Monday, September 26, 2016

As I have previously mentioned in this blog, my son's school is right next to a Planned Parenthood facility, which means protestors are prone to make cameo appearances. It had been a good two weeks since any protestors appeared in front of the school, and I was happy about that. I'm all for principled, peaceful protests, but I don't like the creepy abortion pictures, and frankly neither does my son. Plus I don't like explaining life's issues five minutes before I have to drop him off for school. It just isn't a good way for him to start his day of learning.

Today, there was a protestor without the creepy pictures, but she still managed to be slightly disruptive in her own way. She had one big sign which said, "Stop Abortion Now!", but then she took it a step further and used colored chalk to write messages on the very sidewalk the parents and kids had to take en route to school. Some of the sidewalk messages were, "Babies Being Killed This Way", "Baby Murders Over Here", "Have A Good Day Baby Killers". Some of the kids just kept walking and didn't read the messages. Some kids could read, and read the messages out loud then asked their parents what that meant, other kids (like my son Nyles) couldn't read all the words, but the bright colors were intriguing so he asked me what it said, why it was written on the sidewalk and who wrote it.

The woman who wrote the message was sitting on the grass in front of Planned Parenthood making yet another sign, and I pointed her out to Nyles. He asked me why she wrote on the sidewalk, and I told him she had a message she wanted every one to see. I didn't tell him what the words said, and I damn sure wasn't about to fit an abortion/anti-abortion discussion into the 50-foot walk we had into the school. Luckily for me, as soon as he got closer to his school, all Nyles wanted to discuss was his new haircut and his even newer lunchbox. Crisis averted.

But some of the other parents I saw as I left the school and walked back towards the car were not quite as lucky. I heard kids ages 5-12 ask what abortion was, what Planned Parenthood does, and why protesters are always in front of the building. To properly set this scene from the parents perspective, imagine that it is Monday morning at 8am, you're already thinking about work-related matters, you may or may not have a hangover from the drinking you did during Sunday brunch or Sunday football, and it is taking every ounce of your remaining strength just to walk your kid to school and be on your merry way. And then all those plans fall by the wayside because one lone anti-abortion protestor decided that today is the day to write messages in colorful chalk all over the damn sidewalk. Your kid is asking questions and getting stressed out, and you can't exactly ignore their questions because that isn't great parenting, but you can't pull your kid aside and give them the straight talk you'd like to give, because the start of school casts a pall over all of that. It is a jacked up position to be in, and every parent I saw--regardless of their politics--looked like they wanted to strangle this girl with the garden hose that was in the grass next to her. Thanks to this girl, my four year old will be an expert in both sides of the abortion argument very early on in the game. Thanks protestor lady.

By the way, am I even allowed to use the word "abortion" that many times in a blog post? I feel like I've set off some Beetlejuice-type alarms here.

Friday, September 23, 2016

I am having barbershop issues again.

Over the past few months, my barber Stan has begun to show signs of slippage. He's about 56 years old, which is unfair to mention, because his slightly advance age was never an issue the past seven years I've been going to him. But it definitely seems to be working against him right now. He pushes my hairline back too far sometimes, and other times, he doesn't keep my beard as full as I'd like, which leaves with me with a bullshit Taye Diggs-in-the-movie-Brown-Sugar beard instead of the Issac Hayes beard my face has come to know and love. It had gotten to the point where I had to antagonize him before my haircut and give him specific instructions, then I had to follow that up with mid-haircut instructions to reinforce my preferences. Most barbers hate that and Stan is no exception, but I have no desire to walk around with a jacked up haircut for two or more weeks, so I do what I must.

The only reason I didn't ditch Stan months ago is that my young son Nyles loves "Mr. Stan", who is the only barber he's ever known. Stan jokes around with him, gives him a lollipop after every cut, and they end their transaction with a firm, intricate handshake. I must admit it is rather cute to watch, and I'm about maintaining a certain routine--but not at the expense of my hair and beard game.

There is another barbershop that is right on my way to work, and once things started deteriorating with Stan, I made it my business to try this new shop to see how I liked it. The first time I went to one barber and just played it safe with a shape up. The second time, I went to a different barber and entrusted him with my pre-going-to-Miami haircut and he nailed it. The new barbershop was a nice mix of young and old, and there are 8 barbers who work in there. The downside is that I always have to wait at least 30 minutes, which I never had to do at my old shop. I"m not a patient man who needs and loves to soak up the barbershop atmosphere. I like to get in and out--especially when Nyles is with me. Some of the barbers have told me to make an appointment, which I may try again. The last time I tried all of the barbers I liked were booked up for 2-3 days. Still, this shop has potential.

When I came back from Miami at the end of August, I decided to give Stan one more chance at redemption. Nyles and I got up at 8am on a Sunday morning like we usually do, and by chance, we saw Stan riding his bike about five minutes away from the shop. Stan explained that he had gotten fired from the shop, and he had relocated to another shop which was five minutes away. We agreed to meet him at the shop at 9am, even though it meant we had to kill an hour's worth of time.

**Sidebar** My barber's I-got-fired story goes like this...Apparently, one of his main customers came up short when it came time to pay the bill, and Stan said it was ok and let him go. Normally what Stan does in that situation is 1)Use his own money so the cash drawer didn't come up short at the end of the night and 2) Tell the manager, so he was aware. Well on this particular day, Stan didn't replenish the drawer or tell the manager, and he was accused of stealing. He was put on probation for a week, then he was fired. Something tells me there is more to the story, but when someone is in charge of cutting your hair with clippers and your beard with a straight razor, you don't make them uncomfortable in any shape, form or fashion***sidebar off***

Nyles and I set foot in the Stan's new shop, and immediately I was crestfallen. The shop is in a less desirable part of town and inside it looked rundown and smelled like a pack rat's closet. The barber chairs were clean, as were the razors, blades and clippers but everything else in the shop looked suspect. Nyles, who has neither tact nor couth, said, "Daddy it's dirty in here", and just asked him to sit his ass down in a spot I carefully chose for him. To make matters worse, it was 9 in the damn morning, but the owner of the barbershop felt the need to blast some profane rap music (I think it was Future). I asked Stan if he could ask the owner to turn it down, and the owner did so very begrudingly which pissed me off. Luckily for me, Nyles wasn't paying any attention to the words, but the last thing I needed was for him to bring home a curse word or two for my wife to hear. No one wins there. I left the barbershop, I watched he and Nyles do their normal strong handshake ritual, and then I told Stan I'd be back next week. I haven't been back since.

But yesterday, I tried to do an afterschool pop-in with Nyles at the new barbershop, and there was at least a 45 minutes wait, which was not going to work. I went back at 9am this morning when they opened, and there were 4 barbers working, but they were all accepting their appointment customers. I asked when the non-appointment barbers would be in and they said by 9:30, but by 10, they hadn't showed. I left out. Clearly, I will have to make appointment, which is difficult to do with a 4-year old. For now, we will be going back to Stan on Sunday morning..I think.

I resent my old barber for first slipping at his craft, and then getting himself fired, which has put me into some sort of weird limbo. I resent my new barbershop for placing emphasis on appointments, rather than the old-fashioned walk-in, which is how new clients are built. I wish I could find a good barber, who could just come to my house every Sunday morning, cut my hair and then roll out. That would be ideal.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

This morning as I waited to cross the street and fulfill my Starbucks fix (I got a Venti Soy Flat White this morning and it was delicious), I saw two girls in school uniforms. The looked to be around 11 or 12 years old, and they were knee deep in conversation as they waited to ross the street just like me. One girl kept both hands on her backpack straps while she talked, and the other girl was eating a bag of Doritos.

**Sidebar** Ever since I was young and school-age, it always annoyed me when kids ate chips for breakfast. When I did my student-teaching and my "real" teaching it annoyed me even more. I know some kids have the type of home life where any kind of food that was available--be it chips, funions, donuts, etc.--was an acceptable form of breakfast. But I also know that a lot of kids--and this is something that was true of kids who were white, black, hispanic or Asian--either weren't taught good nutrition, or they simply ignored the good nutritional value of cereal, toast or oatmeal, in favor of nasty ass chips at 8am. I see adults doing this at my job and it is equally are folks who smoke cigaretts at 8am. Why is it necessary to smoke a jack before breakfast? I don't get it.**sidebar off**

Once Dorito girl was finished with the bag, and her hands and face were full of chip residue, she looked left, then right, then dropped the bag on the street. Her classmate said, "Girl, you lazy", and then looked back at me very quickly. I had my sunglasses on, so they couldn't tell where I was looking, but please believe my eyes were glued to their illegal act. Once the "walk" signed flashed, Dorito girl kicked the Dorito bag in front of her classmate, and her classmate kicked the bag under a car that was waiting at the red light (the driver of the car was on his phone and oblivious to the entire operation). Then they both turned and looked at me while they crossed the street, and I just kept walking. Once they crossed the street, they went one way, I went the other, and that was the end of our interaction.

As I walked into Starbucks, I felt like I had failed every young person, by not speaking up and giving a 30-45 second long diatribe about the importance of respecting the streets of Washington D.C by not littering. I really wanted to say something, but the following scenarios played out in my mind:

1) What if I started lecturing the girls on their bullshit actions, and they got animated and/or upset? Anyone within earshot would certainly understand my plight and they would try to calm down the situation. But anyone out of earshot would see a grown ass man harassing two young girls, and they might think I was doing an Anthony Weiner impression. That wouldn't end well, any my well-intentioned point would get lost somewhere

2) This entire incident took place one block from my house, which means it is quite possible the parents, siblings or relatives could have been laying eyes on these girls. They could see me talking to the girls, come out of their house, and scream (or worse) on me for disciplining their children, and somewhere during their rant, they would surely utter the phrase, "you don't know them like that, those are my kids". Or they could make a mental note of the interaction they saw, and then confront me later that day during my walk home. Again, no matter how much of a public service I thought I would be performing, parents and family are overprotective--and given all that's going on in the world, I cannot blame them...however

My four-year old son knows that littering is bad and that it will not be tolerated. If we are walking down the street, and he sees any type of litter on the ground, he begins the following line of questioning:

Who left that there?
Why did they leave that there like that?
Who is going to pick it up?
Whoever left it there is a bad person?

I appreciate my son's vigilance, and the first two times I get hit with these questions it is entertaining and sweet, but by the time I heard this for the sixth or seventh time in a 15-minute span, I'm ready to mute his ass and strangle whoever left the trash there. So if you're in DC and you're thinking of littering, please don't, for my sake.

But on a much more serious note, it is rather sad that I cannot innocently talk to some kids about something they did wrong. I wouldn't have preached and I wouldn't have been mean, I would simply asked them why they did that, and if they minded picking up the Dorito bag. If they said no and did not kick the bag under a car, I would have gladly picked it up and thrown it out. If they had been receptive to my lesson, that would have been a win-win. And given that so many kids at impressionable ages are lacking in so many of the basic values they should learn at home (I'm not trying to sound like Bill Cosby here, I am just speaking strictly on what I observe during my walks/drives to my son's school), a helpful word from a harmless adult wouldn't be so bad every now and then.

I suppose I should have had the courage to power through the negative consequences in an effort to get my message across, but I opted to err on the side of caution this time. Maybe if they were boys, I'd have been bolder..I don't know.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I received an email from one of my exes last night, and without cutting, pasting and showing you people what was said verbatim, I will summarize: I was thinking of you, I miss you, I hope all is well, and the tried and true phrase, "No need to respond". That last sentence is what motivated me to blog.

I'm not in the business of reaching out to folks, telling them that I miss and think about them, and then requesting that they suppress any urge they may have to respond. I only reach out to folks who I want to reach back out to me (except at work of course, when I WISH folks wouldn't respond just so I'd have fewer headaches). I suspect the "no need to respond" was sent for the following reasons:

***sidebar*** Before I get to those reasons, I am pretty sure that someone is ready to make the observation/comment that I should not worry or burden myself with such frivolities--and you may very well be right. But the foundation of this 10-years-and-counting blog has been to obsess, bitch and moan about the most inane of things, while peppering in sports, social commentary and humor with lots and lots of music. I know that my logic is flawed sometimes, but hey, so are our two presidential candidates (that's a bad comparison). ***sidebar off***

1) She really doesn't want to hear back from me

Perhaps she has become a free spirit who takes a mental stream of consciousness, puts it on paper (email) and sends it out without ever wanting any type of feedback. For these types of people the writing and eventual sending of messages is cathartic and once it is gone, they cease to think or obsess about what brought them to that point.

2) She's dipping her toe in the water

It is possible that she has more she wants to say and share with me, but she doesn't want to completely reveal her hand until she knows I am down to play ball. This is the equivalent of a heat check in basketball. For those unaware, a heat check happens when a basketball player hits two difficult shots in a row, and then tries for a third to see if a) the first two were lucky or b) they are in the zone, and anything they throw up will definitely go in the basket. If they miss the heat check attempt, they return to playing within the confines of the coach's game plan. If they hit it, they will shoot every time down the floor (See Kobe's 81 point game from 2006)

3) Mouse trap

She's overestimating the power she has, and she thinks that this simple email will be enough to get me to reach out to her and get the gang back together--also known as "catch me slippin'". The "no need to respond" is the equivalent of a woman saying she's sleepy, but then takes all of her clothes on her way up the stairs, leaves her bedroom door open, and the peeks to see if you've followed her. It's a trap.

***Sidebar part deux** Derrick Rose, formerly of the Chicago Bulls and currently of the New York Knicks, uttered these words during a deposition related to a case in which he and his boys are accused of rape. Try not cringe while reading this:

“We men. You can assume (we’re having sex with the woman),” Rose said in the deposition right before he was traded to the Knicks. “Like we are leaving to go over someone’s house at 1 a.m., there's nothing to talk about.”

Now, I've talked to men and women who share this sentiment and fully expect to f**k or be f**ked if midnight (or later) visitation is agreed upon. I have also known men and women who change their minds or just flat out don't share the sentiment that Derrick Rose so (un)eloquently laid out. But, if you are being deposed for a case where you and your boys have been accused or rape, maybe you don't want to say it like that. Maybe you reach into that elusive eloquent bag of yours and say something better than, "She knew what was up"...

I wish I could be an advisor for some of these youngster as they navigate their way through life as an NBA star. I don't care how many friends a guy has, at least one or two of them have to be common sense guys to say, "Hey man you sure you want to do this?". That question alone--from a trusted friend no less--is sometimes the difference between doing something dumb, and going back home to joke about what you might have done. It is very fine, thin line. ***sidebar part deux off**

And no, I"m not responding to that email I received from the ex.

Now, some music. And yes, in case you were wondering, I do walk around and randomly say what Baby says from 1:46 to 1:48. It makes no sense but it is some empowering sh*t to randomly say to no one in particular

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A couple of weeks ago my mother was on her way back to Cleveland after spending Labor Day with my family, but before she went home, she decided to take everyone to brunch--Busboys and Poets to be exact. We talked, we laughed, my wife and my mother commented on how terrible the coffee tasted, and my four-year old son Nyles was knee deep into the iPad.

After brunch she paid the bill, and we were all headed out of the bookstore when my mother noticed a few books on display near the front of the restaurant. If you've never been to Busboys and Poets, it is 80 percent restaurant, 20 percent bookstore. The diverse display of books are displayed in the front of the restaurant, and then there are seats, chairs and a bar. My mother somehow missed the book display on our way in but it definitely caught her eye as we left. She saw three books:

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl: This book is by Issa Rae, who I have known since 1991, when I used to hang out with her older brother. My mother and Issa's mother are still friends to this day. My mother knew Issa had a book out, but she still did a double take when she saw it.

Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White: This is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's new book on race matters, and my mother foolishly asked me if I knew it was out. I was responded "hell yes" minus the "hell". Cursing at your mom--even at age 41--is ill-advised

Michelle Obama: A Life: My mother read this already and suggested I do the same. My book queue is about 15 books deep, but I'll read it eventually

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement: My mother is in the midst of reading this and she told me I need to do the same. I may give this book special privileges and move it on up on my 15 book deep queue.

After my mother looked at these books, she walked out of the store and we headed to the airport. But while observing my mother--who has a Ph. D, is a former English teacher and has never met a book she couldn't conquer--I realized how much I missed bookstores.

You see back in the day, I would spend hours upon hours in Borders bookstore. I would buy a book, a magazine, some coffee, and then I'd pick another book I wanted off the shelf and read. If a member of the Borders staff approached and attempted to harass me about reading a book I had yet to purchase, I would show off what I had purchased already as a deterrent. It worked like a charm, 100-percent of the time. And the thing about it was...I wasn't the only person doing that. When I looked around, there 10-15 other men and women doing the exact same thing.

Sadly, this was 5-10 years ago before Kindles, iPads and reading-books-via-cell-phones had really taken off. There were books, bookstores and hundreds of people willing to spend hours upon hours in Borders, Barnes and Nobles, etc. When I was single, I would even put my snobbery to the test and take women on official dates to a bookstore to see how they reacted. If they picked a book or a magazine and got comfortable, I knew I had a winner. If they were impatient, fidgety and acted like flight risks, I would judge them slightly. That was one of my litmus tests.

I miss bookstores man. Libraries are cool, but they are a little stiff and antiquated--plus they don't serve beverages and the magazines are never up to date. The Borders I used to go to not only had books and beverages, but one time I saw Dianne Reeves and Terence Blanchard perform a mini-concert there as well. I felt cool, avant-garde and hip all at the same time. I want that old thing back...

Friday, September 09, 2016

My son Nyles started school last week at a wonderful charter school in the Northeast DC called Two Rivers. Last year, my wife and I were a part of the Charter school lottery and we didn't find out until the third week of school, that my son had been accepted to Seaton Elementary school. Two Rivers had been on our wish list, but we fell just short. This year, Two Rivers was our first choice and we knew early on that Nyles was going to be in attendance, so there was no headache or worrying.

In the weeks leading up to the first day of school, the staff of Two Rivers PCS reaffired that my wife and I had made the proper decision for Nyles. His new teachers sent a letter Nyles where they briefly introduced themselves and included headshots so we'd know what they looked like. I put that letter on the wall in Nyles' room so he would know exactly what he was in for the first day of school. There was a typo in the note they sent to Nyles, but my wife said I should let that slide (but I really haven't), because the gesture was so nice.

A couple of days before school started, my wife and I went to meet the new teachers in person, and they seemed very genuine, caring, and young as hell, which made me feel old(er). They were a little stiffer (in terms of their demeanor) than the teachers Nyles had the previous year, but academically, I had no doubt that my son Nyles was in good hands inside that school. Outside the school is an entirely different story.

Directly next to Two Rivers PCS is a Planned Parenthood facility which is scheduled to open very soon. There are construction workers around the building making cosmetic changes, but for the most part that facility is ready to open--more importantly, the words Planned Parenthood are visible in big bold letters, which attracts protesters.

Every day last week and once this week (today) Two Rivers called my wife and I with a recorded message saying that protesters were around the Planned Parenthood buildling with explicit photos. Two Rivers suggested that parents use the back entrance to enter the school if we did not want to subject the kids to such things. I hadn't seen any protesters until today, when I saw a lone woman standing in the front of the building with a picture of an aborted fetus, and it was about as disgusting as it sounds. A Two Rivers staff member positioned herself slightly in front of the sign so the kids would not see it, but it was clearly visible. Luckily for me, Nyles and his four-year old beady eyes, fixated on a dog that was behind us. Crisis averted...for now.

The bigger issue is, whose bright idea was it to build a Planned Parenthood next to an established school that houses Pre-K to 8th grade students? I am not here to speak on my views about abortion and Planned Parenthood, because a) no one cares and b) that's not the point here. The point is that Planned Parenthood establishments are always fodder for protestors with creepy signs and angry axes to grind. Sometimes the protests are done respectfully, other times they are met with violence--sometime of the gun variety. If I know that, I'm quite sure the powers-that-be in Washington DC know that as well, and yet, that building is still sitting right next to the school.

In fairness, when my wife and I first researched this school, we knew about the Planned Parenthood situation, and we decided to power through and apply anyway, because their academic reputation was just that strong. Perhaps I have no right to bitch and moan about an issue that I knew good and goddamn well could affect me and my child daily. But why the hell do I have to make that kind of decision anyway? Why couldn't they put that Planned Parenthood next to a church, or a liquor store or a CVS?

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

I have been covering the Washington Wizards and the NBA overall for nine years, and during that time I've easily attended over 100 games, which means I have had to listen to our bless-ed National Anthem over 100 times. I never put my hand over the heart during the anthem, but I do find the flag on the Jumbotron screen and look at it. While the anthem played, I would think of my family who fought in the military, I would think of September 11th, I would think of unequal and unjust things in this country, and by the time my mind wandered through all of those topics, the anthem was over, and my mind went back to the business at hand--an NBA basketball game. I didn't devote one additional thought to the National Anthem and my actions during it, until the next time I had to stand up, and then I would repeat the aforementioned process.

While I was standing and thinking, there would be appromixmately 15,000 other people in the Verizon Center standing for that National Anthem too. The journalists (including me) stood up for the anthem but had their eyes glued on their computer screen as the typed last minute notes and read last minute inside information about the upcoming game. The Verizon Center support staff kept an eye on the fans to make sure no one got rowdy and out of control. The players, coaches and officials on the court either kept their heads bowed or their eyes fixated on the flags in the arena. The camera men and women, who represented various television networks, panned around the arena to get the facial expressions of the players and coaches during the anthem. And the fans? They had their own cameras out trying to zoom in on their favorite player, or they were whispering to the person sitting next to them about someone else in the arena, or they sat still just watching the flag or they just yelled "Go Wizards!" out randomly. So what's my point you may ask?

People are outraged that Colin Kaepernick is choosing to sit down during the National Anthem to protest the injustices in this country. But if these same people momentarily took their eyes off the flag during the anthem and watched what other folks were doing, there would be plenty of residual outrage to be had. In fact, people's attention spans are so short these days, I don't know how the hell anyone can be expected to stand while flag-staring for for 2-3 minutes (depending on whether a black woman is singing or not). People look at their phones, they look at the woman with the big ass, they try to make eye contact with their favorite NBA player, they cautiously look at other fans to make sure someone crazy isn't lurking. THAT is the reality. People have this false notion that when the National Anthem starts playing, everyone is in a catatonic state and overwhelmed by a surge of patriotism. It doesn't work like that and yet that very notion is 100-percent American.

Furthermore, why is the National Anthem played prior to American sporting events anyway? During the Olympics I absolutely get it. You're competing away from American soil against teams and individuals from all around the world, and if you win a Bronze, Silver or especially a Gold medal, you want that moment. At that moment it doesn't matter how jacked up some of the country is, all that matters is that YOU have won your event and your victory is representing the country at that moment. You can cry, stay stone faced, keep your hands at your side, or raise your black fist in black power, and it really doesn't matter, because that's your moment. But to play the anthem on a random Wednesday night when the Milwaukee Bucks are playing the Wizards at 7:30 pm, where is the need for the anthem? It isn't disrespectful to the country, it is just flat out not necessary. Play the anthem at the big events (the Super Bowl, the NBA finals, World Series, etc) but not ALL the time. Who needs that much damn patriotism?

And most importantly, when and if the outrage over Kaepernick not standing subsides, a more substantive discussion about the conditions which led to him not standing needs to commence. News headlines from 2016 are strewn with injustices against the police, black people, the poor, women, etc, and at some point, real live solutions and discussions should happen. That's way more productive than folks being emotional and in their feelings about standing and sitting. Kaepernick or someone he trusts, should take the next step and talk to some cops, some military folks, some black folks, some white folks and start working on closing the gap between what he wants and what is currently happening. Perhaps that'll encourage others to do the same, and it'll put the focus back on the issues, not the anthem, which is so stupid.

I'm stepping off of my soapbox now. I do encourage you to read this article by Bomani Jones and this one by Kareem. They both tackle these issues eloquently.

And De La Soul's new album came out last week and you should go buy it, and then watch this behind-the-scenes documentary: