An occasional bummer about being a minority – especially black, but also Jewish, gay, Mexican, even Italian – is when you’re embarrassed by your own kind.
Just when you’re feeling all good about life, somebody steps up to publicly fulfill the worst stereotypes of your little community of identity. And part of you wants to hang your head.
I once spoke to a college class about TV writing. Wouldn’t you know, the one black chick in the class asked the dumbest question? Something about formatting or line spacing or something, when I was there talking about art and business. A white student spoke up to tell the girl she could find her answer in any beginner’s book on the mechanics of screenwriting. Part of me wanted to hang my head.
Couldn’t the sister have asked even a mediocre question… something that could slide by barely noticed? Why’d she have to say something to invite a public smackdown?
I must admit, though, when people of a different ethnic group fulfill one of their stereotypes, that can be funny as hell! When the Hank Greenberg documentary came out in 1998, I went to the Nuart in West L.A. to see it. On the opening Friday. I felt like the only gentile in a one-block radius.
So I’m standing in the concession line, right? The guy in front of me asks the counter man how much for a bottled water. He is told $2.50.
The guy says: “Can I get two for $4.00?”
Now that was hilarious to me. My man was trying to “Jew him down” on the price of a bottled water. At a movie about Jewish heroism.
Anyway… I flew into a major Midwestern city Sunday on the red-eye. (I won’t say which airline.) There was one black flight attendant in this crew. And she got on the microphone for the pre-flight safety announcements.
I could hardly understand what homegirl was saying. Not just because of the traces of ghetto diction, but because of her nasally tone, a frog-throated rasp which might’ve been due to a cold, plus the fact she was low-talking. All of this drew me forward in my seat to make out her words.
“Pull on the cord to release the flow of oxgen…”
Oxgen? What the hell is oxgen?
“Put the mask over your mouth and breathe normally. Oxgen is flowing even though the bag will not inflate…”
Ox-y-gen, got-dammit! It’s a three-syllable word!
Yeah, I got angry. What’s this woman doing anywhere near a microphone? What if there’s an emergency and she has to tell us something important?
Thankfully that didn’t happen. But she must’ve been the queen bee of the flight crew because she was serving first class.
I’m not the type who’s so Hollywood that he won’t fly coach. I bought a coach ticket. But when I picked it up at the airport kiosk, I got the option of upgrading for $100. (Worth it to increase my odds of getting decent sleep on this four-hour flight.)
So I was in first class… and expecting first-class service.
Well, homegirl came by with the beverage cart, and she had that grim-looking face you sometimes see on bad service employees. Like it should be enough that she pours me a drink, I’m not entitled to a smile and a friendly word too. No, Miss Thing, your job is to make my flight experience a more pleasant one. Be pleasant, bitch!
But I got my Coke and my nuts and I was cool.
Couple hours later, I roused out of a half-sleep to see homegirl standing before me again. She said something that didn’t compute. She was low-talking again, but it sounded like: “Sumta jink?”
“Excuse me?” I said.
She repeated: “Sumta jink?”
In my groggy disorientation, I wasn’t processing information very quickly. Like the fact that she had the beverage cart with her. I just leaned forward, thrust my left ear at her, and hoped the third time would be the charm.
She said: “Something to drink?”
“Oh. No, thank you.”
The fuck am I flying on? Mad TV Airlines?
Then, as we were about to land, homegirl got on the mic again, telling us to get our trash ready because someone would be coming down the “ai” to collect it. Not the aisle, the ai.
I noticed, in the row in front of me, two young blonde female heads whispering comments to each other. One of them shook her head. I could sense they were talking about homegirl… America’s most inarticulate stewardess.
It was probably hilarious to them.