Thursday, October 30, 2014

Paul & I Are Going To Arm This Laser Cannon, And Then I'll Tell You "I Love You"

It was the alien invasion one again.

It starts at night- it always starts at night- and it never turns to daylight no matter how much time spans throughout the dream. Daylight is not welcome. Christ, if only once there were sunlight during these things, there’d be the off chance I’d wake up knowing immediately that the pending death resting overhead like a mothership wasn’t actually real. I’d be able to differ the lucid and reality even before I woke up. Alas, the alien invasion dream has never operated on such terms.

It begins at what seems to be an outside bon fire in a cabin district. My family and I sit outside of our home log cabin, where seemingly the dozen of us all live- The damn thing is tiny and barely looks to fit a honeymoon, but apparently dreams make space for the incomprehensible. My friend and old co-worker from the Old Spaghetti Factory, Paul, is there for what seems to be perfectly natural in him joining my family. Ok, first indication this is not reality- Paul joining my extended family for a bon fire in the cabin district. But no, I’m still suspended in belief that this is real.

The aliens never show themselves. It’s never a “boo” or a hop out from behind the bush with a laser cannon- it’s a known. Our dinner round the campfire dissipates under the general understanding that “Oh shit, it’s about that time. The aliens are coming.”

A television lights up in the cabin with news reports of what we already know… because we’re psychic like that. The first to leave are my uncle Dave and his house members. His wife and kids somehow scurry into the bushes like snipers blurring with the background. Myself, Paul and my mother have no such skills. My sister and her husband go ninja vanish into the night air, while Paul and I remember the giant DIY laser cannon, the aliens left behind from the last invasion, is in the cabin.

I should remind you that I’ve only had this dream one other time, and I distinctly remember this device being left behind from the last invasion. Poor suckers, Paul and I were going to set this bitch off and give these bastards a taste of their own medicine.

Dragging the device near the fire, it looks to be an oversized propane tank. The liquid inside is yellow from the tint of the see-through shell, while the bottom half is pure metal with a vent outlying. Of course Paul muscles the thing to what he believes is the this-side-up way of setting it. “No, look at the directions, dammit Paul!” I yell. I look at the device closely. Broken English written backwards appears on the shell of it. One of two things is happening now- I can read alien, or the alien’s written language is that of backwards broken English.

Mind you at our moment of deciding which half is the bottom of the device, motherships are floating 400m overhead. Their lights bursting at the sight of earth’s surface dwellers, ready to colonize our cabin district, I fumble with the alien device and bump the top (or what I believe is the top) nozzle and it turns out of its own volition. It speaks to me where only I can hear it, Paul stands by. “Device now on, get ready for detonation” it murmurs. I hated the device now. We stored the damn thing from the last invasion, held onto it like a gun bestowed from Jesus in case the 2nd coming were to arrive, and this is how it repays me- in a miscommunicative nozzle nudge that’s now going to take me along with it in its detonation. Born for one thing: to shoot a lazer skyward. For a moment, Paul and I stand next to the device, now pointing up at the motherships hovering above, and feel a sense of union.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said patients on their death bed have the profound ability to say “I love you” unfiltered with 100% compassion and presence. Living under the presumption you’ll live another day, confuses the words and intent. If it all went down tomorrow- fuck it, if it were to all go down in a few seconds I’d be able to look a few folks in the eye with undoubted contrition and say “I love you”.

Knowing we were about to go down with an alien laser cannon detonation, Paul and I didn’t say “I love you”, we just stared at the oversized-propane-tank looking device like it were a newly attached limb to our body- a necessary heart or artery soon to explode. We needed it, but it would be our undoing.

A yellow hue glows from the rim of the cannon. “You have 5 minutes” it murmurs in a female robotic tone of synthetic voice. The kumbaya moment shatters, Paul and I make a fucking break for it. He, one way; I, the other with my mother who was apparently somewhere nearby the entire time.

I run alongside my mom, who hobbles in stride with me. She’s keeping up amazingly well for the age of 60-something. Others, from the cabin district, scurry in our direction, passing us up, bumping into my mother.

Long jumping down a staircase, my mother and I are sprinting atop a portion of the cabin district made from wood bridges, pathways and steps. I easily adopted the underground Goblin Village from The Hobbit movie as the backdrop for this in the recess of my mind. Her leg goes through a faulty board while running down a staircase. People are in full sprint, now. The swarm of humans coast around us like flooding waters would a tree trunk. We’re stuck- well my mother is stuck.

It’s at this moment I realize the world is going to end.

Nothing is going to matter.

That damn device is going to fire off and take out at least one of the alien ships… but not enough to stop the rest of them from colonizing our planet.

The interstellar foreigners will whitewash our history from the galaxy, and not a single fucking thing will be remembered of the silly humans that thought they had a grasp on this thing called life and imperialism. We’ll be forgotten.

And that’s ok.

What isn’t ok, is if I leave my mother stuck in a floorboard before it all goes down. We’ll be forgotten, but I won’t forget this moment. I can make a break for it and suffer the world’s end for a few seconds more… alone, or I can suffer it a few seconds less  and help my mom up and try to keep up with the crowd.

I choose the latter. She springs up, almost damn near twice as fast than before, and we find shelter in a cabin on the edge of the district near a body of water.


I peer my eyes open to a room. My room. Sunlight bleeds through broken shades onto unopened boxes and comic books. The alien invasion is a dream. Possibly a reoccurring mind-fuck to remind me that nothing is promised, and someday you might have to tell someone you truly love them when the time isn’t called for.

When the apocalypse strikes, bless it, nothing is going to matter after it goes down.


However, for now, a few things matter to me.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Deal Breaker: When Talking About Race With Your Significant Other Leads To Resentment

I recently wrote a song titled “Kolvoord Startburst”. In it, there is a short story I rap over a single verse. A few friends asked me about it, so I’d like to put it in prose. It’s been awhile… for me and prose, but I’m going to give it my best. And furthermore, hopefully bring you stories as frequently as I once did.

There was a time one of us would have said we were in love. And then there was a time where the other would’ve said we were in love. Our timing was often so off that it played like a game of love only while the other hates… now change roles.

It was a Minnesota Saturday, just like any other, we strolled about the Walker Sculpture Garden speaking of the future and places we’d love to visit. I’d always admired her for the stretch of her imagination beyond the small town-demeanor of the Midwest. Chicago is nice, but what about Ibiza- Segovia- Tokyo? Nothing was out of grasp, everything was attainable… it felt like sometimes, when you were with her.

As couples do during talks of the future, they get the talking about themselves. The dialogue can go one of several thousand ways- civil, resentful, futile, simple, basic, etc. How the conversation turned into what it was- well, I’ll never quite remember how it got there, but I can tell you about the surge of blood and serotonin that occurred as a result. I can tell you about the realizations that color your brain as the words pierce deeper into your pride & principles as a man. And sadly, I can tell you about the denial that you’ll blanket over the wound as the quickest means to healing- healing in the sense of duct tape over a severe laceration. It covers the injury now, but gives no means for long term rehabilitation.

I believe one should ask themselves everyday “How did we get here?”… as well as couples. The question is fair, and therefore the answer will be fair as well. “Fair” does not mean kind or nice, it simply means it will balance what there is that needs balancing, and if there is something completely out of whack, the answer will bring about some clarity.

After discussing visitable cities across the globe, we turned to our jobs. She had previously visited my job as a youth worker at the West 7Th Community Center in St. Paul. And after watching a litany of bi-racial youth, from a low income neighborhood, jump about the outdoor festival we had thrown, we- obviously- began talking about ourselves. Her curiosity and intrigue from the West 7Th visit spun her to monologue a streamline of consciousness...

“I mean, it must be so confusing for them [bi-racial children]. Who do they ascribe to? Are they white- are they black? Do black children accept them or do the white kids?”

I interrupted briefly, “Well, my sister wrote a paper about this when she was in high school, because her and I are-"

“I mean, I can’t imagine how tough that must be, and the picture of a family like that”, her consciousness continued vocally.

The tone turned from intrigue to pity for bi-racial youth. Unto this day, I can’t say verbatim how the conversation went from there, but I can tell you standing in the eye of someone you love while they question your existence as a person of color- there is no better way to break a heart.  

I held my breath… because holding your breath isn’t half as painful as biting your tongue.
She continued on as if I wasn’t there. Although she knew I was there, she didn’t know she was speaking to a bi-racial man that came from the exact family picture she held in question.

Yes, it’s now appropriate to ask yourself, “How the fuck did we get here?”

I was, in every sense of the word, defeated. I shamed myself felt most of all because I couldn’t find the words or timing to explain to her that what she said had hurt more than any deliberate attack of racially charged chutzpah. So, there we were. A blonde gal and a brown guy slowly disintegrating amidst the fertilizer in Walker Sculpture Garden.

Later on, I’d try to drive home all the sociological points I knew to be true, but she would have none of them. The simple nature of speaking against her misinformation was insulting for her… And it was then, I realized I could not have children with this woman. As awesome and kind hearted she could be, there was no way in this universe that I’d allow it. Because if it happened to happen, I might one day have to sit a bi-racial kid down and explain to her (or him) why mommy just said some over the top racially charged phrasing. If you can avoid that conversation, do it.

Then came the shame. Questions of “You’ve been with her over a year, how did I not know she felt like this about people of color?”, “How have we not had this conversation yet?”, and “Was the West 7th Community Center relative to Fear Of A Black Planet?!?!?!” My psychi tumbled until I made it stop. I told myself it was a fluke. We went on for 6 more months and then broke up. I resented everything from that point on, and will say not a shred of it was worth it beyond the sculpture garden. Sometimes you have to find out, to understand what’s at stake for you in the future… that’s my hope.
 

Furthermore, beyond her and I, much of the city- much of hip-hop in Minneapolis withheld the same misinformation as her. And so, I was to continue into a community of artists and people that I’d have to manage to have the same conversation with. Some hold it better than others- some are willing to remove personal insult from it and take the reality for what it is (that we don’t live in a post-racial society), and some have been able to sit down, have a beer, and hold a civil exchange. What I learned that day in the Walker Sculpture Garden, is that she might never have to have the conversation again, and lord willing I hope not. But, that conversation- whether with friends, cops, significant others, or even family- will be inescapable for me for the rest of my life… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Missing Patrick

Upon a weekday morning somewhere between Tuesday and Thursday, the three of us walked from the showers to the Richfield Middle School pool. Patrick, Bryce and I begrudgingly made a slow strut to the damn cold pool for a morning swim practice at an ungodly hour only stock brokers, coffee shop openers, and swimmers were privy to suffer.

It was my first morning practice in months, so I didn’t mind the extreme circumstances. However, for Patrick and Bryce, they had been attending morning practices the entire season. How they managed to fit school and a social life into a season full of two-a-days was beyond me. I didn’t have the threshold to love the sport and endure 6am practices at the same time.

The sun still rising, the city still asleep, Patrick stood at the edge of the pool- a tall, lanky sophomore with a gift to gab and a butterfly stroke to merit a state top-10 ranking, he made the toughest practice look easy. “Hey, Bryce. Know why swimming sucks more than every other sport?” he said while snapping his goggles into place. Bryce slugged at the edge of the pool, stretching/stalling before jumping in. “No, I don’t know why” Bryce returned. “Because you don’t have to jump into a cold pool at 6 in the morning” Patrick punchlined, sprung up from the edge of the pool and cannonballed into the deep end.

Whatever pain and patience the pool asked of us, we gave it. We swam for the city of Minneapolis that year, representing South High School. We were the last great swimmers the city would ever see, and a year removed from the greatest swim team (1998 – 1999 Minneapolis South H.S.) to ever compete for Minneapolis. It was the final year before all the public high schools would be collectively mashed closer and closer to one another until it was one swim team amongst all the schools. This was large in part due to the school board’s lack of funding, ability to recognize athletics as a prominent aspect of education, and overall inability to perform their job... but I digress.

Pushing and pulling through a 3000yd+ practice, Patrick may have joked on the deck, but his actions spoke differently in the pool. He and Bryce seemed to be somewhat of training partners throughout that final swim season. The monotony of staring at a straight, tiled line on the bottom of a pool can make a modern man go insane. We leaned and fell upon each other for the inspiration to keep competing, more than we would admit then. Without Bryce or Patrick for my senior season, I don’t believe I would’ve ever qualified for the state meet that year. They set a bar and example beyond words or school pride.

Almost a decade later, 2010, Patrick passed away for circumstances unknown to me. I can’t say I was close friends or even a strong acquaintance to him, but there was a time we were teammates… and that was all it took to reduce me to a puddle of salty tears and uncontrollable weeping when I received the news of his death.

It’s 2014, and I still miss him… as much I miss the comradery and foundation of swimming with your best friends and teammates for seasons at a time.

Monday, March 10, 2014

That 40-Year Old Chick Unleashed The Dragon

A team of young gents decided to take on the costumes of super heroes for Hamline University’s International Dodgeball competition. They were down to two competitors in the 2nd round of their game versus the Rag Tags. I wouldn’t assume their team name was the Rag Tags, but due to the amount of tattoos, lean muscle, and gray hairs, they had the look of an aging gang from The Warriors.

I had the time, as I waited with my team to compete in the championship round. The Rag Tags were down to one player against the two costumed super heroes. A lone 40-something year-old woman with a dark shirt and yoga pants steadied herself on the short side of the court ready for the heroes to unleash, what they hoped would be, the final throws to out her from the game. When a team is down to one member, the rules state that the opposing team can cross the middle line to a red line that marks ¾ of the court. Least to say, the 40-something was in dire straits.

Her dexterity maneuvered her through the first onslaught of three dodge balls from the teen-boys. They were all high- the woman literally matrix’d back, leaning to her tailbone, bending both knees in an awkward position and then rolling over back to balance. The teen titans regathered slower than molasses. They reloaded for what felt like the length of a Will & Grace episode, and returned to the red line.

You see, the Rag Tags were up a round on the costume crusaders, so if this 40-something woman were to oust the young gents, she’d have won the game for her team of tattooed dodge ballers.

The teen-boys, lethargic in their pursuit, made a game-ending mistake. The kid dressed in superman tights, dawning superman underwear over them, took his sweet-ass time to wind up his throw. Just as he prepped back, he hesitated. Poor sucker, I couldn’t feel bad for him by the time he’d realized he’d been moving too slow for the game. She’d already unleashed a small ball high enough to dodge, but superboy was already caught in his own fear of missing. He’d dismissed the fact that she’d had a cannon on her, and as the small ball pegged him in the elbow, he stood there for a moment. It looked that his brain was lagging behind the actual real-time event.

Super-teen dropped his head, looked off to the upper-right, shamed himself with a small murmuring from his lips, the crowd cheered… and before we (the audience) even knew it, the woman had unloaded the final blow.

It’s important to take note, here, that these people didn’t just mosey into a dodgeball tournament on a Sunday in the middle of St. Paul for absolutely no reason. They’d entered with intent and the deliberate goal to end every other team against them. So, there would be no reason to throw a middle-aged woman to the wolves unless she was able to wipe the smirk off your presumptuous face with a foam ball across the jaw.
Wearing an X-Men t-shirt, super-boy’s compatriot was the last one standing on his team. His prep was even slower, he’d reacted so poorly that the woman had enough time to grab another ball, wind up and release. By the time he realized what the hell was going on… he was out. She struck him with the same blow that had taken out super-teen beforehand.

The crowd erupted in absolute hysteria.


I felt compelled to run out and do cartwheels until my arms gave out, grown men jumped up and down as if the Vikings had just surprisingly won the super bowl (or anything), the other festively dressed teams fist pumped and gathered round the woman. Her team began cheering a chant that seemed pre-scripted before the game. And as the super-teens pathetically lowered their heads in a state of disbelief, and other teams hoisted her into the air cheering her, you could think nothing outside of how much that could make someone’s month, let alone year. Any of us would be privileged to blast two super-hero dressed 19-year olds out of a dodgeball competition… at any point of our lives.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Missing Element To The Rhyme Scheme

Cast deep into the back of the Spyhouse on Hennepin Ave, across the street from Fifth Element, we sat at the room’s center table. His girlfriend checked in and out on her phone while he and I wrote the final 4-bar exchanges for a song. In what felt like two hours, but was only a half, we finished the final verse of our song.
Wrapping up, he asks “So… why are you letting me… even be on this?” This, meaning the mixtape.

It was an obvious question, and should have been a given before we sat down to go to work. I stand absolutely nothing to gain by letting some kid from the burbs feature on a project of mine. I could’ve easily reached out to collaborate with a more staple name and brand, but it might’ve gone redundant in the features already amassed on the past mixtapes.

What it comes down to is the kid's brimming with potential talent. and if I throw my name in the hat of assholes who have limited his opportunities, then I’m no better than the whitewashed hip-hop elitism coursing through Minneapolis already.

“Good question…” I watched my words carefully. This isn’t a question I wanted to answer, because I knew if asked, I’d be cornered into a brutally honest response which I wasn’t sure if he was ready to hear. “After I taught the workshop you participated in, you reached out to me to feature on your song. I turned it down. So, figured to put the offer out there to collaborate on this, because when I was in your position, I emailed, called and reached out to artists in town as well- to maybe open up for them at a show, feature on a track, or something, anything. I’d reach out to a lot of artists for help and support, when I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing… and hardly any of them ever got back to me. Begrudgingly, every single one of them that didn’t get back to me… I never forgot. This city is the exact opposite in regards to what I’ve experienced in other artist communities. In Brooklyn, we’d collaborate, exchange numbers, commiserate, give each other guidance. In Milwaukee, everyone is seemingly down to offer help, or willing to book you for something at the drop of a hat. But here…  it’s this.”

Detail wasn’t necessary at this point. We had an understanding of the “this”. I forwent the racial connotations, did delve into the politics, and left it at a point of “it’s up to you”.


Regardless of another community’s proactivity toward assisting artists, Minneapolis might damn near break your spirit to take another stage. 

If this kid has any sense he’ll either remain in town to make the scene a better place than it already is… or run. If he wasn’t white, I’d advise him to take up the latter.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fifth Grade Guns

I was in 5th grade  when my first classmate was shot to death. He was a year younger than me and had the grave misfortune of discovering his parents’ handgun. Playing with it, he mistakenly shot himself in the head and died instantly.

The school response met with a few tears shed from teachers while they thought the students weren’t looking, but none more than that. There was no candle light vigil for the poor Mexican kid from a rock bottom-income& government neglected neighborhood. We, the students simply went on about our lunch.

Benny was his name. I’ll never fucking forget it.

-

Years later, I’m fifteen sitting on a bus bench outside of Riverside Plaza waiting to be taken home by the city bus on a hot summer afternoon. I began recollecting Benny for some strange reason. The moment sufficed it, or rather demanded it. I simply submitted to it. Sometimes I can negate a thought or memory at will, but in this state, it just seemed like the right time to think about him.

A drunk East African kid swung wildly at the air while talking with his friends, emulating a past fight where he had knocked someone out. They passed around a 40 in a brown bag, notoriously intoxicated during the day- if they had been white, this close to campus, you would’ve thought the Gophers had won something. Alas, it was the side of campus the middle-class has begrudgingly titled the “crackstacks” or the “ghetto in the sky” where no Gopher victory would warrant the toss of a single piece of confetti.

An old friend, B, crept from the right side of the bus stop accompanied by an older gentlemen wearing a tank top. I hadn’t seen this friend in about a year, but he had somehow grown several inches within the lapse of time. The older gentlemen next to him looked to be on something and severely agitated to a steaming repressed anger.

“B, I don’t like the way these niggas is lookin’ at me” the older man said to B. He was referencing the drunk East African kids on the bus bench.

“My brotha, my nigga, you got somethin’ for me to drink my nigga?” the braggadocio leader of the drunkards asked B and the older gentleman.

The older gentleman with the tank top postured himself slowly- ever so slightly leaning back like a serpent. He lifts his shirt to reveal a large pistol tucked into his already sagging pants. How this man was able to even walk halfway down the block without grabbing a hold of the damn contraption, is beyond me.

The sun gleamed off of the pistol handle. It seemed to nearly inch past his belly in size, giving evidence that the damn thing could fire off a bullet the size of a bowling ball.

I froze. My head reeling from what would actually happen if this man were to air out these East African kids in broad daylight. Surely, he’d have to kill all the witnesses (me) and make a break for it. The equations and possible scenarios sped through my mind, until… I stood up, held my breath, and sat down on the curb closer to Palmer’s Bar, still in sight of the bus if it came.

I began to cry. My psyche buckled under my own mortality and that of everyone else within shooting range. Wiping my tears from my 15 year-old face, I began to shame myself for emoting such a response. I thought myself into a pep talk of “toughen up you pussy!” and other motivational phrases you’d possibly hear from an alcoholic football coach.

The bus arrived. I hopped on, sat down, and stared out the window ruminating of what I’d do with the rest of my time.

-

Years later, at a party on the south side, I ran into a childhood friend of mine named Carmont. I hadn’t seen him in what felt like four-plus years, although it had most likely been one year, we commiserated on life after high-school over keg beer in a basement.

Chatting for awhile, Carmont divulged that he’d come into a sizeable amount of cash after running drugs over the summer. “Isn’t that dangerous?” I naively asked.

Carmont grinned ear to ear, “Na, nigga. All I’d have to do is post up on said corner and deliver. Simple.”

I immediately began to fathom a summer of drug running, and the potential thousands of dollars I could make. Silly 19 year-old Toussaint.

“But… “ Carmont interrupted my moment, “One night, I saw a nigga get fuckin’ shot in the face”.

My dreamscape faded to reality, “Wait, what?!?!” I replied. “How the hell did that happen?”

“Was on the corner one night. Niggas rolled up with the window down and just pop pop pop! Was all I heard, and this nigga went down…  

… It’s funny though, cos’ when you hear a gun go off that close to you, it dudn’t sound like it does in the movies. Sounds like muffled cannon, you know like the ones at Fort Snelling.”


Whatever small notions or presumptions I’ve had about guns throughout my life have all been grave underestimates. And I accept that I’ll never understand the need to wield one.