Pole Position

Books. Covers. Judges. Glass houses, etc.. But I took a stripper to lunch once and I didn’t know it.

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When I was a PR intern in downtown Chicago–a sad personal finance year for me of approximately $8,000 of income before taxes–I reported to the director of public relations. Every now and then I’d be asked to hold down the front desk, answering phones, typing and printing documents for the president of the firm and whatnot. Perhaps because of my kind eyes I was also asked to entertain visitors when J Boogie, the office manager, couldn’t play host. One particular time, the guest of the hour was the “IT” guy’s daughter. I use the term “IT” loosely because this guy would take a PC that had virus-crashed, wipe it, and then set it up to be a back-up server for the director’s PC, which housed a virus but had too much important stuff on it to wipe and external hard drives weren’t a thing yet and, well, he was cheap and as unreliable as a out-of-date, virally-infected computer backing up another out-of-date, virally-infected computer.

End of digression.

The young lady sat in the small waiting area by the front desk looking at magazines. I’d been covering for J Boogie then, so the “IT” guy, who I’ll call Reggie, asked if I wouldn’t mind making sure his daughter, who I’ll call Constance, ate lunch while he “worked” on computer problems. Unfortunately, his proposition did not make me feel comfortable. I stalled. When J Boogie got back, I told him the deal figuring that I could pass the buck and continue to hold down the front while he hung with Constance. He slapped me on the back and flashed the wide grin of a cartoon cat–one that probably wore a hat or a vest or both. He was leaving this one to me. Of course.

I must admit, I don’t remember much of that day. I don’t remember what we ate–as I type this I do remember that we went to a small grocery store with a deli on he first level of a high-rise residential building in Gold Coast. What’s more, I don’t remember how we got to talking in an even flow of conversation. What I do remember is that Constance began to share. She was in her early twenties at the time (so was I back then) and her parents were divorced. She lived with her father but they were butting heads because she was technically an adult and didn’t like the rules under his roof. I asked if she would consider moving out, and while I don’t remember what she said about that, I remember that that question was what led to me asking about what she did for a living.

Constance told me she was a dancer. I thought, as one would, that she was a dancer like with a dance company or a career backup dancer. It wasn’t until she started telling me that she wanted to quit that I got curious. She’d been dancing for a few years, but she was getting tired of it. I didn’t understand. I had friends who were part of dance groups in high school and college. Surely they’d give anything to be a dancer for Janet Jackson, or Brittney Spears, or Usher, or Beyonce, right? How could Constance be fed up with the life that so many girls I knew wanted?

Oh. Ooooooooooooohhhhhhh.

Dancing had lost its glamour. The allure had faded. Men touched her, grabbed her, said gross things to her, hungered for her in a way that no longer made her feel sexy; only naked. She hated how they looked at her. Gotta be honest again: I forgot what she said she’d rather do. Where she’d hoped to go from there. But what I remember most about this entire interaction is how young she was, and how normal she was. How human. Constance was nothing like what I’d envisioned strippers to be. The women in music videos on BET UnCut seemed two dimensional: money and sex. Willing to show their bodies and gyrate for bills floating to the ground like leaves in October. No other passions or goals except to get paid to be in the biggest rap star’s next video…and maybe bedroom.

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But that was all me. I was walking the streets with a nine-month-old Saint Bernard named Naivete on a short leash. He was pulling me along and I could hardly keep my footing. I think Constance appreciated me not holding anything that she’d told me against her. I didn’t question her decisions as if I knew they were bad for her. I had no idea. Plus, she seemed to be doing just fine at doing what was best for her. Who was I to judge, either way? So I ate my sandwich (or whatever I got) and perhaps even made a friend, if only for a lunch break.

Be good.

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Boiling Point

Ex girlfriends are ex girlfriends for a reason. Sometimes for many reasons. But what you have to understand is that every relationship means something. It’s a learning experience, no matter how it ends. No matter who you think is to blame for how it ended…it ended and it’s time to move on. Will there be baggage? Perhaps. Depends on how you look at it. One of my exes left me with a little hand-held bag that I’ve carried along with me through college and into my adulthood: she taught me how to make Ramen better.

Freshman year. University of Illinois. Amongst acquiring my long twin sheets, mini-fridge rental, and clip-on desk lamps, I got a little plastic tupperware thing that had a lid that held a spoon and a fork. I could microwave grub in it then eat right out of it. One of the most innovative things I’d ever seen in my seventeen years. That little contraption was specifically designed for the dry, square of noodles sold at $.15 a-piece at my local college-town grocer. My ex’s mother was a great cook and homemade chicken noodle soup was one of the dishes I asked her to make for me every other time I went to visit them in East St. Louis so it’s no wonder. She ramped up my chicken-flavored sodium cube by heritage. It was such a simple thing: hot sauce. Changed my whole life…well, my college life. That’s one piece of luggage I’m okay toting around with me.

Carry-on.

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Be good.

Defibrillator

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“You ever touched somebody’s heart?” Herb stopped chewing his unhealthy bite of burrito and eyed me as if I’d just asked him to sell me his Jordan collection. If his mother were on her deathbed and his sneaks were worth the exact amount of money needed for the operation to save her, he’d set up a Kickstarter campaign just to see if he could whip up funds. Herb would let her get as close to dying as possible before he felt like he absolutely had to sell those shoes. Probably would make her pay him back, too. Instead of answering, he just took another bite of his burrito, his mouth still full from the previous.

“A friend of mine posted on the social mediums that she had to pump her patient’s heart using her hand because some machine was malfunctioning during the surgery. I can imagine it was already a freaky thing to do, but she remembers being more freaked out about how it felt when the man’s heart started beating on its own, again. She held her hand there for a second longer to feel that sensation; the engine of life. That got me to thinking: I wanna do that.” My friend had another look on his face, but this time he didn’t stop chewing. He waited until he’d consumed his bites before responding snarkily.

“So you finna go to surgery school, now? I hear that takes a while. You might have chosen this path a bit late, homie.” Another bite began almost before the last vowel was out.

“Naw, man. Not literally. Non-literally. I want to be able to reach out to people in a way that can jumpstart their passion for life. Just like my friend squeezed the life back into someone, I want to do that, too. There’s a lot of people out here with broken hearts, man.”

“Oh. So you want to be a gigolo? No, wait. An escort, is the politically correct term, I believe.” I put my head down on the table. “You ever seen that movie, Loverboy, with McDreamy? Trying to make all these women feel good is a tough job. But, hey, I support you. If you need a wing man–”

I raised my head and slapped my palm down on the table. “No, Herbert. I do not want to be a gigolo. It’s not even about making only women happy, which becomes evident by the end of the movie, by the way. I just want to be a person that anyone and everyone in the world can bump into and they see a spark in me, a therapeutic charge that revitalizes them. The same way that if I’ve had a bad day, whenever I see a baby or a puppy doing something cute, it lifts my spirits.” I could tell I wasn’t going to like what Herbert was about to say.

“If you want to be a baby, there are folks into that kind of fetish. They like changing diapers of grown men. Women who lactate will–”

“Why do I even talk to you? Here I am, pouring my heart out to you; expressing my life goals. All you do is make fun of me. You know what? Just forget it. Eat your burrito.”

Herbert put his burrito down and wiped the juices from his hand with one of his used napkins. “Look, I’m listening. But all I’m hearing is a lot of nonsense. You wanna be a baby or a puppy? Who is that really for, man? Puppies make you happy. That’s fine. But these people you wanna help–the ones with the broken hearts–they don’t need you. They need money, or jobs, or faithful spouses, or family peace, or drug-free children, or safer neighborhoods with schools that focus on the children learning and having valuable resources. I understand where your heart is, but you can’t be everything to everybody. There’s a cut-off point. Otherwise, you’ll give yourself away until there’s nothing left.”

I must say, I wasn’t expecting that. Reason. Logic. Sense. Especially from Herbert’s mouth, which had a piece of cilantro wedged between the front two teeth. I was about to ask him how I can appease this feeling of helpfulness mixed with helplessness when he cut me off. “Unless you trying to gigolo. ‘Cause that’s different. Let me know how those first few sessions go ’cause I’m looking for a side gig.”

That’s when I got up and left him and his cilantro at the table.

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Shake Ups to Wake Ups

Dudes hug. Simple as that. We–as in black men ‘we’–use euphemisms like “shake up” instead of hug, but just because the act begins with a handshake doesn’t negate the fact it ends in a kind of hug. Nevertheless, hellos and goodbyes at parties and get-togethers are punctuated by fellas hugging ladies, ladies hugging ladies, and fellas shaking up with fellas as manly as possible.

Avoidance of the word ‘hug’ might have everything to do with my age bracket, the continued focus on the masculinity of black men among black men and the black community, or a combination of the two…plus other reasons. Either way, the variation of man-hugs, for me, began when my teenage brother and his friends taught seven-year-old me that there was an alternative way for black guys to shake hands.

The degrees of involvement in dude-on-dude shake-ups include but are not limited to the following:

1.) hand-clap, hand-clasp, pressing of the thumbs together, pulling away of the hands while both dudes are about at arm’s length (not unlike a micro thumb-wrestling match that ends in a draw), then release

2.) micro thumbwrestle, but before pulling away the hands, you lean into the other dude and gently press your shoulder to his chest and he does the same (similar to how women can give sideways hugs when they don’t want to press their breasts against you, often due to the level of comfort that have with you), then release

3) micro thumbwrestle, low-comfort sideways hug, bring the free arm around for a half-hug, then release (see figure 1)

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Figure 1

The degree chosen often depends on the relationship between dudes or the amount of time between hang outs. Dudes who see each other weekly may keep it to #1s, whereas dudes who haven’t seen each other in months or more are more likely to use #3. But a change soon cometh, for me at least.

A little over a month away from the big Three Five, I’m noticing my deepening appreciation for relationships. I’ve always cherished family and friends, but there are some men who have been entirely too instrumental for a handshake-prologued, one-armed, bro greet. These people have been fixtures in my life; fathers and brothers in blood and spirit who are partially responsible for who I am. I love these dudes. They deserve better.

Example: a week or so ago, my best friend’s step father, who we affectionately call, Kermit (not because of all of the iced tea he drinks or his penchant for staying out of other peoples’ business) called me to help put an air conditioner in. It was one of those joints that still uses freon and weighs fifty pounds or more. When his wife, who I affectionately call, momma, called me to see if I could come help, I was just leaving my actual mother’s house. The timing was perfect. Doing chores at my momma’s house when momma called to ask me to lend a hand. When I got over there, I hugged them both. We chatted, moved furniture (ironically, I did have iced tea), and before I left, I hugged them both. They are my second parents. Their influence is invaluable. The first time I talked to a girl on the phone it was on their land line. So when any of the guys from that family see me, they get hugs.

Other example: my Godsons and nephews get hugs. I pick them up. I squish them good. Because being a black man is powerful. Being a loving black man is even more so. Gestures like hugs teach boys the importance of showing affection to people you care about.

So now, I’m less likely to hold back. Life is sacred. It’s too precious to stay hung up on foolish bro codes of conduct. Case in point, my groomsmen–brothers in blood and in spirit. On the day of my wedding, them dudes got real hugs.

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Be good.

PS–do a gif search for black dudes hugging and see if you see as many as heartfelt as Cory and Shawn…