I got nothing against Facebook. Me and my 450 "friends" are there. If I'm trying to finagle work, or, say, hip myself to the gay scene here in L.A., I check in on that particular social-networking site.
But I'm from Sandusky, Ohio, and my roots are on MySpace. I was the first in my family to go to college, which means that only scattered flecks of my fam fall within the walled garden that is Facebook.
My more upwardly mobile friends insist that MySpace reeks of 2005. To me, though, that site functions as a reality touchstone. MySpace feels homey. It's the downscale community I have to visit if I want to hear my nephew's newest hip-hop rhymes. Excuse the classic reference, but MySpace is to Facebook what Mt. Pilot was to Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show; it's an off-the-board burb where some mess is most likely going down.
Instead of getting Barney on the case, a guy like me just calls up MySpace.
Let's fess up, though: Until recently, I tended to see both MySpace and Ohio as simple, even backward places from my past. But that was before I rifled through my one old-school friends list and came upon the page of my half-niece from Lorain. Lorain is something like a big-brother town to Sandusky with a population of nearly 70,000. My new niece's MySpace name as of this writing was: Mz.Freaky…and a string of other hot words that need not be included here.
Freaky Luv, as in queer love. In out-of-the-way Lorain, Ohio. Oh, snap.
I have a hard time imagining the granddaughter of my late Ghetto Celebrity father living out and proud in small-town Middle America. But that's just what this chick is doing. I reached out to, again, get hip, and after a couple of exchanges, it was clear that her lifestyle has a lot in common with the West Coast gay scene.
Which is bad and good, I guess. But, most of what my 19-year-old niece shared was bad. She gave me a glimpse into an Ohio life that's way worse than the one I fled when I turned 18: "No hopes are here for the children," Mz.Freaky wrote me. "All the jobs are gone, so hey…I keep looking up at the top and still don't see niggas rising any higher."
She was born and raised in low-income housing. She always considered herself bisexual. "Living with NO!!! father around—just in and out—was ruff," she wrote, "but I always knew I was that different type of kat, looking for love. So the streets grabbed me."
"The streets was fast and I was, too. So I wanted more. It was like a hunger pain. I stopped going to school and wanted to be in the hood around the clock and mess with the local drug dealers—smoke weed and sell it, too."
She said the same people who dog her the loudest for liking the same sex like to dabble themselves. "It seem like everybody is coming out the closet," she said. "I never gave a damn cause it's my life, and I see people for what's on the inside and not the out. My mama tell me like this: " 'Baby, you grown now. Mama can't tell you what to do. But if you like it, I love it. And I love you, too.'"
Her mama is my half-sister, and it makes me a little sad that I hardly know her, either. As far as Lil' Mizzy is concerned, suffice it to say, I don't have a meaningful relationship with anybody like her in my present life.
There's more to the world, she's confirmed, than life as lived on Facebook.
She has no qualms about letting it all hang out on the Internet or in this article. "I lay it out there and keeps it real," she told me in a recent note. "Even though we never met face-to-face, you are my uncle, so you should be able to ask me anything." That touched me a little bit. She wants to write books, just like her author uncle, and you know I liked that. Intriguing youngster. Her photos show a woman hard in ways Ohio never did make me.
My extended family has migrated far and wide, and I almost never see any of them. I haven't even been back to Ohio in almost a decade. Now, when I think about Ohio—if I think of it at all—I consider what it must have been like for Toni Morrison, growing up thoughtful in a small, industrial town like Lorain.
These days, forget about draining 40s or Wild Irish Rose. On a great day, I'm draining a good bottle of wine outside a cool London pub. Here I am, living it up in LaLa land, but compared to my niece, I'm Barbie-doll soft. Out of touch.
As I clicked through her fierce photo album, I reconfirmed that my family's got some crazy-ill street characters in it. Some of whom I could actually fear. And this one could be the wildest. Yet, recurring throughout the album is an undeniable sweetness in her eyes, a trait from my father's side.
This utterly utilitarian proof is there—right on MySpace. It's very nice to know my niece, if only in the post-Friendster sense. But my new acquaintance also makes me wonder if it is my hometown that has really changed or if I just have a new window to see it through.
Donnell Alexander is co-author (with Bruce Williams) of Rollin' with Dre (One World/Ballantine, 2008). His forthcoming book is The Chronic: The Last Album that Changed the World (MTV/Simon & Schuster). He has yet to come across anyone he knows on XTube.