As you may or may not be aware, I do a weekly blog for the website Book of Odds. Below is this week’s offering
So, are you gonna get a tattoo for your daughter?
I’ve paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $800 to be written on permanently. I’ve spent what would be the equivalent of a day’s work sitting in various artists’ chairs, smelling that antiseptic aroma you should always smell when getting inked up, listening to the drone of a needle as it etched things I wanted to keep sacred on my skin. I’ve done this to pay homage and now, for the first time, I just feel sort of done with it. You’d think the birth of my first child would be a tattoo no-brainer—especially considering I’m seven deep already—but it’s not.
I always said that I would stop getting tattoos when I had found whatever it is I was looking for. Of the seven I have, more than a few can be attributed to the need to pick myself up out of some mood or other. I like tattoos regardless of mood, but can say honestly that the intent of some of these scrawlings probably falls somewhere in the vicinity of self-mutilation.
I’m loath to say I regret getting any of the tattoos I have; partially because that would be an admission of the knuckleheadery of youth and partly because it’s just not true. I like my tattoos. I’m less thrilled with their placement. Tattoos I can see at any given moment tickle me much less than they used to. When I wanted to make certain kinds of pronouncements to myself and others, they were perfect. But now that the nature of pronouncement has changed, now that I’ve gotten a bit more circumspect with what I offer to the world in the way of personal presentation, a few tattoos just seem out of place. When I reach or stretch or type, I notice my left forearm; I see the appendage of a dude I’m not quite in sync with anymore. Even worse, there are times when I look at other similarly-tattooed people and wonder: What the hell were we thinking?
To give some credence to the knucklehead trope, I can say my theory was half right: Having landed on the path I’m on, I don’t necessarily feel compelled to hit the parlor as I once did. What I didn’t know then is that the person who no longer feels compelled to add to this array would be less-than-pumped about the collection of art on his left forearm.
I’m just a different cat now. I have a few moments where, admittedly, I feel cool and dig my work—don’t let anyone lie to you: the “cool” factor is a lot of the appeal—but increasingly, I feel like the dude holding some other dude’s tattoos until that other guy gets back. Whatever my headspace was previously, my current state of mind doesn’t lend itself to visible tattoos. My shoulders and upper arms? Cool. But as I’ve begun to frown upon opportunities for people who don’t know me like that to know me like that, I’ve begun mulling what to do.
All things considered, the decision seems to fall between three absurd options…
Eddie Effing Money.
Riding back from a weekend of family theatricality, I saw an advertisement in the window of American Apparel that puzzled me. I spent several minutes trying to decipher the deeper meaning of the the window display wedged between the faces and legs of disinterested day-glo hip. The sign read
I was baffled. What exactly is that supposed to mean? They couldn’t just be stating the obvious could they?
If you shop at American Apparel–an American label, proudly manufactured in America–you’re well aware that Halloween falls on the last day of October, right? Read the rest of this entry »
Is there a word that’s a step below regret? Is there a word that is the Episcopal equivalent to sorry’s staunch Catholicism? When I find that word, I’ll be able to succinctly describe my relationship with the people I grew up with in a town about twenty-five minutes from Providence.
In an era when establishing and re-establishing relationships is easier—and more socially acceptable—than not doing it; a time when “friend requests” increasingly lose their value because of the effort they do not require, I find myself in an emotional tango whenever someone from North Kingstown’s name pops into my inbox.
I realize friending is not a big deal. Click “confirm” or don’t and you’re done. I get it. Still, it’s not that simple. Every name is a confrontation, however brief, with the most important location of my youth. My experiences in North Kingstown—the people, the places—were critical to forming the person I am today. There is no Portsmouth without North Kingstown; there is no New Haven without North Kingstown. And yet, try as I might, it is a time and place to which I am legally blind; missing large swaths of memory, only able to grasp at periphery.
How exactly do I know this person again? A good deal of my NK friendings start with this question. A quick perusal of their photos more often than not jogs my memory to the point of Ohhh yeeaah. Then I feel bad it took that long for me to remember. Now, I’m not going to sit here and argue that anyone I meet and spend time with is memorable. I also won’t apologize fore being remembered—being one of the only Black guys in town does have some advantage. But there’s a flip side to this and it goes back to the nature of friending.
While it’s easy to be aloof or noncommittal about the practice, it is equally easy—in fact, easier—to not make the request. However little time it takes is more than the time it doesn’t. Yes; the nature of connection in the digital age may be saccharine and devoid a certain viscera, but it’s an interaction rubric we have created and come to accept. Perhaps the name—“friending”—has become too much of a misnomer; it’s created too much invasion of our virtual space. “Helloing” may be a better way of putting it; a wave or quick hello untrammeled by distance. Nothing more, nothing less. Considered that way, and then in the greater context of the world in which we live—a world where people don’t know their own neighbors much less make eye contact with strangers on the street—helloing/friending is at least a sign that people will still make an effort, however minimal, to acknowledge someone is alive—if not actually have a concern for their welfare. The practice may be somewhat absurd and impersonal, but I’ll be entirely more concerned if and when we discontinue the practice.
But this isn’t a deconstruction of post-modern social interaction—I don’t think. This is about me and North Kingstown. Believe me: I do not look upon my time in NK as utterly idyllic. There are things I didn’t miss when I left and continue not to miss. Yet, despite lacking rose-tinted lenses through which to view that period of my life, I feel as though I somehow dishonor that which I do cherish with my foggy remembrances. For better or ill, I am an amnesiac with regard to my own hometown. And here is where that word I can’t place my finger on comes into play.
Surely this amnesia was no accident. I’ve often said I went rather than was sent to prep school. That is a decision for which I’ll offer neither apology nor regret. The consequence of that decision is another matter entirely. I knew even then I was making a trade, but I didn’t know the nature of it. I didn’t know that I wasn’t just leaving a town, but a life. Therein lies the rub: when you start a new life, you don’t get the old one back. So off I went to a high school like a college and then a college like my high school. Names and faces and memories were systematically replaced. A friend of mine once quipped that college is an incubator of time; that those four years are like ten or more. That puts me out of North Kingstown twenty-plus years. Twenty-plus years. More than enough time for a bridge to rot away. Old bridges, old lives.
Still waters run deep, so it’d be smug and disingenuous to not acknowledge that, at time provoked and unprovoked, I could be a dick (and thus someone people may not be terribly interested in keeping in touch with). But were I to take a survey, I imagine a fair amount of people would say I was a passionate person who could be a dick sometimes. That’s still true—and the dick part has generally been on the down slope as life has dished out heaping helpings of humble pie. But that’s irrelevant. Whether or not I am worth staying in touch isn’t really the point. The bridge is gone and, more often than not, between the people on either side, there is just nothing left to say. When I was a bit younger, I chalked it up to different acculturation and priorities—I was a prep school guy who liked discussing things and many of my contemporaries from home were still discussing the same stuff we’d talked about in the ninth grade. While there is some truth in that, the intervening years have made me party and ring leader to so many ridiculously inane conversations with the “leaders of tomorrow” that the point has been rendered nearly moot. This doesn’t come down to points of conversation. The space and the silence exist because I left.
My parents live in Pawtucket now, a town just north of Providence that creates a tangible distance—and in Ocean State measurement, a universe—to accompany a void I’ve felt for years. Going home to Rhode Island, be it physically or on a jaunt through Facebook photos is a reminder of a decade-old feeling: I’m not from anywhere anymore. Portsmouth and New Haven are certainly places of refuge, but it is a refuge rooted in selection and entitlement. I am privy to those worlds because I had the goods to be privy. A hometown is different, something more akin to a birthright. Sure, I’ll always be a Rhode Islander, but that’s entirely too general and only a matter of comfort when juxtaposed against the places I like less than it—which are more numerous than one might think. When asked where I’m from in Rhode Island, I often stumble; I tell the inquisitor that my parents live outside Providence then try to make a clarifying statement they likely don’t care about, saying I actually grew up about twenty-five minutes south of there. The answer is always a matter of where I live, not where I am from. North Kingstown is what I traded for a certain trajectory, a trajectory for which I am grateful but whose price I more clearly see each time a name from the past shows up in my inbox.
What was once a hometown is now a dimly-lit room I passed through, a passing which people recall to varying degrees. As they do so, I continue to grapple with trades, trying to find a word to describe it all succinctly.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Is altruism possible?
I am a flat foot. Much to the chagrin of my ankles, shins, knees, hips and back, the beat I walk in the community known as Life In General is constantly harried by the walk itself. I have big flat feet and my only medical savior is the orthotics which make my big flat feet a little less flat and a bit more big. Does this bodily imperfection make me more humble? No; I have dandruff for that. If anything, my big flat feet make me less humble in that they are attached to a big tall body, a frame I usually feel good about. In my few decades on Earth, my dogs have only made me strive that much more for their sustenance: A good pair of sneakers.
The obsession began at around six. Christmas. My first pair of Jordans. I would be lying if I said I did not sleep in them that first night. From there, the lust only grew. That Brett Cowman had the black and white Bo Jacksons did not escape my attention, or anyone else’s at the lunch table for that matter, which is natural considering elementary school is where we first learn that cool shoes garner cool points. Eastbay was pornography for me and many of my cohorts; in the days before going online was the natural thing to do, getting that catalogue provided many hours of discussion, debate and planning. Often times, my lust was unrequited; indeed, there were some Deions and Griffeys and Pippens and Barkleys that escaped my grasp. But the Air Max 95s didn’t. I washed and poorly waxed cars to get them. Carrying a drunken friend to her father’s car one night, I less than diplomatically noted aloud that, should she vomit on said 95s in the course of transport, there would be a dust-up starring her with a special guest appearance by myself. (Now, lest you think I was anything but cosmopolitan, I acquired a taste for boots: Eastman, Timberland and, sadly, even Lugz.) Clothes, though still quite important, were merely for wearing. Shoes were for stuntin.’
My sneaker freakdom made me in no way unique. However, I can say there was a wrinkle, a monkey wrench, a fly perpetually in the ointment that made my quest for sneaker rapture all the more maddening, yet gratifying: my big flat feet. Anyone who knows anything at all knows size 11 is the single greatest for a man. A store will always have it and if they run out, another store will have it. I don’t even remember when I was an 11, but I’m well-versed in the spite for those who are. To find a great shoe in my size was better than getting good grades. Good grades confirmed what I already knew. But a size 13 in a great colorway? That’s the stuff legends are made of.
The older I got, the harder the great finds came. I kept getting taller and my feet got just big enough to keep me out of the mall. There was no point in even going. Ordering shoes, even from the catalog I once cherished, just took the fun out of the whole experience. So like any level-headed teenager, I fought back. If I saw a shoe I liked and a price I liked and a size I could talk myself into, I bought it. It didn’t matter that I shouldn’t even have bothered with 13s or that the pinch in the forefoot would cause my toes to fall asleep. These were the Mardi Gras Bos. Lack of cushion that puts more stress on the ankle, shins, knees, hips and back? That’s the price you pay for black, grey and red Dunks.
At my peak, I could wear a different pair of shoes every day for a month. Is that crazy? Relatively speaking, no. I definitely have buddies that far outpace me in that department. Were all my shoes limited editions? Nope. I had a nice fleet, but few pairs that would warrant honorable mention on Crooked Tongues. Even at the height of my freakiness, I could only justify spending a certain amount of money on footwear. In fact, part of the thrill was finding something fresh at a good price.
Still, lest you think I wasn’t a junkie, a word on my storing procedure: When possible, I kept all my sneakers in their original boxes, not just for easy storing and safe keeping, but because the sight of differing shoes touching one another made me ill. The quarantine process was always made more interesting when a box broke down or a tripped needed packing for—the element of feng shui and plastic bags being further complicated by having to choose which footwear to bring along on a trip, which is tantamount to choosing between your children. What can I say? My stable was one I had accumulated through perseverance and pinched toes and I was proud of my stallions.
Truly great tragedies never happen all at once; they happen in stages. First, my body tapped out. Like my feet, my orthotics got older and flatter (and like my feet, they have yet to be replaced.) Walking around in fresh shoes that didn’t fit and had no support became a lot less sexy. “My body hurts but gosh my shoes are ill!” lost a good deal of cachet, particularly when my body felt worse than the shoes looked tight. Then college ended and two things happened: I found out what broke really means and what space really is. If walking around in fresh shoes that don’t fit and lack support isn’t sexy, paying for said footwear is just stupid. That’s like paying to do extra homework, which I believe the Greeks called ‘graduate school’. Don’t think that I always spend money responsibly, but if I’m gonna be wasteful, it has to at least feel good on some level.
Then the frustration and weariness that comes with hauling thirty pairs of shoes in addition to all the other stuff people consider their personal effects just broke me down. In college, you can have thirty pairs of kicks like you can leave the heat up on high and leave the room with all the lights and your computer on. In real life, what was once a point of pride was now a lot of stuff I wasted a lot of time shlepping and little time wearing. When your residential situation goes from being more or less stable to having a great deal in common with the touring company of a Broadway show, you tend to care a lot less about whether or not you have a navy blue pair of 574s.
If that wasn’t enough, I started to lose my love for sneakers as a pursuit. Shoes, boots; footwear that can be worn in any situation, particularly adult ones, have begun to take my interest. (Author’s Note: As of this writing, I have not fully come to grips with that fact).
What was once a thirty shoe empire has been reduced to the rubble of the sensible seven: Black with green trim low top Nike Dunks—my every day shoe; navy blue Adidas sandals—house shoes; black Bostonian dress shoes; brown Nunn Bush dress shoes; brown Wallabees—a pair currently under review; black Nike basketball shoes—for working out, and grey New Balance 992s—and they were a gift from the misses. All have a purpose; all have a place.
I still appreciate a good pair of footwear, sneaker and otherwise. If all the world’s a stage and we are but players, I don’t see anything wrong with the footwork of your costume being in order. Still, I sometimes struggle with choosing comfort and fit over style. There are moments when I see differing shoes touching and feel my jaw go slack, announcing the onset of a minor stroke. Indeed, I’ve even developed a strange fear of purchasing shoes because so many years spent wearing things that don’t quite fit have left me unsure as to what constitutes a good fit.
I sometimes wonder if my big flat feet with big flat orthotics and a thin flat wallet make my fall from freakdom circumstantial; if changing two of the three factors would grossly change my outlook on the situation. I mean, with the right equipment and the right dough, finding something fly in a 14 is extremely doable. But I doubt I’ll return to the halcyon days of Shoe Month. My feet will always be big, if temporarily un-flat, I will never miss wasting a whole suitcase on shoes or the contortions it involves and I still stink at waxing cars.
Me and Bacchus would have been homeboys.
Though I’m not one to indulge too often in the earthly libation known to our Native American friends as fire water–and have exactly one minus one times in man sex–I thoroughly appreciates those evening in which I pour a few glasses ( or tie one on as my old white duns call it). While drinking like a freshman that gets found passed out in their entryway is less than agreeable, a few drink over a fish dinner in which you discuss: how much you want to hit Sarah Palin with a hammer, being a a Yale graduate, car insurance, and how much you want you want to hit Sarah Palin with a hammer–probably in the knee but maybe the mouth depending on the situation–certainly qualify with “gangbusters” status in my book.
As most of you probably aren’t aware, my girl The Michelle is heading to the Nati that she might be able to one day take over the good people who make both Crest and Magic Erasers. For me, there is a good deal of emotion involved, namely because it was around six years ago this week that a young freshman scrap in maroon wifebeater attempted to woo her outside her apartment after having grossly miscalculated the distance from Zeta Psi to her residence. There is also a bit of emotion attached to the fact that she has been there through think and thin; through chocolate and vanilla and everything in between. In some less-than-sober way, hers is the only opinion I care for when it comes to my maturation from young scrap to older scrap because, in the best and worst ways, she has seen the arc in its entirety.
I won’t lie: This back-to-school time makes me feel somewhat nostalgic. Unlike your first fall out of school when you’re still trying to figure out why real life doesn’t involve a meal plan and no work on Friday–which I’ve still managed to finagle because I’m ill like that–your second fall is one in which you’re a bit more familiar with how this new phase of life is supposed to work. In this sophomore season, you have more of an opportunity to not only look wistfully upon those who still have the opportunity to live in an alternate reality, but also fondly ponder those times in which your “work” began at the crack of 11.
Over dinner, I found myself doing that. Whereas your last year of college is memorable, wistful reflection has more to do with missing circumstances that are far removed from the present. When your trip down memory lane goes longer, when you think about the early days of black roommates paired together, of five dollar couches and breaking the belt loop on that junior’s pants at your first college party EVER, you start to clear your throat and pour a glass of prune juice. Unlike the little effort it takes to remember when you were a sophisticated senior who had mastered the art of holding the inhalation of a marijuana cigarette while downing a shot of whiskey, navigating the waters of being a “not lame but rather a semi-cool version of lame because you didn’t have quite the right seasoning to keep you from being anything other than not lame but rather a semi-cool version of lame” seventeen year old is both rough and enticing.
As I recounted the story of meeting The Michelle to my parents, I couldn’t help but be struck by how vivid the memory seemed. I’ve forgotten many frames of the movie of my life, but this one–and many from that era–are my Zapruder. In some I’m waving at the crowd; in others, Jackie’s crawling on the back of the limo to grab my skull cap. For some odd reason all these frames appear to be sunny. These images capture a sunshine I secretly miss, even when Jackie’s going to the back of the limo. It’s funny; despite the fact that I know some of these days were a bright, shining lie, I remain dazzled and want one more chance to wave from that motorcade.
Sometimes I want just one more glass of water after a night at Zeta Psi. Peace to The Michelle.
Penultimate Thought: If “liberal elite” means I don’t like the dumb, so be it.
Final Thought: Michigan with an Adidas contract is crime against the universe.