As a Griot I see things from a different perspective.
The year was 1997, almost twenty years after my miraculous encounter with that cop in San Jose. I had moved out of San Jose, lived in San Francisco for nearly sixteen years and moved once again to Orange County, settling in a rather quite and unassuming town called Tustin, bordered by Anaheim, Irvine and Costa Mesa. I had passion for writing my story and nothing seemed to work to get me going in all the previous places. I thought a small town like Tustin would provide the right ambience I sought for motivation.
And it did.
For a living, I declined all jobs that paid well. They all demanded undivided loyalties and meticulous attentions. I didn’t have that to offer. Instead, I took menial jobs, being the drudge man, taking tedious and unpleasant duties just to pay the bills. In the early 1980s, I owned a
café on Market Street in downtown San Francisco, but the job was too demanding. I didn’t want to be tied to a job (I put my Griot job on the line) and finally sold the café.
At last, I took a job as security guard, just to pay the bills. The only problem is, it paid little. A poor mother and a mélange of destitute relatives back in Africa who depended on me for their living were bugging me to death, clamoring for me to do more. Unfortunately, the good jobs that paid well were inundated with office politics that are toxic and harmful for a writer. To write, I desperately needed my serenity and to stay away from office squabbles and politics. I wasn’t willing to pay that price, but the poor relatives in Africa suffered. They said, forget about your idiotic Griot tales.
“SEND MONEY! WE HAVE TO EAT!”
Then, in 1997 I took a job as a Security Field Manager (that paid a little more), mostly checking up on security guards who weren’t doing their jobs properly or those who were sleeping on duty. I also monitored their punctuality while reporting to work, reprimanded those who didn’t put on their proper uniforms and advised some of those who came to work with a lackadaisical attitude. I was now sending more money to Africa.
My mother was happy.
T My relatives also wrote to me to keep this present job. “Do you know that the guys who left the country after you had now bought huge houses, businesses for their relatives, everything!” they added in their letters.
They were laying a guilt trip on me, and it worked.
I was all into my work now, came home at the end of the day, exhausted, and watched the rerun of Gilligan Islands and life was great! I was being a couch potato. I was hooked to Cheers. I was getting into the American way of life.
Then, something stupendous happened that changed my life once again as a Griot.
It was another spectacular day in Southern California, with 80 degree Fahrenheit, and the blue sky above was as clear as the ocean. I was driving south on Freeway 55, going to where my company had an account in Dana Point, a small beach community near Laguna Beach. There was a report that the security guard at the sight wore no uniform. In fact, he put on a baseball cap with a caption that read “Kiss My Ass”, and belittled everyone.
My employers had told me that if he were found without a proper uniform, I should send him home (a euphemism to firing him) immediately on the spot and assume the job until a replacement was found for me. They said I should be there before the start of his shift at 3.00 pm.
I knew the guy, a Mike Tyson look-alike, who acted pugnacious every time he opened his mouth. The truth of the matter is that the guy actually wasn’t only an Iron Mike look-alike, he was literally built and was endowed just like Mike in every sense of the word. He even had that Mike Tyson squeaky voice.
Except this guy was white!
I had never seen a black Mike Tyson look-alike, let alone a white one. Mike Tyson is inimitable even by God. Mike Tyson has a matchless bone structure and a unique body mass that cannot be copied. He was invented by God as an early prototype for a future species in a different planet. This white guy was scary and he was explosive just like Tyson, ready to burst into indefinable rage even without provocation. He was scary.
I can tell you one thing: He didn’t like blacks, period!
I panicked each time I met him. I could see my demise when I tell him to go home that day. Imagine a guy with an attitude problem, who called every female client “Hey Mama!” and every male client “Hey Dude!”, including the CEO of the company. He also had no respect for
me at all. He hated authority figures, and the fact that I was a black supervisor didn’t help. On three of my prior visits to this site, I was accosted by this same guy with cursory nod and contemptuous look, making me nervous about being there. Of these three visits, I had verbally reprimanded him once and wrote him up for his poor judgment and lack of professionalism twice. I was trembling when I did that. This would be his last write-up if he was found not following the work orders and site policies as defined in our Post Book.
Unfortunately on that day a huge problem arose on my way to the site.
At 2:30 pm, I was stuck in the freeway, before the intersection of 55 South and 405 South, heading toward San Diego. The traffic jam was atrocious. At 2:45 I was getting pretty nervous, and the traffic still wasn’t moving. It wasn’t only the south side that was jammed; it seemed the north side was equally crammed with vehicles going nowhere.
Remember, these were the days before the sleek cell phones were ubiquitous. My walkie-talkie radio frequency was unable to connect me with my office, either. Now, I was fidgeting and cursing, not knowing what to do. There were hundreds of people out of their vehicles watching the scene intensely. Something was going on for sure; I simply couldn’t tell what it was from my distance. I could hear, however, about twenty feet away cheers, clapping and loud applaud. The crowd ahead of me was distracted by the incident and didn’t mind to stay there for what seemed infinity.
I, on the other hand, had an assignment to send Iron Mike back to his home and if I didn’t follow the instruction, my job was on the line. Imagine my nervousness at this stage. I could see the sad face of my mother if money to be forwarded to her would be any less. And the confrontation with Iron Mike wouldn’t end peacefully either; I can guarantee you that!
Then, like everyone else, I got out of my car and went a little to the front where the main action was going on to witness the incident. I was expecting some kind of fist fight, a result of road rage, between two combatants. Why the police wasn’t summoned so far was beyond me. Although the cell phone was not everywhere at the time, there were still some privileged people who possessed it and wondered why they didn’t call.
Alas, I was in for a big surprise.
As I looked, with my neck stretched, I saw a young man whose car was parked about twenty feet ahead of every vehicle, and there was a cat in the middle of the freeway, completely paralyzed from fear, not moving. She must be a lost cat, now at the risk of being crushed in the freeway by speeding vehicles, not only by one, but by hundreds!
Except the young man who was adamant to save her wouldn’t allow it.
He was adamant, alright, you could tell that from a distance.
Only in America, I said to myself.
In Africa, where I came from, that man will be shot along with the damn cat for his foolish conduct! I kept watching. The cat didn’t trust the man who was trying to save her. She wanted to flee. Every step he took forward to grab her, she ran away from him. When he stopped following her, she would stop moving. When he retreated, she moved toward him. When he was too aggressive, she resisted him.
After about five minutes, it was obvious he had gained some ground on her. You can tell she was half way trusting him. For every gain however, the onlookers applauded and cheered. This was equivalent to Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Armstrong’s courage was a test of
humanity; so was the young man who stopped thousands of vehicles just to save the life of a frightened and lost cat!
What more courage do you want more than that from Americans?
At last, the cat came to him, falling in his arms as if she belonged there. The freeway applaud could be heard miles down in San Diego. In a planet of cats, the cheer was even louder. The guy entered his car with a newly acquired pet and drove away with a smile. I followed him. He was headed toward the Newport Beach, only about five miles further south. I wanted to meet this incredible animal lover and see his soul. As a Griot, this was the type of a story I sought desperately.
Now, as far as firing Iron Mike was concerned: Forget it!
He probably would have crushed my bones anyway.
I caught up with the Cat Man (who couldn’t be more than twenty or something), as soon as he exited the freeway. I waved. He lowered his window to talk to me.
“Hey, that’s amazing!” I yelled.
“No, thank you, thank you. Thank you!”
“Not a problem, I love animals.”
“Do you live in Costa Mesa?” I asked, sill in my car.
“No, I’m actually not from here,” he said.
“Hey thanks again Michael. Good luck!” I said, and drove away.
That brief encounter with this young man meant a world to me. I felt as if I was meeting Moses. It was that deep. That day (I didn’t even go to work), I went to a nearest pet adoption agency and donated fifty dollars. The next day, when I reported to work, I was told that I had been sacked of my job title for not calling or not firing Iron Mike. Another Field Manager was sent to the post and got rid of the officer after finding that Iron Mike actually had on a different T-shirt that read “FUCK YOU!”
“It’s amazing what you find in America. Here is a man risking his own life in the middle
of a freeway just to save a lost cat from getting hit. And then there is a man who is trying his hardest to pass for a black man and challenge the system. What country am I in?” I asked myself eternally amazed.
Finally, I was back to my regular security job and resumed my writing.
This incident with the Man and the Cat in the freeway had a pivotal role in my life. I learned to love animals deeply. America to me is a huge university with countless branch of wisdoms to be attained everywhere, not merely in campuses and traditional research and learning institutions.
America is a university on her own!
Americans are awesome!