The groom, Michael, was a hulking man, at least 350 pounds heavy, but his soft features made him look approachable, even friendly. His fade was neatly trimmed for the occasion, and he wore a sharp yellow tie along with his male peers. The cook had told me that Michael was a graduate. Michael’s wife was a tall, robust, but not obese white woman, who looked average-sized only next to her husband. I approached Michael as he left the dance floor, heaving and sweating, removing his tie.
“Thanks, thank you.”
“I heard you graduated from here.”
“I did, class of 2000. And you?”
I told him I graduated this year, 2009. He immediately began to give me a life talk, which I hadn’t expected. He spoke exactly like a sports coach, trying to boost my morale.
“Hey, look, man, I know it’s tough right now, but give it a few years—just give it three, four years and you’ll realize that it was worth it. Your education here is just gonna put you ahead and you’re gonna be successful. I mean myself, all my friends who are here with me, they all went here too, and they’re all successful.”
He paused and seemed to lose his thought for a moment, then added. “and not just economically successful, you know, they’re….in other ways, too.”
The girl standing to my right, holding a large tray of dirty dishes, from the central CA suburbs with acne like I used to have, asked him, “what do you do?”
“I’m a corporate lawyer—I represent investment firms in New York.”
Despite her frantic gestures, it took me a few minutes to figure out that we needed seventeen tables, eight chairs per table. That was what she seemed to say, but the language barrier, as usual, made it tough. I thought I could learn Punjabi, but that would take a long time.
Leaving my second break and my second meal—the most decadent food I had eaten in a long time, part of the spread in the room off the patio that included beef flank, spinach mozzarella salad, mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables, and rolls—I returned to the room where the buffet had been, looking to see if anyone was still getting food. There was enough food left to feed another wedding reception, but all the guests had left for the dance floor except for one man, who I recognized from the afternoon when he had eaten probably 30 coconut shrimp with orange sauce that I had brought him on a plate. Every time I offered them to him he made a joke like “don’t you go nowhere now, you and I are gonna be good friends,” “I got my eye on you, brother.” There was another man, who introduced himself to me as Jason, who said similar things and took a similar number of shrimp, but the first man gradually distinguished himself to me as less respected in the family, kind of a loner, a strange guy. He seemed to be using me and the shrimp as a distraction from the others around him who didn’t really care about what he had to say, whereas Jason was a family man and was constantly talking to the other guests.
So this more awkward guy was sitting on the couch behind the buffet table, eating a big plate of beef and gravy. He looked happy to see me. “Have a seat, my man. Have something to eat.”
I sat down and lay back on the couch, touching my full stomach. “No room. I just ate so much.”
“So you went to school here?” he asked.
“Yeah, I just graduated.” I told him about my major.
He stopped eating for a second, and looked at me with an intense, serious look. “Did that have anything to do with law?”
“Yeah, actually, a lot of people from my major applied to law school, and one of my professors—“
“Now, what do you know about law?”
“Not too much…I have some interest in it but I don’t think I’ll go to law school.”
“Alright, here’s what we’re gonna do. You’re gonna help me with a situation I got.”
I listened closely, for a few reasons. I could tell that he actually did need help, although I wasn’t sure what kind. I was avoiding work. And there was another reason, which I couldn’t figure out at the moment.
“My mother just died a couple of weeks ago.”
I started to express sympathy, but he just kept talking, looking at his plate.
“She had a lot of property, and my brothers and sisters are taking it. Look at me, and you can tell I ain’t the smartest guy. I got a mental problem. But I know what’s mine is mine. And they tryin’ to fuck me. And they been tryin’ to fuck me ever since we was kids.”
“So the property belongs to you?”
“Yeah! Look, they been callin me and telling me im so intelligent recently. They been telling me I’m smart now. Aint never told me that before, but now that they tryin to fuck me, they lyin to me.” He looked at me with an intense stare and started talking as though I was his brother or sister. “motherfucker how are you gonna tell me I’m smart now? And you always knew I had a problem.”
I just nodded and agreed, even though I had no real idea what he was talking about. I was becoming less sure if I could help.
“Basically, they just don’t respect me and they never have. And they tryin to fuck me. They think I’m too stupid to handle my business. So ima have to fuck them first.”
He smiled for the first time, a big smile. He was looking at me without looking at me. Looking in my direction but off in the distance past me. “And that’s where you come in,” he said, as though solving an elaborate puzzle. “I need to get me some smart fuckin’ honkies with degrees to deal with this shit. Only a honky can do this type of shit.”
“well, you know, I don’t have a law degree or anything…”
“that shit don’t matter. I just need some cold-blooded, educated, white motherfuckers to put the fear of God into them. You need to get me some of them.”
“I try to avoid cold-blooded lawyers.”
“Yeah, but you know them.” He was right. “See,” he added, “they won’t listen to a black man, but they’ll listen to a white man.”
“This aint about sad! It’s about money.”
Many emotions are opposites, like sadness and happiness. But anger has no opposite.