Black History Month Project 2013

In honor of black history month, this year I will be doing a post a day spotlighting the 28 black figures in history who have inspired, influenced, impacted or I have admired the most.

I’m still putting together the list. I’m gonna try and avoid covering folks I profiled last year. And I’m going to try to keep it personal if at all possible, so it won’t be a series of profiles you can get anywhere on the net.so even if I do cover some of the black history go to guys and gals like Malcolm X and Harriet Tubman, they’ll be a story attached that you can’t get anywhere but here (-; ambitious ain’t I?

Stay tuned.

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My Life Story’s Soundtrack #1

I’m putting together a soundtrack for my life story (just for future reference….not dying or anything).

I’m imagining my story being told on film and what music is playing at different times of my life.
I got the idea last night, watching Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” (with Pam Grier and Sam Jackson).

It’s much more difficult than I thought, trying to choose songs that truly compliment the time, my mental and emotional state, and continue to reverberate as audio triggers for feelings and memories.

So far I’ve come up with three songs from my childhood that make the cut. Interestingly they are all Jazz songs (You would think motown or funk would dominate)
They are:

Cristo Redentor by Donald Byrd

…and I’ve Known Rivers by Gary Bartz Ntu Troop

And lastly, Pharoah Sanders’ The Creator Has a Master Plan!

All three of these songs are capable of causing a flash flood of memories, and even overload. Sometimes I even need to re-boot my system after hearing them (which is a good thing most of the time) (-;

I’ll be adding more to this list as they come to me.

Making a soundtrack to your life is a useful exercise, like an expedition into your heart.

What do you think of these three? Am I off to a good start?

Is being anti-Fear anti-American?

Here’s an essay I wrote back in 2008 about fear. I’ve been dealing a lot with my fears since this crisis here in Japan began, and this piece brought me some comfort.

Let me know what you think.

This begs the questions what is America and what is an American, doesn’t it? Well, it’s a long story…but Michael Moore managed to compress it a bit:

Before I answer the question, let me tell you about someone I know well: me. Personally, I am both Pro and Anti-American. I’m more pro than anti these days, but I must confess that has not always been the case. Anti simply means against. America thrives on fear. From national security, to home security, to insurance, you name the industry, a bit of fear is behind it. America also promotes fear and spreads it around the world, part of its globalization mission, selling arms to both side of conflicts, attacking sovereign nations in order to prevent them from attacking us in the future (Bush Doctrine) etc..And has repeatedly used fear to divide its citizens.

I am anti-fear, and thus I am often anti-American.

A little about me and fear:

I’m afraid of cockroaches (and most any insect with multiple legs and antennae and egg sacks, and can take flight, and has no need but to survive, no logic, and feeds on refuse in the dark and scatters when the lights come on and… oh, you get the picture) and in Starship Trooper I would be like the first Supreme Commander: “The only good bug is a dead bug!” And, I tell you, even when I think about my position on cockroaches I know it’s irrational, but I can’t control it. They scare me so much I’m liable to empty half a can of Raid on one roach to express my hate. I torture the little fuckers. I hate them because they scare me. They embarrass me too. If I’m with my girl and got my Mr. Smooth on and, God forbid, a cockroach appears, I’m on top of furniture telling her to kill it! Something primal, something worse than the fear itself, takes over. Sometimes, if I’m alone, I can take a deep breath and try to get my equilibrium back. I tell myself, “it’s just a bug! It can’t harm me.” I tell myself, “if you don’t face it, you will live the rest of your life in fear of it, and they are NEVER going to go away. Goddamn nuclear radiation can’t even stop them.”

By the way, I’ve conquered fears before. I used to be TERRIFIED of roller coasters and airplanes. Now, they’re tolerable. I can’t say I like either one, and as far as roller coasters are concerned, I don’t have to face them too often so they are easily tolerable. Airplanes, however, were a major conquest for me. I used to find religion on take-offs and landings…have a long conversation with the Creator about why He should get me where I’m going in one piece. Now, I can almost sleep through either.

How did I do it? Well, firstly I decided that I wanted to do it. I acknowledged that there was a problem. That if I didn’t overcome this fear then the quality of my life would be significantly diminished.  You could argue that John Madden and Aretha Franklin have good lives though neither ever flies, but I bet they wish they could get where they needed to be faster than by bus or train, or ship. Secondly, I made it a point to learn what I could about aviation. I read about how airplanes work and why accidents occur and how other people have coped with the same condition. It helped a lot. I realized that my fear was based partially on ignorance. I really thought that if the engines gave out the plane would plummet to the earth. Maybe I saw top gun and how Maverick’s plane went into a flat spin and thought that could be me, minus the ejection seat and parachute. But, I learned it was all bullshit.

Not to suggest that all fears can be alleviated this way. I’ve tried the same thing for cockroaches and I can’t even bear to look at the pictures of them on websites.

Where am I going with this? Well…I used to be afraid of white people, too. Afraid of their power over the quality of my life. I inherited this fear from my parents and my community. People who have experienced white hate first hand. People who had escaped the humiliation, degradation and domestic terrorism of the Jim Crow south and came north to NY for a better life. For some the better life materialized. For most it didn’t, but there were more opportunities than the south offered if one was so inclined to capitalize on them, and had the wherewithal, education, or intelligence to pursue the American dream. But, the trauma of their ordeal in the south left a bitter taste in their mouths and for many the north was just a different version of the south.

I grew up in the warm embrace of these traumatized people. They dealt with the lingering fear of their past by trying to instill in me a love of my blackness. They hypothesized that the only cure for fear and hate was knowledge and love, and so they filled me with knowledge of all the black heroes that helped make this country what it is and contributed to the struggle for freedom, justice and equality.Racial Pride. I was bursting with it!

The fact that there had to be a Black History Month only reinforced the division I felt existed in America. But, in my childhood, black history month was everyday. And, in every other story of a black hero, there was a white nemesis: Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey had the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover, MLK had the KKK, etc…, and their demise or failure was often attributed to this nemesis. So, yes, I developed what seemed at the time to be a healthy fear of this white nemesis out there waiting to take me down. “The Man” was very real for me. School field trips took us to the sites of police brutality or unjustified murders and to boycotts of racist businesses.  The thought “The white man is evil!” was debatable in this environment, not an idea to be discarded out of hand as foolishness. To hear or even say the words that the white man is the devil wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. Why? Everything has a dichotomy, not unlike the dichotomy between thought and action. Everything has an antithesis, not unlike right and wrong, black and white, love and hate. Right?

So, to my young mind, it made sense that the love and safety I felt among my family, friends and the community I lived in had a nemesis filled with hate and a desire to destroy me and mine. It made sense. This fear, beautifully disguised as a shield of black pride or self-love, and this hate, barely visible through its cloak of righteousness, actually made sense.

Now, it doesn’t. It’s essentially senseless.

I realize the error in the logic presented to me, now. How divisive it was. How limiting it was to my ability to experience what the world had to offer and what I had to offer the world. And in realizing the error I realized that my fear was irrational. I realized that I didn’t have, as Ayn Rand said, sufficient respect for the senseless. That this senselessness was the true nemesis, and that I was inadequate to do battle with it due to my initial indoctrination by the traumatized. That it was something that could not even be fought. Not with logic. Not with intelligence, and certainly not with righteousness or a degree in African American history. Nor with weapons of any kind. It’s just out there, like some formless, matter-less thing. It’s not black, it’s not white, it’s not Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist…It has no region, no country, no boundaries whatsoever. It’s just out there; it hungers, and feeds and waits. It’s the consummate WMD. It’s like a super cockroach! Not afraid of light, not afraid of fear. In fact, it feeds on fear and hypocrisy and spits out the pits. It is powerful. It is a power source with an unlimited power source: fear.

And it loves America because we are one of the most terrified countries on earth!

I don’t really understand it well but it’s like pornography: I know it when I see it. And I realized that most people can see it but simply disregard it or think that it is something that can be offset by religion or yoga or drugs. Maybe they’re right. I don’t know. I’ve never given religion or yoga a try, and drugs, well, they have exposed it but I was never really sure if it was the drugs or this…thing. Some people understand it somewhat, and some understand it well. For example, when I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I realize she was lyrically painting a portrait of it, practically anthropomorphizing it.

And there are some who understand TOO well. It’s an ally of theirs.

Now, back to the Michael Moore video above. It’s a rough overview, of course, but it demonstrates how this thing is fed: fear. If we were to make a sequel to that brief history of America where would we begin? Are white folks armed to the teeth, still living in fear of a black planet in their suburban seclusion? Have black people proven themselves to be worthy of this fear? Are black people still cringing waiting for something awful to happen to Barack? Waiting for another terrorist attack to ratchet up the fear and hand McCain an undeserved victory? Or, is all of this simply a tool to keep this creature fed?

I think McCain knows what he’s doing, but I don’t believe McCain understands what he is doing. He wants to win and in order to do so he must rally the masses behind a cause, and unfortunately the greatest rallying force he (and most people in general) know is Fear. What better way to make people lose their minds and willingly sacrifice their own best interest. But, I don’t think he’s the one pulling the strings over there no more than Bush is pulling the strings in the White House. Somebody wants to use this thing to stay in power. BUT, they underestimated the people’s recognition of the thing that is fed by fear, but now that they’ve realized their error, they’ve taken it up a few notches. And they will do ANYTHING to achieve their goals. Frederick Douglass once said: Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

There’s a clear reason why I support Barack. Sure, Barack Obama wants to win. too. But he is known for saying things like “what unites us is greater than what divides us” and “we’re not a collection of red states and blue states, we’re the United States.” The media calls this soaring rhetoric, like it’s some kind of fantastical populism. And to be honest, when I first heard it I was like, “Oh, please…give me a fucking break!” But not because I didn’t believe that it was in our country’s best interest. I do. The reason I was cynical was because I have lived in a divided country my entire life. A country divided along racial, economic, and cultural lines. Lines maintained by the status quo. I came to believe that it had always been that way and will always be that way, and anyone who says different is either a liar (politicians), a dreamer (Martin Luther King) or a mentally unstable victim of police brutality (Rodney “Can’t we all just get along?” King).

My favorite scene from the movie Primary Colors is when Emma Thompson and Adrian Lester are having a conversation, and she asks him why he wants to be campaign manager for the governor. I hear his answer in my head when I think of Barack Obama. He said:

I wondered how it would be to work with someone who actually cared. I mean, it couldn’t always have been the way it is now. It must have been different in my Grandfather’s time. You were there. You had Kennedy. I didn’t. I’ve never heard a president say “destiny” and “sacrifice” without thinking, “bullshit.” Okay, maybe it was bullshit with Kennedy, too. But…people believed it! And, I guess that’s what I want. I want to believe it.

Yeah, I want to believe too. And over the course of the last year, Barack, even if he is full of shit too (though I doubt it seriously), has done what I didn’t think was possible: He made me a believer. And, not like some cultist or fanatic. I’m very wary of fanaticism. There’s a lot of that where I grew up…too much. I never drink any group’s Kool-Aid. Never! I’ve always been an independent thinker, even when I appeared not to be. But, Barack, with words, has painted a picture of a country I’ve never known but I’d love to live in. And, he doesn’t present it as some kind of fantasy world. It’s actually a world I believe we’ve all glimpsed at various times in our lives, like a peek through a portal into a parallel universe.

I know I have.

He says, as a result of the efforts of many Americans over the course of our history, we find ourselves at a crossroad where we can choose to make our country the kind of country most of us want to live in, for ourselves and future generations, we’re almost there. I’ve never had anyone make me see America in that way before.

Some of you will think it’s because he’s black and I’m black. If you do, then you’re probably not black, or didn’t grow up in a black community. Black people wouldn’t think that way. We know that our communities are festering with black politicians who I would not only NOT cast a vote for in a presidential run, but I’d be tempted to switch parties to make sure they didn’t stand a chance of winning. In my entire life, In Bedford Stuyvesant / Crown Heights, on the local level, the candidates were almost always black (except the Mayoral race of course). So, you had to look at their records, not their skin color if you wanted to make an informed choice.  An informed choice usual meant the lesser of two evils, as it often does on the state and national level.

Thus, I came to believe that politics was simply that: A choice between the lesser of two evils. Which meant politicians were evil, by design. But, I think that democratic sage Bill Clinton said it best:

I’m sick of feeding the beast. I’m sick to death of fear!

I’m going with Hope!

 

Loco

From 9/11/2001 to 3/11/2011 pt.1

I was about to leave home for work- my office a mere 5 block walk from my apartment in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn where I had lived on the top floor of a 4-story Brownstone for about 7 years- when the world changed forever.

The woman I rented from was the mother of my best friend and I had known her since I was a child. My best friend also lived there, on the ground floor. I had a great relationship with both of them, and they were both very supportive of the changes I had set in motion in my life.

I had quit my secure and fairly well-paying  job of 6 years a few months earlier in order to have more time to do revisions on the book I’d written- and had secured one of the most prominent black literary agents in the country on the strength of-and it was one hell of an undertaking. For example, I had changed the entire 340-page manuscript written in third person to a 250 or so page first person narrative, so you can imagine all the work involved. But, this was soul work, the kind of work you wake up in the morning to with the eagerness you might wake up with on the morning of your big vacation to Jamaica or some caribbean island off the grid.

I’d also secured a consulting job where my main responsibility was to raise awareness in Bed-Stuy of funding available for corporate sponsored beautification measures, as well as scouting locations and securing the contractors necessary to convert empty lots into awesome gardens.

I was also volunteering  (again in my community) with a neighborhood home owners association to go door to door and to give talks at Block Association meetings to residents bringing to their attention the efforts of predatory lenders to separate them from their property through shady loans, and the complicity of certain government agencies in this.

On top of that, I was working freelance for a local newspaper raising awareness of the above issues, writing articles and editorials on the players involved, for which I had gained a certain amount of notoriety and respect in the community, viewed as a “comer” or a person to be reckoned with.

I was high on life. It was an awesome time to be Loco.

That all changed, or at least began to, on 9/11/2001.

It was a beautiful day. Blue skies, warm breeze and sunshiny. I was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with a light Polo jacket. I had an Afro then and it was freshly braided tight to my scalp in cornrows ornately and uniquely designed by a woman I paid 20 dollars plus tip to do every other week. I had a little money in my pocket and a lot of joie de vivre in my heart as I descended the stairs from my apartment.

As I was opening the door to walk out into the glory of another day being me, I heard my best friend call my name.

“You seen the news?”

“Nah, what’s up?”

” A plane crashed into one of the Twin Towers!”

“Say word!” and I came back in and joined him in front of  the TV set. And, sho nuff, one of the buildings had a cavernous hole in it coughing flames and smoke. “Shit!”

While it was most certainly news, it was merely the kind of news that would make for semi-interesting conversation for the next week or so, by NY standards. Just another saga in the ongoing saga of life in the most major of major metropolises. Seasoned New Yorkers can roll with just about anything.

I basically made my own schedule as a consultant so I wasn’t stressing over being late to the office or anything. So, my best buddy and I were sitting there watching this scene play out, listening to the reporters’ speculations while speculating ourselves about the size of the plane and the chances of survival of the people above the floors now aflame, when the next plane hit right before our eyes.

“What the fuck was that?”

We found out a few minutes later…along with the rest of the world.

While the CNN guys were talking about more planes being expected I remember grabbing and holding myself, like a mother might hold her child…kind of protectively, and thinking aloud, “my God, we’re at war!”

And not that Smart-bomb-down-a-chimney in some Muslim country Wag-The-Dog kind of war, but the kind of war other countries have all the time. The kind of war the US always wages on others had, after a 60 year lapse since the Japanese pimp slapped Pearl Harbor, had finally come home. The kind where the enemy is dropping bombs (and planes) on US cities!

The kind of shit you never imagined happening.

And, I was living in ground zero, apparently.

My friend and I looked at one another and a new fear, not unlike a fear of God, was in both of our eyes. More so in mine than his, though, I think. He was always better able to compartmentalize and rationalize than me, something I’ve always admired about him. He was also more cynical than me, I think.

Or, rather, I felt. Thinking had been put on hold for longer than I like to remember. All I could do at that moment was feel. Feel my own mortal vulnerability, and that of my family.

I feared for the safety of my sister who took the subway to work, her train passing just beneath the towers. I snatched my cellphone from its holster at my waist. No service. The Land lines were out, too.

No communication only exacerbated the rising panic I felt.

Back to the TV. Back to the talking heads talking Doomsday scenarios, end of the world as we know it shit while in the backdrop of their prognostications the symbols not only of American financial might, but of pride for us New Yorkers, burned, and people leaped to their deaths live on TV.

This can’t be real…

I felt myself shaking, trying to process my place in this new paradigm, if I should survive!

“Let’s go up on the roof!” I shouted and was headed that way even before I finished the sentence.

From the rooftop, the two towers were clearly visible, the smoke from the fire was drifting over our heads (and would be in the air for days), a metallic chemical taste to it. I was breathing in the incinerated lives of hundreds, and God knows what kind of chemicals. Then, we heard a rumble and looked around. What looked like Fighter jets were flying overhead. But the rumble continued even after they’d passed. I looked back to the two towers, and realized there were only one and a half left. The other was falling from view like some kind of house of burning cards.

“Ohhhhhh Fuck!!!”

My heart was jumping all over the fucking place…there were screams from other rooftops.

I remember thinking I might as well jump off this fucking roof. Change doesn’t happen this fast…something is wrong with the world, with life. Everything I believe is wrong. Everything is wrong.

Everything.

I was pacing around the roof, looking for something to hold on to. It felt like the ground was shaking, was going to open up and take me at any moment, the same way it had just taken one of the world trade buildings. The roof was the worst place to be. I climbed back down the ladder into my home. It took much longer than the climb up to he roof had taken. My legs weren’t sturdy. The ladder felt riggity. I didn’t feel safe.I felt helpless as a baby minus that carefreeness of not knowing that danger lurked everywhere, that fire burns and water drowns and plastic suffocates. There was no mommy and daddy to protect me. There were people dying, jumping from a burning building into the debris of a building that didn’t exist anymore.

I couldn’t walk or talk…I just had to get back to the TV. I don’t remember how I got back to it. Did I crawl? I got back though and I just stood there watching that building crumble to the ground in a sandstorm of dust and debris that swarmed through the air like it was in possession of intelligence of a limited variety, like a plague of locusts swarming down streets I’ve walked thousands of times. I covered my mouth watching on the news terror-confused people running hither and thither through roads I rode upon often on my mountain bike, shocked people standing on corners I’ve frequented, holding their mouths.

I don’t know how long I stayed that way. Maybe until the second one dropped.

Somehow, though, the collapse of the second of the twins snapped me out of it. It had a certain finality to it, like a crescendo had been leading up to that moment. I was almost relieved to see it go. Like maybe this had been the goal all along by these forces that sought to change the world as I and everyone I knew saw it, and now that they’d accomplished that they would cease and desist, pull back and let us collect our wounded and fallen, pick up the pieces of our shattered images of safety and delusions of superiority and invulnerability and, at some point, god willing, use our brains to think again.

That this force would show mercy.

It would be a few hours before I could think, again. Before I realized that the fear I had experienced, and the shock, had traumatized and paralyzed me. It would be years, two years in fact, before I got sick- sick to death- of living in a city and a country still traumatized so much that it actually supported a man who told them (among many ridiculous notions) to go shopping to show the terrorists that they haven’t destroyed our way of life. 

Such flagrant stupidity and gross negligence from our supposed leadership made it easier to cast my good life aside, turn my back on the Loco of my dreams, put my soul work on hold, pack up my shit and move abroad.

And it would be 9 and a half years until I felt anything even approaching that level of fear again.

I didn’t even think it was possible until yesterday.

…to be continued

PS: Pt. 2 coming soon to Loco in Yokohama

The Church of Wonder pt.4

cont. from pt 3

The NYC Transit Police have a place (I can’t recall where for the life of me but it may have been in Hoyt & Schemerhorn station in downtown Brooklyn) where they take fare evaders during sweeps so that they can check to see if any among their catch of the day qualify as the assholes needed to make Operation Turnstile Jumping Assholes a success.  This is where they took me and these other guys by van.

They were hoping to catch felons in this wide net they’d cast. I’d gotten caught in the net, like a dolphin in the tuna hunt. Often those dolphins die, which was about the feeling I was skirting around minus my freedom for the first time, in a van with steel mesh wiring on the windows. A rolling mechanical net.

My record was as clean as a cop’s new shield during his first week of being  a detective, so that wasn’t my biggest concern. What had me quaking in my boots was the bag of weed in my pocket and the idea of my mother getting a call about me being “detained” by New York’s Finest.

There were about ten of us in the van, mostly black and a handful of Latinos. I’d heard a couple of different accents, definitely a Jamaican and possibly a Panamanian…I don’t know, all-in-all probably about the same ratio as you’d find in most inner city neighborhoods in NY.

The guy beside me must have smelled by apprehension through my L’air du Indifference and said, “don’t sweat it, yo!”

I pretended not to be able to hear him over the van’s engine while I glanced around at the faces of my co-assholes to see if his reassurances raised any eyebrows among this mostly seasoned looking bunch of detainees.

It had.

Thank god for handcuffs, I remember thinking.

“All they gonna do is take your prints and send them shits to Albany. If you…”

“You talking to me?” I asked, turning on him with an expression I hope translated  into ‘do I look like I need to be shown the ropes?” But all I was thinking at the moment was, ‘Prints??? Fingerprints???’

“No offense bruh,” this guy, black as tar, half homeless looking and smelling,  said. “Just trying to help you out. ”

Though his face told me he couldn’t care less if I were the Atlanta Child Killer or not, his voice was sincere.

When we arrived at the holding facility, the 10 of us were marched from the van down into and through the station (where we were a spectacle for passengers) into the transit facility where we were photographed and fingerprinted.

Spofford Juvenile Center

“Am I under arrest?” I asked the female cop doing the photo shoot, the first fairly friendly face I’d seen since I’d been in custody.

She looked up from her task and, looking through me, speaking with a Robocop voice, barked “just be still,” and returned to her viewfinder. She must’ve seen a hundred kids like me a day, and she couldn’t be opening her heart to whatever good she might spot in them…that would have made her job torturous, I’m sure. Thus, the Robocop routine, I figured.

Didn’t make me feel any better, though.

I knew I was a juvenile and there wasn’t much they could do. But, I’d also heard horror stories about juvenile jails like Spofford, infamous for being as spiteful as the adult variety.

I was sweating. Huge beads of it rolling icily down my back collecting in my boxers.

I knew some guys who’d gone to Spofford, of course. They were mischievous when they’d left. But, when they came back they always had this steely eyed look like most of co-assholes wore. Like my brothers wore, too. That, I can take anything you throw at me, you fucks- You can’t break me! look.

Shit, I’d been broken since the moment that cop had said to me in the station, “today just ain’t your day, is it?”

To their credit, the cops were mad gentle with us…at least compared to the image the NYPD had. They were all “ok fellas, follow me,” and “ok gentlemen, we’re gonna do this the easy way, so let’s make this as painless as possible,” and stuff like that. No kicks, or pokes with clubs or plungers up the ass or anything like that.

One cop, a black one, who worked in the station, was the worst one, really. He kept a look on his face like he hated his job and he thought we were scum. He wasn’t Robocop. He was more like a high school security guard who’d had his application and lifelong dream of joining the Force rejected due to some petty crime he’d committed when he was my age or younger, and had held a grudge ever since, mad at the world for a mistake he’d made of his own volition.

“Get your sorry asses in there!” he snarled, pointing at the tank. “And I dare one of you little faggots to get out of line…I fucking double dare you!”

There were benches, wooden and none too clean, and the floor. I grabbed a spot on the bench…near the gate to the room.

I sat there trying not to make eye contact with anyone and not to think about Spofford or Riker’s Island, or any such places. To have two older brothers who knew the system inside out,  I was a really a dumb shit. I mean, I’m sure I’d been told how to conduct myself by them but I always listened to their stories of being in my current predicament like they were adventures I’d never experience out of a combination of sheer will, intelligence and fear. Never as life lessons. Never as words to take heed to. I was of the mind that as long as I kept my ass away from crime crime (and smoking weed, jumping turnstiles and the occasional pilfered item from a Bodega was the extent of my proactive criminal mindedness) I’d never end up in the places and entanglements they habitually found themselves in and painstakingly detailed for my entertainment.

I thought I was better than them in that regard. Smarter. They’d come to feel the same way, too, ironically.

That day, however, I realized I wasn’t better, nor smarter. Just luckier, perhaps.

Had my luck run its course? Was it time for me to go to the place that sent Sean, my neighbor, back to us in mental ruin? The place from which my friend Marvin had returned with the new name, Shaborn, a new set of steely eyes, and a new agenda: rob anyone except people who knew where he lived.

I was in hell. Hope was draining from me like foamy spit from the mouth of the guy seated on the bench across from me, apparently an epileptic.

“Yo, somebody better get in here! This cat’s having a fit!” the guy seated beside him yelled.

Big black and hateful strolled over from his desk like it was his day off and said, “which one of you motherfuckers is trying me?”

“Ain’t nobody trying you man! Look!”

The black cop took a glance at the convulsing man of 30 or so and shouted over to another cop, “I think we might need a paramedic.”

And then he walked away. Just another day on the job, another stroll in the park. The paramedics came quickly and took the guy away.

Watching them haul the epileptic away on a stretcher didn’t help my gloom at all, and I felt tears welling.

Shit!

I don’t know why I cry so easy. Sappy movies,  sappy songs, sappy books, poetry, even weddings or funerals for people I don’t even know, sometimes. All can have me sniffling. And, man, was I in the wrong place to be showing that kind of sensitivity.

I put my head down (but kept my ears on ultra-alert) to hide my face just in case my ducts opened up despite me.

I could hear two of the guys chatting it up in not so hushed tones about their criminal enterprises. Real assholes! I mean, the chance of the room being bugged was low but not out of consideration. Another guy was snoring…who could sleep at a time like this? Two of the spanish guys, I think they were Puerto Rican, were kicking it to one another in Spanish. I could make out some of the words, like Mamasita and Punta, so I knew what they were talking about.

Then, I heard something else, far off, maybe down a hallway or coming from an office. Something familiar. My heart recognized it immediately- that drum solo- before my ears did. Then, expectantly, I heard the Zulu language, the language I had listened to so intensely as a child. Ngiculela…I knew Spanish would follow… Es una historia.

My lips were moving, lip-syncing the words. Hell, my soul was moving, soul-syncing Stevie!

I kept my head down and my eyes closed, though, cause I knew Stevie had set my tears free.

…to be continued

Loco

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The Church of Wonder pt. 3

continued from pt.2 here

I’d snuck on the train, jumped the turnstile, and gotten caught in a sweep.

Occasionally the NYPD would do these sweeps, Operation: Turnstile Jumping Assholes or some such endeavor. And you wouldn’t believe hom many turnstile jumping assholes there were, who did so with guns and drugs and all kinds of illegal shit on their persons. Some were even escaped felons or criminals at-large with warrants, some with their photos or likenesses posted on the walls of precincts and post offices all over the place. NY might be the big city, full of wise-ass criminal minds, but it has its fair share of imbeciles, make no mistake about that.

I got caught up in one of these sweeps, with a bag a weed in my pocket, so you can count me among the imbeciles.

I was about 15 at the time, a half-assed high school student, and a half-assed God. I’d met my boys, my fellow Gee-Oh-Dee, and some select eighty-fives (which is what we called black guys who weren’t in the Nation…white folks were devils), and had a  function over in East New York by Euclid Avenue on the A & C-trains. Our before school function  was a morning routine. 4-8 guys, 2-5 blunts, 2-4 quarts of Olde E or Ballentine Ale, going around in a cipher. Everyone chipped in according to their means. Cats that were broke all the time usually got avoided or barred, but the crew usually made exceptions for my broke-ass for some reason. I usually only had a buck or two, if that.   I stayed broke most of my teen years. Every time I ever touched money, it disappeared towards weed or munchies before it could even get comfortable in my pocket. Whether at school or at home, there was always a function. Always. Maybe it was out of pity they put me on so often regardless of my measely contribution, or because I was entertaining. Or because I was one of the few voices of reason among guys whose mischievous minds would come up with the craziest shit to get into on any given day.

Or, maybe it was love. Who knows?

Anyway, once properly stimulated (stim’d), we’d decide whether or not we were going to go soak up some of that Devil’s Trick Knowledge, otherwise known as a high school education, or go play ball, or find some girls, or maybe just go to somebody’s crib. My Mom’s didn’t work so it was rarely my crib. My man Cincere’s crib was nearby so we’d go there often and keep getting high til we pass out watching All My Children or The Young & the Restless on mute blasting a tape of last night’s- really that morning’s- Mr. Magic or The World’s Famous Supreme Team show (The Gods) that someone had stayed up til or set their alarm to 2am (Hip-Hop was truly underground in them days) to record. 

This day, though, I had plans, as well as three whole dollars. I also had a bag of weed, I hadn’t mentioned, stashed in my pocket. My boys wanted me to stay with them, as much for my company as for the blunt my three dollars would secure, but I was adamant. I had pussy on the brain. I couldn’t tell them I was on my way to a hookie party in Flatbush at the crib of the girl who’d taken my virginity a few weeks earlier, cuz I was in love (or something emotional was going on) and embarrassed about it. At the time, love was thought of as some kind of drug that pollutes the brain and convoluted the decision-making process. Makes you do shit like choose some Weak Cipher Man (woman) over the God Body (your boys). So, I half-lied and told them I was going to this chick’s crib to get some pussy but if she saw their asses I wasn’t getting shit! She wasn’t down for no gang bang action (and neither was I truth be told). She was a nice girl, with money, I told them, trying to keep a straight face, the effort to do so probably working against me. So I promised them if I got some ends from her I’d catch up with them later and we’d get stim’d then. They half-bought it. This was pre-cell phone and the early days of beepers and pagers when they were strictly for drug dealers and doctors, so catching up with people back then, especially mofos on the constant search for the function like we were, was a long-shot. You either knew where shit was going down or you missed out.

They looked pissed and I could imagine the fallout that would result, so I hit them off with a buck of the three. That changed the mood a little, from angry to betrayed. I had to escape before i gave in to the pressure.

“PEACE to the Gods!” I hollered and made my exit! Responses were grumbled.

I felt bad lying to them like that…kinda. I mean, I was in love, I think. And she was too…with dick and weed, that is. Who’s dick  and weed didn’t matter much but I didn’t know that at the time. She loved to smoke and fuck and that made her a perfect way to spend the day. If I showed up at her door with some weed I was in like Flint. At the party there would be munchies, music, brew and a guy for every girl, as per her plan, and I was her dick du jour. It was that simple. Last thing I needed was a bunch of  homies already zooted, up in her crib with hard dicks complicating shit, cock blocking all over the place, discovering I basically traded  precious weed for easy pussy and disturbing my goddamn groove with ridicule and slander.

I was probably appeasing my guilt while I descended into the subway station.

I snuck on the train as a matter of course on a daily basis in them days. The idea of paying for a train was inconceivable, not to mention I often couldn’t afford it anyhow. Spotting a cop in the station to me and most people I knew only meant a delay in getting where you need to be until the cop left, or a walk to the next  station. They couldn’t be at every station. But, pay? Never. Some people were even daring enough to sneak on when a cop would turn his back.  I never had balls like that.

I’d lost or sold my school train pass, can’t remember which, so, after a cursory scan on approach for cops and seeing none, and observing that the token booth clerk was distracted by his token accounting, I quickly leapt over the turnstile with seasoned skill. The clerk’s voice suddenly boomed after me over the  loud-speaker with a squelch: “HEY YOU! PAY YOUR FARE!”

I sneered back at him contemptuously (he didn’t have to do that) and the thought, asshole, was just crossing my mind when two plain-clothes transit cops stepped out of the shadows flashing badges and looking like they dared me to do anything aside from stop and breathe, and not much of the latter. I tried to play it cool, but cops always scared the shit outta me.

“You got some ID?” one cop said, routine for this kind of thing. I’d gotten busted before and the standard procedure was to prove your identity, receive your summons, pay your fine within a month or so, usually about 15 bucks, and if you paid it timely that was the end of that. If not, well, you could find your ass in the system with a warrant, or cleaning graffiti off of the trains on the weekends, or something like that. Nothing to get excited over, though. I didn’t really have any ID at the time except for the train pass I no longer had so I told them I’d forgotten it at home.

“Uh huh” One stood watch while the other proceeded to pat me down. “Well, today just ain’t your day, is it?”

I started feeling a little panicked, then. I didn’t like his tone of voice, all doom and gloom. If he called my mother to prove my identity she’d know I hadn’t gone to school, and she’d be freaked out that her good son, me, was following the path my two older brothers had gone. For them, she constantly got phone calls. From neighbors, deans, mothers who’d caught either of them fucking their daughters and from the police, and all too often she had to go to court to beg the system for leniency knowing full well that systems don’t have compassions, only appetites. 

“You got anything I should know about?” he asked as he began to rummage through my pockets.

I’d forgotten all about the weed in my pocket distracted by my predicament. But, I just knew I was a good kid, comparatively, so I tried to give them a look like, are you kidding???I’m captain of the debate team, Yale-bound!”  I was scared to death, though, so it probably came off more like, please don’t kill me, I love cops!

“No?” I said/asked. I felt like I was lying.

“You don’t sound so sure…” He said, still digging, even patting my pockets, reminding me of the wed I kept in that little pocket above my front pocket. Oh fuck! “You  wouldn’t lie to me would you?”

He said it like the parent that beats their children so viciously that even their tone can break the kids in half.

“No sir,” I responded, resisting the urge to confess his tone had given me, throwing in a “sir” hopefully to distract him. He’d probably never been called sir in his entire career.

“Uh huh…” Search completed, they pulled me into what turned out to be a storage rom turned into a holding facility. There were about 10 or so other cats who’d been caught in the sweep. All I could see were heads and shoulders crowded into a tight space.

“You lucked out, you know,” he said. “The van just got here. We were just about to take this lot to headquarters…5 minutes later and you would have been on your way.”

I regretted not staying with the fellas, then. Wait! Did he say van???

“Huh, woulda what, where…who??” I stammered.

“What’s your problem?”

“A van…” I looked around at the seedy company that shared my fate. They looked hardened. this was no big deal for any of them. Been there done that etched in their faces. Me? I’d never had occasion or reason to enter any police vehicles before. “Umm, officer, umm, you should call my mother cuz she can identify me and…”

“You should’ve thought about that shit before. You here now!”

He’d said it icily. I felt the “now” in my veins.

“Awright, turn around…I gotta put these on you.”

I watched over my shoulder as he did that nifty flip thing cops do with handcuffs, looping it around my wrist.

And, though I tried to keep it from my face, as per all that I’d learned from my hardened older brothers, inside I felt more pussy than that pussy I wasn’t going to get that day. It wasn’t even funny how quickly a run-in with the NYPD could bring you closer to God…and Stevie!

to be continued…

Loco

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