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

Five Times It’s Perfectly Okay Not To Fight For Your Girl

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***In light of the news that Columbus Short seems to be taking this “Gladiator” thing a bit too seriously, I decided to revise and repost a piece that’s quite apropos.***

“Would and could he fight for me?”

It’s a question that somehow manages to be completely relevant and completely irrelevant at the same damn time.

It’s relevant because it’s never not at least a consideration when a woman is deciding whether she wants to commit to a man. Perhaps “Would and could he protect me?” isn’t the first question she asks herself, but she’ll definitely ask herself that question.

It’s irrelevant because, well, no one actually gets into fights. Actually, lemme rephrase that. Some adults still do get into fights. But it’s a very small percentage of us. And, the 7% of adults who still somehow get into fights at least once every other month probably make up 97% of the adult fight total between themselves. And they’re not reading this. Because adults who get into fights have corns. And people with corns spend all their internet time researching corn remedies.

If you asked one of the 93% — the corn-less non-fighters — about the last time they got into a serious fist fight, I bet most answers would fall between 5th grade and “That time in 9th grade when I thought that I was big enough to talk back to my dad. I was wrong.”

A few days ago, Columbus Short apparently sucker punched a guy who said something disrespectful about his wife, breaking his nose and knocking him out.

I’m not sure if the wife was there, or if she personally felt threatened. If so, although a sucker punch is some sucker shit, he’s somewhat justified. (Extra emphasis on “somewhat.”) You’re supposed to defend your wife. But, is there ever a situation where your woman is disrespected in some way and you’re actually not supposed to fight for her? Of course!

In fact, here are five of them!

1. If she kinda, sorta, had it coming. 

Lemme put it this way: If I’m at a club, and I see some dude push my girl and call her a “bitch,” we are going to have a serious physical problem.

But, if my girl happens to be Erica Mena-ish, and she’s talking shit, throwing drinks, and spitting in people’s faces for no reason, and I happen to see one of the guys who she spit on push her out of his face and call her a “bitch,” we are going to have a…conversation. And then we are going to leave. And then I am going to stop at a gas station. And then I am going to ask her to get me a pack of purple Now & Laters. And then I am going to drive off and leave her there.

2. If you’re definitely going to lose…badly.

Look, I can handle one Kimbo Slice. And by “handle one Kimbo Slice” I mean “sucker punch and run from a Kimbo Slice.” (And yes, I would expect my girl to keep up with me. What’s the point of being in Black Girls Run if you don’t take it literally?)

But, if my girl comes over to me upset that some dudes disrespected her, and she points to a table of three Kimbo Slices and three “Comb That Nigga’s Chest Hair” dudes, I figure a slight scowl in their direction is an appropriate response.

3. If you’re definitely going to win.

If you’re 6’5 and 350 pounds and the Kevin Hart doppelganger at the bar calls your girl a bad name, he’s actually putting you in a no-win situation. You can’t put your hands on him, cause you’ll be a lame for fighting a dude half your size. But, you can’t not do something either.

My advice? Just pull out your dick, with your arms extended outward in the “Ta-Da!” pose.Hopefully this’ll shame him into silence. (This also has obvious backfire potential, but you have to do something, right?)

4. If you’ve been wanting to break up with her for some time, but haven’t had the opportunity or guts to do it.

Usually, men in this predicament try to sabotage the relationship by cheating and hoping he’ll get caught. But, why do that and expose her to all types of STDs? Just let her get disrespected in front of you, and let her get mad enough at you that she ends it. Now, you’ve rid yourself of a problem and you saved her from syphilis. It’s a win win.

5. If you’re busy.

It’s not your fault she picked the 4th quarter of game seven of the NBA finals to get disrespected. She needs to learn that if she wants a good defense, she needs better timing.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

When A Black Man Breaks Up With His Barber

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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”)

Why We (Men) Don’t Write About Our Sex Lives

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A scoff. A prolonged, intense, and bemused scoff. Followed by an aggressive bite of a granola bar.

This was my first reaction when reading “Why Is It So Hard for Men to Write About Sex?” — a piece from Slate’s Amanda Hess that gave some sociological (and, potentially, biological) reasons for why it’s more difficult for us (men) to write about love-making.

I mean, had she not been to VSB? (Probably not, but play along.) Had she not read the dozens of pieces I’ve written about sex, sex acts, when to have sex, when to have certain sex acts, who to have sex with, who not to have sex with, who to perform certain sex acts on, what you’re supposed to do when an eager cat is watching, etc? Did she not know that the longest chapter in Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm At Night — a book about dating, relationships, and SEX — was titled “19 Things About Sex I Definitely Didn’t Learn In Sex-Ed” and contained 28 pages of sex-related topics written by me, a man?

Basically, what the hell was she talking about?

But then I finished my granola bar. And another. (I like granola bars.) While in the middle of that second bar, I started to think about the sex-related pieces I’ve written. By the time I was finished, a realization hit me: She was right. Well, she was right when it comes to me. And, since she’s right when it comes to me, she’s right when it comes to (straight) men.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve written about sex quite a few times. And the sex-related topics have varied. But, despite this variety, they all seem to fall under one of three categories:

1. “Explain” pieces. Usually tongue-in-cheek, these bring up a sex-related topic, and “explain” why you need to do it, why it’s not important, why you need to do it differently, etc. Example: “The Dos and Don’ts of Making a Sex Tape”

2. “Mandom” pieces. These tend to adopt a collective male voice while giving insight into a “difference” between men and women. Something with a title like “Why Men Love Sex On The First Night.”

3. Anecdotal pieces. These are usually humorous stories about a sex-related incident in my past. Example: “My First Time.”

While these types of pieces serve their functions, all stay on the peripherals of sex, using humor, observation, and an occasional bit of sophomoric overshare to talk about sex without actually talking about sex. VSB has been up for almost six years now. In that six years, I’ve had sex at least 1,000 times. (2,000 if you count sex with myself.) Yet, I’ve never written about my sex life. Nothing about the myriad feelings — physical, mental, and emotional — associated with sleeping with someone. Nothing about the difference in preparation and performance between sleeping with a one night stand and sleeping with a f-buddy. Nothing about the awkwardness of being with someone new, or the extra awkwardness of sleeping with someone familiar but thinking of someone new. Nothing about any sexual fantasies. Nothing about my own sexual prowess (or lack thereof).

Of course, there’s one very obvious reason for this lack of openness. Every woman I’ve been with in that time is aware of VSB. Some of these women also have friends and family who read, and it just wouldn’t have been the best idea to provide sexual details about those relationships.

But, while this reason is practical, it’s a bit of a cop-out. I’ve written about other intimate relationship-related topics before. Some of these topics were very sensitive in nature, but that didn’t stop me from finding a way to express myself without being too explicit. Also, even if the women I’ve been with didn’t read VSB, I still wouldn’t feel very comfortable sharing anything sexual.

Why? Well, it’s complicated. Part of it is stylistic. My work tends to be more observational/distant, and that type of writing doesn’t lend itself to detailed conversations about the bedroom.

Also, it just doesn’t feel…right. Writing about sex makes me feel like I’m either humble-bragging or pandering. There’s no inbetween. Even earlier, when I mentioned how many times I’ve had sex in the past few years, I was tempted to delete it. Despite the fact that it’s an innocuous stat and a (relatively) unremarkable number, it felt tactless to include it.

This feeling of tactlessness is present whenever I see other men writing about sex. Sharing those type of details seems, for lack of a better term, feminine. And yes, I realize the irony in thinking that a straight man sharing details about sex with women is feminine, but I can’t deny that the feeling is there. Considering how rare it is to see straight men talk openly and explicitly about our own sex lives, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. We’ve been socialized to think that sharing those types of intimate details about what happens in our bedrooms is something women do, not men. Sure, there are the storied “locker room” conversations, but those are more about reporting conquests than sharing details about them.

Also — and this goes back to the humble-bragging point — because of the language commonly used to describe sex, it’s difficult to really talk about it without using certain verbs and adjectives that suggest that you are, in fact, bragging. The way words like f*ck, bang, screw, pop, hit, beat, and bone are usually incorporated drive home the conquer/conquest concept. And, if you prefer to use less aggressive language that suggests you were receiving more than giving, it feels soft. Unmasculine. So instead of striving to find the perfect language to hit that sweet spot between “too aggressive” and “too weak”, we just don’t talk about it. (And, if we want to, we use a fifteen-year-old rap song as a proxy.) The best writing is inherently, sometimes painfully vulnerable. And we (men) can be vulnerable about family or fear or even love. But, when it comes to (straight) male sexuality, there really isn’t much room for it.

This brings me to my last point. Perhaps we don’t talk about it because no one really wants to hear it. Maybe there’s just no real audience for a straight male version of someone like Feminista Jones. Which sucks for me. Because I did want to start talking about my sex life more often.

Actually, nevermind. Even if there was an audience for it, there’s one person — a person I’m marrying this summer — who I know wouldn’t be happy with me sharing. So I won’t.

Drats.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

On D. Wade, Gabby Union, And Making Sense Of Non-Break “Breaks” And Condomlessness

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(Today, Maya Francis makes her VSB debut with a piece that talks about exactly what the title says it would)

I’m going to keep it real with you all and say that there is a very, very small handful of celebrities whose happiness and success I’m actively rooting for. Among them, Janet Jackson and her gotdamnit-he’s-fine-billionaire-husband, Kerry Washington (and Nnamdi by association), Mariah and Nick, Idris and his bowtie.

I really don’t care anything about Dwyane Wade, his divorce troubles, or Gabby Union. I have opinions, and my opinions have skeletons, but I am not that invested.

But, when every single person in the whole entire world spent a week writing status after email after tweet after blog after thinkpiece deconstructing their relationship and our reactions to their relationship from every conceivable angle, I had two choices. Continue not really caring, or trick myself into believing that they’re not celebrities, and offer my opinion then.

I chose the latter.

And since I chose the latter, and chose to re-imagine new identities for Dwyane Wade (Carpenter. Yes, like Jesus.) and Gabrielle Union (Some chick working at Verizon), I have no qualms about saying two things:

1. There’s no such thing as a “break”

There is together. And not together. There is, “I’m need a couple days to avoid possibly murdering you,” and letting all calls go to voicemail forever. Sure, you might need some days to air yourselves out and regroup, but no part of that should include the next man/chick. When your “break” from me includes the addition of someone else, we’re using fuzzy math.

But, I’m aware some of you slept through math. And slept with your math teachers. So, for the Valtrex-sniffing portion of the population who do use sex with other people to get closer to their partners, there’s something else in this that doesn’t fit quite right.

2. Where the f*ck were the condoms?

I know this is a rhetorical question. At this point at least. Still, the whole condomless break sex thing reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine some time ago. Apparently, men don’t just randomly stop using condoms. There’s no man out there who is a serial condom user and decides on one special night not to use one. Men who don’t use condoms, he says, always choose not to use them. Since those last three sentences scared the f*ck out of me, I won’t even attempt to address them. Just wanted to put them there so they’d scare you too.

Anyway, condoms are $12 a box. You get one condom per dollar. That’s less than an Egg McMuffin. Hell, you could get them free from a multitude of places. I mean, they’ll be Durex or Avirex or whatever other off-brand condoms they give out at free clinics, but still. That’s better than nothing. So what never seems to curl all the way over for me in these situations is the conception of #BreakBabies who are living proof of the lack of foresight, or consideration, held for the health of one’s partner whilst sexing someone else… to get closer…to the partner.

One of my personal rules in life is “never make a mistake you can’t fix.” This is why I’m not a Delta. The problem with irresponsible sex – and I’m calling it “irresponsible” in this case because any way this is spun, I think we can agree that it was not the intention to make another baby – is that it’s a shared mistake that can have detrimental, unfixable consequences for individuals who haven’t made any personal decisions for themselves. Wade, and others like him, is lucky that the conversation is just about a baby. And whether you agree with Gabby’s choice or not, let’s just be glad she still had an opportunity to make one.

You can follow Maya @MF_Greatest. And, if you don’t do that, she will follow you. Like, in real life. She will literally follow you to your house.