Against their better judgement, my parents took my sisters, my brother, and me to California for two weeks of fairly miserable, mostly unmemorable experiences in Santa Barbara and Yosemite. It rained a lot, and a bear broke into a stranger's minivan, prompting my dad to lecture us kids about never leaving food in a car in a place heavily populated with bears (to which a bunch of NW Ohio kids would only say, you know, Um, okay). Our excursion to Half Dome (involving a 43 year old, a 12 year old, a 9 year old, and a 7 year old) was doomed to surrender a mere two miles in (duh). I fell in love with a girl who seemed to ignore me, only to hear from my sister on our way home that the girl had confided she thought I was cute (I never saw her again, of course). On our way back to Detroit, we had a layover in Chicago, where my dad encamped the noisy lot of us at our gate in a terminal that was under heavy construction and which I remember looking like something out of a Terminator film, only without the ambient burning debris. Someone said they were hungry, and my dad selected me to accompany him in his quest for the family meal we all knew would turn out to be a bag of trail mix because he and my mom had been talking for days about how much everything cost.

As we walked along, I noticed a very large young African American man with the facial hair and gait of my favorite NFL player, Craig Heyward. Aware that Heyward weighed somewhere (in season!) in the neighborhood of 350 pounds, I guessed this could actually be him, even though he played for New Orleans at that time and probably dressed way nicer off the field than this guy did. I should emphasize this aspect: the guy was wearing baggy sweatpants with holes in the knees and heavily battered basketball shoes, and he was walking along with his girlfriend or wife and a their two kids, a family not unlike my own, from the look of things, in terms of happiness and money. And though I knew he was not Craig Heyward, at least not probably—just as I knew I was not really as cool or attractive as I imagined myself when I tried on the "sport" jeans I managed to convince my mom to buy me on a few occasions, for I was a four and half foot cracker-looking white boy with thick glasses on his oversized head and Value City clothes on his scrawny child's body—I so wanted something in my fantasy life to translate into shared experience that I lagged behind my dad (he would have been appalled, most likely, to see me approach a black man in an airport—this being 1991, us being a white cracker-ass family from a white cracker-ass neighborhood in a de facto segregated rust belt city) and then ran back to the guy I hoped was my football hero (which, I don't fucking know why him—great hitting power in Super Tecmo Bowl, though) and said, "Um, excuse me."

He and his lady and their kids turned and looked at me and waited.

And here's how I know I knew it wasn't him, because I couldn't even bring myself to say the name of the person I hoped he would reveal himself to be.

"Um," I said. "Do I know you?"

He grinned and said, "I don't think so," then joined his family members in bellowing laughter at me.


When I caught up to my dad at McDonald's, he asked me where the fuck I'd been and yanked me close by my sleeve. He gestured hopelessly at the prices on the menu board. "Look at this bullshit," he said.

Perhaps worst of all, it took me several years to develop enough self-awareness that I grasped why the guy and his family laughed so hard at my question.