Killing Joe Trotter

June 10, 2014

Yeah, I did it. I killed the man who kinged himself mentor over me. I took some piano wire, tightened it around my hands while listening to him yammer on an on about “running interference” to protect “my interests.

As the pointy-headed, smoothly bald and mahogany man gazed at my thesis, myopically gazing into nowhere, I pounced. I quickly jumped out of my seat and took Trotter from behind. He clutched at the wire with his elderly left hand as I pulled and tugged, hoping to prolong the bloody agony for as long as I could. Trotter choked for air, then choked for real, as spit, bile, blood and tongue all became his substitute for oxygen. Then, with one bicep curl and pull, I garroted his throat, and watched as his already dead eyes turned lifeless. All as his burgundy blood poured down his white shirt and gray suit. It collected into a small pond, where his pants crotch and his mahogany office chair met. Trotter’s was a chair that was now fully endowed all right. Thanks to my righteous stand.

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Tired, mentally drained, battery, March 2014. (http://blog.batterysharks.com/).

Tired, mentally drained, battery, March 2014. (http://blog.batterysharks.com/).

First, a disclaimer. I am in no way advocating killing Joe Trotter, or any other professor, whether they’re a great advisor or a terrible one (except perhaps in the case of literal self-defense). This was how I imagined what I could do to Trotter in the spring and summer of ’96, as our battles over my dissertation and my future turned from typical to ugly. By mid-July ’96, after his handwritten all-caps comments telling me to disregard my evidence on Black migration to DC during the Great Migration period (1915-30) — or really, the lack of evidence — I was mentally drained. I went back to our first big arguments over my future, the “you’re not ready” meetings from November ’95 and April ’96, and thought about what I could’ve done if I’d stayed in his office five minutes longer. That’s when I imagined killing my advisor for the first time.

By the time Trotter and my dissertation committee had approved my magnum opus, the week before Thanksgiving in ’96, I’d played that scenario in my head at least a dozen times. That’s when I knew I was burned out from the whole process. I may have become Dr. Collins, but I might as well have been my younger and abused self, the one who had to wade through five years of suffering at 616 and in Mount Vernon just to get to college.

Four months ago, I actually dreamed about killing Joe Trotter, exactly as described above, in his office, on a warm spring day like I imagined eighteen years ago. Keep in mind, I don’t think about Trotter much these days, other than when I write a blog post or am in a discussion of worst dissertation advisors ever. So when I woke up from this old-imagination-turned-dream, I had a Boy @ The Window moment and revelation. Did my struggles with Trotter open up old wounds, unearth my deliberately buried past? Did I see my fight with Trotter over my dissertation in the same light as my guerrilla warfare with my abusive and manipulative ex-stepfather?

I obviously brought baggage into my doctoral process that I’d hidden from everyone, including myself, and hadn’t fully resolved. The fact that Trotter was at times tyrannical, deceitful and paternalistic didn’t help matters. In some ways, then, Trotter must’ve morphed into Maurice Washington during the dissertation process, with me only half-realizing it once I was freshly minted.

Emotional and psychological baggage, January 2014. (http://www.projecteve.com/).

Emotional and psychological baggage, January 2014. (http://www.projecteve.com/).

I actually went to Trotter’s office a few weeks after I graduated, to apologize for how our relationship devolved, and to grant him my forgiveness as well. Arrogant as my act was, I needed to make the gesture, to at least begin my healing process. I knew Trotter was beyond surprised, but he shook my hand anyway. I also knew, as I walked away from his Baker Hall office, that other than a letter of recommendation, Trotter no longer had anything to offer me. At least, anything that would help me resolve some deep, underlying issues.

It’s safe to say that of all the reasons that led to me writing Boy @ The Window, my problems with Trotter in ’95 and ’96 were near the top of the list. Still, I needed to kill the idea that Trotter was an indispensable part of my present and future, if I were to ever resolve the issues from my growing-up past.


A Baseball Bat and a Father’s Absence

July 19, 2011

One Louisville Slugger, July 19, 2011. (Source/http://businessweek.com)

Today my father Jimme (his birth certificate name, as he actually goes by Jimmie) turns seventy-one. He’s in better health now than he was ten, twenty, and especially thirty years ago. That’s because this time in ’81, my father had apparently died for a few seconds on the operating table as doctors drilled into his brain to relieve pressure after a man did his best to dispatch him from this world. The incident, operation and time in the hospital meant that Jimme would be out of my life for almost fifteen months. It meant that I’d have a question to answer: what does a preteen boy do when his father is absent, and his best friend has shunned him? For that matter, what does a Black kid do under those circumstances?

But I’m jumping ahead of my story here. For over a week in July ’81, my father lingered in an ICU bed in Mount Vernon Hospital after he’d been reported dead in the Obituary section of the Mount Vernon Daily Argus. Jimme ended up in the hospital because he’d made fun of another, bigger drunk, calling him a “po’

Grandpa, Me, and Noah, September 12, 2010. (Source/Donald Earl Collins)

ass muddafucca” at what we called “Wino Park” on South Fulton and East Third. So much was the humiliation that the man marched home, grabbed a Louisville Slugger, and returned to repeatedly smash my dad in the head until he was unconscious. Luckily, Jimme has a classic Collins head, hard enough to be used as a wrecking ball or 120 mm shell.

His near-death experience was not all that shocking for us, at least not obviously so. My father’s life in the New York City area had turned into a slow motion tragedy of errors long before I was old enough to witness one of his drinking binges and hangovers. And Jimme regularly went on alcohol-laced benders, ones that began on payday Friday and ended on Monday or Tuesday. As he liked to say, he “got to’ up” almost every weekend — “tore up” for those unfamiliar with Jimme-ese. This was going on for years before Mom had filed for divorce in July ’76.

Jimme also had a habit of saying, “O’ bo’, I can’t do dis no mo’. Gotta stop doin’ dis. Nex’ week, nex’ week. I’ll stop drinkin’ nex’ week.” All while shaking his head, his eyes down, ashamed of how he felt and looked once the binge had ended. Jimme never said “now” or “this week.” It was always next week with him. If there was any week where “nex’ week” should’ve been the week, it was that Friday in early July.

With that incident, the next time I’d see my father would be July ’82, being threatened by my stupid stepfather, who chased Jimme out of 616 for trying to see me. Dumb ass Maurice was in the middle of his five-week, abuse-and-break-Donald program, and didn’t want my real father interrupting his efforts to turn me into his prag. Witnessing that incident wasn’t a pleasant experience.

From July ’81 through August ’82, with Jimme absent and Starling no longer my friend, I really had no other Black males in my life with whom I could draw inspiration. My older brother Darren? He was already jealous of me and had withdrawn into the world of The Clear View School, acting out his role as a mentally retarded kid who wasn’t mentally retarded. My uncle Sam (my mother’s brother)? Really? I’ve seen him more in the past ten years, with me living in suburban DC, than I saw him through the ’80s and ’90s.

That left my idiot stepfather, who, at least in the summer of ’81, was there, and had gotten back together with

Wolf in sheep's clothing, a false prophet (a symbol of my ex-stepfather), November 2008. (Source/flickr.com)

my mother, and had converted us into Hebrew-Israelites. This must’ve been why I clung so hard and so long to my kufi identity, even when I knew that something was wrong. With this sudden change in religion, from lethargic and unacknowledged Baptists to Afrocentric Black Jews. With me treating my stepfather as if he really was a parent of mine. With me wanting to prove myself to others in ways I never felt I needed to before.

This wasn’t something I was conscious of, at least in ’81 or in the first half of ’82. I wish I had been. At least, then, I would’ve realized. That, more than anything else, I missed my dad and my best friend. And I was using my stepfather and his religion as a piss-poor substitute for both.


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