Monday, December 2, 2013

A teaser - Passages from MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE

I can't tell you quite yet when my second novel will be published...or how.  First things by their nature must come first, and now that Matters of Convenience has been written to completion, what I have elected to do initially is seek representation by a literary agent.  Hopefully a successful search will lead to its finding home sweet home at a publishing house en route to the ultimate destination - laid out before you in printed format or on a screen.  If the traditional path does not work out, my back up plan (which at this point is fairly traditional in its own right) will be to publish it myself.  Either way, the goal is to get it before your eyes and hope you enjoy the tale.  Since the time for you to partake of my story in full has not yet arrived, I have decided to present snippets here to whet your appetites.  Gentle readers, without further adieu I present a few bite sized morsels from Matters of Convenience.

No reasonable excuse or explanation occurred to her for declining his invitation. Her body craved to be explored by his touch. She longed to discover the places that would make him arch with pleasure, moan with delirium, hum her name in delight. Yet something made her suppress these urges, told her she must wait, that it was too soon. And although the source of these warnings was vague, she opted to obey them over desires that were far better understood.

James could sympathize with problematic sexual entanglements.  This was not to say that he lugged around a suitcase full of regrets about past behavior.  His fierce appreciation of female beauty, the unrelenting desire he felt for their company, the pleasure he both derived and sought to give, had led him in and out of quite a few bedroom doors.  Pleasure was still what he craved, but he was now ready to find nirvana in the embrace of a single pair of arms and legs.

Happily ever after did not make its way to everyone’s doorstep. Most people made due with whatever came along for however long it lasted. They surrendered fairy tale hopes for cookie cutter lives that they could make peace with. If it looked like happiness to those looking from the outside, success was claimed. But a certain percentage of people routinely opted for chaos at the expense of the appearance of tranquility. Perhaps for them the appeal of the race was stronger than that of the finish line, the thrill of the chase far more important than actually catching up.

And on some night in the probably not too distant future, nature would lead them to whichever of their bedrooms was closest at that moment. In this man’s arms, stretched out on either his bed sheets or her own, she would eliminate the final traces of Todd from her everyday consciousness. James would serve as diversion for a week, a month, however long she decided. It was almost as if she had willed him into existence, into standing before her at the precise moment she was willing to accommodate him, arriving not a minute too early or too late. 

He mentally prepared for the worst.  The last time he’d run into one girlfriend while out with another had not gone well.  Perhaps his memory exaggerated it, but his recollection was of a scene that reached the hysteria played out on daytime talk shows when some clueless guy was informed that he was “not the father”.  Sonya had no rational reason to get upset.  They barely knew each other really.  Other than sex, they had shared little and held even less in common.  For God’s sake, it had been a struggle to remember her name.  Still, he was well aware that the way he viewed his involvement with a woman sometimes did not match how she was seeing it.

On occasion he would think back to the fiercest passion it had been his pleasure to experience and reflect on what might have been. He would look upon the woman who occupied the opposite half of his bed and feel his life had not quite lived up to the promise of another day. These moments would be mercifully brief, or so he hoped.

A few minutes of stalling would not break her. She had the strength to stand there and love him right up to the moment he would possibly reveal that this was no longer in her best interest. He did not expect histrionics if his revelation was disappointing. She would not give him the satisfaction, would remain stoic until showing him the door. Whatever happened once he was on the other side would be privileged information.

For more passages from MATTERS OF CONVENIENCE (with accompanying imagery), check out the board I created at Pinterest

Friday, October 18, 2013

Halloween Book Giveaway for PATCHES OF GREY

Growing up I found Halloween to be the most awesome of holidays for two critical reasons. #1 - Everybody got to play make believe.  #2 - Show up at someone's door, just about any one would do, and receive a handful of free candy.  Potential lay at each ring of a doorbell to receive a trick, but the odds were in your favor that you would end up with a treat.

If you're not walking my beat on October 31 then I'm unable to fuel your sugar rush, plus my candy supply is strictly for kids, those are the rules.  But I do have something for you, gentle reader.  I'm giving away copies of my novel PATCHES OF GREY.  You can end up with it in your possession in one of two ways.  The first is to stop by between now and the end of October and enter to win a copy of the print edition.  See link below.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Patches Of Grey by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Patches Of Grey

by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Giveaway ends October 31, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

If you aren't the lucky winner but happen to read ebooks on the Kindle or Kindle App, head over to  The Kindle edition of PATCHES OF GREY is available for FREE three days - 10/29, 10/30 and All Hallow's Eve.  If you're an avid reader in eternal search for the next great book, your odds of obtaining my novel at no cost are pretty good.  So go on and indulge your literary sweet tooth.

Best of luck (if any is needed) to everybody, and as always, Happy Reading.  And be sure to have a HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

What I've Read Lately

DOUBLE FEATURE by Owen King - I didn't realize when I picked this book out at the library that the author is Stephen King's son. Once discovered, I tried not to let that influence my evaluation.  It turned out to be relatively easy because although the literary gene certainly passed down the family tree, Owen has his own unique voice that stands aparts from his dad's creepy one.  I enjoyed this novel, even if the pile up of coincidences at the end was a bit much. Sam, the hero of Double Feature, is a well developed character who keeps getting in the way of his own happiness. He feels short changed by his parents divorce, a father he both sort of emulates and is unable to connect with, the early death of his mother whose only sin was loving an unworthy man, and the mutilation of his directorial debut. You want Sam to move on, achieve some measure of closure, accept the imperfections of loved ones, make another movie, get the girl. But for much of the story he is determined to stick with the one thing he has mastered above all - the art of brooding. Enough quirkiness and amusement is scattered about the pages to prevent Sam's journey from feeling especially somber. The narrative often feels directionless, which may bother some readers but I don't find to be a negative trait in a book so long as the writing is strong and engaging. When someone is trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do with the life they've been given, a certain amount of meandering about is inevitable. I was reminded of the movie Garden State, which is a good thing as I'm quite fond of that movie.  Events of great impact have already taken place, an unknown future of vague promise lies ahead, but the moment at hand seems to mostly be about hanging around and waiting, no longer a child but perhaps not quite an adult, probably stalling. I was also reminded in a more superficial manner of one of my favorite movies, Cinema Paradiso. Like that wonderful film, Double Feature is in large part on ode to the movies. Whether it's an intellectual art house film or a campy cult classic or a Hollywood blockbuster with dazzling special effects, we accept the enjoyment that movies have to give us for a couple hours in dark rooms and then we return to the real world. Loose ends tend to be tied up by the time credits roll. Epiphanies have been reached. We walk away satisfied that events came full circle and we return to our own lives where things don't need to conform to rhyme or reason. They just are. I look forward to Owen King's next book and to seeing what direction his literary career will take. It's off to a fine start.

CANADA by Richard Ford - Richard Ford takes his sweet time building up to the details of events that he reveals at the very beginning of this novel.  The leisurely trips to "the bank robbery" and then a much shorter one to "the murders" are enjoyed because of Ford's masterly, non-pretentious use of language. This book isn't about crime and/or punishment. Despite the title it isn't even about Canada. It's simply a story about making due with what you have, moving on from what takes place, looking back on what once was, ever watchful for what may come to be. Canada is a chronicle of what happens to every single one of us. Life.

FREEMAN by Leonard Pitts, Jr. - A fantastic book. Readers will empathize with the well developed characters. History buffs fascinated by the Civil War time period will be enthralled. Those who take great interest in this nation's troublesome history of race relations will be deeply drawn in, and on numerous occasions will shake their head at the realization that centuries old truths stubbornly remain valid to this day. Those in eternal search for bittersweet love stories should immediately add Freeman to their reading list. The only bone I had to pick with it is that in order for certain events to go the way the author intended them to, there were a couple instances of characters leaving incriminating evidence lying conveniently around, allowing for trails that otherwise would have gone cold to remain hot. I temporarily felt the presence of Leonard Pitts Jr. directing the narrative when this happened. "No way she doesn't toss that newspaper in the fire immediately" I may have said aloud at one point near the end of this riveting story. This is the closest thing I found to a flaw in an otherwise wonderful novel. From its first sentence to the last, it packs a powerful motional punch. Bravo to a job well done.

SNUFF by Chuck Palahniuk - As with another of my favorite authors, Tom Robbins, when you're reading a Chuck Palahniuk book you know you're reading something that nobody else could have written. With a book like Snuff, Palahniuk may be the only person who would ever want to write such a thing.  It's not for everybody, that's for sure. The stuff of genius never is.  Pornography itself is more socially acceptable than in depth examination of it from outsider perspective. Palahniuk dives all the way in and the readers emerge from it covered in...insight about the underbelly of commonplace human desires.  What did you think I was going to say?  When all is said and done, Snuff probably won't rank among my most favorite Palahniuk novels. I'm near the beginning of my journey through his catalog. But Snuff is most definitely riveting and, even considering the immense popularity of Fight Club, this may end up being the most memorable of his works.

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE by J.K. Rowling - As fascinated as my daughter (who this book was read aloud to) is by all things wizard, Rowling has a tendency to be wordy when incorporating a ton of information along with drama into scenes. These passages turned off my 7-year old. I found them a tad dry myself, but I'm a stubborn reader and refuse to skip over anything. This wasn't the case so much with the first two Harry Potter installments, but the end of #3 dragged somewhat with considerable explaining dialogue. Still, it's one thing for a book to have an excessively wordy ending, by which point you're fully committed to making it to the finish line. It's another thing to start off in such a manner. Glancing at other online reviews it seems my wife, my daughter and I are not the first ones to find the World Cup scene in Goblet of Fire rather tedious. Eventually it picks up steam. Things also start taking a turn for the dark & grown-up in this installment of the series, so it will be the last one I read aloud to my daughter. Perhaps she will return to it on her own some day. As for me, I'll probably just watch the movies to see how it all turns out for Harry and company. The onscreen adaptations do a pretty good job of leaving out Rowling's explanatory rambling and cutting to the chase. I hear she's doing some Hogwarts based screenplay writing now. I suppose she has a pretty good idea by this point of what to include on paper to give readers the richest experience, and what is best left on the editing room floor to keep fidgety viewers on the edge of their seats.

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER by Junot Diaz - A fine follow-up to Oscar Wao. Not nearly as ambitious, which is fine, because that might have meant waiting a decade or so for another book from Diaz. He's much too good a writer to make us wait that long again. This is How You Lose Her (love the title) is basically a series of scenes, collection of short stories on the same theme, rather than a novel. One might say it's Drown II, featuring a character from his Pulitzer Prize winning novel rather than his debut work. If you have the time you may devour this book in a single sitting. His prose goes down easy and resonates long after you've read the last page. No synopsis required because the title tells you all you need to know.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Since my column written for back in the day is no longer archived there, I am presenting a few of the articles here at A Line A Day.  Many of them were time sensitive so I’ll pass on taking a stroll down memory lane with those.  But a few stand up pretty good in reprint despite the passage of years since they were written.  I have reprinted IMAGINE here because athletes being busted for taking performance enhancing drugs continues to be a plague on sports.  More recently I reprinted THE BLACK ATHLETE in response to the 2013-14 NFL season beginning with a record 9 African American men taking the field as starting quarterback for their respective teams.  I happened to attend a game that featured two of them, with Geno Smith of my beloved New York Jets earning victory over Josh Freeman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by the slimmest of margins.  In that post I also included a snippet from an article I wrote about the young Michael Vick long before his legal difficulties and eventual comeback led me to write about him a couple more times.  The article I am reprinting below was written about the Williams sisters back in 2001 during the US Open.  As I predicted might happen, Venus ended up defending her title by defeating her younger sister Serena.  Fast forward twelve years and once again the US Open champion is a Williams, only this time around Serena was the victor and she did not need to go through any family members to earn it.  Serena merely had to get over the fact that at age 31, her talent level is supposed to be in sharp decline.  Instead she has never looked better on the court.  She’s looking pretty good off it as well.  So I decided to reprint this article in her honor, and if a decade down the line she somehow is STILL winning Majors, I’ll reprint it yet again.  Take a bow, Serena.  You too, Venus, even though your prime now appears to be in the rear view mirror.  And shout out to Richard Williams who has been keeping a relatively low profile of late, and has recently become a father again in his 70’s.  Will a third Williams be hoisting up championship tennis trophies some day?  I wouldn't bet against it.

Once upon a time. No, let me be more precise. On June 11, 1978 an event took place that would end up transforming the world of tennis, though not for many years to come. It was on this day that Virginia Ruzici won the French Open women's singles championship. A man who resided in California was watching on television and he found himself amazed not so much by the skill and effort displayed by Virginia during the match, as by the size of the check she received at the end of it. Over twenty thousand dollars for a day's work. Not bad at all. The man vowed that any children his wife gave birth to in the following years would play tennis. Since those children would need to be taught how to play, and he was by no means a wealthy man who could provide them with top notch instructors, he bought some books and videotapes and taught himself the game. Within three years the man's family had grown by two daughters. They were named Venus and Serena.

Their training ground would be the less than pristine glass strewn public courts of Compton. Unlike a sport such as basketball that requires no more than a single ball to be shared by everyone and a rim attached to a backboard, the considerably pricier game of tennis rarely generates its stars from ghetto neighborhoods. American phenoms in expensive sports like golf and tennis tend to be white, and they almost always have the advantage of elite training at top tier institutions. Neither was the case for Venus and Serena. What they did have was a determined father with a master plan. And since their starting point was not the conventional one, it stands to reason that the steps taken along the way were radical as well. Eyebrows of those who thought they knew it all were certainly raised when Richard Williams pulled his daughters from the junior ranks, even though Venus by that point at age 11 had earned national attention for her prowess. He relocated his family to Fort Lauderdale where for the next 3-1/2 years there would be no tournaments or competitive match play for the Williams sisters. Even after the traditional route had become an option, rather than following it, Richard arranged for his daughters to practice, practice and practice some more with academy instructor Rick Macci. Instead of going through the machinations usually employed to churn out professional tennis players, Venus and Serena kept tennis as a focal point, but not as the only thing in their lives. They earned high school diplomas with top marks, developed outside interests such as their love of fashion. But all the while, the eyes of Richard and his daughters remained on the prize. And now, twenty three years after that fateful match won by Virginia Ruzici, the most prevalent questions being asked in tennis circles are the following three. Will Serena Williams once again reign as the US Open women's champion? Or will the 2001 version of this contest be won for the second time in a row by arguably the best female player in the world - a gal named Venus? And lastly, wouldn't it be something if they ended up playing each other for this honor in the Final? It seems there was a method to Richard's madness.

Why then has the extraordinary success of Venus and Serena been routinely accompanied by controversy and flat out resentment? Why are these talented, intelligent, attractive young ladies the least popular players on the tour? Was Venus' sudden withdrawal before a match sufficient cause for Serena to be subjected to a cascade of jeering rather than cheering as she earned a championship at Indian Wells earlier this year? And even if the circumstances of that day were somewhat suspicious, why was it reported that words far more offensive than "boo" were yelled at Serena?

Some would blame the perceived "unladylike" arrogance of the Williams sisters, demonstrated by the fact that they rarely credit losses to superior play by their opponents, and the audacity they showed in turning down lucrative endorsements until the stakes grew sufficiently lofty. Others would cite envy of Venus and Serena, who seem less dedicated than those they routinely annihilate because they play in considerably less tournaments than their top ten peers. There are those who are convinced that the outcome of matches between Venus and Serena are fixed, depending on whose turn it has been determined to be the victor. A few people probably had a problem with the beads once worn in their hair, or the colorful form fitting outfits they don to better exhibit their tall, lean, muscular physiques. Would someone be playing the so called race card in claiming that the brown skin of Venus and Serena is at the root of the troubles they find, or simply stating the obvious? There do happen to be folks on the professional tennis circuit who have predominantly positive comments to make about the Williams sisters. There actually are players who do not form competitive alliances against them, such as was admittedly done by Lindsey Davenport and Martina Hingis during last year's US Open. But even the majority of these people cease to compliment and start expressing disapproval towards the architect of the Williams master plan - Papa Williams.

When Richard Williams encounters racism, such as he said he did at Indian Wells, he is not shy about bringing it up and shouting it down. When he merely suspects that he detects it, such as when Irina Spirlea bumped into Venus during a changeover, he does not hesitate to brand her "a big, tall, white turkey", nor to contend that the incident was motivated by a broader racist attitude on the tour. He did later apologize for insulting Spirlea, but he is never apologetic about exposing racism, nor about exhibiting excessive pride to the point of gloating over his daughters' accomplishments. Richard Williams has been blamed for and accused of many things, but subtlety is not one of them. This is a man who has attended matches sporting signs that read "It couldn't have happened to a nicer family" and "I told you so". This is a man who once went on to the court and performed a celebratory dance on behalf of Venus while her vanquished opponent stormed off. Richard Williams has not chosen to hold his tongue about additional fees he feels his daughters should receive due to the greatly expanded fan base they are wholly responsible for bringing to tennis, much as Tiger Woods has done in golf. Speaking of Tiger, it is natural to compare his feats and impact to that of Venus and Serena. They do after all share the ability to win virtually at will and often with great ease; a plethora of lucrative endorsements; a Jackie Robinson like effect on the formerly lily white sports they have come to dominate; and unique names that match the flair of their playing styles. Yet even Earl Woods, father of Tiger, has been critical about the antics of Richard Williams and how Venus and Serena's behavior reflects poorly on their upbringing.

The more Richard Williams shouts to be given his due, to have the near miracle he has accomplished be properly acknowledged, the more scorn and derision he invites. And some of it inevitably spills over on to his daughters whether they deserve it or not. Instead of the genius who managed to put two of his children simultaneously in the upper echelons of tennis, enabling them to earn fortune and fame, he is cast in the villainous role of detriment to their brilliant and apparently limitless careers. There will probably be no end to the stream of conspiracy theorists and Martinas like Navratilova and Hingis who claim that rather than being held down by race, Richard takes advantage of it in a politically correct climate to get away with what others would be crucified for. And they probably do make some valid points, even while mostly missing the point.

In rebuttal, I believe Richard Williams would say to his detractors, and most likely stated far more boldly than I will put it here - "Do you think you can do a better job molding well rounded, well adjusted, one (make that two) of a kind multi-millionaire athletes out of nothing but a ghetto dream inspired by a memorable moment of television viewing? Let's see you try."

Being who he is, and his relationship with the media being what it is, even with his lower profile Richard Williams still manages to steal headlines away from his daughters from time to time.  For example...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Black Quarterback By Any Other Name Would Be

I have often stated my amazement at the fact that the President of the United States of America has been a black man for just about the entirety of my seven year old daughter's life.  A person's view of the world is shaped by the particulars of their existence.  If a single person could lead two lives, one of them beginning in 1953 and the other starting in 1993, the result would be two different sets of belief systems and attitudes.  Practically two different people.  It may as well be two different planets they resided on rather than merely different decades.  My daughter and her peers will not grow up thinking that becoming the most powerful person in the world is beyond any of them, be they girl or boy, black or white.  I can't honestly say that this is how I felt as a 7 year old.  No matter how you feel about President Obama's policies and the way in which he has presided, the significance of his presence in the oval office cannot be minimized and its impact will spread indefinitely.

Pictured above is not President Barack Obama, but rather, 9 of the 32 quarterbacks who started for NFL teams in week 1 of the 2013 season.  Now if you were born in 2003 you might simply look at this picture and shrug.  If born in 1993 it might give you slight pause.  If you had my ancient birthday however, you'd likely say something like - Well damn, will you look at that!  One cannot deny that there is significance to this event, not if one has been around long enough to remember when the occurrence seemed quite implausible.

At The Big Lead @thebiglead an article was written by Jason Mcintyre provocatively titled "The NFL is Entering the Golden Age of Black Quarterbacks".  The photo above illustrates rather clearly why it was written.  The reasons cited were primarily football reasons rather than social commentary about the evolution of race relations in this country.  Defensive players, particularly linemen and linebackers, are growing increasingly fast and athletic.  In order for quarterbacks to excel, they needed to do the same.  Dumb stereotypes about black men not being able to handle the thinking man's position of QB have fortunately gone by the wayside over the past few decades, as most false beliefs do (see flatness of the earth as an example).  Removal of such ignorance freed football teams to simply go with the best man for the job, and that has increasingly become the more athletic man, and this leads to the choice being the Black Man more so today than ever before.  If the trend continues, and I see no reason why it won't, then the title of Mcintyre's article is fairly accurate.

This title/premise annoyed at least one sports writer - Robert Littal aka  of Black Sports Online.  It led him to post "Why the Phrase 'Black Quarterback' Should Be Eliminated From Media".  In it he urges us to focus on the skill set of the player, not the race.  Neither Mcintyre nor Littal wrote anything that I particularly disagree with.   They are not even necessarily disagreeing with each other, nor with Jason Whitlock aka  who also chimed in on Twitter with an endorsement of the piece at The Big Lead.  In my opinion Mcintyre is merely being candid about the fact that there are more African American quarterbacks today than ever before and giving an explanation for why he thinks this is so, whereas Littal doesn't want a race based label placed on any quarterback even though he chose to place a race based label on his blog.  If you read Littal's posts with any regularity as I do, you'll note that he doesn't write about "Black Sports".  He writes about sports.  He also digresses into non sports areas such as photos of beautiful women and "groupie tales" and other stuff which is not especially racial in nature.  His blog, his right.  I'm in agreement with him that we live in a world with far too many labels.  I extend this opinion to matters far beyond quarterbacks.

Rather than writing a rebuttal or endorsement of either piece, I am reprinting an article that I wrote for in 2001 entitled THE BLACK ATHLETE.  That's right, I said in 2001.  Told you I was no spring chicken.  So much water has passed under the Cliche Bridge since I wrote it and yet I didn't need to change a word to re-express my opinion about the issue of race in sports.  Turns out I agreed with both Mcintyre and Littal long before they ever got around to expressing their views on the matter.  Check it out:

Do African-Americans (and individuals of African heritage in general) tend to excel in athletic competition? If answered in the affirmative, what is the rationale behind this phenomenon? And most important of all, what are the implications of this reasoning?

Considered objectively, African-Americans clearly represent a significantly larger percentage of professional athletes (particularly at the most elite levels) than the portion of the population that they represent. This is beyond debate. On the track, if anyone will be gaining ground on Marion Jones or Maurice Greene any time soon, in all likelihood they will not have blonde hair and blue eyes. Whether in short distance sprints or long distance marathons, the person who crosses the finish line first usually has brown skin. On most teams in the NBA in recent history, if you were searching for a white man you would have been best served starting with the twelfth man on the bench, if there was one to be found at all. Disproportionate numbers of blacks occupy positions in the NFL that require the most speed, agility, and leaping ability. Think about it. If you were choosing sides for a game of pick up basketball and had to decide between the remaining white guy and the remaining black guy, all other characteristics appearing equal, whom would you choose?

Scientists have researched, and some even claim to have found physiological differences that prove members of one race are predisposed to do better at certain tasks than members of other races. If it is taken as factual that a person's heritage makes them more susceptible to a particular disease, then can an equally valid point not be made about one group of people genetically having faster twitch muscles than another?

And so, with both impartial numbers and unbiased science supporting the case, why is the statement that blacks are superior athletes to whites such a controversial one? Why do some people vehemently oppose such a seemingly obvious notion? The answer can be written in black and white. America is a land obsessed with race relations. Racial prejudice is by no means a lost art in the land of the free, home of the brave. So any broad statement that divides us along color lines will be open to great scrutiny. Even if a generality seems benign, it still constitutes a stereotype. Once a stereotype is accepted by those it is being pinned on, the argument for other less pleasant stigmas is strengthened. Is to accept being labeled as naturally faster worth the cost of also being considered inherently lazier, or less intelligent, or more criminal minded? Of course not. This is a clear cut case of the negatives far outweighing the positives. Sometimes evidence is best left ignored. 

Besides, the latest wave of European imports and special American finds is slowly but surely bringing a semblance of racial balance to the NBA. If any race can be said to be tailor made to dominate Major League Baseball, that honor belongs not to blacks, but to Hispanics. Perhaps the next white heavyweight champion of the world is not lurking around a corner in nearby proximity (I was proven wrong here.  See Brothers Klitschko). But a Brit did recently manage to win and hold the belt for awhile, which is just about as fantastical as the plots of Rocky I through V.

It's just plain sense that those who were initially excluded from competing at the highest levels of sports would end up excelling when finally given the opportunity. As for dominating or at least achieving fair representation in coaching and front office positions, this is probably still a long time away. One barrier at a time. Changing institutionalized perceptions is a slow process, and Jackie Robinsons come around only every so often. So as tennis goes the way of the Williams sisters; Tiger Woods elevates himself farther and farther above his tennis brethren; and African-Americans continue to smash pigskin myths by demonstrating an aptitude for "thinking" positions like quarterback; those who long for a paler shade of sports are left to take solace for now that not too many folks of brown, yellow, or red complexion have taken much interest in ice hockey yet. 

If you've read this far, you rock!!!  As bonus for those of you not suffering from short attention spans I will cut and paste below some thoughts I wrote about an exceptional athlete/quarterback/black quarterback/ball/er/phenom/whatever you wish to call him, during the 04-05 football season.  The sky appeared to be the limit for this young man who was basically the personification of what I wrote in 2001.  At the time I wrote about him he had led his team the Atlanta Falcons to the playoffs early in his career, and it seemed there would be no stopping him any time soon.  There have been quite a few twists and turns in his story since then, but this makes the potential I saw in him and for the change he would bring about in the NFL no less valid.  Check it out:

With all due respect to Tom Brady and his two impressive Super Bowl rings, or to Ben Roethlisberger and his impressive winning streak, the man to whom most eyes would be glued is MICHAEL VICK. Why is that? Well, he just happens to be the most athletically gifted highlight reel making player the NFL has ever seen. He plays the most analyzed and admired position on the field, and does so in an unconventional manner never before witnessed. Yesterday the NFL belonged to the likes of Dan Marino and John Elway, and today belongs to Peyton Manning and his two consecutive league MVP awards. However, if you take Peyton out of his domed home stadium and place him outdoors to face wintry elements, his prowess can be tamed by an elite defense. On any given Sunday a scheme can be concocted to thwart veteran pigskin slingers such as Brett Favre or emerging hot shots like Drew Brees. But just how does one prepare to face a player as talented and unpredictable as Michael Vick? He is two superstars merged into one, both a quarterback with a canon for an arm and a running back with lightning fast legs. Michael Vick may be providing a glimpse at tomorrow in the NFL. Football purists who believe the prototype of a quarterback is a white guy who stays in the pocket and throws perfect spirals right before getting hit in the chest by a charging linebacker probably do not fully appreciate Michael's gifts. Those who can take or leave aging aesthetic values and prefer to focus on the bottom line understand that Vick may beat you with his arm, or he may beat you with his feet, but the important thing is that he will beat you.

The NFL is known as being a copycat league. If a particular game plan proves to be very successful for one team, it’s a brief matter of time before half the league has adopted it. Offensive and defensive fads come and go, and for each one, numerous variations are devised. If Michael Vick proceeds to lead the Atlanta Falcons to Super Bowl victory, talent scouts throughout the NFL will go in search of running backs with strong arms, or quarterbacks with fast feet. The hybrid QB will be much sought after while the conventional quarterback will become an endangered species. Professional football as we currently know it may be transformed into an entirely different game, sort of like how the NBA went from a league of spot up jump shooters to one of acrobatic dunkers, or how sluggers in baseball could once lead the league in homeruns with 30 in a season, but now hit that many by the All Star break.

Monday, July 29, 2013


The reason there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts is because of the disintegration of the African-American family.  – Bill O’Reilly

STFU Bill – The vast majority of black people in America

Recently CNN’s Don Lemon proposed some solutions to deal with alleged persistent problems in the African American community (see video above).  He suggested 5 things that he feels would be effective: hiking up pants, finishing school, restraint from N-word usage, taking better care of own communities, and not having so many babies out of wedlock.  Lemon caught a considerable amount of flack (i.e. people lost their minds) for expressing these opinions.  I should add that he prefaced his suggestions by agreeing with criticism of African Americans that came from the obnoxious mouth of Bill O’Reilly.  Not only did he agree with it, but he said Bill didn’t go far enough.  Not that Bill is the first white person or Don Lemon the first black person to propose racial self criticism rather than only directing critique outward towards “the oppressor”.  I should also add that the genesis of this topic was the killing of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal after belated arrest of George Zimmerman.  At this particular moment in history as we cry #JusticeForTrayvon and aim to counter the unfair verdict with decisive action, self criticism is the last thing many black people want to hear.  When connecting such (well meaning?) (condescending?) advice to the killing of Trayvon Martin, it sounds like one is agreeing with the prosecutor’s POV (which the jury went along with) that Trayvon brought about his own death, rather than seeing the fault as lying primarily/exclusively with his killer.  Don Lemon wasn’t actually talking about Zimmerman’s acquittal when giving his self-help proposals.  I also suspect Bill O’Reilly (whom I dislike and won’t be coy about it) was not talking specifically about the disintegration of Trayvon Martin’s family as the cause of his death. Nevertheless, Bill’s judgment and Don’s suggestions and mass furor over Zimmerman’s acquittal have become intertwined.  This led to Don Lemon (no point in yelling at O’Reilly, he’d just revel in it) getting an earful of pissed off responses.  “How dare you give the African American community advice?  To hell with you for insinuating that we need help, that we have problems in need of fixing.  If you must criticize, can’t you at least be original rather than repeating Bill Cosby’s material?  And shame on you for suggesting that Bill O’Reilly has ever been right about anything.

My own response to Mr. Lemon is considerably less heated, which isn’t to say that I’m in full agreement with him.  I certainly don’t think it was smart of him to co-sign as divisive a figure as O’Reilly or any of his conservative ilk that pollute the airwaves (primarily on Fox).  And Don should have known his timing was very poor.  Perhaps he knew and doesn’t care.  He seems like an intelligent man so he probably anticipated backlash.  To get discussion started it is often necessary to ruffle feathers and Don Lemon certainly accomplished that.  Pointing out white privilege will get you nods and high fives of agreement every time.  Pointing out black responsibility for projecting a negative image (have you listened to the lyrics of those rap songs; have you seen those gold teeth; why is gang culture exalted rather than condemned?) usually results in jeers and sarcastic hashtags on Twitter.  Why should we follow Lemon's non-militant advice?  After all, if his suggestions were followed to the letter there would still be racism against black people across America.  There’s just no getting around that.  If every black person walked around in tuxedos and evening gowns, showing off their PhD credentials, never saying a single word beginning with the letter N, carrying brooms at all times to keep their neighborhoods litter free, and pulled off having every child born into a nuclear family – there would still be a bunch of bigots who hate and/or disrespect black people.  Disdain of white privilege would remain the go to response.  In other words, if Don Lemon was Emperor of the Universe and could make his suggestions reality with a wave of his magic wand, post racial America would be about the same distance away as it is now.  Black people don’t need to prove to whites that they’re worthy to be treated as equals in every regard.  This just needs to happen beginning yesterday.

On the other hand, if you were one of the squeaky wheels demanding oil after Don Lemon’s proclamations, what exactly did he suggest that you find problematic?  This is what I think:

1) Pants sagging below one’s ass is an idiotic look, there’s just no getting around it.  If homeless people look at you and shake their heads at your fashion style, you’ve made a wrong turn.  Yet a fairly significant number of black people for reasons that escape me are walking around like this, and it’s been going on for quite a few years now.  I don’t care if the look was inspired by prison culture or an episode of Gilligan’s Island or whatever.  I just know that it isn’t worth defending and we might want to move on to something ever so slightly less ludicrous, such as the bolo tie.  Purchasing belts/suspenders won’t create wealth (unless it gets you the job you applied for) or eradicate racism, but it will restore a measure of dignity to those who elected to abandon it.

2) Take school seriously, not that there aren't other alternatives to success but they have a lower percentage.  Pursue higher education for it has been proven to lead to higher income which leads to overall better quality of life.  There is nothing wrong with supporting this idea or with finding an anti-education/anti-grammar/anti-upward mobility mindset to be self destructive.

3) Changing “er” at the end of an insult to “a” does not make it poetry.  It just keeps a hateful word alive and promotes hypocrisy.  “I can say it but you can’t because I say so” is a weak argument that should not need to be made over and over and over again.  It's like Italians claiming they're the only ones who have permission to say "spaghetti".  Hell no.

4) Cleanliness is next to Godliness and makes a much better impression than filth.  This was probably Lemon’s weakest point.  Wealthy neighborhoods are in better condition than poor ones because of money.   The haves have, the have-nots don’t so suffer as result.  But it goes without saying that people should take care of their communities as much as they are able.

5) There are many heads of single parent households doing a bang up job.  But would we be better off if fewer teen girls were getting pregnant and if the guys responsible were holding up their end when pregnancies happen?  Of course.  A child born without a proper support network in place will be less likely to excel in school, so addressing Lemon's fifth suggestion should take care of suggestion #2.  Would there also be less people littering while walking around with sagging pants and calling themselves niggas?  Probably.

Don Lemon did not say anything new.  There are some who agree that following up on his suggestions would improve things, others who simply find them insulting.  If you’re one of those who does not believe the advice will do any good, tell me, what harm would it do?  The truth is, I’ve heard far worse recommendations and suspect you have too.

But I don’t believe black people should be singled out by Lemon, O’Reilly or anyone else for their perceived faults.   So to even things out here are 5 unrequested suggestions to all white people.  I’ll provide the same disclaimer that Lemon did.  “If this doesn’t apply to you, I’m not talking to you.”

1) Enough with the white flight.  If the demographics of your neighborhood are changing, faces getting browner, embrace the diversity rather than fleeing from it.  We can all learn from one another, enjoy each other’s company, and yes, we can all get along.

2) No more token friends of color to bring up when you’re accused of racism in order to prove you aren’t racist.  They need to be your actual friends that you spend non-required (workplace doesn’t count) time with, have over to your house repeatedly for social interaction, vacation with, consider as godparents for your kids, stuff like that.  If you had authentic friendships with black people you probably wouldn’t have made the comment that somebody found offensive.

3) Hypocritical or not, don’t pretend you don’t realize that your use of the N-word will be deemed an insult.  This is true even if you said it to a guy who just referred to you, himself and his grandmother as N-words.  Yes, I realize how illogical this seems but just roll with me anyway and delete the word from your vocabulary no matter how anybody chooses to spell it.

4) Stop pretending that welfare, food stamps, public assistance of any kind is taking money away from all white people to give to all black people.  There are black ghettoes and there are white ghettoes.  Okay, maybe the white ones call themselves trailer parks rather than ghettoes.  You still get my point that poverty doesn’t have a color, it sucks all around, and everyone mired in it will have a tougher time acquiring bootstraps to pull up than those who never had to wonder where their next meal was coming from.

5) If you insist on being a conservative republican, figure out how to do so employing language that does not insult black people.  This should not be all that difficult as there’s nothing especially bigoted about being Pro Life, or a member of the NRA, or in favor of smaller, less intrusive government.  If you professed those things and managed to piss a black person off in the process, double check how you chose to express it because you may have said a bit more than that.  For example, if based on your preference for less governmental interference in day to day affairs you concluded that President Obama was born in Kenya and has a master plan to convert America 100% to socialism, you went too far.

BONUS SUGGESTION: If someone reports their spouse or kids has been killed and claims "some black guy did it", don't buy into the story at face value and go rounding up random black men. If someone claims he shot a black man for looking/acting suspicious, don't just accept the explanation as gospel, shake the confessed killer's hand and wish him a good day. Don't get played by buying into BS stereotypes. Plenty of times the white person did it and the "ominous" black man was minding his own business or not even present at the scene of the crime. Don't believe the hype.

FYI - The Kindle edition of my novel Patches of Grey is available FOR FREE from now through 7/31.  If your preference is for printed editions, but you're still very much in favor of getting stuff for free, sign up for the chance to win a copy at GoodReads.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

#Trayvon Martin and George #Zimmerman - The Aftermath

I knew how I felt when the names "Trayvon Martin" and "George Zimmerman" first came to my attention.  Incensed.  Betrayed.  Determined.  I did not know the details of that night with certainty, not with one of the participants dead and the other untrustworthy.  What I knew for sure was that far too much leniency had been shown to George Zimmerman.  How could he not be arrested after admitting he shot and killed an unarmed teen whose path he crossed because he chose to get out of his car and follow Trayvon rather than minding his own damn business?  Being on Neighborhood Watch does not give one the right to harass passersby.  And to do so while carrying a loaded weapon is unconscionable.  It is provoking a fight that you have no chance of losing and the other person has no hope of surviving if you lose your cool.  Lose his cool is precisely what George Zimmerman did.  The legal term for this that ended up getting him acquitted is Self Defense.  Another term brought to our attention over the months following that brutal night was Stand Your Ground.  Why was it George's ground more than it was Trayvon's to protect?  George may have lived in the complex but Trayvon was visiting a resident so belonged there as well.  According to Zimmerman, Trayvon was acting suspiciously.  That's a pretty vague description of one's behavior.  If you suspect someone of being up to no good by a glance at their skin color, grooming, age, fashion sense, they automatically become suspicious by the mere act of existing in your presence.  It isn't a crime to consider somebody a suspect.  But when you act as judge, jury and executioner all in one, that certainly is a crime in my book.  I was under the impression that this constituted a crime in the opinion of our justice system as well.

Like countless others I demanded justice for Trayvon, and by this I specifically meant an arrest of George Zimmerman and a trial where he would be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.  I got what I wanted.  It took considerably more than should have been necessary but George Zimmerman eventually had his day in court.  As for the verdict, that was out of the hands of everyone but six carefully if not wisely selected people.  We got to hear the evidence along with them but only they were permitted to decide on it, to weigh in on George Zimmerman's fate.  They declared him to be Not Guilty.  This isn't the same as Innocent but serves flawlessly as a Get Out of Jail Free card.  Many people, I among them, are greatly dissatisfied with the result.  But I know that the verdict isn't necessarily the final result of this matter.  I'm not referring to the possibility of a civil trial.  I mean that the nation paid far too much attention to this case for it not to have far reaching repercussions.  Change should be brought about.  Good may come out of it in the long run.  Our disappointment, anger and pain was not in vain - or so I hope to be true.

We've learned substantial lessons as result of Trayvon Martin's untimely death.  Brought to mainstream attention was the fact that Stand Your Ground laws are sprinkled about this country, and in general are a bad idea.  Knowing this, we can now get to work on eliminating them.  The folly of our gun regulations and lack thereof was once again highlighted.  A spotlight was shed on racial profiling, even if the phrase did not make it into the courtroom.  People vented about being singled out, communicated in innumerable ways how insulting, demoralizing, and potentially dangerous it can be.  Even if ignored, their voices were heard.  Stop and Frisk is a policy that should end up with considerably less public support/acceptance as result of the killing of Trayvon Martin.  We learned that when seeking justice it is ideal for a jury to be peers of the victim as well as the accused, rather than only one or the other.  When George Zimmerman was not arrested right off the bat, we signed petitions and took to blogs and to Twitter and Facebook and every public venue we could find to express our dismay.  We learned that when we speak as one on a cause that truly matters to us, to the core of our being, we will be heard.  We also learned we have a President that could have stayed neutral and out of it, but instead jumped in and made us proud that he did not step aside from his blackness.

Coverage of the story from a wide variety of perspectives was exhaustive and omnipresent, but does that mean its effects will linger?  Will the killing and subsequent trial and resulting uproar over the verdict be like the Alamo, an event never to be forgotten so the chances of history repeating itself will be minimized?  Or will this all quickly fade when the next Big Thing arrives and snatches our attention spans?  Newtown shooting to Boston Bombing to Snowden the Snitch to Zimmerman trial to catastrophe to be named and hashtagged later.

I'd like to think that if nothing else, the death of Trayvon Martin at the acquitted blood stained hands of George Zimmerman will result in greatly increased incidents of non-instant judgment.  Fewer irreversible opinions formed at a glance would be a wonderful legacy for Trayvon's unfortunate death to stand for.  In a closer to perfect world we will not decide who a person is and what he/she is about based on skin color.  Or race of significant other.  Or accent.  Or attire.  Or hairstyle.  Or zip code.  Or political party.  Or level of education.  Or the name they call God.  Or their particular path taken in pursuit of happiness.

If the following is a cliche, that is only because it is true.  We should judge our fellow man strictly on the content of his character.  This quality is impossible to measure from the presence of a packet of candy, a sugary beverage, or a hoodie worn to keep the rain off but incapable of slowing the deadly path of a bullet.


Trayvon Martin Foundation

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Patches Of Grey by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

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