Jewels of Wisdom From A Wise Man

Sometimes I marvel at how often something you view as either routine or trivial can end up affecting you much more than you imagined.

I’ve recently discovered my passion for writing and I am currently writing a screenplay (movie script). In the books I’ve been reading on the subject of screenwriting, one of the recommendations is to do research on what you’re writing about and the suggestion is not to do your research on the internet, but go out and experience it or speak to someone who has.

My screenplay centers around two brothers (related, not brothas from another mother) who are cooks in a country club.

I’ve never stepped foot in a country club before and found it difficult to write scenes in a place that I’ve never been to.

Then I had a brainstorm. I went home, grabbed a pen and a notebook and drove to my Great Aunt Mae and Uncle AJ’s  House.

Meet my Great Aunt Mae (my grandfather’s sister) and Uncle AJ, her husband of about a million years.

Uncle AJ is generally as laid back as he is in this picture. This time was no exception. And in this case, he happened to be the one person who could assist me more than anyone.

That’s because for nearly 40 years, he worked as a Lead Cook in a country club called Candlewood.

I didn’t think about that when I started writing my story in my head. Just wanted some place prestigious. As it just so happens, I have a guru on this subject in my family.

As I arrive at the house, they are eating. Their house is generally the one constant spot in the family as they’ve lived there for what seems like forever. It is where my mom and uncles generally get their mail because it hasn’t changed. It’s also where we pretty much know they are always home so anytime you go over there, you just show up.

Uncle AJ was sitting in his favorite chair with his plate in his hand. Aunt Mae was at the kitchen table eating. He told me that if he knew I was coming he would have had a Pork Chop ready for me. I wasn’t sure if that was hospitality speaking or a way of pointing out that I didn’t call before coming over. My guess is the former. I don’t think they walk around naked so I don’t think they have a problem with people popping up.

Anyway, after unc asked me what I had in my little carrying case and my aunt asked me how was her ‘friend’ (my daughter), it was time to get down to business.

I explained what I was doing and why I was there. Uncle AJ perked up, still with his plate in his hand, as I stroked his ego about him being an expert and my needing his expertise.

“Well, what do you want to know”, he asked with more enthusiasm than you would think with that word combination.

I proceed to fire off question after question. Thinking about my story, I find out everything from procedures to kitchen set up; staff camaraderie to menu options.

About 20 mins into the Q & A , as he is telling stories like Dr Heathcliff Huxtable, I notice he has not touched his food although he still has the plate in his hand.

“Oh sorry to interrupt your meal”, I tell him with apologetic compassion.  This was after realizing his enthusiasm for someone actually asking about his career was causing this poor, elderly man to starve himself. “You can go ahead and eat”.

He doesn’t budge. “Naw I’m ok”, he says, apparently feeling on a roll. “What else do you wanna know?”

Shortly after that moment, he put his plate – that still had not been touched since we started talking – on the floor, and got up to go get something to show me.

As he walked out of the room, I said to my aunt, “He is really excited to talk about his time as a cook”.

“Too bad he couldn’t cook a damn thing here at home”, she hilariously retorts. “I mean couldn’t cook NOTHIN”, she adds for emphasis.


He was going to get his Certificates of Recognition he had received over the years. As I looked them over, he pointed out the name of the Executive Chef who had signed one of his certificates.

“That guy, I got him fired”, he said.

“The guy that signed off on your award?”, I asked in surprise.

I had no idea the world of working for a country club was so cutthroat.

He told me things that went on that I just couldn’t believe, but were excellent for my story. I could envision what I wanted to do with my story based on what he was telling me. You’ll have to wait for the movie to come out to see what I do with it.

About 90 minutes after I got there we’re still talking but we have started talking about life. See, when someone asks you questions regarding something that took up most of your life, naturally the story will shift to life outside of the country club.

This is where I learned a few things. Got my own short history lesson.

First thing I learned is that back when he first started working for the club in the 60’s, the City of Compton (a ghetto city you may remember as home base for a pioneering rap group called NWA; known for violence and their hatred for cops, among other things) where they own their home was an all white suburb at that time.

I was floored. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that Compton would have ever looked like anything other than Compton. Ever!

Then he hit me with another surprise. My uncle, aunt, and grandfather were all originally from Oklahoma. My uncle and grandfather served in the military. After traveling around in various areas of the country, he told me something else that shocked me:

“Back then LA was far more racist than down south”, he told me.

My aunt validated that comment with a rare appearance in this conversation. “Yeah CJ (my grandfather, her brother) used to say that all time; it was way more racist out here than down south”, she adds.

I’ve lived here in Los Angeles all my life and I never would have known that. In fact, apparently neither do schools because they teach you all racism took place in the south.

I listened intently as my uncle recounted frequently being pulled over by Sheriff’s on his way home from the country club; as he crossed over into mostly white neighborhoods.

He also said that the area we now know as Downtown LA, was where mostly middle-class black families lived and owned their homes.

As I listen to this incredible history, I’m doing two other things simultaneously.  First I’m trying to tame the many new ideas for a movie script that his information is fueling, and second I’m kicking myself for not coming by to hear these stories before.

I can only imagine the term papers in school I could have written.

From neighborhoods, our last stop on the life choo-choo was languages. I had asked him if there was a communication problem in the kitchen among the different native languages (Not just talking about foreign language. My uncle himself speaks an odd version of English, that combines a southern  accent mixed with old man and Compton – don’t ask).

He said there wasn’t a problem because everyone knew what they were supposed to do. There weren’t a lot of times when language was really necessary because nothing need be said when you’re washing vegetables, dishes or cooking food. Everyone knew what needed to be done everyone did their job.

Then I think he started trying to make his way in to my movie script by showing off. He got all super deep on me. He told me about what sounds like a fable that “they” say is true. ‘They’ is what anyone calls a source that is unknown.

Back during an unspecified time, those ‘they’ people believed that languages were derived from and nothing more than an echo.

The different languages are just longer (or shorter) echos.

As I wondered why my uncle was trying to get all Des Cartes on me all of a sudden, the echo story just clicked for some reason. As it dawned on me, I found myself blurting:

“Wow! That makes sense because, when you think about it, all languages are saying the exact same words but with a different sound. Kinda like an echo”.

Now, do I believe in the echo story? No. But who cares? I want to write film scripts for crying out loud; beacons of imagination. In movies, animals talk so we can understand. We can take a trip to another planet. We can be transported in the ocean to experience an underwater adventure. We can travel in time, or watch in awe as film companies pay Keanu Reeves millions of dollars to act when he can’t.

So what’s wrong with a little fable?

I walked out of their small, salmon colored house in Compton feeling inspired. Inspired to write, to create. God only knows the stories I haven’t heard yet. The facts of life that I never imagined was reality.

I leave you with this. If you are fortunate enough to have a grand or great anyone still breathing…LISTEN TO THEM!!

Those stories are amazing. The older you get, the more you appreciate them. Not just because of your increased level of maturity, but also because of your own experiences creating the ability to appreciate the perspective of someone who has seen more than you can imagine.

Someone who was older than you are now when you were born is always a great starting point to find jewels of wisdom.

Thanks Uncle AJ and Auntie Mae. I’ll be back. I probably won’t call first, but I also won’t need a Pork Chop.

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5 thoughts on “Jewels of Wisdom From A Wise Man

  1. What a wonderful story! I am so proud of you, following your dream! They are an amazing and adorable source of information for your screenplay! You go, Spir.

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