True God, or True, for short, walked around the school like a cross between Caine from “Kung Fu” and the father from the “Shogun Assassin:” an incorruptible inner peace trapped inside a bottle of rage. He was leery of everyone, for life had dealt him a fucked up hand (born here amidst the devil’s un-civilization, forced to live amongst gods who refused to acknowledge the righteous path and preferred to live like beast) and though he had made peace with this hand he wasn’t happy about it. He trusted no one. If you called yourself a God, you had to justify your claim before him every time you crossed his path. If anyone questioned his divinity, which had become a rare occurrence from his freshman year at August Martin High School, he corrected their error with a confidence so potent that if the person didn’t walk away believing that, indeed, the Black man was god, and that, obviously, the white man was the devil and that, without question, black women were queens and, however weak and wicked, were the most precious jewels on the earth, then at the very least that person questioned the validity of their own beliefs.
I was scared of him, personally. Even though I was a god, too, I certainly wasn’t as godly as his ass.
I could spot him a mile away. Most of the other gods could, too. Most of us avoided him like you might avoid your father if he were a dean at your school, because most of us were engaged in acts that made True God’s task of converting the un-civilized and giving them true knowledge of self very difficult, for these potential converts could always cite our bad behavior as evidence that ALL gods were not righteous, and therefore no better than anyone else. For example, on any given day, the near-do-well gods, myself included, could be found smoking blunts on the staircase or across the street in the park when we ought to have been in class excelling at the trick knowledge being taught at AMHS so that we could use that trick knowledge against the devil once that day of reckoning was upon us. I must admit, I would much rather share a few quarts of Old English 800 and a fistful of blunts with my fellow near-do-wells.
You had to admire him, and, so, you had to avoid him.
His sermons weren’t painful at all. While most of the gods had a way of regurgitating lessons in a boisterous way, which often had the effect of scaring away the
uninitiated and sometimes even intimidated the initiated (the desired effect in some cases) True just talked to you, and with such warmth and solidarity. His message was just as affecting, however. He spoke calmly but his excitement and self-assuredness came through. ‘Yes, we are gods, and isn’t it grand to be a god?’ he seemed to say. When he asserted that you were, indeed, god too, you really believed it. You almost wished he wouldn’t speak to you for it only served to make you feel guilty for cutting French to go finger your girl on the back stair case. It was easier on the conscious to avoid a preachy self-righteous bastard. Not a god like True. He was what the founders had in mind when they coined the phrase “Poor Righteous Teachers.”
One day True cornered me on the back staircase. I’d heard someone coming so I’d removed my finger from Andrea’s virgin vagina and sent her scurrying downstairs away from the approaching steps. I knew it wasn’t a security guard so I wasn’t worried about getting busted. I was just getting frustrated with my weekly triple. It had taken me a half a year to get to third base and now it seemed I was stuck there. It wasn’t that I was too much of a gentleman to deflower Andrea on a dark staircase. I wasn’t, trust me. But, I was actually kind of embarrassed. Andrea was a freshman and I was junior and as silly as it sounds there was etiquette about that. If word got out that not only was I going out with a freshman but that I was actually falling in love with her; not to mention having a hard time getting the deed done, well what little name I had would be marred. It was during class time so the last person I expected to see was True. He never cut class, even if there was a substitute teacher. When I saw him, the first thing I thought of was whether or not it was my finger or the whole fucking staircase that had the aroma of Jamaican escovietch fish. What would have otherwise been a badge of honor had become a dunce cap.
“Peace God!” True said in greeting.
“Peace God!” I replied, feeling more busted than if he had been a security guard. After all I’d just been defiling one of the Queens he’d been trying so hard to raise up.
“How you be?” he asked. If he could smell Andrea he’d apparently decided to keep this ace in the hole. Instead he bore the expression of a man who’d run into his beloved long-lost brother.
“I be…” I was about to say my customary instinctive answer to that question ‘all wise and civilized’ but I caught myself. While ‘All wise and civilized’ is a comfortable line to most gods, much like responding ‘I’m well’ to a question about your health, to True, who considered himself to be the epitome of wise and civilized, it could be interpreted as a challenge-which is indicative of the kind of discomfort True God represented. So, instead, I said, “I be late for a class, God. Gotta motivate and go suck up this devil’s trick knowledge.”
He smiled. It was eerie. I’d never seen him so much as grin before. No, that’s not true. I’d seen him grin like a shark might grin at a surfer about to take a spill. Then his smile spread and he guffawed. It was so shocking that I almost leapt away from him.
“Gotta motivate, god?” he said through tears of laughter. “I hear you, god.”
I was about to actually go to my French class, 25 minutes late for the 40 minute class, because I’d long since embraced the fact that lying to True just wasn’t in my best interest. But, his laughter was so bizarre and surprising that I couldn’t pull myself away from it. In fact, I had the distinct feeling that he wanted me to stay. I had never known a more self-contained person so for him to show even the faintest desire for company, and for that company to be me, roused the monkey in me.
“Anyway…” I said. “Even if I did show up Mr. Pritchett might call security because he wouldn’t know me from a fucking astronaut.”
“What about that trick knowledge, God?”
“Shit, it’s hard enough mastering trick knowledge in English…mother fuck learning another European language.”
“That’s peace, god,” he said, nodding his head, smiling with such understanding that I felt I didn’t know him at all or that everything I knew or ever thought about him was wrong. “So, what’s the science?”
It was a question that, usually, only friendly gods would ask one another. Usually if any of my near-do-well posse of gods asked that question I would interpret it as meaning, ‘what you up to today?’ or ‘what have you been up to recently?’ or ‘You got half on this blunt?’ If an unfriendly asked that question it was a red flag. I’d always be on such guard around un-friendlys that I would interpret it as meaning ‘have you been studying your lessons and if so would you be so kind as to prove your existence as Allah, the true and living immediately?” But, I was feeling a bit disarmed by what was turning into the longest conversation we’d ever had that wasn’t about the duty of a Poor Righteous Teacher, and how far removed from that plateau my current behavior was, that I answered him like I would a friendly.
“Just taking it as it comes, god. You?”
“Just trying to keep a step ahead of the sniper.”
“I hear you,” I said, and I did! It was so poignant, precisely on point. Whether or not they were taken figuratively or literally, his words were an accurate description of the life of a God or any black man, for that matter, righteous or not; especially in New York..
“It aint easy being god,” he said through a terse smile, and then winked. He turned and walked off saying over his shoulder, “travel safely, God. Positive Education Allah Causes Earthquakes!”
It means “PEACE!” That was True God’s way of saying good-bye. True God always remains in my mind as a shining example of the results one can achieve when he subscribes to excellence as being a guiding principle, for True God never, at least not publicly, settled for less. Throughout my life I’ve met many people from many different cultures and religions and it’s always the people who’ve taken on and managed their beliefs the way True did that impress me the most.
Big shout out to True God, wherever you are, my brother. I hope your Patronus is still keeping the slackers out of your circumference.
Here’s a couple of videos by another poor righteous teacher who inspires me: Rakim