Childish Gambino “Sweatpants”

Childish Gambino “Sweatpants”

 

The other day at work I was having a conversation with my coworkers about 90’s hip-hop. Names like Mobb Deep, M.O.P, Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Biggie, Fugees, Big L, Outkast, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest, the Pharcyde, and a dozen more got dropped. We reminisced how we couldn’t go about our business without having our disk-man and a small cd carrying case with our carefully selected assortment of mix-tapes and albums. In those days we lived for music. We laughed about how we could be in the best mood in the world, but if the right track came on, like Pete Roc and Clay Smooth “T.R.O.Y” or Mobb Deep “Shook Ones Pt. 2”, it could have a transformative effect on your mood. Your walk would become a little harder, your face slightly more stoic, and you quietly thought to yourself that you were the baddest man on planet earth and you wish someone would try to bring the ruckus!

Off course music no longer has the same effect on me as it did back then, because naturally I’m older, and have much better understanding of consequences then I did when I was a snot-nosed teen. But every once in a blue moon, I will come across a track, like Childish Gambino’s “Sweatpants” that will cause my shoulder to sway with a little more determination. That will make me put on that “you better not fuck with me” face.” And for like a minute or two I will allow myself to flirt with the idea that I am as indestructible as I was when I was 18 years old and ready to take on the world. That is until my hardcore walk causes my left knee to hurt, and my back stiffens, and my shoulder swaying is reaggravating an old rotator cup injury, and then I remember that I’m too old for all that tough guy shit. But it’s ok, because near the end of “Sweatpants”, the hard edge transitions over into some smooth, sexy funk, and I realize that there is nothing wrong with just grooving to the track like any normal ex-youngster that just wants to find a graceful way to enter middle age.

Getting Trumped

It was the morning after the election. And like most minorities, young people, or anyone else that wasn’t comfortable with the idea of Donald Trump having the nuclear codes, I woke up that day feeling like if I was in mourning. Trump spent the better part of eighteen months spewing xenophobia, misogyny and being an outright dick to anyone that dared to have an opinion opposite to his, yet America chose him to lead the country into right-leaning direction. As I walked out of my home to make my way to work, the middle class, multi-cultural neighborhood that I live in was quiet, with the only thing stirring being the torrent of dry leaves that danced and swirled through the air by the forceful breeze that shed them off all the surrounding tree branches. So although in my heart it felt to me that I had just phased over into the darkest timeline, the world around me, looked like any other day. The sun rose, the birds sang, people went about their business. Life moved on.  

I made my way north up from Berwyn, through the lower-middle-class neighborhoods of Forest Park, and Maywood, until I reached the shopping center sector of Hillside, where I exited the local roads and jumped on the 294 tollway.  From there it I traveled about 25 miles north until I reached the Willow exit, where I get reminded daily how folks on the other side of the track live.   After going 8 miles due east, I reached the uber-affluent town of Winnetka Illinois. The town itself is sixteen miles north of Downtown Chicago, and according to the 2010 census, is 94% caucasian. The median household income hovers somewhere around the low 200 G’s, and the average median value for homes is a smidge below two million dollars. I believe our current billionaire Governor; Bruce Rauner has a residence in Winnetka, and the house that Kevin, from Home Alone, transformed into a burglar death trap is just down the street from my job.

I parked my car across the street from a large, but aging mansion, that had a small work crew of Polish carpenters working away at improving its weathered facade. I summarized the home dated back to the 1920’s and was about four times the size of the quaint, two bedroom home I owned 32 miles south in Berwyn Illinois. Even in it’s less than pristine condition, this was the kind of house that barely middle-class folks like myself would gladly sacrifice their left testicle for. Its spacious yard and the capacious sunroom covered more ground than I would know what to do with and served to remind me every morning, how unlikely I or anyone I know would ever reach the heights of success necessary to afford such a home.    

As I cross the street, heading to the office, I kept my head down, but my mind gazed out into an unfamiliar horizon. My life, one that has only known what is like to survive, instead of thriving, was suddenly presented with a new fear. What would a Donald Trump presidency mean for my family and I, as well as all the other families in this country that are one lost paycheck away from being sent into depths of utter despair?   Some would argue that Trump would do precisely what he promised, that he would make America Great Again. But not once did I ever get the sense that he meant that all of America’s citizens would bask in America’s rediscovered glory. No Trump and many of his followers want to bring America back to simpler times.  To a time when dirty Commies, radicals, hippies, angry minorities, godless atheist, and bra burning feminist got their just deserts instead of getting a seat at the table. I also wondered what this would mean for my job.   

You see ironically I work as a Housing Intake Specialist for a nonprofit organization that protects tenant rights, tries to help families save their homes from foreclosure, as well as fight all housing-related discrimination. So in laymen terms, I work for an equal housing organization that promotes inclusion, which so happens to be located in the middle of the most exclusive, and least racially diverse town in probably the entire Chicagoland area.  Nearly half of our funding comes from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development also known as HUD. And if there are any major cuts in the grants that the organization receives from Hud, not only would we have to drastically scale back on the help we give hundreds of people a year, but it would also mean that I could receive a drastic reduction in pay, or simply be laid off;  two prospects that I seriously couldn’t afford.  

Two days later, tired of hearing all the pundits talking about what came next for America, and my kind hearted co-workers sense of despair, I took off during my lunch hour, for some much needed alone time.  I got into my car, and drove down the affluent streets of Sheridan Road, with its multitude of million dollar homes,  to take a breather in the quietest spot in all of the Chicagoland, the beautiful Baha’i Temple, located about 3 miles south in Wilmette. I parked my car and walked up the handicap accessible ramp that led up to the temple gardens. During the spring and summer months the garden is filled with an abundance of vibrant flowers, and beautiful reflective pools, but now that the fall had arrived in earnest, the garden was subdued with the sort of floral arrangements, that would seem appropriate for a funeral.  

I made my way around the brown brick path, the sound of flowing water coming from a fountain located somewhere on the grounds could be heard. A single white male, with designer shades and a $75 haircut took several seconds trying to take the perfect selfie. The temple grounds were serene and quiet.  From my elevated vantage point, I could see a pair of women jogging together on the quiet street that sat across from the Temple grounds. I could see the lake stretching itself out until it blended with the equally blue horizon. I was standing in a pocket of the universe where no matter what turmoil was affecting the outside world, it seemed that it just couldn’t penetrate the insulating bubble that has protected the well to do people of this town for decades. The good people of these affluent towns, with their generational wealth, didn’t need to concern themselves with the worries of the outside world.

 The temple itself is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture that I have ever seen. It is surrounded by nine fountains, which then lead up to a set of stairs that surround the entire dome complex. At the top of the stairs, there are nine entrances, separated evenly allowing people entry into the temple from virtually all directions. Above the entrance, there are another nine sides, adorned with elaborate designs and elongated windows that stretch upward until you get to the bottom of the dome. The dome itself is round, but have nine protruding concrete slabs that curve near the top giving the structure a look from above of a king kong sized orange squeezer.  I made my way into the dome, where about five people were seated quietly, disperse through the room, on faded red chairs. A young black man sat quietly wearing a black turtleneck. He sat there in silence, never once seeming to look in any direction but straight ahead. He also happens to be only the 3rd black face I had seen up in these neck of the woods since I started working up there almost two months ago.   

Above each entrance, there are several religious proverbs, written in gold letters. Nearly all of the proverbs were partially obscured from the angle that I was viewing them, due to the way the nine-sided temple is shaped inside. The only one that was fully visible to me said “All the prophets of God proclaim the same faith.  But as I stared directly at the dome ceiling, and the interlocking nine circles that made the dome look to me very much like the tunnel of light that people that had suffered near death experiences have described, I felt no divine presence. No sense of inner peace or tranquility. And absolutely no renewal of faith. All that I could feel was the persistent, and overwhelming sense of uncertainty that has been constant since election night. Perhaps, my overly anxious mind is just getting the better of me, as it often does, and all my current worries will be all for not. But unfortunately for me, unlike the residents of Winnetka, and Wilmette, I can’t afford not to worry.

Sweet Home Chicago: “Part IV – Family Reunion”

Love Love Love
Love Love Love (Photo credit: Gregory Jordan)

I have never thought of myself as hopeless romantic. I don’t think that I fit that billing.  I may have some romantic tendencies or leanings, but I would not claim that I was the kind of fool that believes in love above all manner of reason. Perhaps I’m a bit too jaded to think that way. Damaged goods, such as myself, are too bruised up to achieve that level of romanticism. To be a hopeless romantic I think its necessary to have a level of naivete that can only come from the comforts of a relatively sheltered life. It requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. To trust in the inherent good nature of your fellow man. And you have to genuinely believe that when you meet that someone that makes your little cynical heart skip a beat, that they will forgo their own sense of self preservation, and dedicate their entire existence to you; just because they see something in you that goes beyond anything you ever saw in yourself. I’ve met many wonderful souls in my life. People that are good natured, hard working, loving, and compassionate folks. The proverbial salt of the earth. Yet in the 35 years that I’ve been flying on Spaceship Earth, I’ve only known one person that have ever looked me straight in the eye and made me feel like they had forgone their own sense of self preservation because they thought I was worth it.

When the future wifey and I started talking on the phone over a decade ago it felt like the entire world had come to a complete stop. Nothing else mattered. I didn’t care about current events. There was no war on terror. There was nothing going on in the realm of pop culture that was remotely more interesting than what the wifey had to say. Hundreds of hours were spent on the phone just yapping away. My brother would sometimes leave for work early in the afternoon and would come back several hours later only to find me in the same position still talking with her. We would call each other every night, right before we would go to sleep, just because we wanted to make sure that the last thing we heard that night would be each others voice. Jess would often fall asleep while on the phone, and I would whisper to her good night. She would then wake up and plead that she was still awake and not to hang up. We spoke 9 hours in a row once. We shared so many great laughs. We shared so many painful memories. It was if we had been ignored by the world all of our lives and now all of a sudden we had found someone in each other that wanted to hear what we had to say. And now we couldn’t shut up.

I couldn’t get enough of Jess. Every conversation made me yearn  for her all the more. And knowing that she was 805 miles away ( I know this because I had Mapquested it) just amplified the feeling all the more. Naturally the more we spoke the more comfortable I felt opening up about my family and its rough past. I remeber sharing with the wifey some of the painful experiences I had gone through with my father. About the drug addiction, the arguments, the ugly confrontations, plus the occasional humiliations. It was not at all out of character to hear Jess sniffeling and blowing her nose after recounting some of my personal horror stories. She never quite knew what to say. That’s never been her forte. But she would always say in the saddest voice that she could muster, with what I often pictured being tears streaming down from her beautiful face, how sorry she was that I had to go through that. I would laugh it off and say that it was no big woop. Just something that happened. That I was a big boy and that it no longer phased me. Off course I was lying.

But I didn’t share just sad stories. I would also tell her about some of my fondest memories about my father and mother and the rest of my siblings. Pleasant memories that ebduced big fat smiles on my face. Memories that I had not bothered to think about for years because I had grown so comfortable focusing on the bad ones. Jess enjoyed my happy tales. Especially the ones that dealt about my misadventures as a kid. Like the time when I was 12 years old, and I punched my dad so hard in the groin, after one of our wrestling matches, that my dad had to get one of his doctor friends to do a house call and check on his badly bruised family jewels. He wasn’t able to go to work let alone walk straight for about a week.

She laughed at my ridiculous stories. I think that was when Jess started to hear something in my voice, something that I either had not realized was there or that I had chosen to ignore. She heard the affection that I still had for my dad. I recall the wifey asking me, “You still love him don’t you?” I guess I did.

Don’t you think it’s time you forgave him?” she once asked. I forgave him a long time ago I told her. I just rather not deal with him, that’s all. “I don’t know Tom. I think enough time has passed for you two to make nice.” I would tell her, “look luv I get why you would say that. And I appreciate what you are trying to do here. But you don’t know my dad. He will find a way to fuck things up. And I honestly rather not have to deal with it. It’s not worth it. Some people can’t be helped. My dad will just find someway to screw me over. I rather not have to deal with another let down”. That was really my reason. It is madness to go through the same song and dance number time and time again and to somehow expect different results.

But Jess would not be so easily swayed. She felt deep down in her heart that if I made peace with my dad that it would all somehow work out. Perhaps she sensed that I secretly wanted to make amends with the old man after 3 years of silence. Or perhaps she just felt that if she managed to get my dad and I back together it would make her feel really good about herself. Whatever her reasons where she made sure to insist that I reconsider my stance.

If anyone had suggested something as hopeless as me and my dad making peace, I would have laughed right in front of their face. I knew the man. I knew his nature. I knew I couldn’t trust him. Not because he was evil man beyond redemption. But because he was sick. And sick people can’t help themselves sometimes. But I ignored my own sense of self preservation. I allowed myself to suspend disbelief. I threw out 23 years of personal experience. And allowed myself to trust in the inherent goodness of my fellow man. All because of her. I wanted to believe what she believed. I wanted to make her happy. And by making her happy I would be making myself happy. And who knew. Maybe this time things would actually work out for the best. Maybe it was time for me and my dad to bury the hatchet. Maybe we could let go of the past and start a new. Yeah, maybe, just maybe this might be good for me.

On a warm sunny day in July of 2002 I saw my dad coming up the block with my sister. He was dropping my sister off after a weekend visit. I went downstairs and met them at the door. My dad was somewhat surprised to see me standing there. I smiled and asked him if he wanted to come upstairs for a bit. He hesitated. I think he was wondering if I was going to ambush him in someway. I smiled some more. I assured him that it was ok. That I wanted to speak with him. My dad nodded and followed my sister and I up the stairs. It had been 3 years since I had last uttered a word to the man. You would think that we would have had a books worth of material to talk about. But oddly enough we were both not quite sure what to say next. After a few minutes worth of awkward small talk I grew the cojones to tell my dad why I had invited him up. I told him I was ready to let go of the past. That I was sorry for the way I had treated him the last time we had been in the same room. That I was ashamed that I got so out of control and that I had pushed him. I also told him that I forgave him for everything that happened. That I knew he wasn’t a bad man. That things sometimes we allow life to get messed up. And that I was willing to let it all go and make a brand new start if he was willing to do the same. My dad smiled. He told me there are things that I will not understand until I am a father, but that he would love me and always be there for me for as long as he lived. We hugged that day. We tried to do our best to let go off all the baggage that we both carried. It wasn’t so easy. There were times when I could hear hints of anger in both our voices when we we talked about specific events. But we were able to keep our cool. Anytime one of us got a little heated we were able to defuse the situation by either changing the subject or taking a nice deep breath.

It felt good talking with my dad again. For a split second I imagined that maybe, just maybe things would be different. I remember thinking how wonderful life was. I had this great girl in my life that was crazy about me. And my dad was back in my life. Everything was falling into place. I was allowing myself to breath again. For the first time in years I was feeling optimistic about the future. And I had the wifey to thank for it all. I called her up that night and told her what I had done. That I had spoken to my dad just like she had suggested. And that surprisingly it all turned out pretty well. I even told her that my dad and I had agreed to go see a movie together. There was a new Tom Hanks. It was called Road to Perdition. It was a gangster flick. It looked cool. He had seen the commercial and wanted to see it too. So we were going to catch it the following weekend. Jess was so happy for me. She couldn’t help herself and kept saying  “I told ou so. I knew it would work out.” I smiled. Yeah maybe it would.

To be Continued: Sweet Home Chicago: Part V – On the Road to Perdition

Live to Fight Another Day

Live to Fight Another Day

I find simultaneously funny and depressing, that my dogs have an easier time of getting their point across using nothing more than their body language and a handful of grunts than I do with the entire English and Spanish language at my disposal. Why is it that I find it so difficult to get folks to understand where I am coming from? How is it possible that I have found myself having major disagreements with almost every person that I have ever cared deeply about. I ask myself, what is it about my personality that seem to promote so many arguments?

There was a time when I fooled myself into believing that I was just surrounded by inconsiderate assholes. Then I theorized that my appreciation for a well placed curse word during casual conversations was now being construed as an act of aggression when the tone in my voice gave the slightest hint of agitation. But lately I have settled on a simpler and more plausible explanation. I am just clearly wrong all the time. I guess my brain just interpret innocuous actions as an overtly aggressive slight. And before you go, well now, now, perhaps you are being just a little tough on yourself. Allow me to point out that there is only one common denominator linking every single argument, over the course of all these years, with so many people different people. As you may have guessed that common thread is me.

I always seem to find myself at odds with someone that I love. And it’s not the normal once in a blue moon type deal. It is constant, sometimes weekly ordeals that drag on forever. I just don’t have the energy to continue down this path of perpetual conflict. After all this time, they are simply taking too much of a toll. I just wish wish I was self aware enough to spot the signs and avoid these arguments in the first place.

You would think that someone that has had so much experience fighting with people would have grown accustomed to them by now but I just never got used to it. Each argument puts me in such a bad state of mind. And while everyone can miraculously move on and be hunky-dory after a day or two; I remain sunk in a funk. If only I was made of sturdier stuff then perhaps I could stomach the constant sparing.

Sorry for being such a downer today. I think I’m in desperate need of sleep and a King size Snickers bar. One silver lining in all this is that I did find a new track by Beck titled I Won’t Be Long. I guess Monty Python put it best then they sang Always look On the Bright Side of Life.

Them Babies Gonna Kill My Swag

Them Babies Gonna Kill My Swag
Bertie wants to be a jockey and kim waits for ...
Bertie wants to be a jockey and kim waits for the off! (Photo credit: mark lorch)

So I am finally 35 years old. There was no total eclipse of the sun to mark the occasion. No plague of locust materialized. The earth failed to tremble. The dead did not rise from their place of rest. So much dread leading up to that day, just for it to be just like any other Saturday.  I did run a bunch of errands that day. Had a small cookout in my yard with the wifey and some of her family. And I got to witness the sister-in-laws dog repeatedly sexually harass one of my friend’s dog. So all in all pretty uneventful day.

English: An anxious person
English: An anxious person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That got me thinking. So what am I supposed to spend my times worrying about now? I know that 25 year old’s get the quarter-life crisis. And 45 year old’s get the midlife crisis. So what do us 35 year old’s get to fret about? How come we don’t get a crisis geared toward us? How am I supposed to know what I am supposed to be afraid off, and anxious about, if it isn’t yet “a thing!”

jubesbebbeh_zps53f0d117I guess it is up to me to find the next great fear that will take up my valuable time, and I think I found just the thing. Cute, chubby, drooly, projectile vomiting, always pooping, babies. Babies, and what they represent scare the living bejeezus out of me. They also seem to be everywhere. All my friend seem to have one, if not two or three. A day does not go by in which the wifey comes home talking about some co worker getting pregnant, or having a baby. The never-ending, baby factory that is the wifey’s extended family, seems to be always be welcoming a new addition into the world. Even Jubilee, best known for being Wolverine’s quasi kid sidekick back in the 1990’s, just returned to the X-men family with a newborn baby in tow. The world has caught baby fever, and it scares me that maybe I am immune.

English: Gov. Schwarzenegger visits Old Town E...
English: Gov. Schwarzenegger visits Old Town Eureka to survey earthquake damage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There hasn’t been too many positive male role models in my life. As I mentioned in some of my previous post, my father and I didn’t exactly win father and son duo of the year. My grandfather was a kind man when sober, but when he was drunk, he enjoyed slapping my grandmother around a bit too much. My great-grandfather was some kind of orchestra leader back on the island. He was pretty well know for what I had been told. He had a wife and a family. He also had “a thing” for the help. Guess you can say he had Arnold Schwarzenegger problems. That is how my grandfather came about. I come from 3 generations of men with some serious father son issues. Men who at one point or another gave an oath and believed wholeheartedly that they were going to be nothing like their fathers. Each man failed in spectacular fashion.

Cover of "Robin Harris' Bebe's Kids"
Cover of Robin Harris’ Bebe’s Kids

I can’t help but wonder what kind of father I will turn out to be. I would like to think that I could be the open minded, nurturing father that sparks his kids imagination. Perhaps instill a love for sports, movies, comic books, and all the other geeky stuff that I gravitate too. Yet I also understand that each child is his or her own person. There is a chance that no matter how much I try, the kid would never love or care about any of the things I like. There is a chance that the kid could be born an asshole. Hey, hey, don’t judge me too harshly for saying that now. C’mon let’s be realistic here. We have all come across some bad ass Bebe’s kids before. Kid’s that have kind, nurturing parents, that provide them with all the food and shelter that a kid needs, and yet they still turn into tiny terrors. Kids that torture furry creatures, and hit everything and everyone without impunity. Kids whose sole purpose is to gestate enough criminal knowledge until they are old enough to partake in the american penal system.

stressed out parentsI’ve seen the bewildered, desperate faces of parents, who have had the life sucked out of them by their kids. I’ve had good friends with children, who have looked me in the eye, and have told me in no uncertain terms how miserable being a parent has made them. Sometimes I get the sense that folks romanticize the notion of having kids. Probably like poets, writers, filmmakers, and others romanticize war. The ideal falls way short of the brutal and soul crushing reality.

There is so much about being a parent that seems to be out of your hands. I don’t understand how parents don’t just spend their nights just looking up at the ceiling fretting about all the potential catastrophes that could potentially befall on their kids. I guess all you can do is go to your local witch doctor, sacrifice a chicken, light a candle to Ochún, the Santeria goddess of love,  pop those kids out, and hope that  the universe chooses not to screw you over.

Despite all that. I will confess that there is a part of me that would like to have a kid or two. For 35 years now I lived only to make me happy. I have had a very selfish life. A life that has been devoid of a lot of responsibility. I’ve done stupid things, and not really worried about the consequences because in the end, it would only affect me. Maybe it would affect the wifey too, but she is an adult. She has a strong and loving family to fall back on. She has a good safety net. But with a kid or two, I would be more mindful of the consequences. They are defenseless, and have no safety net to speak off. I would have to be more cautious on how I spend my money, I would be more motivated to strive in the workplace, I would have more incentive to be a better, and more grounded human being. Above all else, I just want to be a good father to my future kids. A loving father. A kind father. The kind of father that does not provide his kids with shit-loads of material to talk about with their future psychiatrist.

Video games for all
Video games for all (Photo credit: AnaleaGwendolyn)

My time of relative freedom is at the end. The baby making process has begun, and I expect to have the wifey knocked up in the next few months. It is making me super nervous and giving me plenty to be anxious about. But I also know that it is time to leave my childish ways behind, and be an adult for once. If anything having a kid in the house could at least mean that I might have someone there to play NBA 2K with me more often. That is if he or she isn’t born an asshole. Well I can hope right?