Ode to the New Year – 2015

For better or for worse, it’s another year full of new promises to make and old ones to break. You know the ones…starting a new gym membership at Equinox instead of Planet Fitness, hoping it was the fellow members, not your lack of self-motivation, that kept you away; ditching the significant other that didn’t get you, knowing the next one wont either; finding that new job to justify your TriBeCa address instead of Queens where your colleagues live; so, it begins with me…another new list of books to read – 36; blogs to post – 24; women to meet – 6; and on and on…but at year’s end, I would have read less than 20 novels, penned barely a dozen blogs but will exceed the women meet-up total, no thanks to Tinder and Happn (not a typo) for making it too easy for us hopeless singles. (topic for another post, readers – so stay tuned)

The beginning of the New Year also witnessed the extreme exercise of cautiousness in governing when New York City was shut down for a non-historic blizzard. Friends, only a few inches stopped the most fabulous metropolis in the world from functioning because spineless politicians decided to ban cars on the streets, and more critically, stop all train service; something that has not happened in New York City for over a century. New Yorkers could not parade their badge of resiliency that cold winter night and we have our elected officials to thank (and my only saving grace is that I didn’t cast a vote for one of them).  Just a week prior, us Democrats were beaming brightly despite our legislative defeat in the last election because President Obama stood tall at the State of the Union address and ditched out a political agenda of progressive social programs and tax reforms.  He was vintage Barack, reminding the others who won the last two presidential elections; that the economy is growing again and unemployment is down. Here we have it, the first month of the year in political terms maybe a sign of what is to come in the days ahead, many moments of ineffective governing together with fleeting moments of exaltation.

Like a tea kettle boiling water, my 2015 is building up without a whistle as all I have done is rebuilt a walk-in closet (thank you, Container Store for your free design); nor was there a whistle for a lady I met from another continent which didn’t feel right and now dating someone further away (again, material for a future post).  On the international front, I was torn inside by the tragic loss of French journalists and other victims who were gunned down by terrorist with their false cause; and closer to home, it angered me that a troubled thug executed two NYPD patrol cops in the name of social justice for victims of police abuse. It’s disturbing that these two tragedies occurred early in the New Year and even more troubling that the use of arms is the weapon of choice to seek justice.  Unfortunately, passions are too inflamed for intelligent conversations on this issue; many are blaming others instead of themselves for not taking a stand to voice outrage for crimes against humanity.  For now, I am NYPD as well as Je suis Charlie.

So on this last day of the first month of the New Year, I have a strong sense where I want to go and what I want to be.  It may not be the year for that million dollar bank account but there will be some achievable, more significant, events. I’m not referring to resolutions, to-do lists, new exercise fads, a wardrobe makeover or even a new attitude change.  No, I am referring to events like a recovery from a midlife crisis and understanding why it happened and taking steps not to repeat it…(social translation to you younger readers: it’s something like reaching the legal drinking age and handling it with maturity; and for those experiencing puberty, maybe it’s the age you first had sex and doing it responsibly)…In my many years, I have been shaped by numerous significant events from a failed marriage to my young brother’s death to attaining professional credentials…and will continue to evolve which may include another attempt at marriage, embrace causes to preserve life and inspire greatness within – by acting more wisely – thinking deeply – and searching with clearer purpose.  This shall be the ode to me and 2015.

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Male Friendships…The One I Struggle to Keep

It was a warm summer evening and Marcus, the quintessential and eternal middle-aged bachelor with biracial good looks, wore a light tan suit with matching silk pocket square and a multi-colored pastel ascot (an accessory that few, but he, can carry). He strode out of the building, avoiding my eye contact, to a waiting white sedan, an S Class Mercedes, no less, and I glanced over my shoulders to watch him enter this car driven by a slender Argentinian-looking woman with white linen attire and two others resembling her in the back seat, I was floored by this scene; it seemed that my grandmother, who lived in the same building, was living in the midst of James Bonds.

I had seen him a week before that day driving a heavily damaged, Yugo, not sure how it got thru U.S. customs, a subcompact car so badly wrecked that it should be garaged in a junk yard; he was down on his luck, living with his frail divorced mother but this was not evident in his attire. Neighbors in hushed voices would ask each other: who is this mysterious man? Few knew him personally as Marcus would rarely engage in small talk with anyone. He only spoke to one neighbor, Larry, only because his car broke down and he needed a ride to the city and asked him for help. It turned out that these rides would occur regularly and usually ended at Area, Paladium, Tattoo and Nell’s, the most celebrated NYC nightclubs of that era.  As he was always dressed to the nines with his jet black hair, styled slick back like Al Pacino in Godfather 2, the velvet ropes manned by obnoxious club denizens would open rapidly when he approached.  Came to find out later, that Marcus knew many of these velvet rope handlers and club owners but never revealed how he established these connections. Over time, I came to know this man, who was over a decade older than me, and tried to imitate his dress style but could never get it right as he did; we engaged in boy’s talk, mainly on women, NBA games and politics at home and abroad. And so he became a friend.

“Man, I hate this country. I need out,“ Marcus mumbles. “This job is a hell hole.  You don’t know how lucky you are, bruh…you have a profession, you own property…you don’t have to deal with my crap” he continues, referring to his city government inspection job; work that he claims has no upward mobility; co-workers he dismisses for their blue collar pedigree; supervisors he despises for reducing his overtime hours. This pessimism also spilled over to his views on women, describing them as gold diggers for judging his attractiveness strictly on the make and model of the vehicle that he owns (he doesn’t have one) and the number of digits in his bank account (barely four).  Marcus, a very proud man who is part Jewish or Italian (refuses to say which) and part Caribbean, was not always this cynical and is far from being the confident man that I first saw, over ten years ago, the 007 replica, living in my grandmother’s building. “Dude,” I said. “You need to change your attitude; this negative energy will only make you more miserable.”  I continued, knowing full well that he’s a lost case.

It is not easy to put aside friendships that, despite some personality clashes and increasing incompatibilities, endured throughout the years; they last because we need the human contact to discuss the mundane of sport highlights and celebrity gossips (yes, men do this too) to the serious matters relating to career decisions and relationship complications. Although many men, especially us silent types, can cope with minimal male friendship, something which our female counterparts can’t do without, I have come to appreciate these occasional talks and meet ups for a balanced life. In times when professional and adult life occupy the bulk of your daily routine dealing with office politics, relationship stress and economic insecurities, it’s refreshing to dial a number and hear a familiar voice on the other line to simply talk, whether it’s purposeful or not; it starts with a “wassup man” and usually followed by “did you hear about this…” and continues on to a thematic convo until we both lose steam or when the life duties call for the next shift.

Leaving this friend behind is what I struggle with today as he has changed from his earlier years of bravado and confidence; his life now is laced with cynicism and uninspired conversation; ask him about the World Cup games, he cites only the corruption of FIFA officials, the games organizers – and shows no interest in the games themselves, the header of the Flying Dutchman, the artistry of Messi and the quick demise of Spain; call him to join us at the BAM African Street festival in Fort Greene for jerk chicken and people watching, he declines and says only soulless women will be present; I won’t dare ask him about work for fear of a long tyrannical monologue about how hopeless it is. I have tried to tell him that his friends and family have shun him due to his toxic ways; that he should seek counseling for his depressive mood; that he needs to overcome his personal battles to see the positives.  I used to put aside those calls and one-on-one meet ups, thinking the occasional text was a substitute (it wasn’t), that Facebook could fill the void (it didn’t) as social media is more media than social for the few egomaniacs who dominate my newsfeed.  It’s been over two years witnessing Marcus’ decline and it’s time to let him go to maintain my own sanity and to continue a positive outlook on life.

Coming home…The Intra-racial Date with Ms. English

Crystal champagne glass in hand, long shapely legs visible, surrounded by blondes in reserved seating in this dimly lit private London nightclub, the Black English girl’s aura said certifiable diva; this is the noire Tinder pic that caught my eyes as I swiped right; we matched.  I played it kool and sent English a “hello there” message, anything more would demonstrate over eagerness.  She replied. Her first name was unusual and so I googled it and scanned through the images until I found her Linkedin profile.  English had professional credentials, the ones favored by the establishment, and was not just a pretty face. I’ve dated the model types before; lots of excitement in having a new beauty; conversation limited; a courtship to bed her is the mission until things fizzle and end as quickly as it started.

Took a few failed attempts before we finally met at Cipriani in Grand Central Station…she looked different, her hair was a dual color of black at the top and blonde at the bottom instead of the jet black look in her picture; the glowing brown tone skin was hidden behind foundation applied too thickly; and in her mouth was a shiny metal, a tongue ring; and in my mind, her diva status stumbled downward.  Not allowing my vanity to get the better of me, not looking for Ms. Goodbar, I overlook the appearance and allow the evening to take its full course.  We only had one drink at the Italian eatery and left to dine at Buddakan’s main dining room, a dated but celebrated space that has some snob appeal.

As we make our way to the meatpacking district, engaging in small talk, glancing her way, and listening to her distinctive accent, I am reminded of both our shared physical appearance and differing social experience.  She was born in the UK by a Nigerian father, who, she implied, is connected to the petroleum profiteers back home, and to a French Caribbean mother that she did not reveal much. English seemed very close to her dad and has given much thought to his encouragement to join him in Lagos but instead came to New York. Her silence regarding her mother suggested a marriage of convenience. (I won’t elaborate any further as we fellow immigrants have a sacred pact not to question each other on such matters). English attended Kensington prep school and lived in predominantly white neighborhoods…Chelsea, Notting Hill…and so all her friends were white.  I, on the other hand, arrived to the states as an infant and was raised solely by my Non-American Black mother who toiled in the 7th Ave garment factories until she rose to a position of pattern maker to a fashion designer downtown; we lived in the black areas of Crown Heights and East Flatbush Brooklyn until my late teens and all my friends were black.

English and I are both black but continents apart in our experiences; and this prompted some very random thoughts on race; flashbacks on how the social media depict us as linguistically-challenged, academically-deficient, criminally-inclined and having separatist-tendencies. I tried to snap out of it and think positive thoughts, instead, but became fixated on the few bit parts the social media carves out for the safe blacks, the Our Kind of People and Jack and Jill types (look it up readers).  As strange as it might sound, I rarely discuss race matters (except in this blog, of course) and the times that I do is to react to a news event; you know the stories, the ones about Trayvon being the norm; Obama the long exception; and the battle that we all face with Sterling. The last one ended well as Lebron and others spoke up, the SnapChat generation reacted and now Sterling is gone, a positive Hollywood ending.

“Nu Yak is still nooo tu me,” (Translate: New York is still new to me,) she said in her pronouncedly English accent as our hostess walked us down the stairs to our table.   Only three weeks removed from London life, she seemed a bit shy or even nervous as if she was from a small southern town instead of a major cosmopolitan city. So it took some cajoling to get her to open up. I told her of stories of work life, love life, black life while peppering her with soft questions to keep her engaged. Finally, she says “I had a luver for six years.  He was much older and I outgrew him.” I wondered why she said outgrew.  Her body language suggested that it was boredom.  “After him”, she continued “I met Manny, a blue collar guy. He had edge. He couldn’t do much on his own, tho.  I took him places and paid for everything. Love the man.  I asked him to move here with me.  He would not.”  I told English that she demasculinized him. She nodded in agreement.  It was clear that English had a rebellious streak and was trying to find herself; she escaped her safety net in London; she left a self-reliant man for a vagabond; she’s adrift right now and that’s ok as her future has many possibilities, but it will not include me.