Monday, December 29, 2008

Blogging Lite Thoughts,
And Passing The Award Love
To Two More Bloggers


I've been in my blogger-lite mode regarding political commentaries and analysis since Barack was elected. The reason is I've taking a wait n' see attitude about his choices, and trying to get my bearings on where I am headed with this hobby.

I've also been looking for a full-time job this month (got an interview tomorrow!) and working on other blogger projects yet to be revealed, so please forgive me if I haven't been past your blog. I'll hit it soon, and you know I share the love by leaving comments unless I'm momentarily brain dead on what to say or don't want to tick you off if I strongly disagree.


For now, I got two tips for ya:

1. I spent Christmas dinner at my brother's place. It was a nice family gathering. He's got a first class wine collection and even a wine cellar, and a well stocked bar. When I was younger, chocolate was my poison, but five years ago switched to mocha coffee. I'm not much of an alcohol drinker but will indulge from time to time, particularly at a social event and even then, sip rather than drink.

Folks, I tried something that was so good I had to buy my own bottle. It's called Kajmir Vanilla. It's described as "a smooth blend of premium brandy, fine vodka, and natural vanilla flavors".


I don't even drink vodka or brandy, but this was unique. It comes in a sort of round-shaped bottle and originally I thought the name was Kamir, but it's Kajmir, and it sells for only $15 in my area. My bro served it very cold (I think he had it in the freezer for a few hours), so refrigerate it first and you won't need ice. I'm cracking this baby open on New Years eve.

2. Wait for the DVD rental of the Curious Case of Benjamin Button; it's entertaining and some parts quite funny and engaging, but after the first half dragged a bit and missed an opportunity to pass along more wisdom in the story. One critical funeral scene ticked me off for it's striking lack of warmth or cultural authenticity by Ben, who was raised by a black woman, but I won't say more than that so as not to give away the story.

As a result of all these distractions and pondering about what feels right for me to write about, I've done more essays and fewer political pieces during this time period. On Wednesday, I'll post a large article that I'm working on now.

Today, I am passing out two remaining awards. I'd pass out more but that's all I have for now.


A Kick Ass Blogger Award goes to:

Sagacious Hillbilly. Sagacious is a native of West Virginia who writes about his experiences growing up in this area, and as a rule, kicks ass commenting on the political corruption in this country. His June and July 2008 posts, Hillbilly Review Board #1 thru 4, are a must read - really funny and culturally informative. Any black person following his blog will easily see the commonalities the races share when in comes to class issues, and that's a point he makes without even trying to make it. His current post, Where Does Our Food Come From?, is well worth the read, deeply thought-provoking and memorable.


A Superior Scribbler Award goes to:

V-Knowledge. V is a very nice young brother who does extremely well-written new and old film reviews. Not many of us do this, and I applaud him for trying something different. I don't think a lot of people know about him which is a secondary reason I'm giving him an award. Visit him from time to time, read his take on reviews and leave a comment.


Honorary Mentions


Shouldn't Life Be More Like This? A.Eye is a sister who teaches constantly as part of her life philosophy. She writes well on a variety of issues, and like several other (unnamed) bloggers, is on my list to get an award the next time I have more to pass out.

Very Smart Brothers. Champ and Panama recently won the coveted Best Black Blogger Award. I go there often and would like to see some fresh new faces from folks who don't know about them. They write funny, tongue in cheek posts that hits the mark on relationships, from late Sunday through Thursday around the midnight hour. They're currently on hiatus until January 5th.



Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Gift of Divine Intervention


Sometimes the gifts we receive are the result of groundwork laid days, months, or years earlier. Other times it's the result of Divine Intervention, or for the non-religious, just plain luck, or fate.

I was given two gifts on December 23rd. The first was an insurance beneficiary check from my mother who passed away several years ago. I was so grieved I never went through her financial papers, but in an amazing moment I described in a late November essay, A Moral Compass & Help From The Spirit World, I discovered she'd left this to me. I applied for it just before Thanksgiving.

The timing of it's arrival was perfect, bordering on the supernatural.

Gift #2 is intimately connected to gift #1, and I'm choking up now to hold back the tears. To give you a very quick overview if you're unfamiliar with previous writings, I have two children, Xavier, age 20, and Cassie, who will be 13 any day now. The older has always been a challenge to raise; the younger has been a breeze.

On Sunday, Xavier brought home an old gangbanging friend of his, a guy who used to run weed and cocaine. Probably still does although he denies it. His buddy's car was snatched by the repo man, so he didn't have his wheels and caught the bus here. This made me suspicious.

This young brotha is smooth. On the surface, he seems to be a decent person with great manners and not your stereotypical thug. I know his father, who has struggled with him just I have with my son.

Never the less, I read Xavier the riot act for the next three days straight.

"You stopped hanging with him," I fussed. "You don't need him back in your life!"

"Ma, you gonna ruin our Christmas! Let it go! He's working and not doing any of that shit no more."

"Bullshit," I said. "He didn't ride all the way down here on a damn bus for no reason. That nigga's trying to recruit you to get you back into the game. Nuh-uh. Leave him alone. He needs you more that you need him. Keep him and all the rest of those trouble niggas out of your life. You're still walking the fence and could go either way, and one of side of that fence will land your azz in jail."

In one ear and out the other. So it goes with denial.

On Tuesday, I overheard a phone call. Our other phone doesn't work because a little over two years ago Xavier broke it in a rage when I confronted him about his need to go to rehab. I never replaced it. Then early this year, the handset of our remaining phone broke because dumb-dumb used it while talking in the shower.

All that was left was the speaker phone part of the equipment. It was then I figured out the value of not buying a new phone. Ain't shit my either of my kids can talk about that I don't hear about if I'm in the living or dining room.

"Yo, Xavier," another familiar old voice said after my son picked up the phone. "Meet me up at the station."

When he hung up a few seconds later, I said, "I know that voice. Who was that?"

"Jose."

Another lost boy from Xavier's adolescence, I thought. Not a Blood, maybe because he's Latino, and I think he has an older brother locked up, but he's got issues too.

My shining memory of Jose is from the day I was out to work on my part-time gig, and when I got home, my daughter told me Xavier and Jose had two girls over. This was three years ago and she was only 10 at the time. She told me she came out of her bedroom, and lo and behold, Jose was fucking some girl on our sofa while Xavier was in his room doing his girlfriend. I was pissed, and that was the end of Jose being welcome in our home.

So I said, "Why the fuck is he calling you? You don't chill with him no more."

"Stop stressing me," Xavier snapped. "He's just bored like me and wants to hang out at the mall."

"I don't believe it. Sounds like a drug call to me. Jose is a pothead. Did your other homie bring you something up here to sell?"

"No! No! NO! Why you so paranoid?"

"You lying. Let me search your pockets."

"Go ahead, I ain't got nothing..."

If he did, I didn't find it. If you don't have a family member with these issues, I imagine this scene is over the top for you, but when your kid's future is at stake and has a history of this kind of shit, you stay ever vigilant.

I said, "Your azz better not be getting into some new shit. Comprende?"

He shrugged and left.

I then told Cassie to check our mailbox. She came back, and surprise, surprise! The insurance check for nearly four grand.

"Run to the bank with me," I said to her excitedly. "I'll deposit most of it and we can eat out."

"Oooh!", she said, "let's go somewhere really good!"

I shook my head. "Nothing elaborate," I said, "We need the money."

I felt a twinge of guilt over this. I'm trying not to rationalize, but having a little extra cash makes me want to spend it. Old habits that die hard. It's sooo easy to waste your cash at restaurants. Food in, poop out. You're just shitting away your wealth. I know that hard times are coming ahead for the country and whatever I have, I better hold onto tight.

"We need to stop at the grocery store afterwards," I said, "I'll get you a bag of cookies or something."

We took our time getting ready. Cassie looked beautiful in her white jacket, fuzzy white gloves and Santa hat.

As we were leaving, Xavier returned.

I said, "Thought you were going to hang out with your friend."

"He's broke," Xavier replied, frowning. " I remembered that the last time I went to the mall with him, he got busted for shoplifting, and I think he wants to do it again. I'm too old for that shit."

A big ole smile crossed my face. My son used to shoplift that as a teen, and I can't tell you how embarrassing it was when Target called me when he was 15. Had him in their custody for stealing a baseball mitt that I would've bought him if he'd only asked.

"Ride with us," I said. "I have an errand to run and we'll stop and get a large pizza."

"Nah," he replied. "Maybe I'll go back up to the mall. I'll probably run into some friends."

"Oh come on with us," I said, "it'll be fun."

"Okay..." he agreed reluctantly.

So off we went.

A little over a hour later we were heading to the grocery store, since we'll be dining at my brother's on late Christmas afternoon and I'm bringing a dish.

Traffic was brutally thick. Police cars with silent sirens sped by. A police helicopter with lights on flew overhead.

I said, "I have a feeling something really bad happened to someone. The cops don't go all out like this unless a murder or carjacking took place."

"It's probably nothing," little Miss Know-It-All Cassie said.

I drove toward the mall where Giant Food is located. As we approached, the place was packed. We saw more helicopters, a squad car, undercover car, and a K9 (canine) cop car leaving the mall with their lights, but not sirens, on.

We joked that maybe customers had a brawl over a sale item. Yeah, the humor is dark, but it's also to relieve stress from feeling vulnerable since we go to that mall.

Then we drove past the Macy's which was cordoned off and had three cop cars parked by that entrance.



"Whatever happened, probably happened there," I said, stating the obvious.

On the other side was the grocery store. The parking lot was too crowded to even think about shopping. I'd go later before it closed.

As we drove through the mall area, at a stop sign I heard someone say on their cell phone, "Someone got shot."

"I wonder if it's anyone I know," Xavier said.

Yeah, I thought negatively, he knows everybody, thugs included.

Minutes later, we were home. I turned on the local news and there was the story.

Xavier jumped on the phone and called Jose - who was stuck in Macy's.

Cassie and I listened.

Jose's voice was sad and serious. He said, "I heard some Blood niggas got into it with some other niggas and someone got shot. Police got everyone in here asking them questions, but I didn't see it."

I sat with my arms crossed, staring at him. When he hung up, I asked him, "What's the real reason you weren't with Jose?"

"I told you. He's got sticky fingers and didn't act like he'd be fun to chill with. That's why I came back home."

"Did Jose ever join the Bloods?"

"NO!"

"So why was he at Macy's when shit went down?"

"Shopping!"

That's funny, I thought, of how shoplifters go shopping. We fell silent as we watched the news.

"Once a Blood, always a Blood," I said softly, "at least in their eyes. What would you have done if you'd been there and run into them?"

My son, who has worked so hard to avoid his former life of gangbanging and substance abuse, shook his head.

"Damn I'm glad I wasn't there," he finally said.

No shit.

The news later said the person shot was a member of one of the gangs involved.

There will be arrests, and anyone associated with this will likely do a long stretch since it took place at a mall. I think of how easy it would have been to get sucked into this if he had chosen to chill with Jose. He'd have run into his old crew.

I can picture how that late afternoon could have gone:

"Yo, Xavier, this bitch dissed us. We gonna teach him a lesson. Come on with us."

"Nah, that's okay, I'll pass."


"What? You a pussy now? We need you for backup. We just gonna beat him."

"Okay."

This scenario, followed by a possible arrest if caught or identified, or being shot himself, and either followed by a new family trauma of an emotionally draining trial and years lost in jail.

A mother without a son and a sister without a brother. One more young black male lost to the privatized prison system.

Instead, he used the gifts he received in the past: better judgment by telling Jose no thanks.

Still, this might not have been enough to save him, since he'd planned to go back up there alone, to walk around and see if he'd run into other friends - and he would have: the ones who would have led him into a hell on earth.

Instead, our family received a gift from the spirit world over a month ago when I struggled with minor but significant temptation, and won a moral battle. This was followed by my dead mother's voice whispering like an angel in my ear to check through her papers - papers that I had avoided for four years because I'm still grieving her death. Had I not received that check in the mail on the afternoon of the 23rd, I'd have had no reason to go out - or take Xavier with me. He would have gone back to the mall where trouble awaited.

Thus, on that late November day, I thought my unexpected gift was insurance money which I needed it so much.

It was something far, far larger.

It was Divine Intervention.



Friday, December 19, 2008

Waste Not, Want Not:
A Lesson Learned Too Late
By Broke Azz Nation


Civilizations throughout the ages had periods of feast and famine. People who survived did so by a combination of luck, planning, and saving their resources for the times there would be little.

"Waste not, want not," my grandmother used to say.

She endured losing her first husband during the 1919 Spanish Flu epidemic which left her with an infant (my mother) and three young kids. This was during WWI. Ten years later, the Great Depression hit. By then she was remarried and had two more surviving children. That woman knew how to stretch a dollar.

Grandma may have been the first to pass along this lesson to me. Too bad I didn't take it to heart. I've done okay in life, but not nearly as well as I could have in stretching those dollars, which convert to resources.

Like many people born since WWII, our country has been blessed with an extraordinary long period of feasting. Collectively it harmed us - we have millions of folks, young adults in particular but also hoards of middle aged baby boomers, who lost the art of guarding and saving their resources.

Brace yourselves, for the days of feasting will soon be like the ghost of Christmas past. The world is about to enter very dark days that will last for years, as the jaws of a more malevolent Great Depression descends upon us.

Our incoming President, Barack Obama, can no more protect us from the first few years of this than he could stop a tsunami. I am convinced he will spend his first term doing damage control, and it won't be until his second term that we *might* get some relief.

I've been reflecting on my past half century of living and all the things I've wasted. Time. Youth. Money. Even love.

I am not alone, nor will I be alone as many of us will be living frugally and with regrets, the kind where you lay in bed at night and think of all the dumb shit you bought and didn't need.

Recently I did an inventory. It's amazing. I have three computers, two monitors, and a laptop. I called them upgrades, but only use one rather than getting the others repaired or buying larger hard drives.

I probably own 20 lamps. Ten are sitting in storage and must be older than my 9th grader. Got tired of looking at those and got newer ones. I should have bought new lampshades instead.

I think of that lifetime spa membership I bought - and never used after the first three months. It would cost me $129 to reactivate it, but I'll bet I won't go more than a few times and quit.

Friends are a resource too. I've squandered quite a few of those over the past 20 or so years by simply not keeping in touch. These include old love relationships that ended, but not so badly I couldn't pick up the phone once or twice a year and say, "How ya doing? Let's have lunch together."

And speaking of food... Hell, I've bought enough junk food and enjoyed feasting at restaurants in my entire adult life to buy a brand new mid-priced car. This includes those $5 to $8 cheap lunches while at the office, when instead I could have brought a sandwich and juice in a thermos.

I am thankfully not a shopaholic. I hate shopping as much as most of my girlfriends love it. However, I went through a fat phase and what did I do? Bought clothes way too small and have never nor will ever fit. Hell, my daughter can't even get into some of them. Now, I was a tiny thing at one time, but not that damn tiny.

My dog is, however. He has three jackets. Did I really need to buy him that many? Two would have been plenty, and he could have gotten by with one during these cold winters.

And back to my daughter - and son... I bought enough toys, board games, video games and Disney movies for them when they were younger to supply a small village. It was sinful.

The result is that my son is extremely materialistic and money burns a hole in his pocket. He takes it for granted - which is financially dangerous. I wised up in the nick of time to save my daughter, who is 7 years younger, from this toy orgy.

Speaking of Disney, I've been to Disney World and other vacation spots a bunch of times. Too many times... Shamu the Whale probably remembers all of us. I discovered the hard way that kids love this stuff the first two times, but after that they expect it and take it for granted. I should've skipped some of them and would've saved a bundle on those hotel and air fares.

Shoulda coulda woulda.

Sharing my wasteful habits are friends who bought time shares they only used once, two and three cars they don't need, and several have vacation homes but only use a few weeks each year but never rented out since they didn't want anyone messing up their stuff. One relative has two houses and lives in both. They're all kicking themselves for excess spending since they're worried to death about getting laid off and their credit is maxed out, their stocks plummeted or worthless, and their real estate devalued.

Virtually every single person I know has so much junk in their house, garage, and closets that they hardly ever use. Ice and roller skates, skis, camping gear, expensive tennis rackets, guns, etc. Kitchens are another place of excess.

One reason we have so much junk is sometimes we get gifts we don't need. This happened to me many times. Rather than return them to the store for cash or something I could actually use, I kept the gifts in case what I already had, broke. As a result, I have an extra TV and boombox, two coffee pots, two electric can openers, stupid crystal stuff for formal dining I've barely used, and I would own two microwaves but one actually did break.

Wait... is that Ebay I hear, calling my name?

And meanwhile, there's stuff I really need but don't have: new sheets, towels, dinner plates, a vacuum cleaner, and a new car since repairs on the old one cost me an unexpected chunk of money last month.

Junk rich, cash poor. Collectively we are on the verge of becoming Yardsale Nation. I think James Kunstler came up with great term. Like me, he's dead sure we're sliding down into a bottomless pit where life won't be the same again for a very long time, if ever.

In a spiritual sense, I wonder if this is a time meant for reflection. So many of us, even those of us who have been so-called working class, have wasted so much in our lives. The time of want is almost upon us, and the time to save is now, if you haven't already been doing this.

I don't recall which blogger I read in the past week or two who said a lot of the people running businesses are no different from us. They expanded when they shouldn't have and got in over their heads. They got greedy and wasted, just like us. We shouldn't be surprised; people are people.

Of course, there are the sharks who deliberately preyed on the public trust. They've been running ads for years to make us think we needed stuff we don't, and to give us credit cards and predatory loans we don't qualify for.

These bastards got theirs and are ready to close shop and move on, leaving tens or hundreds of thousands of workers without the $20K to $60K in pension money deducted from their paychecks. Retirees from this companies will be totally wiped out and become dependent only on a measly monthly social security check to survive. Hell, that will only pay for their food.

Here's a heads up, folks: the new face of homelessness will be an elderly person who worked all their lives and was working or middle class. Could be your parents, grandma, Uncle Mike or Aunt Jackie. You might enjoy their company for a two hour visit, but whatcha gonna do when they wipe their tears and swallow their pride and ask if they can sleep on your sofa or have that spare bedroom? You gonna turn them away and into an overcrowded shelter or the streets? Or are you gonna suck it up and take them in?

Kit's prediction for 2009: Dogs and cats will be living together.

This includes your brother who used to pee on your side of the bed or your sister who'd borrow your clothes without asking, and their kids who get your kids in trouble. Don't forget cousin Jamal who plays his music too loud and has an outstanding warrant but promises he won't smoke weed in your crib, or your fanatically religious half-sister who'll be trying to save you 24/7, or your best friend forever who sneaks in their boyfriend or girlfriend at night, whom you accidentally and unpleasantly discover in your shower - using your shampoo.

The newest highly visible group of all ages to get economically shocked and awed will be the soon-to-be former employees of the almost dead Big Three Auto Makers. They're just one of the early Titanic ships running into the tip of the iceberg. Many of these middle aged and older retirees had planned for their old age, and got or are gonna get screwed badly.

Thanks to the sweat shops the fat cat mega-corporations set up overseas along with deregulation and organized piracy since the 1970s, we benefited. We became Consumer Nation, but we're now in a free fall into becoming Broke Azz Nation.

I did a little modest Christmas shopping last evening. Most of the stores had 50% off sales. That is phenomenal. Even so, the mall was far from packed. Earlier I was in an Office Depot to pick up some office supplies. This one is scheduled to close. Good sales... but I was only one of four shoppers in there. I kept thinking this is what's coming... we'll see many more businesses go down, and with them jobs held by people who will be desperate for work, have families to feed, rent or mortgage and car notes and insurance, and maybe medical bills to pay.

How on earth will all of us make it?

If times get hard for me next year and the years after that, I know I don't want to spend that time wallowing in regret. I think it's somewhere in my Bible, or perhaps it was a Bible lesson that taught me the wisdom, "fear and regret are the twin thieves that rob us of today."

We can reflect on our past wastes, but that won't pay the rent or fill our stomachs in the future.

It's not quite here yet, not in full force anyway.

Most of us with the luxury of Internet and time to read blogs still have time to reflect and prepare, so in the very, very near future we won't be over-burdened with regret and fear.

It is a historical inevitability that unimaginable mass poverty is coming on a scale few of us have ever seen in America.

I can feel it. Can you?

Are you ready?




Friday, December 12, 2008

Hard Rocks Love 8:
Madness Runs In Couples
And It Runs Both Ways


"He may be an felon with a history of murder," I said to the judge, "but that doesn't automatically mean he abused this child.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The names and details in this story have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.


"How did you meet him?", I asked.

"Between classes," she answered. "I was sitting outside. He walked right over to me and started talking. Said he was he was thinking about signing up for the summer. Asked for my phone number."

She positioned the infant boy in her lap more comfortably. Her seven year old daughter played quietly with the dolls on the floor, but I could tell she was listening. They almost always do.

"Things moved quickly in a year," I suggested, nodding toward her baby.

She nodded. "We fell in love really fast."

Her daughter used a Ken doll to smack a Barbie doll.

"When did he move in with you?"

"Right away," she said.

"How was it, at first?"

"Oh, it was great! It still is..."

Ken was kicking Barbie now.

Brandi, the mother I was speaking to, spoke sharply to her daughter. "Stop that! You going to break up her toys!"

I distracted her with another quick question. "Brandi, how does your family feel about your boyfriend?"

"They don't like him," she answered dryly.

"Was this before or after the allegations?"

"Before," she said, frowning. "They're mad at him because I flunked out in the fall. They blame him, but it's not really his fault. I was just depressed and confused... I didn't really expect to get pregnant again."

Ken whacked Barbie across the face.

"Ms. Kit, he didn't do what people said."

She turned to her daughter and said, "It was the babysitter, wasn't it, Sherry?"

"I don't remember," the child answered.

She threw Ken and Barbie to floor, stood up and snuggled next to her mother. She stuck her thumb in her mouth and stared at me.

Brandi smiled and rewarded her daughter with a hug.

This must have been my third interview with this family. I'd met with mother and child both separately and together. The one good thing was that Sherry had been very consistent in answering another the question to police, the emergency room staff, and me, "Has anyone ever touched your vagina or private area," and she'd say "No, I'd tell on someone if they did that!"

Brandi, the mother, had also shared her extensive history of being harshly disciplined and getting occasional severe beatings by her own mother, which she generally did not perceive as abusive, although those events described otherwise.

The police believed that her live-in boyfriend, Karl, and severely beaten seven year old Brandi with a belt. The doctor who examined her thought she had been whipped naked. Supporting photos showed numerous welts and lacerations around the child's private area and buttocks. To study the photos, one might speculate that whoever did the deed hated females. For whatever stupid azz or complicated legal reason, this man was still living with Brandi, Sherry, and his new baby.

I bit the bullet. Therapy was going nowhere.

I said, "I need to meet with Karl."

I didn't have to do this. Karl had been court-ordered to see his own therapist. From the court's point of view, Sherry's father wasn't even the picture since he was verified to have been at work when the abuse occurred, although he was involved in Sherry's life.

Brandi looked surprised. "You want to meet him?"

"Yeah, tomorrow. Sherry's daddy too, separately, as soon as possible. It's part of what we do."

Not quite a lie, it was a stretch of the truth. She bought it.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Karl looked like he might be crazy. He tried to talk a good game to prove otherwise.

"I did not beat Sherry," he said with conviction. "I love her like I would if she were my own daughter."

"That's admirable," I said. "Tell me more."

Karl grinned. "I went to jail for that little girl," he said. "She knows that. They both do."

"What do you mean?"

"I could have skipped out and they'd never find me, but I know I didn't do nothing. They had no proof; that's how I got released so fast. It was that babysitter. Bitch is lying. I picked up Sherry and didn't know she had been beat so bad 'cause she didn't say nothin' to me. Brandi found the marks when she gave her a bath that night."

"How did she act when she saw them?"

"She cried! I told her the babysitter or some nigga in that house had to have done this."

"Then what happened?"

"Brandi called that lying bitch. They're sorta friends. She didn't know what to believe."

"Why didn't she call the police right away?"

"She didn't want them thinking I did it."

"Why would they think that?," I asked.

I knew why. I just wanted to hear him say it.

"'Cause of them murda charges."

Karl, who was not even 30, had been locked up twice on two separate murder charges. Each time he was released in less than three years. This is why I hate laws that lock up non-violent, petty offenders for long periods of time. The deadly serious criminals get out of jail so much faster, or at least they did less than ten years ago. Probably still do, depending on the state, judge, and attorney.

"Tell me again who called the police?"

"Sherry's daddy's grandma," he replied. "I told her not to take that kid over there for the weekend. She didn't think Grandma would give her bath and even told her that Sharon had just had one."

He shook his head in disgust.

I said, "So she was clearly upset. How did Sherry's father react?"

Karl smiled a big smile like the cat who swallowed the canary.

"I explained the situation to him," he said. "We a'ight. He don't cause me no problems."

This almost gave me a chill. I imagined that the kid's father was terrified of his baby's mama's killa boyfriend.

"Do you think that maybe, just maybe, Brandi did it? Perhaps the night be she took Brandi to the sitter's?"

I could see his mind ticking at this possibility, not because it was a likely possibility, but because if backed into a corner, he could blame her. He's shrewd though, and had learned to not complicate already complicated situations.

"It crossed my mind once," he said, "but no, I think it was the sitter or someone in that house..."

"Karl, can you see me again tomorrow? We're running out of time. And by the way, I'd like permission to speak with your therapist."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Sherry's father was sweating bullets before he even sat down on my couch.

"Is it too hot in here for you?", I asked.

"No," he answered. "I'm okay."

"Good," I replied. "What would you like to tell me that could be useful in helping your daughter?"

He sighed and shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "She acts like she don't remembah nothin'."

"Do you think it's just an act?"

His eyes got big. "I didn't say that."

The man was scared as shit.

"Who do you think did it?"

He shook his head. "I don't know."

"Do you think the babysitter or your own mother did it?"

"My mother? No way. She's never spanked any of us. And the babysitter? I know her. I really doubt it."

"A lot of people live in the sitter's home. What about any of them?"

He shrugged.

"Do you have reason to think Brandi or Karl did it?"

He dabbed the perspiration on his forehead and looked around the room as though looking for an escape.

"No."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Karl's therapist finally returned my call.

"What do think?", I asked.

"I think he's capable of it, given his history," he said, "but he covers himself well."

"How did he get out of jail so soon from those murder charges?"

"They happened in two different states, so one jurisdiction didn't know about the other. Gangstas killing gangstas, neither first degree murders and elements of self-defense. He got lucky on sentencing."

"He ever talk about domestic violence?"

"No, he makes a point of not talking about anything except he thinks the babysitter did it."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Karl looked utterly comfortable on my couch. He was playing the roles of innocent bystander and being my friend, to help me figure out this mess. Sociopaths - people without a conscience - do this sort of thing all the time.

"No kid is perfect," I said casually, "and Sherry is no different. I can see that."

"Yeah, you got that right!"

I nodded. "Kids need discipline," I said. "In the past, who spanked her when she was bad?"

"We all did," he answered too quickly. Then he added, "but not that hard."

He began talking faster to clean up a possible mistake. "Just a light tap on her rear. That's all. Me 'n Brandi were both abused children. We don't want to put our kids through that."

"Brandi told me about her childhood abuse," I said. "Where'd you grow up?"

"DC!"

"Incredible place," I replied. "How many brothers and sisters you got?"

"There's ten of us..."

Chances are, Karl was lost in that crowd.

"Your mama raise you?"

"Yeah, all of us."

I nodded. "Karl, if you don't mind, I'd like to draw a genogram. I can keep track of who you're talking about. What's your mama's first name?"

A genogram is like a family tree. He told me all of their first names as I drew squares for the males and circles for the females... brothers, sisters, mother, fathers. Lots of fathers... eight of those ten kids, all taken care of by one woman who lived in poverty.

This suggested that his mother may have had a mental problem or a low IQ or both. Women like this are sitting ducks for exploitation.

Perhaps without realizing it, as Karl spoke further, he confirmed he was raised by a woman with a bunch of problems. This means he missed out on a normal childhood. He grew up in one of toughest sections of Northwest DC before it got gentrified. Even cops didn't go in his 'hood except in pairs. The slumlords who lived fat in Maryland and Virginia had allowed those tenements fall into utter disrepair for decades. Crime festered. When crack hit DC around 1986, a lot of souls were lost - including the souls of neighborhoods that became host to transient populations where folks became more hesitant in looking out for one another.

Karl loved talking about his childhood. He rightly saw himself as a survivor.

"How'd your mother keep all of you line?", I asked. "All those kids must have been hard on her nerves."

"She'd beat our asses," he said proudly. "Most of the time though, we weren't in house, at least not the boys. I lived in the street. The street raised me."

"That sounds hard, at least some of the time."

Out of the blue, he revealed a secret.

"The worst time," he said, "was when I got raped. I was 14 and thought I knew everything."



He shared how it occurred. Alcohol and PCP were involved, and he was literally too out of it to fight off his assailant, an adult dealer who coaxed him with drugs to rape him.

"I'm surprised you're telling me this," I said sincerely.

"Men don't like to talk about it, but it happens."

What was missing was any sadness in his voice. No shame, no embarrassment. It was odd. At the same time, I didn't think he was lying.

"Did you ever tell anyone? Your mother or the police?"

"Shit. No way. It be too embarrassing. Niggas be trying to punk me after that."

"What happened to the man who did that to you?"

He shrugged. "I let it go."

"Did you ever get therapy for this?"

"No."

"Have you ever been diagnosed with depression or anything else?"

"A doc in jail said I was bipolar."

"Are you on meds?"

"No. Hate 'em."

I'd have to chew on this information before pursuing it further.

"Karl, how did this affect you, being raped?"

"I don't take take shit from nobody," he said. "I'll kill a mothafucka who crosses me. You already know that."

"You ever beat Brandi? Or other women?"

"I'd never touch Brandi," he said. "I did beat a girlfriend before that."

In my mind, I debated giving him a point for revealing this. Brandi had already told me he'd beaten a past girlfriend. I no longer recall why, but remember thinking it was a warning sign she ignored when first dating him. I could also picture him grilling her for every single thing she said to me in our meetings.

Now I asked him, "Why?"

He shrugged. "I don't wanna talk about it."

"Fair enough. With your mood swings and history of violence, however, I think meds might not be a bad idea. They have new ones that you might like better. Has your therapist ever mentioned this to you?"

"I don't talk to him or tell him anything personal like I've told you. He's an asshole, just passing time to pick up a check."

"Will you consider meds if I recommend a doctor for you to see?"

"Probably not."

That evening, I wondered if he were truly Bipolar, of suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or both. He had, after all, been raised in a war zone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Brandi's spacious apartment was clean and sparsely furnished. She showed it off proudly.

"This is real nice," I said. "The rooms are huge. I wouldn't mind living here myself."

At the time, this was true. I love apartment living. Her development was beautifully landscaped and located in a pretty, multicultural suburban neighborhood with excellent schools, and a block away from the bus stop.

I bent down to her daughter Sherry. "Can I see your room?", I asked.

"Yeah!"

She grabbed my hand and escorted me to her toy-filled bedroom. Pink curtains and bedspread in a princess theme made it look very girly. She had a bunch of Barbie and Ken dolls too. Some of them looked like they had been through toy hell.

Karl was late, but entered the home during my visit. Sherry didn't appear to be the least bit afraid him. He scooped her up and his baby son too, and each child smiled and laughed with glee.

Any outsider would think the family dynamics looked normal... but there was something I picked up on. The child, Sherry, was less connected to her mother than Karl.

I'd seen this distance in our therapy sessions too.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


So who beat Sherry, the seven year old, black and blue on her buttocks and private area?

Was it Karl, who had a bipolar disorder and was unmedicated, and was a two-time murderer with a history of childhood abuse and early adolescent alcohol and drug abuse?

Or Brandi, the young community college student and mother of two, who had a penchant for bad guys and a history of living in fear from her mother, whom she loved?

Or perhaps, Sherry's father's mother, who reportedly never spanked her own kids and was the first to call the police?

Or Brandi's friend, the babysitter, or someone in that home?

And what, if anything, did Sherry's "I'm scared of Karl myself" daddy know?


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I half-way expected to die on the day I showed up to the court review hearing with my report and recommendations.

Karl made a point of sitting next to me outside of the court room. He carried a gym bag that appeared heavy and bulky enough to have several guns in them. This would have been easy, because in that county in the pre-9/11 days of the mid-90s, the Court House did not check bags. The place was wide open.

Brandi was no where to be seen. Not a good sign.

"I'm not ever going back to jail," he announced.

"Have the police investigators concluded you abused Brandi?"

"I don't know."

"Who did it? Fo' real?"

"I don't know."

"I thought you'd say that."

He grunted a laugh, then looked worried again. "I really ain't going back. I'll die first."

"This hearing ain't about this. It's only about whether you should continue to reside in the home of your girlfriend while the police continue with their investigation, and if Sherry has been following the earlier court order of parenting classes and made progress. Why isn't she here?"

"I don't know," he said sounding irritated. "Maybe she's running late."

Or maybe she knows this nigga is gonna snap today and make front page news by evening, I thought.

"Karl," I said, "I hope you don't do anything today to make a bad situation worse. Whatcha got in the bag?"

His eyes darted around. "Just my gym clothes."

"I hope so. You do have a family, along with me and everyone else in that courtroom. Please try to relax and not sweat the recommendations. They ain't that bad, and this is not the day to go postal. I got stuff to do later and I'm sure you do too."

And the recommendations weren't, at least not compared to jail or suicide. All he had to do was see a psychiatrist, take meds if prescribed, be more active with his therapist or get a new one, finish his parenting class, keep his job, and not live with Brandi and the kids until then, with a court review in 60 days.

I sympathized with him. "That's a lot of appointments that will cut into your free time, but it beats the hell out of being locked up again or worse, stressing out in a fit of rage. You have got to remain calm."

Karl was paranoid as shit and obsessing about losing his freedom. He was clearly anticipating some sort of action by the court that would land him back in jail that morning. He was right to be scared. His history was so dark that I got the sense the defense wanted him locked up until the investigation was over. I gave my report first.

"He may be an felon with a history of murder," I said to the judge, "but that doesn't automatically mean he abused this child."

The defense attorney rolled her eyes.

I continued. "He and the mother have a history of being abused as children, which puts them at a higher risk for abusing their own children. There are other parties who could have done this. The child denies remembering who did it and may be protecting that person. The police need to finish their investigation."

I then gave my recommendations.

As I passed him returning to my seat, I said, "Remember what I said."

Karl was sweatin' bullets on the stand. I was in my chair, watching him intently, 'cause he had that damn bag in his lap and holding onto it for dear life.

You might wonder why I didn't report my suspicions to the court. Karl never took his eyes off me. I had asked him what's in the bag, and he didn't admit to having a weapon. There was no probable cause.

I also had the clear sense that if I snitched my worst fears at any point before or during the hearing, he would have snapped. If I was wrong about him having a gun in his bag, he'd never trust anyone or get the help he needed. If I was right, he'd have blown away everyone in sight before the police could get to him.

The judge looked like he hated him and was dying to find him guilty of something and lock his azz up, but he couldn't, 'cause up to this point, Karl had been cooperative and compliant with the current court order. Clean drug tests, going to N/A, showing up for his own therapist who hadn't been able to get an admittance of guilt out of him either, and cooperating with me, at least superficially by coming to family therapy sessions. He accepted my recommendations. He was also pissed that Brandi didn't show up, but her attorney convinced him to let it go.

My conversation with Karl took place immediately after court. He indicated he was relieved he wouldn't be returning to jail for the time being, but for the first time, really looked sad, an expression he never showed before. I asked him why. He said now he had to move in with a friend and see a psychiatrist, which meant getting on medication.

"What else is bugging you?"

"My family needs me," he answered softly.

"Who needs you the most? Brandi or the kids?"

His voice became softer. "The kids..."

"She did it, didn't she?"

He looked down and grew quiet. I remained quiet, waiting to see if he'd say more.

"I might be a murderer," he added, "but the two guys I killed were murderers too, in the drug game like I used to be. It was me or them. But I ain't no child abuser."

"But Brandi is, ain't she?"

His face looked pained. "I love that woman. Been straight, clean, and working since I met her. I want to marry her if we ever get out of this mess."

"That's fine, Karl, but you can't protect both her and the kids if she's got rage issues. You've seen the welts on Sherry. What happens when Karl Jr. gets a little older? Make your choice. Her or those kids."

"I don't want my baby's mama in jail," he said flatly.

"Slim chance of that, and if so, doubt if it would be much time, and she'd get the help she needs afterwards."

"I ain't saying she did it," Karl said adamantly, "but if she did, I don't want my kid in foster care or put up for adoption. I'd rather die than see that happen. I mean it."

"Can't blame you for worrying about that," I replied. "Maybe Sherry's daddy's grandma will watch your son while Brandi goes through intensive therapy. You work and can pay her. I'll call her and find out, just in case you change your mind."

He nodded in agreement, but continued to look sad.

"Are you feeling suicidal?"

"Not so much now."

"Good."

We parted. I watched him walk away, shoulders slumped down in depression, and clutching his gym bag.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I watched Brandi wipe her many tears. We were in the women's detention facility.

"I can't believe he snitched on me," she said angrily. "I never snitched on him for the times he hit me."

"Well, you just did," I said. "Did he hit the kids too?"

"I ought to say yes," she said, "just for payback. But no, he never hit them."

"Why did he used to beat you?"

She grew quiet. She shrugged.

I asked, "Was it for beating them?"

"I never hit the baby."

"Why did you beat Sherry so bad that day?"

"She knocked over a whole glass of grape juice on the rug, and those stains don't come out. Management will charge me for a new carpet and we can barely make the rent. I only meant to beat her behind but she kept trying to wiggle away."

"Why'd you beat her naked?"

"That's how I always got my licks."

"Let's work out a therapeutic treatment plan so Sherry can have happier childhood memories, and when Junior's a big boy, he won't go through what she has, or what you did as a child."

She began crying again. "I'm really not as hard on my kids as she was on me. I hardly even remember most of those beatings."

"Denial, or blocking out bad memories is not necessarily a good thing," I replied. "They have a way of leaking out years later, as you see."

This didn't seem to sink in at the moment. That was okay, there'd be other opportunities for her to learn about the curse of multi-generational abuse.

"My mother loved me, she really did," Brandi said. "She just didn't want me to grow up bad. She was a good person."


I smiled gently at her and nodded. "I don't judge her; she came up in a different time and place. So did you. Take advantage of the help you'll get, and you and your children should be fine."

At her trial, she was given a suspended sentence and placed on probation with many conditions. One was that children not be returned to her for at least six months and only pending the progress she made individual and group therapy.

Karl, also present, had seen a psychiatrist who placed him on a new medication that appeared to alleviate his mood swings. The judge ordered that he also attend a domestic violence program if wanted to be reunited with his family. He agreed.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Dysfunction runs in families, and it runs in many directions. Show me a 'crazy' boyfriend or husband, chances are that the woman has issues too, or she would have sensed it when they first met and avoided getting involved with him, or bailed out when signs of it surfaced. The same goes for men who get attached to 'crazy' women.

Brandi and Karl associated pain with love. That's all they ever knew growing up. This intense combination of feelings kept them from being bored with one another or dealing with their own issues. It was passed down through the generations, making them a perfect fit with one another. Their challenge was to not pass on that legacy to their children.

The challenge of society is not be too quick to write off people but to educate them and to provide them with mental health and other services they need. Nor can we wish them away.

Karl spent his childhood and adolescence slipping through the cracks of school, protective services, juvenile services, and had some monster problems by adulthood. Brandi's situation as a child may have sent out some red flags to others, but if so, weren't addressed. Another crack in the system, and another generation almost lost and possibly doomed to repeat the patterns of their parents.

Tossing kids into foster care or taking them away permanently is also an action of last resort. These two kids were lucky. Foster care is traumatic for most children - which creates more problems in the next generation and fuels fear and secrecy, which in turn makes it harder for many of them to seek out or accept help later when they're older and need it even more. It's a cycle to be avoided when possible.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Sherry's paternal grandmother brought her for therapy. She ran to me and her small hand grabbed mine, and once inside my office, Sherry, the child whose mantra was I don't remember, made an announcement indicating that real therapy could finally begin.

Her small voice said, "My mama and Karl said I can remember now."


~~~~~


Monday, December 8, 2008

Barack Obama: An Answer To
Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?


There are many versions to the old joke,
Why did the chicken cross the road?


Yesterday, I came across one answer that George W. Bush might have given in the early years of the Iraq invasion:

"We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here."

Amusing, eh?

But after two terms of his agenda and philosophy, it hasn't been funny at all. Americans got a bunch of clues that his side of the street wasn't really our side, and en masse, we voted out The Party That Wrecked America.

It's not that the younger Bush doesn't love his country, it's just that the lies that got us into an unnecessary, horrible war and policies serving the greediest elements of corporate interests utterly destroyed the economy.

Symbolically, this left much of the country on one side of the road, and the elite on the other. The middle class in the formerly very wide median strip was run over, or is barely hanging on and worried to death about becoming road kill.

It's been so intense for me that last week I spent nearly every waking hour working, looking for more work, and going to a training, with hardly a free minute to read or write for pleasure. By Saturday, I was as fried as KFC chicken (yeah, bad joke) and under the weather with a mild flu-like symptoms for the entire weekend. I'm just beginning to feel human again. Forgive me, please, if I haven't visited your blog lately.

My spirits were lifted when I read this story -
Obama: Workers Staging A Sit-in Are Absolutely Right.

Obama told a news conference Sunday that Republic Windows and Doors should follow through on its commitments to the 200 workers, who say they won't leave the plant until they are assured they'll receive their severance and vacation pay.

"The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned, I think they're absolutely right and understand that what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy," Obama said.

"We never expected this," said Melvin Maclin, a factory employee and vice president of the local union that represents the workers. "We expected to go to jail."


And this story - Obama Means The End Of Blank Checks For Israel: Clinton Ambassador.

"The era of the blank cheque is over," said Martin Indyk, director of the Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute who is considered close to incoming secretary of state Hillary Clinton... "there are obligations on both sides (Israel and the Arabs)... [who] will have to respect these obligations."


And this story -
Obama Pledges Massive Public Works Program

Obama said his plan would put millions of people to work by "making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s."


These stories didn't come a day too soon for me. Hope, trust and faith in my leader have been important ingredients in my perception and belief in Barack. Like baking a cake, without them, it's not going to be good or even possible to swallow.

I had expected a regime change in his Cabinet appointments, but the same old faces were selected. If you've researched the histories of these people, you can't help but wonder if they'll be loyal to Obama's interests, or have their own hidden agendas... or even wonder what Obama's agenda really is. More of the same, or the promised changes to truly benefit the American people, rather than the United States Mega-Corporations of America?

In addition, what went down in India in the last week of November made me angry and even bitter; it's a signal that a new war with Pakistan is on the horizon. Barack made it clear during his campaign he'd go after bin Laden in Pakistan, and since early September, Bush ordered 'surgical strikes' in tribal areas in that country. This has been killing innocent civilians.

I'm old enough to remember Vietnam. War is like a cancer and spreads, and it spread to those neighboring countries without us legally declaring war on them... yet our boys, along the innocent and the environment, suffered. Many died.

Should India and Pakistan's age old feud spin out of control and we get sucked into it, as sure as the sun rises each day, we can expect a reinstatement of the draft. If either of my kids ever enlist, I'd be behind their decision 100%, and if death or a handicap is their fate, so be it. In fact, my son, now 20, tried to enlist every year since turning 18, but the rules of this century is that without a GED or high school diploma, he's ineligible.

In contrast, I'd just as soon not have that life experience of a military person knocking on my door to sadly inform me that one or both of my (drafted) children were maimed, crippled or killed in action.

So yeah, I've been so concerned about Obama's Cabinet choices and that act of terrorism in India that I seriously considered giving up ever blogging again about politics. What would I have to say to my bulk of readers who are still - and perhaps forever - in the honeymoon stage with Barack, and see him as incapable of doing any wrong and thus allergic and even hostile to criticism of his decisions?

I noted that my stats nose-dived after last Monday on that Divide & Conquer: India & Pakistan post, with fewer comments than usual. Often it's not what people say, but what they don't say. Silence really does speak louder than words, leaving me to wonder if Kit was in the doghouse.

So be it, I thought. I can just do essays on social issues and relationships.

I've always considered that if folks don't like my message on political topics, I'll consider that any argument that could persuade me otherwise, but if I'm not persuaded from raw facts and analytical thinking that a problem isn't worthy of discussion, I won't pretend otherwise to remain popular. The hits aren't worth it if they're gained by compromising on the larger view of what's going on.

Notice that I didn't say the truth. Who really knows what the truth is in the world of politics politricks. It comes down to any particular blogger giving their opinion, which if it has an iota of responsibility and credibility, is based on the available facts you carefully research, think about, and then synthesize to see the big picture of how masses of people are or will be affected. And hope you got it right so as not to mislead people.

Today's news shows me that Barack Obama has dived head first into the icy waters of the issues I value but surely make the men who control the world cringe and tremble with fear.

He came out for unions.

He used his new Chief of Staff, Hillary, to convey the message that no more blank checks will be written for Israel, and by default, any other country.

He's pushing the rebuilding of our crumbling infrastructure of transportation, which has the double-edged benefit of creating millions of jobs.

Barack made many compromises to get elected out of sheer necessity, from entirely supporting the apartheid-like governmental policies of Israel, to voting FISA, to keeping utterly silent on Dennis Kucinich's efforts to impeach Bush & Cheney, to supporting the first Wall Street Bailout plan, to giving a pass to that traitorous Joe Lieberman who supported the Republican candidate rather than his own party.

He did what he had to do, and even then I understood that if he didn't, he could never get into a position where he could really help us, all of us. Black folks in particular knew this intuitively.

But then I wondered, is he really for us, or for the monied interests?

By his most recent actions, the brotha plays a mean game of chicken, and I think it's safe to say he did something I haven't seen a US President do in my long life. As that protesting factory worker said in the first cited article, "We never expected this... we expected to go to jail."

That is phenomenal. That attitude will catch like a wildfire and fuel the revolution of the People, who have too long been treated as disposable farm animals, like chickens, sheep, and cattle herds. For the first time in a long, long time, we have been given the green light that it's okay to dissent injustice and still be treated like the worthy human beings that God made us.

So why did Barack Obama cross the road?

To join us on our side so more of us won't become road kill, because the habits of a good community organizer and activist are enduring.

And maybe, because God had mercy on his children and sent us this gift.