Wednesday, January 18, 2006

...Being a Member of the Club

Several years ago I shared a flirtation with the black receptionist at the office I was working in at the time. Nothing too serious ever came out of it; no secret trysts in the supply closet, no magical movie moment where passion overcame us to the point where I dramatically swiped all papers and documents onto the floor so I could take her right then and there on top of my desk. At the time it all seemed very exciting - she was married and we often seemed right on the verge of taking the relationship to next level if only one of us would have the guts to make the suggestion, so there were always those all-important plot elements of danger and suspense. With many years of hindsight to reflect back on this time it is now clear to me we were just a couple of people who had fairly mundane, boring jobs we weren’t especially enthused about and this was as much of a way to make coming into work every day more interesting as anything else.

Yvonne constantly made comments about me being an “honorary black man” or how I had been born the wrong color. How she came to this conclusion, I’m not sure. Though I was born in ethnically diverse San Francisco, the majority of my childhood was spent in the whitebread suburban community of Walnut Creek, graduating from a high school where blacks represented 2% of the student population. At the time I met Yvonne I was living in Laguna Beach, itself not exactly a melting pot of racial diversity.

To Yvonne my credibility was earned entirely because of my, if I can toot my own horn for a second, very impressive grasp of the characters and plotlines of various 1970s black sitcoms. Not only the more well-known programs like Good Times, The Jeffersons, Diff’Rent Strokes or What’s Happening!, but also some of the more obscure shows of the era - That’s My Mama, anyone? Far from giving me any sort of street credibility, I would think if anything all it shows is I very likely wasted my entire childhood in front of the TV and probably would have benefitted from getting outside more often. I think it also impressed her that I had a pretty good working knowledge of Stevie Wonder’s catalog, having purchased his greatest hits collection, The Original Musiquarium not too long before I met her.

Going out to lunch with Yvonne one day, she asked me if I knew what the term, “Scrub” meant, to which I replied in the negative. “It’s a black term”, she informed me. “It’s a guy who doesn’t really have a good job or any money, who spends all his time hanging out on the passenger side of his friend’s car hollering at girls on the street trying to get them to hook up with him”.

I felt as if I had been granted access to some elusive club with an exclusive membership. I was ecstatic at the prospect of being on the cutting edge of pop culture, being able to use a new term in conversation before it became mainstream. For an equivalent, think about how cool it would have been if you had been able to casually drop the term, “YOU GO, GIRL!” long before it was appropriated by every uncool white girl on the planet.

On my drive home that evening, I heard a brand-new TLC song playing on the radio entitled “No Scrubs”.

Ancient black secret, huh?
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