Sweet Home Chicago: Part VIII – On the Road Again

Amtrak Surfliner
Amtrak Surfliner (Photo credit: mark242)

I would have loved to have been able to tell you that while I was riding the Lake Shore Limited back to the Empire State, I had managed to hatched an elaborate plan that would in the end land me back in the city named after a stinky onion. That my desperation inspired a moment of brilliance. It would lend my story an air of drama that would be fitting for a badly written romance novel. But it was nothing like that. I conjured up my escape from New York a full two weeks after I arrived back from my trip. Oddly enough it was my complete lack of direction over the course of the previous year that made it possible for me to move to Chicago at the start of 2003. Who would have thunk it? I will make sure to get into exactly how I managed to pull that off, but first allow me to tell you how my moment of triumph still managed to play itself out like a Greek tragedy.

As you can imagine I was feeling pretty bleak after I left Chicago. That short trip gave me a glimpse of another life. One where pain and misery did not have to be a familiar constant. I honestly had a sense that I could grow to become a halfway decent human being if I could just somehow manage to break away from the life I lived in NYC. Go someplace far removed from the family drama that continued to play itself out time and time again. To get away from a city that was still very much in mourning from heart wrenching events of September the 11th. And to top it off, I could be making this new start along side someone that I felt loved me as much as I loved her. Yet there I was sitting on that train, helpless, as I watched everything that I wanted out of this life getting further and further away from me the closer the Lake Shore Limited got to Penn Station.

I spent an awful long time that day thinking up different scenarios that might get me back to Chicago before Christmas. Maybe I could get a job. Or maybe my parents would be foolish enough to bum their 23 year old son some more cash. But who was I kidding? Once I got a job, I probably couldn’t just get up and leave to visit Jess whenever I wanted. I also figured that it would be both selfish and foolish to depend on my parents, who did not have much, if any, disposable income, to make a second trip possible. Although I sure would give the latter a shot anyway. Regardless, both scenarios did not solve the biggest prevailing problem; that being that Jess and I were separated by almost 1000 miles. Both plans were only stop gap measures at best. I required a more permanent solution. I was completely stumped.

When I arrived back home I did what people tend to do after getting back after a trip. I spoke at nauseum about the wonders and joys that I had witnessed during my short time in Chicago to anyone that was within ear shot. Everyone smiled politely as I excitedly rambled on and on without any sense of cohesion. I can never tell a good story if I have to speak it out loud. My brain gets too excited and it wants to force out every point I want to make all at once. Which often times just leaves me sounding like a complete idiot, instead of the insightful soul that I am trying to portray myself as being.

A couple of days passed before I actually got to speak to my father about my trip. He had stopped by to pay my siblings and I a visit. He walked into my bedroom as I had my forehead pressed against my computer screen trying to formulate my escape plan. As soon as he walked in I hugged him and much like I did with everyone else, I crammed 5 days worth of events in about 30 minutes. My father could see how excited I was about everything. He could see the wild spark in my eye. I was filled with an almost manic energy. But as my mouth shot-off at a 100,000 words per minute, I could see from my vantage point that my father was lacking the enthusiasm that he had shown me before I left for my trip. I found it strange. Knowing the man the way I did, I figured that there was something that he wanted to tell me, but was waiting for the right time to jump in like if we were playing a game of double dutch. I had a bad hunch that this conversation was not going to go exactly like I had envisioned it. Perhaps this is what encouraged me to end my monologue by saying, “Dad I think I want to move out there. I think it would be good for me.”

I can’t remember word for word what my father said to me but it went something along the lines of “ Look Tom, I’m sure you had a great time out there an all. But let’s not get too carried away now. You went out there, had your fun with your little girlfriend. But let’s not get crazy.” I would be lying if I said that I didn’t get upset by my fathers words. Because the truth is I was pist. Really fucking pist. I felt like my father had discounted everything I had just said to him. He had trivialized what Jessie meant to me. I was mad. However looking back, now that I am 12 years older than I was then, I am kinda able to see what he was trying to do. He wasn’t trying to hurt me. He was trying to protect me from getting hurt. He could see that I was a runaway train, if someone didn’t apply the brakes soon, it would be only a matter of time before I would end up jumping the rails. Off course I didn’t see it like that then. To me my dad was only trying to discourage me from being happy. I was being a little delusional. But you gotta’ understand. That delusion was the only thing keeping me marching forward. Thankfully I didn’t over react in an outward manner. I kept my angry feelings to myself. After all, my dad made it possible for me to see Jess in the first place. So from my vantage point that bought him one or two get out of an argument passes. I bit my tongue, and allowed him to give me some generic fatherly speech uninterrupted. I wasn’t the happiest camper by the time my father left. But I had avoided any major drama between us, so I took it as a partial victory. And any remaining ill will that I might have felt ended up evaporating as soon as I got to speak with the wifey that night.

*******

As I had mentioned before, my Eureka moment came some two weeks after my return. I had spent an obscene amount of time scouring the web for a solution for my dilemma. I desperately wanted see her again, but a few visits sprinkled throughout the year was not going to cut it. I needed a permanent solution. At first I thought that maybe I could find a job out in Chicago. But after about 5 minutes of research it dawned on me that I didn’t have any  highly sought after skill sets that would get me paid enough to make an actual living. Unless that is you needed someone that enjoyed looking up comic book references online or downloading copyrighted music from Morpheus for hours on end. Nope. A job would not be the answer. It was then that I thought about going back to school. Maybe I could actually attend a school in Chicago. I could live in the dorms. Get my education on. With the pièce de résistance being that I got to be close to my lady love. This was something that the wifey and I had discussed on several occasions. But I always discounted it because I figured that it would be much too costly. However all that changed when I looked up how financial aid was actually granted.

The amount of financial aid that you get all depends on what you  or your parents earned during the previous year. This is where my being a slacker during a large portion of 2001 and the entirety of 2002 actually benefited me greatly. I made a measly $4,000 in 2001. Since I was an adult and made such a pathetic sum this meant that I qualified for full financial assistance. YES! This was my ticket. With Uncle Sam’s help I had just been handed an opportunity to change my stars while being closer with Jess.

I’m not exactly proud that being a lost slacker for so long actually benefited me in some way. Because I know that it goes against many of the ideals that we hold so dear in this country. That only hard work and perseverance are rewarded. But sometimes, for some of us, we require a lucky break. To have a door simply opened for us. Or to have fate gift wrap an opportunity and drop on our laps like it did with me. That type of unexpected generosity can serve as a source of inspiration for the right individual at the right time. I will admit that the idea of me going back to school was more a means to an end. Yet once I was there, it opened my eyes to the opportunity that I had Forest Gumped my way into. It taught me that I didn’t have to live my whole life feeling sorry for myself. That if I didn’t like who I was, then I could, through years of hard work, change who I was.  It’s a long process. And there have been plenty of times where I took my eyes off the ball and lost track of what is it that I wanted most out of this life. Yet sooner or later I always managed to find my way back on the right track.

All that was left was to figure out was what schools I wanted to apply too, and what major I wanted to choose for myself. The major was easy. I still had aspiration of being a comic book writer. So that one was decided within second. My major would be English with an emphasis on Creative Writing. As you can see from my choice of major, I did not take one second to consider what kind of employment I could actually attract with that major. What can I say, I was a very naive 23 year old. So all that was left was to figure out what schools I would be applying. There was Columbia, which had an awesome English program. Loyola, UIC, Dominican and so on and so forth. But I knew well enough to know that once the admissions office of those institutions took a single look of my high school transcript, and finished laughing uncontrollably for several long minutes, they would toss my application in the garbage and send me a rejection letter that simply stated “Nigga Please!”

I couldn’t apply to any community colleges because I didn’t know of any that had any dorms. And that was the only way I was going to be able to live in Chicago. It was looking like I had hit another dead end when I came across a little school situated on the south-side of Chicago. That school was Chicago State University. The school’s prerequisite were a little bit on the lenient side. And more importantly it had built a small dorm just a couple of years prior. Also the out-of-state tuition was just low enough that my financial aid would cover all but $1,300 of the cost. If I had any shot at going away to school, CSU would be it.

One of the first people I spoke to about what I was planning on doing was my mother. I sat her down and I laid out all the info that I had been gathering up for the past two weeks. I gave her the whole spiel that I wasn’t happy in NYC. That going away to school would be good for me. That it would be rough for me at first but that I would at least have Jess close by so I wouldn’t be totally alone. I was honestly expecting some resistance. To get some push back. But on the contrary. My mom had never been more receptive about anything that I had said in my life. My mom’s eyes got watery as she told me in no uncertain terms that “ All I’ve ever wanted for you kids was for you guys to get an education. I don’t want you to get stuck doing the shit that I have to do. I don’t want you guys to have to bust your ass every day just to make ends meet. I want a better life for my kids.” She cried and hugged me. She told me that she would miss me. That she would miss our nightly chats that we would often share after she had a long day at work. But that she would be more than happy to support me in anyway that she could. She gave me this deep loving hug that gave me a level of comfort that I had been lacking since I got back from the Midwest. I can’t put into words how much that moment between my mother and I meant to me. My mom and I have not always seen eye to eye. We have had our fair share of disagreements. There was a time when I was convinced that she resented me simply because I reminded her of my father so much. Yet here she was overjoyed that I had finally grown the courage to start living my life. It wasn’t a simple matter of just getting me out of the house. When she told me that she would miss me, I had no doubt in my heart that she would. My mother simply wanted a better life for me. And I wouldn’t have a fraction of the things I have now, if it wasn’t for her support during that time. I probably never will be able to repay her for the kindness that she granted me. I will be forever grateful to her for what she made possible. Within a few days of our conversation I went back to my old high school to request that my transcripts be sent out to CSU. I filled out my application, wrote a $25 check, and dropped it into the mailbox. It was a few days past the one year anniversary of the day that my boy had came over and gotten me to sign on Migente.com.

For whatever reason, I felt it was best that tell my father about my plans over the phone. I find it a little odd that I did that because I always feel that important conversations like these should best be done face to face. Maybe I had a sense of which way the conversation was going to go. Or maybe I just wanted to get it out there. Either way when it was all said and done  my father turned out to be the voice of the opposition. He was not at all receptive to my plans. He thought it was a ridiculous move. “What are you stupid? You’re going to leave your family for some girl you met on that computer of yours? What’s wrong with you? All she’s going to do is hurt you son! And then you will be stuck living in Chicago all by yourself, feeling like a chump! Think son, think! Remember, blood with always be thicker.”  I was a little less than pleased with his reaction. This was the second time my father had tried to burst my bubble. Once again I was upset, but I thought it was pointless to argue my point. I already had the ball rolling. I was going to make this happen with or without his blessing. I informed him that my mind was done. That I appreciated his concerns but I wanted something else out of this life. And whatever that was I wasn’t going to find it in NYC. My father persisted, telling me repeatedly that I was being foolish. That the risk was not worth it. But by that point I had stopped listening. Perhaps if he had not felt like I was brushing his concerns off them I might have been able to avoid what was coming next. I was just trying to avoid a big fight. I didn’t know if I was leaving or anything just yet, but if I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave in under any bad terms. I failed in those regards in every possible way. When we hung up the phone that day I was under the impression that he was upset. But I figured that he would eventually come around and support my decision. My father apparently saw it differently. Our truce was in it’s infancy and it was already over. I had just failed to get the memo.

*******

It was early December. I hadn’t gotten back any word on whether or not I had been accepted by CSU. I knew the Spring semester would be starting in about 4 weeks. I was growing inpatient. So I did the proactive thing and decided to call the admission office. The phone rang a couple of times. I was almost sure that nobody in the office would actually tell me anything. I figured they would just tell me to wait for the rejection letter in the mail. A lady picks up. I introduced myself. I go through the whole story that I had applied a couple of months earlier and that I had not heard back from the school yet. The lady asked for my name, and some other bits of personal information. She then told me in a very casual manner to hold on for a few seconds. A minute or two pass by when the lady comes back on the phone. She tells me in an incredibly nonchalant manner that hinted that giving folks this type of news no longer held any meaning for her, that “No you good. You were accepted. Registration is January 4th. So make sure you get here early. Oh and bring a check for $1,300. That will cover what financial aid did not.” I was in shock. It was finally happening. I would be living in Chicago in a little over a month. Just like that. My days in NYC were numbered. I thanked the lady with enough enthusiasm that it made her laugh. It was then that maybe she remembered what getting accepted by a school can mean to someone, because she suddenly became warm and told me “Congratulations young man. We look forward to seeing you on the 4th.”

The first person I told was my mom. She was so happy for me. She wasn’t too thrilled about the $1,3000 check. But she told me not to worry about it. That she would give me the money. Next person I told was Jess. We was pleasantly surprised by the news. I don’t think she ever believed that I would actually be able to make such a move. I mean she hoped and prayed that it would happen. But I don’t think she ever allowed herself to believe it wholeheartedly because she didn’t want to end up feeling disappointed. We both started making plans for the thing that we would do together once I got there. First thing on our agenda was to go see Lord of the Rings : The Two Towers. We were going to be a normal, run of the mill couple. Going on weekend dates. Dining together. Just doing things with each other all the time. We both could not wait. Life was good.

This was when my baby sister enters the picture. You see I have two other siblings. I have my younger brother, who is the middle child. His Name is Paul. He is about  two and a half years younger than I. Then there is my baby sister Jennifer. She is almost 9 years younger. Jennifer and I don’t get along much. She is for the lack of a better term, trouble. We are two vastly different people. And I don’t mean it in some kind of generational sense. We are two vastly different souls. She is a force of nature. She runs on pure impulse. She does what she want, when she want to do it, without apology. And heaven protect you if you cross her. She will stop and no end to get what she wants. Basically she sometimes lacks a moral compass. I don’t know if witnessing all the fights that my parents went through when she was a child, had some kind of developmental effect on her. But something happened to that girl. Something that made it easier for her to betray everyone that has loved her at one point or another. Of course at this time she was only 15 years old and was several years away from committing some of her more reprehensible acts. No, at this time she was just a troubled teen that enjoys hanging out on the streets a bit more than I thought was appropriate.

One night she got a call from a group of girlfriend that there was something going down somewhere. It was later in the evening. She was preparing to head out when I asked her where exactly did she think she was going? She told me she was going to hang out with some friends. My mom worked late, so often times I was the one making sure my siblings were fed and safe at home. I told her it was too late for that. That the streets are too dangerous and no place for some 15 year old kid and her ghetto fabulous friends. She didn’t take too kindly to my opposition. She started yelling. I wasn’t her father. Who the fuck did I think I was for telling her what to do. I wasn’t the boss of her. Well anyone that knows me, also knows that I can sometimes give just as good as I can take. So I started yelling right back at her. I told her I didn’t give a flying fuck who she thought I was or wasn’t. The fact of the matter was that I was in charge at that moment, and that it was my job to make sure that the people living under our roof stay safe at all times. And if I said it was too late and too dangerous to go out, then that was the end of the discussion. She cursed me out. I returned the favor. She tried to push past me. I grabbed her and physically placed her in her bedroom. Now I know that you are thinking. Man this 450 lbs guy is probably manhandling this little girl. My sister weighed about 220 lbs at the time. She is many things, but a little girl wasn’t one of them. And all I did was use my size and strength to heard her back into her room. Eventually I was able to calm things down. She called my father up. My father asked to talk to me. I told him exactly what happened. He then makes a request to speak to my sister again. I oblige. My sister get on the phone and starts protesting loudly. I guessed my father was taking my side. She hung up the phone angrily, yelled a couple of obscenities in my direction and slammed the door shut. I went to bed that night so glad that I would be leaving all this madness behind. Yet I feared what would become of my sister if I no longer was around to keep an eye on things.

It was two weeks before I was scheduled to leave for Chicago. My mother calls me on the phone from her job furious. I asked her what happened? My mom tells me that she had just gotten a call from my sisters school. Apparently my sister had gone to her guidance counselor. She told the counsellor that I had been beating her up and that she was not feeling safe in the house. The school took the accusation incredibly seriously. To make matters worse my father had gone into the school with my sister and confirmed what my sister had said was true. They were about to send some police over to escort me from the apartment. I was about to be homeless. My mom told the counselor that it had all been a lie. That she was not going to throw me out on the street. I don’t know if I was more shocked or furious. The thing was that I wasn’t so mad at my sister. We never had a great relationship. She wasn’t exactly my biggest fan. In a weird way I almost expected that out of her. But I could not wrap my mind around why my dad had gone along with the story. I had been hurt plenty of times. I’ve been betrayed and disappointed by almost every person that I’ve ever believed in at one point or another. With that being said, I had never, before, or since, felt such a sense of betrayal as I did by what my father had just done to me.

I knew that he was mad at me for leaving. That he felt that he was losing me at the moment that he got me back. But what in the “Wide World of Sports” was my father thinking? Why the fuck would he say that about me? I was about to leave for Chicago. I was going to leave to try and make something out of myself. Like Oscar Wilde even though I was in the gutter I was still looking up at the stars. My mom was able to somehow convince the guidance counselor to call off the police. That I would be leaving for Chicago shortly anyway. In a blink of an eye my little run at bliss came to a crashing halt. I was livid. Hate was spewing out of my heart like Mt Vesuvius and it’s ash was going to bury the memory of my father once-and-for-all. No more bitting my tounge. I was going to let my father have it.

I hung up with my mother and immediately called my father up on the phone. He picked up. The first words out of my mouth was “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?” My father was caught off guard by my overly aggressive tone. I asked him again “What is wrong with you? Why the fuck would you do that? Why would you lie like that? I thought we were cool dammit! You made it possible for me to go to Chicago in the first place for Christ sake. So why the fuck would you say that about me?” My fathered stuttered and kept repeating something like” No son it’s all a misunderstanding. I swear. I will go to the school first thing in the morning and tell them they misunderstood me.” I was done with him. I kept asking what and why but the truth is I didn’t care to hear anything he really had to say. My father betrayed me in the worse possible way. I was done with him. As far as I was concerned my father was dead and buried in my mind. And I told him that in no uncertain terms. “You are dead to me. You hear me you fucking asshole. I don’t want anything to do with you. I hope I never fucking see your ass again!” I slammed the phone on the receiver. That would be the last words I would utter to my father until I saw him again four years later when I went to see him in the hospital after he broke his neck.

My last couple of weeks in NYC were bitter ones. I couldn’t wait to leave already. I just wanted to be next to Jess now. She was everything to me. She was all I had left. My sister made a few attempt to talk to me. To apologize for what she had done. She tried to play it off as it was all some goofy mix-up that just got a little out of hand. But I just no longer cared why it had happened. I was leaving. Chicago would be my home now. There was very little left for me to say.

On January 2nd my brother, Paul, dropped me off at Penn Station. He helped get my bags out of the car. He hugged me. Told me that he was proud of me. And to take care of myself. I was going to miss him. I know I haven’t talked much about him. But out of everyone in my family and all my friends, my brother has always been the one guy that I always felt sorta got me. He understood what made me tick. I was going to miss hanging with him. I was going to miss playing NBA2K2 and watching wrestling and our weekend drinking sessions. My brother was not just my brother. He was my best friend. If there was anything I could have taken with me to Chicago, I think I would have brought him along. I think we could have had a lot of fun together.

I got my boarding pass and waited in line much like I had done just 4 months earlier. Only this time I wasn’t accompanied by my father. This time it was just me, standing alone waiting for the Lake Shore Limited to take me back to where my future would be forged. There were so many conflicting thoughts as I boarded that train. I was already missing my brother and mother. I was going to miss my good friends. I was nervous. What if I failed? What if things didn’t work out with Jess? What if I flunked out of school? And I kept asking myself why did my father hurt me so badly? I still can’t quite answer that question. I have some theories. Maybe he had been doing coke and it impaired his judgement. Maybe he got this weird twisted idea that if I got kicked out of the house then I would be forced to live with him and he could then somehow talk me out of leaving. I don’t know what his reasoning was. All I know was that I didn’t want anything to do with him from that point on. Like I had mention in my very first post, my father claimed to have gone out to Chicago looking for me a couple of years before he suffered his accident. But I have no way of knowing if that was true. It does break my heart thinking that he may had been out there looking for me on campus, all alone. That the worst part about having unresolved issues. They feel so opened ended. There is never a sense of resolution. Thoughts lingering in my head forever after, like the ghost of Christmas past, reminding me of all that went wrong before.

*******

I never could have imagined that my life would have changed so much in the course of a year and three months. How so many little almost insignificant events came to play such an important part in my life. If my friend had not come over and told me about Migente. If I had not posted those rock bands on my page. If Jess hadn’t left a message on my guestbook. If I had not responded in kind. If I had not followed the wifey’s advised to reach out to my father. If My father hadn’t given me the money to go meet Jess. If the trip had not gone so beautifully. If I had not quit my job when I did a year earlier. If any one of those things had not happened I would have never had been able to move out to Chicago. I would have never married my girl. I never would have adopted the two most beautiful little pups. I would have never learned how to drive. I never would have bought a house. I would have never met so many beautiful and wonderful friends. I would have never had the inspiration to expand my horizons. I would never had decided on wanting to have kids. My life would be vastly different now. What my life would have been like if I had never left NYC, I couldn’t tell you. But I honestly feel like it wouldn’t have been good.

Some folks say that if a love is meant to be, then it will happen regardless.I don’t see it that way. Love doesnt just happen. It has to be nurtured. There has to be a sacrifice.  If a love is meant to be then you have to chase after it with everything that you have in your heart. It’s the only way you can forge a love that lasts. You have to put in the effort. You have to pay your dues. A great love affair can inspire all manner of things. My love inspired me to live. Without it I was lost. But with it, it gave me a reason to be a better version of me. And in my book that’s not to shabby.

Music to Get Lost in – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

Cover of "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill...
Cover via Amazon

I was in the middle of my morning ritual of reading through the customary doom and gloom news stories that brightens nobody’s day, when I came across a small article that actually brought up happy memories. Apparently today marks the 15th anniversary of the release of one of R&B and hip hop’s greatest albums, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I don’t know how this album was received everywhere else, but if you were living in NYC at the end of the summer of 98’ you could not get away from it. But to be honest, I don’t know anyone that wanted to anyway. This album by the incredibly talented and yet probably deeply disturbed Lauryn Hill is a classic in every single sense of the world.

15 years later and the album still sounds just as fresh, powerful, soulful and gritty as it did when it was first released. How many albums can you say that about them? I won’t bother to try and write a review about a 15 year old record, because I’m pretty sure that everything that I could write about this work of genius has already been written. But permit me to suggest something to you. If you haven’t bothered to listen to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill from beginning to end in some time, then I propose you get yourself reacquaint with Lauryn’s seminal work. If you happen to be one of those young bucks who loves good music, but have never had the pleasure to actually listen to the album from beginning to end, or heaven forbid, you never even heard of it, then do your ears and soul a favor and stream that sucka’ like right now. I promise you won’t regret it.

I will end this post by featuring what was probably the most popular track from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, “Doo-Wop (That Thing)”

Sweet Home Chicago: “Part V – On the Road to Perdition”

Life can be a bit trying at times. Or a lot, depending on the person. There are so many disappointments to contend with. So many dreams get tossed out or plainly forgotten because of unforeseen circumstances. I’m pretty sure everyone looks around and see all the madness going on around us. Like the story of the 22 year old Australian ball player that got murdered by three teens because they were simply bored.  Then there is our own senseless disregard of the preciousness of every passing second. Every single one of us probably stop in our tracks at some point and ask themselves “what’s the point”? There are no guarantees. Especially for those of us that may not have been born in the most ideal of situations. What’s the point to getting up in the morning to do what it the end may have no real meaning. I think the point is hope. Not the kind of hope used in slogan by politicians. Not the silly hope seen in movies where the hero perseveres and the villain gets his just deserts. I’m talking about the hope to crack a great big chimp smile. Like the one you give an old friend or loved one that you have not seen in ages. The hope to be genuinely amazed by something that is so awe inspiring that it allows you to, if but for a second, to forget about the foolishness in obsessing over acquiring material wealth or climbing the social strata. I’m referring to the kind of hope that inspires you to walk through a minefield day in and day-out because you have faith that a life that is worth risking it all for awaits you on the other side.

That hope was all that I had 11 years ago. It was the thing that pushed me to get into a relationship with a girl that lived 5 states away. It was that hope that led me to reach out to my father for the first time in 3 years. I shutter at the thought about how bad it all could have turned out for me. I’m not sure if I could have recovered if things wouldn’t have worked out between the wifey and I. Luckily for me all the stars aligned just right and that part of my story had a happy ending. Sadly I couldn’t say the same about my father. But we are not at that point of the story just yet.

Cover of "Road to Perdition (Widescreen E...
Cover of Road to Perdition (Widescreen Edition)

It was mid July 2002. My father and I were making major inroads at reestablishing a relationship after 3 years of silence. I had invited him to go see Road to Perdition with me, a film starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Daniel Craig and Jude Law. I was interested in seeing it because I wanted to see what a non superhero comic book movie looked like. My dad wanted to see it because it looked like a great gangster flick with big time actors.

I had traveled into the city to meet up with my dad who was living in Spanish Harlem at the time. It was a warm summer day in New York. We both felt it was a bit of a shame to spend 2 hours in a dark theater when it was so bright outside. But we paid for the tickets anyway and made our way inside.

If I had known then what I know know, I probably would have suggested another movie for us to see. Maybe something like Blade 2  would have been a bit more appropriate for the occasion. You see, Road to Perdition is a comic book movie. It also is a gangster film with a lot of great actors. But above all else, Road to Perdition is a movie about fathers and their sons. About really shitty fathers trying to do right by there not so great sons. Which for us both, it hit a little too close to home.

One of the most important things you have to do when trying to establish a relationship with someone is to suffer a bit of self induced amnesia. You try to forget or at least cover up some of the perceived transgressions that we have suffered in order to get to a better place. Once you are both standing on solid ground, then you can backtrack and go through the long list of shit-tastic events and hopefully make your peace with them once and for all. But you have to get on some sure footing first. Or your attempts of reconciliation will be sunk by the weight of anger and guilt.

When we walked out of that theater there was an awkward silence that hung between us. I could feel resentment coming up from within. My dad was silent. We were alike in many ways so I’m sure that he probably could feel what was boiling up within me. I didn’t want to ruin the day by allowing my anger to get the better of me. I knew that if I started giving the slightest hint of attitude, my father would get upset as well,  and with neither at us being particularly good at defusing a volatile situation, I was sure things would escalation into an ugly argument.

I was trying to figure out how to get past what I was feeling. Even if it was only for a couple of hours until I had a clearer mind set. That was when I thought of her. I looked over to my father and said “So there is this girl that I’ve been talking to a lot lately”. He smiled. He asked me about her. I told him how I met her. About how she lived in Illinois but that we talked every day on the phone. About how I think I really, really liked her. And that I was sure that she really liked me.

We walked around the city that afternoon. Talking about this Jessica chick that had come into my life and who I was crazy about. This made my father share a couple of his love stories. About his first crush in high school. And how he and my mom had become an item. I was surprised by what he said. My father was demonstrating a romantic streak that I had failed to notice in him before. He was genuinely interested in everything I had to say about the girl. And it seemed to me that every few minutes my dad would look at me, shoot me a great big smile, and say “That’s my boy”. He was proud of me. The way he saw it I was showing that Gonzalez charm that he thought women couldn’t resist.

He asked me if I had ever met her. I told him I hadn’t. That she lived to far away and I just didn’t have the money to go see her. Before we parted ways that day, he told me, “I want you to go home and look up prices for plane, busses and train tickets for Chicago. If it’s not too expensive then maybe we can make something happen”. I didn’t want to get to excited. I’ve been let down by him on too many occasions to keep count. Yet I couldn’t help it. The thought of taking a trip to the midwest to met Jess instantly drove me crazy. I agreed. I told him I would do it that very same night.

My father walked me over to the entrance to the R train that would be taking me back to Queens. He told me he would be expecting my phone call the following day about those ticket prices. I said I definitely would, with an almost child like glee. He smiled, gave me a hug and said I’ll talk you tomorrow then you Heartbreaker you. Love you”. I told him that I loved him too, and I thanked him for wanting to make that happen for me. He told me “Anytime. You’re my first born. Never forget that.”

I went down the stairs to enter the subway station feeling as high as I could possibly get. I was going to get to see Jessica. And my father of all people was going to make this happen. I couldn’t believe my luck. All of a sudden the road I was on was paved in gold. And it lead straight to Chicago. I couldn’t wait.

Sweet Home Chicago:  Part VI – My Kind of Town

September 12

I wrote this poem in 2006, 5 years after the events of 9/11. On 9/12/2001 I tried to get as close to ground zero as was permitted at the time. I can’t remember how far south I got before I hit the police barricades; but I knew it was somewhere between West 4th and Canal street. There were hundred of us out there. We were all just standing around; I’m not sure why I was down there. Not sure anyone else knew why they were there either. I looked south and could see the giant plume of smoke that was coming from the where the Twin Towers stood just a day earlier. I remember there was this middle age Cuban gentleman standing next to me. He turned to me and said in Spanish, ‘You see all these white people thought we were the bad ones (meaning Latinos) but it was those fucking Arabs that they had to worry about all along”. It took me a second to register what the gentleman had said to me. I should have told him that this was neither the time nor the place for ignorant, racist, bullshit. But I didn’t say a word. I just nodded my head and went back to looking at the plume of smoke. A few minutes later a fire truck came through the police barricade that stopped us from getting any closer. The cherry red truck was blanketed with this pale soot. The folks around me began to clap and cheer the fire fighters as they drove by. But those first responders they were somewhere else. They never bothered to acknowledge us. They just looked straight ahead and drove passed us. 

There was a surreal element to that day. It has stayed with me all these years. Probably always will. That’s what inspired the poem below.

Landsat 7 image of Manhattan on September 12, ...
Landsat 7 image of Manhattan on September 12, 2001. The picture shows a smoke plume spreading over large portions of the city, from the World Trade Center attack. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

September 12

September 12th,

Somewhere between West 4th

And Canal.

We stood quietly,

Mourning.

Hundreds standing together

 in solitude.

Clinging in the wind,

Scent of charred rubber.

Police stood in sentry

Of the barricades.

Like holy men

Protecting a sacred sight.

In the distance

Smoke from underground inferno,

Rose to the Godless havens.

Blazes, intense, like the hatred that created it.

A fire engine,

Rushed out.

Its red luster

muted

 By fine pale soot,

 That now blanketed the globe.

Entombed within,

The emotionally drained corpses

Of still breathing men.

We stood in attention,

Giving respect,

Like folks once gave to funeral processions.

A pair of hands unconsciously clapped,

And then another,

And another.

Before it was all said and done,

We all cheered those men on.

With both pride,

And pity.

But they never acknowledged us.

They just rode on.

In silence.

Sweet Home Chicago – “Part I – The Social Network”

MiGente Relaunch!
MiGente Relaunch! (Photo credit: ntang)

The year 2002 marked a new beginning for me. It was the year that I went all-in, showed all my cards, and took the most ridiculous leap of faith of my life. I would be lying to you if I said that I honestly thought things would end up working out for me as well as they did. On the contrary, I was convinced I would crash and burn in spectacular fashion. But I was a 23 year old kid with absolutely nothing to lose. I mean besides my heart, mind, and any ounce of self-respect I had left.

Allow me to backtrack a little. It is exactly 2 months after the events of 9\11. I am 22 years old and at that particular point in time I was living in Elmhurst Queens. One of my closest friend to this day came by to pay me a visit at my mom’s apartment. For some strange reason my boy was acting as giddy as a schoolgirl at a One Direction concert.  He tells me “Yo Tom let me put you on to some shit I found kid.” My friend had a long history of getting excited over things that I found trivial at best but I humored him because he was my boy after all. He hops over to my little Compaq Presario with it’s 512MB of ram and 10GB hard drive and Pentium Celeron processor. The 56K modems starts up and starts beeping and screeching in protest. As I’m sure some of you can remember the internet wasn’t so fast in those days so I popped open a couple of 40’s that my buddy had brought with him and we waited patiently while  the computer did it’s thing. After what probably felt like a little short of forever he got the Windows Explorer to come up and typed in MiGente.com on the search bar. I think I may have mentioned this in passing in one of my earlier post; but for those who are not familiar with Migente it was a social networking site geared toward Latinos and the people who loved them. The site is still around today but hardly anyone goes on it anymore. Not since Myspace and then Facebook came on the scene.

Now mind you my boy is not Latino. He is actually Italian and I think Jewish and some other eastern European mixes. But he always did appreciate a fine Latina booty. So the fact that he was typing in his log in information for a predominantly Latino site came as no surprise to me. He clicks on one of the many username that he had on his friends list. As we wait around for the new page to load up he begins to tell me how he found Migente about a month earlier, and how the site was filled with all manners of hot shorties that were DTF. I immediately laughed. “Yeah, yeah whatever kid” was my initial reaction. That’s what all this excitement is about? Booty calls with some crusty ass chicks? No thank you my nigga, I’ll pass.  “Son just hold up a minute and let me show you what I got here” he told me. “Then you can talk all  the shit you want”. So we took a couple of more swigs from our malt liquor and then the page finished loading. I will admit I was impressed with what I saw. I don’t remember what the girl name was. What I do recall is that she was this little bronze skinned cutie, with quite the little body. She flashed this big ol smile on her profile pic that gave off this friendly easy going vibe. She seemed to me like the kind of girl that probably had the largest collection of ugly guy friend in the entire eastern seaboard.  I pictured her to be the type of kind soul that judged people for who they were and not so much by what they looked like. Off course I don’t know if that was really true. It was just what I imagined or more likely had secretly hoped for in my ugly duckling mind.

I turned over to my boy and admitted to him that I was impressed. “I’ve been talking with her for 3 weeks now. She’s fly as all hell son. And the crazy shit is that there a ton of shorties just like this one” he goes on to tell me. My buddy then goes on to give me the a guided tour of all the girls that he had on his friends list. They all had names like lil_fly_mama, Spanish_flygurl, Colombia_nena or something along those lines.  It was an assembly line of pretty faces and low cut v-necks. He then processed to show me all the little conversations that he was having with all these girls and tells me which ones he was planning on meeting within the coming days and weeks. I was beyond jealous for my buddies new found luck.

Then my good pal decided to give me a suggestion that until that point I had not even bothered to consider. “You should get in on this. Sign up kid maybe you can hook up with a shorty or two. Get yourself going”. Initially I thought my buddy was out of his mind. I was 23 years old. Still living at home with my mom and two sibling. Had no job. Was not going to school. And all I did all day long was surf the web, download music, read comic book, play video games, and stuff my face with junk food. Plus I was as big as a freaking house. Had long flowing hair that reached down to my shoulder blades and a beard that grew only in patches. So to say that I was not the most aesthetically pleasing fella out there was putting it rather mildly. There was no way in hell that any shorty on Migente or any other site was was going to give me the time of day. Besides I had no confidence. I had spent the last four years retreating further and further within myself. I had no prospects for the future. And the only aspiration I had at the time was to be a comic book writer, which I might as well had wanted to be an astronaut or a deep sea diver.

But I gotta give my boy credit. He persisted with the idea until all I could think of was to toss him out our third story window. The thing is that I get why my friend insisted so passionately. He could probably see how miserable I was. He knew I hadn’t been out with a member of the opposite sex for a long time. He understood how unhappy I was and he just wanted me to do something, anything that might put some life in me again. And since us guys, especially young ones, are such simple creatures, he figured that a good lay would be the cure for all my ills.  I don’t know if it was the malt liquor or if I just wanted get my friend to shut the hell up about it, but eventually I relented; and I signed up to Migente that same night. Little did we both know that this would be the start of a series of events that would led me to trade in my 11373 zip code for 60628. Life altering instances are not always so easy to identify at the time that they occur. It is only after you look back and do some reflecting that you see how the Butterfly Effect really does come into play.

To Be Continued: Sweet Home Chicago: Part II – Rock On