Thursday, December 29, 2011

YEAR OF THE UNWED BLACK WOMAN




The end of each year is marked by a wide variety of Top 10-20-100 lists. Also, inevitably, it is declared “the year of the _____”. Different groups fill in the blank with different declarations. There is no right or wrong answer. Every orbit of the Earth around the Sun features several prominent issues that can claim ownership of the retreating calendar. Like millions of others I spent a great deal of time in 2011, probably too much of it, on Twitter. A strong case can certainly be made for 2011 being the Year of Twitter. Or we can lump it in with FaceBook and other online venues and announce that 2011 was the Year of Social Media. Let others make that claim. This is my blog and based on casual observation, much of it done on Twitter, I’m announcing right here and now that 2011 was the Year of the Unwed Black Woman.





I an intrigued by race based themes and this year left me with no shortage of them to ponder. The election of Barack Obama has made the people of this country more obsessed over racial origin than ever. Instead of serving as proof that we have moved beyond race, it just made everyone more preoccupied about it. A majority of the people of this nation may be willing to pick a black man as their President if the alternative is sufficiently lame (Sarah Palin as running mate? Really?), but many are unable to examine situations without peering at them through the prism of racial identity. Every other week (give or take a day) a debate over use of the “N word” or what qualifies someone to be considered a “real black man” rather than a tan imposter came about.





Another blazing hot topic in 2011 was marriage. You’d think gay people would have dominated it with a good number of them allowed to legally marry for the first time. Plus we had a royal wedding this year, a fairy tale ending/beginning to gawk at in high definition. But on Twitter, or at least in my particular tweetstream, the topic that repeatedly emerged was not gay marriage or royal marriage or reality TV marriage. Instead, the subject constantly dissected and analyzed and bickered over was the marriage rate of straight African American women. Apparently the percentage of married black women is lower (at least in a certain age range) than it is for women of other races. Or at least it’s lower than that of white women, for after all, black people (at least on my tweetstream) don’t spend much time comparing themselves to Asians, Latinos, etc. It’s almost always a Black versus White issue, no matter what the issue may be.





Off Twitter and wandering about the real world, at least my version of reality which takes place mostly in New York City and northern New Jersey, I’m not seeing this epidemic of black women unable to find mates. I spy black women paired off all the time. My family is chock full of happily married black women. Perhaps my immediate environment is an aberration to the national trend. Surely all of those articles wouldn’t have been written, all of these doomsday statistics cited, if there wasn’t legitimate grievance to be aired. So despite what I’ve seen with my eyes I’ll nonetheless accept that black women are under-married. Now that we’re in agreement on the existence of the What, it’s time to examine the Why.





A few explanations jump out at me. The incarceration rate of black men is unnaturally high, taking too many qualified (by melanin) applicants out of contention. Black women on average are better educated than black men, considerably more likely to have a college degree and beyond, and understandably a good many of them do not wish to “marry down”. These two reasons are frequently mentioned by those who choose to examine the unmarried black woman phenomenon. A third reason perhaps less frequently given is that there are more single black mothers than single white mothers, more black babies born out of wedlock. Since a woman with one or more kids from a previous relationship is often not at the top of a man’s wish list when deciding on a mate, this would lower marriage odds for black women overall.







Each of these explanations is measurable, quantifiable, and fairly sensible. But since the topic is an emotional one, many of the studies and articles do not focus on hard evidence. Instead they target reasons that are a tad more subjective, circumstantial evidence leading to proclamations such as “black men are dogs” or “black men want white women much more than black women”. I won’t bother to delve into the canine character assassination, but will remark on interracial relationships being a root cause. It is true that due to social progress in this country, blacks and whites are much more likely than a few decades ago to have friendly rather than contentious relationships, with some of them being romantic in nature. So yes, more black men are married to white women today than in 1961. More white men are married to black women than in 1961 as well, so this is not a shift that leaves black women totally out of the equation. Do more black men marry white women than white men marry black women? I suppose the answer is yes since several of the unmarried black woman exposés focus on why they should consider giving white men a shot as solution, or else on why they most certainly should not break the dating color barrier. Still, I doubt the disparity is so dramatic as to be the primary explanation for 2011 being The Year of the Unwed Black Woman. The number of white women who never went black or else did but eventually went back dwarfs the number who are determined to pilfer from the insufficiently robust “good black men” pool. Kim Kardashian, who supplied America’s pathetic response to the bash at Buckingham Palace with the second “royal wedding” of 2011, is not a symbol for why black men have forsaken black women. She’s just someone who has improbably stretched her 15 minutes of fame to nearly an hour now, dating a few brothas in the process.







I’m going to stick with the reasons that are backed up by numbers in my thesis, based on facts rather than opinion, even if facts can be malleable when expertly manipulated. Fortunately for unwed black women who wish to exit the demographic, these explanations which are based on data rather than generic finger pointing need not be set in stone. If each situation improved by just 10% the alleged shortage of married black women would probably cease to exist. Ten percent fewer black men in prison, ten percent more black men with college diplomas and the better jobs this leads to, ten percent fewer black children born into single parent households. The first scenario would certainly be a positive thing, so would the second, and some fairly strong arguments can be made that children are better off entering a family with two parents waiting for them. I personally don’t think it significantly matters if the two parents are the same ethnicity, or different genders, or if they’d go to unequal lengths in pursuit of a Klondike bar. Bottom line, math says that two are greater than one, and when it comes to parenting, two are often more effective than one.




With these three situations each altered by ten percent it would probably be viewed as less damning by those who take offense that some black men marry women of other races (not because they absurdly hate all black women but simply because they fell in love with someone who was not one). As for some black men being intent on making babies and breaking hearts with minimal interest in being responsible for the devastation left in their wake, not much to be done about that. Like cockroaches, jerks of all races aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Some situations simply can’t be altered, and practically none of them can be complained away.




Regardless of whether these 10% shifts happen (probably will not occur over the course of the next twelve months), my hope is that talk of the infamous unwed black woman is receding in our rear view mirror. Surely another topic deserves a turn in the rotation, perhaps one that completely lacks a racial component. Now how radically postracial would that be?! My fingers are crossed that 2012 will be The Year of Something Else. Just about anything else will do.


THE UNMARRIABLES?  OH MY!

Here's another option!

Friday, December 16, 2011

OPEN LETTER TO THOSE WHO PENNED OPEN LETTERS






Earlier this week Gene Marks, who by all appearances happens to be a middle age white man, wrote a piece for Forbes called 'If I Was A Poor Black Kid'. Problematic title of course. I wonder if it was his choice or the magazine's. The article amounts to a list of suggestions that might be employed by a disadvantaged youth of color to improve his or her circumstances. Some of them were so blatantly obvious and commonly stated that you wonder why Marks bothered to repeat them. Stay in school and study hard. Computer literacy is a good thing. However, since many poor black kids (think I'll shorten to PBK going forward) do not focus and excel in computer class or anywhere else in school, no harm in reminding. A couple of his tips were a little less obvious, possibly even helpful to a MOTIVATED PBK who might stumble upon the article. "Motivated" is capitalized for a reason. The primary curse of poverty is that it squelches motivation to rise above.


The ensuing ridicule heaped upon Mr. Marks (complete with at least one Twitter hashtag for guidance) was swift and relentless. Critics showed their disdain with a few quickly dashed sentences of mockery for starters, then set off to write fully fleshed out responses. I won't name drop them as I've done with Marks, but chances are you've either seen a published rebuttal or else a Google search will lead you to one in an instant.


The annoyance and derision inspired by Marks' article was basically on account of the messenger, even if writers claimed it was the message that got under their skin. How dare a PRIVILEGED (capitalized because it's the curse word du jour) white man dispense advice from his ivory tower to the darker, huddled masses? He isn't one of them, never was, never will be, so he may as well be the teacher talking to Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang - Blah blah blah.


No one who felt compelled to answer the Forbes article with one of their own seemed to think that perhaps Marks' heart was in the right place, even if the anatomical result looked more like his foot in his mouth. The rebuttals weren't about providing alternative suggestions, superior recommendations. They weren't about disproving the point that if you find yourself in the worst school, striving to be the best at the worst may give you a fighting chance. Marks grossly under-evaluated a major societal woe and proposed simplistic solutions. But in attacking him, his detractors did not remedy a thing. They merely seized upon an opportunity to make fun and proclaim "how dare you". The rebuttals were much hipper and far funnier than the original piece, so laughs and declarations of agreement were achieved. But not a single PBK's life was potentially improved as result. They remain firmly rooted in their role of political football as we approach the next big election year.


Who is it that actually does have the ear of poor black kids? Hip hop artists for starters. The vast majority of them are not conveying messages that will aid in turning a life around. A very strong argument can be made that certain rap lyrics and videos help perpetuate the mindset of valuing flashy style over substance, leading to a dead end. Yet when the next catchy tune comes out that's all about getting high, degrading women, making a quick buck to throw away on status symbols, there will be few complaints and probably no Open Letters imploring rappers to teach our children well. No, such ire is reserved for a white guy who has poked his nose where it doesn't belong. Apparently you have to prove you're cool enough to give a damn about PBK's, but ironically, if you are deemed cool enough you're given a pass and don't have to care.


Here are some of my suggestions, not for poor black kids but for anyone who legitimately cares to lend them a helping hand. Join a Big Brother/Sister mentoring program. Become a foster or adoptive parent. Donate money and/or time (time is always the best donation) to an organization that provides food/books/shelter/guidance to those in need of any or all of the above. Be a role model in both word and deed, not merely a dime-a-dozen snark generator. If you're really ambitious, consider running for president. Barack Obama has surely convinced a few underprivileged kids that contrary to what Newt Gingrich thinks, their future can hold more in store for them than a janitorial gig. Not that there's anything wrong with being a janitor, although it pays substantially less than windbag historian. Even the punchline that is Herman Cain sets an example of achievement. Go to an inner city school where you're sure to meet plenty of PBK's in the flesh and won't have to think of them conceptually, and if you have nothing wise or useful to say, simply listen to what they have to tell you. Last of all, focus a little less on being clever, a little more on being kind.


Below is the advice I gave to Mr. Marks on Twitter in response to his article. I don't think he follows me so if he follows you, please forward. Thanks!






So I just read the article If I Was a Poor Black Kid that has Twitter abuzz - http://www.forbes.com/sites/quickerbettertech/2011/12/12/if-i-was-a-poor-black-kid/

The article was written by
@genemarks for Forbes. With a title like that you're just asking to be mocked. Many won't even go past title.

I tried to read it with an open mind. I also forgave him in advance for sins he is not at all alone in committing. Like the dumb title.

Pretty much every day I see some blog posting with a provocative title & people responding more to the title than the piece itself. I'm not a big fan of that. Focus on making the full piece provocative, not just its entrance point. People will be more likely to read attentively.

The article is a list of things this guy says he would do to make his life so much better as an adult had he started out a poor black kid. None of the items listed is offensive. None of it is illuminating. It's just a list that makes a couple points a poor kid of any race might want to jot down.

The author makes no actual attempt to imagine what poverty feels like, what being disenfranchised feels like, what lacking hope feels like.

The article didn't offend me because I don't think it was mean spirited. Points that were valid for some people were made. Easy enough to do.

Of course you can pull yourselves up by your bootstraps if properly motivated. Odds of that motivation being found in a Forbes article of all places are slim. Not exactly reaching the demographic you’re writing about. When you’re talking about people under the guise of talking to them, you’re doing little more that theorizing amongst your friends.

If you grow up poor in a loving household where better days are planned & hoped for you, chances are decent you'll get there.

If you grow up thinking nobody really gives a shit about you, one parent missing physically & the other going through motions while fighting their demons, life will be hard.

Instead of writing an article about what poor black kids should or should not do, do something tangible to help them reach their potential.

Once you're done actually dealing with a situation, getting your hands dirty instead of moralizing from high horse, THEN write your article.

You don't know what you'd do if you were anybody but yourself. If you could be in a different skin, you'd be a different you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Eat, Drink, Read and Be Merry


















I hope this posting finds everyone who sees it with a great deal to be grateful for. Downs are unavoidable, but with any luck you've had your fair share of Ups to counter them with this year. I certainly have. Hopefully a great feast awaits you on Thanksgiving day. I'm especially blessed because there's nothing quite like my mom's home cooking, although my wife (see up top for a sample of her artwork that can be found on Etsy) is no culinary slouch either. I can't wait to be at the dining table of the house I grew up in, surrounded by family and love, fully prepared to get my grub on.



As the season of thankfulness and giving arrives, my goal each year is to be more generous than I was the year before. I'm not volunteering at a soup kitchen or anything similarly noble for the holidays, but I thought it would be nice to do a little something about the hits on wallets during these economically challenging times. After all, Thanksgiving is not only about expressing gratitude but also the starter pistol for Christmas shopping frenzy. So I've decided to roll Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday all into one, plus I'm adding GREY SUNDAY to the mix. This means that autographed copies of the print edition of Patches of Grey purchased directly from me via PayPal (see details at RoyPickering.net) will be on sale 11/25 - 11/28 for only $8.99, saving you a few bucks from the cost at Amazon or elsewhere. If you read off an electronic device rather than paper, I will not be discounting the Nook or Kindle edition price. Considering that the latter is only 99 cents, I trust paying full price for it won't be a hardship. Nothing aids digestion better than a good book (with a glass of ginger ale), so be sure to eat, drink, read and be merry.




p.s. - When you have a minute or two, perhaps between main course and dessert, please check out my 5-question interview with Joey Pinkney.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Latest Round of Book Reviews

































































Play Like You Mean It: Passion, Laughs, and Leadership in the World's Most Beautiful Game: Autobiography by [5 stars out of 5]

My five-star review is not based on the literary merit of this book. The writing is basic and the degree of in-depth analysis you'll find between the covers is rather elementary. None of this took away from my enjoyment of Play Like You Mean It. I happen to be a die-hard NY Jets fans so I am the primary audience. But fans of football in general, sports in general, and the motivational process required by a coach in the NFL and beyond will also find this to be a valuable read. If you enjoyed the HBO program Hard Knocks that featured the Jets leading up to their 2010 season, don't walk but run to get a copy of this book. You'll fly through it so quickly you may decide to immediately read it a second time just for the heck of it. Even if you are not a Jets fan I'd think anyone that has heard interviews with or even just brief soundbites from Rex Ryan will find him to be an intriguing figure. Everybody want to have a boss like him, someone who shows such relentless confidence in your abilities that you can't help but fall for his spell and perform at optimum level. His cockiness is contagious because it's built on genuine belief that he has an eye for talent and the ability to get the absolute best out of those who buy into his program. His positive energy would infect anyone but the most cynical of people, and extreme cynics are not the type you want around anyway, no matter how talented they may be. Read this book if you're a Jets fan. If you aren't, there's a pretty good chance you will be by the time you reach the last page. Rex makes it quite easy to root for him even if you start off otherwise inclined.




Freedom: A Novel by [4 stars out of 5]

The pluses. Franzen is a fantastic writer and towards the end of this rambling novel I was absorbed, truly felt I knew and understood the main characters, and found myself caring and hoping for the best. The minuses. I think Franzen could have accomplished just as much with not nearly as much. He gives a great deal of detail about areas that I frankly did not care all that much about. I am marginally interested at best in bird migration patterns and the environmental politics of overpopulation. Even if I found these subjects to be fascinating, when reading a novel I'd still want less data and more story. A good novel is often one that is well researched, but there's sharing information in a way that's interesting and advances the narrative, and then there's oversharing every bit of knowledge acquired on a topic whether critical to plot development or not. Some readers will be strongly tempted to skim certain parts of this novel, and if they do I can't say they'd miss all that much. They certainly wouldn't lose track of the storyline, which considering the bulk and page count of Freedom is relatively straight forward despite not being told in linear fashion. It's the story of a marriage, the two people within it and the loved ones closest to it. The couple has two children, a boy who a considerable portion of the book focuses on, and a girl who is really just a secondary character. Had it been the other way around the story would have been minimally impacted. The most significant person in Walter and Patty's lives is Richard Katz. Walter basically has a guy crush on the college roommate who ends up becoming a rock star, and Patty has romantic/sexual interest that eventually is acted upon. Walter eventually gets a romantic interest outside of the marriage as well, the much younger Lalitha who works with him and basically lives with them. Patty is jealous of Lalitha from the get go even though Walter is about as loyal a guy as you can find. This is just one of many ways that she has managed to become increasingly overbearing. Good old Walter trusts both his wife and best friend completely until he finds out that they have betrayed him, which is especially overwhelming since their relationship got started in the first place when Patty didn't screw Walter over by screwing his best friend, though this is due to Richard's restraint, not Patty's. The latter part of the book, after Walter finds out about the affair his wife finally allows herself to have along with the rather poor opinions she's held about him throughout their relationship, is by far the strongest section and ultimately made it worth reading through to the end. I'm glad that I overrode my impulse to quit on account of waning interest in the lives of rather self absorbed people. Franzen writes about these characters rather than through them, which makes it harder to care about them, particularly when what they're doing and going through is not all that riveting. But he writes so well I held fast to the belief that if I kept with it, I would eventually be rewarded for my perseverance. And so I was. I know there are people who think more highly of this book than do I because Franzen received much public praise for it. I also know people who gave up on it rather than pushing through, and I see their point of view as well. Hence this mixed review. But since more credit is given for finishing than starting strong, I'm generously giving Freedom 4 out of 5 stars. His prose earns my upmost respect. The ultimate thing a novel should accomplish though is not achieving a certain rating, but making readers want to read the author's next book. I'm not sure if that will be the case with Franzen based on how hard he needlessly made me fight to make it through this one.




Silver Sparrow: A Novel by [4 stars out of 5]

Silver Sparrow is an excellent novel written in a sure handed manner by a very talented author. It tells the tale of a bigamist, a man living two separate lives, one out in the open and the other in its shadow. His first family is the result of youthful reckless behavior and following the directions of his mother to make things right. Family number two is formed by falling in love as a grown man, but perhaps one who has not matured very much. After all, a mark of adulthood is understanding you need to make choices, that holding onto one thing often comes at the expense of letting go of another, that if you don't make those choices to your best advantage eventually they will be made for you without allowing you much say in how things work out. This man is at the center of two families but the story focuses on the women in his life, his wives of unequal billing and primarily the daughters they respectively give him who had no say in how their dangerously connected families came about. Over the course of the narrative the half sisters learn that family is not so much a matter of blood, as one of choice of loyalty.




The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey: A Novel by [5 stars out of 5]

Simplicity is a powerful weapon, and often times less truly is more. The title of this book serves as partial synopsis. To flesh it out I will add that Ptolemy Grey is nearly 92 years of age and suffering from dementia that leaves him in a helpless state. He's at the sad stage where he won't even turn off his television or radio, which simultaneously play 24/7, because he surely won't remember how to turn them back on. When the grandnephew who visits periodically to check on him is killed and a less good hearted relative replaces him, the final act of Ptolemy's life starts to undergo a transformation. He eventually finds himself with a new roommate who cleans up the pile of filth he lives in without messing with his sacred memories. In fact, his memory and faculties are restored by a doctor's experimental medicine. The medicine is sure to reduce the number of Ptolemy's remaining days but also makes them worth living, allowing him to put his affairs in order, to finish up plans that had been laid to rest, to administer justice as he sees fit, and to remember for awhile what it feels like to love and be loved. This is a beautiful story told by a master craftsman.




Hunting in Harlem: A Novel by [4 stars out of 5]

This was a fun read, in part because of the intriguing premise (former convict turned politician turned budding real estate titan hires some ex-cons to assist in his master plan to transform Harlem into a Black Utopia by ridding it of undesirable elements), and in larger part because of the strong writing of Mat Johnson. The book is populated by colorful characters described in smile to laugh out loud fashion. Two of the three ex-cons are larger than life, so Johnson puts the narrative in the hands of the third since he is the straightest arrow and thus the character readers are most likely to identify with. Snowden ended up in prison basically by unfortunate accident whereas his two colleagues earned their sentences through actions caused by their volatile personalities. One is a brute who operates in brawn over brains fashion, the other an intellectual firebug. The three men start off their new jobs by moving furniture but quickly graduate to creating additional vacancies by killing tenants who are deemed unworthy of the new Harlem they are bringing about. This brings on moral dilemmas for two of the three men, but by then they are in so deep that rather than turning back it makes more sense to keep swimming until they reach the other side, if in fact there is one. Do the ends justify the means when it comes to revitalizing a community? How about when it comes to becoming a Best Selling author? Johnson asks these questions with addictive prose in Hunting in Harlem. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

WHY I WRITE WHAT I WRITE


I see a great deal of discussion about Young Adult literature nowadays. The fan base for this genre appears to be larger than ever. I'm not sure if teens are doing the majority of reading and talking about it though. They're not the ones I see discussing it on Twitter and elsewhere in the World Wide Web. I assume teens continue to be the target audience for YA lit, but they certainly are not alone in appreciating it. This observation along with the following tweet gave me pause for thought which I proceeded to document.


RT @JustineLavaworm I am critical of how near monolithically white & straight & middle class (if not upper class) YA is.

My debut novel Patches of Grey focuses largely on the lives of teens but I can't say it quite qualifies as YA. Had I known how big the genre would blow up…

I probably wouldn't have changed a thing. As a teen I read books intended for adults. As a writer I write for adults, including mature teens.

To date I haven't made any of my characters vampires or zombies or wizards. I don't rule anything out for the future but I doubt you'll ever spot me on that crowded bandwagon.

I didn't think about the sparsity of teen/young characters of color in fiction when I sat down to compose Patches of Grey. I wrote about such people because that's what I knew, not to fill a void.

Perhaps in the future I'll write more strategically because that's good for the wallet & I now have a family/mortgage/other grown stuff.

Then again, I may always say "F it" and write what's in my heart/gut/mind. If it turns out to be trendy, great! If not, so be it. Usually if you write what you need to say, and do it well, you'll find people it seems to have been written specifically for.

Some write for an audience, others write for themselves. I write for myself, & I happen to be an avid reader, so I end up writing for unknown readers as well.

When I'm done editing my second novel I plan to move on to a series of kid books. Not sure how naturally it will come to me but will give best shot.

With the planned children’s books I'm well aware in advance that there is an under-served POC market out there to be tapped. I'll write for my daughter. If she can inspire me to be a better person surely she can also inspire me to be a better writer.

So long as you write about issues & for people that are important to you, your work will have integrity. That's a major goal for me.

If you've ever read my prose you've read about subjects I am legitimately interested in, not something scribbled for a quick buck or web hits.

Just as my main training for writing novels was reading a ton of novels, my training for the planned kid books has been reading a whole lot of them. I read for myself because I love intelligent fiction and read to my daughter because that’s what a parent should do. The fact that reading for pleasure has also turned out to be research for my writing is primarily a happy accident.

I happen to be married to a fantastic illustrator (an example of her work is up above), which is pretty darn convenient for a first time children’s book author.

My second novel Matters of Convenience is strictly grown folk stuff. My synopsis of it is: it's a love rectangle. Quite proud of the brevity for it doesn’t come naturally to me. Love square would also work geometrically, but I think love rectangle has a better ring to it. Besides, all sides are rarely equal in love and war.






Author Spotlight Q&A

As always, Happy Reading!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Death of Troy Davis




I followed the final hours of Troy Davis largely on Twitter along with a live feed from outside the prison provided by Democracy Now. As the end of his life came about I found myself with much to say, as did many others. We expressed ourselves in 140-character outbursts of dismay and disbelief. Below is a glimpse of an unforgettable day. - Roy Pickering 9/22/11




BREAKING NEWS: Ga. parole board denies clemency for Troy Davis, sentenced to death for 1989 murder of off-duty police officer http://t.co/WJxluQHA


Since Troy Davis' conviction, seven of the nine witnesses against him have recanted or contradicted their testimony. There are many questions about conclusiveness of evidence, none of which is physical.


I know (having watched the GOP Presidential debate the other night) that there are people who break into applause at the mere mention of the words "death penalty", but even they must surely demand conclusive proof.


Perhaps Twitter truly can be used for good rather than merely socializing, bickering, promoting & self expression. We shall see. #TooMuchDoubt


RT @TheRevAl I was just notified that clemency was denied Troy Davis. This is the most blatant example of injustice I have seen in years. This is WRONG.

Perhaps only he & God know. Is that enough to kill? RT @SheSeauxSaditty: Did this Troy Davis cat actually not do what he was convicted of?

RT @esglaude The denial of clemency to Troy Davis is not only crude/crass Georgia politics; it is an evil act. US moral standing in the world is in question: we torture abroad and, at home, we execute potentially innocent people.

"An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life." - Dr. King

RT @goldietaylor There is no governor pardon in Georgia. The 5-member board is appointed by the governor. They are not w/o political and personal allegiances. #troydavis


"Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders." - Albert Camus

"Blaming things on the past does not make them better." – Nelson Mandela

"That Justice is a blind goddess Is a thing to which we black are wise: Her bandage hides two festering sores That once perhaps were eyes." – Langston Hughes

Despite the truth behind Langston’s words, don't turn your anger about a particular situation into general, generic accusations based on criteria no more specific than melanin count.


RT @sofiaquintero Wow. The state of GA has set the murder of Troy Davis on International Peace Day. Don't let this happen.

Somehow 1 + 1 doesn't = 2 in this area RT @MHarrisPerry: Every member of every #ProLife group should be protesting execution of #TroyDavis.


RT @jeremyscahill After years of following #TroyDavis case, I'm horrified that it really seems Georgia's going to kill him. He is innocent.

RT @amnesty Eyewitness testimony often lies. At risk of executing an innocent person, 16 states ban capital punishment.

RT @dreamhampton While tweeting abt him wont save his life, some of us are hopeful that public outcry will. Twitter absolutely amplifies public outcry.

RT @Toure It's not really about Troy Davis so much as overstimating the power of Twitter. RT @goldietaylor << Tell that to ppl of Egypt, Iran

If you're a celeb by Twitter standards (at least 30,000 followers) consider reading about #TroyDavis case & decide if you wish to join cause


I actually agree with Toure in large part about Twitter activism. You need to get out in the real world to effect change, not stay behind keyboard. But I'm pretty sure many ppl only heard of Troy Davis on account of Twitter. Obtained phone #s, email addresses, made voices heard thanks to Twitter.


In between jokey joke hash tags & award show recaps & quips about celebrities & whatnot, substantial things are brought to light and examined and debated on account of Twitter. It's the spotlighting of substantial issues that makes Twitter worthwhile IMO. MySpace, FaceBook & other sites serve just fine for the silly stuff and lighter fare.


RT @momsrising 130 Death Row Inmates Have Been Found Innocent Since 1973.

Yes, not in as great abundance but the outcry is universal. RT @Jazzzyone: Does #WhiteTwitter care about #TroyDavis? Not on my TL. Yours?

This isn't about who is tweeting and who is not. Author of blackness book need not speak. White/Latinos/Asians welcome in fight for justice


Sadly in the end it may all be what Shakespeare coined sound and fury signifying nothing. Or perhaps it will be the beginning of a new day.


Troy Davis may not once again be saved from lethal injection at the last minute, but maybe as partial result of today's outcry, outcome will differ in next case.


If outcry over death of Troy Davis creates more vigilant rules in future death penalty cases, much less shadow of doubt, it won't be in vain.


There's always a next case. The most important battles tend to be long, drawn out ones. Good things come to those who wait, but not idly.


Ultimately, more important than addressing "need" for death penalty is addressing issues that put men on death row in the 1st place.


People are not necessarily campaigning for Troy Davis to be set free, just for him not to be executed in light of reasonable doubt over his guilt. Perhaps he must remain jail, but at least alive.


I'm gonna need folks to stop comparing Troy Davis to Casey Anthony no matter what your take is. Only similarity is both are high profile. One had a lawyer who was able to provide jury with reasonable doubt of guilt prior to the verdict, one did not. I've spent far more time than desired requesting that people stop comparing every criminal case to Casey Anthony, Michael Vick & OJ. 85% of arguments would quickly run out of steam if people stopped comparing apples to oranges to bicycles.


RT @KoodaB If Casey Anthony was black and #TroyDavis was white the situations are still tragic... Justice don't have a color. Neither should injustice.

I don't care how big your bank account is, nothing is more valuable than TIME. If you don't believe me, ask Troy Davis.


While doing what you can on behalf of Troy Davis, the pain of the family of police officer who was killed should also be considered. Davis execution won't bring him back though, just eye for eye.


Last minute is when many learned of the situation RT @ArtGotti: Just like yall to become advocates for #TroyDavis AT THE LAST MINUTE!

RT @arrianamaria It does not matter how long you have been calling & signing petitions on behalf of #TroyDavis, it matters that you know & care now.


Why stand up, even if just with a few tweets, for Troy Davis if you believe there's #TooMuchDoubt to kill him? Cuz if u stand 4 nothing u'll fall 4 anything.


The election of Barack Obama may have been the day I was most proud of America. Today may become the day I was least proud. #TooMuchDoubt


The killing of Troy Davis will not prevent a single future murder. What will the sparing of his life do? Perhaps encourage more activism. And when I say activism I don't mean silly "white privilege", "black men ain't shit, only 3 decent ones to 100 good black women so perhaps black women should consider thinking outside the box", "natural hair or bust" type nonsense. I mean real issues that need to be tackled head on.


It's my understanding that enough evidence exists for reasonable doubt, but post conviction GA insists on proof of innocence. The reason why the pope, Jimmy Carter, European orgs, etc. have weighed in is because needing to prove innocence rather than provide doubt of guilt isn't what America is about.


It's not a hard and fast rule but in general if the pope (I’m not Catholic btw) & Jimmy Carter are on the same page about something, I tend to be on it too.


The #TroyDavis execution is not about one man, one cop killing, one literal execution of retribution. It's about how justice is supposed to work in this country.


Presumption of innocence system is one of America's defining characteristics. If we don't stand up for it what else will we let slide?


You think there are a lot of people in jail who really shouldn't be there now? If innocence must be proven rather than guilt, look out!!!


There may be enough evidence to keep him in jail for life, but the death penalty should require 100% certainty. Not even 99% should suffice.


Two American hikers were freed from an Iranian prison today. I bet Troy Davis wishes he had their negotiators.


“Vengeance is mine.” That quote is only supposed to be credited to the one and only.


Hope AC's account was hacked. Something seriously wrong with whoever wrote this: RT @AnnCoulter: ONE TROY DAVIS FLAME-BROILED, PLEASE


Just checked link that accompanied statment. @AnnCoulter definitely owns up to that heinous thought. I probably shouldn't be surprised given her track record but I TRY to think best of people if they allow me to. I know we live in the era of shock value for shock value's sake, but there's crossing the line and then there's sick in the head/heart/soul.


RT @christor If you wouldn't bet your own life that Troy Davis is guilty based on this evidence, you shouldn't be willing to bet his. Simple as that.

Obviously if you believe somebody is guilty of murder you won’t hold them in the warmest regard. But since it isn’t any more possible for Ann Coulter to know with absolute certainty who killed Mark MacPhail in 1989 than it is for me, to call for a man’s death in the name of vengeance in such cruel mocking fashion is nothing short of reprehensible. But drawing attention to themselves via outrageous behavior is of course what such people do best.


I believe 5 countries total have a legally sanctioned death penalty and in the case of Troy Davis the other 4 nations are probably thinking WTF?!!


So not a word yet from our President? Can't say I'm not disappointed, regardless of whether or not the power of intervention is within his hands.


Head of NAACP just said Obama is indeed aware of the case and feels there is nothing he can do. That job seems less powerful every day.


Not yet executed as of 7:12 PM EST. Temporary reprieve granted by Supreme Court. Certainly better news than confirmation of death.


RT @carolynedgar Why Presidential elections matter: It's the Supreme Court, stupid.


Just learned that the white supremacist who killed James Byrd by dragging him with his truck was executed today. What a day!


A reprieve lasts for a maximum of 7 days. Then what? To be continued.


Not very long at all if true RT @mpoppel: BREAKING -- Mother of MacPhail told the US Supreme Court will decide by 8.30 p.m., reports WTVM-TV

30 minutes and then...?


I don't know what's more amazing, this Troy Davis situation or the fact that the majority of tweets on my timeline are about other matters. This is not an every other day kind of deal, though in a sad way I suppose it is.


This case is in the hands of Clarence Thomas?!!


Hopefully there won't be much if any rioting if the execution does indeed take place. Never helps.


RT @7Akil According to Ben Jealous on @DemocracyNow we need 2 reduce the number of death penalty states from 34 to 24 n order to have it abolished

RT @jennykemp Dear Georgia, I'm watching from Edinburgh, Scotland, in disgust at your barbarism and inhumanity #thewholeworldiswatching #troydavis


RT @_Kristiana_ A court that acknowledges corporations as people obviously has little regard for actual persons. #SCOTUS


Lights flashing, sirens blaring. Increased police presence at an event like this is rarely a good sign. Usually neither is the presence of Clarence Thomas. But any port in a storm.


Via @richardkimnyc On January 26, 2011, Emmanuel Hammond, also a prisoner in Georgia’s Jackson prison, was granted a temporary reprieve by Justice Thomas, who has issued the reprieve in Troy Davis’ case. Hammond was scheduled to be executed at 7 pm. He was put to death a little over four hours later at 11:39 pm. This is sobering news, and we should not necessarily expect Davis to live through the night.

The Supreme Court has refused to stay the execution of Troy Davis.


Time of death 11:08 EST #RIPTroyDavis Live in peace those left behind.


“Strange Fruit” – written by Abel Meeropol, sung by Billie Holiday



The fight continues...perhaps with additional soldiers on the side of true justice now.


RT @KayFusion: People keep saying America is racist, however it was actually 7 Black jurors who in less than 2 hrs convicted Davis of murder.

RT @_Basiyr_ That's the genius/insidiousness of a racist system, it gets upheld even when they don't take part.

"People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty."-- Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Justice is available to all of us here in America regardless of race, color or creed. But it'll cost you. $$$

RT @danielabrams My take on #TroyDavis? He certainly got due process, but when it comes to the death penalty, sometimes due process may not be enough. That's not to say I'm convinced of #troydavis innocence, but with "reasonable doubts" or questions, there has to be a way to delay death.

Lawrence Russell Brewer, convicted of the heinous murder of James Byrd, was also executed 9/21/11. He'll be mourned by far fewer than the thousands upon thousands who prayed and kept fingers crossed for Troy Davis. They both professed innocence but Brewer didn't have very many takers. Neither Brewer nor Davis convinced those who most mattered.


If the death penalty is done away with, monsters such as serial killers & those who prey on children get to live. So be it.


If not done away with, you'd think capital punishment would be used only in the most extreme cases where psychologists/psychiatrists felt the person would surely kill again.


And you'd think the death penalty would only be used in cases where absolute certainty was present.


You’d think. [WHY THE SUPREME COURT COULDN'T SAVE TROY DAVIS]


First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the
trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the
Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Here I Am...OR...Hair I Am






































































The line between a woman either defying or succumbing to peer (or non peer) pressure and her simply making decisions based on personal preference can be mighty thin. How can you tell at a glance which is the case? Or do you simply assume based on your biases?

Black women catch a lot of heat for some of the personal appearance decisions they make. Like it or not, plan to or not, their grooming choices immediately become political statements. At least they are interpreted as statements by certain black women and perhaps by a number of black men as well.

If a black woman relaxes her hair (or adds extensions, or wears a wig sometimes, or whatever other trick has been concocted to create an illusion in place of reality) it’s because she has been bombarded with imagery from white owned fashion magazines. She has succumbed to the Eurocentric definition of beauty and opted to become as white looking as possible. So goes one take on the matter.

Asian women have straight hair. Why can’t black women be emulating them or Native Americans or some other non-white so therefore non-oppressor culture?

There are innumerable versions of beauty and no shortage of ways for a woman to mask perceived imperfections and emphasize her favorite features as she sees best. The sun tans some faces and reddens others. Thin lipped women may desire a fuller pout. Jeans pull off various tricks in showcasing a posterior. A woman looks in the mirror and ponders how to make it a better friend. She works with what she’s got and what she can purchase at a reasonable price. The calculations made are quite fascinating. It’s amazing in some cases how different the After can look from the Before when skill combines with will. But is all powerful vanity not sufficient motivation for these alterations? Must we seek deeper meaning when God given shallowness adequately summarizes?

Why can’t a black woman simply not feel like fighting with the comb, decide to go at least temporarily with a more easily manageable option? Many men shave their head low or bald because it is low maintenance, allows them to spend minimal time fussing with their ‘do. Can’t a black woman desire a style she can quickly run a comb through or twist in a braid or pigtail or whatever without renouncing Harriet Tubman in the process? Can’t a woman desire a little more length? Hey, I’m still talking about hair here, keep your thoughts clean. Black women aren’t the only people who alter the dynamic of their hair. Is a white woman without naturally straight, flowing strands who decides to relax it making the statement that she wants to be perceived as Whiter? If someone with straight hair decides to grow dredlocks (sightings of a White or Asian person with dreds always makes me slightly double take) this is typically seen as paying homage, no? Not a sign of disgust with the race they were born into. Why is it only acceptable for respectful mimicry of another culture to go in one direction? Eminem continues to be a superstar but when is the last time you heard from that Hootie and the Blowfish guy? Okay, maybe I’m stretching a bit too far. Let me stick with hair.

I personally would not make a follicular decision that didn’t allow me to jump into a pool or that equaled the expense of my monthly mortgage payments. But that’s my choice made strictly for practical and economic reasons, not a declaration of either racial solidarity or defection. If I was a woman perhaps I’d reconsider what I was willing to pay monetarily and in convenience. But I’m not, so I proudly pee standing up while my hair does whatever it is it feels like doing.

If a black woman chooses to wear her hair naturally, it’s considered a political statement by many even if not to the woman herself. By doing nothing special she’s supposedly making the commentary that she’s proud of who and what she is. Maybe, maybe not. Since when is doing nothing issuing a statement other than: “Nothing”? Perhaps she is proud of herself and ever so grateful for the ethnicity she was born into, perhaps she barely gives it a thought, but how the hell can we reach a verdict based strictly on her hairstyle? Non-black women wear their hair the way it grows out their head all the time. This isn’t seen as a sign of White pride, Asian pride, Latina pride. It just is. Being natural isn’t supposed to be a complicated negotiation, it’s meant to be no more or less than…natural. Correct?

Life is hard, probably a little harder if you’re a woman rather than penis possessor, probably a little harder the more melanin is in your skin. Why make things even more difficult for yourself by constantly defending when you’re not necessarily under attack, constantly attacking an enemy who has no idea they are supposed to be at war with you?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe every morning when every black woman walks into her bathroom and decides how she wishes to look as she greets the world that day, she’s composing a political manifesto.

Then again, perhaps she wants to feel reasonably attractive to whoever she finds herself attracted to, but otherwise she mostly just wants to go about her business and could care less what conclusions have been reached about her by you, me, or anyone else she isn’t beholden to.

Plenty of people are out looking for meaning, and purpose, and causes to fight for and against. The result is that they will translate whatever they see as something to either hail or deride. This seems like an exhausting way to live, but it is your right and I’ll do nothing to take it away from you.

But surely there are others: women and men, black and white, kinky, curly, straight, or frizzy headed - who simply wish to be. We should all have the right to just be.

A comb is a tool to enhance her beauty however a woman sees fit. A comb should not be viewed as a sword and will fail miserably if deployed in such a manner. It wasn’t invented for use as a political weapon, and neither should be the hair it goes through. It’s all good.




Naturally Hairy Situation

White Women, Black Hairstyles





p.s. - Apparently it's not all good. Since I wrote the above I learned via Twitter that this advertisement is supposed to offend me as a black man.

Huh? Now I will concede that I don't see anything particularly clever going on. The point that I'd be better off purchasing Nivea face/body shave lotion is weakly made at best. But what is it exactly that's racist about the picture? I saw it said someplace that since the decapitated head has an afro the ad indicates afros are an uncivililzed hairdo. So by this theory black men aren't left out of the wear it natural or else have a sell out hairstyle either, even though I don't see too many brothas walking around with weaves and thank God the conk is mostly a thing of the past. The hair on the thrower's head is just as natural as that on the dude about to be tossed, just cut considerably shorter. Is a close cut dome copying white culture? Nah, that can't be it. I have officially lost count of how many things I'm supposed to be offended by. Plenty of other people though always seem able to find the next thing...and the next...and the next...

p.p.s. - Latest twist of absurdity in hair issue.  Can white women join the natural hair movement too?

p.p.p.s - Some more hair based slander thrown in for good measure

17 Reasons Why Natural Hair Is Not A Good Look

















Monday, August 1, 2011

Ode to the Library











































Today I saw my novel on the shelf of a public library for the first time. It was a special milestone on my ongoing adventure in guerilla publishing, not the first and it won’t be the last, but surely one to be treasured. Leading up to it were wonderful occasions such as seeing my novel bound for the first time with its fantastic cover designed by Erin Rogers Pickering. I had seen my prose bound before, but only in anthologies where I was one of many contributors. My novella Feeding the Squirrels was a solo project that made its way to publication, but strictly in electronic format so I had nothing to appreciatively hold in hand. Therefore, seeing Patches of Grey as a paper bound book for the first time was a real treat, as was the first reprint where I was able to work some glowing reviewer quotes into the back cover copy. Speaking of which, receiving the first blurb about my novel which happened to arrive on St. Patrick’s Day was another memorable day in my journey, as was the posting of its first full fledged review. Participating in my first author event at Sparta Books was an amazing experience, and spotting a copy of Patches of Grey on the fiction shelf of Words Bookstore briefly took my breath away. There it sat in a real deal brick and mortar bookstore. My sense of awe on that day is certainly meant as no disrespect to Amazon and the online independent booksellers who gave me my start and account for the vast majority of my sales to date. With a full time job and a family putting demands on my calendar, I simply do not have time to pound the pavement getting my novel into stores in the physical rather than cyber world one pitch at a time. So all hail the online retailers from whom you can purchase my book without needing to leave the comfort of your couch. The next milestone was making my novel available as an ebook, initially for the Kindle and shortly after for the Nook. People with reading devices can now obtain Patches of Grey for a steal. Why I have yet to hit the million sales club on Kindle is beyond me (it only costs a buck!), but patience is a virtue I continue to cultivate.

All of this leads to the sighting of my book in the Maplewood Library. This incredible literary voyage began for me in the library, the branch on Edenwald Avenue in the Bronx to be precise. It was there that my love of the written word was formed and cemented. I’ll never forget those initial trips into fictional worlds inhabited by Henry Huggins, Ramona and Beezus, Encyclopedia Brown, and as I matured and was able to go on more sophisticated literary adventures, my fascination grew exponentially. I can’t say that I recall my first visit to a bookstore, but my earliest trips to the library on a weekly basis are lasting memories. I fell hard for reading and made an oath to some day craft stories of my own. It was rewarding to take out as many books as I wanted with a card belonging exclusively to me, no sign off by Mom and Dad necessary. That was my first credit/debit card. I suppose this made my library visits an early glimpse at adulthood. The books may have been free to borrow, but if lost or damaged or returned late there would be a price to pay. I was (and still am) a very responsible library patron.

Who knows? Perhaps one day a young reader (not too young though, parental supervision is advised on account of adult language and content) will take Patches of Grey out from the library (or win a free copy at giveaway such as this one) and be permanently marked, bitten by the reading bug and perhaps also infected by the venom of the writing bug. It can happen as I well know.

Writing has so far not made me rich or famous. I have no idea what lies ahead, which of course is part of the fun. But I do know that people now have the opportunity to enter a world of my making just as I envisioned as a kid in that Bronx library, which is a pretty cool milestone to hit.





p.s. – If you ever find yourself in Maplewood, NJ and have the opportunity to check out a book from the library written by a local author, there are several to choose from in addition to my own. This town is filled with creative folks. Among them is Terin Miller and my review of his debut novel can be found HERE.






Review of Patches of Grey by A Book Vacation

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Lottery Ticket - A short story




The Lottery TicketBy Roy L. Pickering Jr.
Copyright by Roy L. Pickering Jr.




Giving up on relationships used to come easily to me. You see, I didn’t believe in wasting time. In most getting-to-know-you type situations I was able to tell within fifteen minutes whether the woman I was kicking it to was worth the effort of further pursuit. Don’t get it twisted, I’m not referring to strictly sexual interest. When it came to that, it only took me about five minutes to determine whether a young lady could be sweet talked into my bedroom. By the time I reached my thirty-fifth birthday, however, one night stands had lost much of their appeal. Call it growing up, or perhaps merely diminished enthusiasm over the idea of exclusively physical encounters. I’d had more than my share of fast and furious hook-ups in the past. Their entertainment value was no longer what it used to be. So I began looking for something more substantial. I felt I was at last ready for a courtship with potential. To accomplish my new goal, I developed a sophisticated screening system. I asked the women I met pointed questions that cut straight to the chase. I bypassed small talk and went directly to investigative communication. Since interviewing people is part of what I do to make a living, making the transition from my professional dealings to my personal life was relatively effortless.

The technique I devised served me well. It alienated women who were cautious about baring their soul so soon, which was okay by me, because I wasn’t interested in the guarded type. I was perfectly willing to open up right away about who I was, what I dreamt of, what I longed for. If a woman didn’t share this in common with me, I didn’t give a rewarding relationship with her much chance. Why start up what was destined to finish? When my forthright manner scared a woman off, I figured it was better to ascertain incompatibility right off the bat than taking the slow scenic route to the same disappointing destination.

Plenty of women weren’t intimidated by my strong approaches. To the contrary, they found my style refreshingly distinctive. I stood out from the pack of wolves drooling over their every move because I expressed sincere interest in matters other than how to get into their jeans. The fact that I was often the lone wolf with concerns other than sex on the brain had the effect of making me more appealing than I ever imagined I could be. Yet although the candidates were plentiful, I would find each of them lacking in some fundamental way and have to continue my search. I was frequently told that I was being too picky. But how can one’s criteria be too exclusionary when it comes to selecting a life partner? I wanted it all because I felt I deserved it all. To see it any other way would have been a disservice to myself.

Beauty lies everywhere, particularly in this sleepless city of super sized dreams that I reside in. So it could only serve as a portion of the equation, of no lesser or greater value than the others. I also sought intelligence, and compassion, and sensuality, and spirituality, and confidence, and independence, and humor, and ambition, and humility, and tenderness. Like I said, I wanted it all. Within fifteen minutes, give or take a few, I was able to calculate how much of these qualities a woman had to offer. Far more often than not, a lovely and pleasant woman would fail to adequately stimulate my interest. This left me with nothing to do but cut the conversation and my losses short. No hard feelings, at least not on my part. Every minute spent with someone I had ruled out of contention was one that could be better utilized by moving on to someone new. I knew the right girl for me was out there. I just had to keep plucking strands of hay from the stack until my needle was unearthed.

“You look at honies the way you look at your lottery tickets,” my best friend Terrell would say every now and again. “How much money have you squandered on the pipe dream of getting rich in one quick strike? Twice a week every week for how long has it been now?”

“Over fifteen years.”

“Fifteen years.” Terrell shook his head, one twist to the left, one to the right, then back to the left again. I had seen the gesture of exasperation from him countless times, most often when somebody on the Knicks had missed a late game jumper. “Do you have any idea how much money that adds up to?”

“Actually yes, I have done the math. Not nearly enough to make me anywhere near wealthy. But it’s a chunk of change I wouldn’t refuse if you offered it to me.”

“You could have been putting that money into a retirement account, or investing it, or putting it into a savings account and earning interest.” Terrell paid his bills by advising people on what to do with their money, so I understood that when it came to delivering such lectures, he couldn’t help himself. “Hell, you could have been putting all of those dollar bills under your mattress and sleeping lopsided but soundly. But to just squander it. What kind of sense does that make?”

“The law of averages will work to my advantage sooner or later,” was the line of logic I typically employed as rebuttal. “I play the same six numbers every time. Eventually they’ll hit. It’s inevitable. I’ve had some pretty close calls. The day I stop playing those numbers is the day they’ll come up.”

“Close calls and two bucks will get you a subway ride around the city, Dale.”

“Well, I do love to travel.”

Terrell would shake his head again, then concede that it was my inalienable right to spend or throw my money away however and wherever I saw fit. “Wasting money is one thing,” he’d conclude. “But throwing away the opportunities you’ve had to be with so many fine women truly boggles the mind.”

“I know who I want,” I would explain for the tenth, or fiftieth, or hundredth time. “It’s just a matter of finding her, whoever she is. And I know I will find her. I just have to be patient, and persistent, and steadfast.”

“And knuckleheaded.”

We would laugh and then move on to other subjects, such as the exploits of our favorite sports teams; workplace accomplishments and frustrations; the latest achievements by Terrell’s ridiculously bright daughter, Briana; the most recent acts of mischief by his precocious son, Stephon; or the latest committee joined by his beautiful activist wife, Anita. Terrell had found what he was looking for in life. My own expedition was still ongoing.

It seems like yesterday, but my world is now scarcely recognizable from what it looked like then, when Terrell and I were sipping after work cocktails at a trendy midtown bar owned by the latest rags to riches rap star who had come to dominate the music charts by rhyming about the women he’d laid and the enemies he had conquered. As usual, I thoroughly scoped the place out to see who most piqued my interest. Fortuitously enough, she was standing directly to my right hand side. I introduced myself. Five minutes of conversation passed in a heartbeat and the intrigue remained. After fifteen minutes I was charmed by all I had learned about Heather and anxious to know more. Three hours later, Terrell long departed by then, Heather told me that since the next day was a workday, it was time for her to head home.

“Can I get your phone number?” I asked, full of hope that this could lead to something extraordinary.

“Only if I can have yours in return.”

“You have yourself a deal, Heather.”

She gave me her business card, but I didn’t have one of my own handy. I looked through my wallet for a scrap of paper that could be spared. Two lottery tickets turned up. One had been purchased the prior weekend and I already knew it to be a loser, but had neglected to throw it away. The second had been purchased earlier that day. I squinted in the dull neon lighting of the bar to determine which ticket was the worthless one that I could write my phone number on. That’s when my cell phone rang.

“Yep, I’m still here. Yeah, she’s right next to me. Let me call you back in a bit, Terrell. Later, partner.”

I gave the paper I had written my phone number on to Heather. Her cute shy friend Lisa, who had remained in the bar for much longer than she cared to while Heather and I were getting to know each other, was a tad irritable by that point and now had one foot literally out the door.

“Heather, are you coming?”

“I’ll give you a call,” I said.

“Until then, I guess.”

“Until then.” The mirror behind the bar reflected the goofy grin I was unable to wipe from my face. I liked this girl and was curious to see how much more I might come to like her.

There were unfortunate instances when my screening system would fail. On these occasions, a woman who at first seemed to be a perfect match for me would prove herself within a date or two to be anything but. The woman who had visually and intellectually seduced me on first meeting would turn out to be a mirage. In a one-on-one setting over a candle lit dinner, her considerable flaws would come to harsh light and I would realize that I had been duped. Better late than never to discover my mistake, it was easy enough to avoid compounding the error of my initial poor judgment. No point in getting into deeper water when the sensible plan of action was swimming to shore. A kiss on the cheek at the end of such an evening would effectively nip the acquaintance in the bud.

I took Heather out to dinner on a Saturday night, two days after we first met. High expectations had been set. They would not be met. Instead, every twist and turn of our conversation led to disappointment.

“This is a tough menu for me to choose from. I’m a vegetarian.”

“Is that right?” I asked, fully intending to order a rib eye steak, medium rare.

“It isn’t just for humane reasons, though that’s certainly a major factor. I don’t think people are careful enough about what they put into their bodies. Monitoring your cholesterol level is a very serious issue. I won’t even get into mad cow disease, but trust me, it’s only a matter of time before those diseased animals make it into our restaurants and supermarkets.”

“Until they come up with mad broccoli disease, I guess you should be safe.”

My humor changed the subject, not that it succeeded in producing laughter or even a smile, but subsequent topics were not improvements.

“Did you see the stunt pulled by Britney, Beyonce, Pink, and Cher the other day? When will these beautiful young women, and Cher, stop exploiting their bodies for shock value? They’re sending the message to young girls that being intelligent and talented isn’t enough for a woman. The only way they can keep our attention is by showing us what their mothers and plastic surgeons gave them.”

I knew better than to confess that I had been rather entertained by the award show grind session she was referring to. It was clear enough that this would stir up feminist issues for Heather to rant about. No matter what I said, even if I agreed with her ninety nine percent, I strongly suspected that the one percent of dissent would cause me to be branded as a male chauvinist pig.

“I haven’t caught much TV lately,” served for what I thought was a safe reply. “Too many reality TV programs and award shows for my taste. I pretty much watch TV for just news and sports. The Jets let me down this year, but I think my Knicks will go far.”

“I loathe sports. They turn men into zombies transfixed by a bunch of millionaires running around with a ball. If I want to see people sweat on television, I’d much prefer to watch Survivor. Or Fear Factor. Or American Idol. Or any of those shows. I must confess that I find them all very addicting.”

It had become blatantly evident that we were nowhere close to being on the same wavelength. I was amazed that she had managed to give all of the right answers during our first conversation, yet was now giving nothing but wrong ones. Clearly I needed to do some tinkering with my screening process to make it cover a broader range of subject matter. I had eaten a light lunch the day I first met Heather and thought we vibed so well. Perhaps the alcohol later consumed made me less clear headed than I’d thought I was. I promised myself to drink glasses of water in between stiffer beverages in the future.

“My friend Lisa who was with me when we met teases me all the time about my reality TV obsession. But the way I figure, those shows are a pleasant diversion from news about the unnecessary war that our undeserving President forced us into.”

I definitely knew better than to go there. Talking politics on a first date is never a good idea, even if you intend it to also be your last date with the person. Suffice it to say that Heather and I were of differing opinions on the president’s use of military force. My physical attraction to Heather had not subsided. To the contrary, she was even prettier on second sighting. She possessed many other admirable qualities as well. Heather was a wonderful woman for some lucky guy to find. But I would be taking a pass on being that guy. If I had any uncertainty about this, it went away when she informed me that she would be popping outside between dinner and dessert to satisfy her cigarette craving. I was not amused by the hypocrisy of her chiding me for the food I put into my body while she insisted on inhaling tobacco into her own. And very few things were as much of a turn off for me as kissing a woman with cigarette breath. So I hurried the date along to its conclusion, escorted her home, then turned away from her doorway, certain that by design I would never see Heather again.

When I arrived home that night, I fed my cat Charlemagne to whom I now knew Heather would be allergic, sorted through my mail, then turned on my computer and went online. After reading a few emails, sending out a couple, and deleting several that promised to help decrease my debt and increase my girth, I went to the state lottery website to see what the day’s winning numbers were. That’s when my jaw dropped and my life changed.

2-9-17-25-48-53. There they were on my computer screen, the sweetest digits I had ever seen. I’d been playing them twice a week, fifty two weeks per year, for the last fifteen plus years. Now at long last they had hit. Either I was the co-winner, or better yet, the sole winner of sixty-two million dollars! Not capable of caring less about the annoyance of my extremely sound sensitive upstairs neighbor, I shouted for joy. Tears were shed and a victory dance was performed as visions of my future appearance on MTV Cribs, pointing out the best features of my tricked out mansion, went racing through my giddy head.

Eventually I stopped hooting and hollering, and my upstairs neighbor stopped pounding on his floor / my ceiling. I took a deep breath to steady myself, then pulled out my wallet and removed the lottery ticket within it. I gazed lovingly at the six printed numbers that matched those on the computer screen. Would I purchase a Hummer and then a Bentley, or the other way around? The dilemmas of the rich and ecstatic. Then my celebratory mood abruptly ended.

“What the hell?”

The date on my ticket was wrong. It belonged to Wednesday, three days earlier, when another six numbers entirely had been drawn. This ticket was an expired loser. What I needed was the one I had bought on Thursday for the Saturday drawing. I glanced through my wallet again, but there was no sign of another lottery ticket. Slower and closer examination of my wallet and its emptied contents produced nothing but frustration.

I was no stranger to the concept of misplacing useful or valuable items. If given a nickel for every time my remote control went temporarily missing, winning the lottery would not have been necessary to make me a wealthy man. My keys went AWOL at least twice a week. My sunglasses, my watch, and various other paraphernalia often played an annoying game of hide and seek with me as well. Some people would no doubt label me scatterbrained, but I’d read once that such behavior was a sign of genius, and that sounded much better. I had never misplaced a lottery ticket before, but there was a first time for everything. So I prepared to play the role of bloodhound and go rooting through every square inch of my apartment.

“Charlemagne, by any chance have you seen a little piece of paper with numbers on it lying around? You didn’t eat it, did you?”

My overweight feline responded with his patented blank stare before smugly turning his back on me. You’d think that providing food, shelter, and a clean litter box would earn a modicum of gratitude, but you would be wrong. I began my search by turning up sofa cushions, because my sofa had an uncanny ability to swallow whole any possession smaller than a microwave oven. That thought reminded me of another good place to look. I’d once found one my cufflinks in the refrigerator. Its partner was later found ensconced in my bed sheets. My apartment often felt too small and I was planning to look for a larger place when the lease ran out. At moments like this one however, the enormity of space to comb felt overwhelming.

“Come on, Charlie. Just give me a hint and I’ll buy you a bunch of new stuff to scratch and shed on.”

The rotund furball again refused to give me a meow of acknowledgment. I got down on my knees to look beneath the sofa. I found that I needed to do some serious dusting under there. And then it suddenly came to me. My memory brought back the scene with razor sharp detail. I now knew precisely where the ticket was. I had mistakenly written on the back of it and given my fortune away to Heather.

Apparently my evaluation of our date needed to be revised. Turns out we would definitely have to go out again. After all, my luxury cars, gargantuan residence, and the yacht I intended to throw phenomenal celebrity attended parties aboard would not be paying for themselves. I had to get that ticket back. Problem was, I couldn’t just point blank ask for it. Heather was no fool. She would suspect that I had a damn good reason for wanting it, soon discover that she held a winning lottery ticket in her possession, and proceed to cash in my destiny. She probably would not figure out on her own that she was sitting on a gold mine. Only if I foolishly tipped her off. I needed to somehow find where she had put the ticket and secretly return it to its rightful owner. Despite the clear signals I had given towards the end of our first date that she really wasn’t my type, I would now need to convince her that I’d had a change of heart. And so our great love affair unfolded, with no less romantic a start than that of Romeo and Juliet, Rhett and Scarlet, or John and Lorena Bobbitt.

“I can’t believe you never told me that’s why you got involved with Heather,” Terrell would say to me nine months later.

“It wasn’t my proudest hour,” I admitted. “I was considerably paranoid about the whole business. And I didn’t think it would take so long to be done with. I figured we would go out a few times, she’d eventually invite me over to her place, and I would casually manage to get her to reveal where the ticket was. But it turned out to be a lot trickier than that to manage, and to take a whole lot longer than I had imagined.”

“Your tie is crooked, Dale. You don’t want to look like a slob today. Too many eyes will be on you, waiting to see if you chicken out.”

“Not a chance of that. I’d be crazy not to marry that woman. She’s the best thing by far ever to happen to me. And as gorgeous as I know she’ll look in her wedding dress, I’m pretty sure she’ll get most of the attention. I do look damn good in this tux, though. You’re looking rather sharp yourself, Terrell.”

“Thank you. As your best man, I figure it’s my duty to be as least as suave as Superfly.”

“I can’t believe you’re still insisting after all these years that he’s cooler than Shaft.”

“By far. So you aren’t nervous at all, Dale?”

“Just the opposite. I can hardly wait to make it official.”

I was charming as could be on my second date with Heather, while she continued to be equally irritating. The more I learned about her, the less appealing she grew. So it took some effort to convince her that I wanted to pursue a relationship. After awhile it took
considerable effort to convince myself that the prize was worth the hassle of the chase. But I would remind myself of the dollar value of the prize, and that would give me the motivation to soldier on.

It was not my intention to hurt Heather. The last thing I wanted was for her to grow attached to me, knowing that I planned to bail the moment I had obtained what I wanted. I didn’t see myself as some sort of playboy, con artist, or money minded lothario. I simply felt that I deserved to get back my lottery ticket and reap the benefits I’d been contributing towards for a decade and a half. A horrible mistake had placed the ticket out of my possession. I needed to fix that mistake expeditiously so Heather and I could both return to our true destinies. Hers was to be a cigarette smoking vegetarian feminist. Mine was to be filthy rich.

Nine months later I stand beside the woman I love, our friends and families looking on. I’ve just been asked if I wish to take her as my wife. Of course I do, and so I say as much. The past several months leading up to this moment have been a chaotic blur, but now all is calm, and right, and good. Fate has blessed me. I glance over towards my best man and best friend. Terrell’s smile beams back at me. We’ve been through a great deal together, being friends since junior high school. A lot of good times have transpired in the intervening years. This one ranks right up there at the top. There’s no more denying it, even if we wanted to. We’re all grown up now. We’re grown men with a couple of amazing women by our sides.

I clasp hands with my brand new bride as we head down the church aisle together.

“I love you so much,” she whispers into my ear as the camera flashes dance about us.

“I love you too, Lisa.”

It’s funny how life works out sometimes. If Terrell’s phone call had not distracted me while I was trying to make out in dim lighting which piece of paper to write my phone number on, I never would have given Heather the wrong lottery ticket. Without doing that, I would not have bothered to see her beyond our first date. After two months of trying somewhat comically to get the ticket back without revealing my objective, I finally gave up and simply asked her if she still had it. When she requested the reason for my query, I admitted that it was a winner and offered to split the money with her. But unfortunately, there was nothing to split. Heather had copied my phone number into her address book on the night we first met, after which she discarded of the ticket. I had considered that she might have done this, so although I was disappointed, it wasn’t especially difficult to accept that I would not become a millionaire. It was actually relief that I felt, because at least there was no longer reason to continue with my masquerade. I did not wish to date Heather any longer, and I told her so. I said that I wished her well, but my heart wasn’t in our relationship because it had been claimed by someone else. Then came my next big confession. While pretending to be Heather’s boyfriend, I had fallen hard for her best friend Lisa.

I didn’t get my mansion, or yacht, or fleet of luxury cars. No fifteen minutes of fame on MTV. Instead, I found a woman to spend the rest of my life with. Not a bad tradeoff. Lisa and I are very happy. Our wedding was a beautiful affair. Regrettably, her friend Heather was unable to attend. I think she’s trying to avoid me. It isn’t that she was devastated by our break up, or by finding out why I had been dating her to begin with. It turns out that she left New York a couple months ago and promptly bought a huge house in California. A wealthy relative passed away and left a substantial amount of money behind as Heather’s inheritance. That’s what she claimed anyway. I suspect otherwise, but I’m not complaining. The way I see it, Heather found her winning lottery ticket, and I found mine.