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.