Saturday, May 18, 2013

Warsan Shire Moment

Courtesy Rumi Kamna Official on Facebook 

Monday, May 13, 2013

To My Mama on Mother's Day (Baby On the Hip Tho Remix)

 I got a baby on my hip yo
What, what, what!!

I got a baby on my hip tho
My tummy's flat and buff

I got a baby on my hip right
That's my sugarpie
Me and my baby gonna ride or die 


I don't know why I thought of that rhyme but I did. I was sort of daydreaming and there was this scene of a woman with a baby on her hip but she was dancing like Beyonce (in my head though). I identified the thought as a sort of mental music video.  Next, I started to hear the beat.  I made up the words. And finally I did actually dance it too but that part is private. 


Anyway it's Mother's Day and I woke up thinking about my mom. She's been very ill for several weeks with several different ailments. She was crying earlier because she feels so badly. She's got this awful bronchial cough going on and it racks her when she coughs.

It's always jarring to think of yourself as you are right now, then consider that your parents were once this same age....and then most jarring of all to realize that they were your age when YOU were actually here in the world. They were young. As you young as you are but with kids. 

And that made me remember being a very young child and what she was like then. Very young and beautiful. Her most commented upon feature was her hair. She had hair that was so thick and long that it waved and flowed down her back and over her shoulders. Many women pay good, dear sums of money to purchase hair in sufficient amounts to achieve this cascading waterfall effect that my mother had naturally.

 In old pictures you can see her sitting with a baby on her lap, hair perfect and gorgeous. If you were on her hip then playing with her hair was a thing to do. "Stop it. Stop it," she said often in alternating tones of semi-boredom or excruciating pain and panic. "STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT!!!!" That was my brother who generally elicited the screams. He was just a toddler sitting on the hip and his little fat hands would get tangled in her hair, she'd freak out and try to make him stop, he'd pull, there would be drama. "KELLI!! COME GET HIM!!" she'd be screaming. So then I'd come and hold the baby just so and she'd wriggle out of the hair clench, take some deep breaths, then recover the baby from me and pop him back on her hip.

Mom complains so about her knees and her arthritis these days but even she doesn't realize that these are not just some kind of old folks' complaint but injuries she procured in the heat of battle.She became a figure of aero-dynamics with a baby on the hip.  Like an athlete or a soldier or a dancer perhaps she was able to enact amazing feats as long as she had a baby on the hip. It is strange because my mother is fiercely non-energetic. She adores furniture, chiefly the chaise lounge above all other pieces. She does not enjoy "activity" as she terms it. But you'd never know that if you had been around her when she was about age 30 with babies in tow. 

It was just me and my brother Chip and her. She often says that as an only child herself she didn't understand and still doesn't our sibling-hood relationship. She just can't imagine it. She says, "I had no one to play with. But that's okay. I had some babies and then I did have someone to play with!" And thinking back there is no denying that she was a superior playmate. However it should be noted that most children who discover that their parent is a superior playmate tend to be screwed when the time comes for superior parenting. This was not the case with my mother. She was a fantastic and effective parent AND playmate. 

 Now as an adult woman facing her last years of fertility I can see how difficult it is to do the tasks she did and even more so, how difficult to do those tasks with the resounding success that she achieved. Down to the smallest details she got it right and everyone knows how  hard it is to get those right; in fact those small details require such skill that you can't truly understand unless you have been intimately tied to the process. I'm thinking of such things as physically maneuvering oneself over a number of years with multiple children on the hip. She could even function with each child on either hip!!

People would come to our home and be amazed by any number of things because confronting my mother's alpha female dominance in the home sphere causes amazement. . But if I had to choose one single activity or action to sum up her amazing-ness then I would have to say that the Baby Flip Thing is the example that incited the greatest awe unanimously.

By the time I was two-and-a-half my mother and I had created this game that could only have come about because I was always on her hip. My grandmother and all the other old ladies would fuss at her "Put that girl down! You keep on coddling her!! Let her walk she don't need you all hugged up on her all the time!!" Both Mother and  I were very offended by this meddling and we continued to stay hugged up on the hip together. 

We did everything together. After my half day at school she would pick me up and we'd go finish the day's errands before coming home for lunch. "What you want for lunch Kell-Kell?" Then after we had our lunch it was time for nap. We had our nap in my parents' big bed while the soaps played so we could "listen while we're sleeping" my mother said. Sometimes I did not want to take a nap. This did not matter. Mommy would put the flat of her palm on my face and press it to the bed.. "Rest!" she'd say. "But I'm not--!!" ...."Yes. Yes you are tired." she insisted. This argument has not yet been fully resolved. However I remained in bed and had my "nap" no matter if I slept.

This close proximity bred its own kind of fun. We had a game we played for when it was time to get off her hip. I would stand facing her with our hands interlocked. Then I would walk up her legs several steps until I reached her waist. From waist- point I launched backwards and did a full flip landing in starting position on both feet at the finish. When my brother arrived in the family and got big enough at about 18 months old he too did flips. 

Once, on the plane to Chicago, which was only about an hour fifteen minutes away (this was back in the day) my mother sat in First Class and distracted my brother from Baby Rage (which strikes screaming infants on planes and causes brief but intense thought of murder in everyone located within proximity of screaming infant) by doing Baby Flips. To be precise, my brother did the Baby Flips but she served steadfast in her role as the post of whatever. The other passengers on the plane were deeply awed. Also they were entertained. It turned into a flight off watching our baby flipping when it could have been a terrible, torturous flight of Baby Rage. 

That didn't happen in your family? Right. You didn't have my amazing mom. Some people have families where infants scream on planes. But that is not my experience. Also my mother was a Baby Whisperer. She can calm any fretful or enraged baby and they will obey her. Babies become gentle and cuddly. She charms them by rapping her fingernails together to create hot little beats like some kind of drum  machine and you can see them following the wild colors in their  rapid movements.  

Still it is the Baby Flipping she is most remembered for. It became a party trick that people asked for when we were around. She'd say "Okay show your flip!!" She was also that Mom who rarely went to parties but if she did go the hosts always said "Oh just bring the kids then!"  We were kids who were always around adults and because we were well behaved it made other adults tolerant of us. So we'd go to the party with Mom who always got bored early. One time she said to her friend "We'll be right back!" and my brother and I were like "What are we doing? Why are we leaving the party?" ..."You'll see!!" she said. 

(I had just won thiry-five dollars at Tonk against four other women who all were staring daggers at me across the table as my Mom said I had to go. Things had been hostile for some time when she arrived. "Those bitches were just mad that they lost to a twelve year old." was how my mother explained it. And also they clearly forgot that you were Claude's grand-daughter.")

 We still didn't understand when we arrived at the movie theatre. It was packed that Friday night. That was one of the best nights ever watching going to that party, winning at cards, leaving the party to catch I'm Gonna Get You Sucka at the show, and then we went back to the party after the movie.

Baby Flips weren't the only thing Mom did well but this is merely one example that is instructive regarding her personal flair in life from a generalized perspective as well as her skill as a mother. She was fabulous like that. Magic to the eye but beneath the magic lay lots of work in achievement. So today as I sort of day-dreamed my trippy dream with the dance video in my head and the popping little song I made up I remembered the Baby Flips and decided to write this essay for my hip-hop Mama <3

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Black Magic Woman

Foreword to The Women of the Hustler's Dynasty

Foreword to The Women of the Hustler's Dynasty, a discussion of the role of the women in Claude's life, love and work. 

My grandfather's profession posed curious complications that were simultaneously empowering yet still submissive and psychologically nuanced obviously. As his grand-daughter, like my mother, I was pampered and protected but also faced with demanding expectations. But of course this seems nothing when compared to my grandmother's role as Queen of his Heart. Nevertheless she was intolerant and tortured by the presence of mistresses and other women of the entourage. 

Most significant of all the women in my grandfather's life was his youngest sister, Helen* who was his only rival in terms of intelligence and worldly success in the underground economy. Her story has become legend to many in my city. I want to spend some time looking at us  to attempt to find the narrative of this extraordinary story that I have inherited. It's not a need to "make sense of things" or "seeking closure". This is strictly an exercise in recording a rich history, one that happens to be my own personal history and that of my family's. 

It is a history whose backdrop is the streets of segregated Indiana Avenue from the 1920s to beginning of 21st century. The tale is peopled with characters of all types from John Dillenger to Al Capone. My family were among the aristocrats of the criminal underworld who practiced their highly specialized craft by imbuing it with a flair and artistry and more importantly a dependability based upon reputation that earned a respect and raised the craft's success and profile. (A cheat cannot last long as a professional gambler; welsch on one bet and the word will be put out that you are a dishonest cheat who reneges. Word On the Street is lightning fast; it is the judge and jury of the ghetto whose sentence can determine one's success or failure in the underground economy.)

The Numbers, the illegal lottery, along with the legitimate businesses run by my grandfather and his sister Helen serviced the community and employed the citizens as well. Restaurants, juke joints, gambling, pawn and hock services, street loans, bootlegging and even prostitution in the very early days....

This blog is the first time I have recorded these stories which are so familiar  to me and precious. But the stories are also quite mysterious for there are many unanswered questions and the most significant players who could provide answers chose to die in silence despite repeated efforts to dissuade them. Many, many times I went to my grandfather, grandmother and great aunt to beg answers, to plead for explanation. Sometimes they answered and sometimes not. This is my first time committing this secret history to record. 

Of course it can be difficult to achieve secrecy about matters which involve and depend upon the citizens of one's own community. However there are elements of the story that have been accepted as truth which are closer to myth. Claude and Helen were savvy PR wizards and decades ahead of their time in terms of understanding that controlling the narrative is a non-negotiable power principle. Yet it must be exercised with care, without ostentation, and in secret as much as possible.   I am faced with the task of separating fact from well constructed fiction which is still much easier than trying to conjure the unknown which is a barrier that I face everytime I think on these matters. All matters that have received legal or moral censure and prohibition carry a requirement for secrecy; prohibition by way of hypocrisy demands that double standards and hidden motive function. 

I am engaged in the task of first recording the story as I know it...and unravelling the serpentine coils along the way. My history and that of my family are also the history of the 20th century in this city. Themes are woven thick and inextricably throughout: race, class, gender, labor, politics et cetera. Yet one cannot be distracted by too much academic rhetoric or one risks missing a riveting human drama. So many of those characters (they come across in my mind so vividly like characters as I write) are gone. With this narrative they come to life again.


"Under a king, a country is really ruled by women."

~Adelaide de Savoy, a favorite of King Louis XIV~

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Charles Ramsey and Hood Nostalgia

When I was watching Charles Ramsey tell his story to Anderson Cooper my mother said "You know he's a cool guy and really intelligent. I'd like to sit down and talk with him" she said. "I miss meeting black men like him. When Daddy was alive..." she said trailing off. But I knew what she meant.

There's a whole spectrum of good deeds and brave men and intelligent thinkers in the ghetto who never get a chance to be seen or known outside the inner city blocks they exist in.

Philosophers and doctors. Scientists and mathematicians. Chess Masters and painters. Musicians. And hustlers . And many who possess an articulateness that is a trait of only world class story tellers. There is talent and beauty of the people down in the hood that can make your hood life safer and infintely more interesting than in the so-called secure Good Life of middle class security. And so often that talent and originality is overlooked because we see differences in each other before we look for excellence. But there is often incredible talent that we overlook when we see the traits that magnify our fears in one another.

 Next time you see someone different try to sharpen your eye, look for a glimpse of that excellence. And we know there are monsters out there but could we maybe make a world of less horror if we could but see beauty and heroism where it is -- especially when it is in front of us.

Charles Ramsay is perhaps a rough looking man without thousands of dollars of orthodontia but he tells a story like a pro. When Anderson asked if he'd be seeking the FBI reward money the man reached into his pocket and held up his paycheck. He said "Give it to them girls cuz I got a job." Heroes and storytellers and good citizens can be any shape and color just as the devils whom we fear.

I was really happy for the 'hood today. God bless those women.    

Monday, May 6, 2013


Sadness from a broken heart comes in huge oceanic waves. Wild wall sized waves that slam into you with incredible force and pain. You may see these waves only once in a lifetime. Maybe never. Maybe you've seen and felt the waves frequently. Remember that when you wash up on the shore there is only one way to heal: feel the pain as deeply as it goes....feel the pain in the your heart your pride. Feel it, don't deny it. And you will eventually find that the pain lessens a little bit more and a little bit more on its own. YOur body and heart will heal even if it feels like that is not possible. Feel the pain then watch it recede like an ocean wave. There will be times when memory of the pain can feel almost as hurtful as the original injury. Feel the hurt, feel the memories, watch them recede. Remember this rule and you'll live to feel more joy and love that is far stronger than the hurt ever was. FEEL DEEPLY....DON'T DENY...YOU WILL SURVIVE...JOY IS THE REWARD ...BELIEVE IT

Cry BeyBey

Be In Love...

All I Loved...

"...Til Times Get Better"

I keep meaning to pen an essay about my favorite black folk phrases. Once my Uncle Greg was going off, as only he can, about the infuriating nature of some person's ways and he said "I should still be whippin that muthafucka's ass til times get better!" And after about two beats when the phrase finally registered in my head I fell into a laughing fit. And everytime I think of it -- of "til times get better" -- the same thing happens, a laughing fit. Because, obviously, it seems like times never do get better. Lately it's one of those things, just the acceptance that Hard Times are here and they are here to fucking stay.  

My generation has to be one of the most pampered generations in memory. I'm at the tail end of GenX born in the mid- 70s so throughout the 80s there was a very comfortable living style. Even during the brief recession  in the 90s I can't recall much belt tightening. I do know that there was enough of a change caused from the 90s recession that my grandfather frequently commented that the bettors were not coming in as frequently nor were they spending as much. This naturally meant that with less incoming capital that it was costing him more to pay out hits. And my grandfather hated -- he hated -- to pay out hits. He did it. He never cheated a bettor. But nothing made that old man unhappier than parting with money. However I digress.

I, like all my friends, benefited from a stellar education. Went on to college and enjoyed a four year holiday that ended during an economic boom of such incredible wealth and promise that not having a job meant one didn't need a job. It was definitely was more fun to have a job in the early 2000s. Besides you might as well be working since everyone else was and it's not like you could just be hanging out from 9-5 as one could conceivably do in college. So we worked. And we partied. I know quite a few people who have made some notable gains and made names for themselves as well. Frankly it wasn't that hard. If you were at least moving your ass at all, with even mediocre talent you could make something out of the opportunities that came your way in those early years of the oughties or whatever one calls the early 2000s.

But holy fuck did those opportunities dry up hella fast!! I know for me personally the last five or six years have been terrifying.

And I know that I've heard my private thoughts echoed in many conversations with friends. Thoughts like "Oh shit. I thought IT was going to happen for me. I thought that I was a Contender. A Player in the Game. And I'm sitting here on the sidelines half-hungry, barely making rent."

Thoughts wondering if you were going to be sentenced to a life caring for an elderly parent with Alzheimer's forever. Were your life and the parent's life inextricably linked now... for always As the parent disappears,do you as well?  Aside from the horror of watching a beloved person disappear....

Wait. There isn't anything besides that thought. There's just horror.... and you just watch that person disappear.

Everyone's wondering if this is a slump in the game of life....or is this the way the game plays out. As in This is check -fucking-mate, dude. Or did you just play your own self? Have we grown up with too much TV? Did we all think that we should be living like glamorous celebrities? Were the dreams you dreamt too outrageous, too impossible, too unrealistic?

Every woman has joked at one time or another that if times didn't get better she might be selling her ass soon. There is a serious time in life when that joke is exceedingly unfunny. When you look at people doing much worse than yourself and feel deep fear knowing that that person could so easily be YOU. When you have to refuse to help a friend in need simply don't have any funds or help to GIVE.

Personally I struggle by through the means of Friendship Welfare. In place of state sponsored welfare the onus of making sure a desperate person survives becomes a dear friend's job. And you know you have a friend when they break out the straight up Friendship Welfare. At that point you stop discussing how fucking bad and pointless and awful your situation is. You and The Friend accept it and move on. A friend does what s/he can...and moves on.

And those friends who are the helpers....I don't know if they understand the abject level of gratitude that one has....or the abject shame. Either way it is God's blessing if you do even have such a friend who can help. I've had so much help that it is wrong to complain and I hope, Dear Reader, that you do not register this epistle as a complaint. I have been damned lucky. And blessed. Because my grandmother always told me -- well she told me many things, truly -- but the least of what she told me was truth of a  woman ALONE in the world. I don't think it is un-feminist of me to report that shit is so much harder for a woman alone is it?

A woman alone often has to survive with that extra sense of hustle about her. You have to play the game. That extra smile to the butcher might mean just that much extra bit he leaves on that cut of beef as he weighs it on the scale. Ah, but that is another story.

The thought that is the loudest, the one no one wants to say out loud for fear of making it true is Have I wasted my this crappy, desperate  fearfulness going to be the rest of my life? What did I do wrong? When did I fuck up? 

Because everyone --- from what I can tell -- seems to be feeling like "I fucked up. Clearly I fucked up". Because EVERYTHING around us is fucked up.

And I don't have anything philosophical to add to that. It's just scary and everything is fucked up. It feels like none of the dreams we dreamt can possibly come true. In fact it feels like we were silly fucking fools to have had dreams in the first damn place. So many people outside the West suffer so much just to have clean water. But it's no joke to suffer to pay the water bill either. Though were I to trade places I wouldn't be writing this essay because I would not be alive surely.

You can look around and spot people you went to school with who for some reason are Doing It. The SUCCESS thing. They've Made It.

In the have not.

Why not? Why haven't you (or I) Made It? Well there's lots of reasons. And some of them are just about the shit that happens in life. There are times that you will have to take care of your parents. And there are times (though no one likes to say it out loud) that you will resent the fuck out of it.

There are times when illness strikes out of the blue and you discover how shockingly difficult it is to get your life back. In fact you may even discover that you never again attain the level of health and ease of function that you so took for granted.

Sometimes you get into dead-end jobs. You fall in love with the wrong person. Or you fall in love with the right person and you struggle together. The single folks struggle alone and think "Am I always going to be alone in this? A little companionship might be nice."  I suppose the couples secretly wonder "What if I didn't have him/her? I'd be all alone." That has to be a scary thought.

Then of course there's the scary thoughts about the condition of the world, of one's country (they're all fucked up apparently). The Guardian on Saturday ran a story that by 2015 all the Arctic ice will have melted.    Then there's the overwhelming amount of war, famine blahblahblah.

Last week on the same day I found out that one dear friend (whom I am not speaking to but still care about) has cancer. Later that day I discovered that another dear friend apparently is in the process of testing to determine if it is cancer or not. Either way she's sick and it's a big damn problem.

And still in the midst of all this, one has to look in the mirror and face the fact that whatever kind of superstar you thought you would be by are not. You're a pleb. You're the regular Joe. You're fighting just to put food on the table.

It levels the field though. You start to realize that you don't even want to be a superstar. You just want to be sure that you'll have a place to live, someone to love, and a job to go to if tomorrow comes.

However hard you thought you were, these past few years made a punk out of you at some point. Because the ease in what used to be so Easy is gone.

And the fear it puts into you makes you want to beat something, someone.... til times get better.