Fifteen Trash Things That People Keep Ardently Defending Despite Increasingly Anemic Evidence for their Efficacy

1. Guns

2. “Dubbed” Anime

3. The Western Literary Cannon

4. Opioids

5. Lil Uzi

6. The New Thor Movie

7. “Working Class White People”

8. Religion

9. Butter Scotch Ice Cream

10. The Right to Life, and Consequently, Life Itself

11. Patriotism

12. Rapists Who Made Some Shit You Liked Before

13. Winter

14. White feminism

15. Bachelor Parties

I Just Can’t Fuck With the Piled Up Dishes (from Sink)

Sometimes I imagined that if I dug deeply enough into the Muk of our kitchen sink I would finally find whatever I was supposed to, some sacred artifact that longed for me as much as I, it. Maybe Excalibur was stuck in the drain, the One Ring or Philosopher’s Stone, something to catalyze an alchemy I was longing to perform, but never bold enough to try. In reality, I would slump into the kitchen, glare into the sink and think, who the fuck threw whole chicken bones in here? It was like the sink existed in lieu of a trash can whenever the plastic save a lot bag on the patio door was full. The sink, perpetually clogged, became the global repository for all things bad. There was no garbage disposal, so I spent much of my time confuzzled around what combination of gluttony and sloth would drive an individual–or several since there were multiple plates–to dump their entire dish, food scraps and all, into a pile of lumpy green water, instead of disposing of the detritus properly.

As I sank my hands into the sink, baked beans squashed under my fingertips, macaroni noodles wriggled alive in the depths, animal cartilage slipped out of my grasp, knives got tangled in the mouths of forks, slicing my hands. The stuff in the water burned. Did they not see? Could they not tell that the sink could not absorb all of the trash indefinitely? That the sink had never existed for that purpose? That they took advantage of its openness, its willingness to accept all their trash and never say no.

With my hands cut, I grew even more certain that things grew inside that sink. Not just flesh eating bacteria either. I was always just a prick away from starring on “Monsters Inside Me.” I’d seen creatures. Like those little red worms you could see whipping around violently in stagnant water on the street, mosquito larvae or even crabs might be lurking at the bottom. Nematodes, all kinds of flatworms that live just beneath human skin, all of them were lying in wait, ready to slip into an open cut and multiply inside me, leeching off my internal organs and slithering up into my brain. I just wanted that damn sink to drain. But in order for that to happen, I had to plunge my hands into the deep unknown. And every time it made me feel sick.

Once the dishes were ostensibly clean and out of the way I could remove the goop: hair, cheese, laffy taffy, non identifiables. And it would slowly begin to drain. Spurred on by the progress and receding water  I’d snatch more dirt from the drain with paper towels, wrap the hair around my fingers haphazardly, tossing it all in a bag, cherishing the victory in-progress. And then someone else would drop off a plate in the sink, the skeleton of a whole mini chicken clinging to the damn porcelain.

In this way, over a series of transformative years, the sink became my very own Colossus Titan, my Dark Souls boss fight, my Archer in the Holy Grail War in which I was barely a contender. The sink taught me that even if I did learn to swim one day, it’d be more like wading through the density of perpetually building Muk, so why even bother?

Harding

When I moved on to Harding Middle school I had hope because there were new kids. They seemed old though, like too old to be in middle school, and aside from that I wanted to know why we were sharing a field with the projects next door. At least we had metal detectors. There was a nervousness I’d developed by then. One I knew would never leave me, because I knew that any time I met new people it would turn out poorly. I wanted to see a new school as a chance to start over, no longer be the pissy kid with the crackhead mom and the bad haircuts, but my body wouldn’t allow it. From the time I left in the morning till the time I got home I was trembling and struggling to hide it. My underarms were soaked through all the time and I’d go to the bathroom to reapply deodorant, since I’d learned about the onion arms thing already.

I was terribly anxious, and any time it looked like someone was about to speak to me I’d recoil. But I also genuinely wanted friends and by observation, could tell already who the cooler kids were. There was a black and white kid named Terrell who was their leader. A pretty boy, sort of. Long hair that was sometimes braided, sometimes not. If it wasn’t there would be some girl braiding it during classes while he interrupted the teacher (when there was one) and shot spitballs at people. There was also a rumor that he was sixteen, which wasn’t hard to believe. He’d walk around slapping and grabbing the girl’s asses in the halls all the time, like the older drug dealers always did.

Terrell also had a sister, Tyesha, and she was fine as shit. I would have done anything to touch her ass. I had to be about six feet tall by then and she was almost as tall as me. And thick. All long thick legs in those khaki uniform pants with no back pockets. It was torture to have her walk by me. Her smell was sweet, but subtle like some expensive soaps I couldn’t have named. When her hair slid across my arm I just imagined her lotioning up her whole body after the shower before putting any clothes on like grown women did. Not only was she fine, but I also got the sense that she wasn’t as hood as her brother and therefore safer. I mostly believed that because I didn’t see her talk much. We never had a class together, but of course, I was wrong.

So many times Tyesha passed in the hall and I would open my mouth, starting to speak and she’d keep walking, giggling with her friends. One of those times, her brother noticed and approached me.

“Hey wassup young boul,” he said, and reached out to shake my hand. I returned the gesture. “Syke!” he shouted, pulling his hand back quick to his long hair. The goons around him all laughed. And that’s when I knew I fucked up.

Later that same day, I was sitting in the cafeteria eating my lunch at a table alone. It was one of those boat shaped pizza things, stiff, unseasoned green beans on the side. We had long lunch tables and I was facing away from the lunch line in my seat when a smack came across the back of my head.

“Open neck no respec bitch nigga!” yelled one of Terrell’s goons, Rob a tall dark skin one.

It was everything I feared would happen. I was used to it though; I had practice from Stearne. I’d known I would respond differently though, that I would take a stand. Any plan different from elementary school would have been fine. I took as deep a breath as I could and closed my eyes. I wanted to silence the roars of laughter from the cafeteria. But I couldn’t. I kept my eyes closed because I couldn’t stand to look at any of their faces. But I felt them. The heat of all the kids hovering and moving around me and pointing and laughing and I couldn’t keep it in. Tears squeezed out of my closed eyes as I strained, balling up my face trying to keep them in. And so, the tone was set for my middle school career.

There was a bright side to middle school though; as the kids got older, the bullying became less physical and more verbal. Still, it took me a while long to learn how to take advantage of it. Even though I’d think of witty retorts to all the comments about my lankyness and even the gay jokes, I never said them. I was already boxed in. I thought that keeping quiet and to myself would be most useful, even though it had failed all this time. Talking shit, or bussin, became the ladder one could use to climb the social hierarchy. Even these two fat white kids, the only two I remember being in middle school, Anthony and Billy, rose to excellence by virtue of their diss game.

Anthony, the blonde one who I think was a little fatter, came up with the nickname I would carry all the way to ninth grade: Shitmouth. I had this pitch black cavity right in front of my left canine. I’d never been to a dentist before, nor did I really consider it a thing. No one in the house brushed their teeth or talked about it so it was foreign to me, unlike sweets. I did my best to hide it and keep my mouth closed, but every time I’d talk, there it was. I refused to answer questions in class even when I knew the answers; even adopted a way to say small things with my mouth completely closed. When I smiled though, the tooth was most obvious. So I never did. But Anthony caught me slipping regularly.

We were in gym class and I’d just realized I could dunk. It was pretty monumental, and the other kids seemed impressed, especially the gym teacher. By then I’d started to enjoy sports but I avoided playing most of the time because I hated all the kids. It was gym though, we had to participate. I slammed the ball through the hoop and hung on the rim, triumphant. When I let go I landed on both feet, knees bent, and rose slowly, watching all the proud faces around me, reveling in the “ooooh” and “oh shit”s coming from the crowd. I had never been looked at like that before, I couldn’t help but smile. And Anthony caught me.

“Ill, what the fuck is that, Shitmouth!”

The other kids groaned in disgust, twisting their faces at me.

“Shit look like a black hole!” another kid said.

“Back up, I don’t want to get sucked in!” said Anthony.

They all laughed, wrenching and bending over until our gym teacher had us all go back to our spots. I didn’t cry though. I was done with that. I was so used to shit at home and at school that I assumed I had no tears left. In gym class, we sat on these little colored dots on the floor. We were all maybe five feet away from each other, and I could hear the whispers all around me, the kids continuing to make jokes and point. And I didn’t cry, but I grew hot. Anthony was sitting on the dot in front of mine.

“What the fuck is that? Shit is nasty right?” he said to another kid.

He was not gonna let it go. It made me tremble. But I kept quiet and tried to stay calm. The gym teacher was in the closet getting dodgeballs when Anthony turned back to look at me.

“You know that shit is triflin right? Why don’t you fix that?” he said. A bunch of kids snickered a little louder.

Why don’t I fix it? I had no understanding of how to fix anything. I’d never had a doctor or dentist or even a toothbrush. I rarely had clean clothes. How would I go about fixing it? I’d asked a social worker before about emancipation and she asked my grandfather why I’d ask that; I got my ass beat when I came home. I was more concerned with having food that didn’t have roaches in it. Why don’t I fix it? I hadn’t been so angry in a long time, and Anthony was smiling and laughing so hard. I stood up.

“What you doin Shitmouth?” he said. Then he turned forward like nothing happened, still laughing.

I walked up to the side of him quietly with my fist tight and swung on him with my whole body. My fist smacked onto his right cheek and the sound rung out through the gym. The flubber on his face rolled like a wave, and kept jiggling for a few seconds even after I drew my hand back. The crowd went wild.

“Oh shit, that nigga socked the shit out you!”

“Yoooo,” others said.

I was still furious but my hand hurt so bad I wasn’t gonna to do it again. And Anthony? He just sat there, and I went right back to my dot and sat down, trying not to let my rage show, and even much less, the fact that my hand hurt. Anthony’s cheek was bright red and he started to cry, loudly. The sobs drew the attention of the gym teacher who was drawing more equipment from the closet.

“What’s going on out here?” she asked.

Nobody said a word. No snitchin. But Anthony was obviously crying. Then, I started to cry too. I wished I didn’t have to deal with any of it. I would have preferred to have friends, but that’s not how it worked. In order for people to respect me, I’d have to dominate them, mistreat them. By punching Anthony in the face and making him cry, I’d earned respect: the only social capital that mattered. I was crying louder than Anthony, which made me ever more furious, lapping up snot as it ran down my face. I couldn’t unknot my fists no matter how hard I tried. We both just sat there, crying.

That was the first time I got suspended. When I came home with the pink slip, I told my grandfather I had defended myself. He called me a dumb faggot and said I better not fuck up in school anymore. Then he kept grumbling obscenities into his room, fuckin dummy, if that boy had a brain, he’d be dangerous.

 

Just a Couple of Unpopular Opinions that are also True

American Football is real life, professional Mandingo fighting and I’ve never been interested in watching it, nor have I ever gone out of my way to participate, or observe a peaceful protest. I was also not excited at the headlines stating that one of the sport’s few Black quarterbacks was kneeling to protest police violence. Symbolic victories were, and continue to be lost on me. I was a little confused, although I shouldn’t have been, when the kneeling somehow began to mean disrespecting the troops…? I’m still a tad confuzzled about the correlation, but a flag is a piece of cloth, just like the clothes I’m wearing right now, albeit less useful. And at least half the soldiers I’ve served with are rapey racists, but some of them are folks of color and women who give even fewer fucks than I do about supporting symbolic patriotism, with its long-standing romance with White supremacy. And the national anthem that soldiers readily flee from on every base I’ve ever been to, was written by a White racist, for other White racists, and some of those White racists are on our money and we have to worship and memorialize them like gods forever and ever. And when White people yip and holler “fire em!” (football players) for not doing their “jobs”–in this regard, not standing for the anthem, while still actually playing the blood sport for their White owners immense profit and America’s entertainment–the entire point of something I didn’t really care much about to begin with, is missed, or rather avoided so much that I can’t help but get violently angry and defend the damn football players who I wasn’t paying that much attention to to begin with. But taken altogether, I end up even more pessimistic, and sad, and ashamed than when I started.

 

Eminem’s verse was trash truck juice with a swig of the White mediocrity we’ve all grown to know and love. No bars. None. And he didn’t say a single innovative, clever, subversive, or bold thing about 45 in support of any kind of resistance, which is doubly disappointing, given his position as not only a rapper, but one of the widely accepted “G.O.A.T.”s who has casually eviscerated niggas like Benzino, Ja Rule, Cannabis and countless others for minor beef; trashed, degraded and bullied female celebrities like Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera for existing; and made whole albums about literally killing his own mother, and the mother of his child. Compared to this, and taken alongside other rapper’s beefs with each other (“Ether,” “Hit Em Up”, Takeover,” etc.), or even RTJ’s anti-45 rhetoric, and after all of the gay bashing Eminem has done, the “egg shells” that he “came to stomp,” are much less a fuck you to the administration, but more of a coded love letter penned by another emotionally stunted man-child.

And Aesop Rock is the best White rapper anyway.

When I grow up, I want to write an essay about Facebook and complicated relationships

Not long after I left high school, say, 2007, it became cool to talk shit about Facebook. It’s implicitly disingenuous. The people who use it are disingenuous. Capitalism. It’s distracting. Trolls. Cyber bullying. Identify theft. Advertisements. It’s problematic. Zuckerberg is problematic. I’m too cool for it. I’m not cool enough for it. Employers see it. Capitalism. And so forth.

I am not unfamiliar with holding some these opinions simultaneously.

But.

More obviously Facebook reminds, rather it forces me to communicate with people all over the world. Even the ones that are “meh” humans, because fuck it, why not. Facebook has prevented meaningful relationships from dissolving into the obscure necessity of capitalism and loneliness. It reminds me why those relationships were meaningful to begin with.

I tend to burn bridges, but I’m a terrible engineer.

“The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” The quote doesn’t mean shit on its own, but it otherwise admits that nearly all diasporic peoples, and all queer folks who survive in majority society are geniuses by circumstance. David Shields makes a point to say that Fitzgerald’s unnecessary comma itself, is problematic in its divisiveness.

A friend on Facebook talked to me about her failed suicide attempt while I sat in my car with a gun my lap. She’s still alive, and I sold the gun shortly after.

Roxane Gay has spoken volumes to such truths: the complexity in her own feminism, lavishing in the ability to be wrong sometimes, to be contradictory, to be human. To listen or dance to the Yin Yang Twins as they demand that you to get low.

Facebook was where I learned “It’s Complicated.”

Zadie Smith does not use social media because it would prevent her from writing. “I want to have my feeling, even if it’s wrong, even if it’s inappropriate, express it to myself in the privacy of my heart and my mind. I don’t want to be bullied out of it.” Staying off the web “protects her right to be wrong.” But not really, since wrongness never exists in a vacuum. Though more selfishly I’m interested in reading and hearing what Zadie Smith has to say anyway. And if I had the profile of a Zadie Smith I would not want to be constantly badgered by a citizenry desperately waiting for me to slip up so that they could attack me with their twitter fingers. I also don’t think everyone’s right to be wrong should be treated equally, as wrong thoughts are a large category of things ranging from the cute and fluffy to the sharp and murdery.

I wrote about my own politics being trash because they are, but aren’t. I don’t really think that, but I do.

Facebook reminds me that I’m very often code switching in my own head and that I should stop because I’m at home alone heating up leftovers.

I don’t really have a crush on Valerie from Riverdale because she’s a teenager in a small town, though Hayley Law was born in 1992, which is probably still too young for me. But technically, legally it’s not. And it doesn’t matter anyway because she’s an actress, and assuming she would be interested becomes more problematic than the crush itself. Plus thinking of a twenty-four-year old as too young for me at twenty nine is pretentious too, still, when I was eighteen she was thirteen. What to do?

Facebook has the news: People are taking knees and no one agrees.

Some close friends of mine are cops, but them niggas are also Black.

My Facebook friends inhabit different worlds, even when they live in the same cities.

I found out about one of my favorite magazines, The Offing, because Kiese Laymon posted about it on Facebook. Eventually, they published a piece of mine that I’m still I’m quite proud of.

 

Facebook reminds me of my own conflicting ideas, dogmas and ideologies. Sometimes it allows me to read people better, not because I think a Facebook persona is a genuine articulation of any human being, but more because I think the fiction [see persona] an individual chooses to display says more than they’re ready to tell.

 

The Facebook logo is blue.

 

I was talking with a friend about why some people–myself included–feel like fiction is more revealing and personal than essay or memoir and I look at my own stories and think: You could have said anything, and you wrote this? And about Achy Obejas’ stories, We came all the way from Cuba so you could dress like this? As I get older, I feel less ashamed or apologetic about who I am, or was, but the fidelity of what I could choose to be, to create, if anything [fiction] is much more contentious, more emotionally fraught. Probably why there’s so little fiction here.

My Own Politics Really Ain’t Shit

The last time I was in the barbershop JoeJoe said, “Who gives a fuck who the president is? That shit don’t matter to niggas like me and you.”

He was speaking to my barber, Johnny, and to another old head sitting in the chair across from me. And he spoke to me. And he was speaking to the three bald faced anti-tender teenage boys at the back of the shop, and to the girl with the big booty sweeping up the hair and to the smoker who came in selling bootlegs and to my mother when she used to come there to pull tricks and to that nigga who pulled a gun out front and shattered a window and to most everyone within a few miles radius from Margaret and Orthodox streets beneath the El, slathered in piss who inherited nothing but bottomless unknowing and have been sad and angry since we were born, whose lot in life will never fundamentally change unless the current planet, or at least several countries are eviscerated and we start from scratch.

That shit don’t matter to niggas like me and you.

That comment stood out amongst all the religious proselytizing, sports arguments and jail stories, and drowned out Maury in the background relaying whether someone was or was not the father. He was just so tired, and so was I. 

Just recently I spoke to my mother about politics.

“Why would I be bothered with that?” she said.  

And she had a point. My mother has ever been included on any census, her needs will never be addressed by any policy, and she will never, under any circumstance be a part of the society in which (for some people) your worth is measured, in some form or another, by your output.

That shit don’t matter to niggas like me and you.

And I’m tired too, but less than political fatigue, I guess it’s acceptance. And sometimes I feel ashamed in my not doing or saying anything, since I acknowledge that tiny, incremental, community based work–work that so many of my friends do–can improve the lives of the vulnerable people that symbolic, historic America tends to loathe.

I can’t do that work.

Maybe I’m not patient, or friendly, or caring enough for what most would define as true activism. Most days I can barely squeeze out enough words to make a page or so of coherent sentences, let alone ones that ponder change or progress, collective action. I’m not sure what it would take for me to believe that everything will be alright in some way, some day.

But I know that shit don’t matter to niggas like me and you.

Not long ago I had friends over, and the twenty minutes or so that the conversation shifted from dating and literature to politics, it made me uncomfortable. Not because I felt uninformed, but because it has become a space that feels uniformly hopeless, and may have always been. It feels like I’m lying to myself if I get excited about football protests, all late in the game now that money and male egos are involved, after all the deaths and disenfranchisement, post black but before any arrests. And even in that, the words “death,” “disenfranchisement” and “arrests” seem to inspire hundreds of their own essays before we even get to the long standing neglect–by the rest of the U.S.–of the island of Puerto Rico.

People are still arguing, to this day, about whether or not 45 is a bad person, a sexist, a racist, or whatever. Still arguing. About how much better he is, or isn’t than Obama. About his believability. Still arguing. About his merits as the leader of the free world, whatever the fuck that really means. Think pieces abound. The endurance is amazing. Where does all the energy come from? Just thinking of what it was like when I used to argue with white people or capitalists or hoteps or whatever makes me physically weak, and whenever I get the urge to engage in some type of conversation–unless it’s in direct physical defense of someone less prepared to defend themselves than I–it makes me nauseous.

And JoeJoe said that shit don’t matter to niggas like me and you. And most of the time, I think he’s right.

SINK Excerpt

What I loved most about Dragonball Z was Goku’s endless pool of grit. Not an episode went by where Goku had not gotten his ass beaten to near oblivion. He didn’t care though. He just kept fighting. There was always something in his back pocket that he had to get angry enough or stressed enough for the lives of his loved ones to whip out: kaio ken, super saiyan 1, 2, 3, 4, etc, spirit bombs, variations on classic moves like kamehameha. Goku literally died, several times trying to save his friends, his family, his planet, and returned all the stronger for it. He’s like a broken bone. One that heals and strengthens but remains jagged at its edges.

Goku was among the first people, or things I wished to be, rather than deal with my own inadequate body; I had a bird chest, not pecs like a man, and when I finally started puberty I thought I was growing breasts. Like a girl, of course, because that was the identity thrust upon me: sensitive Josephine, my aunt would say. It took too long to break the denial that I would never be Goku or anyone else, and it was my first great disappointment after family. I wondered how the kids at school would feel if they knew I stood on my couch holding my hands together as if powering up a kamehameha, or strained myself to death, bulging my prepubescent muscles thinking I would turn into a super saiyan. I wanted so badly to do something through sheer force of will and anger; I had so much of it, but had no idea how to put it to use. Nothing looked more invigorating though. Just thinking about it was enough to lift my spirits some days. I got really good at shooting things from my hands like they were energy blasts. I’d stand on the couch and wait for my sister to walk through the living room and bang! Tennis ball kamehameha to the head. Bang! Knocked her down with a couch pillow. I think standing on the couch was supposed to symbolize flying, but I never quite worked that out. I started trying to run like some anime characters do too, my arms dragging behind me as if I were moving so fast they were getting left behind. To this day, it’s all I can think about when I watch shows like Naruto, but when my son does it I worry he’ll get picked on.

I had vivid dreams where I was flying, directionless mostly, but always with some diffuse ideal worth fighting for in mind. I would cry in the morning when I woke up on the floor, not because I was hurt, but just because of the stark realization that I could not, would never, fly. In my mind, everything I thought or cared about was, and would always be meaningless, especially to the people I was closest to. The only place I sought, or permitted myself to see hope, was in anime and video games, so before long, that was all I allowed myself to think about.

Even though I left Dragon Ball Z at home, the most important lessons I learned in grade school were also about the power of violence. Stearne Elementary  was less than a block away from where I lived, just across the street at the intersection of Unity and Paul in Frankford. While standing on the school yard asphalt, wishing it was like the endless fields of grass I’d seen on T.V., I’d stare over at our shrouded, brown bricked apartment. A few trees lined the other side of the street in front of the post office. Their changing leaves would float across through that nine-foot fence and speckle a little dying hope on the concrete. As contained as the school yard felt when the gates were locked, there was a child size hole on the far end of it that the teachers never seemed to notice.

 

On the day in question, I walked into school as I did any other day–awkwardly. Large, grey, metal doors stood between the yard and the hallways leading to my third grade classroom; the school looked like it should have metal detectors, but didn’t. Outside, all the kids lined up in size order, waiting to enter while taking off our jackets. Tall as a middle schooler, I brought up the rear. When we entered the classroom I put my coat on the floor beneath the others because there weren’t any more hooks. I’d been more focused on finding the most inconspicuous seat in the room anyway. I imagined that sitting up front was more conducive to learning, but too risky. I knew better. The tall lanky kid sitting in the front of class with the bowl cut, huge gap between his rotted front teeth and clothes that smelled of urine was too easy a target; even I hated him. Lord forbid roaches crawled out of my jacket or book bag again, their little brown bodies scurrying across the white classroom floor were hard to miss, but if I could go without incident for a week or two straight maybe some kids would forget.

        I found a seat on the far left column of desks, but in the middle row. It was perfect; I could see the chalkboard clearly and it was right next to the coat rack, so I might be able to squash any roaches crawling out before anyone noticed. The door leading to the hallway was close too, and I needed to go to the bathroom, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself by raising my hand and asking. I could hear my heart thrumming in my ears just considering it. D.A.R.E. posters were on all four walls of the classroom. That day my teacher made reference to one of them, rattling off all of the evil things she knew about drugs, and by association, the people who used them. As a drug abuse expert, I was underwhelmed and started to nod off a little. The teacher noticed a few times and gently told me to pay attention. I was so tired that I kept dozing though, my head bobbing up and down, in and out of reality, until a thunderous smack landed on the back of my neck. My muscles stiffened. The smack burned more in my gut than on my skin.

I knew what I should have done, how I should have reacted. But I didn’t have the heart. You ain’t got no heart, is what I was told at home and at school. I’d calculated the best possible outcome in this scenario hundreds of times, and each time failed to act on it. Had I gotten up wordlessly and punched the first kid in the mouth who sat behind me, girl or boy, my entire grade school existence would have changed. It was obvious that

        The usual chatter of the room froze and in the silence, the slap stood out way too much. To my ears, it was still as loud as when it happened. My heart sank. The teacher stopped writing on the blackboard and speaking to look around, her lips pursed. Then came muffled giggles and chuckles of what felt like the entire school behind me, a pack of starving hyenas. Some were struggling to hold in their joy. Other mouths exploded, their little child hands too weak to contain the excitement; they could not hide the satiation of their hunger for someone else’s pain. Every hurt person who wasn’t you was a small victory. Sometimes the only victory. I’d known that feeling when I’d watched another kid get beaten up, slapped or punched, when my little sister got blamed for things instead of me–and sometimes–even when my grandmother was beaten. I stared straight ahead without blinking, trying to prevent the welled up tears from falling.

I hated those kids for being who they were, but, had I the heart, I would have traded places with them in a second.

        “Cut the tomfoolery!” yelled the teacher. She addressed the whole class rather than single anyone out. Then she turned back to the blackboard and continued writing. A few minutes passed. The excitement died down and I snuck my shirt sleeve across my face once or twice, wiping my eyes in secret. Someone must have noticed though, because right after I did that, three coordinated, consecutive hands came across the back of my neck and head, twice as hard as before.

        “Open neck no respec!” one of the kids behind me yelled out.

        “Didn’t I say cut it out!” the teacher turned around again, this time raising her voice a little higher. My pulse went up as I struggled not to sob. The high water pants I wore filled. Urine warmed my thighs and the release at first was soothing. I started to cry. I lost control of my bowels too. Shit squeezed its way into the plastic seat with me. I should have just gotten up and used the bathroom before. I should have sat somewhere else, maybe all the way in the back where it was safe. I should have not even gone to school at all.  As the world chuckled and zeroed in on me, someone was bound to notice. The cute Puerto Rican girl whom I had a crush on was the first one to take the stand.

        “Eww he pooped on his self!” she yelled as if rallying troops on a battlefield.

        The rest of the class followed her lead and I must have been called every word relating to shit, piss, nasty, dirty, smelly, sissy, and gay a few times over. Always gay. The teacher seemed to be waiting it out. She looked into the crowd of misbehaved children as if a plan of action would drop into her lap from the atmosphere. The chanting continued until I decided to leave. I felt dumb being there in the first place. Speed walking out of the classroom was the best way to do it; running–showing more that I cared–would have made things worse. I did run though, as soon as I hit the schoolyard, right through the gate hole and cut my coat sliding through. I sped up, growing cold on the short sprint to the apartment.  

I opened the door with a sigh of relief, until I smelled the smoke. Earl was home. I didn’t expect that in the middle of a week day. Nine to five, those were the hours he was supposed to be at work. Nine to five. I coughed and wheezed and my underarms sweat, smelling like raw onions. My grandmother was passed out in bed and Earl couldn’t believe that someone had walked through the door. He rose to his feet with such violence I thought he grabbed the gun from the ceiling tile.  He stood inches from my face after coming through his half-open room door. “What the fuck you think you doin’ home from school little nigga?” he said.

        “Pop pop I couldn’t stay there, they—”

        “I ain’t tryna hear all that little faggot shit, why you ain’t in school?”

        His beard and tightly trimmed box haircut were just starting to add a touch of grey, and his teeth looked like mangled candy corn with refrigerator mold on them. His breath normally smelled of alcohol, but the smoke took over that day. A fishnet shirt rose up above his bellybutton and his chest and stomach hair poked through the little holes. He was so heavy-handed, and in an attempt to avoid a direct blow, I backed away from him a little before attempting to speak again.

        “I was there but they—”

        He lunged quickly and smacked me on the top of my head. I cried. He sniffed the air.

        “Just shut the fuck up and get your little fruity ass in the shower, smellin’ like shit. Always whining about something, ungrateful little bitch. Don’t you know the shit I deal wit takin care of you? You think ya skank ass grandma gone do it if I wasn’t here? What about that bitch Kia? Where ya mom at? I don’t see her in here takin’ care of ya’ll. So fuckin ungrateful, spoiled ass kids. Watch, one day I’m not gone be around and you gone regret this shit…” he said.

        He kept mumbling rapid fire insults as I walked towards the shower. When his voice faded faded I still knew what he was saying.  A couple “faggots” mixed in with a few “pussies” and a little “always actin’ like a bitch.” That might have been when I officially got the name Josephine. It had started to get colder outside, and therefore inside. I wanted to warm up a bucket of water on the stove to wash with, but if I took too long I might have made things worse, so I went straight into the bathroom. I slid off my clothes. The mess was hard to avoid on my feet and the floor as I undressed. Staring at the toilet I let my eyes relax, lose focus. I fantasized about Earl dying–of me killing him–with his own gun. He slept enough, it wouldn’t be that hard. It was in the ceiling tile right above his bed. Right there, just out of my reach, the means to my end through his.

He was old and tired and drunk most of the time anyway. If I had the courage I could have taken his life without even risking my own. He deserved it. He’d killed people himself and didn’t seem to regret it. He had a gun and I knew where it was. I knew that he deserved it. So why the hell was I wallowing around so damn helpless all the time? If I became who he wanted me to be–a real man–I would have smeared his brains on those silk sheets like the shit on the bathroom floor in front of me. But I didn’t. And for that I felt like a coward. It was in my hands to lessen the suffering of others: myself, my grandmother, my mother and later my sister and brother, but I did nothing.

Maybe I did fear what I would do without him. After all, he was a thing I could measure myself against, to make sure I never became; and knowing, at least thinking I was not and would never be him helped me love myself a little. At times a lot. The more monstrous he was, the better it made me. I wanted to ask my teachers why cigarettes and alcohol and drugs were so bad if they took so fucking long to kill people. I’d bought the D.A.R.E. program’s admonitions and regurgitated their world view, but when would their warnings come to fruition? Sure, Earl would say his hail Mary’s by sliding Mad Dog 20/20 across the table to me a few years later, and of course, I would drink it too. But it seemed like neither of us would ever die unless I did it myself. I was certain that everyone deserving of an early grave spent most of their time above ground, and worse, dared to take up the most space. It was a phenomenon that all the social workers and teachers seemed completely oblivious of. Some people need to die, I thought, in order for others to continue living.

Then, for probably the first time, I considered killing myself.

But what would Goku do (WWGD)? Probably not much. Dragon Ball Z felt too childish to tackle such large scale questions. And Goku’s first and most important trait, was after all, grit. It was his willingness to be destroyed, over and over again and return with overwhelming gumption. Fuck that. One thing Earl was right about, was that I was too sensitive. And weren’t Black people destroyed enough anyway? The only things I’d ever learned or seen featuring people like me were dedicated to failures. Physical, emotional, and psychological failures. In school, on television, in my own home, and outside my door. Black history month in the classroom was trauma porn masquerading as we shall overcome. An exercise in Black docility: let them spray you, bite you, curse you, hit you, spit on you. Turn the other cheek. The whole enterprise made me sick, the worst of the illness being my intensified blame towards Black people for permitting it and mild disdain towards Whites for committing acts of gratuitous violence that, even as a child, I already saw as normal.

They were normal, and the weak responses of Black people to the violence was not. We were not. I was not normal. Of course, if someone had introduced me to the concept of internalized racism at that time, I’d have thrown all the shade in the world at them. I’d have disregarded them actively, much more than my passive loathing for literature, for science, for learning: all the things that I knew already, were inherently for the white, for the normal. Later, I’d discover that one of my favorite rap verses, the first of “A Report to the Shareholders,” ends with “I will not be confused for docile / I’m free motherfuckers, I’m hostile,” by El-P, the white half of Run The Jewels.

Goku, for all of his bravery, was still too docile. I didn’t know it then, but what I needed was Yagami Light. I imagine Death Note has saved the lives of many sad little pretentious nerds. I didn’t believe in God, of course, but I wouldn’t mind being him. That was the thing that made imagination transcendent, and why anime, the most expansive extrapolation of it I could find, always made me feel better. Just imagining a black book falling from the sky that allowed me to write the names of people who needed to die in it filled me with lust. And they’d actually die, of heart attacks, or in any method I specified. I imagined myself born for that; there was no one better suited for the job. Light made valiant efforts to rid the world of evil; he never hesitated. Even when his own family was at risk he stayed on the grind. When cops, including his own father interfered with the extermination of evil, he penned their names too, in increasingly creative ways. With just a pen and a pad Light set off chain reactions throughout Tokyo that reverberated around the world, re-structuring society as he saw fit, as he knew it should be, slicing through all manner of elocution and ill-structured legal proceedings, which we all know were never structured to give a penny’s worth of fucks about the people they claim to protect.

Light did eventually become a narcissistic dictator who trampled innocents (relative term, of course) in his wake, but honestly neither he nor I were far from that to begin with. The most compelling evidence for which, I think, is the fact that we both understand too intimately, that even the most galactic failures of ourselves, our communities, our planet, and our whole entire species can, and should be remedied by the individual decisions we–by this I mean specifically Light and myself–make, or should have made in the past. Sometimes this is true, microscopically at least, and sometimes it isn’t, but when you begin as an island of one, a wariness of hand-holding newcomers from the mainland is to be expected. Living with such a mindset, but having little control and circumstance by which to explore it, led to a volatile mistrust of anything beyond the auspices of my own brain, especially adults, often less intelligent than me, who unfairly pulled my strings and stood over me smug and superior, and for a long time, physically stronger than I was. Control over things is what I wanted, but I barely had that over myself.

Though I certainly lacked the strength to kill Earl, I could at least consider killing myself. It was my body, I thought. But then I was too inadequate even for suicide; I always thought I’d make a mistake. I knew I’d fumble the whole situation and make things worse. I’d be too weak to pull the trigger, trembling too much to take enough pills or smoke enough crack or heroin, too knock kneed to leap from the building. I knew that some people who attempted suicide ended up brain dead instead. I could slip up and destroy the only thing I liked about myself, then be forced to watch the other garbage of my body rot away: the little muscle I had would wither, my veins would bulge, my mouth would hang open and people would stare at my nasty teeth, the roaches would bite me all night and maggots would nest in my ears, plopping to the floor in clumps once a week whenever someone bothered to roll me and change my diaper.

So I put the suicide on hold. I just had to wait. I had no skills, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know the extent to which I didn’t know anything. So why would suicide be any different? I’d fail at that too and forfeit an ambiguous potential, that spark of warmth I’d gotten when teachers said, “you’re not like the other kids here,” or “one day you’re going to be great.” And thinking one day is a dangerous proposition in itself, one that continually suggests a prosperous future without insisting on any demands in the present. It’s fancifulness at its worst, that demonic circle of the imaginative underworld that permits us to believe in people who abuse us and convinces the poor that capitalism is good for them too. One day I’ll have that house, that car, that boat, that tiny Island. One day he’ll stop, or I’ll stop, or we’ll stop and It’ll just be better.

Everything happens for a reason.

To this day, when people use that phrase it makes me shudder. It’s usually an attempt at tenderness, but not necessarily a useful or honest one; it holds nothing and no one accountable, it honors intellectual sloth. It’s what people at church said any time something terrible happened, and later, I would dare someone to say it at my grandmother’s funeral. I would have to wait him out. I knew two things because people told them to me: good things happen to those who wait, and if you work hard you will succeed. Obvious lies, but in spite of everything I knew to be false, I believed those things because I had to. If only I was patient and worked hard, everything would eventually fall into place. How dangerous it can be to live in the future tense, to have hope. Earl would die eventually or maybe my mother would change, compose a sense of self that included the well-being of her progeny. But I knew that was a lie too, if not for the fact that I thought of the word progeny–a term she would never be familiar with–then for the fact that I wanted her to succeed mostly to spite Earl. The same way I wanted to succeed to spite everyone. And I told myself I would eventually, if I was patient. My mother would stay out of jail and find work and man who wouldn’t beat her. I would grow up, get a job after high school and erase all the shit. I just had to wait.

 

And as I waited I would draw. All it took was a pencil and paper. Large bodies of water that took up most of the page, no land in site. A tiny boat with a man inside, possibly a fisherman, or an explorer. The water was translucent. Even though I’d never seen clear, open water like that I knew it existed from movies and the discovery channel. In the body of water there were serpents, large ones dwarfing the boat with two, sometimes three rows of serrated teeth and tongues that forked in three directions. They lurked, jaws popped open wide preparing for a meal beneath the water, ready to swallow the tiny boats and fisherman whole. Sometimes they would show themselves first, just to startle the man in the boat, and some talked, or thought. I drew little cloud thought bubbles or speech boxes like in comic books. They’d think: will I get splinters in my mouth from this boat? Or: Will this man’s raincoat leave a plastic after taste? Practical concerns. The man was always wearing a raincoat, because it always rained. It was always wet and cold and fish splashed.

Sometimes the sea serpent would ask the man what he was doing there, or why he was eating all the fish, to which the man would not reply and be eaten, which whether he replied or not, was still going to happen because I was the narrator. I’d draw hundreds of pages with the serpent and the man in the boat moving inch by inch, barely perceptible from scroll to scroll, but fluid when flipping through all the pages together, in rapid succession. I’d color them with colored pencils or oil pastels that I stole from K-Mart. I was proud of these works of art, but afraid to show them to my family. They said, what the hell is that? Or, that’s cute. But they weren’t supposed to be cute, they were supposed to be vicious, and at least as serious as the Lochness Monster. I kept drawing them and selling them for a dollar a page to old women who walked by our apartment. They didn’t comment on the drawings, or the increasingly aggressive dialogue from man to serpent, serpent to man; they just smiled and handed me a dollar. It was my version of a lemonade stand.

As business grew, I rotated the drawings to landscapes. Lengthwise, I couldn’t make the water as deep, but the size of the serpent, just a fraction of its body on the page, head rearing up over the boat, implied oceanic depths. It also allowed me to create a tiny island with a single palm tree. Coconuts grew there, or some hardy, imaginary fruit that tasted better than coconuts, more like frozen Reese’s cups. In some of the narrative arcs the man would survive and live happily on the island. He even became friends with the serpent and they exchanged fish for fruit and talked to each other about their problems. The serpent had trouble finding a mate, and so did the man. The serpent told the man about the ocean, and all its creatures and beauty and how there were so few of his kind. The man told the serpent that were were too many humans, but he was still very lonely.

The first time I got caught stealing oil pastels from K-Mart I asked Earl for the money to buy more. He told me that I should stop wasting my time on dumb shit, and that I should get a fucking job instead of asking him all the time. Then he gave me ten dollars. I threw all of my drawings out in the alleyway dumpster and bought a garter snake.

I’d never heard of Moby Dick or Herman Melville or any writer for that matter. But I knew that people–not people like me, or my family, but white people with money–sometimes paid to be that man in the raincoat. It was called whale watching. The whole enterprise was one of the most terrifying things I could imagine. I couldn’t swim, but I could fathom what lived in the ocean and decided it should stay on screen and far away from my body. People would cheer when Blue Whales jumped out of the water just a few feet away, splashing everyone on the boat. Did they think the whale cared about them? That it was being careful not to rock the boat, to flip it over?

And what about Free Willy? He was smaller, but I used to look at all his sharp little teeth and wonder how that little boy felt safe touching his face to that orca. In the famous scene where Willy jumps out over the boy, I could only consider what would happen if he fell short. What if Willy miscalculated and landed flat on top of the boy with his arm stretched out to touch Willy’s underside? He’d be crushed. Flattened by twelve thousand pounds of whale and Willie would not mourn him, but bask in his freedom nonetheless.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be the man in the raincoat or the serpent. I didn’t know who was better off, or if it even mattered. I didn’t know what Goku or Yagami Light would do under any of these circumstances, but I knew what I could do. I could believe I had a loving friendship with my first pet, a Garter Snake named Spike.

A Wolves’ History of Yellowstone Park: 1915 to Present (draft)

 

The U.S. government was dedicated to combatting super predators since the early 1900s, before Hillary Clinton was born. White men decimated the Gray Wolf population in Yellowstone Park. Shot this many specifically:

“Several” in 1915  

14 in 1916

4 in 1917

36 in 1918

6 in 1919

28 in 1920

12 in 1921

24 in 1922

8  in 1923

But no one knows

how many

humans police officers shoot each year.

In 1926, the last official wolf killing took place when park rangers killed two lone pups near Soda Butte Creek. The wolves were bused out to early graves and Yellowstone suffered.  The Elk population grew wildly, decimating vegetation and eroding soil. In 1929 a scientist called the conditions, “deplorable.”

So the Elk were slaughtered.

Yellowstone gasped for breath until the wolves were brought back. Then the vegetation returned, songbirds nested and ravens and bald eagles flew; rabbits and mice hopped and scurried and hawks and foxes followed suit. Bears came to kick it. Muskrats and badgers too. Beavers built dams for ducks and fish and the park, the world, and everything, was better than new.

Philly Again I Guess

This old fast talking, top hat wearing ass black dude with a thick mustache and the highest blood pressure I’d ever seen in my life turned out to be my great uncle. His voice sounded familiar through the room’s curtain, but I had already seen two people from my childhood at work that day, so I was preempted to disbelieve a third. World record and shit. But then, considering the blood pressure I wasn’t so surprised it was that nigga. And for whatever reason I’d only recently started to notice how much he looked his brother, my grandfather, the man who sort of raised me. When I walked in the room he recognized me right away, and it felt like I was sitting on the steps at Glenloch street again eating blue crabs when he came home from jail. He barely aged, on the outside at least. I remembered sitting on the steps at his momma’s house, terrified of the dog next door that Toya (my aunt) and I were absolutely certain had to be a barking lion. He and my grandfather were smoking, both with those same faces.

“Hey Joy,” he said. “What you work here?”

“Nah I just be wearin’ these scrubs so they don’t question me.” I paused, kind of surprised about how relaxed and just… normal he was behaving. Like a spry young man, when I was in awe that he wasn’t having a stroke. “I would ask why you’re here, but it’s a little obvious. You don’t feel… off?”

He went on to tell me that his blood pressure was always high, and that he used to take his medication, but sometimes he ran out and it was too expensive, or he stopped for some reason he didn’t say–probably put the D out of commission. Apparently his brother was supposed to be there too, but he was at home waiting on his own stroke. He was another character I considered immortal since all the coke and Bacardi in the world not only didn’t phase him, he seemed invigorated by the touch of the bottle; he’d start glowing when he walked in the door and unraveled the paper bag. Never seen him happier. Their mother was in the hospital too, up on the med-surg floor where I worked sometimes, in fact the only reason he came in was because she demanded it.

And for whatever reason, that made me realize I would miss Philly, and the ED. I mean, at first I thought about all the damn salt and sugar I was eating, scrutinizing a diet that wasn’t far off from theirs, but then I got a cheesesteak and forgot about it. What I would really miss is that familiarity, the fact that, for better or worse, I would constantly run into memories whether I liked it or not. As I get older, being forced to confront my past: school bullies, relatives, ex-girlfriends and fake friends alike was helpful… If not for personal growth, then at least selfishly, for writing. And aside from intense graduate student brokeness, that might have influenced my decision to stay in the hospital more than I originally thought. And the other day in class at Notre Dame, when a professor said how he was referred to as a “faggot” by a high school student, I realized that I would have been more comfortable being berated in that way than I was that entire day sitting in class.

 

Eight Great Adaptations in No Particular Order

The films/shows in this list are near and dear to my heart and therefore the #facts of their greatness cannot be refuted in any way, shape or form. Fight me.

  1. Let Me In/Let the Right One In: Mad respect to the novel and both films. I’ll admit though, I’m already predisposed to love little girl vampires, and I completely sympathize with every iteration of her caretakers.
  2. The Girl With All the Gifts: A little black girl vampire destroys human civilization so that she and her people can live. Enough said.
  3. Arrival: Adapted from Ted Chiang’s “The Story of Your Life” novella, in the collection “Stories of your Life and Others.” It’s one of the most intellectually stimulating alien encounter films out there, and, while it does deal with the annoyingly cliche human militarism, that garbage becomes the background as a linguist and physicist piece together a complex understanding of the alien’s language and purpose. I’d also like to see another Ted Chiang story, “The Water that Falls on You From Nowhere,” get an adaptation.
  4. Interview With A Vampire/Queen of the Damned: Vampires–>Intense longing/loneliness–>The soundtrack–Aliyah.
  5. I Love Dick: Every character in this show is more layered than most of the people I meet in real life. It’s feminist, it’s queer, it’s intentionally problematic, it’s funny, and it makes you think a lot about art and desire in every episode.
  6. The 100: I think this is the best post-apocalyptic show out there. Strong, complicated queer female characters (god I miss you so much Lexa XOXO), regular intervals of complex hurdles for the characters to overcome, and a persistently uncomfortable lack of certainty in all of it. For example, there are plenty of things that Bellamy and Lexa and Clarke have done that I completely disagree with, but would have probably done too and it only intensifies my love for them. Currently have beef with Bellamy but that’s a different thing.
  7. Game Of Thrones: Fine, I admit it.
  8. The Fifth Season: Now I know this hasn’t dropped yet, but that’s not the point. Even if this show is as bad as “The Magicians” adaptation, I am still going to love it unconditionally, unless they do some dumb shit like have Jayden Smith playing Hoa or whatever.