocent. And anything to help perpetuate the continued privilege of whiteness. Which isn’t to say that when Michael Slager shot Walter Scott he didn’t feel danger of some sort. It’s just that it wasn’t physical danger. Because when he shot Walter Scott in the back, when he shot a man who posed no physical threat, what was in danger and what he was trying to protect was the order that was in his head. An order in which his own life mattered, but that of the man running away from him didn’t.

At this young age, our daughter is learning about injustice and inequality. There are some children who have to learn about these things at an even younger age, and about how the cloak of privilege provides protection for others, but not for them. Then there are those who will never learn, whose privilege will allow them to lead lives spent in pursuit of simple entertainments, and who will never learn to ask a question more complex than, “What’s in it for me?” This, our daughter has learned, is not the first question to ask.

And when she asks “Why?” it’s not simply the asking of a question. What she’s saying is, “I can’t believe this is happening” as well as “We can’t let this continue to happen.” And as for the look in her eyes, it seems that she’s asking, “What do we do now?” It’s a question she’s asked for years now, as in this photograph taken five years ago shortly before her brother was born. All of which is saying that it’s a question to ask in times of joy as well as in times of sorrow. All of which is saying that every day, one way or another, we must try to rise.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Why Drunken Poets Need to Procreate

If it were somehow obligatory that I sum up my existence with a single sentence—or perhaps with just a phrase and a simple image—I’d be at a loss. I would, in fact, feel quite helpless, as if I were trapped in some horrible, unending game. Either that or incredibly annoyed and angry. I remember one time when, through a job I had, I was given the opportunity to take the Myers-Briggs psychometric questionnaire to determine exactly which of sixteen personality types I had. I, without a second thought, opted out of that opportunity. In other words, my attitude toward the whole undertaking was, Myers-Briggs? Fuck that shit.

I suppose that one can do worse than the Myers-Briggs test, but how people can voluntarily reduce themselves to simple slogans is beyond me, which is why I refuse to wear a tee-shirt that has any kind of message on it, even if it’s something I basically agree with. But one thing even worse than that—something I’d never seen much of before we’d moved to Front Royal—was the use of the rear windshield of one’s car or truck as a means of conveying some cheap tee shirt sized message. Unlike the bumper of a car, the rear windshield, like one’s chest, is a much more prominent place for a message. Until Front Royal, the only thing I’d seen on a back window with any frequency were decals indicating a driver’s alumni status or allegiance with a particular university or high school. But in Front Royal I started seeing decals of a lot of other things, one of which is a drawing of a boy peeing. At the receiving end of the pronounced arc of the boy’s urine is whatever the car’s owner wants you to know he hates. If the decal is on the back of a Ford pickup truck, you’ll find the word “Chevy” or “Toyota” at the end of the rainbow of piss. Some drivers, of course, want to express something more than brand loyalty, in which case you’ll see words like “Liberals” or “Bin Laden.”

It was a while before I discovered that the boy in the decals is an appropriated image of “Calvin” from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip (aside from the work of people like Robert Crumb, Daniel Clowes, and the late Harvey Pekar, I don’t know much about comics). So far, I’ve yet to see the peeing Calvin used to express any progressive ideas, which certainly doesn’t mean that I’m the only progressive “type” who thinks in these piss-on-you terms. It’s just that if you’re being tailgated by some asshole driving a massive pickup truck with a confederate flag painted on the roof of the cab and a gun rack behind him, you don’t want to have a decal of the peeing Calvin on your rear windshield and the letters “NRA” at the receiving end of his piss stream.

But what I see even more often than the peeing Calvin is something a little different—the rear windshield memorial. The message always begins “In Loving Memory of…” followed by the loved one’s name: “Bob S____,” “Judy R____,” “Jimmy F___.” Accompanying the text is usually an image indicating something that was a passion of the deceased: a baseball, a fishing rod, a deer, a motorcycle—though I imagine that a motorcycle could also indicate that a particular person died in a motorcycle accident. Other times, the text is just accompanied by a simple heart shape.

Time and again these displays will catch my eye when I’m waiting at a light here. And, upon reading these mobile epitaphs, I start to wonder what the whole story was. But then they go, the drivers of these vehicles, stepping on the gas, taking the memory of their deceased loved ones further down the road—to the supermarket, up the mountain, to work, toward their favorite vacation spots.

Granted, the rear windshield decal is aiming at the sort of thing I do when I write a poem, a story, an essay, but because what I do is displayed on a page or computer monitor, I have room to present some very important details—and present an actual argument and some background. And, of course, I can write for the purpose of keeping someone’s memory alive, or to create my own legacy. Although the means to create some lasting record of my life and my loved ones lives was not what made me become a writer, that is one of the benefits. Another benefit is that—regardless of your belief or lack thereof in some sort of afterlife or anything of that nature—it’s a means of achieving some sort of immortality in that part of you remains in the world so that your presence here continues. That’s also one reason why some people are driven to have children—that through one’s offspring one’s presence in the world continues.

Somehow, even during my drinking days, people knew that my long-term plans included having children. I don’t know how they knew—I doubt that anyone could have come to that conclusion by considering the way I was living at the time, drinking most days from happy hour until two in the morning or later, then writing until an hour or two past dawn—and I don’t remember ever specifically saying that I wanted to have kids. Though of course it may have slipped during some drunken conversation at five in the morning, on the way back to my apartment after hanging out as some bar well after last call—at the end of one of those nights when I never did get around to writing—with me saying something like, “Christ, I can hardly walk.” And my friend advising, “Maybe you better just get a cab.” And me answering with, “Yeah, maybe I better. Because, you know, I’d like to have kids one day.”

It could have happened that way. Even now that I hardly drink, I am a firm believer that with heavy drinking, anything is possible. Of course what’s possible aren’t always good things, but when I was a drinker I was never one of those the-glass-is-half-empty kinds of drinkers—for me, my thirst was a positive thing—and it was usually during a good drinking session that I’d dream my version of the American Dream, a big part of which was procreating and foisting my brilliant, wise-ass children on an unsuspecting public.

Anyone whom I was really close to understood this—whether or not they agreed with the idea of me (or sometimes anyone) having children—and knew that these crazy days in New York were, for me, just a way to make the time until then pass more quickly. Even when I was sitting in one or another smoke-filled barroom, drinking beer after beer and bourbon after bourbon, or doing one drunken poetry reading after another, with every sip I took between drags from a cigarette I was trying to walk away from that scene. And find someone who wanted to walk away from it with me. Because I have always been, like many a hardened cynic—for better or for worse—a fucking romantic.

Being a romantic, those loud voices out on the street below me at seven or eight in the morning when I’d finally be getting to sleep, were never some horrible noise. They were atmosphere, a manifestation of the authenticity of the whole experience. Sometimes there were surprises, like once when I thought I’d heard an angry mob approaching, it was just two guys talking loudly—probably while coked up—about some boxing match. The rest of the time it was just the people leaving Save the Robots, the after hours club that was just down the block, or someone shouting from the street (my apartment building had no buzzer) to the couple who lived in the apartment below me: “Shamir? Shamir! SHAMIR! LINDA? SHAAAMIIIIIIIIR!”

In the apartment next to mine was Anna, a woman in her fifties who lived in a tiny apartment the size of mine with, at various times, two or three or four of her children and grandchildren. She complained regularly about all the “junkie people” in the building and wished more of her neighbors were like me, because the worst I would do would be to have the stereo on too loud once in a while—no selling drugs, no shooting up in the hallway, no peeing in the foyer (well, anyway I don’t remember having ever peed in the foyer).

I didn’t have many visitors. Usually I would go my friends’ apartments, because mine was pretty small. Plus, most of the time, when you wanted to hang out, you didn’t do it at someone’s home—you went somewhere. Home was usually just a place for sleep and other private activities. For anything else there was the city, New York, where whatever you were and whatever you wanted, there was a place for you—depending on what you could afford, with some pastimes, of course, being more expensive than others.

My landlord, Bob, probably thought I was some kind of hermit. Being out in the world and being with people was, somehow, something he was concerned with—or at any rate he knew that in finding prospective tenants, it was good to be able to tell them all the great things that were practically around the corner. So, when I first met him to look at the apartment, he went on about all the nightclubs, bars, or performance spaces that were nearby.

“You got The World, you got your Save the Robots, you got The Gas Station…” His list, which he presented between drags of his cigarette, went on and on. “And then just up the road you got your King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, your Downtown Beirut, your Dan’s…” Bob, of course, wasn’t the sort of person you’d see in any of these hip (and sometimes annoyingly hip) places. He even had a recommendation on where to go for that coming back home at eight in the morning from partying breakfast. “You need your breakfast, you got Lily’s! You can get your eggs, your sausage, your hash browns, your toast…”

One time, he was standing outside the flower shop he ran on the ground floor of his building, when he saw my friend Raquel, who had come by to drop off a book for me. After finding out she was there to see me in apartment 4A, he let her in the building. Later, when I saw him he said, “Hey, I see you had a visitor.” He paused for a moment, as if he were waiting for me to start with some details “That’s good,” he proclaimed. “You know, companionship.” He seemed surprised and even happy that I had a visitor—or maybe he was just pleased that it wasn’t someone entering his building for some sort of drug deal. Nevertheless, I don’t imagine that he was one of the people in New York who had figured out that having children was in my future.

New York isn’t everyone’s idea of the ideal place to raise your kids, but for me it was exactly that. Not too many of my friends in New York had kids, but for those who did, living in New York seemed to suit them just fine. One of my friends even regularly brought his infant daughter with him to readings and even to some of the gatherings we had at various dive bars.

Although I didn’t picture myself bringing my infant child to dive bars, New York was definitely where I imagined I’d be raising my kids when the time came for me to start a family. Trying to put an infant to bed while outside someone starts yelling, “Shamir? Shamir? SHAMIR? LINDA? SHAMIIIIIRRRR?” did not, to me, seem like a problem. But, after a few years, with me having gone broke and my mother being ill back in DC, staying in New York didn’t seem possible anymore. The day before I moved my things out of my apartment in New York, with help with my friend Eddie Dean who’d come up from DC, I told Bob that I was leaving. I owed him a couple of months rent, but said he could keep my security deposit—and that was all fine with him. He even said that if I ever came back to New York to come back to see if he had any apartments available again.

I never did make it back. And on my last night as a New York City resident, I got drunk with Eddie at a going-away party at my friend Michael Randall’s apartment. The next day, hung-over, I rode shot-gun in a rented U-Haul truck as Eddie, squinting one eye shut because he’d lost a contact lens, drove us back to DC. After being in New York for several years and never driving there I felt a little rusty, and even though he was using just one eye to guide us out of Manhattan, I thought it would be safer if Eddie drove. Surprisingly enough, we made it home without any problems.

About a year later, in DC, Eddie’s daughter was born. I, however, wasn’t even close to reaching that point in my own life. I was still in DC—and I still thought that New York was where I’d be starting my own family with either someone I already knew there or with someone I’d meet when I returned. I wouldn’t be quite the same person I was when I left, of course—after all, my head wasn’t totally in the clouds when it came to having children—which meant that at some point, I would, once again, need a way to make some real money. In other words, I would need a gig that gave me a regular income—what was often referred to disparagingly in the circles I now frequented as a straight job.

Again, I never did make it back to New York. And I repeat that because it was even hard for me to believe. Because although I liked DC, it nevertheless seemed—especially after my New York years—like a small town to me. I had every intention of moving back to New York once I could afford it—and the strange thing was that pretty soon after going back to DC, I actually came upon the means to go back to New York.

It wasn’t because I got that decent job and saved a lot of money by living at home—Christ, this ain’t no Horatio Alger kind of crap going on here—it was because I didn’t get a job. In saying that I didn’t get a job, I’m not trying to make the case that sitting on one’s ass will get you a butt load of cash. It won’t—well, not all the time. Because I actually did try to get a job in DC. After being in New York and working for a direct mail marketing firm and temping for that financial goon, Goldman Sachs, I had some recent experience in being something other than a drunken poet. Add to that my ten years at the Congressional Reference and Economics divisions of the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress, and one might actually say that I had a decent resume to present to the sober world that existed outside of poetry and writing. Which was why a number of places called me in for interviews soon after I’d sent them my resume.

The first interview I had was one of those instances when you take one look at someone and know immediately that that person does not want to deal with you for some reason. And right off the bat, the plump middle-aged man interviewing me tried to discourage me about the job. “You know, you’ll only get paid monthly,” he said practically before I’d even taken a seat on the chair in front of his desk. “And a lot of times there will cases when you’ll be the only one here and you’ll just have to stay as long as it takes to get it done.”

I also tried getting a job again at the Library of Congress. One man I had an interview with there seemed to be deliberately trying to confuse me during the interview by asking questions as rapidly as an auctioneer. “We have a complicatedcuttingedgesystem here that requires alotoffocus do you thinkthatyoucanperformwell underthatkindofpressure?”

“I’m very good with detailsandcomplextasks,” I said. “I enjoy a fastpacedworkenvironment and I thrivelikeamotherfuckerunderpressure, why pressureactuallykeepsmybloodpressure in check. I think that after this interview I’m goingtogotolunchandorderabigfuckingsteak.”

Yeah, there didn’t seem to be much point in giving real answers to his questions—I could tell by his attitude that there was no way he was going to hire me—and I imagined that he called me in just so he could say he had interviewed all the qualified candidates. And that, after he’d interviewed me, I didn’t seem like quite the right fit for the job.

Not getting these jobs, though, was, in an indirect way, what gave me the means to go back to New York. And the specific thing that gave me the means was when a woman at a job I interviewed for refused to consider me for the position because I wasn’t white. She, Ms. Red, would have gotten away with it if one of her coworkers, Ms. Blue, who was in on the hiring process, hadn’t blown the whistle on her. Ms. Red, Ms. Blue explained later, had been summarily tossing aside resumes with foreign sounding names, names that sounded Jewish, names that she couldn’t pronounce. That I got called in for an interview at all was only because Ms. Blue was able to retrieve my resume and declare that, since my resume demonstrated that I was highly qualified for the job, I should be brought in to the office to discuss the position.

I suppose I could sum up my feelings about Ms. Red’s view of me—and of the world—with a decal that would fit on the back of a windshield. But a simple decal doesn’t tell much of a story. Besides, there are too many details, too many subtle, nuanced shades of meaning that need to be presented—precisely the sorts of things people like her refuse to acknowledge. I imagine that, fifty or so years ago, if she or someone else like her were hiring for a job, and my father or mother were applying for it, that they wouldn’t have gotten it either.

After Ms. Blue blew the whistle, I sued Ms. Red’s organization and settled out of court. The amount of money I got would have easily me set up again with an apartment in New York’s East Village, close to King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, the Horseshoe Bar, the International Bar; across the street from Leshko’s diner where for breakfast I could order my pierogis, my toast, my coffee; around the corner from St. Mark’s Bookstore where I could buy my Ted Berrigan, my Isabelle Eberhardt, my Donald Goines (the authors I was obsessed with at the time). I could have done that, but by then I’d met Heather, who, when I met her, helped me put New York behind me. And though I still think and write about it, New York was firmly established as part of my past.

That the future, for Heather, Maggie and me, became Front Royal is something I could never have imagined, no matter how many bourbons I downed. And, in keeping with the sober sort of planning I never would have done during my New York years, parenthood waited until Heather and I felt sure that we had the means to provide for a child. Until I finally got that straight job—the straight job where I opted out of the Myers-Briggs test. The straight job where I was actually working for a program that was doing some good in the world.

Pretty soon after I started working there, Heather got pregnant. It had been nearly ten years since my mother had died, so when we started to think about names for the baby (which we knew would be a girl), it didn’t take long before we found our way to my mother’s name, Margarita, and the nickname our daughter goes by, Maggie. My mother, of course, would have been proud. And though she didn’t live long enough to see her first grandchild, she lives on—through those sounds we make, that combination of breath and tongue and teeth and lips and motion that we call a name. So that every time we call our daughter by name, it’s also an act of remembrance. Because, for me, this is how someone and some thing can be made to live forever—through words. And though words can keep the good things alive, they can also be used to keep the bad things alive. But I’m trying as much as I can, everyday—with every word I write—to reveal the bad things that live on this way as gibberish.

We keep meaning to take Maggie on a trip to New York City. To show her that part of my past. She understands that I was a little bit crazier in those days (and that there are many ways in which I am still crazy). But despite all the apparent sloppiness of action and digression of thought I demonstrated back then, I never—during my days as an indefatigable drinker—fell completely into incoherence. There was always a direction, no matter how hidden it may have seemed, and no matter how round about my way of getting there, there was always a point.

But one thing that worries me about finally going back to visit is that I wonder how shocked I’ll be to see how much New York has changed to keep the rich assholes happy. I’m not talking about 9/11 and how the World Trade Center is now gone, because those are the changes everyone—even the goons who hate New York—already know about. I’m talking about things like my old neighborhood. I recently saw a listing for an apartment, in my old building on Avenue B, that was renting for nearly $3,000 a month. I mean, are you fucking kidding me? It’s not, obviously, the same neighborhood I once lived in.

Of course, the downtown New York I once lived in doesn’t really exist anymore, because I lived there in those days right before everything became so self-conscious, before so many kids were chained to their X-Boxes and led to believe that Guitar Hero had anything to do with making music; before corporations perfected the quantification of every aspect of culture, transforming everything that was once fully human to product, and reducing life itself to that horrible simulation that goes by the deceptively pleasant term, “lifestyle.”

Lifestyle is bullshit. To be reduced to the equivalent of a slogan in an ad campaign, a clichéd image—whether it’s someone cheering from the crowd at a ball game or some guy drinking a certain kind of beer and feeling cool/happy/whatever—is nothing short of a nightmare to me.

One nightmare that I seem to be seeing a lot of lately, when I briefly turn on the TV at night before writing for a few hours, is “The Most Interesting Man in the World”—the guy in the Dos Equis beer commercials. They often begin with a clip of him doing something outlandish—emerging from the ocean carrying a treasure chest, rescuing the fox at a fox hunt—and close with a scene where he’s surrounded by beautiful women while holding court at a fancy restaurant. The first part of the commercial usually tries to be funny, but when it’s time to point out the product they’re selling, it turns serious in the most obnoxious way possible, with the actor looking at the camera and solemnly declaring, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” After a shot of a bottle of Dos Equis, the man appears again to offer this closing thought, “Stay thirsty, my friends.”

Stay thirsty? My answer to “Stay thirsty” is the same as my answer to “Drill, Baby, Drill”: Fuck you. It’s a cheap, bullshit vision of sophistication. And though for Dos Equis it’s been an incredibly successful ad campaign, with U.S. sales increasing every year since it began, The Most Interesting Man in the World isn’t my friend. And he sure as hell isn’t what I want to be. And even though I actually like it, I’m no longer going to drink Dos Equis—which means, I guess, that I’m just not that thirsty anymore.

A little less than two months from now, Heather will be giving birth to our second child, a son. Having a child, for us, is life not lifestyle. Within that life, there are battles, one of which separates what is real from what isn’t. With this in mind, we let Maggie watch television, but we make sure she knows that much of what goes on there has little to do with real life. As for video games—well, Maggie knows that those are completely out. Also out is the idea that life is a battle against non-believers, the unsaved, enemy combatants, illegal aliens, etc., etc. Rather, the battle is against everything that is bullshit and attempts to take over what’s left of real human thought and emotion.

And, we teach her that it’s not all about being the kid who has the most toys. For a lot of people the American Dream has come to mean identifying with the rich and powerful—with the Dos Equis guy, as unbelievable as he may be—and acting like the poor are a class of beings that is beneath you. Or are going to try to rip you off. Or take over your safe, clean neighborhood.

So we teach Maggie to look for complexity, irony—or that the lack thereof—in what she sees on TV and what she reads. She’s not going to grasp everything all at once, of course, but we’re laying the foundation for her to become a critical thinker. We teach her about poetry—language that, unlike what you might find on a bumper sticker or on the rear window of a car, has depth and makes you think rather than just pats you on the back. Because, actually, you don’t have to be a drunken poet to get where poetry can lead you—you just need to learn to make all those strange and beautiful connections that, at first, don’t seem to make sense. And then they do.

-Jose Padua

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Crashing the Tea Party with My Wife and My Half-Breed Girl

bluemountains2Having grown up in the flatland swamp of Washington, D.C., living in a totally lush green valley surrounded by even greener mountains is something entirely new to me.

Did I say that the mountains were green, including that great range by which many people identify this region, the Blue Ridge Mountains? Well, I’m slightly color blind, so if there’s some blue in that range, I don’t see it. All I know is that I don’t understand which mountain is which, can’t follow these roads that snake madly through the hills, and never know if the body of water I’m trying not to drive into is the North Fork or the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

Most of my life was spent heading the other way—to the beach, to where, after crossing the Chesapeake, the land was as flat as that high note in the Star Spangled Banner when sung by a guy who’s drunk before the game has started: “Oe’r the land of the free.” (A lot of people don’t get the free part right, or else they think that most important part of being free is the right to be an idiot.)

The first time I intentionally headed out over the mountains to a valley was around ten years ago, when Heather and I went for a vacation in West Virginia’s Canaan Valley. We didn’t quite know how to get there, so what we did was instead of going east on Route 50, which was the way to the beach, we went west. Following 50 through Arlington, Fairfax, Chantilly.

Chantilly—back then we thought that was so far from the city that the only words we could use to give us a sense of where we were was to say that it was “fucking nowhere.” Route 50 also brought us, for the first time, through Winchester. Little did we know that ten years later we’d be visiting Winchester at least once a week, and that we’d adopt one of those alien territories south of that little town as our own.

But then we kept going and going for what seemed like an entire day but was actually only about four hours. And as we continued driving west on 50, over the Blue Ridge Mountains, curving up and down on winding roads that had us cursing as we held onto the seats of our rented car, we headed through the Allegheny Mountains and down into Canaan Valley. It was here, in the town of Davis, West Virginia, which is the closest town to the Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center, where I had one of the most memorable meals of my life.

We’d already checked into to our room at the resort but then went back to Davis to have dinner and explore the town. It was a quiet place—which was what we expected—and exploring the tiny business district took only around five minutes. That was something new for us, a business district you could traverse in about the amount of time it took to smoke a cigarette (I was still smoking then). So, since our evening of sightseeing took a lot less than an evening, we decided we may as well eat.

There weren’t many choices for restaurants, but what we found looked promising—a restaurant and brew pub right on William Street, Davis’s main drag. It was one of those clean, well-lit pubs, not one of those dark smoky caverns where everything looks like it’s covered in ten year old grease. I ordered the chicken cordon bleu with salad and a side of rice pilaf while Heather ordered chicken parmesan.

We each drank a beer as we waited, looking around the still mostly empty restaurant (it was only around five o’clock). When the waiter returned with our food, I immediately picked up a forkful of the rice pilaf. Soon my mouth was overcome with the sour rancid taste of spoiled food, something that had either been left out for a couple of days or else fished back out of the garbage. I grimaced and spit it right back out into my napkin as Heather probably wondered if I were having some kind of seizure.

I leaned over to smell the rice, and it reeked. I called the waiter over and exclaimed, “This is spoiled!”

The waiter looked at me coldly, and simply asked, without a hint of emotion in his voice, “Well, would you like something else?” as if there were nothing wrong with having just served rotten food to me. I had traveled four hours for this. Of course, some people have traveled a lot farther for worse, and some people don’t need to go anywhere at all for this kind of treatment.

It was at this point where I should have jumped up from the table and pounced on him. But, although I was angry, what I was overcome by was disbelief. Disbelief that they would serve this to me and then pretend that there was nothing wrong. Heather and I were both so stunned that we just sat there.

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Again, it was one of those times, like ten years later when the policeman stopped me, when I couldn’t do what I wanted, perhaps even needed to do. Or that time in DC (and, no, this sort of thing doesn’t just happen in small towns) a few years before our trip to Canaan Valley when I sat at a hotel bar downtown. It was happy hour, and the news was on TV. When an Asian meteorologist came on with the weather report, the bartender immediately started make fun of her name and began to speak with a mock Chinese accent. A few minutes later, when I asked him where the restroom was (I’d never been to this bar before), he pointed to the other end of the room. “You see that door there?” he went on. “Well, you go out that door, walk down to the corner, and there you’ll see a tree.”

And that was it. Not even a “Sorry, I was just kidding.” He simply turned away to serve another customer.

Sometimes the game is played against you in such a way that you can’t defend yourself and you can’t speak up without making things worse for yourself. Yeah, I could have smacked that waiter in West Virginia, then gone into the kitchen and smacked the cook, too. And I could have thrown my empty beer bottle into the mirror behind the bar at the hotel and told the bartender to go fuck himself, and I would have felt a lot better inside. A hell of a lot better. I also would have been arrested, with me looking like the guy who took the first shot. Still, how can one deny the power of what the waiter did and that it was, in effect, an assault? And, the power of the bartender’s words, were also a kind of assault. The kind of assault guys like them can easily get away with.

More often than not, that’s the way it’s done nowadays. They can’t deny you entry into their establishments, but they can damn well make it uncomfortable for you so that you won’t want to come back. Usually they’re a little more subtle about it, but sometimes they’re not.

Nowadays, with things like the insane Tea Party protests (the participants of which are so clearly driven by something other than their professed outrage at “wasteful government spending”) and the popularity of goons like Glenn Beck spouting hate disguised as junk food for the intellectually bulimic, I’m getting scared. And, I’m a little bit warier again when I travel, except when I go back to my old Mt. Pleasant neighborhood in DC, where I went this past weekend.

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There, me, Heather, Maggie and my brother Tony walked down to the park at the end of Mt. Pleasant Street where a small Latino festival was being held. There was good music and, unfortunately for us, an incredibly long line of people waiting in line for the steaks, Chorizos, and other incredibly delicious smelling foods that were being prepared on the spot. Heather, Maggie, and I had to go back to Front Royal soon, so we couldn’t wait. On the way out, I saw an elderly lady looking at me, saying something in Spanish, which I don’t understand. After a moment I realized she was telling me to join in on the line, have some food, have some fun. I expressed my regrets, as best as I could, in English and through my awkward hand gestures.

I was, certainly, a long way from Canaan Valley. And from that downtown bar.

In a way, I was still a child back then, before Maggie was born, before I felt so compelled to take action. Indeed, there’s something about being a parent that actually keeps me angry about things. And keeps me dreaming. I want an America where she learns compassion, generosity, and complexity, not hate, greed, and stereotypes. I want an America where she can walk anywhere—anywhere—and not have some ignorant dickwad look at her and treat her like she’s some alien being. And although she’s a mix—I don’t want her to pass as white. I want the color in her to be recognized and respected.

But soon, we were on our way back. To the Shenandoah Valley. To our Valley. To my Valley. Because, yes, it’s my Valley, too. And as we drove back, going west on I-66 past Manassas, past Gainesville through those rolling hills and into those lush green mountains (or whatever color they are), I started thinking that, hell, I don’t know. Maybe I will go back to that ice cream shop here in Front Royal where they seemed to think I was some kind of “illegal alien” or terrorist or socialist. Maybe I’ll go back there every goddamn day.

-Jose Padua

Home

HomeHome. For me that’s been a house, an apartment, maybe even a neighborhood, and, at certain points in my life, a bar. But it has never been a term I associate with any monolithic ideal of a country, especially not the United States, even though I’ve lived here all my life. I’m not one to go around waving the flag screaming “USA! USA!—I actually find that sort of behavior rather scary. This observation angers a lot of people and usually elicits a response like, “Well, then, if you don’t feel at home here, why don’t you go back to your own damn country?”

It’s similar to the reaction you’ll often get if you tell someone you don’t believe in God. I actually do believe in some sort of God, but not the one that requires that you bow down before him and praise him (and this God is, invariably, always a he). But when someone automatically assumes that I share his or her vision of God, I’ll more often than not say something shocking to get that person to change the subject or, better yet, leave me alone.

The difference is that although you can conceal what you believe or don’t believe, if someone thinks you look like you’re from another country, there’s nothing you can do to conceal this. I remember riding a Greyhound bus through the southwestern United States in the 80s. Every now and then state troopers would hop on  at rest stops, right before we thought we’d be moving on again. The troopers would go down the aisle of the bus, looking at the passengers. When they got to me, they’d have questions, such as, “Do you have your passport?” or “Do you have your papers?” One time, a trooper even asked me if I had my birth certificate.

“No, I don’t have my birth certificate,” I answered. “I’m a citizen. I have a driver’s license if you want to see it.”

After I offered my driver’s license, the trooper would then move down the aisle to see if there was anyone else who looked like an illegal alien.

Sometimes I’m able to laugh, as when the parents of the bride at a wedding I attended asked (when I introduced myself to them in English, the only language I speak) what language I was speaking (they’d had a few drinks). Then, there was another time at Chief Ike’s Mambo Room in Washington, DC, when a drunken woman demanded I tell her what country I’m from.

“I’m from here,” I told her.

She then started to speak more loudly, and more slowly, as if that would make me understand her question, “I. SAID. WHERE. ARE. YOU. FROM?”

That’s when I usually walk away from a conversation that’s obviously going nowhere.

I don’t get the question about my origin much, here in Front Royal. What I do get is that look, as one time when I went into the South Street Diner with Heather and Maggie and a middle aged woman suddenly lifted her head up when I entered and gawked. Then there was that time Heather and I took a break during the day and ate at L-Dee’s on Main Street and a man sitting across from us practically stared at me the entire time. Leaving the diner, we saw a car with a bumper sticker saying “If You Can Read This Thank A Teacher. If You Can Read This In English Thank A Soldier!”

I think the odds were at least even that that car belonged to the guy who stared at me.

This past week, though, when I picked Maggie up from her summer camp, one of her friends asked me, “Are you from China?” I wasn’t quite sure how she felt about my looking like I’m from somewhere else.

“Well,” I answered, “I was born here. But my parents are from the Philippines.”

“The Philippines?” she said. “Wow! That’s awesome!”

It’s not often that I get such an enthusiastic response regarding my heritage. And when I was her age I wasn’t enthusiastic about it either. I wanted to be an American, a real American, and it took me years to realize that I already was a real American, despite what some people may think. Because my America includes people who can trace their heritage to South America, Africa, and Asia, not just Europe. It also includes people who just stepped off a plane as recently as yesterday. And people who somehow walked, or swam here.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t still feel like a visitor here much of the time, like someone who was passing through but whose car broke down on Main Street.

Main Street—it’s not where I wanted to be stranded, but then I couldn’t afford to be stranded on Park Avenue in New York or even M Street in DC. Now, Main Street is where I go whenever I feel like stepping out of the house for a walk. No more leisurely strolls up Broadway toward Times Square for me, no promenading across the Duke Ellington Bridge over Rock Creek Park. It’s Main Street for me, where I sit at one of the iron tables outside the Daily Grind on nice days, sipping my coffee.

The last time I sat there I had a song going through my head. It didn’t seem like the right place for me to think about this song, but there I was, hearing Rahsaan Roland Kirk doing his version of “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”:

He put all of his soul
into a tenor saxophone
He had his way of talking,
’twas a language all his own

Life’s story – Love and Glory
If you listen
While he plays it for you
now listen
and listen
and dig it

Can’t you dig it?
Lester Young is playing
what he’s feeling
Dealing and dancing on home.

But was he really saying “home” at the end? I was never quite sure about that last line, whether he actually sang the word “home” or had just stopped the words and began to hum, like someone on a long, long walk who has to do something to pass the time until he gets wherever he’s going.

-Jose Padua

Driving with My Daughter

Driving3Music was the first line of defense for me in battling the strangeness I felt when we moved here. Our new house here was no problem (I actually felt at home in it much more quickly than at the house we had in a neighborhood called Hollin Hall in Alexandria, near Mt. Vernon). It was when I stepped out of the house that was the problem—this feeling I had that I was lost inside this dream that was so strange I didn’t know if I should laugh or run away in fear.

Before moving here, I’d lived only in big cities like Washington, DC and New York, where there’s a diverse population. Being an Asian-American, I tend to stand out here in Warren County. Disappearing into the crowd, such as it is here, is not an option for me.

One might consider it an exaggeration to say that whenever I leave our house here that I leave prepared to do battle. I know it doesn’t compare to when a soldier steps into the middle of some kill or be-killed situation. And, most of the time, things are fine. But I feel I always have to be ready for that moment when, with my status as a human being called into question, I have to be ready for battle.

I don’t drink the way I used to—and besides, I was never one to mix that with driving. But I needed something to keep me focused on the task at hand whenever I left the house: driving to the Martin’s for groceries, to the Lowe’s for house supplies, and most importantly, taking our daughter Maggie to and from school. I needed something to keep me strong, fearless, and alert, and the one thing I knew would work for sure was Parliament Funkadelic. P-Funk.

Whenever I took Maggie to or from school, to the doctor—or anywhere else I took her while Heather did the day job back in DC—I played P-Funk’s Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome:

On guard!
Defend yourself!
We shall overcome
Where did you get that funk from?

Soon, I added One Nation Under a Groove, Hardcore Jollies, and Maggot Brain to the P-Funk playlist. It seemed to work, and I felt, somehow, at home riding around the streets of Front Royal. And although Maggie may not have needed this music the way I did, she, at the very least, seemed to want it. “Always play P-Funk,” she advised me whenever we went for a drive. She was, at the time, just a little over four years old.

After a while, though, it was time to move on to other music, so I began playing Sun Ra during our drives through town. I played a wide range of his music, from his early—and more conventional—albums like Jazz in Silhouette to his wilder avant garde sessions like The Magic City. I was surprised that Maggie usually wanted me to play Sun Ra’s “weirder stuff.”

As we went along, the music kept changing. When I first played one of the discs from The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, Maggie was hooked. This was also the music that first moved her to try to sing along, as on a drive to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, when she sang,

You can’t use a bulldozer
To study orchids, he said
We don’t know anything
You don’t know anything
I don’t know anything about love

Among the other music I’ve played for Maggie in the car since we moved here are The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Les Stances a Sophie, Miles Davis’s A Tribute to Jack Johnson, The Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane, plus miscellaneous songs by King Sunny Ade, Pizzicato Five, and Serge Gainsbourg.

Then, this past summer, her favorite songs were from a mix-CD I made for our trip to the beach, and when we got back to town, that was still all she wanted to hear for the next three weeks. So I played songs like LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum” and The Smiths’ “Sheila Take a Bow” over and over again as Maggie sang along:

Sheila take a
Sheila take a bow
Boot the grime of this world
In the crotch dear.

Of course, as one friend pointed out, she has no idea what she is singing about. But then, she always asks questions. And although I know she can’t fully understand the explanations Heather or I try to give her, she gets a start, an inkling, an idea—and perhaps even a certain well of strength from which she may draw when the need arises.

And that’s what I try to give her in the music I play while we’re driving. Maybe, somehow, it can help her deal with those unpleasant situations we’ll find ourselves in from time to time, like last week when, after picking her up from her summer arts camp, I took her to the new ice cream shop that had opened up downtown.

As soon as we walked in, I felt it—that tension in the air and the feeling that silence has suddenly swallowed up whatever conversation had been taking place in the room. When the young woman behind the counter looked at us it wasn’t a look that said she was just tired, mean, all business, or just had an attitude. I’d seen plenty of attitude, plenty of tired, cranky people on the other side of the counter when I lived in New York. This was a different look, a look I’d come to recognize and differentiate from simple attitude.

It’s a way of looking at someone without seeing him, without recognizing him. It’s a way of saying, ultimately, “you’re not one of us.” Sometimes it’s said politely, with perhaps a touch of genuine curiosity, as a couple of weekends ago when a man waiting in line at the McDonald’s on South Street asked my older brother Tony, who was here with the rest of my family for a visit from DC, “I don’t mean to be rude, but what country are you from?”

At the ice cream shop the young woman behind the counter and her co-worker, who was sitting at one of the tables, expressed no such curiosity. To them, it didn’t much matter where I was from. She simply asked, with a blank expression on her face and in a voice that was barely audible, for my order. When she gave us our ice cream and I said “thank you” she said nothing, and turned, as if she couldn’t wait to get away from me and my daughter.

Walking out the door I told Maggie we wouldn’t be going back to this ice cream shop again—it just wasn’t worth it. Besides, there were plenty of other places in town where the people were fine. I tried to say it calmly. But, knowing right away that I was angry about something, she started crying.

I held her hand and we walked back to the mini-van. Maggie stepped inside and buckled her seat belt. When I turned on the ignition, the music came on automatically, but softly. As we drove back to the house, I turned the volume up, hoping that what she remembers most from this day is the music, and not this place.

-Jose Padua