1980s culture, A.B. Davis Middle School, Board of Education, Boy @ The Window, City Hall, Coming-of-Age, Dreams, Friendship, Growing Up, Hebrew-Israelites, Interpreting Dreams, Mount Vernon public schools, Nightmares, Pittsburgh, Race, Racial Strife, Russet Potatoes, Socioeconomic Strife, University of Pittsburgh
I found myself at a party one cold and starry evening, standing in an equally cold kitchen. It was really bright in the kitchen, almost to the point of overpowering my eyes. The walls and cabinets were all-white, the counters made of formica, and the floor light blue-and-white tiled. This was in stark relief from the adjacent living room. It was in a red-brown, ’70s dimmed-light den mode, with beads hanging over the doorway leading out of the kitchen to it. It was the kind of party I never had the chance to go to in high school.
But everyone was there. Even people I hadn’t seen since my Davis Middle School days. The class valedictorian and salutatorian, the affluent and middle class types who went to Pennington Elementary, Crushes #1 and #2, members of the Italian Club, and so many others were there. Two of them were peeling potatoes and throwing them into big pots of boiling water. They started slicing and dicing them, laughing as they were throwing the pieces into the bubbling clean and clear liquid.
Except these weren’t potatoes. These were turds, each shaped like a large Russet, being peeled and chopped, looking white but quickly turning crappy-brown upon contact with the air. The two turd-peelers shared the boiled and mashed turds with my former classmates, who were smiling in glee and eating them up with delight. I then looked at this six-foot, trapezoidal pyramid of a rack in the middle of the super-bright kitchen. It was full of turds, stacked on each one of its seven levels. It was enough to feed the guests several times over.
When I sat up from this dream in my small room in a shared row house on Welsford in Pittsburgh and found myself in the present, the first Saturday of February ’90, I gave Mom a call. I told her about the dream in all of its strange details. I asked her what she thought of it. “You’re friends are full of shit,” she said. After laughing so hard that I nearly rolled out of bed, I said, “That can’t be. It’s got to be more complicated than that.”
Yet I knew that Mom was absolutely right. Most of the people I knew during my years in Humanities — classmates, teachers, administrators, family members and neighbors — were full of crap when it came to me. I certainly included myself in that category. I might’ve made sure of or accidentally given myself a couple of enemas between 7S and the University of Pittsburgh. But it would’ve been hard to stay clean around all the filth on which we dined growing up. This was thanks in large measure to our community leaders and all of the racial and socioeconomic strife that was part of everyday politics and conversations at school and at city hall.
What Mom said was ironic, too. For better and mostly for worse, Mom, father and ex-stepfather had crapped up our lives with their baggage. The turds from their lives were the reason why my dreams had grown to be so vivid, so complicated by the time I reached adulthood. Mostly, my dreams and nightmares brought me to anger, as if someone were trying to steal my life from me, which, as it turned out, was how I felt most of the time when I was awake. And that also made me resolute whenever I left my dreams for the conscious world.
This was the final break between my immediate past of Mount Vernon, the whole Hebrew-Israelite and Humanities thing, and all of the ridicule, ostracism, poverty and abuse that came with those things. My past experiences were all now a part of my dream world. It was an occasional reminder that I wasn’t really myself in the relatively recent past.
That was nearly twenty-one years ago. Except for the occasional email from an ex-teacher or ex-Humanities classmate, the only reminders I have of the time before I became myself again are my Boy @ The Window project and manuscript. And though I don’t necessarily see the people whom I grew up with and around as being full of crap these days, I do see how our collective community baggage would make it difficult for many of us to find our way, our calling. Even in the midst of the best education our city had to offer.