IDENTIPAL was full of memes on black people and white people and men and women. Howard guessed the article he’d read about how Russia was using social media to increase and enhance existing divisions was probably true. He hoped it wouldn’t work on anyone he knew, though there were already signs it was working like a charm.
Fatback Freddy was one of the best writers Howard had ever read or known personally, hardly using any words. Posted something on IdentiPal saying English teachers should stop telling students not to write in dialect since it amounted to denying their native experience.
Howard’s godfather was a gifted photographer and retired professor in San Francisco. He had another godfather in the Virigin islands who he’d never met.
His friend Tewodros had diabetes and kidney failure. Some friends had recently bought him a car, and already he had a traffic warrant for unknown reasons. These were some of the black people Howard Knew personally. And he had that whole thing with the Willie Brown Voice, which probably also played into his subconscious notion of black-ness somehow.
Robert Johnson 1911-1938 – Ode to Mississippi by Kristi Wipperfurth
The 1980s was a blur of pop culture and TV conditioning. Lots of movies, routines, and catch phrases encoded with behavioral conditioning, and Howard was at the perfect age to be imprinted. He could have chosen Ferris Bueller or Marty McFly as his first alter self, instead it was Willie Brown from a 1986 movie called Crossroads he started imitating, calling everyone “boy” like he was an old bluesman from the past, and everyone else was Ralph Macchio.
These were his acid years, and spontaneous routines developed. One centered around a character known as “the crazy ass.” Using his Willie Brown voice, Howard would spin yarns about this character’s adventures in that fake black voice, calling all his friends, “boy” and them calling him “boy” back like old bluesmen while tripping and smoking pot with him in the repurposed sections of storm drainage tunnels on the playground near his parents’ house. This period lasted a couple of years, long enough for the voice to take purchase in his mental retinue, emerging less frequently over the years, lately only in times of excitement or private rumination.
In his teens, he became a writer. He knew he had a lot of references to black people in his writing where the word black was the only descriptor. He only went into detail about people’s nature when they took part in the narrative.
Jazz great Charles Mingus’s memoir Beneath the Underdog was narrated by an objective voice recounting events in the life of “my boy” or “Mingus.” Reading it as a middle-aged man, Howard started thinking of that Willie Brown Voice in the back of his mind as an older, wiser, determinedly practical part of himself that would always come out when the reckless Ralph Macchio part needed chiding. Something like a rising sign, or Hegel’s Master Personality.
Paris and Fatback’s writing affected him in the same way, a wiser voice with higher purpose redirecting him. After reading their books, all the cheap writing Howard had done on the ups and downs of his circumstances or whatever he thought he was trying to share, while these kinds of truths were being told, seemed overblown.
On Veterans’ Day, Fatback posted a picture of himself in a jumpsuit leaning against a wall surrounded by dials and switches with another submariner, captioned, “Man, we were so depressed.” Tommy Paris posted a picture of himself flipping off the camera, captioned, “No, thank you for YOUR service.”
Howard had been carrying his war hero football coach grandfather’s woolen hat styled to resemble a fedora from one cheap apartment to the next ever since discovering it as a teen ska kid, never wearing it because of his misshapen forehead. It looked great with the new one, though, and he wore it all the following day.
It was interesting times. This Nazi was the president and possibly Russia was behind his illegitimate election, or that was a scare tactic on the part of liberals, who may or may not have been pedophiles, or that was a scare tactic by the conservatives.
There were detention centers for children and a yearly women’s gathering bigger than ever before in recorded history. The entertainment industry was part of the government and pot was legal lots of places and mass shootings were weekly.
There was a government shutdown with no end in sight because the Nazi wanted to build a wall between the U.S.A. and Mexico, and no one would approve it. Migrant families being separated at the border and detained in freezing torture tents.
Fatback’s gave a deadpan reading about the daily horrors of life on a nuclear sub in wartime, eating food UNFIT FOR PRISON USE, with less bunk space than prisoners. After the reading, Howard traded a copy of his latest shed skin for a copy of Freddy’s latest, then rushed to the train through sudden, intense cold, teeth chattering so hard he came close to shredding his tongue.
Zack Kopp is a freelance writer and editor in Denver. He is the author of six novels so far, a short story collection, a book of poetry, a collection of metamorphic prose and a collection of articles, essays, interviews, reviews and commentary. Kopp has also worked as a ghost writer and editor. His latest book, Market Man, was just published by Boston's Big Table Publishing.
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