The Great and Grand Dismantling

Humans line up to watch large demolitions

Loudspeakers play Battle Hymn of the Republic

Fireworks go off when the explosives are detonated

Structures fall

People cheer

Those far away from the rubble

Safe from the dust cloud

Claim progress

Something new and better will come

No one sticks around to cheer on the poor bastards

with the push brooms

who tend to the clearing

No one watches as the remnants of lives are trucked away

No one looks back to the void to wonder what will come

Of us

Careful What You Wish For

(Note: This post originally appeared at 7 Criminal Minds, a virtual panel where, each week, mystery/crime writers respond to provocative questions about crime fiction, writing, publishing and life. I’m very happy to be a participant. Please make it a part of your blog reading.)

Question of the Week: We’re getting to the panic-buying days. And nothing makes a better present than a book, right? What book would you most like as a gift? Tell us, and you can share this post with “someone” who needs to know!

It’s a hard question. I’m a writer, and same as any one of us, I’m lousy with books. From the research materials for stuff I’m working on, to the reciprocal purchases I have stacked, and finally, the manuscripts folks ask me to beta read, I’m already digging myself out of a quantum amount of words. When the question of the five books I’d give for the holidays came up, I had to curb my desire to list fifty. I’ve given plenty of books, sure, but I don’t think I’ve ever received a book as a Christmas gift. I grew up with the largest library in the city across the street from my house. Amazon came along in the 90s. Books I have covered by my lonely. If y’all want to give me something, send me a warm lead on an acquisitions exec at Netflix. My folks over there have long since moved on.

I’ve never received a gift-wrapped book, per say. Once a lovely lady gave me a box of vintage comics from my lost childhood collection, but book books? I generally only receive them from folks after I’ve admitted I’ve never read title-x.

“Oh, my God. Here. Take it and let me know what you think of it.”

Yeeeeeah. Lemme g’on ‘head and push my to-do list back a couple of months so I can do that. Wanna schedule our discussion now? When are you good in, say, never?

My other issue with this week’s question is I have great friends, many of whom follow our blog. They’ll read this entry and whatever I mention will show up on my doorstep, in triplicate. Aw man. Decisions, decisions.

Got it. Hook me up with this one:

Rex Stout is responsible for creating, in my opinion, the lushest and most vibrant world in mystery which he forged out of components of New York City that readers thought they already knew. At its center, he placed an orchid-loving, fresh-air hating, agoraphobic epicurean savant of the highest order. Nero Wolfe solved the unsolvable by sending out his ace footman Archie Goodwin with vague instructions to be carried out within loose parameters and discerned the truth from his mistakes. Nero Wolfe was Professor Xavier before there were any X-Men. He was also Alfred before there was a Batman. The mysteries Rex Stout crafted for his genius to solve weren’t the most intricate, but they also weren’t convoluted. His stories weren’t plotted for the sake of plot, but to highlight the personality of the protagonist, the contrasting style of his subordinate, and the cluelessness of the nouveau riche. The capers were the sort of jams in which a member of high society would find themselves unknowingly entangled. As avoidable as an open manhole cover, and just as dangerous. If people didn’t walk around with their head up their ass, Rex Stout would’ve had nothing to write about. That probably goes for the rest of us.

But mysteries are made to be solved, and soon it’s back to the witty banter and quirky traits of the great Nero, who only took cases so that he could make enough dough to cover that month’s nut, the bulk of which being his elaborate and exotic tastes. Only when I revisited Rex Stout’s exquisite creation as an adult did I realize that the function of Nero Wolfe’s appetite was to compensate for his existence as a shut-in. He brought pleasures in from the outside world because he was afraid to go out and get them because he’d have to contend with the rest of us. Realizing that made each story even more beautiful. Rex Stout is my avatar. If anything I write manages to come off even half as sublime, I’ll probably quit while I’m ahead. If I do, at least I’ll be able to cook and eat and drink and brew like Rex did through Nero. May even allow myself to grow just as large as Mr. Wolfe one day.

So if y’all want to put your nickels together and get me something, grab me this joint right here. I write mystery/crime, I cook (my ass off, if I do say so myself) and I like it inside more than out. If I was Nero, Amazon Prime would be my Archie Goodwin.

Best of the season to you all.

– dg

Language and Lament, or Y’all Really Need To Quit

Please understand that black vernacular and black slang-inflected language in your jokes and memes don’t make them funnier. It does, however, make you appear to be an ass. It’s why Matt Besser isn’t considered the greatest comedian in history. It’s just so damned corny.

And insensitive.

If you checked in with folks from my tribe, we’d tell you that when one uses our unique language and cultural semiotics to make lame attempts at comedy, but not to communicate in earnest, it is severely apathetic. Black folk almost always take it as disrespect, and the first sign one can’t be trusted to back us up when race becomes an issue. We may laugh along with you. We may shrug it off when you claim “no offense.” Laughter is the first response to words that injure. We hear it, or read it, and we may be polite and keep it chill, but you’re definitely going on the Lame List. Your new name, when you’re not around, will be “this muthafucka,” which is a black semiotic for “a detestable individual who unknowingly spoils everything.”

“And then, in the break room, this muthafucka said ‘good lookin’ out,’ and tried to give me some dap, like we boys.”
“Word?”
“Word. And I was, like, ‘Aw, THIS muthafucka—’ But I didn’t say that shit.”
“Naw. Betta not say that shit.”
“For real.”
“Yup.”

Most black folks have some variation of this conversation, on average, about once per month.

You see, to us, it’s Elvis Presley and Big Mama Thornton. It’s Chess Records. It’s Vanilla Ice. It’s Tim Wise (yeah, him too.) If I had to coin a term, I’d call it Timberlaking. Wait. TimberFAKING. We all saw that Super Bowl halftime show. No need to unpack that old box here. Just know that all of us have, at one point or another, been Timberfaked. None of us ever forget it. We don’t let each other forget it. We can’t.

Friends, my people’s language is rich, and powerful, and filled with valiant spirit. It has helped us endure this world that has never been kind to us. You may think it’s novelty meant to accessorize your own communication, but black vernacular is a lexicon of the yearning for freedom. It sounds really cool because, frankly, God needed to grant us some kind of a blessing in all this bullshit. We’ve bled for our language. As it evolves, it does as lament. We don’t apply it as affect, like lip liner. It isn’t a garnish. It’s the entire meal. If you use it, please do so with flourish and enthusiasm. These linguistic truffles we dig out of the dirt should be used to heighten discourse. Don’t grind them up and toss them in with the intellectual equivalent of boxed macaroni and cheese. You may think it a kindness to try and sound like us, but it’s about as kind as a line of Tarantino dialogue: contextually unnecessary, egregiously insensitive, and jarringly aggressive. The equivalent of your random “homie” and “dawg” and “my brotha” is Pulp Fiction’s “dead nigger storage.” Doesn’t matter what came before that line. We put the entire thing on pause and ask, “Whoa! WTF?!” The same goes for your random quotes of Wu-Tang and Biggie and Tupac, which are the Day-Glo road cones that tell black folk, “Go no further.” We may not express it, but that’s what we think.

As I said, I like just about all of you, so if you feel that this post puts you on the spot, think about how I feel, day after day, for years, trying my best to be kind and friendly with you in the face of this nonsense. To make the point even clearer, I have friends who aren’t black who grew up in places like the 5 boroughs, Jersey, the Dirty South, Puerto Rico and Mexico who will use the word ‘nigga’ and it feels like love. Then there are folks who will say everything but the dreaded N-word and, although they think they’re being hip and relevant and deftly humorous, it comes off as spat in the face. That isn’t hyperbole.

It’s the same nonsense that made Dave Chappelle walk away from fifty million bucks.

To close out this sermon/lecture, while I may not be able to affect current liberal American culture—in which it’s perfectly okay to ignore my people’s right to a distinct identity while supporting everyone else’s—I can at least ask you folks with whom I’m connected to check yourselves regarding the above. Yeah. It really is bad enough to warrant just under nine hundred words. If you think it’s no big deal, please remember that, not too long ago, lynchings were no big deal. For some of us, that juxtaposition may veer into the extreme.

And then there are black folks.

Different Grandpa. Same Family.

Recounts. Treason. Faithless electors. Appeals to conscience. Berating. Mudslinging. Anything is better than accepting that your America is as responsible for that guy as theirs. You barred the front door, but your spouse opened the back door, let him in, and told you to leave if you didn’t like it. Go outside with all those other people. No matter how he misbehaves, how out of step with your values he may be, he’s staying.

For it to remain your house, or for you to remain in the house, you gotta deal with him, so you are trying to push him out through the same back door. The answer—the way to get him out—lies in opening the front door, that same door of which you already hold the key, and ask folks different from him—AND YOU—to come in. Instead, y’all look for tricks. Y’all openly speculate about the extent of his evil and hope it trips him up. You pray he’ll be somehow bound by his own spell. Y’all ask the ghosts of dead men to help you, yet those dead men with the powdered wigs who scrawled signatures on all that parchment preserved behind annealed glass—those who set all this up for you back in the day—gave you all the problems you have now. They just didn’t see it at the time. Hindsight. Insight. Foresight.

So many of us told you to get y’alls man. Do sum’n with him. He was just on your team pre-2008. He was just taking photos at his wedding with your best and brightest in 2005. Just got off the golf course with him when he was invalidating the BROTUS as an hourly activity. Stood there with him at the back-nine when he tweeted demands for birth certificates before teeing off. He couldn’t have changed his stripes so quickly. He’s too old for that. His phone number is still the same.

Now he’s someone no one recognizes?

Claiming him is the path to change. Seeing yourselves in him may now protect you from the outcome of your nightmare. You think those folks who let him in the backdoor are your opponents. Nah. They’re just your opposites. The man you fear is your old, tone deaf, recalcitrant grandpa on your spouse’s side. Some of the family can’t stand him. Some of the family love him. Same family. And family always matters. That’s why he’s in the big chair ruining everything for you. He belongs there.

Why else is he sitting there?

It isn’t enough to point out what’s right. You gotta walk away from what’s wrong. When you remain rooted in what’s wrong while pointing at the other side and shouting what’s right, you produce your nightmare. Now’s the time to learn from this.

Don’t resist the truth, which is obvious to those of us in the blacker America: what you deny, you receive. It’s how our innocent wind up just as dead as our guilty. It’s why our dinner tables seat the exceptional alongside the broken. On our streets live the affluent next door to the desperate. We point one finger, we feel the three stabbing back at us, so we try not to point at all because it fuckin’ hurts. We try not to condemn one other, because, if nowhere else, and at no time else, it’ll be really awkward at the graduation. The courthouse. The wedding. The mortuary. Better to just shrug it off. Better to just walk away. From what’s wrong. Hope the folks who remain find inspiration to do the same. Be there to help bury them when they didn’t. Couldn’t. We try again. We try harder. We try with our bodies. With our minds and souls. And we don’t point at those of our kind who live unlike us and say ‘those people.’

Not like y’all.

See, we of the black understand how what you embrace and accept, you own, and what you own falls under your control. That’s why our condition isn’t one thousand times worse. So embrace Trump. Accept him, for he is yours, no matter what you call yourselves. What made you also made him, no matter how you think of yourselves. And binding yourselves to the marginalized may give you moral authority for a time, but only amongst your own. You only sell safety pins to each other. You wear them only for each other because you don’t want to think of yourself as that. You don’t want to think of yourselves as related to him. You want everyone to know that your rich and mean ol’ grandpa isn’t from your side of the family. I feel that.

But dawg, it’s still your family.

A better way would be to invite us to enter the front door. Give your darker and more resilient cousins the floor. That’ll get him out your house. Give us the big chair for a while. Lord knows we’re worthy. Listen as we speak on it. Heed what you hear. Come to terms with yourselves and you may be able to deal with your grandpa. But you gotta come to terms with yourselves. Is that a tall order? Maybe.

It ain’t as tall as getting rid of your grandpa. Your spouse really wants him in the house.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

I’m sure it’s hard to believe, but when I was young, black and essentially homeless on the streets of Chicago, both parents dead and family members who refused to help me, with a kid on the way and working shit job to shit job, I felt everyone in the world was against me. That made me vulnerable.

Then folks who were older and seemed like they were more stable come along with ideas and explanations: Why do you have so little, and the Jews have so much? See that Arab over there with the corner store? Why are his prices so high? You know your friend is a fag, right? Brother, the reason why you’re kept down is because the white man is the devil. Anonanonanon.

When you’re drowning, you’ll grab anything floating by to try and stay afloat.

Then it was the gay guy at work who took me aside and told me that, if I don’t marry my girlfriend, I’d shame her and doom my black daughter, and then some guy would come along and doom her, just like I ruined her mother. It was the Jewish boss who came to my first comedy show and gave me 6 months to quit and go hard at entertainment, else he’d fire me. I learned the value of principles of Islam and therefore turned away from drugs and drinking and carrying on in the street. And then white folks gave me respect for my intelligence, and though I hadn’t gone to college, hired me for my smarts, paid me well, and helped me pull myself out of poverty. Showed up to my place on holidays. Sent home gifts for my children. Supported me beyond the workplace.

If any of you were around me and my homies who suffered from similar circumstances back when we were all lost and afraid, and listened to us talk shit during underaged drinking, you’d think we were all a bunch of racists who would tear the country apart if we got power. We were all just miserable, man. Miserable, afraid, and had no one to talk to. No one but folks just as lost as we were.

I got lucky. God revealed Herself through the good will of people who were totally unlike me and helped raise me up. If any of those kind people knew the confused thoughts I had when I was a snot-nosed teenager, they would have unfriended me, too. Perhaps we should reach out instead. Before we run off to fight Trump, perhaps we should make sure we’re behaving better than he did.

Just sayin’.

The Perils of Being Neighborly

Today, as I was attempting to write, I heard from outside my window the cries of an elderly neighbor who had fallen hard on the pavement. I ran outside, got down on the ground next to her, and realized that she had severely deteriorated in between the moments I saw her. Had she weighed more than one hundred pounds, I’d be surprised. She wore very dirty clothes, her nails and hair were wild, and her smell was of old booze, new booze, old pain, and new hurt. I helped her to her feet, expecting the young neighbor, who had come outside before me and took her by her opposite side, to guide her back to her apartment.

That was my first mistake, as once I reached my door, I heard her cry out and turned around to watch her stumble backward, down the driveway, and flat on her back into the street. Her head hit the concrete with the sound of a hollowed coconut. She was advanced enough in age where I had to fear the worst—that wasn’t lost on me—and yet, old sadnesses rose up in my heart. The driveway felt like a long hallway in a home long abandoned, where a child walked down in the dark, not knowing what he’d find at the other end, where those cries began.

In a haze of my own regret, I picked her up and held her as the kid ran for a lawn chair. He returned, and I then sat her down and ran for the first aid kit in my closet. I could feel it, like a rock in my shoe, hurting more with each step. Reconnection to the pain I learned, in time, to ignore. I then noticed my young neighbor on his phone, and when I gathered he wasn’t speaking with emergency services, I realized I was the responsible one.

Same as years ago.

I washed off her blood and applied antiseptic to her cuts and scratches, then suppressed the shaking of my hands enough to put small bandages on them. Then I asked her to follow my finger with her eyes to see how badly she could be concussed. I thought of the trials and tribulations she experienced for her to drink and chain smoke herself to death in a dirty hovel with no one but strangers to notice her. I asked her if anyone else was home with her, but my neighbor shook his head. Once she could stand, I realized it was up to me to guide her back to her apartment, and as I carried her to her door, I realized I was afraid of what I’d find when we opened her door. Especially, if what I saw would extend my responsibility beyond the moment.

It looked and smelled like my uncle’s room, where I was left far more than I should have been. Where my attempts to get him to sober up for my visit were always failed. The air tasted of my mother’s boyfriend’s breath, that came at me in toxic blasts of rage when I had to fight a drunken adult to defend what she made indefensible. The dirt on her reminded me of the bums from around the way we used to fuck with when we were young and angry at being left out of the good in the world just for having the wrong skin color.

I got her inside and got the fuck out of there before Mephisto’s little mind game resulted in me being trapped in my past. When the sun hit my face on my side-street in Los Angeles, I actually was relieved I didn’t walk out to the south side of Chicago, circa 1988. She thanked me for helping her, as did my young neighbor, who returned to his smartphone, and he sounded like one of my brothers, who found something better to do when we’d find my mother, laid on the floor.

As I compose this, I can’t get her smell out of my nose, or off my hands. Then I realize, and accept, it isn’t the smell I can’t get off me. It isn’t the smell at all.

The Tales of Elliot Caprice: Labor Day

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ADVISORY: Following the link will take you to a page that contains profanity and sexual language. If you still want to read Labor Day, you may find it here.

THE TALES OF ELLIOT CAPRICE: LABOR DAY

Published in November 2015, at BEAT TO A PULP, Labor Day is a story set during the events of A NEGRO AND AN OFAY. Southville County Sheriff George Stingley and Deputy Ned Reilly investigate the murder of the son of the county’s founder as they come to terms with Elliot Caprice’s return and the trouble it brings to Southville. It was an honor to bring that story to BEAT TO A PULP, one of the finest publishers of crime fiction. Please consider nominating it for the Anthony Award for Best Short Story.

 

New Short Story at Beat to a Pulp

My novel, A Negro and an Ofay, is now available at Amazon (paperback:http://amzn.to/1kQDqbx, Kindle: http://amzn.to/1MakttG).

In the meantime, Beat to a Pulp has published a short story set in the world of Elliot Caprice. A little small town Midwestern noir that fits somewhere between chapters 3 and 8. Give it a whirl!

Labor Day, from The Tales of Elliot Caprice

On Noir Slam, and Once Again Bein’ a Snot Nose

I’ve been a rogue, in the classic sense, my entire life. I’ll risk pedantry (and just basically lookin’ like that d00d) and offer the definition I’m inferring: a person whose behavior one disapproves of but who is nonetheless likable or attractive (often used as a playful term of reproof). Doesn’t mean I’m a jerk who flouts the order of things. I just walk in the door lacking understanding how the rules should apply to me. I ain’t proud of it. I ain’t ashamed.

As I mentioned in my interview with my man S.W. Lauden, over at Bad Citizen Corporation, “My parents were out of the picture. I had no adult supervision that gave a shit. I could go where I wanted, read what I wanted, and develop my own ideas about life.” I was a wanderer, always searching for what I was made of. Generally, my founding thought was, “I can do that,” usually followed by “AW, hell naw! I really can do that!” I always leapt without looking, be it finding classic Apple II units somewhere on the South Side of Chicago and programming them at the age of 11, DJing with an old Gemini mixer with a short in the fader at 14, or performing stand-up at 17, trying hard as hell not to sound just like Eddie Murphy. And I really – REALLY – loved Eddie Murphy.

Along my meanderings, I acquired legitimate skills – at least legitimate enough to get my foot in the door. Intellectually, I was nimble enough to learn how to stay before someone would figure out I was green as monkey shit. On stage, in front of a paying crowd. On screen, with a bunch of lines. Even at a partner’s desk with none of the professional veneer required, shootin’ the shit with someone who breathes rarefied air. I had no college, no training but on the job. I never knew anyone and rarely had the hook-up, but there my young dumb ass was, always right up in the mix.

I was annoying as shit.

When you’re new, folks who have been waiting their turn check you for your dues. And, if you haven’t quite paid up to the degree acknowledged by experienced consensus, you get the treatment. You’re known as Fish. Young Buck. Junior. Snot nose. The FNG. One mistake and you’re done. Young dumb ass gonna get everyone killed/fired/kicked out of Zanies in Old Town. And then I’d make it a little bit and prove to everyone they can get off my neck and wind up doing well. And then the winds would blow, and castles made of sand fall into the sea, and fate would assign me a new challenge.

Then I’m the FNG all over again. Man, I got decades of bein’ the snot nose.

Noir-Slam-640-Big-Names

Some time ago my publisher, Craig McNeely of Double Life Press, connected me with the prolifically gifted Eric Beetner. We hit it off and he was kind enough to invite me to perform at Noir Slam, at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. I offered a brief reading from my debut novel, A Negro and an Ofay. Once again I’m the new kid, with an uncorrected advance reader copy, standing with all these brilliant authors with deep histories in the genre. Beetner. Anonymous-9. Christa Faust. Craig Faustus Buck. Shit! I got noooooo fausts in my name. Not one!

I’m all grown up now, and I understand both sides of this rogue business. In acting and stand-up, I encounter young bucks not unlike my younger self and my response to their eager ignorance is pretty much the same as the old school cats back then: “Slow down, junior.”

Except Noir Slam ain’t some open mic night. These are professionals, with years of work and millions of words to their credit. This is a packed house, full of book lovers and genre loyalists. Everyone in there was for real. I hadn’t been nervous about anything in a long time, yet there I was surrounded by folks who stand in good stead. And me, with my little ol’ novel with the edgy title. F*ck was I thinkin’?

In that moment, I realized that I finally developed some damned compunction. A pricking of the conscience. Maturity. Everyone was lovely. Not an author in the room passed me without being warm and welcoming – and these are people who write about folk who rig cars to kill other folks. It was all death and dismemberment and crime and rock ‘n roll, and love. Last time I had to catch my breath after a performance was when I was 18 and I just got off the stage at The Funny Firm, my first time playing a real comedy club. Got through it by the skin of my teeth. This time, I basked, even within quiet embarrassment. Unlike that night on the mic long ago, I encountered only smiles and nods of approval. Good people. Good words. Good work.

 

I’m still processing the experience, but this time, I’m not using my intellect. I’m not trying to be crafty enough to fake it until I make it. Folks who been doin’ it, and stay doin’ it, welcomed me into doing it. I remember what it’s like to be brand new, except in this era of my life I’m not pretending I know. Not in front of these sweet souls. I’m finally enjoying being the young buck. Green as monkey shit.

Pardon me as I wipe snot from my nose.

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