[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]
I can't get it out of my mind. Ruined the rest of the day. My friend and I were driving north on Gardner and stopped at Hollywood Boulevard. On the northeast corner, I see a man with a dachshund. He crosses to the northwest corner and when he arrives on the other side, he jerks the leash of the dog to get it up onto the sidewalk. I involuntarily jump in my seat. He yanked the leash another couple of times, pulling the dog's front half up in the air. It was hard to watch.
My friend was getting very upset. I heard her say something that took me back. “Roll down your window.” I did. At that moment, the man jerked the leash again and the dog went into the air. When the dog came down, I saw its eyes wide with fear. The dog did that thing dogs do when they are truly scared, not knowing what they have done and not knowing what to do next. They kind of look nowhere, like they are out of ideas and hoping for something to change. It was that expression, that long, agonizing, wide-eyed look on the dog's face, that just crushed me. The light turned green and the man started walking across Hollywood, heading south. After he had crossed, my friend yelled at him to be nicer to his dog. He said, “Fuck you,” and kept walking.
My father used to pick me up on Saturdays for the weekend visit. I never connected with the man except through my complete fear of him. Sometimes, when someone in the constant Washington, D.C., traffic would somehow offend him, he would look over at me and say, “Roll down your window.” As my stomach contracted with anxiety, I would do it. He would inhale deeply, lean over, crane his head right and yell at the top of his lungs at the driver as I slid down in the seat. The only quote I can recall is when he verbally assaulted an Asian man with, “Fuck you, you plick!” which, between loud bursts of laughter, he explained to me the relevance of his pronunciation and then went on to tell me the joke from which he got the line. It was basically a twofer, wherein you get your ethnic bashing and lesson in comedy.
He had dogs. He and his terrifying new wife had show dogs. They were trained to run in circles and stand rigidly with their noses pointed straight forward. They were drilled on this over and over. The dogs behaved like no other dogs I have encountered anywhere besides some hog-tracking dogs I saw in Louisiana years ago on an ill-fated shoot with National Geographic. They were wired. Their eyes were always focused on the father and his wife. If I tried to pet them, they would flinch as though startled, look at me for a second and then snap back to their intense reading of their master's most minute changes of movement and expression.
Now and then, the father would call one of the dogs over to him. The dog's face would start working, its respiration rate would rapidly increase and, slightly shivering, the dog would sit in front of him and look everywhere but at the father with that expression; nowhere, desperate. The father would hold his right index finger over the dog's nose and just let it hang there. The dog would take a hesitant, half sniff of the finger and look down and to the side. A few seconds later, the dog would start trembling. After several seconds, the finger was pulled away, the spell was broken. The dog would wander away and lie down. One time I saw him do this and the dog lost bladder control. I understood what this was all about. He was breaking the dog's balls. A systematic smashing of the animal's esteem. Damn, those dogs would obey, though. They were so completely hammered that they seemed to age quickly. A few years old and suddenly there were problems. In their short lives, they were so loyal, they followed their masters around like gray shadows.
The father tried to do the same thing with me. It almost worked. I broke out of it and found my way. Rock & roll was a big help. I felt bad for those dogs.
What about a country that does much the same to many of its citizens? What if this systematic breaking of people becomes so inextricably woven into the social fabric that it passes for “the way it is,” and the tendencies and proclivities of those being generationally broken become reliable statistics and stereotypes? So much so that when they are “profiled,” they can be crammed into the stereotype, thus giving this predetermined judgment some validity, dubious at best but consistent enough to activate laws that further ensnare and almost guarantee an unhealthy amount of similar outcomes? Don't look now, you're soaking in it.
Having an identity is one thing. Being born into an identity is quite a different matter. This is part of the discussion that America is starting to have. Sadly, to get the ball rolling, it takes violence, discrimination, assault and the specter of denial to be pulled out into the light. It takes a lot of people saying, “Enough.”
If there is one set of laws, one Constitution for every citizen, its protections hopefully applied equally to all, then why do the results seem to differ so radically? What do you call that? Look around, you're living in it.
Recently, the president spoke personally and eloquently about race in America. He put himself right in the middle of it. The backlash was as swift as it was bizarre. That's when I knew he was onto something.
You have to value all these young people. You have to see yourself in them. You cannot divorce their plight from your own. They should not be broken. Because it all matters. It is life and death. It is the present and the future. It is everything.