Saturday, July 18, 2015


John’s Incredible Pizza (JIP) has been around, mostly on the West coast, for something like twenty years. It’s Chuck E. Cheese on steroids, buffet style. The layout is typically sprawling, with franchise campuses divided into a large game room, four tiered buffet stations of salad, meat stuff, pizza, desert, and more intimate themed dining areas.

It’s Larry’s fourth birthday, and I am frankly tired of the party scene. Children need a steady balance between believing the world revolves around them and not. We decided quite consciously this year to ease back a little on pomp and circumstance. 

It’s not easy. 

Larry is a gorgeous little girl, sweet as pie, and literally everyone, no exaggeration, loves her to death. People routinely pull us aside just to give her things – people we’ve never met and will never see again.

National City, where the nearest JIP location sits, houses a branch. National City is an interesting place. Mostly a sanctuary for Mexican immigrants, illegal and legal, it also holds a transitional Filipino population and a scattering of whites and an occasional African American. In 2015, it’s Mexican. 

When we head to National City, we think things Mexican. We see things Mexican. More or less, it’s Northern Mexico. I think I’ve made the point strongly enough.

Imagine our surprise when JIP was flooded with hijab-clad, coffee colored Somalians. 

Flooded is so the right word. I wasn’t instantly able to take a census, but their numbers were in the hundreds. No joke.

My last real, substantive interaction with Somalis came during my teaching career.

I’d encounter a great many at Crawford High School, where I did a stint as a student teacher, cutting my teeth on 12th grade Economics. 

Somali girls were unquestionably beautiful, demure, lovely. Whip smart, they were also pent-up aggressive when cornered. It just wasn’t wise for the stupid chola to crack at a Somali girl for too long. Mexicans are terrified of black people, and Somalis confused them. Somalis were polite and quiet, but not when hectored. 

I saw four fights at Crawford, all girl and all started by Mexican gang girls ended by Somali girls beating the living fuck out of them. It wasn’t pretty. But after a while, Mexican girls let the Somalis be … just out of sheer fear.

Somali boys were allowed secular dress and attitude. Wars, religious fundamentalism, history, geography all conspired to push Somalis away from their traditional homeland to be here with me at Crawford. Most Somali boys I encountered were unfamiliar with schooling, formal sit-down learning, and they for sure were not used to female authority. The Master Teacher I trained under was a woman, and as she attempted to speak to the Somali boys, I could see the tension mounting. The boys were not going to listen to a woman, not seriously.

When I eventually slid into a longer-term assignment in National City, the blow back attack on the United States happened on September 11th, 2001. Cue invasions. Cue patriotism. Cue the disaster we continue to live with fourteen years later as of this writing.

Nadifa and her younger sister, Asha, were Somali girls who found themselves in our school, in National City. Again, Mexicans are not known for their cosmopolitan outlook on other cultures, and when you involved Third World thinkers already insecure about their place in the United States with Fifth World girls who dress in traditional hijabs, who pray five times a day, and wish to eat halal, well, you can understand there’d be some chance for conflict. That, and Nadifa and Asha were the ONLY Muslims in the entire fucking school.

The math wasn’t looking good.

Nadifa and Asha were beautiful girls. Hard to describe their beauty. Breath-taking. Tall. Curvy. Giant smiles. Super smart. Social. Loud. Hilarious. It was difficult to not instantly fall in love with them.

Nadifa and I shared jokes all the time. I sought her out because I could only imagine what some of my more idiotic students might be saying. That, and all the fucking staff were wearing flag shirts with UNITED WE STAND on the back, noting the 9-11 date. Nadifa and Asha were surrounded by folks who were looking for someone to blame, someone to eyeball.

Nadifa was a rebellious sort of teenager, opting to take off the hijab every now and then to the gasps of kiddos who thought she had to wear it or else. She listened to and loved American music and popular culture. Her personality was such that she attracted everyone.

Asha and I became close due to Nadifa. Nadifa was off, promoted and graduated, and now Asha was in my sphere. Asha wanted my classes, and asked I make it so. I rarely went to bat for students in such a way, but I made sure to get Asha in with me. She was talented, eager to express herself and try new things. She completed every assignment I gave. She also became really comfortable with me, and we’d often argue back and forth in class, usually ending with her laughing hysterically, pronouncing, Kelso, you are so stupid! Man, did I love that kid.

The two girls had a lasting impact on me, and recently Asha found me in repose at a park. 

We hadn’t seen one another for a long, long time though we kept in contact here and there. I was talking with my wife, trying to get out of the sun, and this tall woman in a hijab kept getting closer, looking, probing with her eyes. Kelso! she laughed. I thought it was you. I was like, that big man by the tree must be Kelso! 

We caught up, and it was great to know she’s doing well, married, waiting to get into graduate school, raising a super cute little boy.

My thoughts return from Nadifa and Asha, and as we sit and eat at JIP we watch the scene in front of us.

Somalia is a stronghold for Muslim radical groups, and you can google and get all the bad news you want. You don’t need me to recount anything.

But what actually works in the battle for someone’s mind? The US has sent troops galloping all over the world, killing and nation building. The yield? More terrorists, better organized than ever before (if I am to believe official accounts).

What works, then?

JIP works. 

Somali boys of an age where they’d ordinarily be contemplating joining their tribe’s militia, are now wearing skinny jeans and swiping social media hook-up aps. Somali girls who might already be married off, are bedazzling their hijabs with leopard fur, and they too are all over social media, contemplating which college suits them.

They’re here, by the scores, eating pizza and flirting.

We chose to eat in the Cabin Fever kiosk, mostly because it was out of the main drag and lacked televisions.

When we popped in to sit down, we immediately noticed Somalis on their prayer rugs, pointing east, prostrate as part of their five time daily obligation. Myra stared a little, but not because she was made uncomfortable or anything of the sort. She’s just not used to the scene. It was an odd juxtaposition, folly just steps away and rote, meditative prayer in a corner.

The point is how JIP has done more to lessen tensions between cultures than any government could, than any government will.

Over-it Mexican teenagers in dorky work uniforms were forced to see their little ghetto town overwhelmed by Somalians, forced to smile when Somali kids rushed by rudely on their way to games or pizza or flirting … forced to endure a completely different way of doing things. Lines? Who needs lines!

No fights. No guns. Just pizza. Video games.

Rosa, our kiosk’s attendant who cleaned the room as we ate, kept her toothy smile the entire time we were there. Somali teens rushed in and out of Cabin Fever, some to get gossip on the cute boy, others to pray, still others to avoid their parents.

As Rosa cleaned a table to our left, I asked her if Somalians were now regulars in National City.

She immediately answered as if she’d waited for me to ask. No! Oh, no. I’ve never seen this many of them. It’s a party, and they’re only here tonight and tomorrow.

Her smile faded a little, confused by her natural fear of others combined with work exhaustion.

But the scene was set for me, and it confirmed the obvious. When people are left to trade freely, even when they’re not particularly enthralled with one another, they focus on the task at hand. Rosa traded her labor and her temporary comfort for some cash, and Somalians traded their cash for pizza and Rosa’s time and inconvenience.

It will take another generation, but slowly the hijab will grow a little less shocking to Rosa’s kids, and Somali girls will step out of their silly culture and find a white boy or a Latino dude to settle down and have kids with.

In a generation or so, these things won’t matter all that much.

The Donald Trumps of the world, and those he cynically appeals to, are never going to change the natural flow of human interaction. Work-arounds exist now, especially through technology. People find a way to exploit the best in one another, and for their own purposes. No pure cultures exist anywhere in the world, and you really don’t want them to. You want them to mix, to copy, to influence one another.

John’s Incredible Pizza is where great future civilizations will incubate, foundations begun with flirtation, mixing Pacific Northwest Riot Girl punk music in a Japanese gaming company's system, and Guitar Hero shredding by a Somali kid trying to impress the Mexican girl with a big ass. JIP will change the world for the better.

And I mean it. 

Craig Edward Kelso is the author of Anarcho-Capitalism (2014), a primer on the philosophy of peaceful, stateless cooperation. His curriculum vitae include a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from San Diego State University, and a Post-Baccalaureate secondary education credential in both Social Science and English Language Arts. Kelso taught for nearly a decade in the American public school system, and was voted by colleagues Teacher of the Year, twice in his short tenure, earning numerous accolades from chambers of commerce, mayors, state assembly persons, governors, congresspersons, senators, and even Wal-Mart. Currently he struggles to earn an opportunity to be employed, working as a laborer, dishwasher. He is deliriously happily married to Myra Kelso, living in Southern California with their adorable children. 

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