The following is an excerpt from a work-in-progress called The Town I Live In.
White English Teacher (WET): I love your costume. Are you green man from "It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?"
Black Ex-Marine (BXM): Yeah. Are you that one comedian?
WET: I’m the Unabomber.
BXM: Nice. What are you drinking?
WET: Miller High Life. I’m from Wisconsin.
BXM: I love Wisconsin. I was in the military and I went through Wisconsin. I’ve seen a lot of the US.
WET: Do you find the US to be segregated still? That’s what I’ve noticed.
BXM: Lots of places, yeah. California is more diverse.
WET: I gotta tell you, though, this is the longest conversation I’ve had with a black guy in a long time. There aren’t too many black people in Fullerton.
BXM: (laughs) Yeah, there are more at the colleges.
WET: I teach at Fullerton College. I usually have maybe 2-3 black students per semester.
BXM: But it’s more diverse here than, say, South Carolina.
WET: That’s true. Or Wisconsin. Or Birmingham. I went through Birmingham and that place is scary.
BXM: People have their traditions. There are still places in the US where it’s illegal for a black guy to marry a white girl.
WET: I believe it. I think racism is alive and well in America. Unofficially, of course.
BXM: That’s the thing with America. There’s the side people see on TV, and there’s the reality. I know that from being in the military. There are things I did for my country that no one will ever know.
WET: I think people should know. That’s the beauty of the internet. It’s democratizing information.
BXM: People think America is “the good guys,” but we do the same ugly shit as those “corrupt” countries. We just hide it.
WET: That’s what I’ve noticed too. I’ve been researching Orange County history and there were some awful things that happened, but no one talks about them. Like how there used to be KKK here.
BXM: People don’t want to know.
WET: I think they do, though. Telling the truth can never be bad.
BXM: I guess so, but Americans don’t like to think too much.
WET: Yeah, maybe. But I think we can learn to think more deeply. That’s what I try to do with my English classes.
BXM: That’s good, man.
WET: So you should write about your experiences in the military.
BXM: I don’t think I’m a good writer.
WET: I hear that from students all the time and this is what I tell them: Fuck grammar. Fuck structure. If you have good ideas in your head and heart, just let them out, like you’re having a conversation, like this. So many people think, I suck at grammar, so I can’t be a writer. Grammar is secondary. What matters is if you have ideas and passion and things to say, and it sounds like you have things to say.
BXM: I do, man. I have things to say. Like, what do you think about how we killed Osama Bin Laden?
WET: I dunno. I saw the news. I guess it’s good that we killed him.
BXM: As someone in the military, I can tell you that those reports of how we killed Bin Laden in that big mansion, that’s not how Navy Seals do things.
WET: Are you suggesting that Osama Bin Laden is still alive?
BXM: That’s what I’m saying. That was some publicity, some propaganda. That was bullshit.
WET: I guess that makes sense. The wars are not very popular, and when they announced that Bin Laden was killed, some people believed in the war again.
BXM: Exactly. They put out all those commemorative coins and shit.
WET: Wow. That is shocking.
BXM: That’s what I’m telling you. Americans don’t know the real truth. When I was in Afghanistan, I had to do my job. But I saw people, ordinary families, civilians, and I didn’t want them to die. They’re just living their lives, and who are we to try to change that?
WET: Some of my best student essays are by ex-military guys. I just read a paper about this one guy’s experiences in Afghanistan. It was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever read. In one day, he lost three of his friends, young men.
BXM: I lost friends too. One of my buddies was a pitcher from Arizona State University. He got blown in half. A lot of the guys who join the military don’t even want to fight. They join because they can’t find jobs, and they need the money or security.
WET: So why the hell are we over there? Why are we fighting these wars?
BXM: I think it’s for money, mostly. Big corporations put politicians in office and then they have to do what they want.
WET: That’s what the OccupyWallStreet protests are all about.
BXM: Exactly. I voted for Obama, but he’s in the pocket of corporations like the rest of them.
WET: That’s what I’ve noticed. I ran for Fullerton city council in 2010, and one of the main reasons I ran was because I realized big corporations were bankrolling the candidates. I was like “fuck that.” So I ran on the platform that I did not take money from corporations.
BXM: True that.
[The black ex-marine’s girlfriend walks up and says she wants to leave.]
BXM: Well, I gotta go. Good talking, man.
WET: Yeah. Hopefully I’ll see you around.