Day 28: Figment

Photo by Randy Jacob on Unsplash

Figment

The shining city
on the horizon is not
actually there.

It is much lower,
and cannot be seen from here
with the naked eye.

What’s visible is
a mirage; a refraction;
trickery of light.

Theoretically, it exists,
though where you think it is,
there is nothing tangible.

In the beginning,
I had nothing,
but it was all mine.

No room to call my own,
but I owned every room
in momma’s universe.

The space we called home
coalesced from a hazy shade of blue,
brightening at the boundaries,
basement half-windows facing south,
allowing indirect light.

In the mornings and afternoons,
the TV was mine to visit Sesame Street,
Mr. Rogers, Mickey’s Club,
until evening, when dad returned
from some place called work.

We played until it was time to be silent;
I asked questions until the answers dried-up;
I cowered from the silent shadows
until the birds sang-in the blue again.

Sometimes momma kissed dad goodbye;
sometimes the silence between them
needed the icy space of January air
to thaw again; but either way,

the space was mine again
to build, to ponder,
to question.

In the beginning I had nothing,
but it gleamed along the margins,
and it was everything to me.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 28: Today’s Prompt:

Today’s (optional) prompt is brought to us by the Emily Dickinson Museum. First, read this brief reminiscence of Emily Dickinson, written by her niece. And now, here is the prompt that the museum suggests:

Martha Dickinson Bianchi’s description of her aunt’s cozy room, scented with hyacinths and a crackling stove, warmly recalls the setting decades later. Describe a bedroom from your past in a series of descriptive paragraphs or a poem. It could be your childhood room, your grandmother’s room, a college dormitory or another significant space from your life.

I went back to my earliest memory, when I was 3-4yrs old, and possessed neither a room of my own, nor the very concept of a room of my own. I did have tons of questions though, just as I do now.

Edited: Shared with dVerse OLN.

Day 19: Manicured Path

Photo by Avi Waxman on Unsplash

Manicured Path

We made it halfway up before yielding
to father time and self-imposed inertia.

Bending onto a level manicured path,
a young tree bloomed in watercolor reds;
a beautiful alien among
puffy white sapling blossoms.

Along a strip of conformity where
anything out-of-place is hammered, snipped,
or sprayed into one of the approved labels,
the tree of rubies grabs the eye for all
the reasons, right, wrong, or otherwise.

Towering firs in the distance command focus,
even as humanity carved condos,
two-car garages, and rickety steps
into where their cousins were felled years ago.

They stretch and slowly sway stoically
against the light breeze, reminding all
to stand as tall as their posture allows
and inhale deeply, accepting their
regifted oxygen, exhaling in
mutual respiration.

The opposite side of the valley,
across the Sammamish river,
teams with every shade of green,
blending seamlessly into each other,
accepting the uncolored order
before bowing to man’s rectangular
boxy factories and warehouses, each
aligned to and more unremarkable
than the last beige, bland nothing.

Between the bland boxes and us
lies another greenbelt with an overgrown
abandoned rail line cutting through it;
a boundary noted and ignored by most.

Near the bottom of the rickety stair landing,
two teens social-distance together
with their tiny dog, who silently,
but rightfully eyes me suspiciously.

I doubt he’s ever seen the likes
of me in his territory before.

But he shrugs it off, finding a
far more intriguing scent, oblivious
to the nearby blackberries at war
with a similarly invasive species.

The shrub battle is waged on its own time
and would’ve gone unnoticed by my eyes
had my beloved not been beside me to
pull me out of our moment,
drawing attention to it.

She often helps me see things
with new colors and angles,
bending our halfway-uphill trips
into an unyielding odyssey.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 19: Today’s prompt:

Today, our optional prompt challenges you to write a poem based on a “walking archive.” What’s that? Well, it’s when you go on a walk and gather up interesting things – a flower, a strange piece of bark, a rock. This then becomes your “walking archive” – the physical instantiation of your walk. If you’re unable to get out of the house (as many of us now are), you can create a “walking archive” by wandering around your own home and gathering knick-knacks, family photos, maybe a strange spice or kitchen gadget you never use. One you’ve finished your gathering, lay all your materials out on  a tray table, like museum specimens. Now, let your group of materials inspire your poem! You can write about just one of the things you’ve gathered, or how all of them are all linked, or even what they say about you, who chose them and brought them together.

Of course, upon hearing that in order to stay on prompt, I’d have to leave the house, my wife was thrilled. Me, not so much, but hey, I did it.

Day 14: The Fissure

Image by mac231 from Pixabay 

The Fissure

In the beginning, there was a woman.
There’s always a woman, or so it seems.
One gave me life, light, and all her knowledge.
Some other unlocked the madness within.

In the beginning, I had cracked the code.
Deconstruction, reassembly of phrase.
Dominion over syntax, noun, and verb.
Standard structure had yielded to my will.

Then some woman asked what it meant to me.
Encouraging thought towards deeper meaning.
I couldn’t find the right answer for her.
Smiling, she said there wasn’t such a thing.

Next, she introduced me to Robert Frost.
Suddenly, English and I were strangers.
The path not taken cracked a small fissure.
Slowly, over time that sliver split me.

I filled it with poet after poet.
Each time the fracture eagerly widened.
Langston Hughes led to a Gwendolyn Brooks.
The woman grinned as I re-learned to speak.

I gobbled up the greats, never filling.
Plath. Poe. Epics. Death poems. Always Hip-Hop.
The more I consumed, the greater my thirst.
“Now find your voice,” she said, always smiling.

I can see beyond sight; touch with feeling;
Taste, smell, and hear in all four dimensions.
In the beginning, there was a woman.
There’s always a woman, or so it seems.

My wholeness was splintered by a woman.
I was birthed by one and broken by one.
Poetry; born to me poetically;
Filling my mind with how little I knew.

It flashes from unfiltered nothingness.
It throbs when clawed at from outside the lines.
An entrenched urge to impress a woman.
A cliché-riddled love note to woo one.

Heartbroken angsty teardrop journaling.
Overzealous declarations of love.
Bleak brooding over unrequited love.
Self-flagellation over star-crossed love.

All of it ignited over women.
The ones who brought chaos to my order.
And then one day when I least expected,
It transcended, ending the beginning.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 14: Today’s prompt:

Today’s optional prompt asks you, like Alice Notley, to think about your own inspirations and forebears (whether literary or otherwise). Specifically, I challenge you today to write a poem that deals with the poems, poets, and other people who inspired you to write poems. These could be poems/poets/poepl that you strive to be like, or even poems, poets, and people that you strive not to be like. There are as many ways to go with this prompt as there are ways to be inspired.

When I was in Junior High, my normal English teacher had to take a leave of absence near the end of the school year. The substitute English teacher was much younger, and – stop me if you’ve heard this from me before – yeah, I had a HUGE crush on her.

But initially, her curriculum baffled me. I was all set to flex my mastery of breaking down and diagraming sentences for her, but she never asked for any of that. Instead, she had us read “The Road Not Taken”, by Robert Frost, asking us to interpret it and find our own meaning within it.

I scoffed at first, but eventually, very subtly, something shifted within me. Prior to that, I had already weaponized the written word via love notes to girls I liked, but her classes encouraged me to try poetry in earnest, for better or worse.

I’m still pretty much a one-trick pony, but I’m at peace with it.  

Day 12: Blue Snow (For Brooklyn)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jeffry A. Willadsen/Released)

Blue Snow (For Brooklyn)

Like petals falling from our view
Your loss now added to our snow
Compassion bright as any blue
Like petals falling from our view
Our spring, a timeless deja-vu
We wait our turns to fall below
Like petals falling from our view
Your loss now added to our snow
***

NaPoWriMo Day 12: The Triolet:

For today’s prompt (optional, as always), I’d like to challenge you to write a triolet. These eight-line poems involve repeating lines and a tight rhyme scheme. The repetitions and rhymes can lend themselves to humorous poems, as well as to poems expressing dramatic or sorrowful moods. And sometimes the repetitions can be used in deceptive ways, by splitting the words in a given line into different sentences, and making subtle changes, as in this powerful triolet by Sandra McPherson.

Years ago, I was addicted to writing triolets, so this was a welcome blast from the past.

It was also a good way to honor the passing of a shipmate I served with on the USS Ingraham from 95 until 98. Ronnell “Brooklyn” Warren passed away on March 30. Dude had a photographic memory and knew my full name, date-of-birth, birthplace, and social security number even twenty years later, which should’ve been somewhat alarming, but he was just so damned kind-hearted, and it reflected well upon his character that it never even occurred to him to use his superpowers for nefarious means.

Quite frankly, Ronnie was the kindest, sweetest man I have even known. He was also a poet with an optimistic voice.

He always had a kind word for everyone. He was one of the few people in my life whose positive attitude made me want to step-up and just be better to get on his level. Hell, I think he loved the 90’s Chicago Bulls more than I did! I heard that he went quickly and unexpectedly, from a heart attack, but I don’t know the details.

It made me think about how we will all soon be parting from one another.

I’ve never dealt with this type of loss well; I tend to stuff it down where the feelings can’t hurt me anymore. And though we hadn’t spoken or kept in touch since our ship’s decommissioning ceremony, this is a most unkind cut that will take some time to stuff down.

Ron, your passing over was most unwelcome news. I’ll drink one for you. We have the watch, shipmate.

Day 11: Fate of the Lilies

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

Fate of the Lilies

it was an Easter Sunday
she wanted the white lilies
or maybe they were tiger
or stargazers; who can say

I’m no botanist for sure
but I gifted them to her
roots in-tact for repotting

she squealed with impish delight
showering me in kisses
I fought her back, kiss for kiss

she said she loved me, then gasped
asking if that was ok

I assured her that it was
and that I loved her as well

when can I see you again
she asked between prolonged hugs
her sparkle drawing me in

as soon as we are able
I said, strengthening my grip

she blinked back tears with a wink
cramming with delicacy
her potted plant and body
into her car to depart

I’ll text you when I make it
she said with one more blown kiss
she was true to her word, but

I never saw her again

looking back, it hurts to breathe
but still, it was for the best
as we were from different worlds

I don’t know what lilies mean
but the ones I got for her
are probably long dead now.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 11: Today’s challenge – Language of Flowers:

Our optional prompt for the day is based on the concept of the language of flowers. Have you ever heard, for example, that yellow roses stand for friendship, white roses for innocence, and red roses for love? Well, there are as many potential meanings for flowers as there are flowers. The Victorians were particularly ga-ga for giving each other bouquets that were essentially decoder-rings of meaning. For today, I challenge you to write a poem in which one or more flowers take on specific meanings. And if you’re having trouble getting started, why not take a gander at this glossary of flower meanings? (You can find a plain-text version here). Feel free to make use of these existing meanings, or make up your own.

I found out retroactively that the white lily is associated with purity and is often used as a funeral flower. Also, in Buddhism, tiger lilies represent the virtues of mercy and compassion. Make of that what you will.

Stargazers symbolize lots of stuff. Google it for yourself. This blog poem about flowers is over!

Love, for Love’s Sake

charlie-hang-3016-unsplash

Photo by Charlie Hang on Unsplash

Love, for Love’s Sake

I have loved romantically
while being oblivious to its depths,
confined to the surface,
grasping at facades of
who I wanted to be
and who I wanted to
completely consume me,
growing mystified by
its brittleness
and inevitable indigestion.

I have loved, by sticking my head
inside an alligator’s mouth on a dare.

I have loved the greener grass
and the path untraveled
until detours revealed illusory scope
and textures tricking optics
into grasping curves
bent into ripened shapes
by light’s deception; I have loved
but a figment of her living ghost.

I have loved an imagination
and watched it slain by her reality.

I have loved deep
into the core elements of another
swiftly and inexplicably,
with the instant shock
of total immersion into
freezing waters,
slowing until bonds arrest us
in an exquisite insanity,
tricking the brain
into seeing love and attachment
as one and the same,
which renders all into ashes.

I have loved at first sight
and it seared my retinas.

I have loved
despite my best efforts not to love,
which, in essence, means that I have failed
at both loving and not loving
nearly simultaneously.

I believe therefore
we call it “falling in love”,
for no sane person
would willingly choose
this brand of nonsense,
steering directly into it
as one who wishes to be warm
plots a course directly into the sun.

I have loved over time against my will
and it was wonderfully traumatic.

I’ve flipped
the game
on its head
countless times;

each time,
my game piece
lands inside
the gator’s mouth.

I now love, knowing
its tremendous highs and incalculable lows,
the capricious nature of reciprocation
and whimsically fickle access to action
to fully experience and share,
fully aware that I wield little power
over the gambit,
only my position on the board
of an ultimately unsolvable game.

I now love with a full heart, knowing
that though I often experience bliss
and wield love to lift her
to fleeting triumphs with me,
ultimately I can never win,
and even as we run out of moves,
as we retire or surrender to fate
and, inevitably, as we
begin to lose each other,
the game will continue.

I now love,
not as a matter of choice or dare,
not with purpose nor design on winning;

I now love without purpose
because I see little purpose in not loving,
and also, aimless, purposeless love
is just love for love’s sake.

I now love that I love.
***

Shared at Poets United Poetry Pantry #442.

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.

My Phlegmy Valentine

Kratzenstein_orpheus

By Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein-Stub – Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein-Stub, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15686494

My Phlegmy Valentine

February’s second week
you are unwell, feverish
difficult, intransigent
unwilling to yield control

I bring you medicine
heat your soup,
soothe your fever
confronting your fight head-on

You are grateful for my patience,
remorseful for making life
much harder than it has to be,
missing the point completely

Your ragged breathing
is my lullaby
your phlegmy cough,
my action prompt
your sudden silence,
my panic button

When I am caring for you
it’s not an act of compassion
but it is the most selfish act
I can muster under pressure

I’ll work on my possessive streak
as soon as you’re well again
for now, I lead Eurydice from Hades
looking back as often as I need.
***

 

Tuna Salad

barryterri

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.

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.