Once upon a time, I had a wacky idea that I’d teach a lot of the things I learned as a professsional writer. I picked people with a mix of talents and ambitions and figured I’d have a go. This was a terrible idea, because real life had no desire to feed this particular ambition of mine.
However, a lot of good work was done while it lasted, so I’d like to present some of it. The work here is from Tennessee-based writer Rumond Taylor, often known online as Encyclopedia Black. He’s smarter than he lets on, he’s funnier than he knows what to do with, and he’s a diamond in the rough shining through the muck of the mundane. Enjoy …
HISTORICAL FICTION: My Dearest Sally
Whilst I was vacationing in Paris, a Frenchman sought me out the other day to ask me what he considered a fair query.
I dismissed him quickly as I had chapters of John Locke’s manifesto to complete, and returned to my residence on the Champs-Élysées. (By the way, I must bring you with me some day. Your eyes have not dined until they have feasted upon Paris at daybreak).
His words were not quickly forgotten, however, and I have come to an important decision that will affect you and your children.
As I stare out of the window of this residence, I am reminded of the sweet taste of your fair skinned bosom. I think of the horrors I have imposed upon you, seeking you out in the dark, feeling my way through the warmth of your knickers.
And I am ashamed.
I’m sure you think me some monster, but I am not. I am merely a man with little time for the courting involved with carrying on affairs. Were I a more virile man, like that cursed Aaron Burr, strutting about with my chest poked out, always challenging people to duels, perhaps I would acquit myself better with the fairer sex.
But I have devoted my life to seeking and acquiring knowledge, and as such must seek pleasure where it finds me. I am not at all implying that this relationship (such as it is) is one of convenience, but a man of my means has had greater things to consider other than the feelings of a half-breed slave.
But no more. Effective immediately I am freeing you and your siblings. By law you have one year to leave the commonwealth of Virginia, and I will support freedom for your children as soon as they learn a skill trade.
Should you decide to remain at Monticello, I will see to it that you are relieved of your duties, and you and your heirs share lay claim, upon my passing, to your rightful throne as a member of the Jefferson Family.
I am sorry for any pain I may have caused you, and I hope in some small way, this gesture can begin to rectify the situation.
P.S. I was just stricken by the fact that I haven’t yet taught you to read. Please disregard this letter.
RECORD REVIEW: Damn Near Perfect: Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool
Lupe Fiasco has engendered the most online animosity of any new-school MC other than Lil’ Wayne. His failure to remember the words to ATCQ’s song during VH1’s Hip-Hop Honors (dubbed “Fiascogate”) and his stubborn refusal to apologize made him a frequent target of ridicule. So how did he respond?
He made a damn near perfect album.
The Cool is based on a song from Lupe’s first album, Food and Liquor, about two characters, the Streets and The Game (not to be confused with the British and West Coast rappers, respectively). On the song “Put You On Game,” Lupe brilliantly personifies The Game as the darkness that lies in the heart of man over a threatening murmur of a track. Lupe raps:
“I am the American dream/The rape of Africa/The undying machine/The overpriced medicine/The murderous regime/The tough guy’s front/And the one behind the scenes.”
Unfortunately, this theme is not followed throughout the course of the album, but is only hinted at on a few tracks. Had Lupe decided to make the entire album in this vein, it may have produced a dark classic like Ready To Die. As it stands though, the album is filled with enough solid songs that dropping the theme isn’t entirely regrettable. Lupe’s flow is so varied; meticulous and dense that deciphering the lyrical content is like pursing a novel.
Both the production and guests (save a lazy cameo from Snoop Dogg on “Hi-Definition”) on the album are entirely from Lupe’s 1st & 15th in-house production crew, which are both a gift and a curse. While the mixture of beats keeps the album from treading familiar ground carved by more famous producers, some of the beats, notably on “Gotta Eat” and “Intruder Alert” don’t match up with the verbal dexterity Lupe brings. (though to be fair, the metaphor laden “Gotta Eat” is the weakest song on the album.)
Overall The Cool is a remarkable album that while notable for what it could have been is highly respectable for what it is.
OPINION-EDITORIAL: The Vanishing
Tragedy is defined in the dictionary as “an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe” or “a play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, esp. one concerning the downfall of the main character.” But in simpler terms, I think of tragedy as “just some plain ol’ messed up stuff.”
Case in point: some years ago I worked at a medical facility with a developmentally disabled man that I will call “Chris.” Chris was a friendly guy with a sunny disposition who loved singing songs from commercials and watching cartoons. He could read, write, and had graduated high school. He was also diagnosed as having schizophrenia.
On my first day working at the facility, Chris greeted me by singing the theme from the “Tootsie Roll” candy commercial. You know, the one that goes, “Whatever it is I think I see, becomes a Tootsie Roll to me.” I laughed, and we became friends.
I learned from his family that Chris’ schizophrenia hadn’t revealed itself until his junior year in high school. Chris was completely “normal” and was even a member of the track team. Then, out of nowhere, he began hearing voices and having visions. The family, not knowing how to deal with his outbursts and hallucinations, sent him away to receive medical care.
During the seven years that I worked with him, I never saw any signs of his schizophrenia. He had his bad days like everyone else, but his medication helped control the more difficult parts of his schizophrenia. I brought him to college parties with me, he visited my family during the holidays, and I took him home to see his family several times. I looked forward to going to work, and he became more like a brother to me than a client.
Then things started to change.
Over a gradual period of time, I began to notice a change in Chris’ demeanor. He began sweating profusely. He began shaking uncontrollably when performing basic tasks. He stopped reading and talking. Our nursing staff was drew blood, ran tests, but couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Doctors were puzzled as to what could be causing his downward spiral. Chris couldn’t tell us, but obviously something was going horribly wrong.
I spoke with his family to update them on Chris’ condition and I learned that Chris’ father was displaying similar symptoms. As it turns out, both Chris and his father had Parkinson’s disease. Chris’ Parkinsons was compounded, however, by a lifetime of taking schizophrenic medications. Things went from bad to worse.
Chris deteriorated quickly as the muscles in his body betrayed him. The simple act of lifting a fork caused food to be flung across the room. His hands were clinched so tightly his fingers dug through the skin on his palms. He was unable to walk without assistance due to his leg muscles stiffening. Imagine flexing your muscle and holding it tightly. All day and night.
In less than two months, Chris’ appearance changed drastically. He lost 40 lbs. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t stand. His jaw was set so tightly his teeth grinded against each other. His body was so contracted his shoulders were swollen. Pressure sores covered his entire body. Drinking Ensure through a straw was the only way he could eat. But even that became a problem.
Chris began to choke on the Ensure we were serving him, putting him at risk for pneumonia. Our facility wasn’t equipped to feed Chris intravenously, so the State Board told us that we had to find alternate placement for Chris, or stop feeding him meaning that he’d starve.
Until he died.
His family and I searched frantically for an open bed that could accommodate him, but many facilities refused to accept his insurance, thinking he’d die before they made enough to cover their expenses. I flatly told my superiors that I refused to watch him die due to lack of food and that I would feed him regardless of the consequences. I was told that if I fed him the facility would be forced to take action against me. I would not budge. We were at an impasse.
Thankfully, Chris’ brother-in-law found a nursing home about 70 miles from Chris’ hometown that would take him. The nursing home was small and understaffed, but at least it was an alternative to watching him die of starvation before my eyes.
As I packed his belongings in the van, Chris laid in a on his bed, his eyes watching my every move. I tried to explain to him that this was the best thing for him, but I didn’t believe my own words.
The five and a half hour drive to the nursing home was the longest drive in my life. I knew that the next time I saw Chris, he would either be emaciated beyond recognition or worse, dead. As I drove, I sang all of the songs he enjoyed, and I could see him struggling to use his remaining energy to hum the theme to the “Tootsie Roll” song one more time.
We arrived at the home, and the orderlies helped me unload his things and check him in. I wheeled Chris down the hallway as we both took in this new environment. The walls were pea green and the floor tile had the faded look of a place built long ago. An old black and white television hung on the wall showing “Wheel Of Fortune.”
I tried telling the orderlies about the way Chris laughed when someone told a joke, or how he liked to say that girls would get him in trouble. I told them how smart he was. They looked at Chris, and I could see them wondering how this desiccated shell of a man could be capable of the things I was describing. I realized that I was still remembering the person that he was, and not the person that he had become.
I stayed by his bedside longer than necessary, watchinghis eyes sizing up all these new faces. He seemed confused and scared, and I couldn’t blame him. These people weren’t his family. These people weren’t the friends that he had known for the past 25 years. These people were strangers, and he was going to die here.
I hugged him and lied through my teeth, telling him everything was going to be okay. He smiled at me.
That was the last time I saw him alive.
I cried as I got in my car, not wanting to look in the rearview mirror for fear that my guilt would make me go back into the nursing home and take him with me. Rain began to assault my windows as I drove home, and I thought briefly about pulling over but I couldn’t take my foot from the pedal. I wanted to get as far away as quickly as I could. I kept driving.
When people tell me that their life is hard, or claim that something tragic happened to them, I think of Chris. I think of someone who never caused another living soul a second of grief, and all of the misery and suffering that was heaped upon his shoulders. And through it all, he still managed to smile.
Tragic, ain’t it?
Playing (Music): “The Professional” by Black Thought