This is a piece I wrote for the show Scene Missing. It’s a literary performance where the written piece are based on movie trailers. This will eventually be turned into a Buzzfeed article and will be published soon. Enjoy.
I grew up a homeschooled, black Republican from Los Angeles, who went through a brief Gene Kelly phase. I have had the unique honor of having been beaten up by just about every race, religion, and sexual orientation. I was the UN of the ass kicked. I was a black nerd.
For the black nerd, there was little representation, in life and on TV. We had Lisa Turtle from Saved By The Bell, Carlton Banks from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Steven Urkel from Family Matters. All of my white friends would jokingly call me Steve Urkel. It would have seemed racist, except that all of my black friends called me Steve Urkel.
Steve was the ultimate black nerd. He was a shitty dresser, he had a vast knowledge of unnecessary information and he was “well spoken.” Yeah, he was one of us.
The black nerd is a unique category. There really is no Andy Samburg or Michael Cera, attractive nerd, equivalent. The closet thing we have is Donald Glover and he has had to be an incredible rapper, actor, writer, stand up, producer and director to gain the C level notoriety he has. The reality is that a black man really only has two options: Hyper Attractive, like a Taye Diggs or Idris Elba type; Hyper Masculine, like Rick Ross or 50-Cent.
There is no little girl scrapbooking her future wedding and dreaming of the skinny black guy with an encyclopedic knowledge of Pokémon that she will be walking down the aisle with. There is no memorial to the brave man that first broke the color barrier in the professional Magic The Gathering leagues. There is no Madea’s Comic Con Weekend movie in the works. It is the one group of people that the combined power of Hollywood and Tyler Perry cannot make attractive.
Growing up, I was very aware that society had little use for a black kid that could not dance, sing, rap, or play sports. Using proper grammar was a fast way to get beat up or called the worst name a black kid could be called. We were called “weird” and “gay” like so many disenfranchised groups but there was one name that hurt the most: we got called, “white”.
We were not even cool enough to be counted among our race. So most of us made the change. We scrambled to fulfill every stereotype we knew. Doing everything we could to be more “black”. Changing how we talked, dress, and even our body language. They are those people on the stage or field that try really hard but just don’t seem normal, the JaMarcus Russels and the two guys that are not Will.i.am from the Black Eye Peas, of the world. (I know the two guys from the Black Eye Peas that are not Will.i.am are not black but you get the idea).
Most of them successfully made the transition but a few of us could not. There were just some people that will never be able to say “Shorty” without giggling a little.
During the late 80’s and early 90’s, there were quite a few African-Americans on television and movies. We were able to do anything, from being a doctor to a gangbanger. Anything, except violate the Lisa Turtle rule. The rule was simple. We can never get the girl/guy. We can get a girl/guy but never the girl/guy.
But you know what? I got the girl once.
Her name was Jill, and she was the prettiest girl in school. Well, I was homeschooled, so she was the prettiest girl in the homeschool group. Every homeschool boy wanted her. She liked me, and I was crazy about her. What followed was the most wild, intense, passionate, powerful, and emotionally fulfilling two weeks of my life. So I was surprised when she pulled me aside and told me we had to talk. My memory of that conversation is hazy but I will never forget the last thing she said:
“My mother says that it’s not a good idea for us to date.”
That was the first, but not the last time, I would hear that statement. The wording is always different but the meaning never changes. A laughing “Oh man, my parents would not like you . . .” followed by awkward silence, that odd moment when you realize you are the equivalent of a tattoo or nose ring, just a sign of rebellion. The OkCupid date that ended with a random fit of honesty as she proclaimed, “You’re amazing – on paper”.
Last year I found myself sitting on a couch with a girl named Jennifer. We had been dating for about two months. I liked her and our relationship was new enough that I was still trying to impress her, which was evident by the fact that we were in the middle of the nights third episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Our commercial-induced small talk was pleasant and mindless. She told me that her parents had an amazing boat. They were taking it out that weekend and wanted her and some of her friends to join them. I’m not much of a boat person but a weekend with her and her family sounded nice. It took me a second to notice the long silence and another second to understand the horrified look on her face. She made a mistake. She was not supposed to tell me about that trip. If she did not tell me about the trip she would not have to explain why the guy she had been dating the last few weeks could not meet her friends and family. I let her off the hook and we sat silently the rest of the night.
We never talked about it again and a few weeks later I got what I have coined as the “Jill Speech”. I found myself thinking the same thing I did in high school, “Why?” What was different about me compared to her boyfriends before or after? Did I have a reputation as a bad boy? (See the before mentioned Gene Kelly phase.) Did I come from a bad family, or was I too poor? My mind raced because I knew the answer, but I desperately wanted it to be something different. I wanted her to break up with me because I was too fat or too ugly, because I was too poor or too stupid. I wanted her to break up with me for any reason other than that. Because, I could change those things, I could grow out of those things. But, that’s not why she broke up with me. I had made a mistake. I had broken the Lisa Turtle Rule.
The Lisa Turtle Rule is based on Lisa Turtle from Saved by The Bell. Throughout the series run (5 seasons totaling 126 episodes, not including The College Years and the New Class spin offs), they tried every relationship combination you could think of: Zack and Kelly, Zack and Jessie, Jessie and Slater, Kelly and Slater. Every combo, except Lisa and anyone else. Every party and dance they went to, Lisa, somehow, magically produced a mute black kid that we had never seen before, and would never see again.
She was the queen of the B story lines. Zack, Kelly, Slater, and Jessie handled the A story lines, while Screech and Lisa generally dealt with the B story lines. It’s true that Screech was always trying to get with Lisa, but as we all know, Screech is crazy. It’s the Lisa Turtle rule. You can do whatever you want but ultimately the story is not about you, and above all you don’t get the girl/guy. It’s Lando from Star Wars, Calvin from Freaks and Geeks, the secretary from Third Rock from the Sun, Astrid from Fringe, Charles Gunn from Angel, Jazz, the Robot from Transformers, and it is why Winston, from New Girl, will never get Zooey Deschanel.
I know what you are thinking. There was one episode in Saved by The Bell where Zack and Lisa liked each other. That is true, but before that episode ended, they came to the same conclusion Jill’s mom did, “It’s probably not a good idea for them to date.”
A friend once told me that he sometimes fantasized about coming back years after a girl had dumped him. He would return rich, handsome, and successful and make her regret ever breaking up with him. As I stood there watching Jill leave, I realized there would be no fantasizing for me. There was no amount of money, fame, and success that would alter the reason she broke up with me. As I set in that living room with Jennifer half watching RuPaul’s Drag Race I feared that I would be dealing with this same problem for the rest of my life. It was the one thing I could never change. I broke the cardinal rule.
I was supposed to be the Steve Urkel of this story, a funny guy with a catch phrase or two. Maybe if I were willing to change everything about myself I could step into a machine and become Stefan Urquelle and have brief moments of sex appeal. But that would be all I get. No matter how I played it I was suppose to be Lisa Turtle but for a moment, I tried to be Zach. I tried to be apart of the main story.
I guess my audience just wasn’t ready for that.