Column: The View From Here: Tookie and Tina: A Christmas Carol By P.M. Price

Friday December 30, 2005

“That’s the way the Tookie crumbles,” jokes KGO’s Pete Wilson on his San Francisco-based radio show the day before Stanley Tookie Williams is scheduled to die. Upon hearing Wilson’s snide, callous attempt at humor, I am incensed. Even if considered guilty, as Wilson believes him to be, does that make Williams undeserving of even the most basic courtesy and respect as he faces the last few hours of his life? 

One reason it was so easy for so many not to feel any sympathy for Stanley Williams was due to the limited range of media images depicting a huge, glaring black man with bulging hair and even bigger biceps. There were no photographs of the child Tookie or of the misdirected teenager who formed a gang. No words or pictures of his wife, children, siblings, parents, grandparents; nothing to even remotely imply that we could have anything in common with this dark, hulking monster of a man. The Tookie photos brought to mind the purposely darkened Time magazine cover of the accused O.J. Simpson. I suppose the thinking was that the darker a black man’s skin, the scarier he is and more deserving of harsh judgment and severe punishment.  

American corporate media—which controls most of what we see, hear and read—tells us who we should care about and who should remain invisible; whose disappearance, rape or murder is noteworthy and whose is not worth mentioning; who we should laugh at; who we should feel sorry for; who we should love; who we should hate and even who should be paired with whom.  

It defines what the so-called majority thinks and therefore how we should think as well. If there are dissenters among us, they are usually painted as unpatriotic, crazy or so marginal that they should not even matter. The media also dictates who is attractive and who isn’t; it doesn’t matter whether the blond hair, big breasts and swollen lips are real or fake—it’s all about the visuals, baby. It’s all about what corporate America believes sells more products. In this consumer-driven society, image is everything. 

Which brings me to a woman I’ll call Tina, my family’s sole dinner guest at this season’s Christmas dinner. Tina was a neighbor many years ago, with a factory job and a family. One day the factory let her go and part of her mind went with the lost job. Unable to keep up with the mortgage payments, she eventually lost her home. Her family dispersed and she took to the streets, living in her car and taking care of the lawns of her former neighbors, including mine.  

Tina is a small-framed woman, a bit scruffy but clean. A red kerchief frames her smooth, youthful brown skin. Beneath her worried expression her features are delicate: you can see that she was once quite beautiful. It’s not difficult to imagine her laughing, flirting, having a good old time within a circle of friends: home at last from a hard days’ work; ready to eat, drink and play a rousing hand of gin rummy or dance to Martha and the Vandellas blasting from the radio. 

This Tina, grey-haired, brown-toothed Gardener Tina, is rarely without her favorite words of wisdom, dispensed with the turning of soil, the trimming of dead branches.  

“Vitamin C! That’s what you need. 2,000 grams. Every day. Cures everything you got.” 

As I trudged past Tina on Christmas Eve and headed up my front steps, arms laden with groceries, she asked me, “Are you-all cooking Christmas dinner tomorrow?” 

“Yes,” I replied, wondering what she was really asking. As I continued to the door she let me know. 

“Can I come by for a plate?” 

“Yes, of course,” I replied, immediately feeling guilty that I had not offered first. 

When my children learned that Tina was joining us for Christmas dinner, they were not thrilled. “What’s wrong?” I inquired. They shrugged. “I just don’t feel comfortable around her,” said one. “She smells funny,” said the other.  

“You kids need to be more welcoming,” I admonished. “You know Tina. It’s not like she’s going to hurt you or anything.” 

“Yeah,” my son agreed. “But she talks about all this weird stuff.”  

Yeah. She does. 

“We have eight personalities and two hearts,” Tina announces between the last spoon of gumbo and the first forkful of turkey. “One good heart and one that’s wicked...” 

My kids exchange glances. Here we go... 

“There are four blood types in the whole world,” Tina goes on. 

“I have type O,” I contribute. 

“There are four blood types,” she repeats, glaring at me for interrupting her. “And each type has a positive side and...” 

“I’m O positive,” I insert. She glances at me, incredulous at this second interruption. 

“And each blood type has a positive side and a wicked side,” she finishes with a flourish. 

“Oh.” One by one, my family members finish their meal and mumble their “excuse me’s” leaving me at the table to deal with Tina alone. So much for their Christmas lesson in charity and compassion. They’ve got new iPods waiting. 

Tina follows me into the kitchen, talking along while I wash the dishes. 

“I didn’t want to say this in front of the kids,” Tina confides conspiratorially, “but if your pubic area is thumping then you need to have sex. It relieves this area right here ... in the back of your head, of stress.” 

She gestures to the area between the back of her head and neck. 

“That’s why homosexuals aren’t meant to have sex because their kind of sex doesn’t relieve the stress in back of the head right.”  

“You mean they’re under a lot of stress? Maybe they should have more sex, then.” 

This remark of hers calls for some clarification. 

“No, no,” Tina shakes her head. “What they need to do is to take more Vitamin C.” 


“And one more thing,” she cautions me. “If your pubic area is thumping it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have sex. It means you’re lucky and should be at the casino ... it happened to me...” 

“You won some money?” I ask. 

“No, I didn’t play but they called my number and I would’ve won,” she laughs. 

“And I want to tell you about Stanley Tookie Williams,” Tina says, abruptly changing subjects. “He was innocent. And now he’s in heaven. He’s just fine.” 

“Why do you think they killed him?” I ask, curious about how much she knew about the case. 

“What about all those white men who raped and killed little girls, cut their heads open and even ate people? They didn’t kill them!” (Actually, it is interesting to note that Williams was not executed for killing any black folks.) 

Tina is hot. “They’re still following slavery,” she says, adamantly. “They haven’t let go of slavery!” 


What do we believe about the homeless people who populate our communities? That they are lazy or drug and alcohol addicted? That they should have tried harder? That it is somehow their fault that they are without homes, adequate food and clothing? Or just that they smell bad and shouldn’t be invited to dinner? How do we judge them? And how would we like to be judged? 

This is the most time I’ve spent talking with Tina. It was interesting and she could be quite amusing, sometimes intentionally so. Apparently she reads a lot and keeps up with current events. I wonder if Tina votes? 

I’ll ask her tomorrow when she comes back for seconds.