WhachooTalkinBoutWedneday: Bigger Things

I know it ain’t Tuesday. I know I didn’t give you anything on Friday either. I know, if you follow my other blog, Falling From Grace, I haven’t dropped anything in a couple weeks. I have a reason: I have bigger things to focus on.

And that’s what we get to talk about today.

One of the most popular series of the posts on this blog was about a couple of jackasses from Tennessee who decided to dog the shit out of my wife…and then defraud a bunch of little girls. You might remember them. You also might remember I said I wouldn’t do another post about them—and I’m not—because they have real charges and they have kids and things were getting serious for them. So I won’t talk about how they are the dumbest criminals ever. I won’t talk about how your girl went on a Disney cruise while under bond, without the bond company’s permission and now it looks like she’s fleeing. I won’t discuss your boy not only being unable to retain an attorney (after 2 continuances), but also being detained (read arrested—again) for non-payment of child support for another child. I won’t talk about how he went into court yesterday bullshittin about his lack of attorney and ended up getting transported from Franklin to Memphis by a fugitive task force.

And while this is funny…

John2

…seriously, you can forward any correspondence to his current address at 201 Poplar, the Shelby County jail in Memphis—it has a sad side too. There are real victims in this: children and single mothers and dancers and agents.

There are bigger things to consider.

Today is my 4th wedding anniversary. I’d love to say the 4 years of marriage and the 5 years that preceded it were magic. Yeah, that would be a damn lie. Have they been easy? Hell no! Have they been worth it? Hell yes! In those 9 years, I’ve moved across country, tried to be a parent to two kids I didn’t create, tried to be a good husband to a woman who’s seen the darker sides of life. I’ve tried to build myself as a man, a professional, and an author. I’ve watched friends come and go, had some family members stand by me and others shit on my relationship. I’ve been embraced by my kids and played to the curb by them on the same day.

What I’ve learned over the last 9 years is it’s the bigger things that matter. Marriages don’t work on their own. Children don’t become positive, contributing members of society by themselves. We don’t realize our potential and become the people we’re meant to be through osmosis. My friends in Tennessee, on all sides of this equation, are working to be where they are. They are working to avoid their responsibilities, working to get over on someone else…or working to make sure a child flourishes in spite of who her father is.

The last 9 years have been work—and today, on our anniversary, we’re working now. Last night, I spent the evening counseling my daughter on how to handle her first note from a boy, talking with my son’s girlfriend about how to approach the teenage pregnancy of a classmate, working with my wife on how to get out of debt and finally buy a house. It’s work.

The bigger things always are.

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FRIDAY NIGHT FIEND: DAMIEN THORN aka THE ANTICHRIST

RemakeDamienI haven’t made a big deal of it but it’s October. If you follow this blog—and we both know you do—you know that October means my wife has 31 damn days of unfettered access to the TV, movies, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Pookie and Nem’s Video Rental and Lingerie Emporium to showcase her love of scary movies. Since I’ve never really been a fan of horror flicks, I’ve generally called this month Ballstober—the 31 days where I tighten up that sphincter and watch whatever she puts on TV.

And as much shit as I talk about my disdain for these travesties of cinema, there are a couple that I dig, like The Thing and Alien. And there are some that traumatized me as a kid like the Amityville Horror or The Exorcist. And then there’s The Omen series.  That’s some whole other shit.

The Omen is a trilogy of movies that chronicle the birth and rise to power of the Anti-Christ in the guise of Damien Thorn. And for the record, I’m talking about the original movies with Gregory Peck and Lee Rennick, not the one with Julia Stiles (I keep waiting for the black dude from Save The Last Dance to jump in) and Sabretooth from the Wolverine movie. And I don’t usually give spoilers but I’m gonna ruin this shit.

I’m gonna assume you know the deal: Mr. and Mrs. Thorn (I don’t remember their real names) have a beautiful baby boy under some “interesting” circumstances and then decide to name him Damien—which means “y’all fixin to die” in Common Sense. Things are alright until creepy shit starts to happen: at my man’s second or third birthday party, the maid hangs herself AT THE PARTY! There are kids and shit, cake and clowns, and this chick jumps out the window with a bedsheet around her neck, talking about “It’s all for you!” That ain’t all. Animals, like zoo animals, REALLY don’t like little man. Really don’t like him. Big, black rotweilers just show up. And so does Mia Farrow (but that might be the new one)—whatever, then a creepy new housekeeper shows up and she buys a dog that doesn’t like Mr. Thorn. Oh, and then they try to take the boy to church and he completely loses his shit.

Shenanigans ensue, the boy kills his mama, priests get involved and try to warn Mr. Thorn. A reporter starts looking into who Damien is. Come to find out the Thorns’ real baby died, Mr. Thorn steals another child whose mama happens to be a jackal (yes, I said jackal), and my man has to kill the boy with some special Ginsu knives. Old Mr. Thorn doesn’t believe this supernatural nonsense until someone says, “Yeah, well the boy has to have a mark on him. You know that Mark of the Beast? That 666? Gotta be on the kid somewhere.” And, after cutting away some hair in the middle of the night, there it is.

Let me pause right here. I was sooooo engrossed in this movie as a kid that I got up right then, went into the bathroom to see if I had the that 666 in my own scalp. And, truth be told, I’ve checked the Honey Badger too. Twice. I’m still not wholly convinced. Anyway, the plan to kill the boy goes wrong, Mr. Thorn gets shot by the police and Damien’s smiling, sadistic little ass goes to live with his aunt and uncle.

That’s just the first movie. In that movie, Damien was really just along for the ride. He was too young to do anything so there were significant agents (i.e. dogs, ravens, cranes that cut people’s heads off) operating on his behalf. In the second movie, though, my man comes into his own: he discovers who and what he is and embraces it. This one is actually my favorite but there is one image that will live with me forever.

See, I’m from Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes. Truth is, it’s more like 15,000 lakes. And not all of them are marked. We always knew winter had truly arrived when the news reported some idiot snowmobiling over an unmarked lake before it was cold enough, falling in, and freezing/drowning. It was one of those PSAs you just come to know because of where you live. As a result, I’ve always been a little scared of lakes in the winter (THIS, and the fact that I am a Black man, are why I never go ice-fishing and never learned how to ice-skate). In Damien: The Omen II, there is a scene where this guy falls through the ice during a hockey game and they watch him die. It’s FUCKED UP! Once Damien decided he was comfortable being the Anti-Christ (he did have a moment of doubt), he killed his cousin by crushing his brain by looking at him and set his aunt and uncle on fire.

By the time we get to The Omen III: The Final Conflict, Damien is running for president. And winning. In fear of the Second Coming of Christ, my man has all the boys in England born on a certain date killed, slaughters a group of priests and uses a small boy as a human shield. It isn’t until he calls Jesus out personally that Damien is finally stopped. This movie bothered me so bad I didn’t want to watch Jurassic Park because Sam Neill was in it.

And this wasn’t helping…

When the Jews return to Zion

And a comet rips the sky

And the Holy Roman Empire rises,

Then you and I must die.

From the eternal sea he rises,

Creating armies on either shore,

Turning man against his brother

‘Til man exists no more.

That’s it! Provided I get over this sinus infection, I’ll catch you Tuesday.

MONDAY NIGHT FIEND – WALTER WHITE/HEISENBERG

WaltYou know, I kinda forgot about you. It wasn’t on purp—wait, come back! Aw baby, don’t be like that. Listen—would ya listen? So I had all the best intentions of giving you a Friday Night Fiend ON FRIDAY. I did, really. But life came in and said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Instead, I got the Day Job Dragon biting my ass and won’t let go, a sick Honey Badger (who now sounds like a slow-motion dolphin), a wife with 102 degree fever wanting to put her hot ass feet on me, the Damn Dog believing that muddy footprints make fantastic interior décor, and then The Boy got fucking suspended.

I even started writing it, then I got sidetracked, then, when I finally realized that I never posted anything, I got a case of the Fuck-Its.

But here I am! All yours! And you knew this was coming, Pete.

There is no way I could bid farewell to one of the finest cinematic renditions of a good man’s descent into inhumanity and not have anything to say about it. That ain’t me. I talk about the gray area that lives in each of us, the one that vacillates between good and evil. And I said vacillate—SAT word, people! Plus, I want the hits. I’m selfish. Sue me. So your first October Friday Night—err, Monday Night—Fiend is the chemistry teacher turned meth-making mastermind, Walter White.

And cuz I’m not a total ass, I’m gonna actually give you a spoiler alert. Hey dippy, if you don’t want Breaking Bad ruined, stop reading blogs that feature the main character AFTER the conclusion has aired. Do like the rest of us did and watch it all on Netflix in like a week and catch up.

Now that that’s out the way, let me say this: I dig this dude. It’s not because Walt’s cool (he’s not), it’s because he thought he was. Every step of the way, throughout his entire descent, he thought he was doing the right thing. Well, the wrong thing, but for the right reasons. And we thought so too. Look at him: he’s a high school chemistry teacher who’s seen his better years, and ideas, pass him by. He works part time at a car wash, getting screamed on by the Russian dude who owns it. And then comes home to his pregnant wife and disabled kid. Walt’s a good guy, doing what he’s supposed to do, being the husband and father he’s supposed to be, and life hands him a terminal cancer diagnosis.

That’s how the show starts.

Where else can Walt go? He’s gonna die and you and I know that teachers in the good ol’ US of A aren’t paid enough to take care of themselves, much less handle cancer and chemo and medical bills and pregnancy and college. Walt’s stuck between a rock and hard place and his hard place has a due date, right? Walt has a life expectancy and it’s about 2 years.

So what does Walt do? What any 50-year-old with terminal cancer, $8,000 and a working knowledge of chemistry would do: start a meth lab. Isn’t that your retirement strategy? No? Not one of the options for your 401K? But here’s the thing: he’s good at it. He’s not just good at cooking meth (and he’s REALLY good at cooking meth), he’s good at running meth empires. He’s also good at poisoning kids, lying to his wife, robbing trains, driving his car into people, misleading (and later threatening) his DEA brother-in-law (that “tread lightly” shit was AWESOME!), killing 9 inmates in prison in 2 fucking minutes, watching heroin addicts die, and committing the greatest murder in TV history:

Gus

There will be hundreds of thousands of words written on Walter White and his descent into darkness. There will those who will say that Walter White was always Heisenberg, that he found his true self. Of course, that somebody would be Walter White himself: “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. It was the only time I felt alive.”

For me, the awesome thing about Walter White is that he’s each and every one of us. And for those of you saying, “I would never”—shaddup! Shut up! Yes, you would. We all would. That was the thing about Walter White: his motives, at least in the beginning, were pure. He just wanted to leave something behind for his family after he was gone. Hate his methods but you can’t argue his motive. And how many of us have contemplated something less than savory because it gave our children a leg up? You know you’ve given that English a better Christmas gift than necessary so your son might fucking pass (maybe that’s me). You know you’ve volunteered for shit you could care less about doing so your daughter could be with the right crowd. Whether it’s one additional deduction on your 1040 form or adding a zero to that Goodwill receipt for that old computer and those dirty sneakers, we’ve all taken some “liberties” to get where we need to go.

This got longer than intended. We loved Walt because he expressed the duality of who we all are, at base. Criminal activity aside, we all have different sides to ourselves and need to indulge them to feel alive. To feel complete. Walt embraced the man he was “supposed” to be and it damn near killed him. Being Heisenberg gave him a second lease on life. His own life. And that was worth watching.

Catch ya next time!

Whachootalkinbout Wednesday – Hey You Know What We Could Do?

Guess what day it iiiiisssss! Guess what day it is! MikeMikeMikeMikeMike…you know what day it is. It is not Tuesday (yes, I am aware). But it is Hump Day and that has to count for something. And, as an aside, I cannot be the only person who thinks Denzel is voicing that camel, am I? I keep waiting for him to say something about sending people to Pelican Bay.

Anyway, I’m supposed to be talking about something—anything—and I choose (like this is the Hunger Games) 7 little words that changed my life: Hey, you know what we could do?

When I was a kid, my brother would promise the most exhilarating and potentially painful adventures with these simple words. It didn’t matter what it was: sliding down the steps in laundry baskets (they tip forward and you bust your face), riding down the sledding hill on the backs on Tonka trucks (it was AWESOME!), making a tape recorded news show full of farts and blaming it on my sister, selling peeks in Playboy magazines to neighborhood kids (that was wholly his idea—I just took the money). Didn’t matter what it was. Didn’t matter that it would inevitably end in Band-Aids and butt whippings. Whatever it was, with those 7 little words, I was down.

When he figured out how to make 3000 juniors from 9 different schools in the Twin Cities skip school and come to Lake Nokomis for a pizza party DURING STANDARDIZED TESTING because “it wasn’t fair seniors got a skip day and juniors didn’t,” my brother took You Know What We Could Do to another level. The St. Paul Police tried to arrest my mother for contributing to the delinquency of 3000 minors. The Catholic school we attended for one semester tried to expel all three of us. His last words, right before my mother tried to shake his teeth out his head, was “I did something you couldn’t do. You should be applauding my ingenuity.”

I did something you couldn’t do. You should be applauding my ingenuity.

Bold words from a 16-year-old, huh? At the time, I didn’t get what he was trying to do. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t just fall in line, do what other people would do, adhere to the rules set before him. Stop trying to turn the world on its head. But that was then.

Writers are encouraged beaten over the head trained to ask What If questions. What if your 200-pound Saint Bernard got rabies? What if your parents got shot in front of you and you became a symbol of revenge for a crime-ridden city? What if a rich woman and young, broke artist fell in love on a doomed oceanliner? That’s what writers do. We take the things we all know and love and turn it on its head. We take life, add What If, and mix. That’s what we’re supposed to do.

My brother taught me to do something different.

My brother taught me to think completely outside the box. To approach every story saying “Hey, you know what we could do?” Tell the story of the war in Heaven from the Devil’s point of view. Examine morality from the perspective of the ones whose hands should be the cleanest. Take a slave, give her god-like power, and drop her in Harlem. In the 60s. Or in the post-9/11 Middle East.

That’s what we could do.

These days, my brother is an engineer, which means he gets paid to say Hey You Know What We Could Do and figure out how to make it happen. And since he hasn’t gotten fired, I assume he’s good at it. These days I write stories completely from left field. Because I can. Because my brother inspired me to.

And I am applauding his ingenuity. Love ya, B!

That’s the deal. Catch ya Friday!