Monday, December 19, 2016

Raccoon vs. Tough Guy

Who wins? Who loses?

What you are a bout to read is a true story, so you might as well keep on keepin' on. The tale took
place back in the 1980's when I was in my early twenties and darn near invincible--weren't we though?

I had a 1981 Ford F150. We got along great. She had an old school 3-in-the-tree standard shift which I dug. I pulled up the back alley to my place and shut her down outside my garage. I walked through the garage as I had  hundreds of times. The sun vacated several hours earlier. Something was in the air that night as I walked across the back lawn but I couldn't put my finger on it.

Trucks have your back!
I climbed the back stairs and found a mother raccoon and her three cubs on my porch. Ah ha! That's what was in the air. Mother turned to me hissed then approached. In true Canadian fashion I apologized and hightailed it back down the steps. The kids seemed cool but mom was pissed.

On the grass I turned back to check her progress and thankfully I didn't trip on a tree root and roll my ankle the way distressed damsels often did in bad 70's flicks. The furry mother was still coming with a quick waddle. My ego was shot. There I was a 200 pound red-blooded black Canadian ultra-male turning tail from a carnivore a tenth my size. In that moment I wondered if I'd lose my place at the top of the food chain table.

 In my defense I wasn't scared I was merely respecting family...and hissing, fangs and claws. Honest! As momma accelerated I did the same and emerged into my alley. I peaked back with a chuckle thinking she was done. Didn't they have a home to get to? As it happened she came barreling out of my garage. We now ran toward each other as I was heading for the box of my pickup truck. (A pick up truck always stands by his man by the way).

Terminator or Raccoons
The raccoon nearly got to my ankle as I hopped into the box. I stood back at the cab and listened. Suddenly a (normally) cute paw peaked over the lip of my tail gate. Seriously?

She was now in the box and coming in hot.

"By momma," I said and hopped onto the cab's roof. Trucks are awesome. The raccoon wasn't done. I didn't even know what the hell the beef was about but she didn't seem the type to calmly explain it to me. She got the end of the box and began scaling the side where the side panel meets the cab.

Ok it was on. Now I was pissed. Nobody and nothing runs me off like this. Does this little mammal know who I am, I thought as I leaped up to my garage and pulled myself up chin-up style to the roof. I considered making a stand. I could jump back in the box and kick a field goal with that little thing. Nobody humiliates me like this.

However, that's not my style. Besides it would have made for a horrible barroom story.

"Say fellas I kicked the crap out of a mother raccoon last night. Cool huh?"

Do you see my dilemma? I thought you might. Now on the roof I was king. I'd read Sun Tzu's Art Of War. I had the high ground. I had the vantage point. I could do recon and the whole bit. I out smarted my furry foe.

Alas, my self back-patting was short lived as a familiar (now angry) paw crested the roof. Are you like the friggin' Terminator of raccoons? Geez Louise baby!

There we stood: mano-a-raccoon-o. I straddled the ridge in a fighting stance. She held her spot briefly before waddling forward hissing and whining at me.

"You're lucky I don't hit ladies," I said, turned and leaped off my garage. Two hundreds pounds came down on the lawn with heat. I did a shoulder roll because I was young and that's how they did it in action movies!

The cubs stood on the lawn and stared at me.

"Hi kids. Stay in school," I said as I ran passed them and up the stairs. Ha! The high ground was mine again. Not only that I'd retaken my castle and secured my spot at the top of the food chain table. Ha! I say again Ha!

I stood at the balcony's railing and surveyed my land. The raccoon waddled out of the garage and stood with her cubs and stared up at me. She eyeballed me and I eyeballed her right back. She made some sort of squeaky sound then turned and took her family back through the garage. I'm sure she told me to shove it or something like that.

Back in the castle I grabbed a remaining half bag of chips and cracked a cold Kokanee beer. Once in my Lazyboy all tilted back and chillin'' I asked myself aloud, "WTF was that all about?"

Blogger's note: No raccoons were harmed during the forging of this blog post.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Noir At The Bar...Los Angeles

Cheers Mandrake
We cruised up La Cienega Blvd. The Waze App promised us the bar was on our right-1500 feet up. The App held up. We saw it at the same time. A building with no name but it had a marking we could
comprehend; a neon cocktail glass. And beneath that a pleasant three letter word: bar.

Simple. So simple it was perfect. We shut the ride down, locked her up and slid inside. Many would put this joint in the Dive category and I wouldn't argue with them. I said it was perfect, didn't I?

It wasn't until we got eighteen feet into the place that she told us her name; Mandrake. The joint was divided into two sections: bar,  hooch and old school turntables up front; tables and chairs in the back as if department heads or board members would meet back there to hammer out deals. That was the look she had. But this night would be different. A group would gather. Some would read from their works while others listened.

It was a new gig for me which meant I was the new kid in town. I'd been here before. Forty some-odd years ago I was the new kid in school. "Everyone say hi to Jonathan," the teacher sang. Now, on the brink of the big Five-One in years and comfortably nestled at Two Hundred and Two pounds I was the new 'kid' again. I was about to read a passage from my book DRUMROLL, PLEASE...A
The new gig baby!
LOU CRASHER MYSTERY to a bunch of good looking strangers.

Back in the day my gig meant loading six drums and the hardware along with it into my ride and hittin' the road. I'd set up, count to four and bash them drums like they owed me money. Tonight, it was a plain black bag bustin' at the stichin' with books, ten of them. I was nervous which was ok. It's when you're not nervous that the shit happens, shit goes wrong or should I use the word 'awry?' what with being a writer and all. The bar was stocked just right and the booze did as she promised. Somewhere during the hugs, handshakes and back slappin' I was informed that I'd be up first. I wouldn't have it any other way if the choice were mine.

I stepped to the mic with book in hand. I intro'd myself with light humor (if I may say so myself). Then I donned my 1.0 magnification friggin' readers. (Ah the joys of being 50 and 9/10ths). The reading came of without a hitch. The highs were high, the action was meaty and the sprinkling of jocularity did what I intended her to do. Six minutes later I was done. I welcomed the applause. (I'd be a friggin' psychopath not to right?). I can't say I was great or amazing, far from it. Getting over the finish line was the goal and that was achieved, baby!

But I must say it was easy because of the community. These mystery/noir/hard-boiled cats are so
Vinyl be slick baby!
dang nice and so dang supportive I don't know what to say...or write. So, let a brother end it this way: this is the new gig, the new home. A home where we write about hard-boiled P.I.'s, society's underbelly, fast talkin' dames and everything else that pops off within the perpetual rolling waves of crime. Ha, I love it here. I love the new gig. Thank you Noir At The Bar cats, I'll see ya down the road. Hold it between the ditches and stay outta the crosshairs.
Sweetest fan ever!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Trouble With The Food Chain

I'm not usually a cat who watches videos on Facebook. It's not that they're beneath me but I've been known to sit down with the intent to watch one video then come up for air 90 minutes and 12 videos later. Dang, time wasted again. However, the other morning I clicked on a video where a group of people protested a bullfight in Spain. Sixty or so protesters charged into the ring just before the 'festivities' were about to start. They sat in a circle and linked arms.

The plan seemed sound. There was nowhere for the matador to stand (and preen). And surely humanity would prevent the event hosts from loosing the bull on innocent people, right? As I said: the plan was sound. I'm happy to say that the bull was not set on these people which puts them a half notch above the (alleged) Romans of yesteryear that released lions on the defenseless christians. The good news is that those in charge of the 'sport' didn't let the bull into the ring with those people because they were human after all. The bad news is that well, they were human…after all. The organizers and fans of the bullfight game went to that deep primal place were some believe evil may rest.

The first man to attempt locking down the situation was a large security guard. He tried to break the human chain. When that failed her went to plan B which was throwing overhand right punches--what those into the human fight game refer to as 'haymakers.' The protesters were at a distinct disadvantage as their circle faced inward so their backs were to the security guard. Oh yeah, and they were seated. As with many protest sights one can see on the daily news next came the water hoses. Anybody remember the civil rights days of the 60's in this country? Um Hmm, we're talking learned behaviors here folks.

By this time more security guards arrive along with growing numbers of bullfight supporters. Tempers flared. The guards and fans weren't having anything to do with this protest nonsense and thus stepped down to the next rung of the those-without-conscience-ladder bringing them closer to indecency and cruelty. What is the next rung you ask? Simply put; when water and fists don't work its time to put the boots to work. I mean heck them boots are already on the ground for heaven sake. Let the kicking and stomping begin. Ironically the fray is now more brutal than the actual bullfight would have been. No? I lost you? I'm speaking from a psychological aspect. You might feel that slowly skewering a bull to death is gruesome and it is but this is man-beating-man in broad daylight with impunity. Still unconvinced? Ok read on.

Here is where my blood boiled and my stomach began to turn. A healthy 99% of those attempting to protect their 'sport' were men. And let's say a conservative 85% of those attacked were…wait for it…women. Don't get me wrong I despise what would have happened to the bull but this? Men in cowboy boots kicking seated women, yes SEATED women in the backs of their heads? So add to my boiling blood; hands locked into fists, heavy breathing and a jaw clenching so tight that my back molars begged me to knock it off. I continued watching.

At one point a man in a suit literally pulls a t-shirt from a woman's torso. Now this was not done in the style of asking her to lift her arms so he could gently remove the garment no, he yanked from above until it tore. But this esteemed prick wasn't done yet. In his mind he hadn't taught her the entire lesson. Just when I'd seen it all the S.O.B. doubled back and grabbed her bra and pulled with everything he had. I'm no woman but obviously this would be extremely painful and terrifying.

Man. Man vs. Animal. Let's take a look shall we? When lions attack a herd of wildebeest, let's say, the  lions will target the weak--the young or the slow. Prior to flight the herd tries to keep the weak to the center and hold the herd tight as a massive unit. The male protesters did their best to retrieve the women that were dragged (often by the hair) back to the group. The protest busters continued to hammer, beat and humiliate the women (and some men).

Here's where there's trouble with the food chain and where the lion rises above these particular men in the food chain. The lions are hunting for their survival. These dimwitted brutal characterless bastards are what? What's their excuse? They are operating from something down deep within them and that is hatred. A hatred of women. It's open season on women and keep in mind this video is mere minutes. This means that these abusers went from "hey, don't interrupt my blood sport," to "Bit** I'm going to make you pay…in broad daylight…in an era where every phone has a camera and a thousand live onlookers are present." Is that hatred enough for you?

Also keep in mind that each and every one of these men have mothers; some have wives or girlfriends and some even have daughters. And still--

This putrid hate is actually not buried deep, rather it  runs deep and simmers just beneath the first layer of skin. These abusers are not men. They are not boys and they are certainly not toddlers because toddlers start out from a place of innocence. I don't know what they are to be honest; can't get my head around it. And if they hold a spot on the food chain their position is not only beneath the lion it is far beneath that of the cockroach.

I have no solution to this problem but I do have a suggestion as to where we could start. Parents. Parents all over the world need to take young boys by the hand and teach them that women are human beings to be loved and respected and that without them that little boy would not exist. Also parents, if at any time your boy shows the slightest sign of aggression aimed at women or girls: DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!
I'm movin' up the food chain, baby

Obviously it's not good to have hate in the heart and God and the Buddhist in me keeps that hate at bay... not to mention a little thing called love. But if I were granted a one day pass to Hateville I'd have to say that I absolutely hate bullfights. But not nearly as much as I hate men that abuse women. Furthermore, if I were granted a day to meet each and every one of those abusers in a different sort of combat ring...

Friday, April 15, 2016

Get Your Rhythm Right!!!

In 2003 my mother passed away. As we were planning her funeral with the funeral director I asked if he could rent me a drum set. He said yes. After the meeting my brother asked if I was going to play a solo. I responded, "I guess so. I think that's what mom wants me to do."

The ceremony went ahead and somewhere in the middle of the speeches I got up and played. When I was finished the tears came on strong. After the ceremony was done and people hugged and consoled--my father approached. He paid me a very nice compliment about my piece and then he blew my mind.

He said, "Son, that was excellent but I feel that it was a duet."

"A duet? What do you mean?" I asked.

"I think your mother was playing with you, it sounded that way," he replied.

Naturally more tears came and for two reasons. Number one was that my dad was never really the type to talk in such spiritual terms, at least not to me, and I'm a real spiritual Cat. And two; in the middle of my solo I remember (like it was yesterday) looking at my hands with the sticks in them and they just floated across the drums…but I wasn't the one playing. I wasn't in control. How the hell did my father hear that? It's because my dad had a very strong rhythm beating within him and he knew what he heard. That is the only explanation.

My father passed away a few short weeks ago. When I was a kid my father told me that I marched to my own drum. I was too young to know what he meant but I loved the sound of it. My wife and I returned home and began planning for the service along side a whole host of amazing participants. My initial plan was to play an African Djembe for my father but the only rental drums available were 12'' in diameter. That wouldn't cut it…not for what my dad deserved. Then it hit me; duh…why don't I rent a full drum set again and play my dad on into heaven? Again; duh!

With my mother's solo I had a loose plan of what to play before I sat down. With my dad I went without a plan. I knew that one or both of my parents would join me on that stage and we'd make music with the gift they and God gave me. I wasn't worried at all about stage freight or freezing up or not being able to see the drums due to tear-filled eyes. (It can be done with eyes closed if necessary).

I sat down and let my hands and feet do what they wanted. I threw in some jazz because my dad was a huge Big Band kinda guy and then moved into some African rhythms with an audible, "Let's go Daddy-O!" (Not sure where that came from but I felt as though I was leading our two-man rhythmical platoon. All I had to do was get him to Heaven's gates…and my music would suffice as cover charge).

I called my solo "For Daddy-O" because that's what I called him even though he didn't really approve at first. I wasn't worried about whether the solo was going to be good or not. I knew it was. That's not a brag, it's a comment about rhythm. I'm not the world's greatest drummer, far from it. But my rhythm is right. I have good rhythm. My father had good rhythm. He had a rhythm to his walk that was cool; a rhythm to his speech that was musical and thus also cool. My Pop was just plain cool…because his rhythm was right. He was more charitable then even I ever knew. Why? Because his rhythm was right.

Rhythm is in everything we do. It's in your walk, how you brush your teeth, how you run, it's in your pattern of speech and it's also present in how you treat others. Rhythm is also beating inside that chest of yours at this very moment. You literally have a bass drum pounding inside you keeping your pilot light on.

Have you ever had a day where you felt you were 'out of sorts?' Guess what? Your rhythm was off. Have you ever done something you knew was wrong but did it anyway? You probably thought it was your conscience nagging at you while you did it. Well, I'm here to tell you that your conscience has rhythm and when you're acting 'wrong' that bad music in your ears is your off-beat rhythm baby!

There are a million more examples where rhythm rules the day but I won't go into them here. But getting back to my solo I knew my rhythm was right because my dad and I had many ups and many downs but we survived them all to come out smiling on the other side. And in his last remaining years we smiled and laughed for the majority of our visits. Our rhythm…was right.

 I did not feel as though my mother or father took over my limbs when I played for my dad at his service. However, I did feel my parents hovering just above my head watching; toes tapping, heads bopping and smiles bigger than Buddha's. I know they were proud. I know this because of the love and support they'd given me over the years; and believe me it couldn't have been easy to love a struggling musician, Yikes!

I've missed my mother since the day she left and now I miss my dad--Daddy-O as well. But I will move on as a better man because of everything my folks gave me, taught me and sacrificed for me. I'll aways be thankful that they let me march to my own drum…that they let me find my rhythm. Because when the rhythm is right, then there is love. And when there is love...

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

They Are The Future...

I've been working with a student who I'll refer to as Steve since he was 6 years old. He's now 10. I see him every week. One week we'll do self defense and the next week I'll give him a drum lesson. Steve, like myself is black.

Last week when he showed up for drums he was dragging his feet; literally not figuratively as he followed a few steps behind me. Steve is one of the most happy, upbeat kids you'd ever meet. So when I heard the foot scrapes it was clear that he wanted me to hear them. I should point out that I've been teaching since the year 2000 so I'm not too shabby at reading cues and this kid's cues said, 'I'm bummed out and I want to talk.'

I didn't waste any time. I opened up the studio and put the question to him.

"Steve, you're dragging your feet today and you're not a foot dragger. What's going on? Not enough

Defend yourself

"No, I slept fine," he said.

"Problems with the girlfriend?" (Two weeks prior he confided that he had a new girlfriend…and not his first…)

His head remained down, which for Steve is pretty much unheard of. I got serious.

"Everything cool at school? You're not hurt are you?" I asked.

He sat down behind my drum set and slumped the way only kids know how; with a ton of drama.

"It's my teacher," he said. "I think she has ebola or something."

Fighting back a laugh I asked, "What makes you think she's got that?" (I thought that sounded like something a therapist would say)

"Well, everybody in class was laughing and I mean everybody and only me and this kid Bob (fake name) got sent to the Principal's office."

"Really? That blows. Why do you think you guys were singled out?"

"Because we're black," he said.

And there it was. Not only was it time for me to get super serious but a ton of my own boyhood memories came back. Actually not so much memories but that specific feeling in the stomach. I believe the stomach can have many feelings but this one is a knot of: dread meets despair with a sprinkle of pissed off.

Steve went to pick up his drum sticks but I told him to put them down 'for a sec'. At that point I went on to compare my days of coming-up with his current experience. My plan was to form a camaraderie because I'm here to tell you that a brother-in-arms was what I was looking for back in my day. Once I'd convinced him that I fully understood his struggle I got down to the 'hang in there' portion of my speech. (Although I did my best to not sound speech-y or preach-y.) Here's a slice of it:

"Steve you know when you get blamed for something you didn't do or singled out for something that everybody is in on? It sucks. It's not fair is it?"


"Well, the bad news is that life is like that. When you get out of school and start working you're going to find more of the same…but not all the time and not everywhere." I waited so he could digest my words.

"The good news is that…wait have you heard that expression 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger?'

He told me 'yes' with a screwy look on his face that said, 'duh.'

"Ok, let me back up. When your parents were told of this incident did they believe your version or the Teacher's version of how it went down."

"My parents believed me. They know what's up."

Put in the work!
"That's great! It really blows when your parents aren't in your corner. Ok, so if you get in trouble, wrongfully accused of course, but you get through it and it happens say, a few more times, that will actually make you stronger and help you figure out how the game is played. Because I promise you when you get to high school or college and something bad happens to those kids that always 'got away with it' they are going to unravel.

They're going to cry. They're going to freak out; they might even ask their parents to sue the Dean on their behalf. Why? Because they haven't been through the struggle that Steve has been through. They haven't had any hurdles put in front of them. Is this making sense?"

He nodded that it was. "For example if some kid walked up to you and pushed you to the ground before you learned any self defense you might have freaked out or tattle tailed or cried--whatever. But now because you know what you know and you've been through what you've been through you're ready for obstacles like that. The kid that tries to push you won't get the chance."( I threw a punch in the air and made a Bruce Lee type battle cry…because I'm mature like that)

The big smile that I see week to week returned. All I had to do was put the cap on it.

"That's why you've got to put in the work, be polite and keep your head on a swivel. Also, remember that if you are honest with yourself and you know that you're innocent and your family knows your innocent then that's all a cat needs."

Cat's pajamas
"Why do you always say 'cat' like it's the 1970's?" (I swear he said that. I couldn't stop laughing) I was tempted to lecture him on how cool it was coming up in the 70's when my afro was blown out (although a tad nappy), my dashiki was cool and my platform shoes were badass but he picked up the drum sticks and grinned…which reminded me of what he'd actually showed up for.

The kids are the future. I say...let's guide them. (Insert Bruce Lee battle cry here!)