Well... most of you read the book so that means you're familiar with Rich by now. I just landed in the States and he was my first call. I was listening to MSNBC on the radio, so this is the first time I'm getting real-time reaction/news from an American source about the Martin case. I'm trying not to internalize this feeling and make it about me -- but hey, it is what it is, maybe I'm melodramatic -- but all I'm consumed with is my positioning in life.
All the time I tell these cute self-depreciating celeb run-ins when I get a pie-in-the-face moment. But rarely do I share stories of a more serious nature pie-in-the-face moments. All I could keep saying was, "Thank god for my good fortune." I can't tell you how many times a year I'm in a serious situation only to hear the magic words, "Oh... wait... Questlove? Hey, guys, it's Questlove -- we're so sorry, you can go." Mostly because in the age of social media most people are quick to dismiss my tales as #FirstWorldProblems unless it's super major. (Did I ever FB the story of how the Buffalo DEA held me 'cause they thought I was a drug lord back in 2006? Multiply that scenario by a realistic 40 -- like five to seven times a year a night ending in the words "thank god for that afro, we'd never have recognized you" happens to me.)
So a friend of mine sent me this apology letter. All the time I'm in scenarios in which primitive, exotic-looking me (6'2", 300 pounds, uncivilized afro for starters) finds himself in places that people that look like me aren't normally found. I mean, what can I do? I have to be somewhere on Earth, correct? In the beginning (let's say 2002 when the gates of "Hey, Ahmir, would you like to come to [name swanky elitist place]?" opened), initially I'd say "no" -- mostly because it's been hammered in my DNA to not "rock the boat" -- which, since I wanna keep it real, means not make "certain people" feel uncomfortable.
I mean, that is a crazy way to live.
Seriously, imagine a life in which you think of other people's safety and comfort first before your own. You're kinda programmed and taught that from the gate. It's like the opposite of entitlement.
Problem is, I do have desires to go to certain places and do certain things and enjoy the perks and benefits of a person who works his arse off as much as I do. So I got over my hangups of not wanting to be the odd guy in the room sometime around 2007.
Mixed results at best. Some of it is "oh, that wasn't that bad," some of it was "well... that was awkward." (This is the prime reason I hate vacations. Those who know me well always ask why I never take them. Main reason? I don't feel like being the "odd guy out" at vacation spots --hence that hobo journey of 2009 train trip I took was the best one I ever took. No scaring people on a train ride.)
Anywho, Imma share a portion of the letter. I was explaining to a friend something I found troubling but managed to find humor in. My friends know that I hate parking lots and elevators, not because they are places that danger could occur, but they're prime places in which someone of my physical size can be seen as a danger element. I wait and wait in cars until I feel it's safe for me to make people feel safe. I know most of y'all are eye-rolling, but if you spent a good three months in these size 14s you'd understand why I take that position.
So here is the setup.
I live in a "nice building." I work hard. You know I work hard. My logic is (naive alert in 5...4....3...2...): "Well, there cant be any fear of any type in this building, you first of all gotta go through hell and high water just to get accepted to live here like it's Dartmouth or U Penn. Secondly there's like five to eight guards on duty 24/7 so this spot is beyond safe. Like Oscar winners and kids of royalty and sports guys and mafia goombahs live here." So one night I get in elevator and just as the door closes this beautiful woman gets on. Because of a pain in the arse FOB card device you have to use to get to your floor, it just makes it an easier protocol for whoever is pressing floors to take everyone's request like you are at the window of a drive-thru ("What floor?" "54.....82.......43......76......"). So I press my floor number and I ask her, "What floor, ma'am?" (Yes, I say ma'am because... *sigh* anyway...) She says nothing. Stands in the corner. Mind you, I just discovered the Candy Crush app so if anything, I'm the rude one cause I'm more obsessed with winning this particular board than anything else. Plus in my head: "No way I can be a threat to a woman this fine if I'm buried deep in this game -- so surely she feels safe."
So the humor comes in that I thought she was on my floor cause she never acknowledged my floor request. She was also bangin' so inside I was like, "dayuuuuuuuuuuum she lives on my floor? *bow chicka wowowowowwoooowwww!!!" Like I was kinda happy cause as far as I knew, only six people occupied the nine spots on my floor. So instantly I was on some "what dessert am I welcoming committee-ing her with?!" Anywho, the door opens and I waited to let her off first cause I am a gentleman (old me woulda rushed first, thus not putting me in the position to have to follow her, god forbid, if she too makes a left.) (Always in this position in dark hotel hallways -- Sandra Bernhard will deny this til the cows come home but she was scared out of her mind the first night we accidentally met in a hotel in which I had the misfortune to be on same floor and having to follow her all the way down the worlds darkest art deco hallway to our rooms -- we joked about it years later but it was tense.) So door opens and I flirt, "Ladies first." She says, "This is not my floor." So then I assume she is FOB-less (food delivery people often get wrong floors and we press them to right floors), so I pulled my card out, assuming she didn't live in the building, to press her floor yet again. She offers, "That's okay."
Then it hit me: "Oh God, she purposely held that information back."
The door closed but it was a "pie-in-the-face" moment.
I laughed at it.
Well, inside I cried, but it's like, if I cried at every insensitive act that goes on in the name of safety as far as I'm concerned, I'd have to be committed to a psych ward. So I just taught myself throughout the years to just accept it and maybe even see it as funny. Each second that went by, it kept eating at me ("Well I guess she never watched the show."... "My English was super clear. I called her 'ma'am' like I was Webster"... "Well, those that know you know that you're cool, but you definitely know that you are a walking rape nightmare, right, Ahmir? Of course she was justified in not saying her floor -- that was her prerogative!"... "You are kinda scary looking, I guess?"). I mean, it's a bajillion thoughts -- all of them self-depreciating voices slowly eating my soul away.
So I told the friend the story about how I think I scared the lady in my above-secure building elevator so much that she wanted to wait until I left before she felt it safe enough to press her floor number.
This is the response/email apology I got today:
"I am wrong about many things, but I want to apologize for taking a particular story you told me too lightly.
............you told me that a few days prior a woman had joined you in an elevator and on the way up to your floor you asked her what floor she was going to. she said nothing, so you just assumed she was going to your floor. When you arrived at your floor, she didn't get off.
I told you I didn't care much about race anymore and I meant it....."
That was gist of the letter (I edited stuff out).
In short she gave me the dismissive/"cry me a river" response most people default to -- which of course just translates and filters to, "Oh... my feelings don't count."
Because... my feelings don't... count.
I don't know why it's that way. Mostly I came to the conclusion that people over 6 feet and over weight regulation or as dark as me (or in my tax bracket) simply don't have feelings.
Or it's assumed we don't have feelings.
I mean, it's partially right. I literally figured the only way for me to not go insane in a career that creates junkies (or at best Kanye) is to desensitize myself from feelings.
Thing is, though, I'm a halfway crook.
An awesome poker player. So yeah, I hurt.
But I'll be damned if I let you know that.
So call me a 75 percent robot/25 percent human being. (This should also explain to you why I'm able to work mammoth hours with zero complaints.)
So when I got off the plane this morning and I was waiting in customs, I read that apology note...
And it kinda touched me. Like that vindication moment when the misunderstood character on TV finally proves they are not crazy and people see it their way finally. She related to me, and it was a gut punch I wasn't expecting in an already emotional day. So... I guess I started to almost... cry?
So then Rich hits me on the phone seconds later:
I know it's sad to say, but we in The Roots circle love each other like family -- but not enough to trust each other in vulnerable moments. I mean this is a man who waited until he was on the operating table minutes away from surgery to finally reveal to me he was going through a life or death cancer procedure simply because he didn't wanna distract me or create excuses as to why I didn't finish my book (the majority of the back-and-forth banter talk from Mo Meta was done with him in a hospital without my knowledge -- that's how deep "feelings" are buried in this circle).
So I'm doing my best "straighten up, stop sobbing" schtick and he says, "What's wrong?" Four seconds flat -- I bury it and I'm back to normal.
I'm not proud of that.
I spent 11 of the last 20 years in therapy trying to deal with that.
So I decided to abandon operation "bury," and I said, "Well..."
Rich: "What's wrong?"
I mean, how do I answer that? This does not feel like an average day: Remember how nice everyone was post-9/11? Eerie. Almost surreal.
Like everyone is acting "too nice" and I dunno how to process that. Then there are people that are acting like nothing happened ("Hey, Quest, where is Dave Chappelle at?!!??!"). It's just one of those days that doesn't feel normal to me.
So Rich keeps picking at the question like a 3-month-old scab from camping: WHAT'S WRONG?
And I'm like, "Need I say it?!?!"
But it's like I can't tell if he's provoking me or not. Half the time I'm thinking he's waiting for me to complain about last night's show in Amsterdam. Then I'm like, "Am I embarrassed to tell Rich I feel horrible in general?" I don't know how to not internalize the overall message this whole Trayvon case has taught me:
You ain't shit.
That's the lesson I take from this case.
You ain't shit.
Those words are deep 'cause these are words I heard my whole life.
I heard from adults in my childhood that I need to be "about something" other than all that banging and clanging and music I play all the time. And as I got older I heard I wasn't as good as "so and so and so and so" is at music. I mean, the "you a'int shit" stories I got -- Jesus, it's a wonder I made it.
So, Rich asks, "Wait... you're not surprised, are you?"
I wasn't surprised at all, but that doesn't mean it doesn't sting any less.
I mean, I should be angry, right? I remember when Sean Bell's outcome came out and I just knew "oh God, New York is gonna go up in flames." And like... no one was fuming. It was like, "No surprises here... that's life."
So Rich asks: "Like, are you surprised... that you ain't shit?"
I mean, it hurts to hear it and I said, "I'm not surprised at the disposition but who wants to be reminded? What fat person wants to hear they aren't pleasing to the eye? Or what addict wants to hear they are a constant eff-up? Who wants to be reminded that *shrug* it's just the way it is?"
So I guess I'm struggling to get at least 1 percent of this feeling back from all this protective numbness I've built around me to keep me from feeling because at the end of the day... I'm still human...
Follow Questlove on Twitter: www.twitter.com/questlove