JUST MUSING: Slayer of fools.

The art of public speaking even if done well has one consistent overriding variable – there is no guarantee of success, even if the speaker has rode the metaphorical bicycle before. All speakers will fall at some point. This is inevitable. Not as inevitable as the sun appearing and disappearing. A consistency which can be likened to pest, you never know when they will appear, moving around the baseboard, from behind pictures, across the counter – shocking you as your guest pretends to have not seen.

A good speaker is the person who has seen the unseen; penetrating an undefined membrane, doing a free-fall into a form of purgatory, sometimes referred to a speaker’s hell by its members. They are the brave, survivors. Moving from one space to another, returning to the podium, after a compelled examination of his/her injuries, taking note of what he/she did wrong the last time; returning, now a bit reticent, forever leery, knowing, knowing, knowing what others do not.    

Those who fail return thinking the fall was a dream. They never understood the wind at their backs was the proverbial, thank you very much, which was not a thank you very much. Thanking them for coming, when in fact the early, sporadic clapping was their encouragement for the speaker to finish; the collective sighs of relief, propelling the cyclist into an unanticipated world of false-satisfaction, never to know the real meaning of the uncomfortable laughter. The failed speaker is remains trapped in one of those “bless your heart” moment, never a good thing. 

I muse to say public speaking is hard but not impossible.   I believe the more apt-description of the art-form should be reduced to its absurdity (reductio ad absurdum): the slayer of fools.

Act 1: 

Knowledge of the Subject Matter Helps and Don’t, Don’t Lie:

 In other words couple the speech to the truth, even if it is only the speaker’s truth.When asked by the press what he thought of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia after the death of Heather Heyer, he said: “There are good people of both sides.” There were immediate reactions to the tenor of the speech; some said he didn’t say what he said. This response was not good; there was a tape and everyone heard him say what he said. Others were repulsed. The press coverage revealed the presence of Nazis, right-wing hate groups and violent and repulsive acts leading up Ms. Heyer’s death.

A quick examination of his presentation reveals the speaker violated the number one principle, he obviously didn’t know his subject matter, and if he did, he elected to lie. The two sides were not equivalent, and were never equivalent.   

Act 2:

Tell the Truth and Gauge the Mood of the Audience:

I repeat part of the initial principal because truth is fundamental to communicating. Sure, you can lie. I would go so far so say some have perfected the art-form of lying – however, in public speaking the better course is tell as much of the truth as possible to your audience. They – the audience – will appreciate you for being truthful, even if few agree with you. The second part of the principal essentially means – know the audience. 

In his visit to the United Nations, his was an act of following tradition, and protocol.  As the host country, and as our leader, the speech was expected, part of the social norm.  He – said to be the most powerful man in the world – invited the rest of the world into his proverbial kingdom, it was his stage.  He looked out into the audience – as his predecessors had done in the past – and told a flat out lie. Telling world leaders he had accomplished than any other president in U.S. history. They – the world leaders – looked left, right, at each other, before a spontaneous combustion occurred. The laughed; a flat out, uncontrollable Monty Python guffaw theirs was. The king indeed had no clothes.

Later he said they were laughing with him. They weren’t. We weren’t. No one was. His documented history of insulting the rest of the world, them, their heritage had become too much. He thought he was omnipotent and felt flat out lying was permitted. Those expected platitudes did not come; he stood at the podium confused. His was an example of falling of the proverbial bicycle, floating in space, not knowing whether he was dreaming or not. He has not yet moved to the realm of a despot, King, Supreme leader, which would have permitted him not to follow any of these rules of public speaking. They laughed at him, not with him.      

Act 3: 

Preparation … Preparation … Preparation:

We have all trudged this path before, where we didn’t prepare enough. Over confident in our skills; failing to set aside sufficient time to prepare; failing to anticipate, predict and worry (worry is required ingredient compelling the speaker to see the possible worst case scenarios). Not having a way into the speech and a way out; failing to communicate and talk to the audience; reading off a piece of paper and ignoring the verbal and non-verbal clues and cries of disdain. All of this is any speaker’s plight; standing in place before falling, because the speaker coupled his/her preparation with the belief that public speaking is an overrated. Just like riding a bicycle you say. It isn’t and never will be. 

He looked out and laden his answer with a racist, nationalist, sexist twist. The reporter – she a Chinese American female – called him out on his racist, nationalist, sexist musings. He attempted to move away, quickly. He is not stupid. He knew he had been called out for his racist, nationalist and sexist behavior. He was a participant in a not this time moment. He pivoted quickly and called on another reporter – someone he had treated rudely before. Her treatment had a slightly different twist – it was a racist, sexist, bullying behavior. She didn’t dare save him. Her black skin reflected in the artificial light, while she deferred to the first speaker. He scowled at her defiance. His audience had seen him scowl before. No one was fearful, no one was deferential. No, no, not this time. He pivoted again, calling on a third speaker, who also just happened to be female. She too deferred to her Chinese American colleague, leaving him hanging. He had nowhere to go. He had nowhere else to pivot. He fled. His – the speaker’s – problem was a simple one:  he thought saying the same thing over and over again meant it was true. Nowhere to go, not like the Wizard of Oz; he wasn’t Dorothy. He – we – none of us – will never be Dorothy. Clicking his heels three times would not bring him to another place and never convert his racist, sexism, nationalist musings to the truth. He did what bad speakers do. He did what lazy cowards do; he did the same act – over and over again – and failed to appreciate his audience’s intelligence; meaning they would eventually figure out how to address the hate. Fool me once; fool me twice…well you know.

There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.― George W. Bush

Act 4: 

The Story is Never Completed in Three-Acts, Perhaps Four: The Speaker Must Earnestly Invite the Audience to Visit the Confines of His/Her Mind. This is probably the most difficult part of any speech – the use of words, silence, anxiety, fear, happiness, body language and gestures to allow the listener to visit a place he/she never thought he/she/they would have an opportunity to visit. Oh, I know what the literature says, that public speaking in one of our greatest fears. This belief seems misplaced with the advent of social media. A camera in every hand – pointing here, there – into the face of the speaker and others; the proliferation of blogs, social media posts – all this compels me to believe the position is no longer a truism. Everyone now is an expert on multiple subjects:  constitutional law, law enforcement, medicine, the First Amendment, rights, auto mechanics, repairing kitchen appliances. We are indeed a YouTube[ing], foolish-nation.  

҉            ҉            ҉

I muse to say, the art of public speaking is not necessarily impossible. This art form is best understood when reduced to its most simplistic level – it is the art of sharing thoughts, ideas; listening, watching and interacting with the audience. We have all failed at this art, and will continue to fail – falling, falling, falling. To assume failure is out the questions will assure the speaker will fail.  

Oh yeah – back to him, our dear leader – he is incapable of following any of the tenets of well prepared and executed public speech, no matter what he and his Complicitors say to the contrary; so be it.  So, I muse.

JUST MUSING: “Hopscotching and social distancing at the same time…”

Perhaps they didn’t read the instructions. I thought. Maybe they didn’t know, didn’t take the time to learn the rules, perhaps. Both choices seemed stupid; the instructions for hopscotch are online and even a crazy man implicitly understands what to do by saying the name of the game. Hers was a walk – one, two and three, four … five, six and seven … eight … nine and ten –   sadly converting the beloved childhood exercise into a slow motion game, unrecognizable game of Step-Step-Drag.  Another woman about the same age took her turn. I silently urged her to hop. She didn’t. I studied both of them carefully; none appeared to be infirmed, nothing seemed to explain this strange behavior, with the exception of laziness. No, I couldn’t hear them; distance and thick glass prevented me from spying, intruding any further.  I am sure though these young women’s step-step-drag was what it was, a lazy, life-styled imposed bastardization of a time-honored childhood game. I continued to watch as their charges – young children – observed, waited before taking a turn. They did what they did – Step-Step, Drag; Step-Step, Drag; Step-Step, Drag – heresy!

Seeing me, me seeing her

Looking up, seeing me, me seeing her. She immediately changed direction, tracing an angled line to the other side of the street. Doing the social distancing thing?  – Perhaps.

Her movement seemed familiar to me, previously experienced, a practiced societal distancing moment – moving away, quickly, when seeing one of them; calling the police when two, no more than three, decide to remain in place in a public place (parks, street corners, malls, standing in our own yards, a unique rule applied to us); years of telling on them people/their kind/me  for just being what we are; stacking assumptions on top of assumptions because of this melanin endowed birth-right, a seeming preordained condition making the Curse of Ham a true prophesy. 

My mind wandered, seeing history’s methodical dance, with each step, as she powered walked across the two lane road, doing the Southern thing. You know, the Southern thing:  locking car doors as those who looked like me moved through the parking lot, retreating away; equating our mere presence as the definition of probable cause in the criminal law; engaging in the mental dance of seeing us when playing word games, “deviant behavior”, “criminal,” a “cucaracha”.    

Seeing this, seeing that

Seeing this, seeing that, wandering how this social distancing thing will play over the long haul. Will we treat everyone the same? Do we do the history thing and try to blame the Chinese? Do the Chinese do likewise and shift the blame to others? Do we do as our great leader has done? Step, step, drag; step, step, drag indeed.  Perhaps ultimately blame Africans. No, no, this would be stretching even my random thoughts too far. We wouldn’t. They wouldn’t. Right…? 

My mind continued to process history as she stepped onto the sidewalk across the street to continue her walk. Perhaps … maybe …let me gander to share – this social distancing thing may work for me, causing my mind will stop playing tricks on me, permitting me to realize there is no such thing as a color-line.  Life would be perfect.

The ability to social distance is a matter of choice; not a matter of economic or societally-imposed conditions; never a matter of race – perfect, perfect – step, step, hop. Something to be performed in an egalitarian manner; equal, without regards to race, national origin, economic condition. Hopscotch indeed – I feel much better. 

When she was straight-line directly across from my place on the sidewalk, I nodded in her direction.  She didn’t do likewise. She continued to do the Southern thing, what good Southern neighbors do – she pretended I didn’t exist. 

I truly believe we will work through all of this – I mean the virus thing.  First we will learn how to use the word “some” better – some will die, some will not.  We will be forced to because we know our history – don’t we? 

Scientist will have conduct test/clinical trials to obtain a cure – don’t they.  History’s tales say so:  Syphilis tale, tests conducted in this country (Tuskegee) and Guatemala; gonorrhea tale (conducted by American scientist on the prison population in Terre Haute, Indiana); cholera and typhoid and plague-ridden fleas tales (tests conducted by the Japanese Imperial Army upon the Chinese people), and the HIV/AIDs experiments which were conducted on Africans by the French and Belgians. 

Looking out the window, seeing an invisible virus change the world; gone in lock-down, threatening the world economic order in which they told us was invincible, wondering what one can do, cannot do, still seeing an history’s incredible and consistent tale. I no longer feel good about any of this.    

Of course, we have seen this before, whether we realize it or not. The use medical and scientific know-how to save the world for the betterment of human-kind; saving those deemed to be the chosen (isn’t this is what the Nazi did). Conducting tests on the least of us (isn’t this the tale of colonialism, slavery, the annihilation of the indigenous people).  But we wouldn’t. We couldn’t. Not in today’s egalitarian society. Would we repeat history’s tales?  Oh absolutely we would.   

The pattern is always in the same:  identify the evil to be tackled, establish a protocol, search the world for tests subjects and report out the results – for the good of mankind (people kind) – explain the rest later. The explanation always comes later. The pattern is always the same:  to save the world on the backs of the others and condition the rest of us to feel comfortable with what was done in our name. The means justify the end, we are always told. Of course, I am sure of one thing as I muse: the excuse will always come much later.    

I muse to say we cannot continue to be lazy about any of this and step, step … drag ourselves through history continued and persistent beat. Our understanding and appreciation of history requires of us to hop-scotch through these new challenges and not allow the save the world mentality to obliteration of “others” rights (which are ultimately our rights). We should require an explanation now to prevent the same erratic, harsh beat from repeating itself. 

I hope you feel better. I do.     

JUST MUSING: The cause of male-pattern baldness…?

Walk on By is a song composed by Burt Bacharach, with lyrics by Hal David.  With time’s passage, the song is appropriately described as a classic.  Over the years, the song has been recorded or performed by countless artists.  The song was initially performed by Dionne Warwick in 1963.  In 1969 – the song was dramatically redone by Isaac Hayes.  This muse is written in an Isaac Hayes’ context; dramatic horns, and an instrumental section playing – low, high, low; permitting to tell a different tale to be told.   

Some of you know, others don’t, let me explain.  The Don’ts are those who have an amazing ability to sits on the plane for hours, walk calmly by the throne.  The Others run dutifully to the equivalent of the universal Red Cross Stations. Stations ingeniously designed – stick figures – one in a dress, the other in pants.  The Don’ts are don’ts because they are not so affected; ignoring Nature’s call, continuing conversations which should have ceased when the plane touchdown; smiling, laughing, telling one last tall tale.  A different plight plays out at the same time; The Others move hastily pass, death in their eyes, meaning they plan and intend death to those who dare interfere with their path to glory before the throne. 

 The Don’ts are also an oblivious bunch; existing in another world, singing a different tune – walking on by.   The Others know the tune – absolutely – though heard through a different megaphone; theirs a twisted, meaner and distorted sound. 

 Please don’t interpret any of this to mean The Others are pessimist.  No, no, no, they are forever hope and pray for the best as they flee.  Walk on by they do; forever, forever, forever, trying to hide the tears and sadness.   

If you see me walking down the street and I start to cry each time we meet

Walk on by, Walk on by

Make believe
That you don’t see the tears
Just let me grieve
In private ’cause each time I see you
I can’t help myself

I break down and cry
Oh baby walk on by

The Don’ts will never understand what this muse is about, because they – them – those people will never understand our frustrations.  Walking, talking, engaged with those of like manner and mode with their irritating, chatty laughter – ha, ha.  While we abandon all social graces and flat out run.  Grabbing, pulling and holding tightly onto body parts – ten to twenty feet out – rushing, rushing, rushing – wishing, wishing, wishing – we successfully make it to the Red Cross Relief Stations.  Hoping there’s no line.  Invariably seeing a line – wishing, hoping, doing the woo-hoo dance in unison.  Praying to the Pee-Pee Gods, pledging fealty – this time, that time, forever – while the Chatty Bunch continue their predictable path – into the distance, out the terminal.  

I just can’t get over losing you
So if I seem broken in two
Please walk on by, walk on by

Foolish pride, that is all I have left

So let me hide

Standing in place, advancement in increments smaller than an inch – it seems; feeling like a failure, wishing for a magical conversion back to the toddler stage so as to be graced with society’s blessings – permitted to let my pee run free.  

No Walt Disney magic this time; standing in line, counting out loud, thinking, counting to myself.  I thought.  Except I wasn’t – a loud and verbal count it was – “one thousand one, one thousand two … one thousand three” … clear, properly punctuated, a loud count, done on cue with our woo-hoo dance.

Why, why, why … “woo-hoo, woo-hoo” … wait … you only have two more people!  Concentrate, concentrate, you can do this, hold it, hold it…   Looking and staring a hole in the man’s head hovering over latrine 3.  Why is he taking so long!?  Surely he needs to check his prostate.  The man hovering over latrine 2 is singing to himself, peeing more on the wall, his pants and feet, instead of peeing where he supposed to pee.   Stall 6 swings opens, then the Disney Magic shit happened.  A man runs around the crowd.  Out of nowhere he came – Flash!  Boom!  Wow! – slamming the stall’s door behind him.

The pattern is a predicable one – a guttural, manly sound emitted even coming from the most passive of us.  A strong, firm zip done while standing wide-legged to better accommodate “that thang” accompanied by each one of us moving towards the sink.  Some to check their hair, clothes, looks, without ever coning near the water; others who do the comic book flash, surely faster than the electronic eye, as if saying – see it didn’t – but the amount of water which actually touched their hands is mirage worthy.  Maybe a particularly electromagnetic eye and would be able to detect can water one their hands, but not mine.  The CDC has been lied to – the number is 1, if we are lucky 2 out of 10 men wash their hands.  

There is no dust in my eyes

Smoke ain’t making me cry

It’s the hurt you put on me

I don’t want you to see this man cry

One more…  One more…  One more… Left foot, right foot, tippy-toes, back on both heels; then reality struck.  The man with the prostate problem, he finished around the time Another Poor Soul entered and emitted the well-recognized wounded primate scream.  We didn’t push Another Poor Soul aside; social disorder became social order.  The collective hoard stepped back and permitted one of our own to cut the line.  Another Poor Soul held onto dear life – now purple and engorged.    Another Poor Soul took Latrine 1; one hand remained down, the other hand up, against the wall.  He was a whimpering, sprinkling mess – sprinkle here, sprinkle there – whimper, whimper – watering both legs, the floor, casting aside all pride.  His companion – apparently one of The Don’ts – stood on the other side of the concrete wall.  She thought these were Another Poor Soul’s mutterings, they weren’t.   The sounds belonged to He Who Lingered at the Latrine and the Man Who Broke Protocol and disappeared into one of the stalls.  He Who Lingered at the Latrine’s lips was flush against the tile.   He wailed away, pulling, tugging, flipping his member left-right, right-left.  A pure exhibitionist – wanting to be noticed – while not realizing he was tempting fate.  In our state of agitation should have … we didn’t; civilized and restrained we were, even though a collective was our growl emitted.  These were the sounds she heard.  Another Pour Soul’s sounds assured us he didn’t cheat the players or the game.  A utterly possessed souls he was; nature’s sounds told us so.  Our wait permitted me to realize how rich life is – seeing life, feeling death, touching ones inner and outer-self in the strangest of places.

Approaching the throne, hurting, holding onto the prize – then absolutely nothing – did I lose the urge when seeing the man flip, flip and then stroke?  Where the painful guttural sounds too much?   Did I really need to go?   Those standing behind me didn’t care to engage in a philosophical debate.  Not this time, not that time.  They didn’t care:  right, left; left right; back on both heels, not the same as a chorus line, surely just as coordinated and in time.   

¦ ¦ ¦ ¦ The CDC says that only 31 percent of men 

and 65 percent of women

Under normal circumstances, I would agree with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).  I muse to say the CDC has been lied to; the number of men who wash their hands is far worse – 2 out of 10 on most occasions, 1 out of 10 when in a rush.  This is considered observation. 

The same predictable sounds and pattern which plays on a reel – a guttural, manly sounds emitted, sounds which come from the passive of us.  A strong, firm zip done while standing wide-legged to better accommodate “that thang”; accompanied the individual and collective herd moving towards the sink.  Some to check their hair, clothes, looks, without ever coning near the water; others do the comic book flash, surely faster than the electronic eye – the amount of water which actually touches their hands is mirage worthy.  Maybe a particularly electromagnetic eye would be able to detect can water, but not mine.  I say this to say, the CDC has been lied to – the number is 1, if we are lucky 2 out of 10 men wash their hands.  

Why is the CDC number higher?  Maybe the CDC didn’t do their empirical research on the ground, meaning sitting in the bathroom and watching.  Perhaps CDC was being too optimistic and not scientific.  Probably they were fooled by the men coming out patting their butts pretending to be drying their hands.  They didn’t wash their hands, they know they didn’t!  Most likely the subjects flat-out lied to the government agents.   

So we move to and from, listening to the news, trying to figure out what to do, what to purchase, whether to travel.  Rushing to and from, attempting to learn more about the Coronavirus (COVID-19); pushing away from the latrine, opening the stall doors,; nodding to others without making contact, while predictable male-pattern bathroom decorum continued, then it didn’t.  This time something changed.  When moving to the other side of the wall as strange phenomena occupied; something new in nature.  All the sinks were occupied, in use.  Water was flowing and splashing onto hands.  Not flash washes.  Not turning on the water and letting it run while the subjects do the vanity thing.  None were using the water to comb heads of hair.  No, no, the blessings of the human race were washing their hands, a full, flat assault on those hands.  I know I believed there was a one-eyed, one-armed man who lived on the railroad tracks in community when I was a child; one of many mythical creatures of who lived in my mind.  I now know there was no such man.  However, in these changing times, eight out of ten men paying homage to the throne and washing their hands before exiting indeed seems to me to be a bit of Disney magic I had been searching for all along.

Foolish pride
Is all that I have left
So let me hide
The tears and the sadness you gave me
When you said goodbye
Walk on by
And walk on by
And walk by…

JUST MUSING: Roll ’em bones…

“No, no, no, you lost…!” – said after she magically engrafted a new set of rules.  Yelling, jumping up and down, declaring victory before issuing her fiat, “You lose…we aren’t playing by those rules, anymore…!” She didn’t wait for any retort.  She moved backwards – and away – parallel to the ground, knees bent, delicately balancing on one hand, while the other hand held the jacks and ball.  The magician she was, balancing on one hand, before pirouetting and turning in the opposite direction; laughter a constant companion. 

Doing the happy dance; round, and round she went.  I didn’t have her going in circles, nothing of the sorts.  I was too young to understand what the song’s lyrics actually meant.  Her own actions possessed her.  With both arms extended, she circled around me, like an airplane – perhaps, maybe – except her cockpit was agape.  A haunting laugh spilled outward and toward me, interrupting any attempt on my part to stop her from screaming. “Wait, wait, wait…” 

For those of you of a certain cultural persuasion and age vintage, the apt-lyric would be – “Oh, round and round I go.”  No, no, she was not spun out of over me.  Hers was instead a boastful, cheating brag – spilling out during one of the circles, before she fled to the other side of the school yard, “like a spinning top” – to tell others.   

“I won…!”

“Wait, wait, wait, you cheated, those weren’t the rules…!”

҈            ҉            ҉

Cheating, childhood games and politics are universally related, perhaps intertwined – much like a tangled ball of thread – no beginning, no end; impossibly tangled, no matter your patience and the degree of pulling.  A gentle tug on the thread’s structure; unwinding one part, knotting the other, with the same-same remaining the status quo, a knotted and tangled mess. 

In the childhood games of jacks, marbles, four corners, square, hopscotch, baseball, basketball and football, the rules are the rules – right? 

“You missed!”

“No, I didn’t!!!”

The last time I checked there were not any competitive adult leagues of hopscotch, four square, marbles; some of these games survived the transition from childhood to adulthood.  So have the rules; the rules are the rules – right?  They are, unless they’re not – or stated another way, until they aren’t. 

I actually learned all the rules of how to roll the bones from an older boy, a neighbor.  I couldn’t have been no older than 13.  He -18-19-20 – in his second year of college.   “Let me show you,” said at the same time he reached into his pocket and pulled a pair of small, white dice.  The dice seemed different than the dice from Monopoly.  A bit smaller the dice the older boys threw while encircled behind the schoolhouse – in their various degrees of bent-ness – hovering, calling out numbers, rattling off wishes and wants.  Theirs was a mere copycat of what they heard older men say; magical, imaginative incantations willing, hoping the object of their affection would grant their every heartfelt wish.  My baby needs groceries – huh!      

“I don’t gamble…”   

Darnell didn’t hear me, so it seemed.  Opening his hand wider, doing what he did, rolling the dice on the floor; talking, never responding to what I said, what I didn’t do.

“You got any money…?

“I think I got twenty-five dollars?”

“Have you ever rolled the bones before?”

“I said I don’t gamble…”

“Each dice has six sides, with each side possessing a number, 1-6; the lowest 1; highest 6…got that…”   

Sometimes segments of our Monopoly games converted.  Other times we mimicked the older boys.  Show me you love me…seven!  Ha!  Screaming, threatening to do great harm when someone cheated, even though not a dime was at stake, even though we know all the rules.  You boys get away from here.   Even though Darnell’s dice were the smallest dice I had ever seen, I learned another lesson that day – size doesn’t matter, all dice are the same.   

Give me a six!  … Looking for a sweet six!  

Sitting on the edge of the bed in wonderment, seeing and hearing past voices; Darnell moved readily past the stop signs, from telling me what to expect in college to rolling the bones.  My memory tells me his father died first.  I remember both were still living at the time; they remained ensconced on the other side of the door.  The five thirty news personality could be heard reporting the latest tragedy in our collective lives.

“Take your money out… put it on the floor.”

 I did – what he said to do.  He did likewise – put his money on the floor. 

Darnell continued to explain the rules of rolling the bones.  He never asked me whether I wanted to play.  He never asked what I knew.  He flat out ignored I didn’t gamble.   I said nothing.  I started to tell him what I little I knew.  I didn’t.  I wanted to tell him I was the luckiness fool I knew on any new game, somewhat akin to fool’s gold.  I didn’t. 

Darnell smiled after finishing.  He didn’t appear to be smiling to be smiling.  His was an anticipatory smile, what he was going to do to me.  The Wile E. Coyote smile; a ready, set, go smile; knowing – flat out – knowing.  He gave me the dice, inched the pot closer to him, and said, “Roll”.    

I remembered Darnell telling me something about 7, something else about adding the numbers on both dice together – that we were playing for, “two dollars a game…”   

I said “7” and rolled – how about that – magic! Darnell’s eyes bucked, not quite like Buckwheat’s eyes, a lighter, brown version of Buckwheat, same eyes though.     

“Did I win?” 

Darnell mumbled, “Yeah, yeah…”  Something told me I was safe from being cursed out.  His father commented on the news. His mother replied.    

So we did, until we didn’t; repeatedly, ten/fifteen times, with the Gods of Naiveté, protected their blissful, ignorant child.  Darnell eyes now seemed glued in place, a perpetual bulge.  He was now cursing under his breath.  He then do what I heard the older boys do behind the school, “double or nothing”.  He didn’t ask me whether I wanted to double the bets with now my money.  We did the double things … a number of times.  I won still… animals and children, animals and children, indeed. 

Darnell owed me the pot and more.  He knew this.  I knew this.  Boys and girls – chillen and dogs, everybody knew.  I won! – At least for a brief period, until the rules of nature interceded. 

The bigger boy collected himself, mumbled something about “beginner’s luck” and grabbed his money off the floor.  He then became a moral soul – “We shouldn’t be gambling…”  He demanded I take the rest of his money out of my pocket.  I did what I was told.  He told me to go home.  I did that too!       

҈            ҉            ҉

Recently, Major League Baseball (MLB) reported the results of their investigation into the Houston Astros who were accused of cheating during baseball games by stealing signs.  I didn’t quite understand what the complaint was about – nor now do I actually fully understand.  Wait!  What!  Aren’t these grown men playing baseball the same way they played when they were youth – looking for an advantage over an opponent; any opponent.   

The object of the Astros’ exercise/act/malfeasance was to read the catcher and pitcher’s signs, by the use of technology, then relay the anticipated pitch by a non-technological manner – banging on a trash can – to indicate the coming pitch. 

Baseball wasn’t my sport but I do remember – when I played the game – when batting you are always anticipating the pitch, reading the pitcher and catcher, watching for signs of weaknesses in the defensive positions of the players in the outfield, positioning the bat to take advantage of the pitch, the openings in the field.   Told by your coaches to make your opponent think they know your weakness (to believe what you want them to believe), while sucker punching them with hidden strengths.  Flash a sign – a supposed coveted, secreted sign – which maybe false/ contradictory/ meaningless, while the real signs are relayed through other means.  A rule is a rule you say? 

When the other team becomes sloppy, identify the sign stealer, relay this to the pitcher and hit him/her with the next time up or maybe every time up.  It’s just a game – right!  This is why your catcher should always be the biggest/baddest boy on your team, retrieving the ball asking politely, “Oh!  The guy manning the trashcan missed the fast ball upside your head…?”   Fall, trip, push, challenge the rule breaker every time; telling them what you know – in every sport – protect your turf. 

Why didn’t the Astros’ opponents turn over their trash cans and bang with them – one time, two times, three times – outing the routine.  If you good at what you do, don’t apologize.  The other team, why complain to the referee?  The game is baseball.   If a complaint is lodged with the league, do a collective your incredulous dance of defiance.  What!?  Are you kidding me…this is baseball! 

In the Astros’ case I suspect other teams knew what they were doing.  There is no need for each player on the other team to be rocket-scientist to figure out what one bang meant; what two bangs meant.  It seems to me the offenders were engaged in an unwritten, the time-honored tradition of the game.  The Astros should have replied to the league and public, “There is no crying in baseball.”  That’s a rule isn’t it…?” 

The Astros, over the last three years, have been one of baseball’s dominant teams and were coming off a World Series they should have never lost.  So instead of the other teams doing the mano-a-mano thing, as is common in games of anything, the losers ran and told, and played innocent and virtuous.  What…?  What was the complaint again…?   Dominoes, pokeno, spades – you want me to apologize for what…!  You lost, get up from the table! 

The girl who cheated and circled like an airplane didn’t need to tell me she changed the rules.  I knew.  She scooted away and started laughed a haughty laugh.  She made it clear what she did, just in case I was slow on the uptake.  I didn’t cry – a worst offense.  I didn’t run and tell the others I was cheated.  I didn’t tell parents.  I chased after her, laughing and screaming, knowing it was on me not to careful what rules we were playing by – “shut up, shut up, you didn’t win!  Play me again…! 

In basketball, playing defense means playing within and on the edges of the rules.  In this supposed non-contact sport, good defense at times means administering punishment – verbal and nonverbal.  Talking, pulling, grabbing where the referee can’t see the punch to tug; physically moving the other player out of position out of his favorite spot – the exercise of both physical and mental force.  Pick another game – any game – the concept is readily applied to each, this is somewhat akin to the circumstance of a bigger boy daring a smaller boy to get in a beef over his taking his money back.  Absolutely, the game get interesting when the smaller boy is invested and considers the money his; even if he didn’t want to roll ‘em bones, knew with each throw the gods was placing the dice in a proper alignment with the stars and he felt his honor demanded he fight for what was rightfully his, protecting the gods’ gift. 

I will admit I know little about the gentleman/ gentlewoman’s sports of golf and tennis and how to play on the edge of the rules/cheat/fudge/obtain an advantage by playing in a manner which doesn’t show up in the rule books.  In team sports, and the rolling of the bone, the answer to the offended person/ team is rather simple – “You are complaining about what exactly…?

I muse to say, I’m serious.  I’m not serious.  I’m both. 

Honestly I muse to make a more salient point – it is a false dichotomy to compare cheating in childhood games to the world of governing, and politics.  During the recent impeachment proceedings this is what the Senators told us, didn’t they? 

He learned his lesson – I honestly have never heard of any criminal defendant being permitted to steal and walk free unless he/she has pled and proved his/her insanity defense.   

He learned lying doesn’t pay…really?  He learned not to involved foreign governments in American elections?  What…?  James Brown’s – the entertainer – routine was to count to one, two … Do we now need to count to three before giving the drummer’s some. 

He had good intent and evil intent – This too is problematic.  Every politician – from the dumbest to the brightest when caught in wrongdoing would love to be accorded this defense. I did it for the good of the country.  I was helping others by violating laws.  I am protecting other presidents.  This argument is worse than permitting a dog one free bite.  This argument provides The Malfeasant One a readily available and full-proof defense; biting away, permitting him/her to be above the law, further eroding long-held, written and unwritten rules supporting the Constitution. 

I would have fought Darnell to keep my money I put in the pot.  I didn’t because he retrieved only his money from the floor and from my pockets – the money he had lost.  There was no need to fight, I wasn’t invested in the game and winning.  Of course, I would have never been invited back to his parent’s home – after me striking him, and he striking back, to protect his residual honor.  His parents probably wouldn’t have spoken to me again.  They would have told my mother.  I knew this when he finished collecting the lost money.    All Darnell – and I – had to do was not play again.  I told him I didn’t gamble – he didn’t listen.  His grubbing – not grabbing – the money and claiming possession meant little to me, even though he changed the rules.  I knew I should not have let the game go as far as it did, but I did – over, over, over, over again – converting in an instant to Gambling Anthony.  When I moved toward the door, I understood the older boy’s unintended lesson.       

The President’s wishes can never be a crime – tell this to any child playing a childhood game.  In childhood games, you can never do whatever you want.  He screamed/she screamed/they will scream, even fight cheaters.  The field, diamond, court, between and outside the lines of four-squares all hell will break loose, with everyone moving in opposite directions, promising to never play with or against the other person/team/cheaters again.  Children are pretty good at self-enforcing the rules – well, we were. 

Childhood games are different, than politics – we can elect to never play the other kid/team again – because it is a game.  Under the Constitution we have no option, even though the other side wants us to never play again, leaving them with total control, an unequal society, an imperfect union.  This is what all the President’s defenders are saying, isn’t it? 

In the world of politics and the Constitution, the aim of a more perfect union is to declare the game everyone’s game.  Isn’t it…?  They tell us the President can do whatever he wants and can play by whatever rules he wants.  How is this possible?  This concept is foreign to any childhood games, to any game of chance.  I muse to say the argument of telling the rest of us to walk away, and perhaps not worry about playing again because he – the President – seems to permit the permit the fundamental erosion of constitutional principles and concepts.  Sure, I have heard of the adage that politics is rough and tumble.  This adage never meant illegality and corruption. 

This doesn’t take away from my previous position – the baseball teams – Nationals, Yankees and Dodgers – need to get a grip and play baseball (you are permitted to call me a name at this time).  It seems to me the defense of the Constitution is different and others not playing or name-calling isn’t sufficient.  More is required of us.    

JUST MUSING: … nah, nah

I know. I know – tis the season.  Are you permitted to finish the rest? – You are.    To be jolly – perhaps; for love – maybe; giving, cooking, eating – sharing?  Pick one, pick all – tis the season though, isn’t it?  The reaffirming of traditions, renewing old acquaintances, family – the old, a little bit of the new, same-same.  Remembrances, faith, lives lived and lost, ode to the holidays; the holidays – ah yes, the holidays. 

Years ago, I traveled over the holidays to visit my mother.  Immediately upon my arrival she said what was on her mind… “…don’t get too comfortable, you need to visit your grandmother.  She has been asking about you.”  Her words were spoken in a mother’s way, saying what she had to say – never asking yes or no, telling.  Said not in the same voice and manner as, “close the refrigerator” … “close the front door”, although similar – a demand, an expectation to be acted upon immediately – parental love is apt description when these words are stated in the best light.  I answered how I was trained to answer, “Yes, ma’am.”  “Yes ma’am” was the answer, even if a multiple choice quiz is given; even if the test is a blind-test – the blinking lights of a well-lived relationship told me how to answer.  Doing what I was told to do, reaching holding, hugging – a hug the equivalent of a childhood tag – “I got you”; then changing direction in mid-step, moving sideways, then backward, to do what I was told to do, “not tomorrow, right now.”  Not the song’s lyrics, but Georgia’s words. 

She told me to visit soon, “Your grandmother is not feeling well.”  Not tomorrow right now.  I immediately turned to comply – but I digress.        

Before leaving I noticed my younger sister standing in the kitchen.  I pivoted and moved in her direction.  She smiled. I smiled.    

“…come with me.” 

“I don’t think so.” 

“Why?”  

“Grandmother Vide has never treated me nice …”

“That’s not true, is it…?”

Honestly, I didn’t know whether Viola Richardson did or not.  Yes, I saw her as firm – resolute – woman, a tad mean.  I never knew her to treat any of us differently.  Absolutely, my view originated from child’s eyes – viewing the world through a limited prism, seeing the immediate, and even if I saw my eyes were probably too colored. 

“It’s true”, Ima Jean said, she lowered her head, turned away; still waters indeed run deep.  Momma said nothing.  She let us talk.

“Oh come with me…,” grabbing Jean’s hand, retrieving a coat of the couch, pulling her with me out the door.  Jean willingly complied, in part – I say – even though her shoulders and a palpable silence said she wasn’t. 

“If she treats you differently today, we can leave immediately.” 

Jean remained hauntingly quiet; sitting in place, looking out the window, staring.   Neighborhoods hovered overhead, the wind whistled, we moved west on Interstate 30; past downtown, Mrs. Baird’s Bread bakery, nearing our exit to Lake Como.   The uncomfortable cold, the smell of breads, the holiday lights didn’t stop Jean’s voice playing on a repeat cycle … “She has never treated me nice” … 

This was a time before others discovered Lake Como was near the downtown district, was ideal for prime development, when others who didn’t look like us only visited to pick up domestic workers – “I know it’s late, oh, come on and steal away.”   

Grandmother Vide greeted me.   An invisible wall appeared before she could say hello to Jean – which she didn’t – silently engulfing its victim from the time Jean entered to the time she took a seat in the kitchen.  She never said a word to Jean.  Not a word.  The words directed my way now seemed cloistered.  Hers was a palpable, striking coldness, no child deserves. Viola Richardson, my father’s mother, did what she did comfortably – a practiced behavior, done over and over again, throughout the years – Merry Christmas indeed.  You are so welcomed.

My father, Leon Griffin, gave up early on life.  A mixture of segregation, deferred dreams, and the onset of mental illness proved too much.  “He gave up.  Came home one day, frustrated, in tears; he said he was never going to work another day for a white man and that a Negro couldn’t afford him.”  I heard Momma’s words.  I saw my father’s withdrawn eyes, barely audible mumbles.  He withdrew – quit work – another victim of the unequal distribution of societal resources – so I thought later, so I learned much later.  This was the promise I made, an internal promise to work at leveling the playing field; wanting to become a lawyer, working toward law school; “a privilege not accorded…”, Momma said – “in nineteen thirties, nineteen forties Texas” – jingle, jingle.

One time – two, three – four times I saw what I saw; talking, moving uncomfortably about the house, trying to convince myself none of this was true; wanting none of what I saw and heard to be true.  I watched Jean move from one level of withdrawal to another – cowering, crying internally, saying nothing – the same nothing she said stumbling out the door, into the car, exiting the car, into the house.  Naïve, naïve, me – solving the problem, dismissing what she said, by my actions, my words – nah, nah.     

“Grandmother … Jean told me you treated her differently, rude in fact”, were my words.  I didn’t let her respond.  I didn’t want a response.  I saw what I saw.  “She is my sister.  She will always be my sister and I love her.  Your treatment of her is telling me you don’t want anything to do with me.  I will never see you again.” 

I had never talked to Viola Richardson in such a manner.  I never contemplated I ever would.  My passage into these unknown waters was before our children were born.  They would not have the life-privilege of meeting Viola nor Edward.  I was still in college.  In hindsight, I was barely considered to be a man – seventeen, perhaps eighteen. 

Jean remained seated.  She never looked up.  She continued to speak silently.  The silence though was loud and clear, a continual run-on silence.  Childhood anxieties, life experiences, well-worn personality traits said she didn’t want to be in the room; no matter what I said, no matter what I did.

I moved past Grandmother Vide, and grabbed Jean’s now compliant hands.  I didn’t have to grab her coat; she had never made herself comfortable.  We moved from the kitchen, the living room, to the front porch, to the car, never looking back. 

After my father withdrew, Momma divorced him.  She ultimately remarried.  She had my youngest sisters, during the second marriage (Ima Jean and Ida Dell).  One time – within her reach and ears – one of us began to utter an impermissible tease.  Georgia wasn’t having any of this:  “Don’t ever say step-sister, don’t you ever permit anyone else to do likewise, y’all are brother and sisters.”  I believe this was the only time we were given permission to fight by Georgia.  I believe my disrespecting my elder was the permitted fight.  I told Momma what I saw and heard when we arrived back home.  She didn’t chastise me.  She said nothing.  She had seen me act this way before – doing what I was told to do as a child; fight for my siblings, for me – for her.  Jean moved from the perimeter to the back of the house.  She continued to speak with a profound silence.

🎄         🎄         🎄

Viola Richardson loved food, her church, family, design – blending colors, fabrics, linens – nice things.  Original and reconditioned antique furniture graced her home.  She never permitted Grandfather Edward to cook, even though he readily bragged of being a better cook.  “I don’t get it, a chef on the railroad can’t cook for his grand kids”, he said.  “She won’t let me cook because I’m a better cook.”  Grandmother Vide continue to set the table, pulling out nice plates for dinner. 

“Get up and wash your hands”, she said to us.  “Shut up” – told to Edward.  Strangely, these memories remained etched in place; her immaculately kept home, the wafting smell of the cigars Edward chewed constantly. 

I don’t remember seeing Ida. I don’t remember seeing Jean when we moved from the kitchen to the restroom.  I complied, oblivious in a child’s way; laughing internally at their banter, ignoring a profound banter which worked to batter the psyche of a child – my sister – over the years. 

My other grandmother was Chester Anna was much like Viola in certain ways, they differed though in others.  Both brown skinned, good complexion, religious women – firm and plain-spoken.  They differed in locale – Chester Anna born, raised and lived in a farming community up until her illness; Viola a city girl.  Chester Anna a master of the English language, never a profane word uttered from her lips; Viola’s used only one curse word – repeatedly, even when professing her love for Jesus.  “S_ _ t, I love me some Jesus!”  I don’t know whether she ever saw or heard us laughing in the other room when she said what she said. 

Chester Anna set the table with black rimmed, white metal plates.  Like Viola the expectations were clear:  children never reached and touched without washing, without paying homage.  She made her positions clear, in the same firm, no-nonsense matter.  We complied in the same no-nonsense matter, moving away from the table, rushing in the opposite direction, arriving back mere seconds later with part clean hands aloft. 

Muh Chest told me the animals knew when their time had come – a rite of passage perhaps – moving from the barn area to far off fields – foretelling their demise; from ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  She never called a veterinarian – she knew.  Grandmother Vide also knew. 

She called my mother.  My mother called me.  “She wants you to come, Vide wants to see you.”   

“I can’t.  I won’t.”

“She called Jean.  She apologized and asked for her forgiveness.  She wants to apologize to you.”

“She doesn’t have to apologize to me…”

“She wants to see you…” 

Momma didn’t say I had to travel to Fort Worth.  No, no, no – her words were coded in parent-speak, a language I was good at interpreting.  This too wasn’t a choice.  I traveled to Fort Worth two days later. 

Daddy Leon let me into the house; he nodded, moved out of the way, and pointed.  I found her in her and Edward’s bedroom – in the back of the house.  The curtains were drawn; the room was dark; isolating, warm.  She was lying in her bed, her head appeared sweated.  The covers were pulled up to her chin.  Edward had long passed – the Chambers stove was no more, the kitchen table looked different – no linens, no china – perhaps a different dining room table.  The house looked nothing like I remembered: unkempt, smaller – not dirty, not meticulous – not Viola’s home, not kept to Viola’s standards.  I quietly moved from place to place – to my place – next to her bed.  She extended her left hand from under the covers.  She asked me for my forgiveness.  I gave what I could – “Yes, ma’am … Momma told me you talked to Ima Jean.”   

We didn’t talk long.  She didn’t ask much of me nor me of her.  I held her hand and heard Chester Anna voice, “it won’t be long”.  Seeing animals move to the other field.  Seeing elders in the community come to Chester Anna’s home to die.  Listening and helping her wash their bodies, seeing the dying process play out in front of my eyes during those long, hot, memorable Texas summers.          

🎄         🎄         🎄

The dishwasher was invented in 1850.  The original machine was a wooden contraption which had little no practical application to the home.  “When Miele introduced the first automated model in 1960, it was still costly – as much as a housekeeper’s annual salary, in fact. Yet the concept stood the test of time and by the end of the 1970s, the dishwasher had become one of the most common home appliances.”  

The history of the dishwasher is not the reason I muse.  It does help one understand the reason I muse.  One set of grandparents having better plates than the other is not why nor is both grandmother’s sternest, bordering on meanest is not the reason why.  Such was their way – part of their ingrained personalities, surviving in a hostile world, making sure their charge remained respectful, dutiful and fed. 

Members of Viola’s church spoke of her meanest less than a month after my visit – followed by polite, church giggles, layered with “yes Lords”, before smiling, looking outward, comforting with references to her kindness, and multi-fold, complex personality – as we all are.  I tell these stories because this is what holidays to do us – what makes us happy, what makes us sad, a time for reflections.

Please permit me to explain this way:  Market Insider issued a 2017 Press Release:

The US paper cups and paper plates market reached a value of US$ 104 billion in 2016 … The market is expected to reach a value of US$ 119 billion by 2022.”  

Much like pestilence, paper plates and cups, plastic silverware seems to me to be a resistance played out in reverse, by those who were compelled to wash the dishes after meals, during the holidays, after being awaken from a fake/real/deep sleep – drug back to the kitchen to finish the assigned chores.   Are you still dreaming of that white Christmas?  

I muse to say nah – nah, don’t you dare pull out the paper plates, plastic glasses, and utensils during the holidays.  If the sky is not falling, if the sun fails to come up, if you aren’t sitting on a beach during the holidays – these are the best of times, these are the worst of times – don’t.  I don’t care – don’t.

There is no reason to continue this misplaced, misguided, ill-defined resistance – nah-nah.  Stop invidiously disturbing the minds of your children, relatives, me with a Dixie plate – nah – nah … nah, nah – nah-nah.   Life is too unbalanced and unfair for you to put such a burden on them – me.  Put the paper and plastics products down – save a psyche.  If you’ve been putting off getting therapy for your not yet diagnosed, childhood trauma of too many dishes washed – do so now.  Momma didn’t have, papa didn’t have – so what!  Use a real plate.

One of the nation’s Founding Fathers, John Adams, wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail Adams, on May 12, 1780:

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.  My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelains.  

We are almost there, be patient with me.

I don’t care what generation you are dealing with.  I do know when you reach the generation which has the privilege to study “painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelains”, the insult to history and lives lived can be no clearer – we should no longer continue the tragic slide to the absurd – nah-nah, nah-nah. 

“I said wash the dishes!” 

Sometimes we hold onto petty things much too long.  You also said at one time you weren’t going to eat another potato, rice, beans, tortilla; life is too short and complex to continue dabbling in these continued idiocies. 

I need not bother with whether you are the thrower or the throwee, we need not confuse issues.  The purpose of the common vessel known as a plate is not for tossing at other human being.  Likewise, plates and silverware are not meant to remain closeted forever, never to be used, protected, stored in much too much expensive cabinets and cases – don’t insult the craftsmen, artists, silversmiths – history’s voices will appreciate your acknowledgement. 

Use these cultural vessels, relish their history, understand these are goods which have moved around the world – traded, shared, modified – the subject of exchange by different cultures, and peoples.  Clay vessels in some cultures, tin, glass, copper … china.  If you aren’t convinced, then move to your living room and grab a plastic cover and cover every chair, couch, lamp, share inch of the floor – sometimes one must reduce an absurd practice for the blind to see.       

The quality of the plate doesn’t matter – metal, melamine, bone china – doesn’t matter – the point is use a real plate.  Nah, nah, nah – caring means putting down the paper, plastic, the strange composite objects and do what Georgia, Chester Anna, Viola did, what your mothers and grandmothers did – reach for a real dishes and serve real food – for the ones you love.  I say, I muse.

JUST MUSING: “Boy don’t play me…”

With the passage of time those sage reminders by elders fade, converting into irrelevant, unwise tales.  “Make sure you have enough money on you to make a call”, has now been relegated to the garbage bins, wasted advice.  Pay phones no longer exist – not in the sense we knew them – magically converted to a small body appendage, appearing in every picture, attached from dawn to dusk, from bed – to toilet – to bed; a newborn should pray our evolution mean they too would get this kind of attention.  No, no, no, this new appendages are not to be lent for a nickel, dime, quarter to make an emergency call, and even if they are, who remembers any numbers?  A quarter…? A dollar..? Uber …? Lyft…?  There was a recorded voice which played when there was a disconnection on pay phones.  The voice is gone.  Not needed when the realization hits, the amount of money we were told to carry is insufficient to receive any type of service.      

“Always wear clean underwear…” – we were told.  Why we asked?  “Just in case you are in an accident …” This too has to be discarded – not to be recycled – even though the elder’s advice was grounded – somewhat – in history also.  Not wanting you to embarrass him/her, ”your” people – dead or alive – having to come down to the morgue, hospital to look at your body – injured, or dead – with dirty, torn, or worn underwear.  What could be worse?  A persistent, palpable fear of living after an accident; not wanting to be miraculously saved – if you were not wearing pristine undergarments; seeing living as a greater sin than death; wishing to die on the spot.  Death truly more becoming.    

Preaching, preaching – preaching pride – “don’t embarrass your people.”  This too gone – discarded waste, with LP’s, eight tracks, cassettes, CDs – no matter how many times an elder preached, “I don’t want to love nobody but you,” attempting to convince one of the wisdom of their advice – “don’t embarrass your people”.  This no longer matters; they do, they will – shock the rest of us. 

Rear ends exposed, below the crack, way below the crack, causing those passing to turn in shock; taking the mystery away (“Mamma that boy ain’t got no butt!”), causing elders to cry and scream outwardly, “how in the hell anybody let you get out the house like that…!” – To themselves; to others; to anyone willing to listen – because no one corrects somebody else’s child.  A change in time, generations, no longer community bound, not giving a flip his family is embarrassed, no longer subject to an elders’ yolk (meaning grabbing and snatching somebody else’s child and correcting their behavior, even this means embarrassment, screaming; physically striking the wayward child) or is the word, yank. 

“When you leave this house, your last name is intact.  When you come back, your last name shall remain intact.”  Ha!  Gone too, out the door; not even answering the question, “who your people”; viewing themselves as island nations, cursing elders, talking to the parent with disrespect, while those observing this behavior ducking, seeing the hand of a long-dead parent, grandparent, great-grandparent striking them side their heads for someone child’s disrespect.  Caught in never, never land, not knowing how to response to the changed behavior, while the spirits will never understand how times have changed.  The same applies for the disrespectful ones; they will never understand why we quake in fear. My momma would surely snatch every breath out of me, if I dared do what that fool did!   Thinking, thinking, thinking, while watching, wanting to reach, and snatch the wayward child back one, two generations.

Years ago a middle age woman visited with me wanting to hire me to represent her interest.  She was accused of a criminal offense of striking her child, something about abuse, an act she readily admitted doing, and would do the same again,

“Abuse…! … No child of mine is going to talk to me like that.  He was wrong.  If he can’t accept discipline and think he is grown and has no fear of anyone, I swear that as long as I am on God’s green earth, I will do the same thing…!” 

Face flushed, both hands balled.  She moved uncomfortably in the chair before screaming, “I don’t care how much it cost, tell me an amount, I be damned!” 

I did.  She did – pay.  I showed up for court.  She did too. 

When the case was called by His Honor, we moved together toward the bench.  Five, six feet from reaching His Honor, this brown toned momma raised her hand stopping me in my path, shocking the Judge with her sudden movement.  She had our attention.

“Judge, how much is the maximum fine for what I am accused?”

He – the Judge – told her the same amount I have given her.  He seemed prepared to give her the speech that he only wanted a plea of guilty or not guilty, that the trial would be on another day.  Before he could ask why, she put one hand, then two into her purse pulling out cash.  She inched forward, leaned slightly and placed the cash on His Honor’s bench. 

“This is twice the fine.  Do with what you want.  I will beat him again when you release him from Child Protective Services’ custody, if he dare speak to me again like that.” 

I didn’t say a word.  I saw my momma standing next to me.  Transposed?  Transfixed?  I don’t know the right word which described a fear which borders between reality and imaginary.  Knowing my mother would have done the same thing – to me – if I dare said what the client’s child said to her, after she was required to chastise him.  If Georgia said she was going to beat your head like okra, I guarantee there would be slime all over the floor.  I always said nothing.  I always did nothing.  I stayed in my place, the proper lane, knowing there was no greater fear on earth than Georgia’s wrath. 

I don’t know if the Judge saw his mother in her image.  I don’t know if he thought she was a hologram.  I be lying if I said otherwise.  I wouldn’t be lying to say he didn’t say a word.  Shocked, befuddled – he, too a participant – a time traveler – knowing she wasn’t lying about what she was going to do.   

“I be damn…”  She never finished the sentence, but I knew how the sentence always ended.  The end of the story was written generations ago, mimeographed in the crevices of the brain.  And of course mimeograph machines are gone too.  Try this – like a movie on a repeat reel (you don’t know what a movie reel is —-?).  How about Black Momma 101? –  something which is said over and over again, to you, your brothers and sisters, anyone who will listen to what she will do if her rules are violated again. “One more time; one more time”, accompanied by balled fists, pursed lips, a change in color/hue, before turning and exiting the courtroom.  She left a silly lawyer – who now had reverted to childhood – dumbfounded.   His Honor sat still for a moment, waiting for me to say something … anything.  I had nothing.  He smiled.  I smiled.  He collected the cash and placed it in an envelope and called the next case.        

Playboy didn’t see the changing of standards.  Penthouse didn’t either.  Their entire business model was based on the prohibited; peeking, covering, hiding the magazines – under the bed, the couch – reading the articles, so they said.  Then the change occurred, without fanfare, a clear change.  A different world it was – not the television show – literally a different world; a different definition of pornography – perhaps; a different definition of vanity, maybe.  Click, click – skin for days – leaving nothing for the imagination, more readily available than Diet Coke; no matter how many sales Coca Cola runs to increase sales, stripping Playboy and Penthouse of their mantle. 

“No she didn’t walk out the house with that on!” … followed by “she did!”  With those in shock having no idea what she didn’t have on when she posted on Instagram.  Buddy Miles – the American rock drummer and singer – penned lyrics lamenting, “my mind is going through them changes, I feel like I am going out of my mind” – only he too didn’t have a concept.  These times have changed.   

“Always comb your hair…” – meaningless.  Tossed, no flung@ … just like cow dung across a metaphorical field as the pride movement took a turn, a wayward turn, down different road, detouring, trashing advice along the way; causing heads to appear in public which would have never appeared in public generations before.  “She beat that boy across the street, pushed him into the kitchen.  She asked him if he wanted something to eat.  He said no, she hit him again, pulled him over to the sink and put his head down in the sink and washed his nasty head.”  Buddy Miles died in 2008.  He had no earthly idea.      

 Pick one, any one, age old adages which served their purposes, established societal boundaries now tossed the same as the gadget which was supposed to have changed our lives forever, and ever, and ever, now replaced by a new thing-a-ma-gig; adding to confusion among a certain element of an aged-segment of the citizenry; looking hinder and yonder, searching for guidance, anywhere.  It’s a hard life, hard life and I believe, I/we/us are entitled to complain, telling the rest of slow his/her/their roll.  But you know what, none of which I have written is the real reason I muse.  No, no, I said what I said to make clear life’s lessons are best revealed by the stark light of craziness. 

Talking in riddles, spewing non-sense, making others complain about the erosion of his skill level, while he continues to do the same dance – over and over again – getting by with the same lies, and obfuscations.  Picking up one hand, then the other, saying he had the object in one when there was nothing in either.  Telling the listener not to believe what they saw.  “Worked once,” – he said out loud – “and will work again”.  Saying one thing one moment (on camera) and denying what he said, moments later (on camera) then unabashedly denying he said either version in the same run-on sentence – making a different point, “don’t believe what you hear”.  While he couples this conduct with an eerie, haunting laugh, not a chuckle, self-possessed laughter; hearing a joke we didn’t hear, while unknowingly the laughter possesses us/we/everyone, working to defend and justify his and his friends’ errant behavior – this is Crazy-Ass Uncle Rudy’s wont.  You know, Uncle Rudy, America’s Mayor.  He has succeeded once, twice, thrice with this routine.  He figures he can pull off the same act once again. 

Black folks share with the America’s diaspora much – dance, song, food, style, language.  I muse to say we have failed to share another aspect of black culture.  Oh sure we permit the entertainment industry to make fun of the black females, dressing men in drag, providing a racist/sexist treatment of the historical sternness which has kept families intact, black children safe, culture and tradition in place.  What we haven’t shared is stark and real-world forthrightness which controls the Crazy Rudy routine.  Pick one hand up, then other both with nothing in either and then ask which hand, invites, “Boy don’t play me.”  Say one thing, then another then deny making the statement – use your imagination as to what our/my mamma would have done.  You lie – you die. 

After the client exited the courtroom, she received a call from the State telling her to retrieve her child, a time and location was provided.  The person on the other end of the phone didn’t have time to say much more.  She terminated the call.  The State called back.  “I know baby, I heard you.  You can keep him.”  She remained consistent – she terminated the call again.  The fool called back again.  She wasn’t deterred, she wasn’t intimidated.  She made clear the rules of her house, “no child of mine is going to act out at school, refuse to listen and then talk back to me.  No child dear.  It is hard enough to raise a black male child in this environment of permissive.  I’m not going to have my child talk to me like that again.  Until he gets that, apologizes, you can keep him.”  She again did what she did – she terminated the call.

Two days later she received a call at work.  On the line was a crying child, crying much like a colic child – coughing, heaving – saying he loved his momma, he was sorry.  “I’m sorry momma.  I want to come home…”  She listened, coldly.   She used her don’t care voice, layered with an incredulous tone and the look evoked by Crazy Uncle Rudy’s behavior.  She then did the unexpected – “I’ll will think about you can come home” – and went back to work. 

Years later I ran into the client on the street.  I asked her about her youngest.  She smiled.  Her skin tone brightened, both hands moved freely – joyful free – before telling, “Never had another problem.  I picked him up a week later.  He never made below an ‘A’ after his two week stay; he went on to college and just finished his masters.  …mannerable-kind soul – takes care of his family, respectful…” 

She didn’t have to finish her sentence.  I knew how the sentence ended.  I had heard the If he didn’t speech before, seeing the movie play out in black mommas’ eyes, previewing the coming feature – an impending death – if he/she/Crazy Uncle Rudy dare do what he/she/Crazy Rudy did again. 

Mueller did.  Comey did.  A whole federal system of checks and balances did, permitting unlawful behavior to play out in full display, telling us we didn’t see what we saw, hear what we heard, permitting Crazy Uncle Rudy to play us, until someone dare say, boy don’t play me.     

JUST MUSING: “You’re so vain…”

Vanity is defined as excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements.  The American songstress Carly Simon introduced the song You’re So Vain in 1972, telling the story of an aberrant, conceited lover or mate.  This muse is about vanity in one sense; it has little to do with an aberrant lover or mate.    

The television show Saturday Night Live is arguably the most dominant force in comedy for the last three to four decades.  The franchise has introduced and nurtured writers, producers, actors, and comics who have held sway over the comedic world.  For years, the show was a reflection of the dominant society, a homogeneous group of white comics who originated from familiar venues (Second City in Chicago by way of example), providing a consistent and familiar brand of humor, even as comics came and went. 

The creators/producers remained tone-deaf for years, never understanding why the others may never get the joke.  The same old, same old – over and over again – never able to find any women of color, until magically they did; the show even moved past the rule of one (we have one, why are you complaining rule).   Writers forever crafting scenes where black male comics were asked to wear a dress, poke fun of black females, as if there were not black female comics in the world who could poke harder, in a less racist, sexist manner.  Change has been slow, remember it wasn’t until someone said no, to the dress and mocking black females, did the show magically find one – some black females comics.  No Asians, no Hispanics – never part of the formula – always the brunt of the joke.  One of the comics hired this new season was a white male whose routine incorporated the debasement of Asians and women; humorous to some – the same dilemma – not to others. 

The news account explained that when the newly hire comic’s habit was discovered, the comic was terminated.  When asked about his fortune, then misfortune, the comic explained sometimes you succeed, sometimes to you.  A half-hearted apology followed – we have all probably extended the same apology – “if I have offended anyone.”  He then moved on, bragging he was good enough to be hired by Saturday Night Live.  After the initial storm, comic after comic blamed the public, that we – the public – have become less tolerant of comedy.  I muse to disagree.

Comedy is the art of observation, the examination of the surrounding world – a sad, tragic, horrifying, terrific, happy world it is – and then translating his/her/our/their observations of this sad, tragic, horrifying, terrific, happy world through words, images, or physical display in order to permit others to look inward, outward; the affect sometimes displayed by tears, laughter, moans and disbelief. 

I’m sure the human soul has laughed and cried since day one; crossing continents, moving across plains, foraging for food, making babies; while some smart mouth among the collective commented on the crooked tooth wholly mammoth moving closer, closer, closer while the rest were able to only see their impending death, he/she/they slowed their flight away and told a joke.  Telling jokes during conquest – “I killed ten Mate!” – while others in a different position (those conquered or dead) never got the joke.  Slaves did more than sing songs.  They told jokes too- bet you they did. Our distorted history would have us believe the minstrel characters were those comic, not those who were strong and brave enough and tell the joke from the perspective of the enslaved, not the master.  Funny to some, never, never, never funny to others; this is why the heirs of the enslaved will never get the joke of wearing blackface, no matter how well done, no matter how many teeth one shows, no manner how many more pictures spill out into the public forum showing the heirs and beneficiaries of the enslavers/conquistadors/colonists sharing a good hearty laugh, while dressed in character, with darkened skin – ha, ha, ha – indeed, ha, ha, ha. 

Telling the joke in honor of ones peoples’ plight; done well, into the night we laughed, reliving history, making history, surviving.  This why we complain, not because people and humor have changed.  We haven’t changed and comics haven’t either. 

The white male comic whose racist and sexist taunts were discovered after his hire is no different than others in the past.  His jokes were not told from the perspective of a people surviving gas chambers but told through his eyes only.  When caught he should have said as much.  Absolutely, the white male comic is no different than the black male comic who sought fit to bash gays.  I am sure he has spent a lifetime polishing his routine, compensating for his height after being teased by others, while those of his ilk laughed, laughed, laughed.  Telling the joke from a presumed privileged position, making someone else the brunt of the joke, casting aspersions on what he sees as his wholly mammoth.  Sputum followed by a cough, tears, laughter at the expense of another, followed by coughs, and tears of the others, forever incessantly made the brunt of the jokes.  The black male comic issued the same apology the white male comic uttered – must be taught in comic school – and went back to slashing and burning the gay wholly mammoth.    

Sure a comic has to take risks, that’s their calling isn’t it – causing the King and Queen to laugh, surviving, feeding themselves, their families, in order to retain their court jester role.  Forever standing tall – among classmates, using humor to make a point, causing teachers around the globe to understand, while she/he remained bent over, laughing.  Protesting wars, injustices, the abuse of power; using humor as both shield and sworn; good comedy is and can be both, at the same time.  A mediocre comic always reaches for the low hanging cheap joke and wonders why some can’t laugh.

 Walking through the forest, telling pee jokes; progressing, developing, maturing to breaking wind, body parts, bodily functions, stinky jokes and then to the ultimate tattoo – sex – a good percentage get stuck on sex (profane references to females and what they did, want to do to all of them), never to mature thereafter.  Comic all have and will continue to trudge the same developmental path, some grow and most do not.  Their blaming the public is why I muse. 

Child and Adolescent pediatricians have documented over time the development stages of children.  Comic are no different, they too go through the developmental stages of growth; developing a shtick, learning how to use timing and mannerisms to distinguish them from the other class clown, becoming a better observant of societal taboos, mores, does and don’ts, spreading their wings into politics, race, and world (sic) peas (sic).  The development is not all that complex.  We have all seen these developmental stages in our favorite comics. 

What I don’t understand are these comics/clown/jesters who ignore who or what they are and turn the finger the wrong way, blaming us for bad jokes (jokes that miss, insults, savage a group of people, and their own inadequacies – an inability to tell a joke which is inclusive.  No, no, no, please don’t hear me to say comic care should be touchy-feely people, caring about everyone feelings – that’s not who these people are – a good joke can be cutting, vicious, insulting, much like life. 

Historically, a dead court jester is a dead court jester.  He/she would love to take the bad joke back – she/he can’t.  “Off with his head” is not a pun.  We haven’t changed and they haven’t either.   Tell the joke, give it your best – isn’t that what you were told by your parents?  When you stray too far, examine why and who was insulted and be a big girl, big boy and either admit you went astray or stand by your joke, it’s just money and a job.  We’re civilized now, aren’t we! We are going to permit you to keep your head – won’t we!  Stop being vain, the song is not about you.