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.

 

Europeana and The Ludicrosity of Human History

Several times throughout my reading of Patrik Ourednik’s Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century, I caught myself giggling out loud in the park and sharing passages like this one, on page 95 with Cassie or friends over the phone:

“Bicycle riding was chiefly intended for American men, because the bicycle was somewhat unsuitable for women, and doctors said that for a woman a bicycle was above all a sexual partner and the rubbing of the saddle against the labia and clitoris aroused women and incited them to perverted sexual practices. In order to prevent perverted sexual practices in women a special saddle was once manufactured with a hole cut out in the middle, but it was rather uncomfortable.”

Then, in the right margin as if highlighting the most important thought of the paragraph–though the personality of it reminds me of the marginalia/citing in The Argonauts–Ourednik writes: “Women’s perverted practices,” in a faded, fine print that requires you to adjust your eyes in order to see it. This particular passage stood out to me more, I suppose, because I was thinking about a previous conversation involving the Atlantic article “How The Bicycle Paved The Way For Women’s Rights.” In it, Adrienne Lafrance breaks down some of the ludicrous male hysteria (by geographic region) over women being able to ride bicycles, which primarily boiled down to demeaning statements–in the form of bad jokes–about the dress and physicality of the women riding said bicycles. It was of course, a fear response to women having increased mobility that didn’t depend on men. All the obsession over calves and ankles and dresses and sexuality (most of which is so hyperbolic it can only be read as comedy now) reminds me of the not-so-crafty, yet sinister circuitousness of all broad sweeping sociopolitical discourse in the way humans tend to speak to every subject and verb associated with what they really want or mean, but never the thing itself. And the more nefarious the decree or subject, the more circuitous the rhetorical route to access it. Eruopeana is so completely aware of this, and itself, and the circadian rhythm of war, social consciousness and revolution that I can’t help but love it.

To be clear, it isn’t marketed as history, as true as it is, but I wouldn’t call it fiction either. There are no characters, and no narrative arc to speak of, just events, demographics, and statistics. Not in any particular chronological order either. The book flows like stream of consciousness and feels more akin to a conversation about history one might have with a group of other writers under duress, after the bar is closed and everyone is contemplating the next world war.

For a hundred and twenty two pages Ourednik traces the history of the previous century and drags it from the dark, sardonic cave it continues to dwell in by rounding all the contradictions back in on themselves. Racism in America, World War I, Nazi Germany, chemical warfare, World War II, The Atom Bomb, Women’s rights, Gay rights, communism, psychoanalysis, technological advancement, democracy, “progress,” and history itself, are wrung dry for meaning in a world where we continue to devalue life itself and repeat the same atrocities not one breath after basking in one glorious achievement or another, or better yet, claiming that said achievement or idea will “end all X.” Insert poverty, famine, war, injustice, social inequality, etc.

I think it’s appropriate that Ourednik uses the conjunction “and,” as opposed to “then” so much in long, winding sentences that can at once be hilarious, yet sad and tiring, because there’s always too much to say in the same breath and the order of events, once they’ve all been repeated and transmuted and so many times, becomes meaningless. And that’s what I feel every time I begin to consider human history, especially now, waiting for the next bomb of predictability to drop and contemplating how I, or we all, are supposed to feel about it.

Netflix’s Death Note was indeed Light as Shit

My non-surprise this week was the garbage fire that was the most recent live action adaptation of one of my favorite animes, Death Note. And of course, the subsequent rocks being thrown at the burning pile were no surprise, with titles like: The problem with Death Note on Netflix in one scene, and Netflix’s Death Note should be returned to sender. The most expected distastes dealt with cultural appropriation, I mean after Ghost in the Shell I guess it’s hard not to start there. Still, I wouldn’t accuse Death Note of doing the most in that sense (still some though, yes). Adam Wingard decided to set this iteration of Death Note in the U.S. so it didn’t feel odd that the main character was a White Boy with frosted tips. Now, did he have to make his name “Light” still? Or have him take on the alias “Kira” as a “purposeful misdirection”? Fuck no. That just felt stupid, and much of the tomfoolery that followed can be traced back to some simple initial decisions. What I’m actually angry about, as in many of these things is the sheer lack of imagination Wingard employed when he got this magical thing that is the story of Death Note, that lazy, ungrateful bastard.

Anime itself has always appeared to me as the foremost imaginative method of storytelling, and in large part it’s what made, and continues to make me want to tell fantastical stories. It’s why I get so frustrated when people who enjoy speculative fiction–on screen or on the page, which let’s be real, is pretty much everyone–think that anime is beneath them, all while remaining enamored with the relative philosophical, emotional, visual and intellectual simplicity of a Game of Thrones or what have you, compared to say, Eden of the East or Fullmetal Alchemist. I won’t get into what assumptions often underlie the pre-denouncing of anime because they are too similar to the assumptions people have when they denounce “genre” or speculative fiction more broadly, but especially writing, which are the same things that people like Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler and Lev Grossman, etc. have dismantled over and over again and I’m kinda tired of that conversation and they keep saying it in better anyways, so back to Death Note.

Aside: I actually had a Death Note of my own that I nearly filled. Sadly, it didn’t work, but I still wouldn’t have brought that shit out in public like the American Light’s dumb ass did, telling everybody and their mom about it just to get some ass in like the first ten minutes of the movie. I have never been that much of a hoe to throw away being god and risk so much of my life for some random, probably not good ass from a creepy sociopathic cheerleading stranger who probably has chlamydia like the rest of the school because they’re all like seventeen.

Anyways, was Wingard aware that Ryuk wasn’t the only Shinigami, nor was he the only one to ever “drop” a Death Note? All I’m saying is, a perfectly plausible story set in America with frosted tips and cheerleading and football could just be another death god dropping another note and another kid, in America, who is not fucking named “Light” picking it up. There wouldn’t be this soft reliance on the previous narrative which seems to be adopted purely for convenience and name recognition–the names, more boring rules of the note, Light’s father being a cop–but that breaks down as soon as things get complicated. The same Light who is up against the same hyper-intelligent L just so happens to be a complete idiot when it comes to secrecy about the note; making decisions that are self-aggrandizing, yet stealthy and ten steps ahead; not incriminating himself; choosing allies; managing boundaries between himself and Kira; and just about everything else. Meanwhile, L’s character was played decently until he loses his cool pretty early on and has a breakdown about Watari who at no time during the film did he consider protecting even though he’s a super genius and demonstrated his knowledge of Kira’s ability by protecting his own face/name. Ryuk was changed to a completely active, rather than reflective, curious, shadowy presence and he ended up being more annoying and desperate than interesting. 

My point is, none of this would have been as much of an issue if Wingard would have delved some lesser known death god and just picked a new kid. You still have the note, with the world and it’s rules intact, which in itself is interesting, unlike the narrative it was squeezed into. Hell, he could have even used one of L’s siblings or some other kid who was trained with them. I think the initial advantage of having recognizable characters in adaptations backfires too often because these directors continue to pay little attention to what made those characters interesting in the first place. Hint: it wasn’t just their names. I keep wondering how many more of these disrespectfully lazy, boring narratives we’ll have to endure before even the simplest considerations are brought to Light. Pun intended.

Nigga Moment(s) Related PTSD?

I rarely sleep well enough to have/remember a dream, and when it does happen, they’re so terrible that I wake myself up sweating and shaking. But there wasn’t any explosion in last night’s dream. No. I was in my car driving along some small street not unlike a shitty little one way street one might find in North Philly and for whatever reason–the dream-world representation of perpetual physical, mental and emotional exhaustion in my waking life–I was nodding off at the wheel. It was night time and luckily I passed out with my foot on the brake instead of on the gas. Here, unlike my fun dreams of the fantastical that are obviously dreams, I swore things were happening in real life and I struggled to keep myself awake, out of fear. Not necessarily of my car bumping into another vehicle, which it did (like that time I fell asleep at the stop sign coming off I-76 onto Montgomery ave). I was more worried about the people nearby.

There was a small group of them, mostly indistinguishable faces and equal amounts men and women. While I struggled to wake or move my body, several of them pulled me from my car, which then kept rolling into the car in front of me, since it was still in drive. Even though they grabbed me by the collar and arms to toss me up against my car, I still couldn’t wake up. They were all yelling obscenities that I couldn’t necessarily hear or understand. It wasn’t clear if it was their car I had slumped into either, and if it was, you’d think they would have put my car in park before accosting me, right?

But one thing that was clear, was that everyone doing the yelling was unmistakably Black. I mean, the neighborhood was North Philly(ish) so of course they were, but the dream seemed to be centered on that. Plus, I had to admit to myself that if they weren’t Black I wouldn’t even have been afraid of them at all. Which is mad fucked up/ problematic for all the obvious social psych 101 reasons. Still, I woke up terrified, my heart pounding at a light sprint.

I think I may be suffering from nigga moment related PTSD.

It’s not that this particular dream was the best representation of a nigga moment. No one’s Jordan’s got stepped on, and there were no parking spots taken (or maybe there was?) but the raw emotion–anger being the only acceptable emotion to express–immediately smothered out any sign of reason. I mean, people getting upset because you hit their car (if it was even their car) isn’t weird at all. For me, the thread that binds is the whole not comprehending what the aggression is for. Like, what’s the basis? If they would have been saying “you dickhead, you crashed into my car, etc, etc,” fine, probably not the best way to handle it, but whatever. For me, the fact that I didn’t know why bothered me the most.

Just like I didn’t know why that nigga at Penn’s Chinese store in Logan kept threatening me about “handling myself” in jail while I was waiting on that measly portion of shrimp and broccoli.

Just like I didn’t really know why the dude pulled a gun on me getting off the bus at Bridge and Torresdale.

Just like I never really knew–at least at the time, my best guesses were: walking, breathing, hearing, seeing and letting my wrists hang too loose–why I was being tormented at school by all the other Black kids and at home by the Black adults.

Knowing now of course, that is, having an intellectual grasp on structural disenfranchisement and survival and blah, blah, doesn’t really help most days. I’m still bitter, internally reactionary, and maybe a little petty. But mostly sad, especially when I meet other Black people and have to hide my surprise at their kindness.

I follow the news sometimes, but…

People stay out here preaching tolerance like it’s the holy grail and the white people who are anti-fascist, anti-trump, anti-white supremacy, and anti-nazi–a designation that I still have problems with because we’ve never needed to scan across time and space, or an entire ocean to discover bigotry, though it’s clearly easier than examining a mirror, we don’t need to keep going back to this point and this point only, eighty plus years ago, but we do because white people can only remember something bad that happened to people who look like them, who have since then become officially white, no coincidence then that this anti-nazi battle cry, with it’s ability to maintain peak Whiteness while simultaneously decrying bigotry even exists, and with its sentiment drenched, reeking even, in the hypermasculinity of war porn and punch a Nazi memes it’s no wonder that we need it in this country. All I really see when typically silent ass wypipo are suddenly all anti-nazi is their continued lack of moral courage, the sudden fear for their own physical safety, hiding behind the political convenience of being anti-nazi, in which case you still get to be pro war and pro male and anti-black as much as you’d like, All-American.

Looking at all these silly ass politicians too, especially these republicans asking Trump to say something. Oh shut the hell up, tryna toss dead skin in the game at the eleventh hour, in overtime, with three seconds on the clock. Fuck outta here.

I’m also mega-disinterested in aspirational tolerance as both goal and virtue and I wish no one would ever say a single thing about it ever again. I am interested though in discussing the silent violence and lack of self reflection by the wypipo that has propagated, and will continue to propagate such demonstrations. It’s not necessarily impressive to point to the bad guys/nazis now, when there happens to be a clear group of angry, violent–never mind racist–strangers in your town carrying torches and swastika emblazoned flags.

Impressive would be de-centering yourselves, for fucking once.

Go home and lay waste to every racist inch of your parents and grandparents and friends and boyfriends and girlfriends and yourselves. Get uncomfortable instead of looking for easy reasons to be proud of yourself. Burn the bridges that need to be burned and build ones with people who ain’t like you. Who might need you. You might discover that you needed them too.

Read some books recommended by those people who ain’t like you.

Either that, or just stop pretending to be “down,” stop trying to vibe with oppressed peoples and talk about “the struggle.” Stop trying to teach other people about the shape of their struggles before you’ve even done any of the work yourself.  I promise you’ll still be just fine.

Stop being obsessed with the whole “how can they be patriots and render Nazi salutes,” and blah blah. Because wypipo have been practicing cognitive dissonance forever and ever, especially in regards to racial violence and this is no different. Have you ever been in an interracial relationship? How do racist Whites have Black friends? How come the Loving Day ain’t changing the world? How did so many slave owners have Black kids? I just don’t understand the astonishment. Where is the surprise? Why the think pieces? Anti-Blackness > everything, intellectually, spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, always.

Patriotism Again

I would start this off by saying some shit like “I love my country, but…” That’s probably not true. At least not in any relevant proportion to other countries or things. I’m in a non-hierarchical polyamorous relationship with the United States, Spain, Mexico, Prague, Costa Rica, the Peruvian Amazon and a bunch of other places I haven’t even been to yet.

Got my eye on you, India.

That being said I’m still in the Army, for purposes wholly unrelated to patriotism, and sometimes that makes me feel entirely alone. Depending on where I am, American flags and flag related paraphernalia either annoy or terrify me. It was never an accident that the more patriotic the locale, the more likely my Blackness would be a problem. Patriotism and Whiteness are blood brothers after all.

We all laughed when that flag adorned Mississippi bar, with patrons rocking all sorts of tasteless American Flag gear, told me that I couldn’t enter the establishment. It was kind of funny. That kind of blatant racist shit that millennials think only happens in movies.

It’s problematic though how often the flag–to say nothing about our current administration–or the uniform, works as a shield. Not in the admittedly problematic way I wouldn’t mind though, as in me, in uniform suddenly equals a Black man worthy or respect from White people. Nah. It tends to work the other way around. We are all American; We are all soldiers; We all bleed green, all becoming collective mantras for colorblindness while soldiers of color continue to be privy to the same uncharitable discourse I’m too familiar with between myself and many White friends.

If it’s already impossible to have a conversation with a friend who will probably never respect or believe you, it’s twice as difficult to advocate on the behalf of lower enlisted soldiers to leadership who will never respect or believe either of you. And you can’t really explain the lack of morale without going into detail; hell you can’t even get past the baby talk and assumptions they have about you, regardless of how superior your articulation, no matter how earnestly you supplicate, you’ll just keep getting pummeled in the face with crayons and oversimplifications that take the problem out of focus and re-center themselves.  

Any mention of race in the military is tackled the only way the military knows how, with aggression. We can’t even get a soft core, “pretend to care” kind of class like they reluctantly offer on sexual assault either. Even when we look at racist regulations, most notably those concerning WOC’s hair, it could never, ever be a race problem. A study could reveal right now that Black soldiers are more likely to be punished for similar faults than White soldiers–and probably less likely to be rewarded for equal achievements, the essence of a conflict I’ve been having with my own soldiers–and the first comment would be: “it’s because they (or niggers if anonymous comments are enabled) are more fucked up.” They commit more offenses, are more disrespectful, are louder, are less likely to follow orders, they talk back (literally this one is suggested to me regularly), they wanna wear braids or have shaving profiles, etc. The list is literally fucking infinite. And somehow a military that is part of a society in which these nonsensical ass Boonquisha on Maury stereotypes thrive, in which I constantly see White boys chuckling in the barracks at all manner of Black bodies, the only Black bodies they “know,” on Youtube being “ratchet,” in which the majority of my unit is segregated, in which the actual commander in chief has garnered more support from White supremacists groups than any politician I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime, we’re all out here supposedly bleeding green. Except it’s not all of us that are bleeding.

Wedding Rings (Poem Draft)

Wedding Rings

Make me want to cry, especially the black ones, whether Tungsten or tattooed or green or gold, etched with fancy letters I can’t read and would rather not anyway

the end of my serial monogamy seems so distant, but too close when I see those rings even though I haven’t even figured out whether I like the serial or the monogamy part best or if both are just replacement therapy for the kind of love I never got as a kid or something like my therapist said after I confessed that I loved her too and she stopped wearing those skirts every session though I never told her how I feel about thick lady thighs.

Then she got a ring.

I lied anyway because I didn’t love her as much as the idea of a her

which is what I’ve accused every girlfriend of who ever said they loved me anyway.  

Sometimes I consider just getting a ring and telling everyone I have a partner to make myself feel

Good.

It would be my only piece of jewelry and I look at my tanned ring finger in disgust hoping that one day it’ll do better.

My friend told me he likes the social capital that comes with inviting his wife to professional dinners, but I don’t really want to invite his wife anywhere.

My other friend says she likes having the booty on deck, just the roll over and nudge situation and her husband is a great guy but I wouldn’t fuck him.

I want to lose my wedding ring and be all stressed out about it and cut the tip of my

Finger off trying to grab it out of the garbage disposal. A blood sacrifice.

Maybe the dog will eat it because she’s jealous that she can’t wear one and

I’ll have to take her to the vet, then pointing at an X-ray machine the

Vet will be like “that is a lovely wedding ring,” the implication being that

I am lovely and my partner is lovely and we are happy and lovely together because it’s been less

than a year and we won’t get divorced for another six months

after which I’ll miss the shared fiscal responsibility–especially when I get the bill for that doggie X-ray–so I’ll find someone who’s broke but fucks

real good and just buy our new rings myself.

I walk home alone at night listening to “Drew Barrymore,” staring at my weak ass ring

finger instead of texting my most abusive ex who reminds me of a sauna and still makes my dick

get hard when I think about her hips. God I hate saunas. All that

suffocating heat for nothing, just sloughed off entropy to hate and burn and hate and burn you into

hating yourself for sitting there like an asshole. Google says you should remove your ring before

entering a sauna but I don’t have one; I wish I could take off my skin instead.

Rings are power and I want to be all the Green Lanterns and Alabaster Tenrings and kiss

my own ring before I take the pills at night. Anyone who’s seen Sonic The Hedgehog’s face when he loses those rings will immediately know how important they are.

If I were smarter or more attractive or more loving or had more money

I would have at least one ring already, but that’s dumb because I’ve met some

people with rings and nothing else.

still, my finger twitches at night in lust. It wakes me up and wants to be fed

love, artificial or otherwise and none of my fingers

wear condoms so I suck them dry, except for the ring finger because if it’s sticky enough it might

attract a mate.

One year at a music festival this cute girl from Jersey gave me Molly and a ring pop

that we sucked on all night together, dancing with her friends. I never saw

her again. Even though she gave me her number I wasn’t sure

she wanted me to have it, and I don’t know what I missed more–her or the ring. The

first married girl I ever fucked didn’t wear her ring, so how could I possibly have known? Until her

husband found me on Facebook and said he was her husband and

asked me what we did and I said any conflict was between them; I didn’t even know boul like that. I wanted to ask him if he could just sell me his ring though; I was broke but these were the layaway years and a ring was more important

than a couch or a bed or a television. We could have slept on the floor with our

love but she said how dare I talk to her husband who found me on Facebook

due to her sloppy cheating and told me to go fuck myself. She blocked

me then, but I found her on Facebook later. She’s happily re-married.

Annual Training Happened

Annual Training as a soldier in the Army National Guard is like rolling around in a congealing pool of toxic masculinity while the angry sun from the 2D Mario games pours ticks all over your ass, thighs and testicles. You’ll continue to discover said ticks up to three days after AT is over, while peeling away the dead skin from your sunburnt wrist and scrubbing out all the hate for your brown body out of your brown body. Or you won’t. You could have a circular meeting at the end where your boss talks down to you with unorthodox assumptions and makes threats like: “and we’re gonna talk about all this racism shit too,” at which you get excited, but then you remember where you are who you’re with and know that nothing of merit or importance will be discussed in any depth. Ever.

Oh how I missed the women and gay dudes from work and my Spec Fic Rocketship group and even the occasional Philly nigga who opens up a friendly conversation by saying he will fuckin’ trash me on the court.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the fuck I’m doing in the Army, or what I ever was doing. There was always this really vague understanding that it began as part of my search for community, and for experience before that, but as of late it’s been feeling like that friend from high school who only refers to women as “bitches.” It mostly exhausts me and makes me cringe, but in spite of that I hold on to the part of myself that was forged by that very cringing and fatigue.

I will say though, that there are a lot of young POC in the Army. And there always will be. And I’ve been an NCO for years, but only recently have I recognized the vast opportunity/need for mentorship. Maybe it’s the fact that I took so long to get my own shit together. Maybe it’s the fact that I got kicked out of HHT for two weeks, and alone with my soldiers it was much easier to deconstruct my own assumptions about them, the Army, myself, and the circumstances that deterred us all from being AWOL in that particular moment. Maybe it was the tears, the struggle, the relationships, the children, the sadness, the anger, and the fear, none of which had anything to do with the Army itself.

Maybe in a few years when it’s time to ETS, I’ll still be like fuck it, and walk away like I usually do.

The Terminator?

I wore a Broad Street Run T-shirt to the corner store last night. While I was waiting for my egg foo young, another Black dude, about my height and build stood at the door, staring at me. I was focused on winning a match in this cheatin’ ass Yugioh Duel Links game on my phone, but I could feel his eyes on me the whole time. After I finished bustin’ that ass I looked up at the dude, and he didn’t turn away.

“Yo, you really ran that?” he asked.

“What?” I said. Here, I stood up, cause you never know with these kinds of things, better safe than sorry. The part of me willing to actually consider what he asked, or why I suddenly felt the need to be cautious was buried under years torment by other Black boys who were clearly not him, but also, somehow might be him if I let my guard down. I mean, I didn’t exactly think he was gonna sneak me while I sat, snatch my phone and run out of the store calling me a faggot; I’m too big for that now is what I often tell myself. Still, it makes me sick to my stomach that the thought could even cross my mind.

“The shirt,” he said, sensing my confusion.

Duh, dumbass, I thought.

Turns out he was a runner. We ended up bullshitting about the near death experience that was the Broad Street Run two years ago, in the cold and the rain, the ankle sprains and tight calves, soaking wet socks and the glory of finally making it out on the other end for free pretzels. We reveled in a soft, yet shared trauma that we both chose, and left it at that.

The other day this dude I went to middle school with checked into my job, as dudes I went to middle school with often do. Nothing emergent, probably an STD or something; I mustered the strength not to investigate. He didn’t recognize me, but I sure as hell recognized him. I had this really visceral reaction to seeing him though, like I needed to crush his trachea in my palm and then stomp his face into the concrete out front until I passed out from fatigue. After being smacked and antagonized to oblivion in the schoolyard, I used to sit and stare at him in class, imagining how much force it would take to crush all fourteen of his facial bones. I was really into bones back then. I also realize this isn’t a normal reaction. Especially not fifteen years after fact. I think it’s funny though how I never worry about writing negatively in regards to such people, because I’m not entirely sure they can read. I worry that I derive too much satisfaction from this assumed illiteracy. I worry about how often such illiteracy, and worse, is ascribed to me.  

I have only found the kind of trusting, emotionally intelligent relationship I desire–the kind that at least some women have offered–with one man in twenty-eight years. And I’m unsure if it would have occurred had we not deployed to Iraq together. And hated most everything together. That isn’t to demand the forging of bonds through collective loathing, or trauma, but I continue to have difficulty loving people who lack the grit, I imagine, that comes with making it out on the other end.   

 

Emergency departments are dumping grounds for intoxicated and/or mentally ill patients. Wet is poppin’ right now. And I can’t remember a time where North Philly lacked either substances or the need to use them. A few years ago, when a patient attacked another employee, I physically restrained said patient an he had a seizure in my arms. It was disgusting both physically and emotionally. Because I hesitated to stop him from harming another employee in the first place. Because of the fear that I’d hurt him. Because I wasn’t sure who or what I was doing it for.

We carried him to a room and strapped into a bed so he could be worked up, after which security came. Before said event, this patient, a Black man about the same age as me, sat “within arms reach” of me yelling and spitting and threatening me for several hours. He called me a bitch, a pussy, several faggots, my boyfriend a bitch ass faggot, my mom and her mom nasty sluts, chopped up my dicked work sneakers (which was kinda funny, I’m not gonna lie), berated my kids for being pussies if my faggot ass had any, etc. Nothing new. Not the worst or most unusual experience.  

In those regularly occurring situations, I do try to let it go. I think about the things they’d say to the women instead, albeit often less aggressively, when they think there’s a chance of fucking. I think, this nigga probably can’t even read, to my own dismay–both because of how white people assume intellectual superiority over me and my needing to do so in order to feel good in that situation. I think that people think he and I are alike. I think that people at work don’t think he and I are alike, so they say not-so-coded racist shit around me, thinking it’s safe. I want people to think we’re alike, because we are. It’s not safe.

But sometimes I want it to be. I want people (some) to feel at ease around me and it takes great effort. Whether it’s because of what’s been fed to me and internalized about Black men–the conditioning of my own conditioning–or dumb people and stereotypes, or the legitimate fear that a women might have of any two-hundred pound, six-foot-six man. No matter how many methods I’ve developed for social shrinkage, the hypervisibility always bubbles up. I know that white women diving into grass when they see me jogging, or people following me around stores isn’t me, it’s them, but still.

Sometimes I’m also conflicted about being the proxy defense against other men, specifically Black ones. It feels more complicated than the bouts in Black Boy / Invisible Man though. With increasing regularity I am tasked with providing a buffer between, most often, a White woman and Black man. There are times I question it, and times I don’t. With friends it’s automatic, almost instinctual, with strangers, less so. Sometimes said man is a rapey White guy on a college campus, as was the case when I was asked to guard the writing center because he was prowling and had sexually harassed one of the tutors. Sometimes it’s the likelihood of male violence, like in Antigua, when the women at The Snug would have me stay after closing to ward off aggression. I never felt dumb, or used in Antigua–I’d already made friends with them and was gonna stay whether they asked or not, but the workplace stuff (because it happens at the hospital all the time too) is a bit more complicated.

There’s no precedent for, or guarantee that campus security can or would do better–who, not coincidentally, questioned my belonging at SJU in the first place, always acting threatened until I gave them my I.D., then questioning me afterwards in disbelief. Still, it is a task they are trained, paid and legally protected to perform. I also have to think, who the fuck am I? The Terminator? Do I appear ready for battle? And what happens when I am forced to respond physically? Is everyone going to be absent at my arraignment for these assault charges? As they were as I sweat it out with a lawyer because of the hospital incident?  

Sometimes I don’t know what it is, and sometimes I ponder whether I even have the right to feel conflicted about it at all. Considering the whole grand scheme of things. And as helpless and angry as I felt watching my mother, and especially my grandmother routinely beaten by men when I was a kid, it warms me to be trusted as a protector in that way, until of course, I consider the circumstances that make it absolutely necessary. Until I think of the sheer joy at chipping this kid Kevin’s tooth after he slapped my sister. Until he went home crying. Until Earl was so proud of me for the only time I can remember.

But when a random White woman at a bar volunteers me to her defense, against what she perceives as a threat, but is really just another Black man, minding his own business, it’s…problematic. And then I’m tasked with triple checking against my own biases and hers.

Sometimes, at the hospital, a nurse will demand that I, and not security, become the buffer for a potentially violent patient and absorb all the complications that come along with it. Sometimes they’re not violent, just Black. Sometimes they’re both. And every time I can’t help wondering all of what’s implied about both me and them. About how much I might actually want to hurt the aggressor and how triflin’ I’d feel afterwards.

Which is to say I’ve never said no, never turned down a request, until today when I passed the buck to another man in the department, after suggesting that we enlist the security guards for that purpose. Even then I think of how excited security appears to hurt someone and I feel nasty, seeing a little too much of myself in both them and the mentally ill/high as fuck patient.

Perhaps I’m trying to capture things that I’ll never be able to. Either way, I’m way past 2,000 words today!

About Place: Philly

Today at the barbershop, this quinquagenarian hotep nigga said “I don’t care what nobody say. I ain’t eatin’ no pussy, that shit nasty.”

It was mid conversation that I hadn’t been paying attention to until then, so when I turned my head, squinting to see if he was for real, Johnny was like “Ignore that nigga, he a lil’ ass boy,” and just kept cutting my hair.

Hotep went on with the hotep shit in the hotep corner.

I went back to trying to think about place and writing, a prompt that began with Kiese asking about it in a roundtable at VONA. It was something that I, without interrogating it, had always kind of tried to escape, but not really.

I’d gone to the same barbershop since the first time I ever got my hair cut, even when they moved to three different locations, all underneath the EL along Frankford Ave. The first one was next to Birds, Birds, Birds pet shop where I almost loved every animal in the kingdom, imagining myself as a young, Black David Attenborough or Steve Irwin; it was also across the street from the little magic shop where I got vampire fangs for Halloween and those little plastic frogs that you leave in water overnight so they turn into these big gelatinous toads. It was next to the karate studio where I tried and failed at the week-long free trial and across from the best penny candy store Frankford ever had. Just two blocks away from the VHS rental place that I probably still owe money to.

Deni Park hill’s near vertical drop was behind it, where I used to rollerblade until getting jumped at said park where my friend Jonathan got his basketball taken. But two blocks further was the K-Mart where Jonathan and I got caught trying to steal Gundam Wing model kits (Death Scythe and Wing Zero from Endless Waltz, specifically).

The next barbershop location was next to the pawn shop where my Ganny sold the video games and Christmas presents. Between there and the third location is the alleyway where I first saw her with a John, the same alleyway the kids used for catch a girl freak a girl when the sun was up. Foulkrod street is on that next corner where the #5 bus stops, where I got off early in ninth grade because Ganny was on the bus high and I acted like I didn’t know her in front of my fake friends. Further down Foulkrod street, across from the fire station was where I met my first unrequited love, this tall, thick ass girl named Bianca who looked like she was 25 when we were twelve. I always made excuses to go around there to her corner store to get two dollar cheesesteaks even though they weren’t as good as the ones closer to Glenloch street, across from Red Brick projects and Harding Middle School, where I earned my first shred of respect because I was the first middle schooler who could dunk. Then I cut my hand on the net-less bucket rims across the street and it was the first time I ever got stitches, but we stopped going to that park after someone busted Jonathan in the head with a rock and ran away.

Until of course, I stopped there ten years later for a pickup game and one of my little brother’s friends lifted his shirt to show the gun on his waist and said “Yo old head, you want me to handle that nigga?” because some dude scored on me while we were playing man-to-man defense and started talking shit, as we all do anyway. Closer to Glenloch but still on Torresdale was the first place I was ever threatened with a gun, getting off the #56 bus some dude pulled his on me because he didn’t like the way I was looking at him, when really I was looking behind that nigga at the line for Rita’s Water Ice. I was just out of point blank range and I ran into the street towards home, then the bus pulled off, blocking his sight to me and mine to him, but when it passed I was long gone, and even though I only lived two blogs away I zigzagged through streets I shouldn’t have even been on in case he followed. When I got home my grandfather told me to stop being a pussy. Not too long after that my little brother was getting bullied by some kid on Granite street and when I went to rectify it their older brother flashed his waistband to end the conversation.

As I rode my bike to Amalgam thinking about place I passed through Kensington, where I discovered that White people do drugs too, and years later got my first tattoo. I rode over the bridge that crosses Frankford Creek where I used to hunt for Red Eared Sliders and frogs, never knowing they were invasive species. I kept going around there after I thought I outgrew the creek critters because I thought I was in love with this girl Maria, and the KFC by there had the freshest chicken.

And recently I’ve been stuck trying to finish my memoir. There are plenty of pages, but it’s out of focus; half of them are all over the place. But maybe place is the subject, or should be. It’s funny because when Aisha was my advisor she kept bringing up the weird references to specific places that would come up even in speculative fiction, though I rarely, if ever, noticed it. My sense of place has always felt trapped like in Holmesburg prison where my mother’s water broke, dwarfed by writing that explored real places, that other people knew and talked about. I think of Roberto Bolano’s Mexico City, Kiese Laymon and Jesmyn Ward’s Mississippi–hell the South for a lot of Black writers–I think of Zadie Smith’s London, of Samuel Delaney’s Times Square, Jaquira Diaz’s Puerto Rico and Miami, Junot Diaz’s D.R. and New Jersey, Aravind Adiga’s India, and so on and so forth.

Even though the first piece of memoir to  get published came from an assignment where I had to write about place, I never repeated the exercise. I’m not sure if it felt formulaic or why, maybe fear or laziness or denial. But as I prepare to leave Philly again physically, it’s hard not to accept how much this place has meant to me. I’m reminded of what it’s worth, good and bad, and I sit here to do nothing but try.