Thursday, August 28, 2008

Summer of ’88—Bring That Beat Back!

A few years back, I was itching to write a book about the summer of ’88. It was supposed to be about four high school friends who had formed a rap group but were about to graduate and go their separate ways—that pivotal moment when the future lies so breathlessly ahead, filled with excitement and trepidation, and the dread of leaving the familiar behind. But mostly, Summer of ‘88 was supposed to be about the music—hip-hop. I mean, damn, look what came out between May and September that year:

Public Enemy It Takes a Nation of Millions…
Eric B & Rakim Follow the Leader
Boogie Down Productions By All Means Necessary
EPMD Strictly Business
Big Daddy Kane Long Live the Kane
Schoolly D Smoke Some Kill
Jungle Brothers Straight out the Jungle
Marley Marl In Control
Biz Markie Goin’ Off
Run-DMC Tougher Than Leather
De La Soul “Potholes in My Lawn”
Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock “It Takes Two”
MC Lyte Lyte as a Rock
Salt N Pepa A Salt with a Deadly Pepa
Doug E. Fresh The World’s Greatest Entertainer
Stetsasonic In Full Gear
Kid N Play 2 Hype
Audio Two What More Can I Say?
Eazy-E “Eazy-Duz-It” EP

My original thinking was that, while there have been great moments in music (1968-72 in all genres; the birth of jazz, be-bop, punk, etc.), but rarely—if ever—have so many important records in any given genre had been released in such a short time.

But ultimately, nobody seemed terribly interested. I started to think that I was deluding myself. I mean, I know music is associative—that we often imbue songs with meanings they don’t necessarily have—we often associate what’s going on in our lives with the music we love. I heard Sting once marvel that couples considered his stalker ode, “Every Breath You Take,” their song. Reactionary patriots’ heads explode singing the protest song, “Born in the USA” on the Fourth. Booker T & the MGs’ “Green Onions” was a Civil Rights anthem, and that’s an instrumental.

So, maybe the summer of ’88 wasn’t all that. After all, that was the year I graduated from high school. I was on top of the world, full of optimism, going off to the college of my dreams. It was a great time in my life. The soundtrack had to be great, too.

Or, maybe I was just being nostalgic, pulling that annoying, “You kids don’t know music. Now, back in my day, that was music!” Hopefully not. I’m hoping that summer’s music was really as great as I remember it.

I feel that nostalgia is a trap. It looks at the past through a distorted lens, harkening back to an idyll that never existed. We forget the bad and mediocre and treat the extraordinary as the norm. The ‘80s Reaganites always heralded a queer, Leave It to Beaver 1950s—conveniently forgetting the segregation, sexism, homophobia, and HUAC of the era. Baby Boomers still drone on and on about how they “changed the world” like they were all on that bus, got shot at Kent State, and high at Woodstock. They never seem to mention that the rates of crime, divorce, and pretension were never higher than in their heyday (they also forget that W. is a Boomer—well, he definitely did change the world).

Doom and gloom are telltale signs of middle age. No longer optimistic about their own futures, folks start condemning the present and lionize their own past. Reality, statistics don’t matter. You can’t tell a WWII vet that it was his generation that started the divorce boom because “you kids just don’t respect the institution of marriage.” You can’t tell a Boomer that these American streets haven’t been this safe since 1910 because “you kids just don’t respect the rule of law.”

And now we Gen X hip-hop heads are starting to do the same with our own experience. We are walking three miles uphill to school each way, calling ourselves the “Hip-Hop Generation” and the music we listened to “the Golden Age of Hip-Hop.” Now, we decry the detritus on the radio. Yeah, I think it sucks, too. But that’s because I’m 38 and their target audience is 12-25, not because it necessarily does. I just don’t get most of it. Neither do my compatriots, but they won’t admit it. Instead, we talk about how degrading the music is to black people, black women, and how it glamorizes gangs and drugs.

As though all the music before 1995 was one, big P.E. concert.

Well, it wasn’t. If you care to remember, Eazy E’s “Boyz N The Hood” came out in ’87. Before that, Ice T, Schoolly D, and ultra-conscious KRS-One were celebrating the “gangster” lifestyle (“Listen to my 9mm go bang!”). The Geto Boys were around. Eric B & Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” video was an ode to Capone.

For misogyny, what about LL’s “Dear Yvette” or the entire Just-Ice catalogue? How about a little Slick Rick? The Beasties said foul shit about women and boasted of shooting folks—just like EPMD.

All the things that the “Hip-Hop Generation” lambaste in today[‘s music, we ourselves consumed. How many of us danced to “Girls L.G.B.N.A.F.” or “Bitchez Ain’t Shit?” And we all loved Digital Underground, didn’t we?

Sure, we had more “happy rap,” like Kid ‘N’ Play and Kwame, and we had sisters spit instead of swallow Sprite cans; but this is of our own making. Yeah, we liked our Digables, but we went ape-shit over The Chronic. Common Sense was cool, but he was no “thug” like Tupac. Those afrohippy Roots wer nice—but damn! Did you see the ice on Biggie and Puffy.

Corporations heeded our call and modeled their future acts on the stuff we bought the most of. That’s what corporations do. Kids went crazy over the Beatles; we got the British Invasion. People loved disco so much the Fatback Band was replaced by Abba, and even Queen and the Stones came out with disco tracks. The early success of Van Halen and Motley Crue gave us the hair band. So, our love of Dre, Snoop, Tupac, and Biggie has given us the blinged-out thug in all his regional variations. We middle-aging heads have no one to blame but ourselves.

But wait! This is not how nostalgia works. Rewind, Selector!

The music today is just total bullshit! All that bitchez and hoz nonsense! We used to respect our women. We called them skeezers and strawberries. Not that foul shit these fools are saying! We treated them like prostitutes not tricks! Where is the respect? Where is the love? Where are all the positive messages we always used to listen to back in the day?!

Hm … all this sex talk …

Jane! Yvette! Roxanne! Latoya! Let’s go! Me so horny, me love you long time!

But seriously, folks, in a fit of nostalgia, I put a whole bunch of Old School hip-hop on My Booty Radio on

That's four and a half hours of gems from the Golden Age and Silver Age of rap and absolutely
nothing from the current "Tarnished Age." Enjoy!


Thanks, Yall!

I really appreciate all the kind words you've been emailing me about my friend, Chris. It means a lot. I just hope my little tribute did the man justice.



Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Popular Politics

Why do we have to like our public figures? Why do we have to know so much about them? Do we really need to relate to these people? Why does it matter in the least? Why aren’t even the dead exempt?

Why do I have to hear speculation about whether Abraham Lincoln were gay or not? He fought that Civil War. That’s all I care about. Hemingway may have been a cross-dresser? Oh, really? That still doesn’t tell me why I had to read A Farewell to Arms in high school. And if you told me Thomas Hardy was actually a black nationalist transsexual Satanist, I’d still be pissed about having to read The Mayor of Casterbridge.

But still, we have to know. And we have to approve. Of people’s past and present behavior. LeBron James curses out his mama. Christian Bale pimp-slaps his. Paris shaves, Lindsay shaves more, and Britney cuts it all off.

The paparazzi colonoscopy is constantly searching. Even politicians get the anal probe. Mark Foley wanted to give one to many of his young pages, Larry Craig was looking for one—or just his shoe laces—in an airport bathroom. John Edwards had to confess to probing a former employee. John McCain got in trouble for just looking like he wanted to probe a lobbyist.

All because we need to like not only our celebrities but our politicians as well? Not their policies, but their personae? “Sure, he started a pre-emptive war and lied about it, but he seems like a good guy.” Really? Is that why my brother pulled a tour in Iraq? Because you felt that you, working-class commoner, felt you could have a beer with W., whose family has been rich for a century and a half? Was he inviting you to the Skull and Bones Country Club or was he meeting you at the Bumblefuck Bar and Grille? Or was it that you looked into your TV screen, looked into his eyes, and just knew that he was pretty cool? Now, I realize that that’s a sound way to run foreign policy—and it’s working wonders for us in Russia and Pakistan—but it seems like a completely ridiculous way to vote for a politician.

And what’s even more ridiculous is that now we have to like a candidate’s spouse as well. I mean, why are Cindy McCain and Michelle Obama in the news at all? Cindy has a half-sister she won’t claim; Michelle’s an “angry black woman”; Cindy broke up John’s first marriage; Michelle had some shady dealings with a hospital board; they both love their “black” daughters.

Enough already. It’s petty and annoying. And I’m pissed that I fell for it last night. I mean, Michelle Obama’s a pretty impressive woman. She struck me as a strong, intelligent, talented, and incredibly dynamic woman in her own right. Her speech—her story—was utterly compelling. She seems to me to be a woman who can definitely hold her own and would definitely do us proud as the First Lady.

Michelle Obama is most definitely a strong woman, and weak men generally don’t fall for strong women. Russian mail order brides, trophy wives—or in Donald Trump’s case—both—but hardly ever a multiply Ivy League-trained attorney. It made me a bit more impressed with Barack himself.

But, in all honesty, Michelle Obama’s speech, no matter how eloquent, is not going to have me voting for her husband. I already have my reasons to do that. She’s had no effect on that whatsoever. And if he keeps up with that FISA crap, he could still lose my vote. And if Cindy McCain ends up being Mother Teresa, the Virgin Mary, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, and Vanessa del Rio combined, I still won’t be voting for McCain. Even if the three of us got drunk at a Redskins game and pissed on Daniel Snyder, I couldn’t do it. No matter how much I loved those two fools, no matter how many candlelit evenings we spent together, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes, how could that determine my vote? There are wars to be ended, jobs to be found, bridges to fix, healths to be cared for. What does a winning smile and dewy eyes have to do with anything? I can get those and much better music with Prince … but that doesn’t mean I want him in the Oval Office.

Though it would be cool to paint the White House purple.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chris de Coeur

Last night, just before going to bed, I went on the internet, and suddenly my world didn’t make sense. One of my boys, Chris “Crash” Pryor, died … 10 months ago. And I just found out last night?!

It made no kind of sense. I kept reading all these loving posts about his life, his writings, his spirit with disbelieving eyes. I thought it was some kind of joke. I mean, who the hell dies two days before their 36th birthday?! It just doesn’t happen. Eighteen, in a way, makes sense—something tragic and stupid—car crash, gun shot … Seventy-two, all right. You lived a full life. I hope you made it a good one. But a brother just doesn’t up and die walking to an ATM machine! Not at 36!

And I didn’t know. While my wife and I were waiting for our first child to enter the world, an old friend was leaving it. And I didn’t know. Chris and I were no longer a part of each other’s world. But shouldn’t I have known? There was a time when something like that couldn’t have happened. And now …

Chris was one of the first people to befriend me when I’d moved to Atlanta back in ’93. I’d been deported from the Czech Republic and Great Britain and moved to the ATL, broken, broke, and friendless, because my dad was there. I was lonely and really lost, and Chris and Hop quickly became my friends, my boys, my … you know.

For three years, those two were such a huge part of my life. Looking back, I’m amazed how much time you spend with your friends when you’re young, single, and unattached. The stupid things you do. The fun you have. And Chris was a blast—a wise-cracking, acerbic, too-smart-for-his-own-good blast. And we were boys. When I had, he had. When he had, I had. He was there when things were good, there when they weren’t, and was a good enough friend to tell me when I was screwing up.

But those things never last. They can’t. You grow up, and we Gen Xers move. For millennia, people never went more than 12 miles outside of their place of birth. But our generation is nomadic. I’m not alone in having friends all over the country—even friends in other countries, on other continents. It’s what we do. And you never think much of it. You miss your friends for awhile, but it’s not that big a deal. You’ll see them again. Hell, you’ll probably end up in the same city again at some point. My one friend and I have ended up living in both Atlanta and DC after college.

There was no reason to think something like that wouldn’t happen with Chris and me. After all, it wasn’t like we had fallen out or had grown apart or anything like that. He’d just moved away. We’d lost touch. But a friend is a friend for life. We’d hook up again, shootin’ the Shinola in a bar, ranting politics, race, women, and music, music, music.

We’d gotten back in touch briefly last year. I found his blog and shot him an email. He called me, and we laughed for a minute. Chris was rapid-fire funny the whole time—like he wanted to cram the last ten years into one phone call. It wore me out, but I loved it. He was still the intense, wry intellect I remembered, and we were still friends—like that last decade apart didn’t mean a thing. And age hadn’t mellowed him one bit. He still gave a shit.

He called again, but I was driving and DC had just banned cell-phone driving. I told him I’d call him back. I didn’t. I was about to go on tour. At the time I’d thought I was going to be in LA and told him as much. But I later changed my mind. With a pregnant wife, I didn’t want to be too far from home. When I got back, life took over: moving to a new place, nesting, having the baby, caring for a newborn. And then, I just forgot.

I didn’t remember until last night—ten months later—ten months after my boy’s death.

It’s not like I feel guilty, or anything. Just sad. A couple years ago, when I had to eulogize my uncle, I said that life is a collection of moments and that we need to hold those moments dear because they are what makes life worth living. I meant those words, but I don’t really live them enough. I get busy. Sometimes, I don’t appreciate all that I have and all the people around me. I don’t keep in very good touch with the people who are important to me, and it doesn’t make me feel any better knowing I’m not alone in this. Chris was important to me; he was there during a very difficult period in my life; and I hadn’t talked to him in 10 years.

I’d thought we’d always meet again, that we’d always be friends, that one day we’d be those two, old coots talkin’ bookoo shit at the end of the bar. But that moment is never going to happen.

But we did have some times. I stayed up late last night, crying off-and-on ‘til 4am, thinking about them. And while I’m sad now, I’m so glad we had them.

Like how my former (?), bourgie self used to cringe when he used to greet me with “What up, my nigga?”

That time when my wife and I went to enemy territory, Buckhead, to celebrate Chris’s birthday. We walked into a wack-ass reggae bar, confused (‘cause Pryor knew his music, why the hell were we there?). And there was Chris, sunglasses in the dark bar, sipping on a drink, watching the band play.

“What’s up, Chris?”

“I hate soca.”

Or that one night how he was vehemently ranting about how the white boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers had stolen the funk and how there weren’t any brothers or sisters out there strong enough to take it back. And then forcing me to listen to the Peppers until I conceded that Flea was indeed a bad mother. He is.

And I’ll always remember the night when Chris dragged me to the Dark Horse Tavern to go see some of his old band mates from Full Stop. At some point he got up on stage. He’d always talked about how he used to rap, but I’d never seen him. But there he was, bald head shining, rocking the crowd. Folks around me jumping and creaming and dancing … to Chris. When he finally surrendered the mic, he was beaming like a little kid. If you didn’t know the man, he could have a pretty mean, intimidating grille. And there he was—beaming! And I remember thinking, proudly, “That’s my nigga right there. Here is where he belongs.”

There’s so much in our lives that we forget. So many specifics that are lost to us over time. There are so many things about Chris that I’ve already forgotten, and I’ll forget more still. But I’ll always have that moment at the Dark Horse. I’ll always know that he was special to me. And looking at all the loving eulogies last night, it means a lot that he was special to so many others—even to people he’d never actually met—even as far away as Sweden and France.

Last night, during one of my little crying jags, I was thinking I was being stupid. I mean, Chris and I hadn’t hung out in over a decade. But now I’m thinking it’s less stupidity on my part and more of a testament to just how special Christopher Alonzo Pryor was. Maybe we hadn’t been close in all that time, but even with time and distance, I still feel we were friends. We will always be friends. Friendship’s like that—transcending time and space and even death. Even on that October morning when you died alone on that L.A. sidewalk, you were loved by so many. You touched so many people and will always be a part of their lives. You will always be a part of mine. Fuck, Chris, I don’t know why you had to die. What the hell is that all about? It ain’t supposed to be this way. But I do know, even though our time together was so short, you will always mean the world to me. You will always be my friend, my boy, my … you know.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Arresting Development

As most of you know, when a baby enters the world, everybody becomes intensely curious about the kid’s progress. Folks want to know where your baby is on the evolutionary ladder. Is she crawling? Has she teethed yet? Is she walking? Is she eating solids?

You can’t blame folks, they’re just interested in new life, but as new parents, you start feeling a little defensive. When will she start crawling? Why doesn’t she take her first steps? What is so hard about the Pythagorean Theorum? Why isn’t Poohbutt getting it?

I try to ignore the pressure, but we all greet each new development in our babies’ lives with a sigh of relief. That is until recently. I’ve discovered that some things your baby does are just downright disturbing.

It happened yesterday afternoon. Daddy (when did I start referring to myself in the third person?) thought he would encourage his little girl to nap by laying her down on the floor next to him and napping himself. I don’t know if it worked for her, but I got a few, much-needed winks. And then it happened. Our Grand Poohbutt displayed her new, mad skillz.

I blame genetics and her cousin Taishan (he’s a month and a day older than our girl and I’m really questioning his role model status). See, that boy can scream. And not your normal, run-of-the-mill Psycho, blood-curdling scream. No, this is glass-shattering, ear-bleeding, banshee screams that flay the skin, madden the mind, and make you beg for a merciful death. And every time I pick that boy up, he squirms right up to my ear, and lets loose. I hold on tight while my eyes roll back in my head and my eardrums start bleeding. Once, I came to to find a whole pack of wild animals outside the in-laws’ door looking as though they were awaiting orders. I’ve tried everything—bribery, intimidation, pleas for familial solidarity. Nothing. That boy cannot be bought. He just loves screaming in Uncle Bill’s ear. The only thing that gave me any solace was knowing that Pooh could never scream like that.

I rested peacefully in that knowledge until yesterday when I was rocked by that scream coming from my daughter. I gasped. My girl’s face was red, blood trickled down my lobes, wedding china shattered, wolves bayed, there was a ten-car pile-up on I-495.

As I’m typing this, my wife and daughter are fighting in the bath tub, my daughter’s newfound gift on full display. I guess I should go help, but, frankly, I’m scared. Right outside our sliding-glass door are four deer, six dogs, and 32 chipmunks awaiting my daughter’s command.


Monday, August 18, 2008

A Dream Deferred

Upon seeing my Nazihood blog, my supervisor told me about a little, old lady who lives across his street. Apparently, the kindly senior citizen spent her childhood in Nazi Germany, and her lifelong dream was to join the Jungmadel, the female arm of the Hitler Youth. Who knows? Maybe the schoolgirl uniform, blouse, and combat boots spoke to her. But she had to wait until she was ten to join. So, she learned the poems, sang the songs, spied on her neighbors, whatever aspiring Nazis did while World War II raged around them. Her dream was almost realized. But just as her class was to be inducted into the Youth, the Russians entered Berlin and the war ended. Verdammt!

Now, I know you're probably offended, disgusted, pissed, that this old woman would be telling this story in the twenty-first century. That she looks upon the end of the war with disgust--not at Nazi atrocities--but at the fact that she never got to join in. I mean, what is she thinking?! Hello, the Holocaust! What kind of barbarian would be looking wistfully back at the Hitlerian heydey?

But I don't know. I feel kinda sad for the old frau. I mean, here was a young, impressionable girl who had a dream. A twisted, genocidal dream, perhaps, but a dream nonetheless. You can remember your own of being a fireman, a ballerina, a doctor, a baseball player. Time played out your dream. Maybe you couldn't dissect that frog in biology. Maybe your knees gave out. Maybe you just couldn't hit the curveball. But the Soviets and Americans dashed our little girls dream. It is forever suspended in time. She can never know what would have become of her if only she had gotten to join the Jungmadel. It was her dream, and it was dashed. A dream deferred. And as Langston Hughes pondered, for our heroine, "maybe it just sags like a heavy load."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Your Friendly Local Nazihood Association

Every time we Americans go to war someone always resurrects the ghost of Hitler. And each time the inevitable question comes up, “If you could go back to 1933, would you kill Hitler?” The answer is always, “Yes,” and Johnny and Johnetta go off to war.

But ’33 would have been too late. The seeds had already been sown. Himmler, Goebbels, somebody would’ve taken his place. If you ask me you’ve gotta go back even further—to, say, 1923. But where would you have found Adolf? Vienna? Berlin? Munich?

If you ask me, you probably would’ve found him in the suburbs of Frankfurt, skulking. He would’ve been sobbing in his beer. “I’ll never be an architect. That war really sucked. What is an authoritarian Aryan with autocratic aspirations to do?” His flat beer would’ve rested bitterly on his tongue, and he would’ve looked across the strasse to see Herr Finkle tending his garden. And in that old man’s fat, grubby, little hands would’ve been a garden gnome. A fat, cheery, disgustingly decadent garden gnome with that stupid red hat and bulbous beer gut of his. The outrage would’ve been too much. “Ah, hells to the naw! This sheisse’s got to stop!”

Hitler would’ve had to do something. And he did, walking up to his next-door neighbor, Herr Schmidt, tending his well-manicured lawn in his snazzy, new brown shirt. “We gotsta git dat buster. A motherfuckin’ garden gnomes?!” Schmidt nodded, silently, knowingly, and led the young Hitler to his garden shed. Arming themselves, they gathered other concerned neighbors and confronted the hapless Finkle.

“This shit’s gotsta git gone, homie,” Hitler announced, whipping out his clipboard.

Finkle screamed as the neighborhood toughs terrorized his yard. The gnome (too ugly) was smashed to bits, pink geraniums (too gay) were shredded, tulips (too Dutch, no! too African) were ripped to pieces, and the hedges were utterly destroyed, being 3cm above regulation height. Thus, the neighborhood association was born.

The Allies thought they’d smashed Nazism in May of ’45. They were certain they swept up all the remaining pieces at the Nuremberg trials. Little did they know that fascistic shards went flying all around the globe: Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Suburbia USA!

My wife and I first cut our teeth on one in Atlanta in the ‘90s. We were on the front lines of a weird sort of gentrification. Our little “Parque” was going from aging, mellow hippies to younger, angry yuppies. Our neighborhood association was relentless, and they were on a righteous mission: to remove the bus line from our street.

We lived on a main road that connected downtown to a hip, little commercial district. Cars zoomed through our street and buses would rumble by, causing little earthquakes with their passing. It was annoying, but there was this vital connection and an assembly plant whose employees used the bus. I just chocked it up to living in a city. Just like our large, open living room windows would prompt the homeless to panhandle us while watching Survivor (it was so bad, once some guy pounded on our door at three in the morning—I gave him a can of soup—I try to give when I can).

Our association felt differently and went into action. They actually wrangled a hearing with the city to change the line. My wife and I went. It was a sad affair at the MLK Center, which ended up being (like pretty much everything in the ATL) quite racial—white haves against black have-nots. The night was filled with tragic stories of loss and desolation: “I don’t have a car—how am I gonna get to work?”; “My geraniums fell off my windowsill”; “My business depends on this bus line—will I have to close shop?”; “I was awakened from my mid-morning nap.” You get the idea. We hit absolute bottom when a blind guy got up talking about how, being blind in the city, he needs to know exactly where he’s going and if they moved the bus line to the less populated, proposed road, he wouldn’t know where he was and nobody would be around to help him (there really are no pedestrians in that city), and how would he get to his job. Through sympathetic sobs in the crowd, an association woman got up, and tearfully responded, “We all have our tragedies, I understand that, but my house shakes.”

Having had enough, I got up and faced-off against my neighbors, evoking the memory of King (I know, cheap shot), the sense of community that cities inspire, the need for public transportation, and that this basically all came down to choices: poor folks don’t have a choice but to take the bus, and the people would could choose to buy these newly-expensive homes in the city also had the choice, if they didn’t like urban living, to move back out to the suburbs.

My speech was so eloquent, so persuasive, that black and white embraced, burst out in song, and started a revolutionary program to improve city schools. Well, at least the bus line stayed. Score one for freedom!

However, if you roll through the neighborhood now, you’ll see that the assembly plant has been replaced by a condo community and you can’t park on that main, city street without a neighborhood permit. So, while they lost that first battle, it looks like they’re winning the war. Wake up, people! This is Sudetenland ’39! They have got to be stopped!

Of course, I’m to blame, too. I’ve been sleeping. Living in DC proper for the last few years where these associations’ power holds no sway, I’d forgotten the tyranny that looms outside city limits. But now we’re in the suburbs, and, as Ice Cube once said, “Once again, it’s on.”

The first shot came when I found out I couldn’t barbecue in our little backyard space. They say it’s a county regulation, but I’ve smelled those beautiful smoky embers emanating from other “condo communities” around here (I mean, who you foolin’? This is an apartment complex. Whatever). So, I have my suspicions. Having lived in a fifth-floor apartment the last six years, I immediately cracked out the Weber. Alas, it now sits gathering dust in basement storage.

They won that one, but trouble was right around the corner. Green-thumb moms came down from the ‘Burgh with a vision. She saw our “weeded-out” back patch of land and went to work. We dug up the weeds and planted a flower bed. It’s quite cute. Our neighborhood association didn’t think so, though.

They rolled on us, twelve-deep, armed with clipboards and disapproving glares. They were marking down furiously, shaking their heads and sighing heavily. I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. But I was alone with my daughter, and I had to protect my own. So, I bowed up my chest, gave them the scowl made so famous by Ice Cube in Boyz ‘n’ the Hood and every other movie he’s ever been in, put on my deepest voice with my Ebonics-est twang (which is quite pathetic, really), went out there, and said, “We got a problem.”

“Oh, no. No, sir. Not at all.”

They scurried off, rattling their clipboards. But I knew they weren’t done. We apparently had to get written permission to pull up weeds and plant flowers in the back of the building, which only we can see. It was OK this time, but we better watch our asses.

They were 0-2, but hey, even Hitler had to spend some time in jail before he took over the nation. And like Mao and the Long March, sometimes you have to retreat in order to claim victory. And victory they got, and they got it over a little piece of pavement.

See, in our “condo community,” one has to get a permit to park in the parking lot. Fair enough. We got one. But a previous tenant of our ground-floor “condo” had been confined to a wheelchair. To accommodate him, they allowed him to build a little driveway to the back, sliding glass door. It was a deciding factor in getting the place. I figured, with a baby, car seat, stroller, my cool-ass “Daddy” Crumpler messenger bag, the groceries, etc., it would be great to just park right outside your door and put all that stuff into your apartment.

The neighborhood association feels differently. They have deemed our little, 20-foot piece of pavement an “access road,” and we are no longer free to park there. No signs, no pre-existing rules or regulations. Nope. They’ve just decided that this strip is an access road, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. I’ve argued that an “access road” that was built for and ends at your residence is called a “driveway” and who’s ever heard of people being refused to park in their own driveways. But they disagree. So does our landlord. There’s nothing we can do. We can no longer park behind our building, where no one can see our car.

I’m vexed. I’m fuming. I’m screaming the Marseillaise in a wind tunnel, and no one can hear me. But come on, people! We cannot be cowed! We must fight back! They can’t just make up rules out of the ether and we must comply for fear of punishment! We cannot let these Commissars of Conformity rule our every move! This is not Berlin ’33! This is Frankfurt ’23! Remember Herr Finkle? First, it’s the garden gnome, then the hedges, then we’re all wearing pink triangles and yellow stars and being marched off to the camps!!!

Is it not bad enough there’s a Starbucks on every corner?! The internet records our every click-through?! Security cameras our every movement?! The banks our every transaction?! Isn’t it bad enough that Carson Daly has a career at all?!!!
Fight! Fight now! Rage! Rage against the dying of the light!!!

I’m doing my part. I’m going right now to put my car up on blocks! Are you with me, people? Can I count on you? On your love of liberty?

Sing with me, people:

Arise children of the fatherland
The day of glory has arrived
Against us tyranny's
Bloody standard is raised
Listen to the sound in the fields
The howling of these fearsome soldiers
They are coming into our midst
To cut the throats of your sons and consorts

Hurry, before it's too late! Before we’re all singing “Suburbia Uber Alles!”


You Know You're Old When ...

OK, you know you're old when the Today Show starts playing Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terror Dome."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Talkin' Shit ... Literally

Way before our daughter was born, I was on a mission to have my first child potty trained by the time s/he was one. I mean, so many places around the world train their kids by six months. We Americans, on the other hand, wait until our children are out of college before we teach them shit from Shinola. I felt it was my patriotic duty.

Nothing reinforced this conviction more than those first, fecal diapers. Parents/caregivers, you know what I’m talking about. That grey/green/yellow/brown slop (all the colors of the rainbow!) that runs like a mighty river all over the damned place. And like napalm, it sticks to everything. There are days when you, the baby, the walls, your neighbors, innocent bystanders are just covered in shit. You’re scouring your hands with Brillo, hand-washing everything your baby’s ever touched, sterilizing entire communities, and cursing Luvs for the crap diapers they truly are. Like Sherman heading to Atlanta, I was fierce and determined and had a fire in my eyes that would scare Al Sharpton’s hair curly. My girl would be potty-trained!

Now, some nine months later, I’ve relaxed a bit. Now that our girl’s eating solid foods, I just don’t feel the same urgency. I never realized how convenient a turd really is. Small, compact, easily flushable. Absolute genius! I will never look at shit the same way again.

Of course, it wasn’t that way at first. The transition was rough, and our poor, little baby spent those first few days constipated … and miserable. She would strain and strain, her face cherry-red, and would cry in frustration and pain. It was so hard to watch. We were powerless, and those pureed prunes didn’t seem to be working.

Then, on the third day, it was finally starting to happen. I was holding her, walking through the apartment. Her face started turning red, and she started trembling and grunting. I knew the look.

“Oh, crap,” I said. “Ha, ha. I’m funny.”

The grunts quickly gave way to ear-piercing screams. I set her on the changing pad. The poor girl started thrashing around frantically. Her face was so red and hot I contemplated setting up solar panels and powering the neighborhood. I ripped off the diaper and looked.

There it was. A little brown round turd. And it was stuck. And she was screaming. And I was a first-time father. I’d never dealt with this shit before. No, not funny this time.


“Oh, it’s OK, baby,” I soothed. “It’ll be all right.”


“Uh … push? … push? Naw, that was for your mother.”

The damned thing wasn’t moving, and my words weren’t going to push it along. It looked so damned painful. Finally, I grabbed up my baby’s little legs and pressed them against her belly. I thought the pressure would help. It didn’t. I had to do something.

And I did it. Something I’d never thought I’d do. Something I’d never once in my life contemplated. But what could I do? My baby was in pain. So, I did it. That’s right, I did it.

I pulled a Bobby Brown.

I grabbed a baby wipe and gently placed it over the turd. She screamed and squirmed. I ignored her and carefully, slowly pulled. It finally came out, and my girl instantly forgot the terror and torture—as only babies can do. I gave her a new diaper, snapped up her clothes, and disposed of the little, brown terrorist. I placed my giggling, babbling daughter in her crib, and headed to the bathroom to wash my hands.

Soaping up and listening to my little girl’s “goo goo gah gah,” I looked up at the mirror and smiled a little proudly, thinking, “Damn, I’m a father.”

PS. Yes, I will be saving this blog entry for when somebody thinks she’s grown enough to start dating. Some lucky, little boy is going to have some reading material on his way to the movies. :)


Friday, August 8, 2008

Play That Funky Race Card, White Boy

"So nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face, so what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He's risky. That's essentially the argument they're making."

-- Barack Obama

"Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."

-- Rick Davis, John McCain campaign manager

Ah, that all-powerful Race Card. I don’t know about you, but I knew it was coming. It was bound to. Barack Obama’s being the Democratic presidential nominee flies in the face of 400 years of this continent’s history, 90% of which was dominated by slavery and Jim Crow. His very presence brings that history the fore, which is very uncomfortable for many. Most prefer not to think about it. Many point to the past 40 years and think that equality has been achieved. But, despite the great gains made by black people in this country, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Instead of acknowledging this, many like to paper over this ugly sore with laudatory proclamations of what a great, multicultural society we have today. Yet, despite these claims, Obama has been suffering a whispering campaign about how he’s a closet Muslim terrorist, his wife a black radical, etc. But it is not the whisperers who are accused of using race as a weapon, but Barack Obama. And all because of that pesky, little Race Card, which, apparently, we blacks have constantly used to get where we are. While I’m still waiting for my Card and still can’t quite figure out what one looks like or how to best use it, the latest claims by the McCain campaign has made me wonder where the Race Card came from. This is what I found:

According to the UK’s Guardian, the term “race card” originated in Britain in 1964. After waves of colored immigrants, race had become such a hot-button issue that politicians on both sides had a gentlemen’s agreement not to exploit it. That was until Tory Peter Griffiths rode the slogan, “Want a nigger neighbor, vote Labour” all the way to victory. Instead of giving the man credit for a catchy slogan, they accused Griffiths of using race like a trump card in whist. Thus, “race card” was born.

Slower than the Mayflower, it took some 30 years before the term became popularized here in the US. I wonder what event in the ‘90s could have coined a new racial term. Why, the most racialized event in the past 15 years: the OJ Simpson trial!

After the trial was over, Simpson defense attorney Robert Shapiro evidently decided that his client wasn’t innocent after all, and started hitting the talk show circuit to spread his newfound belief. There, Shapiro claimed that Johnny Cochrane, Simpson’s black defense attorney, had “played the race card, and dealt it from the bottom of the deck.”

Bringing us to the present, I find it interesting that the McCain camp would hearken back to the OJ trial to find techniques to criticize Obama. But what is more interesting is how the Race Card got flipped. While the idea of using racial division to one’s own political advantage hasn’t changed, it has gone from a term of white, racial bigotry to white, racial victimization.

Of course, this was the ‘90s, which saw the rise of Rush Limbaugh and the Angry, Oppressed White Male. With all the civil rights legislation, racism was over for women and minorities, and now the pendulum had swung the other way with affirmative action, racial quotas, and reverse discrimination. Everything was backwards (is that what reverse discrimination means?).

This Race Card had become so powerful that the racial tables had turned. Good, God-fearing, hardworking white Americans had become so paralyzed with guilt that minorities and liberal Feminazis had taken over the world. A good, white man couldn’t find a job. The 1990 Jesse Helms “white hands” ad during a Congressional campaign against black challenger Harvey Gantt sums up the sentiment perfectly: “You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?”

I gotta tell ya, as a black man, I feel utterly cheated by this whole Race Card phenomenon. While I don’t feel particularly oppressed at the moment, I haven’t received my Race Card in the mail yet, so I’m not reaping the privileges either. I guess being a minority helped me get into college – though I fit well within my alma mater’s academic parameters. But I definitely know it didn’t help me get that dream job at Goldman Sachs: “Well, Mr. Campbell, you have absolutely no qualifications to be a financial analyst. However, we have to hire one more minority today. So, I guess you’re it!”

But I’m not alone in this. So are most African-Americans. There seems to be an entire socio-scientific industry built on chronicling the disparities between blacks and whites. (So much so that when Freakanomics reported that test score differences are more class-based than race-based—in other words, middle- and upper-class blacks score the same as their white counterparts and poor whites score just as badly as blacks—it was wholeheartedly ignored.) Blacks come out on the short end when it comes to infant mortality, life expectancy, HIV infection rates, diabetes, and a whole slew of physical ailments. While black and white drug use is the same, the chances for first-time black offenders of being incarcerated are 48 times greater than whites.

Folks with “white-sounding” names are 50% more likely to be called back for job interviews than those with “black-sounding” ones. (William Robert Campbell at your service!). And, my favorite, in 2003 the American Journal of Sociology found that white men with criminal records are slightly more likely to get a call back for an interview than are black men with a totally clean record.

Where are these people’s Race Cards? As I said, I’m still waiting for mine. I got big plans. As soon as I get it, I’m going to go buy that $1.4 million house in my old Cleveland Park neighborhood with no money down and 2% interest (I’m willing to work for what’s mine). Then, I’m going to Georgetown University Hospital and become a well-paid neurosurgeon. Sure, I have neither credentials nor training, but I’m black, right? White folks will feel sooooo guilty that they’ll let me crack open their skulls. And then I’m going to flash my Race Card and make my books, My Booty Novel and Sunshine Patriots, international best sellers. See, I can’t wait to get minez. I just wish Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would stop bogarting them all!

I’m guessing that’s not how the Race Card works. I couldn’t tell you. Nobody I know has ever gotten one. It’s a mystery to us. We’re starting to think it doesn’t exist—almost as though it’s a … a myth.

If the Race Card is indeed a myth (and I have my doubts), it would just be one in a long line of racial myths that have graced our shores since the Middle Passages. There was the “happy darky” who absolutely loved being a slave—just a-pickin’ and a-grinnin’ in the cotton field. The negro didn’t want freedom and was too child-like and feeble-minded to endure the rigors of slavery. Phrenology scientifically proved that the negro skull was too small to contain real intellect. The Bible definitively stated that black enslavement was the result of the curse on the sons of Ham. White people were just following the Word.

What these and so many other myths did was help excuse, defend, and justify white privilege. It had been proven unequivocally that blacks were inherently inferior. Whites were not oppressing them. They were doing blacks a favor. After all, it was the “White Man’s Burden” to colonize the world, subjugate its darker peoples, and extract its natural resources because, without them, the colored masses would be living in a world of darkness absent God’s Light.

In a way, the white man was the victim in all this. Sure, he was getting rich off the whole venture, but these people didn’t understand the stress and strain of this civilizing enterprise. In fact, those coolies and niggers were downright ungrateful. Slave revolts, malingering, colonial uprisings, independence movements … when would it all cease? And even when Europe gave in and gave those countries their independence, when America gave blacks the right to vote and all that civil rights legislation, they still kept coming at them, charging white people with “racism” all the time. They just kept playing the Race Card!

Look, I understand, nobody wants to admit that they somehow live a privileged existence. I, as an American, don’t like to think that the cheap shirt I just bought cost so little because some kid in Asia was locked up in a sweatshop being forced to make it for next to no wages. I work hard and try to do right by people. And so do most white people. Neither of us wants to hear that our little world might be built on the backs of others’ suffering. Besides, this is America, the Land of Opportunity, where, if you work hard, you can make it, because in America everybody gets a fair shake.

The abovementioned statistics, and so many more, fly in the face of that belief. And it’s hard to reconcile the two. Most refuse to even acknowledge them. And, inevitably, some become hostile to those stats and start getting angry at the people who produce them. They’re struggling, paying bills, and people are out there complaining about “white privilege” and “racism”. Are those people accusing me of being racist?

Well, I’m not racist? They’re racist! They’re the ones playing the Race Card. Not me. Hence, the effectiveness of the Race Card. It charges that those complainers are not just grandstanding whiners, but it also claims that they are using race as a weapon to further their own ends. They want more money for welfare (mistakenly believed to be mostly for African-Americans), they want more affirmative action, more racial quotas, they want to take away more jobs and more college slots from hard-working, deserving white people. It preys on white insecurity and blames the victim for their own victimization as well as conveniently turning whites into victims themselves (look at the White Hands ad—the white worker and employer were powerless in the face of racial quotas).

By charging the racial disparity commentator of racism, Race Card victims are attempting to silence her/him. It denies white privilege and seeks to shore up its defenses with that silence. We can easily dismiss those stats as racist as well and never be forced to address the inequalities in this supposed Land of Equality.

That’s why I find it curious that John McCain has taken this tack the past week. When he accuses Obama of using the Race Card “from the bottom of the deck,” what is he really up to?

Race is not exactly new to American politics. The idea of white victimization ain’t all that novel, either. In more recent times, we’ve had Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” Bush, Sr.’s Willie Horton, Reagan’s Welfare Queen. McCain himself has fallen victim when W. surrogates claimed that his adopted Bangladeshi daughter was actually his black love child back in 2000. Some claim it lost him South Carolina.

So, no, race and American politics have often been bedfellows. And, with Barack Obama’s historical candidacy, it can’t be avoided—no matter how hard we try. After all, nobody’s looking at him, saying, “Hey, who’s that half-white guy?” Because of that, there are going to be people who vote for Obama because he’s black, and there’ll be folks who will vote against him for the same reason. People are inspired by racial pride, and operatives are out there preying on racial and religious fear.

And the latter are definitely out there. There’s Fox News, which constantly refers to the Dem as “Barack Hussein Obama.” There’s Sean Hannity suggesting that electing Obama “would mean a racist and an anti-Semite would be President of the United States.” Rush Limbaugh claims that Obama has “disowned his white half” and that he’s the “Affirmative Action” candidate since he “probably didn’t get out of Harvard without affirmative action.” Ann Coulter has called him a racist and advises people to read Hitler’s Mein Kampf in order to better understand Obama. There are also bloggers and emails circulating that accuse Obama of being a Muslim, black radical, closet al-Qaeda, etc., fanning the flames of fear and racism.

McCain knows this stuff is going on. He can probably guess that these attacks are not just coming from wack jobs and Fox News (redundant?)—that some of these people are probably attached to, associated with, maybe even funded by Republican sympathizers or backers. McCain himself has denounced some of these attacks.

Before you get all pissed, I am not accusing McCain of being a racist himself. Hell, I don’t know the man. I can’t look into his heart. Joe Lieberman claims that McCain “doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.” While I refuse to call him a racist, his record doesn’t exactly jibe with Joe.

McCain has come clean about originally voting against the MLK holiday. What he forgets to mention is that he supported Arizona governor Evan Mecham’s decision in 1987 to rescind an executive order creating a state holiday for King. Nor has he said anything about siding with our man Jesse Helms in voting to prohibit federal financing for the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission. Oh, and has anybody heard about why he reportedly voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1990 four times?

And can we forget: "I hated the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live." But hey, he was a prisoner of war, captured and tortured by the people he made a living bombing. He later reversed his support of Mecham’s decision. He’s apologized for the MLK vote, protested the South Carolina Confederate flag, called the Religious Right “agents of intolerance,” and he’s got that black love child. So, no, I wouldn’t accuse McCain of being racist. I think his record, like most of ours, is just a bit ambivalent when it comes to race.

What I will accuse McCain of is what he’s saying about Obama, and that is that Obama is using the Race Card. By employing the Race Card accusation against Obama, he hopes to silence the man’s complaints or, if Obama does actually complain about the whispering campaign against him, to paint those grievances with a “racist” brush. “Oh, there you go again, injecting race into the campaign.” But race has been a part of this campaign since Clinton campaign staffers sent an e-mail that Obama attended a madrassa, and it hasn’t stopped. If McCain’s ploy is successful, it will silence Obama on said racial attacks and allow those racial attacks to continue unabated.

Meanwhile, McCain himself hopes to look as though he’s above the Race Issue (though his statements and voting record could suggest otherwise). And he can look like the victim in all this, suffering the slings and arrows of Obama’s racist attacks. In fact, this past weekend pundits reported that the McCain camp fears that anything they say will be misconstrued as racist by Obama supporters.

Pretty clever.

And downright disingenuous. When you claim that Obama’s inexperienced or is an empty suit, when you claim that his policies won’t work, nobody finds you to be racist at all. When you say he’d rather lose a war in order to win an election or that he wouldn’t visit wounded troops in Germany because there’d have been no cameras there (even though he’d visited wounded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that same week), we don’t find those at all racist—distasteful, but not racist.

But, in all honesty, what people find offensive or not isn’t really the point, is it? The McCain campaign is attempting to put out that they are the victims of racism and will continue to be as long as this campaign continues (meanwhile, providing cover fire for the Fox News pundits, Rush Limbaugh, and random bloggers—nothing they say will be accused of being racist now either). And, if Obama was being taken to task for the comments of Jeremiah Wright, why isn’t McCain suffering the same fate for all these comments being said about his opponent? I’m assuming that that will never happen. McCain is never going to have to give a contrite speech about race before the nation. No, in the race debate, McCain is going to be seen as the victim of racialized tactics. See, that’s the beauty of the Race Card—it turns victimizer into victim and vice versa. And it has been a very effective tool in getting people elected. Just ask Jesse Helms, who was behind in the polls until the White Hands ad. Or Bush, Sr. The Willie Horton ad did wonders for his campaign. Ask McCain himself. His “black love child” cost him South Carolina. Better yet, just ask Peter Griffiths. “Want a nigger neighbor, vote Labour.” Gotta love it.