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…

Through the Shade

I have a confession to make: I’m light skinned. It’s not so much my color that I must confess, but my childhood beliefs about light skinneditude. I was ten years old at most. My brother–nine years my senior–was driving me, maybe to Mickey D’s or maybe to the comic book store. As we sat at a red light not far from home, a young girl crossed the street in front of us. In that teasing tone of older-brotherness, he elbowed me older-brotherishly and said something like, “There you go,” as in, “You’re old enough to start liking girls, now, and she’s perfect for you.” I looked up and my response was, “Naw. She’s too dark.” Yup. Seriously. Without hesitation, my brother–who shares my complexion–corrected me with something like, “There’s no such thing as too dark. Black people come in all shades, man.”

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I was embarrassed. I remember almost crying. I thought my brother–a person I looked up to, who was already doing me a favor letting me ride in the front seat of his car, carting me around during his prime teenage years–was disappointed in me and my feelings about color. His older-brotherly chiding became a lesson in race that, unbeknownst to me, hibernated within me until I was a teenager myself and reawakened when someone called me high-yellow or white as an insult, or later when I heard jokes about light-skinned niggas being in style thanks to Boris and Shamar. (enter, stage left, Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, and Tyson Beckford)

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It was such a small moment, at that stop light, and yet such a defining one.

I wouldn’t say my response to my brother necessarily stemmed from self hatred or internalized racism, either. I, in my childishness, remember thinking alike people ended up together. For instance, tall people married tall people, short people married short people, big boned people married big boned people, and so on. Naturally, that meant dark-skinned folks must want to be with their “own kind” and therefore so should I. I don’t think I hated people of darker shades, I just thought there were societal rules that adults followed and adolescent me was on a need-to-know basis.

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I wasn’t exposed to many of the external factors that could influence how I treated people of different shades at that age. However, I do remember the kids-will-be-kids-name-calling being harsher for the darker kids in my class than for us lighter folks. “Dozens” jokes about glowing in the dark didn’t bite as much as being called “charcoal-blistered” (pronounced “choco-blisted”) or “African booty scratcher.” Those just sounded more hurty to me. Were I different kid, those distinctions could have manifested in different ways, as in the types of people I dated or who I befriended in college. (insert diatribe about black sorority and fraternity traits and prerequesite practices here.)

I’m grateful that I was raised in the kind of environment that didn’t encourage that additional layer of self-division. Feeling separate from society as a minority is one thing I was aware of growing up. Feeling separate within my own community, thankfully, was a stage of adolescence I got to skip.

Because when you think about it, I am of African heritage. On occasion, my booty does itch. So guess what that makes me?

Be good.

(images borrowed from @honeyvybz tumblr)

Water Spout Philosophy

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It’s been a while and I know what you’re thinking: no, I did not walk mouth first into the giant spider hanging at face level from a tree the other night. Thank goodness. Had I been looking at my phone for Drake v Meek beef updates, or paying more attention to the teens smoking on the bleachers at the park… You know that myth about how many spiders a person accidentally swallows while sleeping? Yeah, I would have been on the short list of people to accidentally do that while awake. A breeze kicked up and made a branch sway a bit lower than normal and when I ducked to dodge the branch, I saw the spider in time to not elevate my palate to include arachnid tar tar.

But what I didn’t know about spiders until Stephen Tobolowsky mentioned it–you may know him as Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day–is that they’re artists. When they construct a web, the intricate patterns reflect ultraviolet light that appears, to insects, as a flower. Spiders themselves also give off UV rays so they include themselves in the imagery, as well. Furthermore, the way spiders see is completely different than the way, say, a fly sees. Imagine one of those street painters you’ve seen in viral videos; they paint upon the canvas, completely covering it with color except for a person-shaped silhouette left bare. Then, the artist puts the brush(es) down and steps into place, their body completing the painting, and it is a portrait of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. or a still life of a bowl of Oreos or a spider in a web. But, because the artist perceives things differently than the viewer, imagine that artist has vision in only one eye, is color-blind, and is painting upside down. Not a perfect comparison, but you get my drift.

Now, I can’t take credit for the idea of spiders as artists. Ned Ry…er…Stephen Tobolowsky presented that comparison. And I believe him. As much as spiders don’t stand a chance in my house, especially with my wife around (they gotsta die), their notion of “art as purpose” and “art as survival” is concrete. I crave that with words. Art as purpose. Art as survival.

Words are my world wide web.

In other words…

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(in my Batman voice)

Be good.

Dope Mans

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Aight. I just came from checkin’ out Dope; that new joint from Rick Famuyiwa. When I first saw the preview, it looked like The Wood meets Go. Funny, cuz I ain’t even know the same dude wrote and directed The Wood, at first. After peepin’ the actual film, I’d say you could add to the mix Superbad and the rebooted Jump Street franchise. And don’t think I ain’t notice the score hollerin’ back to classics like Juice. Yeah, that’s it. Juice. Dope was like a big ol’ coming-of-age smoothie from Jamba Juice, or something. But instead of adding a shot of wheat germ or vitamin whatever for energy boost, you add a shot of Crown…for blackness. Or maybe it ain’t so much a smoothie but more like a Dockberry shake. You can still chase it with Crown, tho.

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This movie comes down to identity. A bunch of times in the flick, Malcolm is asked who he is. His usual response: “I’m just Malcolm.” That answer ain’t good enough in most cases except with his boo thang hopeful, Nakia. From credits to credits, Malcolm either has to be someone that he isn’t, or someone that he doesn’t want to be in different situations. Straight survival mode. When with his best friends, Diggy and Jib, he’s probably closest to the ‘himself’ he wants to be. With Nakia? Malcolm’s like a little kid. Possibly the teenager he would be if he wasn’t from “The Bottoms”, Inglewood, California.

The goings on of his neighborhood make sure he keeps his guard up constantly and is able to move between the different environments. If he’s caught slippin’, he could lose a Jordan, a spot at Harvard, or even his life. Nakia sees Malcolm for who he is and who he could be. It’s when they’re alone together that we see his window of self preservation roll down a bit and his vulnerability seep through the crack. He even tells her not to fall into the trap of being what folks expect. Selling one’s self short is all too easy, where they’re from. Malcolm makes it clear that he’s “not like these other niggas.” But as soon as Malcolm thinks Nakia isn’t taking him seriously, he rolls that window back up and – “bloop bloop” – sets the alarm. Wearing masks is part of the performance. It’s how he and his friends–and arguably black folks as a whole–get along in life. Just like Dope uses the mask of comedy to discuss “real” issues of black communities, it ruins the image and the style that you’re used to.

Okay. That was a stretch, but I just wanted an excuse to post this pic of Shock G:
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Famuyiwa is a set-up artist. From jump, we see the main trio at the record shop and we learn something that isn’t all that obvious about one of them. Later, we get confirmation about another one–a mini-reveal that had me like, “Yeah, that’s what I thought. I knew I wasn’t crazy,” but I put a pin in it because I could relate to this group of friends. But then the movie told me how I was wrong. See, when I’m introduced to these kids I expect them to be a certain way. Even when they switch it up and, say, rock out as the punk band, The Awreeohs (pronounced like a certain vegan friendly cookie), there’s still a different set of stereotypes I expect them to embody. Because that’s what I need. I use my assumptions about the characters to fill in the gaps of their narrative that I haven’t learned yet. But when a film subverts my expectation, it illustrates the ways in which I, and society at large, constantly and incorrectly categorize people, especially by race, class, and circumstance.

When Malcolm’s advisor says, “Who do you think you are?” trying to knock him down a peg for wanting to attend Harvard, the advisor is me. Every time I walk up to a group of teenage boys who are wearing their pants sagging down to their knees–maybe even rolling up some weed–but who also say “excuse me, sir” and step to the side as I walk past, that’s on me for being surprised they would show me respect. Dope flashes that vanity mirror back at me to remind me that I was a “complicated” kid just like Malcolm, even though he doesn’t realize it through much of the film. I played chess in the cafeteria during lunch and played basketball with drug dealers and gang members after school. I wasn’t a part of either one group or the other; I was part of both.

With that in mind, I recognized the moment that Malcolm realizes himself. Some may say it’s when he erases his Harvard application about Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” and writes an essay on par with that of the MIT gambling protege from 21. Or even when he confronts the man who turns out to be the actual villain of the film. No. For me, it’s before that. It’s when Malcolm reaches his lowest rung of desperation. He’s one errand away from getting out of “debt” and almost loses it all because of a high school bully. We learn in this moment, in a darkly ironic turn, just how far Malcolm is willing to go to not become just another nigga from The Bottoms. He is already perceived as such but refuses to let it become his reality.

*pulls hoodie onto head*

“You got da juice now, dog.”

Be good.
 

Rachel…No Longer One of Our Friends

Type “r” in Google search and “Rachel Dolezal” is the first option, right now. Go ahead. Do it. Open a new window and try it. Okay, maybe not when you read this, but trust me while I was writing this, that was the absolutely case. See?

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With all of the Twitterbees going crazy with the #AskRachel posts–when I’m not spitting into my hand with laughter–I do have a vague sense of dismay. I mean, this whole thing is like if Diff’rent Strokes meets Outer Limits in a Stephen King setting with “story by” credit attributed to Walter Mosely and edited by the folks on Love and Hip Hop. But I digress.  Aside from the outright lying, the cultural appropriation, the hiring of a dark-skinned man to play her father, and the creepiness of claiming two of her adopted brothers as sons, I do wonder which policies she was advocating for will come to a grinding halt because of her, shall we say bending, the truth like Beckam. All she had to do was be white and stay that way. But now it’s like in Law & Order when we find out that a snitch has been lie-snitchin’ and then all of the previous cases he done lie-snitched on are called into question. She just called for whatever relationships she was building, assets she was acquiring, or locks she was dreading to come unraveled and fall into a perm-free pile of straight blond strands on the salon floor.

“Clarissa! Girl, get off yo’ damn phone and come sweep up this hair!”

Look, I condone nothing. But it burns me up that this woman’s foolishness may lay waste to some legit good she was doing in the black community. I guess you live and you learn. But she’s been living for a while and ain’t nobody learnt that she ain’t even the Zoe Saldana in this Nina Simone of a situation. She’s straight up Betty White. (see what I did there?) Cuz I for dang sure thought the dress was blue and black. But what do I know.

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Be good.

Red Flags: Volume One

Red Flags: a series of anecdon’ts–stories, both nonfictional and fictional, about the ways that relationships can NOT come to fruition. Each story is a collection of moments that exist at the meeting point of ‘sweet’ and ‘sour’.

“What was that look?”

Conversations that take this turn rarely end well. Looking back, I should have known the relationship would ultimately end at the foot of the Springfield escalator to nowhere.

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It was the first of few lunch-date thingies. We sat next to a bone-dry fountain in the Chicago Place food court, downtown. As she spoke, I had a mouthful of food — chicken tenders, probably. She’d been telling me about her stint as a bartender and that her high cheekbones and generous bustline helped her take home addictive amounts of cash in tips. Apparently, I made a face. She thought I had a problem with this; that I thought she was vain. The only problem was, I’d made no face. Not on purpose, anyway. Why would I? What she said made sense: (pretty smile) + (ample bosom) x (often) = attention at bars. In fact, the next ten minutes that followed were her trying to convince me of how I felt about her based on a face she thought she saw me make. She spent most of that time arguing with herself, and when it was said and done, I’m pretty sure I’d lost the argument.

We worked together. She — I’ll call her Nadine — was in a different department so we had very little work-related interaction. We eventually became friendly, but lunch plans turned into a weekly dance. Schedules were tough to sync because she was helping catch up on accounts of the payable type; my personal accounts, of the receivable type, limited my participation in the lunch-date thingies, for I was but a lowly intern. And perhaps a fitting title. I pitched my decision to pursue a relationship, right past ‘unwise’ and over the plate into the catcher’s mitt of ‘stupid’. A true professional would have known better than dating someone at the office, especially an office of less than 20 employees, where gossip is a second language. It became theater. We had next to no chance in such an unforgiving environment: a PR and advertising firm where everything and everyone is judged quickly and harshly. Coworkers told Shakespearean stories about other coworkers bustin’ down interns of varying age differences on grossly stained couches and how it ends well for no one, but my stubbornness made me push past all of the signs that read, “Ixnay on the upidstay!” I was determined to find lunch-hour love, so I put myself out there. I would either find myself a girlfriend, make a new friend, or be no worse off than when I first saw her. Oh, if it were only that simple.

Nadine became neither a girlfriend nor a friend.

There was definitely potential for a relationship, be it friend or more, however, I think she just wasn’t digging me, when it got right down to it. Her initial interest in me came in the form of curiosity. I was told she thought I was “mysterious.” Believe me; mysterious I am not. It wasn’t until Nadine and I were able to spend some real time together that I learned what she really wanted. Unfortunately, it wasn’t me. The mystery became the mundane. She came to my house and lay on my couch while I told her stories of my childhood. We talked for hours. We walked to the chicken joint down the block (wings this time) where, along the way, an older guy complimented me on how happy my “wife” and I looked together. We ate and I took her home. No kiss, no cuddle, just a hug goodbye. But at that point I thought we’d slid into the first level of courtship. It was maybe a week before she dropped that other shoe: she had an ex. I mean, people have exes, but he was in and out of her life in a way that I didn’t think was healthy and he was working his way back in. Sure we could have had fun just dating, but she would have bounced as soon as dude pulled up outside, Keyser Soze style.

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She really wanted things to work out with the ex. She even told me this on one of our lunch-date thingies. The news prompted me to write her a letter expressing my intentions to not come between her and what she really wants. I stated this explicitly in the letter. The next day at work, I dropped it in her purse expecting her to read it on the way home or something. She came to me later that day and thanked me for being so forthcoming. Essentially, we decided we would keep it platonic. They got back together. Not long (maybe a few days?) after that she called me crying. The ex found my letter. He called the whole thing off. I didn’t understand why she still had the letter, nor did I get why he broke up with her. He couldn’t have read it. Not one word. Unless he was just pissed that she entertained the idea of spending time with another guy, he totally missed that I knew she wanted him and thought they should be together. But I guess he couldn’t see past the letter’s existence.

I vowed to stay away from Nadine after that. No lunch. No nothing. Nothing more than hellos and goodbyes. That lasted for a while — I’m not sure of this timeline, either. Then one day she comes to me and asks me to lunch. Really? Yes, really. She insisted. Even offered to pay (remember: lowly intern). I figured there was some explanation she wanted to give me, or maybe that’s just what I wanted. I didn’t like that things ended sourly, even though I was fine with not dating. If nothing else, we could clear the air. As it turned out, her morning got busy and she couldn’t make it to lunch, but as I got ready to head out, she came up behind me and slid a ten-dollar bill in my pocket. I felt uncomfortable with the gesture. I was Marcus the morning after Jacqueline stood him up for the play, pulling the sheets up to my chin. (cue Ertha Kit’s gravelly voice calling out to me from a distance) It may have been a sign that she wanted to be forward and honest with me. She said she’d pay for lunch; even if she wasn’t there. I thanked her and got me some food — chicken tenders, probably.

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When I left the office that day (or some day…Valentine’s Day, maybe?), I saw Nadine standing with a bouquet of flowers and a card. He no longer held the title of “ex.” We chatted as she waited for her boyfriend to pick her up. I wished Nadine luck. She seemed happy with her decision and that’s all I could ask for. No joke. But I made sure to skidaddle before he pulled up. You know…what with her being Keyser Soze, and all.

Although there were other elements that helped stifle this almost-but-never-was relationship, there was a part of me that was disappointed. I’d had my heart broken a few years before, but I thought I was ready to date. Legitimately date. That just-want-to-meet-new-folks-and-have-a-good-time kind of dating. Apparently, I would need to search outside the convenience of the workplace to find love…

…but not before spending a little time with a fellow intern.

I know. I know. Stubbornness is a dish best served twice.

Be good.

Faux Pas Film

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Some friends and I made a short film. You should watch it and then tell other friends to watch it. See it here:

Faux Pas Film

To check out more info on the cast, crew, process, etc. peep the official film website here: http://www.fauxpasfilm.com/index2.html.

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Not to brag or anything but this little gem was the official selection for the following film festivals:

Blackstar Film Festival 2013
Gene Siskel’s Black Harvest Film Festival 2013
Hollywood Black Film Festival 2013
San Diego Black Film Festival
2013 Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival 2013 as an HBO award finalist

PS–I wrote it.

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Be good.

Bitter Thorns

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Our friends departed with smiles burning on their lips and alcohol burning in their chests. The evidence they left behind of the party sprawled throughout Herb’s entire place. As the organizer, it was only fair that I clean up his warzone of a kitchen as my final contribution to his birthday, but I’d lost my helper, Selena, to another party up north. She insisted we join her and her girlfriends, later; All the motivation I needed. If I could keep my energy up–and make sure Herb didn’t fall asleep–it wouldn’t be long before I met up with her and went into full cakin’ mode. Until then, I had to concentrate on not spilling booze and backwash on my Steve Maddens.

“This man should’ve been a mathematician.” My best friend–who had woken up officially in his mid-thirties that morning–sat at the table of his small, eat-in kitchen peering into his phone.

“What are you talking about, Herb?”

“Oh, Captain. My Captain. D. Rose done sat out more games than the Bulls have actually played. That’s some amazing math. I’m glad I dropped that ninety million dollar sack of bricks from my fantasy team.”

After a series of touchscreen finger-tapping, Herb sat his phone on the table and flicked it into a spin. It stopped, one end pointing directly at his chest, the other end pointing to the empty chair across from him. I thought back to our college version of Spin the Bottle where the winner was awarded a shot of Cuervo before the kiss. Janice Linden leaned into the circle to kiss me for the fourth time that night, intent on padding my college stats, as it were. She’d told me later of her intentions, and that it was all in the wrist. Janice’s lips and the strength of her wrists would eventually bring me back to thoughts of Selena so I refocused on Herb’s griping and the precariousness of the over-stretched garbage bag I was handling. I tied it closed and gingerly set it to the side for someone other than me to deal with.

“I hear you. The nine consecutive games he’s played so far–averaging seventeen points and a little over five assists overall–he’s the worst.” I shook my head and scanned the kitchen. Discerning party remnants from the general messiness of the apartment took skill. Picking out Harold’s Chicken bags from the party versus Harold’s Chicken bags from Herb’s dinner earlier that week proved a challenge worthy of a true master. Living together our last couple of years in college was training, it seemed, for the day he turned thirty five.

“You obviously didn’t see their home game against the Nets or the mega game he had battling Lillard in Portland. Thirty-one points, 5 assists, and a steal. Better than your best intramural numbers, Herbert.” I washed my hands and took out my phone. A few swipes and I was looking at my fantasy basketball roster. Sure enough, a little plus sign floated above Derrick Rose’s headshot, letting me know I could swap out one of my current point guards. I hadn’t had time to check any league changes with all the preparation for the party. I considered having Rondo pack his bags.

“Not before twisting his ankles, Captain. Plural. Then coming back and leaving a game early and sitting out the next one because of the Ghost of Hamstring Future. He wearing a promise ring around his neck or something? Who is he saving himself for? If he ain’t careful, Scarecrow will be playing for another team.” Herb stood up and wandered toward the back door. I thought he might take the trash out and winced in anticipation of the cheap plastic tearing free and spilling everything across the floor. But this is Herb; chores aren’t his thing. Instead, he pulled the door’s curtain back to peek out the window Malcolm style, minus the weaponry. He seemed dissatisfied with the darkness.

“This coming from the guy who preemptively took Monday off for birthday recupe time.” I turned to rinse only the dishes used for the party and load the washer. The amount of barbecue sauce and cake icing that swirled down the drain was enough for a second party.

“My one off day ain’t got nothing to do with Rose’s lack of heart out there. Besides, do you know how old I am? I’m goin’ in. I fully plan on being useless on Monday.” This dude is a supreme lightweight when it comes to libations. The night Janice Linden tried to call me up from the Minors, Herb was a heap of thick belches and phlegmy snores before the clock struck twelve. The next day he didn’t make it to the brunch event for newbie minority students, either. But Janice did. She sipped her cranberry juice with a wry smile as she played footsie with me under the table. Big Leagues.

“You’re sitting there questioning his commitment like he didn’t suffer two consecutive, season-ending injuries. Plural. Like he didn’t add several inches to his vertical, despite. That’s not heart, huh? You took a day off last week because you had a migraine. That’s two off days, homie. Driver’s license renewal, picking your nephew up from the airport, a spa day…” I ticked each excuse off on my fingers.

“How is that even the same? I ain’t getting paid ninety million dollars to sit on the sidelines and neither should he.” Herb was back in his chair thumbing his phone. “Curry is kicking ass now, anyway, so I’ll keep him as my primary and see what Conley can do to back him up.”

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“Your job does pay, though, right? Plus, the Bulls organization will make his salary and endorsement monies back almost instantly. How much money have you made your employer in a week?”

I had done as much cleaning as I could without needing a union rep. The kitchen was mostly clean, except the scuff marks from the impromptu steppers set that erupted after we cut the cake. After wiping down all the  counter and table tops, I needed to play a bit of refrigerator Tetris. I snapped a can of beer off of the remaining six-pack and handed it out to Herb before trying to make room for the aluminum trays of leftovers. He reached for the beer without even looking up.

“Look, Cap. Rose was supposed to come roaring back to take the East by storm after that first tendon snapped. His fragile, little body couldn’t last a good month before, boom, down again. Now he’s being too timid. Coach got him on a leash. I just can’t trust him.”

Smog from the party hung low in the air. A not-so-unusual 60 degree October night insulated the body heat generated from the 1990’s party mix. DJ Nostalgic had West siders challenging South siders to footwork battles. Someone pulled a muscle doing the butterfly… We done got old. I opened the back door and stepped into the night. From the fourth floor balcony, I looked out over the Bronzeville landscape of similar apartment courtyards and vacant plots. The Green Line train clacked and rattled some distance behind me as a teenager bopped on the sidewalk below, rapping his playlist for me, his only audience member.

A chill bit through my thin sweater as the temperature dropped another couple of degrees. Herb yelled something else through a yawn about Rose’s career being a sham. Something something pampered professionals something vagina, followed by more expletives then names of other players who have had success after horrific injuries. I let him argue with the back of my head.

D. Wade, Kobe, and even Adrian Petersen exist. I’ll give him that. But they’re freaks of nature. Mamba had to sleep with a harem of German vampires to get back right. I was convinced Wade was a cyborg after his post-surgery return, but now he can’t play in back-to-back games. And Adrian sounds an awul lot like alien, doesn’t it? The other side of the injury coin shows face-up much more often. And pampered? No one mentions weakness when Popovich has Parker and Duncan in street clothes, do they? Nah. D. Rose can take his time.

My phone buzzed in my pocket before I said: a reminder to call mom. I swiped to the next application and was looking at my fantasy line-up, again. I selected Rose for my starting guard just as the night turned its thermostat down another tick. I moved closer to the door but still looked out across the street. It appeared one of Herb’s neighbors was having a party, too. Had nerve to have a strobe light spinning. I blinked at the flashing lights as I finally responded.

“You may remember, Herbius Corpus, that Brandon Roy was cleared to play. Now that fella is playin’ in somebody’s fantasy basketball league just like us. It’s easy for you to say Rose is a punk for not doing what you want him to do because you have no stakes. Those aren’t your knees out there on that court.” I traced black streaks of burnt ash where courteous party guests stubbed out their cigarettes on brick. Herb probably doesn’t think I know he’s fallen off the Newport wagon, but I saw him sneak out to borrow a puff from someone. “By the way, earlier you said, Scarecrow, I imagine alluding to Diana Ross’s cowardly companion. Well, the Scarecrow needed a brain. It was the Lion who needed the heart, in which case you’re still wrong.

“I have no explanation why I feel so strongly about this kid. After he hit that last second shot where he beats his chest afterward, that showed me something. He was beginning to believe that he deserved his place in the arena. I bought in even more. Then after that comeback commercial when he kinda smiled at the end? Psh. Almost bought me a jersey. Still might. You seen that commercial with him and Duncan?” I flicked a filter over the edge of the balcony and into the grass below before heading back inside.

There was no telling when Herb fell asleep. The party across the way was at full steam, but Herb’s head rested on his outstretched arm on the table. The phlegmy snores had begun, low at first, but would no doubt crescendo before I made it to my car. I closed the door and locked it before surveying the land for any last-minute cleaning tasks. I decided against it and instead shot a text to Selena to let her know I was on my way. The last clean red Solo cup sat on the table in front of Herb next to his unopened can of beer. I filled it halfway with ice water and balanced it between his back and the back of his chair. When he woke up and leaned back in his chair to stretch, he would feel a freezing wet surprise that would count for about three of the thirty five birthday licks I still owed him. With my boobytrap firmly set, I left my friend behind, knowing the chill and the darkness were waiting and would ride with me as I made my way north.

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