Spine

moonlight

Barry Jenkins has become a household name with the release of his second feature film. The screenwriter and director of the stunning Moonlight decided three different actors should portray the three stages of central character Chiron’s life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Jenkins feels the actors’ eyes are similar enough to each other that the spirit of the character will translate to audiences without causing much distraction. One of Chiron’s defining characteristics is his bowed head. Fear and rage and shame constantly bubble behind those lowered eyes. His body language speaks volumes for a character who struggles expressing himself with words. How Chiron carries himself throughout the film illustrates his growth as he learns to fit in his own skin.

We meet the youngest Chiron (aka “Little”) running from a group of kids chasing him home. He seeks refuge in an abandoned building and is found by a neighborhood drug dealer, Juan, who later becomes a surrogate father. But throughout their time seated at the table of a nearby restaurant, and later in Juan’s home, Chiron’s eyes are aimed at his plate. In high school, Chiron–now insisting to be called by his given name–continues to have trouble with his classmates. He generally walks the halls alone, shoulders hunched, looking at his feet. Teresa, Juan’s partner and the matriarch of Chiron’s second home, at one point lifts his chin, reinforcing that he shed any shame, especially while under her roof. It’s no easy task for the confused teenager. Adult Chiron, who as adopted the moniker, “Black,” is more sure of himself, but it’s more facade than confidence. No one can see through the veneer easier than Kevin, Chiron’s only friend.

The moment that holds the most weight in this film is in the second to last scene. Kevin is pressing Chiron on his current image, a far cry from what he expected since high school: platinum fronts in his mouth, a flashy muscle car, and a prison yard physique. It’s clear that Kevin is the only person who ever understood Chiron’s personal struggles. When he finally lets his guard down, he speaks the first full truth about himself since running for his life in the first moments of the film. Not only is his confession to Kevin one of the most important admissions, but we see him stand up straight and lift his chin for the first time. On his own. Kevin smiles knowingly, giving Chiron confidence to be himself and finally shed his shame.

Listen to the team talk about the film at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year.

Be good.

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Theaster Gates Speaks on Books, Art, and Real Estate at Cindy Pritzker Lecture

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Taylor Castle/Chicago Tribune

“Love, Administration, Iteration.” This is the Holy Trinity of ingredients for the stew of our future, according to Theaster Gates. Chicago artist, urban planner, and craftsman, Gates is founder of the Rebuild Foundation and responsible for revitalization projects that engage communities and promote the celebration of art and culture grounded in investment and advocacy. On the stage of the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium at the Harold Washington Library Center, Gates and Dr. Adam Green, associate professor of history at the University of Chicago, discussed the importance of developing safe spaces to create and to experience. Green observed in Gates’s work common themes of generosity, practicality, and speculation; the mirepoix at the base of a meal meant as food pro multis.

The Chicago Public Library is planning to donate 1 million books to Gates to not only preserve and display, but also make available for patrons who want access to knowledge. This is not the first major donation he has received for archival. The Johnson Publishing Corporation donated more than 15,000 nonfiction and fiction books, and magazines, including a historical Ebony Magazine collection. Pulping books is a cringeworthy act in Gates’s eyes and he would rather see the books live a second life in the massive library and reading room of the Arts Bank. Acquiring a wealth of literature to simply make it available to everyone for free…

Generosity.

A potter by trade, Gates often sat at his wheel “with mounds of clay trying stuff.” His art ultimately evolved and became intertwined with property and shaping communities. He became the man sitting with architects and developers “trying stuff,” turning eyesore buildings on his block into beautiful bodies that both house and behave as art–what he calls the Dorchester Projects. Green asked when the concept of reuse became an integral part of the artistic process. Gates suggested it began at home: “It’s probably about survival.” His mother kept a plastic bag full of plastic bags to reuse (a comment often made in jest as a practice of black families). He also cites the use of take-out food containers that were washed and then reused to take lunch to work the next day…in a plastic bag. It begins with making use of a thing and then recognizing that thing as having potential or value in another capacity.

Practicality.

 

As the evening wound down, the conversation took an important yet morbid turn into the realm of police brutality and inner city violence. Gates minces no words when it comes to his responsibility to the black community. So much so that he has coordinated another unorthodox project. The gazebo where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Cleveland was dismantled earlier this year to be transported to Chicago. When Green inquired why this artifact is important to preserve, Gates was clear in his response. The gazebo is unequivocally a “black object” and is a site of black trauma. Once erected in what Gates lovingly refers to as “Kenwood Gardens,” an artist compound in-the-making, full of living and workspaces, the gazebo will act as a tangible place to mourn; to freely weep. It becomes a piece of art, a piece of history, and a gathering place to release pain and reflect and consider the future as a community.

Speculation.

Theaster Gates is Chicago’s neighborhood chef. One of his first endeavors after gaining an amount of success was to have a dinner, not unlike his mother’s Sunday gatherings. Only his dinners would be with gatekeepers and people with access to resources on a grand scale. He would then arrange another meal with community members with the drive “to get things done,” the goal being to share information across the table: knowledge served family style. He does not want singular success or to be elevated to the point of becoming a gatekeeper himself, but rather to provide the keys.

Gates name-checked Mayor Rahm Emmanuel once he arrived, acknowledging the dinner following the artist talk, but Gates also knew he would have to eat again. He realized some time ago, in order for people to get things done, they’d have to have two dinners.

bon appétit

 

Be good.

Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates has developed an expanded practice that includes space development, object making, performance and critical engagement with many publics. Founder of the non-profit Rebuild Foundation, Gates is currently a professor in the Department of Visual Art and director of Arts and Public Life at the University of Chicago.

Ryan Coogler Delivers Prestigious George E. Kent Lecture

Students: We don’t have an African American Studies program here.

Coogler: What?

Students: There is no African American Studies program here.

Coogler: … (nods slowly; rubs forehead in disbelief)

Students: (laughter)

Coogler: Ya’ll doing something about that, right?

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Director and screenwriter, Ryan Coogler, visited the University of Chicago students last week to deliver the annual George E. Kent Lecture. Twenty-nine and currently a force in the film industry, he walked to the podium—the creator of two award-winning films, and holding the keys to a Marvel movie—and told us he was nervous. Wait, what? That sounds like one of those obligatory somethings a “regular” guy would say; an artifice of humility that folks use when they’ve been asked to do something important, like speak to young black students at a major university that lacks an African American Studies program.

As the night progressed, we all in attendance learned that Coogler’s feet are, in fact, planted firmly on the ground. The audience was continually impressed by how “regular” he is. After giving a few words of encouragement toward the plight of black students at a predominantly white institution and giving thanks for being invited as the speaker for such a prestigious event, he casually asked his fiancé if she had lotion with her. She tossed a small tube up to him on stage and, after applying a bit to his palm, he tossed it back to her before taking his seat for the Q&A with Chase Woods, political chair of the Organization of Black Students at the University of Chicago. It was a “blackest moment ever,” if ever there was one.

Another was his long-noted expletive when asked what new media he was consuming. He drew a blank. 2015 was a blur since he’d both shot and released Creed the same year. After racking his brain (and with a bit of help from the audience) he remembered Kendrick Lamar and Drake released music, and even mentioned some comics he’s into. Coogler’s list of all-time favorite movies exemplified his randomness as a human, and complexity as a director. The crowd responded with gleeful laughter when he mentioned The Mighty Ducks and respectful applause when he mentioned La Haine: a film often referred to as a French Do the Right Thing. His range had everyone by the ears.

What may have been the most affecting aspects of Coogler’s appearance were 1) his thoughtful attention to each question, and 2) his unabashed black identity. Coogler’s tendency to answer intelligently and completely was refreshing, given the current campaign season. The conversation veered toward some of the socio-political happenings of the day and he encouraged us as the thinkers and seekers of answers to “pop the hood” on some of the bigger questions; to get to the root of the something , such as The Academy Awards, and find out its components. Ask how it’s possible that there are no people of color nominated for any major categories. When the director was asked what he thought of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, there was a pregnant pause. A nervous laughter bubbled in the crowd, tinged with anxiety that he may try to execute a socio bob and political weave. Nope. He asked if there were history majors in the audience. Then followed up by explaining history as a series of evolving “movements.” He drew connections between slavery and the exploited free labor of the prison system. Left hook. He made clear the link between the minority student frustration on campus (see leaked racist emails) and the importance of an African American Studies Program at UChicago. Right cross. He stressed that the hashtag is simply a symbol of the need to “go get it,” whatever “it” may be for this generation. Uppercut.

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Coogler admits growing more inquisitive with age. The relentless desire for answers dictates the content of his films. He uses filmmaking as the vehicle to seek those answers (i.e. how Oscar Grant can be shot and killed while handcuffed and lying on his stomach was seed for Fruitvale Station). But when it comes to his film’s audiences, he doesn’t compromise the question for the sake of appeasement. Becoming a change agent is a difficult choice, but Coogler refers to films as “acts of journalism” that get people discussing subject matter that needs action or resolution.

Following the lecture and Q&A, was a reception that consisted of a more intimate group of students and program board members invited to chat with Coogler and his fiancé at the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. Perhaps among 25 people, he spoke more candidly about some of his experiences growing up and how he battles the identity crisis within “a system that divides successful African Americans from their people” (thanks for the quote, George). It’s easy to get a bit of notoriety and separate from who and what one knows, but he’s found his balance. His brother now inhabits his old bedroom from their childhood home, and has since fashioned it into a makeshift music studio to produce songs for the soundtracks of both of Coogler’s films. His relationship with his father spawned the idea for Creed. And he also let us know that his perspective is his greatest asset. Blackness and youth present a unique view to the Academy’s older, white demographic; the writer/director possesses a cultural currency that they need. Minority status does have advantages. Being able to seek, connect, and collaborate with other minorities is a benefit and he encouraged students to do the same on campus, because the dynamic doesn’t change after graduation.

As the night wound down, after revealing that Sylvester Stallone had actually thanked his director in his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, informing us how he was able to reflect authenticity in his characters, discussing the gender politics that exist in the film industry, and referencing the pressure of placing the crown and burden of race or gender on any one person (see Ta-Nehisi Coates or Ava DuVernay), I was able to ask Coogler a question: given the way he speaks (his Bay Area accent is quite prominent), his youth (he was 24 when he began shooting Fruitvale), and his undeniable blackness (remember the lotion?)—how was he able to walk into a room full of old white people and convince them to let him spend their money to make a film? To put it plainly, he was comfortable. He knows he’s good at his job and the other people in the room aren’t doing him a favor; they’re going into business with him. It’s a collaborative effort that is a boon for all parties involved. Once he gained the cachet of respectability politics, he was and is able to walk into any room, whether in a suit and wingtips or jeans and sneaks, and belong there. Coogler deserves his place in the industry just as much as anyone else. And for that, I am proud.

Be good.

Jordan vs. Coogler

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Spike and Denzel? Singleton and Fishburne? I don’t know if these pairing comparisons can be made, just yet. Both Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan are still young craftsmen in the film industry, but maybe that proves the point. Their work together on Fruitvale Station and now this Rocky spin-off shows their relationship has moved beyond simply budding and become officially the stuff of movie magic.

Creed is a very well made movie. Simple as that. Without spoiling too much (though perhaps some spoilage) I’ve seen all of the other Rocky movies. And I saw them as they were released, not because of a Spike TV marathon that’s on because Creed is currently in theaters. This new installment has all the staples of any Rocky or sports movie: training scenes with motivating scores, tender moments of loss and overcoming life obstacles, fights outside the ring as well as within, and even a chicken-chasing scene. I found myself with only three legitimate nit picks about the film, but I’d rather talk about the scene that stood out most to me: the jail scene.

The title character, Adonis, reaches that point in every film where a lie is revealed and there is an irrational, emotional reaction that leaves our severely six-packed protagonist at his rock bottom. No trainer, no guidance, no love interest–no access to anything he needs to be the best him. This movie is about creating an identity and when Adonis is suddenly derailed from that journey, he lashes out. At everyone. He sits in jail, as if a caged animal. Stallone’s Balboa comes to talk some sense into Adonis, but he’s not hearing it. Jordan’s ability to move through a scene showing reflection, anger, sadness, vulnerability, and closed-off-ness is an astounding acting feat in and of itself–but in a boxing movie? Million Dollar Baby is the only other flick I can think of that has great talents who generate a similar emotional response for viewers. Coogler gets a few similar scenes from Jordan in Fruitvale, ironically, also in a jail scene with the character Oscar’s mother who is appalled to see the kind of person her baby can be, but it’s his survival self. A self generated by street life. The same goes for Adonis. He starts in the streets and–though he does find consistency and love from his father’s widow–he harbors a deeply-rooted anger that bubbles beneath the surface.

The one-two punch (ha!) of this actor and director/writer team must be relished because of how rare it is when both parties are black. Quentin Tarantino and Samuel Jackson spring to mind as another more recent example of a duo that came together early, but TWO black guys producing juggernaut performances like this? Psh. This is great art, jo. Also, the other films I mentioned were on a smaller scale or were not entries in major franchises with major studios that have cumulatively made major bank. Coogler is trekking some interesting terrain here and he and Jordan are carving a wondrous path that’s exciting to witness.

Oh, and Mr. Coogler; don’t think I don’t see that Creed has elements of Boyz n the Hood, homie. Young Adonis starts the movie with a fight because of what another kid says, same as young Trey Styles. Both kids end up moving to get guidance from the parent who seems best equipped to handle his particular set of challenges. Older Trey gets mad after a run-in with police and shadow boxes in the living room while crying. The actor that plays young Adonis does favor a young Trey, too. Sooo…basically, Creed is the exact same movie as Boyz n the Hood except it’s in Philly with slightly more boxing. I see you, Mr. Coogler. So when you gonna do your Higher Learning? Poetic Justice, maybe? Dang…Malcolm X. We’ll be watching and waiting, homie.


Be good.

Crunch Theory

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Herbert: This world is going to Hell.

Captain: No kidding. So much tragedy in the world, and if we ain’t careful, Donald Trump will be the one regulating all of it.

Herbert: Yeah. Can’t say the writing wasn’t on the walls, though. Our elders warned us. Shoot, it’s right there in the Bible. I mean, not about Trump, but the rest of it.

Captain: Wait. What?

Herbert: The Bible? The most famous Book in the entire world? Didn’t you have a grandma?

Captain: I know what the Bible is and I know what it says. But how do you know what the Bible says?

Herbert: Why can’t I know what’s in the Bible?

Captain: You can absolutely know. I just think it’s funny you bring it up, because I can’t help but think about the revolving door of women going in and out of your bedroom.

Herbert: God knows my heart.

Captain: That’s not how it works, Herb. You can’t just–

Herbert: Anywho, you don’t even have to look in The Good Book to see what I’m talking about. The evidence is all around us. Just go to your local grocery store.

Captain: I don’t follow.

Herbert: Oreos got different flavors, dude. Oreo used to be the flavor. When I go get ice cream, I get Oreo flavor. But now they got mixed berry, peanut butter, birthday cake, punkin’ spice–

Captain: What about mint?

Herbert: Mint’s cool.

Captain: Okay, ’cause mint’s my jam.

Herbert: No doubt. But it’s just a matter of time before they got a two-dollar mixed berry, pumpkin spice, Oreo shake at Sonic.

Captain: That’s gross.

Herbert: Before you know it, there’ll only be the marshmallows in Lucky Charms.

Captain: Now you’re just being ridiculous.

Herbert: You sure about that? You see what happened to Cap’n Crunch.

Captain: Hey, now. That’s literally my cereal. Don’t talk about my cereal.

Herbert: Your cereal also has a version that’s just berries, no crunch. What you say about that, Cap’n?

Captain: Watch your mouth.

Herbert: I’m simply saying that these things going on in the world were revealing themselves in some of the other areas of our lives. All you have to do is pay attention.

Captain: I refuse to argue with you about the flavor of my cereal being comparable to ISIS attacks in Paris; violent unrest in various parts of Africa; Greek economy; continued turmoil in the Middle East; violence on college campuses; planes falling out the sky inexplicably then possibly explicably; police killing black folks left and right; children targeted in gang violence; social media done somehow turned into racial media… .

Herbert: You’re not understanding me. That’s not what I’m saying but it’s okay. The world is going to Hell in a hand basket. In this case, I’m merely drawing attention to the basket.

Captain: I couldn’t agree more. You are a basket case.

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On My Own

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Anyone worth their weight in kimchi bacon cheese fries takes decent care of their possessions. Some people even take care of stuff better than they do someone else’s. That can be scary. Don’t believe me? Ever lend somebody a cd or video game (oh, ancient one)? Better yet: ever loan a book out? One of the worst feelings ever. There’s nothing like thinking you may not get that book back, or worrying you’ll forget about it and when you realize you don’t have it, you can’t remember who you gave it to or when. Not to mention the likelihood of that person letting some third-party borrower take the book to use in a PolSci 204 or Af Am Lit 231 course as a works cited page reference, meaning now some negro is cross-country skim-reading your first edition signed Walter Mosely book and don’t even know whose library he stole from. Don’t let them bring it back you and it be all bogus…

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Book lendin’ is real outchea in deez streetz. #keepyoshelves100

Owning something like a book, a valuable piece of art, or even some kind of collectible like a World Series foul ball is one thing–personal keepsakes aside. But owning a home for the first time changes the entire game on a completely different level. I’m talking running along the top of the bricks in the sewer in Mario Bros. type of other level. Bypassing all those other smaller things you thought meant more than they actually do type of other level. I’m not saying those things aren’t important to you, but the difference is staggering.

I discovered how dust bunnies are created. I used to wonder how all of a sudden there’d be giant, fabricky clumps of lint and dust under the bed when it was time to clean my room as a kid. It looked like someone had been cleaning out the dryer lint and stashing the contents under there with my shoes. Sheep sheerings must’ve blown through the window and got caught under the television stand and behind the bookshelves. I never would have learned that dust particles link up like velcro as you sweep it up with a hand broom if it wasn’t legit my floor I was sweeping. By the time you’re ready to sweep it into the dust pan, it’s turned into a bunny right before my eyes. Taking that care, paying that much attention to an act as mundane as sweeping…man…never thought it was something I’d care that much about.

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Or light bulbs. My wife helps to make our condo a lovely home. But we have so many different kinds of lightbulbs throughout this place it’s cartoonish. The entryway lights are different from the living room lights, are different from the bathroom lights, are different from the hallway lights, are different from the ceiling fan lights. I mean, I’m gonna need to buy some stock in GE just to make my money back on bulbs.

As a grown adult person, I’ve realized–fully–what my mother meant when she said I couldn’t have that super sweet cereal: “When you’re in your own house, and buying your own groceries, you can have whatever kind of cereal you want.”

Touche.

Now, I’m sweeping my own floors, I’m buying my own cereal, and I’m homing up this place real good. Oh, and if you’ve ever lend me a book, I won’t lend it out to anyone else. It may be forever before you get it back, but I won’t give it out. It’ll be right here on the shelf. #100

Be good.

Call Back to Color

“Hey, Herb. Have you read this?” Captain held a copy of The Beautiful Struggle as he watched his roommate and best friend sip a concoction of various light liquors and bitters. He swished the fluid around in his mouth for a moment, let it rest for a moment, then spit messily into a kitchen sink full of dishes. Captain hated when Herb spent the week prepping for one of their bi-monthly parties. Daily chores would build up and near a tipping point, leaving Captain with the hefty task of cleaning the apartment, while Herb creates and forgets cocktail recipes.

Herb wiped his hands on his pants and took the book. “What is it? One of those Black Erotica books? Look, I told you, the woman at the booth told me it was like if Harry Potter was black, lost his powers, and ended up going to college at Howard.” He turned it over to read the back cover.

“I literally don’t know why I talk to you sometimes. Nevermind, dude. Give it.” Captain reached out to grab his book, but Herb swatted the hand away with a stinging slap.

“What are you reading this for? He a famous actor or something?”

“Nah, man. He just got the MacArthur Genius Grant and I wanted to check him out. Also, Kweli’s named some of his mixtapes the same thing.”

“Hm.” Many of the pages were dogeared and the would-be mixologist opened the book randomly and read aloud:

Girlfriend: Ta-Nehisi, what sort of girls do you like?
Ta-Nehisi: I like light-skin girls.

       There must have been a gasp, but I was young and must have missed it, because my next image is postconversation, sitting in the car with my mother staring at me, the car unstarted. Her eyes were power drills, and though she herself was a shade from yellow, she was a patriot of a broader Africa.
       Little Boy, don’t you ever say anything like that again. You can have your little eyes on whoever you want, for whatever you want. But you remember that these little black girls are somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister–your sister, and someday, somebody’s mother, and when it comes down, the white man won’t take time to make distinctions. You need to check yourself, little boy.*

“That’s funny to me.”

“In what way?”

“Him and his mother having that conversation in the car. The passenger seat can be a throne in the right circumstance. It can also be a witness stand, interrogation chair, the Pastor’s right hand, or a mother’s chair of reprimand. Looks like this was that and the electric chair all in one.” Herb handed the book back to Captain and began mixing another series of liquors.

“Yeah, I remember my brother looking at my red, crying face and shaking his head at me because I let an older kid take my bookbag in fifth grade. I was so embarrassed. He didn’t let up on me either.” Captain flipped aimlessly through the book as he reminisced. “That was the day he took me to the baseball field to show me how to throw a punch.”

“I thought you were a black belt…” said Herb, as he continued to practice shaking some kind of martini in two glasses held rim to rim. Most of the liquid only splashed onto his shirt.

“That happened later. The first punch I ever learned was from him. While I was sitting in that car, balling my eyes out, he asked me if the kid was black. I told him ‘yes’ through a series of hiccups and coughs. I didn’t know why it mattered, but I answered him ’cause he asked. But he said that if it was a white kid, then he would come with me to tell Mom and Dad so they could go up to the school. But when he found out it was another black boy, I had to set that kid straight myself.”

“He’s right. If word got out in the locker room that you soft, you’d still be running for your life.”

“You ain’t lyin’. Shame how we treat each other so different. White kid take my candy, I gotta snitch. Black kid take my candy, I gotta rock him to make sure everybody knows what’s up.”

“That’s how we’re brought up, homie. Prison mentality.” Herbert cuts a wedge of lime squeezes it onto his tongue, then drops the entire slice into his mouth; rind and all.

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*excerpt from The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Censorshi*

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In the age where rappers rarely make clean versions of songs for radio play (what’s a music video?), censorship done got funny. No more so than on the cable channels airing movies that have been edited and formatted for television. The FCC needs to do better with how they switch out cussin’, though. I’m not sure what they used to do, but I know they need to do something about movies like Showgirls and Jerry Maguire.

I had people over one night while in college and Showgirls came on one of the basic cable channels. No one was actually watching it but the digital bra caught my eye and I couldn’t believe it. Seriously? Animated (poorly, I might add) bikinis to cover Elizabeth Berkley’s boobies was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever seen.

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But if you ever get your hands on the edited version of Jerry Maguire, that’s the absolute best. In the scene when Cuba and Regina are renegotiating contract features, Tom says a number that Regina ain’t feelin’ one bit. Her eyebrows come together as if they are throwing up the “W” from Shaolin’s finest. She rises to her feet, points directly at Tom and says, in the voice of a much larger man, “This is some bullabullush!” They paid some dude with more bass in his voice than Tom or Cuba combined to say the word bullabullush into a microphone so that it could be used to replace a profanity. I rented the movie (on VHS) and for some reason, there was a censored version in the case. When I heard the exultation, I laughed harder than I did at the “Dr. Black” line in the Simpsons episode when Bart goes to Kamp Krusty.

The innocence of that kind of censorship is something I randomly reflect on as I age–just brought in the big three five the other day.

Be good.

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.

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.