Saturday, June 28, 2008


It happens every year! The day after the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the United Nations has hearings on the subject of Puerto Rico. Every year representatives from the Independence Movement, Commonwealth, Statehood all come and give a shout out on what’s good for the island nation. Eventually just like three signs of anger.

1-The hearings were not scheduled to be open to the general public. After yelling and screaming for close two hours people were told that by 3pm they can enter the hall and see the hearings. Unfortunately by then several like this reporter, left and didn’t want to take chances what if they came back and said it again: You can not enter!

2-Resolution 1514 from 1960 states: Granting independence to colonized people. It states that “an end must be put to colonialism and all practices of segregation and discrimination.
It adds all “All peoples have the right to self-determination by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development! The United States created the ‘commonwealth” or “Free Associated State” in order to have the UN to remove Puerto Rico from their list of still colonized nations!

3-The hearings were never made to the public, nobody in the Puerto Rican Community knows about this, during the parade often times the political education/information does not appear in the parade. Hardly ever talk of Venues today and past, torture of political prisoners. The sterilization abuse of women, the use of the island as a training ground for invasions.

Dominican Republic 1965, Grenada 1983, Panama 1989, the training for these operations all took place in the island of Vieques! It’s mention in the hearings, yet the U.S. Government keeps it’s mouth shut, and the statehood supporters do they the light!

Ride The Long Black Train

As I was watching V For Vendetta, I heard a subtle snippet of this song in the background of one of the scenes. I don't know how it actually fit into the scene, but it was a low, wistfully sad tune that stood out among everything else...

It reminded me of a dream I had, in the very few days after my Mom and sister died. In the dream, Mom came to me outside of the school I was attending at the time. I was sitting on the curb behind of the largest building on campus, and she appeared beside me. I burst into tears, and she comforted me, explaining that she had to go. As she was talking to me, I saw in the clouds the clouds transform into a long, dancing chain of train cars, with an old-fashioned locomotive in the front. There were musical notes emitting from the smokestack, and the sun crested the top of it and brightened everything within its reach. I was reminded of how Mom loved trains, her father having been a railroad man on the New York Central for many years. I wanted to come with her, but she wouldn't let me. I had unfinished business, as it was...

It also reminded me of something in real life. In North Tarrytown (now called Sleepy Hollow), along Beekman Avenue towards the river, there used to be a wonderland of an automobile factory. My mother worked there for years, as did one of my uncles, and even my youngest sister. I almost had the chance to work there, under the same program my sister was involved in, but they ended the program the year before I was eligible. Besides, Mom said, you're going to school to be an engineer, not an assembly line worker... GMAD Tarrytown it was officially called, and I was as fascinated by the structure and lights and it's inner workings as I am by great stories and artwork. Believe me, this plant was a work of art, especially at night; all lit up and glowing like a car-producing version of Times Square. And the memories it held, of people and things and events, including me as a little boy making my way up the long escalators, along the train overpass which shook with the thunder of a thousand feet during each shift change, and down the stairs to the security desk and the gateway to the magical land of automaking, where Mom lived.

The last time we ever crossed along the path and on our way out was the last day of plant operation. GM would close the plant in 1996, and with it its storied past, both bad and good. For me, it was the last time I would see many of the people who worked in that plant alongside my Mom and knew me from when I would show up, unannounced, to "pick her up" and walk her back up the roadway and across Beekman Avenue to Hudson Street, my ancestral home. Only now, I was a young man, driving Mom's Toyota Camry to actually pick her up and carry her home to Wappingers falls, where we had lived for nearly two decades. The road home was the same; the same way she always went for years, and the same way I learned to take her. We could both sleep on the way home and land safely in the driveway at the same time it always took.

But after she was gone, and a couple of years after that dream, it was decided that the plant would also go the way of its workers, wherever they were. In 1999 they began a long process of demolition, disassembling and clearing a major part of Tarrytown's heart, as well as my own. By then I had moved to the Bronx in order to attend Hunter College. I didn't know that they were tearing it all down when I came through to visit the old neighborhood, and in shock and dismay I examined the humungous pile of utter ruins of history and home. Ancient Rome had nothing on what I saw that day as I parked my red Nissan Sentra, "Gertrude" and stuck in a compilation tape of Blues tunes my sister Terry had made some time ago and I had fortunately rescued. I laid back and listened to the varied tunes, thinking of what once was and what lay ahead. With every slow song that sounded wistful, I turned away and wiped tears from my eyes, as red as Gertrude. I left after sundown, as there were no longer a fantasy land of lights to show the way home.

When I took subsequent trips north by train, I would pass through the scene, pictured above. It was sad and eerie at first, but eventually I became accustomed to the stark emptiness, save for a section of the overpass that was left because it passed over MTA property that could not be practically reached. I thought for some time I was okay with this, that time had moved on and I had grown wiser and more mature. In fact I had, and I know this, believe it or not, because when I saw the picture above, coupled with the low, wistfully sad tune that stood out among everything else, I burst into tears. I know it's okay.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin & The Paradox of Life

George Carlin passed away on Sunday at the seemingly young age of 71. It's hard to tell whether 71 is young for someone like Carlin, whose humor in the past decade had certainly grown crust on an already razor sharp edge. His death is not surprising in it's manner (heart failure, which he famously joked about in regard to previous episodes), but in its timing. In the midst of what is likely to be the most important election seasons in American history, Carlin could be expected to discourse profoundly, yet concisely about the aspects that, only when put to voice, are significantly obvious. On the heels of the national outpouring of condolence and ceremony for Tim Russert, don't expect the same type for Mr. Carlin, who is equally deserving of such significant respect from the common man.

George Carlin spoke to us in a way that made you understand that you were not only allowed to, but you were supposed to think; to color outside the lines with whatever you chose, and to question authority and demand answers. Carlin held himself and everyone in the world accountable for their thoughts, but made sure you knew that you were allowed to think them.

Much like his social contemporary and fellow comedic titan, Richard Pryor, Carlin was privvy to the thoughts and feelings of the everyday man, and was unafraid to set an expample by using his own experience and observations as fodder, a foundation or a jump-off point for a clearer context. But in my mind, Pryor and Carlin bookended each other in terms of the context of their humor; whereas Richard's humor was rooted in his experiences as a Black individual who observed life from that vantage point, George's humor was rooted in his experience as a White individual with a different class background. However, the conclusions they drew from their points of view were often written on the same page emotionally, and provided equally descriptive and complentary commentary to the discussion on American culture.

Aside from Bill Cosby, Richard was arguably the most personal comedian in existence. Also aside from Bill Cosby, George was arguably the most observant. Together, yet in their own circles of existence, they articulated the subconcious fears of the everyday American and made us understand. I would say that only Bill Cosby has consistently and most successfully been able to dominate in this and other aspects of humor in general, but where Bill draws a line at offensive references and topics, Richard and George made it a personal invitation to come along. That way, they were able to discuss issues that effected even those most out of touch with or rejected from mainstream society.

As a black man, I found that Carlin's humor and observations were beyond acceptable; they were easily relateable. His humor acknowledged the existense of race descriptions, but much like other categories and beliefs in society, decidedly rejected them. People are human beings, with significant flaws and few redeeming qualities, in his opinion, but not beyond redemption if one chose to think in a critical manner. It was, in fact, the flaws that made people interesting in the first place and the breakdown of societal structures and barriers was his mission. "Entropy excites me," he once said in one of his comic routines. His life had many examples of that, on and off-stage, from his iconic battles with the FCC to his humbling treatments for substance abuse. Like Pryor, he had the ability to feed off of his own hubris and turn it into gold. But where Pryor built his humor from his personal experiences, Carlin was famous for his somewhat obtuse subjectivity and (very) critcal observations. Where would Jerry Seinfeld be without the guiding principles of Carlin?

I sought a quote that I could reference that could represent the comedic genius of George Carlin, but there is much too much to choose from. However, I did find something that can easily be an epilogue to his life that he would deem fitting, as he had wrote it on the event of his own wife's passing. Ultimately, it reminds you once again to practice critical thought, and it serves as a strong reference point for anyone who has sought meaning in life and personal loss. Like Mr. Pryor, the loss of Mr. Carlin to me feels quite personal.


The reference above to the linked epilogue was strenuously disavowed by George Carlin himself, which is not surprising  given his distinct distaste for anything reverential or spiritual.  Thanks to anonymous for the tip, though I would encourage you to not be so anonymous next time; I'm not a hater when I make mistakes or when mistakes are kindly pointed out, so reprisals are limited. Come again! >;)  

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Joseph J. Collection

My big brother Joseph is moving back to California with a promotion and a raise, not to mention his girlfriend Karen... this is something I predicted some time ago, as he likes to remind me; I being the baby and rather naive of serious matters such as these, it was shocking to consider (hee-hee) that I might be right about something of this nature, but here it is. He's finally going back to the place where he found happiness, and I couldn't be happier for him, not because I predicted it, but because he actually gets his wish, and on his terms to boot.

This, of course, created a situation where he had to unload some some stuff relatively quickly (they leave in the afternoon of the day I'm writing this), so over the past few weeks, we've made some quick deals. I acquired his 1996 Ford Explorer XLT (V8 AWD, a real gas guzzler but a kick-ass vehicle) and have since been using it to transport other housewares they have gifted to us (to save on moving expenses, but this is quality stuff, so I'm not complaining!) Among the apartment living booty we've been given, I was also blessed with something that means a whole lot to both of us: his collection of cassettes of classic soul and jazz music. I call this the Joseph J. Collection, because he really has been collecting this stuff and making mixes of stuff for years. The amount of cassettes he has given me is quite surprising, only to be rivalled by his legendary and tragically lost collection of LPs that dated back to before I was born. Between him and Terry (I like saying it that way, so shaddup), they had close to a thousand LPs and 45s, only a handful of which I saved by pure chance from that day... that day which I realized only a moment ago was exactly eleven years and two days ago!

There are reasons for everything we do, whether we know it or not, and I don't believe it's coincidence that both of us are being blessed at this time. On Thursday, I drove Nikki up to Kensico Cemetary, where our family are buried, for a small flower ceremony. I think Nikki is very quiet about her motivations and intentions, so I didn't ask, nor did it occur to me, why she wanted to go up there that day. I figured that she was happy that I had a car and now we had a vehicle to visit them when we wanted to. Nikki has since chided me on that, saying that wasn't the reason; she assumed that I knew and remembered. As I explained to my roommate afterwards, that's not something I want to remember every year for the rest of my life. If anything, I want to remember them on the days where we had extra reasons to celebrate, like their shared birthday, or on Mother's Day or the traditional holidays, where Mom was the most charming and spirited woman you'd ever want to meet. I don't want to remember them for their loss, and I believe that over the years I've transcended the grief that is associated with that day.

It didn't even occur to me, eleven years later. Wow. I miss them terribly, but I'm okay with myself.

So, the Joseph J. Collection carries even more significance than I was applying to it before. It represents not only a collection of grooves and memories that marked the years of our lives, but it also represents a victory in life, where we can move two steps forward without looking back, without holding back, and without chaining ourselves to our fears. It signifies growth for both of us; the pursuit of happyness (sic), and the love we have for our family, here and there, everywhere we are and will be. Amazing.

Now about these tapes... I'm planning to digitize each of them and import them into my iTunes Library, where I can create CDs and ship them back to my brother... or perhaps I'll buy an external hard drive and download them onto that and ship it to him with all of the songs from the cassettes, of which there are literally hundreds. This is gonna be some project, and when it's done I'm sure I won't need the Classic Soul channel on IO Digital anymore >;) For those interested, I will be posting an inventory of the Joseph J. Collection in the coming months, and if you're interested in acquiring something, we can talk. At any rate, keep coming around, as I'm certain I'll be on a hot streak of posts pretty soon. Take care! >;)