Crashing The Gate

by Brian Clarey

Crashing The Gate Cornbread Roux

I figured something out today, an extension of a lesson I learned in college, though it wasn’t something I picked up in the classroom. And to tell this story properly I have to admit something: For a time in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I was in a fraternity. It’s not like it was a real fraternity or anything — most of us were in it for the weed connections and access to good bartending jobs. But there you have it: Yes, I was more or less involved in a more or less elitist group. The elitism only showed its face once a year, when we had to sort through the list of hopeful applicants and choose the ones to whom we would extend invitations to join our hedonistic little tribe. It was at those meetings that class distinctions would arise most acutely as differences of opinion would stress our brotherly bonds. But for the most part we could build a consensus as long as the guy who wanted in wasn’t a total squid… except for this one time when a dude by the name of Cornbread Roux just completely lost it. Cornbread Roux — which, of course is not his real name — hailed from Marksville, La., a tiny town out in the River Parishes with a population of 5,000 or so. And I thought of him the other day when the subject of President Barack Obama’s historic address to our nation’s schoolchildren became political fodder. By now Obama will have made his speech — or, at least, it will have reached those students who weren’t prevented from seeing an address by the president of the United States by their school districts, teachers or parents who seem to think it inappropriate for their little Taylors and Tylers to hear remarks from the leader of their country. The White House maintained that the speech would be a “pep talk” for our children, encouragement to keep them in school, off drugs and working hard, though there was to be a lesson plan put together by the US Department of Education encouraging students to set goals for themselves and asking themselves “what they can do to help the president.” And of course those who stand against the president went straight-up bananas, accusing the administration of establishing a “cult of personality” (Sen. Steve Russell, R-Okla.) and “cutting out the parent” (Plano, Texas PTA council president Cara Mendelsohn). Never mind that the transcript of the speech went up on the internet on Monday. Still, much of Texas is opting out, as are school districts in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In Arizona, Tom Horne, the state schools superintendent likened it to “worship,” while in Tempe, Elementary School District No. 3 will not allow parents to pull their children out of class, a decision that resulted in much figurative frothing at the mouth for Tempe parents. Tempe, remember, is the city where Faithful Word Baptist Church pastor Steven Anderson prayed for Obama’s death in August and incited one of his flock, Chris Broughton, to bring a semi-automatic assault rifle to Obama’s speech to the VFW in Phoenix. So I’m thinking about this, and about the right-wing presence at healthcare town hall; meetings, and about Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh and just about everyone else who has abandoned reason in their efforts to discredit this president. And that’s when I remembered Cornbread Roux. Ol’ Cornbread was sort of the quiet type who hadn’t spent much time in cities, and I’m pretty sure he was asked to join our fraternity because he had a cool haircut. But after a few months, Cornbread began to open his mouth and we learned that he was a pretty staunch racist who did not care for brown folks one bit. Not one bit. And a rumor circulated that his father was Klan. This bothered most of us, but according to our bylaws the only way out of the frat was the shovel or the sword, meaning you had to either die or strike another brother in anger, and most of us were too drunk and apathetic to go that far. The closest we came to kicking Cornbread’s ass was at the bid meeting where we discussed the possibility of extending an invitation to an African-American student — which, I should say, was not an unprecedented move. But Cornbread couldn’t take it. “I can’t believe we’re sitting here seriously discussing this,” I remember him saying. And when it looked like he wasn’t going to get his way, that’s when he started bellowing. Oh, he pitched quite a fit, yelling and jumping up and down, slapping the floor with both hands. He even punched a wall while the rest of us looked at each other uncomfortably and passed around joints. We told him that we liked this kid, that he was a solid guy and definitely not a dumbass. But cornbread was way too angry and yelly to listen to our words, to recognize the consensus that had formed around him. When the smoke cleared, Cornbread leaned all sweaty in the corner. We ended up extending the bid to this nice freshman — who declined it, by the way — and we didn’t see Cornbread for like a year. Eventually he came back to the fold. His opinions hadn’t changed much, but he had at least learned to keep his mouth shut about them.