The Countdown To The End…Again

(The following is true and inspired by the above trailer for The End Again. Read more here.)

I’m obsessed with countdowns. I also know when that obsession started.

end-139848_640It happened the day I experienced the last 30 seconds of a persons life and I became fixated on each of those last seconds. I can’t even fully explain it, but for the last 14 years of my life, my mind has often drifted back to that night and those last seconds. Or even that day. The last day of a life you don’t know is ending. Was it mundane? What were you doing on the day that you died?

What happened with 12 hours left.

With 2.

With 10 minutes.

I saw the last 30 seconds. In retrospect, they ticked by slowly. Each one lasting an hour as I watched the inevitable unfold. Since then, the moments leading up to the end tend to etch themselves into myriad possibilities in the bandwidth of my mind.

This also likely explains my fascination with the move Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind as Joel and Clementine spiral towards the moment of realization that his remaining memory of her – doubling as his first memory of her – is about to be eliminated from his consciousness and this convo ensued:

Clementine: This is it, Joel. It’s going to be gone soon.

Joel: I know.

Clementine: What do we do?

Joel: Enjoy it.

That convo really got to me. Only because its usually impossible to enjoy that last moment. It’s one thing to realize what you have when its gone; its another thing to realize what you’re losing while you watch it leave and there’s nothing you can do to stop the train.

Unless you can and you don’t. That is an amplified pain because two people get hurt at the same time. You hurt yourself and you hurt the other person. Hurt people hurt people. And scared money don’t make money. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and me and Mrs. Jones have danced this tango before as I’ve watched the end manifest with that last Uhaul box and that last shared memory walking over the threshold out into the world with a door closing behind it.

The countdown.

It starts somewhere. At some point, we commence with the beginning of the end. Is it a look? Is it a missed text? The stolen glance that never happened? The day that we forgot to kiss “hello” like we’d done every single day of our relationship before. Missing that first one makes the second easier, though no less noticeable. Habits are easy to create and harder to break. Pretty soon the “why not” becomes “why” and the pictures become reminders of what could be that isn’t anymore.

Three months.

The arguments that used to end with moments of vulnerability as we both realized that what we stood to lose was greater than what we stood to gain by being “right”  now rest in the air and linger. They linger until the next one, a little more passionate, a little more resolute, a little more pointed, a little more biting. You still sleep in the same bed but might as well be sleeping on different planets. Intimacy requires affection and that ship sailed the same path as the Titanic. The more time you spend together the less time you have left together.

One month.

Anger.

One day.

Sadness and reflection. It’s inevitable. Unless you hate one another – and chance are you don’t if you can assume the same space at the same time – at some point you will both try to question what happened and why. That doesn’t mean there are answers, just questions for the ether. Momentary smiles that frustrate because you don’t know why you stopped smiling but the music stopped and nobody can find the beat. Or the melody. Or even a note.

With every article of clothing placed in a box the time left shrinks towards its conclusion. You both see it coming. We see it coming. Or saw. We watched the chaos become emptiness. The thing is, even with words never said, the time draws down. And when the lights shut off and its my turn to settle down, my main concern, promise that you will sing about me.

One hour.

There’s something unsettling about the end. We all know that an end is coming. We have no delusions about that. But the moment the key gets placed on the counter and the look to find something else to do when there’s nothing more is the “it’s going to be gone soon” moment. It’s the end. Only the formality of the exit stands between the past you suddenly miss and the future you don’t want.

Love is a b*tch.

One minute.

The final embrace, both everything and nothing at the same time. Years reduced to a gesture that can be shared amongst strangers.

Door closed.

The end?

-VSB P

When A Black Man Breaks Up With His Barber

barberrich

Allen Iverson often gets credit for making both cornrows and visible tattoos more, for lack of a better term, “mainstream.” But, although this isn’t brought up as much, he’s also somewhat responsible for what’s been the single most popular hairstyle for African-American men over the past two decades: The Caesar. He had one as a freshman at Georgetown, and he was so popular that it convinced thousands of young Black kids to eschew the fades, tapers, and cornrows that sat on our heads. I was one of those kids. This was 1995. And I’ve had the same haircut since.

Now, there have been some variations. I used to line up the back, and now I fade it out. I also went from sideburns, to the point thing, to the faint beard line when I could finally connect my beard, to the (somewhat) full beard I have now. And the actual amount of hair on my head has varied. But, the basic template — an even cut all around — has remained the same.

Despite the Caesar’s simplicity, its maintenance requires effort. It needs to be brushed a couple times a day, it needs to be shampooed at least twice a week, and you need to have a barber who knows what the f*ck he (or she) is doing. The last point is the most crucial. A Caesar with a jacked-up line-up is a perpetual practical joke, a public gong show where the only prize is dry vageen and you have to stay on stage until enough time has passed (usually between 10 and 14 days) for your hair to grow back enough for someone to fix it.

But a fresh Caesar with a perfect line? Man!!! That’s the shit dreams are made of. Seriously, every Caesar-ed man reading this can probably name the five best haircuts they’ve ever had — when the shape-up and the beard and the fade in the back and the sheen of your scalp all aligned perfectly. And each of those men can probably also give you the names of the five or six women whose numbers they got the week of the perfect shape-up because, even if you look like the construction workers from Fraggle Rock, the perfect shape-up will have you feeling and acting like an Idris/Leonidas hybrid.

And this is why a good barber is the best friend any Black man can have. It’s also why you do what you can to hold on to one. I’ve had the same one for 12 years now.

And this is also why I’m probably going to break up with him.

As you can imagine, the decision to break up with my barber hasn’t been an easy one. I’ve read before that it takes a fourth of the time you’ve been with someone to break up with them. (Basically, If you’ve been with someone two years, it takes six months. Three to convince yourself breaking up is the right decision, and three more to gather the courage to do it.) If this is true, I’ve been breaking up with my barber for three years now. Seems like a long time, but it sounds about right.

He’s not a bad barber. The relationship wouldn’t have lasted this long if he wasn’t. And, when he’s focused on cutting my hair, he’s actually good. The problem is that those moments of focus are occurring less and less often. He takes breaks to text. And to check the messages on the dozens of dating sites he belongs too. And to show me pictures of the women he’s dating. And to talk to me about the NBA draft. And to run across the street to play the lottery. And to run to the corner store for a Cherokee Red. And to run to his car to make sure the windows are closed.

I wouldn’t mind any of this if he was still able to make my line even — well, I wouldn’t mind it that much — but the more distracted he gets, the worse my haircut is going to be.

Also, I’ve traveled quite a bit for panels, conferences, festivals, and parties over the last few years. Sometimes, this travel will be last minute, my barber won’t be available, and I’ll have to go to someone else in the shop. And sometimes I’ll just wait to get a haircut in the city of the event. And, when this happens, my haircuts are always better. Always. 90% of my Leonidas Elba weeks since 2010 have been because of “new” barbers.

So why is it so difficult to get a new barber? If he’s not providing a service I’m paying him for, why not just pay someone who will? Well, it’s not that easy. As I mentioned before, I’ve known him for over a decade, which makes this one of the longest relationships I’ve ever been in. Aside from family, there are only maybe 10 people who’ve been as consistent in my life in that time period as he has. We’ve seen the neighborhood change together. We’ve changed too. Both personally and aesthetically. I’ve been there long enough to see an entirely new group of barbers man the chairs beside him. I also remember his “old” shop — a raggedy storefront on an off-brand corner — and I remember how he got the money together to move to the much, much nicer location he’s in now. I look forward to going there, and talking shit with him and the other barbers about the Steelers or sneakers or strippers or credit scores or whatever the hell else happens to be the topic of conversation that day. And I know he looks forward to my visits too. He’s not my best friend. But he is my friend.

There’s a shop I pass a couple times a week in route to my barbershop. I started paying attention to it last summer after a guy randomly complimented my cut, gave me his business card, and told me he works at the new shop on Baum Blvd. I actually think it’s owned by one of the Steelers.

Since then, I’ve become increasingly tempted to take him up on his offer. But I haven’t. At least not yet.

What’s stopping me? Two things:

1. An irrational fear that my barber will see me walking out of the new barbershop shop, and having to deal with that awkward moment.

2. Who gave me the extra-sharp line up that compelled that guy to compliment me? My barber.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

The Beauty Of Breaking Up

"Wait, you're finally breaking up with me??? Great!!!"

“Wait, you’re finally breaking up with me??? Great!!!”

There’s a scene in season one (I think?) of The Wire where the scene opens with one of the cops (“Herc”) trying to move a pretty large desk that’s stuck in a doorway. He’s not making much headway, and his struggle is so obvious that a couple more cops stop what they’re doing and help. One even gets into the room by crawling underneath the desk so he can help on the other side. Still, no progress. After a few more futile moments, every cop present stops what they’re doing to help, half on one side of the desk, half on the other. This doesn’t help at all. The desk doesn’t budge.

At this point, the cops—exhausted by the struggle—all stop for a second to catch their breath and think of a better way to move the desk. While they’re all standing there, wiping the sweat out of their eyes, Herc says (paraphrasing) “Damn. At this rate, we’ll never get it out.” As soon as he says this, another one of the cops (I think it was “Carver”) looks at him incredulously and says “Out?” Herc replies “Yeah, we’ll never get it out.”

As soon as he says this, the other cops roll their eyes, shake their heads, and mumble different variants of “motherf*cker” in his direction before going back to their desks, all coming to the same realization: The desk wasn’t moving was because while everyone else was trying to get it in the office, his dumb ass was trying to get it out. 

This scene was meant to be a metaphor for the futility of the drug war, and how much time and effort is wasted on it doing things that ultimately counteract each other. But, while thinking about it the other day (I have random moments of Wire-based nostalgia. Don’t you?), I couldn’t help but think that scene also could have been a metaphor for how we (generally) view dating and relationships.

All of the blogs, books, podcasts, Nightline specials, panels, interviews, features, shows, oral histories, news stories, and web series devoted to this topic have the same underlying theme: Helping people get into and stay in relationships. 

This is understandable. Being in a healthy and happy romantic relationship is something desired by most people—mankind’s existence is somewhat dependent on it and shit—so it makes sense that we’d devote a ton of resources to help make that happen.

But, maybe we’re going at it backwards. Maybe all this talk about relationships has helped to cultivate a condition where people eschew all common sense to achieve this elusive goal. Maybe instead of putting the focus on getting people into relationships, we should be more concerned with getting people out of them. Maybe instead of thinking of a break up as the worst thing that can happen to a person, we should start to recognize the beauty in them.

Yes, the beauty. The beauty in recognizing that certain fundamental incompatibilities are never going to change. The beauty in being willing to free yourself from some contrived commitment to get a return on an investment that you know will never be recovered. The beauty in not having to make excuses to yourself and everyone else when asked why you stay if you’re so unhappy. The beauty in enjoying singledom and not allowing external factors to pressure you into doing something you’re just not ready to do yet. The beauty in the hundreds of thousands of people back on the open market after freeing themselves from non-starter relationships; people who may actually be perfectly compatible with someone who’s currently single, but will never know as long as they stay in shitty situations. The beauty of taking time “off” to legitimately work on yourself. The beauty in saying “No” and continuing to say “No” until you’re completely ready to say “Yes.” The beauty in shifting our focus from getting people into relationships to convincing them to leave and stay out of shitty ones.

***BTW, today is the 2nd anniversary of Liz’s twenty-somethingth birthday, so if you see her, please wish her a happy one and buy her a shot. If you don’t see her and can’t buy the shot, just read a random Bible verse to yourself on an Apple product in her honor instead. If, while you’re reading the verse, you happen to come across Liz, continue reading and give her a lapdance***

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Rearranging The Deck Chairs On The Titanic of Love

rearrange-deckchairs-and-ignore-sinking-1I have a friend. Not just one friend…I mean I have lots of friends. But for the sake of this discussion I have a friend. Now this particular friend was in a relationship that, quite frankly, resembled what happened when Iyanla Vanzant attempted to fix DMX’s life.

Exactly.

One person wants to sue and the other person still has the name Iyanla. I’m sure that means something in some language (a quick Google search teaches me that Iyanla has no etymology – nope, it’s just what happens when mama takes a shot before the doctors give clearance after birth). Point is, nobody wins.

In their relationship, it seemed like a constant race towards the bottom. But not the kind of bottom that Drake speaks of in “Started At The Bottom”. For Drake, you start at the bottom and get here. Oh the places we will go. This couple would often find ways to make life hard for one another. I didn’t doubt that love was there. It’s just that their definition of love was different than others. No Ike and Tina, Bobby and Whitney, or Shaq and Kobe…more like a Facebook status relationship after Homecoming: It’s complicated.

See, I’ve classified their relationship as basically rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The ship is going down anyway, no matter what you do. Some relationships just aren’t meant to work. #realnwordtalkingshutthefworduphword

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being privy to many a relationship that was on its last legs where folks attempted to make some changes that just were too little too late. Here is a list of too little too late gestures one the ship is already going down.

1. Flowers and sweeping romantic gestures

Do you all watch Nashville? The television show? I love it. It’s riveting. It’s got dysfunction. It’s got a plot. It’s got sex, drugs, and country music. And the music is great. Well there is a couple in Nashville, Gunnar and Scarlet (by the way, I love the name Gunnar. If I can come back reincarnated as a white dude, I totes want to be named Gunnar). Gunnar has lost his way in life and pushed Scarlet away after his brother died. He stole his dead brother’s music, tried to become an outlaw and went to jail and missed her big debut at the Grand Ole Opry. Even if you know jack sh*t about country, you know that the Grand Ole Opry is like performing at the Apollo. Or an Asian Karaoke spot. Either way, Gunnar realizes it too late, Scarlet is over it and Gunnar attempts to win her back with flowers. Which is totes not his thing, but she intimates to him that its not enough. She’s out of there. Or at least she might be..we got a cliffhanger on their relationship for next season. And yes, this is what I watch instead of Scandal. At the end of the day, showing the affection and giving a f*ck after you haven’t for so long is not going to right the ship. Sometimes its just too little too late.

That was a lot. Let’s make the next one shorter.

2. Proposal

This will not right the ship. If anything it may speed up the demise of the ship. Except it starts going so fast that you may think the velocity is going to change everything. It won’t. In fact…its kind of like….

3. Getting pregnant

Ladies, getting pregnant won’t keep a man that doesn’t want to be there. What you may discover is how great a father the man who doesn’t want to be a good man to you can be. This will make you want to murder something. I’M KILLIN’ THESE BYTCHES.

4. Getting a tattoo of the other person’s name/face/SSN to show commitment

There are few worse ideas than getting the name of a person who you don’t share blood with (or in the case of non-blood, significant step ties) permanently inked on your body. That’s almost the best way to make sure it doesn’t work out. I’d rather get my schlong trapped in an elevator where the cables violently snap while Brad Paisley and LL Cool J serenade me while a mime does Rosie Perez’s “Fight The Power” dance from Do The Right Thing than get a woman’s name tatted on my body that I don’t call “momma”. Or daughter. I know a couple who decided to show each other how real they were to one another (after a string of f*cktasticness that would make Bill Clinton blush) by getting tats of one another’s names. Not their initials. Their full names. This really happened. They’re not together anymore. They are attempting to figure out how to remove those tats. They did it to show each other how down for one another they were. They went down like Rose Royce.

Those are four things that will not save a relationship. What are some other things that won’t save a relationship once its on the its last legs?

Talk to me. Petey.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. GET GONE aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

 

Why You Can’t Break Up With A Drunk People

She ain't remembering sh*t in the morning.

She ain’t remembering sh*t in the morning.

Some many years ago, must have been like 2003 or 2004, I was back home visiting my family. Well, at this point, I had four nieces and nephews all ranging in age from 4 to 18 months. Well, two of the kids got into a toddler pushing match which looked a lot like Rock-Em-Sock-Em, a whole lot of action but nothing even close to an injury.

But I didn’t like it. I went into the belly of the beast, separated them, and gave something similar to one of the prisoner of the mind speeches that AshTrey gave in Don’t Be A Menace…when Keenan would come behind him and say message. It was moving. It was so moving that my audience, both 3 and 4, were speechless. They looked at me with respect and allegiance. At that moment, if I had asked for their loyalty as we traversed the Seven Seas, they would have been down. I’m good at speeches.

Or so I thought.

I finished my attempt at reasoning, along with the requisite, “do you understand? Will you play nicely now?” query. They both nodded yes.

I stood up and began to walk away when the 4-year-old combo’d the 3-year-old in a way that made my little sister (mother to one of the kids) say, “daaaaaaaaaaaamn…P, what’s wrong with you? You really just tried to reason with toddlers? For real??? You just got (insert kid name) knocked the f*ck out.”

We love Friday in my house.

I parallel that story to being pissed at your drunk girlfriend or boyfriend. I’m one of those people prone to not let an argument go. I will fight it out until we’ve fought so long that nobody agrees to disagree (the p*ssy way out) we just change subjects and move on. Nobody gives in, we just pivot.

Point is, there’s no resolution, just continued noise and disagreement. This is like arguing with a drunk person. There was a time in my life where I had a girlfriend whose drunken shenanigans truly pissed me the heave ho off. Every time. So much so that I wanted to give her the heave ho (no asthma). But I realized something, you can’t break up with somebody when they’re drunk. For one, they won’t remember it, so you’ll have to do it again. For b, have you ever actually tried to break up with a drunk person. Drunk people are the most extra people on the planet. Drunk women?

We’re talking Jupiter.

You tell a drunk women that you’re done with her she’ll do one of two things: 1. cry, scream, yell and beg you not to leave her and make a scene for anybody with in a 2 mile-radius; or 2. cry, scream, yell and attempt to embarrass the living f*ck out of you for anybody within your time zone. There’s very little middle ground. Now the problem is that drunkards tend to vacillate between the two which, admittedly, can be confusing. If somebody is begging you not to leave, you tend to try to keep them calm so they’ll hush.

You can also try to leave but drunk people have tremendous foot speed, torque, and agility – something in clear contrast to a drunk person having a regular ole drunk person good night. The point here is that engaging a drunk person in an emotional endeavor is not the move.

Again, you’ll have to rehash the entire convo again the next day anyway, except you’ll be so emotionally spent you likely won’t close the deal unless they boned your best friend (who is hopefully also drunk) or murdered a slew of kapuchin monkeys (or is it monkies?) – because who does that – since well, after you’ve slept it off and they have as well, you’re faced with the person who was unlike the drunk person that stood before you a night before.

If drunk people don’t know any better, and short people can’t reach the moon, then how can you, in good faith, conduct any transaction with a person who can neither reach the moon or know any better?

The main bullet point in this PSA is that you shouldn’t break up with with a drunk person because ultimately you’ll have to go through the motions twice. You can however drop a drunk motherlover off at their house and take their keys. A little light kidnapping and “holding against their will” never hurt anybody.

This has been a PSA brought to you by Panama Jackson Against Breaking Up With Drunk Ninjas Everywhere, or PJABUWDNE. The next day is fair game though. Just wait.

Thank you.

What are other times you just shouldn’t break up with somebody?

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. MOTHER*CKERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3