Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Broken, Divided Country - Let's Fix It

     Here we are the day after six jurors, five of them mothers themselves, have found George Zimmerman "not guilty". Many young people still can't believe the decision that they made. Their baby-boomer grandparents, though saddened, have seen similar events unfold time and time again. It shows that something is terribly broken in this country when the judicial law contradicts common sense. If a grown man can stalk a young teen in his car, then follow him in the dark and fight him, then shoot him and be guilty of doing nothing wrong, then it goes against common sense.

     Many young people have been fooled into believing that racism is a thing of the past. The killing of Trayvon Benjamin Martin has showed both them and the entire world that injustice in America is alive and thriving. So many people, black and white alike, are left asking themselves, "Has anything really changed?" Black men and boys are no longer lynched for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they are chained to the back of trucks in Georgia and dragged down the road or shot in the street on their their way home from the store with nothing but  a soft drink and a bag of Skittles in their hands. And no one pays for these crimes in the same way no one paid for the thousands of lynchings decades ago.

     The death of Trayvon Martin would never have become a national issue had it not been for the tenacity of his parents in their quest for justice. George Zimmerman's name would never have become a household word. He has split this country right down the middle. There is no color line when it comes to how the public feels about this issue. It is more so the good old boys/gun enthusiasts versus everyone else. And the numbers are about 50/50. This brings us back to the fact that the founders of this country, the first settlers in the Americas were in many instances criminals in their former homelands. The mindset they brought with them still exists today - might makes right. This is what I believe was in Zimmerman's mind the night he killed Trayvon Martin. If he didn't have a gun, which we all know a neighborhood watchman is not supposed to carry, do you really think he would have gotten out of his truck? Or was his gun the "great equalizer"? So now a young man is dead, and there is no one who will be held accountable for his death.

     Last night, and in the many days and nights to come, parents everywhere around the country will be having heart-wrenching conversations with their children. How do you tell them that there are people who can shoot them down in the street and walk away as free as a lark? How do you tell them that there are dangerous men who will kill them because they don't fit the neighborhood profile? Worst of all, how do you tell them that you can't protect them?

     There is some good to come out of this though. Young people, of all races and cultural backgrounds, are mobilizing and marching for justice. For the first time in a couple of decades, young folks are taking to the streets and marching for justice the same way they did in the sixties and seventies. Yuppies, buppies, metrosexuals, and techno-geeks are joining together today throughout the country to make sure that the Martin family gets justice. And that's a good thing. Some people have urged a nation-wide boycott of Florida. It's not Florida that is at fault. The fault lies in the hands of legislators whose pockets are fat with PAC money from the NRA and other special interest groups who don't care whether my child or yours dies in the street as long as they become more wealthy. Finally, we get it. Young people get it too. 

     Let's hope that their enthusiasm remains in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. This is not going to be a short fight lasting a round or two. As long as political greed motivates those we entrust to pass sensible laws, we will have to remain vigilant and keep marching and protesting. Instead of boycotting, we need to notify our lawmakers that it is our children who really matter. The law must work in the interest of us all, not a privileged few.So write, tweet, text and call your lawmakers and let them know you care. If they don't respond, then you must respond with your ballot and your vote.

     Soon the trial of Michael David Dunn will take place Jacksonville, Florida. Dunn is accused of shooting another black teen, Jordan Russell Davis, also like Trayvon, age 17. Again, we have what you would think is a clear case murder masquerading under the stand your ground law. Jordan was shot over a dispute of loud music playing in a friend's car. Let's be vigilant and keep the pressure on so that we can get a fair and just conclusion to this travesty. It will take all of us everywhere to  make sure this happens. The real fight is only beginning.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

21st Century Complacency

Ok. Maybe I'm too old fashioned. I grew up during the Civil Rights Era. So many of my memories are studded with the fight for equality and justice. As a child I ate dinner while I watched African American youth hosed by firefighters, beaten by cops, and bitten by police dogs simply because they wanted the right to vote and have a decent education. 

My first date alone with a boy was the night Martin Luther King was assassinated. I remember we came out of the movies and looked up at the ticker in Times Square. So many people had just stopped moving, stunned into immobility. We were scared and quiet the entire trip home. Then I went to a rally on 125th Street to see what we could do to politically move against this blatant act of racism. On the way back home, the less politically astute brothers and sisters chose to show their frustration by looting and burning, causing me to run more than walk the entire way home. I still remember my mother's disgust with the way things were going, and her admonition to me to not join in on the thuggery and violence.

On the way to my high school prom, this same boyfriend and I stopped off at St Patrick's Cathedral to pay our respects to Robert Kennedy who had been gunned down while giving a speech. So many milestones in my life are marked by instances of racism, bigotry, and outright slaughter.

Fast forward 40 years and another instance of racism rears its ugly head. Paula Dean, a TV cooking host, is being sued for calling her staff the "N" word, making them use the servants' entrance into her restaurants, and just like in the old days, using separate toilets. Worse still, she doesn't deny it and sees nothing wrong with it.

All of this I can understand. I don't condone it, but I do understand it. A racist is comfortable with being that way, especially when there is no one to challenge their faulty thinking. The last 24 hours have proved her right. 

Did young African American youth jump up and shout down her statements? No. Did they send emails to the Food Network and demand her firing? No. Did they march and picket at her restaurants demanding an apology? No. So what did they do? They Tweeted. 

All day long young people voiced their dissension by tweeting jokes with racist food dish names like "coon bread and Okra Winfrey" and "We Shall Over Crumb Cake". While all of it was in jest, and their way of laughing at her poor taste, at the end of the day, what have they accomplished? Not a thing.

Then I think back to Emmett Till who was savagely beaten, gutted, and murdered for smiling at a white woman in the 60's. Today his sacrifice was reduced to "Emmett Tilapia" and a laugh. I have to ask myself if the thousands of people who were beaten, tortured, lynched, and otherwise abused was worth the justification of the laughs people got at Paula Dean's expense. And you know what? I have to say both "yes" and "no".

A "yes" is because even though I do not like it, we have reached a point in history where most young people can afford to see the humor in racism. The "no" is because we have become so complacent that we are not incensed by her remarks. 

We have made some strides and advances since the 60's. We can go to the college of our choice, we can vote, and if we can afford it, we can live where we choose. But we are still locked into segregated communities, we still experience overwhelming poverty, as a whole, we make less than our white counterparts for doing the same job, and our children still can't read.  The only thing that has changed really is that now we've been brainwashed into believing that this is what we want.

Thursday, March 7, 2013





“Don't mess with this jar here, Diane.” Mama said, pointing to an uncovered Mason jar filled with some kind of mysterious concoction.
“Why not, Ma? What you got in there?” I asked.
“This is potash.” she said. I looked at the dull, white solution with more than a passing curiosity. I had learned, however, not to mess with things that my mama said were dangerous. She made her own potash – a mixture of water, Draino, and some other mysterious solutions. I don't know why she made up such potions, except that maybe it was her way of feeling protected.
“Potash is lye, and it will burn the skin right off you. So be careful, especially when you're over here.” She kept the lye under the sink in full view, at the ready.
Our kitchen was huge. It was about the size of two large living rooms. And the place where everyone hung out. We ate meals there, played penny poker on holidays with guests and family, solved the worlds problems, and it was where I did my homework. About this time, we were still dirt poor. We had an ice box instead of a refrigerator which we didn't get until sometime in the early sixties. Strangely enough, even though I knew it wasn't normal not to have some very basic necessities, especially when living in New York City, I wasn't bothered by it most of the time.
For heat we had two potbelly stoves, one in the kitchen and the other in the front room. In the winter we heated up hot water bottles to put in bed and keep warm. When money was tight, instead of burning coal, we foraged for pieces of wood over by the East River. Times were hard, and I knew that most people didn't live as we did. However, we were poor and it was what we could afford. The only thing that really bothered me was having to put your coat on to go to the bathroom in winter. You could feel the wind blowing in through cracks in the wall. We bathed in a huge galvanized tin tub then since it was too frigid to even think about getting in the bathtub. You could sit down in it, but you couldn't stretch out your legs. My best friend, Wanda, was arguing with her mom while getting out of one of those tubs, parked in front of the stove for added warmth. She burned her behind and permanently branded herself by backing up into that stove. We laughed about it for a long time and dubbed her “potbelly butt.”
The only time I ever saw my mother even come close to doing anything with that caustic solution was one night when Miss Rose busted up in our house with the police.
We lived in that sagging tenement on Madison Avenue between one hundred thirty first and one hundred thirty second streets. This was back in the mid fifties when you could pay a cop to go to someone's house with you, and they would come along, adding some semblance of authority to your presence. There were only two apartments per floor, and it was a shotgun railroad flat running the length of the building. My room was off from the front room which meant you had to go through the kitchen, living room and a smaller bedroom before you reached my room. Theoretically, you could have come down a long hallway alcove before entering the apartment and then come through the front room. We had two entrances, but the front room was my mother's bedroom. So guests didn't use that door, even though Miss Rose wasn't a guest. She was my daddy's wife.
I was asleep at the time, and she woke me up. The first thing I noticed about her was her strong, overpowering perfume. To this day I still can't stand Channel. Then it was her huge breasts that looked like bullet cones in her silk blouse. The policeman stood to the right, behind her, not saying anything.
“Where's your daddy?” she demanded. I was still half asleep, and sat up, confused by her being there in my bedroom. I just hunched my shoulders indicating that I had no idea. I knew who she was from being in court with her. She had sued my mother claiming I was not her husband's child. She said my father couldn't have children since she'd never been pregnant, and they'd been married for over ten years. She wanted all the child support money returned.
We all had to take blood tests and physicals only to prove that Ms. Rose was barren, and it was she who couldn't have any kids. And yes, I was my daddy's child. I never thought I'd have to see her again, but here she was in my bedroom.
“When's the last time you saw him?” she inquired. Now I was becoming frightened. I didn't understand why she was in my bedroom and why she was quizzing me about my daddy. After all, I hadn't seen him since Christmas which was about the only time I ever saw him unless I ran into him while he was visiting Mother Dear, his mother, who lived upstairs in the apartment above us.
Then I saw my mother, and in her hand was that glass jar of potash. I couldn't take my eyes off it.
“Get in the closet, Diane.” my mother said with so much calm about her that it frightened me more. I could see the anger in her eyes, but she didn't want me to be scared. I scrambled up from my bed and ran to the double doors of the built-in wooden closet and climbed up inside. The bottom of the closet contained two pull-out drawers for keeping your shoes hidden away. I heard the metal latch click. Mama had locked me inside. It was dark and scary in there. Cocooned, I sat motionless with my knees drawn up and listened.
I could hear them arguing. Mama was telling her to get out. Then she told the policeman that she had an order of protection against Miss Rose coming to her house. She told him she should take down his badge number so she could report him to the court. I imagined her just waving that court paper at him and couldn't help but smile.
“Oh no, Ma'am! That's not necessary. We're leaving right now.” he responded with more deference than any white man in authority usually offered. I heard him whispering to Miss Rose that they needed to get out of here.
“But I'm not finished!” Rose shouted with more than a hint of exasperation in her tone.
“Well, we are now! Let's go!” Then I heard their steps fade as they moved from room to room toward the kitchen door. Not long after, mama came and opened the closet door releasing me. I hugged her tightly, and she carried me back to bed. She covered me up to my chin with the blanket and sat down heavily as if the weight of the world had just been lifted off her shoulders. She brushed my forehead with the palm of her hand and started humming a spiritual.
“Mama, would you have really thrown that lye on Miss Rose?”
“If I had to, I would have.” she said calmly. I looked up at the cracked ceiling, followed the zigzag lines going nowhere in particular, lost veins without a heart to regulate their concrete flow.
“Even if it meant that you could go to jail?”
“Yes, Diane, even if it meant going to jail. I would do anything to protect you.” That's just what I needed to hear. I kissed her and turned over and shut out the world. She would always protect me. 
Now I don't want you thinking my mama was a loose woman who made a habit of sleeping with married men. Oh no! You see, I was a revenge baby. I know things weren't supposed to work out the way they did, but fate plays cruel tricks on players in the wicked game of life. Up until just before I was born Ms. Rose and my mama were the best of friends.
You see, mama had a man friend by the name of Green. He made his living hustling numbers and taking book. So people could bet the numbers or the horses with him. He did quite well actually. He was also a lady's man. Ms. Rose had met my mama playing cards. That's how mama made her living. She was a card shark. She went to all-night and weekend card games and played poker, pitapat, and tonk. Now my mama didn't believe in the long arm of chance. So a little slight of hand every now and then worked out just fine for her. Even though Ms. Rose was her friend, mama didn't see any wrong in taking all her money whenever she had to.
But it just so happened that one day near the end of winter, in the early part of 1950, mama was walking down Seventh Avenue near 125th Street. Well, who do you think she saw coming out of the Theresa Hotel arm-in-arm? Green and Ms. Rose. Now Green had his own motivation for doing what he did. He was mad at mama. You see mama had previously been pregnant with his child. During the delivery, everything that could go wrong did. When the doctors asked Green who should they save, mama or the baby, his reply was, “Save the baby! I can get another woman.” Unfortunately for him, mama heard it. The baby died during the delivery, and mama told the doctors to tie her tubes. She said she didn't want another baby. The doctor thought she was too young to make such a drastic decision, so they twisted her tubes instead. She said if Green ever had a baby, it wouldn't be by her. So he was a man desperately in search of a woman to bare him a child. On the other hand, Ms. Rose thought if she had a baby, she could keep my daddy on lock-down. Neither of them expected to get busted by my mama. She told Ms. Rose that since she had sex with her man, she was going to have sex with hers. Ms. Rose said it wasn't right because she and daddy were married. But mama didn't care. She went home, threw Green's clothes out the door and began to plan her revenge. Of course, she never planned on getting pregnant.


My mama was different. She wasn't your typical June Cleaver, Betty Crocker, apple pie and all smiles kind of mother. Not at all. She was more of an all night, card shark, number running, knife carrying, in your face, butt stomping, round-the-way mamma to me. As I got a little older, some of her ways began to bother me. And I was appalled. My first cognitive memory was one of wondering how in the world did I end up with these people. They were my parents, but I felt that someone, somewhere, had made a terrible mistake.
Don't get me wrong. They weren't wild and crazy or anything. They just didn't fit into the All-American picket fence scenario that I had invented for myself. At the age of three, I had learned to read. At the time we lived in the basement back room of a brownstone on one hundred twenty second street between Seventh and Lenox Avenues. Mama used to go play cards on the weekends, which was how she had met Daddy and Miss Rose. In fact, she and Miss Rose had been the best of friends, that is until she caught Miss Rose coming out of the Theresa Hotel with Green, who was Mama's boyfriend at the time. Mama told Miss Rose she was going to get even, but ended up leaving evidence of the rift in their friendship that would live on after they both were long gone. That evidence was me.
I was a teenager before I really accepted that there had not been a mix up at the hospital, and I was her child. I was with my neighborhood friends. We were on our way down to the Ruppert Brewery down on Third Avenue in the nineties. When the weather was nice in the spring and summer, we'd go steal bottles of beer off the trucks that were loading for deliveries. Then we'd head back uptown and sit in the park over on Lexington and one twenty eighth street and drink it while we smoked a little weed.
I remember passing a store that had a mirrored panel as part of its facade. This was back in the pre-riot days when stores didn't have gates to protect their goods. All they had to do was lock their doors. Anyway, I looked in this mirror and almost jumped out of my skin. I saw my mother! I was already a bit tipsy at the time, since we'd chugged a couple of bottles of Thunderbird before making our trek. Those were the days when teenagers didn't have MTV and rappers to tell you that you should be in a club popping bottles for a hundred dollars or more. A sixty cent bottle of the old T Bird did us quite nicely.
What's the name? Thunderbird!
What's the price? Thirty twice!
When I saw the almost perfect resemblance to my mother in my face, it frightened me. If she knew I was out in the streets drinking and stealing, she'd give me the whipping of a lifetime. It wasn't the drinking she'd mind, it was the drinking in the street that would upset her. I could always drink at home, so it was no big deal. I only ever abused alcohol because my friends did. Like I told you before, she wasn't your typical mother. At home I’d drink scotch and milk with a teaspoon of sugar or some Manischewitz wine that Mother Dear, favored on holidays and weekends. During the week, Mother Dear drank Ballentine Ale. She didn't live with us though, she lived on the floor above us and had two apartments. One she paid rent for, and another which was rent free because she was also the building's super. Since I could have a drink anytime I wanted one, I rarely drank at home at all.
They say a mother's love is absolute and unconditional. It reaches beyond the normal parameters of logic and common sense. My best friend told me that the thing she remembered most about what my mother had said to her was that, “A mother will pick maggots out of your ass with a knitting needle when no one else will.” This was my mom's homespun logical advice as to why my best friend, Daryl should make an effort to reconcile her differences with her mother whom she had not spoken to in ten years. Although her relationship with her mom may not have become the best, she took Mae's advice.
Born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1915 or 1917, she wasn't sure, Lillie Mae McGlocklin was the youngest of six children. The courthouse burned down before records were kept in more secure places, so she never was able to say for sure. The dates were to the best of her brother, Artis Lee's recollection based on the age he knew himself to be.
She was delivered into this world with a cowl over her face. This is what they called the placenta. For many backwoods southerners this meant that she would grow to be clairvoyant, and that she was. Her own mother died while she was still a baby, so she had no memory of her. Her parents were Geechies, more commonly known today as the Gullah. They are the descendants of escaped slaves who originally settled in the small islands of the Carolina and Georgia Pines. They spoke a patois that was a mixture of English, French, Dutch, Scottish and a variety of African languages. Her family left Charleston soon after her mother's death and she grew up in Fitzgerald, Georgia.
“I went to work when I was six years old. I liked this boy named RC. My brother told me that if I wanted to see him, I had to get a job. So that's what I did.”
Unbelievable, huh? I find it hard to fathom myself. But I do have to remember that her oldest brother, Ed was only a teenager himself. I don't even think he imagined that she would. But Lillie Mae was a woman of determination, even as a child.
I sat at the kitchen table doing my homework, listening to her tell me her story.
“I got me a job cleaning house for Miss Mary. She wasn't but sixteen herself. She had gotten pregnant and married and didn't know how to keep house. I was so little, I had to stand on top of two Coca Cola crates to wash the dishes.”
“Didn't you resent her?” I asked.
I had trouble reconciling the fact that class and race distinctions were a fact of life, even when I was young.
“No, baby. Miss Mary was practically a sister-in-law.” she said.
“How's that?” I asked, not quite understanding.
“Well, Diane, Miss Mary was hot in the butt. She had a hankering for Artis Lee. Of course he knew better than mess with a white woman. But she was persistent. She wanted Artis Lee, and she was going to have him.”
She had my attention now. I had dropped my pencil and was hanging on to her every word. Mae never stopped cutting up the potatoes for the potato salad. She got up from the table and went to the stove to get the hard boiled eggs. She placed them in a bowl of cold water before sitting back down to resume her story.
“Don't stop doing your school work. You can still listen.”
“Yes, ma'am.” I answered reluctantly picking up my pencil and continuing with my math.
“She wore him down and blackmailed him. Her daddy was the sheriff. She said if Artis Lee didn't have sex with her, she'd tell her daddy he raped her.”
My eyes bulged from the sockets when I heard this. Even though I was only a fourth grader, I knew that could be deadly. Even then, in the late fifties, raping a white woman in the south could get you lynched.
“So what happened, Ma?”
“The worst thing imaginable. She got pregnant.” she answered as she added the mayonnaise and sweet pickles relish to the salad.
“Did he get lynched?” I asked. Having never met my uncle, I thought this might be what had happened to him.
“No, he didn't. He worked for the colored folks' undertaker, and they were Masons. They smuggled him out of town in a hearse. He went to Butler and never returned.”
Mama got up and got the eggs, shelled them, and mashed them up to go in the salad. I watched her and wanted to to know what happened next.
“Miss Mary was sent to her aunt's house in Alabama. When she came back months later, there was no baby and it was never spoken of again. Within a year, she got married and soon had a baby. That's when I went to work for her.”
“How did she treat you, Ma? Like a servant?”
I was anxious to place blame on this woman for causing a disruption to my extended family, and for working my mother, a baby so hard.
“No, she didn't. She treated me like a member of her family.” I didn't believe her. I thought she was being naive. But years later, as a freshman in college, I returned to Fitzgerald with her and met Miss Mary. The warmth between the two of them was genuine. There really wasn't much difference in their ages. They were like two teen sisters who hadn't seen each other in ages and were trying to catch up on old times. I couldn't believe it.
Miss Mary was quite the hell raiser. She'd go off visiting friends and drink moonshine and once even crashed the car on the way home. Once she got drunk and asked mama to drive her home. Mama said she could barely reach the gas pedal, but she had seen Miss Mary drive, so she figured she'd give it a try. It didn't look that hard. She got stopped by the local sheriff because she was driving so slow. He was a big, barrel bellied white man with thin lips and a southern drawl so thick you could slice it with a knife.
“Hey there, girlie! Where you think you goin' there?” he asked, peering in the window at Mama.
“I'm just headin' home, sir.”Mama replied.
“Well, you too young ta drive, girlie.” he said, now spying Miss Mary slouched in the back seat, dead to the world with traces of vomit on the front of her dress.
“Miss Mary got sick, sir. She too sick to drive. We gotta get home before her husband gets back so I can pick up her son from her Mama's and fix his dinner. He'll be mad if his dinner ain't done. I can drive this car except my feet ain't long enough to really press too far on the pedal. I only know how to drive it in the first gear too. I don't wanna mess up the engine. Sheriff Bailey says he don't wanna be having to fix Miss Mary's car no more, sir.”
He looked at Mama, then at Miss Mary. He knew she was drunk. Still resting his left hand on the door, he took his hat off and wiped the sweat from his brow.
“She married to the sheriff?”
"No sir, he's her daddy." He thought for a moment, then decided to escort mama out of his jurisdiction. She followed him to the county line and drove the rest of the way home.
How you deal with and face death and illness shows both you and the world who you truly are. I'm not talking about your sickness and demise, because you can hide your feelings from those around you. I'm talking about the creeping decay of the people you love. Some folks run and hide, close their eyes and refuse to acknowledge it, while others find the strength to embrace it as a part of life itself. Those are the strong ones. Every one of us at some point will be challenged. No one is spared in the end.
When you live with someone, you often don't notice the subtle changes that signal their demise. The signs can be right there in front of you, but the familiarity of daily cohabitation can leave you clueless. I first noticed that my mother was dying when I saw a photograph. It was innocent enough. A friend had taken a picture of her when they were out shopping. When I saw it, I knew. If death had walked up and slapped me, it could not have been clearer. It was like staring at a skeleton with skin draped over it while still bearing the pointed resemblance of someone you know.
She had always been short at five foot two, with dark skin the color of silky milk chocolate. Hereditary Graves disease ran throughout her family marking everyone with large, prominent eyes that reminded you of a doe caught in the headlights. Thick in the hips and calves, yet thin in the waist, she moved with a light, perky step like a dancer looking for a melody to trip the light fantastic. To me she was simply beautiful. By the time I was in my teens, she resembled Oprah – not the new and improved Oprah, but the “I've just lost weight, still pleasingly plump, got some junk in my trunk” Oprah. But it didn't change the fact that when I saw that picture, I couldn't deny that the end was near.
Then one day she asked me what I wanted her to cook. She hadn't done any cooking at all for the past year. I had faithfully cooked dinner every evening while leaving the chore of breakfast and lunch to her home attendant. She even offered to make my favorite desert, blackberry cobbler. Intuitively I knew it would be the last meal she'd ever cook for me, so I told her, “No.” as if I could stave off death by simply refusing a sweet, buttery treat. I wanted so much to light up a joint and slip into the haze of careless fantasy, but I had given up the “get high” for the “get real”, and had been drug free for over a year. So I lied quietly in bed staring at the pea green wall of my room and eventually closed my eyes and shut out the truth.
At the time we lived in what by New York City standards was a sprawling six room apartment in Washington Heights. About the only thing wrong with it was the ever growing amount of drug dealing going on in the neighborhood. I had moved back home to care for my mom several years earlier, even though at the time her need for me to be there was mostly in her head. She had convinced me to move back from Washington DC by saying she was sick and needed me to care for her. Since I had also still maintained an apartment in the Bronx, I agreed. I could still have my privacy and space while caring for her. Little did I know that Mae had gone to my landlord and given up my apartment. She had carefully maneuvered things so that my only option would be to move back home with her.
Imagine moving away from a place where you could really see yourself establishing a new life for yourself and upon returning to care for your sick and ailing mother, you find that not only is she not home ailing, but she's out playing bingo! Worse still, the apartment you thought you had isn't yours anymore. Top that off with the fact that she's given away your furniture to her friends! I'm telling you this so you can understand why in some cases I took my mother's complaints of sickness with a grain of salt. Almost every day for the next five or six years she played bingo – sometimes twice a day.
I'm not angry that she manipulated me into returning to New York. I realize she felt it was just too far away for her to see me as often as she wanted. Besides, the hundred dollars a month I was sending her didn't allow her to play bingo as often as she wanted. After I moved home again. I paid the rent and she only had to buy food and pay utilities. Keep in mind that she was living on a disability allotment and social securuty.
I awakened later that evening as she pushed open the door.
“I didn't mean to wake you. I just wanted to look around and see everything one last time.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, sleep still clouding my thoughts.
“I'm going to the hospital, and I won't be coming back again.” she answered.
“Oh, Mae, you are such a drama queen!”
My mind refused to believe what she was saying. I was in awe of the fact that she had gotten dressed and was going out on her own. She hadn't been out of bed except to wash herself in over six months. There was even a Porto-potty next to her bed. I usually bathed her in the mornings and evenings unless she was feeling strong enough to do it herself. Before I could answer, she closed the door and left. She had called a cab, and it was waiting downstairs to whisk her off to St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital on the West side of Harlem near Columbia University.
It was a cold and blustery evening in mid March with gray clouds hanging low in the sky. I thought for sure she'd be back later that night after they ran some tests. But she didn't return, not that night or the next. I began to panic. After work on the third evening I went to check on her.
“What took you so long?” she asked.
I hung my head in self pity that mirrored her disappointment. I knew I should have went with her, but it took me so much by surprise when she left that I couldn't mentally engage my body to move and do what I should have done.
“I thought you'd be back.” I answered, looking around the room at the faded yellow paint in the hospital room. The other bed was empty, and I was glad that there was no one else around to witness my shame. We talked until visiting hours were over. I still could not bring myself to believe that she actually might die. Several days later they moved her to the Cardiac Care Unit. She seemed to be getting better, so I began to relax.
One evening while I was there, I got the opportunity to speak with her doctor as he did his rounds. I waited until he and the interns were through with their examination and spoke to him in the hallway.
“Is my mother dying?” I asked, desperately seeking to assuage my growing fears.
“She's actually getting better, but she thinks she is.” he replied. “We're trying to rid her of the edema that was serious when she was admitted. As soon as we do that, she can go home. What we've noticed, though, is when you're here, all of her vitals are good. If you can be here with her for most of the day, it would speed her recovery.”
“That's fine.” I said. “If you could write me a letter stating that, I'll be able to take off from work.” About a half hour later one of the interns returned with the note I had requested.
I was working as a copier repair technician and had been doing so for about seven or eight years by then. I had started out just working part time installing copiers and giving demonstration presentations. I gradually learned to repair them just from following the directions in the repair manuals, and within six months was hired full time. My supervisors gave me no problems at all, and even paid me while I took the time off.
Within a month's time Mae was getting better, so much so that they moved her to the ambulatory section of the Cardiac Care Unit. A couple of days later I returned to work. That lasted all of one day. That afternoon a frantic intern paged me. This was before the booming cell phone phenomenon. I called the number and was put through to her assigned intern.
“Hello, Diane? This is Dr. Solomon.”
“Yes, this is Diane. Is something wrong? Is my mother okay?” I could hear my heart pounding in my chest.
“It's your mother! You're aware that we moved her to the Ambulatory Care Unit. Well, she's yelling at us. She says she's dying and we have no right to move her.” Not only could I detect her youthful inexperience, but I could also feel her sheer frustration in not being able to convince a patient that she was actually getting better.
“I'll be there as soon as I get off from work, Doctor. Thank you for calling. I'm sorry if she caused you any anxiety.” The truth was I really didn't care about any grief my mom was causing them. She could be a bug up the butt of gnat. I knew that. However, she was still my mother, and I loved her.
That night after work, I visited with mama. She told me how proud she was of me. It's the first time she'd ever heaped praise on me in abundance. I swelled with the feelings of joy and recognition for doing what was right by her. I had spent almost six weeks straight by her side in the hospital. I did everything from emptying her bedpan to bathing her and reading her the newspaper. It was a good time for both of us. 
We reviewed our relationship and settled our differences. Nothing was off limits. I even told her I thought Mother Dear had poisoned her husband, Pop Lewis. He was a six foot tall mulatto who thought he was better than everyone around him, as if being lighter skinned than everyone in his world afforded him privileges that his darker brethren didn't have. Living with such a slanted view of his place in society had taken its toll on him. He was a drunk. 
One of those times when he was consumed by alcohol and self hatred he tried to molest me. I told Mother Dear. By the next week Pop Lewis was dead. She never said anything to my mother about the incident, which is why I think she poisoned him, but he was just as dead and permanently removed from our lives. I asked her about it one time. She gave me a sideways stare and began humming a spiritual. That was all Mother Dear would give me. I was surrounded by strong, powerful women in my youth. Society might not have recognized their power, but I surely did.
Mama also told me she'd only live another week. That night her lungs collapsed after I left. A week later, on the fifth of May, she died. She left me with so much of her spirit and fight in me that sometimes I almost see the world as if I'm looking through her eyes.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013



Chapter 1


Folks that don't know nothing call it the witching hour. Those that know better call it the moment of truth. There is that time of the morning between darkness and daybreak when reality can be a motherfucker. If you're not careful it can overwhelm you. Big doses of truth are not everyone's cup of tea. An overdose of truth mixed with too much of reality can make you suicidal.
The moment you turn over and realize that the person lying next to you is not there because they love you your truth begins to hurt. It can hurt so bad sometimes that your insides begin to ache in desperation and longing. The tears come easily then. All that pain seeps out in gut-twisting gushes of salty madness. Your brain seems to swell and threaten to burst through your temple as you sink into a sea of desperation. That's when you have two choices. Either you choose to live on and push past the pain, or you choose to end it. It takes bravery to choose life, and today Maya was a hero.
For the first time Maya came face to face with a dark truth that most everyone has to face at some point: No matter how many people you know, no matter how much someone says they love you, the real deal is you are all alone. You can love. You can procreate. You can have a big family and lots of friends. But at the end of the day, in that witching hour you know that no one will ever know, ever really know and understand your pain. It is the only thing that is truly yours. You can share your happiness easily, but it is next to impossible to share your pain. It was in that moment that Maya gathered her strength, took a personal inventory, and chose life.
Life hadn't been particularly hard on her, but it had taken its toll. So she turned and watched him sleep and measured his breathing by the rise and fall of his chest. So quiet and peaceful he looked. It was a false perception, for he could be cruel, bitterly so without meaning to be. She wondered if he really knew how much his words pierced and stung her to the depths of her being. Would he stop? Maya didn't know and was afraid to find out. She wanted to still believe in love, even if it hurt so bad.
She lie there next to him, daydreaming of the life she wanted them to have. It was the possibilities of what she imagined them sharing as a couple that kept them together. At least on her part. The reality of what she did have stuck in the back of her throat like thick, yellow phlegm waiting to be dislodged before you choked on it.
It was a quarter to five. Slowly, she disentangled herself from his grasp. He was in the habit of cupping her breast while he slept. He'd fall asleep stroking her nipple. At first she thought it was endearing. It would keep her on the edge of sexual tension. It gave her that falling effect. Like when you take that leap into love and feel yourself plunging, but never quite reach the bottom. Now it felt more like pincered, steel claws that kept her safely locked in his prison at night. Even when she turned over, he would find her breast and hold it firm within his grasp. Sometimes, when he had a nightmare, she would wake up bruised and hurting from him squeezing and twisting too hard.
Tiptoeing to the bathroom, she shut the door and turned on the light. She gazed at her reflection in the mirror, noticing a few worry lines at the corners of her eyes. Maya reached in the shower and turned on the water. After all, this was her time. It was the only part of the day when she didn't feel rushed or worried. She had no immediate obligations and was free to indulge herself. She washed her face and brushed her teeth then grabbed her shower cap before stepping into the steamy tub and drawing the curtain closed. Hot, beady darts of water stung her skin, gloriously awakening and revitalizing her. It was sublime! Now she could face whatever the day brought her.
Afterward, she stood there toweling off. She was careful to dry off each foot before stepping onto the tiled floor. He hated wet, bathroom floors, yet protested against a shower mat. It had something to do with his theory about moist environments and fabrics acting as germ catchers. Whatever!, she thought. After all, he had no problem using a washcloth that had been left drying in the bathroom. It was ridiculous, but what could she do? Everyone had their quirks, and this was one of his.
After moisturizing, she grabbed her robe from behind the door, and padded softly toward the kitchen. Switching on the light, she surveyed everything. Not a thing was out of place. Just the way he liked it. In the freezer, she found the container of Starbucks and proceeded to make some coffee. With the precision of an expensive timepiece, she placed bacon in the oven to broil, whisked eggs into a bowl, and poured him a cup of freshly brewed java. She measured out exactly the right amount of half and half, added three spoonfuls of sugar, and stirred. Then she took him his morning wake-up.
“Good morning, sleepyhead!” she called, with a smile. He stirred. One eye shot open and blinked twice while he focused on the cup in her hand. He pointed toward the nightstand and buried his head in the pillows. The clock said 5:25 AM. He still had five more minutes to doze.
“Come on, baby! You'd better get up! Try taking a couple of sips of coffee. It'll help you get your bearings.”
“How can you be so damned cheerful this early in the morning, Maya?” he asked.
“It's because I have such a wonderful man to wake up with everyday.” she responded.
He reached out, hoping to grab her and bring her back to bed. Quickly, she slipped out of his grasp and glided over to her dresser to get some underwear. Sipping his coffee, he watched her with a trained eye, much like that of a connoisseur of fine artifacts. He placed his half empty cup on the stand and sneaked up behind her, wrapping her in his arms tightly, while snuggling and kissing her just below and behind her earlobe. It was her sweet spot, and he knew it.
Maya felt his morning erection pressing into her back and in one fluid motion, she lowered her body and twisted from his embrace. “Not now, honey. I don't want the bacon to burn.” With that said, she was out the door and down the hall before he could get his second wind. There was nothing he could do except shower and get dressed.
When Maya heard the shower turn off, she put some diced onions into a pan coated lightly with olive oil and began cutting up a potato she had baked the night before. While that was cooking she squeezed some oranges for juice and finally took a breather. She popped some toast in, poured herself a half cup, and relaxed. When the toast popped up, she re-filled it and spread some orange marmalade onto it before taking a bite. Finally, she heard him loping down the hall toward the kitchen, and she put the eggs on. She never cooked her eggs with his. He liked them well done, almost burned. She preferred hers soft scrambled. When the eggs were half done, she popped down the toast. He sat down with his empty coffee mug, and she instantly poured him another cupful. She placed his completed breakfast in front of him and he began eating.
“When did you have time to make home-fries?” he inquired.
“I had a baked potato left over, so I used that.” she responded, while noticing the satisfied expression on his face. The corners of his lips rose as he smiled at her. “Now this is what I'm talking about, sweetheart. A man could get used to this real quick.” She finished her toast. It was cold by now, but she didn't care. She had pleased her man. That was all that mattered. When he'd finished, he grabbed his suit jacket from the back of the chair, kissed her, picked up his briefcase from where he'd left it in the living room, and headed out the door.

Chapter 2


Chandler Jeffries bounded down the subway steps with a smile on his face. He had everything he wanted. In another year or so, he'd also have the prestige he craved. He was only an associate now at Ogilvy and Dwyer. He wanted to make partner. Then he'd be playing with the big boys! Elizabeth Ogilvy had been giving him the x-ray vision eye lately. If he could play his cards right, he'd have the promotion in the bag. But he wasn't going to be her boy-toy, no sir. He was going to manipulate that dried up bitch into giving him everything he wanted and some pussy. He was going to show those Wall Street smart asses just what a Harlem shuffle really looked like.
The train roared into the 125th Street station and stopped. Chandler boarded the nearest car and scanned around for an empty seat. There was a distinct advantage to commuting early in New York – you could always get seating. He noticed a lithe, young ebony sister sitting alone, reading a book. Next to her was an empty space. As he headed for it, a muscular, blue collar brother slithered around him and sat down, grinning at his maneuver. Chandler sized him up meeting his gaze, noting his just-released-from prison demeanor, and thought better of making scene. He wanted to slap the smirk off his face though. The young woman felt the ruffian push against her and gave him an aggravated stare. Meanwhile, a seat across from her was vacant. Chandler took it. The train pulled out of the station with a jolt and headed downtown. Barring any unforeseen delays, he'd be at his desk by 7:15.
Finally tired of the young thug getting too close, the woman stood and came across the aisle, grabbing the handlebar in front of him. Chandler rose and offered her his seat, which she took. “Thanks, Mister. Some people just irritate the hell out of me. It's too early in the morning to deal with perverts and low-life’s.” she said, eying the man who'd just sat beside her. Chandler smiled down at her. At 59th street the seat next to her became vacant, and he slid alongside of her.
“What are you reading?” he asked.
Temple of My Familiar.” she replied.
“I just love Alice Walker, don't you?”
“You read Alice Walker? I don't know many brothers that do. They all seem to think that since The Color Purple came out that everything she writes about is about putting
the Black man down.” Chandler laughed.
“That's funny!” he said. “Honestly, she's a wise woman. I can't believe they let her say some of the things she says in that book. All the while I was reading it, I thought the editor must have taken a nap during the process. She has some wicked things to say about white folks in that book.”
“You picked up on that too? I can't believe it! I thought the same thing! She has some really insightful opinions about family and the evolution of man in here also. Excuse me, I'm Chara.” she said, offering her hand.
“Hi, Chara. I'm Chandler Jeffries. It's my pleasure to meet you.” he responded, taking her hand in both of his while grinning smartly and showing his pearly whites.
Actually, he hadn't read the book at all, but Maya had. She'd raved about it as if were the modern day word of the Goddess. If there was one thing he'd learned, it was to always listen to what women said, even if it bored you. You either gained some insight into their character and soul, or you learned something useful to use with another woman. It was a win-win situation.
They both exited the station at Wall Street and headed upstairs. When they reached the street, Chandler turned and made his move.
“You work down here too? What a coincidence! Listen Chara, I hope you don't think it too forward of me, but I’d like to see you again. Perhaps we can do lunch sometime soon?”
In an instant, Chara appraised him in his entirety, from his freshly cut Caesar hairstyle which fit well with his baby faced brown skin charm; his meticulously trimmed, full mustache; his disarmingly dimpled cheeks; his starched Egyptian cotton shirt; to finally, his dark blue Armani suit with contrasting baby blue silk tie and matching pocket hankie. His shoulders were broad and muscled, but not overly so, as to make him intimidating. The Stacey Adams shoes on his feet were shined to a spit polish. All six foot two of him seemed perfect.
Before she could respond, he handed her his card. When she noted his profession, she demurred. “Why certainly, Chandler. Take my card also.” Glancing at it, Chandler noticed she was a commodities analyst at Merrill Lynch. He smiled at her. “I'll be speaking with you soon, Chara.”
“I hope so, Chandler.” she winked. He watched her sashay down William St. toward Water, and he sighed. She was absolutely gorgeous! Her mahogany skin glistened and her behind looked better than he could have imagined. The tailored charcoal, two piece suit fitted snug against her hips. He felt a stirring in his loins. He was glad for the jock strap which kept his surging loins caged and tempered. He headed south to his office at 2 Broadway. It was truly the beginning of a fine day.
When he exited the elevator, he swiped his card key and entered the main office lobby. The receptionist didn't come in until 8:30, so it was quiet. The pale gray carpeting muffled his footsteps as he made his way to his office. His was a small, tight, inner office with no windows. He could look across the hall and see sunlight coming up through the window of one of the partners' enclaves though. Some poor souls didn't even have that.
Several files were piled on his desk that needed his attention. They could wait for another hour or so. He set down his briefcase and meandered back to the kitchen in search of another cup of coffee. Most of the junior associates were already at their desks toiling away. Although the majority of the associates and partners wouldn't arrive until after eight, some as late as nine. He thought it was slothful. He figured that the only way to distinguish yourself was to continue doing what got you recognized in the first place. Both Catherine Ogilvy and Emerson Dwyer were there. Why shouldn't he be there also?
The kitchen at Ogilvy and Dwyer was well stocked. Gourmet coffees and teas were in abundance along with pastries, muffins, and croissants. By lunch time there would be an equally lavish spread of cold cuts, salad, and fruits along with fresh baked breads of every variety. Staff didn't usually go out for lunch unless it was for business. There was no need to spend money for what was freely there for the taking.
Chandler filled his mug with the rich brew from the pot and looked over at the pastries. He was tempted to partake of one of the almond croissants, his favorite, but he was mindful of his diet and decided against it.
“Tempted by your desires, Chandler?” He turned to see Catherine Ogilvy standing in the doorway.
“You caught me, Ms. Ogilvy. However, prudence won out in this case. I decided against it.” Catherine Ogilvy was in her mid-forties, but didn't look it. She was five foot eight with shoulder length ash blonde hair. She stood trim and neat in a custom tailored suit with a white silk shell blouse and matching expensive pearl necklace and earrings. With a little more height, she could have been mistaken for an aging runway model. She nudged her way past Chandler, close enough to brush up against his ebbing erection. He would have moved back to let her pass, but the butcher block table with pastries didn't allow him to do
“It's not good to deny yourself too many indulgences, Chandler. Life is about partaking in forbidden fruits every once in a while.” she sighed, while looking into his hazel eyes.
“That might well be true, Ms. Ogilvy. But isn't that what got Adam and Eve thrown out of the Garden?”
“Why yes, that's true.” she responded, smiling coyly at him. “But then, what fun would they have had, stuck in that Garden with no place to go? After all, if they hadn't ventured into the forbidden, we might still be naked and isolated in Iraq or wherever in the Middle East Eden was, wondering what apples really tasted like.”
“You do have a point there.” he piped in. Chandler took in the message she was relaying, but it was too early for him to react. He'd let her stew in her own juices for a while until the fruit was ripe for the picking. Then he would pluck the berry from the vine and partake of the juices. Their eyes locked, and he kept his gaze steady and knowing. When it was time, he would react swiftly and with determined action. Until then he would let her dream of the forbidden.
“Please, Chandler, call me Catherine. You're an associate now. Let's leave the formalities in the past.”
“Okay, Catherine. Let's do that.” he said with a smile. Quickly, to Catherine's surprise, he turned and left, leaving her with only the scent of his Burberry cologne as a faint memory.
Once he reached his office, Chandler sorted through a myriad of folders and began to get down to work. There were the civil litigation cases to delve through. He had to decide which cases could be settled and which would likely end up in a courtroom. Many of them required tracking down all the parties involved seeing that they were deposed. Sometimes, when the litigants were corporations, it involved sifting through layers of dummy corporations to find the truly responsible individuals. Most of this grunt work was usually done by first and second year junior associates. Chandler preferred to do his own research. It took more time out of his day, but in the end he was always satisfied with the result. He learned early on that when real money was at stake, the greedy and selfish went to extremes to hide their assets.
By one o'clock he had managed to sift his way through a couple of dozen files and doled out mounds of material to be typed, copied or faxed by one of the two secretaries he shared with three other senior associates. A gurgle erupted in his stomach that let him know it was well past time for lunch. He made his way down to the kitchen to see what was there. Surprisingly, his favorite – pastrami on rye had not disappeared yet. He made a plate with a couple of sandwiches, some pickles, coleslaw, and a salad. Looking down at all the food on his plate, he opted for a bottled water instead of his favorite ginger ale.
After the first bite his mind went to other hungers. Chandler began to mentally lay out a plan of attack for Chara. Money wouldn't wow her. He knew that. He'd have to captivate her with his mind. Well, he was up for the challenge! While he ate the last of his lunch, the whole plan came together for him. But the hardest part was the execution. He would have to be flawless.
At four fifteen, after the closing bell on the exchange, Chandler dialed her work number. The switchboard connected him immediately, but he was put on hold by her secretary. The three minute wait seemed almost unbearable until she came on the line. Then his anxieties vanished.
“Hello, Chandler. It is such a surprise to hear from you. I thought it would take at least a day or two for you to call.” Chandler felt himself chuckle.
“Chara, I don't play games.” he responded. She laughed. “Apparently you don't, Chandler. I find that refreshing.”
Chara's voice was enchanting. She spoke perfect English with a slight hint of a British accent. He asked her about it, and she told him that she had attended boarding school in London but had returned to the states to attend Harvard Business School. He was impressed. She shared that since her dad was a diplomat, they had traveled quite a bit, but she was born here in New York. Except for summers spent with Ghanian relatives, she spent all holidays here as a youth. Even though her father expected her to return to Ghana and join the diplomatic corps, Chara had opted out and remained in the city much to his disdain.
“And what about you, Chandler Jeffries? What's your story?” she asked. He could hear the playfulness in her voice, and it made him smile.
“Well, Ms. Chara Obani, my life has not been as charmed as yours. I grew up in the Lincoln Projects in East Harlem. My mom was a single parent raising two sons on welfare. Through all of her hardships, she eventually graduated from high school and went to work for the City. Eventually, she got her degree in business management and still made sure we did our homework every night and stayed out of trouble.” He sighed.
He'd never told a woman about his humble beginnings before. Not even Maya. Somehow, when questions about his youth came up, he'd always brushed them aside, but not with Chara. For some reason he found himself being very open for the first time ever, and for the life of him, he didn't know why.
They continued to talk about themselves for the next hour, oblivious to work restraints, which was unusual for them both. Before he hung up, he'd made a date to take her out to dinner the next evening after work. Maya never entered his mind.


Welcome to Writer's World! You will be entertained by my views on life, love, politics and living. Feel free to comment on what you like and what you don't. I'm not saying that I'll change what you get here, but I will take your viewpoint under consideration.

As an initial treat, I'm offering a peep at my new novel, Leftover Love. Tell me what you think.