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January 1, 1800

egger and d ride again

Originally published April 12, 2005

d'Andre contacted me last week. He's coming. And I'm increasingly nervous.

If we talked more than twice a decade, I'd call him one of my oldest friends. But we don't, so I won't. He was my neighbor several lifetimes ago, in an apartment complex far, far away. None of us had any money. That was a given. We were all on the downside of advantage, yet that was easily the happiest, tightest-knit neighborhood in which I've ever lived—even for the polka dot, the piñata, the prematurely balding white guy saddled with the nickname "Egger." I'm not going to repeat them here and just give friends ammo, but trust that I am among the leading authorities on cracka jokes in any hemisphere. The unremitting verbal abuse I took was never hostile—it was affectionate, even—yet I'd be lying if I said I was completely at ease with my status.

Which, if I might digress, was a growth experience for me. I've tried many times to articulate this, and I don't know that I've ever succeeded. It begins with there being no "white experience" comparable to the set of unifying common experiences that members of a minority group share. A wealthy Vietnamese-American man in Fresno will have a base set of experiences in common with an impoverished Vietnamese immigrant girl in Louisiana; for all their differences, they deal with the same stuff every day of their lives, and they understand that they have this link. They're of the same tribe. People outside the tribe can achieve acceptance, but the very nature of tribes is such that they'll never achieve inclusion. (A nested digression: for my money, "8 Mile" was pure fantasy. If I'd tried to co-opt a black identity like that, scoffing rejection would have been the best response I could have hoped for. Acceptance starts within; your only hope for acceptance is to be who you were born.) Anyway, for whatever reasons—being in the majority probably chief among them—white Americans don't have that unifying sense of identity, of tribe. We don't think of ourselves or each other as white unless made to. It just isn't naturally a part of our self-image. It flat-out doesn't cross our minds. It doesn't come up. Where the growth came in, then, is that for better and worse, I became hyperaware of my racial identity. It's healthy business for someone in the majority to taste being a minority, and during this time I saw myself as white, as excluded, as different, morning noon and night. And I had lots of help with seeing that. Lots and lots. My chops were busted, my chain yanked, my buttons pressed, my goat gotten, my balls busted, and my place, um, me, um, put in.

Wrote myself into a corner, there.

Now I don't mean to say that I was targeted for exclusion, or verbally abused more than anyone else, or a victim who didn't himself dish out abuse. Trust me; I wasn't. We were gleefully unemployed young men with too much time on our hands, and in the grand tradition of that species, we invested more energy into not working than any job has demanded of me since. We watched girls. We watched one another's girls. When there were no girls, who oddly enough seemed to have jobs that occupied much of their time, we talked about watching girls. We balled, of course. We held great socially conscious debates like Terminator vs. Predator and Magic vs. Michael. We repaired one another's junk-heap cars, each of us having our specialty. (I was the "repairing brakes without paying to have your rotor turned like it really should be" guy.) We swapped car parts freely, the theory being that between us, we owned a single functional Frankencar. We played chess and dominoes, we schemed about how to earn money by playing basketball poorly all day, and after playing basketball we watched cartoons while eating cereal on my girlfriend Maddie's new couch juuuust as she was coming home from work. (How many times do I have to say I'm sorry?) But mostly, we sat around and crafted insults. Nothing was out of bounds; no little difference, no wart, was above public examination. The sober guys insulted the stoners. The stoners insulted the crackheads. The taller guys insulted the shorter ones. The guys who were going to college insulted those who didn't, and vice versa. The guys who didn't live with their mothers insulted the guy who did. The guy who was fired by UPS insulted the guy who was fired by USPS. The guys with acne insulted the fat guys. The young guys insulted the old guys. The white guy insulted the Mexican guy. And everyone insulted the white guy.

Yes, d'Andre is coming.

About five years older than most of us, he gradually assumed a role of elder statesmen. The perks of high office: no one ate more of my cereal, no one made more cracka jokes, and no one else decided that Egger'd taken enough abuse for today. He might publicly and mercilessly skewer me, but he'd be damned if others did, not on his watch. I was his boy. Or maybe just his personal punching bag. I'm not sure there's even a difference.

The single funniest ad lib I have ever heard spilled from his lips.

"Hey Egger, can you put on a hat?" he says as we jog back on defense.


"The glare off your head is really messin' with my jump-shot." Much snickering ensures.

"Baldists," I shoot back pathetically.

When d'Andre feigns offense, he always asks a question twice.

"Baldist? Baldist?!" He puts his hands on his hips and affects an exaggerated white dialect. "I am nothing of the kind."

More snickering. He continues.

"I like bald people."

The laughter builds.

"There's good ones."

The crowd roars its approval, waiting for the kill.

"I have bald friends."

Complete pandemonium.

I honestly don't remember finishing that game. I do remember grown men propping one another up as they laughed and flicked tears off their cheeks. Hell, I'm still tearing up, just writing about it. This was fairly typical of our dynamic, which is to say he generally got the best of it.


One glorious day, we climbed into his car, he turned the key, and the CD player resumed playing what he was last listening to. Realizing simultaneously the significance of the moment, we listened and stared straight ahead at crows picking through a dumpster. Finally I spoke.



"Is that Careless fuckin' Whisper?"

He started backing the car out of its parking space.

"I wish I was dead."

And thus was my go-to punchline born, a veritable nuclear warhead added to my arsenal. Andrew Ridgley and wake-me-up-before-you-go-go jokes would soon abound. Once I'd beaten him to death with it, I dug him back up and beat him some more.

The last time we talked, I called him after five years of silence and asked for a favor, a monstrously unreasonable favor.

"Hey, d. It's John."

[Complete silence]

"We ran at Mesa Ridge?"

[uncomfortable fidgeting]

"You know," I cringed. "Egger."


"No two are alike! Still, I'm touched you remember me," I said through grit teeth.

"Remember? Remember?! Man, we still  talk about the time you blocked a brother's shot."

"Hey, it wasn't just—"

"Damndest thing I ever saw."

"— the one ti—"

"We never let that sorry sumbitch play again."

What, did he have this material on a legal pad next to the phone for five years, just in case I called?

And thus did I lose control of the conversation. Just like old times. But in the end, the man followed my now-ex Maddie's sleazy boyfriend for two days, confirming suspicions that he was not only cheating on her but with her—he was married, with kids, and even had another girlfriend on the side. d'Andre didn't even consider not performing this garish favor. He remembered Maddie being kind to him, and that was all the incentive he needed. What a sense of honor, of loyalty. Can you imagine? After five years? Hell, my current friends groan about getting on a ferry to see me once a year if I pay.

d'Andre is coming. Yeah! No! Excitement and anxiety.

Yes, this summer my old friend and antagonist, the man after whom I named the older brother character in my screenplay, is visiting Seattle. I'm excited to see him, but man, are my old excluded-outsider insecurities ever getting inflamed. Those little differences I used to be ridiculed over?

They've grown. A lot.

I think it's safe to say that no one from that old neighborhood has seen their lifestyle change as much as mine has, which does not bode well for when ol' Egger is put under a microscope this summer. Every square inch of my life is packed with ripe comedic fodder. Katrina did not exactly help my anxiety level.

"What's he going to say when he sees Metamuville?" (white population: 104%)

"[unintelligible groaning]  Probably something with 'saltine-assed' in it."

"What about your gay man's kitchen and all the doilies in your guest room?"

"Holy crap. I am so toast."

"If he breaks your designer speckle-glass soap dispenser," she giggled, "Will you make him pay the $130?"

"Oh sweet christ."

"Will you tell him you accidentally gave Bill Russell the finger in traffic last winter?"

"Hell  no."

"Don't forget your purebred English Springer Spaniel on her princess bed."

"Right. I'll kennel her."

"And Percy."

I hadn't thought of that. d'Andre is going to meet Percy. Yep, death would be so sweet right about now.

In the meantime, I'll continue to fervently pray that sometime in the last 13 years, d'Andre sold out, too.

posted by john at 12:00 AM  â€¢  permalink