Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sid Did It #5

Out of respect, all the names of the people I work with & for have been changed.

Somehow the stars aligned, along with the cast of employees, and I got my job back. The shuffle played in my favor, I broke even… welp- kinda. I missed two weeks of work in the process, which translates as negative several hundred dollars. Meh, effit, I’ll go with breaking even for now.

“Does everyone know why today is special?”, announces Ginny to the classroom. “Noooooo”, replies the gang. An unwanted smirk graces my mug while stacking $120 chairs onto the knee-high tables. Attention can be good, pending on the circumstances, however with this one I was hoping to make a swift & silent exit today. No goodbyes, no realization this will be the last- just a brisk strut cross the parking lot to the most dilapidated car within a mile’s radius of the school building.

“Today is Toussaint’s last day with us. He’ll be leaving for a new job when we get back from Winter-Break,” Ginny casts the cloud over the clan of 3, 4, and 5 year olds. Few of them absorb what she’s saying… except for Sid. His head peeks above the crowd like an Ostridge stretching for a view out of a prairie of tall grass. “What?” Sid replies. Ginny explains it more simply, which inversely makes it less simple for Sid. It’s not literally what she’s saying, it’s the intent she’s saying it with that Sid receives. It sets in, Sid gets it, Nolan gets it, soon even Neil gets it, but too preoccupied with generating a genius mind to care- Neil’s been caught staring at the lights, staring into the distance, staring into the vast amount of square footage the classroom occupies since several kids newly enrolled into our program. The increase in class population has spun his attention into all directions. Neil looks at me and mouths something… I tell myself its “goodbye for now, see you in the next one.” Yeah, something like that.

The look on Sid’s face won’t let up. “Can he be back after Christmas? Can we do that?”  Sid resists the reality. I smile, distribute my attention towards a stack of papers left atop the toy shelves, and sit with the rest of the gang. The chairs can wait, it’s my final day, what of it.

The gang groups at the door, exits to loaf their jackets on, and disperse into the arms of parents and bus drivers. I gather the papers from the top of the shelf, strut to the most dilapidated car in the parking lot, hit the radio to npr, and I’m out. Job done, job over, on to the next. Not departing without giving Sid a giant hug, I’ve learned far more about the capacity to be simply nice to someone through Sid’s progress since I’ve met him than I have ever experienced throughout my lifetime. The basics of being a good person lie within the day-to-day of a pre-k genius named Sid.

Wheels squeaking, belts clapping like an encore applause, engine shittily sputtering towards oblivion, I park Honda a half-mile from 25th & Nicollet (the winter headquarters for the time being, the Spyhouse Coffee Shop). I pull the key on the series of explosion of compressions and sparks to a stop. Honda lay silent, I glance to the papers atop the passenger seat. I am afraid of them. I’ll escape them momentarily in the Spyhouse to write for the mixtape, but in time there will be no evasion. The papers are the schedule for the month of January. Having worked so well between the Pre-K department and the middle school, I’ve been offered a position as a paraprofessional, once again, in a one-on-one. I can’t find it in me to go into major details, as there is an exceeding amount of confidentiality in this situation, however the palpability is enough to strike a presence even through thin papers mentioning its details.

Not to say the youth I’ll be taking on is more a challenge than any other kid, but for me- for me it’s more of a challenge. As we assess another’s humanity, we must assess our own. What are our bending points, sticking points, Achilles heels, cracks, crevices, baggage going into this? Any chips on the shoulder could halt my January tenure short. Looking in the mirror, asking yourself the same questions you dole out, standing next to the flame of accountability you hold everyone else you respect, measuring your character by a higher standard than the one you did before; all these elements of decency… I learned best from Sid. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Breathing By Default

My car has a 4 cylinder engine. Of the 4 cylinders processing compression, spark, and (I forgot the 3rd step), 3 of them are working. When you turn Honda on, he reverberates a sound that can only be distinguished as the Guinness book of world records performance for most hand claps by a human being in 60 seconds. Although they're not hand claps and more so the power-steering belt competing with the alternator's belt for loudest performance before the engine warms, Honda rolls like Atlantic City dice to and fro on 94 to make the magical trip to work and back... safe.

That single non-operational cylinder- that singular son'bitch is my alibi, my excuse, my crutch- the sole reason I don't dangerously greyhound it to the west coast and take up a friends couch while busting arse at the nearest Starbucks day-in-and-out. The choice could level my sanity entirely.

You know your friends that take pride in knowing where the salad fork is, keeping their cubicle organized, and returning redbox vids within the same day they've rented them... this is not the lifestyle for them. What would level my sanity in a week, could potentially destroy their moral compass and sense of gravity in 10 minutes flat. So... I can't make this choice to bust ass to Los Angeles, as I had planned so discreetly and publicly, as fast as I want to. I can't say “can't” because it wouldn't be true to the situation. Yes- I could move to Los Angeles right now, say “fuck your mother” to all the bills I'd plan on paying when my weekly income entered the 10,000's and put this whole half-reality on hold... perhaps the better word is “won't”. Yes- I will not- I won't move to Los Angeles like a Tony-Scott-film helicopter making a emergency landing to salvage what's left. Although I could... I won't.

For now, I take the trips to work (which praise be to Allah they gave me back, after shuffling the staff once again... this time in my favor) as practice for Honda and I to make the trek to Los Angeles as early as Spring, late as Summer. The trips to work finance Honda's new engine, finance a new laptop, and that savings side of the bank that could use a little more than a pick-me up.

With a debilitated engine such as Honda's, it requires a tad more TLC than the average machine. Whenever filling it with gas, it's mandatory I look underneath the hood and check the oil. Every time after stabbing the oil rod back into it's test tube valve, I'll find myself staring at that cylinder- that motherfucking cylinder. In my mind I curse it to death and wish it'd taken the beloved nice treatment to the new spark plugs I bought for him and his 3 buddies... obviously shot down, literally. Then I go to pondering the positive. Could the cylinder be saying something?- that perhaps I was supposed to stay in Minneapolis longer. A reason to all this, you say? How could I not think so and/or take up the challenge.

After hearing The Blend's new album, setting up the final tour dates for their CD release and farewell show, it was as if this was the way it was always going to be- as if there were no other way gravity or the rotation of the globe would have it. For me, and I know for Linden (The Blend's keyboard/saxophone player) it couldn't've happened at a better time. Linden leaves early January for his new apartment on Wilshire Blvd, a la California, whereas I stare at a cylinder in a 1997 Honda Civic per chance waiting for it to tell me why it decided to crap out before straddling Midwest to West Coast- how it failed to follow the crowd (the other 3 working cylinders).

What I've found from these episodes with the hood open, and the gas flowing to the fuel tank... is that dead engine cylinders don't talk. They simply stick with the piece of machinery that they were destined to be a part of- frozen in funeral amidst the turning cogs and lively parts still pushing forward in the process.

I shut the hood. Hop in the Honda, and head toward my daily destiny (j.o.b.) to take care of a handful of kids with autism, go home to write afterwards and finance a new engine with cylinders that reciprocate with California. As of right now, where I am, this engine reciprocates perfectly with Minnesota.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Watch The Cockpit

I’m still waiting for that modeling check to come. Posing on a summer deck at a mansion in Wayzata for a national Target ad should pay more than you think. Perhaps it does in other cities, but in Minneapolis it pays just enough for you to get anxious for its arrival. A dollar less and you’d forget it was ever coming.

The check, the check, the check- it’s the only thing on my mind whilst driving through an oddly balmy November evening in Minneapolis. Barreling Honda down an uptown backstreet, jam packed with cars parked in every legal facet of street curb with the occasional vehicle scrunched next to a stop sign, a couple clutched close to one another made visible beneath the street light. The two didn’t hesitate with the passing of Honda and I’s incredulously loud belts, slowly dying engine, and axles heard squeaking around the world. Nope, they just went on kissin’ the hell out of each other.

Wow, when was the last time I saw two people kissing? Christ, can’t even remember. Minnesotans are pretty stiff about their public displays of affection. The entire Midwest in general can account for it, with the exception of Wisconsin & Iowa. People seem to breathe a little easier in certain parts of Wisconsin and even more so in Iowa. PDA and even lewd groping runs seamlessly thru the streets of Ames, Des Moines, and Iowa City… it’s just a quality we prude Minnesotans haven’t mastered yet or come to terms with.
Still passing by, I notice not only are there two people making out, but it’s two men. Hmm, when was the last time I was privy to witness two men make out? Honda & I make a full pass… onto wherever I was headed which clearly didn’t matter at this point. More importantly on my mind now is “when have I last seen two men make out?” Shit, I know it was at least within the past year…

Ahh, yes- I remember it now. Twas summer, coasting southward down Hennepin Ave. in uptown. Honda was in tip-top shape back then- smooth as fresh oil change, quiet as a Prius, in traffic I let my arm hang halfway out of the open window. Traffic bickered at a snails pace down the block, approaching 20-something street,  the corner of the Hennepin Ave. Spyhouse Coffeeshop and the Savoy Pizzeria, a man with a camera eagerly snapped shots of something on the opposite side of the street. Now, as I was eager to see what was being eagerly shot, I crept my head out of the window a bit while trafficked slowed on to watch. Two men in leather vests stood in front of a store called “The Cockpit” embraced in each others arms making out drastically. Whether it was for the camera, attraction, or both, it was no mistake the make out session was with a purpose. One man, clad in a studded leather vest, smothered his partner, who I couldn’t make out in wardrobe- just don’t remember it while trying to recall it. Honda & I still in stop-and-go-rolling-down-Crenshaw-style traffic made sight of a tag in the couples background. On the wall of The Cockpit, next to the entrance door was a bold lettered graffiti tag which read “FAGGOT”.

In a split second I thought to myself, “Mother of Mercy! Someone needs to alert The Cockpit and these men that some bastard has vandalized their place of business with derogatory bullshit!” Mind you I was voted “Most Gullible” my senior year in high school. I don’t catch on too quick, and am almost always the last to get a joke. Most times I laugh first, and understand later. I’ve found it makes me look less stupid in public. A split second later, I see the cameraman again. Snapping shots of the couple in full-throttle make-out session, making sure to get the tag in the background.

Very rarely are we privileged enough to witness beautiful response to ugly action in its purest moment and form. “Traffic can move as slow as it wants to today”, I thought to myself.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua

I was going thru an existential faith-based crisis, disgruntled at a fork in the road if theirs is more to you than just your tangible body. Screw religion, God, Buddha, Muhammad, everything… if you don’t believe there’s more to your tangible body, then there is no discussion. While coping thru the question of “where do you go when your body perishes?”, I snapped out of my 7 mile stare towards the coffee table to revert my attention to my current environment of UFC fight night at Adam’s parents house. Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping had just finished their season run of The Ultimate Fighter and were now fighting each other. The Ultimate Fighter is a reality TV show where two teams of amateur mixed martial artists are pitted against each other, and coached by veteran UFC fighters. Bell rung, the two trade jabs, test each other out, covet the mood of the other opponent- the movement, the silhouette, weighing the risk of going in for a takedown verses a counter-attack. It was then I noticed Dan Henderson, a past decorated NCAA Division 1 wrestler turned MMA fighter, now a hulking elderly 30-something UFC fighter, plotted his stance amazingly unorthodox. He prepped his right hand as if this were some kind of video game- as if he were manipulated by some kind of outside Player 1 XBOX Controller and charging a kinetic energy in his fist- what the f--- are you doing Dan Henderson!?!?

Fending off Bisping with his left arm, Henderson looked as if he were stiff arming the offense out of Bisping- simply one-arming the man out of attacking. SWOOOSH! A long looping, hip-pivoting, right hand from Dan Henderson connected with the left side of Bisping’s chin. Bisping’s body dropped to the mat followed by Dan Henderson aerial diving with right-hand prepped to Donkey Kong punch the fallen fighter. BLAM! The aerial driven right-fist of Henderson slam Bisping’s head not only into the mat, but into a double ricochet off Henderson’s glove and again back into the mat.

Quickly pulled from the body of Bisping, Henderson clearly winning the fight, the attention quickly turned from the ultra-violent one-two combination that has just rocked Bisping’s entire solar system to the state of livelihood Bisping has been left in. Sitting on Adam’s parents couch, I figured it had to be right then and there… I’ve just seen a man murdered in cold blood. Bisping’s neck stretched back, arms locked into perfect 90 degree angles, and toes stretching as far as biologically possible. His body was in shock- never have I seen a man go down in such a fashion or go unconscious so swiftly. Veins, tendons, muscles all bulging and sweltering with blood clotted in place. Flesh easily frozen by the brain’s control panel shutting down every function of the body just to keep it breathing.

During that small “what the hell does it all mean?” fiasco of mine, watching Dan Henderson nearly kill a man with one hand furthered me to feel outside of my body. Here lay this guy I’ve never met, only watched on television in bloody MMA fights, and I felt severely hurt and sorry for him.

Bisping soon came to, and was assuredly not dead. He’d go on to win his next fight even. However, the right hand of Dan Henderson remains at large. Even more so, it happens tonight against the highly skilled multifaceted Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. The two will potentially go down as UFC hall of famers, but still to be sorted out is the business of tonight’s clash, and potentially Hendo’s right hand of God- right hand of Allah- right hand of Fuck-Your-Life.

Rua and Henderson fight tonight amongst the toughest MMA division on the planet, Light Heavyweight. The top 10 is staunch filled with jobbers and killers that could flip to top 20 or escalate to top 3 within the stroke of 5 quick-fought seconds. At the top remains the still unscathed and/or matched Jon “Bones” Jones, however, I say again, these things can change very quickly. My usual go-to, Ugly Mug, isn’t showing the fight, so it’s on to Sneaky Pete’s where the cougars roam and the collars pop.

I don’t care to see another man struck out of his conscious existence, however the skill and art of MMA plays on my interest too much to avoid. If Dan Henderson is to win this bout, him and his f’ng right hand just might strike up more faith-based crisis than championship talk. Risking body and livelihood for a legacy and personal path can be attributed to one of those unquantifiable things beyond flesh & blood.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Raki Road

Pyrros Dimas entered Spain in 1992, freshly 21 years old, hailing from Greece, and dawning his country’s colors he stepped into the Olympic arena as a weight lifter. Young to the games, Pyrros held the weight over his head for a few seconds after the buzzer rung for pictures to be taken. Upon his Olympic gold winning lift, he shouted "Yia tin Ellada!"; meaning "For Greece!". Pyrros won the gold medal and the hearts Europeans everywhere.  The kid had defeated men in a match dominated by elder experience and long-withstanding muscle.

Reclining to the sofa, scrolling thru the channels of NFL live bludgeoning and forecasts of Gaddafi’s newly declining regime, it struck me: it’s Sunday, and I’m not working at a restaurant. For the past 3 years, I’ve diligently sped the wheels to the tour bus, or Honda Civic, to get to Minneapolis in time for my Sunday shift at the Old Spaghetti Factory. Upon my initial hiring at the Spag Factory, I made it clear I could work most Thursdays, few Fridays and Saturdays, and all Sundays. After several debacles and schedule snafus, my tenure was solidified as the Sunday shift. The manager at the time, Chris, thought nothing of it as I was able to cover shifts for those who couldn’t make their weekend schedules, or just wanted a night off. I was a ghost, disappearing from the sight of my co-workers weeks at a time, and then showing up four nights in a row to cover several shifts and take the usual Sunday. Quite the job for a touring musician.

Aside from schedule flexibility, what worked best was the management’s personable attitude towards the staff. Never had I respected a boss more than Chris and the management beneath him. Rounding my 3rd weekend of work, Chris asked to see me in his office. I had strolled in 8 minutes late, and knew I deserved whatever punishment Chris deemed suitable. Usually the messenger of a jolly smile, cheerfulness, and chuckle wherever he walked about in the restaurant, the demeanor dropped as we sat in his office.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to fire you, but we sat your section with Laura before we even opened because we knew you’d be late. And here you are, 8 minutes late. This is the kind of precedent you’ve set here with us. It has to change.” From that point on, I was never late for work again under Chris’ regime.

Punctuality has never been a strength of mine, at least back when beginning at the Factory. Chris’ simple meeting had turned that around for me. No need to threaten, scold or shame. We understood what the problem was, and it was up to me to turn it around… or find a new job. Thank bejeezus I did.

Enter Atlanta, 1996- Potentially one of the worst Olympics of all time. Bombings, disorganization, and well- the U.S. Pyrros distracted by none of it and riding off of two world championships, was the heavy favorite to take the weight lifting gold again. Still a youngster in a man’s event, at 25 years old, Pyrros dominated the field, shouting "Yia tin Ellada!" after his gold medal winning lift. By the end of the games, the phrase had become a slogan throughout Greece.

2.5 years passed, and the Factory had become one of my longest standing employments outside of working with youth. My tenure with restaurants had never been that of long-term. The Bayside Grill lasted several months over the summer, until the 2 hour bus ride from the city to Lake Minnetonka became turned into no-call no-show. The Glockenspiel worked from about a year until the schedule got so out of whack that staffing became day-to-day. You’d have to call in to find out when you worked. In the end, I’d take my schedule into my own hands and respectfully decline employment at the Glockenspiel.

The summer was winding down, veteran servers and bartenders began moving out with the incoming fall season. Along with the in-and-out wave of staff, came Chris’ goodbye. I can’t say exactly what it was that influenced his departure, perhaps the longing of more time with his daughter and a less time-consuming job schedule. Whatever it was, it changed the entire face & feel of the building. Less Chris’ departure, but more the arrival of the new general manager… Raki. God knows what the origin of it is, but I heard a few staff pronounce it as “Rocky”.

Having worked at OSF years ago in 2000, moved out to California to manage an OSF in San Diego, Raki took the opportunity to take over the general manager position in Minneapolis. Quiet, somber-faced, and all seemingly too calm, there was an edge to Raki. Not the cool Jeremy-Renner-Hurt-Locker type’a edge, but more of a Jeremy-Renner-The-Town type’a edge. Something was off, and verifiably not cool about Raki. He’d looked the kid that jocks and cheerleaders took target to in the cafeteria and had successfully hit with one sandwich too many turning a naïve & feeble minded freshmen into a cold hearted grown man.

I watched my back, but played it cool. Didn’t need the job, but didn’t want to get into it with this guy. So went the spaghetti, so went the factory.

Long past the age of youth, bordering 30 years of age, and now a married man- enter 2000, Sydney, Australia. Pyrros had recently taken Silver in the weight lifting world championships the year before in Athens, and was now facing a new cast of youngsters in the game. To win these Olympics would mean a legacy, to lose would potentially end his career.

There’s something to the Olympics that legitimizes the term “Here all, and end all”. The stretch of 4 years between each ceremony, the gathering of the best of the best of the best on the planet, or the shared human spirit of competition- to assert one’s best not amongst another, but to him or herself. To display to the world your personal best- whatever it is to the Olympics, Pyrros embodied it. Shouting "Yia tin Ellada!" once again as he raised the bar over his head to win Olympic gold in Sydney 2000.

Falling to the new regime & general management of Raki, several key players had put in there two-weeks notice to leave the Old Spaghetti Factory. It was becoming a consorted circus staff of faces without names, and some schmuck who happened to show up every now & then on Sunday… me. It wasn’t worth it, rushing from Milwaukee, Ames, Chicago, anywhere in the Midwest to make the Sunday shift. Shows were paying enough to bypass the stress and Raki wasn’t helping. Usually the gen. manager jumped in, rolled up the sleeves to help out when the going got busy and the restaurant was slammed. Raki, however, positioned himself in certain corners of the kitchen and dining rooms to survey who was slipping, not up to code, and/or falling outside of the standard in his eyes.

You see, Raki at heart is a micro-manager. The perspective is great when in the position of micro management, but when employed as a general manager… it turns into the relationship of a paranoid insecure lover. Raki, however was more surgical than this- more tedious- an overpowered useless satellite of sorts, if I may. Raki was a paranoid schizophrenic insecure lover. The only ones to accept his general management would be the newly hired females and teenage boys that knew nothing outside of his law. Chris’ previous staff realized the unnecessary work load they were incurring under Raki’s legislature and wanted out. However, for me, I ran the course of an old dilapidated car under the advice of NPR’s Garage Talk… run it into the ground. I drove the job into the dirt, and never looked back.

The secret to running it into the ground was very simple though. I knew that if I went about my job long enough, and simply did what I had always done, Raki would find a way to detach me from the staffing list. I was more interested in how he would do this than anything.

So, checking my schedule online after returning from another Midwest tour speeding from Milwaukee at 8am to make Minneapolis by 2pm (at the latest), I discovered my shift had magically disappeared. I called into Jay the shift manager underneath Raki. Jay, not the coolest fruit in the fridge, was still damn cool relative to Raki. I hated the guy after several meetings with him, but came to like him later on. Jay started as a dishwasher at OSF, and moved up to management. Humble beginnings, made for a humble manager. Once upon finding that I had to be at a show at the Triple Rock while still at OSF, Jay told, “Get outta here, you gotta make your show, Toussaint. Clearly, this is important to you”. No bullshit, no sarcasm, the guy saw my request and let me leave the building right then and there… and retain my employment.

Speaking with him now, under the Raki regime, the game had changed. He light-heartedly suggested I schedule a meeting with Raki that Tuesday. I did, we met, and it wudn’t purdy.

“Wow- when I saw that I had a meeting with Toussaint, honestly I was surprised! Didn’t know you worked here anymore…” Raki slung about, leaning his play-doh like slouched body into his twirly management chair. “Did you get any of my messages?” he asked. “Umm, I don’t believe anyone called me” I responded. “No, my emails- the messages online” he retorted. I stayed firm. This was it, this was how he was going to cut the employment. “Umm, no I check my online schedule about once every two weeks when the schedule is made, and na- haven’t seen any messages”, I responded, no smirk, straight business. “Well, what it comes down to is if you can you work 4 days out of the week- it’s a new rule- everyone’s gotta work 4 days out of the week”. I’d heard of the new rule, but never got a memo or request to subscribe to it. Never had I been stopped by Raki in real-time, by phone, or online to subscribe to the new rule. In the end, it led to my firing… for not responding online to Raki. Although I’d given him the 4 days he’d requested, it was not to be.

Now, a father, a legacy, a monolith to the Greek community, Pyrros had not won a weight lifting title since 2000 in Sydney. With an knee blown out, an injured wrist, several other injuries pending, and the pressure of an entire continent to compete, Pyrros took the challenge to defend his Olympic title in the 2004 Beijing Olympic games. The 33 year-old Olympic legend entered the arena one final time where no human being has ever reigned a 4-time Olympic champion, however Pyrros Dimas would rival it.

Failing several weight lifts, Pyrros took his last try. With several men ahead of him in ranks for a medal, Pyrros pulled… and dropped the bar to the ground. "Yia tin Ellada” would not be heard at these games. However, the entire audience at the arena would stand for several minutes to applaud the former-champs exit from the games. Seconds after dropping the bar, Pyrros swiftly took off his shoes and placed them to the right of the stage. The gesture was a signal of his retirement, and in the more literal sense to challenge the future of Olympic weight lifters to fill his shoes.

Still reclined on the sofa, bathing in the lap of the Day of Rest, I took a break from television watching Bud Greenspan’s documentary of Pyrros Dimas and the Beijing 2004 Olympics to glance over at the dining room table. There lay my work shoes next to a dining room chair where I’d last left them. Empty, torn, laceless, and reminder to the years served at the Factory. Soon moving to Los Angeles, and employed to a full schedule of music, the shoes were useless to me. Even the most evil of intention in me wouldn’t wish someone to return to work at that building. I’d wish no one to have to fill those shoes. I stood up from the couch, grabbed the old pair of black suedes off the floor and walked them out to the garbage next to the garage.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rebel Without A Clue (3/3)


I dressed as dapper as I possibly knew for the meeting. The said “name” I was meeting with was Toki Wright. Activist, writer, youth worker, rapper, spoken word artist, Toki was (and still is) nothing less than a renaissance man of proactivity in the community. I’d signed The Blend onto its first show under his company, Yo! The Movement, saw him as a pillar in the Minneapolis launch of hip-hop and somewhat an inspiration to my first steps into live musicianship- but here I was. I’d fucked up, now. Not only had I insulted an entire brand name in the city, I’d made it personal.

Thinking about it now, sipping 151, headed to an open mic brazen as a national slam poet, and referencing someone’s name in a slam poem at their company’s own open mic… could’ve possibly been the worst idea at the time. Attending this meeting was the best I could do.

Dressed in a bright yogurt-lemon-yellow sweater with a polyester, flannel, cowboy-collar popping out of the neck, I looked like the illegitimate son of Kanye West and Bill Cosby. Enter the University of Minnesota Black Student Union. A few students turned toward me as I entered. I had gone from who-the-fuck-is-that-guy-he’s-talented to beloved to hey-it’s-toussaint-someone-sharpen-a-shiv-quick-I’m-pretty-sure-I’m-going-to-stab-him-this-time. Again, I had perfectly fucked up. Between the 151, sweeping thru classes without showing up to lecture, and performing shows from Illusion Theatre to 7th St. Entry, my ego was defenseless to the euphoria and presumed invincibility. I was addicted to this-this thing-this craft- the motion of taking a stage, captivating everyone’s attention and walking off smirking like I’d robbed a bank. I’d always felt undeserving of an audience and anything positive that came from performing arts. If you’d met me 8th grade, you’d’a thought I was a pre-cursor away from living in the attic of a church and avoiding sunlight at all costs. My social skills were deplorable, I was a negative bastard, and didn’t really see the point in plotting a year down the road. Now, I’d still take the social skills accusation, but not the latter two.

Two gentlemen were sitting at the table. None of them were Toki. Christ, what if this is an ambush. These people mean to kill me in the Black Student Union on a Tuesday! Sweet Jesus, not even La Raza would save my ass, and they’re right across the hall. Wait- if I scream bloody murder maybe someone from the Women’s Student Activist Union will hear me. Cool it dammit. They just wanna talk. Toki should be here soon. The kid who called the meeting, who we’ll refer to as Jumpy, sat at the table with another fellow who I kinda recognized. Jumpy’s shoulders shifted soon as I sat down. A constant shift, as if he had to get to the bathroom stat, but somehow he translated that urgent energy into a dictator-ish Giraldo cadence. Fuck, I’d walked into it, didn’t I? Before Jumpy said anything, I knew I’d walked into a meeting on his selfish behalf. I wasn’t called here to squash beef… Jumpy had set up a verbal lashing.

In came Toki, and it was all too apparent what was about to transpire. The universe worketh in mysterious ways- fucking strange, mysterious ways. Although young Jumpy was in the terrible wrong for instigating between two artists with miscommunicate beef, I probably deserved worse. With absolutely no clue what was next, we began to talk. They wanted to hear the poem again. Christ, the thing was long, I’d unraveled the papers from my bag, read every word of the poem I’d slammed at the open mic and at Voices Merging. Going thru the poem was painful. To look someone in there face and say what you’d said to an audience without them present… well- it sucks, but again righteous retribution for your actions. What transpired next isn’t important, but can be well summed up as- well, a verbal lashing. In the end, Toki stormed out, an image I’ll never forget. The discussion wasn’t worth having anymore for him, which was potentially the smartest decision of the whole debacle. The image of him getting up, walking away, deep red baggy t-shirt swaying in his exit as he slammed his gum into the trashcan at the door. I wasn’t worth it.

I still sat there until Jumpy and his friends dropped red in the face from arguing. If there’s one thing about me, I’m a fucking Taurus, and I will stand ‘til the bitter end if it’s brought to my doorstep. This also not being one of the brightest moments of my life, judgment skewed, and perspective selfishly shifted towards blaming everyone else there was no backing down for me. I was dead set to give Jumpy his much wanted encounter. The kid was a few years younger than me, rapped from show to show, but in the end might’ve been a bigger Taurus than me. Shit, he wanted blood, and my and the rest of the personalities swirling my delusional psychi gave’em what he wanted.

It was over, I exited on the discussions end. Never gave Jumpy the time of day afterwards, but also had to give damn good time to repeat the question “what the fuck am I doing” to myself. As stubborn as stubborn can get, the moral compass of me was so out of whack I couldn’t tell what the hell I was writing for anymore. I had severe issues with the institutions around me, my circumstances, and my own actions- but somehow turned the blade on the exact community that gave me a foundation to start with. I was a backstab and rebel without a crew, clue, or cause… not the way I wanted it. I was so far gone, making things right was outta the question. I’d have to walk away from this one and shut the fuck up for awhile. Sometimes you gotta do that. A wise man once said, “Shut the fuck up when grown folks is talkin’.” And no, I wasn’t acting like a grown folk, so clearly it was the right time for me to take heed and sit down with my thoughts.

6 years later, I’d facebook Toki with an offer to do a show at The Varsity. We dialogued back and forth for a little bit, and finally met at the Spyhouse Coffeeshop on Hennepin. I walked in a tad hesitant. There’s a cadence, air, feel to Toki that’s intimidating and welcoming at the same time. I’d wronged him, publicly slandered his name at his own open mic, and was somewhat bewildered by what I was getting into. I’d been promoting shows in the past few months, sold out The Varsity and almost sold out The Cabooze, however I was doing well with the profession and wanted to work with Toki in the scheme of things. Circumstances had provided me with the opportunity to not only do a show with him, but to also take a step towards some kind of amends. Whatever it was, despite the past, working with Toki was a step in the right direction professionally, personally, morally- whatever it was, it felt the right direction.

I believe he was reading the City Pages when I sat down at his table. “Hey, sup”, I shyly murmured unraveling my backpack next to my seat. “Ay”, he replied, put down his paper, organized whatever belongings were already dispatched on the table, faintly smirked and said “So, what were we arguing about again”. Looking me in the eye now. I faintly laughed… “I- uhh- I don’t know” with a smile on my face.

There it was, the conversation began ahead of where I thought it would. Toki had brought me up to speed further along than I thought I already was. Beef wasn’t his liking, the dispute was old and meaningless, it had been long time to get down to business- as if he’d been waiting at the Spyhouse on Hennepin Ave. for 6 years waiting for me to get over myself, get past myself, and screw my head on tight enough to withstand manning up. I’ll say it took me some time to get to that moment, but there was a reason my mother read Leo The Late Bloomer several dozen times to me as a child. I’d never came into my own soon as predicted.

“So, what do you require backstage?- I mean, what’s your rider for the green room?...” listing off every inch of the show to be covered to make sure it went off without a hitch. The dialogue continued, and the show did go off without a hitch. 300+ attended the night, and Adam J Dunn was able to make a music video for Toki’s single outta the performance.

The rebel, the street fighter, the blind swordsman all have their times, it just has to be honed. The liquor and youth in me made for a reckless loose cannon, relative to the fool who breaks his own heart. It was learned that when in the process of only hurting yourself, you either continue the self-sabotage or own up and say “Hey, I fucked up.”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Honda Chronicles 3

Double Bogey here. Toussaint was thinkin’ to take this next chapter up, but t’hell with it. Might as well leave it to the professionals. I was the bus that saw it all. Ahem- where was I…

Jan. 18, 2010
The ground swirled beneath me. I’d never driven this fast in my life- this heavy. I’d trafficked hundreds of pounds of music equipment, a trailer on its last leg, and a drunk’n disorderly band before, but the weight of this was the most of all. It’d been a 2 weeks or so since Dana’s father had emailed Toussaint the options on Honda: either pay’em 2200 dollars and Toussaint keeps the Honda, or 1900 and the Honda gets trashed. Honest to God, sounded like a lose-lose to me. What fucker tells you to pay’em 1900 for a car that was already on its last leg? The Honda incurred damage in Toussaint’s care, but it wudn’t nothin’ but cosmetics. Hell, I could dress up a turd in a tutu, but that don’t make it any more than a turd- na’what’umsayin? Course ya do. Either way, we’re talkin’ two weeks later after the option had been laid out to ol’ Mr. Morrison.

You’ll have to forgive me for the fast forwardness, but I like to get to the meat of a story. As a wise man (Arthur Plumby) once said, “let’s cut the veggies and mash, I wanna get to the pork of it”. That line was taken from one of Toussaint’s old swim coaches back on the Richfield Swim Team, Mr. Hamren. Don’t ask me how I know all that. Again, I’ve heard it all, and seen mostly some of it.

Back to the deal, Toussaint had no intentions of “losing” this one. The kid was in the literal sense, down and out. Broke, nothin’ but a restaurant job he worked one day a week, and not a damn means but me (a short bus used for band touring) to get around the sub-zero winter of a city. We parked. Toussaint jumped out and walked towards Dana’s house. The strut of a man with layers of faked confidence. This was the break-up, the nail in the coffin. When a man approaches the end, even if he fears it, he’s gotta find a way to retain dignity, pride, or some kind of face in the eye of it all. Men’ve spent an eternity practicing not giving the power to women. Toussaint was about to engage in it. Although, what he wasn’t ready for was... the other side of Dana. A woman well practiced, herself, in the art of not-giving-a-fuck. It’s sad, these humans. Th’way they play this point-of-least-interest bullshit. Personally, as a vehicle, our lives are short. Gotta cherish every spark, every foot, every inch, every sunset you get- and her Toussaint is like a jackass, tryn’ta walk into a situation we all damn well know he cares the world for but’d rather put a game face on to retain that ol’ pride and shit. Malarkey, if you ask me.

On a sidenote, you should know Toussaint and I made a stop to Dana’s two days before this venture. He’d taken all’a his stuff outta her apartment and packed it up. S’pose the guy wanted to strike first- maybe he saw it comin’. You tell me what kinda girlfriend sticks with ya after she lets you borrow her car and it gets busted up on your watch? Potentially not your fault, perhaps some jackass backed into ya while you were parked! But still, what kinda woman breaks up with ya over that?... the one ya don’t marry! Ha-ha! It is the truth! Seen’a lotta couples, fightin’, fuckin’, fightin’ again. Don’t matter what the situation is- long as there’s a common understanding that when the goin’ gets tough, the relationship get goin’ as a team. Like a unit, if I may. Dana and Toussaint were beyond that. They were in the midst of quite the opposite of a unit and/or team. They were borderline rivals, oppositions, different pagers if I may. Either way, Toussaint’d  already picked up his shit from her apartment two days ago, and now he was walkin’ into crash land that son’bitch into the ground.

I wanna take a moment to the side and say that it’s never a good idea to crash land a relationship when you know its ending. Have some diligence y’all. Give her farewell, accept the end and take it like a champion. For more information on the whereabouts and moral costs of crash landing a relationship with another human being, consult Shane Hawley;) That son’bitch right there’ll tell ya alllllll about it!

Wudn’t more than an hour, Toussaint returned to me. Started the engine, hit Blaisdell Ave, and made a straight shot for home. First thing he did was punch the steering wheel and curse the air. That conversation with Dana couldn’t’ve gone well. See like’a told ya! Can’t go into these things actin’ like you’re made of titanium. He called a few people, no one picked up. All’a sudden good friend by the name’a Fatima answered back. Toussaint asked her a few points of advice, hopin’ she’d appease him by telling’em he made the right move, that it’d all work out in the end. By the reaction from Toussaint laying his head on the steering wheel, while the vehicle’s in motion, and hanging up the phone- it could be assumed she didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear.

And there, it was done.  Now, I understand discussing all this mumbojumbo emotional shit may deter away from the entire point and/or story we’re here to tell about Honda- but I feel this is an important part of the story to include. It gives validity and some kind of history to the life of Honda and how the relationship between Toussaint and itself grew from improbable circumstances.  The idiot that half broke his own heart lay in a driver’s seat of bad luck and uncertain opportunity. Dana and Toussaint had known each other for over 3 years, come be together for a little less than 2, and were done swift as a flat tire. Now, outside of “committed” and “official” their relationship had began long before that, but at this point… it was done. No more, no nothin’- done.

One thing that’d transpired from the break-up discussion was the realization of Honda’s price. Apparently Toussaint had been under the assumption that Dana’s dad would be charging him 2200 to fix the car and Dana’s family would keep it- which was not the case. Dana’s dad had made a list of what was to be fixed and how much fixing all of that would cost for the car. Again, Dana’s dad is a business man and you can’t blame him for trying to make a buck off of the Honda, BUT the question to be asked is: who was/is responsible for Honda’s condition and where the f*ck in Jesus H Christ do you get priced that much for a hood, alternator, and front bumper? I mean- these people must’ve been shoppin’ straight from a Cleveland drug dealer.

Lastly, to make sure he wasn’t crazy, Toussaint polled several women around the city ‘bout it. Heard’em on the phone, “If your boyfriend borrowed your car, and it got damaged while parked, and the damage was only cosmetic, would your father make him pay for it?” The resounding, overwhelming response was “no”, but then again what Toussaint failed to leave out was the relationship between himself and Dana’s parents. Lots’a women responded “Hell, my father would tell’em to grab a wrench, let’s fix this son’bitch, mow my lawn, do a few chores, and we’ll call it even!” No matter what the answer was, it didn’t change the reality of the situation.

Eyeing up The Blend’s schedule, and a list of parts for the car…. Toussaint made a move. First thing was first, he emailed Dana’s father and told him he could get the car fixed for 1100. Dad agreed, told’em it’d be 1100 for the damage and 300 or so for the title. All in all, it turned out to be 1500. Next, Toussaint arranged for an all-star repair crew. The folks at 4-star Auto Repair off’a University Ave. were the only saviors for Honda in the city. In the arms of the skagbaron auto shop in St. Paul Dana's parents had shipped it to, Honda didn’t stand a civil chance in makin’ it to Minneapolis outside of a junkyard. Mr. Morrison forked over the 70 bucks to have the car towed to 4-star, and had’em repair the alternator for a whopping… 300 dollars. Lastly, was the tour schedule. Somehow, The Blend was lined up for several weekends out of town that paid not-so lucrative, but the combination of it all and the restaurant job would pay Dana's dad the 1500 in a matter of two weeks.

And for the final move, the car had to be paid for sooner than later. The quicker this car got outta Dana's dads hands, the quicker he could start driving into the sunset... or the next deathtrap. Toussaint called his best friend in the whole wide world. He’d never borrowed money before, just time. The phone picked up, “Hey Liam- Yeah, hey this is Toussaint. I’m going to ask you a question, and it’s the first time I’ve ever asked this ever of anyone, but I need to borrow 1500 bucks.”

To be continued…

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

3 Strangers And A Friend

Saturday, Oct. 22nd, 2011

“When I get fat, the weight either goes to my neck or my legs”, I smirked to myself amongst the brunch table of five. “Liz, where do you wish the weight would go when you gain it?”.

“Ugh, I wish it would all go to my ass”, replied Liz. “What about you Jeff? Where do you wish the gained weight would go?” Jeff, took a moment, glared at the extra large cheese burger he just ordered, looks up at the table, “When I get fat, I wish it would all go to your face.” I almost spit my water out from laughing so hard. It seems everything this man says is absolutely made-for-reality-TV and/or the caliber of comedy writers throughout. What’s off is Jeff isn’t trying to be funny, this is his actual cadence. This is just him; an eccentric, bi-racial, twenty-something, ex-cheerleader from Madison, WI on visit in Milwuakee our mutual friend’s birthday weekend.

Since I landed late last night, Jeff and I have developed a strange animosity. Directly after our introduction, Jeff made it clear he didn’t like me. “You think I’m fat!” he announced right after our handshake. Given he’d be drinking a bit, as well as I, I knew I was in the gutter with the guy right away. After several hilarious banters back & forth over the brunch table, at Ma Fischer’s in the heart of Mke, Jeff turned toward me, “So wait, what’re you doing here?- like, I mean why are you in Milwuakee?” Ahh yes, the golden question even I don’t have a straight answer for. Everyone at the table slowly meanders their food to their plate to pay audience to my response. I look down to the eggs and cholesterol fest on my plate, crack a smile.

My rationale begins to twerp of the looming thoughts to answer him with; it’s The Blend’s 10-year anniversary in a few days and that should mean something to more people than just myself if at all, my car shakes like a Tito Fuente’s maracas in his prime and to answer your question I’m f*cking stranded and currently looking for a serving job in the city, or hey- I f*cking love this city and wish my relationship with music, modeling, and acting were tight as a drum rather than acquaintences you only see when your drunk some weekend at some bar.  I’m stuck, and maybe I should’ve stayed in Ames before coming to Milwaukee, however last night was epic in the sense I would not have been able to live it down if I’d missed Kid Cut Up spinning at the world’s most bougie bar (Dick’s, downtown Milwaukee) and bluffed on a birthday promise to a friend.

Since landing in Milwaukee, taking time to breathe has ranked at the bottom on the list of things-to-do. I don’t even want to get into the night before in Ames, IA(which I’ll talk about later), and right now having brunch with people I just met is taking my mind of the certain death my car and/or wallet may reach in the next 24hours. This trip has definitely been something of cathartic, but also high-risk. My better half wants to stick to that last statement- “high-risk”. However, the other half want so say my circumstances were unnecessary, however this trip is simply to bring purpose to a shitty circumstanced weekend from past. My band, The Blend, was given a check for x-amount of dollars from a club in Ames, IA after performing a show… several days later, the check bounced. Within that same weekend, I promised Liz I’d make it out to celebrate her birthday in Milwaukee. Her and her ex-cheerleader friends were making the trip from their hometown of Madison to do it big in Milwaukee. I’d only seen the west side and Brady St. of Milwaukee. Never had I attended a club in downtown.

Now, eating brunch with 3 strangers and a friend, even this cannot hold the moment where I don’t have to answer to someone. For as long as I walk the path of traveling musician, every now & then Target model, and film actor- there ain’t a chance in hell at someone recognizing, “Hey there’s the guy from the coffeeshop” or “Hey, there’s… that dude.” Na, simply won’t happen.

“I’m here to promote a show. We’re in town two weeks from now and I’m just promoting while I’m here.” I answer Jeff. “Oh, coooool, when’s your show?” he asks. I fill him in, we chat music for few minutes, the even more popular question of “What do you do?” circles the table as we all brand our duties in everyday life- meh, but what’s missing is what the hell are we doing at this table hashing out qualifications while hungover. Jeff, must’ve read my mind in breaking the mode of bullshit cubicle chatter as two well-to-do white guys passed by in Abercrombie & Fitch- “Ooooh, that’s my boyfriend. I am definitely going to say something to him”, Jeff declared as he began to egg on Liz’s sister to wingman for him and ditch her hashbrowns

I bid adieu to my friend and three strangers, waltzed it back to Sherman’s house where I’m staying for the weekend, and sat on the steps for a moment… yeah, I should be able to get rid of all these posters and fliers tonight. Although my car, wallet and many more forces of nature may not agree with me, that’s what I came here to do.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Honda Chronicles 2

January, 2010

Hope none’a y’all mind, but I’ma take it from here. First off, I wouldn’t trust a compact car with a screw driver, let alone to tell a story right.

Hey there, name’s Double Bogey. Lotta folks got to callin’ me “The Blend Bus”, but my formal is “Double Bogey” or “DB”. Was a name given to me by Toussaint and Spencer. We had a rough outing from Sioux Falls back to the Cities, and after all the mechanical work I’d needed, the fellers went with a self-depricating-but-regal title for me. Double Bogey, fits just right.

Aside from sittin’ here in the great hereafter, I served diligently as transportation for the St. Cloud public school system, and then onto my later, and final, years as the bus for the band The Blend.

Yes, I said “hereafter”. My days as a functional vehicle are long done and over. I’ve been passed along to the scrap heap, and- in so many words- am dead. I don’t like to use the word “dead” much, but seems to be a term thrown around us mechanical folk all our lives. “My car died”, “Tried turnin’ the key, but it’s dead”, etc. Either way, I’m gon’ tell it like it is for the next chapter of this here story ‘bout Toussaint, his old lady Dana, and that heap ‘a trouble Honda.

I saw it all. I was around the corner from Dana’s apartment as Toussaint pulled up in Honda to rest it at it’s potential final public parking destination. The hood was tore to shit, got damn bumper almost hangin’ off the damn thing, and a cracked windshield… probably already there, but hell- gotta give’er the full picture here.

A broken man of sorts, less than half the man- if anything at all, Toussaint stepped outta the wreck. Feller could barely pull himself to Dana’s apartment. Think the guy had thoughts of takin’ that car off’a cliff. It ain’t a thang to fix, and definitely wasn’t a life-endin’ situation. From the looks of it, what seemed to be the trouble was a combination of two things: 1. How do you explain a hood dislodgin’ from a car while doin’ 55mph on the highway? Ya can’t. The audience and/or person hearing you out would have to have the rocks and patience to respond, “… welp. Let’s get a hammer and fix’er.” I’m pretty sure Toussaint knew Dana’s parents weren’t the easy-goin’ type when it came to stuff like this. Hell, I’d met Dana, and sure as hell knew right off the bat not even so much as a sneeze could get by her. The woman had cat-like senses, bitched like the dickens, and never forgot. And then 2… welp, I forgot where I was gon’ with that, but however Toussaint stayed up in that apartment for what seemed like a few hours. The man walked out like he’d been to hell and back, but never left it in his head. He and I drove elsewhere for the da y… just to return back to Dana’s apartment to meet up with her mother and sister to go over Honda’s damage.

I’ve seen some shit in my day. Winter breakdowns in the midst of nowhere, a trailer almost detach itself from my rear-end on the high way of the bible belt, multiple arrests outside’a clubs betwixt the armpit of rural America and the wrong side’a town- I wanna say I seen it all, but I ain’t the braggin’ type, nor am I the one to claim I know it all. I will declare I’ve seen a lot of what compels people to define this country’s greatness, and I’ve seen potentially just as much that compels a man to kill himself. If the big man upstairs is keepin’ a stat list, I’m purdy damn sure Spencer and Toussaint have eluded the ol’ final note more times than Gaddafi, that being the fact both of’em err still alive at this moment- but that’s aside the point. This situation no where near the means of suicide or greatness, it was most definitely an all time low. It was the final year of my life on the roads of earth, and the final year of Toussaint’s denial. A certain denial, but no means of the last for’em. I can’t say when a man has come to terms with the truth, but the Dead-Man-Walking pace Mr. Morrison drudged at towards Dana’s mother and sister, there was no denyin’ the man had come to terms with his circumstance and lousiness. Like I said, I’ve seen some shit, but to watch a man walk towards the mother of his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend through 20 below zero temperature was damn near the saddest memory of my life. There’d only be settling at this point… no victory.

Seen there mouths movin’, but somehow that f*ckin’ Honda wasn’t startin’. If Toussaint or Dana’s family knew a damn thing about a thing, they’da seen the alternator was older than the 35w bridge that went down, and easily wasn’t the end of the world for the car. Alternators are replaceable- ain’t nuthin’ like an engine, exhaust manifold, intake manifold, blah blah blah- point bein’ the car wasn’t startin’. Toussaint and the ol’ gals left for a moment and returned to try and put engine coolant in the gas line. F*uckin’ hell Jon… First off, you put engine coolant in the engine coolant valve, UNDERNEATH THE HOOD- not the f’n gas line. Sure fire way to mess the damn thing up even better. The lack’a garage know-how will blind a man in this country.

Ol’ gals and Toussaint left the car. He hands over the keys along with his dignity to the women and rolls back to me. He and I head back to campus where critical maneuvers are to be made.  The kid had several options: 1. Give up on the relationship with Dana & tell’er parents to go screw themselves all together, 2. Try and maintain the relationship, & tell’er parents to go screw themselves all together, 3. Give up on the relationship and take every last financial responsibility for the car, and lastly 4. Try and maintain the relationship while take every last financial responsibility for the car.

Dana’s father was quick with the altercation. The man was the 2nd coming in his small hometown, owner of several properties throughout it, and had a cadence that’d rob you of your self-confidence the second he shook your hand. The next day, he’d sent Toussaint an email that laid out two options. I understand you’re asking yourself how I know this- I’m a bus, I get it. If you’da taken a picture of the inside of me around this time, you’d hear just about every phone conversation between Toussaint and his trust-worthies and nabbed every paper of reported student loan debt and/or writing the man had ever came about. People talk about privacy… I was the lock & key of it to The Blend, and unfortunately to Toussaint. The two options can be summed up as such: Either pay me 2200 dollars and you can have the title to Honda- yes, the broken down Honda, or 2. You can pay me 1900 dollars for what the Honda is worth in scrap metal, and it gets trashed. If you haven’t smelled the bullshit yet, then clearly you don’t know the worth of an alternator and/or a junker car… and it ain’t above 1800, let alone 800. Sweet Christ on a Baptist- I nearly dropped my lugnuts and lost ma belts when I heard the likes of this!

Read back, think about it. You have a shitty hand, none but your fault… and now, you’ve just received word from the asshole lookin’ over your shoulder that you have a shittier hand than you thought. Where Honda could’ve just laid in peace, died a diligent death- Where Toussaint could have simply walked away from Dana and Honda, left it all in the past and chalked it up as a lesson learned- neither was an option. Of all things to retain when departing a debacle, I believe it’s a human’s natural instinct to salvage one thing in that tenure of heat and trial… that one thing being self-respect. Fortunately, Toussaint had become a kin to clinging to self-respect, and pride, and self-righteousness, in any situation that threatened it (If you’re saying “idiot” in your head, then we’re on the same page).

Toussaint had planned to spit in the eye of the asshole whispering over his shoulder- the guy that negated a civil discussion, the guy that was telling him and not asking, the guy that was trying to sell him a broke-down car for 2000 dollars. This would be difficult, just like anything involving a break-up and a car.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sid Did It #4

“I don’t wanna hold your hand! I’m mad at you- gah!” Sid said marching down the stairs to the bus. It’s partially policy we hold the kids’ hands when they walk down the stairs, for balance, safety, etc. At this point in the day, Sid’s had enough coddling and doesn’t want the help. Barely at 5 years old, you’d think he’d need it, but trust him- he doesn’t. Sid has a core body strength that would put Pacquiao in jeopardy, let alone an innocent teacher trying to hold his hand. I’m not a teacher though. I’m a paraprofessional.

Last year went swimmingly. I was introduced to Sid, who’s been diagnosed with Emotionally Behavior Disorder (EBD), as a one-on-one paraprofessional. We worked well in the beginning of the tenure; the road got expectantly rocky, but soon found a balance throughout the year. Back to the school with the kids and a cast of new characters as well, I had long found my niche and repoire with the new school year of Pre-K students. On the brink of leaning towards shows and modeling for spending & saving money, I received a call from Sid’s school saying they would need a paraprofessional for the school year up to December. “Perfect!” I thought. A woman left on maternity leave, and the shuffle of staff wound up leaving a paraprofessional position open. I immediately agreed to the position. No hesitation, I had two days notice before I was back in the classroom chasing down 3 year-old escape artists, and tending to young genius minds. Truly loved the job… but, as they say “all good things must come to an end”.

What Sid doesn’t know, is that I won’t be coming back after today. Last school year’s last day of school had an appropriate goodbye, adieu, and hug at the end. However, for this- the end is so impromptu, I don’t even know how to say goodbye to the kid. Hired as a general para for the entire classroom, Sid and I still had a connect that fostered from last year. So, when he doesn’t want his hand held, I simply do not pursue it and keep the conversation going. Since Sid had been doing so well from his entrance to the school, his willingness to be vulnerable had gone up. That vulnerability lived in the listening, the cooperating, building some kind of relationship and accountability with the teachers.

Stepping on the bus, looking out from the dim tint of the window, he frantically waved his hand to me. The end of the school day. I waved back, pressed my hand against the window… and there it is. It’s over. Somehow the shuffle of the woman on maternity-leave got derailed. A series of staff shifts later… and I’m out. Not ideal and anything but what I expected.

After a series of VH1 behind-the-music moments on tour the past weekend, I received a call from my boss’ boss late Sunday night. She informed me of the staff shuffle, asked me to come in on Monday, but that it’d probably be my last day at the school. I haven’t even digested the magnitude of my exit until now. What the hell are those kids going to think? Where’s the accountability in the equation? What’ll they say to Sid and the rest when they ask about me? I’m at a loss. Money is always replaceable, but time is an impossibility. I’ll be gone by January, and in no spirit to think about this until maybe my return to Minneapolis. I’d assume at some point I’ll get a call from the school to cover for someone, but what of it…

When we ruled the schoolyard, the hallways of elementary school- we absolutely loathed substitute teachers, part-time youth workers in and out of the building like a restaurant, and above all held no respect for any adult that wasn’t willing to stick around. It was the ones that stood like monoliths that impacted us the most. Given the kid’s only 5, it wouldn’t be right to waltz back in there on a substitute shift. I’d like to think the time is much greater than that.

No job, several songs into a mixtape, The Blend soon to release a new album next month… I know where this is headed. I had a regiment going, a sleep plan, a schedule if you will- but now, I absolutely know where this is headed. The first thing to go will be the sleep schedule. I’ll be up ‘til 2am or later every night writing, typing, and emailing. Next, I’ll be of no use to anyone or anything other than my notebook, backpack, Jake, and the handful of people I tour with. I’ll keep in touch with people out of town more than anyone in Minneapolis, the track of time will begin to slip… and then it’ll happen: road trip. I’ll just pile into the car and take the f off. Nothing wrong with it, but when I have no reason to stay in one place, I begin to slip into everywhere else but home.

Sucks to be out of work in less than 24 hours notice, but I don’t think there’s a better candidate than myself to handle it. However, I have gathered that when working with kids either I’m there on part-time duty or I’m all in. I don’t wanna hop in and out of a kid’s life like that. Most the students have situations where police, parents, and/or professionals are rotating in & out of there life like a broken record. My long term goal is to develop a foundation of trust and responsibility between myself and the students. This past process has been anything but. Sadly as well, the trust between me and the employer has been frayed to suspect. When anyone can drop you within less than a day’s notice… there is no room for promise afterwards.

Sid buckles into his seat. The bus pulls away… There they go. The young genius’ and future of the city all in one bus headed to their respective homes and daycares. Easily I’ve learned more from them than any school that’s fostered my attention.

Kick ass and take names, Sid. The world is yours, don’t let’em tell ya any different.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Return Of The Street Fighter

I’d been working with the book(s) for some time, and for some strange reason… I lost it. Waking the next morning, realizing the black binder book was missing, I checked back to the last place I remember using it, the Spyhouse coffee house. The value of the book is a long time coming, and is currently happening. Future mixtapes are in it, and I can’t remember a time in the past two years that I haven’t jotted some kind of important work within its pages.

There is something special about the book as well, it has a tattoo. Whenever someone takes it upon themselves to write in a book of mine, make a lewd drawing, or stick a sticker to its cover- I call that a tattoo. This one had been tattooed before I’d even written in it. It’s dated to 4/21/03 “Hope you have a wonderful birthday. Thought you’d appreciate a place to write down your memories of tonight + thoughts of tomorrow. Happy 21st! <3 Gwen”.

Gwen and I dated for the span of 2 weeks, but cascaded a cold war that still hasn’t died (check the date of the book, then check your calendar… do the math). However low the temp has reached between the two of us, we can survive in the same bar together. Meh, Gwen’s not the point of importance here, the weight of this book is relative to the f’ng Book of Eli. I’d memorize the damn thing and walk the world with an AR-15 to protect its content if I had to… but I don’t, thankfully.

Rewinding my tracks back to the Spyhouse on Nicollet Ave, the barista directed me to the lost & found… and fortunately it was the latter. Found the book, tossed it into the foot rest of the passenger side of my car, Honda. Zoomed to work, parked the car in the garage section at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and leapt into action. My shift lasted for two hours, made all of 6 bucks in tips after serving one table- worthless. I returned to the car.

Upon jumping into the driver side, I noticed a mound of large magical dust in the front passenger seat- large magical dust in the shape of shattered shards of window. The gravity departed my rib cage, breath flown from me, and emptiness subsides the next seconds. Seconds to feel like minutes, to feel like an eternity stripped away from my private universe: my car. Broken glass scattered all throughout the seat and car where someone had smashed in the passenger side window.

Months ago…
A gal and I just split. Truly a horrible break, it was. Having just left the break, I couldn’t think of anything more cliché than to go to Barnes & Nobles and enjoy my new found free time. Once you’re out of a relationship, and it was clearly the right decision to be out of the relationship; you find yourself breathing with a smile, walking with a lil’ pep in your step, and responding to women after shows differently than you would while in a monogamous situation. Well, strutting into Barnes & Noble, the cover of a book caught my eye. I delved into it, vamping through page after page after page, always flipping back to the “Table of Contents”. “Several Women To Never Date” read the chapter. I laughed out loud, the way you laugh out loud with your good friends in company- nothing holding your lungs back, or volume from concern of bothering others around you. Barnes & Noble has that comfort to it. I feel everyone is legally contracted to laugh out loud as they would at a dinner party with several glasses of wine in them.

Back to the book, I dared read further into the chapter of “women to never date”. The titles were brash, offensive, misogynistic and a bit off-the-wall… except for one: The Street Fighter. The chapter describes the Street Fighter as continuance of negating anything and everything you bring to the table. Past, present, and future problems are your fault, even agreeing to disagree will do no good, the Street Fighter feeds off the moment of conflict. Their lives are in constant disarray, argument, and personal matter-of-fact opinion. The Street Fighter has life advice for everyone, instant critique of those they’ve just met, and a thirst for the- well, the fight. My jaw lay open by the end of the read. I’d just evaded the Street Fighter, the woman I’d just dated. I fashion myself a good street fight every now and then, but this past situation was war day-in, day-out. It was destined to break, weathered the very awning of my happiness, and find a daily shit storm to throw in the face of any positive outlook I’d tried to keep on the relationship. In the end, it ended the worst way. Voluminous yelling, doors slamming, after 2am texting/calling, beyond the personal and into the malicious… twas ugly. One way or another, I was happy to be out of it.

“Whatever you can do, stay away from the Street Fighter. Do not engage with this one, for even when you’ve parted ways, the Street Fighter will always find a way to partition the ongoing battle.” I laughed aloud again. “No way!” I thought to myself… “no way”, my grin & laugh dying to a slow realization and fear for the return of the Street Fighter.

Staring at the pieces of broken glass bouncing sunlight in all direction of the car like crippled disco ball… there lay my laptop beneath the rubble. “But why not take the laptop? The damn thing would have been in clear sight of the robber” I murmured like a schizophrenic in a coffeeshop. “Sweet Lucifer, thank the Gods I left the most important notebook in the foot rest”, murmuring still. All that was taken was my backpack- the backpack with the past decade of my writing in it. The iphone, the camera, the mini HD recorder in the glove left unaccosted in the same condition they were when I left them. So strange. The thief had to have been in a hurry to smash, grab, and run with just a backpack… or was it exactly as they’d planned. Was the backpack all they came for? Perhaps they knew the backpack was worthless to anyone in the world except for me and somehow knew it’d be the most sensitive vein to strike. Perhaps someone who knew I only work Sundays at the Old Spaghetti Factory, came for my most prized possession- to snatch it from my life- to hit me where it would hurt most. Who would do such a thing?

I remembered how bad things had gotten with Gwen, the sophomoric fights, the mind games, the bullshit our young voices would spear into the air to outwit the other. Again, perhaps the stolen backpack was a blessing to help me focus on the book that counted the most… the one from Gwen. But then again, what if this was the Street Fighter’s doing… and I’d truly learned nothing from any of the defunct dating I’d accumulated to now? Perhaps I should’ve seen this coming and not left a fricking prized possession in the front seat. Gah- it’s all in the past. All I have is the notebook from Gwen. That’s all.

Gwen, older now, has calmed her fangs to simple wit. Notice I said “calmed her fangs”, not “filed her fangs”. The woman will still cut a bitch. Full knowledge of her limitations and potential to murder feelings, Gwen and I pace down Lyndale Ave. She’s just moved back to Minneapolis after completing her MBA in Indiana. New job, fat paycheck, high maintenance condo, it’s fair to say Gwen’s living in the lap of luxury. It’s also fair to say her & I have barely grown beyond are spite & rivalry for each other, but still able to share a walk with each other.

I tell her about the book, we laugh. However, glancing back at the car, I couldn’t help but think if the Street Fighter had put an end to my car’s window or if I was developing paranoia for the past. Whether or not it was the Fighter’s doing, there was a larger lesson to be learned from all of this.

Walking around the city with the eldest of ex-girlfriends, perhaps my most useful work wouldn’t exist had Gwen never handed me the notebook ten years ago. Perhaps, if I’d learned my lesson from dating in the name of spite, resentment, and cold war… I would still have a passenger side window as well.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ready As We Will Ever Be

“Yeahaaaaah… it’s your father. I’ll be in town tomorrow- wait, what’s the name of that sushi joint we went to last time I was in town?- I need you to google map the joint, k?- I wanna get down there again”, not even a single exchange yet, and our phone conversation has turned into a machine gun of thought provided by Ricky. Me, the target of the question barrage, haven’t a intelligible word to give back to the man. I’m on the ropes; subdued from 7.5 hours on the road to Iowa and back in the same day, sleep deprived with the new job that shoulder splashed the consciousness out of my schedule (a lady went on early maternity leave, and somehow in the chain of suburban school circumstance, my name was brought up as the first man for the job to take care of Sid and the pre-K battalion once again), and discombobulated from a constant cold wind whipping thru the broken passenger window of my car whilst we made the quick trip to Ames, IA and back.

Wait a hot fuckin’ minute… “Ricky’s coming to town?” I murmur to myself. The reality unveils the date, the time, the circumstance, the alignment of the stars where everyone lands in the same city within the same moment to witness one thing… my sister’s wedding. Good gawd it’s happening.

Now, I can’t say this snuck up on me. I’ve been ready. Hella ready. Annie’s friends could drink a rugby team under the table… matter of fact, they just might do it this Saturday. Rockmen, the man my sister is to wed, plays for the St. Paul Pigs Rugby Team. I couldn’t keep up a lick at the bachelor party, going shot for shot, beer for beer with the broad shoulders of Midwest rugby elite. Rockmen’s friends put it down like Hurricane parties- NYE- end of the world type situations. In short, this wedding is going to be a drinking one, and somewhere in the back of my mind has fully accepted that… and taken the date into mind. However, after being asked to make a speech, cut my hair, and not embarrass the bride, I really don’t think I’ve absorbed the gravity of the situation here. My. Sister. Is. Getting. Married!

This doesn’t happen often. Matter fact, in my family, this has only happened once amongst the set of cousins. There are 10 of us on my mother’s side of the fence, and only one cousin has gotten married within that set. My dumbass decided to tour to Pittsburgh during it, and not show up. Dishonorable, at a loss of a good time in California, and most of all at a loss to see my cousin Nick get married. I want to preface it with “In a way”, but I’ll just say it: I look up to Nick. The kid’s turned over more than just rocks in his life and has a beautiful family to show for it. Kid’s an extraordinary paraprofessional, father, husband, etc. Can’t say I’m ready for the same responsibilities, but I’ll call’em for advice when the time comes. Either way, missed his wedding, wouldn’t/couldn’t miss my sister’s for the world… and won’t miss any of the other cousins as well when the time comes. These moments are rare, swift, and should be taken by the horns whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I feel pressured because this event is the type you really can’t let a fiber of a second pass without indulging the time of it. This will never happen again, unless for some freak reason Rockmen and Annie decide to split (which btw, I personally can’t see happening. I’m not jinxing anything, but the relationship they’ve thus far has sustained, survived, and most of all… been stable. I don’t know the specifics, but my sister’s 1 for 1 when it comes to inviting significant others to the family dinner table. I’m 0 for 4;) Again, this Saturday will never happen again; an amalgam of Ricky, family from Detroit, family from California, and the rest of Jane’s side of the family from the deep suburbs of the Twin Cities’ Metro area we only see once in a red moon.

Still haven’t thought of what I’m going to say for the speech, let alone when I have time to get a haircut… No time to think this one out. I better make a move before my nerves get the best of me. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Even if I turned my torso entirely around, it would still make for a difficult time to spot her. She’s somewhere on the balcony amongst a crowd dawning the exact same colors as her wardrobe. Not a chance, I turn back around- don’t wanna be caught as the guy who keeps looking back into an onlooking audience. Hundreds of people staring at you isn't the most comforting sight- To tell the truth, I don’t think I ever came close to seeing her. I made out a silhouette- most likely wasn’t her, but to appease my peace of mind I’ll tell myself it was her.

Wherever she is...
she’s singing.

Back to facing forward, I could feel the room swelling. The moment turning thick- we’d all been waiting for it, not a single person in the room came for anything else.

A thread of sound, just a single thread- shrilling, leaking from one of the hundreds of pipes stretching the ceiling, holds for the moment. Its thick enough now to breathe, taste, roll around the roof of your mouth and press with your tongue. The thread still holds… and holds… and holds…

… and holds

                …             and        holds…

And breaks- to what feels like a piano being dropped onto your chest. The organ manipulates the air to palpable perfect storm, which would otherwise be hibernating ‘til the next Sunday morn. The musician resuscitating the mad instrument from its slumber and thrust into the stone ceiling of the church, the weight of the room brims upon heavy- brims upon a disheartening sense of “too much”- brims upon a reality we came to confront here.

Chords, scales, chromatics rip about the old walls of the building, slanting sharps and flats from the pipes of the organ, continuing an anthem you swear you’d heard before.  You won’t forget this. Your memory won’t dismember it, your blood will never coarse the way it does for times like these.

The woman on the balcony, again, begins singing in succession with the rest of the quire. Loud and ominous, the sound uniforms with the moment. Time whips by like a film montage, notes slowly descend from the ceiling, all of it spinning at some irregularity than its normal life’s pace… stops.

A casket draped with a white sheet makes its way down the church’s aisle. The inconsolable truth crash lands every heart in the room: Benjamin Gidmark has passed away, and what tangibly remains of him on earth is in that casket.

There is something disturbingly beautiful in the organization of mourning someone’s absence, swiftly followed by an overwhelming, desolate sadness. To pay witness to his casket, struck harder than the initial news of his death.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Honda Chronicles 1

Jan. 1, 2010

I’m hiding. I’m frozen.

Like the rest of the world, I’ve just about had it with Toussaint. Although I could tell you where I am, I won’t. Although I could tell you what happened last night, I won’t. In episodes such as the one that’s about to detonate, people seem to focus on the least important details- kinda like the Usual Suspects. The detective questions Kevin Spacey about everything that would be/should be important, meanwhile neglecting the most pertinent issue that the criminal is right in front of him, Kaiser Sose (Kevin Spacey). Again, what happened last night is a f-----ng tragedy and as much immediate gratification it would give everyone for me to divulge… I won’t. I’m a car, I don’t give a hot damn for human emotions. People shit all over me all day everyday, disrespect my entire existence, and run me like an Egyptian slave, circa any year B.C.

Why am I telling you this story, you ask… because it’s a good one. I am a sucker for the goodness in life. There is much of it to be had, and one must be careful in reaching to have it for in the reaching there is pain. I don’t reach, I park. I park and let it come to me, baby. All good things come to those who wait, and I've been waiting since 1997 for something like this. I was born in Lacrosse, WI to a family that had more use for selling me than having me around. From there, I was sold to the Foster’s (no that’s not the real family name, but I’m not outing anybody except for Toussaint’s dumbass… why? Cos f--- Toussaint, that’s why.) The Foster’s resided in a remote corner of Wisconsin, although I still longed for the city street life, a m----f----r can’t always get what he wants… especially when his life is destitute as a mechanical deathtrap on wheels.

I’m not going to get into the Foster’s, just as much as what happened last night. All you need to know is my present circumstance is colder than an ice cap that hasn’t melted yet. Little does anyone know, my alternator has one more trip left in it. I’ll credit the Foster’s and Toussaint for not noticing the head lights are fading in and out. When that’s happening, it means your electrical is at severe risk to shut down. Personally, my electrical is like a human’s ability to avoid old age, cancer, or a cold. If that shit is meant to be, and one of’em always is (pending on your genetics which comes first), the laws of nature give no f--- for when it goes down. If a semi is trailing you at blinding speed and my electrical or alternator shuts down… guess what Cochese? You’re family’s gonna have to hold a closed casket. No matter where you are, make sure the alternator, serpentine belt, and electrical is tip-top. Bold, rich or beautiful, doesn’t matter how fresh the oil is, I’ll shut this sh*t down faster than you can say “funeral party” if what’s under the hood isn’t tended to like a pacemaker. Consider this your final warning.

Somehow, someway, Toussaint defies this type of sh*t. Yes, I have one trip left in me, but it will be the last trip in the Foster’s name. Aside from the alternator, there is something else deadly wrong with me… my hood is unhinged. If Toussaint doesn’t notice it flappin’ like Ron Jeremy’s tongue, there ain’t much I can do for the guy. Either duct tape the damn thing down, or have it relentlessly flip into the windshield. I can’t blame him. Guy’s a liability, high risk, walking the line like an underfunded Russian circus with no safety nets.

There he is, dumbfound and all, gawking at the shiner on my hood as if it makes me look any less of a Civic. How this large ding got on my hood, again that was last night... I’m not going to dignify it with any background on it. However, Toussaint is genuinely surprised at the dent, I can see him thinking. What’s his next move, how’s he gonna explain this to the Foster’s… he doesn’t have a clue. Kid couldn’t talk his way out of a convertible, the hell he’s gonna explain this. He’s screwed, he knows it, however it won’t stop that m----f---r from enjoying the ride to park it back to Dana’s (daughter to the Foster’s, didn’t necessarily let him borrow the car, but left it in his hands while she’s on vacation).

Happy New Year’s to you too buddy. Toussaint hops in me as usual and cranks up the NPR. He loves that sh*t, what a poindexter.

And here we are, just as I suspected, pushing  50 on 94W… hood bouncing ever so slightly up and down, up and down, up and down, WHAM! I TOLD YA!!! HAHAAAAAAA, my hood smashes back into the front windshield, kicking the rearview mirror off that m---f----r inside the car. The rearview whizzes by Toussaint’s dodging big-ass dome and into the backseat. My hood’s still pressed firm against the windshield, Silly McGillicuddy Toussaint still pressing 50, but slowing down, goes into panic screamin’ like a little girl.

Fave moment: Toussaint looks to his right to find a sports car whose hit the brakes as to not get caught in the ball of flames I’m 10 seconds from turning into- panics, then looks to his left to see a mother driving her kid in the car in the next door lane. Toussaint puts on a “Oh my God, I think I sh*t my pants” look on his face as the mom shakes her head like “Can’t help you, good luck in the next one” and speeds off! BWAHAHAHAHAH! Love it. That m----f----r hits the brakes and some how gets a view of the road from just underneath the crest of my hood.

Damn, I was hopin’ to go out like a stock car, y’know? Somethin’ big. Lot of us go down without a whisper, without a single day of excitement… we just stop. Not sayin’ I wanted to hurt anyone, even Toussaint, but I always looked up to the Dukes of Hazard- always wanted the fast life, the crazy cross-country life, the life a compact city-car like myself can only park and dream of. Most I’ve ever seen is the backside of Wisconsin and maybe a skyline or two whilst parked at the top of a parking ramp… nothing more. Most a compact like myself could ask for is to go down like a champ. Not in the cards… this day, at least.

Well, Mr. Morrison maneuvers us off the road to the 94W exit. Safe and sound, we park on the side of a residential road. We stop. He doesn’t leave the car, just sits there, holding the steering wheel as if it’s the only thinking still working in his life and fears it might be the last thing he touches that’s not broken. I can feel the kid’s chest hollowing out, his breath deepening, the pressure on the inside of the car outweighing any other circumstance outside of it. Toussaint unbuckles, opens the door, slowly scoots his body out of the car, and folds my hood back down. You thought the ding he found this morning was shitty, the hood now looks like the Incredible Hulk held a picnic on top of it. The entire thing is caved in and not a tool in Mr. Morrison’s little world can fix it. He’s screwed in every way possible. Aside from being alive and outside of prison, this guy is as emotionally fucked as one could stretch their imagination.

Toussaint’s next move would have to be quick… and smart. Mama Foster is on her way to pick up the car… today.

to be continued…