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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, May 12, 2008


Here's the new address:

If you need it, here is an explanation for the move.

See you over there.



Friday, May 09, 2008

Burnettiquette is Moving

No worries. I'm not going underground. I'm just becoming a bigger tool more formal part of my newspaper's blogging efforts.

For those of you who don't know, in my day job I'm a reporter for the Miami Herald, thus the giant banner across the top of this page encouraging you to visit subscribe...or check the weather in South Florida.

In an effort to make for smoother connections between staff-written blogs, etc., the bosses have nudged those mavericks among us who have stubbornly clung to Blogger to come into the fold and join the rest of the family on TypePad.

I'm OK with it. My voice won't change. My tone won't change. My 'tude won't change. All that'll change will be the address and look of my blog. And the current look was getting stale anyway. So it's all good.

So, starting Monday morning, my new blog address will be Please make the switch on your blogrolls. I'll be moving all of well as some new folks who've been visiting Burnettiquette-land lately to my new address over the weekend. So if you're not already on my blogroll and want to make sure you get on it at the new address, post your address and blog name in the comments.

Don't offer to help me unpack yet though. I've gotta walk around and kick the walls and make sure I like my neighbors first ;>)

I'll be reminding you guys of this move again throughout the weekend. But don't abandon this address quite yet. I've got another new post or two to do here, before Monday.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Don't Fake the Funk

That phrase used to puzzle me.

My Uncle Wimpy used to say it all the time. Wimpy was a cool cat. He's still alive. He's just not cool anymore. He won't mind me saying so. In his words, he has "aged gracefully out of coolness."

But back in the day Wimpy was cooler than the other side of the pillow. Maybe that's where I got it from...ahem.

Anyway, Wimpy wasn't a wimp at all. He was actually a tough guy, and intimidating at 6-foot-7. He was a master carpenter, always with a heavy tool belt around his waist. He used to walk around with two big-assed growling, slobbering Dobermans named Kunta and Kinte, after the character from Alex Haley's masterpiece Roots. And he drove a white '72 Cadillac convertible with fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror.

For years I understood almost everything about Wimpy, except that phrase. Then I finally got it in my senior year of high school.

In a scene reminiscent of the movie A Bronx Tale, where Chazz Palminteri's gangster character gives dating advice to Lilo Brancato's teenager-in-love character, Uncle Wimpy told me at a pre-prom barbecue at my grandma's house "Jamie?" Yes? "Don't fake the funk." It hit me all at once that he was simply - in his cool way - telling me to just be myself and don't pretend to be something I'm not, especially not a "baller," 'cause pretending to be a "baller" never impresses a smart woman.

For the record, I realize if you were raised in certain parts of the country and born before the 1960s, "baller" may have a sexual connotation. But in my generation it's a reference to a flashy person - the guy who has cash to spare, a nice car, a hot wardrobe and all the girls.

So why I'm I doing all this reminiscing? Mrs. B and I were just at the beach and I saw a guy showing off for couple of young women. And I thought it was funny. He was young, and he was trying. I give him credit for that. He was pretending to be a baller, but with self deprecation. So I guess it was OK.

As we left I cracked a joke about people faking the funk and pretending to be ballers. Mrs. B didn't fully get it, so I said I'd point out a better example next time I saw one.

We stopped at the grocery on the way home. And during our brief stop we had the "pleasure" of ending up several times behind a really annoying, really in your face, flashy couple. He was as cavalier as one of the Three Musketeers, gesturing wildly as if telling his girlfriend she should grab anything she wanted, 'cause he was the man. Reminded me of the guy in the bar who loudly announces that he's buying drinks for the two women next to him, 'cause he's cool like that and wants everyone to know. One item after another, this young woman snatched things off the shelves and tossed 'em in their cart. With each item she looked adoringly at this god among men with the apparently bottomless appetite and fat wallet. It seemed like they were shopping for a huge barbecue - not for food to feed starving babies or anything. By the time they ended up at the checkout counter their cart was loaded up like the Clampett's pick-up truck. And once again, we found ourselves in line behind them.

It took the cashier and the bagger 10 minutes to ring up and pack up that car-sized pile of groceries. The braggadocious boyfriend grew cockier and jauntier, and the girlfriend looked more and more adoringly at him. They groped each other like two preacher's kids on a first date.

And then the cashier announced the total: three hundred seventy-something dollars, if I remember right. No problem. Boyfriend handed her a credit card.

One minute. Nothing. Two minutes. Nothing. "Sorry, but it didn't go through," the cashier said.

As a courtesy she ran the card through again. Nothing. The boyfriend tried it himself. Nothing.

The braggadocio came down a notch. Just a notch. The adoring, yearning look faded to one of slight confusion.

A second card. Same result.

Finally, the bagger pushed aside the overloaded cart, and the boyfriend walked away on his cell phone, a credit card in the other hand. I assumed he was talking to the card provider or something. The girlfriend, looking fully confused and a little taken aback at this point, reached for the grocery cart and said something to the effect of "I'll go ahead and take these. He'll be right back." The bagger, bearing a slight smirk herself, shook her head and held the cart with a vice grip. The girlfriend sheepishly stepped back and folded her hands.

As Mrs. B and I got outside finally with our two little bags, the boyfriend was gesturing angrily at an ATM machine that had just rejected his request for cash.

Swagger almost completely gone, he strolled back toward the entrance, presumably to retrieve his girlfriend and go away quietly.

I predict that was a cold evening on the romance front. He faked the funk.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Moments in Education to be proud of

A substitute teacher in the Tampa area says he was fired earlier this year, because a middle school student and the student's dad complained to school officials about the teacher.

Did they complain that the sub touched the kid? Nope.

Or that he told the kid dirty jokes? Nope.

Or that he pimp-slapped the kid? Nope.

The teacher performed a "magic" trick, in which he made a toothpick disappear.

Just so you know, the toothpick didn't disappear 'cause the teacher sat on it and squeezed it between his butt cheeks or anything. It was simple, sleight-of-hand.

So this kid freaked out and after school ran home and told his dad he believed his substitute teacher was some kind of sorcerer and had performed wizardry at school. Wizardry.

What does the dad do? Pimp-slap the kid and say "quit being silly; go do your homework!" Nope.

Say nothing, but go into the kid's room and gather all his Dungeons & Dragons parphernalia and burn it? Nope.

Tell the kid he's been reading too much Harry Potter? Nope.

Use the kid's paranoia to his advantage and tell him if he doesn't do his chores Dumbledore will come and get him in the middle of the night? Nope.

The dad got angry with the teacher and complained to the school and to district administration.

What did the school officials do? Tell dad and son to get a life and get bent? Nope.

They fired the teacher, because he scared the kid...with his wizardry.

To offer both sides, the school district says they dumped the teacher 'cause of bad habits in the classroom.

I don't know why, but my cynical side believes the teacher.

And moving right along to "higher" education, a Dartmouth professor is suing some of her students for violating federal discrimination law. The alleged discrimination? They sometimes failed to pay attention to her, they complained to her supervisors about her teaching style and alleged that she refused to accept contrary opinions and would lower the grades of students who openly disagreed with her.

This all makes me wanna consider homeschooling when we eventually have kids. Even for college. Probably cheaper ;>)

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Monday, May 05, 2008

What a shocker!

A guy named Manuel Balbin was convicted last week in Miami of torturing a "colleague" from his private social club, because the colleague allegedly stole Balbin's Playstation 2.

So what, you say?

Balbin's social club is called Satan's Disciples, and his nickname is "Insane." That's right, Manuel "Insane" Balbin.

Instead of telling the alleged thief to return the Playstation 2 like a normal person would have done, Balbin, among other things, flambéd his buddy using a lighter and a can of Axe Deodorant Body Spray. Balbin also tazed the alleged thief's right testicle. Why the right one? What exactly did righty do that was so much worse than lefty's behavior?

In the end, Balbin and other Disciples made the alleged thief put on a tube top and steal booze from a gas station before they turned him loose.

I want to feel bad for the kid, the alleged thief. But here's the deal: if you're gonna steal from a friend, steal from the one whose nickname is something like "Buddy" or "Pallie" or "Sneezy" or "Dopey" or "Smiley." Smiley would be best. No one named Manuel "Smiley" Balbin would taze your fellas for a little misunderstanding over a gaming system.

'Cause if you knowingly steal from a guy whose friends call him "Insane," then you're just tempting fate unnecessarily.

Anyway, Insane Balbin will have the next 10 years to pine for his Playstation 2.

BTW, if you haven't already weighed in on the latest chapter of our race relations discussion, follow the link and give it a whirl.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Real Talk about Race: Chapter Four

Friends, Frienemies, Countrymen, lend me your eyes. What I mean is keep reading, 'cause I promise this installment of our series on race relations will be the simplest yet.

In chapters one, two, and three, we've talked about fear of being lumped in with bad people who look like us, the legacy of slavery in the U.S., race and politics, and defining hate crime, among other things.

Today I wanna talk stereotypes and pros and cons of political correctness.

First, how many of us know the formal definition of "stereotype?" says its sociological meaning is "a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group."

I ask about that definition, because in the comments section of Chapter One, my friend Og honestly asked about black men and razor bumps and black men and straightened hair.

I gotta give him props. A lot of people would have stayed away from those sorts of questions for fear of sounding bad, looking bad, whatever.

But Og didn't say anything disrespectful to me or about me. He simply asked about two physical characteristics that he's seen in/on black men and that he did not understand. And the fact is, under a specific circumstance lots of black men get razor bumps when they shave their faces.

Political correctness (by some other name, please!) can serve a purpose: to keep a seed planted in the backs of our minds that we should exercise common sense and basic respect when talking to or about someone else's differences. Too much PC - which, in my mind, is almost any - is a bad thing.

So when does political correctness go from common sense caution to overkill? When you get angry about a comment or question that is rooted in fact - the exception being when you say it or ask it in a tacky, tasteless way.

Remember, just 'cause something is a stereotype, doesn't make it false. I love to eat chicken, for example. And anyone who doesn't like that can bite me.

From the beginning of our race relations discussions, I've said if we can't talk about ALL of it - the complicated and the simple - then we're doomed to maintain at least a smidgen of misunderstanding between us, even in the best of times. Best way to break barriers and avoid embarrassing situations involving our differences is to just talk about 'em.

So in the spirit of real talk, Og here's the deal with the razor bumps: Many black men have coarse, curly facial hair. While this may be aesthetically pleasing, it's a pain in the behind when it comes to shaving, because when some of us use straight, traditional razors our facial hair is cut so short that it begins to curl virtually from the second it starts to grow back. And sometimes when that happens, the hair can grow right back into the skin, creating an ingrown hair effect. It's why, when I was a kid my dad would use this smelly concoction called "Magic Shave," to to chemically lift the hair off his face, so he could get a clean shave. Magic Shave prevented razor bumps. Otherwise, a straight razor would have really done a number on his skin. It's why I don't use a straight razor. I shave with an electric shaver - the same kind they use in the barbershop to shave your head bald. It gives a clean shave, but not so short that your facial hair has a chance to grow awry.

There. That wasn't so painful.

As for the processed hair, like I said in the comments section back on Chapter One, Og, that's a much more complicated explanation. And no doubt it will vary depending on who's giving the explanation. I was always taught by my elders that black men started processing their hair back in the day - as early as 1930s, my grandmother always said - so that they could style their hair after the stars of the day. It just so happened that the stars of the day were almost exclusively white, so they had hair that was straight or wavy. In order for black men to achieve that effect with their own hair, they had to essentially put heavy perms in it. My grandfather used to call it getting his hair "conked." He said when he was young and dumb he'd get his hair conked or fried, dyed, and laid to the side. Fortunately, as he exited childhood and entered manhood he recognized that his naturally curly, coarser hair was just fine, and that he didn't need to chemically torture his scalp to look like something he wasn't and feel cool.

Now, I know I'm not the only one with stereotypes to answer or to ask about. After putting myself out there, I'd better get a helluva lot of feedback. I want to know what you'd like to know...about one another. If you have a question about Asians, or women, or whites, or Latinos, or blacks, ask it in the comments. And whichever of you has the answer, knock yourself out. Just keep in mind to be respectful.

So let's wrap this up with a brief cautionary tale of political correctness overkill. I spent last night at a surreal neighborhood association meeting that was supposed to be a meeting of the minds between association members and reps from the city, police, etc., and a welcome to prospective new members. In a matter of minutes though, the meeting turned into a free for all of angry people trying to out talk one another. I'll blog more on the meeting this weekend, but one incident stood out to me.

I had walked out of meeting hall to go to the rest room. While I was out, apparently a shouting match started. Tones and tensions escalated, and Mrs. B, reasonably afraid, got up and walked to the back of the room to find me and get close to the exit, in case we needed to scram. Things calmed down eventually, and another woman who had been sitting next to Mrs. B came to the back of the room and struck up a conversation with her. Nice lady. In minutes the two of them were comparing notes about the 'hood, talking about getting together to walk dogs, and so on. Mrs B then introduced me to the other woman. We exchanged pleasantries, and I turned my attention back to the meeting.

As Mrs. B and the other woman chatted and discussed neighborhood issues and crime prevention, and so on, the other woman, whose house was broken into...while she was at home sleep two years ago, talked about how paranoid she can be sometimes. Well, one of the rabble rousers who started the shouting match in the meeting walked by. And the woman made a comment to Mrs. B about being nervous and wondering where "that black guy" had gone.

Almost immediately, she turned to me and apologized profusely, insisting she shouldn't have said "black guy." And it wasn't right.

Why not? I mean, I guess she could've described him as the guy in yellow shorts, or the guy in the blue baseball cap. But human nature is that we tend to hone in the most prominent feature. And that's how we describe people in a snap: the fat guy, the tall woman, the guy with the Mohawk, the woman with the jaundiced skin. Whatever.

My response was "Don't be sorry. I'm not mad. You weren't talking about me!"

Let's get logical folks. If we can't simply mention another person's obvious features, we are way past the point of trouble. We've gotta lose those sorts of hangups, in the interest of eliminating race as a "problem" topic.

BTW, that woman was really nice. I hope she and Mrs. B do end up hanging out. And from the short conversation I had with him, I have no doubt I'll end up tipping a pint with her husband....without regard for his appearance.

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