Unnoticed in Clever Worlds

The clearest description I have managed so far about my blog is that it is not about cats. In general, I find predators pretty predictable while prey on the other-hand, because they live in universes of anxiety, develop more textured personalities. I also have as a writer a deft hand when it comes to making matters worse, so of course , the already panicky are ready made for me. I will try to grow this blog into an assortment of laughs, because that is what my life has mostly taught me to do. I will use the famous people I have known to get your attention and then tell you small but many times wonderful things about them. I will never name the ones I say ugly things about but I hope you will guess who they are.

The Caucasian’s Guide To Black Barbecues by Michael Harriot

As interracial dating, integration, and cross-cultural friendships increase, many people find themselves attending events in which they are the minority, and have no frame of reference from which to base their etiquette. In an effort to help bridge the cultural gaps we all have to traverse at some point, I have created a few rules for all my Caucasian friends who might find themselves at a black cookout.

1. You gotta bring something. One time, I went to a co-worker named Tom’s barbecue and brought a pasta salad. He looked at me like I had shit in the middle of his living room.

At a black cookout (yes, if there’s more than seven black people there, the name automatically changes from “barbecue” to a “cookout”), only the meat and the grill is supplied by the host. Everything else is brought by attendees—and no, this is not “potluck.” Black people don’t do potlucks. Potluck dinners are for Caucasian bible-study meetings where one can bring store-bought dishes. Here, you either show up with a homemade dish, or they’re gonna look at you funny. And please don’t try no new shit like potato salad with raisins or vegetarian shish kabobs. If you can’t cook, or you don’t have all the required black seasonings, just bring some cups and napkins. Or LOTS of aluminum foil. I don’t know what the hell black people do with all the aluminum foil at cookouts, but they ALWAYS need more. I have long suspected that black cookouts were ploys by hosts to get free aluminum foil. In any case, you are expected to bring something.

2. It’s a cookOUT. Black people’s cookouts are outside. At the previously mentioned Tom’s barbecue, everyone mingled in his living room. I was nervous as fuck, because for the first hour, all I could think was, “These motherfuckers are about to have an intervention on me.”

You don’t go into the house unless you have to pee, which means there a few things you should bring:

1. A chair.

2. Bug spray.

3. Another chair (because someone is going to sit in your first chair when you go pee).

3. Don’t arrive on time. If they say they’re going to start around 3 p.m., that means you can arrive around 4:47. CP time is a very complicated algorithm to figure out, but the published start time at a black BBQ is the time when they start thinking about preparing to get ready to almost light the grill.

4. Learn how to do the “Wobble.” Then consult a local ballerina/choreographer to add your own variation to one of the moves. I don’t do line dances, but I’ve noticed that white people feel SO included if they know how to do them. I believe line dances should be used by the United Nations to prevent war. You can’t be THAT mad when you’re adding your spin shimmy kick to the Cupid Shuffle.

5. Make friends. Here is a FOOLPROOF method to making a new black friend at the cookout:

1. Bring a bottle of dark liquor.

2. Keep it in the trunk of your car.

3. SOMEONE (usually Tasha’s new boyfriend) is gonna ask, “Way da liquor at.”

4. Wait. (I know you’ll want to rush up to him or say something, but ignore your white-people-timing instincts just this one time, and give it a few minutes.)

5. When he changes the subject, walk over to him and say, “Walk to my car with me.” He’ll know what you mean.

6. When you pop that trunk, you’ll have a friend for life.

6. DO NOT PLAY SPADES. Even if your black friend tries to teach you how to play. They’re gonna get you FUCKED UP. No matter what you do, don’t get on the spades table talking ’bout you “learned” how to play. You do not learn how to play spades. Black people just know. Like we just know how to do the Electric Slide or get diabetes.

AND, if you mess around and renege, your partner is gonna give you the side-eye all night when they take those three books.

AND, you might get in your feelings over the shit-talking, because James is going to call you a bitch. He always does that.

AND, if your spades game is weak, no one is gonna want to be your friend. Not even Tasha’s boyfriend.

7. Park down the street. Trust me, you don’t want to have to wait for someone to move their car so you can get out. Especially after your bitch ass let James them run a Boston on you. (See? I bet that offended you, and you probably don’t know what it means. That’s why you shouldn’t play spades.)

8. Don’t worry about the drunk uncle. You know how at white people’s Thanksgiving, there’s always that ONE drunk uncle? (Yes, there is a White Thanksgiving and a Black Thanksgiving. White people’s Thanksgiving has pumpkin pie and wine. Black Thanksgiving has pound cake and Crown Royal.)

Anyway, at black cookouts, ALL our uncles are the drunk uncle. Except Uncle Jerome, who is saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost. In fact, Uncle Jerome is starting a new ministry that confronts the evil of drugs and alcohol.

But if you take him to your trunk, he’ll have a nip.

9. For dominoes advice, please refer to rule no. 6. You know what I said about spades? The same goes for dominoes. It’s like spades with math. Most black people don’t even play dominoes as well as they think they do. And the shit-talking factor is even higher. James is going to call your mama a bitch. He always does that.

10. Listen. As the evening progresses and the alcohol flows, it becomes more dangerous to be at a black cookout. We all know that white people get drunk and fight, too, (probably more than black people), but here’s the difference:

Black people can fight.

There is, however, a very simple and effective way to know when a black cookout is getting dangerous: the music.

Music is not just entertainment at these gatherings; it is like the terror-alert warning system. The intensity of the music is inversely proportional to the danger it represents. Here are the Black Cookout Music Alert Warning indicators:

Pop/current music. If you hear the Weekend, 2 Chainz, or Fetty Wap, you’re pretty safe. That means the kids are around, and everything’s cool.
Old-school R&B. When Al Green or Parliament is playing, everything should be okay. Everyone is getting lubed up and eating, and Tasha’s boyfriend has been waiting on you by your car.
Old-school hip-hop. By now, only the guys are left. Mostly the drunk ones. They’re arguing about whether Rakim was better than Tupac, while Uncle Jerome is talking about Kool Moe Dee being the G.O.A.T. Shit is getting sketchy. You better get ready, because it’s going to jump off soon. The spades table is pumping, the dominoes are being slammed down, and then you lock eyes with one guy, and you can tell he’s thinking, “If James call my mama a bitch ONE MO TIME ….” Man, just start getting your stuff together and making your way to the car.
Gospel Music. If you hear we fall down, but we get up … run, motherfucker. Get the fuck out of there. Leave those camp chairs, and tell Tasha’s boyfriend to get the fuck away from your car with that screwdriver trying to break into your trunk.
Aren’t you glad I told you to park down the street?

One Night Backstage with The Who

It was a long-handled fireman’s ax that you used to see in old buildings next to fat canvas water hoses placed behind glass windows with warnings about breaking in case of emergencies. Back then, authentic men must have cut their way out of burning stone buildings.
Keith Moon sat with the ax between his legs and his arm over the shoulders of a coffee urn on a wounded sofa in the middle of the Who’s hospitality room — the after-show guests had pinned themselves to the walls uneasy about the flying feathers, shrimp, and desserts.
I was typically late to the scene, but in this aftermath, he looked like he was waiting for his drum kit to be set up. He was panting and sporadically spitting feathers out of his mouth.
My first thought was how expensive this was going to be. I kept the records and paid for this kind of shit. This drummer never really understood that stuff costs money. The closest he ever got to “cash and carry” was buying hookers and in this, he loved the barter more than the commodity.
I would eventually deduct his damage from him or split it among the band. He would sidle endearingly up to me and whisper like a kiss in my ear that “last night might be a good time for a division.”
Pete Townshend walked out of his dressing room and over to Keith’s sofa, ( Moon was seeping into melancholia anyway because his drums had not arrived), and asked him for the ax.
He took it and cut a surviving wall clock in half.
He handed me the ax and said,” Put me down for one clock.”

Rock’s Briefest Roadie

I was a roadie for one gig. I worked for a band named ” Five Dollar Shoes.” A folk singer named Melanie who later hired me owned them.
She also named them, stealing an idea from an old black song,” Mommy, won’t you please buy me a pair of one dollar shoes? She cunningly upgraded it to “five dollars.”
In the long term, this revision did not help.
I was paid to lug their equipment to a club on the beach somewhere in southern New Jersey. They were to open for “Sly and the Family Stone.” Sly was a fucking God. He was also an undependable shit-bag.
We loaded up the small U haul truck with all their stage gear and spent the day driving down from New York. The guy in charge of me knew how to plug in the electronics. In the pantheon of all human knowledge, this was all he knew that I did not.
We unloaded and set up the gear. Our band, “The Shoes” showed up ready and on time for the soundcheck. They resembled a more garishly inexpensive imitation of Queen and Freddy Mercury shoved into a dryer full of scarves.
The show was canceled without our boys even getting on stage because Sly didn’t show. We packed up the shit again and drove back to New York. I quit the next day.
I may well have been a roadie for the shortest period in Rock history. A tie was the best anyone else could ever manage.

Peter Gabriel

Peter was a slightly better friend to me than I was to him. We kind of both betrayed each other. One of his children is my goddaughter.

He shaved a rectangular spot in the middle of his forehead for our second American tour. At the time, I didn’t think it was a good move. I don’t think anyone else did either. There is, as yet, no firm ruling on this.

Soft spoken, Peter seemed to be eternally interrupting his own thoughts in mid sentence. Knowing what he wanted was a little like painting a slab of Jello. The ever shifting cadence in his speech made you consider grabbing him until he was finished.

Peter, I believe, understood his verbal hesitation and simply waited the process out by thinking of other things while talking. It was very hard work to get angry with him. He was easy to make laugh, but again you could not be certain you had inspired it. He had the easy soul of a man with gifts.

The only member of the band at that time who did not want to be in charge was Phil Collins. It took poor Phil years to wring one solo song for himself in the set. Even that was essentially a duet because he held a mechanical monkey that banged the beat with his mechanical cymbals while Phil sang. Steven Spielberg stole that monkey to use in “Close Encounters of The Third Kind.”
It was the shortest song they did. It could have been a single, but the others would never have allowed it. Besides the monkey would have wanted in on the radio royalties.

Rock’s Biggest Epidemic.

“Moon wants to see you,” said Callaghan. He had one shoe on.
“Why?” I searched.
“Wouldn’t say,” he answered.
It was 8:30 in the morning, Chicago, the first leg of my first tour with The Who.
“How much does he want?
“He has money, and I’ve got it,” He pats his pocket. “I think he wants to chat.”
Keith Moon was having tea at a small Victorian table against the suite window that faced whatever lake was next to Chicago.
He reminded me of an old Judy Garland in her last catastrophic years.” His pink, frilly negligee contributed to the theme. He was wearing Callaghan’s missing shoe.
“Spot of tea, Reg?” He offered, not aware there was not a second cup. He ignored Callaghan. “Did you two take in some theater before you rushed here to help me?”
“I wanted to pick up the money.” saying this would deflect him, I knew. It worked like Dramamine. Moon would only much later realize the money I gave him was his.
He regarded me as a magically tall cash fountain.
“We have disturbing confidence to discuss. I have finally slept with the wrong woman.” He paused here searching our faces for some sympathy or recognition. None arrived. But we didn’t laugh either.
Callaghan broke first,” You’ve got the clap?”
“Quiet!” he whispered, “this is our grave intrigue; no one can ever know.”
I was by now ahead of the problem,” I’ll get a doctor over this morning.”
I called the hotel manager, who arranged a doctor to come to Keith’s suite within the hour. I pulled out some tickets and cash and told the doctor to call me.
The doctor called around noon confirming our drummer had a particularly virulent strain of Vietnamese gonorrhea and that he was on his way over.
When I told Moon, I added “You better let the girl know,”
“The girl?” he asked as though I had demanded the definition of a two hundred letter word, “What girl?”
“The girl you got it from,” realizing as I said it how innocent I was.
“There is no girl, Reg; there are constellations of girls. We are standing on the tip of an infection iceberg!
When I showed up with the doctor, Keith and his close confidant Dougal bent over a coffee table drawing up lists of names and doing rough “connect the dots” diagrams.
Women moved like buffalo around the free range of any rock tour. ‘Moon’s iceberg,’ as we were later to designate it, made notifying the potential girls unimaginable without also calling the National Center for Disease Control.
We settled, the three of us, on cataloging all the crew and staff Moon knew for sure had shared one of his girls. I would call them and make them come to get their shots.
The investigation evaporated quickly into a ‘cash and carry’ operation. The doctor made a fortune and walked away with enough tickets to start his own Ticketron.
To my great discredit, I grasped that innocents were named, caught up in the net of Moon’s enthusiasm, but the drummer, once he got into the melody, could not stop implicating bystanders
Nearly everyone on tour with The Who was English. Britains are always the last ones to realize they are victims of a trick. They came over to the suite with a sick look on their faces and dropped their pants.
Sadly this was one of the funniest full days of my life in the business.
There was a picture taken of everyone standing or kneeling together in the suite, like a baseball team card. The little Indian doctor was sitting in the center holding a lap-full of Who tickets and a syringe. I don’t know who has that photo today. I would pay anything for it.

So Listen

I plan to tie a string
onto a bell.
And attach it to my soul
Then tug on it
from tomorrow.
So listen.

Got a Match?

I am a burner. In these times of ever-encroaching global climate catastrophe, we need to return to the age of autumn leaf burning.
As a boy, I would watch transfixed as mammoth piles of gathered leaves flamed out of control in our neighborhood. My neighbors, grown men, whimpered involuntarily as they frantically tried to beat back the windblown pyres with wooden rakes — fires they had deliberately set with gasoline.

In my experience, nothing draws a community together like one neighbor burning down the house of another. Saturdays in our little town became parties replete with fire engines and apologies.
Nowadays the old-time autumnal dance of leaf incineration is forbidden.
We are expected to buy unique bags to put our leaves in, to be carried away by our municipal workers to some unverified leaf gulag.
I am beginning to feel that my government is turning me into a kind of environmental janitor.
Is there a better tactic to force temperatures into a nosedive than a massive ring of leaf soot around the Earth to block out the sun?
Got a match?

The dreams of young girls

I think my memories
must wait impatiently
somewhere in lines
to be called up.
I can’t make them come
Maybe because I am old
my mind is getting crowded.
I have watched women.
And it is different for them.
Because they have seen
dreams as young girls do,
and even the mirrors bow to that.

As I sat outdoors this morning having coffee, I realized I miss the sound of screen doors slamming in my childhood friend’s houses. It meant someone to play with. Regis Boff

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