Pep Boys, James and Activated Charcoal

So I’m waiting for my Pep Boys oil change after driving from Indiana to Philly knowing damn well I needed one a week ago. After realizing I didn’t pack any toothpaste from home in my pink and blue patterned hygiene bag, I go to the Target next door. I discover that toothpaste politics have joined the realm of the quixotically complicated. I consider the activated charcoal toothpaste; the box is mad pretty. Activated charcoal, fluoride free, vitamin B and “other” vitamin supplement toothpaste. I hope, if only slightly, that this toothpaste makes you vomit? I discover, after a quick google search, that if you are not crippled by ten years as a medic, activated charcoal, in small doses, is generally used as an absorptive agent to “capture or bind-up unwanted materials and gas, which are safely carried out of the digestive system.” I remember then, that duh, I knew that, but somewhere along the way I decided that all detriments and curatives exist only in their most extreme fabulations. Some people call this catastrophizing, or Theodor Adorno or whatever. I wish, if only for a moment, while I wait for my gingerbread latte with almond milk and whipped cream, that important things will gain the right to be more complicated. I figure that I will get in about a thousand words of writing before my oil is changed and I pick the kids up from school and make dinner at Cal and Aisha’s house. So I sit down at the little Starbucks cafe in Target with my activated charcoal, vitamin B, all natural, gluten and bovine hormone free toothpaste and a value size box of Gushers. There is a kid across from me behind a big red Hp laptop who looks like Fat Albert with dreads. He’s wearing Beats headphones and grinding on some project that probably has him fucked up, since he shakes his head and grimaces with every other keystroke. There is a little girl black girl walking back and forth presumably while her parents get coffee, she’s prolly like six. She asks me how tall I am and I say six-thousand and six-hundred feet and she says, No, you lying, and pokes me with her finger, her barrettes, a head full of the thin plastic ones of every color you get for a dollar a bag jingle and I can’t help laughing. Why you laughing at me! She says, which only makes it funnier. Her dad comes over with what looks like an Oreo Frappuccino. Girl, what you doing? He says. Then, Ain’t you used to play ball up in the Northeast? I realize that this nigga is my age and that we did indeed used to play ball in the Northeast but it prolly doesn’t matter.

There is a white man named James talking at this Puerto Rican girl across from me. The girl is a college student, probably early twenties at most, probably goes to La Salle. James looks like he is around thirty. He has a half-sleeve tribal tattoo and a short ponytail with a receding hairline and a beard. The only reason I know his name is James is because the girl keeps saying it in response to his talking at her. That’s great, James. No, no I had no idea about that James. James reminds me of every strained and failed friendship I’ve tried to have with a white man. James says that he knows something she doesn’t know about Iphones because of his tech work, well he used to do tech work but not anymore, and also, he says: would you like to know something else about politics and world religion? I am also, James says, a trained professional wrestler, and I act, and are you familiar with Reiki? Do you know about the Luchadores? He points to a tattoo on his other arm. You know, he says. No one even told me any of this, I was actually sitting beneath a tree when I was just four years old, looking up into the sky and I figured it all out. Do you understand the terminology of Malware? It has so much to do with global politics. Well, he says, let me tell you about Chi energy,  even though, well, I don’t use Reiki specifically. And I also know a lot about language because I’m a writer and I lived in Louisiana where I was taking subsets of data because the second language is French. Norton is a joke, I wouldn’t use Norton if you payed me. Plus, Africa, you know is the only place where true blacks live, where the real African religions are and I spent a lot of time studying their politics as well. A black girl with a long princess braid down to her waist turns around and starts laughing. And Hey, James says. He looks at me. Have you ever been to Louisiana man? James, I say. I think you should go mind your fucking business and die. What? He says, not to me, but to the black girl. Then he says, I have a political science background and I’m just trying to help. He walks away, sulking. I pick up my bag of pineapple Trident gum, value pack Gushers, gluten free toothpaste, two-for-four Red Bull and Fallout 76 mug to walk back across the street to Pep Boys. James is at the Starbucks counter. Too many people think about Africa as a country, he says. It is an entire continent, with complex politics and religions and that is the problem…


Security is walking towards James but they won’t kill him. Maybe the cops will come and shoot security for disrespecting James. James will stab the black girl on the subway and call her a black bitch and we will all act like nothing happened. James said he’s not a republican. James just wants to be your friend and why are people so divisive. James is very constitutional. No one is willing to listen. I try to pretend I’m not thinking all of the things I really think including all those I won’t write. It would be catastrophizing. James is talking about all of the families who really own most of the United States. In politics, he says, I try to remain neutral and base everything on just the facts.

R. Kelly is my Bio Dad

Sitting on the couch eating a chicken cheesesteak and a regular cheesesteak at the same time because I was starving and they only cost three dollars each, I joked with my mother, brother and sister. I was supposed to be recording things about the past with them, for the memoir I’m supposed to be finished by now as an MFA thesis.

“Yo, y’all remember the time that nigga my dad dropped by while I was in Iraq?” I asked.

“Yooo,” Julian said. “I remember that. This nigga followed me to school and everything. This when I was going down the street to Hardin.”

“God I fucking hated Harding,” I said. “But wait, why that nigga follow you to school?”

Nika was dying from laughter. “Y’all trippin,” she said.

My mother lay on the couch opposite me, looking at my chicken cheesesteak.

“I don’t even know. He was this weird short boul with braids and he had a grill in.”

I shook my head, chuckling.

Julian changed his voice to dramatize the situation. He sounded weak, sickly almost. “He was like: ‘hey I’m looking for my son, Joseph’” He was hunched over and slit eyed.

We all laughed.

“But I’m like thirty now. Niggas are so outta control,” I said. “Prolly wanted money.”

A cockroach skittered up on my scarf and I shook it off and kept eating. It was cold inside the house, so I kept my jacket on. Julian had gotten a small heater from his room upstairs and put it in front of his two-year-old daughter Aubrey. Nika was braiding her hair and eating a cheeseburger. My mother kept looking at my chicken cheesesteak, then up at me.

“You ain’t remember that Joey? I told you.”

“Yeah I remember he came,” I said. “I called that number he left, but shocker, his mother answered and no one ever called back. Wasn’t he like ten years older than you anyway? And you were thirteen. He been a rapist, somebody shoulda killed that nigga. I guess I called out of morbid curiosity. You know how like, when everybody is about to get killed by the Xenomorph, but you really want to see the whole Xenomorph first?”

Everyone stared at me, silent for a second.

“What,” Nika said.

“Six years older,” my mother said.

“Rapist,” I said. “We should kill him. You know his last name?”

I thought about the R. Kelly photos on my grandmother’s wall a few months ago, and how she proudly recounted going to his concert in Jersey to me. She was drunk cause she drinks a lot, but she’s a jolly, albeit, way too hype drunk so it’s usually fine if I have the energy. I had no real right to chastise her, even though I’d done so before. All I did was cut her off by saying I can’t fuck with R. Kelly. I watched my kids slide across the kitchen floor and wrestle with Cassie instead of arguing.


My mother was still eyeing the chicken cheesesteak. “I’m sorry Joey but you gonna eat that?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t take that jawn when I went to the bathroom,” I said.

“I was bein polite,” she said.

I took one more bite of the chicken cheesesteak before handing it over.

Julian came alive again, standing by the front door like he was guarding it. He had a long slimy onion in his beard from a burger. His daughter looked way up to him from her tiny chair, since he’s even taller than me. “Daddy,” she said with a frown, pointing at her tight braids.

“It’s okay Aubrey,” Julian said. “Joey, you said you called em before, why don’t you try and call em again?”

I searched for the number while making faces at Aubrey. It was saved under alleged father. When I hit dial we all got quiet for a few seconds in suspense. It rang six times and then an older black woman picked up the phone. “Hello,” she said.

“Hello,” I said, in my best imitation of the white voice from Sorry to Bother You. “I’m looking for a man named Tyrone Gulledge.”

“You got the wrong number,” she said. Then I deleted the number.

“Why don’t you try lookin for em on Facebook,” my mother said.

I do a quick Facebook search and find several Tyrone Gulledges, showing them to my mother and brother in succession. None of them matched.

“Guess not,” I said. Then I decided to just google the name. The first hit was the mugshot of a thin black man with braids named Tyrone Emanuel Gulledge. TEG. I showed the picture to my mother from the opposite couch. Her mouth was full of chicken cheesesteak, but she squinted. Nika and Julian saw it too.

“Yo that look like a mugshot,” Julian said.

“Of course it is,” I said.

My mother snatched the phone from my hand. “Yup, that’s him,” she said.

Julian started laughing. “Yeah Joey I coulda told you that. That’s just how that nigga looked when he followed me to school.”

We all laughed and laughed. Nika smiled harder and laughed quieter than the rest of us, focusing on Aubrey’s hair.

I wasn’t surprised at all, but I thought about how the only information I could ever truly get about family members was the listing of their criminal record. Ganny, Popop, my mother etc. And that used to make me angry, but now I’m not sure what to think about it, other than the anxiety. The incessant paranoia which keeps me encouraging my brother and sister and kids to stay off the list and simultaneously guard against people who are on the list but who are also family. It makes me feel mean. I’m just tryna stay honest. And be nice. And spend time with people. But we’re all already on some list, in one form or another.

Later, I send the image to an activist friend of mine who likes to look up info about people.

“They all say I look like him,” I text.

“Wow you look nothing like the dude,” she replies. But, “the records are uhhh many.”

There’s a pause while she writes. “Well, you both got tiny ears I guess.”

There’s a screenshot which captures a fraction of the man’s life and the chunks of other people’s lives he’s taken away.

Rape of Child.

Agg. Ind. Assault W/O Consent.

Unlawful Contact With Minor – Sexual Offenses

Sexual Assault


Etc. Etc.

“He’s currently in Frackville,” my friend types.

Where the fuck is that, I think and type simultaneously. I google Frackville and find it’s one of the Pennsylvania dump sites west of Philadelphia, primarily littered with confederate flags, military bases and–

“Maximum security state prison,” my friend says.

Maybe the ears, I think. Maybe somebody will kill him.

The Blerd Complex

There has been a revival of the blerd complaint circling the internet sphere for the past week or so. The idea that black boy nerds are being left behind by the black community, and thus end up dating white women has been mapped onto Childish Gambino, whose popularity and blackness is apparently being contested because of “This is America.” Black girl nerds have made it clear that niggas are pulling the same shit, and at much higher functional levels of abandonment. What I’m most interested in though, isn’t the kind of automatic misnomers against monolithic blackness or the deconstructive gallops being taken to link someone’s art to who they’re sleeping with. I’m mostly worried about the idea that this is primarily wrapped up around dating, i.e. person X likes person Y and gets turned down because because person X is too much of a nerd and the threshold for cool, as we all know, is high as shit in the black community.

I’m glad that now, I see more little black kids frolicking around with their Yugioh cards and handheld games and what have you, but I can’t help but be terrified for them, to include my own son. That’s because being a nerd was not about being unable to get a date when I was a kid, that shit was quite plainly about torture.

In middle school I was sitting at a table in the library during lunch playing Pokemon cards, because the lunch room wasn’t very safe. All the nerds knew the lunch room wasn’t very safe. Despite this, I should have sat even further away from the door from which you enter the lunch room because in the midst of a game, a group of three girls walked in just past the door, where this girl named T– hog spit in my face and called me a “skinny little faggot.” Then they all giggled and ran out of the door and down the stairs. I responded the way I always did. I froze, keeping completely still and pretended nothing had happened while everyone stared at me, waiting for it to be over. It never was of course, so eventually I would cry, before getting up and just leaving school. It was the same in elementary school, and the same for most of high school.

This happened all the time. Neither slurs or subject matter was limited: Anime, Yoyos, video games, you name it, it could get you snatched, smacked and ridiculed by black peers. Sometimes it was a boy who did it (they preferred slaps to the back of the head, and replaced “skinny” with “nerdy,” and so I do think there is an interesting way these adjectives/performances can be unpacked based on gender and its relationship to the body). And it wasn’t even always me who got assaulted. There were fewer nerdy girls–mostly because nerdom is mad rapey, toxic and masculine onto itself, which is definitely a whole other post–but they got trashed too, though often in more sly, emotionally abusive ways. Some of the most vile moments in my life were watching someone else get spit on, slapped, kicked, punched, or their tray tossed and being happy about it. Happy that it wasn’t me that day, at that time.

This did lead me to become very aggressive by the time I was in high school, sometimes to the point where it increased the risk to my own life. I’ll never forget Clarence pulling me back while I was threatening to murder some nigga over absolutely nothing; I can’t even remember what he said or did, though he would have probably killed me.

That most of the students in the schools I went to were black and brown, were all poor, were all performing to belong to something, to have something, is not lost on me. The fact that none of this was ever an accident is not lost on me either. Nor is the fact that the white nerd kids had comparatively boundless freedom with their identities and families, and therefore more space. What I do know, is that the experience itself was painful enough to matter beyond the events, and has been my primary mode of existence during the developmental phase of my life. I know that for most of the time afterwards it has made me more apprehensive than I should have been about black spaces and black people. I know that I have rarely crossed the street for some white boy, and if I did it was not to avoid danger, but annoyance. I know that sometimes this pain appears in unexpected places, like if I witness someone getting teased out of their alternative lifestyle in any way shape or form. Sometimes it arrives in the barbershop when I’m getting my hair cut and some nigga, all grown now with a backwards cap on strolls in like we don’t know each other, but looks me in the eyes anyway and my neck and ears get hot and I’m suddenly frustrated and begging for him to say something to me, apologetic or otherwise so I can denigrate him with all the pretentious righteousness of that white liberal deep inside me.

The most painful though, I think, is when I’m forced to pretend that these things don’t happen, have never happened, and will never happen again. When, before the start of a conversation, such things are boiled down to the trite and highly problematic circumstance of romantic capitulation, which I had a difficult time finding the space to even conceptualize, let alone pursue. And even more so now, when grown black and brown men, women and gender non-conforming folks that I know are doing their best to love me, themselves, and each other offer immediate foreclosures and denials through the terms “man up” or “stop being a sissy” by another, more subject position oriented name, whereby essentially, all of the responses from my mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle and grandfather are simply repeated with a superior, 21st century intellect, even when the ire is not directed at me anymore, it does in fact, still hurt. And I just don’t think that’s necessarily transformative, so I regularly have to un-think it with regards to myself and other people.

Of course, plenty of us have found each other now. Many of us who make it to adulthood, whether we’ve failed to kill ourselves or not have access to things we couldn’t have possibly imagined before: Online gaming, the internet, Comic Cons, shrinks, healthy relationships with people better than us, etc. And that is great. I’m all here for it, but unfortunately everybody didn’t make it to this point. Still others won’t.

Sometimes it’s fine though. And eventually I stopped being afraid of Jojo wearing that tight ass Pikachu hoodie to school, even when it was stained beyond repair. Turns out his friends loved it, and he didn’t seem to mind being called “Pikachu” instead of Joseph by some of them when they played out front with the dog. Either way, I don’t think I should ever forget why I was worried in the first place.

While I Don’t Usually Remember These

Last night I had a dream, after reading “I Left my Heart in Skaftafell” and Playing in the Dark for the umpteenth time, that I was almost robbed. Not quite. I was living in a tiny apartment/restaurant probably in West Philly and my mom had been sober for eleven days because there was a calendar and I was hiding her from someone. I was hiding myself from her and from someone too. I heard a noise outside and stepped out in tattered Adidas flip flops and another black boy my age had shattered the windshield of my car and was stealing it. I drew my own gun and stepped in front of the car hoping that he would stop, but he didn’t. I shot him two times in the chest. My flip flop ripped and I got glass in my foot. I hopped into the house and my mother was still asleep. I took a nap alongside her. When I woke up, I looked out the window and saw two boys staring at the car and the boy inside. I assumed they were police investigating the scene. I was going to come clean. I left my gun inside and walked out to tell the story. The two people were not cops, or they were, but they were also two more black boys and they had guns in their hands too, but they were much bigger than me and I tugged on their arms, tapped their shoulders trying to get their attention and explain and they raised their guns to the boy in the car. He was not dead, but getting up and then he said, “That’s him, that’s that niggas brother who shot me.” And the boy from the car in a bloody white T aimed his gun at me in the same way that the first person who ever pointed a gun at me did, as a form of capture. And I responded in the same way as I did that first time. I ran back into the house and never came back out. Never went back to sleep.

Some words from an essay

If you google “Kid Cudi How to Make it in America” you will see the still of a video in which he later wakes up in bed with a white woman. He is depressed. As am I and Drake, but so were Chester and Chris, obviously. In the show however, Kid Cudi, hereafter referred to as Scott, could indeed not be taught about the dram’ through sitcom. Scott plays a drug dealer named Mandingo Johnson or something like that, who, on occasion fucks the older white women who buy drugs from him. I’ve never sold drugs, in spite of the fact that white strangers both online and on the street attempt to sequester them from me regularly. In the scene you’ve just watched of course, a white lady leaves her meeting with Scott in which she has procured the drugs, after which, he does a lil’ jig for the children, who, of course, love him. This does not erase the sexual tension between Scott and the woman. In fact it sanitizes, or rather, emasculates him just enough to boil Scott down to his use value–weed and dick–without him being scary. It’s a lovely trick. He lowers himself to the ground and gives the children these jive ass high fives.


Later, with Scott’s all white friends, he gives unsolicited relationship advice.

“You need closure,” he begins, before rolling up his sleeve.

Then he reveals a scar on his forearm. One of the friends says, before Scott can explain, “Did somebody shoot you?”

And Scott says, “No, it’s a Jimmy Choo heel. This girl I know did a cigarette smash right in my forearm. You get one of these gentlemen, you know it’s a wrap.”

“You know it’s a psycho,” the other man says.

“No,” Scott says. “Close, Serbian. Sabina Bloskovic.”


The baby talk code-switching Scott does with the white woman’s children seems even more ridiculous when he gets in the car with his friend Pablo Neruda or something.

“Bye Domingo,” the children say.

“Bye Symphony, bye Cyrus,” says Scott, waving them off. “Learn somethin’” he continues.

And we do.

In the car, his homey Pablo says, “I’m just tryna sell weed to harmless white people like you do, make a few extra dollars.”

Weed ain’t the only thing that these niggas are selling, though at least it is harmless.


In another clip, the white woman climbs on top of Scott and tells him to close his eyes, then she surprises him with a new tattoo on her hip. She asks him if the white man (Ben) who she is in love with will care about something she wrote. Mandingo asks if everything she does is centered on Ben, because, he says it “seems you have a knack for being involved with people in his orbit.”

He asks if it’s why they are having this relationship.

“Are we having a relationship?” she asks, the tone in her voice rising to make the audacity clear.

“I mean we’re having something,” Mandingo says, fake laughing, desperate, sad. He knows better than to look directly at her so he stares down and away. The camera gives you her perspective, the subject. He musters the courage to say “I really wanna know what the deal is.”


Childish Gambino released a video called “This is America” to rave reviews, and there were no white folks featured. It was brought to my attention that his partner is white.

Scott though, is obviously sad, and will likely, eventually kill himself. I just hope I’ll be as sad about it as when Chris and Chester did, and, if by then, Scott will have made it.

Call for Papers

The White Feminists Redux and Niggardly Hotep Affiliate Coalition have joined forces, putting their differences aside in order to vie for the joint individual rights of their respective subject positions through the explicit exploitation of particular pre-interpolated bodies manifest through late capitalist neoliberal hand-me-downs from Jim Crow and Bobby Brown, while reserving a seat for Carolyn Bryant’s ghost. T’Challa will be a guest speaker, and it is estimated that seven to ten or thirty-five Dora Milaje will die guarding the building. There will be no mass grave; the corpses will be resurrected to carry pyramids and give birth simultaneously. Winston Duke and Idris Elba will be lusted after and scolded in reference to said lust by Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham whose subsequent lawsuits are pending. Katy Perry and R. Kelly will lead a roundtable discussion on the benefits of youth engagement with Miss Grundy as a guest speaker. The panel: My Black Queens and Bean Pies requests abstracts on entrepreneurial property management after a reading by Iceberg Slim. There will be six panels on Gal Gadot’s intersectionality. Twenty-six panels on “Jessica Jones,” one for each Black body obliterated to unanimous applause toward the proliferation of white womanhood. Dr. Umar and Steve Harvey will be printing degrees for fifteen-thousand dollars each at an offsite event in the Chocolate Factory night club, ladies free after midnight. Separate registration fees required for the special conversation between Meryl Streep and Caitlyn Jenner on how universal trauma can bring us all together. The event is sponsored by Dove, Benetton and Apple.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to

There is no deadline.

Grill & Chill

I’ve been trying to nail down, more succinctly at least, why I have beef with Dairy Queen; it’s not their actual cow product because I’ve never tried it and probably never will, but something about the slogan “Grill & Chill” that I find so readily detestable in its presumed innocuousness, pre-packaged as it is to loathe, that it might as well be synonymous with terms like “great books,” or “classic” in the academy, whereby the bland allusion of positivity conceals Satan himself, behind the scenes strumming an out of tune guitar with the pick of destiny. Maybe it’s the language that bothers me. It’s gotta be deeper than how John Stuart felt about Arby’s. The term “Grill & Chill” supplants any thoughts of hunger I might have had with cold hamburgers sans cheese, dressed in Black face too, wearing the brown on the outside but still cold and pink in the middle. But with no mayonnaise, or ketchup. The bun of course, in this scenario would still be thawing. Not long ago I was stuck in an airport terminal at that point where hunger evolves into frustration and bad decision making. The only thing in the terminal was “Grill & Chill.” I walked almost forty minutes to the Popeyes. The thought of Dairy Queen doesn’t keep me up at night, but it certainly doesn’t help me sleep.

In waking dreams I find myself trapped in a “Grill & Chill” hell, this nightmarish land sandwiched between a white boy pulling a Gamecube and Miller Lite from his Jansport and the associative chill of the postmortem, watching anime reruns on Netflix with an ex before crossing the threshold of that inevitable mistake of all mistakes. What I really want, I think, is for “Grill & Chill” to no longer exist, for it to fall off the side of the turtle that this flat planet lays down on. Maybe the slogan can find a better way to express what it truly means: burgers and sundaes. Maybe we all can, but until then I continue to drive past “Grill & Chill” each day with my eyes glued to the road, trying not to inhale too deeply.

In The Morning (Shrug)

Some mornings the temptation to encourage people to go and fuck themselves is so seductive that I cannot muster up any clever ways of saying it which might be nearly as satisfying. In these states it is difficult to write, and they are intensified usually by the cesspool of reality that comes after say, a great writing workshop like the one I just left with Winter Tangerine. I’m trying to work through this. First, with India Arie, (last week it was Maxwell) and then by engaging with the constant dialogue taking place in my head instead of pretending I can focus on some other shit while riddled with anxiety. So I’ve been sitting down in the little brain interrogation room, the reality marble where I’m constantly re-playing and imagining every conversation I’ve ever had or might have with everyone I’ve ever known. The whole room is blue. I think because somewhere I might have read that it’s a soothing color, or I’m always thinking about drowning. Who knows. In it, the people who converse: old friends, family members, ex-lovers, acquaintances and the like, and even I, can only be our best selves. It’s like a rule. We are honest, and humble and all that, which is why I never forget that it’s a fantasy. We all speak plainly, succinctly.

There, I tell my mother that I love her without flinching at the qualifications. The white girl from Arcadia tells me that she only accused me because she was afraid, embarrassed about what she did to a Black body. I tell the woman who flew from Europe for me that I was not at all ready to receive her. I admit to teenage friends that I was passive aggressive because I was jealous they had parents. I call my dad’s phone number more than once. An ex admits that her abuse had little to do with me or the kids. I discover the real reason why someone I trusted decided I was no longer worth their breath. I shake Robby’s hand in the barbershop, I don’t laugh when I find out what happened to him.

And nothing is fine there, of course, and I know it’s not real because I can understand it. It’s too fair, too tangible and sometimes logical. There is something like reconciliation.

And after the moment, I get around to finishing Two Serious Ladies (see: any two European White ladies) at the airport where the flight was delayed. Well, cancelled till the next day. A widely grinning white man walks up to me while I’m reading, and somehow he pinpoints exactly where I’m at on the page.

“Are they in Panama yet,” he asks, so excitable that the only word I can think of to describe him is guffawing, even though I find the word hideous.

“Yes,” I say.

And he tells me it’s the best part, but he doesn’t leave. He says it’s the best part again, so I compare the book to a few Wes Anderson films, because judging by his appearance I could tell he loves Wes Anderson films. He says again that it’s the best part. In it, a big Black magical negress “does its jig on the page” as Mat Johnson might say, as a big, scary, Black plot device for one of the protagonists, Mrs. Copperfield to measure her humanity against, begin her process of transformation, and then discard said nameless negress. Very second wave feminist. Then Mrs. Copperfield meets another woman, a beautiful Spanish prostitute named Pacifica, who she fetishizes damn near off the mufucking page before refusing to leave her side like a child. She decides that she and Pacifica are friends. She sits downstairs with another woman, Mrs. Quill, while Pacifica is upstairs being raped by a sailor. Mrs. Quill and Mrs. Copperfield feel bad at first, then they have drinks, decide she can take care of herself, and ponder life.

The white man still standing in front of me winks hard before walking away.

In my head I have interesting conversations with my classmates about the book, ones that include history and accountability, literary theory and feminism, realism and craft, Playing in the Dark and The Gilda Stories (especially Jewelle Gomez’s interview where she describes the impetus for writing it and the scene where Gilda sets a trap for their abuser). In my reading response I stick as closely as I can to pontificating Eurocentric aesthetic value. I remember that Citizen is on every syllabus, so it’s all good. During workshop I nod and say thank you. 

Weeks ago I let slip in class that gendered and racialized descriptions of characters in fiction can never equal mere descriptors, environmental placeholders or what have you, but carry weight in regards to ideological critique, history, place, socio-cultural contexts and several other things, in frustration, the exact phraseology and context of which I cannot repeat here. It was probably like my fifth slip-up in my graduate career. It was exhausting. I remembered Aisha cursing me out because a character in a story I’d written was racially problematic, and I told her I was going for something like that, but trying to be more subtle. She said that was stupid. She was right. In class I stopped talking–after a few choice words…

I smiled and nodded.

A woman in administration asked me why I wrote “Black” in my author bio. She seemed concerned. Instead of suggesting that it clearly mattered to her, and therefore she was answering her own question, I started with like Audre Lorde and went all the way to Wilderson. She asked me again, and wanted to know why Jake didn’t write anything like that in his bio. I smiled and nodded.

At the cafe where my friend Chamara and I often work, I see the person I trusted. We were standing closely, so they turn their back and laugh about some other stuff with a friend. I shrug, it’s their right. When I sit down to work, an Asian woman sitting behind Chamara complains that she is afraid because there are too many Black people around these days. We are two, actually. In the cafe at least, like 2.4 in the whole Graduate English department. In my head, I embarrass the woman by asking her–in my Samuel Jackson cooning on a commercial voice–why she is so worried about the flood of niggers around here, and how she thinks we might all best protect ourselves. I ask her if we need anti-nigger highwaters and umbrellas and galoshes and if she has any leftover coupons for them. I smile and nod. Then I go back to writing.

I text Young Taylo to say that the way she handles white girls can be a form of self-care.

Then I go back to writing.

Antigua: The Snug

To say that I wouldn’t have fucked her under the right circumstances would have been a complete lie, though it’s certainly not beside the point. The first five minutes of our conversation shown a sense of humor so dark and lovely that it actually made me uncomfortable; I almost sobered up when she said “yeah, I can think of several easier ways to kill them. Here, let me write them down for you.” She was from Spain originally, and went to school for biology at Johns Hopkins, but she wasn’t annoying about it at all. Even though I couldn’t get a direct lead on her family background, I was comfortable talking to her in a way that typically unfolds between two kids who grew up in ghettos and ran away to a succession of private colleges and juxtaposing disenchantments. Now she worked in ecology. She was doing research in Costa Rica but traveling around Latin America whenever she had time off. That’s how I met Paola and her friend at The Snug in Antigua. It was cozy. The name of the bar was fitting, since you were essentially touching whoever you spoke to, which, especially in this context, I didn’t mind. I had already done the mental calculations of me and Paola’s life together: the one story house in Manuel Antonio with three baby goats, like one pig, three dogs and a little plot out front for the lazy ass kids to work the land. And while I couldn’t figure out if she was interested, her friend clearly was. Fucking dilemmas. The friend, whose name I now can’t remember was taller, and thinner, and direct. As soon as Paola went to the bathroom, her friend slid up right next to me like she didn’t see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind. Then as other people squeezed past us into the bathroom, she got beside me and put her arm around my waist. To be clear, she wasn’t making me uncomfortable, and she was definitely cute as hell, and I was drunk, and lonely. Conditions were tilted towards certain probabilities. But. She was just boring. Like super regular. Not a bad person or anything, just super regular. That didn’t matter for long though, because when she noticed how I looked at her friend returning from the bathroom, she hit me with a chuckle and a long “oh,” before moving her arm from around me and leaning on a stool.

Her friend Paola never made it back over to us though because she was stopped by two guys in the opposite corner of The Snug. Two became three, and then four. She had her foot up against the wall near the bar and some of the men were about half an arm’s length away from her. They were smiling and laughing; she was smiling and laughing, but from where I was, and having just met her, I couldn’t tell if hers was the fake safety smile and laugh or something genuine. So I asked her friend.

“I feel like we should–”

“No, no, don’t worry about her, she’s fine,” her friend said. “That girl can really fucking handle herself.”

So I said okay and just got another beer for me and the friend. Paola’s friend was being genuine and didn’t think it would be appropriate to say anything or break it up, so she and I kept chatting, mostly making the kind of beautiful political jokes about American hypocrisy and elitism you can only get from people who’ve never lived there. I was anxious though and I kept looking over at Paola, but each time I was told to just stop worrying about her. And maybe I should have. And maybe–and this is the part that made me feel kind of sticky–maybe I was worried about intervening so much because there might have been something physical in it for me. Clearly, my interrupting the situation would have appeared to be out of some degrading sense of jealousy, especially after Paola’s friend who knew her far better than I, assured me she was okay. I might have just been another dickhead getting violent over a woman I barely even knew because of how I might want to use her body, her potential to be my property rather than someone else’s. Admitting that to myself, I suppose, accepting that my motivation for doing something uncomfortable–though very often necessary, might be shit–wasn’t as hard as I thought. Since my motivation was probably trash I decided I would just trust her friend, and so we laughed and joked over a few more drinks.

Still, the guys huddled around Paola seemed to me, to be getting a little more excited. Her friend caught me watching them again and side-eyed me for it, but I couldn’t help considering that for the past few nights the women who worked at The Snug had asked me to stay around after closing for safety reasons, citing instances of men waiting to harass them after things shut down. But, again, homegirl kept saying, “she’s fine, and grown and will get out if she wants to.”

But she looked uncomfortable. And the situation only seemed to be growing more tense. I was frustrated. There were a few reaches from the men and a hand or two slapped away, a hug averted, a kiss dodged. It started to make me angry. I tried to suppress it. One of the men clenched Paola’s bicep and she shrugged him off and leaned back against the wall calmly. At some point though, my anger began to overshadow any attraction I previously had to her. It was more akin to the kind of anger I felt whenever my mother was grabbed by her arm and thrown to the ground, in that kind of casual manner orchestrated by men who clearly do it all the time. I looked at Paola’s friend and she just shrugged. So I turned to the table behind us and put down my drink. When I turned around though, Paola was already walking towards us, being trailed by three of the men.

“Hey, you guys want to go somewhere else?” She suggested. She was telling us more than asking.

The men were still standing behind her, and up close I could see how small they were, which, unfortunately, emboldened me a little more. Paola never turned to look at them and when I asked if they needed something they pointed to her. Her friend shoved one of the men’s pointer fingers away and told them we were leaving before ushering me and Paola out the door. I felt guilt though before going and tried to ask one of the bartenders if she still wanted me to stay, but she said she was fine. I don’t know how many times I tried to verify this, since I was officially no longer sober. The men followed us all the way to the door and one of them blew a kiss as we walked down the street away from them. I was still angry, but also mollified by the liquor and I considered that a physical confrontation, no matter how much I wanted one and whether I’d won the fight or not, would probably not have been in anyone’s best interest. And my doing so might have had little to do with Paola anyway.

Me, Paola and her friend spent the rest of the night at this rooftop bar that was kind of cute but empty, just talking shit about the dudes and the United States until every drop of my meager Spanish, and the pool of both their academic English ran dry. I walked them back to where they were staying and I must have looked dumb sauced because they offered to let me sleep there, but I wanted to be alone. I never got to ask the kinds of questions I wanted to ask back then, and I never saw either one of them again. Back in my hostel that night, I considered calling my mother, but I thought better of it, and read some of “Bluets” instead, before passing out completely.

Unconditional Love is Trash

Due to a series of events–or rather a series of jokes I’ve made–it’s become abundantly clear that my son’s potential sexuality would draw a definitive line in the concrete, foreclosing some of the familial, suggestively unconditional love for which he would have otherwise been privy to. That is, he’s a Black boy and if he didn’t turn out to proudly fuck women frequently that might not be approved of. Nothing new, per se, but I’d been thinking a lot about the conditions of unconditional love lately, those both oblique and, with instances few and far between, clearly stated. More so than my own family hating me because they thought I was gay, long before I evolved into a hyper-sensitive nuisance with intellectual curiosity, I grow more certain by the day that I don’t believe in unconditional love. Not the fact of its existence, just that the idea that it’s something we should aspire to, or be proud of, feels more than mildly ridiculous. That might initially sound cruel, but fuck it, it’s a blog.    

For years, I took my feelings towards unconditional love as an immature jealousy of something I’ve never felt personally privy to, and that’s probably where the skepticism began. But lately I’ve begun to feel that it’s more socially problematic than just personal. Questions like “What Happens When the Rapist is Your Family Member?” aren’t really questions as much as they are excuses. This particular article was talking about Nicki Minaj’s brother, and her supporting him through rape accusations. But I care much less about her own politics than I do the polite consideration we seem to give those who don’t hold triflin’ ass family members and loved ones accountable. I dry heaved a little when Brock Turner’s daddy, in the rapist’s defense, read an entire letter in open court about how his son would “never be his happy go lucky self again,” amongst so much of the usual fuckery that I couldn’t ascribe enough fuck outta here’s to.

Sinking into the vampire infested lemon grove that is the comments section for such instances would, at first glance, trick you into thinking there is lively debate about the complications of dealing with unsavory loved ones. Not really. Most people, in lieu of evidence, defend blood and family and love and the need to protect each other, condemning the rapists as lone wolves…

Few sought to condemn both, and when I flippantly suggested to a friend that they’re all trash, said friend of mine asked what I would do if my son grew up to be a rapist.

Easy. Disown him, support his punishment, maybe accept short phone calls from a prison industrial complex that I don’t even believe should exist? All of the above? For some reason this seems like it shouldn’t be an easy thing to say, but it is. I’ve been told that this makes me a diabolical human being, and parent. I’ll admit it’s easier to jump to conclusions when considering worst-case scenarios; not every friend or family member or loved one is as horrible as a rapist, though there are subtle ways they can come close. But then I also have to admit that I was never conflicted over an R. Kelly, a Bill Cosby, a Chris Brown or a Louis C.K. This belies the fact that even though I’ve come to terms with my own grandfather, it doesn’t always feel like I have. I’m for complications and contradictions in personal politics, but I guess I feel like the excuse of unconditional love, like most empty words (patriotism, heroism, honor, justice, etc.) gets in the way of useful dialogue by conflating what we don’t know shit about into absolute, yet completely unregulated truths consisting of absolutely nothing. Group-thinking social pressure degrades these “truths” even further as they continue to be deployed as argument stoppers, slamming the gavel down just before we can honestly reckon with ourselves, each other, or anything useful.

The older I get though, the more often I’m confronted with aggressive protestations by people who are also grossly enabling the antithesis of their cause in every other context. Looking at you white liberals with the racist family members making all these violent ass decisions, all you married niggas cheating with everything that moves, hugging your wife and daughter on Instagram talking about “I got love for my queens.” There are frustrations. And I’m not convinced that direct confrontation is always the best answer, so while it does help thin out my friends list, I’m not always sure to what end.