Lightning On A Cloudless Day

June 25, 2012

When lightning strikes out of a blue sky, July 29, 2011. ( via Getty Images).

The worst summer of my entire life began thirty years ago on this date, within hours of having survived the worst school year I ever had. Between unrequited love and low-level ostracism, Crush #1 and Captain Zimbabwe, I made a pact with myself on the twenty-fifth of June, the last day of seventh grade, to keep the humiliation that I endured that year from ever happening again (see my post “The Legend of ‘Captain Zimbabwe’” from May ’09).

After school that balmy Friday afternoon, me, Mom, my baby brothers Maurice (or Menelek, his Hebrew-Israelite name) and Yiscoc, and my older brother Darren’s “counselor” Mrs. Karen Holtslag went to Willson’s Woods Pool. The pool and the park were about two blocks from 616, the largest park in Mount Vernon. It included large picnic areas, a children’s playground, a large municipal pool (one of the few public pools in the city), and a concessions stand.

Mom and Mrs. Holtslag met to discuss Darren’s “progress” and his psychological needs (see my post “Summer Camp” from June ’09). The rest of us were there to have fun. It was one of those rare times where I got a chance to spend time with my younger siblings without thinking about their terrible fate, to have Maurice as their biological father. It would be like having Damien from The Omen movie series as the man of the house. Baby Maurice and Yiscoc needed this time out of the house more than I did, at least that’s what I thought at the time.

Vernon Woods condo community (once public housing or projects) on Pearsall Drive, 2012. (

I witnessed their father Maurice abuse baby Maurice and neglect Yiscoc on too many occasions. My stepfather once beat the six-month-old Maurice with a belt to keep him quiet because he was trying to sleep, and would forget to change his diapers while we were in school. Mom eventually found a babysitter to watch baby Maurice, but the damage was already done. Even though nearly three years old, baby Maurice had never said a word. The eleven-month-old Yiscoc had been stunningly quiet since his birth. Maybe Mrs. Holtslag should’ve been counseling Mom about them, not Darren.

Mom gave me a $10 bill to buy some snacks at the concession stand for everyone. As I walked over dreaming of hot dogs and mini-pizzas, careless me had the bill only half in my right hand. A big kid magically materialized, ran by and snatched the money from my hand. It seemed like God suspended the rules of time as soon as it happened. The moment that the thief grabbed the bill it felt as if a lightning bolt had ripped through the clear blue sky on that bright summer day. I knew deep down that my summer would mirror the previous fall, winter, and spring.

Chris Rock as “Pookie” from New Jack City (1991), June 24, 2012. (

When my stepfather found out about my tragic error, he demanded that I tell him exactly who stole the money. “I’m not sure. I think it’s some guy named ‘Pookie’,” I said. Maurice walked over to me, poked me in the chest, and told me to get the money back from Pookie in two weeks. I said, “I can get the money from Jimme,” but he didn’t want to hear that, shaking his head in the process. I pointed out that Pookie was much bigger than me, and that I didn’t know where he lived. Maurice told me to “find out where he lives!” Otherwise I would get a “whuppin’.”

I spent nearly two weeks asking questions and running around the Pearsall Drive projects (now the more affluent Vernon Woods condo community, bought from the city and converted in ’84 or ’85) looking for Pookie after that. I learned that he was sixteen years old, about five-foot-ten, and lived with his mother on the fourth floor of one of the six buildings in the project community. I hadn’t seen him once in my eleven days of snooping since the robbery. I was terrified to be at 616, and too scared to be outside. I spent my afternoons when I wasn’t out on one of my Pookie hunts in 616’s stairwells and basements crying and thinking. I thought, “Why me?”

But not-so-deep-down, I knew why. I stopped acting like Maurice was my father and a changed man after what he did to Mom. This was punishment for not fulfilling the Torah’s law regarding fathers and mothers, “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days be long on the land that the Lord hath giveth thee.” “Yeah, right!,” I thought. We had no land, no promised land, and no prayed-for-land either. And Maurice, well, if he was my father, then what did that mean for me, Darren, and Jimme? Torah or no Torah, I swore that I’d never call my bastard stepfather “Dad” again.

Dumb Ass Communications, Inc.

March 8, 2011

Lion and Sun, December 30, 2006. Original by [ CAIS

Of all my one-time stepfather Maurice Washington’s get-rich-quick schemes, the one that was the most elaborate, most expensive, most ridiculous of ideas was one that initially had some promise. In the year after he and my mother reconciled while making us all into Hebrew-Israelites in ’81, he concocted the idea of beginning a media entertainment business.

His great vision was to start a business that catered to Blacks audiences in TV and radio land, one that would redefine how media would in fact reach niche audiences. Maurice wanted to call it Sun-Lion Communications, partly after his Hebrew-Israelite moniker, Judah ben Israel, a lion of Jehovah. Of course, the dumb ass didn’t know that he was following a combination of Babylonian astrological, Persian and

Sun Lion Coin, 13th Century, Seljuq Turks. Source:

Islamic traditions in the process.

The plan grew from an idea at the end of ’81 into a full-fledged business proposal during ’82. So much so that my mother took $2,500 of the precious and pitiful few funds we had and bought a business license to incorporate this Sun-Lion Communications. In fact, she did that this time twenty-nine years ago. The one thing that my mother did right in doing so, that stuck in Maurice’s craw for years afterward, was to get a business license in her name, not my stepfather’s.

That was one of the underlying reasons for the Memorial Day ’82 incident in which Maurice drop-kicked my mother into unconsciousness — besides him being an asshole, of course. My mother may have made many dumb decisions over the years, but she wasn’t an idiot. Maurice had plenty of ideas before. When we first met the blowhard in ’77, Maurice told me and my older brother Darren that he was “a writer, a lawyer and a doctor.” All while driving a Reliable Taxi cab in Mount Vernon. Even at the age of seven, I wasn’t that naive. I knew enough to ask, “So how many books have you written?” But he did write. Street poetry and a few half-worked out plays. With time, focus and a lot of hard work, who knows?

Maurice, though, never wanted to work that hard. After losing his cab driver job on April 30, ’79 because he was literally caught sleeping at the wheel, he’d been unemployed for more than three years. At one point prior to him and my mother separating before becoming a Hebrew-Israelite, Maurice had the idea of starting a restaurant, to which my mother said, “Yeah, if you wanna eat us outta business!” in response.

I digress. After Memorial Day ’82 and spending most of June and July abusing me — I was a witness, to domestic violence, after all — Maurice finally got a job. It was as a part-time security guard for the closed Vicks plant in the middle of Wilson Woods (it’s a school now, I think). Within a few weeks of working the night and weekend shifts guarding the empty building, Maurice found inspiration. He had a “vision from God” that this empty shell was where Sun-Lion Communications would be headquartered, with studios, satellites, soundproofing, and so many other things a media business would need.

Although the idea still had promise (Bob Johnson had started BET only three years earlier, mind you), it was a high-risk business, with national cable in its early toddler stage. Not to mention our own growling stomachs, my mother consistently three weeks behind in rent, and us facing Con Ed’s warnings of our electricity being cutoff because we were $180 behind on that too.

That led to one of my mother and Maurice’s classic 616 arguments at the end of October ’82. In the living room, with all of our run-down furniture, Maurice was bellyaching about my mother’s refusal to put the business license in his name and her lack of emotional support. “I support a candy shop if we had the money, but we don’t,” she said. With Maurice yelling, demanding, “Give me the license, woman!,” I started worrying, as I was in the kitchen, drying dishes from the wonderful dinner of Great Northern Beans and rice. It was the standard meal when the idiot decided that he should play the role of stepfather and father and help feed us.

“How much you think this gonna cost?,” my mother finally asked.

“A hundred million dollars,” Maurice said.

“Man, you must be a fool!” my mother yelled. “With that kind of money, why would I need to start a business? You must think I’m pea-brained idiot!”

“You are!” Maurice yelled as he walked out the living room, went into the master bedroom, put on his clothes and coat and then came back up front, and left.

That was the last time I heard about Sun-Lion Communications. My ex-stepfather was and remains a dumb ass, never having found his way in this world, and about as good at business as he’s been as maintaining a proper diet and good health.


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