When my parents got divorced, my mother hooked up with my father’s sister’s ex-husband, whom I’d always known as “Uncle Steve.” If you spent 15 minutes in the same room as my mother, you’d see why I accepted this as completely normal behavior.
Uncle Steve was a pot-growing Viet Nam veteran who had lost his voice in ‘Nam when a hand grenade ripped open his throat, implanted enough shrapnel in his knee to set off every metal detector he ever met, and left him dead in the MASH unit for over 3 minutes. Everyone else called him “Whispering Steve”, and I quickly made the switch myself
I’d always seen Steve as a fantastic father to his two sons, and in the father figure vacuum left by my parents’ divorce, I didn’t see it so much as losing an uncle as gaining a dad.
Steve’s brush with death in ‘Nam had given him a joie de vivre that bubbled over into every part of his life. He always wanted there to be some magic in the world for the kids around him, and made being a parent look fun, if not effortless.
He didn’t just read bedtime stories at night, he made up stories featuring me and my brother-cousins as the heroes: flying around on jet packs, battling orcs with light sabers.
He made discovery fun, and made everyone a winner. I will never forget the first time I saw the Golden Gate bridge, thanks to Steve. We were driving South on 101, and he announced that he’d give a Hershey’s bar to the first kid who could spot the bridge. We were all bouncing around the back seat of the car, craning our necks and scanning the horizon for that first glimpse, trying to be the first. And as soon as we came through the Rainbow tunnel, bam! All 3 of us saw it at the same time.
“Heh, heh: Candy bars for all 3 of you, I guess!”
Steve’s 2 sons spent most of their time with their mom, my aunt. And when they were out of town, I got the majority of his attention. We’d stay up late on Friday nights, watching Creature Features on KTVU. And when he got tired of me hiding under the covers when the zombies attacked in Night of the Living dead, he hauled me 20 miles to the nearest movie theater for opening night of some movie I’d never heard of. He bought me anything I wanted from the snack bar, and as the movie was about to start he said, “If you get up and leave the theater it will be the last movie I ever bring you to. Just remember: none of this is real, all of the actors are still alive. It’s all make believe.”
The movie was Alien, and I was 11 years old. After that, I was the horror-film king of 4th grade.
After he and my mom broke up, he remained a good uncle to me. In college, when I needed refuge from the hubbub of life in the big city, he’d let me come party at his house for the weekend. In 2000, when I decided to attend Burning Man for the first time – even though all of my friends insisted it was “so over” and “totally dead” by then – I went to Steve for help building the interactive art piece I took to the desert and placed in front of our camp. He stood at one end of the band saw, cigarette dangling from his mouth as always.
Less than half a year later, Steve was dying of lung cancer. I’d seen him at the VA hospital in SF when he got the prognosis. It wasn’t good. I made a pilgrimage up to his house, 3 hours North of SF, to spend the weekend and see him one last time. Before I went, I wrote him a letter, thanking him for all of the ways he had helped make me a better person over the years.
When I saw him, I gave him the letter, but I couldn’t stand the sight of him. He was so shrunken, so small. The cancer had eaten away at him, reduced his body to a shell of its former self. He was still bright and vibrant, but when I looked at him all I saw was his impending death. I hung out at his house for the afternoon, then went back to a friend’s house for dinner. My mom pointed out that Steve felt like I’d already written him off, that he was already gone. I wanted to explain to him that I was just shocked by it all, so I walked the mile over to Steve’s house – remember, pot farm country: pitch black , dirt road, no street lights. It took me straight back to when I was 11, walking that same road without a flashlight, worried that a bear would get me.
Steve was asleep when I got to his house, exhausted from the day. As I walked back to where I was staying, I announced to the universe that I was ready to get on with my life – I was ready to meet her, if she was out there. The next night, back in SF, I met the love of my life, Michele, at a fundraising party for a Burning Man camp.
13 years later, we have an 8-year old son, who believes there is lots of magic in the world. He’s been told bedtime stories about flying around California strapped to a jet-pack, battling orcs with light sabers, and he still hides his head under the covers when he gets scared.
I think of Steve often, and it would be easy to regret things that were beyond my control – like him not getting to meet Michele, or seeing our long-haired son. But the truth is, I have only one regret: that I let my own fear of death stop me from looking him in the eyes and telling him how much I loved him, while it still counted.
I was born in Miami, Florida, which is so far South that it’s not The South – it’s more like the Caribbean. But I spent a few extremely formative years in the mid-70’s living in Gainesville, Florida, a city that is far enough North in Florida to be part of the American South, and carry with it all of the burdens and prejudices that entails.
As a child I was blissfully ignorant of the racial divide. My best friend in kindergarten, Rodney, was black – something I later learned was shocking at the time. And I had no historical comprehension of what it meant when we rented a big house on a plantation, and became the first white folks who lived there to ever talk to the black family of caretakers who lived in what used to be the slave quarters on the property.
All of that is backstory for the main story, which takes place when I was 7: at a party with my parents. The adults were all inside, and we kids, 6 or 7 of us, ages 5 to 10, all white, were playing out in the street, looking for adventure.
In Gainesville in the 70’s there used to be a decommissioned fighter jet-turned play-structure out front of the military base. It was AWESOME. I knew right where it was, and thanks to the great sense of direction I’ve had all of my life: I was sure I knew exactly how to get there.
It didn’t take much work on my part to get the other kids on board with my plan, and soon we were off: a gaggle of kids happily making our way through the neighborhood streets of Gainesville towards a happy destination.
We made our way easily enough, me happy to be leading and blissfully ignorant as the neighborhood started to turn. I didn’t have an eye for the subtle change as we quickly became the minority. As we started to stand out, as we became the only white faces for blocks in any direction.
The other kids started to get nervous, and a couple of them even turned around and headed back to the party. I assured the rest of them that there was nothing to be worried about: I knew right where I was going, and we were close, we were almost there. A few more blocks, and then we had to be close.
When the neighborhood kids started to follow us, the rest of my group wanted to turn around, even though I still didn’t see a reason to, but by then it was too late.
“What are you doing here, whitey?” they yelled.
“Why you in our neighborhood? You stupid? Don’t you know this is our ‘hood? Looking to get beat up?” They shouted as they quickly surrounded us, and started moving in.
Nobody had been hit yet, but it didn’t look good. I started to understand that I had made a huge mistake, but I still didn’t know how.
I refused to get scared, I couldn’t believe anything bad was really going to happen to us: these were kids, just like us, after all. And all we had done was try to walk through their neighborhood – it made no sense.
My remaining friends were scared, though, and one even started to cry. I was trying to talk rationally and reasonably to the gathered group, which wasn’t helping. And then a woman’s voice rang out above the crowd, “What you bunch of little punks doing, ganging up on these kids?!?” as a grandmotherly black woman grabbed me and my friends and pulled us into her living room.
“What on earth are you doing here,” the stern but kindly old woman asked, “are you lost or just trying to get yourselffs killed?” I tried to explain, calmly and rationally that we were just trying to walk to the jet, but she wasn’t having it. “You have no idea what you have walked in to, do you boy? They will tear you apart out there, they will beat you to death you ever come back in here like this. Where are your parents, do you have a phone number?”
I didn’t. I hadn’t even told my parents where I was going or what my plan was. And neither of my blubbering friends did either.
“We got to get you out of here,” the old lady said, “before things get worse. Can you find your way back to where your parents are?” I could. “Then when I tell you three to run, you run all the way back to yo mommas and yo pappas, and don’t you ever come back here agin.”
And with that, she yelled at the mingling group in the street that she had called the po-lice, and they best be gettin’ back to their homes if they knew what was good for them. And when the coast was clear, she set us to running as quickly as we could back to our safe, white side of the world. It was only a few blocks until we were clear of the ‘hood, and a few more before we found our parents, frantically coming to find us. The few who had turned back had told them where we were headed.
Our parent’s relief at finding us trumped their anger at us for leaving unannounced, and we were all unharmed. On the outside, anyway.
Although I was never able to see the world the same again. I had never doubted where I was in Gainesville that afternoon, but I learned that what I was was different. Different in a way that had nothing to do with who I was or how I treated people, different in a way that could inspire hatred and violence from children who had never met me before. And learning that lesson caused me to lose a part of my innocence I could never get back.
My parents were late blooming hippies. They met in the summer of ’68, still in plenty of time to latch on to the whole hippie vibe. I was born in ’69, and around that time my father joined the army.
Why he joined the army depends on who you ask. If you ask him, he’ll tell you it was because he wanted to give something back to this country that had done so much for him. My father had been forced to leave his homeland, Cuba, when he was 11 years old. He’d had everything taken from him, and in the United States he’d found a land of amazing opportunity. To this day, he swears that joining the army was his way of giving back.
My mother will tell you it was because he was looking to piss off my grandmother as much as possible, and the only thing more aggravating than marrying a gringa was to join the army and possibly get sent overseas to fight in Viet Nam.
He didn’t get sent to Viet Nam, and instead I spent the first 4 years of my life growing up on army bases around the south. Four years later, when my father’s term was up, the whole hippie thing had started to fade, and my parents had some serious catching up to do.
They bought a VW bus, which they immediately installed flowered curtains over every window in. They took off the VW symbol on the front of the bus, and replaced it with a hand-painted yellow sun. And they started smoking pot. I can still remember running into my parents’ bedroom, jumping on the bed, and nestling in with them, the bottle of Blue Nun wine (more of a jug, really), and the ashtray with the roach clip on a leather thong with wooden beads.
These moments were the pleasant balance to the times they fought, when I would have to stand between them and hold up 1 finger towards each of their mouths. My 5-year old sign that it was time to stop yelling at each other and calm down.
Early on, I thought our family was just like every other family. That we were the norm. I thought that every TV only got PBS (my parents hid the knob to change the channels, and told me that was the only channel we got) I thought every TV only got PBS until I attended a friend’s birthday party and spent the entire time glued to the screen, watching King Kong with slack-jawed awe.
I thought everybody’s dad talked to lots of other pretty women on campus whenever they went for bike rides through the local University without mom.
And I thought that everyone smoked pot. There was one time, in the Sears Roebucks, when we were looking for a specific tool my father needed. He was always working on that VW bus, it was the only way it would stay on the road. At my first show and tell in kindergarten I proudly announced that I’d spent the weekend helping my father drop the engine on our bus. He would call out the tool he needed from under the bus, and I’d dig through the tool box and hand it to him.
So there we were, in the Sears Roebucks: I was scouring the aisles, looking for the tool my father wanted when I came across a treasure trove of an entirely different kind. I’d found a bin, full of something I immediately recognized: “Hey, dad, check it out: Roach clips!” I shouted at full volume across the tools section.
He ran over and quieted me down, quickly acknowledging what I’d found, and informing me that I was never to call them that in public. “In public,” he said, “we call them alligator clips.”
And that was when I found out that our family was different. Our family had secrets. And I was tasked with keeping them.
When my mother threw the 5-gallon gas can at my father in the midst of their last fight, calling him all sorts of names and unaware that I was watching from in hiding behind our car – I knew that stayed with me.
When my mother started dating my father’s sister’s ex-husband after my father left us, I knew I couldn’t call him uncle Steve anymore. At least, not in public.
By the time uncle Steve moved us to a 120-acre plot of land in Mendocino County to start his own pot farm, I was an old hand. I knew the drill. (He’s dead now, and all of the ex-partners from that venture have moved on, so I can talk about it without fear of being hunted down)
And in my teenage years, when my mother would call me into her room to drunkenly lament how our father, or uncle Steve, or Cincinnati Jim, or whoever had let her down: I would hope that this was only my secret, and that my brother wouldn’t have to shoulder this burden once I went to college.
When I met my wife, we both agreed that we didn’t want to repeat the mistakes of our divorced parents. We committed to do all of the things right that they had so gloriously done wrong. We have an 8-year old son, and he couldn’t keep a secret to save his life.
Being a 40-something who grew up listening to hip-hop and rap isn’t easy. Most of the (c)rap that passes for hip-hop today sucks. And when you do find something incredible, it was performed by someone who was born the year you graduated college and seemingly speaks a foreign language.
Azealia Banks’ single, “212” is incredible. And completely unintelligible for anyone over 40. What follows is a translation of “212” written by a 40-something for 40-somethings. If you were born after 1980 you don’t need to read this, and in fact you should be out having fun doing all of the things I wish I could: like seeing a movie without getting a babysitter. Seriously, enjoy life while you can: soon you will be old too.
Translation for Old People
[Holy shit, what is this?]
Hey I can be the answer
If you don’t understand the first stanza, this translation is for you. And you are old
I’m ready to dance when the vamp up
I am prepared to dance once the hook is established
And when I hit that dip, get your camera
When I do dance, be prepared to take pictures. Of course I mean digital pictures, since film is for dinosaurs. Like you.
You could see I been that bitch since the Pamper
Note that I have been extremely talented since I was but a baby (Around when you were in your 20s).
And that I am that young sis, the beacon
Also note that I am now a young, attractive woman
The bitch who wants to compete and
An extremely confident young woman who desires her shot
I could freak a ‘fit, that pump with the peep and
If I chose to I could look extremely desirable in a more typically feminine pair of high-heeled shoes with open toes
You know what your bitch become when her weave in
Much like the woman in your life does when she dresses well
I just wanna sip that punch with your peeps and
My desires are simple: I’d like to have a drink with your friends;
Sit in that lunch if you’re treating
Join you for lunch, should you be willing to purchase it
Kick it with your bitch who come from Parisian
Hang out with your girlfriend from Paris
She know where I get mine from, and the season
Who not only recognizes the labels of the clothes I wear, she can also tell what time of year I bought them
Now she wanna lick my plum in the evening
By nightfall she will be so smitten with me that she wants to perform cunnilingus upon me
And fit that ton-tongue d-deep in
Like those pornos you “never watch”
I guess that cunt getting eaten
I am so confident/carefree with my sexuality that I will carelessly allow your woman to go down on me
I guess that cunt getting eaten
Although the sheer repetition of this line
I guess that cunt getting eaten
Will certainly make you think
I guess that cunt getting eaten
That maybe I will also go down on her
[Wow, that was cool! She’s dirty. Wait, where is this going?]
I was in the 212
I was in the Manhattan borough of New York City
On the uptown A, nigga you know what’s up or don’t you
Riding the A train towards Harlem, surely you know which direction the trains run in New York
Word to who made you
I pay respect to my elders, specifically your mother
I’m a rude bitch, nigga, what are you made up of?
I am also exceptionally “street”, a quality I believe you lack
I’m-a eat your food up, boo
I will take that which is yours, starting with your bare necessities
I could bust your eight, I’m-a do one too, fuck ya gon’ do?
I will either: 1) Open your 8-ball of cocaine and snort it all, or 2) I will render your 8-line battle rap useless with my 8-line battle rap. Either way, you are impotent before me
I want you to make bucks, I’m a look-right nigga, bet you do want to fuck
I believe there is room in this market for the both of us. I being a pretty woman, and you a man who would obviously like to have sex
Fuck him like you do want to cum
But I am so much better than you, your only hope is to sleep your way to the top. With other men.
You’re gay to get discovered in my two-one-deuce
You have forsaken your sexuality in an effort to make it in New york
Cock-a-licking in the water by the blue bayou
It all started when you began giving blowjobs to producers in New Orleans
Caught the warm goo in your doo-rag too son
But even that you suck at, as you let them ejaculate on your headwear.
Nigga you’re a Kool-Aid dude
Now you lack street credibility and will follow anyone
With your doo-doo crew son, fuck are you into, huh?
Do you have any idea how far you and your friends are in over your heads?
Niggas better oooh-run-run
You should all leave town: melodically and quickly.
You could get shot, homie, if you do want to
Only bad will become of
Put your guns up, tell your crew don’t front
You and your friends pretending to be gangsters
I’m a hoodlum nigga, you know you were too once
I am willing to do anything to succeed, a position you were in before (her intended target has changed to another female rapper)
Bitch I’m ’bout to blew up too
Now I am on the verge of obtaining complete success as well
I’m the one today, I’m the new shit, boo, young Rapunzel
My fresh style and long hair make me more relevant today than you
Who are you bitch? New lunch
For what are you really but fodder for my rhymes?
I’m-a ruin you, cunt
I will steal your market share and your fans
I’m-a ruin you, cunt
Because I am more worldly than you
I’m-a ruin you, cunt
Evidenced by my British use of the word “cunt”
I’m-a ruin you, cunt
Which I obviously learned while in London
[The part of the song you will (try) to sing around the office tomorrow. It is also addressed to herself]
Ayo, I heard you’re riding with the same tall, tall tale
Hello, word is you continue to represent yourself with familiar fictions
Telling them you made some
Boasting to the world that are successful
Saying you’re grinding but you ain’t going nowhere
And claiming to be hard-working, yet you are unsuccessful
Why you procrastinate girl
Stop wasting time
You got a lot, but you just waste all yours and
You are talented, but allow said talent to go to waste
They’ll forget your name soon
Stardom is fleeting
And won’t nobody be to blame but yourself yeah
And you are the only one holding you back
[Wait, what? I liked the melodic part! I don’t understand this screaming]
What you gon’ do when I appear
I am looking forward to seeing what happens to you
W-when-when I premiere
When my album is released
Bitch, the end of your lives are near
The date of which shall signal the end of your career
This shit been mine, mine
As my hostile takeover of your fanbase and market share is so assured I refer to it in the past tense
[I’m lost, but I still like it]
Bitch, I’m in the 212
Lest the bridge has made you think I’ve gone soft, I will remind you that I still lack respect for you. I remain in Manhattan
With the fifth cocked nigga, it’s the two-one-zoo
Where I carry a loaded and cocked handgun, because it is a wild and crazy town
Fuck you gon’ do, when your goon sprayed up
You may think this is all fiction, but I sincerely question your ability to respond well to one of your friends getting shot
Bet his bitch won’t get him, betcha you won’t do much
Because you are lame, by extension so are your friends and their girlfriends. Whoever shoots one of your crew need not fear retaliation from anyone, especially you.
See, even if you do want to bust
Should you actually have the courage to fire your weapons outside of a shooting range
Your bitch’ll get you cut and touch you crew up too, Pop
Everyone in your life will come to harm, Old Man
You’re playing with your butter like your boo won’t chew
You are so pathetic that your woman refuses to please you forcing you to please yourself
Cock the gun, too — where you do eat poon, hon?
You’re impotent even with a loaded weapon, and you perform unrequited cunnilingus upon your woman
I’m fucking with you, cutie-q
Oh, have I hurt your feelings? I’m just pushing your buttons. I still want you to buy my albums
What’s your dick like homie, what are you into, what’s the run, dude
So let me flirt with you just enough to make you feel manly: Are you well endowed? What acts will you perform on me? What can you tell me about what’s going on?
Where do you wake up?
Do you currently have a girlfriend?
Tell your bitch keep hating, I’m the new one too, huh
Explain to her that she is now your ex-girlfriend.
See, I remember you when you were the young new face
And to all you other rappers out there: I remember when you were “it”
But you do like to slumber, don’t you
Now that you’ve made it, you are coasting on your fame
Originally posted February 19th, 2013, updated w/Stranger Things references
Let’s say you’re a fan of Strangers Things or The Walking Dead visiting Atlanta for a couple of days. And while you’re in town you suddenly decide you’d like to visit the iconic quarry where Eleven kicked ass, or we first met Shane, Lori and Carl. Your timeline is tight, however, and you haven’t planned ahead, so none of the “official” options are open to you.
No worries: this step-by-step guide will lead you to the borders of Bellwood Quarry, and even get a look at the gorgeous setting itself – as long as you are willing to take a few risks. Hey, it’s a zombie apocalypse we’re talking about, who isn’t willing to take a few risks?
Search long enough on Google and you’ll find a Four Square check-in that gives you the GPS coordinates for the quarry. Follow the directions to those coordinates, however, and you’ll find yourself at a large gate with a security camera on the other side looking your way. Getting into the paranoid nature of the assignment, I opted to park where my license plate wouldn’t be on camera.
The park surrounding the quarry is huge, offering more than one approach from more than one street. Find your way to the intersection of Johnson Rd and Rockdale St NW. It’s an industrial neighborhood, so keep your head up, and don’t leave anything visible in your car that you’d like to keep. Make your way on foot Southeast along Rockdale St, past the two abandoned houses on your right. Enjoy the sense of adventure brought on by abandoned houses, a complete lack of traffic and the sense of following in Rick or Glen’s footsteps.
Just past the second abandoned house is an overgrown road leading West (right). The road has been blockaded to prevent dumping of trash, but I didn’t see any “No Trespassing” signs anywhere.
Make your way between the debris into the field beyond. Once you are in the field, stay close to the left (South) edge of the field.
You should be able to easily find a path to follow West along the field. Once you get about midway across the field, start looking down and to your left (South) for a way to cut through these woods. Any Walking Dead fan worth one of Daryl’s crossbow bolts will be able to pick out a path leading South through the trees.
If, however, you have lots of time on your hands and are a total Woodbury pussy, make your way all the way across the field to the dirt road and make a left. The rest of the group will be waiting for you when you grow a pair.
The trees get a little thick, but nothing insanely dense. Once you come out on the far side you’ll see a wide open field with a barb-wire fence making a perimeter around Bellwood Quarry. Resist the urge to head straight for the South side, and instead following the road towards the North end of the quarry.
Here at the North end you’ll find a gate that would offer the easiest way over the fence and into the quarry, if you were willing to break the law. My lawyers have requested that I point out that the City of Atlanta has Bellwood Quarry fenced off for good reason, and anyone foolish enough to put their life at risk by climbing over an obvious fence to stand on the edge of a cliff does so at their own risk.
In all seriousness, if you do decide to get a closer look at the quarry, stay the fuck back from the edge.
What looks like a gentle hillside past that initial stand of conifer trees is actually a cliff, waiting to break your legs and make you feel stupid, possibly even dead.
But if you do hop the fence, you’ll be rewarded with your first views of the quarry. And your first real flirtation with danger.
On the outside of the fence, make your way South clock-wise, past the warning-laden security gate. That whole thing about closed-circuit cameras is no lie, as you’ll see soon enough. Continue South along the fence, picking up the trail leading around the perimeter. Note the large pole with 3 security cameras and a solar panel. If you want to touch the bottom of the quarry, you have to make it past this contraption. I didn’t have time.
I wanted The Photo of Atlanta’s skyline as seen in so many shots from season one. So I kept going around the Southern border of the quarry until I was just about at the large power plant, and snapped this photo:
Make your way counter-clockwise until you come to a large gate. If you were going to try and get a look at the Southern end of the quarry, this gate would give you your best shot to climb over. Should you decide to break the law and put your life at risk, you’d do well to follow the path inside the fence for about 75 feet until you come to the 2 concrete traffic barriers.
This is as good a view as you are going to get. It is also as dangerous as it gets in here. Just a few feet past those concrete barriers is a sheer cliff, dropping 70 feet to the road below. From the road, it looks to be another 120 feet to the water. Get your photos, but don’t be a hero and try to get the “look how sheer this cliff is!” photo.
Now that you’ve tasted the view of the quarry from the lip, maybe you’re hankerin’ for a closer look. Maybe you’re even feelin’ froggy enough to try and make your way past the security cameras and down to the water. I went totally Dale at this point, and climbed back over the fence and made my way back to my rental car. If you do decide to make a run for the bottom of the quarry, do me a favor and send me a photo. I’d love to see it, and will post it here.
Reader submitted photos:
Macey B visited the quarry in 2016, and submitted these photos of her adventure:
Football was my first love in the sporting world. I was introduced to rooting for the 49ers in 1981, when I was in 6th grade. Like so many 49ers fans that season, I was treated to a storybook season that made me a lifelong fan of the game and the team.
Social issues weren’t part of the fabric of sports at the time, or I was very shielded from them. The focus was never on the culture of the game or the locker room, just on the performance of the team. It was a blissful ignorance.
Colorful characters made for good press, of course. Gene “Hacksaw” Reynolds, so named because he purportedly used a hacksaw to cut a Jeep in half. Ronnie Lott, who cut off a digit so he could play in an important game. But their stance on civil rights issues was never a measure of their character.
As I got older, I would become intimately more familiar with the macho culture surrounding the game. My high school football team locker room was a treacherous place to be anything but part of the herd, and the herd was not accepting. Hazing took place frequently, and it was hard to stand up for yourself, let alone anyone else.
Freshmen were forced to compete in head-butting competitions with upper classmen. Two guys in full pads would line up in 3 point stances 15 yards apart, and then charge headfirst at each other, full speed, until you either proved your worth or “had your bell rung”. It was stupid. And dangerous. And the coaches looked the other way.
I didn’t play football in college, but I had my share of run-ins with the UC Berkeley team between 1987 and 1991. One red shirt defensive lineman in the stands near me didn’t like the fact that I was lamenting how badly we got our asses kicked in the big game in 1987, and hit me in the face. Forget the fact that I was a fellow Cal student, or that it was assault.
One night, a Samoan guard was on the verge of beating up some poor kid 200 pounds his junior outside of my favorite bar. When I pointed out what an unfair fight it was, he turned on me, picking me off of the ground by my throat and shoving me against the wall.
“Oh yeah,” I gasped, “this is much more fair.”
Football is a game of violent poetry, played by men who are often sheltered from personal responsibility by authority figures with a vested interest in their on-field success. By the time a player reaches the professional ranks, he has at least a decade of validation for who he is – bigot or otherwise.
So how can I root for them? How can I support their product? How can I encourage my son to become a fan of the game, knowing what I now do?
I’ve been wrestling with this question all season, as my 7 year old son becomes more aware of the nature of the game. But it was brought into more poignant focus the week of SuperBowl XLVII when 49er safety Chris Culliver revealed what a sheltered life he has led by espousing horrifically homophobic statements.
I don’t have any easier answers. I love sport, and I love their sport specifically. I believe that the positives of participating in and rooting for sports outweigh the negatives.
The culture of sport isn’t going to change overnight, and it certainly isn’t going to change as long as we as fans continue to support The Product.
But how many products do you support that are made in questionable ways, or by less than stellar humans? Do you shop at Wal Mart? Do you buy products produced in sweatshops or inhumane factory conditions? Is there a difference?
Something to ponder as you watch the SuperBowl on your made-in-China TV, tweeting on your iPhone this Sunday.
Christmas, 1980. I was 11 years old, roller skating in a park in Miami, and I happened upon a kid about the same age as as me captivating two of his friends. He was regaling them with a tale of prowess, bad dinners, and stealing SuperMan’s girlfriend, and he was doing so with a lyrical style I’d never heard before. I, too was captivated, and tried as hard as I could to listen in without looking like I cared.
Eventually I had to move on (one can only skate back and forth along the same 15 feet of sidewalk before you start to become obvious, after all) but the singing I’d just heard was imbedded well within my brain. That night, as we were decorating our Christmas tree, the song that kid in the park had been singing came on the radio. My dad went to change the station, and I pleaded for him to leave it on. It was the full-length version of the Rapper’s Delight, all 15 minutes of it.
My dad only lasted 7.
I had for the very first time discovered a music that the adults around me didn’t like. I had something that was mine. However, It wasn’t the taboo that was attractive; I was absolutely taken with the music, the lyrical style, the stories these guys told. I also lived in a small town in Northern California, and when I returned home from visiting my dad for Christmas, it would be a long time before I heard any of that music again.
I had almost forgotten about it by 1983, but when Run DMC released their first album, Run DMC I was immediately drawn back in. Rap, as I would learn it was called, changed my world. Rap resonated deeply within my soul, and made me want to dance. Rap brought with it an energy that didn’t exist for me anywhere else, and Run DMC spoke a language I understood. The stories they told applauded chivalry, underscored the importance of education, and gave hope to powerlessness.
I learned every lyric, and knew each and every part by heart. Some songs I’d do just Run. others DMC. Sometimes I’d bounce back and forth, playing both parts and running out of breath faster than a smoker in a marathon. More than anything, I loved the creativity of the man behind the turntables. I knew every scratch on that record by heart. The moves I made to imitate the scratching may have been wrong, but the timing and intent were always right on.
To this day, Jam Master Jay is my favorite track on that album. I was blown away by Jay’s creativity, his musical sense of humor, and his incredible skills. I was a trainspotter long before I knew what it was called. I would constantly be amused and enthralled by Jay’s use of self-referentiation on subsequent Run DMC albums. Jay always made it fresh for newcomers, but rewarded the faithful with samples off of past Run DMC records. His sense of humor and skills set him as one of the all-time greatest Dj’s to ever put the needle on the record.
Jay pioneered Dj’ing into the mainstream, taking the art-form to places no-one else had ever been able to before. He merged rock and rap for all the world to see, sending Run DMC to new heights and reviving Aerosmith’s career at the same drop of a needle. He set the standard for Dj involvement, respectability, and commitment. He gave back to his community, and fought hard for the right to do so.
More than anything, he made me want to be a Dj.
Peace, Jay. The lives you changed continue to change more lives, and the wheel keeps coming ’round.
I got the call at 12:40pm on Sunday. It was my cousin Tessa, who I hadn’t seen in years. She was looking for her brother Justin, who had spent the night at my house.
“Is Justin there?”
“No, Tessa, he left about 10 minutes ago to head down to meet you, with parking and everything, he should be at your hotel in about 15 minutes.”
“Damn. I’ve been trying to reach him since yesterday, and I just checked my messages and got his message that he was staying with you. Do you like basketball?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I like basketball!” I was trying not to sound too enthusiastic. Tessa was staying in the St. Francis Westin Hotel as a guest of the NBA, Justin was on his way to meet her to sit courtside at the NBA All Star game. I’d been preparing to test my new disc golf rain gear out against one of the nastiest storms to hit the Bay Area in years when the phone rang. Now I was holding my breath.
“Well, it turns out I have an extra ticket for the game. You want to come?”
And like that, I was on my way to the All Star Game.
As I walked into the lobby of the St. Francis I could tell that I was quite suddenly immersed in an “event.” Security guards hustled to and fro. There were checkpoints waiting around every corner. There was nothing but beautiful people, every direction I looked in. As I rounded the corner towards the elevators I spotted a group of young boys with pens and basketballs, waiting for their opportunity to capture a small piece of their heroes. The atmosphere was loud, busy, and hurried. Everyone was on their way to the game. So was I. For once in my life, I was in.
I smiled and got on an elevator going up. I didn’t bother to check the directions in my pocket, and headed straight to room 708. No answer on the door. The woman cleaning 709 informed me that she’d just finished up with 708, and they were long gone. For just a moment I panicked, the sensation of inclusion rapidly fading. I gathered my wits about me, and in a flash of brilliance decided to consult the directions. Aha! Room 703, I’d closed the loops on the 3 in my memory. A single knock on the door, and suddenly I was in again.
The last time I saw Tessa she was 9 years old. Now she was 16, with all of the hip and swagger of a teenager who is confident and comfortable with life; and a backstage pass to the NBA All Star weekend to boot. Tessa and her friend Nadia co-founded ClubActive –a service club at their high school-and applied to NBA TeamUp for a grant to help fund their efforts. They wound up getting more than just a $2,000 grant: they wound up getting back-stage passes, ring-side seats, and first-class treatment for the entire NBA All Star Weekend.
As Tessa donned her NBA All Star 2000 sweatshirt and slung her NBA All Star bag over her shoulder she started telling me about all of the things and people she’d seen over the weekend. She sat next to Vince Carter’s parents during the Slam Dunk competition. She met Magic at a party on Friday night. She laughed, and said that her 15 minutes were rapidly expiring, but that she was having the time of her life.
In the lobby I smiled as Rebecca Lobos walked by. She was taller in person than I ever imagined, but not as beautiful as she looks on T.V.
In the van on the way over the Bay Bridge, Tessa and Michal told us all about the weekend they were having. Michal complained of how corporate the whole All Star weekend had been so far. How the NBA was driving regular fans out with the high price of tickets and the vast numbers of tickets reserved for suits. “When Vince Carter slammed that first dunk home yesterday, hardly anyone stood up and cheered,” she said. In my head I admired the work that NBC had done with the microphones to beef up the sound of the crowd.
Tessa told me that the ticket she had for me was a last-minute addition, and that I was sitting by myself, “way up top.” As our van driver wound his way through the crowd of people trying to make their way through the rain to the coliseum I noted that even the shitty seats for the NBA All Star game cost $150.00. As I jumped one puddle and jogged three paces to the awning of the VIP entrance to the Oakland Coliseum I jibed myself for wearing my rain gear. There are no turnstiles at the VIP entrance, just nice carpets to wipe your feet off on. As we made our way to the elevators I couldn’t help but notice Magic Johnson talking to some VIP staff behind a satin rope. I wanted to shake his hand and tell him I infinitely respected all of the work he’s done to educate the athletic world to the realities of AIDS. Short, white, and wearing corderoy pants, I suddenly felt very much the outsider again.
Tessa, Justin and I split up, and I headed for my seat: Section 217 Row 6 Seat 1. Upper deck. I wasn’t going to complain. After all, if it wasn’t for Tessa, at that very moment I would have been out in the rain with Tolstoy, playing disc golf. I headed for the bathroom, then bought a Sprite and a hot dog. As I was heading through the tunnel back to my seat I spotted Coolio heading through the tunnel ahead of me. I acted calm, and gave him the most subtle eyebrow raise and head-nod in my repertoire. It seemed to do the trick, as he subtly flexed his left eyebrow and headed up the stairs. Not only was I in, I thought to myself, but I was in with Coolio!
As Coolio walked up the stairs to his seat, a youth on the aisle held out his hand for a shake. Coolio smoothly gave him five and headed down my row of seats. The kid grinned ear to ear and made sure his friend had a)Just seen what happened, and b)Completely recognized who that was. His witness firmly in his back pocket, the kid went back to grinning like a madman.
I gave Coolio and his two-man posse the casual once-over as one of his homies jumped on his cell and began harranging who I assumed must be Coolio’s assistant or agent or somethan’. “Look up towards the motherfucking roof,” he said. “OK, now look towards the…where you sittin’? Oh, fuck. OK, I’m standing up now(he was). Yeah. Right. 217. Fucking nosebleed. Well git your ass up here and help us out then.” He hung up and sat down. Throughout it, Coolio looked too cool to be bothered. He unzipped his leather All-Star jacket and propped his brand-new contruction boots up on the seat in front of him.
I sipped my Sprite and tried to focus on the game down on the floor. A few minutes later an incredibly beautiful young black woman, dressed very well and smelling wonderfully, squeezed her way past me apologetically. “Here are your tickets to the after party,” she said to Coolio and the boyz as she handed over a plastic baggie. “I’ll see you guys there.”
As she turned to make her way out Coolio spoke up, “How about some better seats?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” she cooed as she ducked around the corner and down the tunnel.
Ha! It suddenly dawned on me: Coolio was fucked, just like me. He knew He had friends down at floor level, and yet he was stuck in the rafters with me. I repressed a giggle, and made sure not to look his way as I began making up my own versions of rap songs:
“1, 2, 3, 4, Coolio’s stuck up far from the floor Can’t even really see the damn referee…”
“Come along and sit up by the Rafters High, high, up in the sky, if you hop the rail you fall and die…”
The game was wonderful to watch, the ideal NBA game to see in person. With nothing riding on the line, and no real game-plan in place, the “best athletes in the world” were free to showboat with everything they had. The game was like an endless highlight reel –even the misses were amazing. Stuart Scott and Kenny Maine spent the afternoon in the back of my head, calling plays in real-time. When Shaq grabbed a rebound and raced the length of the floor to finish with a slam, I found myself chanting, “He! Could! Go! All! The! Way!”
At half time we were treated to the vocal stylings of 90 Degrees, Mary J. Blige, some woman who’s name I forget, and L.L. Cool J. I have to give props to David Stern and the NBA: they have created an entertainment extravaganza. As the huge satin curtains fell to the floor to reveal 90 Degrees I was struck by the beauty and execution of the opening to the show. By the time the curtains hit the ground, however, I was wishing that each one of the singers would somehow achieve 1,000 degrees in a pyrotechnic fireworks of spontaneous combustion.
No such luck. But they did only sing one song, which I remain eternally thankful for. In the realm of halftime shows, there is never room for more than one quick number.
Mary J. Blige was amazing. That’s all I’m gonna say. Oh, that, and I almost cried.
The next woman was, frankly, non descript. I couldn’t tell you how she Was dressed (but Mary J. had on this incredibly colorful pant/jacket/hat combination that enabled me to spot her for the rest of the game), what type of music she sang (I remember thinking “country western? really? no!) or what kind of hairstyle she had. But I do remember that she ended her number standing triumphantly, surrounded by all of the NBA All Star Dancers in various poses bending over, on their knees, or lying on the floor, and I thought to myself, “God, I’d fuck each and every one of them. Even the men!”
She exited the stage, and me and the rest of the crowd got pumped up for L.L. As he hit the floor and encouraged everyone to get up on their feet, I casually declined. I didn’t want Coolio thinking I was frontin’ on him, after all. As L.L. barked into his microphone, ranting about peace and fly honies on his jock, I marvelled at how big L.L. has gotten since he first came on the scene. I remember when L.L. was a 130-pound stick, ranting about how loud he liked his radio. Now he looks to be all of 230 pounds, the vast majority of it muscle. Over 16 years, L.L.’s been on the scene. What staying power.
I couldn’t help but wonder what Coolio thought of L.L. and the spectacle; if he felt any jealousy, trapped on the upper deck with a career in limbo while L.L. flirted with all of the dancers on the floor. As the fireworks exploded, showering the floor with sparks and the confetti rained down from the ceiling I stole a glance at Coolio, to see how he was reacting. Feet keeping time up on the chair in front of him, shoulders firmly pressed back in his chair, Coolio was taking in the spectacle like the rest of us: eyes wide open, and mouth partially agape.
Wanting to blend, I took his lead and directed my attention to the floor.
There’s nothing like a death in the family to put things into perspective for you. My grandmother was a Cuban farm girl. She swore someday she would rise above her upbringing, and become part of the class that made things happen on the island. I was never able to get the full story of how she met my grandfather, but I know that early on they were very much in love.
My brother has pictures of the two of them tearing around Havana on a Harley Davidson in 1937, and they look like they are having so much fun together. They built a wonderful life together, successful at business and at home. When Castro took over, my family was forced to flee the island, leaving behind all but what they could carry. They rebuilt, but Abuela never forgave the world for what it took from her with that revolution.
Somewhere along the lines, she picked up cigarettes, and she never gave them up. In the final week of her life, she made a choice between facing a potentially debilitating stroke down the road and the risks of open heart surgery. She was doing fine after the quintuple bypass, telling nurses what to do, ordering people around. Just like old times. Then five days into recovery, a slight tear in her aorta revealed itself, and she died.
Cuban Catholics do funerals in a big way, and Abuela would have hers no other way. Open casket viewing from 2pm – 11pm on Sunday, Funeral on Monday, all of it was a bit overwhelming after a redeye that left San Francisco at midnight on Valentine’s Day. During the viewing, I was amazed at how still she kept, throughout everything. I kept walking into the room, and finding myself surprised that she hadn’t budged. People move, after all. When I finally worked up the courage to touch my grandmother one last time, I understood. It sunk in.
You can temporalize death all you want, but touching it, when it’s had its hair dyed, make-up done, and has been sitting under an airconditioning vent for 24 hours: that will straighten things up for you.
onday, September 3rd 2012 was Star Wars Day at AT&T Park. After showing up in only Star Wars t-shirts the year before, in 2012 we were well prepared. We opted to ride MUNI to the ballpark, since it would eliminate parking and be totally fun to be out and about in costume.
The train ride was as fun as you’d expect, on the way to a Giants’ day game on Labor Day. As more people got on the train our son became a bigger and bigger celebrity. Of course, we never took the masks off, either.
Our son managed to get in on every photo, all day long.
Possibly best of all, our son was chosen to be the Junior Announcer for the first three SF batters to come to the plate in the bottom of the 3rd inning. Too bad he couldn’t do it with his Darth SFader helmet on…
Of course it came down to Buster Posey hitting the game-tying double in the bottom of the 9th. And we had just the sign ready to go…
This year’s Star Wars day was unbelievable! We had a blast in our costumes. Ryder got to be the Jr Announcer, and the Giants came back in the bottom of the 9th to send the game to extras where Scutaro won it in the 10th.
We’re already looking forward to Star Wars Day at AT&T Park in 2013. It will be hard to top this year’s amazing experience, but then again the force will be with us. Always.