Day 24 – Elegy of Beloved Disputes

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View from my livingroom  window. (Ignore the trash bins and the ugly Hooptie. It’s my son’s fault they’re in the picture.) 

Elegy of Beloved Disputes

The path beyond my garden
leads to my favorite tree,
bursting with flowers that
remind me of you and

it occurs to me that
you would’ve marveled at
my sweet-scented tree if you
were still alive to smell it.

The sudden reminder of
your absence steals a breath
or two from me, and then
I laugh at the absurdity.

Asthma took your laugh
from me permanently.
It is an affliction
of the lungs, you see?

Had you lived long enough to
fill your lungs with my
beloved tree,

you’d have sided with Wifey,
demanding its removal.

I don’t like confrontation,
but I’d like to think I would
have enjoyed that argument.
***

Every morning on report card day, from kindergarten to third grade, momma would sing this song to me while I was eating my cereal. It was hilarious. It was terrifying. I fucking loved it. 

Written for NaPoWriMo Day 24 prompt:

Today, we’d like to challenge you to write an elegy – a poem typically written in honor or memory of someone dead. But we’d like to challenge you to write an elegy that has a hopefulness to it. Need inspiration? You might look at W.H. Auden’s elegy for Yeats, which ends on a note suggesting that the great poet’s work will live on, inspiring others in years to come. Or perhaps this elegy by Mary Jo Bang, where the sadness is shot through with a sense of forgiveness on both sides.

I’ve written elegies for both parents, and both of my grandmothers passed away last year, so I wasn’t exactly eager for this prompt. Still, I couldn’t resist the challenge of adding some hopefulness to a poem about loss. Best to keep it short though.

Day 7 – Fork

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Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Fork

The path beyond my garden
forks at impossible angles
like the leading edge
of a switchback where I can
climb or descend,
should I choose one.

On the high path
beckons a
wood nymph;

the low path is guarded by
a cat darker than
light’s absence.

As I approach the switchback fork,
the nymph squeals with delight.

“Follow me,” she squeaks,
“into the sunlight! Ahead lies
treasures of impeccable sights!”

I take a step, but
soon paused to observe the cat,
who shrugs and licks his scrotum,
nonplussed, matter-of-fact.

“I’d go with her if I were you,”
he said between luxurious
unhurried licks.

“Down here, there is only truth
and the sad epiphanies
one can only obtain
through pain; it is the

hard-won knowledge
only attained by loss.

“This path is not for the timid.”

The nymph grabbed my hand with a jerk.
“Up here!” she cried, “on this trail,
no one grows old or dies!

“Your mom is alive and well
and rational and laughing!

“Your not-dead-from-cancer dad
is mighty proud of
all the mighty things
you never did or said, but
imagined mightily
inside your head!

“Your children aren’t disappointed
by your disengaged inertia!

“Racism, jingoism, war,
famine, pestilence don’t exist
up here!

“Follow me, and it
will all disappear,
enveloped by your will!

“What will be will only be
if only you dream it so!”

I glance back at the cat,
who just sat and shrugged.

“I won’t pretend to compete
with the little fairy up there.

“Down here, there is truth;
only the reality
of what is, and tough
conversations leading
to more sad truths.

“You may learn new things
about you that you may not like,
only to find that
you’ve always known them.

“Reckonings don’t come with good vibes.
That’s why they’re called reckonings.

“But there is knowledge
in great abundance”

It’s the same daily routine,
and I follow along,
playing my part as if guided
by some sacred ritual.

I always “let” the nymph
drag me along the high road,
not just because it’s easier,

but I could take the path
a billion times and it always
leads me somewhere new.

But upon return,
I accompany the cat
upon the low road,

knowing it always leads home.
***

Written for NaPoWriMo Day 7 prompt:

In our interview, Kyle Dargan suggests writing out a list of all of your different layers of identity. For example, you might be a wife, a grandmother, a Philadelphian, a dental assistant, a rabid Phillies fan, a seamstress, retiree, agnostic, cancer survivor, etc.. These are all ways you could be described or lenses you could be viewed through. Now divide all of those things into lists of what makes you feel powerful and what makes you feel vulnerable. Now write a poem in which one of the identities from the first list contends or talks with an identity from the second list. This might turn out to be kind of a “heavy” exercise, emotionally, but I hope you will find the results enlightening.

Indeed, that did sound like a “heavy” exercise, and as much confessional poetry as I write, this one didn’t appeal to me too much. When I start making lists of things that I am, that list inevitably turns dark for me. I still did the prompt, though I skimmed the surface, opting not to dig much deeper.

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Day 1 – Coyote

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Photo by Joshua Wilking on Unsplash

Coyote

The path beyond my garden
slick with rain, heavy falling,
weighing all down with greying
fur of a coyote blocking my way,
challenging my journey.

His fur, saturated by rainfall,
hangs in greying tendrils,
his soaked shadow bolstering
his foreboding visage.

His yellow eyes lock onto mine,
knowing them with a
disdainful familiarity.

“You fear me,” he said,
almost wearily,
“even now, even still,
fearful they’ll know it all,

not just all the sobbing
– you’ve been a crybaby all your life,
yet you hide in plain sight – but you’re
fearful of revealing deeper shame.

“I was an uncooked shrimp
held by your father to
menace you at age five,
remember?

“You cowered from your unprepared dinner,
flummoxing and enraging your dad into
giving you something real to cry about.

“Your chest-piece was forged that day.

“Remember many years and
several armored fittings later when
I pushed you down with no one around to see?

“I recall your relief
at not having to look into
mother and brother’s eyes.

“You were glad you didn’t have to fight back.

“I don’t know how long
you’d have let me pummel you
before a child half your size
rushed in to defend your meekness.

“That’s when you rose and
gave me everything you had left,
knowing it wouldn’t be enough,
I guess it didn’t matter.

“I know your secret shame,”
said the weary coyote.

“Even now,
you would surrender
if there were no one around
to witness you quit.”

“You are a fool to think you know me,” I laughed.
“You are but a ratio of a shadow;
a trick of light and absence of color.

“It’s true I’ve always been soft and meek in a
world that’s too hard and brutal for my liking.

“But what you see in my loved one’s eyes as
pity and shame, I see as compassion and love.

“I don’t shy away from it;
I draw strength from it.

“And though my impenetrable exterior
may be a well-crafted illusion,
what lies beneath my meekness is
a ferocity I fear most.

“Yes, I would rather run away
or curl-up and take the hits,
but if they need me, then
I see things differently.”

“One day you’ll grow weary of
hiding your true self,”
snarled the coyote,
closing in on me.

“I already am, fool,” I retort.
“But this is who we are.
And now I am cold and wet.
End this foolishness,
and return to me.”

With that, the coyote leapt at me,
draping himself around my chest,
back, and shoulders.
***

Written for NaPoWriMo’s Day 1 prompt: write a poem that is based on a secret shame, or a secret pleasure. Obviously, I chose the former. 

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Untitled

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Photo by Asso Myron on Unsplash

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A brown empty cup
is how I entered this world
hungry ignorance
unaware of those hating
my random brown existence

Those folks call this stage
alligator bait because
in their eyes, our worth
can only be measured by
how brown skin is devoured

Outgrowing this phase
takes courage, guile, grit, and luck
especially luck
how fortunate was I then
to be born from mom and dad?

And their good fortune
passed forward by their parents
themselves grand fortune
treasures from great grandparents
seeds cherished by ancestors

Shackled in bondage
four-hundred years they languished
with limited means
yet somehow navigating
plucking fate’s string through eras

Living history
is my fate now, no longer
alligator bait
I may not reach those who hate
but how lucky am I now

To be mindful of this gift?
***

Tuna Salad

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Momma and me, circa sometime in 1981-83, I think.

Tuna Salad

Wifey made tuna salad today and offered me some. I gratefully heaped a pile of it into a cereal bowl, but stopped short of eating. It was missing something. I diced up two hardboiled eggs and mixed them with the tuna salad. Much better, but it was still missing something. I sprinkled paprika onto the dish and tasted it. It was good, but one more thing was missing; Ritz crackers. Sadly, we were out of Ritz, so multigrain gourmet cracker nonsense had to do. I tasted, and was transplanted back to Chicago housing projects during the many times momma made this special snack for me.

grayer than most light
noon sky, counterfeit silver
I pocket the fee

Minus the Ritz, I had inadvertently made momma’s special way of making tuna salad, which on the surface, was probably unremarkable to most. But it was the one meal she made where I didn’t feel like a poor person while eating it. I could imagine all wage brackets having a tuna salad craving, and I imagined people from all walks of life savoring this delicacy in some fashion. It felt good to be on some kind of universal level with wealthy ones who enjoyed tuna salad occasionally.

clouds hide sky-scrapers
visibility is poor
to what lies beneath

I had always known I was poor, but it wasn’t a big deal because everyone I knew was also poor. We lived the same struggles, went to the same government check-cashing places, shopped at the same discount stores, ate the same public school free lunches, wore the same knockoff-brand clothing, and feared the same criminal element and/or corrupt, racist police shakedowns. I didn’t experience any stigma or shame for being poor until I began being bussed to the magnet school Beasley Academic Center. I have nothing against the school, as it was an expansive learning opportunity, but it was perfectly apparent to me that I was one of the poorer kids in attendance. Many kids were from stable, successful 80’s Cosby-sitcom-style homes. They wore Guess jeans, Genera button-ups, Nike, Adidas, Reebok, BK’s, you name it, and they always had the latest technological marvels like Walkmans, mini-synthesizers and etc…

rain bathed in streetlight
amber-hued menagerie
all will be covered

I recall being teased for many things; being shy (back then, nobody mentioned introverts as otherwise normal folks content to keep to themselves; we were “shy” kids who needed to be “fixed” so we would be more social like a “normal” kid), being a nerd (back at regular school, being a nerd just meant that I was smarter than the average sixth-grader or had greater intellectual curiosity than most; being a nerd at the magnet school – where I was rendered intellectually average due to all the other “gifted” kids being bussed in –  just meant that I was the funny-looking kid with the coke-bottle glasses), and being rather unfriendly and all too eager to throw hands for someone so tiny, shy, and nerdlike (if all you wanted was to be left alone, but others kept screwing with you, I suspect you would develop a chip on your shoulder as well).

But for all the random teasing, nothing left me as defenseless as being teased for bring poor. Being a shy nerd who fought a lot was in my DNA, and I owned all of that, but I had nothing to do with being born poor. I had no say in it. Those were cards I had been dealt.

sunshine reveals you
true colors rich, emboldened
the shade, deeper still

The hilarious part was that after three consecutive days of being teased, bullied, getting fed up and fighting back, and ultimately, losing said fights in overwhelmingly one-sided fashion, a teacher decided to counsel me. She wanted to “crack my shell” and find out why I was always so angry and depressed. She wanted to know what in my home life could possibly make me so enraged and isolated. It had to be something at home, right? Perhaps my mother was abusing me, or had boyfriends with boundary issues.

I never opened up, partially because at the time – though an undiagnosed schizophrenic initially losing her grip on reality – mom was the best thing going for me and I didn’t want any outsiders screwing that up by revealing her secret. Also, I never opened up, partially because I felt like asking for help was a sign of weakness, and I felt compelled to endure on my own. But mostly I remained silent because I couldn’t fathom why the teachers couldn’t see the bullying right in front of their faces and understand it for what it was. I was baffled at having to show them what was happening and having to explain why it hurt so much to have to endure it. So, I never did.

birdsongs vibrate moods
gathering for the ride home
we flock and migrate

I would bus home after a particularly rough day of being teased and bullied for wearing generic versions of Converse shoes and a Michael Jackson jacket only five years out-of-style. Sometimes mom would have tuna salad on Ritz crackers waiting for me. I don’t think she knew all that was going on with me, but I suspect she knew I was traversing a rough patch. She never asked about it, but she would talk with me, cracking corny jokes to get me to crack a smile and laugh a bit. She always succeeded. I don’t know if the tuna salad was her secret weapon, but it was often present while she was peppering me with corny jokes. I miss those jokes, as well as the sound of her laugh. But the tuna salad I accidentally made in her honor was pretty tasty.

bluest sky leans west
surrounding me with comfort
memories of you
** *

Written for Terri Ann Dawson, on the ninth anniversary of her death.

The Laundry

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Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash

The Laundry

Once upon an evening dreamy, reclined beyond conscience unseemly

Clean-laundry piled shotgun beside me burst forth with Terri Ann’s allure.

Her voice apparent, yet quite untimely, bubbled with laughter, light and finely-

Tuned for my perception, winding her time, which ended years before

A decade before, less or more. Is my mom’s soul now laundry lore?

I’m just baked. I must ignore.

 

We watched cartoons and tripped fantastic, Kush-soaked reflections, quite elastic.

Asked laundry-mother what traumatic lesson her spirit had in store?

Her laughter warmed peripherals, soft linen, looming lavender smells

Her soothing hearth of laughter tells me, unseen, with heart a-pure

Soothing song sang as she gathered with mother’s heart, rang, not demure

Laundry said, “You must endure.”

 

I laughed at her linen reprisal as if she sensed my suicidal,

Un-suspenseful thought-revivals. I asked clean laundry, “Is there more?”

For to suffer life in silence, its smearing rife with leering violence,

Abysmal veering into blindness; is that our fate, and nothing more?

Subliminal closed-mindedness? Should I get baked and just ignore?

Spit at fate, and what’s in-store?

 

My laundry-mother laughed disarming laughs, belying life’s alarming

Nature, nurturing and charming me, unanswered, insecure.

Her non-answers thrust upon me like a thirst quenched by tsunami

Voicing visions far beyond me, unseen, she sings with heart a-pure

She stings my heart, weary, unsure, with momma’s voice ringing a cure

Laundry sang, “You must endure.”

** *

Written for dVerse Poetics’ The voice of the monster, hosted by Björn. I know I’m a day late, but I thought I’d share an actual ghost story that happened to me about a week before Halloween, when my mom visited me during a low point. I’m agnostic, but I believe my mom dropped by to kick my ass, get me to stop feeling for myself and keep grinding for the fam. Perhaps in my case, the monster was my depression? (Who am I kidding? It’s almost always my monster.)

Go here to read other spooky stories.

 

The Lucky Ones

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Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

The Lucky Ones

Tina says we do it to one another, every day,

Knowing and not knowing. When it is love,

What happens feels like dumb luck. When it’s not,

We’re riddled with bullets, shot through like ducks.

 

Every day. To ourselves and one another. And what

If what it is, and what sends it, has nothing to do

With what we can’t see? Nothing whatsoever

To do with a power other than muscle, will, sheer fright?  

Tracy K. Smith, an excerpt from Life on Mars, Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection.

 

1.

What is the nature of a single soul?

How can one measure its worth?

Do we weigh it by the hearts it formed in life,

or perhaps the void it leaves behind?

Terri Ann whispers, but I can’t quite hear.

Dad just smirks. He knows, but won’t tell.

 

2.

Put throngs of souls through hardships,

deny them dignity,

basic human comforts,

heap tragedy upon disaster

upon blight upon humiliation

upon their collective shoulders,

and I promise the plural response

won’t remind you of anything from

the Book of Job.

 

Oh, there will be outliers

of philosophers and saints

embracing quiet intangible dignity,

but the mass majority will go looking

for someone to blame.

 

Often those very same fringe

philosophers and saints

resigned to their fates

become targets.

 

Wanton cannibalism is an outrage

in civil societies,

and yet… and yet…

 

3.

After the Great Kantō earthquake

and before cyclone winds

begat fire-tornadoes,

a helpful policeman took charge

guiding four-thousand survivors

to what he thought was safety

but what inevitably became

mass immolation.

 

There was no way he could know

and nothing he could do,

their fate

inexorably twisted

among tails of fire dragons,

but in the policeman’s eyes,

he led the masses to their fate

the sum of his heroic intentions

now ashes.

 

Despondent

unable to bear the shame,

the officer committed seppuku,

increasing the countless body-count

by one soul.

 

4.

Is there something after this realm?

I can’t find the answer in math, science,

not in faith, not even in poetry.

 

If I contemplate for too long, the voids

of my departed soul-hearts cause

my body to ache like overused knee-joints

that signal pending monsoons.

 

Dad knows, but won’t tell. He always

insisted that I find things out for myself.

Terri Ann crossed over once, came back,

when her heart stopped, she just saw black.

 

That’s what she said, anyway. I suspect

that she just wasn’t paying attention then.

I’m sure she knows the answer now,

but I can’t quite hear her anymore.

 

5.

Danielle said it was too bad about

that rock-n-roll guy who died.

I nodded grimly, but said nothing more.

 

The soul of that rock-n-roll guy left us

for God knows where, assuming He does exist

and not just as some embodiment

of a salve for aching joints.

 

The rock-n-roll guy left a void for his wife,

children, family, and close friends to

contemplate, celebrate, or mourn,

depending on where they fall

on the afterlife belief spectrum.

 

Rock-n-roll guy bequeathed

to millions of us musical fans

a soundtrack cipher, unlocking

precious memories,

possibly including moments when other souls

left voids for us to contemplate,

celebrate, or mourn.

 

I hope there’s something after this for him,

and for us as well. I hope the blackness Mom

claims she saw was nothing more than a cosmic

practical joke that Dad is already in on.

 

6.

I watched it on accident.

Wincing, I looked away,

but I could still hear it

the lone automatic weapon.

 

I listened to folks in the aftermath

yelling that this shouldn’t happen

in civilized society. I also heard myself

joining this chorus,

yelling into the void.

 

I listened to opposition shush us,

as this is not the time to discuss

people dying needlessly because

those people just died needlessly.

 

So I shut up and listened

as others failed

to listen to each other,

instead they turned and

devoured each other’s message

like we did when this happened before

like they’ll do again.

 

Wanton cannibalism is an outrage

in civil societies,

and yet… and yet…

 

7.

The leader of the free world

Said we were lucky

For only fifty-nine deaths

 

It could’ve been much much worse

Rejoice in our good fortune

 

My soul hurts

***

***

Information on how to help the Las Vegas shooting victims.

Information on how to help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

Go here to donate to Tim Duncan’s island storm relief fund.

Go here and here to help hurricane Harvey victims

Go here and here to find out how to help hurricane Irma victims.

Shared at dVerse’s Open Link Night # 205. Go here to read other poet’s contributions. 

 

 

The Egregious Lie Regarding Tinkerbell’s Revenge

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Photo by David Pentek on Unsplash

The Egregious Lie Regarding Tinkerbell’s Revenge

After Tinker Bell died,

Peter couldn’t remember her.

Do my dead parents

haunt my peripherals

because they fear similar fates?

 

Fairies are too small

to hold more than one feeling

at a time. When dreamy

unspoken words dissipate

into unsavory vapor,

 

I envy them.

** *

Written for dVerse’s  Quadrille #37–Be Not Afraid, hostd by Victoria Slotto. Go here to read other poet’s contributions.  

On Moral Victories

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On Moral Victories

“The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

— Muhammad Ali

 

I have been a die-hard Chicago Bears fan since I was four years old.

I became a Bear fan because in general, everyone I knew and loved who loved American football was a Bear fan, and specifically, because my dad was a Bear fan.

Circumstances from The Great Migrations of the early and mid-twentieth century led to our eventual fandom. Millions of black families migrated from the harsh inequities of the Jim Crow south to the marginally less harsh discriminations of northern city life. It gives me chills to think that things could’ve turned out much worse for me had my family kept going past Chicago, settling in Detroit instead.

Phew! Dodged a bullet there.

Dad became a die-hard Bear fan because his family moved to Chicago from somewhere in the red mud of Mississippi. Mom’s family moved to Chicago from somewhere in Tennessee, according to my brother, who I assume gleaned this info from our maternal grandmother. Momma became a casual Bears fan because she met dad and thought he was cute, and plus everyone she knew was a fan, so meh, why not?

The Bears had a young unknown halfback called Walter Payton. His nickname was Sweetness, and somehow it fit that soft-spoken brute. Dad didn’t think much of him at first, but Payton quickly ascended as the third male hero of my early memories behind Muhammad Ali and Dad. Like Dad, he was also from Mississippi. I sometimes fantasized about Dad hanging out with Sweetness as small children, or Payton somehow being my long-lost uncle.

Before we knew he would be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – before we knew that Walter Payton would become WALTER PAYTON – I marveled at how he never, ever quit on a play, not even when it was obviously doomed to fail. Not even when his teammates obviously lacked talent, effort, or otherwise played like hot garbage. Not even during the very last play of the 1984 NFC Championship game, with the game already decided, on the ass-end of a 23-0 ass-whupping at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers.

Not even in 1979, when his father Edward Payton died under mysterious circumstances inside a jailcell in Columbia, Mississippi after being arrested by a white police officer.

Sweetness seemed to approach any challenge the same way; he kept his head down, kept using his body as battering ram, kept moving forward, seldom spoke above a whisper, and never complained. I admired and wanted to emulate him, but I usually fell short.

But the greatness that was Sweetness was a welcome outlier among the years (decades?) of comically-sad futility that passed for Chicago Bears football. As a Bear fan, you quickly became acquainted with words and terms like grit, and moral victory, and maybe next year, and almost had ‘em that time, and “why did he do that?!?” and “Why not try the second-string QB?” and “Holy shit, OK we’ve seen enough of the second guy; how about the third-string QB?” and “Fuck me, that third-string guy blows; how about the punter? Can he throw?” and “Jesus! Is there anyone on defense willing to make a tackle, or are you all just gonna wait to get the ball-carrier’s autograph later?”

I have watched decades of mostly-bad Bears football with little complaint. Sure, I’ve flung a remote or two and broken a few TV’s in the throws of defeat, but after each tantrum – and even the mantrums of my adult years – I always returned for more, head down, moving forward in silent fanaticism.

But the Chicago Bears were not just a mostly bad football team in a civic vacuum. When I was eight years old, I realized that the city of Chicago hosted mostly bad professional sports teams across multiple venues. In baseball, the Cubs were the “lovable losers” who made me hate all of baseball. I guess that made the White Sox apathetic losers since they were usually slightly better than the Cubs, but few cared because who really gives a damn about a team that’s only marginally better than dogshit?

In hockey, the Blackhawks blew too, and nobody cared that their mascot was an indigenous people that were mostly wiped out by the U.S. government, and therefore, it’s a really racist mascot if you think about it too much, or at all (it is now 2017 and guess what? Nobody seems to care now either.)

In basketball, we had the Bulls before they signed some guy named Mike Jordan. And let me be clear; the pre-MJ-Bulls squads of the late 70’s/early 80’s are not teams you will ever see featured on the network ESPN Classic. In my entire childhood, I might’ve watched a single quarter of their basic chest-passes and bricked shots before getting bored and switching over to Trapper John M.D.

One night, I recall Momma tucking me in. This was two years after my parents separated, and the second time that Momma failed to pave her way alone as a single parent. This was the second time that she had to crawl back to her mother’s house with me and my baby brother Phil in tow. I knew she felt like a failure because she said as much in my presence without knowing I was listening. Plus, it was in her body language.

There was something about the accumulation of these moments that struck me. My parents failed in marriage. Dad failed in his own autonomy and had to rent a room from his mother. Mom failed in her autonomy as well, but with her kids watching her every misstep. I had recently failed to stand up to my bullying maternal uncles with Grandmother’s admonishment falling down upon my incredulous ears for daring to try standing up for myself against grown men who should know better than to abuse their power.

My Bears took L’s, my other teams took L’s, my parents took L’s, and I was taking L’s daily; It began to feel like maybe I was born to lose.

I guess at that moment I was the right amount of dejected and inquisitive to form a few questions in my head.

“Momma,” I asked, “why do all the teams from Chicago lose so much? Is it because of me?”

“Oh, no baby! You didn’t do anything wrong at all!” Momma reassured me, kissing my forehead. “All the Chicago teams lose so much because their owners are too cheap to hire good players and coaches, and because the people they hire to run their teams are very bad at math. Goodnight, sweetie.”

To steal a phrase from Forest Gump, Momma always had a knack for breaking down complex ideas into terms my young brain could grasp.

But oh, what a difference four years makes! Dad had leveled-up to renting a swank townhouse in an affluent suburb, and Momma moved us out on her own, though we were in a housing project one of the more dangerous southside Chicago neighborhoods. This was a source of friction between Momma and me. Obviously, I wanted to move in with Dad in the safe suburbs with the delicious dinners and unending chocolate chip cookies, and Dad wanted me with him too.

The main thing that being a Bear fan taught me is that even when we get a come-up, it almost always comes laced with some type of L. Some kind of moral defeat always piggy-backing on a fleeting victory, if you will. Perhaps that’s just how life works, though it seemed that it was just how my life worked. Sadly, for Mom to remain eligible for the government assistance she needed to maintain her independence, Phil and I were required to live with her.

Mom had asthma, and I mean that she had the type of asthma that got her laid up in hospitals for long stretches of winter. On more than one occasion during her hospital visits, her heart stopped and she had to be forcibly brought back from the other side. Basically, her illness rendered her unemployable, but the government dragged their asses on approving her medical disability.

It was all a bunch of convoluted bureaucratic nonsense that mostly went over my twelve-year-old head. All it meant to me was that I couldn’t go live with Dad because Mom needed me with her. From my limited, selfish perspective, I couldn’t grasp why Momma would be so selfish, not knowing or caring how much my words and actions wounded her. I seethed and resented her and we clashed and butted heads frequently. I took ass-whuppins from her like hotcakes, but I could never silence my resentment. I couldn’t keep my head down and move forward quietly.

I’d take it all back if I could.

But oh! Four years and my Bears were good! I mean, really good! I’d spend Sundays high-fiving with Dad and weekdays being surly to Mom and counting the days until I could spend Sundays high-fiving with Dad again.

This all came to a head on Super Bowl Sunday, when my Bears would destroy the New England Patriots! The game was a formality, really; a coronation I’d waited for my entire thirteen-year life. Leave it to Momma to throw a curveball and guilt me into watching the big game with her and her sister, my aunt Judy. Momma didn’t even like football! But we’d had a pretty rough month of beefing, and all mothers know how to lay on just enough guilt, you know? Just enough.

So, I stayed and watch the Super Bowl on our wack-ass TV in the wack-ass projects with Momma, lil’ Phil, aunt Judy, and her wack-ass husband, my uncle Fred. It wasn’t ideal, but for the most part, I got over myself. (I can only assume that wack-ass uncle Fred had also lost a battle of wills that day, because nobody wakes up in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom suburban palace with his own den and decides, “You know what would be even better than this? Returning to the ghetto I barely escaped from not even twenty years ago just so I can watch the Big Game on a wack-ass TV in the wack-ass projects with my sister-in-law and my wack-ass sass-mouthed nephew!” Sorry about that, Fred.)

Things took a dark turn just after the game ended, and I take full responsibility for my actions. I wanted to bask in the glory of my team’s win, watch them hoist the trophy, listen to the postgame interviews, and all those wonderful things.

Mom wanted me to take out the trash. Immediately.

In the grand scheme of things, we basically just disagreed about how I would spend the next 15-20 minutes of my life. But things escalated quickly. I pleaded, begged, whined, and used all the basic negotiation tactics of a thirteen-year-old mini-supervillain, up to, and including the tantrum-to-end-all-tantrums. But Momma, merely a casual Bears fan, failed to grasp how important this was to me, and she did not yield one inch.

Left with no outlet to adequately vent my frustration, I calmly gathered the kitchen trash, tied it off securely, picked it up, and flung it across the living room as hard as I fucking could. The bag tore and some garbage spilled out, but it was only a little. No big, right?

I know. I know. You can stop looking at me like that. I know, OK?

Mom knew too. That’s why she beat the shit out of me. And she was right to do so. I had that one coming. But at the time, I was filled with righteous rage, and so I decided to run away. In Chicago. During January. Wearing only jeans and a t-shirt.

I bolted down the stairs and made it the length of the building before realizing that I should probably turn back before I froze to death. I could give Momma the silent treatment from the comfort of my room after I finished taking out the garbage.

To recap: at the pinnacle of my favorite team’s most triumphant moment, just after they finally became the best NFL team on the planet, and I mean directly after that happened, I got my ass-whupped and almost gave myself hypothermia. All my come-ups come with L’s included. It’s just my lot in life.

I could stop right here and write, “And that’s what being a Bears fan is all about, Charlie Brown,” but I’m not quite done.

A few hours later, after we had time to calm down and make our apologies, I finally voiced the crux of my frustration. I wanted to watch the game with Dad. Dad would’ve understood why the end was so important. Why had Mom imposed herself upon me if she just didn’t get it?

This is what my sweet, loving Momma said to me, verbatim:

“Oh boy, hush! Quit being so dramatic! You can watch with your dad the next time the Bears win the Super Bowl.”

Momma died of complications with asthma in 2009. Doctors couldn’t force her back to us that last time. Dad died of throat cancer four years later.

The Bears went to one more Super Bowl in 2007, where they faced the Indianapolis Colts during a freak monsoon. The Bears were easily the superior team on defense, special teams, and running game. The Colts were easily the superior passing team, as they had Peyton Manning and the Bears historically suck at passing the ball through the air. All the Bears had to do to win the game were two things:

  1. Make the game as ugly, muddy, and unwatchable as humanly possible.
  2. Do NOT, under ANY circumstances, try to pass the freaking football through the air, which again, is historically the Bears’ weakest freaking attribute, especially during a freak monsoon.

Well, my Bears only accomplished one of those two things as they were defeated. They haven’t sniffed a Super Bowl since, and they probably won’t until well after my own dirt-nap. So, if you believe in some form of afterlife, technically, Momma was right. I’ll probably be watching with Dad the next time the Bears win the Super Bowl.

And that’s what being a Bears fan is all about, Charlie Brown!

** *

Except I’m not a Bears fan anymore.

To be more specific, I’m not an NFL fan anymore. At least not a die-hard, pay for streaming, watch every game fan anymore. Ironically, my mother’s casual fan approach turns out to be the best way of dealing with the modern NFL. Who knew?

Why am I taking several giant steps back from NFL fandom?

kaepernick-final

You see, there’s a gentleman named Colin Kaepernick who played for the San Francisco 49ers. You’ve probably heard of him because last year he famously took a knee during each of his game’s National Anthem Ceremony in protest of police brutality and police killings of unarmed African Americans (people who look a lot like me).

There are many (myself included) who viewed this gesture as a brave act to draw attention to egregious injustices occurring across the U. S. Unfortunately, there are others who view this protest as disrespectful to the troops and veterans who fight for the freedoms us Americans share, which baffles me (I am a U.S. Navy Veteran, so if you disagree with me, you have that right. I just ask that you please try not to disrespect me in the comments area while you’re disagreeing with me.)

It would seem that most NFL owners fall into the latter camp, as Kaepernick cannot seem to get a job in the NFL. Kaep isn’t an elite QB, but he is certainly better than half the QB’s in the league who already have jobs, including the guy currently starting for the Bears. For the Bears to not even look at Kaep via a workout tells me that NFL ownership in general, and Bears ownership specifically, would rather make their ill-conceived rhetorical point than win football games. And that’s where I get off the bus.

Please do not misunderstand me; this is not a boycott. A boycott is me withholding my time, energy, and money until certain conditions are met. I have no reason to believe that me withholding my one lousy NFL Sunday Ticket subscription, or pairing down my cable sports package will register as even a blip on the NFL’s revenue stream. I am just one guy, so who gives a shit where my chump-change goes?

No, this is not a boycott; this is me severing ties with an organization that I spent two-score foolishly and overzealously treating like an extension of my family. As the NFL said in their disingenuous anti-domestic abuse ad; No More. I can and have tolerated four decades of mostly bad football and moral victories from this team. I must part ways with any organization who would rather settle for being on the wrong side of history than – you know – actually try to win football games.

Failing to even look at a free-agent that could be best equipped to help your team win because you find his activism uncomfortable? I thought my Bears were made of sterner stuff than that. I cannot keep my head down while   The Bears can take that L by themselves; I’m not taking this one with them.

Perhaps I’ll see you guys on free network TV if I can’t find any Trapper John M.D. reruns to watch.

** *

For anyone cringing at my suffering so-called child abuse at the hands of my mom after the Super Bowl or whatever, please stop and consider this. Three years later, my dad punched me out when I was 16. That was probably abuse. What my mom did to me in ‘86 was not abuse; it was an old-fashioned ass-whupping, and I had it coming.

What can I say? It was the 80’s. We lived in the ghetto. We didn’t know then what we know now.

My kids are adults now. In their childhood, I maybe spanked them three times. Knowing what we know now, that was probably three times too many. But like I said, different time, different era.

Momma didn’t have the luxury of discussing my feelings with me while I was flinging garbage across her clean floors like a jackass. For all she knew, I could’ve also been acting like a jackass outside in public where the very real possibility existed that I could’ve been shot and killed by a gangster or police officer or arrested and left to die a jailcell under mysterious circumstances.

In 2017, perhaps this is abuse. But in 1986 in the projects, it was just damn good Johnny-on-the-spot parenting.