Back at Boomer’s
My attendance at the benefit for Jamal Andrews, down at Boomer’s on Sunday night, marked my debut into the Laytonville public eye, since my emergence from my mental tunnel, eighteen months ago. I wrote about Jamal on Sunday morning, in "Not enough Words." Despite the sad circumstances of the occasion, the event itself was galvanizing. Casey and I had gone down to Lito’s house, about two minutes from Boomer’s, and we had been informed that we had better go in and get our wristbands.
“Seriously, Dude? That many people?”
“The band that’s playing is I Chronic, and it’s going to be a good show. One of the band members is a cousin of Jamal’s. They were in London the day before yesterday.”
“Jamal lived in Redwood Valley, so there are going to be people from all over Mendocino County here tonight.”
“It’s amazing that they, whoever “they” are, were able to round up the band in two days; after all, they only announced the benefit on Friday, and the event is being held on Sunday.”
Boomer’s is the local bar and restaurant in Laytonville, a venue far more familiar to my adult sons than to me. The one and only time I have been in Boomer’s was March 15, 1992, almost twenty years ago, when a “pink-slip party” was held there, to mark the fact that fifteen district employees, including me, had received notification that there was nothing secure about our jobs for the following school year. Realistically, we knew that the district was not going to fire fifteen teachers, and it was all about politics, but the fact that a pink slip must be distributed before any other action took place, was disconcerting.
Now, as we arrived, the front car-lot was jammed, and so was the parking all across the back. We ended up in the parking lot on the far side of where we had come in, and that spoke volumes right there. The crowd spilled out into the adjoining blacktop, as the ordinance concerning smoking now put all bars in California off limits for smoking. I expect that is the case most everywhere in our country, but do not know that for a fact.
As we made our way into the foyer, to pay the twenty dollar entry fee, various young adults greeted me, as I walked with Casey into the establishment. My appearance is pretty much the same as when I taught, with the exception of my mustache, which extends down past my chin, the tips of which will actually touch my belly button, if I incline my head forward, just a smidge. I had it braided for the occasion, and with all of the dred-locks in evidence this night, I fit in pretty well. Many of the people, with whom I made conversation, felt compelled to either comment, or reach out and touch, as I made my way around.
I tried to be aware of the fact that for some, it might be their worst nightmare, to see their old middle school language arts teacher in the local drinking hole. However, as many were to assure me over the course of the evening, I was remembered fondly, and enthusiastically, by every single individual I met. “William” put it pretty much the same way as others, when he said,
“Mr. O, you’re the only teacher I ever had, who got up on the tables, and ran around the classroom. That was so sick.”
He was right, of course, I did that every year I taught, at least once, to demonstrate an action word, a verb, and maybe to distinguish action verbs from linking verbs. I believed that seeing me, dignified Mr. O, with his dress slacks (no Levis) and tie (every day but Fridays) up on the tables, would make the lesson stick. William proved me correct.
“You also busted a ruler over a table one time, and a piece of it whistled past my ear.” I remembered also, breaking a couple rulers; If I felt that the volume level in the class was surpassing acceptable levels, I would take a meter stick, and slam it down on the table, creating, of course, a sound like a rifle shot, thereby bringing instant-and total-silence to the room. Even the kids used to be impressed.
“Yeah, I probably did a few things that could have gotten me in trouble...”
“Well, that is what made you such a fun teacher.”
And Arturo was waxing on eloquently, (after I had shaken his hand, and then politely asked him who he was) how much the kids respected me. His mustache made it impossible for me to be able to pare ten-twelve years away, and see the kid who had sat in the classroom. Actually, I could recognize almost no guys, and only rarely, a gal. Also, I was unwilling to fix my gaze on any of the gals there, because I was petrified that I would be thought of as hitting on the young women. Annie had opted out of the night’s event, because it was starting after her bedtime. It was starting after my bedtime as well, but I had taken the necessary precaution of a two-hour nap, late in the afternoon, so I was good to go.
As far as the issue of respect went, it was a two-way street. I gave the students respect initially, and they gave it back, ten-fold. I have said in the past, that discipline in a classroom of thirty-plus kids, is either your biggest or least problem; there was no in-between land.
The band was supposed to begin at 9:00, but it was close to eleven before that happened. Up until then, Leo had been putting on the music, some of it Jamal’s, and some of it Moeses’s. Moese was another former student who had been huge in the music industry, who had lost his life in an off-road vehicle accident. His music was also featured during the warm-up to the band.
It was my first exposure to live reggae music, and I was hypnotized. Some of the band was composed of Jamaican-born musicians, who were ecstatic to be in "Cahl-lee-for-nee-a." The music was so loud, it rattled the floor, and the crush of humanity was omnipresent. Eighteen months ago I could never, under any circumstances imaginable, have even entered the building, let alone enjoyed myself. It was a cathartic experience.
The message of the band was identical to the one I had posted that morning: violence is unacceptable, and everyone needs to both respect and revere all forms of life. We have to continue to emphasize and value the unique worth of all human beings, and then, maybe, we could avoid further tragedy. How else does a community deal with a senseless killing, that was motivated by race? Inconceivable.
The sad part about the show is, that so many people mused as to why we always seem to have the ragers, to mark something bad, that has occurred in the community. We need to change that, so that more often, when we gather, we can celebrate the good things also.
Jamal will be missed; that is a fact. No sense of closure will ever be possible, without the passage of time. Pain, so deep and so permeating, does not vacate the premises in a timely manner. The gathering of the community helps deal with the immediacy and the sharpness of this pain, but only time will ease it. Time and an ongoing effort to teach those around us, to value individuality and diversity, two characteristics which should attract people, and not repel them.