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Peter Weller's Cigar Paradise

Africa, or finding the Founding Fathers (Rolling in Their Graves) While Smoking my Way Through Post-Apartheid Cape Town
Peter Weller
From the Print Edition:
Tyson vs. King, Jan/Feb 04

(continued from page 2)

"Some of them."

"Although I live in the States I do not wish to light fireworks for slave owners. The country was founded by white men, while men of color…."

"…were in chains," I interrupt. "Look. I'm 53, you're what? Twenty nine?" (Ain't nothing gonna work here except the "old man" rap.) "In my day Watts burned. As did Harlem and Detroit. And I'll tell you something worse about the Founding Fathers. Not only did they not intend for people of color or women to have a vote, they didn't have it in mind for anyone -- even white people -- to vote unless they were property owners. So all that's true. But by now, it's weary. The stance-indignant resonated in the '60s, but Hughie Newton pistol-whipped his barber and my personal hero, Eldridge Cleaver, ended up designing pants. It doesn't cut any ice anymore."


We are two self-righteous pontiffs talking old ideas. In South Africa yet -- a country that was now paying racial dues that made '60s America look like an episode of "Friends."

I begin to clarify. "I was and am a jazz trumpet player; my mother was a pianist, and I grew up all over the world as a dependent in the United States Army, where my father was a career pilot."

"So you grew up with integration."

"I grew up completely integrated, school -- next-door neighbors coming in and out of my house, down to sand box buddies, and, because I still am a mediocre bebop trumpet player, my true heroes were and always will be black musicians, speaking of which, right up to the day he died, I hung with Miles Davis, who bequeathed me his only self-portrait, and, as a white guy, after hanging with Miles anybody else's racial rhetoric sounds pithy. But there are country white guys I know in west Texas who grew up more integrated than me. All I'm trying to tell you is that, thanks to hip parents, I've been exposed to black American sensibilities since I was born. And I'm not black. But I went to music school in the '60s, when 'burn baby burn' meant exactly that…thus I've become very discerning in my middle years about what rings my bell. And today the 'Founding Fathers had slaves' rap resonates as much as a penny falling into a coffee cup, dig? To boot, it doesn't sound authentic coming out of your mouth, because I think it's something you wear in case your costume doesn't fit."

"So be it." Dave gets up and walks back to his table, sits down.

And I light up a Sir Winston and proceed to gloat over my last perspicuity; the veritable oratory that's spewed out of my mouth. With the cigar, I feel like, gee…yes…Churchill himself, damn it! Then the dull thud of epiphany. Hoisted on my own petard. As I will not burn the flag, but defend your right to burn it, as it is only the effigy of the country, I see that Dave must come to the dinner for the U.S.A., for no other reason than to not celebrate it! This, after all, is that day's particular gift: to come and choose to do what one wishes. To not have Dave there would, in principle, be a violation of the very celebration -- freedom of thought and speech.

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