Someday I’ll learn. Though not anytime soon apparently. Ready I was – perhaps even eager – to observe the spectacle of “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.” An apology may even be in order though know one perceives the slight but me.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you cry so hard,” says my mother.
“I don’t believe I ever have,” says I.
I’ve long held that the mourners that do the hardest crying usually bear the most guilt. I’d best revise my analysis or be more generous toward the guilty. Regardless these are depths I’d rather not plumb for now.
The journey home was relatively uneventful. I “broke” Ma’s steering wheel on the drive back; forced the locking mechanism on the height adjuster while the wheel was out of position. Drive-able but “sloppy.” I could tell Ma was annoyed – she didn’t say much.
Funny thing about Ma; the more annoyed she gets, the fewer words she uses.
Maybe I’m overreaching but the incident added to my whole sense of being a bit heavy handed, of being out of touch, of smug, miscalculated expectations meeting reality. I was clumsy and out of place and probably unnecessary.
I promised to make good.
I got to hold Tracie’s baby Saturday night. Zoë Amelia Goffe, not even a week old. She looks like all babies do at that age, though I can detect some of her dad’s features. She’s a lot more active than I remember Cynthia being at a week, or maybe I’ve just forgotten.
People remember what they want to and ascribe traits as they will.
For a while we just sat, me holding Zoë, not saying much. Tracie and I have known each other long enough not to need small talk. But other company arrived and we took up the weather.
I have got to get a tree. Cynthia walks up to me today and says, “Daddy, are we having Christmas?” So far we’ve managed 3 poinsettias.
She didn’t make me feel guilty… no really… but it’s time to get on with it and join the frenzy. Because that’s what this time of the year has become, an emotion laden, commercially driven, expectation heavy, frenzy. And there is no getting around it… up to a point.
I reserve the right to cast sidelong glances and evince disgust at diamond commercials, to not emote, to wish “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”
I've given permission for another man to freely call me a nigger. Not that it's necessarily required; some
of my closest and beloved have done the same through the years. Some things are not readily justifiable or
logical. They just are.
But what I do, I do for art. I am participating in a local production of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Said
permission was given to the gentleman playing my chief accuser, that he may carry out his role to the utmost.
I must admit to having more of an issue with the liberal use of "boy" by the prosecutor.
I don't want to explain the "nigger thing" to my daughter. Not sure I understand it myself. It's not that I'm
afraid to explain why someone – white or black – uses the word in the pejorative. Nor will shirk at advice on
how to respond.
What I dread explaining is the double standard. How can black people use the term "affectionately?" "Well it's
sort of like when friends call each other ‘dummy' or ‘dingbat' honey. It's a term of endearment, but you must
never let a white person get away with it."
Sounds crazy to me and I've lived by it.
The Wilbur brothers (Tim and Ken) were the only white guys that got away with using "the word" in
casual speech. The Wilburs could fight. We kidded ourselves with the notion that it was because they were
"down", that they were from the neighborhood. Theirs was one of the few remaining white families on the North
Side of St. Louis.
But everyone new the truth including the Wilburs. It was easier (and safer) to make an exception for them than
to try and hold up some ridiculous double standard.
I hear they run a respectable auto repair business these days.
At some point he began to take her for granted. He wasn't even sure why. Or how. How could he hold
the thought of her standing under the streetlight, snowflakes catching on her eyelids, reaching up on tiptoe to
kiss him in perfect suspension with the notion that he was growing bored with her?
The image still delighted him; the notion caused no shame.
What he didn't know was that she had already begun to take calls from a former lover. It appealed to her vanity
even though she did not believe herself vain.
Love is blind and evidently callous.
Martin thought himself to be the reincarnation of Alexander The Great. He thought Great Thoughts and
had Great Aspirations and Great Expectations for himself. Though he actually did very little.
He mostly went to and office and created spreadsheets that fed other spreadsheets that ultimately fed reports
that no one actually read.
Martin had a great disdain for the "loafers" on welfare who contributed nothing to society. He did not like that
his tax money went to support the slovenly and undisciplined.
It was a great surprise to him the day he arrived at work and found himself locked out.
I'd always believed that Scrumptious was a man-eater. I didn't know how close to the truth I was.
I'd also always believed in vampires; at least in the possibility. I'd read about the clubs in Europe where
members played predator, even had familiars who freely offered their veins for "sustenance." But these people
were posers who often wound up in the emergency room getting their stomachs pumped.
Scrumptious gave me a choice, either join her little brood and be a part of her insurrection or be a part of the
evening meal. Little choice really.
Better to rule in Hell…
Woody Strode invaded my dreams last night to inform me that I'd never be half the man he was. He
wore buckskins and cradled a 30-30. I heard the clang of his spurs as he approached me. He said that I'd
never command the respect of men like Marvin and Lancaster.
"But those were different times," I said. "You were a novelty. You were big and unique and unexpected. Since
you there's been Brown and Roundtree and Jackson (I purposefully left out Dolemite).
His refusal to make eye contact spoke volumes. I decided an autograph request would be bad form.
About 30 minutes after the last lunar module lifted off from the surface of the moon I began to plot the
course of my life. I would be an astronaut and I would lead a voyage to Mars. It became the one true
obsession of my life.
I drew pictures of astronauts and all things related to the space program. I built models of Saturn rockets and
lunar modules. This lasted for about 6 months and like most boys, my fancy turned to sports. I believe it was
baseball first and then football.
Because of me, we've never reached Mars.
The god of the octopus glided amongst his subjects in full glory. His tentacles girded in gold, his great
orb of a head resplendent in emerald. He liked to visit from time to time and give the natives a thrill.
The high priest of the octopus basked in reflected glory. He had become worried that his station had become
diminished in recent days. This visit would once again prove the love (and the interest) of their deity, just as he
had said it would.
The leader of the anarchists gave his signal and ink began to rise from the crowd.
I once sold the rights to the family homestead in the great state of Tennessee for a bag of marbles. Not
that I had clear title but my customer didn't mind. They weren't his marbles. We sealed the deal over a bottle of
Orange Crush. I took care to wipe the bottle on my tee shirt after each pass. Cleanliness and all that.
We sat with the deed between us and admired my handiwork. I'd only had to correct one or two words (the
ones I was sure I knew how to spell) and there was hardly a crayon smudge.
Uncle Jack has been in the hospital since Tuesday. Passed out on his way somewhere. Seems it’s Leukemia. We just buried his sister on the sixth. I told him I was not traveling south for another funeral.
He took my meaning. The nurses say they aren’t going to let him leave the ICU (he’s charmed them all), and he won’t until his blood pressure gets up to normal.
We’re quite noisy, laughing and talking when we visit. I’m afraid the nurses will kick us out but they seem not to mind. We’re the only ones in ICU glad for anything.
“I’m thankful I’m black because it’s made me stronger and provided me access to experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise…” or words to that effect, my cousin Janice said at a high school Thanksgiving assembly 26 years ago. She was a senior, I a freshmen. The gym went silent for a moment and then (I’m still proud to say) I led the applause of the small number of black students in that auditorium.
“That’s my cousin you know,” I bragged. I saw Janice again today for the fist time in 20 years. She’s as regal and intelligent and composed ever.
Christmas in 2 days and I’m done with shopping more or less. Got caught up in the rush again this year. Every year we’re bracketed with dire warnings of a doomed economy unless we get out there and shop. Nervous retailers glance furtively into the camera almost imploring us to keep them out of receivership.
I do my part, wondering all the while “why”. Pastor Phil is content. He’s feeding 28 families – turkey and all the trimmings – providing a few toys. The bikers across the way donated $1000. His wife Sandy shared a loaf of banana bread. I’m going back.
Guess he had nothing better to do and she was pretty gullible.
A lot of little kids will be getting very little sleep tonight. I remember tossing and turning all night long anticipating the big pay off.
Cynthia hasn't reached that stage yet. Still sleeps all night long. Good thing Mr. Dupree's not around.
I got an opossum for Christmas. Second one. Wanted a skunk. Little black and white striped bastard’s been under my deck since Thanksgiving.
The live trap’s yielded a squirrel and the opossum twins. Crafty little devil. I’ve begun to imagine him as something malevolent, the beast below the boards, plotting, waiting and reeking. Sending waves of hate radiating with the stench. Laughing at me and my feeble attempts.
Of course he’s just doing what he does, probably grateful in his way that I’m eliminating rivals. I take them about 8 miles away and release them.
They never show any appreciation.
There is a letdown in the Christmas aftermath. Some of it is physical. The frenzy leaves you a little spent. All of that build up for one day.
There is also regret. Typically you’ve blown whatever budget you set. You watch with creeping dread as your child wallows in a sea of toys, drunk on “the joy of me” as you realize that you’re running out of space to store it.
Eventually – hopefully – perspective returns. You make plans to pay the bills. You make a toy deposit at the Salvation Army and you decide that next year will be different.
I worry sometimes about the mountains of garbage I've created. About the refuse I've left behind. This
is my true legacy. Not my work. Not even my child for she will only reflect a part of my life, from my middle 30's
on. My contributions to The Great Refuse Pile have been growing since the day I came into the world. Even
before I became self aware I was creating garbage. Some of it has been burned but most of it sits in various
landfills about the globe, a chronicle of my life.
What does my garbage say of me?
It's out there looming. I dread its coming and all that it brings. The platitudes, the false cheer, the
overplayed sincerity and false solemnity. It's a season for hubris and rubber chicken dinners. Not just a day or
a week but a whole month.
I speak of Black Awareness Month. I admit that I am damaged. I learned to loathe the season from a tender
age. "Give us the shortest and coldest month out of the whole year? No thanks," my father would say.
Things start cranking after MLK Day and then we'll be "I have a dreamed" to death.
I’m forty-one today; “officially” in my forties now if you’re a math purist. Not worrying about it – yet. Ma made a caramel cake and I’ve been getting birthday calls all day. I especially liked Carmyn’s rendition of Happy Birthday set to The Hallelujah Chorus.
People ask if I feel cheated being born so close to Christmas. Not really. I associate my birthday with the season. It's all I’ve ever known. I’d be bothered if the people I care about ever forget. But they never do.
Besides when you think about it, what’s the big deal? People get born everyday.
That crafty skunk continues to prove his superior intellect or at least that he has more will power than his woodland friends. Found a cat in the trap this morning. I swear he’s goading the other animals into that trap just to spite me. Perhaps I’ve found the one skunk that doesn’t like sardines?
On the “glass half full” side he has been pretty quiet lately. We only get a whiff when he heads out at night and upon his return at dawn.
Nothing like the toxic maelstroms of a couple weeks ago. Probably because I’ve eliminated all his rivals.
Honeymoon's over. I don't want to admit it but all this time off is getting to me.
Working for the auto industry affords one of the longest holiday periods outside of school. If I ever get a real job
I'll be in for a shock.
Two weeks off for Christmas. Sounded like a great idea at the time.
Now I'm not so sure. Not that I'm a company man that can't bear to be away from his cubicle, it's just that
Nature abhors a vacuum. Free up some time and alternatives will rush in; tasks you'd rather not bother with.