Out There In The World

December 13, 2014

Last week, my son went with his classmates on his first overnight trip without me or his mother, a middle school “camping” trip in the forests of Montgomery County, Maryland. He was gone fifty-two hours, just a bit more than two days, checking out wildlife and sitting around a campfire. My son came back on his bus, worn out with equally worn out sneakers and clothes, smelling of river and bad cafeteria food. Boy did I miss him. But at least I knew where he was, more or less.

Some of the dorms at Lathrop E. Smith Environmental Education Center, Rockville, MD, December 12, 2014. (http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/).

Some of the dorms at Lathrop E. Smith Environmental Education Center, Rockville, MD, December 12, 2014. (http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/).

I did no such trips like the one my son did until the day I went off to Pittsburgh and college, some twenty-seven years ago. Let me repeat. Not one overnight trip on my own or with my classmates growing up. The closest I came to being out in the world, other than my 10,000 walks to the store or up Route 22 or down in the Bronx, was in the years my father Jimme would take me and my older brother Darren for a day, only for it to turn into a weekend. With a couple of exceptions, all of these extended excursions occurred before we started working with our father in the city in the fall of ’84. Most of them happened before I turned thirteen and had to resort to hunting down my father every Friday or Saturday for a few extra dollars, for me and for helping out my Mom.

At least a dozen times between April ’79 and September ’84, we ended up with Jimme overnight. In the days without cellphones and with my father never having his own landline, he’d and we’d have to call my Mom from a pay phone to let her know how we were. There were plenty of those nights in which I didn’t want to call my Mom or go home.

Lionel Richie on a mock-missing-person's flyer, March 20, 2011. (Chris Glass/Flickr.com).

Lionel Richie on a mock-missing-person’s flyer, March 20, 2011. (Chris Glass/Flickr.com).

This despite the fact that every time we did an overnight or, on three occasions, back-to-back overnights, Jimme was lit. How it happened depended on at what point during the weekend he’d pick us up. If my father came over early enough on a Friday evening to take us out for a pizza or Mickey D’s or a movie, he’s sometimes have a Miller or a Schlitz with him, in his coat pocket, ready to drink after the sober version of himself had picked us up from 616. Or, much more often, Jimme would fulfill his Saturday fatherly duties by picking us up, usually between 10 am and 1 pm, take us out to eat, and then swing by one or more of his drinking buddy’s places, where he could get his fill of beer or malt liquor, move on to stronger stuff, and lose track of time.

Ida’s place, Lo’s stoop, Pam’s den, it really didn’t seem to matter to our father. These were his easy places to drink, to hang out, to tell the world how much of “a big shot” he was. All the while, money would spill out of his pocket, scooped up by his hosts to cover groceries, rent, mortgages, car notes, and street drugs. But we didn’t really notice that until I hit thirteen.

Our last extended weekend with Jimme was in August ’84, right after my j.v. football tryouts, just before the start of tenth grade. We went over to Pam’s apartment off South Fulton, just a couple of blocks away from Adams Street, where we had lived as a family before I started kindergarten. Those days were long off by now. Instead, I saw my father in a completely sloshed state, really, for the first time, with the mind of an adult. Pam, for her part, was wasted, on some form of cocaine, crack or powdered, I didn’t know for sure.

Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood (2009), screen shot of him drinking, drooling, December 3, 2010 (http://dudleydoody.com).

Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood (2007), screen shot of him drinking, drooling, December 3, 2010 (http://dudleydoody.com).

By the end of the day that last Saturday in August, he could barely stand up. Pam had some music on, Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” as it was in the middle of the bridge portion. While it was playing, Jimme tried to dance to it, with a thick string of drool hanging from him bottom lip and all the way to his right pant leg. He stumbled to his left, then his right, as the song went, “dun-dun-dun, dun-dun-dun, du-du-dat-dat-dun-dun-dun,” via a guitar string and a synthesizer. We had to sit him down on Pam’s ’70-style couch to let him snore and drool for an hour and a half before taking him back to his place that Saturday evening. On the way out, we bumped into my classmate Dahlia and her grandmother. They lived in an apartment complex across the street. How embarrassing!

We didn’t call my Mom to let her know what was going on. So when we came home late that Sunday afternoon, she was pissed. But she didn’t seem that concerned about her safety. Instead, it was all about, “What? You think Jimme’s a good father now?” and “I need someone around here to go to the store.”

As much as I loved my Mom, she didn’t realize that we needed moments to escape, even if it meant being with our alcoholic father and being around his equally drug-addled friends. Those were our overnights before we reached adulthood.


We Didn’t Start The Fire…But…

December 7, 2014

Billy Joel, "We Didn't Start The Fire" (video screen shot), 1989. (http://denverlibrary.org/).

Billy Joel, “We Didn’t Start The Fire” (video screen shot), 1989. (http://denverlibrary.org/).

As the rest of this sentence goes, “we poured gasoline and kerosene all over it.” And by “we,” I mean everyone who has been or remains in denial of the role poverty, greed and systemic racism plays in our lives. Every. Single. Moment. Every. Single. Day.

As an eclectic music lover, as a historian and as an educator, there are few songs I hate more than Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” Well, maybe Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend” (1990) or anything by Chicago after Peter Cetera quit the group in ’85. The song was released in the fall of ’89, during my junior year at Pitt, when I’d become a history major. Every time I heard the song, I wanted to strangle Joel with it. This is the same man who wrote “Just The Way You Are” (1977) and “New York State of Mind” (1976), right? First, he wasn’t even singing in most of the song. “Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team?” Wow, I bet the coked-up songwriters for Thompson Twins wasn’t booked that weekend Joel wrote these lyrics, no?

State of Denial (2006) front cover, by Bob Woodward, December 6, 2014. (http://amazon.com).

State of Denial (2006) front cover, by Bob Woodward, December 6, 2014. (http://amazon.com).

There’s one big beef I have with the song more than any other, one that’s relevant even a quarter century later. The issue of denying responsibility. Yeah, those poor White Baby Boomers, how terrible it must’ve been for so much to happen in your lives, with so little that you could do about it, too! It’s true, though. Whether it was “JFK” being “blown away,” or the “Russians in Afghanistan,” the song is about fucked-up shit that happened between the late-1940s and when the Baby Boomers approached middle-age by the end of the 80s.

The problem was and remains the reality that they’ve been putting fuel on this fire that’s allegedly been “always burning since the world was turning.” I mean, who voted for Nixon in ’72 or Reagan in ’80 or ’84? Who’s blindly supported every Israeli policy for as long as they’ve been able to vote, policies that have helped incite terrorism? Who’s been in constant denial of American violence and racism as a generation, despite contributing to it their whole lives? The very same generation whom Billy Joel and his idiotic lyrics represents, that’s who!

Die-in in front of Verizon Center, Washington, DC, December 5, 2014. (Samuel Corum, @corumphoto, via Twitter).

Die-in in front of Verizon Center, Washington, DC, December 5, 2014. (Samuel Corum, @corumphoto, via Twitter).

So now in 2014, with America and the world the way it is, with daily protests now over grand jury denials of indictments for police killing unarmed Blacks, with Gaza and Nigeria and Kenya and Ukraine, with wealth so heavily concentrated in so few hands, what do these “We Didn’t Start The Fire” types have to say now? “Trayvon, Michael Brown, Garner in a chokehold?” “Hawking, Gaza, twerking from Azalea?” As if we wee Americans can abdicate responsibility for their deaths, like Pontius Pilate did in effectively condemning Jesus to crucifixion, but washed his hands of his role in the process. Who’s been front and center in supporting a police state, in advocating policies that criminalize Black and Brown bodies for taking a breath, in turning the American Dream of a middle class into a get-rich-quick scheme? Hmm, let me think about this one…

Outside of the small minority of Whites who are truly upset about and are actively involved in protests against this latest round of American injustice, many Whites have expressed how enraged they are. About die-ins in front of the Verizon Center before a Washington Wizards game. About delays in getting to their destination because the Beltway or the Lincoln Tunnel or some other thoroughfare’s been blocked by protestors with “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” signs. For this very-much-not-silent majority, these protests and the outrage and yearning for social justice they represent are major inconveniences.

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose in pre-game warm-ups, dressed in his "I Can't Breathe" protest shirt, United Center, Chicago, December 6, 2014. (http://chicagotribune.com).

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose in pre-game warm-ups, dressed in his “I Can’t Breathe” protest shirt, United Center, Chicago, December 6, 2014. (http://chicagotribune.com).

Well, that’s too effing bad! You spend your life in denial, in assuming that anything racial isn’t your fault. You deserve inconvenience, you deserve to get smacked in the face with reality while drinking your beer at a basketball game, expecting Black players to stay in their entertainer role. You don’t want to think about the real world and your role in maintaining stereotypes and oppression in it? Oh well! Grow a pair! Not of balls, though. Grow a pair of lobes! Because none of us wide-awake, “Black Lives Matter” types are going anywhere.


The Art of Interviewing Killer Cops and Other Whites on the Prowl

December 4, 2014

Dumb-assed George Stephanopoulos of ABC News interviewing Michael Brown murderer, former Officer Darren Wilson, November 25, 2014. (http://abcnews.go.com).

Dumb-assed George Stephanopoulos of ABC News interviewing Michael Brown murderer, former Officer Darren Wilson, November 25, 2014. (http://abcnews.go.com).

I think it would be interesting if I applied my qualitative research skills and did a sociohistorical study of the killer cops and White vigilantes who’ve gotten away or almost gotten away with murdering African Americans over the past few years. We know so much about Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, Tamir Rice, John Crawford and Jonathan Ferrell, including their arrest records, their blood-alcohol levels, their drug use, even their family members’ criminal records, if any. The media always performs a pseudo-social science-y qualitative research study on Black and Latino victims and their families and friends, in search for the perfect victim, someone to justify the outrage and anguish over state-sanctioned, cold-blooded murder.

It’s time to flip the script. I’d conduct a group interview process, bringing in the cabal of murderers, alleged and convicted, for a two-hour-long sit down. I’d ask questions about their upbringing, about the influence of popular culture in their lives, about facing down dangerous criminals carrying cigarettes, Skittles and broken toy guns. Only, my overeducated Black ass wouldn’t make it to my first question. I’d get choke-held or shot the moment I’d reach in my book bag for my digital tape recorder, even if we were conducting the interview in a public place, like the Children’s Room at New York Public Library on West 41st and Fifth Avenue. So I’d have to find one of my privileged White colleagues to interview these men on my behalf.

———————————————–

Overseer Daniel Pantaleo, 2014. (http://nydailynews.com).

Overseer Daniel Pantaleo, 2014. (http://nydailynews.com).

Narrator: Today we have George Zimmerman, Daniel Pantaleo, Darren Wilson, Theodore Wafer, Michael Dunn, Tim Loehmann, David Darkow, Sean Williams and Randall Kerrick here to talk about what it takes to be a White man fighting hard to protect the world from unarmed African Americans.

Pantaleo: Shut da [expletive] up, dumb ass! Where’d ya earn that PhD, Harlem?

Dunn: Yeah, that’s telling him! I respect the law, too. Even if it has me in chains.

Narrator: Okay, everyone. We’re taping here, so wait for me to ask my questions, please.

Loehmann: I’ll give you two seconds to ask your questions. After that, I’m not promising you anything.

Narrator: My first question is about your backgrounds. Can any of you tell me how your background impacted your decision to become either a police officer or vigilante?

Wafer: I’m deeply offended by the idea that you’re calling me a vigilante. I was defending myself. I live in a bad neighborhood. I mean, who bangs on my [expletive] door at three in the morning? You come to my door that late at night, I put you in a body bag!

Zimmerman: Dude, I couldn’t agree with you more. But I wouldn’t wait. I’d hunt these assholes down first!

(Laughter rises up from group)

Darkow: I’m feeling you there, dude!

Wilson: You asked about our background. I grew up as part of a hunting and fishing family. My old man took us out to take down elk and deer every year. It made me a good shot. I could shoot a doe in the head from fifty yards away.

(Group breaks out in laughter again)

Narrator: So, Mr. Wilson, are you saying that when you shot at Michael Brown, you saw him the same way you see a young female deer?

Wilson: Uh, absolutely not. As I said in my report, the perp was like Donkey Kong, like Hulk Hogan, angry, unresponsive and dangerous, more like a giant bear than a doe.

Pantaleo: Man, it’s all right to say it, because I’m thinking it, too. These [expletive] n—-s are dangerous — they all need to be put down!

Narrator: Why’s that, Mr. Pantaleo? Would you say–

Williams: Will you listen to this egghead? Questioning how we do our jobs. Like that guy in Godfather said, n—-s are animals! We have to control them, so that they only destroy themselves!

(Dunn and Wafer raise their hands to show their handcuffs)

Zimmerman (to Dunn and Wafer): Y’all were just stupid enough to get caught snorting and drinking after you defended yourselves!

(Group breaks out in laughter again)

Narrator: Mr. Pantaleo, what about your background?

Pantaleo: The best training I had for the NYPD was from Tarzan and Wild Kingdom. I learned my hand-to-hand fighting skills from them. Also, WWE prepared me good, too.

Narrator: So, when you put Eric Garner in a choke-hold—

Pantaleo: It was like taking down a bull or buffalo! My heart was pumping so hard, I could feel the blood flowing inside my head! That fool should had just fallen to the ground so I could cuff his Black ass!

Wilson: And that’s what these suspects don’t get. When they see us coming, don’t walk, don’t run, don’t grab for anything, don’t hold your hands up. Lay down like you’re dead, and we won’t have to put you down.

Narrator: Mr. Kerrick, you haven’t joined the conversation yet. Do you have anything to add?

Kerrick: Just that my case is still pending. I can’t talk about it much.

Narrator: You shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell, correct?

Kerrick: I can’t talk about that. I–

Zimmerman: Dude, you got a raw deal!

Pantaleo: You should work for the NYPD. Police never get indicted for going hunting here!

(Group breaks out in laughter again)

————————————————–

Bryan Cranston as Walter White, Breaking Bad, Season 4, 2013, "I am the danger!" (not the only White as danger, either). (http://www.giphy.com).

Bryan Cranston as Walter White, Breaking Bad, Season 4, 2013, “I am the danger!” (not the only White as danger, either). (http://www.giphy.com).

On second thought, maybe we don’t need to apply social science thinking to these White men (in thought, if not entirely in genetics). We have a century’s worth of studies of White supremacy and systemic racism already, showing that vile men grow out of a vile system.


Biting Off Too Much, And Almost Choking On It

December 3, 2014

"Bush Gag" cartoon, Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune, November 5, 2008. (http://dailykos.com). Qualifies as fair use under copyright laws -- low resolution picture.

“Bush Gag” cartoon, Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune, November 5, 2008. (http://dailykos.com). Qualifies as fair use under copyright laws — low resolution picture.

I’m someone who’s in a state of constant learning, constantly wanting to challenge myself and others to be better, to do more and better. I don’t apologize for this. But I do need to acknowledge that too often, I exert so much pressure on myself to excel that I take on a Thanksgiving feast’s worth of challenges. More times than not, I come through on the other side, but frequently in need of the Heimlich maneuver to keep from suffocating on it all.

For those of you who are still in undergrad or have recently finished, or at least, still remember clearly the details of this part of your academic journey, this story is most poignant for you. After years of relying mostly on my great memory and very good writing skills to be the very good student I’d been over the previous decade, I wanted to do better, to not have to scramble in the last three weeks of a sixteen-week semester and look like a dog with a serious constipation problem trying to void, like almost two-thirds of the sickly, underdressed, raccoon-eyed students I’d seen on campus during my first two years at the University of Pittsburgh.

As I wrote at the end of my coming-of-age memoir Boy @ The Window:

reasoned that I needed to have balance to my semesters so that I wouldn’t spend the last two or three weeks of them playing catch up. Starting with the fall of ’89, I took all my syllabi from all of my classes, grabbed a calendar, and crafted a table where I knew exactly what to read, when to study, and when to begin my research and writing projects for each class I had in a semester. That way, I could know when to slack off or party, when to buckle down and study, and when to just shift into academic cruise control.

Hall-of-Fame QB Warren Moon with Houston Oilers, throwing from within pocket on his 527-yd passing day against the Kansas City Chiefs, December 16, 1990. (http://spokeo.com).

Hall-of-Fame QB Warren Moon with Houston Oilers, throwing from within pocket on his 527-yd passing day against the Kansas City Chiefs, December 16, 1990. (http://spokeo.com).

Those were literally my words and thoughts from a quarter-century ago. I also decided to become more organized because, thinking back, I knew that I couldn’t be a scrambling student in grad school. At least one who could be consistent and successful, who could sit and step up in the pocket and deliver academic darts for touchdowns — to use one of the many football analogies I would’ve said in ’89 (and probably now, too). All I knew was that after the spring semester — with thirty-six-hour workweeks and five courses — that I wanted more time to hang out with friends, to even maybe date.

Only, I was dumb enough to take third-semester calculus a year and a half after my last math course, and I was now a history major taking writing intensive courses. But at the time, I had my very good reasons. I was only one course shy of a minor in mathematics, which I figured would look good on my academic resume when I did apply to grad schools. I wanted to learn the basics about differential equations, because I was just that kind of guy. I wanted, most of all, to challenge myself, because that part of my Humanities indoctrination had stayed with me well beyond my high school graduation.

That course was a struggle, mostly because my attention was split between writing papers and reading thick history texts, constitutional law books and African American literature on the one hand, and math equations on the other. Fourteen months away from derivates and integrals and volumes was too long for me. I couldn’t really adjust to being in a lecture hall with nearly 400 students, being in memorization mode, no longer with much in common with this huge group of STEM-inclined classmates. By the middle of October, I was miserable whenever it was time to march up that hill to Benedum Hall.

A simple first-order linear differential equation (nothing "simple" about it), December 2, 2014. (http://revisionworld.com/).

A simple first-order linear differential equation (nothing “simple” about it), December 2, 2014. (http://revisionworld.com/).

But it did get worse. About a month before the end of that semester, my friend Terri looped me into unwittingly setting up my friend Marc with our mutual friend Michele. And it worked! All too well, as I realized that I had a bit of a crush on Michele myself, but only after they’d started dating. It was a rocky last three weeks of ’89. I managed a 2.98 GPA that terrible semester, including a D+ in multiple integrals and differential equations. I missed a C- in that class by two-tenths of a point. Terrible by my own standards.

Lessons here, if any? Don’t bite off more than you can chew, maybe? I know that three admissions committees used that D+ against me in either rejecting me outright or in not offering me fellowship money to cover tuition when I applied to grad schools a year later. So, one other lesson could be to not take unnecessary risks, to not challenge myself. That would be the wrong lesson, though.

The real lesson would be to know our limitations, that we can’t be all things to ourselves and others and do well at all things all the time, that we have a finite amount of time and choices, in school and in life. With so much going on in my life these days, it’s still a lesson of which I have to keep reminding myself, practically every single day.


For What It’s Worth, My Life Matters, Our Lives Matter

November 27, 2014

Protestors hold a die-in at 14th and I St NW, Washington, DC, November 25, 2014.  (Andrea McCarren/WUSA via http://www.wusa9.com)

(For What It’s Worth) Protestors hold a die-in at 14th and I St NW, Washington, DC, November 25, 2014. (Andrea McCarren/WUSA via http://www.wusa9.com)

Between Bob McCullough, Darren Wilson, the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, the NYPD, Rudy Giuliani, the Cleveland PD, and 100 million other sources, I could easily draw the conclusion that the lives of Americans of color are only worth as much as three cigarillos or a toy gun. Or, with it being 2014, that we’re just characters in a video game in which scared Whites get to kill us for sport or out of spite. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ferguson PD allows Wilson to mount Michael Brown’s skull above his mantle after he returns from his long-delayed honeymoon, the poor racist!

But my life, your life, all of our lives are worth more than what any racist asshole or system places on us. I had to learn this lesson a long time ago. It’s the lesson that is the raison d’etre for my blog Notes from a Boy @ The Window, not to mention my book Boy @ The Window. There are literally millions of messages we as Americans of color take in over the course of our lives that for so many, our lives don’t matter. Counterintuitively, it means our lives really must matter. Why would anyone or any system expend so much time and effort excluding people on the basis of race and social status in the first place?

Café Crème cigarillos, Denmark, October 21, 2011.  (PeddderH via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-SA-3.0.

Café Crème cigarillos, Denmark, October 21, 2011. (PeddderH via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC-SA-3.0.

Still, learning that I mattered began at home, in Mount Vernon, New York, from folks who treated me every day as if I mattered not at all. Between my Humanities and Mount Vernon High School experiences and the abuse I suffered at home, I didn’t need the additional dimension of police harassment or White vigilantism to remind me that those of us without standing, who refused to conform to acceptable ways of thinking and speaking, were discardable. Maybe that’s why I turned to nondenominational Christianity in the first place. To realize that despite it all, that I mattered to God, to a universe much bigger and much more mysterious and powerful than the fists of my stepfather or the denigration and ostracism I received at school. It all gave me reasons to live.

So when my first encounters with police harassment and White vigilantism did occur (beginning right after my seventeen birthday), I had faith in God, and with that, faith in myself as a foundation from which to draw strength. Whether at Tower Records or in Pittsburgh or in Los Angeles, and regardless of how scared I might have felt during those moments, I remained outwardly calm. I remained myself.

Yes, I was lucky. Maybe my weirdness, my proper speech, my faith, maybe even God and the universe, kept me from getting beat up or shot on sight by police, security guards or by groups of drunken White guys in pickup trucks. But really, by the time Whites (and some Black cops, to be sure) started profiling me in earnest, I had made the decision that I had worth, that my existence, creativity, analytical ability, critical reasoning, all mattered.

It helped that I had victories in my life, big and small and somewhere in between, to draw on, too. Not just my advanced education or my first publications. By the time I’d hit thirty, I’d learned how to love again, to feel again, to write again, to have fun again, to even feel pain and recover again. All of that made my life much sweeter, filled my world with color and sound and texture, with words and deeds that mattered to me and everyone who’d become important to me.

W.E.B. Du Bois in duality (double-consciousness), original picture circa 1903, November 26, 2014. (http://www.storify.com/ozunamartin).

W.E.B. Du Bois in duality (double-consciousness), original picture circa 1903, November 26, 2014. (http://www.storify.com/ozunamartin).

While there are moments that I can go there, because of the likes of Wilson, McCullough and Giuliani, the fact is, I refuse to allow dumb-assed racists to determine my life’s worth. That those folk who devalue the lives of other folk because of their -isms (racism, misogyny, homophobia, imperialism, capitalism) and ish are in fact making their own lives worth less and worthless.

While W.E.B. Du Bois was right about this “peculiar sensation…this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others,” I don’t think I live my life in a constant state of double-consciousness. If I did, I would’ve jumped off that bridge over the Hutchinson River Parkway long before adulthood. No, up or down, I know my life has meaning, my existence is worth more than a 9mm bullet, that every sentient life matters. And like Michelle Alexander’s talk with her son this week, I’ve made sure that my son knows that his life matters, and should matter, to him, his mother, and to me.


A Diarrhea Football Sunday

November 23, 2014

Porthcawl, Wales takes a battering from a fierce Atlantic storm, February 5, 2014. (Getty Images, via http://www.express.co.uk).

Porthcawl, Wales takes a battering from a fierce Atlantic storm, February 5, 2014. (Getty Images, via http://www.express.co.uk).

I’m probably going to disgust a few of you who read this post. I promise I won’t go into a slurry of detail about this particular experience. It’s just that after years of gastrointestinal issues, I’ve learned a thing or two about triggers and coping strategies that may be helpful to folks.

Haagen-Dazs specialty milkshakes (my son had the $7 cookies and cream yesterday), November 23, 2014 (posted June 10, 2011). (http://www.qsrmagazine.com/).

Haagen-Dazs specialty milkshakes (my son had the $7 cookies and cream yesterday), November 23, 2014 (posted June 10, 2011). (http://www.qsrmagazine.com/).

This weekend thirty years ago, I learned for the first time that my body handled stress in a unique and painful way. I should’ve been aware of this much sooner than a month before my fifteenth birthday, and should’ve figured out how to counteract this long before my mid-thirties. I’d seen signs of it. The mugging I suffered from when I was nine in ’79. The recent broken toilet incident at 616. My inability to drink a chocolate milkshake from Carvel’s without the need to find a bathroom within forty-five minutes of my first sip.

But it wasn’t until the Sunday after Thanksgiving ’84, November 25th, that I recognized the link between the constant stress I felt and my G/I tract issues. It was a brisk late November day, like so many that time of year. The Giants were playing a big game in East Rutherford, against the Kansas City Chiefs. With a 7-5 record at the time, the Giants were fighting with both the Cowboys and Redskins for playoff position. They’d been on a roll of late, having won three of their previous four, including one on the road against Danny White’s Cowboys.

That’s what I thought about as the 1 pm game time approached. It wasn’t the only thing on my mind, though. It had been a long and stressful couple of months prior to this semi-break of a Thanksgiving weekend. This stretch included arguments with my Mom, including one in which I almost moved out. It included incidents with my teachers, especially Ms. Zini. It also included too many weekends of tracking down my father for money — including money that he owed us for working down in the city with him since the end of September. And washing clothes, and grocery shopping, and watching after Maurice, Yiscoc, Sarai and Eri, and cleaning the apartment.

Somewhere in all of this, I must’ve picked up a stomach bug, from either my younger siblings or from something I ate. At least that’s what I thought at the time. The toilet became my constant companion throughout that afternoon, as a stepfather-free Sunday gave me and my older brother Darren the opportunity to watch the Giants game without interruption. That was, except from my stomach.

Flour water in a jar, November 23, 2014. (Donald Earl Collins).

Flour water in a jar, November 23, 2014. (Donald Earl Collins).

I really didn’t know why I’d been on the toilet five times in two hours, but between that and Phil Simms’ lousy play in the first three quarters of the game (three interceptions, no touchdown passes), I felt really ill. My Mom suggested that I should drink flour water to settle my stomach. “Yuck” was the only thing I thought of her idea. The flour water thought had crossed my own mind, too though.

After Kansas City scored to take a 27-14 lead with a bit more than ten minutes left, I finally had an idea much more pleasant than flour water. I hadn’t eaten all day, and barely anything the night before. So I took five dollars of my Jimme money and went down the street to the local pizza shop. I order a slice of Sicilian with extra cheese. As thick as this shop made their Sicilians, I figured that would plug up my intestines.

While I waited for them to warm up my slice, I listened to the Giants game, which they had on their TV in the back of the shop. Simms had rallied the team and driven them down the field for a touchdown by the time I paid for my Sicilian slice. That actually lifted my spirits a bit.

I was hurting, so I didn’t wait. After I walked out of the shop, I took two big bites of my slice to see if it would help. By the time I made it to the front of 616, I let out a gigantic belch, and then my stomach, which had felt like a nor’easter in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for hours, had finally calmed.

A good-looking Sicilian slice (my shop would've wrapped it in aluminum, though), November 23, 2014. (http://slice.seriouseats.com).

A good-looking Sicilian slice (my shop would’ve wrapped it in aluminum, though), November 23, 2014. (http://slice.seriouseats.com).

After I made it back upstairs to our place, the Giants had the ball again with less than three minutes in the game. They were driving on the Chiefs’ side of the field, in a two-minute drill. As I sat, ate and belched, Simms actually drove all the way down field for game-winning touchdown, a short pass to Zeke Mowatt. They won the game 28-27! I was stunned!

I learned a lot on that diarrhea football Sunday. For me, even watching a football game was stress-inducing. That sleeplessness and running myself down, the pressures of 616 and school, the pressure I put on myself, all manifested physiologically in my G/I tract. Sometimes escaping into comfort food, being pleasantly surprised by success, even someone’s else success, could calm my stomach. Sometimes not. Becoming fully aware of how my body responded to stress, though, would turn out to be a blessing, saving me from many moments of embarrassment over the years.


Bill Cobsy, The Nexus of Father Figure and Power Corruption

November 20, 2014

Jell-O Pudding Pops ad with Bill Cosby, circa 1983, November 20, 2014. (http://pinterest.com).

Jell-O Pudding Pops ad with Bill Cosby, circa 1983, November 20, 2014. (http://pinterest.com).

In the aftermath of my Mom’s second divorce in September ’89, she would sometimes engage me in conversations about manhood and fatherhood. It was as if she didn’t think of me as a man in really any sense at all. This despite years of handling adult responsibilities and running interference between her and my now ex-stepfather Maurice.

George Michael, "Father Figure" video screen shot, 1988. (http://vevo.com).

George Michael, “Father Figure” video screen shot, 1988. (http://vevo.com).

One Christmas holiday day in ’90, we were sitting in the living room at 616 watching a rerun of The Cosby Show on NBC, then the most popular show on the most popular network in the US. My Mom asked me, “If you could pick your father, you’d want it to be Cosby, right?” I stared blankly at my Mom, wondering where the heck that question came from. I didn’t say anything. But my Mom took that as me thinking, “Yeah, he would’ve been a great father for you.”

At the time, I certainly thought that Bill Cosby would’ve been an entertaining father, if I’d been lucky enough to have a near-billionaire as my dad. What I really wanted was my father, Jimme Collins, to get himself sober, to be lucid enough to talk to now that I was in my twenties. Beyond this, I didn’t give Cosby or my Mom’s question and comments much thought.

Over the years, I’ve watched TV dads come and go, frequently with some tragedy or controversy. Robert Reed of The Brady Bunch (1969-74) fame comes to mind, with his in-the-closet status and his early death from colon cancer and HIV complications. So too does Conrad Bain, because of the backlash Diff’rent Strokes (1978-86) received as a result of its dated way of treating issues such as race and poverty with his character Phillip Drummond as the father to two Black kids, not because of his personal life. But Bill Cosby as Dr. Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable, an obstetrician and gynecologist (talk about irony) and father of four daughters and one son, became for many “America’s Dad,” a title that the media has celebrated recently in the wake of The Cosby Show‘s thirtieth anniversary of its first airing earlier this fall. He was supposed to be above reproach.

Bill Cosby in midst of his "Pound Cake" speech (with Rev. Jesse Jackson in background), NAACP 50th Anniversary of Brown decision gala, Washington, DC, May 17, 2004. (http://blackpast.com).

Bill Cosby in midst of his “Pound Cake” speech (with Rev. Jesse Jackson in background), NAACP 50th Anniversary of Brown decision gala, Washington, DC, May 17, 2004. (http://blackpast.com).

I’ve long been disappointed with Cosby, though. For his culture-of-poverty arguments against welfare mothers, crack babies and pregnant teenagers. For his frequent need to chastise Blacks living in poverty for not knowing “proper moral behavior” (this from a person who purportedly holds a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts). Not to mention his double-standard on monogamy.

Now even the oblivious set has become aware of the growing number of accusations from women who’ve said that Cosby had allegedly committed rape and other forms of sexual assault going back at least thirty-two years. I’ve been aware of these accusations and rumors for nearly twenty years, in the wake of Cosby’s son Ennis’ death in ’97. I hoped that these accusations were false ones at first. Who would want to believe that “America’s Dad,” the Jell-O Pudding and Pudding Pop Man, was also drugging and raping women in his spare time?

I think what we need to recognize the most, maybe even more than systemic racism or our culture of imperialism and violence, is that this society of ours is somewhere between an oligarchy and a plutocracy. Bill Cosby’s stance on race, community and morals has only mattered because of his fame and fortune, not because of his expertise and certainly not because of his professional experience. Bill Cosby’s a comedian, an actor, a philanthropist and a philanderer, and perhaps a rapist as well. Americans all too frequently fall for the facade of father figures and others whom seem to say what we want to hear. When all those with power and money really want to do is to wield that power and money to their own capricious and narcissistic ends.


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