Monday, December 28, 2009

Blogging is Boggling ...

The picture has nothing to do really with what I wanted to post ... it's just one that I like. Only thing Sister Baby asked for this Christmas -- a globe. Guess you can take that two ways EITHER she didn't want very much OR she wanted the whole world. You know the kid -- whatta you think?

So I'm rethinking my whole blogging strategy and here's what I've come up with. Right now I have three separate blogs ( this is the only one I've been actively using ... and we use the word "active" very loosely it having been a month of Sundays since i last posted anything). I had originally intended to use the blog in three different ways:

  1. As a sort of a diary ... keeping track of my thoughts, ideas, activities and opinions and taling about my family and friends. Reminiscing, daydreaming, venting ... you know, that kind of thing.
  2. As a way of thinking about (re-thinking) my religious life ... where my faith is, where it has been where it's going (if there's any left, that is).
  3. A writers notebook where I put down all the ideas I have for stories and characters.

So what I'm thinking now is that I'd like to continue that, but I'll pursue each topic in it's own blog. This'll be the diary blog. A-Funny-Thing-Happened-on-the-Way-to-Emmaus will be the religious one. And The-Autobiography-of-Uncle-Skunk will be the writer's notebook.

And that there is about as close as I'll get to making a New Year's Resolution. Write, write, write ... I need to try harder to keep my mind from becoming a fossil.

And here's another danger I need to avoid -- I feel myself sliding alomost irresistably into the mean-old-man mode in my life. I even said "dag-nabbit" the other day in front of Sister Baby (who immediately cautioned me to watch my language). Seriously, though ... I find myself forgetting or (even worse) deciding not to be ... well ... just kind to people. I certainly don't want to be THAT guy so, to that end, one more resolution two words:


Hold me to it, will ya.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Can't blame this on me, I'm sick in the head ...

I mean, I have a head cold and had to stay home today ... and there's only so much TV a boy can watch before he begins to go loopy. So I wrote this ...

An Un-Poem

I’d like to write a poem but does it have to rhyme?
I’d like to write a poem and today I have the time.
Just a simple something really not an epic or a tome,
Just a mental callisthenic for my brain while sick at home.

So, here goes … I need a topic something frivolous and light,
“The leaves that stir the breeze …” no, wait, that metaphor ain’t right.
It’s the breeze that does the stirring not the leaves let’s get it straight.
Can a thing be called a poem when the lines add up to eight?

No, still not quite there yet, I’m still a literary peasant.
I’ve already used an “ain’t” (it’s more convenient than “isn’t).
I’m just being realistic – this is not the Iliad.
Though I could be like a Homer (the one that Bart calls Dad)!

That’s twelve whole lines I’ve written, but I haven’t said a thing
I’m beginning to despair of my ability to sing.
But THAT was kinda nice -- comparing poetry with song
And now we’re up to sixteen lines and moving right along.

That last one was a little weak, how pitiful a stanza.
I guess I’ll just watch TV – there’s a rerun of Bonanza.
‘Leave poetry to poets,’ is the moral of this story.
Twenty lines and I can’t even find a rhyme for ‘story.’

So here I’ve reached the end of my poetical potential
Clearly lacking talent that is lyric’ly essential.
Here’s hoping that tomorrow this old head-cold goes away.
Lest I try another poem on another shut-in day

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Oh ... Just a little Marvin Gaye, you know ..."

I am of the belief that everybody has them ... those songs on their playlist that they don't want anybody to know that they actually listen to. You know the ones ... you've got your headphones on, listening to 'em and loving it and somebody comes along and asks "whatcha listenin' to?"
And you're too embarrassed to say ... so you turn the volume down, hide the screen on the laptop or the mp3 and say, "oh, you know -- just a little Marvin Gaye" or some other undeniably cool artist who won't reveal your inner eccentricities.

But I for one am tired of living a lie! I'm just gonna put it all out there, y'all and expose the skeletons in my musical closet. Here they are and in no particular order. Enjoy them while you can because tomorrow I'll say it was the cold medicine or the lack of sleep that drove me to such contrivances.

1. You Make Me Feel Like Dancin'

Artist: Leo Sayer (1976)
~ What can I say ... back in the day I thought old Leo was a cool white-boy with an afro and a mean falsetto. Wait, "mean" and "falsetto" don't quite go together, do they? Oh well. The sad truth is that when I am at home by myself and I play "You make me feel like dancing," I do feel like it. Sometimes I even actually do (dance, I mean). Go on, Leo ... witch BAD self.
Favorite Lyric: "You really slipped me a potion / I can't get off of the floor / All this perpetual motion / You gotta give me some more / You gotta give me some more"

2. Theme from "Mahogany"

Artist: Diana Ross (1976)
~ "That song is NOT cheesy like some of those others," remarked Mrs. O when I told her this one was in my mp3 Hall of Shame. She's right, of course. It's here because ... well, it just ain't the kinda song most dudes would admit to listening to. Of course, I could make a testosterone-charged excuse like, "man, that scene when Diana poured the hot candle wax all over herself ... I was only thirteen but at that moment I knew I was a MAN!"
~ Well, the truth is not so prurient.
Favorite Lyric: "Do you know where you're going to / Do you like the things that life is showing you / Where are you going to / Do you know?"
~ The boyish-man in me replied, "no, I don't know!" On the other hand, the manish-boy said, "Diana, wherever YOU'RE goin', that's where I'M goin'!"

3. Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Artist: Judy Garland (1939)
~ Can't be funny about this one. Back in the day, before cable TV and recorded movies, there were certain movies that came on once a year, and always around the same time of the year ... The Wizard of Oz was one of those. I was little and crushin' big time on Dorothy. When she sang that song I was entranced ... and convinced that this was the girl I would marry one day. One year we were watching and my mother said, off-handedly something like "too bad she's gone." "Gone, what do you mean gone? She's right there." She explained to me that Dorothy wasn't really Dorothy but an actress named Judy Garland who had died just recently. I asked her how she died and my mother said she was just very, very sad so she died.
~ I get teary-eyed just thinking about it sometimes and I don't really like to listen to that song. But I keep it on my play list ... after all, she was my first girlfriend.
Favorite Lyric: "Somewhere over the rainbow / Skies are blue / And the dreams that you dare to dream / Really do come true."

Sheesh ... I need somethin' a little more light-hearted after that one ... first some kleenex. Now ... on with the countdown.

4. I'm a Believer

Artist: The Monkees (1966)
~ I like this one 'cause it is just plain true ... story of my life. As a young man, I thought I was in love on about 32 separate occasions. Now most of those girls never said so much as "boo" to me. Now there were a few who noticed me ... a couple even liked me a little. But somehow I always ended up being Mr. Congeniality when Mr. Right showed up. I was always trying my level best to sweep the girl off her feet but dude would come on the scene with a vacuum cleaner. I was just about ready to abandon to pursuit of love when into the George Sherman Union building walked this pretty little girl with a gheri curl ...
Favorite Lyric: "I thought love was only true in fairy tales / Meant for someone else but not for me / Love was out to get me / That's the way it seemed / Disappointment haunted all my dreams / The I saw her face / Now I'm a believer "
~ And she's still HERE, y'all ... minus the activator, of course!

5. Oh, Mandy

Artist: Barry Manilow (1974)
~ So, I like to blame my mild but persistent Barry Manilow addiction on my little sister Carol. I say that I like him because she likes him and his songs remind me of her. Lies, lies, lies. The truth is that it was me ... I am the pusher who addicted her to the drug of Barry when she was still young and impressionable.
Favorite Lyric: "I'm standin' on the edge of time / I walked away when love was mine / Caught up in a world of uphill climbin' / The tears are in my mind / And nothin' is rhymin' / Oh Mandy"
~ O, but, Barry, it is rhymin' ... it's ALL rhymin'. Dude, you ARE Music and you DO write the songs!!!

But, alas ... I sense my momentary vulnerability wearing off. So before I think better of it and delete the whole post, I'd better leave it at this for now. If you want to know more of my Guilty Pleasure Play List you're gonna have to come clean on some of your own cheesy-easy listenin' grooves.

So, in the words of one of my other favorite tacky songs: "There you are with yours and here I am with mine so I guess we'll just be ending it like this."

Thoughts in the wee small hours of the mornin' ...

"... four in the mornin'
crapped-out, yawning,
longing my life away ... "

Okay, so the "longing my life away" part is a little melodramatic, even for me, but the ungodly hour tends to magnify every feeling ... I am longing to go back to bed, though.

The early rising is the price I pay for the school that Sister Baby attends. She is in a special program that allows her to attend school in the suburbs and she goes to one of the top school districts in the state ... probably in the country. The difference between her current school and the very obviously disadvantaged Boston public schools tweaks my sense of justice and I occasionally feel guilty for winning the lottery that put her where she is ... but mostly I feel lucky. Maybe a tirade about the inequality in the system at a later time ..,

See, I feel better already ... just a little writing and I'm already beginning to resemble a human being again. That doesn't usually begin to happen until sometime after 8:00!

====But now we interrupt this program for the morning routine. Time to wake the girl and get her ready. After that I will be completely human ... perhaps even downright amiable. The li'l girl tends to have that effect on me. ============================================

So ... wham-o ... now it's like 13 hours later! I have regained and expended all the energy required to get me through the day and I am tired all over again. A little frustrating ... but I've taken the ol' laptop and set it up in the only quiet room in the house (the kitchen -- after dinner, of course) in the hopes that I might catch some random train of thought before the last one leaves the station tonight ...

Well ... I got nothing.

Oh, wait ... here's something. I can tell you about the new character I'm writing. His name is Calloway Nickel. He's the me I might have been had circumstances been slightly different. Soemtimes he's the me I wish I was and sometimes he's the me I'm glad I'm not and then there are times when he is the me I might yet become. I think I need him to tell some of the stories that have been stuck in the back of my head for decades ... so far, he's scraped a couple off the top.

The other sort of new character I have is Miracle DeVries ... who is nothing like me. She is ... how can I explain it? She is a combination of some of the women who have influenced me (positively) over the years ... She's very cool and likable. I think that's important. I've got to like someone to write them.

Actually ... that may not be a good thing. One of the things I strggle with is making the characters I don't like seem like anything more than cartoon bad guys. They tend to talk and act like characters from old sit-coms and melo dramas. Gotta work on that one, I guess.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ink versus Pixels

I've been a bad blogger, I know ... but it hasn't been due to idleness.

Okay, so there has been a little bit of idleness, but I have been busy. Sister Baby and Brother Man have both started new schools so there was a lot of twisting, turning and maneuvering of family schedules to accommodate the change. Right now, my day starts at 4:30 AM (I know, right?). And since I used to do the majority of my writing late at night and the ol' mind only stays functional for so long before it goes into shut down mode ... well, there you have it.

The weather has been nice, though, and I have found that if I go out at lunch time and find a quiet bench somewhere on campus, the muses visit frequently and their inspiration is golden! I am working on a story that I am very excited about (and hope to share sometime soon) as well as a series of spiritual --- uh, I guess you'd call 'em essays. It's been fun.

I think there is something about the physical act of writing ... I mean, pen-in-hand, ink-on-paper ... that facilitates the process for me. I think I type faster than I think which tends toward drivel. But I write slower than I think -- or maybe at the same speed. It's not very efficient, and sometimes I get impatient with my output and throw down the ball point and trudge back to the key board but in the end I always end up back at the notebook.

But it's no excuse ... I miss my old blog and plan to be a little more faithful to it. Hold me to that, will ya.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jared's "First" Shirt ...

This is Brother Man ... wearing his Famous Shirt. The other night he says to me, "Hey, Dad, remember when we were on are way moving from New Orleans to Boston and we stopped at that Wal-Mart in Alabama or something to buy some clothes?"

I remembered ... we had evacuated after Katrina and had only about a long weekend's worth of clothes for everybody. So we go in the store and we decide to let Jared pick out his own clothes ... must have been the first time we ever let him do so. He picked this shirt and I didn't like it. "Man," says he, "You hated that shirt." I think I did. Or perhaps what I really hated was the fact that home boy was getting older which meant that one day he won't need me to help him with such things. Anyway, I told him to put it back ... angrily, I'm sure ... but Mammacita persuaded me to let the boy have his shirt.

"Seriously, Dad -- I get compliments every time I wear that shirt ... how nice the color is, how good it looks on me." And it still does as you can see from the picture I took yesterday. Isn't it funny how, the day after we had this conversation, he went through his drawers (which he never does) and found that very shirt and wore it. He didn't say anything about it -- just put it on. Maybe it was his way of reminding me that he is growing-up. My first thought was to be flippant and say something like "well, you chose it but who paid for it." But then I thought better of it. I stopped him on his way back in from taking out the garbage and snapped this photo. "Why're you takin' my picture."

"Just 'cause," I said. "There are certain things that fathers like to remember about their sons." And there are. And now I will.

Monday, June 29, 2009're always running here and there ... you feel you're not wanted anywhere...

So ...

I was going to attempt to avoid this whole topic ... who wants to read another post about Michael Jackson? But then I remembered, nobody reads this blog anyway, so ...

I've been asking myself how one ought to grieve for someone he never really even knew. A better question is why ought one grieve. But the thing is, if you are an african-american of my generation then you grew up with Michael Jackson. I have known him {okay, known of him} since I was old enough to know anything. Over the years he became sort of like a crazy cousin ... one you never understand and often disagree with but whom you were always glad to see. His passing has made me inescapably sad, y'all. And in spite of my attempts to remain above it all, to adopt a more sagacious perspective on the spectacle that is still playing itself out, I am still just very very sad.

In the title I quoted the song "Ben," MJ's first solo #1 hit. It is about, of all things, a rat ... the vicious ringleader of a pack of man-eating rats at that. You can listen to it here . The tender song didn't really go with a horror movie ... wasn't even a very good horror movie either. In the it, Ben-the-Rat's friend was a lonely, misunderstood, abused-by-society, misfit named Willard. And at the end of the movie Ben and his rodent cohorts killed poor Willard who did kinda bring it on himself having trained the rat's to do murder at his bidding.

I suspect that, in Michael's case, a tender soul did not really go with the horror movie his life became. I think Jackson's "Ben" was his celebrity. It gave him astronomical sums of money, colossal fame and, I think, an unprecedented amount of sadness. Now, I'm not saying that some of his misery ... maybe even a lot of it was not self-wrought. But a soul is such a delicate thing, and more so the soul of an artist ... what is it about the American style of celebrity that tends to devour some of our brightest (and therefore some of our most fragile) souls? I don't know ... you'll have to ask Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, Kurt Cobain, Karen Carpenter Michael Jackson and all the other's whose fame seemed to shorten their trajectory and turn it prematurely downward. Here's to the hope that Rock and Roll Heaven is real and that over yonder backstage passes are plentiful and readily available.

So now, I say about Mike what I say about other departed friends and family members --"those I loved and did not understand" as Norman Mclean put it at the end of his beautiful story A River Runs Through It ...

Damn, bruh ... wish I coulda -- I don't know -- been there for ya ... Or something.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

All We Are Is Dust in the Wind ...

... or maybe we're plastic letters on the fridge?
Saturday morning ... and I woke up to the very pleasant sound of Sister Baby's morning show. She has these magnetic letters on the refrigerator and each one is a different character in an elaborate drama. Funny to me that with all the high-tech (and expensive) trinkets we have attempted to delight her with, this is still one of her preferred play activities ...
Sort of reminded me of my occasionally idle mornings and afternoons when I was a kid. When the sun was just right, shooting nearly solid beams of light into the room through the windows between the slits in the curtains, I would go and find a t-shirt or a dry towel. If you wave the thing in the shaft of light you release thousands and thousands of floating specks of dust and lint. I would pretend it was a dogfight ... Allies vs. Axis over the skies of World War II Europe. The smaller specks were the fighters ... the little spitfires soaring deftly among all the flack. The larger ones were the bombers, lumbering toward their intended targets, pilots white-knuckling the controls, gunners spinning in their turrets. After waving the t-shirt, I had no control ... the dust fighters fought furiously till there were only a few left and then the victors flew slowly, gratefully and pensively home. I couldn't control it, all I could do was watch ... some of my favored pilots made it, some didn't.

I wonder if that's how God is ... having waved the T-Shirt of the Cosmos, setting this whole thing in motion. Is He waiting for the dust to settle? And after we have flown through the fray, protecting some harassing others, who among us will make that peaceful flight home?

Or is the Universe more like the refrigerator and God, like Sister Baby pulling all the strings ... lots of action and high drama ... danger, fun, love, strife, hate, bliss, misery and (occasionally a little) peace ... but in the end, everything comes out okay.

Monday, June 15, 2009

You Know You're Gettin' Old When ...

You watch one of those movies with lots of different big name actors and with a bunch of semi-complicated, interweaving plots and the one cat you relate to is Morgan Freeman!!!
Oh well ...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Back in the Day, 'Round the Way ...

We've had a pretty feeble spring her in Boston. Every time we get a bit of good weather and begin to hope that it might stick around for a while the rain and the cool winds come and chase it away. Today is nice ... yesterday afternoon was too. So here's hoping that Persephone can stay out and play with us for a little while.

And, speaking of playing ...
The other day, Shemetra and I came home from work only to find a gang of kids hanging out in front of our house. Okay, yeah we do live in "the 'hood" but it wasn't a gang as in Crips and Bloods ... more a gang as in Our Gang -- you know, Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat 'n' 'em. Yes, these were young kids, riding bikes, playing ball, being children. There was something quite heartening about it. Reminded me of the kind of fun we used to have as kids 'round the way, back in the day. But these kids don't play like we used to play ... sure we had days like their's that were sort of unstructured, free-for-all fun, but we had actual structured games we played. Here are a few of the best ones:

Hot Peas and Cold Butter. In this game, one kid would take a leather belt and hide it somewhere, preferably in a vacant lot that had a lot of flotsam, jetsam and debris strewn around. When the belt was hidden, the hider would scream out "hot peas and cooooold butter!" This would let all the other kids know that it was time to come and look for the belt. The hider would give clues ... at first, everyone would be pretty "cold," that is, far away from finding the belt. Then the hider would say, "Rodney is getting warm." At that moment, each player would have to make a decision: do I go over by Rodney to try to find the belt or do I ease my way back to the base. Because, you see, whoever found the belt was then permitted to beat the crap out of anyone he or she could catch before they got back to the base (usually somebody's front porch a considerable distance from the field of play). As the hiding place became more compromised, the tension would build ... "Rodney is red hot! Oh man, he's burnin' up! He's on fire!" By this time the most timid and the slowest runners are already halfway back to base and only the boldest are still searching. Believe you me, you don't want to be anywhere near ol' Rodney when he finds that belt ... especially if you were the dude that smacked him hard right 'cross the bee-hind with it a couple of rounds ago.

Red Rover. This is the game pictured above. Two teams would line up facing each other. Each team would link hands to form two opposing human chains. After some consultation, one team would say to the other, "red rover, red rover send Frankie right over," at which point Frankie would run as fast as he could attempting to break the link between two of the opposing team members. If he broke it, he would rejoin his team in triumph, if not he would have to join the other team. Now, the strategy was for Frankie to find the weakest link and then run in a swerving pattern to surprise those two players at the last possible minute. Now the game was supposed to end when one team had acquired all the members of the other by forming the most unbreakable links ... but it usually ended when someone (often yours truly) unable to break a link either flipped over it (hitting the front of his head on the asphalt) or bounced off it (hitting the back of his head on the asphalt). Note: somehow we never quite figured out that you shouldn't play this game on ASPHALT ... grass or even sand would have been better. But of course, there ain't too much of either of those in the city.

Chinese School. Sorry for the politically incorrect and racially insensitive title ... but we were kids, we didn't know any better. This was a much less violent game and was essentially, stand up comedy for elementary school kids. The audience would sit on the front steps of somebody's house and the teacher would step to the front of the group and recite the following rhyme:

"Chinese school has just begun,
No more laughing, no more fun.
If you show your teeth or tongue,
You will get a penalty done."

Then the teacher would launch into a stand-up routine to try to get people in the audience to laugh. If you laughed, the teacher would then give you a penalty ... often something silly or embarassing ... like singing a love song to the next girl to walk down the street or getting a wedgy and having to keep it ... er ... lodged until the end of the game. My brother Darryl was the master of this game. If you know him, ask him to do the "frozen pudding" routine for you ... but you'd better prepare yourself for the ensuing penalty 'cause there's no keeping a straight face in the midst of the "frozen pudding."

Kill The Man with the Ball. This was one of several manhood testing games. Nothing complicated about this one. The ball ... (usually a deflated football or baskettball that wasn't good for anything else) ... would be thrown into the air and whoever caught it would have to elude everybody else because there was only one rule in this game ... you have to kill the man with the ball! It was a test of agility, endurance and guts. Oh, the bruises, chipped teeth and scraped elbows and knees this glorious game produced. I still have scars.

Chase. This was the most Homeric of all neighborhood games ... really seperated the manly boys from the girly-men. Two teams would start at opposite ends of the predetermined territory (usually about a three block radius) and would split up in groups to find members of the opposing team to beat the crap out of and then capture and lock in a "prison" (somebody's porch that was guarded by two or three guys). The object of the game was to capture everyone on the opposing team. There were ambushes, jail breaks, traitors, valiant last stands, heroes who fought, and a few cowards who hid. It was AWESOME ... no weapons, only hands, feet and wits. It was like an inner-city Iliad! This game is probably the reason I don't walk right to this day.

Now ... if you are a kid reading this, let me say that you should NOT try these games at home. We were trained experts working under controlled conditions ....

Okay, so we were nuckle-heads, risking limb (if not life) for the sake of a good time. But nobody died (at least not that I can recall) and we sure had us some fun ... boy, I'm tellin ya!

"I don't hate Balboa -- I pity the fool ..."

So, by way of confession, let me just say that I LOVE THIS MOVIE!
I know, there is nothing good about it from an artistic standpoint ... it was arguably the end of the Sylvester Stallone's acting career and the beginning of his downward spiral toward the grunting, mumbling action hero muscle-head.
Watched it again this week ... okay, let's be honest. I watched it TWICE this week. And here's the thing ... not only do I watch it but I get misty-eyed when I watch it. It's like I'm a crack-head but the Rock I'm addicted to is a juiced-up make-believe boxer named Balboa.
This movie shamelessly displays all the worst things about the 80's ... the clothes, the music. But I can't help myself. I have even addicted my poor daughter who now will not enter the bathroom in the morning to brush her teeth unless hum the Rocky fanfare:
Dah di-di dah di-di dah dah dah,
Dah di-di dah di-di dah dah dah,
Dah di-di dah di dah di dah,
Bam baaaaaam!
Oh no ... I'm jonesin' again. Yo, Adriennnnnnnne!
Somebody please help me ... recommend me a movie with subtitles or foreign accents or an actual plot. Have some pity on this fool!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, My Love!!!

First ... because I am not much of a poet ... some words borrowed from Stevie. They express nearly perfectly how I feel about you:

"That girl thinks that she's so BAD
She'll change my tears to joy from sad.
She says she keeps the upper hand
'Cause she can please her man.
She doesn't use her love to make him weak
She uses love to keep him strong.
And inside me there's no room for doubt that it won't be too long
Before I tell her that I love her
And I want her
And my mind and soul and body need her ...
Tell her that I love to
And I want to
And I need to do all that I have to to be in her love."

Celebrating today the fact that the world is a better place because just a few ... ahem ... years ago you came into it. I know my world is a better place ... as a matter of fact, my world IS because of you.

Your story, my darling, is something close to epic -- and well worth telling. People who come from backgrounds like yours don't often make it. They succumb to their surroundings. They let the harshness of their environment abort their dreams. They fade and shrivel under the pressure ... sometimes they simply perish.

Not you! You are the rose that pushes its way through a crack in the concrete, blooming, growing and thriving. Do you realize what an outrageous, fantastic success you've made of your life ... made out of little more than the love of your mother and grandmother and the strength of your will and imagination? I know you are not one to blow your own horn so I'll do it. There's something special in you and it shines through you and on us whom you love everyday in innumerable ways.

Somebody needs to write that book about your life (shoot, if you don't I will). You are a sort of contemporary Jane Eyre ... overcoming hardships and obstacles with a mixture of tenacity, good will and relentless optimism. All that and you are still irresistibly gorgeous too! Nobody believes me when I tell them your age (don't worry ... I haven't told lots of people) because -- well, frankly, you've got it going on (and on) Mammacita! Beautiful.

And so I feel like I always feel on this day -- how is it that you have the birthday and I get the gift? You are an outstanding mother, a wonderful wife ... my partner, my sweetheart, my best friend. Shemetra Owens, I LOVE me some YOU!

Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy Birthday!

Friday, May 15, 2009

So, what IS with the bow-tie anyway ...

… I ask as if anyone really cared to know. I think I have a (mostly) sober estimate of myself – and at a time when even “the imaginary-audience for my life is growing small and silent,” I don’t cling to any delusions about most folks giving more than half a hoot about what I do, think or say. Still, there’s that nagging little trait, that strident interior voice that looks for, longs for, insists upon and sometimes even creates a sense of personal significance in the face of the overwhelming anonymity of modern existence. That’s the voice that blogs and posts on FaceBook and shamelessly looks for attention from some kind of real (though maybe only virtual) audience. It’s the voice that believes it has something significant to say and declares that you would do well to listen.

Then again … it could be that, even as old as I am I have just not been able to shed that little part of my psyche that is still painfully self-conscious … wonder why that is and where that feeling comes from …

{Cue the harp music … picture gets all squiggly … fading out of the
present and into the past … first day of kindergarten 1969}

~ The day started really bad (all tears and snot when the parents left) but got better as it went on. It was time to “go to the basement” which was the euphemism the teachers taught to keep us from saying “I gotta go pee.” Well, when we got there, we were amazed at how big the room was … and all along one wall, a row of gleaming white porcelain urinals. They were as tall as the tallest kid in the class and stretched all the way to the floor. I for one had never seen anything like it. While I stood there in awe, a kid named James pushed his way past me and very confidently and deliberately (here, please forgive my indelicate usage) dropped trou, copped a squat and did #2 in the urinal. At first I was merely disgusted … it was liking watching someone defecate on Stone Henge or something … but then I was terrified. Right as James was finishing his …er … movement, the upper classmen (i.e. first and second graders) came in. They roared with laughter at James’ error and dubbed him the name he would carry for the remainder of his elementary school career – “Doo-Doo Boy.”
Well, seemed like James was okay with the new moniker. He turned out to be a paste-eating, hair-pulling, cookie-stealing wild boy, quite worthy (and I think even proud) of his nickname and notoriety. I, on the other hand was horrified … how one false move, one mistaken violation of some societal norm, could mark you for life. Why, given a different set of gastro-intestinal circumstances, I might well have become “Doo-Doo Boy!” ~

But, I digress … play the harp, squiggle the picture and let’s get back to twenty-first century, middle-aged me – to-wit, the bow-ties. Whether it’s from my juvenile need for attention or my even more juvenile insecurity about what people think of me, when I turn up the house-lights in the theater of my mind, one of the three people in my imaginary audience stands and says, “Yeah, so, what’s up with that anyway?”

Well, madam, I’m glad you ask. I have been accused of making a political statement (either I’m a Louis Farrakahn-like radical or a Tucker Carlson-ish neocon). At one point I even considered making up a Nathaniel Hawthorne-style story, attaching some grave and deep spiritual significance to the donning of new neckwear and the doffing of the former and more traditional. But the real reason is not as controversial and compelling as all that.

I just like bow-ties, y’all. I always have. They are a little uncanny … somehow a bow-tie manages to be both cool and geeky, sharp and frumpy, traditional and edgy. And, it makes you a little less invisible … might be frivolous and vain on my part but people seem to see and acknowledge me more when I’m sportin’ a bow. I wouldn’t say it’s gratifying – sometimes it’s not even desirable … but it is kinda nice. And in these dismal days, kinda nice is actually – well – pretty darn nice … and a positive like that deserves a little accentuating.

So, I’m a convert, friends! Bow-ties forever! How ‘bout you pick-up a few and join me – we could start a club!

Friday, March 27, 2009

"Ship" Happens ...

… And that’s not just what one whale said to the other whale when he bumped his head on the hull of a passing oil tanker … more than a pithy double entendre … this has become something of a motto in the Owens House, courtesy of Sister-Baby.

**WARNING** in spite of the innocent face of it’s subject, the following post is rated PG-13 (parental guidance both suggested and solicited).

So … we’re all sitting in the living room on a wintery Saturday afternoon, watching Gordon Ramsey’s cooking show on the BBC America cable station. He was making some kind of a lobster dish and, to prepare, he took a live lobster and cut it in half while it was still moving. After the collective “EEEE-ooooo” we let out, Abigail felt obliged to speak her mind. “What is that,” she asked. “Lobster,” her brother replied. And after a brief pause, “Well … I won’t be eating any of that lobster SHIP.” And the expression on her face showed that she was completely serious.

The rest of our expressions weren’t nearly so serious … Jared was rolling with laughter while Shemetra and I were holding back our own laughter with the appropriate amount of parental indignation. Had she just said what we thought she said … did Chica just say a cuss-word? Well, no, not quite -- there was, after all, a distinct P sound at the end of that word, not a T. Still, there could be little doubt as to the intent of the remark.

In dutiful-dad fashion, I immediately began my investigation. I turned to Shemetra who spends a great deal of time navigating the streets of Boston in our little car (an activity that tends to increase the use of such spicy epithets). “I say things,” she insisted, “but not THOSE things.” Further pursuit of this suspect being hazardous to the health and well-being of the investigator, I turned my attention to the most likely culprit. Brother-Man watches Abby for a couple of hours every day after school ... and we all know the kind of foul language that can come from the mouth of a teen-aged boy. “Wasn’t me, Dad.” A likely story … in fact the SAME likely story that had become his mantra ever since, at the tender age of seven, he became aware of the concept of plausible deniability. Only this time, I actually believed him. When it comes to his sister, Jared has something of a puritanical streak … he is often a more attentive and protective custodian of her formative character than I am. Though I don’t doubt that he says things among his friends that he wouldn’t say among us, I am pretty sure he watches his mouth around his sister.

I was about to start blaming some potty-mouthed little kindergartener when I realized who the culprit was – none other than Chef Ramsay himself! Before the newly sliced lobster had stopped squirming he (Ramsey, not the lobster... though if lobsters could cuss ...) had let fly the very word in question no fewer than five times. Of course, censorship was declared forthwith.

But too late, I’m afraid. Later in that week, I had told Abby that she needed to clear all of her toys out of the living room before supper time. “Dad-DEEEE,” she complained. “Don’t 'daddy' me, Miss Thing, get on with it.” She did … but as she walked down the hall, Shemetra heard her say under her breath, “I’m so tired of this SHIP.”

Well, so we talked later and she has since stopped using the word. But I know she knows it and that she will undoubtedly use it again. Here’s my night mare:

Abby on the playground at recess in the midst of a rip-roaring game of Dora the Explorer. Sister-Baby, is of course the titular protagonist of the drama and, as it unfolds, the lad portraying Swiper the Fox is circling in, preparing to abscond with Dora’s back-pack or Boots’s boots or something else of value. Instead of the iconic, obligatory (but somewhat cumbersome) catch-phrase, “Swiper no swiping, Swiper no swiping, Swiper nooooooo swiping.” Abby turns around lending her own defiance to the sweet an unobtrusive character of Dora: “Dude,” she says “chillax … enough of this swiping SHIP. You’d best step off, yo.”

“Aw, c’mon, DaddyO,” I say to myself. “She’s still your sweet little girl – and always will be.” That’s the story I’m sticking with then … at least until some appalled nun from Sacred Heart Elementary school calls me saying that we need to talk.

And even if/when that happens, I guess its part of raising the bambinos. I’ll just shrug my shoulders and go to the meeting. It’s par for the course when it comes to parenting. SHIP happens.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

That Guy ...

Okay, revealing another guilty pleasure … I like Bruce Willis movies, particularly the “Die Hard” series. I know they are gratuitously violent and filled with improbable if not impossible feats of derring-do but I just like them …

So, anyway, in the latest installment (the name of which is so corny and ridiculous I am too embarrassed to repeat it) the following interaction takes place: Super, resilient, indestructible hard-boiled detective John McLane, having just defeated an entire cadre of crazy bad guys, is riding in a car with the young fellow he has just rescued from said baddies. Paraphrasing, John says, “What’s wrong?”

“I’m not with all this hero stuff,” young dude says. “I’m not that guy.”

“Believe me, pal, I don’t like doing this stuff anymore than the you do.”

“So why are you doing it?”

“Because I have to – because there’s nobody else here to do it.”

“And that is what makes you that guy.”

And so now … last week there was a big conference at my place of work. Required that everyone wear jacket and tie. I decided to buck the trend and wear a bow-tie instead of a regular neck tie. I like bow-ties – always have. Mammacita made me stop wearing them when we first married … said they made me look like an old man. Now that I am an old man they make me look … well … like me, I guess. Anyway, one of my colleagues said she liked the look. I thanked her and told her I was thinking of converting -- all bow-ties all the time. “You know if you do that,” said my friend Mike, “you’re gonna be that guy. Are you sure you wanna be that guy.”

The two coincidental uses of the same phrase got me thinking about identity. How much of it is reputation and how much is role (job title, spouse, parent etc.). How much of it is the “real” me and how much is mere affectation, put on to portray the guy I want to be … or to conceal the guy that I think really am. Such were my thoughts, until I remembered that I am (and forgive my French here) a grown-ass man. I am way past all that kind of thinking. The fact is that I am not who I thought I was going to be back when pipe-dreams and ambition consumed me and substituted for integrity and character. I am actually pretty all right with the person I have become.

And the other thing is, just because I have come to a particular age doesn’t mean that I have stopped “becoming” ... something more or better or just other than who I am right now. Now, I’m obviously not gonna be John McLane and I am pretty certain I want to be more than just the guy with the bow-tie …

Saw a story on TV the other day about a minister who leads a small congregation somewhere in the US. They don’t have a building and the minister doesn’t take a salary. Every dime they collect when they pass the plate on Sunday is then given away to people in need. They pay people’s rent, and help them with their medical bills, and feed them and keep them warm. Sounds cool to me … wouldn't mind being that guy.

The President in his speech to congress last week mentioned a corporate ceo who took every penny of his substantial yearly bonus and distributed it to the people he felt who earned it – the people who work for him and run the company. How ‘bout being that guy.

In the Bible Jesus talks about a particular type of generosity. He speaks of a kind of indivudual heroism that is as real as it is unsung. He says that you should give in such a way that your right hand doesn’t know what your left hand is doing. A worthy aspiration …I’d like to be that guy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Muses Like Water ...

I think I am becoming a bit of an insomniac ... okay, but I know I am a hypochondriac and I tend to exaggerate any minor malady I experience. Having a hard time getting to sleep tonight and I did last night too ... but that doesn't make me an insomniac ... right?

Yesterday, in a fit of maniacal inspiration ... {jeez, look at my wording here -- four lines and I'm already a hypochodriacal insomniacal maniac ... perhaps my lack of sleep has shut off my verbosity filter. Ease-up there, big boy ... this ain't a college application essay} ... But, where was I? Oh yeah, so yesterday I felt inspired to sit down and write out a little summary of all the stories I've been trying to write for the last 15 years or so. I always get hung up on the actual telling of the stories ... the muses, when they visit seem always to act like either a drippy faucet or a fire hose ... neither of those being a very practical way of getting a drink of water. Well, yesterday the fire hose was in full effect ... but rather than let it flow until I ran out of time or emotional energy or both, I took my pen and just wrote down the gist of each story. Names of characters and a very brief two or three line description of the who-what-when-why-how of each scenario. The result was three pieces of yellow paper with some very specific ideas ... a sort of outline for what I hope will become a book of inter-related short stories if not a full-fledged novel.

"Dude, wishful thinking," says the rat under my bed to the little yellow man in my head. "You haven't written anything yet and you ain't gonna write anything now." Well, that's what he thinks ... we'll see if we can't prove him wrong.

And now I'm getting sleepy ... I knew if I did this the electric glare of the laptop would sear the old irises to the point of fatigue. Better spell-check this puppy {so if you think I'm crazy you won't also think me stupid} and call it a night. The fire hose is not a good thing to be foolin' with in the wee hours of the morning.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Mornin'

... the smell of bacon coming from the kitchen and the sound of Mammacita and Sister Baby having a pleasantly animated conversation. Brother Man is still asleep and probably will be till around noon time ...

It feels like complete happiness. I am recording it so, someday in the future when happiness seems hopelessly elusive I can remember how very simple it is.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What's Up? ...

I think I must be something of a manic/depressive when it comes to blogging. Feast or famine with me ... guess that's part of the problem with my writing. But we ain't here to talk about that now!

The kids have been in Nashua, New Hampshire with their grandparents Nonny and Kahuna (those are the nicknames they chose) ... so Mammacita and I have been home alone for nearly an entire week. Now, you know I love my kids ... but it's a veritable wonder what a week without morning routine, bedtime routine, Dora, Blue and Spongebob can do for your sanity. 'Course, I can't blame all my seasonal insanity on the kids -- they are actually a very small part of it. Work was absolutely crazy during the month of January and for a good part of February too. I feel like I had no time to think ... which also means no time to dream or meditate or read or write or anything. I'm sayin', it sucked y'all. Wasn't much use to my poor wife and children during that time. Gotta plan better for the hellish first month next year ...

But this week has been quite blissful. Aside from going to a movie {Slumdog Millionaire -- which was fantastic} we haven't done much. We have enjoyed being with each other without Brother Man and Sister Baby there to distract. I feel like we have come back together ... and it's not (as I had assumed it was) all about sex either. It's more about togetherness. Gotta work on preserving and protecting that, even when the kids are here ... we need it. And, yeah, it is partially about sex ... Mammacita can still stop a clock and bring ol' DaddyO to his knees!!!

A couple of personal breakthroughs are quivering on the horizon for me, I think. The story I've been trying to write for fifteen years has come back to me on an errant breeze {Mammacita's analogy} and I am writing again ... if you're good I may post a little somethin' somethin' from the story here. Also been thinking a lot about religion and faith ... beginning to come to some conclusions about what I do and do not believe ... if I'm good I'll post a little somethin'-somethin'.

That's about it ... what's up with You?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Koolest of the Filter Kings ...

Maybe it’s old age steadily creeping up on me but I find myself these days thinking a lot about departed loved ones … I think about them and I feel sad for the time {sometimes minutes, sometimes days} it takes me to bridge the gap between remembered grief and cherished memory. But I’m reminiscing here … not self-analyzing so –

Today I was thinking about my cousin Skip. I chose this picture:

Because those are the kind of cigarettes he used to smoke.

Skip himself was perhaps the coolest cat I ever knew. Confident, funny and just COOL … I’m talkin’ cool enough to spell the word with a “K” and seventeen “O’s.” If anybody was the Kool Filter King it was Johnny “Skip” Owens Jr. Here are some memories of Skip …

He introduced us to James Brown … he loved the song, The Payback{“I don’t know karate, but I know KA-RAZY!”}. He would listen to the forty-five (that’s a vinyl record with a single song on each side for all you youngbloods} for hours … cigarette dangling from the lips, bouncing up and down as he sang and danced along with James. Listen to the song here .

…I am parenthetically reminded that we once went to see James Brown at The Playhouse in the Park – and outdoor venue that used to be in Franklin Park in Dorchester. We were pretty close to the stage and James had on a fire-engine red suit with red patent leather shoes, lookin’ like the Devil himself … and he DID NOT sing The Payback. I remember thinking it was a good thing for James that Skip {who, himself was quite capable of KA-RAZY, as you will soon see} wasn’t there …

Skip lived with us for a while in the mid ‘70’s and during that time he was always very respectful to my father and especially to my mother even though they were probably only a couple of years older than he was. He loved my mother’s spaghetti … one night, somebody had loosened the cap on the extra large bottle of Frank’s Red-Hot Hot Sauce {my father and Skip ate that stuff on just about everything} and Skip spilled a whole bottle of it on his plate. Rather than disrespect my mother’s cooking by throwing away an otherwise perfectly good plate a spaghetti, Skip sat there and ate the whole fiery meal. Now dude had the quintessential 1973 soul-brother afro … but by the time he finished that the spaghetti he had just about sweated that bad boy straight!.

When we were about 8 and 9 years old, our older cousins Jonathan, Billy and Adam decided it was time to teach us how to fight. They did so by taking us outside and kicking our butts in the front yard for what seemed like a good long time. After a while, I decided it was best to stay down but Darryl kept getting up and the guys kept hitting him harder and harder … you know, to teach him a lesson … make him tough. Right about then Skip pulled up. He asked my cousins what they were doing. “Teachin’ Van and Darryl how to fight, man. You know, so they won’t be a couple of little punks.”

“A’ight,” Skip said, taking off his shirt. “Why don’t y’all teach me how to fight.” They were scared, but the dude-code wouldn’t allow them to back down. I tell you, they made a very valiant attempt to do to Skip what they had been doing to Darryl and me. But their failure was colossal … and quite entertaining to behold. I mean he beat ‘em bad … beat ‘em till the tears and snot flowed freely … made ‘em look like three ragdolls wrestling with a rotweiler. And all the while, that Kool Filter King dangled between his lips as he trash-talked, belittled and beat the crap out of the hapless boys. “Now look at them,” Skip said, pointing to us on one side of the lawn (by now smug as all get-out) “and look at you” pointing to them sprawled on the other side, two of ‘em spread-eagled on their backs and one rocking back and forth in a fetal position. “Who looks like punks now.” We walked tall for a good little while after that one.

The last time I saw Skip, he came to visit us at my mother’s house in Mattapan. He was getting older … the afro was gone. He had that still-makin’-it-but-just-barely look about him. At this point my father had been dead for ten years or more and the distance between us and most of our Owens cousins had grown steadily during that time. I had begun to reject the inner-city tough guy machismo that dudes like Skip exemplified. But much as I had come to resent that lifestyle and as much as Skip seemed like a relic from a time long passed … dude was still inescapably cool. As he was leaving the house, he asked me to step outside with him for a minute.

“I just want to ask you something,” he said to me, while lighting a fresh Filter King. “And you can be straight up with me.” He took a long drag – hesitating, I think. “Do you think I’m a good man?”

The question took me by surprise … how could I answer that? He must have sensed my struggling. “A’ight, put it this way … do you think I’m a bad man? You don’t think I’m a bad man do you?” I told him no. “Good enough, cousin. ‘Cause you know I tried to be good to y’all.” He hugged me. Promised he would come by again soon. Never got a chance to.

I sometimes wonder if he knew at that time that he was dying. I wonder if he was reaching for something by asking that question. I wonder if my answer gave him what he was looking for.

And I wonder if, wherever he is now he can hear the answer it’s taken me all these years to confidently affirm. “Yes, Cousin. To me and mine, you were a good man. The Koolest of the Filter Kings!!”