Source: Harry Benson / Getty In a time when every deceased legend is being immortalized by biopics and documentaries, it only makes sense that Muhammad Ali would get the same treatment. The boxer who passed in June 2016 is getting a Showtime scripted mini series titled The Ali Summit, about his refusal to participate in the Vietnam…
Title: The Cook Up
Author: D. Watkins
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (May 3, 2016)
I am selfishly at a crossroads, perhaps a little flummoxed, maybe just enough of an editor to notice the small stuff. For just over a year, I have been reading the work of D. Watkins voraciously; from his articles in Salon to the two books he released. He is, in many respects, an urban (metropolitan) Charles Dickens, telling and retelling stories that are completely American, based on an America that is well known yet so foreign to most of America. It is for this reason that when reading his 2016 release, The Cook Up, the story of crack dealing and use in Baltimore, on my Kindle, that I was disappointed by the number of editing errors that appeared throughout the book. Still, The Cook Up was a tremendous literary voyage.
His colorfully entertaining but wholly true tales of drugs and life in Baltimore was an exploration in ‘A’ plus ‘B’ equals ‘C’ sociology. Its characters, customs, and profound and unexpurgated vibe are, for me, some of the best emotional story-telling about real world issues in the little-big town of Charm City. Watkins pulls no punches; he instead battle-rams his points directly into your chest, with no apology. He writes about his world– the world he knows best– and his books, articles, and interviews leave no doubt about who he is and where he’s from.
The Cook Up is drugs, sex, and cars, music, relationships, murder, blood, tears, and losing one’s soul to the unknown; a memoir dotted with sandman bluesy sorrow and ‘thug life’ elation. It exposes the pain of being African-American in a city (country) that recognizes orange jumpsuit numbers before learning [and aknowleging] government or neighborhood names. It exposes the pain of being African-American in a city that remains divided by color, class, and education.
Watkins is keen on relationships, forthright in the complicated variables that produce those relationships, and if you are confused, read the following exchange for clarity:
Guy (Baltimore City police officer) and Tatter Man (Watkins’ cousin)
My younger cousin Tatter Man, who never broke the law in his life, came through the block to get some money from me for his prom one night. I hit him with the cash and we walked down to the Chinese spot to get some shrimp fried rice and gravy, Tatter walked out the door in time for one of Guy’s sweeps.
“What the — is that your dinner? yelled Guy to a confused Tatter.
“Yeah, I got some rice, what?”
“Boy, you being smart!” Guy responded as he knocked Tatter’s food to the ground. I watched from the window as Guy used his boot to smash the rice into the concrete.
The Cook Up is another wake-up call in the age of Trumpian political philosophy. It has exposed and, perhaps, reawakened the sleeping giant that lingered in waiting. Watkins speaks the language of his community, his friends, and those who want to be heard but have been silenced by irreversible circumstance. It is a story well known, with a history that still longs for a comprehensive audience. Thanks to Watkins, that audience is discovering the history.
Title: The Beast Side
Author: D. Watkins
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Hot Books; Reprint edition (September 27, 2016)
“D. Watkins is a very sharp young talent who transformed himself from a dealer on the streets to an adjunct professor, and most important, to a leading voice of his generation who is determined to see justice for the black community. The Beast Side is raw, intelligent, and at times humorous—and a necessary narrative in these challenging times!” —Michael Eric Dyson, author of The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America
FEAR IS NOT AN OPTION
If you’ve read my previously blog (Fear Factor: Election 2016), you already know that I am not a political stalwart, but I am an American citizen, and if I were to wager a guess, I am descendent of at least 300 years of America. This is simply a guess, but one which I will claim until proven otherwise. It is for this reason that I let the vitriolic rhetoric that is and was being spewed simply roll off. It is also the reason that I find it impossible to fear any single (or collective) man who calls himself this country’s political leader.
Did the Country Fall for a Short Sale?
I do understand that the idea behind a democracy is to quell chaos, institute order, and provide citizens a respectable quality of life. But that democratic method of thinking, as ideal as it is, has quickly become archaic and, whether we admit it or not, is virtually unheard by a new breed of ‘free-thinkers.’ As odd as it may be to conceive, considering the outcome of the last presidential election, these same ‘free-thinkers’ helped in electing the nation’s first Black president with margins so wide, one would think that the demons of racism and social/lifestyle discrimination had fallen into an irretrievable abyss. Barack Obama not only smashed the wall of political normalcy but he smashed the structures surrounding it. But eight years later, all of that changed.
Over the course of fifty plus years, the harbinger has been making the call that the fights for the eradication of separatist ideologies will be met by forces not yet known.
Enters, Donald Trump…
1) “(John McCain is) not a war hero…. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”
2) “I get called by a guy that can’t buy a pair of pants, I get called names?” – Trump’s comment about paralyzed commentator Charles Krauthammer
3) “How stupid are the people of Iowa?” after talking about a poll showing Ben Carson was beating him in Iowa
4) “I’m not sure I have ever asked God’s forgiveness. I don’t bring God into that picture….When I go to church and when I drink my little wine and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of forgiveness. I do that as often as I can because I feel cleansed.”
5) “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.” – Trump overestimates the number of people cheering after 911 by thousands and stuck with it even though he knew what he said wasn’t true
6) “(Obama) doesn’t have a birth certificate. He may have one, but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that.”
7) “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.”
8) “I am embracing the issue, and I’m proud of the issue. I think somebody has to embrace it because, frankly, the people that are – and I don’t like the name ‘birther,’ because I think it’s very unfair and I think it’s very derogatory to a lot of very good people that happen to think that there’s a possibility that this man was not born in this country, and by the way, if that were true, you know it’s very interesting, if that were true, it’d be the greatest scam in the history of this country.”
9) “You know, when (Ben Carson) says he went after his mother and wanted to hit her in the head with a hammer. That bothers me. I mean, that’s pretty bad. I’m not saying anything other than pathological is a severe disease. And he said he’s pathological, somebody said he has pathological disease. It’s in the book that he’s got a pathological temper. That’s a big problem because you don’t cure that. You don’t cure these people. You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological, there’s no cure for that.”
10) “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, (Carly Fiorina’s) a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”
11) “You know, it really doesn’t matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.”
12) “You could see there was blood coming out of (Megyn Kelly’s) eyes, blood coming out of her whatever.”
13) “Beautiful, famous, successful, married – I’ve had them all, secretly, the world’s biggest names, but unlike Geraldo, I don’t talk about it.” – From Trump’s “Think Big and Kick Ass.”
14) “I don’t think Ivanka would do that [pose for Playboy], although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
15) “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”
Source: John Hawkins– Townhall.com. January 19, 2016
“You Don’t Want No Problem With Me!”
— Chance the Rapper
And Still We Rise…
Along this journey — along this pathetic road– there were far too many ill-tempered words said and many more incomprehensible matters televised, and I know, with distinct certainty, that this country, at least for that period had suffered a massive divide. The country is bleeding, but we have become immune; victims of a trauma we no longer feel. But the unfortunate reality is that this country has always been divided by the color of skin, accent, religion, gender, or philosophy. We hold these truths to be self-evident….
Without lamenting on and reliving a well known, yet poorly documented, history, we (people of color, especially African-Americans) have overcome a multitude of social and emotional atrocities, proving that we have the veracity to defeat that which so desperately wishes to defeat us. Fear, to some degree, has been our constant; not because we are afraid, but because there exists a shroud of impenetrable mystery.
In the life of any African-American, every day, exacerbated by the profound and inexplicable reoccurring of racially inspired incidents, to immeasurable degrees, marks a painful reminder that life isn’t always fair. Thankfully, this does not deter us. We remain resilient, despite the media coverage finding only those stories that show brown faces committing heinous crimes, furthering the misconception and wholly mistaken ideology that all people with brown/black complexions are inherently demonic. Indeed this inaccurate image left a lasting impression. So, here we are… in a country that is confused and conflicted.
On that November night, when the country and the world stared blankly at television screens and emotions went awry, a cloud of bulbous darkness extinguished the light that had shone for many years prior. In that moment, as another ‘blue’ state plunged into a deepening ‘red’ ocean, the images of the Bushs didn’t seem so bad. But the country had spoken, and the nightmare was no longer simply in a dream, and those who abhorred the thought of a Trumpian government were now forced to accept what was touted as absolute. Cheers and chants rang throughout the states and social and mass media volleyed for outrageousness. Neither won… Trump did, and he promised one unspoken thing; four years of unequaled chaos. Supporters chanted and cheered.
Still, to fear what he or his cronies can or will [try to] do is relatively unwarranted. It is not about hope or prayer or some supernatural phenomenon, but it is about the door that has been reopened to reveal that this country is and is not what we thought. For older generations, this marks another chapter in the”Business as Usual” book, as they are well prepared for what we are to face as a nation. The young, new to this pathetic maze, are relying on answers that are generated through “Big Brother” but are prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder, stressing that their genetic structure still harbors 300-year-old wounds or historical recall. They have proven that they will not be moved.
Why are we afraid? We aren’t! Our feet are planted; our roots are deep. We are America!
Okay, let’s be honest. Politically speaking, this country is , for all intents and purposes, screwed. Now, allow me to explain.
To begin, I am not a hardcore political enthusiast. You will not find me arguing with flannel attired F-150’s about Hillary, Trump, or the state of an ever-changing America. But I follow the effects of politics and its impact on my day to day existence and how decisions made will affect the country, as a whole, in the long term. In a rush that continues to mystify me, the political process changed exponentially, eighteen months ago, when a murder of Republicans crowded upon stages across the country, stoic and robotic, bidding for the chance to become POTUS. The lies were magnanimous; promises that would never come to fruition were argued with the passion of a kindergartener whose cookie was eaten by another four year old. Leading the charge was Donald Trump and no one took him seriously, welcoming, in fact, the crass, rude comedy he brought to the rote bullshit interactions that for decades defined political debates. But his face was plastered everywhere. He had become omnipresent, even in our sleep and in an instant, I, and a great part of the nation were consumed by fear, knowing that regardless of the November 8, 2016 outcome, we were certain of one thing: we were soon to become the victims of a JACKED and divided country.
So, here we are, at the post position of the Presidential Election, and by the time I complete this essay Donald Trump, as POTUS elect and Pence as V-POTUS elect and Melania as FLOTUS confused, will be joined, possibly, by a chosen menagerie of unique characters. It has been a horrific journey and it is just beginning. The American people have revealed the crack in their armor and decided that divisive methods, finger pointing, unsubstantiated blame, fear-mongering, the denigration of Original People ( this includes our Mexican brothers and sisters) and the anti-Arab ( it was translated Moslem, but it wasn’t about religion, it was about appearance) sentiment, were more enticing than the policies that would unite and better the country.
Since that fateful day in November the nation, formerly know as the United States, has been lost in an emotional tailspin. With few exceptions, scores of Americans remain, to this very second, glued to the news and social media (a very unreliable source) to follow what can only be regarded as “the unravelling of an empire.” Translations of pre-election rhetoric continues to be spewed, heightening a separation of races and common beliefs between people who at once shared coffee and non-political chatter. Within a week of the election foolish young Americans, fueled with a tainted and ignorant mythology, took to the streets and airs waves with right wing banter that died a century ago; assuming, I guess, that the same intimidations that caused my forefathers to shutter in fear and run in panic, still applied. To them I say…Dude… new day… new time.
There is much to say, but honestly, the thickening of the air doesn’t need to be starched any further. We will move through this time, look back in months or years to come, and say what has always been said…’never again.’ But that statement will not be true, and we know it. There will come another time, another Trump with a different mask, and another manipulative, hypnotic force preying on sullen and disenfranchised souls, because there always is, and there always will be. Our job is to stay aware, keep our wits, build that wall around our hearts and souls, and know that even the worst of storms, although when in the middle of it, appears to be endless, never lasts forever.
God Bless you and God Bless these UNITED States.
Author: Jeff Hobbs
Publisher: Thorndike Press
Hardback · 639 pages
The Short Tragic Life of Robert Peace rested in my Kindle, behind several other books I intend to get to for several months. But, it was the picture of a young Robert Peace, standing on the porch of what I assume was his mother’s home, that peaked my interest. I saw a young man who could be my cousin, brother, even son and I decided to open the book and read the first few pages. It opened to dialogue, common, honest, and familiar: Hot car, hot day, with the air-conditioning off because of what it does to the power, fuel consumption, and / or mechanics of the vehicle. This was the primary indicator that the story would not only be about social development but the economic deficiencies that directly affects the unacknowledged caste system that permeates throughout this country.
The resonating question, not only from my reading but the readings of others, was: Did Hobbs really know Peace, or was this an opportunity for him (Hobbs) to write a book that would put him on the literary map? Here, from my perspective, is the reason: The Short… presented scenarios that were predictable; pulled directly from the headlines of any metropolitan newspaper, internet feed, or the evening news. The full title, for example (The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man who Left Newark for the Ivy League), reveals the story’s premise and total outcome before the first word is read. Although this was a peeve, it was not enough to halt my desire to read Robert Peace’s epic tale.
Hobbs addresses the socio-economic issues with as much patience and care as his literary imagination and talents would allow, but here is where [I felt] the disconnect began. Hobbs, perhaps without full acknowledgment, or maybe without full knowledge, emphasizes the economic struggles of the people of Newark, relaying to the reader that this place, nicknamed “Brick City,” was a certain Brick Wall. With a host of characters and personalities, he provides a semblance of proof through images of drug abusers, baby makers, miscreants and a healthy sprinkling of fence-sitters.
Peace was “Brick City.” He was the embodiment of this sometimes chaotic but highly loved town. His life was metaphorical, pathological and sardonic. The stereotypic elements were glaring, and for the greater percentage of the book, a darkness loomed, even when Hobbs tells of Peace’s escape through extensive travel. The sometimes overly academic passages seemed to be laced with apologetic innuendos, beginning from the first chapter, continuing through Hobbs’ admission of his prosperous life and ending with a tragic, lump-in-the-throat finale.
Perhaps Robert Peace’s downfall was that his father was imprisoned for a heinous crime, his mother struggled financially, and that he was cursed with an academic gift in a place unable to adequately appreciate or fully understand those gifts. He was caught between two worlds and the balancing act proved deleterious. But his mother and father (even from prison), (Hobbs tells of their not being married, but indirectly together), kept him on a relatively straight path. Despite family, intellect, honest friendships, the ability to reach beyond his grasp and acceptance to the Ivy facades and secret societies of Yale, Peace found his greatest solace in an endless consumption of marijuana. And the story, at this point, became one of inexplicable addiction by a man-child who had the world on a string.
But something greater than the environment and experience drove Peace to become who he was. He, with his multidimensional genius mind, became, from my perspective, a madman; an obsessed scientifically talented phenom who chose to live in a life undefined rather than apply his skills to the mission that would ultimately give meaning to his existence. Taking odd, low-end employment, using and selling cannabis (he created a more potent strain of marijuana by extracting and adding THC “oil”), and wasting time trying to figure out next steps. Regardless of how long he lived, his life because of his lifestyle would still be considered short.
When Peace’s end came, Hobbs drew on drama, but the actions and movement of the story were so sudden, so climactically awkward, that the effects, in some parts, were lost. Hobbs still had the ability to draw us in; to keep us wanting to turn the pages and find out the already known. Rich or poor, we are, in many ways, Robert Peace.
Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 8, Ralph Ellison