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.


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.