Friday, August 12, 2016

My wife usually makes my son's lunch the night before daycare, and then the next morning she packs in it his backpack, while I get him dressed, get his teeth brushed, etc. I ran 5.6 miles in 80-degree-6-am-heat this morning, so I didn't have energy to wake my son up, get him dressed, or any of that. My wife, despite being tired her damn self, got him dressed and ready for school, and I decided to fight through my exhaustion to load his lunch in his lunchbox, then his backpack. Why did I do this? One, my wife was moving quite slow this morning, and I knew if she was tired and getting Nyles ready, surely I could push through the effects of my morning run and take care of business. Two, the wife and I are going out of town on vacation next week, and I'm trying to do everything I humanly can to make sure I get "taking care of". Sorry for the visual.

Anyway, while I was loading my son's lunch, I took time to look at his Washington Wizards lunchbox, and I instantly got nostalgic as I was trying to figure out how to neatly put all of his items in this tiny little box (Yes I'm aware of the ambiguity going on here). First I imagined what my son goes through when he first opens the lunchbox. Does he take out all of the items at once, or does he take one out at a time? Does he prop his lunchbox up like a little fort, or does he not appreciate the artistic quality of a lunchbox while he's stuffing his face? I probably should ask the daycare staff, but there's no way they are attentive to that level of detail with kids running wild.

Between age 6 and age 11 (I switched to brown paper bags at that age) I had two lunch boxes: He-Man and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. No one was impressed with my He-Man lunchbox and I remember being frequently made fun of as a result, which is why it didn't stick around too long. But I got much mileage out of that Star Wars lunchbox. It had Luke, Vader, Jabba the Hutt and others on the lunchbox and then the thermos had Ewoks on it. My mother would always put a little napkin in my lunch with a message like, "Have a great day and I love you", and as sweet as that was, I quickly whisked that napkin out of public view, because I was terrified that my "enemies" would clown me.

Once I started eating, I'd empty my lunchbox, stand it up so that the lid was laying flat on the table, and the remainder of the lunchbox formed a slight fort (read: barricade) which shielded me from my elementary/middle school colleagues. All I drank was apple juice back then, so my Ewok thermos stayed full. Sometimes I'd drink directly out of thermos so no one would ask me to share my juice, and other times I would be dainty and pour the juice into that little ass cup that came with the thermos. Sure it feels a little silly to write a detailed blog about this in hindsight, but at the time, I cherished my little lunchtime ritual.

One day, one of the older kids, who brought his lunch in a brown bag, came over to me and starting clowning me first about the smiley face my mother put on the napkin, and then about me still bringing a lunchbox to school at the old age of 11. I went home, but that lunchbox away and asked my mother if we could buy a lifetime supply of brown bags for lunch going forward--she obliged. The smiley-face napkins did not stop until high school though. I kind of miss those.



Thursday, August 11, 2016

I am torn about this article and this picture:


On one hand, it makes me smile that the biggest athlete on the planet right now (at least until Usain Bolt runs this weekend), took the time to hit up a black Atlanta barbershop to get his pre-Olympic haircut. As any man will tell you (black or white) a pre-big event haircut is absolutely important. It boosts a dude's self-estem and makes him feel invincible, and that is half the battle when tackling an event or in Phelps's case, a world-record setting mission. Phelps veered away from his usual barber--as I have written about before, that is risky business--and stepped into the foreign world of black barbershops. Not only did he get a cut, then he decided to give them some major league shine by posting the name of the shop and a picture of the staff, on his Instagram page. I have no doubt that between his Olympic performances the past few days and the aforementioned ESPN article, that picture has gotten millions of views and perhaps that barbership has seen a favorable uptick in business.

Not to mention, in this era of weird racial relations, it is nice to see a white dude and lots of black dudes combine organically sans incident. To his credit, Phelps seems like a cool enough dude and I have no doubt that this isn't his initial foray into the world of black-ish culture. On the surface, what I've written so far should be all I have to say about this issue. But there's always a but..

I don't know whether I'm overly sensitive about race (of course I am) or if my occasional black man rage is out of control (entirely possible) but the picture and the article (ironically enough the ESPN article was written by folks from The Undefeated, which is primarily a group of black writers writing about black and black-ish issues) has a Bill Clinton feel to it. Allow me to explain.

When Bill Clinton was the President, black folks (not me) loved to toss around the narrative that Clinton was the first black president. Some folks said this because he loved watching basketball, was seemingly "cool" with black celebrities, and cheated on his wife with reckless abandon and seemingly no remorse. Others like Toni Morrison were a bit more eloquent about their reasoning:
After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President’s body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and body-searched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear: “No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and—who knows?—maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us.

Either way, the implication was that certain white folks were more down simply via their tangential brush with broad black culture, was always insulting to me. I have no problem with that on the surface as long as there is some substance and authenticity behind it. If you're into the barbershops and the music, please stay for the more substantive issues like brutality, inequality, etc. You can't cherry pick the great parts of black culture and extol them via in Instagram page, unless you are equally as passionate about the issues plaguing those same people. That's like me constantly talking about Michael Jackson's "Thriller", "Bad" and "Off The Wall" albums without properly acknowledging that "Dangerous" and "Invicible" were weak(er) sauce. I'm an MJ fan so I liked it all, but I embraced the strengths and his glaring vulnerability. Perhaps I shouldn't compare black culture to MJ, but it was the most accessible example in my mind at the time.

Again, I could be acting like a sensitive, hit dog, and if that's the case, I am quite sure someone will hit me up via email to put me in my pace. Maybe I should relax and be happy Phelps has no fear in shouting out black folks who helped him out. Or maybe my condition is so conditioned that I cannot get out of my own way. Either way, I'm glad I wrote about it.



Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The PGA Tour (that's golf for those unaware) used to have this slogan a few years ago entitled, "These guys are good". It was basically a nice way of telling people who THINK they can golf, that as easy it may look on television from the comforts of your living room couch, this is NOT easy, and our guys are professionals. I cannot play golf so I couldn't vouch for the accuracy of that statement, but I know folks who play, and they tell me all the time how difficult it is to master the sport.

There needs to be a similar disclaimer flashed on the screen before Olympic swimming.

The past three days I have been watching Olympic swimming, and I have been feeling quite inspired by the likes of Michael Phelps and Kate Ledecky. I'm not a competitive swimmer by any means--in fact I just learned to swim in 2009--but I'd like to think that with each passing day, my form, speed and endurance are approaching Olympic levels (they aren't). This morning was the first time I've been in the pool since the Olympic competitions started on Saturday, so I couldn't wait to get in there and prove my theory correct. Mind you, I had just played 3-on-3 basketball about 12 hours earlier so my arms and legs felt like I had anvils tied on them, still I just knew I could be a world beater in the pool.

I typically swim a mile in the morning, which doesn't lend itself to swimming like a sprinter. I swim at a nice measured pace, and then I try to pick it up the last 200 meters or so. But this morning I acted like a jackass, and immediately started swimming swiftly with my heavy ass arms and legs. After 150 meters, I felt like I wanted to stop, but I convinced myself I was not a quitter. After 400 meters I was exhausted, my pace had slowed significantly, and I had serious doubts about how long this swim was going to last. I tried to blame it on the basketball I had played 12 hours earlier, but that was a horseshit excuse, I just forgot that my name is Rashad, not Michael Phelps. Usually when I'm struggling in the pool, I created a false rivalry with someone else in the pool to push myself. But the only person in the pool was elderly woman who looked like she was rehabbing her legs or something. She was swimming slowly and she damn sure wasn't thinking about challenging me.

Eventually I got myself together, took a deep breath and finished my mile swim in my normal pace. I was completely drained (which is why I'm sippig coffee right now) and my arms and legs are still heavy and sore. Now that I'm four hours removed from that experience, I can honestly say I got a damn good workout. I also can say that those swimmers train for months and months, at the expense of their jobs, friends, family, girlfriends, sex, etc. I'm just a brother trying to work, be a dad/husband, have lots of sex, and keep my ass in shape by running and swimming--clearly not the same thing.

Those guys and girls are good.

Friday, August 05, 2016

A couple days ago Will Smith was on Steven Colbert's late night show, and as these shows tend to do three or four times a night, they went to commercial. Will and Colbert were having a regular off-camera conversation and the band broke into an instrumental version of Will's 1991 hit, "Summertime". Will talked to Colbert a little while longer, and then he mosied over to the band, picked up the mic like an MC is wont to do, and this happened:



Will is corny, he's an actor, he's a husband, he's a father, he's insanely rich, but we came to know and love (some hate him too) him as an MC, and I found myself smiling at the relative ease with which he slipped right back into that mode. Even more gratifying than Will's actions were the crowd's reaction to him spitting the first few verses. They clapped, the rapped along, they stood up, and they were basically in the palm of Will's hand---a good MC wouldn't have it any other way.

Whoopty damn doo for Will, but that's not why I'm writing about this.

For years there have been rumors that Rakim ghostwrote that song for Will and for years Jazzy Jeff has vehemently shot those rumors right down. Eric B(Rakim's longtime partner in rap) said that he originally made the beat for Rakim, but he ended up giving it to Will. Since Will knew the song was originally for Rakim, the story goes that he decided to write his rhymes and recite them with Rakim's speed and cadence. I'm not saying that Will didn't write the first and third verses of the song, but the second verse...that's Rakim all day long.

Look at some of the first and third verses and notice that words Will tends to rhyme are at the end of the sentence:

Here it is the groove slightly transformed
Just a bit of a break from the norm

It's late in the day and I ain't been on the court yet
Hustle to the mall to get me a short set


Break to ya crib change your clothes once more
Cause you're invited to a barbeque that's starting at 4


Fresh from the barber shop or fly from the beauty salon
Every moment frontin and maxin
Chillin in the car they spent all day waxin
Leanin to the side but you can't spead through

I'm not knocking Will's flow and cadence because I've been a fan of his from the start. He's one of the few rappers who doesn't take himself too seriously while managing to mix in a message, some fun and a little lyrical dexterity to boot. But Rakim--who in my opinion is still the greatest of all time--is held in such high regard because of his complex rhyme schemes. He may rhyme a word at the end of the sentence, but he also rhymes within the sentence as well. Just look at the difference in the rhyme scheme for this second verse:

School is out and it's a sort of a buzz
A back then I didn't really know what it was
But now I see what have of this
The way that people respond to summer madness
The weather is hot and girls are dressing less
And checking out the fellas to tell 'em who's best
Riding around in your jeep or your benzos
Or in your Nissan sitting on lorenzos
Back in Philly we'd be out in the park
A place called the plateau is where everybody goes
Guys out hunting and girls doing likewise
Honking at the honey in front of you with the light eyes
She turns around to see what you beeping at
It's like the summers a natural aphrodisiac
And with a pen and pad I compose this rhyme
To hit you and get you equipped for the summer time

Either Will studied Rakim's style to a T and decided that imitation was the highest form of flattery, or he had Rakim write that verse for him hoping no one would know the difference. My vote is for the latter. Even the sentence, "The weather is hot and girls and dressing less" sounds like something Rakim would say..that's how he gets down. And yes, I have wasted an entire blog entry on this topic, because I feel that strongly that Rakim ghostwrote that. It doesn't detract from the greatness of the song, and if Rakim was paid to keep quiet about that, we'll never know. But I know...

And now he's a song by Will that I know he wrote all of, and I love it:







Wednesday, August 03, 2016

This morning after I dropped my son off at daycare, I was riding next to this older black couple who looked to be in their early 60s. The husband was leaning back a bit in the driver's seat and he had on a mesh, trucker hat with Hilton Head written across the top. He didn't bother to pull down the hat, it just kind of sat on the top of his head---similar to the way Denny Green used to wear it. If you're wondering why I'm going to this level of detail to describe this man's hat, it's because this is the prototypical older black man look. He's cool, he's driving a big body car, he's in no rush, and he's wearing a hat that has no chance of making it even 50% down his head.

In the passenger seat was his wife, and she seemed to be reading some sort of magazine, and every now and then she'd attempt to show her husband something in the magazine, but he looked about as disinterested as I am when my wife tries to talk to me about the Bachelorette. That didn't stop her from sharing though. And if you're wondering how I was able to observe this level of detail while I was driving, it is because a) I'm observant/nosy b)the traffic on this particular stretch of road was moving slower than a slow snail's pace and c)there are always cops out and about around Catholic University (which is near my son's daycare) so no one is exactly doing a Dale Earnhardt impression.

At one point we were all at the red light together, and these two older woman--who were power walking and chatting at the same time (there are no malls in DC, so they can't mall walk like the suburban old folks can)--recognized the older couple in the car, and all of a sudden everyone's face lit up in big smiles. The previously non-plussed older man with the ill-fitting hat, smiled and passionately waved to the two older black women (perhaps he wanted to holler), and his wife first smiled, then hugged and clasped hands with the two women. I didn't hear the brief conversation, but I feel fairly comfortable in saying that "I know that's right", and "Yeah girlfriend" were uttered at least once. Then the light turned green, everyone said their rushed goodbyes, and the older folks turned right and I kept straight. My creepy observation time was over.

But what made me smile was seeing the laid back, carefree attitude of these older folks. They weren't on their phones, they didn't look frenzied with frayed nerves, and they didn't even need to listen to the radio and find that perfect song to play during their drive. They just drove, talked, read magazines(something folks rarely do outside of barbershops and hair salons) and they cherished the company of their peers. All of my grandparents are dead, but seeing these folks interact reminded me of how my grandparents may have conducted their day-to-day business. I wasn't sad thinking of them, just happy that I had a posthumous look into their former lives.

My parents are getting old, but I know for sure they don't have interactions like that. My dad is even more anti-social than I am, and if he saw someone he knew walking down the street, he'd probably would turn the volume up on the Temptations song he was listening to, and roll the windows all the way up. My mom is chatty as hell and speaks to everyone, but her head stays buried in her phone and she lives more of the aformentioned frenzied lifestyle--I wish she'd slow down, but she does things her way.

Also, I need to stock up on ill-fitting hats, so I can transition nicely into old(er) age.

This is one of Anita Baker's early songs and she absolutely kills it, but if you close your eyes and listen, this easily could have been Toni Braxton's song as well. Also the bass plucks and the horns are pretty cool too (shoutout to jazzbrew).

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My father doesn't read the paper every morning like he did when I was younger. With the exception of the Sunday New York Times which he still reads faithfully, he just doesn't see the value in reading the paper anymore because a)He lives in Phoenix, Arizona where the daily paper is nowhere near the caliber of the Washington Post and b) the day-to-day quality of newspapers overall has subsided a great deal. People reads the paper less, so circulation and advertising is drying up, which means that money for salaries is dwindling as well. It is quite sad for both my father and me because we used to read the paper front to back, and we both felt smarter as a result. Not so much anymore.

So now when my father wakes up in the morning, he opens up his laptop and goes to three main sources for news: NPR, BBC and Cleveland.com (one of those doesn't belong I know). He goes to NPR for the stories, the music and the interviews, he goes to BBC because they cover stories that the US ignores and sometimes they provide different viewpoints for stories this country has covered to death. And finally, my dad goes to Cleveland.com because that's where he grew up, and he likes to connect with home sometimes. His mother, his father, and most of his friends have passed on, but reading about Cleveland fills that void..kind of. Im noticing that getting older leaves a lot of voids in one's life..but I digress.

Yesterday morning after logging on to Cleveland.com, my father stumbed on an article about the Hough riots of 1966. Hough was a rough part of East Cleveland, and my father lived there the first 10 years of his life. As with most major cities in the 60s and early 70s, there was racial tension in that part of Cleveland, which triggered destructive riots. My dad sent the article to my brother and me, because he wanted us to step into the virtual time machine and see the issues that he had to deal with back then. He sends my brother and me at least 10 articles a day, and if I'm being honest, I only read 2 to 3 of them, but I took time out to read this article, because I could tell it was important to him.

After I read the article, we started an email exchange where I was asking him about Hough, his feelings on it years later, and whether he felt like it was the hood, or if it felt like a close-knit commmunity with some extraneous issues. He told me that he visited Hough back in 1996, and he also shared his feelings about how drastically different the neigborhood looked and how sad it made him. I am going to step aside, and let you read what he wrote:

I felt some sadness that a part of the first ten years of my life was gone, including the apartment buildings where we lived, my first two schools, the junior high school field where we played ball, League Park where the [Cleveland] Indians played in the early part of the 20th century and where the Browns practiced when I lived in the area, the movie theater the kids in the neighborhood attended after church, and this little store that sold the best french fries (in a greasy brown paper bag) known to human kind! The new houses felt soulless. I guess there was no way anything new could match my childhood memories. We didn't call it the "hood" back then, they were slums. Based on where friends of my family lived, I knew our neighborhood was not as nice as theirs. That said, I didn't dwell on the differences. It was a relatively safe and nurturing environment. The worst substance abusers I was aware of were the local winos, who seemed harmless to all but themselves. We also did not have serious gang violence. While I never had a lot of stuff, we always ate well and lived under a roof. I hate to sound so basic, but I was raised to understand that money beyond the basics was not the norm for our family. Only in retrospect did I label my old neighborhood as a ghetto, but even then, that was merely a physical description. Unlike some inner city neighborhoods of today, it seemed the inhabitants of my old neighborhood had a great spirit and sense of optimism



Then I asked him how he felt when we moved the affluent city of Potomac (Maryland) and how he juxtaposed those feelings of finally "making it" with where he had come from in the Hough section of East Cleveland:

I could not have dreamed of a house like the one we had in Potomac. When growing up, I never even saw such neighborhoods. It was a consequence of segregation, both other and self imposed. I didn't think we had made it, but we were doing OK. We made a good living, but had yet to accumulate wealth, so I was not overwhelmed with our status at that time. Beginning in my freshman year in college (at Columbia University), I have had numerous moments of reflection about my past and how far I had come/was going. I still have them. It keeps me grounded and motivated. Before I left for college, I ran into some friends on Kinsman near Mount Pleasant BarBQ. They were standing around a mailbox and said they were saving a place for me whenever I failed at something. Obviously, I still remember that incident nearly 50 years later, and it still has the same impact on me: fear and motivation.

One should not overly dwell on the past, but put the memories into their proper context. The past is your foundation and can provide excellent lessons for your current and future existence. One thing I have learned is that there is a huge difference between looking at something as an adult versus as a child/youth. The first time I returned to my junior high school, I was amazed at how small everything seemed. Context, indeed


That is all. Kareem, Dwight Gooden and James Worthy (in that order) are my athletic heroes, but my dad is and will always be my "real" hero.

**Sidebar** It is also worth mentioning that my father grew up and played high school football with ESPN's Tom Jackson, who appears looks like he is on the verge of retirement.

And now, a song from the "Do The Right Thing" Soundtrack back in 1989 which seems to fit perfectly in 2016:





Monday, July 25, 2016

I know I am supposed to be watching the Democratic National Convention right now, but frankly I do not give a damn--I didn't watch the Republican National Convention either. In past years there have been dramatic speeches--Barack Obama in 2004 and Clint Eastwood with the chair in 2012--but even with those I didn't watch them live, I just watched the noteworthy highlights on youtube, Twitter, etc.

Both conventions seem like one big ass pep rally meant to rally the troops and convince the people in that party--who are already three knees deep i their conviction anyway--that world and party domination is nigh. No sentences are spoken without being interrupted by applause, no incorrect facts are truly checked, and it does nothing to unify the country. I get that it is still necessary, but I will sit this one out...except for Thursday when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks. There's no way in the world I'm missing my hero talk.

I wish that both parties had used their platforms to constructively discuss the issues (police brutality, violence against police, international terror, Flint, MI and the possibility that other cities are dealing with water contamination, etc. But that won't happen this or any other year. Just wishful thinking on my part.

In other news, New York Times Columnist Bill Rhoden, who is one of my favorite sportswriters (and the author of $40 Million Slaves), retired over the weekend, and I dig the classy way he did it. Thanks to my main man Sabin for bringing it to my attention. Read it here.