Sunday, August 30, 2009

Short Story XII

" for regrets, he had discovered their uselessness a long time ago."


By Roy L. Pickering Jr.

The old man drank his beer slowly, savoring every droplet of the liquid gold. His one good eye occasionally took in fellow patrons, though he did not wonder what their stories were, their presence mattering not in the least to him, except as objects to keep his retina engaged. He regarded the reflection of his mirrored image, examined the busy intersection of lines that obscured what had once been a handsome face. As usual, he kept the examination brief. A fly landed on the bar within striking distance. The old man raised his hand, but only to toast another living creature whose existence mattered as little as his own.

The old man excelled at drinking alone. It was perhaps his last remaining talent. He had no friends to speak of, having outlasted most, not being vigilant enough about keeping in touch with the others. The last person whose presence he had regularly tolerated was Jarvis Jones. Jarvis was an able chess partner who was kind enough to spring for the old man’s beer from time to time. Then he moved down to Florida to dwell amongst fellow retirees in a warmer climate. After that, the old man paid for his own beer and replaced chess with the solitary sport of pigeon feeding.

There had been a steady source of warmth in the old man’s bed once upon a time, back when he wasn’t quite so old, but old enough to have exchanged his most romantic notions for acceptance of human limitations. They were never wed, having met at too late a stage in their lives for such formalities to be of importance. The relationship was less an affair of the heart or loins than one of convenience. She tolerated the proximity of his decaying body and only read the parts of the newspaper that he ignored. This kept them together until breast cancer pried them apart.

The old man had a son from an encounter with a red headed woman who cursed like an angry sailor when she climaxed, yet made him turn his head as she undressed. She was a chain smoker and a rapid talker, and the old man still vividly recalled how steeply her hips sloped down into the valley of her waist. Five months after their night together she told him she was pregnant, informed him as a courtesy, not a threat or claim of expectation. The old man had never seen his son, not even a photograph. Perhaps his son was in actuality a daughter. No matter. Either way, the kid was better off knowing only that a father of some sort had to have existed. Rumors disappoint far less than reality.

The old man watched his favorite of the two waitresses pace back and forth for a few moments, appreciating the bounce of her ample bosom, though not especially aroused by it. In his list of priorities, pleasures of the flesh and delights of the senses had taken a back seat to matters of more lasting value. The clock on the wall informed him that the appointed time was close at hand. In a few minutes, everything would be different. Maybe not better, maybe not worse, but different.

He reached into his pocket to make certain that what he required was still there. Next he cleared the phlegm in his throat, a mostly useless action, since it did little to increase his level of comfort, and he had nothing in particular to say.

The old man pushed his right thumb between two buttons on his shirt. He caressed the old scar to be found there, etched by a knife blade wielded by a man he had offended in his reckless youth. Feeling the scar was a firmly established habit. The stretch of hairless flesh was appreciated, because most of the old man’s memories, whether good, bad or neutral, had failed to supply him with tangible evidence such as this one.

Two minutes to go. His beer was only half consumed, still cold. He wiped away the condensation on the bottle, certain that it would reappear. The old man was not someone who took certainties for granted.

Highlights of noteworthy plays in various baseball games showed on a television screen behind the bar. The old man had once loved baseball. He knew now what had taken far longer than it should have for him to realize. It was an honor to love, a privilege not to be taken for granted. What else had he loved in the lengthy toil that constituted his lifetime? A well worn fedora, a well played trumpet, a well turned double play, a non-obtrusive cat, and yes, there had once been a girl. Emily was her name. Eventually she married another man who was more seriously intentioned; more responsible about practical matters; as if reliance was what made the world turn round. The old man knew better. Living longer than most had made him too stubborn to unlearn his convictions, therefore convincing him that wisdom had been gained. What else is wisdom if not a series of beliefs that no one can discredit or disprove?

Another glance at the clock told him that his waiting was done. The old man was without fear, or uncertainty, or anxiety, or curiosity, or concern over his level of preparedness. And as for regrets, he had discovered their uselessness a long time ago.

The waitress he favored was pouring someone a glass of red wine. A man laughed louder than was necessary. A woman ordered a margarita, frozen, no salt. A middle aged woman coyly whispered into the ear of her more inebriated, less aged companion. A man in a blue pinstriped suit discreetly removed his wedding band. A bleached blonde showed off her pregnant belly for the entertainment of those interested in such affairs. Cigarette smoke floated gracefully over her head like a halo. A boy who was three months shy of 21 sipped his rum and coke with surreptitious pride. The song on the jukebox ended, there was a brief moment of sultry silence, then the opening chords of another melody. It sounded familiar. Maybe Sinatra, maybe Springsteen, maybe someone in between. The old man didn’t wait for recollection to remind him what the name of the tune was, or of which unsentimental memory he had attached to it. Instead, he removed the pill from his pocket, placed it on the center of his tongue, and swallowed it down along with a mouthful of still cold beer.

He pictured Emily’s smiling face, thought of what might have been, what might not have been, and if the difference was of consequence. Then he awaited the inevitable; surrendered his spirit to what was unknown, yet seemed so familiar; passively celebrated the end of too many years that had amounted to nothing much. Nothing much at all.

x x x x x

Friday, August 21, 2009

Doing the Crime and the Time

Lately there have been countless discussions taking place around water coolers, online message boards, and in back & forth tweets on Twitter regarding the topic of crime and punishment. Fyodor Dostoyevsky would be so proud. Professional athletes being arrested for various infractions is no new thing, but lately the profile of the players has been especially high, and despite the top notch lawyers they've hired, repercussions are actually being paid. In cases where the legal system did not hand down a stiff penalty, league commissioners have stepped in to lay down the law in a heavier manner. The message stated has been clear. Professional sports leagues are extremely image conscious, quite PR savvy, and the image they wish to project is a relatively wholesome one. We're not supposed to think of steroids or recreational drug use or gunplay in clubs between posses or drunk driving or any other types of reckless, illegal behavior when we see the NFL, NBA, or MLB logos. We're supposed to look at admiration towards superior athletes and all around class guys who at worst may have to deal with some paternity suits in the offseason. Perhaps it was OJ Simpson who got this ball rolling. He famously escaped criminal punishment, at least initially, but it seems as if he was the straw that broke the system's back. After that, preferential treatment for celebrity athletes went out the window, particularly when it came to criminal activity at the more serious end of the spectrum. No doubt ballplayers still get away with speeding through red lights in order to get prime parking in a handicap spot all the time. But if they think they can walk around acting like Billy the Kid or Tony Montana and not end up paying significantly for the damage left in their wake, they would be well advised to think again. Donte Stallworth somehow got away with only having to spend 24 days in jail after killing someone in a drunken hit & run accident. Much public outrage was expressed about this, but that outrage didn't add a single minute to his sentence. The fact that he spent less than a month in prison for killing a man says more about the quirks of our justice system than the fraternal twin powers of money and celebrity. Had Stallworth been a construction worker instead of a NFL player he may have received the same sentence. Then again, had he been a construction worker he might have been able to go right back to his job after leaving jail. But since he works for the NFL, which we've been repeatedly told is a privelege not a right, Stallworth finds himself indefinitely suspended. He may never again play football for an extravagant salary and has no one to blame for this but himself. Michael Vick had to spend a couple years in prison for his crimes, but now that he has paid for them he is being allowed to put pads on once more for a NFL team. In the revolving door between the NFL and prison, just as Vick re-enters the league Plaxico Burress exits stage right to the penitentiary. Carrying a loaded unlicensed weapon into a New York nightclub simply is not a good idea. Taking a self-inflicted bullet that night probably was painless when compared to the 2-year prison sentence he's about to start serving. There's a decent chance that he too will never play in the NFL again. Burress will just have to use the memory of his Super Bowl winning touchdown reception to sustain him on lonely nights. Is there a lesson to be learned from all this? Nothing that isn't so blatant it shouldn't need to be taught in the first place. If you somehow are talented and/or lucky enough to end up with everything you ever dreamed of, stay asleep and drag that dream out for as long as possible. There's nothing waiting for a man in prison but restless nights. So if you're a well paid professional athlete considering illegal activity, I recommend turning the other away and departing from that scene quicker than Usain Bolt.

- By Roy L. Pickering Jr. (author of Patches of Grey)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Favre is back - Palin won't leave

Back on 9/29/08 I wrote the following piece on this blog. At the time I was close to being equally wired about what was going on in the worlds of sports and politics. In the former, my beloved Jets had just enjoyed a history making victory over Arizona Cardinals with then quarterback Brett Favre throwing six touchdowns. Ironically it was the Jets who would fall apart after a 8 – 3 start and end up missing the playoffs while the Cardinals found themselves in the Super Bowl with a fourth quarter lead before eventually going down. None of this was foreseeable as I sat down to write last September. When it came to football, all was right with the world. Brett Favre seemed poised to deliver precisely what Jets Nation desperately hoped for, a return to respectability and perhaps dare we even think it, to greatness. Super Bowl III happened a long long long time ago. Could it be that the hired gun / NFL legend we convinced to change the shades of green on his uniform would turn back the clock and pull off the improbable if not downright impossible? Apparently not. Brett’s throwing arm betrayed him (specifically the bicep) and then he betrayed the Jets by retiring when I suspect he knew all along that he longed to still play. Perhaps betrayal is the wrong word though, for I also suspect that both parties knew all along he would be a 1-year rental. Even had the Jets won the Super Bowl with Favre I still wouldn’t be shocked if he subsequently retired only to unretire and join the Minnesota Vikings. Winning a Super Bowl with the Jets would not have been sufficient vengeance against the Green Bay Packers. Only winning as the shining star of their arch enemy Minnesota Vikings would accomplish that. If Favre cared only about continuing to play in the NFL and not so much about spite, he’d still be playing for the Jets. The Packers pissed him off by setting up provisions in his trade to the Jets that made it impractical for New York to turn around and trade him to Minnesota where he wanted to be all along. Green Bay made it inevitable that his attempt at revenge would have to wait at least one year. That year has come and gone as quickly as they all do. Brett’s a Viking now, about to start at QB in their second preseason game. The Jets did their part (preplanned?) to move his plan along by relinquishing their rights to him after trading up in the draft to obtain Mark Sanchez as their quarterback of the future. If anyone seems destined to be the reincarnation of the hope and success Joe Namath brought to the franchise way back when, Sanchez appears to be that guy. As for Brett Favre, he is simply following up on what he has wanted to do since the day Green Bay told him that Aaron Rodgers was the guy they planned to go forward with. His desire for payback and to scream out “I TOLD YOU SO” is the worst kept secret in the NFL. He played amazingly in his final season as a member of the Packers and had the Jets poised on the brink of greatness after 11 games last season. So I don’t doubt what he's capable of and wish him well on his quest, somewhat juvenile though it may be. He wants to play and the Vikings want him to play for them, so nobody has been harmed by his annual pre-season song and dance other than Green Bay fans who can only see him from the perspective of a devoted cheesehead, which is also understandable. The chips will fall where they may as they always do. When the Jets landed Favre last year it seemed almost too good to be true, and in the end that’s pretty much what it was. Like their 8 – 3 start, Favre’s tenure with the team was basically a mirage. The present and future in Jetsville belong to Mark Sanchez and company. As usual, the goal for the upcoming season is greatness or bust.

I don’t have nearly as much to say in follow-up to the second half of my 9/29/08 posting where I discussed Sarah Palin and her then upcoming debate against Joe Biden. Whereas Super Bowl winners only get bragging rights for one year, winners of presidential elections have them for no less than four years. Team Obama-Biden won in a rout and now have their hands full presiding over a nation. If any man is up to that task it is Barack Obama, or at least that’s what I hope for a variety of reasons. Former President Bush and former presidential candidate John McCain have been respectful of the current administration primarily through silence, leaving the noise making to former Vice President Dick Cheney and former VP hopeful, Sarah Palin. Cheney has picked on his old boss nearly as much as he’s complained about President Obama, but Palin is only looking forward to four years from now so doesn’t bother criticizing McCain or Bush or anyone else from the past. This isn’t to say that she hasn’t been looking at the past, particularly Obama’s, choosing to align herself with silly conservatives (aka birthers) who question the President’s U.S. citizenship. Her other post election day accomplishment of note is quitting her job as governor of Alaska, apparently to spend more time on Facebook and Twitter. Guess she figures that the internet worked wonders for Obama’s presidential bid, so why not for her own future one. As they frequently say on Twitter – SMH – an acronym I once had to look up to learn that it means “Shaking My head”.

By Roy L. Pickering Jr. (author of Patches of Grey)

Sunday, August 16, 2009


This story ain't for everybody, just the sexy folks! Short but sweet - aka A Quickie.


Copyright by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Pushing, pushing, pushing. Harder, faster, deeper, as deep as I can go within myself to find what it will take. What will it take to surge past the boundaries I reside between? They can be overtaken if mind is at one with will, transforming the material that forms me into an iron piston, pumping relentlessly, fueled by ego, mastering the rigors of perpetual motion.

Complete and total singleness of purpose. Focus funneled down to a pinpoint. Mind instructs heart to pump blood through throbbing veins to nourish ligaments and tendons, enabling them to perform their one and only task. Perform as if life depends on it, as if everything I hold dear is on the line.

Muscles creaking like an ancient rocking chair straining to support the bulk of a not so easy rider. Can I surpass my breaking point? Thrusting upwards, downwards, up then down, back and forth, again and again, primed to succumb to God and nature, driving onward nonetheless, solely on primeval instinct.

I cling to her desperately, like an infant to its mother's nipple. My sweat forms hundreds of steaming rivulets, becoming hundreds of minuscule waterfalls, abandoning my body for hers. Our movements are in perfect synchrony. I give she yields, she gives I yield, we are as one.

My body begs for immediate gratification, but I deny myself this selfish pleasure to obtain a greater reward. This is the moment at which I usually falter, conviction overmatched by senses. Not this time, I command. Not this time.

My limbs are taut, like the strings of a guitar over tuned. One infinitesimal turn will be enough, cause them to burst, yet I must take that risk, I must go on. The time for rest will soon arrive, and once it does will be richly deserved. But I cannot cheat the clock, must not betray the oath I made to see this through to the end.

Moans escape my lips, not quite drowning out the gentle, steady hum she makes. My pace quickens to match the pulsing of my heart. I see myself echoed in the mirror. Body gracefully poised, muscles fully flexed, limbs rotating in perfect symmetry. Vanity steps in to aid the flow of adrenaline. I hope I can, I think I can, I know I can.

The tunnel's end is gloriously illuminated. Finally I have succeeded in overcoming thresholds imposed by the mortality of flesh. I did not allow myself to fall short, ignored the protests of this aching frame and pushed forward to a new plane, a final frontier.

Her hum converts into a sigh. I am entitled to sweet repose, merciful release. Tension has vanished, satisfaction taken its place. Inner peace serves as masseuse.

All is silent now, my breathing no longer labored and audible, she back to a state of initial expectancy, awaiting the next man willing and able to put her to the test. She won’t have to wait long. There is always another in line for her services.

I climb off of her, full of self-congratulation. Forty minutes. I knew I had it in me. No challenge is too great for determined manhood. History is a testament to this fact. All it takes is desire moderated by discipline. I stretch my exhausted appendages and give her an affectionate pat. Then I walk away. No time to savor victory, there's still work to be done, new foes to conquer, more fertile ground to be tilled.

Now that I’ve mastered the Stairmaster, I think I’ll move on to the Lifecycle.

x x x x x

The Michael Vick Story

In terms of football strategy, the signing of Michael Vick by the Philadelphia Eagles to back up Donovan McNabb at the quarterback position was a no brainer. The ship of their organization is McNabb’s to either sail or float, and if by chance he goes down to injury, by the time Vick is eligible to play again he will be a far superior replacement for Donovan than anyone else currently on the Eagles roster. As a public relations move many people feel that the signing of Vick was a risky one, even with the blessing of the somewhat sainted Tony Dungy. I’m not in that camp. Football fans in Philadelphia by and large will support him if/when he gets into games because he’s on the home team and they are there to support and root the Eagles on. When the Eagles are on the road will there be some razzing of Michael Vick? No doubt. But along with cheering for their hometown heroes fans are also there to jeer the opposition, something Michael Vick is well aware of, so a bunch of posters with pictures of injured dogs on them shouldn’t rattle him too much. Even if PETA holds organized protests, which is not guaranteed to happen, the court of popular opinion is a fickle one that will weigh above all else. Michael Vick was Public Enemy # 1 when accused, convicted and incarcerated. But now he’s a man seeking redemption, a comeback story, and above most things Americans love a good comeback story. This season marks the beginning of Vick's fresh start in the protected position of a back-up role. Next season he most likely will be a starting quarterback somewhere, presumably not in Philadelphia unless events unfold in a manner such as what happened with the ascension of Tom Brady over Drew Bledsoe in New England, and Michael Vick will be all the way back to being one of the most popular players in the NFL. This is assuming that he still possesses the skills that made him a star in the first place. If his speed and arm strength have eroded considerably over the past two years and his accuracy is average at best, he’ll simply fade into the background as the superstars of tomorrow take center stage. Redemption needs to be accompanied by extreme prowess to write a Hollywood ending. This story is only at its mid-point so who knows what twists and turns lay ahead. But as I sit here writing about Michael Vick for the third time [this being the first time, and this being the second time], one thing about him is certain. Through the combination of God and parent given talent and self inflicted turmoil, the man is a sportswriter’s dream.

- Written by Roy L. Pickering Jr. (author of Patches of Grey)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Short Story X

Short Story Sunday has reached double digits. Hopefully you'll enjoy the latest one, and as always, all comments are appreciated. An old ad campaign once gave us the great line - Between love and madness lies obsession. "I Watch" is about living in between.

I Watch


I watch as she floats across the street, her daughter's tiny hand securely clasped in her own. The sun competitively brightens in envy of her superior radiance. Other pairs of eyes cannot help but be drawn to her, taking an all too brief moment to pay ocular appreciation, but only mine fail to unlock from the vision. I watch with a completeness swiftly growing extinct in a world full of easy access distractions. It would be simpler to tear a coat of paint from a house in a single strip than to remove my retinas from the feast of delights before them. Every blink is a torturous nanosecond away from paradise.

I watch as she delivers her angel safely to the schoolyard, and then heads underground. As always I follow, my focus unwavering, my distance painstakingly calculated. Never so near as to cause discomfort, but always in close enough proximity to keep her within range of my tunnel vision. I prepare for the inevitable. A train pulls into the station and she embarks, moments later transported beyond the scope of my radar. It will be several hours before I am next able to gaze upon her. I can wait. It is what I do second best. As for first ...

I watch her emerge, appearing in increments with each step up the stairwell, beauty exposed gradually like the blossoming of a rose on a nature program where the film is sped up to make hours transpire in mere seconds. I wish the pavement was sand so I might marvel at the evidence of her path. While waiting for a traffic light to change she bathes in the illumination of the night; street lamps; garish neon signs from businesses desperate to attract attention; the winks of angels and the steady one eyed squint of God, better known as stars and moon. I follow dreamily, taking special delight in inhaling the air she has just exhaled.

I linger for a minute after she enters her home, her life beyond that which is lived in my eyes. My gaze cannot penetrate the brick walls, but imagination takes me where I do not wish to go. My mind's eye presents the image of the woman I crave in the company of her husband, a photocopy of marital bliss. Against my will and the laws of science it seems I can hear through those walls the pet names they have for one another, that I am able to witness them making passionately tender love. What I imagine her hidden life to be is no doubt close to the truth, but truth can be denied if not examined too closely, whereas imagination is beyond dispute.

Though my gaze upon her is remarkably steady and constant, the fact of the matter is that I take in only what I want to see, reinforcing that she exists for me, and me alone. Her present circumstances are no more than a mirage, a period I must endure to prove my heart true. Time will eventually see to its demise. Then the prophecy which has been written across the sky in indelible ink will come to fruition. Calendars will be discarded along with all time pieces, for the world will have a new starting point. Until that moment arrives, I watch.

I've watched the way she brushes back her hair, fingers reveling as they part five separate trails through a velvet ocean. I've watched her drop a cigarette to the ground, step on just the embers with the toe of her left shoe, slightly twist it away from her body, then back towards it, the sweetest extinction of fire one has ever witnessed. I've watched her resting on her belly on a blanket in the park, her feet free from high heeled bondage, toes curled as if preparing to sleep in fetal position. I've watched the maternal glow her face takes on as her daughter bounds off to join classmates. I've watched the corners of her mouth turn down as she glances at her watch, concerned about running late. I've watched the last seven years mature, refine and perfect a beauty that could render a man helpless. And so it did, and continues to do. I've taken her in little by little until I contain nothing but desire for this woman who passes by the window of my world, and I am content merely to watch. For now.

The time is destined to come when I will devour what a mere taste of proved devastatingly addicting. She was impossibly lovely and morose on that distant night when I spoke my first words to her. The man she thought would be there forever had abandoned her. I wanted to tell her she was mistaken. He who would never leave was still present, because that man was not who she thought, whose absence she mourned by trying to drink away the pain, but was I. These thoughts I held inside, and instead let myself be absorbed by her emerald eyes while listening compassionately until she tired of talk. At her suggestion she left the bar with me, came home with me, and there we became one, her smooth caramel complexion contrasting against my taut milk chocolate. As if we had spent countless hours independently rehearsing for this performance, the movements of my hardness and her softness were simultaneously strenuous and effortless, our synchronicity echoed by our shadows on the wall. Her fingers kneaded my musculature while I plunged into the depths of her moistness and emerged baptized, saved, born again. My tongue followed the exquisite curvature of her body, rejoiced as the narrow of her waist expanded to the ripe thickness of her hips, paid homage in clockwise rotation to her plump lips, right collar bone, the peak of a succulent breast, its twin sister, left collar bone, then back to where my journey begun. I delightfully lapped up every drop of her sweaty sweetness as she panted for more and I obliged on command. Not quite at the same moment yet both on cue, our mutual desire exploded and our bodies writhed uncontrollably, locked into place, then gradually sunk into her mattress as tension released into the night like doves to the sky.

She had noticed how I unwaveringly stared at her on Friday nights as she unwound at the end of each work week. The directness of my gaze did not bother her, for it seemed more admiring than lustful, more appreciative than hungry, though the thoughts held beneath it were actually equal parts all of the above. She had known for a long time that I yearned for her, but she was not available, and if she had been, it would have been left up to me to do something about it. The arrival of such a moment seemed wholly improbable, until it was suddenly before us. That night she rewarded my slow but steadily boiling fervor. When she closed her eyes to repose after our passion was spent, instead of also going to sleep I stood guard till dawn; memorizing her expression in slumber; hypnotized by the rise and fall of her abdomen; engulfed by the scent of her sex; mentally connecting the dots that formed the supple lines of her body. The next morning I planned to divulge all I had stored within the deepest chambers of my over packed heart. But I didn't get the chance. She saw the words coming and purposefully cut them off with those of her own. Words that shredded my dreams to confetti.

We were to pretend it never happened, or that it didn't matter. For me both scenarios were beyond comprehension, but she was already well underway, had perhaps begun to forget even as it was taking place. I had been used to help put the past behind her, to kick start the future, but not one in which I would play a part. As much as one appreciates a band aid for stemming the flow of their blood, they also cannot wait to tear it off and discard what immediately grows useless once its purpose has been served.

I accepted these terms, though I knew they would straitjacket me. I did not want to pressure her. Due to great patience I had managed to physically possess her, although under cruelly temporary circumstances. I would wait a little longer, until she realized there was no need to search further and surrendered her soul to my adoration on a permanent basis. There existed no doubt in my mind that she would soon recognize the inevitability or our joint destiny.

Two months later I sat in my usual place on a Friday night, watching as another man won her smiles before my scarcely blinking eyes. Yet I did not worry. Not at first. But as time passed by, days turning to weeks and then months, his presence refusing to fade away as expected, the truth could be denied no longer. This man would succeed where I had failed for the simple reason of superior timing. Her heart was now healed, she was ready to move on, and that is what she did. Within a year they were wed. What was I to do but swallow my torment? And watch.

I hold firm to the trust I have in fate, continue to revitalize myself by her existence while keeping my presence scarcely detectable. Good things come when they are awaited, and so they will, and until then, I watch.

I have been with many women since she put a taint on the rest of her sex. Others can be no more than settling for me, and that is something I refuse to do. The standard was set too high to be reached by mere mortals. Their imperfections blare too brightly, contrast too sharply with the Heaven I know can and does exist. They fulfill my basest needs, nothing less or more.

Fortunately, I have a special talent that gets me through the nights I fill. If I look at a woman intently enough, my eyes can transform her briefly into whom I wish her to be. This trick doesn't last for long, but for long enough. I scarcely make a sound as we thrash about, hopeful that the body beneath me does not recognize that in my silence, I am screaming the name of another.

My life is on hold, this I freely admit. I know what I want, nothing less will suffice. I ache at the close of each day that does not end with her in my arms. Yet I go to sleep full of hopeful anticipation that when I awaken, my dreams will venture beyond sleep.

I need no convincing that every passing second is one closer to the one I long for. There exists not a shred of self-consciousness or shame suggesting that I change my ways. For what I do is pure, the most holy thing imaginable, undertaken for no less a motive than love without boundaries, without conditions, without a date of expiration.

Even so, in order to endure seven years of ceaseless hunger and be willing to embrace an indefinite amount more, I need something to sustain me. The strongest of faith requires the occasional reassuring nudge from God. Every so often, following no particular pattern, always watched for yet never expected when it happens, I receive a sign, the most subtle of gifts. On certain nights indistinguishable at the start from any other, as she bathes in radiance drawn both from manmade illumination and celestial bodies, she will turn slightly towards me. Her eyes will rest on mine for a brief span of time. No change is undergone by her expression. Before the beating of my heart has time to accelerate, the moment will have passed. She will have continued on her way, and once again I simply do not exist to her. But this is of no matter, for the moment was there, it was real, and within it everything I needed to hear was stated. My presence was more than merely acknowledged. It was welcomed, encouraged. Permission was granted to continue waiting for a day that may not be foreseeable, but is nonetheless set in stone somewhere on the horizon. Until then, there is but one thing for me to do.

And so I watch.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Black Literature – Dead or Alive

This posting was written after I was prompted by a question posed at

So called black literature is not quite dead, but seriously injured in my humble opinion as someone who reads and writes plenty of it. This most likely is a temporary, even if rather long lasting condition. The problem isn't that there are not plenty of African American authors writing quality novels. The problem IS that these books aren't the ones being published, or when published, the ones being heavily marketed and promoted. Major publishers, who despite the emergence of self publishing still by far have the biggest say, have decided that only a small segment of fiction by black authors is sellable. This segment is largely made up of so called urban-street-hip hop fiction of a quality that presumably is somewhat superior to most self pubbed books falling into this genre. Thanks to the success of Waiting to Exhale oh so many years ago, "sassy tales of sistahood" bound in colorful covers also manage to get pubbed by the divisions of publishers dedicated to putting out books aimed to attract African American readers. Waiting to Exhale imitators are basically writing so called chick lit with black characters. Erotica with black characters sells nicely as well, with no small amount of credit to Zane. I'm not sure what the difference is (if there is one) between works of erotica and those fake letters published by Penthouse, but apparently it's critical to some readers whether the man's shaft/rod/spear/etc. is compared to ivory or ebony. Who would have thought this genre would have such a strong post-puberty fanbase? Not I.

What I want to know is where is the black authored literary fiction? Too few books too far between take up space on shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble. Apparently surveys were conducted and tests showed there is not a significant enough audience for such books. Once upon a time pretty much all black fiction was serious and literary in nature. Times were troubled and our literature reflected this. Writers like Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude Mckay, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen and Ralph Ellison had no shortage of material to work with during the hard times referred to as the black writer’s renaissance. Times are much better now, equality if not quite reached then come "close enough" to, with President Obama's existence being the prime example of this theory. So it has been concluded that there's no need for a 21st century Native Son or Invisible Man or The Chosen Place, The Timeless People, or etc. The civil rights struggle has been waged and won, so we can relax now and bring on the fluff. Such an attitude hurts all African American art, with literature the most adversely affected, although I suppose a very similar argument can be made for the plight of jazz. Walker, Morrison and a couple others have been designated as the official providers of serious African American literature, with no more room left at the table for additional voices. There is plenty of room of course, but it will not be freely offered, it needs to be taken by writers with something significant to say who find a way to grab the attention of an easily distracted audience. This mission is a worthy one, and a necessary one.

With African Americans being a minority group in this country, which makes AA lit a minority amongst genres if it absolutely must be considered a genre, I have no problem with any particular style or subject matter that is being written. Everyone should write in their own voices and about what they're passionate about. But since AA lit is a minority genre unto itself for the time being, it can only thrive through diversity and quality. There must be high brow to accompany middle brow and low brow. We can't allow ourselves to be represented as a group through the equivalent of the cartoon network without also showing consistent capability to both create and appreciate Masterpiece Theater. I'm fine with an outrageous BET reality show or lighthearted Tyler Perry production so long as balanced by substantive screenplays by Spike Lee. Books have a far more lasting impact than TV or movies. Classics of today will be taught in classrooms a century from now. So we must tell the full range of our stories in the widest range of techniques in order for AA lit to be amongst those classics. Neither genre nor subject matter is really an issue. A great literary novel can be written about the life of a drug dealing pimp (even one set in space in the 23rd century) same as a piece of drivel can be written on the same topic. I will always take quality over quantity, although quantity is critical too, not merely the amount of titles but the amount of perspectives being explored by the literary minds of our day. Darwin was right. Only the strongest will survive. This pertains to literature along with everything else. History will not judge the color of writers' skins, only the value of what they had to say and how well they were able to express it.

Ultimately I wait for the day when African American (aka Black) Literature is not considered a genre/category unto itself. It's somewhat ridiculous for there to be both a Paranormal Romance section and a Black Paranormal Romance section. Simply read a review or the back cover copy to learn what the race of the main character happens to be, and if this is at all relevant to the plot. The person who writes the next The Color Purple should not have their book placed (at the very least, not exclusively) on the Black Literary Fiction shelf. A shelf allocated to Literary Fiction by One and All, or simply to Great Books, should be more than sufficient. That's the shelf I write with hope to one day be set upon.
x x x x x
- Roy Pickering (author of Patches of Grey)

PART II to this story

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Short Story Sunday IX

A story that many women can relate to whether they want to or not.


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

"Shake it baby, shake it." "Honey, you got some serious back." "Girl, you got it going on." "I sure do like what your body language is saying to me." "How about giving me your number, sweet thing?" "Can I have some fries with that shake?"

Lawanda Jenkins marched steadily onward, avoiding eye contact with anyone. She valiantly tried to appear oblivious to the onslaught of howls, whistles, and grunts that greeted her. As usual she ignored each juvenile proposition issued in her direction, amazed that the hormonally over-charged Neanderthals she passed by considered their coarse remarks to be compliments.

How she hated walking past this construction site every morning. Unfortunately it was on the same street as the train station, so she had little choice. And even if she were able to avoid the construction workers, her problem would not be solved. She would still have to deal with leers from fellow subway passengers. Bike messengers who whizzed by as she walked to her office building would continue to shout lewd comments. Co-workers would still take lingering stares at her posterior when she bent over at the water fountain. The guy behind the counter at the deli would not cease his undisguised glances down her blouse, regardless of how little cleavage she had on display, as he handed her lunch.

It infuriated Lawanda to no end. But what was there to do? Ever since the onset of puberty at the tender age of thirteen, she had felt a prisoner to her body. The desert her chest had been suddenly became a mountain range, and her string bean figure transformed to a tantalizing hourglass. Initially she had been pleased by her new physique, but the pleasure turned out to be short lived. Lawanda quickly found that by developing the type of body that usually predestined a woman to the centerfold of men's fantasy magazines, nature had altered how she would be perceived without giving her any say. Her personality was banished, all thoughts or opinions ceased to bare weight. Nothing about her mattered, except the way she looked.

And she certainly was looked at. Everywhere she went men gazed intently, surveying the various impressive parts of her anatomy, appraising her body as if it was being auctioned off. As the years went by, Lawanda learned the ironic lesson that the more she was seen by others, the less she seemed to exist. Most everyone, other women not excluded, viewed her body without truly seeing her.

Lawanda did not passively accept her fate. Instead, she worked her tail figuratively off (literally it wasn’t going anywhere, just following behind her, attracting steel hard stares like bees to honey) in hope of being recognized for her achievements rather than endowments. She earned the highest grades at the finest schools, after which she entered the publishing industry, forsaking higher salaries that would have surely been earned in other fields so she could be closely involved with her greatest love - that of literature. The net result of her efforts was this. At the age of sixteen, she was seen as a great set of tits and ass in a prep school uniform. Now, nearly a decade later as a lower rung editor at a major publishing house in New York City, she was seen as a great set of T&A climbing the literary corporate ladder in a no-nonsense business suit.

The life of Lawanda Jenkins as she saw it was the crystal clear illumination of a single point. Men, first and foremost, always are, were, and will be pigs. If the construction workers' behavior wasn't a strong enough indication of this, then surely, the relationships she had endured were.

There was her stepfather, Roland Jenkins, who had been using her mother as an emotional punching bag for years, and whose interest in the daughter of his wife never quite managed to feel parental. Todd Hayes, the high school senior Lawanda dated when she was a freshman, foolishly allowed to first base, then watched her reputation get tarnished from his claims of making it all the way to home plate. In college there was David Sandler, who crossed the color line to proclaim his love for her, then crossed right back to get engaged to a lily white girl mummy and daddy must have just loved. Rick Hanson appeared to be everything Lawanda wanted, until she found out she wasn't the only one getting it. Not by a long shot. Most recently had been Tyrell Coleman; shy, introspective, sensitive, a younger man she believed she could mold in the necessary areas. Unfortunately, his roommate Brad molded him first, pulling him out of the closet and across country with him to San Francisco.

When her mother married Roland, Lawanda's life underwent some major changes. She was 14 at the time, as overwhelmed by his net worth as her mother was. One of the first things he did after becoming a member of their family was to take Lawanda out of public school and begin her education at topnotch private institutions. Always a bookworm, she greatly appreciated the improved quality of her education. As her mother saw it, the main benefit of the move was that Lawanda was now set in place to land as big a catch as her mother had. But when America's top one percent took a look at Lawanda's sensuously enhanced chocolate proportions, bringing her home to meet the folks was the furthest things from their minds. All they wanted was her body, and they proved to be no less crude in expressing this than the construction workers.

At twenty-five years of age she had heard one too many slurs, ignored one too many tongue wagging stares, dealt with one too many lascivious invitations, felt one too many uninvited gropes. The construction workers were the straw that broke the back of the camel.

"You got it, so you might as well use it."

That had been the advice imparted by her mother, a woman not lacking in physical attributes of her own. She believed she was following this directive in landing Roland Pearson. Observing their marriage from up close had taught Lawanda two valuable life lessons. The first was that class did not necessarily accompany money. Underneath his custom made wardrobe, Roland was a crass brute who considered everything, including people, to be for sale, subject to whatever abuse he saw fit to bestow upon purchase. The second was that love was more important than any physical possession, and a person should be loved for who they were, not what they had.

Unfortunately, Lawanda did not have the power to change the world and make others also think this way, not even her own mother. When men looked at Lawanda, they only saw what she possessed, after which they could care less about who she was. Their only concern was getting themselves some.

Lawanda's experiences had set her off on an evolution of opinions about the male of the species. She once thought swinish personality traits the domain of immature high school boys, until she discovered that the behavior wasn't outgrown once a diploma or even a degree was in hand. She had thought that prep school boys would be more respectful than the less affluent ones left behind, but learned the main difference was that the former had more money to spend on trying to get her drunk. At one point she was convinced that white men would treat her better than black men had, but came to see that jerks have no color restrictions. Even sweet, sensitive Tyrell (whom she had suspected of being gay from the start, but tried to change his mind before he could make it up) had not been much better than the rest, breaking up with her via email.

So here she was, twelve years since her training bra had become obsolete. In the time to follow, countless vulgarities had been thoughtlessly cast her way and her heart was repeatedly broken as each potential Mr. Right proved to be Mr. No Different Than The Rest. Something would have to change. Something needed be done.

By the time Lawanda arrived home that evening, she had a plan in place. No man was going to make her feel like a piece of meat ever again. She would take a stand on behalf of women everywhere. Like Rosa Parks, she would commit a simple act of defiance because she was too tired to stand the injustice any longer. Maybe her action would also have repercussions felt near and far. She would refuse to play the part of helpless lamb, turn the stares off of her and back onto the voyeurs, release the rage bottled up for so long. Her act would be a symbolic castration of the entire male sex. The recipients would be the most blatant of her tormentors - the construction crew.

Lawanda began preparing for her undertaking. First she removed a garment from her bedroom closet that she had bought but not worn to celebrate her last birthday. It was unreasonably expensive, beyond the limits of the strict budget she maintained by a good margin, but she had been unable to resist. The form fitting dress showed off her shoulders, Lawanda's personal favorite feature, not that anyone else ever noticed them. It also highlighted the portions of her anatomy more typically appreciated by the male of the species, and was a shade of red even a blind man would notice. Tomorrow she would accept no excuses for shyness. She wanted to illicit tongue hanging stares, every lame "compliment" and come-on that could be thought up. Lawanda would not focus out the lustful noise as she usually did. Instead, her response to it would be at the ready.

Lawanda unlocked the bottom drawer of her desk. From it she withdrew a cigar box containing the 45-caliber pistol given to her by Roland when she moved into her first apartment. "A pretty girl like you has to be able to protect herself,” he’d said about the most bizarre house warming gift. “You can never be too careful."

She examined the weapon in her hands, familiarizing herself with its size, shape, and weight. On first sight the weapon had terrified her. Just holding it, even with full knowledge that it contained no bullets, made her tremble. She tried to decline the gift, but as always, Roland was extremely persistent. It was strenuous enough for her to repeatedly refuse the checks he offered to help supplement her income. She would end up taking but never cashing them. Lawanda was determined to make it on her own, and would rather live paycheck to paycheck in a small apartment for the time being than accept generosity she was certain came with strings attached. The spending of Roland’s money was left to her mother, for she was married to him, so she was the only person who was supposed to be entangled in those strings. Lawanda planned to get rid of the gun immediately after receiving it, but never got around to doing so.

Holding the gun now, she was surprisingly calmed and empowered. The cold steel felt in her hands the way a pacifier must feel to a baby's mouth. Lawanda placed the weapon in her purse. Then she made herself dinner.

The following morning she checked herself out in the mirror, making sure that her hair was flawless, her make-up perfect, and that the dress she would be wearing outside of her home for the first time clung to her body just right. Ordinarily she felt ambivalent about such procedures. Her instinctive desire to look attractive conflicted with her knowledge that the better she looked, the more attention she would draw. Today though, attention was exactly what she craved.

Lawanda left her apartment and headed towards the construction site, as self-conscious as an Oscar nominee walking the red carpet cover by a million dollars worth of borrowed jewelry. Every man she sauntered by gaped and gasped as the beauteous vision in red glided past. She smiled back almost flirtatiously as she played the upcoming scene in her mind. It felt wonderful to flaunt the sensuality she had deliberately stifled all these years. Every sashay of her hips served to further liberate her mind.

There they were. Lawanda began to have second thoughts upon sighting the sweaty, helmeted men, and for a moment was on the verge of turning around and rushing back home. The moment passed. Lawanda adjusted the dress one last time, then headed in her sexiest strut towards her nemeses.

As she drew closer, one of the workers spotted her and alerted his cohorts. All work they were doing came to a halt. Lawanda reached into her purse and caressed the metal for reassurance. The gun had come to serve the role of security blanket.

She was a woman who rarely felt secure. Not even after she had moved out on her own for good, and was no longer the object of her stepfather’s constant, blatant, disconcerting gaze. Neither he nor any other man had ever physically harmed her. In this regard, she was luckier than many. But there were plenty of frightening situations that Lawanda had just narrowly managed to escape.

Certain guys seemed not to comprehend that the desire she inspired in them was not necessarily reciprocated. Although she dated quite selectively, a degree of fear inevitably surfaced during the times of fierce passion she inadvertently stirred. Some men had difficulty taking no for an answer, even when no hints had been given that any other response was to be expected. This was especially the case when they were made stupidly bold by alcohol. Unfortunately, there was no foolproof way to tell these men apart from the others in advance, just as there was no way for the construction crew to know how fed up she had become.

"Damn you look good, baby." "Come here girl, let me rock your ..."

No more offensive words. The time for decisive action had arrived. The men’s eyes grew wide as Lawanda's hand was swiftly withdrawn from her purse, and then thrust towards them. Any subsequent commentary was stifled when the woman who usually walked past with no reaction to their bawdiness, forcefully extended her middle finger into the air.

Lawanda walked on triumphantly. She had done it. She had put aside her years of lessons in proper etiquette and demonstrated precisely what she thought of their behavior. Lawanda Jenkins had shown them that she was no bimbo they could talk down to like a cheap hooker. She was a woman of class, elegance, refinement and style. And she wasn't to be trifled with.

She turned right at the next corner, heading towards the nearest pawn shop. Roland's words aside, security blanket or not, what Lawanda needed more than a gun was some cash. She had a dress to pay off.

x x x x

Inspired by Degas painting