I had no idea it was coming out, and I haven’t seen a proof, so if it’s amazing, tell everyone!
And if it’s not, we never met.
With thanks to Robert Contreras.
I had no idea it was coming out, and I haven’t seen a proof, so if it’s amazing, tell everyone!
And if it’s not, we never met.
With thanks to Robert Contreras.
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I have a somewhat dry joke to explain a bit of my history from my high school days: I was the “seventh black kid on the bus.”
That is, unlike the upper and upper-upper-class students who went to my prestigious Princeton preparatory high school, I was “bused in from the city,” which is usually code for a minority student or a person of color, which I’m not.
And to be fair to the joke, the bus usually only held maybe seven students — six black kids from my city only a few neighborhoods away, who I would wait with for an extra hour after school while most other kids got rides in cars, and me.
I experienced this kind of ratio on and off growing up on the literal outskirt of the city — my neighborhood was the last part of Trenton before you entered the highway toward whiter cities and down the street from the beautiful old houses that had become boarded up and abandoned from “white flight” or otherwise. If you took a picture of attractive row houses from the ’50s and ’60s, and aged them poorly, you’d get the long and winding West State Street, full of vibrant people living amidst a worn-down America.
I have the pleasure of the strange identity of living in a city that claimed its roots in all the members of my family on both sides — a city full of history and racial divisions and bus routes. Trenton, like any other large city, was full of layered neighborhoods in varying shades of monied districts. There’s the hospital where my grandmother worked; the tennis court my cousins and I play on; the old zoo without bears like they used to have; the schools and college my parents went to — all Trenton, all solid, all charmed wraps around my recent ancestral leanings.
Growing up, my best friends were black, white and mixed, unlike the best friends of my parents and grandparents when they were young — all happenstance based on what neighborhood housed which kid. By middle school I would start at a new school in Princeton, and learn the new bus and car routes that took me through richer and more monied roads, and into a circle of personal and educational excellence (at least that’s what the expectation is when you’re paying top dollar).
That dangerous and mundane term, “white flight,” that was synonymous with post-WWII cities had claimed Trenton years ago, when factories stopped providing jobs and the Levittowns started swallowing whole generations of white people. Thus went the shops, markets and schools, forcing parents to consider moving out (or just using grandma’s address for school purposes), choicing out to “better” schools or competing for the endless rows of private schools just down Route 206. And there were plenty, from Catholic to Old Money to new preppy.
And there I was, on the outskirts, white faced, somewhat privileged and unaware that America never really stopped fighting the Civil War nor did it complete the marches of the Civil Rights movement.
The white liberals up north had done what white liberals up north do, and the inverse about those in the South was the same.
And I proudly attended my prep school, only there because of scholarship and the sweat off my parents’ brows to pay a fraction of what most classmates paid. During the day my mother and father taught school themselves in surrounding cities, and at night they worked extra jobs so I would have the best education that money could buy.
And I did. But only a few other black kids from Trenton did, too. The rest got the real, gritty city experience, stereotypically synonymous with urban, black, ghetto, dropout, neglect and forgotten.
* * *
Growing up, I enjoyed black culture and all-black events here and there and never thought twice about it, unless someone made an awkward remark, which was fine — as most people are hesitant to mention, there are plenty of differences between black and white cultures, especially the churches, but only slight differences everywhere else.
People are just people. Most of them ride the bus.
But the reality of being white and leaving an all-black baseball practice (where I was often Jamal or Jermaine, but never Jeremy), being just one of the white people leaving an all-black church service or constantly being a white kid in the midst of a truly mixed crowd left its mark on me. I would leave one “black place” after an event was done and end up in a whiter neighborhood for dinner and bedtime.
Farther down the street from my house were the “lower classes” — guns, drugs, prostitution — many of the things people drive from outside the city to experience in the black of night.
In my neighborhood, we had the lower middle to slightly more middle class homes, but on the bus we traveled to a specific niche of a select circle of high schools, down the street from Princeton University and the pinnacle of American upper classes — literally right across the street from the Governor’s Mansion and mansions that exceeded it in price, where I had classes with the children of upperclass movers, shakers and royalty from around the world. It was wonderful.
On that bus in the morning, I studied for the extra hour I missed the night before, and on the way home I caught up on the day’s events with my neighbors — the lot of us constantly aware that we were not of the city or neighborhood that taught and coached us.
And in that circle of kids was when I suspected and then realized that, in the real world, no one would care that I had been the seventh “black kid” because I would step off that bus white, go home white and apply for jobs and colleges white.
Skin is the only thing you can’t escape.
* * *
These days I’m a teacher in a city school where white kids are the minority, and my own children attend public school in a smaller, whiter town than the one in which I teach. Like all good parents, we strive to give our children the best possible life that we can afford — in energy, attention and money — but still there is that sinking feeling that history has set apart the inner-cities for the lower classes and disenfranchised minorities among us, whether we’re observing ancient towns as peace or the latest southside cities at war. That is, until the new hipster yuppies come and gentrify the hell out of it.
“Earning their place” in society has become the hackneyed go-to for explaining why it’s okay to house certain people in the undesirable neighborhoods while the few celebrate life a little better down the road. Life goes like that, right? The bottom levels are raised up, and new people come in to eventually rise, too.
Except we all know that “earning your place” decades after emancipation and then decades more after achieving equal rights, where a large section of a whole people is still as far away from “their place” as the generations were before them, is the highest-bought and sought-after fallacy.
My own privilege has its end in most parts of society, where class and accomplishment trump every other characteristic, including my charm, articulation and education. Unfortunately that privilege carries to most cities and is celebrated by all the wrong people, who feel that because I was born a certain hue and was raised by similarly hued people, there is a higher meaning to my skin tone.
And here I thought we all agreed that this was no longer a thing.
* * *
Somewhere in my junior year of high school I got a car, the greatest accomplishment for a young person.
This would end years of the bus winding through every road of the city, every ‘hood and lower street, and every boarded up house and school on our way to the better promised land of upperclass living.
My morning drive would go like this: Make a left out of the driveway, get right on the highway, avoid the city and end up in an entirely different grid of neighborhoods and businesses, all after four exits.
At some point before I achieved this independence from the bus and city-winding, I remember meeting the younger new kids from Trenton that would attend my high school — including the two new white kids who would take my place in the ratio of students who didn’t pay full price for the privilege of higher education.
At that moment I felt more alive because having a car afforded me the greatest of human freedoms, and I no longer had to ride in the seatbelt-less green padded seats. Those two new kids from my city — and the others on the bus — would achieve freedom one day by way of car and feel the independence and individualism that we were all promised in the beginning of every American History and American English textbook.
And I was no longer the white kid — or a kid at all — on the bus.
MORE JEREMY MCKEEN.
FINALLY, I GET TO HAVE A FANCY FRENCH NAME FOR THIS TERRIBLE FATE CALLED CHRONIC MIGRAINES. I am a migraineur. I am. A migraineur.
It’s been a year now since my concussion—no great story about getting in a bar fight or hitting my head saving the world.
I hit my head. Hard. On the frame of the car. After getting a vertigo spell and losing my balance. While putting the kids in the car after a Target trip. I know. Spellbinding, right?
In fact, I hit my head so hard I earned myself a lifetime of migraines. I went from never having a headache to having migraines all the time—rain, shine, well rested, tired, you name it. Just cut the lights and noise.
I wrote a brilliant, masterful essay you should read by clicking on the words in this sentence about my experience and the past year of my life. Go ahead, I’ll wait a minute so you can read it, share it, love it, and bookmark it so you can read it whenever you want.
So what I’d love to do is chronicle my new life as a migraineur—capture stories of others who suffer as well—and write about it in a fashion that could become something.
So I’m looking for other migraineurs if you’re out there, not hiding under the covers or walking around like a human sweatshirt like I did and do for so many recovery days.
I’d love to hear your stories—of the ups and downs, the sidewayses, the funny anecdotes about getting Botox, steroid, or Marcaine injections in your skull, quips about ice helmets, love letters to the -triptan family, rants about people who say that a cup of coffee and Excedrin work for them, the circle of death that is working on screens for a living while trying to avoid screens because they cause migraines, the PTSD, depression, and anxiety that comes from being in pain, and little chapters about being a brain while feeling like your brain is cold and working against you. Brain, brain, brain. Oh, and memory and word loss.
And memory and word loss.
Don’t forget memory and word.
Pain can be funny.
Anyway, this is a shout out to my writers living with migraines. I’d love for this to be a series and maybe a graphic novel. Who knows? I’m new to this awful club, and I’m sorry for those who have had to endure chronic pain like this.
Leave your info below as well as links and let’s chat.
Is migraineur a French word? And is a raconteur a raccoon with a migraine eating a croissant?
Sorry, I know that was corny.
Talk and write below.
I started Nerdy Dad Shirt three years ago this week, and eventually when I was writing essays that I was proud of, I decided to challenge myself to write 100 essays (good or bad).
“100 essays” turned into “100 posts” (as any good writer and blogger will know the difference), and, as I started writing for other publications and got syndicated, I sort of lost count.
I’ll count them up and get back to you.
So here—parked—are my latest essays for your enjoyment. Please share if you’d like!
AND if you’re a writer, I’m also an editor would love to help you get published. Let’s talk.
Read on and Share!
See you next week!
My needs are simple: a hearty tax shelter, healthy pension, robust health insurance, generous sick days, fully stocked fridge, a little extra cash after paying the rent, and seven beers, preferably craft or imported.
That, and—of course—perfect health for my wife and kids, is all I need, on top of the basics of modern First World living. Forget a new house, car, clothes, and forget Paris. Give me the know-how of there being enough beer in the fridge for the end of a long day of hard work where I’ve earned every dollar. I want to hear that clink-clink when the fridge door is open. I’m not asking to drink seven beers a night, but I want the financial freedom to enjoy one or two if I want, and to have seven more in the fridge waiting for me, for tomorrow or the weekend.
I want the ability to drink or share with the wife or friends—it might be a Bourbon and ginger ale, or a gin and tonic, but the principle remains. I want that bordering-hoarder pleasure of having luxury in reserve, when I want. I want that financial freedom.
And eventually I’ll have it. Maybe when the kids are out of college. I don’t want to die on my feet a sweaty worker who didn’t know how to be smart about money, especially in my American lower-middle-class world, where I’ve been privileged enough to reach a point and skill set that can guide me towards a retirement and help me provide for my children until they can provide for themselves.
Let’s talk about $7—specifically the amount (give or take sixty cents) it costs to afford seven beers or seven burgers or seven of something in your refrigerator. That seven dollars is swallowed up by the big picture—the cost of the fridge, electricity, the contents within—plus the pantry and its accoutrements. That $7 is a small slice of rent or a mortgage, or of a movie ticket or water bill. You know what things cost. The cost of take-out versus a week of groceries, the price of beer and coffee versus milk, and the cost of luxury, however simple, versus holding out until you really deserve that luxurious finish, whatever it may be.
As the somewhat obvious yet profound saying goes about perspective, it really does all depend on how you look at it. Wherever you are in life, there is some struggle or suffering that you’re going through or about to go through. Somehow it’s always inevitable whether you’re a student, parent, young individual, or fledgling professional (or anyone in-between). But if you’re prepared with the right set of eyes (and most of us aren’t), then you’ll be able to tackle any setback, obstacle, or low point, all in good time. So forget trying to achieve Maslow’s highest level of Self-Actualization.
Forget trying to be perfect. You can even forget trying to fulfill your true potential, if just for a while. And you can even stop forgetting forgetting, as the Yogis and Jedis teach. What you might need is sharp, willful perspective, and a heavy dose of reality to get you to where you should be (and maybe where you want to be).
There are three ultimate and undeniable realities: Death, Nature, and the Unknown. The sooner you realize you’re incapable of controlling these three, the sooner you’ll feel a little release from Life’s cool grip. As you are dying a long time from now, who will you be surrounded by and what will your final wish be? What will you have let go of? If you can imagine your life from your final moment backwards to right now, then you’ll have constructed enough timelines to know what you really want (which might not be what you think you want). This isn’t meant to make you mediate on your own death, but rather to jostle you out of the current moment and consider the long arc of your life.
Consider this: between your twenties and retirement, you will live almost three lifetimes as you did between birth and the age of twenty. And then you’re going to have a brand new life in retirement. Most men die around seventy-six, and most women out-live men by ten to fifteen years (often twenty). Those nice, old church ladies? They’re living a second and third life after career and children, many of them in retirement and then widowed. Life is long and you’re going to have time, so prepare for early mornings and long afternoons, and plenty of time to look back to now and wish you knew what to change – and change it while you’re young. That should take some of the pressure off, but know that the dreams you’re not getting around to right now might be waiting for you on the other side of life, when the world will still belong to the young, fast ones.
What does a Hooters full of lesbians, a bus full of Princeton University alumni, and a beach full of dads have in common? Answer: me, stuck inside each anecdote, trying to figure out of the core of my cultural being, which is not simply a layer of heterocentricity.
What I said was simpler In one of my Bergamot Ink columns, “Why All Men Hate the Beach,” I was accused by some readers of being too narrowly heterocentric in my approach, and this has lead me to some militant introspection. In my small niche of being a dad with fair skin and too much to do (and a busy mind), my dream of a day-off isn’t laying in the hot sun for 12 hours.
I could have titled the essay “Why Many Men In Their 20s-90s Who Are Dads and Would Rather Spend the Day Not Baking in the Sun Hate the Beach” but it wouldn’t have been as funny. But as a over-educated, tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, straight American W.A.S.P. (half-A.S. and former P., actually), I was handed the keys to the late, great Western Kingdom simply by being born and turning out a heterosexual. I am the demographic that the world sees, goes after, and rebels against in popular movies and culture. The Avengers, the whole American Pie franchise, Good Will Hunting, Fight Club, anything starring Ryan Reynolds or Bradley Cooper all have circles around the privileged, warm, Venn Diagram center that is, well—me.
PHOTO: The Happy Rower
The Pope, however, does have a castle. And cool outfits. But the sentiment of that quote, that in our modern age an individual would choose science, technology, and convenience over mythology (and the anxiety that comes with belief)—remains appropriate, especially in this modern age where “Nones” and “Dones” are growing in numbers while the faithful are seeing declines like never before.
In a world of full of air conditioning, bottled water, Pop Tarts, seedless watermelons, and endless computers in the hands of children, it’s easy for nonbelievers to rely on modern convenience and leave the possessions, miracles, and conversions to badly produced religious movies (and some well produced Hollywood films) and tall tales, where they belong. There are no miracles, there is no Devil, and most parents will choose medicine over straight “prayer-changes-things” sessions any day. We’re awash in a non-religious reality, the whole Western world over.
PHOTO: Ella Ruth
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