“So where you from man?” He asked. He wore a flat bill hat that rested on his head at an impossible angle. Not quite 45 degrees and slanted to point upward, leaving the impression that it wasn’t adjusted purposefully, but it was, and any human who has ever worn a hat knew it. He was addressing a man with the same exact demeanor as himself. Slightly hunched to a point, to purposefully exude a carefree and relaxed nature. But, like the other guy’s hat, it was all show. Made to seem at nature with its environment but decidedly not at the same time.
“You know, I’m from Cleveland and shit man… You know. Around.”
“Word, word. Me too.” Said the first guy. He was all chin and all angles. They made geometry into conversation and I had to admire that. All juxtaposed into cool stances like a Picasso piece. Proto-Cubism in motion. It was at this point that they started to shuffle around each other awkwardly, hands stuffed in pockets, chin nods thrown at each other like rice at a wedding. Before long one asked the inevitable question; “So, like, where from around Cleveland?” The other guy reluctantly named a suburb to much the delight of his adversary. “No shit! I’m from-!” He lists another Cleveland suburb. It doesn’t matter which. I watch the whole shame dance as it unfolds. We’re all outside a bar in suburban Columbus, Ohio. I’m smoking a cigarette and I haven’t said a goddamn word.
Suddenly I’m noticed. The two white boys who were challenging each other’s street cred and sucking down Newports now turn to face me; a black guy wearing a hipster ass sweat shirt with a screaming bear on the front, and brown leather loafers, all alone in a world with his Marlboro non-menths. They nod at me in acknowledgement, upward, not downward, these are hip fellows mind you.
“So what about you? Where you from?” They asked the question but they tuck it carefully between interrogations on my favorite sports teams and which rappers I think are the greatest. I disappoint them by not listing Drake or Wayne and admitting that I don’t fucking like most sports.
“I’m from Columbus.” I answer. I’m not dumb. I know what follows, I’ve had this conversation before. I put out my smoke, snuffing it underneath the instep of my shoe before I have the chance to roll my eyes, and I make a motion for the door. I hate this, what happens next. The shame/pride of it all.
“But, like, where, WHERE from?” One asks, stopping me. He bars me from the door with his arm.
“I’m from Columbus. Livingston and Parsons I guess.”
What happens next is one of two things; if they don’t know Columbus they usually give a careful but weighted nod and I smile congenially and go about my way. If they know the city to any extent they look at me doubtfully. They judge my demeanor, my body motion, my ‘white-ish’ vernacular, and they further their line of questioning. But even then I smile anyway. Not at them. Not into their eyes or their flatbill caps or their oversized unheard of metal band tank tops. It’s something else entirely that I leer at as I smile into them. It’s that bit of clean, snow plowed streets in their heart, that not so used three year old ricer Honda they got for their 18th birthday, it’s the braces they had at six. And then I grin again, a crooked toothful grin, and offer a handshake before going inside. It’s all congenial enough. Nice even. But they’re left feeling offended. Different.
I have no headboard to my bedding, no frames for my posters, no car. I am 151 proof, undiluted, unfiltered, non-mentholated, barefoot on my lawn, picking lottery numbers for my Grandmother, both hands stuffed in my pockets while smoking a cigarette, daring you to say some shit about it, poor FUCKING trash. And I LOVE it.
There’s a gross, oil slicked, pride that comes later. It’s grimy and unearned but satisfying. Like slipping on a banana peel and accidentally punching some guy’s lights out. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, the humble brag of humble origins. It isn’t right but it is reactionary. I always find myself in some West Side Story snap-and-dance off with some mean looking suburbanite in uncomfortable looking jeans. Them bragging about an inner city oasis they’ve discovered, ponying up some local bar or coffee shop, speaking with pride about their new adopted home. A home blocks away from the elementary school I went to or the first place I ever got my haircut. When I sobbed in a barber chair because I didn’t want to lose my afro and I thought it would physically hurt to chop off something so attached to my own being, shocked at the fact that I didn’t actually bleed through my locks at the first buzzing lop from the trimmers. It’s not so much the gentrification of it all, but the way in which they imply it, that this is somehow theirs by right, that I’m somehow more of the square for not still living there.
Livingston Avenue had its charm but it’s one you have to stare at, to search through the rubble to find. I grew up scouring the alley ways behind houses for treasure. Weird roller rink arcade coins and discarded lottery tickets buried beneath gravel and shattered MD 20/20 bottles.
It’s audacious and, even more infuriating, it’s lauded. To choose an area with cheaper rent and soulful old folk that laugh louder than their own crippling poverty is one thing, but to be born into it, to not be given the option, it is shameful and it somehow deserves our contempt.
I do understand it though. Not their condescending gaze—them looking down their septum-pierced noses, with squinted eyes veiled behind a haze of vape smoke and thick framed glasses—but the need to escape a place not of your own origin. A feeling of belonging that couldn’t be given to you by your immediate family or your direct social surroundings. Before I was able to move to the suburbs and whittle a disturbing but livable niche there, my escape was television and I settled on a little place called Stars Hollow.
I grew up off of one of those old wooden TV set ups. All bulk and with a huge rounded screen that gave off a warm static-y hissssss whenever it powered on. Like the intro of every HBO program, used to spark nostalgia in viewers of our generation. It is effective though, cognizant or not, it sparks that memory in all of us 20 to 30 somethings who stayed up late watching rated R movies or whose cool ass uncles or grandfathers let them do so.
I loved the TV. It was my nurse, my nanny. It’s not an unheard of story, of some child raised by a single mother being brought up by the television. The subtle buzzing at the end of its nightly block of programming lulling me to sleep like the slight humming song in the gentle arms of a parent
(Uncle Phil practically raised both me and Will). It’s all a very common story, I’m sure. But what isn’t common is an inner city, straight black kid, becoming obsessed with a UPN show by Amy Sherman-Palledino, charmingly called “Gilmore Girls”.
It’s difficult to tell from the beginning, my obsession with the UPN drama. I suppose it started with sibling rivalry. The first person who got home after school was the first person who got the remote and could dictate the few hours or so of television before mom got home. I didn’t always win but one time, one significant time on a day I’ll never specifically remember, I did win. With much satisfaction I managed to randomly change the channel to The Gilmore Girls just as its gleeful, trance-like theme song started to play. The acoustic guitar and cheesy vintage harmony was enough to put me at ease and I gently set aside the remote to settle into the show. That’s when I saw her for the first time. Alexis Bledel. Whose eyes are literally (not the new “figurative” definition that Webster’s Dictionary’s bitch ass rolled over on) actually, literally PUNCHING the fucking camera with a completely unnatural looking azure gaze. Dark hair and blue eyes that always seemed to be staring through the camera and into me, like the terrifying picture of Jesus my Great Grandma kept around the house. Always looking into me, no matter what angle I looked at it.
So yes, my love for the show started with a stupid celebrity crush, but it evolved from there. It took me years to understand my fascination. One of which was that the setting of Stars Hollow was so much different than the world in which I lived.
Before I was able to move to the suburbs and whittle a disturbing but livable niche there, my escape was television and I settled on a little place called Stars Hollow.
Livingston Avenue had its charm but it’s one you have to stare at, to search through the rubble to find. I grew up scouring the alley ways behind houses for treasure. Weird roller rink arcade coins and discarded lottery tickets buried beneath gravel and shattered MD 20/20 bottles. Vacant lots that blossomed fields of clovers and dandelion flowers that were beautiful to look at despite the fact that they were weeds. But in Stars Hollow you had a gazebo in the middle of town and bridges over ponds and a delightful assortment of characters who, I’m fairly certain, wouldn’t steal your bike by promising to take it to the store to buy you a candy bar, only to return it because your older, weed selling cousin tracked him down and beat the piss out of him (one of the AWESOMEST days of my life.)
In the small, fictional, televised town of Stars Hollow, I was free to dream through Rory’s eyes. The concept of going to college never even entered my mind until I saw her own ambition. I saw a mind, like myself, enraptured by books, movies, and music. One that spouted random facts and quoted pop culture that no one seemed to understand, no matter how relevant. She never had to encounter the occasional drunk homeless guy, fast asleep on your stoop that you had to carefully avoid waking up if you were alone. Instead she had a town troubadour, wandering the streets listlessly, playing tunes that no one minded, merging seamlessly into life’s continuous soundtrack.
I craved a world not of my own origin, one not of poverty and desperate winter nights in which the entire family bundled on one bed and under one blanket to fend off the cold. Of days spent in front of the electric powered oven to keep our teeth from chattering. I wanted Stars Hollow. I craved its stability.
But it wasn’t until I moved away to college and the suburbs that I realized the missing ache that I had for those times. I missed the conversations we had bundled over electric heaters or the laughs we had on front porch stoops when our power went out from thunder storms. Sipping warm tea, a Grandmother’s loud but gentle cackle as she brought up old, embarrassing stories of her own children’s youth.
It’s plainly and outright un-American to be prideful of one’s own poverty. It’s beamed and flashed at us through our TV sets, campaign ads, through the fraudulent lawn posts advertising a cool and easy fifteen hundred bucks for just two weeks of work, but in the same vein it’s envied. The no-fucks-given-ness of it all. And I love it. I AM proud of it. I have no headboard to my bedding, no frames for my posters, no car. I am 151 proof, undiluted, unfiltered, non-mentholated, barefoot on my lawn, picking lottery numbers for my Grandmother, both hands stuffed in my pockets while smoking a cigarette, daring you to say some shit about it, poor FUCKING trash. And I LOVE it. Kurt Vonnegut wrote something once that always struck me; “America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves”.
It took me years and mounds of scholarships and student loan debt to pigeonhole a spot for myself in the suburbs, for two privileged kids with Mt. Dew flatbills to condescendingly tell me that they live in “real” parts of the city. Parts where I grew up, that are now safer. Gentrified. Gluten free.
But even then I smile anyway. Not at them. Not into their eyes or their flatbill caps or their oversized unheard of metal band tank tops. It’s something else entirely that I leer at as I smile into them. It’s that bit of clean, snow plowed streets in their heart, that not so used three year old ricer Honda they got for their 18th birthday, it’s the braces they had at six.
They paint themselves as more self-aware, socially conscious YUCCIES that yearn for a more cultured and varied way of life. The same ones that sought out areas like Bed-Stuy for its heritage and lifestyle but cringe in their apartments until the living, throbbing, history of the area is tamed, beaten and subdued. They feign passion for its plight but I’ve seen more reaction to GMO discussion and foreign military issues than water treatment in Flint, Michigan; than the (insert ANY poorly funded native American reservation here; than the fact that the Ohio public schools system has been ruled unconstitutional by property tax funding laws on three separate occasions; that a presidential candidate was not only supported by known white racial extremist terrorists, but eventually became the republican candidate to represent their party. If there is anything in this narrative that signals that I’m angry, perturbed, upset, and completely resentful of the age-old American standard (because it is nothing new) it’s only because I am. That old upbringing in me, one raised savagely by a wild pack of television sets howling in the prairie fields of my living room, it whispers to me to repeat the line that Captain Malcolm Reynolds of the firefly Serenity says after being tortured for days and escaping to face his captor. Bleeding, clothes ripped and tattered, dripping with sweat and anger and due angst he says with ragged breath; “Do you want to see the real me now?” Do you?
And when you do show them these natural and beautiful places in earnest, with their smiling old women and rusted front gates with dandelions growing out of the lawn, cousins and step brothers who hurriedly display their rap mixtapes like children selling fruit in third world countries or like the people closer to home in Californian roadways with fresh picked oranges, they run away ashamed. Just like Grandma Gilmore in episode 19. The scene that she discovers her beloved daughter and granddaughter lived in a shack outside of an inn. A shack that they both loved and found warmth in. A shack they were never ashamed of until someone told them they should be.
It’s not just about gentrification—but appropriation, ownership. And there is a mutual shame there. A shame for a land that was never ours to begin with: to barter for, to loan, to build corner stores, bodegas, or vape shops on each block. A desire for a better place, cheaper rent, the Stars Hollow in all of our souls with a coffee shop just in walking distance where there will hopefully be a flannel laden, backwards hat wearing, kind soul, that knows just how to make our coffee right. We can’t fault each other for wanting that, but we can listen. Listen to the oldheads who were there before and to the town troubadours wailing those same fervent words on six strings.
Back at that same suburban bar, I had managed to escape the simple yuppies pulling off their rather convincing ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ impersonation. Two hours and six drinks later, I’m biking through the elementary school parking lot by my house. I flick the butt of my cigarette against my front tire, flattening it out and leaving it there for some poor custodian or a helpless child to find there on the black top. I was angry and I was drunk and I was listening to ‘the house that heaven built’ by The Japandroids in oversized head phones and I didn’t fucking care. I had found bullet shells and the broken polished shards of whiskey bottles at my play fields as a child and had kept them as treasures in a shoe box beneath my bed. It wasn’t right, but it was reactionary. And I didn’t fucking care. I didn’t fucking care one bit.