Why keep him around?

Last Monday in English 203, while we were gathered into small groups, Professor McCoy instructed us to write down what we wanted to figure out as we continue to read through, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. I have to be honest, when Professor McCoy first instructed us to begin to write I was in a moment of pause, watching as my peers began to type hastily on their computers as if they knew what Beth was going to have us do before she even instructed it and I was slightly jealous that their minds moved so quickly. I sat there for a minute, thinking back to what we’ve read so far in the novel and the one person I kept going back to was, Ted Turner. I then managed to snap out of my thoughts and began to type a paragraph that was messy and rushed but when the time came for me to share with the class what I wanted to figure out I managed to sum it up by saying, “Why keep Ted Turner around?”

            Ted Turner’s character in I Am Not Sidney Poitier is without a doubt one of the most interesting characters I have ever read and explored and I’m able to appreciate him because he’s so different and honestly, quite strange. His dissociation with reality is what really draws me to his character, providing Not Sidney with strange and almost useless advice when Not is looking for actual help, is intriguing because that’s not the usual way an average adult deals with issues. And that’s just it-this version of Ted Turner isn’t an “average” adult; he’s a billionaire that is able to do anything he wants-not to mention that he’s also white, so he’s basically a walking billboard for privilege. Usually, I wouldn’t be so in tune with a character like this because I find it boring to read the same white, lead, male character trope over and over, but Percival Everett has minimized Ted Turner into a side character that doesn’t get too much screen time, and its perfect.  

            When Not Sidney first told Ted about being abused by his history teacher, Miss Hancock (which is a sad play on words in this case), he reacts in a way that’s suspected for his character. “Well, you know, that doesn’t sound too bad on the face of it, but it seems a little inappropriate,” is Tuner’s initial response and when I read that sentence I found myself getting upset because there are so many real stories of what Not Sidney went through followed by that exact rationality that Ted brings up. The very common line that one often hears when a boy is taken advantage of by a woman, one that means to make the boy feel good about himself because he got the attention of his abuser, rather than call it what it is. It’s sick. For a moment I was upset with Ted for not being the responsible adult that Not Sidney needs at that moment, but then I remembered that he isn’t much of an adult himself. While Not is explaining what had happened, Ted is casually chewing gum, thoughts clearly elsewhere as he stares at the section of the house where Not Sidney stays.

            He then launches himself into this brief story about his Italian shoes and how he practices tying them with one hand in case he ever loses one of his arms in a crazy accident. I appreciate how Not Sidney reacts because at this point, he knows what to expect when he talks to this odd guy, but it still surprises him to a certain extent as they sit there. “‘But wait. Ted, how do you get to choose which arm you’ll lose in an accident?’ Ted stopped working his gum for a second. ‘That’s a very good question, Nu’ott. I hadn’t thought of that. I guess it had better be my left. So, are you going to turn this teacher in?’” That’s how Ted bridges the gap from his warped sense of reality, to being in that moment with Not. They go back and forth for a bit before Ted settles back into his usual self and the interaction ends with him saying, “This teacher, does she have full lips? Does she wear makeup? How short are her skirts? Just trying to get a picture of the whole thing.”

            My question still remains unanswered, why keep Ted Turner around? In the writing exercise Beth had us do I asked myself, “Why is it Ted Turner, when Not Sidney was wealthy as shit?” Don’t get me wrong, I’m most likely Ted Turner’s biggest fan and I’ll defend this character to the very end-but why was it him? In my previous blogpost I mentioned that the side characters in this reading don’t provide much meat to the plot of this story, and that’s very true, but Turner offers a sense of comfortableness that one can enjoy. His advice that he provides is very random and almost useless but if we didn’t have the dialogue that we do between him and Not Sidney, the novel wouldn’t be as rich as it is.

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