What’s wrong with weird?

“The opposite of pro is con. That fact is clearly seen. If progress means move forward, then what does congress mean?”— Nipsey Russell 1924-2005, philosopher, human rights activist, Renaissance man, actor and comedian

By Manning Peterson, Staff Writer

When you traverse the relaxing roads of the East Bay or enjoy a scenic stroll across the Cal-Berkeley campus, you will probably be privy to conversations in at least 30 different languages including American Sign Language (ASL).

“Name-calling” aka “talking smack” or “negative labeling” is one of our linguistic variations. It involves many misplaced modern mots and clichés such as nerd, ho, stupid, anarchist, dork, woman/Asian drivers, retarded and weird.

The word weird has become internationally synonymous with the alleged lifestyle and purported philosophy of the city of Berkeley.

And to avoid any auxiliary angst, creative confusion or subliminal stumbling, let’s establish one absolute truth here and now. BERKELEY AIN’T PALO ALTO!

Oct. 24, 2014. It is a sunny, warm, autumn day in the People’s Republic of Berkeley. I have lived here off and on for 15 years including my four-year student stint in the Graduate School of Education at Cal.

One irrefutable fact my West Coast life path has taught me is to expect the unexpected when I sashay along the streets of Berkeley cuz things can get weird out here in a heartbeat.

Webster’s Dictionary defines weird as strange; bizarre; concern with the unnatural.

Orthodox is defined as adhering to traditional practice or belief. The population of Berkeley is 99.9 percent unorthodox. The remaining one- tenth is practitioners of the Orthodox Jewish, Buddhist and Islamic religions.

This miniscule minion also includes a group professing to focus on advancing to the rank of professional putzdom and heroic druggie (Ph.D.).

I rolled over three blocks west from Top Dog to check out my mail at the historic main post office on Allston Way cuz you never know when that “million dollar check” of your dreams will arrive. Today might just be my day.

There was a 3-inch by 5-inch card in my P.O. Box informing me of “Parcel too large for box.”

While I was reading the card, as a stubby, disheveled, stanking (that’s ebonics for beyond stinking), 50-ish Caucasian dude inserted his polluted patoot between me and the open mailbox.

He shouted up into my face with alcohol, halitosis, anger-accented breath, “You know they even let niggers, japs, spics, Jews, chinks and Arabs use this post office!”

“Thanks for sharing that important information, bro. I’ll be sure I pass it on,” I answered with my head turned 180 degrees from his voice.

It would not have been helpful or necessary to tell this sawed-off schmuck I have been a P.O. Box holder here for over 40 years, nor that I am an honorably discharged African-American veteran. When I turned my head to face him, he was in the wind.

I took a number and seat to wait my run for service. A 30-ish Hindu-East Indian appearing female wearing a Cal sweatshirt over her salmon-colored sari, slid in next to me.

She began screaming, “Every god- damn time I come to this goddamn post office I have to wait too god- damn long!”

I jumped up and joined the folks standing out of her vocal anxiety vicinity. Five minutes later I heard my number 43 called.

A pleasant, late 20s, attractive Asian postal associate (they were called mail clerks in the late 1950s-early 60s during my part-time postal career while attending college) greeted me with a dazzling smile and warm “Good afternoon sir.”

She was taller than short for a stereotypical adult Asian female. I am 5-foot-10 and she was presented at the same eye level.

This efficient U.S.P.S. employee accepted my card and asked for the box number. After disappearing behind some clear plastic room dividers, she quickly returned with the parcel.

It was a lovely birthday gift from my precious grandson, “Mojo” and darling daughter, Randall.

The white print name tag above her left breast pocket attracted my attention. It read He and piqued my curiosity.

I had to ask her, “Is your name He?” She smiled sweetly and said, “Yes sir, my name is He.”

I thanked her and gave her a piece of ginger candy. She smiled warmly once more while accepting the sweet gift and softly replied, “Thank you very much for being so kind sir.”

I strolled outside and a warm bright sun greeted me. That’s when I spoke to myself, “Amazing! He is a she and she is HE. And I’m just a Black Me — As Black AS I CAN BE surfing the weird wacky waves and whitecaps of Berkeley.

My father warned me about places like Berkeley before I left our Martha’s Vineyard family home in 1970. Thanks for the heads-up, “Ruf!”

Longevity has taught me the only predictable behavior that occurs in Berkeley is the utter unpredictability of the folks who live and work here or attend Cal.

And, believe me, it is ridiculously refreshing ’cause everybody in Berkeley ain’t weird no matter what definition you choose to stand by. They are simply who they are as individuals.

Bouncing to the boogie-woogie on their beautiful boulevards of Berkeley is synonymous with being at an Oakland Raiders game at the Oakland Coliseum.


It is essential to remember, despite all we have been taught or encouraged to believe, there are usually very few absolute areas in life such as wrong, right, orthodox, normal or weird.

My nearly eight decades of experience has disclosed four absolute rule exceptions as of today.

They are: 1. I will stay black. 2. I will get older and uglier one day at a time and 3. I will die as a black man and 4. God is good all the time.

Life is simply a casual causal convertible conundrum like politics cuz there are no truths and there are no facts. It is all a matter of style and perception.

But, if you are looking for perfection, you better change your direction.

Here’s some information on the search for perfection my father counseled me about all my life.

“Ruf” (that’s his nickname pronounced roof) said, “A perfectionist is a person who takes great pains to give them to others.”

“There is absolutely nothing wrong, evil or diabolical about any person presenting as weird. These behavior patterns simply confuse, arouse, disorient, excite or simply piss-off most folks. Those are the reaction choices to weird by the mediocre majority. I just let them do their thing and focus on living my own weird life!”

— Julian Boyd, emeritus professor in the English Department at UC Berkeley