: lower black pain
: lower black pain.
Perhaps Jabberwocky.

Perhaps Jabberwocky.


If you’ve been here for a while (thank you very very very much) you probably know that my hometown is Kansas City. Long before it was cool to wear a Chiefs or Royals cap, I rode the Yankee / Mets gauntlet of the subway proudly sporting my ancestral brands. Ok, I was a 49ers fan for a while back in the day, but everybody was, it was like science fiction - Montana and Rice? and I don’t even follow football… and then Montana went to Kansas City, so it all seemed like kismet.

You don’t get to choose your hometown, it’s yours forever, and I’m proud of mine, but there’s been some stuff about it in the news that I don’t want to talk about.

Ok, I want to talk about it a tiny bit because this is a column called :lowerblackpain, where, as you know, the lower is a verb. So I feel its title - if not its formal charter - if not to address pain, is in some way to counterbalance it.

The pain I wish to counterbalance is not a new one. Nor is it eradicable, like smallpox, because it’s a human condition that will exist forever: in the words of a pure dear friend: some people are garbage. They may not start out that way, but as there’s only two paths in human development; confidence and fear, they chose poorly, and drank from the shiny golden goblet of ego and anger instead of the dusty brass cup of compassion. #lastcrusade.

I am not an optimist. I am a proud pragmatist. It’s served me well in a world that didn’t have an infinite amount of automatic options for me. Instead I found bits of wisdom and information that I could put together like a kit to make a way to move forward. My Grandpa gave me Count Basie, my Grandma gave me Tchaikovsky, the early seventies gave me The Partridge Family: boom! I’m writing music filled with the funk, rococo pastiche and warm G-rated harmonies only that combination could deliver.

But the most important kits were the ones I put together to survive.  You’ve got to survive: that’s the basic goal.

This is true for all of us. What memory floods your head when I say the words “close call”? Hmmm? We’ve all had at least two. And they don’t have to be the ones where you’re on vacation and the zip line looks dodgy or the last oyster tastes a little funny. They are most likely (because I know you guys, and you’re all super cool) choices you’ve made where you look back and realize the road not taken needed desperately not to be tooken. Took. Whatever.

Let me come at this the long way. I appreciate your patience.

So a newly famous actor, a black man, recently had a public altercation that is probably going to stall if not entirely maroon his career. I didn’t know if it was his fault or not, but this week I ended up following a thread on the internet and accidentally researched it.

He went to the same college I did. That was in every article. It shouldn’t have been, but it defined him a bit differently. Below the article was a collection of comments from other black guys who’d attended the same college.

They were all really mad. All of them. One said he had graduated with various degrees from several prestigious higher learning places and had never been treated as poorly as he had at my alma mater. The others followed suit.

I did that thing with my lips where you go “Really?”. Pursing, yes. Then I read: “Every black graduate I know has had an anonymous white person turn him in for a made-up charge of something that he had to defend, like going to the principal’s office.” And I said, “Well, that never happened to me!”, but it did. 

There was this prince of somewhere who behaved very badly his sophomore year, buying up a lot of stuff and basically partying all the time, and then the next year he was definitively gone but all the stuff he bought was there, including this “big screen” console TV, a giant wooden cabinet of a thing, and the next people in that room were me and my two roommates, so we didn’t move it out, we just kept it there, and everybody knew it, and the next year the people in the room didn’t want it and they said we had to move it out so we took it to our next room where, again, everybody saw it all year, even the Dean knew about it (but had no clue as to who to call about it), then the next year we put it back in the place we originally found it and somebody apparently took it.

So I was called before a huge long table of very angry people who told me that I had stolen it. “I don’t have it,” I said. “We can go to my tiny off campus apartment right now and it won’t be there.” I told them the entire story. “How could I steal something which everyone knows the location of, all that time?” They had no answer for that. “What is my exact responsibility towards abandoned furniture?” They had no answer for that either. Though they threatened my educational future quite seriously, by the end of this interview with me they seemed as exhausted as Elmer Fudd dealing with Bugs Bunny. I’m sure you can imagine.

And nobody told me who quote-unquote “turned me in”; I was just told by my Dean to “trust no one”, which is cool to hear in a movie but, y’know, not so much when you’re still on a dating circuit.  I always thought it was a one off, a fluke of weirdness borne of royal misbehavior, but reading a series of similar incidents from similar looking people made me sad. A few of them were way more famous than the newly famous actor was.

But I digress. Kind of on purpose. I’m stalling, actually.

My worst Kansas City story, told as briefly as humanly possible, was driving home on a summer evening from my job performing at a local amusement park. It was the summer between freshman and sophomore year, I had the sunroof open on this beater car I was driving and was singing 80’s hits on the highway, when I pulled off and stopped at a light and the guy in the huge truck next to me started spitting into my sunroof. He wasn’t a great shot, but the principle of the thing made me a bit rebellious.

I said hello. He said hello back, and added a word.

I set off to the next light, but pulled a trick I had seen in a movie somewhere; I waited until the light was yellow then SHOT through the intersection at the last minute, leaving him stranded on the other side of a six lane road. I may or may not have waved at him through the sunroof. I may or may not have used all of my digits to do so.

I sped down the street and turned down my mother’s block and quickly got to the garage door and hurriedly opened it and a lawn mower was blocking the space. I jumped out and was pushing it as the guy’s truck pulled up and he took his rifle from his back window. My mother was at one of the three evening events she’s been to in her entire life, so I ran through the back door and jumped over the fence to the neighbors yard, who was a formidable ex-marine, though I realized I was now between a rock and a hard place, so I kept shouting whose son I was and they opened the screen door and listened to my abbreviated tale and he went to the kitchen to the drawer where you probably keep the Handi-Wrap and pulled out a loaded Magnum and walked out the front door in his stocking feet and fired two times in the air. There may have been words.

When the cops showed up, two of whom were black, they told me the man in the truck was friends with the sheriff (who was away fishing this weekend) and he was only upset because his daughter had gone to the prom last week with a black guy. He’d showed up there all liquored up with a baseball bat, not realizing his daughter’s date was the captain of the football team. Which hadn’t ended well for him, and he held what I’m gonna call a general grudge concerning the situation, and I just kind of drove into that.

My worst Kansas City story is not getting shot there.
I think it is a very fortunate story. But then, I’m a pragmatist.

A friendly neighbor. A faithful educator. The elements that have combined to get me from there to here have ranged from the extraordinary to the unimaginable, and I have nothing to complain about. But it would be ungrateful to go through the world without trying to make something better.

I don’t believe there’s a sequence of temporal events after which all people de-garbage-fy. I don’t believe there is any object in the world that can protect us from everything. I don’t believe there are answers to problems when the problems aren’t questions. But I do believe that there are tons of non-garbage people everywhere, never more than two or three folks away from one another.

We should have a secret word so we can recognize each other, a call-back to epic courage and savage conflict, yet a shared statement of compassion, illustrating how absolutely and entirely nonsensical everything’s become.

Perhaps, “Jabberwocky”.

Thanks for your time. And your patience.

Next week, so lighthearted, I super promise.

: lower black pain
: lower black pain.
Life’s lemons into rich, dark chocolate.
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