The Appropriation of Cultures

Episode #8

VOICE: Is anybody listening?!

SOUND: (HEARTBEATS)

VOICE: Is anybody listening?

(MUSIC ... THEME ... IN)

ANNOUNCER: Is anybody listening ... to this half-hour-long program designed to 
bring you something interesting and unusual in the field of radio drama? 

Well, if anybody IS listening, they'll hear something called "The 
Appropriation of Cultures" -- a radio play based on the short story by 
Percival Everett.

(MUSIC ... THEME ... OUT)

--

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Yeah, they took down that flag. 

Used to be, that flag was always up there on top of the State Capitol. 

It was up there for years and years. 

And, one day, it wasn't there.

No, I don't know WHO took it down. 

Well, wait, that's wrong. Actually, I guess you COULD say it was me. 

No, I'm not bragging. All I'm saying is that that flag'd probably still be 
flying on top of the statehouse - if it wasn't for me. 

(CHUCKLES) No, I don't work for the government. 

I don't work anywhere, actually. 

Well, when my mother died, she left me money and a nice house to live in. So I 
don't work and I don't pretend I need to work. 

Oh, sure, I earned a degree. In American Studies from Brown University. 
(CHUCKLES) I earned the degree but the degree never earned anything for me. 

What I really enjoy - is playing my guitar.

(MUSIC ... GUITAR LICKS ... IN BG)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) I play a nineteen-forty Martin guitar with a Barkus-Berry 
pickup. 

SOUND: (CROWD NOISES)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Some nights, I used to go to a joint near the campus of the 
University of South Carolina and play jazz with a bunch of old guys. 

(MUSIC ... GUITAR IS JOINED BY A SMALL JAZZ BAND ... IN BG)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Now, these old guys all worked very hard during the day, 
and I didn't.

(MUSIC ... A SUDDEN STOP-TIME BREAK)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) But they never held it against me. 

(MUSIC ... THE BAND RETURNS JOYOUSLY ... AND FINISHES THE SONG UNDER THE 
FOLLOWING:)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) What I really loved to play was old-time slide tunes. But 
mostly we just played standards. And, sometimes, we would take requests.

(MUSIC ... TO A FINISH ... THEN OUT)

SOUND: (POLITE APPLAUSE ... CROWD NOISES CONTINUE ... SOME FEEDBACK AS DANIEL 
APPROACHES THE MICROPHONE)

DANIEL: (TO THE CROWD) Well, um, I guess we're taking requests. (NO RESPONSE) 
Nobody has a request?

FRAT BOY: (OFF) Play "Dixie"!

DANIEL: Huh?

FRAT BOY: (OFF) Play "Dixie" for us!

2ND FRAT BOY: (OFF) Yeah, play "Dixie"!

SOUND: (CROWD NOISE BUZZES)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) It was some white boys - from a fraternity. You know -- 
golf shirts and chinos and too much to drink? And I'm standing on the stage -- 
a black man holding an acoustic guitar -- and they're yellin' at me:

FRAT BOY: (OFF) "Dixie"! (TRYING TO HELP) You know -- (SINGS OFF KEY) "Oh, I 
wish I was in the land of cotton..." You know!

SOUND: (CROWD NOISE SUBSIDES)

DANIEL: (NARRATES, AFTER A PAUSE) Yeah, I knew. 

Weeeeeell, I give 'em a long look.  

And then I look from them to the old guys I was playing with. And then I look 
at the other college kids in the club. Everybody's embarrassed. Everybody's 
uncomfortable.

Now, don't ask me why I did it, but I turned back to these drunken frat boys, 
and I said to 'em, I said:

(THOUGHTFULLY, AGREEABLY) Okay. "Dixie."

(NARRATES) And then I started to play. 

(MUSIC ... A STANZA OF "DIXIE" ON THE GUITAR ... SLOW AND TENTATIVE AT FIRST, 
BUT BUILDING ... CONTINUES IN BG)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Now, I had to feel my way slowly through the chords. 

And I had to use the slide to squeeze out the melody. 

Because I had heard it a hundred, maybe a thousand times, but I had never 
played this song before -- this song that I grew up - hating. This song the 
whites had always pulled out to remind themselves and those other people just 
where they were. 

And I got partway through it when I decided - it was mine. 

I decided that the lyrics were mine. 

I decided - that the song was mine. 

(SINGS, SLOWLY, BEAUTIFULLY, MEANING EVERY WORD)
Oh, I wish I was - in the land of cotton.
Old times there are not forgotten.
Look away, look away.
Look away, Dixieland ...

(SPEAKS) And I wasn't kidding. I sang it like I meant it. And there was no 
satire in my voice. And, as I sang, I could hear the silence all around me. I 
could see the roomful of eyes on me. And I wondered what the reaction would 
be.

(MUSIC ... THE GUITAR ... THE SONG ENDS, TRIUMPHANTLY)

SOUND: (A LONG MOMENT OF SILENCE ... ONE PERSON CLAPS ... THEN ANOTHER ... 
THEN THE ROOM ROARS WITH CHEERS AND APPLAUSE ... THEN UNDER)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) I looked hard into the darkness of the club and I found the 
frat boys in the back as they stormed out, a couple of people near the door 
chuckling at them as they passed.

And right next to me on stage was Roger, the old guy who played tenor sax. He 
slapped me on the back and said something like "Right on" or "Cool." And we 
got back to work.

(MUSIC ... SAX LEADS THE BAND INTO A MELLOW VERSION OF DUKE ELLINGTON'S "TAKE 
THE A TRAIN" ... JAZZ CONTINUES IN BG AND AGREES WITH THE FOLLOWING:)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Later, when the set was done, all the college kids slapped 
me on the back as I walked toward the bar, where I found a cold beer waiting 
for me.

SOUND: (CROWD NOISES)

COLLEGE KID: Nice work, Danny.

DANIEL: (NARRATES) I didn't much care for the slaps on the back but I didn't 
focus too much energy on that. I was busy trying to sort out my feelings about 
what I'd just played.

The irony of my playing the song straight and from the heart was made more 
ironic by the fact that, as I played it, it really DID come straight and from 
the heart. I was claiming Southern soil, or at least recognizing my blood in 
it.

Mine was the land of cotton and hell no, it was not forgotten.

Well, I guess when you're twenty-three, your anger is fresh and typical, and 
so is your ease with it. You can forget your anger for chunks of time until 
something like white frat boys asking you to play "Dixie" -- or simply a 
flashing blue light in a rearview mirror -- brings it all back.

Anyway, I liked the song, wanted to play it again, knew that I would.

(MUSIC ... OUT)

SOUND: (CROWD NOISES OUT ABRUPTLY ... CAR ENGINE)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) I drove home from the bar that night -- I drive a nineteen-
seventy-six Jensen Interceptor. 

SOUND: (CAR ENGINE OUT)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Got back to the house ...

SOUND: (A DOOR SLAMS)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) ... made some tea ...

SOUND: (TEA POURED IN A CUP)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) ... sat down in a big leather chair that had been my 
father's ...

SOUND: (LEATHER CHAIR SQUEAKS)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) ... and thumbed through a book. 

SOUND: (PAGES THUMBED IN A BOOK)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) I read about Pickett's charge at Gettysburg until I fell 
asleep and had a dream.

SOUND: (MARCHING FEET, ETC. ... FROM A KEN BURNS DOCUMENTARY ... IN BG)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) I dreamed I was on the Emmitsburg Road and I stopped 
Pickett's men on their way to the battlefield. And I spoke to them:

(TO THE SOLDIERS) Give it back.

Give it back to me.

GIVE ME BACK MY FLAG!

SOUND: (BUT THE MARCHING FEET KEEP MARCHING ... FADES DURING:)

(MUSIC ... "DIXIE" ON THE GUITAR ... FOR A TRANSITION ... THEN OUT)

SOUND: (GROCERY STORE NOISES ... THE CLANG OF SHOPPING CARTS, ETC. ... MUZAK, 
MOMENTARILY INTERRUPTED BY AN ANNOUNCEMENT:)

WOMAN'S VOICE: (OVER SPEAKER) Could assistant manager Harold dial one-
fourteen, please?

DANIEL: (NARRATES) The next day, while we were shopping at the Piggly Wiggly, 
I told my friend Sarah about what happened.

SARAH: I wish I could have heard it.

DANIEL: Yeah, me too.

SARAH: No offense, Daniel, but, personally, I can't even stand to go in that 
place. All that drinking. Those white kids love to drink.

DANIEL: I guess. The place is harmless. They seem to like the music.

SARAH: Do you think I should paint my nails?

DANIEL: I don't know. If you want to.

SARAH: I mean really paint them. You know, black?

DANIEL: Black?

SARAH: Or with red, white and blue stripes? Something like that.

DANIEL: (NARRATES) She was holding her hand out and staring at it. I guess she 
was imagining the colors.

SARAH: I'd have to grow them long.

DANIEL: What are you talking about?

SARAH: Just talking.

SOUND: (THE CASH REGISTER AT THE CHECKOUT)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) At the checkout, I picked up a bulletin full of pictures of 
local cars and trucks for sale.

SARAH: What's that for?

DANIEL: I think I want to buy a truck.

SARAH: Buy a truck?

DANIEL: Yeah. Here's one -- a 1968 Ford three-quarter ton. 

SARAH: Mm hm.

DANIEL: Look, it's got a full rear cab window decal of the Confederate flag.

SARAH: (CHUCKLES)

DANIEL: The address is in Irmo. Where's Irmo?

SARAH: It's a little town across the river.

DANIEL: Irmo. Sounds like a disease for cattle.

SARAH: Daniel. What do you want to buy a truck for?

DANIEL: So I can drive you around when you paint your nails.

(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT ... ACOUSTIC GUITAR ... FOR A TRANSITION ... THEN OUT)

SOUND: (DOORBELL ... AFTER A BEAT, THE FRONT DOOR OPENS ... THEN SCREEN DOOR)

TRAVIS: (SURLY) What is it?

DANIEL: Hi. I called about the truck. Are you Travis?

TRAVIS: (SURPRISED) Oh. You're Dan?

DANIEL: Uh huh.

TRAVIS: (SLIGHTLY UNCOMFORTABLE) Um, okay. The truck's in the backyard.

DANIEL: Okay.

TRAVIS: Ah, let me get the keys.

DANIEL: Sure.

SOUND: (SCREEN DOOR SWINGS SHUT)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Travis disappeared back into the house for a minute. I 
could hear him exchanging words with somebody inside but I couldn't make out 
what was being said. I thought I heard a woman say to Travis:

WOMAN'S VOICE: (OFF, TO TRAVIS) Well, I couldn't tell over the phone.

DANIEL: (NARRATES) And then Travis came back with the keys.

SOUND: (SCREEN DOOR SWINGS OPEN AS TRAVIS RETURNS)

TRAVIS: (TO DANIEL) Ooookay, got 'em. Uh, come on back with me.

SOUND: (FOOTSTEPS CRUNCH TO THE BACKYARD ... UNDER THE FOLLOWING:)

TRAVIS: That your car?

DANIEL: Uh huh.

TRAVIS: What kind of car is that?

DANIEL: It's a Jensen.

TRAVIS: Nice looking. Is it fast?

DANIEL: I guess.

TRAVIS: Yeah, real nice.

SOUND: (FOOTSTEPS ... OUT)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) He showed me the truck. It was a little rough. Pale blue 
with a crack across the top of the windshield. I put my hand on the bleached-
out hood and I could tell that Travis had already warmed up the motor.

SOUND: (TRUCK DOOR OPENS, TRAVIS GETS IN, PUTS KEY IN IGNITION ... ENGINE 
ROARS TO LIFE AND HUMS UNDER THE FOLLOWING:)

TRAVIS: It's a strong runner. The clutch and the alternator are new this year.

DANIEL: Sounds like the engine misses just a little.

TRAVIS: A tune-up'll fix that.

DANIEL: Mm. How's the bed?

TRAVIS: Ah, there's some rust back there, but the bottom's pretty solid.

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Travis watched me as I walked to the rear and looked at the 
rebel flag decal that covered the entire rear window of the cab. 

TRAVIS: (INSISTENT) That thing will peel right off.

DANIEL: (AT EASE) Hm? No, I like it. Mind if I take it for a spin?

TRAVIS: Sure thing. The brakes are good but you gotta press hard.

DANIEL: I'll just take it around the block.

SOUND: (TRUCK DOOR SHUTS, TRUCK DRIVES OFF ... ENGINE IN BG)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) So I took it around the block. 

Down the street, a man and a teenager, covered with grease, were working on a 
torn-apart Dodge Charger in their front yard. They stopped and stared at me as 
I went by. I noticed they were still staring at me as I rounded the corner.

The truck handled decently but that really wasn't important. 

The tires were bald but that didn't matter much, either. 

No, by the time I got back to Travis' house, I'd already made my decision.

And I was probably the happiest man in all of Irmo, South Carolina.

SOUND: (ENGINE OUT ... TRUCK DOOR OPENS AND SHUTS)

DANIEL: The ad in the magazine said two thousand.

TRAVIS: Yeah, but I'm willing to work with you.

DANIEL: Tell you what, I'll give you twenty-two hundred if you deliver it to 
my house.

TRAVIS: Whereabouts do you live?

DANIEL: I live over near the university. Near Five Points.

TRAVIS: Twenty-two hundred? Yeah, sure I can get it to your house.

SOUND: (COUNTS OUT MONEY)

DANIEL: Good. Here's a couple hundred. I can have the rest for you when you 
deliver the truck. And let me write down the address. Can you have it there at 
about four?

TRAVIS: I can do that.

DANIEL: Great. See you at four.

(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT ... ACOUSTIC GUITAR ... FOR A TRANSITION ... THEN OUT)

SARAH: Oh, my God, Daniel. What do you need a truck for?

DANIEL: I'm not buying the truck. 

SARAH: You just told me you bought a truck and the truck would be here at 
four.

DANIEL: Well, I am buying a truck, but only because I need the truck for the 
decal.

SARAH: You need the truck for the decal?

DANIEL: Yes. Remember? This truck has a Confederate flag in the back window.

SARAH: What?

DANIEL: I've decided the rebel flag is my flag.

SARAH: The rebel flag is YOUR flag?

DANIEL: My blood is Southern blood, right? Well, it's my flag.

SOUND: (SARAH'S CUP AND SAUCER CLATTER ON A TABLE)

SARAH: Oh, my God, Daniel. You have flipped out.

DANIEL: No, I haven't flipped out.

SARAH: I knew this would happen to you if you didn't work. A person needs to 
work.

DANIEL: Sarah, I don't need money.

SARAH: That's not the point. You don't have to work for money.

DANIEL: I've got my books and my music.

SARAH: You need a job so you can be around people you don't care about, doing 
stuff you don't care about. 

DANIEL: Huh?

SARAH: You need a job to occupy that part of your brain. (SIGHS) I suppose 
it's too late now, though.

DANIEL: Look, you should have seen those redneck boys when I took "Dixie" from 
them. They didn't know what to do.

SARAH: So?

DANIEL: So, there's a flag flying over the State Capitol. If you can't take it 
down, just take it. That's what I say.

SARAH: (SKEPTICAL) You think so, huh?

DANIEL: Yep. You watch ol' Travis when he gets here.

(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT ... ACOUSTIC GUITAR ... FOR A TRANSITION ... THEN OUT)

SOUND: (TRUCK ENGINE ... TRUCK PULLS UP AND PARKS ... ENGINE OUT ... TRUCK 
DOOR OPENS ... TRAVIS GETS OUT)

DANIEL: Hey, Travis. This is my friend, Sarah.

TRAVIS: Hullo.

SARAH: Nice to meet you.

TRAVIS: Listen, you sure you don't want me to peel that thing off the window?

DANIEL: I'm positive.

TRAVIS: Well, all right.

DANIEL: Okay. Here's the balance. 

TRAVIS: Oh, thanks. Here's the keys. Oh, let me sign the title.

DANIEL: You got a ride back to Irmo?

TRAVIS: Oh, sure. That's my wife in the Trans Am across the street.

DANIEL: Oh, yeah? I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to meet her.

TRAVIS: Well, that's okay. She's a little shy.

DANIEL: Ah.

TRAVIS: Here's the title.

DANIEL: Thanks.

TRAVIS: Um, Dan?

DANIEL: Yes, Travis?

TRAVIS: Do you mind if I ask you a question?

DANIEL: No, go ahead.

TRAVIS: Why do you want that flag on the truck?

DANIEL: Why shouldn't I want it?

TRAVIS: I mean, you live in a nice house and drive that sports car. What do 
you need a truck like that for?

DANIEL: You don't want the money?

TRAVIS: Well, yeah, I want the money. But ... (DOESN'T KNOW HOW TO PUT IT)

DANIEL: I need the truck for hauling stuff. You know, like groceries and-- Uh, 
help me out here, Sarah.

SARAH: Books?

DANIEL: Books. Things like that. Yeah, I was just lucky enough to find a truck 
with the black-power flag already on it.

TRAVIS: Huh?

DANIEL: The black-power flag on the window. ... You mean, you didn't know? ... 
Well, anyway, I'm glad we could do business. Come on, Sarah, hop in. Let me 
take you for a ride in my new truck!

SOUND: (TRUCK DOORS OPEN AND SHUT ... ENGINE ROARS TO LIFE)

DANIEL: (CALLS OUT) Bye, Travis! Thanks for everything!

TRAVIS: (WEAKLY) Yeah, sure. Bye.

SOUND: (TRUCK PULLS AWAY)

SARAH: (LAUGHS HYSTERICALLY ... FINALLY CATCHES HER BREATH) Oh, my God, 
Daniel! That was beautiful! That was just beautiful! (KEEPS LAUGHING)

DANIEL: (SOFTLY, SERIOUS) No. That was true.

(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT ... "DIXIE" AS PLAYED BY THE JAZZ BAND ... FOR A JOYOUS 
TRANSITION ... THEN IN THE BG DURING THE FOLLOWING:)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Over the next few weeks, sightings of me and my truck 
proved - problematic for some.

For example, I was in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven on Two Notch Road when I 
was approached by a rather large white man in a '72 Monte Carlo. He had a 
small Confederate flag on the front plate of his Chevy and he was looking at 
my great big one.

(MUSIC ... ABRUPTLY OUT)

WHITE MAN: Hey, what are you doing with THAT on your truck, boy?

DANIEL: Flying it proudly. ... Just like you, brother.

WHITE MAN: (AFTER A BEAT) What did you call me?

DANIEL: Brother. (AFTER A PAUSE) Look, is there a problem? Because I don't 
want any trouble--

WHITE MAN: Boy, I don't know what you're up to--

SOUND: (TWO CAR DOORS OPEN)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) As the big white man was poking his index finger in my 
chest, four black teenaged boys in a Volkswagen parked next to my truck, 
suddenly jumped out, staring at us, looking serious. The biggest one said:

TEENAGER: What's going on?

DANIEL: It's okay, young brother. He was just admiring OUR flag.

TEENAGER: (AFTER A BEAT) Huh?

DANIEL: (NARRATES) I pointed to the flag and said:

(TO THE TEENAGERS) We fly the flag proudly, don't we, young brothers?

(NARRATES) I gave them a bent-arm, closed fist, black-power salute.

(TO THE TEENAGERS) Don't we fly the flag proudly?

(AFTER A PAUSE) Don't we?

TEENAGERS: (CONFUSED) Yeah. Sure.

DANIEL: (NARRATES) By this time, the white man had backed away to his car, 
slipped in and was pulling away. I turned back to the teenagers and, with as 
serious a face as I could manage, I told them:

(TO THE TEENAGERS) Get yourselves a flag, young brothers -- and fly it 
proudly.

(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT ... "DIXIE" AS PLAYED BY THE JAZZ BAND ... FOR ANOTHER 
JOYOUS TRANSITION ... THEN IN THE BG DURING THE FOLLOWING:)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) And then there was the time I was at a gas station and a 
lawyer at the pump next to me was filling the tank of his BMW. He looked at 
the truck - and then he looked at me - and he said:

(MUSIC ... OUT)

LAWYER: That your truck?

DANIEL: Yup.

LAWYER: That your flag?

DANIEL: Yup. ... Power to the people! (LAUGHS)

(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT ... "DIXIE" AS PLAYED BY AN R&B DANCE BAND ... FOR A 
TRANSITION ... THEN IN THE BG DURING THE FOLLOWING:)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) The next time I played "Dixie" was at another bar in town, 
this time with an R&B dance band at a banquet of the black medical 
association.

Strange looks and expressions of outrage gave way to bemused laughter and 
finally to open joking and acceptance as the song was played fast enough for 
dancing.

(MUSIC ... SLOWS ... ACOUSTIC GUITAR COMES TO THE FORE ... VOICES SING "DIXIE" 
SLOWLY, WITH FEELING)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) Then the song was sung slowly -- to the profound surprise 
of those singing the song.

VOICES: (SING)
Oh, I wish I was - in the land of cotton.
Old times there are not forgotten.
Look away, look away.
Look away ... 

(MUSIC AND VOICES ... FADE AWAY)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) And that's pretty much the whole story.

Soon, there were several, then many cars and trucks in Columbia, South 
Carolina, sporting Confederate flags and being driven by black people.

Black ministers and businessmen wore rebel-flag buttons on their lapels and 
rebel-flag clips on their neckties.

(MUSIC ... "DIXIE" AS PLAYED BY A MARCHING BAND ... IN BG)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) The marching band of South Carolina State College, a 
predominantly black land-grant institution in Orangeburg, paraded with the 
flag during homecoming.

Yes, black people all over the state flew the Confederate flag.

And, for some reason, the flag began to disappear from the fronts of big rigs.

And it began to disappear from the back windows of jacked-up four-wheelers.

And the following Fourth of July, when Confederate flags were being used to 
decorate yards and mark the picnic sites of black family reunions ...

(MUSIC ... FADES OUT)

DANIEL: (NARRATES) ... the flag quietly disappeared from its station with the 
U.S. and State flags atop the State Capitol.

There was no ceremony, no notice.

Yeah, they took down that flag. 

Used to be, that flag was always up there on top of the State Capitol. 

It was up there for years and years. 

And, one day, it wasn't there.

(SINGS, AS HE WALKS OFF)
Look away ...
Look away ...
Look away ...

(WHISTLES THE REST ... TO A FINISH)

(MUSIC ... THEME ... IN)

ANNOUNCER: You've been listening to "The Appropriation of Cultures" -- a radio 
play based on the short story by Percival Everett. 

Daniel was played by ____________________. 

Sarah was ___________________ and ____________________ played Travis. 

Others in the cast included: _________, ___________, and ___________. 

Music was by ______________________________________________________ .

And ____________ handled the sound effects.

Next week, if anybody's listening, 
they'll hear something called ________.

(MUSIC ... THEME ... OUT)

SOUND: (HEARTBEATS)

VOICE: (WHISPERS) Is anybody listening?

SOUND: (HEARTBEATS ... FADE)

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