Thursday, May 01, 2008

Hard Knock Life?

By Nicholas Allanach

“There’s a thin line between heaven and here.”Bubbles (The Wire)

One hour earlier, I was drinking pitchers of beer and eating raw fish with some friends in the East Village. Now, I was face down on the sidewalk in el barrio, pathetically trying to block strong kicks from three pairs of Nike sneakers. “Motherfucker!” was all I could scream-up at the three teenagers who had decided my stupid grin couldn’t talk its way out of this with smart-ass comments or “yo-man-settle-down” pleas. Any attempt at communication had already failed. Their minds were made-up when they targeted me walking down First Avenue between 117th and 116th Street. They were going to get my money, whether I wanted to give it to them or not.
I suppose the tables had turned? Now, these young bucks had all the power and I was the wretch pummeled by their kicks. Sure, I’ve never attacked anyone and I had certainly never seen these boys in my life. But, in one-way or another – I deserved this beat down.

Likely, my assailants had lived in the neighborhood their whole lives; I’ve only lived here five. Perhaps they were pissed at their crappy schools? Maybe their out-of-work parents beat the fuck out of them? Maybe they were tired of applying for jobs at Wendy’s? Who knows? I didn’t have much time to get to know them since it all happened so fast and aggressively. But I did know this beat-down had something to do with me. But what?
Perhaps, everything; after all, I could not jump out of my fortunate (now targeted) skin. I popped into this world a white boy and it’s how I’ll go out of it. Why shy and lie away from the very real power and privilege of this pigmentation? There’s no such thing as a “white man’s burden” in America. (Unless one considers it a burden to be privileged?) I admit it –I’m the bad guy. My face represents all those new condos sprouting-up in East Harlem as gentrification seeps its way into a neighborhood of predominantly poor people of color.

It only took a couple minutes to unfold. But the pain and ache of the experience lingered all week. It was difficult to focus on work, hard to eat, and I found myself feeling something I’ve always disciplined myself to reject – fear. Fortunately, my friends and family helped heal my bruises with barbeque ribs, cool margaritas, and much-needed love.

Four days later, I stood at the back of the Kauffman Concert Hall of the 92nd Street Y monitoring an audience of rich, white, Republicans (who had actually chosen to suffer through a reading of Laura and Jenna Bush’s new children’s book - “Read all about it”.) Fortunately one of the “ushers gone wild” (UGW) was trying to make me laugh by pinching my ass through the reading, while the other UGW smiled and leaned against my shoulder. But I couldn’t smile. I was still sore from the beat-down and irritated to be stuck standing inside this swarm of Secret Service agents.

As the first lady and her daughter prattled-on about “eating fancy dinners in New Orleans” and the “great public school programs available in New York”, I couldn’t help but think back to the young men who kicked me in the face and snatched my cash. I knew the attack was nothing personal. In fact, if they would have approached me differently, we’d likely have been sipping Hennessy and smoking blunts. Perhaps one day we will? But for now, I had to accept the fact this attack was directed at my privilege. They knew I had money on me - clothes, sneakers, Ipod, and arrogant gate. Admittedly, this doesn’t mean I should resent the many hours I’ve spent working and studying to get what I have; but, I shouldn’t overlook the very real benefits I’ve taken for granted to get here.

Walking through my neighborhood now, I resist the urge to profile everyone around me a potential attacker. Some of my friends and associates have suggested I purchase mace or some other weapon. But I still trust people and can only hope that they can trust me – otherwise this whole fucking ship is sunk.

I only hope those who attacked me recognize there are far more successful ways to “play the game.” The world I’ve come from is one of privilege. Never once should I forget – I’m lucky. (So lucky, that one week later, a woman from el barrio actually found my stolen wallet and returned it to my favorite watering hole.) Despite my challenges in life, I can never compare them to growing-up in someone else’s hood. Despite my struggle, it’s nothing like what many face every day they continue to be silenced by unfair economics, poor fiscal planning, and racist ideologies.

No hate’n 08! …Lest we forget?

Sure, I’m part of the game – we all are. But how we play determines who the winners and losers are. Sure, every game is also tainted with a little luck. Thus, I feel pretty lucky that my loss was only a quick beat down and $35 in the hole. Others lose much more.

I can only wish my attackers won’t lose more by misdirecting their anger and hope they instead focus this energy at the game; instead, of being played by it.

WE AIN’T BORN TYPICAL: This month New World goes “on vacation” starting tonight at The Kills in Webster Hall, the celebration continues the next night at Jay-Z and Mary-J’s sold out show in the Garden. The after party will continue on at my first NYC art showing in el barrio’s resurrected thedramaloft.
After this spring of little sleep and long hours in front of this screen and on my feet trucking up and down this island. It will feel very nice to kick off my kicks and feel some warm sand and sunshine while “centering” myself in Puerto Rico.


El Mapa No Es el Territorio said...

When are you going to PR? I am very sorry you got beat down, but I really love you for the way you have processed it here. Blessing and peace and lots of love for you, Nick.

All power to the people!

El Mapa No Es el Territorio said...

Hey Nick, how was PR? Hoping you had a lovely, relaxing time. Much love to you and yours, a