Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Curious Artifact

Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s in East Oakland, I did not hear or know of much music outside of the familiar orbits of R&B, Rap, Motown, and Gospel. I was sort of aware other types of music existed, like for instance there was this rather large, but vague genre I frequently heard referred to as “White Music”, that was pretty much any, and everything under the Rock banner. But I knew little if anything at all about those songs, performers, or bands. The most Rock I ever came close to in those days was Run-DMC's and Aerosmith's “Walk this Way”.

For me the soundtrack of the late 80's to early 90's was composed of artists and groups like NWA, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B & Rakim, Dani Dane, Prince, MC Lyte, Too Short, Slick Rick, Das EFX, TLC, EPMD, Kid n Play, Heavy D, Keith Sweat, Jodeci, En Vogue, Boys 2 Men and others.

This is not to claim I lived in a complete genre-deprivation tank of some sort. Sometimes, while flipping through the channels with my older siblings, we would occasionally pause at MTV (when Yo MTV Raps were not playing) or VH1. Back then those rock, alternative and grunge performers/bands seemed all at once curious and alien. It was much like catching glimpses into an entirely different world that seemed so far, far away from my own.

There are three rock videos I still remember having a really vivid impression on me the first time I saw them by coincidence. The first was,“You Could Be Mine” by Gun & Roses, had clips of the Terminator 2 film in it. I recall thinking it was pretty cool and humorous that the Terminator actually encountered the band at the end of the concert just as they were leaving the stadium.

The second was “Creep” by Stone Temple Pilots. My second-oldest brother and I sitting on the couch one afternoon. Somehow we caught the song as it was beginning and decided not to change the channel. I recall feeling it sounded like an extremely sad song. When we heard the line about everyone running because some guy suddenly had a gun, my brother started laughing as he said, “Yeah. That's a damned good reason to start running.”

The third that left the most lasting, and powerful impression was “Sober” by Tool. I was 12 or 13, sitting on the floor in the living room with both my older brothers. They were waiting for “Yo MTV Raps” to begin, so they begrudgingly left the channel there because it was about 10 minutes to go. The video, with its bizarre, stop animation, and dark, seething music began, instantly catching our attention.

What in hell is this?” My oldest brother inquired curiously.

I don't know.” The second-oldest replied. “But it looks pretty fuckin crazy.”

I remember instantly being both fascinated and puzzled by “Sober”. I loved the imagery, that raw sound, and just the power it seemed to have. I use to draw monsters all the time so the actual video ignited my imagination to no end.

I wanted to know who the faceless man was, what sort of world he lived in, why was there flesh moving through a pipe in the wall, and perhaps most of all, what the hell was in that box he kept peeking into? I occasionally checked MTV from time to time in hopes of seeing that video again, but I would not see such again until years later.

Once, while walking home from my 5th-grade class, I came across CD lying on the sidewalk. Cassettes were still mostly my realm of experiences back then, so finding a random CD was strange in itself. I picked it up, of course, and if I recall correctly, it read Whitesnake. What a strange name. Was there a rapper or R&B group named Whitesnake?

I was so puzzled by the title and CD that I decided to bring it home to my second-oldest brother with all the urgency of an archeologist accidentally discovering alien technology. Back then my second oldest brother was like my guru. While growing up I believed he was one of the smartest people I knew and had a way of examining situations on an in-depth level. I found him in his bedroom and handed the album to him while explaining where I found it.

I think it's rock-- or maybe metal-- or some shit.” He said while casually looking it over. “White Snake, huh? Never heard of them. Want to see what's on it?” He asked with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation.

I eagerly agreed as he placed the CD on the tray, and then pushed play. Almost immediately such a terrible, unfamiliar noise came from those speakers. To this day, I am not completely certain if the CD was perhaps scratched, or if that particular band was just that horrible. Either way, we threw it in the trash.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Egos and Indie Authors

I have this quiet, and perhaps unimpressive dream, that a great many years from now, long after my bones have since crumbled to dust, some high school kid might discover one of my worn books lying in a bin, or sitting on a shelf somewhere, pick it up, and decide to give it a chance. Maybe they will begin reading that particularly book on that very same evening, and if they do, I hope this kid encounters the same lingering sense of mystery, awe, and intrigue, much the same way I did when I was their age, and I began reading “Spawn”, or “Interview with a Vampire” for the first time by my open bedroom window one night. I hope my own pages can inspire that heartsick melancholy in them, as “Of Mice & Men”, and “The Famished Road” left me with upon finishing the last page on a summer afternoon many years ago.

Of course, I will be long gone by this time, and unable to know, or ever see such. But just imagining that my own writings may one day tease out many of the dearest emotions of a reader, fills me with a deep, and ineffable desire to continue writing.

Do I have any other dreams when it comes to my writing? No. Not really. Some may feel I am being fictitious, or even pretentious when I say this. However, it is the truth. I do not imagine selling thousands of copies, or becoming famous, or going on talk shows. If either were to happen I would be immensely surprised and accept that level of success with humility. If none of these things happen that is also fine. Either way, I will continue writing because I am compelled to do such.

I am not a best-selling, or award-winning author. I am just someone who truly loves writing. There are months where none of my titles sell. Other months I may have an odd spike where 12 or 20 copies are suddenly bought. At the time of this writing “Nightmare's Paradise” is my best selling book. It is also currently unavailable, as despite more positive than negative reviews, the grammatical errors bother me and I will re-release it once I can afford to have it professionally edited. It is my first novel. And despite my personal beliefs that my second book, “A Violent Lament” is superior, it has never beaten the first in sales or views.

I am not secretive about the number of books I sell. Since releasing my latest two titles in conjunction, “The Languishing Bay”, and “Nightmares & Predators”, I have sold about 17 copies combined at the time of this writing. It may sound silly to some but I am sort of excited knowing that even 17 people are currently checking out my work at the moment. Maybe there will be more. Perhaps not. Either way, I am proud of my books, and I will continue writing because I love doing this, and there is nothing like finishing that last page of a tale that has been bouncing around in my head.

The truth is that writing can be painful. It can feel like the worst kind of rejection to spend so much time, energy, and passion creating yet not receive as much as a nod of acknowledgment for any of it. What writer does not desire even a little feedback? A few readers? Some small sign that your heart's desire to share has not been deemed worthless?

But as difficult and punishing as writing can be there is one thing that can make it 10x more agonizing; Ego. I can promise you that the Indie scene and egos do not go together. Notice I did not say pride, as taking pride in one's work is quite admirable. There are indies that ache over every word choice. The drafts of their drafts have several drafts. These authors meticulously go over every sentence with tweezers, and a magnify glass, while simultaneously duel-wielding a thesaurus and dictionary. These are the sort of indie authors who do not require an editor for their work because they are their own damn fine editor. That is taking pride in one's work.

Now, ego is a different matter altogether. Bringing a sizable ego to the indie scene is a lot like bringing a knife to a long, drawn out, missile fight. It is just a terrible decision where only pain, suffering, and a perpetual sense of defeat awaits.

What is the difference between having pride, or being driven by ego? Ego is expecting a flood of readers to come pouring in the moment you release your first book, and then becoming angry, crestfallen, or upset when such does not materialize. Ego is looking over at a fellow indie, who is experiencing some measure of success, and feeling bitter or jealous towards that author. Ego is reading negative feedback and allowing yourself to become absolutely livid.

As someone who has been writing since Kindergarten, I learned to leave my ego at the door long ago, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made concerning my writing. I learned not to take criticism, no matter how negative, or even ugly, personal. I will search it for anything useful then move on. I also learned to feel good about the little things. I have learned that I will write regardless of how many copies are ever sold, or read.

You are a writer. Do you realize how much energy, emotion, patience, and dedication it takes to complete a story? Do you know how many men, and women set out on the journey of creating the world, or telling a story, and never finish? Yet, if you have, that is phenomenal. You pulled an entire memory, or world free from your mind and wrote it all down. I ask that you try and learn to also enjoy the simple act of accomplishing such a challenge.

It is alright to have dreams. It is alright to dream big and take pride in your work. But I implore you to release your ego as a writer, for no one's sake other than your own. Your journey as an author can be a difficult enough struggle without the added fragility of an over-inflated passenger. You deserve better than that.

Friday, November 27, 2015


Sometimes memories are not completely clear. They exist in a gauzy, nebulous cloud that grows in density and expands in size with the debris of new information and experiences. Some memories simply do not hold enough poignant mass to not splinter and break apart until they are forgotten or dissolve into the white noise our lives exist against. However, others burn brightly through the haze, giving off a brilliant light fueled by the intense emotions experienced during that occurrence.

There was a long time of great turbulence and conflict for my family and me when we lived on 79th and Hillside in East Oakland. There seemed to be an air of hostility that saturated the environment. Even when we were not directly involved in the violence, someone we knew was, and if not them, then those who lived around us.

Constant fist fights, beatings, stabbings and shootings felt so common place that as a child that is what “normal” was for me. Looking back I frequently feel bad for my older siblings because they had to constantly wade through turmoil on nearly a daily basis. However, I realize tears for the past are wasted.

My two brothers found themselves running afoul of one particular group of local troublemakers who were used to bullying the surrounding neighborhoods. So, when they attempted to do the same to my second-oldest brothers, the would-be aggressor found himself on the end of sweet chin music, promptly followed by a stomping-good sonata, that left him embarrassed and indignant.

Of course this led to him gathering his side. Such resulted in my brothers having to do the same. A string of violent encounters eventually accumulated to the very brazen act of our home being on the receiving end of numerous rounds one night. We were forced to dive to the floor as bullets tore their way through the plaster of our walls, and shattered more than one window. No one was hurt. But as if to truly bring home just how terrible the entire event was, we later found a bullet hole directly through my youngest sister’s crib.

A line had been crossed that night. Up until that point the incidents were numerous skirmishes fought with fists. Now, like almost every conflict ever fought by us hairless, psychotic primates on this planet, it was just going to escalate further.

Perhaps they felt embolden by the earlier strike. Three young men from the opposing side confronted my second-oldest brother one early evening as he stood on the corner outside our home. It was only him and I at the time. I recall it was the sort of overcast day that makes the entire sky one shade of gray.

As they argued and threatened one another, I recall being frightened the three would attack him at once. I was 12 at most and I was no fighter. Not in the sense that I had not been taught how to take care of myself but in the sense that I just did not like fighting. But in my fear I grabbed a metal bat and watched from the front porch. I was uncertain to what I could do but despite the panic I felt, I knew I would have to try to do something if they started fighting.

The arguing only grew more volatile. An intense garble of sharp, loud words coming out as dares, threats and swears. Both young men inched closer as if they were waiting for some sign of fear or weakness but my brother stood his ground. I have no doubt if he backed down, if even a little, such would have emboldened them, and all three would have been on him before you could say “emergency room”.

Just when it was at its worst. Just when I knew things were about to get extremely ugly, I heard the familiar sounds of a swiftly approaching engine. It was my older cousin’s Cutlass. It was a modified, sleek and aggressive vehicle that announced itself a block away with the constantly growling engine.

Apparently he was coming for a visit but caught sight of what was transpiring, causing him to floor-it from down the street. The sight of his car filled me with such a sense of relief. I knew without a doubt he would help. Close to the house my cousin recklessly drove up onto the sidewalk, slammed on his breaks, and jumped out of the car.

“What the fuck is going on here?” He demanded angrily as he walked from around the vehicle.

“Fuck you, nigga. Nobody is scared of you.” The lead instigator, a tall skinny kid, announced boldly as he stepped ahead of his two friends. “You can have some too if you want it.”

“Is that right?” My cousin suddenly produced a handgun. After so much shooting it would seem he was taking no chances. One of the young men instantly took his chances bolting, leaving his two friends to whatever fate was about to lay upon them.

“I don’t have anything! I don’t have anything!” The instigator yelled fearfully with his hands at his sides.

“That’s your stupid ass fault!” My cousin strode past my brother as he switched his aim between both young men. “You thought you would come over here and just beat the shit out of my cousin with two of your boys?”

“No-- come on. I told you-- I told you I’m not carrying!” The instigator replied as he took a step back.

“Get the fuck out of here before I give you what he’s about to get!” My cousin smacked the second guy across the head with his weapon so hard he stumbled right holding his jaw with a cry of pain. He instantly followed orders and fled.

“Come on, man-- fuck. It doesn’t have to go down like this.” The instigator half pleaded and reasoned. “I will go--”

“Did I ask you a fucking question?” My cousin suddenly pressed the gun to the side of his head as he partially turned away.

There are levels of fear. The horror film “jump scare”. The sudden appearance of a large spider on one’s lap. The strong possibility of failing an essential task. Waiting for the results of a test concerning an unplanned pregnancy. The threat of losing a job. I have witnessed or experienced these and many other fears life has to throw at us struggling mortals. However, all of the above, and most other fears, all pale in comparison to the vast shadow cast by the towering horror that comes from the sudden realization one is about to die. It is one thing to understand the inevitable expiration date of mortality, opposed to abruptly seeing death swooping in.

I can still clearly recall the way the instigator lowered his head, and slouched his shoulders. The expression on his face was at once defeated, petrified and almost ill. This young man believed he was about to die quite violently.

In his growing desperation the instigator attempted to begin slowly slinking away. My cousin was having none of that. As if to firmly reiterate his point he pressed the gun more firmly against the young man’s skull, causing him to first flinch and then immediately freeze.

“Funny, now you suddenly don’t have shit to say?” My cousin demanded.

“I’m sorry!” The instigator mumbled submissively with his eyes closed.

“Fuck your sorry.” My cousin stated and pressed the gun against his head once more, and for a moment it seemed his legs would give out as he partially ducked down.

“It’s cool! I’m leaving!” The instigator pleaded.

“Why shouldn’t I just blast you right now?” My cousin swiftly inquired. “Why the fuck shouldn’t I just blow your head off right here?”

“Don’t.” The instigator whimpered. “Don’t. I’ll go. I’ll leave. Just-- fuck-- don’t.”

“And let you come back later?” My cousin replied with what appeared to be some serious consideration. “No. You will just come back later with some of your people to hurt my family. It would be fuckin stupid to let you leave. I’m getting rid of you right now.”

“I won’t! I won’t!” The instigator pleaded more loudly and raised both arms in surrender. He attempted to take another step away. “I swear! Don’t. Don’t. I won’t ever come back!”

“Shut fuck up!” My cousin smacked him across the head with his gun causing the young man to slouch further with a groan of pain. “If ever see you again, anywhere, I don’t give shit where,” He angrily pushed the gun against the back of his skull once more. “I’ll blast you. Do you hear me? If I ever catch you again I won't hesitate to blow your head off!”

“I won’t! I won’t! Just-- just don’t. I’ll leave.” The instigator desperately explained once more as he trembled more visibly.

“Good. Now get the fuck out of here.” My cousin ordered before letting him take a couple more steps, then kicking him in the ass, causing the young man to stumble forward. He took a few tentative steps as if he was in disbelief, or feared my cousin would change his mind. When it became clear he was truly free, he began hurrying away. I wonder what was going through his mind after having come so close to dying.

“I’m so sick of these muthafuckas.” My brother said angrily as he watched the instigator hurrying off.

“They’re just a bunch of goddamn cowards.” My cousin stated as he put his gun away. “Don’t start shit you can’t finish. If I was scandalous I could have killed him and his boys.”

“Yeah.” My brother admitted thoughtfully. “But it’s good you didn’t. Not because I give a damn about any of them, but because none of those assholes are worth that.”

“Yeah. I know.” My cousin laughed as he began calming down. “All this shit is so stupid.”

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Incomplete Soldier V

Not every man is a fighter. This truth is as simple as the proceeding statement. To readily expect all men, simply due to the sum of his gender, to be strong, brave, and predisposed to feats of violence, and strength, is an incredibly unfair expectation. “Man-up”, is a phrase that frequently make its rounds again, and again, anytime one guy or another displays some behavior perceived as weakness, or fear. Much like trying to shoehorn our daughters into “weaker sex” roles, it is unanimously toxic to shame, and force our sons into various versions of machismo.

This was a reality I frequently confronted during my brief time in Army. I met a number of young men who should have never been apart of any fighting force, not from a lack of courage, but because they were not fighters in any given sense of the definition. They were sensitive, inquisitive, and frequently very artistic.

They each came to the Army for a number of reasons. Some where there because either their community, and/or families expected it of them. Many enlisted because they desired to further their education after high school, and could only find money for college through the military. Others came from extremely poor communities and honestly felt there were no other options to escape the poverty they grew up in. There was a great plethora of reasons these types joined for, but never was it because they truly believed they should serve.

I can still vividly recall some of these kids, and their reasons. Dante, age 18, was born in a town near the Appalachians where drugs, crime, and poverty shackled many people to a lifetime of soul-crushing burdens. He came to the Army because he wanted to avoid the cruel fates that had befallen much of his family, and friends. Genma, age 19, and from Detroit, joined because his girlfriend became pregnant towards the end of high school, and he wanted to do right by her, and his son. Gaunts, a 18 year old kid from Brooklyn, enlisted with the hopes of being the first member of his family to attend college, and not go to prison. Solidad, age 20, and 'bi-racial' , was from Alabama, with a Black mother, and White father. By that point in his life, he had grown so exhausted, and bitter towards the racist bullshit he dealt with back home, that he literally joined to be anywhere but there.

Specialist Icarus, by far was the strangest, and saddest story in my company. He was this blond, 5'4, skinny kid of 18, who only joined to prove to his father, uncles, and brothers, that he was a man. Icarus was friendly, and extremely bright, with his head frequently in the clouds. Anytime there was down time, I could find him sitting alone, drawing in an art pad. He was a noticeably skilled artists.

Once, when he began having second thoughts about the Army, Icarus confided in me that he called home to speak with his fiancee about his growing discontent, and doubts. She immediately told him she would not marry a coward. So he decided to stay. Though I did not admit such to Icarus during the length of our conversation, I found his fiancee's response to be terribly cruel. I wondered if it was some misguided attempt at tough love, or was she just in love with the idea of being married to a soldier. One has to wonder.

Anytime I watched Icarus struggle to accomplish our runs, flounder through the obstacle courses, or barely maintain just enough skill to use his rifle during target practice, I felt a pang of sadness for him. I firmly believed this kid should have been somewhere on a college campus, drawing, learning, and living life. I feared he would not last long if sent into battle.

On the day in question, it was a late summer morning, where the air was muggy even before the sun had fully lit the sky. This clearly indicated it was going to be another extremely hot day. The entire company stood 'at ease' before the large barracks. I was standing next to one of the building entrances while D.S Andrata, quickly briefed me on what the day's activities were, and what my duties would be throughout. Of course, any failure would be met with punitive punishment-- with me receiving the lion's share. If that is not motivation then I am not certain what is.

“After you are done setting up the video projector, I also want you to pick a couple of other privates to help take out enough seats.” D.S Andrata continued while looking over her clipboard.

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.” I replied with a nod.

“We will be leaving ahead of the company to get everything prepared. Wait here until the truck arrives.” D.S Andrata turned on her heels, and began walking towards the barracks to retrieve her rucksack.

“Another glorious morning, Andrata.” D.S Anrita said after dramatically inhaling the early morning air.

“Heh. Right.” D.S Andrata grunted her acknowledgment. “You seem to be in high spirits this morning. What gives?”

“Just motivated to give the privates hell today.” Anrita replied proudly.

“Its good to be inspired.” D.S Andrata agreed before entering the barracks. This left myself, a second private, and two other drill sergeants, including Anrita, standing outside.

“You know something, Williams,” Anrita began idly to my surprise. “I've been doing this for a long time. Over 15 years now.”

“Really, Drill Sergeant?” I inquired.

“Indeed. Hell of a job.” Anrita nodded. “When you spend so much time drilling men, and women on how to fight, and survive, you learn how to read people. I can almost always tell, the moment the new privates step off those trucks, who's going to excel, who's going to struggle, and who will probably washout. After a week it becomes easy to predict who stands a chance of coming back alive, and who's most likely getting shipped back in a box.”

“Oh.” Was all I could think to say for a moment. “May I ask what signs you look for, Drill Sergeant?”

“Its not one thing, or another, private. Its a bunch of little things that all add up.” Anrita continued while his eyes scanned the company, as if he was reading each man, and woman during our conversation. “Take you for instance. We pegged you for being pretty harmless. I bet you would prefer to go the rest of your life avoiding conflicts, or diffusing them, because your the helpful type. People come to you when shit starts hitting the fan. I got that vibe from you on the first day alone. A regular fucking mother hen.”

“I suppose that is one way of seeing me, Drill Sergeant.” I acknowledged while secretly wondering where this was going. In just over four weeks this was the first time he had ever acknowledged me with more than a barked order. Part of me was beginning to prefer the barked orders.

“But I'm also not blind, or stupid, Williams. None of us are.” Anrita began again as he looked over at me. “I can also see there's more to you. You're the type of person that might not want to hurt anyone, but if some dickhead pushes you, you'll give them exactly what they been asking for. That's why I don't doubt you'll adapt quickly to combat. You may not enjoy, or even like the idea of killing, but you wouldn't feel guilty if you took out an enemy for shooting at you, or your fellow soldiers. That is exactly what is needed.”

“Very observant, Drill Sergeant.” That was all I could really think to reply with. 'Thank you', much like “sorry”, was a banned expression, as the Drill Sergeants said both were too personal, and also a sign of unacceptable weakness. Then again, I am not certain, if even allowed, I would have thanked him for his observation. In the following quiet I was left feeling slightly confused.

On one hand I felt as if I was just complimented on having the potential of making a good soldier. Yet, on the other-- to insist I could kill with little, to no remorse-- was like being told I could make one hell of a psychopath one day. I was suddenly examining myself in the most uncomfortable of ways. I deeply resented such an observation because a part of me became aware that D.S Anrita was correct. I wanted to feel repulsed, appalled, or even guilty. Yet, I felt no such things. The only small comfort I had in light of such a chilling observation was that at least I was not proud, or even excited by such prospects of spilling blood.

Maybe some would argue that there is a dramatic difference between killing other armed combatants, or committing atrocities by murdering unarmed civilians. I most certainly did, in my mind, as we continued standing. But part of me still asked why was I so comfortable, and accepting of such?

“What the hell is he doing?” D.S Anrita's suddenly harsh, and irritated voice snapped me out of examining those darker corners of myself. I looked up, my eyes quickly searching for what was the source of his building anger. With the entire company standing still, and silent, it did not take long to discover the disturbance. It was Icarus. Though his head was down, and the bill of his cap concealed most of his face, I noticed his shoulders were occasionally shaking. It was clear he was crying.

“That private better not be doing what it is I think he's doing.” D.S Anrita warned.

“Perhaps he is coughing, Drill Sergeant?” I cautiously suggested.

“I sincerely doubt that, private.” D.S Anrita replied without taking his eyes off Icarus.

I was not blind. My previous suggestion had been one of utter hope. Icarus stood there before us, slowly unraveling more, and more with seemingly every passing second. It was human frailty beginning to bleed, and drip from beneath the sterile rigidity of the military uniform. It did not take long for an increasing number of the company to begin noticing. Unfortunately this of course included other Drill Sergeants.

“What sort of sudden goat fuck are you trying to invite us to, private?” DS Woden angrily stalked over to Icarus. When the kid's only response was continued crying, such further angered the Drill Sergeant, who stomped closer. “Suck it up, private. You better suck it up now.”

“Stop disgracing that uniform, embarrassing yourself, and the rest of your company. “ D.S Grace, a short Latina woman, suddenly joined in by yelling at Icarus. “You get it together, and you get it together right the fuck now! This isn't a daycare, private!”

“What's that all about?” D.S Andrata inquired as she returned from inside the barracks.

“Just Private Icarus over there having some sort of friggin meltdown.” Anrita replied with a smirk.

“Private Icarus,” Andrata shook her head seeming not at all surprised. “That kid has been a pain in the ass since day one. Why, and how the hell he got into the Army, just baffles me.”

“You are pissing me off private.” D.S Woden announced more angrily as he stepped so close to Icarus there was barely any space between them. “This is sickening. You are making me sick to my stomach, and incidentally wasting my time! Pull yourself together, and stop all this pathetic boohooing!”

Icarus, sobbing by this point, suddenly turned and bolted, pushing his way through the company's formation, then running off further into a grassy field just behind us. No one said anything for a while. The Drill Sergeants even watched with a seeming mixture of irritation and amusement.

“Well, I hope you are proud of yourself.” D.S Grace began with feigned disappointment as she addressed D.S Woden. “You've gone and scared him off.”

“Where in the hell does that private think he is going?” D.S Andrata laughed with a hint of disbelief.

“Look at him go!” D.S Anrita called out much to the amusement of a majority of the company, and gathered Drill Sergeants.

“Williams!” D.S Woden abruptly yelled over his shoulder towards me. It was clear he obviously found nothing funny about what had just happened.

“Yes, Drill Sergeant?” I answered after hurrying over to him.

“You take another private with you, then you both go, and bring Private Boohoo back here!” D.S Woden turned to face me. “I don't care what it takes, or how you have to do it, but you better bring him back! Do you understand me, Williams?”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.” I nodded.

“Go!” D.S Woden pointed in the direction Icarus had run off. “I want him here in five minutes! And I suggest you keep in mind that for every minute over that, you, and everyone else will pay for it!”

“Private Leliel! You're with me!” I called out for him without much thought. He was one of the other privates I had come to trust.
“Goddamnit. Couldn't you have called someone else?” Pvt Leliel complained with both a groan, and short laugh as he caught up to me.

“And let some other undeserving soul have all the fun? It hurts me you would think I am so selfish.” I replied while jogging together. Despite the needed haste to resolve the situation before the 'suffering tab' started adding up, it would have been a major indiscretion to cut through the company's lines. We made a right, running to the outer edges of the company, then hurried after Icarus.

“There's no way in hell we are going to find this asshole in five minutes.” Pvt Leliel said aloud as we searched.

“Positive thinking.” I reminded him.

“I'm positive. I'm really fucking positive we won't find this asshole in five minutes.” Leliel remarked. “What in hell was he thinking?”

“That's just it. I doubt he was thinking much. The pressure must have gotten to him.” I explained as we cut through the field looking around for Icarus. He was already out of our line of sight.

“I guess. Too bad we are all going to catch hell for it.” Leliel said.

“Maybe.” I said as we slowed down to begin searching the area. The grassy expanse was broken up by numerous trees, and just a short distance away was a dirt road leading to a track. Further ahead was a currently unused barracks. The two-story, beige structure was somehow both rustic, and strong.

“He's most likely inside that building” I assumed as we both began walking towards the barracks.

“I figured as much. I doubt he could run fast enough to vanish on the trail, or way the fuck across this field.” Leliel agreed as he motioned to the buildings.

“If we hurry, maybe we can make it back in at least seven minutes. That's not too bad a tab, right?” I was not sure if I was asking him, as much as I was reassuring myself. We all knew what the 'tab' meant. It mean pain, and suffering-- well at least increased pain and suffering-- was the immediate future, like a pair of bullies waiting around for you at recess.

“I sort of figured this was going to eventually happen.” Leliel explained as he looked the barracks over from where we briefly paused outside.

“What makes you say that?” I asked curiously.

“Didn't he tell you that bullshit about what happened when he called his fiancee?” Leliel asked.

“Oh. Yeah, I heard all about that. Some pretty cold stuff. Not exactly the sort of woman I would want to be attached to.” I searched the building with my eyes. For a while I could find no indication that Icarus had gone inside. I was beginning to suspect that maybe he went to hide somewhere around back, until my eyes re-visited the left side of the building, noticing one of the doors was partially ajar. I motioned for Leliel to follow me.

“Oh, is that how you politely say 'fuck off', Williams? Because that's exactly what I would have said to that bitch.” Leliel followed me up the short steps, and then through he door after I pulled it open. “What sort of shit is that? 'I won't marry a coward', while her comfortable ass hangs back at home. Please. I would have ended that shit. I've seen her picture. She's not a big loss. Besides, after basic, there is an entire ocean of bad ass, good looking, military women.”

“I can always count on you for a kinder perspective.” I laughed a little with a shake of my head. The building was poorly lit. It was a giant space formed from a series of dark hallways, rooms filled with gray shadows, and silence. “Icarus!” I called out. Only my own brief echo was initially polite enough to reply.

“Yo, Icarus! Come on, man! We are all going to pay for this!” Leliel called out after me, and received a similar reply.

“Icarus, I know you are in here,” I called out again. “Despite how much this sucks, I have to bring you back.”

“Leave me alone! Just leave me alone, and go away!” Icarus finally called out from somewhere nearby.

I sighed, both with growing irritation, and some amount of sympathy. I knew he was hating his time in the Army. Yet, the Drill Sergeants wanted him back, and in basic, their word was the only word of any importance. Leliel, and I began walking down the hallway, looking through each room we passed until spotting Icarus sitting on the floor, hugging his legs close to his chest. To this day, I am not certain what the Army was doing to me, but seeing him sit that way triggered two responses that confused me. I felt really bad for Icarus, as he looked small, and sad sitting there on the floor. Yet, another part of me recoiled in disgust at the weakling. There was no time to examine it all.

“Icarus,” I began cautiously as we stepped into the room. “They sent me to bring you back. The longer you take to come back, the bigger the tab is going to grow for the rest of the company. Considering D.S Woden's entire face was red, while he was literally yelling at me through his teeth, I sort of imagine he's not in the most understanding of moods.”

“I don't know what happened.” Icarus explained with a sort of dumbfounded, and angered tone that was so much unlike his normally light, and friendly voice. He looked up at me from the floor with a pained expression. “I just lost it! I just had to get away from them! I just had to get away from all their screaming!”

“Yeah. I get it.” I crouched in front of him to sit on my heels. “To be honest, even I have had days where some of the Drill Sergeants annoy the shit out of me. But the thing is we are here, and we have to make due as best we can.”

“Especially when that BS comes back on the rest of the company, Icarus.” Leliel chimed in. “A lot of people are going to be pissed about this tab.”

“Fuck those guys.” Icarus replied bitterly. “They are always a bunch of assholes towards me anyway.”
“Yes. Some of them have been. But not everyone in the company as been that way.” I explained.

“I really fucked up, huh?” Icarus asked sadly.

“Yeah.” I responded honestly with a nod. “You sort of fucked up royally. But all you can do now is make due, and try your best, Icarus. The truth is that we all eventually fuck up at some point. But that isn't the most important part.”

“It isn't?” Icarus asked with some confusion.

“It isn't?” Leliel also responded in similar fashion but with a smirk of disbelief.

“No. Its what we do after we have fucked up, that is far more important.” I replied.

“It doesn't matter. There's no way I can fix this.” Icarus said quietly before resting his chin on his knees. “I'm not going back.”

“I have to bring you back.” I explained a little more firmly. “And I have literally been given permission to make that happen through any means necessary.”

“Are you threatening me?” Icarus asked with confusion and anger.

“No. I am just telling you how it has to go down.” I stood up from my heels. “Frankly, dragging you back, there with Leliel, would just be embarrassing for all of us. Plus, I think you deserve more than that. You deserve to walk back, and face it all with as much dignity as you can.”

“Look, I know this may sound like bullshit, but walk back on your own, brother.” Leliel added thoughtfully. “It may seem impossible, considering how shitty things are right now, but going back in any other way will just make it worse.”

Icarus looked between the both of us seeming to consider what he was beginning told. When he lowered his head with an increasingly sad expression, I admit to feeling a pang of disappointment. I feared he was going to force Leliel, and I, to haul him back to the company. Just as I was preparing to make the call, Icarus stood to his feet, and straightened his uniform. To this day, I would freely admit I saw a fire of determination suddenly ignite inside the kid, and it filled me with a great sense of pride for him. At that moment, despite knowing he would undoubtedly go back to ridicule, and anger from his company, and the wrath of D.S. Woden, Icarus still walked out with us like he was 10 feet tall.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Standing Indignity

It was the sort of day the summer sun is ornery towards everything below it. The sun's sour disposition was infectious, making the occasional winds harsh, hot, and arid. It was like having the calls for relief answered by a spiteful individual who's only solution was to sporadically shoot you in the face with a hair dryer at full blast. On this particular August afternoon in Union City, I was 15, and on my way to Bronco Billy's pizza parlor for both a peperoni slice, and to play the 'Marvel Super Heroes' arcade. With me was two of my best friends, Dolos, and Archon.

We were taking the same shortcut a majority of kids living in that area used; the railroad tracks. On hot days like this the rocks, metal rails, and brick walls visibly wafted with heat. This path shaved off a significant amount of time when going to the local park, school, or stores, but always in exchange for noticeably dusty shoes, making it a smart choice to keep an old rag, or cloth on your person to use at walk's end.

We exited the railroad tracks to the snarl of sluggish traffic that was common at that time of day. Dolos, and Archon were talking about a music album when I noticed a motorcycle cop. I would have mostly ignored him if he had not dramatically slowed his vehicle, and watched us far too closely while passing by. At that moment I instantly became host to a sinking feeling something unpleasant was about to go down.

Hey,” I called to both friends over my shoulder.

What's up?” Dolos asked while laughing about something.

I think we're about to have a problem.” I explained after coming to a stop.

What?” Archon asked as he began looking about. “What's wrong?”

The cop that just passed by is going to come back.” I informed them.

What?” Dolos asked skeptically. “What makes you say that?”

Just then the officer made an apparent U-turn from around the corner, and began driving directly for us. I frowned with bitter resignation. I doubted he was returning to introduce himself, or ask for directions.

Does that answer your question?” I replied to Dolos without taking my eyes off the motorcycle cop.

What the fuck did we do?” Archon asked tensely.

You mean besides for being Black? I honestly have no idea.” I answered truthfully.

Great. Because we need this.” Dolos laughed with vexed disbelief.

Pulling to a stop at the curb only several feet away from us, the cop immediately dismounted his motorcycle, drew his sidearm and took aim in our general direction. While it was scary to have a gun pointed at me this sort of aggression was not new, or even surprising. Maybe I was just very cynical at that age. Or maybe I had a firm understand how U.S society operated when you had a bit more pigment in your skin. Despite Oakland, and Union City being two wholly separate cities, the situation I was facing made aspects of them identical. Even when a play is constantly preformed on different stages, with a constantly changing cast, that does not make it a new story, as the characters, costumes, and script always remains.

Keep your hands where I can see them, and get down on the ground.” The cop quickly commanded.

Well, isn't this a sonofabitch.” I muttered to myself while beginning to begrudgingly follow the given command.

Wait! What did we do?” Dolos asked in utter surprise.

What's with the gun? We haven't done anything! And we don't have any weapons!” Archon angrily chimed in.

I said get on the FUCKING ground, NOW!” The cop demanded more aggressively.

Don't give him a reason.” I called to both friends on my knees.

Living in Oakland, I had witnessed enough overzealous, violent, and frequently racist cops to know how quickly the situation could escalate over even a perceived minor insult. The miserable irony is that this is exactly how the gang-bangers in my old neighborhood operated as well. “Disrespect them” and they will hurt, or even possibly kill you. The only difference is one side is punished for such a mentality, while the other is awarded, and praised for identical behavior.

I said face down!” The cop harshly added. It would seem even on our knees, with both hands behind our head, the deadly art of negro magic meant we were still somehow a viable threat to him. We of course complied.

So, there we were. Lying face down on a dusty, very hot sidewalk, in the middle of the late afternoon commute, as little more than a spectacle for every passing motorist. To this very day I can only imagine how many adults, saw three Black kids being held at gunpoint by an overzealous cop, and simply figured we were guilty of something that made it perfectly acceptable to point an instrument of death at us. Perhaps, the same way they automatically assumed my friends, and I, were guilty because the color of our skin, they also assumed the cop was justified by nothing more than the office he served.

While we're down here, is it too much to ask why this is happening?” I called over to the cop.

Quiet.” He replied harshly before pulling his radio free to begin speaking with someone.

Bullshit. Complete bullshit.” I heard Dolos mumble.

Good job, officer.” I heard a woman suddenly call out from the street. Looking over, I saw an older White woman waving at her new hero from the car she was driving, before rejoining the natural flow of traffic. I cannot begin to describe just how reassuring that was. To know there was an adult, happily congratulating another adult for forcibly detaining us kids for nothing, while pointing a deadly weapon at us, was indescribably uplifting.

Yo, this sidewalk is really hot.” Archon voiced unhappily.

Deal with it.” Was the cop's only reply before he returned to whatever it were he was doing.

This situation lasted for a long while. Us lying there while traffic slowly rolled by staring at us. Just as I was beginning to wonder if this was all a secret experiment to record what would give out first; our skin on the hot sidewalk, or our sense of dignity in the face of such humiliating treatment, the cop acknowledged an update over the radio then returned to us.

Alright. You are all free to go.” The cop said as breezily as one would say; 'Hey, thanks for stopping by. Catch you later.'

Now, can you please tell us what this was all about?” I asked after getting to my feet, and beginning to dust off my now very dirty clothing. My palms, and forearms were stinging from having been on that hot pavement for an extended amount of time.

Five suspects broke into a house. Reports said they were potentially Latino or Pakistani.” The officer explained with a straight face.

There was a palpable moment of utter disbelief that silently ignited between Dolos, Archon, and I, as we exchanged looks of bitter skepticism. It was Dolos who began laughing rather humorlessly as he turned and began walking back towards the tracks.

Right.” I said after looking between my friends and then back to the cop.

What?! There are only three of us, we're Black, and-- fuck it. Never mind. Not like you give a damn anyway.” Archon waved the explanation off and began following after Dolos.

I am only doing my job, kid.” The cop replied with an unapologetic tone while slipping on his mirror shades.

Whatever gets you through the night, officer.” I shook my head, then turned and followed after my friends. After all that, none of us were in the mood for pizza, or video games anymore.

Monday, July 27, 2015


So, I hung with two different groups of kids growing up. The second group, down the block and around the corner, was Victor, Jermaine, Mohammed & his brother Ali (I could not make that one up), Rory, Charles, Domo, Ty, I and a few others. We all lurked around this 2 story apartment complex. It was the place we conducted all our games, experiments, and other manner of ill-advised ideas.

One game in particular-- which I would like to inform you fair ladies and gents, I was, and still am the extremely proud inventor of-- was this version of “Hide & Seek” that we all called “Jason”, as in the homicidal, undead, cock-blocking, murder-machine from the Friday the 13th movie franchise. You see, “Jason” had all the same basic rules as the original game, but through the miracle of modern science we also successfully incorporated a plastic meat cleaver, and old Jason Voorhees mask, that I had left over from a previous Halloween.

The kid who was “It”, had to wear the mask, and tag out runners before they reached the safety of the the apartment's front steps. But the rules were that Jason had to touch you with the actual meat cleaver to tag you out, which was considered a “kill”. For even more demented fun, anytime someone was tagged out, they had to scream like they had just been murdered. Just imagine how much all the parents, and other adults of the neighborhood probably loved, and appreciated our theatrical death cries.

Did I forget to mention we only played this game during the evenings? We did this because we wanted our games to have the same sophisticated, and nuanced atmosphere of the movies.

So this one time, Jermaine’s older brother, Shawn-- who was obviously bored out of his mind-- came out to watch a couple of rounds of “Jason”. He thought it was all pretty funny. Imagine our awed shock when he, who was 17 years old, offered to join in with us mostly 4th and 5th graders. But he said he would only do so if he could play the killer. We all eagerly agreed. Now, looking back, I do not think it ever remotely occurred to any of us that Shawn was bigger, faster, stronger, coincidentally wearing all black, and could most likely swing a pretty mean pretend meat cleaver.

So, on that particularly clear summer night, the games commenced in all its creepy glory. Perhaps because he was in a particularly magnanimous mood, Shawn decided to extend the normal 10 seconds count to 20. Everyone bolted in every direction,

I had not been hiding long before I heard the first victim's scream. After hearing a second, and then third unfortunate recipient of a meat cleaver to the extremities, and/or sternum, I carefully crept from behind the bushes in hopes of reaching the safety zone. Just before I was going to take my chances, I heard running coming from around the corner behind me. I quickly ducked and rolled under a nearby car. Lying there on my stomach, I watched Jason creep by in search of more victims. Only after I was certain it was as clear as it was going to get, I crawled from under the vehicle, and hurried off in the opposite direction to the apartment's backyard.

There were two ways to enter the backyard. The actual entrance, a wooden gate at the front of the apartments, near the community parking area. And the other was by way of a single, missing plank that left a small gap in the tall, wooden fence at the rear of the property. My only safe option was the latter. I was surprised to find 5 out of the 9 other boys all hiding there.

Another scream from somewhere nearby signaled the end of another victim, and then silence. The killer was lurking somewhere out there and we had no idea where. The last survivors, and I, split our surveillance between watching the hole in the fence, and the front entrance at the start of the long straightaway nestled between the apartment, and neighboring house.

Did anyone see him?” The first boy asked.

No.” The second replied nervously.

We should just make a break for it!” A third chimed in.

But which way?” The first asked.

If we all run it won't matter!” The third reasoned.

No! He's super fast! He could kill everyone!” The second warned.

Indecision kept us all rooted back there. On one hand we all could have made a desperate sprint for the safe zone, but Jason could have been waiting to ambush us. On the other, we could have made the classic-- and might I add tactically sound-- choice often demonstrated in many of horror films, and split up to take our individual chances of sneaking to safety. Then the choice was made for us when Jason suddenly came barreling down the straightaway with his cleaver held at ready.

Oh shit!” One of the boys yelled before we all rushed for the hole in the fence. Unfortunately, one of the “heavier” boys attempted to go through the makeshift exit first, and promptly clogged it with his wedged bulk. In a mixture of excited laughter, and nervous screams, we began trying to save the heavier kid, and ourselves, by attempting to force him the rest of the way through.

He's going to kill us all!” Someone exclaimed.

We’re all going to die, you fat bastard!” Another yelled.

Shit! He's almost here! He's almost here!” A third warned over, and over.

Jermaine, and I, exchanged a look, then as if the plan was agreed upon on some telepathic level, we both jumped at the same time, grabbed a top of the fence, and scurried over it just as Jason arrived to begin slaughtering all the others. In true horror movie fashion we ran for safety without looking back.