CULTURAL CHAMELEONS

There’s something arresting about people from a specific ethnicity who co-opt the styles and manners of a different ethnicity. Their presentation causes a hitch in our prejudicial giddy-up. Let’s face it, we all stereotype. Sometimes it’s benign and unconscious; sometimes it’s purposeful and mean-spirited, intended to cause offense.

I’m a case in point. A predominantly African-American child of a college English professor, I grew up in a home where proper, unaccented English was spoken and expected and spent my childhood in Greece, where I was often the first person of color these villagers had ever encountered. After two years of college in Munich there was precious little to connect me with an emerging ‘black culture’ in America. I was the quintessential “stranger in a strange land.” I didn’t listen to the music preferred by most of my contemporaries, I didn’t know the latest dance steps; I wasn’t a star athlete or an aspiring hoodlum. I really didn’t fit into anyone’s stereotypic world.

That odd-duck status has endured throughout my life and to some degree, has affected my range as a character actor. I am not a very identifiable type, in a business that lives to typecast its workers. We tend to look up when we encounter the unexpected – say, the teenager who is clearly of Asian descent, speaking in a ‘Valley Girl’ patois or the middle-class white kid affecting ‘urban’ speech, dress and mannerisms. They are appearing and behaving contrary to our predisposed ethnic expectations.

When I first moved to LA in the early 90’s I lived in a singles complex, a rather well-known Oakwood on Barham Blvd, storied for housing the annual migration of aspiring child stars and their ‘stage mother’ mommies. This complex is very useful to actors who come to LA for pilot season. You register, plug in your phone, rent from them some furniture, dishes and bedding and voila! You’re home. During a visit from New York, back in the mid-70’s, I can remember sitting around the jacuzzi at night, sipping beers and comparing scripts with John James and Vanna White, just before they achieved fame in Dynasty and Wheel of Fortune. There I met and became friends with Mariko, a woman from Japan, who traveled back and forth frequently on business and who was enamored with all things Black. Most of her friends were people of color, she sunbathed assiduously (and at times, trumped my tan), loved urban music and all the latest fashions. Tho her English was heavily accented, she employed the latest slang whenever possible, and while her pronunciation was episodic, her timing and rhythms were dead on.

We were lying around the pool one afternoon, discussing music. I’d grown up with the Beatles and the Stones and Dylan. The only authentically Black music I enjoyed was Mississippi delta blues. Mariko was into Motown, loved to go to local clubs and catch the latest rap or up-and-coming rhythm and blues artists. She named one group after another, and I‘d never heard of any of them or their music. I remember her suddenly sitting up on her chaise, judgmentally squinting over her sunglasses, energized by a sudden suspicion…and then asking, “Tuc kuh…Are you sure you’re Braack”?

GOLD BUGS

Lotta talk of late about investing in gold. Gold has surely enjoyed a run over the past several years, for various reasons, including a weakening dollar. OK, I can’t argue with the premise: investing in gold during uncertain times makes sense. That being said, what’s the wisest way to go about it?

Gold stocks pay dividends and have risen along with the spot price. That means stocks share the downside risk, should gold correct or should the dollar appreciate. That game may or may not have already enjoyed its best results. The good news: if gold continues to rise in price, the underlying stocks should follow and you don’t have to take physical possession of anything. Tho I do wonder how well E-Trade and Schwab will do business if the grid goes down. ATMs won’t work either, under calamitous conditions.

How about purchasing and owning the precious metal itself? You could buy ingots or coins. Let’s suppose you do that. Do you then store them? Storage has its own costs…and can you be certain you can retrieve them, in difficult times. Perhaps you put them in a safe deposit box. Can you be certain you’ll be able to access that box, after an earthquake or other event? Perhaps you’ll choose to keep them in your home. That makes you vulnerable to robbery…and uncertain you’ll even regain access to your own home, following “any event’ that makes gold appreciate in price.

What do we know, so far? Buying gold (and other precious metals like silver or platinum) seems to make sense, just as a hedge. The problem is, where should you keep it? Hey, I’m sure you’ll figure out something.

Here’s what concerns me. You both planned well and got lucky; calamity is upon us, your gold is worth a great deal more than you paid for it and you even can get your hands on it! Hoo-rah!

Things are now probably pretty grim. Broken infrastructure, the grid is down, food and water are in limited supply, civil insurrection, perhaps even the kind of chaos we now see in Haiti. Yeah, better take note of that, the past is often prologue.

Imagine yourself with a broken arm, without water or food. Your Kruggerand or Panda or Maple Leaf is now worth maybe 2K, or 3K or more. Big whoop! Try to buy a liter of water or an MRE. Do you expect change? And now the outside world knows that you have GOLD. Hmmm. That’s a kind of heat I can happily do without.

I’m storing water and food, simply because it makes sense. And if I’m wrong and nothing bad happens, I’m happily alive and still have some storable food and water. I’m also storing pain meds. They’re legally prescribed and I’m a control freak about pain, don’t like feeling dopey and judgmentally impaired. Yet somehow, I suspect that, should “something terrible this way come” and I’m still around, I’ll be pretty successful in trading pain meds for food and water and shelter.

You can’t eat gold (tho it is shiny;) it won’t keep you warm or hydrated. But I’ll betcha you can get laid for a Vicodin or two;)

17 Jan 2009