Cool is like soul: You embody it (or it imbibes you) or you do not (or it does not). If you've got cool, you don't flaunt it. It just oozes.
When I was a teenager, I never really figured cool out. I just watched idly as nearly every one of my peers faked the funk of cool. Later on, through a lifelong immersion in popular culture, I finally realized there are, in fact, varying levels of cool.
Teenagers today know that better than we did. Their cool is crueler than ours was.
Today, black teenagers try to manifest cool by loading up on defense mechanisms weighing down and sagging their jeans while their perpetually new Air Jordans dance the Down the Way. White teens ape their black counterparts as seen through an MTV-colored cartoon of blackness.
On weekend nights, they all glut the mall in segregated parades. That ain't cool.
Grown folks get cool wrong, too. We've dragged the adolescent version with us, mucking it up so terribly along the way that most of us have to wait for saturated images to chorus for us what's cool.
The last time I thought I was cool was this past weekend in Indiana at my friend Michael's wedding. I should disclose here that my peer group mainly comprised toddlers, pre-teens and one 16-year-old. A tough crowd.
But a shorn head and a dashiki among perms and career separates, pants when the other women wore dresses and a spontaneous freestyle rap amount either to a hill of foolishness or a rack of cool points.
It's not for me to say.
But the generations at our feet appreciate honesty even if it's wrapped in the comfort of a corny flour tortilla shell. Now that's cool.
As long as we keep cool pure and revolt against sullying it with the affectations spoiling life's either-you-got-it-or-you-don't crevices like sexy, hip and eccentric, then we can keep cool coming.
Here's version 39.0 of cool -- an assemblage, a collage of cool strung together hand-to-hand like paper cutouts from our house to yours.
Cool doesn't sweat, basking instead in the open journal pages of a westerly setting sun.
Cool does it on the fire escape wearing headphones housing D'Angelo crooning "Africa." Cool knows Africa is our descent.
Cool is loving that the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center makes folks mad.
Cool doesn't fear the truth at all. Cool doesn't fit; it sets a new standard anyway. Cool coexists peacefully with foulness, and it takes freedom for granted.
It's cool to fear the future because you've been catching up to the past. But cool moves forward, because even cool's hand-me-downs are new to fools armed with broken cultural compasses.
Cool is two niggas hugging in public and not caring what other niggas think. Cool doesn't care what you think, but it's cool that you think.
It's cool to want money, just not your money.
You can get cool from your mamma, your daddy, your brothers and your sister. Cool isn't selfish. It's equal parts of Mos Def, Margaret Cho, Gayl Jones and Jill Scott. Cool is using the fewest words to say the weightiest things.
Do you know cool? Seen her?
Cool is in the eye of the beholder. It's not a poseur, a hater, a faker, a hanger-on or a passerby. Cool stays home while everyone's out. It's the flugelhorn on any Burt Bacharach record, it's the cigarette between any dead Jazz man's fingers in black-and-white photos and it's Amiri Baraka turning pages of rage then and now.
Cool knows 1 is the tragic number, but cool isn't melodramatic. Cool quotes Schoolhouse Rock without embarrassment, not Jay-Z for credibility. Cool envies Jigga's cool, though.
Cool doesn't curry favor; it curries flavor. It carries flava.
Cool digs the homosexuality in self-love.
You could be cool, and you probably already are. You're just waiting for authorization.
Kathy's collection of columns, Your Negro Tour Guide: Truths in Black and White, is available in bookstores now.