Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hashtag MyDick

Image result for hashtag

I've been a great dad. I've been a shitty father.

I've abused alcohol and I've spent months with sober mind.

I've been accused of not being serious enough and I've spent weeks in dark depression.

I've been brave: I once got out of my car to confront a cop that was shining his flashlight too long in my kid's faces. I've been completely stupid: I once got out of my car to confront a cop that was shining his flashlight too long in my kid's faces.

I've been irascible and irrational and I've been calm and the voice of reason. (I have so!)

I've been eloquent - writing and delivering a friend's eulogy and I've written crass blogs entitled: Hashtag MyDick.

Inconsistencies abound.

The one constant, however, whether I'm drunk and silly or hanging with my kids or being creative is my Blackness. My skin defines me before I say a word. My skin tells you to lock your car door as I pass - fly ass suit be damned! - or to clutch your purse and stand closer to your boyfriend as I board the elevator. Sometimes I don't even notice anymore. When I do notice, the first thing that goes through my mind is smacking the purse out your hand then smacking the shit out of your boyfriend because, #Karma.

My skin tells you to shoot me as I reach for my license as ordered to.

Paul Mooney did an interview where he spoke about such daily indignities. Being a Black gentleman, standing in line for First Class and being asked if you realize what line you're standing on: "Do I look like Stevie Wonder to you? Of course I know what line I'm standing on!" Then he ended his mini-tirade with the admission that he's tired.

My skin keeps me tired. Dude, seriously - I'm fucking tired. Most conscious Black folks are tired. Most conscious Black folks with children are fucking exhausted.

How I wish to live in Cam Newton's or Lil Wayne's World where racism no longer exists. What a Camelot or Shangri-La place that must be!

I fear my social media feed. I deactivate my account every so often because, #Mentalhealth.

I don't want to see today's fresh video and the new sorry soul whose name will forever be hashtagged. I dread having to witness the police account then seeing the video of what factually happened. I fear seeing that it was a woman. Or a child (Black boys have the shortest childhood of any race on earth and are apparently considered men by 11!). Or a man whose only sin was his car broke down on his way home from a college course. I fear having to see the victim's past being paraded about as if it's relevant in any way. I fear the insanely insensitive comments "if only he had listened to the police...yada yada,..Black on Black crime... yada, yada...insert bullshit.. yada, yada." I fear seeing a Black mother cry while being consoled by helpless male relatives. I fear and expect I'm next.

I fear the calmness with which I just wrote that I expect to be next.

It's 2016 and folks are marching and protesting like it's 1956. The words Malcolm X and James Baldwin wrote are just as true 50 years ago as it is today. There's no time to be 'splaining things to folks. Either you get it or you don't. One less Facebook "friend" is one less Christmas present I wasn't getting anyway.

Irascible and irrational? Maybe. But we're not falling for the banana in the tailpipe. Heads that have been sleeping are no longer turning a blind eye. Some athletes and entertainers are discovering the monetary leverage they wield. We're far from Camelot, but things seem like they're about to get really interesting.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Nerve of Me

I looked good today. Damn good. The kind of good you hope you run into someone you haven't seen in a long time and they don't even bother asking if you're doing well because, damn,  that suit! Nothing gaudy. Just...understated elegance. No meetings today or anything.

Just because.

I strive for that look every day but that's not always the attained result. Wasn't even a new suit, but, sometimes it just be's like that. On the 5 train heading home. This white lady is standing in front of me. We're both facing the door. We catch each other's eyes in the reflection. Her open bag is slung over her shoulder, nonchalantly. Bad idea. I peer in. Bad idea. Her wallet is open and cash is showing. I start to tell her that, but - how would I know if I wasn't intending on robbing her, right? She clutches her bag and moves two steps away from me.

This happened on Monday and I forgot about it until now. That's because there have been daily, hourly indignities I've suffered since then. But just one doesn't register as more than another. You just keep going, keep moving. In spite of it all. Then, in one moment while your mind is still, you let your guard down long enough to remember. And something like this will invariably hit you.

Nice suit, Nigger.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sensible Shoes (An ode to Lauren Michelle)

I've been having these dreams lately. I don't remember every detail - of course - but what I do remember is the...feeling.

I’ve had this same dream at least twice. The gist of it is I’m running from the cops and they have me surrounded. For some reason we’re on this farmland and I’m hiding near a barn. Then I get a call from by boy Troy. I know he’s dead and I should be worried about my own survival at that point, but I’m more than happy to stop and have a conversation with him. I see this “farmhand” in my peripheral. I know he’s a cop but I continue talking to Troy anyway. Then the cop gets off the tractor and rushes to me, gun in hand, and at this same exact point of the dream I wake up.


This morning/yesterday morning/every morning as I'm traveling to work in my perpetual nonplussed state, looking into the unhappy dead eyes of my fellow cadavers on the iron horse, my mind starts to wander. What were their dreams once upon a time? What did they want to do? Who did they want to be? Surely what they’re doing and where they’re going can’t be it. Then I think about myself and my own eventual epitaph:  

Here lies a man that wore sensible shoes.

I like shoes. My cousin Lauren has a wicked shoe game. We laugh about getting older and having to wear sensible shoes. I think it’s a family thing. She made me promise that if I ever see her in sensible shoes that I’m to kill her on sight. It’s a promise I look forward to keeping. I remember being with my cousin Melanie, and her mother - my aunt Marcella - came over to us and Melanie said “Aw, look at mom wearing her sensible shoes.” I remember my aunt not finding that funny.  

I think wearing sensible shoes under a certain age is a sign of waving the white flag and giving up. It's akin to asking someone about the looks of your blind date and they answer "Oh, she's nice." It’s like what Jerry Seinfeld said about people who wear sweatpants outside of the gym:

“You know the message you're sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You're telling the world, 'I give up. I can't compete in normal society. I'm miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.’”

A few years ago I lived on Staten Island and I was driving on Richmond Road and this Cadillac cut me off like I wasn’t even there. I had to literally swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid him hitting me. Blinded with anger I chased him down for about 2 miles until he parked at a CVS Pharmacy. The first thing I noticed about him while he slowly got out of his car with the help of a cane was his thick, white orthopedic shoes. It looked like he was actually whistling, oblivious to my rage as he ambled into the pharmacy. Then I noticed his handicapped license plate. All sorts of things were going through my mind at that point: This guy shouldn’t be allowed on the road; he’s gonna kill someone; he’s a crazy person; he’s a menace to safe drivers everywhere…

Then I remembered that famous quote “Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his sensible, orthopedic shoes.”

Or something like that.

Life goes fast: you drop your daughter off to her first day of Kindergarten on Monday and on Thursday of the same week you're driving her and her stuff to her college dorm in Savannah, Georgia. "You can do and be anything you wanna be," I tell my children as I put on my brown loafers and return to my hated job on Monday. God gave me a gift that I’m not using and I feel guilty about it. “Stay at your well-paying job,” they tell you. But you know what? Those people telling you that are all dead.

The time’s gonna go by anyway, might as well spend it doing something you love.

As that famous philosopher Bugs Bunny once quipped about life: no one gets out of this alive.

Why did I mention my dream at the beginning? Simply to say this: it could all end at any time. Every day someone wakes up not knowing it will be their last day. And when you’re surrounded around that barn there’s no delaying the inevitable. There is no bargaining with the reaper.

No matter how wicked your shoe game is.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

For Him The Bells Toll

Sometimes I speak in text shorthand. For example, instead of actually laughing at someone's joke, I might instead say "Lololol!" while slapping my knee and holding my stomach.

I did that in front of Troy a couple of times. He'd say something funny and I'd say "Oh BFF, lololol."

His response? "SMDH."

2014 had more than it's share of SMDH moments.

In a span of 84 days - from March 28 to June 20 - I lost four people that were family and "family" seems too weak a word.

Troy was the first blow. I was on my way to work when I got the call. When the call ended I looked around. Everyone else's world was the same and mine had changed forever. Didn't they know? Sitting across from me a little boy was laughing while his mother painted her nails.

And there it is: Go to work. Pay your bills. Live your life and move on.

There are tons of memories that come with a 40 plus year friendship. Here's one of the LOL variety:

It's 1980 and I'm 10 years old. I'm going into my first year of Junior High School and I'm school shopping with Troy. Since he's 3 years older, my mother doesn't mind us taking the two buses needed to go to Southern Boulevard to get to the Jewman. While it's not the most politically correct name in the world, anybody that lived in NY at that time - the Bronx in particular - went to the Jewman. That store now has legendary status! If Lee jeans cost $15 at another store you might get the price down to $12. The Abdul-Jabar hi tops that are $25 up the block might get copped for $20 if your haggle and persistence skills were on point. I can't stress how huge that was to us back then. You could take those extra dollars and use them toward a BVD, a Lee jacket or a Chinese mock neck! (LOL!). The Jewman was one of the first and only spots for a while in NYC to carry the Nike Air Force Ones or what we called "Uptowns". Look it up.

So of course I have to be fresh to death for the first day of school not to mention the first day of a new school. I already had my white shell toe Adidas and a white Chams De Baron shirt. I was there that day to get Lee jeans. I told them my size, was about to get my haggle on, and then they hit me with this question:

"Bellbottoms or straight leg?"
"What?" I turned to Troy.
"Get...get the bells," he answered pointing to the blue, crisp, bellbottom Lees. I can still see him saying that while pointing.

Walking to JHS 101 on the first day of school with my boys Troy and Timmy you couldn't tell me nothing! I was the only one in bells but it didn't phase me other than they were covering my shell toes a bit. Then as we got closer to school I'd hear a faint "Gong. Gong. Gong" and a little snicker as I walked. Then the "Gong" would get louder as the snickering turned into laughter. Troy and Timmy - both in straight legs - were laughing at me and saying gong with every step I'd take. Bells were out and straight legs were in! You have to understand - it's not like I could just say to hell with them, go back to the Jewman and buy a pair of straight legs. We didn't have it like that. My back-to-school money was depleted. I was stuck with my outdated disco pants. In fact, I probably didn't get a pair of straight legs until Troy's mother would give me his!


That brilliant bastard!

For the next 30 years I tried in vain to get him back. Over the years, whenever LL's "Rock the Bells" would play or that line from "It's A Wonderful Life" when George Bailey's daughter says "Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings" or if he happened to pass Hemingway's book "For Whom The Bell Tolls" in a bookstore I'd get a call. If we were together he'd give me a knowing smile and a nod.

Two weeks before he died, Troy sent me a one word text: Gong.

Troy dying on March 28 started a macabre procession. After that my mother-in-law passed on May  4, then my uncle Chops on June 9 followed by my 25 year old nephew on June 20th; his shocking, accidental death at work being a perfect bookend to 84 days of misery.

Whenever something astounded or bemused Jarred he would say "what in the actual fuck?!"

Guys aren't supposed to cry. But when you're an allergy sufferer that wears contacts and something happens that pulls on the heart strings there can be a welling up around the eye area that could be mistaken for tears when in actuality it's nothing more than your body's natural, adverse reaction to pollen.

Spring of 2014 happened to have the highest pollen count in the history of man.

My birthday passed at the end of the year. If from no other people I were guaranteed two calls. One from Troy - who would usually call the night before - and the other from my mother. My mother is a Jehovah's Witness and doesn't celebrate birthdays but she calls anyway. She doesn't say the word "happy" but she acknowledges my new year.

This year's birthday was empty at best. But you know what? You read your shout outs, open your presents, put on a happy face and move on. A boy laughs on the train while his mother paints her nails.

FOH 2014. I can't say I'm "happy" but it's a New Year. May all of you angels be soaring to new heights in your wings!

What in the actual fuck?!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Black Cyclops

Release what's in me...

I remember my father giving me books when I was a kid. At around the age of 7, I had read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, They Came Before Columbus, The Isis Papers. Admittedly I didn't understand everything I read but I did realize in later years it was something I was not learning in school. In one of those books I had, a book of Malcolm X speeches, brother Malcolm speaks about blacks not knowing the real meaning of revolution and if we did some of us would stop using the word so loosely; that if we really understood what it meant we'd use another word. A revolution was bloody. All revolutions in the history of man involved bloodshed.

Every time some black man or unarmed black child is killed there's the same pathetic cycle. There's a speech. A call for peace. Chants of "no justice, no peace." The killer walks. We march.

Amadou Diallo?

There's a speech. A call for peace. Chants of "no justice, no peace." The killer walks. We march.

Sean Bell?

There's a speech. A call for peace. Chants of "no justice, no peace." The killer walks. We march.


There's a speech. A call for peace. Chants of "no justice, no peace." The killer walks. We march.

Eric Garner?

There's a speech. A call for peace. Chants of "no justice, no peace." The killer walks. We march.

No change. Play a Malcolm X speech from 1963. Close your eyes. Hear his words and he can be talking about the headlines from today. Everything he says is still relevant and happening now. Nothing has changed.

Nothing. Has. Changed.

You cannot be surprised any longer when a killer of a black child walks away unscathed. It's expected. But something weird and unexpected happened the other night when news broke that Darren Wilson would not even be indicted for the killing of Mike Brown, an unarmed black teen. I happened to be watching CNN with my daughter at the time - and I felt... embarrassed. Helpless. Akin to a slave being in the next room while his wife is getting raped by the master. Then they urge you to be peaceful...

Hammurabi, one of the most celebrated Mesopotamian Kings is best known for his "Hammurabi code" an eye for an eye.

But why is it that we're the only ones walking around with one eye while the killer of our children still have two?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Working in Corporate America is akin to inhaling legal medicinal, which is to say: the higher I get the less I care.

In a corporate gig past, I was at times sent to a company to sit back and observe how things ran for a week or two, make my suggestions then things would be shaken up. I was one of several people in that position and everyone had their methods of getting it done. Some used pie charts, others conducted interviews, a couple used theories I never understood but for me, my decision on who stayed vs. who got fired all boiled down to this: either you watched Bugs Bunny growing up or you didn’t watch Bugs Bunny growing up.

A sample conversation would go thusly: “Remember that Bugs Bunny cartoon when he’s being chased by the red monster on the roof and later he’s doing his nails then puts the dynamite in his hair? No? Then why the hell do you work here?”

Kids in my era that grew up on Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, and Wile E. Coyote for the most part are sane, rational adults.  We could watch the Road Runner blow up Wile E. Coyote with all sorts of Acme bombs, hit him with anvils, drop off a cliff and realize, “you know, that would hurt in real life. I wouldn’t do that.” Anyone that grew up after Hong Kong Fuey has to have disclaimers and large helmets with extra foam on the inside. I call these kids the Disclaimer Generation. These 20 and 30 year olds I manage are absolutely clueless. I find you can’t take anything for granted with them; everything has to be explained to the minutest detail.

Example #1: Dude at one of my buildings, 20something, stole a book of car vouchers. You know at night you work late and the company provides a car service. Ok. So he stole a book of vouchers for his personal use. The only thing is he used his real name and took all the cars back to his home address. When HR reviewed the files they commented that never has there been such a slam dunk, open and shut case for termination in the history of the 84 year company. No one that I’ve ever known that watched Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse has ever been that stupid. During his exit interview I had HR ask him what his favorite cartoon growing up was. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Of course it was.

I’ll tell you something else, Barney the Dinosaur would’ve been violated something awful if he came to the daycare I attended. That syrupy I love you, you love me stuff would’ve gotten him straight snuffed.

And then this happened: Cisco – it was like someone was in a basement lab and decided how to combine Kool Aid and crack. Finally!

“You mean you could have a refreshing beverage AND get high as hell? I’ll take two!”

But it wasn’t long after that Cisco had to put a warning label on their masterpiece. It seemed some youngens in their haste to get high started grabbing Cisco thinking it had the same effect as say, a Bartle and Jaymes wine cooler. Word? A Bartles and Jaymes? Those kids were the reason the good folks at the Cisco bottling company had to add the warning in large type on the side of their label: THIS IS NOT A WINE COOLER. Cisco was to Bartles and Jaymes what Prohibition moonshine was to water: not even close. That chick that passed out on Cisco and tried to sue because she said she thought it had the alcohol content of a wine cooler? Yeah, she was Power Rangers fan. Nobody I know that watched The Six Million Dollar Man ever made that mistake.

But back before Cisco had to advertise it was definitely NOT a wine cooler, Craig Springer had the best curse words I ever heard. I’ll never forget in the 8th grade standing outside JHS 101 when he called Jerome Chisolm a “son-of-an-asshole bitch” after Jerome crazy hot-necked him. Wait, you can be a son of an asshole AND a bitch? That right there was sheer…poetry. Even Jerome had to stop and laugh at that one. That right there is a pure classic and something I know a kid watching Yugio would never be able to fathom.

You hear every week now about some school being on lockdown, someone going into a movie theatre and indiscriminately shooting folks? That’s some new shit we didn’t do. If we had a problem with you personally, it was dealt with. In all recorded history, no one that ever watched the Jackson Five cartoon has ever a shot up a school. That’s some Rugrat, Hey Arnold generation b.s. right there.

Another irksome thing is they can’t even keep track of their lies. Like this is your fourth grandmother that’s died since I’ve been here. I would constantly find myself asking them "What did I ever do to give you the impression that I would ever believe that. Seriously?"

So I’ve developed a policy at work where, if you give me any excuse, it had better be an entertaining one. I don’t want to be “lied” to per se. I just would rather be entertained. I'll engage you if your excuse is other worldly, i.e. alien abductions, amputation...what I'm saying is: humor me. Make this day in hell worthwhile. I know you're lying, you know I know you’re lying. Show me your creative side. It's great now. Last week at work we had 2 alien abductions, one of my guys fell 380 feet - his estimation - down a manhole and one guy got nearly crushed to death when he fell down an elevator shaft. Now we're talking! When Joshua called off one Friday in late March because he had been tragically killed the night before, I have to admit, I got kind of emotional. I knew I was finally getting through to them, that there’s hope yet; that I’ve had a positive influence on their life.

Because, as my man Bugs once brilliantly observed “Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.”

Thursday, April 03, 2014

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine -

Pizzas are now off the menu.

When we were kids back in P.S. 72, Mrs. Vitti my 3rd grade teacher – who my mother still recalls would call the house with the opening “Mrs. Farrell? Mrs. Vitti,” before launching into a diatribe on my latest transgressions – taught us a way to remember the order of the nine planets in our solar system, Mercury through Pluto, with the following:

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.

But now Pluto – the “Pizzas” in our little mnemonic is no longer a planet as it’s been deemed a satellite. The subject of Pluto no longer being a planet somehow came up the last time I saw my childhood friend, Troy, about a month ago. Apparently with all the hustle and bustle of real life issues and news, the subject of Pluto’s demotion somehow eluded him. In our 40 plus year friendship, it had been my job to update him on such frivolities. He met me at my job in the city for lunch and since it had been a while since the last time we met, I ended up taking the rest of the day off. We caught up on family, old friends, talked sports and everything in between.

Just two old friends having drinks and enjoying a leisurely day on a Thursday afternoon.  

Who had it better than us?

Last week I received one of those calls. It doesn’t matter if it was 4AM or 4 in the afternoon; whether you’re at home or at work. You just never could be prepared for the news.

“That can’t be true,” I answered calmly. “Everyone just calm down. I’m going to call Troy, he’s going to pick up, call me by my middle name and all order would be restored to the world.”

But of course it doesn’t work that way.

As children, we had no frame of reference letting us know we were just poor project kids. Summers seemed endless. Who needed Little League or PAL? We organized ourselves in my block against your block battles whether it be baseball, basketball or football. If we didn’t have enough guys our block would team with Rick Malcolm’s or the Underwood’s block and play against the kids on Dewey, Sampson or Balcom Avenue until it was time to be opponents again. We played hardball and made bases out of cardboard.  If you didn’t have a glove you’d just take the person’s glove coming off the field. A couple of guys like Troy and Spank from around the corner actually had catcher’s equipment; somehow a first base glove got thrown into the mix. When it came to basketball you better come with a squad because if your team lost waiting for “next” took fooorreeevvver. We went to Yankees Stadium and got the $2 bleacher seats to cheer on Munson, Reggie, and Troy’s favorite player Dave Winfield. He even had Winfield’s ugly jersey from when he played for the Padres. We never missed a Bat Day. Being on punishment in those days was just that: punishment. We didn’t have PlayStation, Xbox or cable television to fall back on. Everything that was happening was happening outside.

We were free lunch enthusiast and snobs. One of us would take the week’s menu off the lunchroom wall and where we’d go was planned on what they were serving.

“The center is serving turkey franks today so let’s go to 72 for lunch cuz they have pizza. Then later we’ll go to Randall Avenue for snack. They’re having oatmeal cookies today!”

Dinners would be based on whose mom was cooking what. We’d find out during the day what our moms would be cooking and coincidentally wind up at each other’s home for dinner if our favorite was being made. Tim’s mom is making lentils? We’re at the Haigler’s. Troy’s mom is making lasagna? Waddyaknow, the boys are there! My mom is making chili with dumplings? No brainer. Then we’d be back outside trading baseball cards or playing something after dinner until one minute before we know we’d get on punishment and then do it all again the next day.

Who had it better than us?

In our teen years Troy found jobs and worked to accomplish his goals whether it was saving for a new car or just to have cash on hand. He got me my first corporate job. He was working as a clerk in a law firm – 2 blocks from where I work today – got a new job and recommended me for the position. Working with Troy the two weeks before he left, I was surprised at how he was exactly the same at work as he was at home. I mean exactly the same. He’d take off his shoes and put his feet on the desk, smelly socks be damned; he’d take a newspaper or ask a co-worker for reading material and announce he was going to the bathroom and they’d just laugh. The older women at the company loved him and treated him like a son, which didn’t surprise me in the least. Troy had been borrowing some of my ties so when he left and I started working there they’d say “Oh my God. You’re wearing Troy’s tie. That’s Troy’s tie!”

He was a hard act to follow. 

Being friends with Troy meant you had to share him, which wasn’t always easy. But he had this gregarious, outgoing personality and spirit that people were drawn to. Troy was not a saint – who would wanna be friends with a saint anyway? – but if you had a problem with Troy and didn’t like him, that was a YOU problem. You should be seen for that. He didn’t engage in negative conversation, spread rumors or relish in someone’s bad news or misfortune. If you got a promotion it was as if he did. When you had good news, he’d be there to toast to it.  I would often kid him that he was always campaigning, kissing babies to get votes. But his love for people was real. If you were on the phone with Troy for 10 minutes, your conversation would be interrupted five times. It could be someone saying hello to him along his bus route or a co-worker wanting to have a conversation when they spotted him in the bus depot or just anyone. It never failed. You’d listen to their conversation and they’d ask each other about their children, health, how their parents were and Troy would always end the conversation with his trademark laugh.

“Who was that?”

“That’s Marco the guy in the deli that makes my sandwiches.”

“Word? Did you kiss the baby?”

During the last time we were together, someone we grew up with recently died and we spoke of life and how unpredictable it is. Then he brought up a conversation we had when we were kids that I had totally forgotten about. Apparently I was about eight years old and was angry because my mother wasn’t able to get me a Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robot set and had given me some lame reason like she needed to pay rent or buy groceries - you know, something unreasonable – and I made a vow that day that my kids would get everything we didn’t get. And it dawned on us as adults that that was an impossibility. Sure, we may be able to give them more trinkets and gadgets than our mothers gave us like $200 Jordan’s and PlayStations but how could they possibly have it better than we did? We had sports, we travelled at times, had our choice of free lunch spots, good parents, endless summers and great friends!

Who had it better than us?

Who was better than Troy?