Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Curse of Curtises



A Curse of Curtises

I'm not one to get into race relations. Recent police-related tragedies in Baltimore and across the United States have broke my heart, and have sent me soul-searching to see what I can do better as part of our culture. As a globally-oriented artist, I have little patience for prejudice, bigotry, racial hatred or intolerance. I'm a big supporter of racial and gender equality, and acknowledged the changing of the demographics of the U.S.A. a decade or so ago. I grew up around the world, shuttled from military base to military base, so I had little time to get opinionated about people based on the color of their skin, gender, ethnic background or history.

As a secular humanist, I obviously have some issues regarding religion, its vulture-like grip on society and the theocratic direction of our governing bodies, but when it comes to the people that make up the followings, I don't discriminate, don't get dragged into racial exchanges, and I try to be a patient resident of the planet. I'm a supporter of MLK Jr and MalcomX, reference Ghandi and Buddha and the Dalai Lama regularly, and studied Eastern and Western Religions (including a year on the Bible) at the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. I've spent my life studying humans and their tendencies, cultures, thoughts, passions.

If there's anyplace that the Universe and I intersect, it is on the concept of patience.

Unfortunately, it seems like the Universe is more interested in testing the edges of my patience than proving out the positive concepts of it.

On Sunday, my path crossed with two Curtises, both of which are examples of patience lost across Humanity -- one, at a conference center in Dallas, Texas where cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad were being judged as part of a contest; the other, at a Dollar Store where a certain Curtis got "racial on me" for not letting him go ahead of me in line with his bag of chips.

The first Curtis:  On Sunday May 3, two ISIS-aligned gunman attacked the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas where 200 people were attending a Muhammad Art Exhibit. The Exhibit was pulled together after recent events such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and other assassinations of Secular bloggers and artists around the world. The event highlighted the strength and solidarity of the secular and freedom of speech community around the world, but also showed that no place is safe from the violent mitts of someone else's myth. No one but the shooters were killed during the attack, but the assault alone demonstrates the extreme lack of patience rooted broadly in our humanity these days.

The second Curtis: On Sunday May 3, I walked into a local Dollar Store with my significant other to buy cheap supplies. Candle molds (plastic cups) for a dollar. Popsicle sticks. Wax paper. Cheap stuff to help other artists and creatives find light and warmth and direction in their art. The day was a busy one, as we had many candles to make, shopping for supplies to complete and a futon to pick up in a few hours. By all accounts, my time was in short supply, considering storms were slated for the rest of the afternoon, and I was rushing to get back home and out of the path of nature's anger.

In my own way, I lacked patience, but I had a lot to do on that day. I suppose my big FAIL is that I could've been more patient and thoughtful, but I wasn't. Unfortunately, I can't be with 100% of my time. I'm an artist; my time outside of work hours to commit to artistic production is extremely limited as it stands. Thus, when I'm driven to get work done, I am focused.

Once I had a my basket full of cheap stuff (twenty or so of the same cups, miscellaneous supplies, tape, etc. -- nothing excessive like a cart full of candy, or trashy, useless trinkets), I jumped into line. The cashier was a nice, personable, smiley and laughable Negro man, probably in his late 30s. (I note is race and age, because he was complicit in my second Curse of Curtises. Unfortunately, this is a very race-related rant.) He had a pleasant attitude for someone working in a Dollar Store on a sunny Sunday.

I placed my basket on the rubber conveyor belt, standing squarely in line and having made eye contact with the cashier. I'd seen him before during previous visits, and was pleased that I was in a line with someone that naturally had a good mood. As someone that worked a service job for years, I can appreciate how hard it is to maintain a laugh and a smile while serving, even a thankless cashier job. My mind had already drifted forward to how I was going to prep new candles with the new tools that I was purchasing.

I wasn't in the moment enough at the Dollar Store to notice a buff Negro man, also in his late 30s, step into line behind me and drop a bag of chips onto the conveyor belt. "Do you mind?" He asked impatiently, signaling his desire to go before me in line since he only had a bag of chips, all the while chatting with someone on the phone.

Irritated by his approach, by my schedule and by the fact that he was still talking on the phone while he asked me impolitely and rudely if he could pay before me, I said "No". Maybe my response was as a result of reading a blog about how "creatives say "NO" earlier in the day, or the fact that he automatically assumed that I was going to let him pass. Either way, he wasn't happy with my response.

Acting as if I verbally abused him, he turned from asking rather impolitely if he could go before me, to telling the person on the phone how much of a "cracka" I was (he used "nigga" when referring to himself, and to the person on the phone), how much of a Gentleman I was not and how much he wanted to "take it outside" because I didn't let him go before me in line.

He was willing to fight me over a bag of chips. 

I'm not one to provoke racial tensions, or even pull the race card when I don't get my way, but I was almost willing to take the tussle outside of Dollar Store and confront Curtis and his vulgar, violent, impatient attitude, regardless of outcome for me, simply because of his racial implications. Perhaps I provoked him a bit because I asked him if he "really needed to go there" (race card), and questioned his claim that I wasn't being a Gentleman for not letting him go first.

The interaction with him took less than five minutes. The checkout of my items took less than five minutes. Curtis (I noted his name because he was wearing a name tag which identified him as a worker at the local Valu Thrift/Unique store, which I will never visit again. And, according to what he said on the phone and which he made loudly clear, he was "off the clock", and not working) was out of the Dollar Store and off to his destination before I could get to my car, obviously not looking for a real confrontation either. Throughout the whole ugly interaction, the cashier never said a word, other than to check out my items as fast as possible.

The cashier would've let me fight Curtis over a bag of chips -- not once lifting a voice to defend my rightful place in line, defend the store's reputation or policies, or the vulgar attacks thrown my way by the impatient customer.

Due to that experience, there are now two places in my area that I will not go to again. Both Dollar Store and Valu Thrift in Sun Ray Shopping Mall, St. Paul, MN, are staffed by unprofessional employees, and should be avoided at all costs.

That aside, it makes me sad that I have a blacklist (in the context of this blog, I'm almost scared to even call it that) of places that I will no longer go, based on poor customer service or a shotty consumer experience. That blacklist is becoming longer and longer as quality of humanity decreases across our race. I'm sure there is more that I can do to be a better human, to be more patient and giving and understanding, to be better connected to the changing tides of humanity.

But the curse of Curtises makes me wonder where I fit now -- a Caucasian male caught in the middle of the turbulence between race and religion. I work hard, play very little and pay the taxes that allow Liberal systems that help humans exist (even more so as a high-income bracket, unmarried male with no dependents).

I practice patience, but the practice is becoming more challenging with the death of decorum, tact and etiquette now consistent across our people.

When will we stop being at war with each other?