Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Are You Ready For Some Football?!!

conducted an informal poll on Twitter amongst ladies only in search of an answer to the following question. What is your favorite sport and why? Sports is supposed to be a guy thing, or at least it used to be. I talk to guys about sports all the time, a tradition passed down to me from my dad. Women allegedly have more profound conversations about feelings / emotions / yada yada. But it has become increasingly apparent to me that women have gotten into sports in a big way, not merely as casual fans, but die hard fanatics just like those of us in possession of the testosterone. So I posed my query and wondered if the leading vote getter would be baseball or basketball or football or golf or tennis or boxing? Turned out that either in spite or because of its violent aspects, the winner was NFL football by a landslide. See below for commentaries. I'm certainly not about to argue with them. I'll simply add -
Go Jets!!!!!

@bermudaonion I love college football!
@GFillustrator I’m late but vote for football.
@ltma nfl football. 1 reason is because of the high production values of the game broadcasts
@PigsknLvngLady #football #NFL It was the first sport taught to me by my brothers and hubby. I won't mention the players...good gawd! LOL
@TeeJay0122 Really late joining the poll and sounds like maybe football has it won, but just wanted to give my vote for boxing. I like to see the passion and fire in their eyes and determination to win. It could be looked at as barbaric but I guess that a lot of sports could really that makes contact...anyway just my two cent vote. :-)
@abetterjulie Baseball a serious first. Football a grudging second. Can't stand basketball. Baseball is just the best.
@MDSteelerGal <-- this is a TRICK question, right? #football
@itsjustgoldie My vote is for basketball.
@girliesportsfan Baseball's my #1
@biblioaddict I'm going to have to debunk your theory and say that my favorite sport is football. I like the drama and action...Although, I do find it a little too violent sometimes. I think there are few things more dramatic than men tackling each other. Though I like basketball, it can't beat that. :)
@TamaraCG I am a big basketball fan but on your football point, it's complicated but you can enjoy it without knowing the details.
@MissChantelle It’s because of the ripped bodies in tight pants acting out in ultimate displays of masculinity. God bless football! Lol.
@pussreboots It's a toss up between baseball and golf. Aussie rules football is also fun to watch but it's hard to follow in the States.
@booknerds Football. By far. Particularly college.
@ScorpioDiva81 FOOTBALL!!!!! The ONLY sport that matters!

Well said, ladies.

Although football won fair and square I'll end this posting with a favorite quote of mine that happens to be by a woman about the sport that's still officially considered to be America's pastime.

"Saying that men talk about baseball in order to avoid talking about their feelings is the same as saying that women talk about their feelings in order to avoid talking about baseball."
--- Deborah Tannen

Monday, July 27, 2009

Art & Literature Giveaway!

First there was bacon and eggs, then peanut butter and jelly, then rhythm and blues, and now at long last, the teaming of Erin (illustrator) and Roy (author) to host an Art & Literature Giveaway. The lucky winner will receive a copy of my novel Patches of Grey AND a print of their choice from Erin’s Etsy shop.

Here’s how you play, folks. Head over to Erin Go Paint, look through all of the listed items, then go to the contest posting at her blog The Gluten Free Illustrator and leave a comment stating what your favorite piece is. The randomly selected participant will win a copy of the print they chose ALONG WITH a copy of Patches of Grey. Only one comment per person on Erin's blog is allowed, but additional entries can be made on Twitter by cutting & pasting the following tweet: A&L Giveaway - Win Patches of Grey by @authorofpatches & a print of your choice by @gfillustrator at

Each retweet of this message will be considered as an additional entry.

A minimum of 30 unique comments at the contest blog post is required for a lottery winner to be drawn. This contest runs July 27th through August 16th. Please leave an email address in your comment unless you are sure your link will lead to a web page where contact information can be obtained. Good luck.

Roy & Erin

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Short Story Sunday VIII

In the wake of recent events such as the group of African American children who were treated in a reprehensible manner at a Pennsylvania pool club; the accusation of racial profiling in the incident involving a lauded college professor and the Cambridge police department; and discussions that came about as result of the sudden death of Michael Jackson and the question of who would raise his children; it seems fitting to post one of my short stories that addresses the subject of racial identity for edition number eight of Short Story Sunday.


BY ROY L. PICKERING JR. Copyright by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Last year I read “The Metamorphosis” for English class. In case you aren't familiar with the book, it's this crazy story about a guy who wakes up one morning to discover he has mutated into a giant cockroach. Surprisingly, he wasn't bothered much. He didn't even question how or why it happened, just went about his business, figuring out how to function in his new body.

Five months ago I underwent a transformation of my own. You'll probably consider my experience less dramatic than the bug guy's, but its effects were certainly devastating. My life was thrown into turmoil as I too found it necessary to adjust, in a manner of speaking, to a new skin.

I did not awaken that day possessing antennae, extra appendages, or anything else insect in nature. The morning started off pretty much as they all do. A shaft of sunlight beamed through the part in my bedroom window curtains, disturbing my slumber just enough that I shifted to face the opposite direction. I needn't have bothered, for the shrill cry of my alarm clock forced me from bed minutes later. After my teeth had been brushed, body showered; and curlers removed from my hair; I headed downstairs. The meal smelled scrumptious as usual, but my mother's expression was uncharacteristically grave.

"I was up all night trying to figure out how I should tell you this, Taiesha."

I remained silent, waiting to find out what was wrong before my mind ran loose with worst case scenarios.

“It’s about your father.”

There was nothing I could imagine my mother revealing about him that I did not already know. I was soon to learn how uninformed I was. Over the next twenty to thirty minutes I found out that as a young woman, my mother had been simultaneously involved with two men. Once this situation was brought to light, neither offered to bow out gracefully. Instead they both issued ultimatums. My mother was to choose between them. Problem was, she had no idea who she loved more.

“I definitely made the right choice. Life with Dedric was everything I could have hoped for. You know how great a father he was. He was an equally wonderful husband.”

The stunning revelations continued, tumbling one upon another like clothing in a dryer. On her wedding day, my mother was unaware that she was pregnant. When her condition was discovered, she was left to wonder which of her two suitors was responsible; the one she had picked to spend a lifetime with, or the one relegated to her bank of memories. A blood test showed the answer to be the latter.

I took this all in as my breakfast grew cold on the plate. Quite a tale for so early in the morning. Then came the cherry on top.

“My heart couldn’t decide between them, so I left it up to common sense. I chose Dedric for the welfare of any children I might have. If I had known I was already carrying Stuart’s child, I might have decided differently. But I didn’t know. I just figured I would eventually have kids, and that their lives would be less complicated if both parents were black.”

"Mom, are you telling me that my biological father is white?"

“Yes, honey. That’s what I’m saying.”

When told that your history is a lie, the present immediately becomes shaky and the future something not to be trusted. My emotions ran counter to one another, preventing me from reacting in any particular way. So I just sat there and slowly absorbed the onslaught of information. My mind chewed on it, but was incapable of digestion.

In my stupor, I thought of the father who raised me, the only father I had known of up till now. A feeling of warmth came over me like slipping into a bubble bath. I had adored him. The most traumatic event of my life was losing him to cancer when I was thirteen. My parents prepared me for his death as best they could, and we grew closer during his last months than most families ever do. But no amount of final goodbyes could fill the void created by his passing.

“What’s the matter, baby?”, asked Calvin when I returned to school after a few days hiatus. My mother had fully appreciated my need for head clearing time. Class assignments and the gossip of peers could be put on hold until I was ready to face reality again.

“Is it something I did? If so, just tell me what and I’ll undo it. You know I only want to make you happy.”

“I’m fine, I told him. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”

My world had flip flopped. I needed to right it again. I thought I had given myself enough time, that I could pretend all was as it had always been. But Calvin knew me better than I knew myself. He saw straight through to my heart, and though he could not make out what was troubling it, he recognized that something was changed.

We had been dating since the end of our sophmore year in high school. Calvin is as real as they come, doesn't believe in playing games or holding his tongue about what he stands for. Unlike the majority of guys his age, he respects women. He has the looks to be a dawg extraordinaire if he so chose, but puts his mind to use rather than devoting it mostly to sex. I had no doubts the prior winter when I allowed him to become my first ever lover. I knew that both the time and the man were right.

When I learned of my true ethnicity, Calvin quickly came to mind. I'd stop short of describing him as militant, but he does have clear cut views regarding matters of race. He believes that black folks need to establish a stronger sense of solidarity. Our divisiveness is the chief instrument used by whites to maintain oppression, or so he is fond of stating. Calvin lives according to strict self-imposed rules of conduct, one of which I couldn't help but think of the morning of my mother's pronouncements. He would never date a white girl.

"You have such good hair."

"What are you anyway? Puerto Rican? Dominican?"

"I like you butter pecan girls."

"Are those contacts, or is that your real eye color?"

I am no stranger to comments like these. I used to regard them with little interest or interpretation. My features being as they are, I figured people were just saying what came naturally. After meeting Calvin, my perspective began to change. I took more pride in my heritage, and as a direct result, took offense at any insinuation that I was less black than others. Yet I knew there would always be those who saw me as such. So I had no choice but to constantly assert my identity. I did so well enough to satisfy Calvin's ideal of a strong black woman. Well enough to thoroughly convince myself.

I learned to become unflattered when told I was beautiful, if the compliment came with an attachment. The attachment being that my beauty was tied to the seemingly European aspects of my make-up, rather than what I had inherited from Mother Africa. I refused to let others separate my race from my beauty, refused to let them interpret me as a contradiction. I declared that I am not beautiful despite being black, but because of it.

When I found out the truth, my assertions crumbled like dead leaves under the feet of hurrying pedestrians. Could I continue to be what I had seen myself as, knowing now that this image was imprecise? Would my newfound knowledge change me overnight, regardless of my will to remain unaltered? If I pretended not to know, would it be any different than when I actually didn't? Or would my secret grow within me like the cancer that had taken my father?

My mother had loosely remained in contact with Stuart, so most of my immediate questions could be answered. I learned that he had started his own contracting business and made a fair success of it. Like myself, he dabbled in watercolors and was a crossword puzzle fanatic. He married a few years after my mother broke up with him, but fathered no children, me excluded.

Most important, he was by all accounts a good man.

He was killed in a car accident the same year as the only man I would ever truly consider to be my father. Up until his final day, Stuart never knew of his role in my creation. As for why my mother had chosen to finally inform me, she explained simply that the time had come for me to know. It was my right, she said. Did Calvin own this right as well? Our relationship went against his principles. In order to remain true to what he believed, his only recourse was to end it. If his feelings for me proved stronger than his convictions, what we had could continue. But it would not be the same. We would both be different people. Our love would change shape, and perhaps no longer fit so perfectly into each other’s hearts.

Before doing any confessing, I decided to speak with my friend Sharice. I figured she might be able to provide valuable perspective. Granted, she has always known that her father is white and her mother black. It wasn't sprung on her by surprise over breakfast. Her parents divorced years ago, and her father showed little interest with keeping in touch. Although she does not deny that half of her DNA comes from a white person, Sharice sees herself exclusively as black.

I asked if she was angry at her father. She admitted that she was. Did this anger affect her sense of identity? Perhaps she would have been more accepting of her white half if her father had been a bigger part of her life. I told her to suppose that the races of her parents were reversed.

"That wouldn’t have changed anything, Taeisha. Sure, I would have eaten other types of food, been exposed to different kinds of music, been taught different values about certain things. And plenty of what I now take for granted would be missing. But I would have found them eventually. I would have sought out black people for friendship, to feel comfortable being around."

"Do you hate white people?"

"No. I couldn’t even if I wanted to, I suppose. But it makes no difference who I love or who I hate. No matter what, I'm black. Regardless of who raised me or how I was raised, nothing can change that. Nothing could have changed it. Not even a father who stuck around."

Talking to Sharice didn't clarify matters. It just reinforced what I already knew. I am a black woman regardless of whose sperm generated my existence. I was surrounded by the art, and literature, and music, and language, and vibe of my people. But had I not been, I would still be black. I am black because as light as my skin may be, the origin of my heritage cannot be denied. Even if the tint of my flesh could not be detected, if I was able to pass, I would still be black. No matter what diction I employ; what opinions I adopt; how straight my hair happens to be; my nature is set. I am a black woman, ain’t nothing gonna change that fact.

Yet my uneasiness about confessing to Calvin persisted, for I feared such logic would fail to persuade him. My blood was diluted, tainted by that of the descendants of slave traders. Could he deal with that?

I asked myself for the first time why his last two girlfriends had been as light skinned as myself. Should he not have been drawn to darker girls? The more I tried to make sense of things, the less I understood. Hypocrisy and deception awaited me at every turn. I wasn't sure of who I was, who I wasn't, or if it mattered one way or the other. Mostly I was frustrated that the person I wanted to share my dilemma with, he whose wisdom and support I had grown dependant on, was the one I couldn't confide in.

Despite my frustration, secrecy is precisely what I kept. Not that the deceit was constant. For the most part, it wasn’t an issue to be considered with urgency. There were merely sporadic occasions when Calvin made remarks that seemed designed to goad me. An interracial couple passed on the street would provoke his contempt for the black man's supposedly self-destructive obsession with women outside their race. The following eyes of a store security guard or the latest news report of racially inspired police brutality would arouse his disdain for the ways of white folk. I didn't know how much longer I could bite my lip. My conscience must reside in my stomach, for that is what burned with guilt. Something was bound to give.

"Damn that white boy can play. He's got to be a brotha in disguise."

Calvin was fawning over Dirk Nowitzki, a star player on his favorite basketball team, the Dallas Mavericks. His parents were at a wedding, so Calvin had invited me over for an evening of romance. Presumably the romancing would begin once the game ended.

"Unbelievable!" Dirk had made consecutive acrobatic plays, the Mavericks had taken the lead, and Calvin was beside himself. I, on the other hand, was feeling rather nauseous. Regardless of the game's outcome, what I had in store for Calvin would surely reshape his mood and rearrange his priorities.

Further procrastination was not an option. This business had been put off long enough. The only thing in question was whether to address it before or after throwing up.

The game clock ran out and Calvin celebrated as if he personally had made the winning shot. A memory from childhood was summoned by my state of anxiety. I was in third grade at the time, a major handful for my parents due to my rambunctious nature. On this particular day I had been sent home early from school. Ursula Jenkins had been teasing me all week about my new hairstyle. If it wasn't my hair, she would have found some other reason to pick on me. Ursula didn't appreciate my popularity. She didn't like the fact that a bold boy or two would trail behind me like puppies during recess. Ursula may not have been considered prettier than me, but she certainly was bigger. In fact, she was the biggest kid in our class and even bullied the occasional boy. But I was her favorite target.

I was no pushover though, so when Ursula pulled on my ponytail her face was greeted by the back of my hand. The response was pure reflex. Had I time to think it over, slapping her would not have been a likely decision. Thanks to our teacher's quick intervention I escaped a pummeling. But I was unable to avoid suspension from school.

My mother was called to pick me up. I sullenly accepted the unavoidable lecture, knowing that the worst was yet to come. The disciplinarian of our family was my father. I sat in my bedroom until he came home from work. Usually I would run to the front door and greet him with a hug. On this day I nervously awaited his judgment. But it wasn't punishment that worried me. It was the disappointment I expected to find in his eyes. I had let my father down.

I’ll never forget the moment when he walked into the room, sat beside me, then wrapped his oak tree arm around my shoulders and kissed my tear stained cheeks. He told me he loved me, that it was okay. He was not angry at me. He understood. I understood something as well. I had the greatest daddy in the world.

"You know what", Calvin said, drawing me back to the present. "Nowitzki and Tiger Woods must have switched races at birth. That would explain a lot."

I would have laughed if able to, or at least granted a courtesy smile. Instead I grabbed the remote control from his hand and turned off the television.

It amazes me how such a seemingly arbitrary property like color manages to affect our lives. Drive through a green light at a busy intersection and things will probably work out fine. Go past that same light when it's red and tragedy is likely to ensue. No wonder dogs are usually chipper. All is gravy to them from their black and white perspective.

"I love you, Calvin. Do you love me?"

"Of course I do, baby."

"No matter what?"

"No matter what", he answered, reaching to put his arms around me. I was on my feet before he could get a grasp, gesturing for him to follow. I didn't need to curl my finger twice. He was up and at my heels in a flash. Much to his surprise, I was not leading Calvin to his bedroom. Instead I opened the bathroom door.

"Come on. I have something to show you."

I didn't know if it was really possible to love someone without imposing conditions. I didn't know what would occur in the next few seconds, or how it would affect the rest of my life. I only held certainty that Calvin is a good man, and this was as good a start as any woman is likely to get.

"Is that what I think it is?”

"If you think it's a home pregnancy test, then yes."

"It's blue”, Calvin said. “You mind telling me what that means?"

I doubt Calvin could have been more nervous had he been before a firing squad. That may have been a preferable situation for him. At least it would be guaranteed to end quickly. As for the predicament he was in now ...

"Blue means you can breathe", I said. "I'm not pregnant."

Calvin took the advice, exhaling a mammoth breath of relief in conjunction with my own.

"Whew, thank God."

"I was thinking the same thing."

"I guess we should be more careful from now on", Calvin said.

"Sounds like a good idea."

He put his arms around me. I wished I could remain in the embrace forever. Calvin brushed back my hair and absorbed me with his liquid eyes.

"I want you to know I would have been there for you if it turned out different, no matter what

you decided to do."

"I know that, sweetie."

He kissed me, at first in joy and relief, then changing to familiar passion. It was apparent that

although he planned to follow his advice about exercising caution, this in no way meant that he intended to be idle. His scare was already over and we still had a couple of hours until his parents came home. I gently pushed him away, because one last matter needed to be resolved.

"I have something to tell you, Calvin. You up for a surprise?"

"That depends. Is this one as big as finding out that you might have been pregnant?"

"I'll leave that for you to decide."

There was another color test for the two of us to either pass or fail. Maybe we could get through it safely. Maybe our relationship wouldn't be able to handle the results. In any event, Calvin deserved to know what our baby who could have been would have been. He deserved a relationship that wasn’t bound by a secret. And I deserved to know how well the love we declared would continue to fit into each other's hearts.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

President Obama On Message

I don't have much to say about our President's recent speech before members of the NAACP. My commentary is unnecessary since he speaks exceptionally well for himself, and for his people. It's wonderful to hear a POTUS echoing so many of the sentiments that I conveyed in my novel Patches of Grey. By his words it is clear that he truly understands the issues that plague our inner cities, probably the first US President that this could be legitimately said about. Hopefully he will follow up his eloquent words over the next 8 years with lasting deeds. If so, he will leave office as citizen of a far greater nation than the one that existed when he first took oath. So let it be written, so let it be done.

Below you'll find another great speech later on in his presidency in his second term on behalf of a wonderful cause.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Short Story Sunday VII


The Prizefighter By Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Copyright by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Looking at him up close and personal for the first time, practically stubble to stubble with our most intimidating scowls presented as greeting, my strongest impression is that he’s just a kid. A kid who is packed solid with muscle, no doubt about that, and with several inches of height advantage over me, as if his youth and superior athleticism weren’t advantage enough. His eyes glimmer with confidence, as is to be expected. He is being touted as the next big thing in the boxing game. His father was a top contender back in the day, so the kid even has pedigree over me, my own father tops at nothing except being a louse. I actually sparred with the kid’s father a few times when I was about the age that his son is now. How’s that for irony? The kid’s father was a class act, but the heavyweight division was loaded with talent at that time, and he wasn’t quite good enough to win a title despite a handful of game efforts. What the father could not accomplish, most people in the know are predicting that the son will manage within a year or two. The path to the top laid out before him is made of gold, just like the Olympic medal he won for his country shortly before turning pro. Before that, he was a Golden Gloves champion. Tonight the kid is looking to go 20 – 0 as a professional fighter, at my expense.

For him this fight is just a tune-up. He’s being groomed for great things, his career carefully handled to make him as marketable as possible. The kid has everything going for him. He possesses rugged good looks that draw numerous female fans to his matches, squealing from seats so close that they earn the privilege of blood splatter on their designer cleavage showing attire. From the interviews I’ve seen him give on television, his charisma is plainly evident. Whether he’s a natural charmer or simply well schooled, the result is that he’s destined to be a star. My purpose on this night is to serve as little more than a speed bump to his ascendancy. The kid has looked flawless in his first nineteen pro fights, due in no small part to a well thought out selection of opponents. He’s won each of his fights by knockout, with nobody lasting past the sixth round against him. I am not considered a threat to this boxing legend in the making. My purpose is to provide a few more rounds for the exhibition of his prowess against mediocrity, before he takes the step up to tougher competition. Not to say that I’m considered chopped liver in this sport. I have a well-earned reputation for the sturdiness of my chin. My record may not be especially impressive, but I have proven that I can take debilitating punches and keep coming back for more. You won’t see me being counted out before the kid has even managed to work up a sweat. Although he’s supposed to beat me easy as a dog can lick himself, my job is to remain standing long enough to test his stamina. After this last small time fight, he’ll move on to opponents with name recognition, then a title shot in the foreseeable future, and if all goes according to plan, he’ll eventually be signing seven figure contracts for pay-per-view extravaganzas. As for me, tonight I’m earning the biggest paycheck of my career, a mere fraction of what the kid is being paid, for one last bout. Then I’ll hang up my mitts and figure out what next to do with myself.

Round One: We move about in circles within our square cage, studying each other’s movements to determine how best to proceed. The kid proves to be a quick study. I soon learn that he possesses a mighty stiff jab, quick as the lash of a whip. His focus is absolute as he watches me like a powerful and dangerous feline licking its chops over helpless prey. Any mistakes on my part will be instantly paid for. I hear the oohs and aahs of the crowd each time my head is snapped back by his gloved fists. This is the largest crowd ever to watch me fight, not that I am the reason they’re here. I am merely the sacrificial lamb. The words of warning earnestly issued by my trainer come to mind. He begged me not to take this fight, especially not on such short notice. Lou even threatened to not show up and be ringside for a massacre. But I know him better than that. At this late stage of my career I am as competitive as I have ever been, but championship aspirations no longer motivate me like during my first decade in the fight game. I understand that I lack what it takes to be great. Yet I can proudly claim that I’ve been making a living my entire adult life doing what I love. How many people can say that? If I had training for anything else more lucrative and less brutal, I could have been convinced to quit five or six years ago, when I first realized that I would never be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, would never raise a gaudy championship belt triumphantly in the air, would never be anything more than a footnote in the careers of men with vastly superior God given talent. With my options at a minimum however, it has simply made the most sense to keep climbing back into the ring. I’ve dished out the best I could night after night, and I’ve taken my beatings like a man. No shame in that.

Round Two: Sometimes there actually is truth in advertising. This kid appears to be the total package in the ring, not just out of it with his megawatt smile that sponsors will soon be waving huge checks at. He’s light on his feet, dancing about me like a cross between Fred Astaire and MC Hammer in those goofy pants he wore back in th day when I wore a younger man’s outlook. The kid’s management has seen to it that he’s learned every combination in the book, and now that he is done feeling me out, he executes each of them with expert precision. His punches slice through the air and thud off my skull with exceptional speed, exquisite timing, and impressive power. He throws and mostly lands three to four punches for every one I’m able to get off. I feel myself bruising less than six minutes into the contest. The kid is unmarked, deliberately choosing when to sidestep my punches and when to swat them away. As the round draws to a close, he connects with an uppercut that buckles my knees. I am not saved by the bell, but I am grateful for it.

Round Three: He takes up where he left off the previous round, unleashing a series of bombs that are mostly blocked by my gloves, elbows, and forearms as I curl up into a protective ball. Apparently the kid thinks he has me hurt and hopes to finish me off immediately, make a customary quick night of it. He has underestimated me though. I used to say the same thing about my ex-wife, Velma, even as I admitted that her disappointment in me was justified. When confronted by her accusations, there was no denying that I had not become the man I once promised to be. It was not a verbal promise, but one strongly implied by the set of my jaw and burning intensity in my eyes when more promising future lay ahead of me than bitter past lay behind. That fire has long since been doused, not all at once, but over the passing of hard years. My greatest failure is not giving the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen the life she deserves. When she settled for me, choosing passion and lust and love over wisdom, I silently vowed never to allow her to regret the decision. But over time it became obvious that my potential would remain mostly unrealized, both as an athlete and as a man. When she informed me that she wanted out of our marriage, I told her she was being shortsighted. I said I’d been put on this earth for one reason, to make her happier than any other man could. I believed this to be true, and I still do. Velma has since remarried. She is now wealthier, more secure in innumerable ways, more content than she ever was with me. But happier? I think not. A jolting straight right hand pushes back my nose with the force of a Louisville slugger against rawhide. Blood spurts out and I know instantly that it has been broken. This make the fourteenth time my profile has been altered in the pursuit of prize money. Each break makes me look a little less handsome, but also a little less like my father, so I have no complaints. I need to concentrate or else I’m going to have my head handed to me. Now is not the time to feel nostalgic over my days with Velma, daydreaming some scheme to win her back. And this is no analyst’s couch, so reflecting about dear old dad won’t do me much good either. I’m at work. I have a job to do. A left hook delivered to my ribcage makes me wince. Although I am loathe to do so, I hook my arms around his and hold on to buy myself a few seconds until the referee breaks up the clinch. This is my least favorite method of self-defense. I find little honor in it. But desperate times call for whatever trick I can most easily pull from my bag. After we’re separated, the kid unleashes nine straight punches that each catch me clean. Very impressive. The kid is quicker than I anticipated. Either that or else my rate of aging has sped up overnight, a fate which has befallen much better fighters than myself. Once a boxer’s reflexes have abandoned him, the ring is the last place in the world he should be. The bell mercifully rings and the kid gives me a smug look before returning to his corner. I’m starting to not like him.

Round Four: The kid is showboating, doing his best imitation of the Ali shuffle, tossing in some Sugar Ray Leonard wind-up punches like those thrown at Duran in their no mas fight for good measure. He’s keeping his arms insultingly low, dangling them like showpiece jewelry, but either he is too quick or else I’m too slow to make him pay for it. Trying to humiliate me may earn him points with the fans, and maybe even with the judges. But I am not impressed, or embarrassed, or enraged, or irritated, or amused. The kid can do nothing that I haven’t seen before. I continue to stalk him, moving forward with bad intentions, searching for an opening that I fear I no longer have the ability to find. Along with my trainer Lou and everyone else who follows the sport, I considered myself overmatched against this kid right from the start. I had actually considered my previous fight to be my last, not that the occasion called for any press conferences, me being no more than an anonymous club fighter, a journeyman in the final stage of his journey. Yet I could not resist when his people contacted me a few days ago about being a late substitute for the opponent who had pulled out due to injury. They offered me more money that I’d ever been paid for a single night’s work, and I was sorely in need of quick cash, even more so than usual. My mother had passed away less than twenty four hours earlier. The kid’s handlers didn’t know this, otherwise they may have left me alone to grieve, not that I had much grieving in me. My mother and I never got along much, in truth, she was one of the most horrible people I’ve ever had the displeasure of knowing, which is saying a lot considering my line of business. Still, she is the only mother I’ll ever have, and as her only kid, that makes me responsible for her final purchases – a casket and headstone. The few hundred dollars stuffed under my mattress would not have paid for much. So I took this fight, agreed to one more payday in order to do right by my mother, may she rest peacefully in Hell. A right cross catches me flush on the jaw and I drop to one knee. I pop up quickly and smack my gloves together a couple times while taking a standing eight count, letting the ref know that all is fine and dandy. It was just a flash knockdown from a punch I never saw coming. I’ve been in 118 pro fights, won forty-six of them, had twelve draws, and been on the losing end of the rest. That’s sixty times the other guy’s hand has been raised in victory over me, for those who don’t feel like doing the counting. I’ve been knocked to the canvas more times than I care to recollect, but I’ve gotten back up on every occasion. Ten times that I’m still pissed off about, referees decided I was taking too much punishment and wrapped their arms around me, declaring my opponents the winners by technical knockouts. I’m not a fan of technicalities. I know deep down that none of those guys would have been able to take me off my feet and keep me down for a count of ten. I’ve never been counted out in a fight, and I sure as hell don’t intend to let it happen my final time in the ring. Let the judges award this kid the decision for his efforts. I will be fine with that, just as I’ve been fine with decisions made in the other guy’s favor fifty times before. But if the referee tries to end this fight prematurely, that will make two guys in the ring I’ll be going after. I’m determined to make it to the final bell tonight. The kid lets loose a flurry of wild punches, once again thinking he has me right where he wants me, that one more solid connection will be my undoing, once again thinking wrong. Two seconds before the bell rings I catch him clean on the chin, causing him take a step back, easily my best punch of the night. He isn’t hurt, but I do see a flustered expression on the kid’s face, him no doubt wondering what’s keeping an old timer like me up. We’ve now both tasted a portion of what the other is capable of dishing out. A boxing match doesn’t truly start at the opening bell, but rather, at the point when both men have earned the respect of the other. This fight is now officially on.

Round Five: For the next three minutes the kid demonstrates his award winning talents to the delight of the crowd, peppering me with blows from every conceivable angle. Both of my eyes are swelling shut. I keep spitting blood to get the salty, nauseating taste out of my mouth. I feel my will fading, sense that the kid’s strength and prowess are growing by the minute along with his confidence. He didn’t appreciate the shot I landed at the end of the previous round, and he’s making me pay for it. This fight is being televised by a local cable station. I wonder if Velma is watching. Of course she isn’t. She never came to my fights when we were together, why would she watch now? To see me suffer? Perhaps. No, that’s my frustration talking. Velma was never cruel, only disappointed to the point of complete exhaustion that my undying love for her was all I ever had to offer, and perhaps a little saddened that this was not enough. The kid unloads a sweeping roundhouse punch that hits like a wrecking ball squarely on my jaw. I am unmoved, left in a debilitated daze, but one that my adversary fails to detect. Rather than moving in to finish me off, he hesitates in awe that his best punch has failed to lay me down. Planted in his mind is a new notion never before experienced in the ring – doubt. Neither of us throws a punch for the remaining few seconds of the round that I have miraculously survived. Another battle goes to the kid, yet I still hold slim hope that the war will be mine.

Round Six: He is growing arm weary, having thrown far more punches up to this point than he has ever thrown in a fight before. After easily controlling the pace for the first minute of the round, his punch output sharply decreases as he looks to rest. I can throw my own punches more freely now, most of which I direct towards his body, for they are far more difficult for him to elude than those aimed at his head. Many of them bounce off his biceps and triceps as he covers up. The judges will not award me enough points to win this round, because technically, my punches are not landing. You know how I feel about technicalities. I’m not concerned about getting credit for my labor. I know that if I persevere, operating methodically rather than with eye catching flair, the work I do now will pay dividends later on. Never in my life have I shied away from a hard day’s work. When I first laid eyes on Velma and fell instantly in love, I did not expect to make an overwhelming first impression on her, and this expectation was met. It took several months for me to wear her defenses down, earn a first date, show her that my heart was pure and intentions were true. I did not falter, kept my eyes glued to the prize until eventually, the sight of me began to make Velma smile. That’s when I knew I had her.

Round Seven: These are uncharted waters for the kid, being dragged out beyond six rounds. He’s now in the longest and toughest fight of his career. Again he dominates the first minute of the round, clowning around while punishing me to demonstrate his superiority. I’m having trouble seeing the punches that I could not avoid even when my vision was clear. Most of them land, yet they lack the pop and sting that characterized them earlier. After sixty seconds, his pace slows once more. Again I attack, starting to land with some consistency. Most of the scars on my body are older than this boy, yet he is the one with labored breathing while I’m just beginning to come on strong. He catches me with a wicked right cross. I counter with a left hook of equal emphasis. Our first legitimate two sided exchange. I’m starting to enjoy myself.

Round Eight: The kid initiates the action with a blur of firepower that makes it seem as if he is part spider, wailing away at me with eight arms while I hopelessly defend with only two. I finally respond by unloading an uppercut into his midsection, causing him to back away, not proud or smart enough to hide the fact that I’ve hurt him. I step forward and he continues to retreat. The kid is on the run. He’s not invincible after all. He is made of flesh and blood just like me, and he can be made to suffer just as I have suffered. I begged Velma for another chance, but my pleas were in vain. Just as they were whenever I pleaded with my mother to stop drinking and to stop letting random strangers into her bed, into our home. Just as they were when I pleaded with my father years earlier to stop hitting her. But I never begged or cried when he turned his fists on to me. I took the hits like a man, even though I had not yet reached my teenage years. I swore that one day when I was bigger and stronger, things would be different. I swore that I would kill him. But my wily father, who taught me nothing in life except that I was worthless, which I refused to believe and still do no matter how low I sometimes feel, stole the sweetness of revenge away by ending his own miserable existence. I have backed the kid into a corner. He is unaccustomed to fighting with his back against the ropes. Yet he surprises me with a flurry of accurate punches, proving that the most dangerous animal of all is a trapped one. The fourth punch of his combination is an uppercut that redirects my line of vision towards the building’s ceiling before my eyes fall shut. When they reopen, I see and hear that the referee is deep into his count. I realize that I am flat on my back. The ref has reached a count of six. What am I doing, lying around on the job? Without giving my brain a chance to protest, I scramble to my feet at the count of eight. I am asked if I’m okay and if I know where I am, and apparently the answers I give are satisfactory. The kid is immediately back on me like vultures over a carcass, putting every ounce of remaining energy into his punches. I understand that there is still much time left to go in the round. I also comprehend that one of two things is likely to happen. Either he will take me out, or else he will punch himself out. I do not clinch, I do not run, and of course there is no place for me to hide within the confines of these four posts with ropes stretched taut around them. I simply do what I’ve been doing my whole life, inside and outside of the ring. I take my licks and weather the storm. With ten seconds left to go, I see realization in the kid’s eyes. He will not be able to knock me out, not this round, not this fight, not this lifetime. He is far ahead on points. If he boxes cautiously and intelligently until the final bell, he will be awarded the decision in unanimous fashion. But I will remain standing, and I can see in his eyes that we both feel this will be a victory of sorts for me. I hit him with hooks to both sides of his ribs, then I nail him on the chin, and he grabs hold of me and hangs on for dear life as the round ends.

Round Nine: Once back in my corner, I realize that sitting was a huge mistake. The stool is far too comfortable. Lou asks me if I’m okay, if I wish to continue. I’ve never heard such concern in his voice before, and he’s been in my corner for many rounds, many years, countless devastating punches. I don’t say anything, but I do nod to acknowledge willingness to subject myself to further punishment, which keeps Lou from throwing in the towel. The bell rings and I am once again headed towards the kid, and he towards me. Immediately he takes a big, looping swing with intent to decapitate and end the proceedings. I duck the punch and dig a shot into his kidneys. The last words spoken in the corner by Lou still ring in my ears. “If he catches you clean again, don’t be a hero. Just take a knee, then go cash your check.” This triggers the memory of Velma’s words of departure to me. “I don’t love you anymore, Jack. I’ve been trying to get my love back for the past couple years. But I’m tired of trying. I’m tired of living a lie. I’m tired of being with you. So I won’t be any longer.” The big shot that Lou warned me about arrives. It’s a straight right that hammers me in the mouth, disorienting me, my legs turned to rubber. Although I’m virtually blind anyway from the swelling around both eyes, I amateurishly close them as I throw the final punch of my boxing career. It lands flush on what I instinctively know to be the kid’s temple. I open my eyes, then walk to my corner and look around at the incredulous cheering fans, paying little attention to what’s taking place in the middle of the ring. Next thing I know, my tired and aching body is being lifted to the heavens in congratulations. The referee has finished his count. Victory is mine.

* * *

Two days later I lie in the bed of a seedy (and for using this term, I do apologize to all seeds) motel room. My right arm, the one that recently delivered me to glory, is hung over the side of the bed. Just below the reach of my fingers is a pint bottle of tequila, the remainder of its contents spilling on to the floor. Velvet, the love interest I hired for tonight’s festivities, has one of her legs up on a chair, pulling up a fishnet stocking. She has very shapely legs and was an enthusiastic and flexible bedmate, three qualities I certainly admire. I place her age at roughly the same as my own. In her profession, just like mine, the aging process is a formidable foe that always wins out in the end. I could have chosen a younger girl, but youth does not always triumph over experience, as I just recently proved in the ring. Velvet and I have finished conducting the activities that I paid for, so she is preparing to leave. She is kind enough to tell me that she had a real nice time, a probable lie that I nonetheless appreciate. Yet I say not a word in response. I am not being rude, for I’m a firm believer in chivalry towards women, even those who have sex with strangers for money. After all, I do punch the living daylights out of strangers for a living. What Velvet does seems a considerably kinder contribution to mankind than my own. I do not speak to her because I have lapsed into a coma. At least, that’s what I’m guessing this state of body and mind to be. I am completely immobilized and incapable of speech. Ten seconds ago I was fine, having just experienced what will apparently be my final orgasm. As I lay basking in the proverbial glow, something inside of me turned off. I can see what I’m facing, which is the rather exquisite sight of Velvet getting dressed. I can hear and understand what she’s saying. But I’m as frozen in place as last night’s TV dinner, and I sense it’s only a matter of time until I’ll no longer be capable of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, or experiencing anything. This is the end. Too many punches snuck past my guard over the years. The damage has been increasing fight by fight, and it seems as if the kid finished up the job. In my left hand I clutch a fistful of dollars. Velvet has already been paid, so at least I have the comfort of knowing that I’ll meet my maker without debt. Better men than I could not say the same. Velvet has now left my path of vision. Staring at an empty chair is far less appealing, but I have no choice in the matter. I wonder if she noticed that at my peak of ecstasy, I called out someone else’s name. But Velma is pretty close to Velvet, so perhaps she didn’t notice. Anyway, I doubt that’s her real name. The chair has faded from view. I see only blackness, although it’s possible that my eyes are still open. There’s no way for me to know for sure. The room is silent, the deepest silence I have ever experienced. I may be alone, or perhaps Velvet is still putting herself together. I am unable to tell. But I do know that I haven’t lost all of my senses yet. I still have touch. Either that, or else I’m only imagining the feel of prizefight money in my hand. I try to remember how much cash I have left, but such complex brain functions are beyond me now. I do remember purchasing a nice casket and headstone for my mother yesterday. On the best of days I didn’t like her very much, even though I understood that she had good reason for shutting out love in order to anesthetize herself from any more pain than was necessary. She did give birth to me, so I suppose I owe her something for that. Now we’re even. No debts whatsoever for me. No regrets either. I gave my all in this life. The final result is beside the point. Last night my name was mentioned on ESPN. How do you like that? Maybe they can inscribe what the broadcaster said about me on my tombstone. I hope I have enough money left over to cover it. If not, I’m sure I can afford to have what the ring announcer said inscribed, since it was so concise and matter of fact, yet so eloquently put. And the winner is …

x x x x x

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson Memorial Service

Following is a series of thoughts that I had while watching the Michael Jackson memorial service online, expressed via comments of 140 characters or less on Twitter.

Hopefully Michael Jackson will be the final black person buried in this country who spent most of his days wishing he was white.

One can at least hope. By far this was the saddest part of his legacy. Fame & fortune & adulation were no match for MJ's racial insecurity

MJ's racial insecurity may have led directly to his death since addiction to drugs was result of addiction to unnecessary surgeries

I've personally known 1 black person who wanted to switch races and wasn't shy about saying so. He was racist against black people. Bizarre

Ironically, had Michael Jackson been born a white person he probably would not have become the SUPERSTAR that he came to be

In terms of popularity & influence I'd put Jackson up there with Ali & Jordan & Elvis at the top of the list. Tiger Woods gaining ground. [Obviously that last sentence was written prior to Tiger's implosion]

Michael Jackson was an amazing performer who will be sorely missed. He revolutionized musical entertainment.

That was the framework of his legacy. Much of the rest was a confused mess of sexual & racial identity issues

Yet I must repeat that I will miss him and pray that his departure from this world ended his torment. And I appreciate that he longed to “heal the world” even though he couldn’t figure out how to heal himself.

This nation's struggle with racial relations and identity is what led me to write Patches of Grey in what I've coined the "pre Obama era"

Once upon a time we were treated to the trinity of James Brown, Michael Jackson & Prince. Only one of them left now.

James Brown, Michael Jackson and Prince take turns on stage on a magical day in 1983.

As a writer I'm obviously a fan of well chosen words. There are a number of wicked lyrics spread throughout the body of MJ's work

“Deep In The Darkness Of Passion's Insanity -I Felt Taken By Lust's Strange Inhumanity - This Girl Was Persuasive - This Girl I Could Not Trust - The Girl Was Bad - The Girl Was Dangerous”

“I've learned that love's not possession & I've learned that love won't wait. I've learned that love needs expression but I learned too late”

Most if not all of those who believed MJ to be guilty of child molestation stopped supporting him regardless of their race

Retweet –“ I love when some Blacks speak for all Blacks about MJ. Black Telepathy Implant?” [Agreed. Only fried chicken luv covers all]

When I say all, I mean ALL. What the heck race must you belong to not to enjoy breaded, deep fried chicken? What is there not to love?

Even as Michael Jackson was having his skin bleached, dyed, peeled, whatever, I suspect he was munching on take-out from Popeyes. [This tweet and those preceding it were written prior to Magic Johnson’s KFC anecdote]

Berry Gordy got one thing very right. Lil MJ absolutely tore up Who's Loving You. That performance gets me every time I hear it

You will not make me weep at work, Stevie Wonder. Not going to happen. Time to close my door

Will Reverend Al inspire or agitate? We'll see. Probably the former on this occasion

Yep, Rev. Al was in the zone all right. "Wasn't nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange what he had to deal with. But he dealt with it."

I wish Miles Davis could return from dead right now to play Human Nature and do it true justice. John Mayer will have to do. Talk about mountain to molehill comparison

You can tell John is thinking of his next tweet as he plays. Just joking

Nice job by Mayer. You can't mess up a gem like human Nature if at all competent. Instrumental guitar was wise choice.

It's as if Michael Jackson wrote “Gone Too Soon” for his own funeral. Pretty common thought I'm assuming. Here’s another one. Nice job of performing it by Usher

Michael wisely advised us to 1st look at the man in the mirror b4 juding others. Sadly he thought man in his mirror was too tan & wide nosed

But today is not about his faults. It's about his legacy. You were magical, Michael

The Jackson brothers were boyhood idols of mine. Listening to Marlon now it's so clear that regardless of circumstances we're all just people

Michael Jackson's daughter just killed me

Paris' tribute to her dad - a side of Michael that only she & her brothers knew

Cliché time - Unless you've walked mile in his shoes, if casting 1st stone from glass house - 2day u learned first and foremost that MJ was a man loved by his child

Brooke Shields gave a very touching testimony to "keeping it real" on behalf of her friend

MJ was an enigma, that's 4 sure. As Rev. Sharpton pointed out, he made it cool to be black, made Americans of other races comfortable about it

He also wrote Black or White, claiming it made no difference. Yet it sure seemed that he was very aware of & uncomfortable with his own skin

Smile people even if you aren't on Candid Camera

According to recent tweets 85% always idolized MJ, 10% mocked him, 5% were indifferent. In real life % of mockers was easily over 50%

Nothing like dying to bring fans back into the fold. I wonder if it will work for OJ if he's shanked in prison.

I suspect that 25% of anti-Michael Jackson tweets are coming from die-hard Farrah Fawcett fans. Just playing

Ok, Land of Short Attention Span. MJ memorial is over with, what's next to obsess over & tweet about? Better plan - go hug someone you love

- Roy

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Short Story Sunday VI

Wade carried on a silent exchange with the boy. His eyes stated - I did this for you, son. Jeremiah's unblinkingly responded - Thanks, Dad.



Copyright by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Wade observed with indifference each feature of his old neighborhood that had changed, noticed without a trace of nostalgia that which remained the same. He walked with a slight limp on his left side, chewed a piece of gum exclusively in the right half of his mouth. Periodically he re-tucked his shirt into his jeans. This was a newly acquired habit, caused less by vanity than a need to get re-acquainted with his clothing.

Eight years had passed since the soles of his shoes last touched this pavement. The fact that he had counted each day served only to lengthen its duration. He was painfully aware that they could never be retrieved. But he could seek retribution. There were debts for him to re-pay, scores he had to settle. Such thoughts held Wade's spirit captive throughout his lost years, much like how the prison walls confined his body.

The shortness of Wade's temper had grown to legendary status in these parts. His existence was marked by a succession of attempted quick strikes. Why study when a classmate could be bullied for schoolwork? What was the point in toiling bitter hours when greater wealth could be obtained with less exertion? Why spend his ill gotten gains on what could be taken with little risk?

Wade's method of operating was to seek victims who had little chance of defending themselves. He feasted on the young and the old, handicapped and pregnant, blind, deaf or just plain stupid. Many considered this an indicator of a barbaric disposition, but in truth, Wade wished to shun violence whenever possible. By victimizing those least likely to fight back, he rarely found it necessary to harm them. He only hurt those who deserved it, those who had done him wrong. For them he felt no pity, and to the maliciousness of his retaliations there was no limit.

Calvin Morris was victim number one. An outgoing personality and seemingly kind demeanor were perfect masks for Calvin's predilection towards young boys. Wade decided on his fourteenth birthday that he was finally big enough to express disapproval of Calvin’s abhorrent behavior.

People were shocked by the brutality of the slaying. The corpse found three days later had been mutilated almost beyond recognition. There was no mistaking that the killing had been a personal matter, but the sadist responsible was never discovered.

The span of time between offense and vengeance was considerably more brief Wade's second go round at homicide. When Vinny Carbine thoroughly whipped him in a fistfight; took his money as he lay battered on the ground; then added insult to injury by spending it on a date with Wade's girlfriend; vengeance was publicly sworn. Three weeks later Vinny's prone body was found in an alley, right next to the pipe which brought about his demise.

Wade's reputation grew steadily from then on. The word was out that he was a man of his word, and his say on a matter would be the final one.

He paused before a familiar building, the first stop on his homecoming tour. Wade had never been inside, only done what he was doing now, looked up at the third floor window. The intensity of his glare seemed almost capable of setting the building ablaze. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, the pigeons perched on the ledge chose to take flight.

The man spotted through the window was none other than his father. Luther Cole had abandoned his family shortly after Wade’s first steps. Unlike most deserters, he did not vanish from sight. Instead he moved only five blocks away, taking up with a woman who had three kids of her own to whom he became a loving, responsible step-father. Though their paths frequently crossed in the years to follow, Luther treated his first born as a stranger.

Wade ran a hand over the bulge in his back pocket where his knife was carried. Unlike his father, he did not possess the ability to ignore the ties of flesh and blood. But after a minute passed, he walked away. He was impotent to act upon the rage his father stirred. Being a long absent father himself, he had to be open to the notion of forgiveness. Otherwise he could not dare ask it of his own son.

A man with a ferret-like face spied Wade and swiftly abandoned his companions and the game of dominoes they were engaged in for the shelter of a bodega. He did not move quickly enough to escape Wade's notice.

Eight years earlier, Rico had supplied incomplete information that resulted in Wade's incarceration. It had been a reasonable oversight under the circumstances, but Rico knew of men killed for less malicious deeds by more forgiving souls.

Mrs. Wilkins was chosen by Rico, who received his usual fee for the tip, because she perfectly fit Wade's criteria. She was over seventy years old, lived alone, didn't have a dog, and had amassed a tidy sum over a frugal lifetime which she trusted no bank to hold.

Rico failed to come across only a single detail, but it was a rather significant one. Mrs. Wilkins' steroid popping grandson was staying with her for a week while his apartment was being painted. Wade managed entrance into her home before she could close the door, only to find himself in an unmovable headlock. Although the bare minimum of his breaking and entry was accomplished, a good fright was put into Mrs. Wilkins, one which proved too much for her weak heart. This did little to evoke sympathy from the jury of peers who would later deliberate and condemn.

Wade walked past the bodega without interest. Fortunately for Rico, the anger he expected to face was tempered by the fact that less time than usual had been given to select a mark. Speed was more essential than caution at the time. Wade had been urgent to pay off Wallace Morgan, their neighborhood's resident loan shark. Ordinarily he would not have borrowed so heavily, but betting on Mike Tyson seemed a sure thing. Iron Mike turned out to be a great disappointment. Wallace however, would be true to form and zealously pursue the debt. Every dollar not promptly received would be taken out of Wade's hide.

The playground that Wade approached doubled as Wallace's base of operations. Up ahead was a familiar profile, topped off by an ever-present fedora. Wade patted his back pocket. If Wallace wasn't willing to be reasonable, he would have to be paid back the hard way.

When Wallace turned around, it was immediately obvious that the dilemma was resolved. The vacant stare in the former tyrant's eyes said as much, as did the drool that dribbled down his chin. The bullet that entered Wallace's skull three years earlier miraculously failed to kill him, but left nothing the same except for his extravagant wardrobe. Wade smiled, nodded to the former hooker who loved Wallace and now spent her days playing nurse for him, and moved on.

Upon arrival at the penitentiary eight years earlier, Wade ended up in the same cell block as another graduate of these streets. He and Ronnie Hastings had not much cared for each other back in the old days. The mutual dislike was not cured by their new circumstances. They mostly avoided each other, but men in confinement tend to find one another sooner or later.

The timing of their scuffle could not have been worse for Wade. He was up for early release, but any shot at it evaporated with the altercation. He spent another two years behind bars, and felt those seven hundred plus days were owed to him by Ronnie.

Wade knew precisely where their reunion would take place. This was going on the assumption that Ronnie had been able to reclaim the corner from which he did business, selling pot which was predominantly oregano and cocaine that was mostly flour. Wade was curious to see if in continuation of the theme, the blood in Ronnie's body would largely consist of cherry syrup.

The element of surprise should have been on Wade's side, but it was the lack of illicit activity on the corner that came unexpectedly. He didn't need to wonder why for long. The explanation was sung to him. He followed the sound of exuberant gospel music to its source, a store front church which had formerly been a hardware store. The revival was at full force, and Wade decided to take a peek.

It seemed his eyes must be deceiving him, but after a double and then triple take, the same sight remained before them. The man waving his bible from behind the pulpit, rousing the crowd to heights of religious ecstasy, was none other than Ronnie Hastings. He had moved less than thirty feet from his old spot, but had apparently converted from a small time dealer to one peddling the greatest narcotic of them all. Surely this was a con, but if so, Wade had to admit it was a convincing one. People were dancing in the aisles, praising God like there would be no tomorrow. Wade could almost feel a whiff of Holy Spirit creeping up on him, so quickly stepped outside before he felt inclined to throw money into the collection plate.

Though he held strong reservations about the sincerity of Ronnie's new vocation, until he knew for sure, he would put his payback on hold. He was willing to mess with many a dangerous thug, but drew the line when it came to stepping into the ring against the Almighty. If Ronnie's soul truly had been born again and was dedicated to saving others, then it was safe from Wade. For now, anyway.

Continuing on his journey, it wasn't long before Wade stood outside the home of his best friend. He and Larry had once been like brothers. They were always in the same classes at school, until Wade's troubled home life spilled over to his scholastic efforts, causing him to be repeatedly left back until he quit altogether in his freshman year of high school. By not getting regularly promoted, Wade became the biggest and toughest of his classmates. Once he decided to take advantage of this status, the role of bully came naturally to him. This proved to be the seed of activities which eventually blossomed into the criminal. As for Larry, he chose to take a more straight and narrow road than the sinewy fast lane Wade raced upon. But the bond between them was never entirely severed, for they shared a secret that would secure it for life. Larry was the only person to whom Wade had confessed his killing of Calvin Morris, and the motive for that act.

There was something else that they shared as well. Four years earlier, Larry had visited him in prison and confessed his love for the mother of Wade's child. His blessing of the union was requested and given. Wade gave the matter scarce thought at the time. Why ponder what one could do nothing about? As long as he was behind bars, they could be together whether he liked it or not. But he was no longer anesthetized by fate's cruel twists, nor in a position where his feelings must be kept on hold. He was now free to vent them any way he saw fit.

Wade was startled by the front door opening and crouched behind a bush to remain hidden from sight. Larry came out carrying a trash bag, which he deposited a few feet away from the shrubbery, completely unaware of how vulnerable he was to a strike.

But he was safe from harm, for Wade bore no ill will towards him. Larry was a good friend and a good man, the kind Sarah deserved to be with. Wade could only bring pain and hardship into her life. His ways were set, and they were not those of a steadfast husband. Larry and Sarah had been honest about the relationship that developed between them, dulling any sense of betrayal on Wade's part. His son could do far worse than to have a man like Larry for a live-in role model.

Wade moved steadily as a shark until he came upon the building he was raised in. There would be no open arms to welcome him if he ventured through the door of his mother's home. He wouldn't even be allowed to cross the threshold, for she had disowned him, just like his father years earlier.

Once Wade's livelihood became apparent to his mother, she attempted to correct the error of his ways. But he ridiculed her efforts as a born again mom. Her opinions no longer mattered to him. He did not feel he owed any apologies to the woman who had given him life but absolutely no reason to find pleasure in it. Not after she tainted it by filling the side of the bed vacated by her husband with a succession of men.

Wade's childhood was spent watching a constant stream of strangers pass through the whorehouse his mother made of their home. It was urgent desire to be anywhere the sounds from her bedroom could not be heard that made him such easy prey for Calvin Morris. Getting high was his mother's top priority during his formative years, and she did what she had to in order to fund her suicidal hobby. After a near fatal overdose, she finally straightened up. Then she performed a hypocritical 180 degree turn and became intent on rehabilitating, reprimanding, and sobering up all less than pious souls within a stone throw. But by then, Wade had hardened beyond redemption.

After he was arrested and the outcome of his trial was apparent, his mother could have opted to make peace. It may have been comforting to believe he was worthy of a mother's love, even if it was only a token gesture. Instead she saved her most condemning diatribes for last. She acknowledged no accountability, and expressed regret only for giving birth to him.

Wade's hands trembled at the thought of his mother's neck between them. For a woman to forsake the child she bore was the most unpardonable of acts. Hell most certainly had a special spot reserved for her. But Wade would not be the one to send his mother to her inevitable destination, for to harm the woman who delivered him into the world would be equally damning. Instead of going upstairs, he headed to a nearby motel. A matter of utmost importance was on tomorrow's agenda. Although he was leaving numerous loose ends untied for the time being, there was one appointment that absolutely nothing could prevent him from keeping.

The following morning Wade headed nervously towards P.S. 217. His prior night's sleep had been a restless one. Around the most reckless, fearless and lawless of men, he felt no qualms. But the thought of finally meeting the boy he had fathered was downright terrifying.

Wade had been arrested and convicted during Sarah's pregnancy. When she used to visit him in prison, back while they were still playacting the facade of being a couple, Sarah offered to bring their child to meet him. Wade vehemently refused. He didn't want his son's first memory of him to be that of a prisoner, a number recycled by the state.

Wade had committed many a calculated, unnatural act. But of one sin he could not be accused. From the moment Sarah told him she was pregnant, Wade strove for nothing less than the best for his child. Though he did not love Sarah, he decided to act as if he did. His kid deserved a nurturing environment. Wade intended to buy a house, marry Sarah, and create the family he had always fantasized about being a part of. The first goal would be the most difficult to accomplish, for up till then he had spent money as fast as he stole it. One lost bet and botched robbery later, his big plan was swapped for a prison term.

Wade lost eight years of being a father, nearly a decade of his dream. Once it came to be reality, his life would turn around. He would become the man that his son needed him to be. He would not leave Jeremiah with bitterness and questions in place of love and guidance, for he knew too well what that could do to someone. He had created a life, so had no choice but to be responsible for it, to protect his legacy from an often hostile, always indifferent world.

Wade entered the schoolyard which was teeming with raucous grade school children. The natural exhilaration of youth was heightened by the fact that this was the last day of school before summer vacation. He scanned their joyous faces, searching for a younger version of his own. His name was called out. Wade turned towards the voice and his gaze fell upon Sarah. He lowered it, and there beside her stood his son.

As he walked towards them, two questions loomed in his mind. What would he say to the boy? How does one begin to be a father? Wade crouched down, held his fingers out, and caressed the child's beautiful face. He looked a good deal like Sarah, especially around the mouth. But those eyes. Wade had seen them thousands of times before in the mirror. Nevertheless, it was something else altogether which confirmed that this was indeed his flesh and blood. Something else that caused a tidal wave of love to pour from Wade's heart. Like his father, Jeremiah was chewing a piece of gum exclusively in the right side of his mouth.

And yet no words came to Wade. It was Jeremiah who initiated the conversation, which he did wordlessly, with a smile.

"Jerry, is this your father?"

"Yes, Mrs. Cornwell."

Wade looked up from his son to the person who had walked over and interrupted their first meeting. He knew the name from Sarah's letters. Though her visits had ceased after she took up with Larry, they maintained a regular correspondence to keep Wade up to date on Jeremiah's progress. Mrs. Cornwell was his son's teacher. She would be his teacher again once classes resumed, for Jeremiah had been kept back a grade.

In one fluid motion, Wade removed the knife from his pocket and plunged it into Mrs. Cornwell's abdomen. A subtle twist made certain that the damage inflicted would be permanent. Making a child feel inferior to his peers due to arbitrary scholastic measures could cause major psychological damage. Such actions should never be taken lightly, if at all. This woman had chosen to play God over his son's life, an unmerciful and unforgiving one at that. Someone needed to safeguard children from people like her. Wade was a father, duty bound to keep his child out of harm’s way.

He turned his attention back to Jeremiah, peered deeply into the twins of his own eyes. Oblivious to the screaming, and chaos, and spilling of blood around him, Wade carried on a silent exchange with the boy. His eyes stated - I did this for you, son. Jeremiah's unblinkingly responded - Thanks, Dad.

x x x x x

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Interview with Urban Reviews

Urban Reviews: Tell our readers about Patches of Grey.
Roy L. Pickering, Jr.: Patches of Grey tells the story of a struggling African-American family. It is set in the Bronx, NY in a time not too long ago, but pre-dating the “rise of Obama”. Its narrative focus alternates among members of the Johnson family with primary focus on the eldest child Tony, a high school senior embarking on the first great love affair of his life. Tony has a contentious relationship with his father in part because the girl he has fallen for is white, in part due to collegiate ambitions and a color blind mindset that do not mesh with his father’s prejudiced outlook, and largely because their many differences in perspective are accompanied by similarly willful temperaments. Over the course of a tumultuous year Tony's brother is entangled in gang culture; the chastity of their sister is tested; and their mother shoulders the load of marriage to a man drowning his disappointment one drink at a time. When things fall apart, their last hope is that the blood they share will be strong enough to hold them together.

Urban Reviews: How did you come up with the story for this novel?
Roy L. Pickering, Jr.: Inspiration by definition is basically a mystery. My goal writing a first novel was to write what I knew, and as a young man who was not especially well traveled, I can’t say I knew all that much. But I knew about family. I knew about love. I knew about struggling to define yourself in a manner that contradicted what many others expected of you. I knew about being judged at a glance rather than by the content of my character. I knew how people spoke to each other and what they communicated through silences. These were my experiences, so I concocted a story that allowed me to utilize my awareness of the ways of the world along with my self-awareness rather than attempting to re-invent the wheel. The remainder of the process was manufacturing inventions and lies to reveal my tale. What is fiction after all if not the telling of lies to uncover truths?

Urban Reviews: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Roy L. Pickering, Jr.: I’ve been a voracious reader since first learning as a grade school boy how to decipher the patterns of letters that make up words. The first full blown novels I read were “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne. I was amazed by the affect words on page could have, the places they could take me, and decided that I would attempt to one day dazzle and delight readers with my own words. Somewhat surprisingly the Verne books did not make me a genre specific fan. I did not proceed to strictly devour fantastical sci-fi stories. Instead I became a devotee to the power of books in general, and over the following years my preference for literary fiction developed.