Jett Takes on the Man

In this excerpt Jett and her dad have dinner together as she tells him about how she and her friends challenged a guest speaker at her class that came to speak making some surprisingly racist claims about the the Civil War and Revisionist History.  The night before, she and her friends got together and printed out all of their research about the Civil War, the Constitution and segregation so they could refute what they heard the speaker was going to talk about.  Jett tells her dad how it went in class and they have a heart to heart about the importance, and the risks,  of challenging the status quo and standing up to injustice.  It’s an important moment that will affect how Jett views the challenges she will face in the future.

 

They got to the front of the line, picked up their food, and went to a table and sat down. Jett ordered a salad and a cup of yogurt and some fruit on the side. Her dad ordered a pastrami sandwich with Thousand Island dressing and cole slaw.
When they got to the table, he looked at her and asked, “So, how did that thing in school go today?”
“Oh my gosh dad, it was weird. This guy came in. An attorney. Said he knows you. He knew I was your daughter. I don’t think he likes you, or me either by the way, I’ll explain later. Anyway, he did this whole thing on slavery, and the reasons for the Civil War and then segregation that was supposed to make the South look like the good guys and the North the bad guys. It was so racist it made me want to vomit. He had this thing where he was saying that slaves actually had it good. He called slavery ‘alternatively compensated labor’ or something really stupid like that. He tried to make the case that segregation and slavery would somehow work for everyone if it was done right and done fairly. It was awful. He made no sense, yet I know lots of people really believe what he says. He knew we had a rebuttal because he saw our powerpoint that we handed out before class, so he was ready. Said we could go ahead and state our case so he can tell us how we’re wrong.
Then, it was awesome. We started presenting our research and talked about all the stuff we talked about last night when we were working on it. We matched him point for point, refuting everything with documented research. He was speechless. Then he got frustrated and started insulting us. That’s when he said he knew you from court. He said that I was just like you because, as he said, I ‘don’t know when to keep my mouth shut,’”
“I see that as a compliment,” her dad said.
“I know!! That’s exactly what I said, that my dad would take that as a compliment. Anyway, he then tried to convince us that black people are inferior intellectually and superior in terms of athletics and entertainment, so that’s what black people should do. He said Asians were good at math so they should be engineers and such but white men are smarter so they should be leaders and white women, like all women, he said, are really just good nurturers. It was so racist and misogynistic. We had a discussion about that and he said diversity doesn’t work and it was bad for me because I don’t really belong anywhere because I’m biracial. He tried to use bullying in school to make his point, saying that there was never a bullying problem before I came along and the bullying is just a symptom of what is wrong with diversity. Then the WHOLE CLASS turned against him and started talking about how there’s always been bullying and it’s just a small group of guys that bully literally everyone else, not just me. I said it’s because they are racist jerks, not because of any societal thing. Then the whole class took my side and talked about how I belong with them because I’m their friend and we hang out together. Melinda, who had been with me making points all along even googled a book he cited and found the statistical shortcomings of the book and refuted his use of that book as proof of what he was saying. Then he just got mad and started griping at all of us, especially me. He said it was all my fault that everyone has these ‘liberal’ ideas now. That’s when our teacher stepped in and told him that we’ve been nothing respectful to him while he has very rude to us and told him to leave the classroom. So he said that he was going to meet with the Superintendent about this. Then he left. It was crazy.”
“Okay. Well, we have a meeting with the Superintendent at 3:00pm Monday. You, me, that guy, Mr Hitchens, and Melinda and her parents, along with that Greg kid that was over and his parents too.”
Jett looked defeated all of a sudden, “oh,” she simply said, “ I guess we’re in trouble now?”
“Don’t worry about it kid. You did good. I’m proud of you. Every act of civil disobedience, no matter how well intentioned and how dignified in its execution, has a consequence. Blowback, it’s called. We’ll manage it. Ashley already spoke to Melinda’s mom. She understands, and she feels you kids did the right thing too. We can invite Diana, if necessary. She’s chomping at the bit to get involved. Especially since she has generally destroyed that attorney in court many times. That’s why he hates me. He has tried to break me down on the stand more than once and it just backfires on him each time. Now you broke him down in the classroom. I guess he just feels our family is out to get him or something.”
“It would help if he wasn’t such a racist,” Jett said.
“Yea. It would. But people are what they are. He probably doesn’t think he is a racist. He longs for a status quo that’s been disappearing for decades. Now his generation is trying one last time to make a huge, coordinated push to bring it back; and they are having some success because they’ve focused on the areas where they’ll get the least resistance. Creating that school district/zone, having this guy going to those classes. But then he runs into you, the daughter of someone he sees as a nemesis, and you unite at least one class and they call him out, publicly. He’s not mad at you. He’s mad at what you represent. You represent a future that he fears. A future in which he doesn’t get to dictate what people say and think; a future in which people know he’s wrong. And he knows he’s wrong, but wrong is all he’s ever known how to be, so he can’t change.
“Jett, you’re gonna find that people fear two things: Change and not fitting in. You are change. And they fear you because you won’t conform to fit in. And you shouldn’t. You should be yourself and keep doing what you’re doing. Because that’s way people will accept change. Your friends see it. It’s always the kids that see it first, because they have fresh eyes, that aren’t clouded by the stupidity of bigotry and fear. They’re changing. Even Principle Preston is changing. Your teachers have always seen it. But a lot of people will cling to a status quo even if they don’t like it. And they will conform to something they don’t like if it seems like everyone else is doing it. These guys are using that to change the world back to a status quo they were comfortable with; where they had the privilege and all the advantages, and everyone just quietly accepted it. You are what’s standing in the way of that. Sure, you’re just a kid. A girl in school. But you represent something greater. You’re proof that the bad guys are wrong, and they always have been. You force them to confront that. Just by being yourself. I didn’t plan for that. I’d rather you not have to deal with that, but I’m not going to let you deny it or succumb to it either. You are in the situation you are in and I’m proud of how you’re handling it.”
Jett smiled and a tear ran down her cheek and then put her head down. She picked at her salad and looked up at her dad again. “Thanks dad. But how do I do it?”
“Just keep being yourself. That’s all you have to do. It’s all you’ve ever had to do. You’re smart, you’re strong and you have a good heart. That’s what’s always guided you. Just listen to yourself. And if you get stuck and don’t know what to do, we’re always here for you. Me, Ashley, Diana. We want to make the world a better place too. We’ve seen how bad it can be, but with you, we see how good it can be too. In that way you’ve kind of rescued us from being jaded and cynical about everything.”
Jett teared up again. “I didn’t think I was that important. I’m just a girl,” she said.

“You’re more important to us than you’ll ever truly understand. We’re family and you’re the kid. Everything I do, I think about you and your future and what it means. Ashley too.”
“Ok. You’re being all sentimental. Ashley said you used to be a tough guy. What happened?”
“You kid. You happened,” he said, smiling at his daughter, “and Monday we’re going to walk in there with our heads up and we’re going to stand our ground. We’re going to be polite and respectful but we’re going to be clear that we don’t get pushed around by some two-bit retired attorney who passed his prime decades ago and is now reduced to peddling half rate bogus propaganda to a bunch of high school kids. Ok?”

“OK. Thanks dad. I’m worried about this meeting though.”
“I understand. But try not to worry. We’ll get through it together. We always do.”

The Number

Based on a True Story:
There was a boy at a university. He was shy, awkward, lonely. All his friends had girlfriends, but he just hadn’t met anyone. Semesters went by, and he had a few dates here and there, but he still longed to meet that one girl that would be his college sweetheart. That’s all he really wanted. Not one-night stands, or nights of drunken, crazy sex; but just that one girl who would change everything.

Then he met her. He had a long break between classes. He saw her sitting alone in the Café in the Student Center. She was pretty, in a “plain Jane” kind of way, which is what he liked the most. She wore a pair of jeans, a blue sweat shirt and black framed glasses. Her long brown hair framed her face as she looked down at the book she was reading. She was curvy, maybe a little more so than the other girls, but she was perfect to him. He got up his nerve, walked over, and introduced himself.
“Hi. . .my name is. . .uh. . Steve. . May I join you?” he asked.
“Hello. . uh Steve. . .” she said, “I would love that. My name is Amy.”
She smiled and invited him to sit down. They had coffee together. He was thrilled at the attention this beautiful girl was giving him. She was smart. She had a beautiful smile and she used it often. She blushed at times, which was cute. They both talked and talked and talked. They both felt like they had known each other forever. They both said that they wanted to get to know each other more.
They went for a walk together. They held hands. The talked about anything and everything. They giggled. They sat on a bench outside of Building C and cuddled. His heart pounded almost out of his chest as she got close. His breathing sped up and he probably turned red. She didn’t seem to mind his awkwardness. In fact, she seemed thrilled by it. Then they kissed. Neither of them knows who kissed who first, maybe it was a tie. It didn’t matter. It was one of the most passionate and beautiful and awkward kisses in the history of the University. To this day the old timers still talk of this kiss. The perfect kiss between two lovers that would kick off a lifetime of perfect kisses. So perfect and raw. So innocent and awkward. So deep. He felt like something changed in him after he kissed her. In that moment after their first kiss he felt like he was finally complete. In his mind, he kept fast forwarding to many years later, when they would talk about this kiss to their kids and grandkids; when they would talk about the magic of love at first sight and of the first time they met. How she would slap him on the leg, laugh, and tell the kids how shy and awkward he was and how she had seen him so many times and just wished he would get up the nerve to talk to her in the University Café; and of the excitement she had to contain when he finally did. He entertained every corny romantic notion that a boy at University entertains when he meets the girl of his dreams. But not during the kiss. During the kiss, he was in a state of perfect zen. He felt every motion, every sensation, every breath. He felt the give and take as their mouths groped for each other. He felt the the softness of her lips, wetness of her tongue, and the coffee on her breath. He could remember the smell of her skin and the feel of her face against his. All of this he felt, and he could recall it in detail every day for the rest of his life.
She was late for class and had to go.  He pulled out a piece of paper and a pen. He wrote his name and telephone number on one side of the paper and she wrote her name and telephone number on the other side. He tore the paper in half and, while they kissed one more time, he placed one half of the paper in her soft hand. As she kissed him again, she stuffed her half of the paper in her purse, smiled, walked away and ran back and kissed him once more, and then ran to class. He stared at her running to class as he stuffed his half of the paper in his pocket.
“Call me tonight!” she yelled as she excitedly ran away.

He saw his friends later that afternoon. He told them all about Amy. His friends, who were usually encouraging him to find a girl to sleep with and nothing more, were different. They all encouraged him to call her that night, and were glad he found someone and that this seemed like the real thing. They told him to go slow, not to rush her into anything and to focus on having a relationship. For all their usual foolhardy playboy tendencies, they knew their friend was different. He was the serious type who deserved to have that special girlfriend. They never thought that much of themselves but they did of him, and they were all happy for him.
That night, after he got home from class, he ran straight for his phone. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the paper. He unfolded it as he picked up the receiver and got ready to dial. His heart pounded at the excitement of calling her and planning their first date. A million thoughts flooded his mind at once. He almost put the phone down because he was so overwhelmed with emotion, but he persevered and put the phone to his ear, holding it with his shoulder, as he got ready to dial. He unfolded the paper and just stared at it for a what seemed like eternity. . .
Then he put the phone down, crushed with disappointment.
He never saw Amy again.

Many many years later, one failed marriage and too many martinis to count he found himself sitting at some bar somewhere contemplating his next move in life. Things kept going from bad to worse, then from worse to worse, and yet again he ended up alone. He had gone to visit his family recently and found an old box from college. Among all the old artifacts and pictures and awards was this small slip of paper, folded in half. He kept the paper. Now, sitting at that bar, wounded by what his life had become and struggling with yet another bout of depression, he pulled out the paper and stared at it again, just like he did when he was a boy at Univeristy. On the paper was written:

“Steve 867-5309”

The End

The Fuse

 

So there I was,at this joint on the south side of town.  It was a hot, sticky night and all I wanted was a break from the heat… and to be left alone.  The bartender just looked at me, so I said, “Give me a whiskey and coke, hold the coke, make it a double and keep em coming.”  I had a lot of thinking to do and this wasn’t the time to do it.  The bartender grunted, turned around, and poured some whiskey into a glass and set it in front of me.  There is an art to ordering a drink and if I don’t get anything else right in this life, at least I got that.

That’s when she walked in.  Dark hair, dark eyes and dark skin, with long legs and nails.  To be honest, she was beautiful.  I was hooked and there was no turning back.  But I didn’t let on.  I kept my hands and eyes on my drink.  I held my breath even though her sweet, sultry scent filled my nostrils and swirled around my brain.

The bar was empty but she took the seat right next to mine.  She fumbled around in her purse, clumsily pulled out a cigarette and put it between her lips.  She leaned over and touched my arm.  Electricity pulsed through my body and lit a fire in my gut.  I turned to find her staring into my eyes, “What’s a girl gotta do to get a light in this place,” she asked. Without taking my eyes off of her, I pulled out my lighter and flicked it alive. But I hesitated. . .  Because sometimes you’re lighting a cigarette, and sometimes you’re lighting a fuse.