I read. I try to stay awake on contemporary issues in human business. Here’s a thing: People asking when white people can say the N-word.
• Like, if I have a black friend and we are in the car singing along to Jay-Z and Kanye, then can I say the N-word?
• If I’m white but I date a black person, so I get it, I understand the struggle, then can I say the N-word?
• If grew up in a multiracial neighborhood, then I can totally say the N-word?
• If a white person is trapped on an island alone with a volcano and a voice-activated helicopter but the only way to activate the helicopter is to say the N-word and nobody will ever hear you, then is it OK?
And, here’s what I say. Sure you can. Really, I guess, anybody can say anything. That’s your decision. But, just so you know, people are going to judge you and judge you hard on that.
You want to take other people’s pain and oppression and make it a rhyme? Go ahead. See what happens. See if you regret it later. If you do, well, maybe you learned. If you don’t, well, maybe it makes it easier for the rest of us to know who we should not hang out with. You wanna hang out that hate shingle, go ahead. Really, some of us appreciate that “Keep Off” sign.
You go ahead and “do you.” And if I don’t like you, I don’t have to deal with you. Be hateful, that’s your choice. That’s the bargain. Don’t ask if you “can,” ask if you want to.
I feel like we have collectively lowered the bar on what it takes to make a solid dis track. Go listen to Jay-Z “The Takeover” or “No Vaseline” by Ice Cube or any of those Tupac/Biggie songs from that time (The American Hip-Hop version of the UKs “The Troubles”) and then call me about who is winning this little Meek Mill vs. Drake sandbox fight.
I didn’t change my Facebook profile photo to a rainbow. I hope my gay and lesbian friends (who now have basic American’s citizens’ rights), aren’t offended.
But also, I hope they are. I hope we all are. Because yes, this is a huge victory, but it isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.
As I’ve said before, if you’re an American, and your rights as an American are threatened or cheapened in any way, then all our rights are threatened. If we continue to treat, officially or unofficially, our transgender, black, immigrant, or other “minority” citizens differently, differently than other U.S. citizens, we are not doing this right.
“Equal protection under law,” that’s what it says. Not “Equal for some people, sort of, when we feel like it.”
Let’s quit it. The next time you see a fellow U.S. citizen, or hear about a fellow U.S. citizen, being denied rights, you need to speak up. You should feel threatened. Until that’s real, until all U.S. citizens enjoy all U.S. freedoms, turning my photo into a rainbow isn’t really helping. It’s actually kind of rude.
Second, I also want to think of that rainbow as a protected, safe space for gays and lesbians to celebrate without my dopey “ally” self butting in. Some of us straights are not exactly with it in terms of really knowing what it means to be an ally. Some people don’t understand, and never will. I stand in solidarity with my gay and lesbian citizens by appreciating. I’m very happy for you, and you understand how far we have to go.
“Birthday celebrations are a cakewalk at Sonic Drive-In as the nation’s largest drive-in restaurant chain celebrates its 50th Birthday with a Birthday Cake Shake. Sonic invites customers to share in the celebration with a 50th Birthday Cake Shake: a tasty blend of real white sheet cake, icing, soft serve and colorful sprinkles all in one cup.”
— Sonic press release, May 1, 2003
In May 2003, Sonic Drive-In had a Birthday Cake Shake on their menu, all month, for one month only. There was a Sonic on Assembly Street in Columbia, S.C., where I lived at the time, and I got a shake every day I could all month long. And then it was gone. I was 21 years old.
You know the McRib people? The people who get all pumped when the McRib is available? Who travel around to where it’s released? Who proselytize the wonder that is the McRib? I am like them, but for a menu item that never comes back. I got my hopes up in 2013, thinking, well, it’s the 60th anniversary of Sonic, maybe they’ll bring it back. They did not.
The Sonic Birthday Cake Shake was real. You know when you eat cake and ice cream on the same plate at a kid’s birthday party and they touch? It was that, drinkable. The cake crumbs gave the shake texture. The icing gave it varying flavors. The ice cream, you know, is ice cream.
Another local fast-food-itarium has a “birthday cake shake.” It is an abomination. I had one a few years ago. The texture was wrong and the taste was wrong. Like they didn’t use actual cake, or they didn’t blend it right, and they used some kind of strange flavoring compound to try to make up the actual taste of birthday cake (like that weird mixed shooter they make with Baileys or Franjelico where it tastes like cake, but it isn’t cake, like it has a baked taste, but it’s just chemicals and liquid). And then the biggest sin, and this they do with all their shakes, is the shakes come frozen in plastic cups with foil yogurt lids. When someone orders one, they pull the frozen cup and stick it under a blender. From the drive-through at this particular establishment near my house, I can see this sin being committed. That is not a milkshake, my friends.
One of my grandmothers worked as a soda jerk in a drugstore in the 1940s. She scooped ice cream. She made real milkshakes. When my dad was trying to gain weight for sports in school, she made him milkshakes with raw eggs. I’ve had one. You can’t even tell. A real milkshake is a symphony of creaminess and sweetness and refreshingness. There’s a place in Athens, Ga. I go for a shake every time I’m there, because they make them right, and they even come in those paper cones in the metal holders. For the record, I don’t really like dairy, or milk, or ice cream very much, but when you find the pinnacle, the Platonic ideal of something, even if it’s not your favorite, you can still appreciate the greatness. You order the shake. I usually can only have a few sips, but in those sips, I swear, something transcendental happens.
So yesterday I got an email that a local burger establishment was celebrating its 5th birthday with free birthday cake shakes as a thank-you to anyone who came to the restaurant today. Last night, I wrote a heartfelt plea to my friends to meet me out for that shake.
“So, Public Service Announcement to you bros. I got an email about this shake today cause I’m on some Yeah! Burger email list and I feel like it is very important that I pass it on because of the significance The Birthday Cake Shake had in my history and how much it mattered to my life.”
— email from Jessica Clary to assorted friends, June 9, 2015
My friends assembled. We went to YEAH! Burger. We got the shakes.
And they were good, but the texture was wrong. The taste was there, but the original Sonic-y ground-up-cake-in-ice-cream just wasn’t there.
From Cantonese, and now in English, there’s the saying “Chasing the dragon.” Drug addicts fantasize that the next dose or hit is going to be THE ONE, but it never happens. The ultimate experience with the drug isn’t there, but the idea of it is there. I don’t think I’m addicted to the shake itself, I am fascinated and intrigued and driven by the PURSUIT of this perfect shake.
There are three ways this can work out, I guess:
1. Sonic brings back the shake, it’s as good as I remember, everything is amazing.
2. Sonic never brings back the shake. I never experience anything like this shake. I chase this dragon for the rest of my life.
And then the worst, 3. Sonic brings back the shake, and it’s not how I remember it. Either they change it, or my brain synapses don’t connect the same way they did 12 years ago and it doesn’t deliver.
Dear Sonic, I implore you, do this for me.
As more and more southern people move or travel, and as more and more of us are forced to hide our accents (and wear shoes in public, etc.) as to blend in, some of y’all may not be used to our quirky conversational idioms. Like when we will say, “Oh, bless her heart,” to mean, “Lord, I guess she can’t help that she’s totally awful.” Or, “Oh, please excuse me” instead of “Get out of my way, you imbecile, this is a hallway and not your own personal loitering space.”
Or, for example, when we are riding next to each other on an airplane and you spend an hour with your elbow shoved into my ribs, and I say “I’m sorry,” when I move and it disrupts your typing, what I really mean is “You are the one who needs to apologize, and your color-coded Excel spreadsheet is ugly.” And when I accidentally kick my bag into your foot, because your foot is under my seat, and I say “Excuse me,” I mean “Move your foot out of my personal space as fast as you can before I call the flight attendant and have her remove it from your leg.” And when I say “Thank you,” because you stood at the end of our row talking on the phone instead of getting your suitcase down out of the overhead and therefore blocking all of us in rows 23-40 from exiting the plane, I really mean “Please go away from my sight and do not exist in my presence again.”
(Side note: When an airplane is landing, and they tell you to stow your laptop away, it’s not because of the electronic interference. It’s because if we hit an air pocket on descent, or skid out on the runway, that’s a hefty projectile with pointy corners to be suddenly heaving toward someone’s head at 200 miles per hour. Just saying, not every FAA law is moronic bureaucracy designed to inconvenience you.)
Please don’t let our politeness be mistaken for weakness. I will gladly forgive, but I never forget.