The Lost Excerpts from the Barack Obama memoirs
I spent the last two years of high school in a daze, blocking away the questions that life, and my Mr. Natural blacklight poster, seemed insistent on posing. I attended class sparingly, played foosball heavily, and smoked weed enthusiastically. So enthusiastically that my nickname was "Bogart." Okay, maybe it was the last four years of high school.
Most of that daze happened at a little strip mall foosball parlor on the Eastside of HonoluIu. Inside that dingy flourescent sanctuary I discovered it really didn't matter if you were black or white, a surfer or a hodad, whether you had enough money to buy air shocks for your Camaro. Everyone was welcome in our club of disaffection, as long you had a pukka shell necklace and a roll of quarters and a spray can of silicon lube for the old table that had a sticky goalie shaft. Under those buzzing lights I practiced my wicked crossover corner shot and contemplated the big questions: life, justice, how many matchbooks it really took to level the air hockey table. Should a bounce-out count as a goal?
Sometimes the questions got to be too much and I would escape to the solitude of the Bally Wizard machine. I was living in the moment, channeling my disaffected rage though its erratic flipper buttons -- the left one always seemed to short out just as I was nearing a free game -- and thought about the words of Dr. King and Eldridge Cleaver while Boston and Head East blared on the Seeberg jukebox. Sometimes we'd go out to the parking lot and blaze a one hitter in the back of Kip's Econoline. We talked about the unfulfilled promises of America, and Todd, the guy who claimed he could get us fake Nevada IDs. And if the high didn’t solve whatever it was that was getting you down,
it could at least help you laugh at the world’s ongoing folly and hypocrisy and bullshit, and those busloads of tourists you mooned from Kip's van porthole.
Also, did I mention we were disaffected?
To avoid being mistaken for such a sellout, I chose my college video game friends carefully. They were cool and disaffected radicals, with hairstyles to match: politically active black students in dreadlocks, shaved-headed Chicanos, ponytailed Marxist professors, crewcut structural feminists, goth emo punk rock performance poets with liberty spikes. We discussed neocolonialism, Frantz Fanon, hair gels, how to get through level 6 on Ms. Pacman. We smoked clove cigarettes and wore Chess King jackets. And when we arrived at Alladin's Castle at the Galleria the high school nerds parted like the Red Sea, because they knew the Cool Disaffected college gang was in the house, and we owned high score on Asteroids. Later, when we ground out our cigarettes on the food court floor in front of Orange Julius, we were resisting Mall Security's stifling constraints. We weren’t indifferent or careless or insecure. We were alienated. Just like the alienated aliens in "Space Invaders."
Back at the dorm my mind struggled with thoughts of identity and alienation, and aliens. I studied the intricate minarets on the game tokens from Alladin's Castle, I thought to myself: was I just a token too? When the thoughts got too heavy I would walk out on to the fire escape and drop bongwater balloons on unsuspecting preppies. When the balloons burst and splattered their Izods and Topsiders, I was living in that moment.
In 1983, I decided to become a community organizer. There wasn’t much detail to the idea. I didn’t know anyone making a living that way. When classmates at the dorm asked me just what it was that a community organizer did, I offered them another bong hit and that seem to shut them up for a while. But no matter how many bong hits I gave him one guy named Craig kept asking me, "seriously, dude, what does a community organizer do?" and I'm like, "I'm gonna organize and mobilize the grassroots. For change, or something." And then he's like "wow, man, you mean you're gonna be president of the grass?" and I'm like "yeaaaaaaah." And so he's like "shit bro, that's like so fuckin' awesome."
In the deep silence that followed, we were living in that moment. Later Craig and I decided to go live in the moment at the Chevron across Sepuvelda because it had microwave burritos and a Galaga machine. We bought some chips and then the clerk says "here's your change," and Craig looks at me and he start giggling like an idiot, which makes me start laughing too, but then we got paranoid about our laughing and hauled ass out of there. We were back at the dorm playing Frogger on Craig's Atari 2600 before I realized I forgot to get my change.
Eventually, a consulting house to a multinational corporation agreed to hire me as a research assistant. Like a spy behind enemy lines, I arrived every day at my mid-Manhattan office, and sat at my computer terminal, and started playing Tetris which I had sneaked in on a 3.5" floppy. When I rotated those abstract geometric shapes I was living in the moment, a mid-level research department Malcolm X subverting the system from within. And, if "The Man" got too close to my cubicle, I'd hit CTL-ESC, and my Tetris game would subversively turn into a spreadsheet.
As far as I could tell, I was the only black man in the company, a source of shame for me, but, hey, let's face it: pretty good job security. After a while I realized I didn't even have to hide the Tetris games.
"How's the Tetris going, Barry?" the head multinational white guy would ask. "Say, hate to interrupt, but we're having a group photo for the annual report and I was hoping you could be in it."
"Later, dude," I said. "I'm almost to level 7."
When I got off the plane at Nairobi the dense hot African air enveloped me, as if an invisible embrace of generations past, a subtle harkening of a birthright I only barely understood. I stepped into the terminal and my eyes spotted another birthright: a Defender machine, its screen flickering and half faded with the Kenyan sun, but with two game credits showing.
"Are you Barack from America?" came a voice from behind. "I am Aoma, your half sister."
"Hold on a sec," I replied, . "I'm only two screens away from 100,000."
"You Obama men are all the same," snapped Aoma testily as I climbed into the Land Rover. "Always abandoning your village, alway chasing after something on the horizon. What is it you need that you can't find here? Why must you leave your home?"
I thought for a minute, and looked into my half-sister's eyes. "I have to go," I said. "The video arcade in Nairobi just got Mortal Kombat II."
She rolled her eyes, unable to understand that deep longing that compelled me on the arduous two day journey across the Serengeti. When I finally arrived again in Nairobi, amid the dusty bustle of the market and the bloobidy-bloobidy-bloop of the arcade, I experienced an intense personal epiphany. It occurred to me that no matter their skin color, no matter their station in life, all humans have a deep-seated need to hog the Mortal Kombat machine. In that sense, the Kenyans at the arcade were no different that the white kids at the Galleria, although there were probably fewer Goths.
I dropped to the ground and swept my hand across the smooth, yellow tile of the grave. Oh, father, I cried, there was no shame in your confusion, just as there had been no shame in your confused father before you. No shameful silence in the fear, or the fear of the silent confused shame of his father before him. There was only shame in the confused silent fear it had produced in the silent confusion of your father's father's son's grandfathers. It was the silence that betrayed and confused and silenced us. If it weren’t for that silence, your betrayed grandfather might have told your confused father that he could never escape the silent betrayal himself, even with a power pill. Your father's father might have taught those same silent foosball lessons to you. And you, the son's uncle's cousin, might have taught your father 's silent uncle that this new world that was confusing all of you involved more than just railroads and indoor toilets and Pong, lifeless instruments that could be absorbed into the old ways. You might have told him that these instruments carried with them a dangerous 110 volt power, that they demanded a different way of seeing the world, and 3-prong outlets, that this confusing power could be absorbed only alongside a silent faith born out of hardship, a shameless faith that wasn’t confusing, that wasn’t black or white or Christian or Muslim, or Nintendo or PS2, but that pulsed in the heart of the first African village, and the first Kansas homestead that got sucked up in a Tornado and dropped into a Technicolor Munchkinland.
Damn, I though, this Kenyan weed is pretty good shit.
That night I had a dream of Africa. In it I had a mustache and red overalls, and I was chasing an angry giant gorilla in a loincloth through a multi-level landscape. Whenever I got close the gorilla would drop barrels or throw fireballs at me, causing me to dodge and jump. I pressed onward, trying to save something -- or someone -- I didn't quite understand. Even though I was frightened, it filled me with an indescribable calm; in that moment, death no longer mattered, because I had three lives.
As I sat in the pews at Trinity the fiery words of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright washed over me and I was filled with the same old question: would my Nintendo DS battery pack last through another one of his 3-hour marathon sermons? I didn't have time to think about it because Sonic the Hedgehog was in the middle of a boss fight and needed health crystals.
But there was something in Reverend Wright's blah-blah-blah that rang hollow. Was it really true that the black man was doomed to live under the yoke of oppression? Even though I was scarcely more than 40 years old, I had seen and experienced amazing changes: from foosball and air hockey and electric football, to Wii and Madden and PS3. And, through all those changes, I had spent a lot of change.
The more I thought about all that change, I realized that maybe Wright was wrong. After all, hadn't I -- the son of an African immigrant -- set the all-time Donkey Kong record at the Harvard Law School student lounge? Hadn't I finally realized my goal of becoming a professional community organizer, even if I was still a little murky on what exactly that meant?
In that moment I decided that change was possible, and I could be the agent for that change. I could be president -- not just president of grass, but president of all the people.
The old anger and disaffection and alientation were gone. As the Nintendo DS battery flickered its last, I shut its lid. I thought back to that old foosball table in Honolulu, and smiled. Then I blazed a fat blunt.