Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My son Nyles, the playground, and the other kids who play there have had a great relationship the past couple of years. There are plenty of toys, cars and trucks at the playground, there's a slide, a jungle gym, swings, and most importantly a sprinkler which is activated when someone--usually a kid--puts his handprint on a small column, which allows the water to shoot everywhere (it is actually quite thrilling to watch). Occasionally kids who are too old or young will show up and try to take over the playground and every now and then, there are adults who unlawfully consume adult beverages while their kids are playing, but for the most part it is a lovely experience.

The wife and I usually take Nyles there for about 30 minutes, which is enough time for him to get the excess energy out of his system, interact with his peer group, and then work up the necessary hunger it takes for him to eat lunch/dinner before taking the type of nap that even hibernating bears would envy. I'll admit it doesn't always work out that neat and tidy, but that's the plan each and every time. My wife talks to the other parents at the playground trying to make new friends, and I usually keep my distance myself from that bullshit, while keeping keen eyes Nyles, who pulls five or six daredevil moves per playground visit.

Anyway, this past Sunday, Nyles was busying himself with this fancy truck, when this kid came up to him and tried to take it. Nyles politely, but forcefully took the toy back, and then this kid slapped Nyles in the face. It didn't hurt Nyles and it didn't knock him back, but it damn sure startled him. He said "Ow", and started to hit back, but the kid's mom swooped in, made the kid apologize, and then I begrudgingly stepped in and told Nyles to accept the apology. Nyles kept saying he hit me, and he had the look of a boy with revenge on his mind, but in a civilized kid's society, revenge is supposed to give way to constructive lessons to be applied going forward. I know that, the kid's mom knew that, and eventually the kids will understand it.

Two minutes after the one-sided fight, my son was pushing his truck around the playground with reckless abandon as he's wont to do. I usually tell him to slow down so he does not run over the feet of an adult or a child, but when I saw that his path seemed to be leading directly to the kid who hit him, I decided to stay out of the way, and see how this played out. Much to my delight, Nyles ran right over this kid's feet, then stopped the truck, stood straight up, and said, "Sorry" to the kid. The kid went running and crying to his mom, and I looked at the mom with a smirk on my face, gave her a shrug and then I also apologized. They left shortly thereafter.

I told Nyles not to run over anyone's feet anymore unless they hit him first. Thank God my wife wasn't there, because I may not have gotten the satisfaction of manipulating some of the variables the way I did. It's the little things that bring me joy...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I really wish people would shut the hell up about Donald Trump and the things that flow so fluidly out of his mouth. This is what he does. He's an older, white and rich Kim Kardashian. He's the equivalent of a bus driver who drives to the stop, waits until the kids get right near the door, and then says to no one in particular, "Watch this!", as he drives up one more block to make the kids run, because he knows they need him. I won't say that it is 100-percent impossible for him to become president, but it is highly unlikely that we will ever have to say President Trump.

The Republicans don't like him, but they won't renounce him (save for a McCain diss) because he keeps the pressure off of all of them. The Democrats can't stand him, but they have to be careful with how flagrant they are with their vitriol, because then Trump will come after them. And then the media--who look absolutely foolish in all of this--keep interviewing and reporting Trump's every speech, tweet and Facebook post. If folks left him alone, it would drive him crazy how little attention he was getting, and he would fade into Bolivian as the great Mike Tyson said.. People should just stop feeding the animal, and let him go.

One more thing, when I turned 16 and got my driver's license, my father sat me down and had a speech with me about the police. He told me that I was smart, bright, articulate, blessed with a decent sense of humor, but I was also very much a black (young) man. We were living in the affluent Potomac, Maryland at the time, and he told me that a young, black man driving around those streets could be a target. He told me that if I ever got pulled over that I needed to act like the cop was my father. He told me say "sir", look the cop in the eye, don't joke or make small talk unless it was initiated by the cop, and for me to keep all personal commentaries to myself. I told him that felt an awful lot like selling out, and he said it wasn't about that, they were simply survival tactics. I made a mental note.

Sure enough, I got pulled over twice in the first month of driving, and only one reason was legit. The first time, the cop said my rear light was out, but when I got home I had my father check and it was fine. The second time, I left the Kemp Mill Records (on Rockville Pike for those you in the DC area) without my lights on and the cop pulled me over, but only gave me a warning. Both times I took my father's advice, even though in the back of my mind, I wanted to say some smart sh*t. I never forgot that advice my dad gave me. I used it five years later when I got pulled over trying to make it to Hampton (from D.C.) to see my oldest son's birth, and I used back in December when I got pulled over twice in an hour span (once in Maryland the second time in PA) for speeding. In that instance the PA cop was mean as hell, kept his hand on his heat during the whole stop, and looked like he would have loved to stir it up with me, despite the fact that my wife, son, brother, sister-in-law and nephew were in the car. I remained calm, and drove away.

Now I'm not foolish enough to believe that talking "perfect" would keep me from getting killed, beat or tasered, but I am about the law of averages, and I figure if I do my part, the risk isn't non-existent, it is simply lowered. So when I saw the tape of Sandra Bland talking to the cop, I cringed a little. She was clearly irritated and the cop was being a dick with the whole cigarette request, but I was wishing she had suppressed the smart mouth and just danced long enough for her to drive away, call her girls to complain, and maybe file a complaint in hindsight. She didn't deserved to be roughed up and she didn't deserve to die or be killed (I suspect it was the latter, but the Duke lacrosse rape case has taught me never to be sure), I just wish I'd have been in the car with her, so she would have had a fighting chance. Most cops are good, some are bad, and others snap at the drop of a hat, and use the weapons they were issued which work in tandem with any temper or anger issues they may have. We all have tempers, but when you're a cop with power, a badge and guns, things get real. It is a bad combo, and it is my job to lay low.

I said this to close friends, and I'm blogging about it here, but I know some folks disagree or will say, "It doesn't matter how she acted, she doesn't deserve to die or beat", and obviously that is the case. All I'm saying is that there was a point when she could have danced, and she chose not to, and I wish she hadn't. Now she's dead, and no cops--not the one who beat her or the ones who allegedly killed her--will be brought to justice. It is impossible to have nuanced discussions sometimes, but I am trying anyway. We can be justifiably mad over the way cops are killing, beating and harassing brown folks. We can also do our best to teach our kids (and adults) some survival tactics. Perhaps I'm wrong, but while you're reading my blog you're trapped in between the lines, and you'll escape, when you finish my lines..

That was heavy..

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

So yesterday young Nyles and I were in the car on our way home from daycare, and Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" came on my iPod. My son loves the chorus of this song, and since I'm all about keeping the boy happy in between daycare departure and bedtime, I let him listen to the song. Unfortunately, the only way he can hear this song is if I play God with the volume. When Kendrick is rapping his verses, I keep the volume low enough for only me to hear, and then when the chorus comes I blast it as loud as Nyles' three and a half year ears can take, but there's only one problem. The chorus to that song contains a quick, but very noticeable "nigga":

Nigga, we gon' be alright
Nigga, we gon' be alright
We gon' be alright
Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright
Nigga, we gon' be alright
Huh? We gon' be alright
Nigga, we gon' be alright
Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright

Now Nyles has no earthly idea what that word is right now, plus all he sings is, "We gon' be alRIGHT" (and yes he puts extra emphasis on the "right"). Still, I feel like a substandard parent by dangling "nigga" all up in the car (Suge Knight voice) which is basically daring him to regurgitate it in the most inappropriate of settings. I don't even use the word that much, so I damn sure can't pass it down. The solution, and man is it a depressing one, is that I am going to have to buy and/or play via Spotify, the clean version of Kendrick's album.

Now way back in 2000, I dated a woman who had a son around the age of 12, and she used to buy clean, Wal-Mart version of every rap CD, and I used to chastise her. I used to tell her that she should either buy the dirty version or not buy it at all, because even with the clean version you can clearly guess what curse word what should have been uttered. She insisted that wasn't true and that her conscience was a lot clearer knowing that if her kids picked up the cursing habit, it would not be because she let anything go language-wise in her car. Silly 25 year old me did not get that, but 40 year old me hears that logic loud and clear. Nyles doesn't know curse words, nor can he decipher what would have been said, he just wants to sing, "We gon be alRIGHT", and far be it from me to block his blessings. My oldest son's mother did no such thing, which may be part of the reason why he's posting questionable rap lyrics on his InstaGram page...or maybe that's just a function of him being 18 who knows. I digress.

Lost in all this fuss is that "Alright" is damn good song. It's like this year's profane, rap version of Pharrell's "Happy". Yeah he mentions guns, hostility due to police brutality and frustration, but he ends every verse with the affirmation that everything will be alRIGHT. The song surely isn't a panacea for all that's going wrong right now, but it is a start.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Last night I was sitting in the living room with my wife, when she asked me if I knew my son was leaving Marine boot camp this weekend. She just happened to be on Instagram, and noticed that my son had told his Instagram friends that if they wanted to talk to him, they had to do it by this weekend, because he was going to be gone for 13 weeks. Harmless enough right? Wrong. Wrong.

Granted, ever since my son's graduation from high school last month, I knew that magical boot camp date was coming. So at least twice a week for the past several weeks, I've been asking Carlton if he had a date, and every time, he'd tell me "not yet Dad" or "I'm still waiting". I felt bad for pestering him, but I know how forgetful and negligent he can be at times, so I kept asking anyway. So imagine my disgust when I get this magical date via my wife looking at his Instagram page (I hope it is as ridiculous to read as it was to type). I immediately texted my son to ask him why he'd forsaken me, and his response was something Theo Huxtable would say to his dad, "I just found out earlier in the day while I was playing basketball."

Now when I reached out to him it was 11:25pm, which means he found out at least four to five hours prior, and he STILL decided to type that heartfelt Instagram message before informing the very person who has been on his ass about it the last few weeks. I want to punch him in his mouth before he goes to boot camp--and I actually told my wife I was going to do as much last night--but this morning I realize that was just misplaced anger on my part. I was more upset about yet another Instagram post where my son quoted a rap song and said, "He f**ked b**ches". Such a classy young man. Boot camp will straighten up some of that filth I hope. I still wish he had gone to college, but oh well. He has to find his own way.

When I typed Theo Huxtable, I almost decided to type a few words about Bill Cosby, but I don't have the heart. He's a brilliant man who entertained me for years, and has been a great advocate for education, kids, etc. But he's a creepy f**k, and that part of his life has now made it into the first paragraph of his bio/obituary (sounds mean, but if you think every major newspaper hasn't started and edited Bill's obit, you are crazy). It is sad, but I don't feel sorry for him at all. He's had a full life that is ending badly.

Go buy that new Bilal. It is called "In Another Life". The wife and I went to see him in concert last week, and he was amazing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

So late Saturday night, I had the house to myself, and I was watching a boxing match on my laptop (NBC-4 kept interrupting the match to discuss the stormy weather, so I opted for the uninterrupted online feed), while sipping on an IPA beer. I got up off the couch to order some pizza, when I dropped my phone on the floor. It was slightly cracked but still functional so I proceeded to order food, text my wife, etc. An hour later, I looked at the phone and it would not work at all. The little light would flash indicating that I had a text/email, but I couldn't see anything else on the phone. I turned it off, turned it back on, but nothing worked.

Now I was angry for two main reasons. One, the next day was Father's day, which meant without my phone I would miss out on all the wonderful Father's Day calls and texts that feed my fragile ego. Plus it would stop me from calling my dad, my brother, etc. But second and most importantly, I hate being without my phone even for a few hours. I text, I get on the Twitter, I play Words with Friends and Scrabble, I look up things on google to prove my wife wrong, and I take pictures of my son Nyles to share on Instagram and all that. Perhaps it isn't good for me to be that dependent on my phone, but hey, I'm conditioned to be that way. Even my condition is conditioned...

Sunday morning, I headed to the playground with my main man Nyles, and I noticed that I was much more attentive to him. I wasn't looking for a photo op depending on what he was doing, I didn't zone out and start fiddling with my phone when he starting playing with other kids. I halfway talked to other parents (ok not really), and I really didn't miss my phone at all. Still, that afternoon, I headed to the Sprint store by house to get a new one. They told me I had to wait until Wednesday, I said that was bull, and they said I could try my hand at the corporate store--in Silver Spring, just 15 minutes away. Mind you, I initially left the house without showering with a T-shirt, basketball shorts and no drawers on, thinking I'd run down the street, get a phone and go back home. No such luck.

So I got in the car, and drove to Silver Spring smelling like the outdoors with my junk swinging and bouncing around like kids in a moon bounce. I walked in the Silver Spring store, explained my issue, and they took my phone to see if they could repair it, and told me to come back in an hour. So now, I decided to venture to a bar down the street, and I was careful to sit alone so that I wouldn't call attention to my attire. I didn't have my phone, so I had no f**king clue when an hour had elapsed without asking the bartender what time it was. After 90 minutes, I went back to the Sprint store, only to have them tell me that my phone couldn't be repaired and I had to order another one, which wouldn't arrive until Wednesday--the same b.s. I heard at the store five minutes away from my house. I ordered the phone, and took my ass home.

When I got home I went on Facebook where most of my friends and family are, and wrote the following message:
I broke my phone and the new one won't be here until Wed. So if you contacted me to wish me a Happy Father's Day, if you called to say hello, or if you just called to moan and make suggestive sex noises in my ear, just hold out a few days.

For those not on Facebook, I emailed them, I used my wife's phone or I got on the iPad and used FaceTime. I was proud at my resourcefulness, but I was still hella pissed to be phoneless. The "inconvenience" continued on Monday when I couldn't use my Starbucks app to get me a Monday-morning beverage. The sad part is that now on Tuesday morning, I'm (almost) used to being phoneless--except I have family in town and trying to coordinate with them is a pain. I say all this to say that I am woefully dependent on my cellphone, and it is a sad sight to see...

Saturday, June 20, 2015

First off, please read the article my colleagues and I collaborated on to create. I realize basketball season is over now, but there are topics to be discussed. Check it out here.

Second, not in importance but rather the second thing I am choosing to mention, is that my son Carlton graduated with honors from high school last Saturday. In attendance was me, his mother, his mother's ex-boyfriend, his mother's ex-husband (who helped raise him), his aunt, his grandmother and his cousin. I was the only person there representing my side of the family, which was fine, because Carlton got to handpick who received one of the 10 tickets he was given. I did not want to pressure him by insisting I get more tickets, because I went through that during my college graduation ceremony. I thought it was going to be an awkward affair, but everyone--except Carlton's grandfather on his mother's side, who chose to go play golf rather than face me and his emotions about his grandson graduating--behaved like the adults they claim to be. This day was about Carlton walking across that stage with honors, and him seeing the people who love him.

I was emotional but surprisingly I did not cry. I took he and his mother to breakfast prior to graduation, and I explained to him how proud I was, and what my expectations of him are going forward. He decided against attending Old Dominion University and has opted to join the Marines, which I definitely have mixed feelings about. It is his choice and I support it, but in lieu of all that's gone in this country the past several months, I'd feel more comfortable if he went to college now, instead of after the military. That being said, he will be the best Marine that institution has ever seen. That's assuming my son doesn't get himself in trouble on Instagram.

Last night, he posted a video of he and his friends drinking at some party, which infuriated me. 12 hours prior, I warned my son about the content he chose to post on a very public forum. I told him that nothing is private, and each post he puts up is a small part of the collage, which can be interpreted as a personal profile he could be judged upon. In the past week, he's posted explicit sex pics, profane videos and then yesterday's alcohol pic. I told him that his behavior could get him kicked out the Marines, arrested, and it could also prevent him from getting a job down the line. Billionaire Mark Cuban recently made this exact same point. I'm not saying I didn't do dumb shit when I was Carlton's age (17) but I did it away from the white hot lights of social media. That doesn't make it better, but it damn sure made it more private.

And finally, two of my favorite artists, Robert Glasper and Kurt Elling have new releases. Go buy them.

I promise I'm not as chubby in this picture as I look. In fact, just focus on my son...

Thursday, June 04, 2015

I have been walking around with my mother's will in my pocket for nine days now. Before she went to Black Images in Art Conference in Florence, Italy last week (and yes for now I'm going to bury the lead). My mother gets paranoid whenever she travels and that paranoia gets ramped up 1000 levels when she goes out of the country. Still, it caught me off guard when she re-did her will last week before she left out of town. I immediately asked her if she was hiding a terrible illness from me, and she said no.

After a little more prodding, she told me she had not re-done her will since her parents passed away in 2013 (her dad) and 2014 (her mom), and those deaths had her forced her to be face to face with her own mortality. I totally got that because when I looked at my grandparents in their respective caskets, all I could think about was death. I thought about how (un)prepared I was to deal with my parents' affairs should either one of them meet an untimely demise. Then I thought about whether my wife and I were prepared should either one of us leave this Earth in a premature fashion. Conversations like this are as uncomfortable as watching a sex scene with your parents, but they are so necessary (the conversation not the sex scenes).

Anyway, my mother came to visit me before she left for Italy, and I ended up leaving the house before she did. When I got back home from work, her new and improved will was right there on my kitchen table, and I was asked to give a copy to my brother and the executor. I made a mental note to do both of those things, and then I stuffed the will in my bag--and after that I forgot about it. I would remember whenever I removed my lunch or my book of rhymes from my work bag, but then I'd close the bag and forget, because I seem to have the memory of a man twice my age. Then today, while I was re-loading my bag with lunch and other various items, I took the will out and looked at it. I ignored the details, and oddly enough I focused on the level of detail my mother went to make sure everything was taken care of, and it made me smile. It is an odd way to receive yet another validation of my mother's love for me, but that's what happened. That could very well be a fleeting emotion that fades my lunch time (when I will re-open my will-less bag) but for now, I'm on the ninth cloud.