Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sometimes things happen...

Once in a while there comes a time,
when I go a bit crazy from reading of crime,
and contract and tort and civil procedure
and if I read one more case I may have a seizure
Do you know me to ever break down and rhyme?
Or otherwise publicly moan, bitch and whine?
My pride does implore me my weakness not share,
but with newfound humility I find I don't care,
my ego in tatters, my mind in a haze,
I look forward to learning the rest of these days,
in a library so quiet, gloomy and still,
while outside the weather gets ever more chill,
but I trust and I hope that at some point, quite soon,
I'll have emerged from this mess a legal tycoon!
One last indulgence, I'll ask you to grant,
Forgive that last couplet, I just needed to rant.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Frosty, the Ironic Man

Once again, a guest post from my good friend James.

Because of the propensity of commercials on the air, on my radio I have all six presets filled with stations that I listen to all the time, and those I only go to when I’m at my most desperate. Yesterday, I had slowly worked my way to six because for some reason, in the morning, radio stations think people want to hear other people talking more than music. Ironically, I was listening. On a show with predominately white listeners, and a predominately white staff, they had a time for people to call in and ask the black employees questions (they said black people, but it was only just the two) and the same applied for their black listeners. I think it was called Race Day or something else idiotic.

Before you jump all over me, let me just say that the focus of this diatribe is not to untangle the complex knot of race, the construct as it is perceived and how it has created vast differences in perception and understanding (at one point one of the black people cited slavery as a cause for some behavior of blacks and one of the white personalities shouted loudly that “that was so long ago, it doesn’t matter”). What I became interested in was one of the black employees explaining away several types of behaviors (leaning while driving, walking slowly) as “cool.” Of course, the listeners who called in, the people in studio who didn’t understand wanted to, so they asked “What is cool?” which of course isn’t nearly as complicated as “What does cool mean?”

This is a question that comes up a lot, and one that I’ve mulled over somewhat extensively in my comparatively short life. For a reference point, I analyze the lyrics of Andre Benjamin:

“All the fresh styles always start off as a good little hood thing,
Look at blues, rock, jazz… rap.
Not even talkin’ about music
Everything else, too
By the time it reach Hollywood, it’s over.
But it’s cool,
We just keep it goin and make new shit”

And I don’t think he was onto something; I think the man was right. Because in most cases, what is “cool” also looks sort of ridiculous. What sane person would wear a hat like that, after all, or their shirt sizes or their pants, or their jewelry? The answer is someone trying to desperately go against the norm. Cool can be anything so long as it’s counter, but what cool IS is a specific apathy and disregard for the status quo. And the status quo is the civil construct deriving from obedience and majority. Enough people get together and agree on the way a thing is done, anyone not doing it that way becomes outcast (to affect my pun), but CHOOSING not to do the thing that way gives the individual dissenter power, they carve out their own sense of being because they have created it; it is theirs, and theirs alone. And it originates, generally, where it does because it is a tool used by the misfortunate and the exploited to generate within themselves indelible worth where before they were told there was none. This strength (as most honest strength is) is an attractive phenomenon, because it’s brave, and exotic, thus people want it. And them getting it, taking it even, is what Andre’s lyrics spoke of.

But that isn’t really what people are talking about when they cite the unfortunate individual who has been brainwashed, either by the culture, or its counter. Because it all comes down to miss-education. The majority of individuals acting “cool” couldn’t tell their detractors why. They could guess at it, throw cognition in the vector of it, but not hit it. And that, ironically, makes their cool “un-cool;” it puts them in the same, unconscious majority the originators of such were departing from. And this danger is what Gwendolyn Brooks spoke of:


We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

And it is this phenomenon that’s causing all the head scratching: people holding up walls that don’t plan on falling, and when asked, couldn’t hazard a guess at all as to why.

And that’s why cool can be applied to almost anything, but on much fewer things (and their specific candidates I’m sure would surprise you) would it actually have a good fit. But certainly, making up one’s own mind for the sake, only, of that mind to do good will objectively always be cool.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Unquiet Past

I've been meaning to write about this for a while.  It regards, generally, my fascination with the past and, specifically, my dead family.  If this sounds macabre or sad, please accept my assurances that it isn't (I think).  I hope someday to write more in detail about it, but for now, I'll settle for writing about the event that triggered it all in the first place.
Last Christmas I got to visit my mom's aunt whose son had recently passed away.  Since her sisters (my grandmother and grandaunts) live in the states and she's estranged from her daughter, my mom is really the last family that visits her with any regularity.  Reynaldo had died a few months before, so we weren't there to console her, per se.  I think this was more to remind her that she wasn't alone.
Though I though I was ready for the inevitable reminiscing, I was dead wrong.  It shouldn't have caught me by surprise, but I hadn't accounted for the fact that I'd have to confront the last material remnants of Reynaldo's existence.  For me, more than words and memories, things have the ability to bring the past and the dead back into the present.
Lucy's son used to live with her and most of his things were still laid out.  I couldn't help but reconstruct Reynaldo's life in my head using the bits and pieces he left behind.  His room was small and sparsely furnished, with just a bed, nightstand and writing desk.  It had a closet with some clothes and shoes and lots and lots of books.  There were a few pieces of art he had bought in the apartment and, nicely framed, his diplomas and award certificates.
The modesty of his room stood in contrast to the elegance of his old home.  I remembered visiting it a few times as a kid and even then I thought the place was nice.  It was a rowhome in Old San Juan, built on the cliffs that overlook the Atlantic.  Though small (as houses in the area tend to be), it was tastefully decorated and a residence befitting a successful engineer and college professor.  He lived there with his boyfriend of many years, that has since "recovered" and remarried.
His books spoke of a person all-too-familiar to me.  There were books on math and science, classics of literature and philosophy, poetry, essays.  My sister and I rummaged through them and each picked a few to take home.  She took poetry, while I took a copy of Walden and The Consolation of Philosophy.  I wondered if either of these was important to him, if he longed to escape into nature or sought solace in his learning as his life took a turn for the worst.
I considered his diplomas, from his undergraduate to doctoral degrees, as well as the commendations he received from the professional societies he belonged to.  It reminded me of my own desire for a higher degree and accolades.  What good did they do him?  What good would they do me, if I had to deal with depression and alcoholism like he did?
We talked with my mom's aunt some and she presented me with a gift, for my (then) upcoming wedding.  It was a brandy decanter that used to belong to Reynaldo.  It's a beautiful piece, made of crystal, that for me carries a lot of his story.  It was obviously expensive, bought during the good times, and obviously of fine taste.  At the same time, it's purpose was to contain what led to his death.  I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to drink from it, but I'm happy to own a piece of the past.