Our Final Walk in the Hood
Ed Huss

Our story begins when we decide this is the day to do it. Finally.

We go out the door and jump down the front porch steps three at a time. No time to waste. It's now or never.

As we walk down the sidewalk, I'll tell you what I'm thinking. No regrets. Time to get it over with. That's what I'm focusing on, the only thing I want to think about right now.

You say you are embracing a proposition, but are you sure you are not just embracing a representational version of it?

"I told you I didn't want to think about things like that. Besides, it's more than a representational proposition. I'm acting out here in the real world. This time I'm really going to do it."

Think about this. The act you are proposing, and the supposed resulting experience of that act, is only relative to your current stream of consciousness.

Oh shit. Now he's going to do his stop-and-analyze-your-stream-of-consciousness routine on me. Over-analysis is the last thing I need right now. I'd better shut him up.

"This is not just my current stream of consciousness. I've thought this out, and I'm determined to do it."

Self-determined as you think this act may be, it is actually-

"Oh no you don't. Not this time. I'm done thinking about it. Today is the day. I've figured out how to do it, and I'm heading there right now to make it happen."

But being, actually being, means taking responsibility for your choices. Are you truly taking responsibility for-

"I'm not lis-en-ing. I don't have time for another one of your boring lectures about the responsibilities to the self right now. No matter what you say, this time you can't stop me. I'm going to do what I should have done a long time ago."

And that sets him off. He begins whispering inside my head: propositional representations, attitudes and personal responsibility, social and historical contextualization.

Blah, blah, blah. I let him go on, but this time, no matter what he says, I'm not going to let him deter me. This time, I'm not going to argue with him because that's what he wants me to do. By now, I've learned that arguing with him only eggs him on. Argument is what he lives for. (That was a joke, one of my death jokes. Did you get it? No? Here's a hint: he's been dead for a very long time.)

I hurry on down the sidewalk. I'll just keep going forward and ignore him. Let him keep up his endless whispering inside my head if that's what he wants to do, but I don't have to listen to him if I don't want to. Really, I don't. If I try hard enough, I'm pretty sure I can turn him off. And besides, no matter what he thinks, this time I am taking full responsibility for what I'm doing.

Life is given to you by God as a wonder that should not be taken lightly.

Now he's going to play the God card. No way I'm gonna let him get away with that.

"Not that old God argument again. It's beneath you, old dude. Haven't you heard? God is dead. A guy named Nietzsche-after your time-took God out behind the woodshed and killed him. Stabbed him in the back. So God is now deadern a doornail. Tough luck for the old bugger, old God, but that's how it goes when you've outlived your era.


Call it what you want, but it's true. Nietzsche did him in. And Camus helped, leading God to cry out, 'You too, Camus?'" (That was one of my intertextuality jokes. Did you get it? Probably not. People never get my jokes. Well, too bad. If you can't keep up, you might as well quit reading right now.)

You say you deny God, but if that is so, mustn't you create your own God? And where will you find Him? Will you find Him in the marvel that is a flower? In the miracle of color itself and our ability to perceive it? Or will you find him in the hummingbird that draws nectar from that flower? Do you not perceive the miracle that once drawn to the color of the flower, the hummingbird's delicate beak is perfectly mated to the flower's waiting receptacle?

"What the hell are you rambling on about now, old man? Your appeal to authority using a dumb flower-hummingbird example is a waste of my time. It's no God-given miracle. That's just the perception you're overlaying on it. It's nothing but ordinary Evolution: flowers need to be pollinated, so Evolution created a mechanism to take care of it. It's simple Evolution (with a capital E) whether you like it or not. No more and no less."

So evolution, with a capital E, is your God?

"I don't have a God. That's your thing, not mine. If you want to find God in flowers and hummingbirds, go for it. In the meantime, leave me alone.

Whether you deny it on not, the flower exists. It has presence in the world. And you too have presence in the world along with it. You are human, and as such, only you, among all living things, have the ability to interact consciously with concepts like beauty. You can decide to let it influence you, or not. But if you deny beauty, you will become less than human. You will become-

"Oh shut up, you old fart. Who asked you anyhow? I told you I'm not going to respond to your phony God crap. Hey, just look around. Do you see any God-given beauty in this fucked-up neighborhood? Do you see any flowers? No. The few flowers that were here got trampled underfoot years ago in the Rodney King riots, and not one of them ever grew back (and who could blame them?). And hummingbirds? Do you see any fucking hummingbirds around here? I don't see any hummingbirds. All I see are run-down houses with mean angry people inside them. What I see is garbage in the streets. What I see is rusty cars jacked up on blocks in weedy front yards. Those cars will never run again, and flowers will never grow here again. And what about all the homeless in this neighborhood? Just look at them hangin' about in that alley. See anything like that back in your time, old man? In this day and age we got drug addiction. We got alcoholism. We got mental illness all over the place."

Who are those homeless people in that alley? you ask. They are nobody. Nobody cares about them so they don't actually exist. They are the lost, the given up. They are at the bottom of the cesspool we call "modern society." They are so given up, they spend their days curled up fetally inside their cardboard mansions, taped-together boxes that could soon turn into cardboard coffins if the gangbangers, the real rulers of this neighborhood, happen to come along. No, there is no God in this neighborhood, old man. Nothing but poor black people living in crappy houses and a bunch of given-up homeless people "living" in the alleys. If there is a God in LA, he lives out west of here in one of the beach cities. A completely different variety of humans out there known as "rich people." I've never met one of them personally, but I've seen them. They just lie around in the sun all day working on their skin cancer. Right now, they're probably out there, not doing a damn thing. Just staring out at the azure sea. (Azure. Isn't that a good word? Sounds nice. A nice word for a nice color. I like words like that. Whenever I run across a good word on the internet, I look it up. I memorize what it means and I add it to my list.)

Here's another thought: maybe those rich people are just idly watching the seagulls that hang around them begging for bits of French bread, or caviar, or whatever weird kind of food those rich people have in their picnic baskets. That's called symbiosis. Another good word. I looked it up. It means an interdependent or mutually beneficial relationship between dissimilar organisms. Actually, it's a triple symbiosis: the seagulls get food as they entertain the rich people, and at the same time, they both give me food for thought.

But who cares about them anyhow? I shouldn't have brought them up. In my reality, the one I'm creating right now, I'm not out there on some fancy beach; I'm right here, a skinny white kid walking on a broken-up sidewalk in a neighborhood full of poor black folks and violent gangs.

The old man has gone silent on me. I guess he gave up on his God argument. He doesn't have a clue what the world is like now. What could an old man who's been dead for a hundred years know about what we have to go through these days? No way I'm gonna let him try to con me into believing that some benevolent God is sitting up there on a stupid puffy white cloud watching over us. There is no benevolent God, and nobody is "watching" over us. To prove that, all you have to do is look around. Would a real God allow this?

Between you and me, sometimes I get tired of his non-stop yaking. He's been stuck inside my head, yaking away like that for a couple of years now, ever since my Mom took off and I had to move into this crappy neighborhood with my old Grandma. I have to take care of her. Most days, she won't even get out of bed. She has her stupid TV soap operas, and as long as I make her stuff to eat, they are all she cares about.

Not that me and Mom were living in such a great neighborhood before; it just wasn't quite as bad as this one. Mom did her latest disappearing act because the mean-spirited, fat old landlord who lived in the other half our ratty old, leaky-roof duplex finally got bored with having access to her body in lieu of paying the way overdue rent and threatened to toss us out if we didn't come up with some money. So Mom did what she always did, grabbed the first guy who came along. The guy paid the rent for a while, but then she and her new guy took off to who knows where. Left me all alone. After she took off, the asshole landlord kicked me out and kept all my stuff, even my clothes and my computer. In lieu of rent, he said. The only thing I managed to grab as he dragged me out the front door was a framed picture of me and Mom that was on a table by the door.

I didn't care that he took my clothes. I didn't need clothes. You can get clothes at any thrift store. All you have to do is put on the clothes right there in the store, like you're trying them on, and then walk out the front door. Nobody notices.

You probably think that's wrong. Well, it isn't. They get all that crap for free so if I take one or two things, it doesn't really matter to anybody. Besides, aren't they supposed to be charity stores? So they should give me the stuff just because I don't have any money to buy it.

So the bastard landlord just stole clothes that I'd already stolen from those thrift stores. So what? I didn't need those clothes, and I didn't any of my other crap either. Except for my computer. That computer gave me access to the internet, the only thing in this stupid world that I do care about. So I waited until he went out, and then I got into his place through a back window that the idiot had left open. I took back my computer, along with a bunch of change he had in a big glass jar. I stashed the picture and my computer in my locker at school, and took the bus south to my favorite place in all of LA, Point Fermin Park. The weather was good, so I could sleep in the thick bushes and just hang out. I'd sit on the edge of my cliff, with my back to the monster that is LA, and look out at the ocean all day. I'd watch the big ships coming in from who knows where, heading for the LA harbor, loaded with big steel box containers that they stack so high it looks like they might tip the whole ship over. Other ships were always heading out of the harbor, on their way back to China, or wherever. Probably on their way to get another load of crap to sell to the American suckers. Sometimes I'd see the spouts of whales way out there in the channel. They were great. I wish you could have seen them. You couldn't see the whales themselves, but if you kept a sharp eye out, you could see the sudden little white umbrellas of water spout up, and that told you a whale was out there. I liked to think about those whales, just swimming along, no problems at all, just doing whatever whales do. I thought about them a lot.

One day, when I was sitting at the edge of the cliff watching for whales, a truant cop showed up. He said the neighbors had called about a kid living in the park (stupid nosy neighbors; why should they care if I want to hang out in the park?). The truant cop asked why I wasn't in school. I told him I was a genius and had graduated from high school early. He didn't believe me, probably because I'm so short and skinny I didn't even look sixteen, which was how old I really was at that time. Anyhow, he said he was going to take me home. I didn't want to tell him I didn't have a home, so I gave him the address of my grandma who lives in Watts.

He said, Watts? What's a skinny white kid doing living in Watts? Only Mexicans and blacks live in Watts.

I told him my grandma had been living in her ratty old house in Watts since the old days when white people used to live there.

So he dumped me at my grandma's house and took off fast when all the black people who live on my grandma's street came out to see what a police car was doing on their street.

Where was I? Oh, right, I was telling you about how my Mom took off. As for a father, I never met the guy. Mom always made of point of saying she never knew "which one" it was. She always said it with a laugh, and then she'd hold up her glass of booze and say, Let's drink to the bastard, whoever he was.

It wasn't long after I moved in with Grandma when one day I was surfing the internet and starting reading about the old philosopher. Phenomenology. Interesting stuff. Next thing you know, he's moved right into my head. Designated himself to be my advisor. Now he thinks I can't get by without him. He says he has stay with me because I keep on making mistakes. He thinks it's his job to make sure I do things right.

But what is right? There's no such thing. It's a joke. How can there be any right thing in this fucked up world?

Anyhow, now he's stuck in there, and he thinks I should listen to everything he says. Well, he may have been a famous philosopher in his day, but what he doesn't know is that by now everybody's forgot about him. Today, nobody worries about philosophy. Or science either. Or even history. History is what happened last weekend. The past is what they saw on TV last night, and in this day and age, if you're not on TV, you're nobody. He's never seen me watching TV (because I don't), so I bet he doesn't even know what TV is. Let's not tell him.

I get to an intersection and have to wait at the curb because none of the cars are stopping at the stop sign. Nobody in this neighborhood stops at stop signs, and besides, none of them are about to stop to let a white person get across the street. Give 'em a chance, and they'd probably run right over me. The way I'm feeling right now, that would be fine with me, but most likely I'd just end up in the hospital all busted up, and that's not what I'm looking for. So I wait. Finally, I see an old guy in an beat-up old pickup truck coming. He isn't keeping up with the traffic, and it gives me just enough time to hurry across the street.

I wave to sarcastically thank him.

He gives me the finger and roars off down the street.

Good old LA. Everybody friendly and helpful. (I hope you don't mind sarcasm; I have special affinity for sarcasm, so I plan on assailing you with it. A lot.)

You might want to know about how I feel about what I'm about to do? Well, I sort of feel . . . what? Just ready to get it over with, I guess. I finally figured out a good way to do it, so here I am, on my way to find them.

The truth is, I'm not feeling much of anything right now, except . . . resolve.

Resolve. That's a good word. In case you haven't noticed, I'm good at words. I'm always looking for ways to use words from my special list.

Do you have any idea of how many words I know? Of course you don't. I don't either, but I know it's a big number. A hell of a big number. I write the words down and memorize them so I can use them any time I want to. If I feel like it, I can even use words as weapons. And I do, sometimes. But I don't get many chances to use my special words because I'm not around other people very often. But If ever got the chance, I could use my special words to confound people. Confound. That's another good word from my collection. I could confound you too, if I wanted to. Easy as falling off a log. But I won't. With you, I'll always tell the truth. Or at least what I perceive as truth.

We make it up, you know. Reality. Reality is a first-person phenomenological concept. I have my reality, and you have yours. So you see, reality is not real. You might as well face that right now if we are going to go on this final journey together.

I'll let you in on something. I'm feeling kind of good about what I'm about to do. I feel like I've been let out of some kind of prison. You understand I'm speaking metaphorically here, don't you? I like metaphors. Remember I told you how I collect words? Well, I collect metaphors too. I'm a collector or words and concepts and metaphors. My hobby, if you will.

A prison? you ask, falling into my metaphorical trap. What kind of prison?

A prison of my own mind, that's what. I've been held prisoner inside my own mind for a long time.

Why? you ask.

By choice. Because I like the world of my mind. It's where I'm comfortable, the only place I'm comfortable. What I really don't like is the "outside world."

Next, you're going to ask, What is the "outside" world?

Why, it's the world out here, where I am right now, what you would call the "real" world. In other words, it everywhere that's not inside my own head.

A person and his surrounding world are related to one another inseparably. Therefore, a person belongs to his surrounding world.

"Oh, so you're back. What do you mean 'belongs'? Are you slyly trying to remind me that I talk to you, so you're part of my world? No, I don't think you should count, because you're not actually part of the 'real' world. Listen, old man, I hate to break it to you, but you only exist because I allow you to."

The locus of reality is what is felt firsthand by the embodied experiencer. A coherent system of reality can only encompass what your current perspective affords. Therefore, what you define as your surrounding world is actually limited to your perceptual world.

You see how he is? No matter what I say, he finds a way to dispute my main points. He sees it as his job to "correct" me.

But I will have to admit that he's taught me a lot. He was the one who made me realize that I was an "I," and that each "I" perceives reality in his own unique way. I finally understood that each person, each "I," will, by definition, perceive reality in a way that cannot match the way any other person perceives reality. Therefore, I now know there is no such thing as right or wrong. They are only concepts, made up by the ones who set themselves up as judges. But their judgments are based on their own flawed realities.

Same with what is "crazy" and what is not. Back when I was still going to high school (occasionally), they sent me to the school counselor. I assumed that meant he had been listening to the student who were always calling me crazy. "That crazy kid." "The weirdo who always has his head stuck in some weirdo book."

But when I got to his office, I found out that wasn't it. He said he'd called me in because some stupid teacher had complained to him about my sarcasm. The stupid counselor put this real sympathetic look on his face and said my sarcasm was going to give me nothing but trouble in life.

After he said that, I refused to even look at him. I kept my eyes locked on his idiotic bowling trophies on the shelf behind him and told him I wasn't worried because most people were so dumb they didn't even get that I was being sarcastic.

He said I should look at him when he was talking to me, but I wouldn't do it. I just kept on looking at his stupid trophies. He was a pretty fat guy, and I could just imagine him at some bowling alley trying to knock down a bunch of stupid bowling pins that were almost exactly the same shape as him. Picturing it made me laugh out loud.

That got him mad at me, but I couldn't stop giggling.

But then he tried to hide his anger. He went back to looking "professional." He said that just because I was supposed to be some kind of hotshot genius, I shouldn't make fun of people by being sarcastic.

Then I did look at him. I looked right at his fat face and asked him what other kind of fun do I have? I said what's the use of being a genius if you can't make fun of everybody who isn't?

I could tell he was disgusted with me, but I didn't give a shit what he thought. He didn't really care about me. He was just pretending. It was his job to pretend to care.

He said I should use my gift to better the world.

I looked back at his moronic bowling trophies and told him fat chance of that happening, the world was going to hell in a handbasket, and there was nothing I or anybody else could do about it.

He shook his head and dismissed me from his office.

I never got called in there again. I bet he just wrote me off.

BFD. I wrote him off too.

It wasn't long after that when my mother took off, so I got to stop going to school anyway. Besides, none of that past stuff matters anymore. The past is not real, just like the concept of time is not real. Even things like my mom taking off don't matter to me anymore. After today, nothing will matter. The stupid kids that were always picking on me at school won't matter. The stupid girls at school that always laughed at me if I tried to talk to them won't matter. Fuck them. Fuck them all.

Once conceived, the conception may seen real, natural even, but it is only a mental phenomenon, an intentional inexistence.

"Yeah, well, that's what I was telling them, wasn't I?"

You have to learn to study your own mind. You have to understand how your internal perception relates to externality.

"Hey, old man, I have been studying my own mind. In fact, I do that a lot. You know that. And as far as measuring my own perceptions of reality against those of the so-called "real" world, why should I? My own unique reality suits me fine. Hey, you were the one who said I should face things squarely."

You are not facing it squarely. What you are doing is avoiding it.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? I am too doing it."

Consciousness is simply the monitoring of your own state of mind, but intentionality represents the aboutness of your mental state. It exists when you think you are about to do something, but it is only the mental representation of the act, not the act itself. You conceive, but you never actually do.

"I do too. I . . . "

No! Damn it, I can't let him get to me like that. I should just keep quiet and go take care of this on my own. Sure, I may have conceived of this before and didn't do it, but this time is going to be different. This time I've figured out the perfect method to make it happen, and I'm going to keep my focus on that. No matter what he says, this time I'm not going to get hung up on the rightness or wrongness of it. This time I will go forward and do what I need to do, with or without his help.

What, you think I'm kidding myself? You think I can't do this without his help?

Well, I can. I don't need him, not really. All I have to do is focus on my task and stay out of my head. From this moment on, I won't listen to any more of his crap. I will only focus on what is palpable.

Palpable. That's another good word from my list. It means readily or plainly seen, obvious. As soon as I read that word on the internet, I knew right away that it was a good one. Remember I told you the word "confound" was one of my favorite words? Palpable is another one of my favorite words. A word like confound is palpably confounding.

Besides words, I read other stuff on the internet.

Like what? you say.

Well, lots of stuff. Just about anything, really. History, science, psychology. But mostly I like philosophy. I like to read what those old-time philosophers have to say. I get to know those old guys on the internet, and I talk to them. And they talk back to me too.

Why do they talk back to me? Why not? No reason not to. Just because they're dead is no reason not to talk to me. (That was another one of my death jokes. Did you get that one?)

Anyhow, now that I've answered your questions, let's go on. What was I telling you?

Oh, right, I was telling you that I'm walking through a really bad neighborhood. And I was telling you that I'm not going to listen to him anymore. Instead, I'm going to focus on my task. I will do that by perceiving only the external reality. Shall I tell you what I'm perceiving right at this moment? Using my eyes, I'm perceiving houses. Small, run-down houses. Of course they're small and run down. Don't you know where I am?

Oh, right, I guess you don't know where I am because I haven't told you yet.

I'm in a neighborhood known as Watts, which is part of a somewhat larger area in Los Angeles known as South Central. It's the "bad" part of LA, the part everybody wants to forget about. But it's my home neighborhood, my hood, where I live, where I've been living for . . . how long? Couple of years, I guess. Ever since Mom ran off.

Shall I describe this neighborhood to you?

Okay, I will.

Small run-down houses.

Oh wait, I already said that. How about if I describe the people who live inside the run-down houses. Except for me an Grandma, all of the people in this neighborhood have dark skins.

I don't actually know the dark-skinned people that live inside these houses. I've never met them because, like I said, I don't go outside very often. In fact, I hardly ever go out. Why should I?

You don't go outside because you are afraid.

"That's not true. I'm not afraid of going out. I'm not afraid of anything. Why should I be?"

You are afraid of being changed, from without.

"I am not. Nothing can change me. I am who I am, and I don't care what anybody thinks of me.

All humans are afraid of being changed.

"You know, you're beginning to irritate me, old man. You often give me some pretty good advice, but there are times when I wish you'd just shut up and let me go it on my own. No matter what you think, tonight I really am going to do it. And then, guess what? You'll be gone, won't you? What do you think of that?"

You're afraid of finding out who you realty are.

So now he throws a German psychological twist on me. The afraid-of-being-afraid thing. But this time he's wrong, dead wrong. (Get it?)

You are afraid that the world will transcribe fear unto you. Fear is all around you. Look with your eyes.

"Oh shut up. I'm not feeling fear, not at all."

But maybe he's got a point. Maybe I should use my eyes to look around.

I look.

Well, he's right about one thing; there are indications of fear all around me. Bars on every window of every house. Every house surrounded by metal fences with spikes on top. Glowering pit bulls lurking behind the fences. Okay, they are afraid, but I'm not. They are afraid of the gangs. I, on the other hand, need the gangs."

He mutters something about the wringing of one's hands being symbolic of fear, so I stop whatever I was doing with my hands and decide to ignore him. I will keep my focus on the external world.

Looking with my eyes, I see plastic toys abandoned in the flat dirt front yard of that house. Must be kids inside. My eyes are seeing a little red dump truck without wheels, a squashed yellow duck, a naked doll with one arm missing. Once colorful, the toys are now stained, probably from years and years of being handled by little grubby hands. I wonder if these few toys are the only ones these poor kids have ever had.

Now that I think about it, I never had many toys either. We were about as poor as these people, and Mom didn't think I needed toys anyhow. She used to say, What's the point of playing? She'd say, What good is playing going to do you when you grow up and have to go out and survive in this fucked-up world?

She was right. Who needed toys? Bunch of plastic crap mass produced and imported from China. Fake, all of it. Waste of money, waste of time. Better for me to just get on the internet to look stuff up. So that's what I did. I spent all my time on the internet, and it made me the person I am today. (Did you get that one? Self-depreciating humor. Shows I have perspective, no matter what you think.)

Speaking of kids, I wonder where they are. I haven't seen a single kid since I started walking. I guess they're all locked safely inside their houses. Maybe they were out playing earlier, but you won't see any kids outdoors this late in the day because, in this neighborhood, nighttime is when the gangs rule.

Which is what I'm counting on.

I pass other houses. Curtains on every window pulled closed tight. Every door undoubtedly double-locked. Do these people feel safe behind their barred windows and snarling pit bulls? Probably not. No one feels safe in this neighborhood.

Evil exists.

So now he's going to launch into his diatribe about good and evil. (Diatribe: cool word, eh?) These Germans. That's all they think about. Morality and the role of the individual in society. Bor-ing.

Good and evil must be held in balance through reason. Through reason, man finds emotional and psychological balance.

You know, I think I'm going to have to stop listening to him. After tonight, none of what he says will matter. Nothing will matter, because nothing will exist. My so-called "reality" will be gone, along with everything else.

Hey, speaking of reality, should I explain it to you? It's not real you know. It's mostly dreams, sketchy manifestations of personal meaning that we turn into a reality that works for us. Now, when I say reality is a dream, I'm not talking about nighttime asleep-in-bed type of dreaming. No, I'm talking about the whole ball of wax, this thing we think of as life. Delusions, actually. Sure, I know it's pointless to go around making everything up, but it's what we humans do. Inside our heads, we have a part of our brains that's called the cortex. It's a wily thing, this cortex. It's a specialized organ for creating reality. Then it tricks us into believing it's real.

Analysis of reality must proceed with the complete exclusion of every assumption, including the assumption of objective time.

Sure. I know that. That's why a while back (actually, it's been quite a while back if you want to believe in made-up concepts like actual discrete units of time), I decided to change the date on my computer to a random date. Then, I threw all the clocks in the house into the garbage. From that moment on, for us, life has been right now. When you live in the right now, things like my mother running off and leaving me all alone exist only within a concept referred to by others as "the past."

From the perspective of subjectivity, every experience will seem to have its place in a representation in a linear sequence of time, but from the perspective of objectivity, this appearance of duration is individual and variable.

"Right. That's what I've been telling them."

What he's saying is that things like time are not real. Time is not real. It's merely a made-up product of the human brain. Like that Descartes guy I read about on the internet. He said we might just be brains in a vat dreaming we are alive, making up things like time. He was right on, that guy. Einstein said it too. He said time is imaginary. Right on, Albert.

Here's how I look at time: we are nothing but inchworms crawling along a make-believe concept of time. We go on and on, thinking time is passing. And then we die. But the truth is, we were never really going anywhere. Things don't actually happen one after another; that's only our perception, a thing made up by our wily cortexes. Silly inchworms, us humans. If should just wake up and realize that time just is.

Hey, how about this: we even have a habit of breaking time down into supposedly "accurate" units-days, months, years. And to make it even more important, we create blocks of time: summer, fall, winter, spring. What a waste of time. (That's a time joke. I like those kinds of jokes, and I hope you like them too. They show how absurd everything is.)

Now, if I was to believe in time, I would have to start wondering if I had recently passed by a time-related age milestone that other humans seem to enjoy celebrating, a birthday. My mother told me I was born in the springtime; therefore, if this is springtime, I may have passed-or be about to pass-my eighteenth birthday.

Birthdays. Pointlessly grand events that only exist in the minds of those discrete-units-of-time people. Whether I'm now eighteen or still seventeen doesn't matter one whit. My having a birthday won't matter to one single person in this world, so why should it matter to me? Besides, eighteen is nothing but a number, a mark on their calendar. What difference does it make if I'm eighteen today or not, I'll still be the same person I was yesterday.

Uh oh, I think I'm hearing a sound. I'm almost sure it's coming from the outside, the so-called "real" world.

Yes, now I hear it clearer. And it's getting closer, coming from behind me. It's a sound I recognize, the sound I've been waiting for.

This is it. Time to pay attention to the outside world.

I turn to look. Yep, just as I thought: it's a neighborhood low rider coming up the street from behind me.

I wait until they get close and I start waving my hands to get their attention.

The car slows down.

Yes! This is going to work.

Consider what you are about to do. Thought is thought, but action is actually action. It has consequences.

"Stay out of this, old man. I'm afraid this is the end of the road for you. Thanks for what you've done for me, or tried to do, but I won't be needing you anymore. It's been nice knowing you, but I'm turning you off now. Goodbye."

The car stops. A shiny black car. An old car, but customized, lowered almost to the ground, hood ornament and door handles removed, tinted windows all around, chromed dual exhausts along the side, tuned to fart out a low rattling note (maybe D-flat). Unbelievably loud rap "music" is coming out of the car's windows. They've probably got speakers imbedded in the ceiling and in all of the car's walls, and they've got the volume cranked all the way up to make sure their rap "music" can be clearly heard by everyone within ten blocks. The bass background of the rap goes thump, thump, thump, vibrating the air, setting off car alarms all along the street (which, I suppose, is the goal).

The young dark-skinned occupants inside their cool ride are sitting so low they can barely see out.

"Hey!" I yell. "I want to talk to you gangbangers."

Windows come down. All three of the dark-skinned dudes inside the car stare at me, all three minds thinking, Hey, white boy, what you want? What you doin' in our neighborhood anyhow?

These could be the ones I'm looking for. Now to figure out what to say to them.

I go a little closer to their car. I put a grin on my face and point at them. "Well, would you look at you three boys. All dressed alike in your sloppy white T-shirts. Do your momies dress you all alike like that?"

They look at each other. Could this skinny little white kid be dissing them?

But then they laugh. One of them does a circular motion with his finger around his ear.

Damn, this is not working. They must have heard of me: the neighborhood crazy white kid. I'll have to up the ante.

"Say, I've always wanted to ask you dudes something. Why do you guys like to let your pants hang down so low it shows off the cracks in your butts? Are your trying to get the attention of the queers?"

That stops their laughing. Good.

One of them leans halfway out the back-seat window, his arm hanging down along the side of the car. In his hand is a big black pistol. He does a menacing staredown, waggling his big black pistol in my direction.

Great. I've got him going. Not a bad way to die, don't you agree? If you're gonna go, might was well go down in flames. I'll be famous. It'll make all the papers, and the TV too: white boy killed by black gang members in Watts. It'll be big news. If they shoot the shit out of each other, nobody cares, but let them shoot a white person and all hell will break loose.

But the damn kid doesn't pull the trigger. What's the matter with him? What kind of gangbanger is he? Better push a little harder.

"Why, look at this," I say, still grinning. "The little boy has a little pistola. What you gonna do with that pop gun, little boy? Playin' gangsta? Playin' like aw, look at me, I'm such a bad dude, ain't I?"

Now he's pointing the gun directly at me, and he looks pissed off. Got him. Come on, shoot, you little twerp.

But he doesn't shoot. Jeez, what do I have to do to get this stupid kid to pull the damn trigger?

"Well, are you gonna shoot or not, kid? Maybe you don't have the balls to be a real gangsta. Better go home to your mommie."

He looks confused. Somebody else in the car says something to him. I heard the word "crizm." I've had it used on me before in this neighborhood. It's some kind of insult used to refer to light-skinned people. But did he say to shoot the crizm, or forget the crizm?

The kid is still pointing the gun at me. "You're lookin' to get dead, motherfucker. You hear me?"

I laugh at him. "Oh yes, sure. I hear ya. This here mothafucka be hearin ya loudn clear."

That got him. He didn't like me making fun of his stupid gang talk. He's narrowed his eyes, and I think he might even be grinding his teeth. He's ready to pull the trigger.

But damn it, now I see just a bit of tremor in his gun hand. Is he going to chicken out just when I've got him all ready to shoot? By now, he must have realized I'm intentionally dissing him. Has the dimwit figured out that I want him to shoot me?

Shit, I hadn't counted on this. I don't think he's going to do it. Maybe I can get one of the others in the car to do it.

I walk right up to their car and lean against it. I look at the two dudes in the front seat. They're a bit older than the kid with the gun, and they both have the usual variety of poorly-made tattoos on their arms. They even have a few dumb-looking tattoos creeping up out of their white T-shirts-crude letters and numbers mostly. I can just imagine them scratching those ridiculous things into their skin using a bottle of black ink and a needle or something. But they both have a better-done "Criminals" tattooed onto their necks, a professionally done tattoo, spelled out in some kind of fancy, sharp-edged script. "Hey, dudes, where did you get those cool tattoos? Criminals, eh. I bet you think that's supposed to look scary. Stupid is what it actually looks like." I lean back and yell at the sky: "Hey world, look at me, I'm a big bad criminal! My cool tattoo proves it."

The guy in the passenger seat grabs the front of my shirt and pulls me down until his face is almost up against mine. "You asking for it, motherfucker. You hear me?"

I look him right in the eyes and grin at him. Interesting that I'm not scared. I don't feel the slightest bit of fear, and that feels good. Damn good. I laugh right out loud, right in his stupid face.

That confuses him. He turns to look at the driver. He can't figure out what this crazy whitebread is up to. One thing for sure, he's caught on that I'm not afraid of him. Has he figured out what I'm trying to get him to do?

I'd better push him a little harder, push him over the edge. "What's the matter with you, dude? How come your little buddy here has a big bad pistola and you don't. Mommie won't buy you one?"

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a switchblade. He snaps it open and shows it to me, close to my face. "You lookin for some of this, motherfucker?"

I laugh at him again, really loud this time. "Why, look at that. If it isn't a switchblade knife. Don't you realize what a cliché that is these days? How nineteen fifties."

He pushes his knife against my throat, but I quickly jump back, breaking free from his grip on my shirt. No point in getting myself stuck. I'm trying to get myself killed, not just cut up.

I turn back to the dude with the gun. "Looks like you're the only one with a real gun, kid. Or is it real? Maybe it's just a toy and you guys are out playin' cowboys and Indians."

He points the pistol right at my face. "You want me to show you?"

"Ha, ha. What a joke you are, kid. You know you're not gonna shoot me. You're just pretending, right?"

I give him my best shit-eatin' grin and lean my face in close to the gun's barrel, but damn it, the stupid kid still won't pull the trigger.

He jabs the gun at me, hitting me in the forehead. "Listen to me motherfucker, if you doan wise up, you gonna find out. Ya hear me?"

I step back and rub my forehead. I might as well face it. These jerks aren't going to do anything. They're out in their big bad car acting like big bad gangbangers, but they don't even have the guts to shoot a wimpy little white kid.

I wave them off. "Get the fuck out of here, you pussies. You know you're not gonna do anything. You're wasting my time."

The driver leans across and points his finger at me. "You'll be seein' us around, motherfucker. And next time you won't be so lucky."

I lean down to give him the finger. "Aw, shut up and go play with yourself. Or go play with each other. I suppose that's what queers like you do most of the time." I kick the side of their stupid car, hard.

That's when the kid with the gun shoots me. Right in the stomach.

I'm surprised to find myself sitting on the sidewalk. I reach down and touch the spot where the bullet went in. Blood is oozing out, but it doesn't hurt as much as I thought it would.

Well, well, the damn kid finally did pull the trigger. But why didn't he shoot me in the head like he was supposed to?

I watch the car pull away. Things are getting a little hazy, and now my stomach is starting to hurt like hell. But it looks like I've started to lose blood fast, so this shouldn't take long.

So, now I suppose you're asking how do I feel, now that's it's over?

Well, let me think about it.

Relieved I guess, as if I've finally finished a very long journey.

Well, so long. It's been nice going on this little walk with you. I hope you'll remember me. I'm sure nobody else will.

I look at the gangbanger's shiny black car getting smaller as it goes away from me. Halfway down the block, it burns rubber. Making a point, I guess. As the car rumbles on down the block, I hear the Doppler shift of their booming pseudo-music as they get farther and farther away. I'm just barely able to lift one hand to wave goodbye to them, to thank them, but I don't suppose they're even looking back.

I watch them turn at the next corner, and away, away, they go, deeper into the horror show that is 21st century South Central Los Angeles.

Well, they can have it. It's their world now, not mine.

I lie back on the sidewalk and stare up at the sky. It's cloudless and blue, or at least as blue as skies get in always-smoggy Los Angeles.

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