Friday, November 28, 2008


So …

The other night I got up in the middle to make one of my infrequent raids on the old fridge …okay, so their fairly frequent but I usually just window shop these days. HONESTLY ... I get up, open the door look around for goodies and then end up getting a glass of water and going back to bed. But on this particular night I had more sinister intentions – you see, Shemetra had brought home a nice 2 liter bottle of orange soda … it was for Jared (DaddyO gets diet Coke ONLY). It’s 2:30 in the morning – not a creature stirring. I make my move. My side of the bed is against the wall so getting out requires some agility (so as not to disturb Mrs. O) and some fortitude (just in case I do). Success … and from there it is a short tip-toe to the fridge and the frothy orange deliciousness. But, alas, I open the door and there … where it should be … is the two liter bottle. But it is nearly completely EMPTY … I’m sayin’ the thing has about half a thimbleful of orange soda in the very bottom of it. “Who the … what the … why would anybody …”

Rage, despair, bewilderment …

... and then a shudder of realization. My son is no longer my little boy, no longer the kid he used to be. He is now a DUDE … a fledging, a young-blood but a dude nonetheless. Only a DUDE would drink all except the last fifth of an ounce of soda so he wouldn’t have to dispose of the bottle.

Well, it’s been a long time since I co-habited with another DUDE so I thought it might be worth my while to remind myself what that was like so I can prepare myself for what’s in store. DUDE just turned fourteen so, the way I see it, I have four more years before I kick him out … I mean, send him out … into the world. Couple of DUDE stories for those of you who haven’t had the privilege of encountering one in its natural habitat.

When Shemetra and I were dating, she made me this gorgeous chocolate birthday cake. It was the most amazing cake I had ever seen … chocolate with shaved pieces of Hershey bar and little silver sugar candies on top. It was divine – when she gave it to me I just knew THAT girl loved her some ME. Next day, one of my roommates stayed home from work because he had a cold. Later that day, he called me at work, “Uh, VanO, I was wondering if I could have some of your cake.” I should have known better – I mean, this was a DUDE. I knew that the only consumables in the house were a half a box of four month old Grape Nuts, a can of tuna and my cake. But I gave in. “Sure, buddy. Have a piece.” Well, I got home that evening looking forward to my dinner of grape nut tuna casserole and chocolate cake for desert. When I lifted the bowl that had been covering my cake I witnessed a veritable miracle. Before that moment I would never have believed that a sliver of cake that thin could have remained upright. There it was, quivering on the plate, a piece of cake so thin you could see through it. I gasped, and the slight stir of air it caused knocked the piece of cake over and it disintegrated.

Rage, despair, bewilderment. “DUDE … seriously!?!”

Then there was the time (same apartment) when the other DUDES and I decided to have a bunch of fellas over to watch a football game. They all came in. At first I had them take of their shoes so as not to dirty the carpet, but when I realized that the room smelled of corn chips and there were no corn chips on the premises I had them all put their shoes back on. Someone had the grand idea of ordering pizza, which we would all throw in for. I ordered it … but as we were going around asking people to contribute, one DUDE had forty five cents; another had a bus token and a ticket stub, a third had an expired coupon for a different pizza shop … some had no money at all. Out of twenty DUDES I collected about six dollars … and the pizza was already ordered.

Rage, despair, bewilderment …

... but wait, that’s not the worst part. I coughed up the thirty five bucks needed to cover the balance of the meal and, just as the pizza was arriving, the phone rang. It was Shemetra … so I had to take that call, I mean the girl LOVED her some ME and I LOVED me some her. We talked for a few minutes. When I got off the phone – maybe twenty minutes later – every box of pizza, I mean EVERY SINGLE BOX was empty!!! All that was left were the grease spots on the bottom. “DUDES … seriously!!???!!!” I watched the football game while eating tuna and grape nuts.

There are many such stories, most of them ending with me hungry – ALL ending in rage, despair and bewilderment. And now that Jared is fourteen, I fear that the cycle may repeat itself. But, look on the bright side … I am older and wiser now. And yesterday I took three Devil-Dogs out of the box and hid them in strategic places throughout the house. So, if you will excuse me, I am going to have a snack. .........................

………………Well …no Devil Dogs!!! The DUDE strikes again …

.... rage … despair …bewilderment. “Jared … DUDE …seriously!!!???!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sister Baby & Baby Sister

I LOVE this picture ... two of my best girls.

If you loyally follow my blog ... and you should ;) ... then you are already well-acquainted with Sister Baby. Now I'm introducing you to Baby Sister ... Carol Lynn Washington.

During the worst of my bad days ... and I've had some BAD ones in recent years -- when horrible circumstances or just my own chronically low self-esteem threatened to undo me, I knew that there was at least one other person (besides Shemetra) who thought I was good man. Sister Washington has always had my back!

When we were kids, we used to call her Mommy ... because that's how she has always acted toward Darryl and me. Now I ain't gonna lie and say that we didn't resent it at times while we were growing up -- I mean, chick IS my BABY sister, after all. But now that I am older it is very comforting for me to have her as a second mother. Carol is simply one of the most encouraging and supportive (and, yes, protective) friends that I have. I confidently call my sister my friend ... and how cool is that. It is also very cool that my daughter, besides looking like her Auntie Carol, has some of those same matronly characteristics. She is convinced that her brother Jared ... though 8 years older than her ... is in near constant need of her guidance and insight. I guess it's in the genes.

Carol is about the sweetest person on the planet ... but don't mistake it for weakness. Mess too much with her or one of hers and there will be, as my grandmother used to say, "hell to tell the captain!" The earrings and shoes will come off and somebody will get hurt. What an amazing woman she is. One day she can wrestle down a grown man (as she used to have to at times when she worked as a correctional officer in one of Boston's notorious lock-ups) and the next day she can be in tears because my son and hers have had an argument. That's my sister y'all. Ain't she somethin'!

The Original Brother-Man ...

...Is, of course, my brother Darryl. He is, as we are both fond of saying, my favorite living dude on the planet. And we do rib and tease each other a lot ... so much so that every once in a while it's necessary for me to remind myself how much he really means to me. So, a story from those "thrilling days of yester-year..."

For some Christmas during the '70's ... I wanna say it was 1973 ... Darryl and I got exactly what we had asked for: Lone Ranger and Tonto action figures -- they looked like this:

We had the horses (Silver and Scout) and everything ... and we LOVED those toys! Played with 'em almost non-stop. Well, one day, during one of their many wild adventures, Tonto fell off a cliff (it was actually the dish cabinet in the dining room). He landed funny and one of his legs snapped right off. The injury did not at first seem too serious. But after hours of surgery involving Scotch Tape and Elmer's Glue the grim reality began to settle in upon us. Tonto was dead. Now Tonto was Darryl's toy and he was, as you might imagine, devastated. I suggested that maybe Tonto could be one-legged ... you know, like a pirate. No, Darryl insisted, he's gone. "So what do we do now," I asked. "What you're supposed to do when somebody dies," he replied. "Have a funeral."

Darryl began preparations for the interment the next morning. Meanwhile, the Lone Ranger attempted to venture off on his own which theoretically should have worked out okay ... I mean dude was the LONE Ranger, right? But it wasn't quite right, not at all right actually.

So, the next morning we had a funeral -- attended by Darryl and me along with the Lone Ranger and the two horses. I don't need to tell you, it was a terribly sad affair. The Lone Ranger couldn't take it ... he swooned and dropped dead right there in the back yard. "What happened," Darryl asked. "He's dead," I replied. He then tried to convince me otherwise ... nothing was wrong with the Lone Ranger ... he looked as good as new. "I know, but the Lone Ranger's no good without Tonto!" And so we had a double funeral that day.

And now, here we are 35 years later ... grown men with families and careers and schedules that keep us from hanging out as often as we would like. And when we do spend time together our camaraderie is punctuated with a sort of mutual -- though laconic -- respect, admiration and love. I can honestly say that we have never fought ... I can't think of many times when we were even angry at each other. He's still may BOY -- and I'm still his! That, and the two plastic dolls lying side by side under about 8 inches of soil in the backyard of number 51 Hiawatha Road are testimonies to the fact that, even to this day ... the Lone Ranger ain't much good without Tonto.
My brother is a good man ... the saying goes that you can't chose your family only your friends. I am glad ... I am proud to say that Darryl Owens is both to me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Good (in more ways than one) Book ...

So ...

I haven't written anything in what seems like a very long time. It hasn't been for lack of trying. Wrote a couple of potential entries that I ended up scrapping because they came out all contrived ... like I was trying to hard to entertain my "fans" {all 2 of you!!!}.

The other day I was in a particularly dismal funk ... wanting to write and not being able to put more than three or four coherent words together. I felt sort of like the old adage about the tree falling in the forest ... if nobody hears it, does it really make a sound. "Well, VanO, what good is a blog if nobody reads it." I'm such a melancholy cat ... I'll get over it. As soon as Sister Baby interrupts my brooding with one of her jubilant pronouncements about something mundane to everybody else on the planet but her.

So, I was thinking about my books ... the ones that "perished in the flood." I had some good ones, y'all ... and I do miss them all, but one in particular. It was a King James Bible with a Masonic seal on the front. It looked like this one:

It was my fathers. Sometime shortly after he died in 1974, my mother had given the bible to my older cousin who was a member with my father of the same masonic lodge. Some years later, he happened to open the book and found this written in my father's hand on the inside cover:

"To my oldest son, Van
--Willie Joe Owens"

So he gave it back to me ... I guess I was like 12 or 13 when the book found its way back into my possession. From that time up until it got destroyed I would, from time to time, pick it up. Occasionally I would try to read the contents ... hard to do, couldn't ever get with all the "thee's" and "thou's" ... but mostly, I would just read that inscription on the inside cover. Read it and run my finger across it hoping that maybe by some kind of cosmic phenomenon I could come in contact with that man. Nothin' ever happened but I wasn't done trying. And now the old book is as gone as he is ... and that sucks. It sucks out loud.

But the thought re-energized me when it comes to writing in general and writing this here blog in particular. I'm going to keep it up ... whether I have something entertaining or funny or profound to say or not. It will be a good thing if, some disease or accident should suddenly shuffle me off this mortal coil, my kids have their own inscription ... to know a little about ol' Daddy-O

Was that depressing? Hope not ... Next time I'll say something funny ... I'll try to.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

True Colors ...

So ...
I wrote this on my FaceBook page last night:

Okay ... I KNOW it's not all about race. I also understand that it is not all like "pie-in-the-sky, racism is dead, the dream has been completely realized." There is still a LOT of work to do ... a lot of inequality ... a lot of hatred and misunderstanding ... but just a little perspective ...

By the time I was 13 years old I had been called the "n-word" more times than I could count. It was written on the walls of every bus ... on the benches of every subway station ...

"N's Suck" ... "N's Go Home" ... "Kill all N's"

We had stones thrown at our school bus because we were black. We were chased out of Hyde Park by a mob of baseball bat weilding kids because we were black ... and we had it ten times easier than the generation that came before us ...

And now my son, who is 13 years old tells me he has NEVER heard that ugly epithet hurled NOT ONCE.

My 6 year old doesn't have black friends or white friends or hispanic or asian friends ... just friends. And now we have elected the first African-American President ... a Good Man, a Strong Man who happens to be a Black Man ... My hope for a better day has never been more VIBRANT!

"Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?"

Most of my friends responded well to it -- they shared or at least acknowledged the utter elation I was feeling when I heard that Barack Obama had won. But a couple of friends railed at me ... impugned my faith and my patriotism. It was ugly beyond belief. And these were not mere "virtual" friends ... these are people I really knew (or thought I did) and spent time with ... their kids and my kids were friends. We attended the same church and called each other brother and sister.

What I said had nothing to do with politics and religion and they made it completely about that. It saddened me ... very nearly disheartened me ... I love thes people and they completely misunderstood what I said. They really "kicked me to the curb" as we used to say back in the day. A man of color was elected and "true colors" were shown.

I guess for a brighter day to ensue a sad sunset has to come to pass ... and this was a bitterly sad one.