Friday, January 27, 2012

Life's "Special Moments", episode 2

To read episode 1, click here

Episode 2:  "Burn, Baby, Burn!"

   One of the more interesting things about Baltimore is the sometimes stark juxtapositioning of its neighborhoods. Some of its classier neighborhoods are known to run right up against some of its more dangerous. Crossing a major thoroughfare in the city sometimes seems like crossing a border into another country.

  Back in 2004 I was living in an old brownstone subdivided into apartments in the Marble Hill neighborhood, a historic community on the westside known at one time as one the earliest and most prominent communities for middle-class Blacks. By 2004, however, it had fallen on some hard times. There were well-preserved homes, such as the one where I lived, side-by-side with abandoned and boarded up ones (complete with the sort of element those houses attracted). If you walked a couple of blocks south of Marble Hill, you ran smack into the McCulloh Homes housing project, which is historic only in its inspiration for the TV series "The Wire", as stronghold of the infamous Barksdale drug distribution ring (there were days when the whole area was blocked off for the shooting of an episode of the series).

   If you were to leave my apartment, walk to the end of the block, cross McCulloh Street and walk another block, you would suddenly enter what seemed like another world: the even more historical - and unquestionably better preserved - neighborhood of Bolton Hill, which is one of the jewels of inner city Baltimore, and a fully yuppified-to-upper crusty center of culture and history in the near-downtown Baltimore area. The contrast to Marble Hill, and especially to the McCulloh Homes projects and the Upton neighborhood next to it couldn't possibly be more stark.

   As alarming as those differences between these bordering communities were, and as sad -even tragic- the differences in the plights of the people residing there, Bolton Hill is one of my favorite places to visit, just to walk or drive around and take in the history, the architecture, the beauty of it all. I would often walk or jog through Bolton Hill to admire the scenery, and every day I would drive through the area to go to and from work, even though there were faster routes to the job.  Something about driving through Bolton Hill just always put me in a good frame of mind. Until...

   One Friday afternoon, on a beautiful spring day, I was driving home in my 1992 Grand Am, windows down, music blasting, contemplating what I was going to do that weekend. As I exited off of I-83 and got ready to make my sceninc drive through Bolton Hill, the car started to sputter. It had been acting a little funny the previous days, so I figured I would get up early and take it to the shop to have it checked out, and I'd still have the rest of the weekend to enjoy. But as I turned onto Lafayette Avenue to begin my drive through Bolton Hill, the car's sputtering turned to rather pronounced jerking, following by the car stalling out altogether. Terrific. Me and this old car are really going to be a sight in this neighborhood.

   I put the car in park, and popped the hood (not that I had a clue as to what I was going to be looking at or for), and as I got to the front of the car and went to raise the hood, I could see there was smoke coming from the engine. Oh it just gets better. Then as I stood there cursing my bad luck, just like that, the luck got even worse...

  "Oh shit, FIRE!" yelled the guy crossing the street at the exact same time I was thinking it. "I'll be right back he said, as he ran into his house to - I presumed - grab a fire extinguisher or something. Instead he came back with a camera. Others joined him in taking pictures or just marveling at the sight of a car engine burning, until someone finally asked if I had called 911, which in my shock I had not.

   Within a few minutes, the fire and police departments were there almost simultaneously. I had never seen such quick response in all my life (I guess living in Bolton Hill has its privileges). The fire crew quickly soaked the car and drenched the flames. Then one of the firemen approached me and asked me to see if I could start the car and maybe move it to the curb. Seemed like a ridiculous request, but in my state of semi-shock, I trudged over to the driver's side, opened the door, got in, and - forgetting that the windows had been down - sat in a gigantic puddle of water in the driver's seat.

   Of course the car didn't start, so now all I had to show for that effort was a wet ass. I got out of the car, and the police officers approached me and said that if I didn't have a number for a tow truck, that they would call one to take the car to the city lot, and then I could make arrangements later to get it from there. I didn't, and so they did. While waiting for the tow truck, I went started taking some belongings out of the car: three bowling balls in a bag with wheels, a few books and some other assorted odds and ends. A gentleman who lived one of the houses in the block gave me a trash bag to throw the stuff in. A young woman with a toddler in tow asked if I was hungry, then disappeared into her house, returning with some animal crackers and a juice box. So next thing you know, I was standing on the corner, big wet spot on the back of my khakis, with a garbage bag and bowling ball bag beside me, eating animal crackers and sipping from a juice box...

   Finally, the tow truck arrived, the driver got my info, and hooked up the car. He and the cops drove off their separate ways, and the neighbors returned to their houses, without anyone so much as offering me a ride. No big deal, I thought, I'm only about 4 or 5 blocks from home. And then...I felt a drop of rain...and then another, and then a few more. Oh boy, better get a move on!

   So I slung the garbage bag full of my belongings over one shoulder, grabbed the handle of the bowling ball roller bag with the other hand, and started trudging my squishy drawers wearing self home. After about a block or two I didn't have to worry about the embarassment of having a big wet spot on my behind, because it was now raining so hard that ALL of me was soaked.  So I kept it moving as fast as I could, although one can only move so fast in the pouring rain dragging almost 50 pounds of bowling balls and a Hefty Bag filled with a collection of crap I could have taken from Fred G. Sanford's junkyard... I can only imagine the thoughts of the drivers who drove past me, more often than not splashing water on me as they sped on...ahhhh, good times...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Workplace Drama - "The Dog and Pony Show"

   The company I work for is a multi-national corporation which, while it may not be that well known in the States, it's a big player overseas. Twice a year, the big-shots from the various business divisions globally convene for a week-long series of manager's meetings.This latest round of meetings is being hosted this week here in Baltimore.

   As I've mentioned before in this blog, I work in Research and Development, working on projects in inorganic chemistry and metallurgy. It's not a suit and tie job. It's hard core chemistry; it can be messy sometimes, and while we do a decent job of trying to keep things clean, things are not going to be anywhere near spotless as long as we are actually working. Since a lot of the upper management types who attend these manager's meetings started off as chemists or chemical engineers, they are well aware (or should be) of this fact. However, this didn't stop our bosses from wanting to shut down our labs Friday to clean everything top to bottom, hide away any equipment that didn't look shiny and new, and stash samples of materials being worked on in with our chemical inventory, and then stand around dressed all neat and pretty with our hands in our pockets when the managers were due to tour the place. I've always hated these dog and pony shows that put lab workers in a false light. We do hard core chemistry; it's not a sterile environment, messes will be made. That's the reality of the job, why try to pretend otherwise?

  So, as scheduled, the big wigs showed up to take a tour. The big wig we were most panicky and frazzled about was the head of Global Research (a chemical engineer by training) who decides on our budget and our employment status, led the pack of managers as he was shown our main lab. And as he stopped and surveyed the quiet, squeaky clean and polished surroundings, the first thing out of his mouth was, "Wow, it's so clean here, I was hoping to see some action. Isn't anybody doing any work today?" Sigh...maybe he'll come back tomorrow and see some WORK and not a PERFOMANCE...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Baltimorons, 2nd Edition

So I'm riding the bus on the way to work this morning when I (and everyone else on the bus) overheard the following exchange:

"Hey, girl, where you been?"
"Oh, hey, Auntie, I was locked up for a minute."
"What? I ain't know that, what happened?"
"Well this b____ got up in my face about some bullshit, and I ain't take my medication that day, so the voices in my head told me to slap the shit outta her..."
"Oh damn!"
"Then when I went to court, it looked like things were going alright for me, but then my voices started talking to me again right when the judge was saying some shit. So I said, 'shut the fuck up!', and the judge thought I was talking to him, and he locked me up."

(cue the muffled sounds of everyone suppressing their laughter)

"So where you going to now?"
"I gotta go back to court about some other dumb shit this other b____ got me caught up in."
"Something your voices told you to do?"

(now the laughter come out unsuppressed)

"Ah fuck you! fuck all y'all, that shit ain't funny! (pause) So where YOU going?"
"I gotta go pick up my granddaughter from Burger King."
"Burger King? What the hell she doing at Burger King?"
"My stupid ass daughter took the baby down to Burger King and left him there with her father."
"What you mean that was a dropoff spot?"
"Hell no, he was WORKING!"
"What she think he was supposed was to with her while he was working/"
"How the fuck I know? I swear, my daughter is just plain DUMB! And she wonder why she ain't been gettin' no child support. Nigga just finally got a job, and she gon' try to mess it up by dropping the baby off there and leaving to go do whatever the fuck she went to do. I swear, your cousin is STUPID HO!"
"Shit, she ain't none-a my family, I ain't claiming her (laughing)"
"Oh, please, don't be acting like your crazy ass better than nobody, with you going back to court again."

Finally, after some back and forth bickering, the bus approached the courthouse, and the pair rose to get off.

"Good luck in court."
"Yeah, thanks, lemme see what lies this ghetto b____ gonna tell. Have fun with the baby."
"Shit, wait'll I get my hands on my dumb ass daughter."

And together the pair exited the bus, the voices-hearing miscreant wearing a stocking cap, hoodie, and some raggedy jeans as she headed to court, the loving grandma wearing a parka over her pajamas as she trudged off to pick up her grandchild and save her daughter's babydaddy from further risking his new-found career...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Conversations I've Overheard, 4th Edition

So I'm walking down the street and walking alongside me was a young lady talking (loudly) on her cell phone:

"He said WHAT???"

(pause while listening)

"Oh HELL NO! Just wait 'til I catch up with him; Imma be in his butt like a colonoscopy!"

Yikes...I sure wouldn't want to be that guy...ol' gurl was about to perform that procedure with no sedation and definitely no bedside manner...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Way We Say the Things We Say..."SHIT" - the Ultimate Basis for Comparison

So I was out and about one evening, and I overheard a guy saying, "man, it's cold as shit out here!"
My first thought was If your shit's coming out cold, brother, you've got some serious problems...
My second thought was to think about how much people use "shit" as a basis for comparison:
  • In the winter time, it's "cold as shit"; it the summer, it's "hot as shit"
  • You ate a really nice meal: "wooo, that was good as shit!"
  • You had a little too much to drink: "I was drunk as shit!"
  • You watched a comedian you like: "Man, he was funny as shit!"
  • Talking about someone who's not too bright: "He dumb as shit!"
  • You just got finished taking a test: "Whew, that was hard as shit!"
  • Describing someone that's not so attractive: "Dag, she ugly as shit!"
  • Talking about an eccentric associate: "He crazy as shit"
Anyway, you get the idea. No matter how many times I hear something compared to shit, it amuses me. How did this happen? How did we get to comparing stuff to shit? I have no idea, but it fascinates me for some reason...

Well, enough of  this, I'm about to go to bed. It's getting late, and I'm tired as shit...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Conversations I've Overheard, 3rd Edition

This one's not really so much of a conversation as it was hearing two preschool aged kids (a girl and a boy) recite (over and over) the following:

Little Girl: "Alright, alright, alright!"
Little Boy: "You gone' learn today!"

Now if you are a fan of stand-up comedy, you may recognize what the little girl and boy were reciting as signature lines in Kevin Hart's hit comedy tour/movie, "Laugh At My Pain". And if you've actually seen the movie (and judging from how many adults I've heard spitting out the lines in question, I would say a whole lot of you have), you would realize that these might not be the appropriate lines for preschool-aged children to be loudly repeating to any and everyone that passed by them, with the mother just moseying along in complete oblivion (or as that noted statesman Mike Tyson would say, "Bolivian").

The more I crossed paths with these kids and their mother - I was shopping in Target  -and the more I heard them repeat these lines, the more pissed I became. How did they learn this stuff? I wondered. Were they sitting and watching Kevin Hart with their mother/father/grandma? Did they learn it from hearing the adults say it over and over? Surely, at that age, they couldn't have understood the context in which those lines were spoken in Kevin Hart's standup routine, whether or not they actually witnessed it, but still...

Oh well, I guess it could've been worse; at least they weren't yelling "Pineapples!"

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Back to Work

   Well, after being off from work for almost two weeks, I'm baaaack! Although I like my job, I relished having that time off to recharge the batteries, so to speak, and to enjoy myself. And even though doing last minute Christmas shopping was no fun,  and I didn't exactly paint the town red during the time between Christmas and New Year's Day, I was blessed to direct my choirs to a fine Christmas Eve service perfomance; I still, as always, had a fun Christmas day; and my "staycation" the week after Christmas was just what I needed to get mind and body right for 2012.

   That being said, it's good to get out of the house and back into action! My choirs have all got the month of January off, so I'm not rolling into the new year at the same breakneck pace as I reached towards the end of 2011 (although it won't be long before that workload is back upon me). Even better, I'm going into my 5th year at this job, meaning I've got a third week of vacation time to play with  right from the start (a fact which I confirmed with HR shortly after getting settled in this morning). Which means, even though I look forward to a great year at work, I have a little more time to get away from it when it isn't...

The Resolution Will Not Be Televised...

For 2012, I was going to resolve to not procrastinate so much, but I decided to wait till next year to do that...
While that statement may seem humorous, it probably isn't that far off from how people routinely go about making and then breaking the New Year's resolutions. It certainly has been that way for me. In the past, my resolutions have either been (a)these generic, vague, non-specific, too-half-hearted-to-be-considered-resolute dimly breaking through the fog of depression and self-pitying that often hang over me around the arrival of new years and birthday, almost always indicative of the fact that I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life in the coming year and beyond; or (b)some highly-specific (with dates attached) declarations without any thought on how to achieve it, and thus doomed from the start for failure and disappointment (or to just be forgotten long before I ever reached the deadline).

With my past endeavors into this area in mind, I had not intended on making any resolution at all for 2012, until I spotted the following as a friend's facebook status:

Since complicating life is something I do exceedingly well, and since speaking up about what I want and feel is something I barely do at all, then the above is as a good a resolution for me as any. No deadlines attached, no generic platitudes without any specific special meaning to me, just a reminder that although no one gets everything they want, it's very hard to get anything you want if no one but you ever knows about it...

"You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need" 
-The Rolling Stones

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy Birthday to My #2 Grandson

   My lil' homie, my middle grandson, Darius, turned two years old yesterday! Yes, he was a New Year's Eve baby. Actually, he was due before Christmas of 2009. After a week of being overdue, my daughter headed to the hospital with contractions. Fifty-six hours after my daughter arrived at the hospital, Mr. Darius finally made his appearance, at about 3:30 in the morning on New Year's Eve 2009 (just couldn't make things convenient, could you?). Seems like he came out with his head up and eyes wide open and he hasn't missed a trick since!

   Two years later, Mr. Darius is a bundle of energy, a perpetual motion machine, yet one who will during the course of all that movement will some how manage to simultaneously observe and study what is around him while buzzing and bouncing about. He will slow down long enough at times to inspect, poke, pull apart, push buttons on (or study his mother or me doing so), or otherwise investigate various items in the house (who needs toys?) until he figures out how to operate them as well as (or occasionally better than) we can. Mr. Darius is also very particular (and animated) about his likes and (especially) his dislikes. And most of all, Mr. Darius is thoroughly convinced that he runs stuff  up in this camp...and that I am his right-hand man...

   All of this means that when my daughter and Mr. Darius come through the door, there is an immediate one-boy, laughing, screeching stampede to wherever I happen to be (here comes trouble!).
He'll come charging at me full speed ahead, crashing into one of my arthritic knees and wrapping them in an embrace, accompanied by a high-pitched, drawn out "HI!", then just as quickly, he sprouts an extra pair of arms and legs and heads off into what seems like every direction at once as we begin our battle/dance of him turning on / playing with every object in the room that he can get his hands on, while I chase around fussing and smacking his hands (which turns out not to be a particularly effective deterrent for him)and turning the stuff off. If he's in my bedroom, he will invariably pull up a chair to my music keyboard, and sit there awhile playing the keys, and scrolling through the different sounds. I generally allow him to play with the keyboard without interruption (although we frequently battle over control of the volume), mainly to encourage his love of music and wanting to play the instrument, and also out of fascination (jealousy?) that he can navigate his way through all the buttons to find favorite sounds and beats better than I can, and more importantly that he, without any hands on teaching from me, has some pretty good form in his hand position, and even in trying to do stuff like glissandos and arpeggios. How does he know how to do this? Did it come naturally? Did he learn it from watching me? I don't know, but it endlessly fascinates me, and he can't even play a song yet.

   At some point, Mr. Darius will tire of the surroundings of whatever room we're in, and decides he wants to move on to another room. And when Mr. Darius wants to go, that means I'm going too...he really thinks he is running the show; and since I inevitably end up stopping whatever I've been doing (or trying to do) to be led by the hand to the next destination, I guess maybe he is, sort of...A few weeks ago, an interesting thing happened: after grabbing my hand to lead me out of my bedroom to go downstairs, Mr. Darius first led me to everything in the room that was turned on or pulled out and proceeded to either turn it off or put it away. Then he dragged towards the door, stopped at the light switch, and pointed up to it for me to turn off. Ever since then, he's been very insistent on being energy conscious and cleaning up whatever havoc he had brought into a room (a lesson I wish his mother would learn). So it's gratifying to know he's paying attention to what I do...

   Finally, after a few hours of playing musical rooms with Mr. Darius, he (and I) will inevitably start to tire. The countdown to bed time can go one of three ways: 1) he will go into "obnoxious sleepy" mode (you parents of young children know just what I'm talking about), where nothing will console him, and he just has to cry and fight that sleep monster until it takes him out; 2) he will get so tired, he won't either bother with a fight, but just grab a stuffed doll and/or play radio and head straight for his bedroom without resistance; or 3) won't fight sleep, but require entertainment of some sort before dozing off (like reading a book to him).

   When he got sleepy on his birthday night, Mr. Darius led me by the hand into the living room, turned on the TV, then led me over to the switch for the ceiling fan. When I turned it on, he protested until only the fan was running and the light was out. When he was satisfied with that, he pulled me over to the sofa, and after we sat down, he grabbed a pillow and put it against my side, then yanked the afghan off of the back of the sofa and wrapped himself in it as he laid his head on the pillow and snuggled up against me. And while I watched TV, he stared up at the rotating ceiling fan with a sense of calm and fascination...
   Mr. Darius didn't quite make it to midnight to ring the new year in before he drifted off to sleep. After I watched the big ball drop to bring in 2012, I stared up at the fan for a moment, and tried to see what it was that my grandson sees up there that capture his undivided attention and help put him peacefully to sleep. And although I didn't come up with an answer, I set aside for a moment the sometime aggravation of being led about by a toddler all over the house, and forgot for a moment about the two wine glasses he had broken, or about the mess he had made when he climbed onto my bed with a half-eaten frosted cherry Pop Tart in his hand, and instead celebrated the joy and energy Mr. Darius has brought into my life, and said a little prayer that he never loses that sense of fascination and wonder as he grows up in life taking apart his world piece by piece and mastering how it all works. Happy Birthday, Mr. Darius!