Saturday, August 19, 2017

My Two Cents: A Southern Gentleman's Take

Dear Southern, non-racist White People:

How y'all doin'?  Been a rough couple of days. Let's talk Confederate statues for a second. I'm a black man who is proudly, unapologetically of and from The South. (You know my roots are southern, in part, because I know where to place the apostrophe in "y'all".)

One of the great things about being a black man in The South, in addition to the abundance of white women who feel guilty about their ancestry and / or want to get back at their parents (Obama almost killed that; Trump brought it roaring back.) , is the fact that I never have to explain the confederacy; be it flags or statues. Though the Civil War was a long time ago, people just assume what side I would've been on. Y'all aren't offered that same courtesy. Let's be honest, not everyone can be related to the one white family that either didn't own slaves or treated their slaves well. Shirley Temple's bloodline only runs so deep. [Editor's Note: Yes, I know not all white people owned slaves. I know my history. I saw "Free State of Jones". All white people wanted to own slaves, they just couldn't all afford it...Again, kidding?]

"Damion, this is all (very?) interesting," you might be saying. "But where is this going?"  Here's where this is going:  I understand the need to know your history; I understand not sweeping the your bad acts under the rug; but you don't let those bad acts define you, and you certainly don't celebrate them.  (In case I've lost you, the "you" is The South and "bad acts" refers to "The Confederacy" and "Slavery".  All caught up?  Good. I shall now continue.)  The Confederacy happened in The South, Slavery happened in The South, but neither of those things define The South.  As all bad acts, those things should bring a sincere sense of shame and leave a pit in your stomach.  They should not elicit a sense of pride.  And the truth is, in most people, they don't.  If they did, there wouldn't have been such a concerted, institutionalized effort within The South to soften or change that part of history.  So, are confederate monuments / statues an acknowledgment of that time in history or a celebration of it?  To me, the answer is simple: forget what it's called "monument" vs "statue"; forget, for a moment, the intent behind it; then ask yourself, "How does it make most people feel?".  When you go to a Holocaust Museum or a Slave Museum, you leave feeling disgust and that the images and artifacts you viewed speak to a time that can never be allowed to happen again.  When you drive, walk, or run down Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virgina, for example, how do you feel?  Do you feel pride, a sense of wonder at all the majestic statues, or, worse, do you feel nothing at all.  If any of those things describe your feelings (or lack thereof), then it's not about "knowing your history"; it's about denying it.

Here are just a few reasons I love The South:
  1. The accent.  There is nothing quite as pleasant as a southern accent.  (As with the British accent, there are some pockets which grate the ears, but, overall...)
  2. Hidden slights.  Southerners can insult people in such a way that, not only does the target of said insult not get angry, but they thank you for it.
  3. Sweet tea.  There are places in America (America!) where you cannot get a sweet tea.  There are even some places, places whose name I dare not utter (I'm looking at you Southern California), where they will hand you a Snapple...A SNAPPLE!!!
  4. Fried chicken
  5. Barbecue
  6. Hushpuppies
  7. Chicken and dumplings
  8. Grits (I'm getting hungry. Need to change stride.)
  9. Foghorn Leghorn
  10. Country music
  11. The outfits (cut-off jean shorts, cowboy boots, white or plaid shirt tied in a bow, cowboy hat...yessir) [This is for women only]
  12. The Blues (Of course, the reason for the blues isn't to be celebrated, but...lemonade, which brings me to the next thing)
  13. Lemonade
  14. Moonshine. I don't drink, but I love the outlaw history of moonshine and how it led to NASCAR.
  15. Easy-going, relaxing way of Life
  16. Neighborly
  17. Backroads
  18. We're not Yankees

There's no denying what The South once was and, in some people's hearts, still is.  There may be people in your bloodline who carried out heinous acts, but their acts don't make you a bad person and making them into heroes doesn't make you one.  The Confederacy doesn't define The South. Don't let it define you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dear Diary: We the People


Friday, January 20, 2017

Dear Diary:

On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, the people of The United States of America elected Donald J Trump to be their 45th President.  Upon viewing the results early the next morning by the light of my smartphone, I immediately went through the 14 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, you gotta be kidding me, F* That!, no, seriously you gotta be kidding me, fear, dammit white people,  commiseration, washing all of my black clothing in preparation for the weeks ahead, incoherent rants, unfriending everyone on Facebook, and re-friending everyone on Facebook so I could swear at them.  Today, I have, begrudgingly, reached the 15th stage: acceptance.  That doesn’t mean I won’t hold him to account, because I will.  As should everyone.

Over the past 9+ weeks, I have become ever-disappointed in Americans on both sides of the aisle.  (Yes, I know there are more than two political points of view, but there are only two sides of an aisle.  So, work with me.)  In both defeat and victory, people should be gracious.  Since November 9th, a lot of people, as well as their elected representatives, have been everything but.  There’s no need to rehash everything, because it would serve no purpose.

The purpose of this post is to give my thoughts on how we get back from where we’ve been over the past year or so.  Last year at this time, I had a conversation with a woman in a bar about Black Lives Matter and the Dallas police shootings.  She was half Russian, half Native American, both her brother and sister were police officers. She was worried for their safety, and I was worried about mine and those who looked like me.  Several weeks later, after another shooting and an ambush of innocent policemen, a friend of mine, Jen Miller, expressed concern about the state of race relations.  How had we gotten to this point?  What more could she do to help? Would I write a blog post with my thoughts?  I made several attempts to do so, but could not find the words.  Not any that would help.  Truth is, whenever I thought about the subject, the deaths, the rhetoric, the comments in the media and on Facebook, it would bring me to tears. 

A friend and mentor once told me, “If there comes a time when you have to serve as a go-between in a relationship, that relationship is officially over.”  I don’t believe that we have reached that place as a nation, but, as relations have taken a hit across all facets of our society: race, gender, sexual-orientation, nationality, religion, and socio-economic class, it seems as though it fast-approaching.  But, hey, if we can bring species back from the brink of extinction, and Janet Jackson can have a child at 50, there’s no reason we can’t bridge our national divide.

To that end, I have decided to share my thoughts regarding how I think we can achieve this.  As opposed to the many articles I’ve read on this topic, most of which involve going door-to-door and telling white people how horrible / fortunate (“horrtunate”?) they are, my steps, of which there are 12, are ones that are relatively easy to adopt.  I plan to enact, and monitor my adherence to, these behaviors going forward.  Will it be simple? No.  Will I falter? Yes.  But, I will acknowledge my failures and strive to do better.  So, without further ado, I humbly offer “Damion McCloud’s 12 Steps to Healing America and Saving the World”.  Nobel, please…

Step 1: A Dish Not Served

There’s a saying that revenge is a dish best served cold.  I take this to mean that, when wronged, you should take time to plot your revenge and wait to hit back when the person least expects it.  I used to subscribe to that theory, but I grew up.  Constantly thinking about how you were wronged, plotting revenge, and taking revenge serves no purpose.  Unfortunately, some of our leaders, whether they be political, community, or thought leaders, have not moved from that line of thinking.

Our political leaders seem embroiled in a never-ending game of “They started it”.  They delay appointments, add controversial provisions to bills, water-down legislation, etc., etc.  Sometimes, they have good reasons.  More often than not, however, their motivations are rooted in revenge.

There have always been parts of our society who have felt disenfranchised, exploited, and powerless.  When these populations achieve newfound power, there is a natural desire to get back at those you believe caused your pain.  When Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, he could’ve used that power to bring South Africa to civil war.  Rather, he used that power to heal a broken nation and inspire others to do the same.  We celebrate Mandela, but we don’t seem willing to emulate him.

So, when you listening to or observing the actions of the people who claim to have the best interest of their constituents in mind, question their motivations.  Also, question your own and adjust your behavior accordingly.

Step 2: Adult

Good people can have differing opinions.  Good people can sometimes discuss those differences at an elevated volume.  Passion does that.  When discussing your opinions, do so as an adult.  How do you know if you’re not being an adult?  I have a few, simple guidelines:
1.     If, after making a point, you have the desire to say “Boom!”, you’re probably not being an adult
2.     If you start calling people names (“libtertards”, “conservaturds”, or “Killary Cunton”, for example) you’re not being an adult
3.     If you can’t make your point without swearing, you’re probably not being an adult

Another part of being an adult is apologizing when you’ve offended someone.  Yes, I know people seem to be extra sensitive these days.  I’ve gone so far as to call this “The Golden Age of Outrage”.  However, it is not for you to tell someone how they should feel.  You don’t know what has happened in their past that may trigger a given emotion.  So, if you have offended them, don’t try to explain it away or further belittle them.  Just apologize.  It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; it means you did a bad thing.  Adults recognize the difference.  Also, if your offense was especially egregious, they may not accept your apology. Apologize anyway, and learn from the experience.

Step 3: Know Your History

You can kick and scream about how the group in power has exploited you or kept you down, but the simple truth is this: No minority group has ever made / can ever make inroads without the help of the people from the majority.  The end of slavery, desegregation, the right to vote for blacks and women, the first African-American President, legalizing gay marriage.  None of that would have been possible without help.  So, don’t act in ways that keeps people on the fence from acting on your behalf or makes those who have championed your cause to regret it.

Step 4: Go Rumpelstiltskin

In the fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold.  In this step, I’m asking that you spin your frustration into empathy.  When the “Political Correctness” movement first started, I was a freshman in college.  I had never considered myself a bad or uncaring person.  I had friends, whom I also considered to be good people.  However, I liked to make jokes.  Often, at the expense of others.  For the most part, there was no malicious intent, and people knew I was joking.  I was young, male, and, as it turns out, stupid.  (The first two often invariably lead to the third.)

Suddenly, after 18 years of such behavior, I was told that it was wrong to tell some of the types of jokes I had been telling for years.  I was also told that parts of speech that had never had a bad meaning, in my eyes, were now wrong or offensive.  For example, you could no longer call Asian people “Orientals”.  “Oriental” was to be used only to describe things (rugs, for example) not people.  Like an idiot, I railed against such things.  “Why should I have to change the way I, and everyone else, have spoken for years?  Why am I the bad guy all of a sudden?  Why can’t people take a joke anymore? Blah, blah, blah.”  It was very frustrating.  Just more rules to follow.  Didn’t people realize that I was bla--?  Then, one day, it hit me.  I was black.  I know what it feels like to be judged by factors outside of your control.  I know what it feels like to be called a name you don’t like being called.  I know what it’s like to be part of a group that changes the what it is acceptable for people who are not a part of that group to call it: Black, Negro, African-American, Soul Brotha # 1; sometimes, just to keep white people off-balance.  Being black means I should know better.  It should make me empathetic when people, for example, protest the name “Washington Redskins”.  It doesn’t matter what I think the nickname means in a certain context or if I had malice in my heart when saying it.  (Obviously, it matters somewhat, as it defines whether you’re a racist, an asshole, or just ignorant—none of which are mutually exclusive.)

It’s not only those who are part of a minority group who can feel this empathy.  Relatively recently, white people have begun to understand at some level what it feels like to be unfairly judged based purely on the color of their skin.  As the controversy surrounding the confederate flag reached a fever pitch, and people started being suspended or fired for using the “N-word”, white people who had never owned a confederate flag or even thought of saying the “N-word”, felt on edge.  This, I’m sure, was frustrating.

Empathy should be shown on both sides of the equation.  Just as you may understand how it is to be part of the offended, you also know how it is to navigate the new social norms.  Learned behaviors take time to adjust.  Allow for people to make slip-ups, accept their apologies (within reason), and don’t make them feel worse than they already do.  No one’s perfect, people may be on different parts of the acceptance spectrum than you are, and they will be more willing to change if they don’t think they will be blasted for every mistake they make along the way.

Step 5: Don’t be THAT Person

Don’t be the person who chooses the one negative connotation amongst a myriad of positive ones just, because you don’t want to have the difficult conversation. Let’s take “Black Lives Matter” as an example.  There’s obviously an implied word missing.  Anyone with common sense knows the missing word is “Also”, “Too”, or “Still”.  Some people, however, most of whom know better, act like they believe the word is “Only” or “More”.  Why do they do this, because it’s much easier to say “All Lives Matter” and act as though you’ve made a meaningful contribution, than to address the underlying issues.  There are many things in life that can be interpreted multiple ways.  How you choose to interpret them says as much, or more, about you as it does about the thing being interpreted.  Especially if you choose the one negative connotation amongst multiple positive ones.

Don’t be the person who is overly literal in their interpretation, because you don’t want to have the difficult conversation.  This happened so much with the phrase “Global Warming” [“Then, why am I cold?” “Because, you’re an idiot.] that they changed it to “Climate Change”, which people still refute.  The same is happening with “Gun Control”.

Don’t be the person who perpetuates a false narrative (i.e. forwards fake news) and says, “I’m just trying to expose the absurdity of our system, man!”  Fact check or at least check to see whether or not the source cited is a real entity.  It’s not hard.  If you don’t want to take the time to check it, don’t spread it.

Don’t be the person who writes a long rant about something only to end with “This is just my opinion. I am not looking for someone to try to change it.”  People who are not interested in having their mind changed in the face of contradictory evidence are a big part of the reason we are at such odds.  Everyone wants to talk, but too few want to listen.

Don’t be the person who only reads the headlines and assumes they know what the article is about.  It only takes a quick glance at the Comments section to realize that people either didn’t read the story or lack basic reading comprehension skills.  Those people get worked up, others who made the same assumption get worked up, and all the while everyone is essentially in agreement, but are too lazy to know it.

Don’t be the person who changes the subject, because you don’t want to talk about the topic at hand.  If I hear one more person ask “What about black on black crime?” in order to avoid talking about race, I will scream.  Hey, “black on black crime watchers”, when you solve same-on-same crime for every other race, gimme a call.

Don’t be the person who dismisses a good idea, because you don’t like the person who came up with it.  Good ideas come from everywhere.  If people dismiss ideas out of hand because of their feelings for the person who came up with it, or who will get the credit, things will either take forever to get done or never get done.

Don’t be the person who takes everything too seriously.  You have to be able to laugh at the sheer absurdity of everything going on in this country and the world at large. If not, you’ll either spend all your time being angry or crying, and your conversations with others will reflect as much.

Step 6: Some People Are Just A*holes

In this, “The Golden Age of Outrage”, it seems as though people are more and more willing to call people racists, homophobic, sexist, xenophobic, etc. with the slightest slip-up.  They do this for one of two (or both) reasons: 1) They enjoy the power associated with knowing they can get someone fired, and / or 2) they know doing so essentially shuts down all conversation.  As someone who regularly jokes that everything is racist, even if the party committing the offending action is of the same race, I recognize that not every person who commits an offending action is automatically an “-ist” or a “-phobe”.  Some people are just assholes. 

Of course, being an “-ist” / “-phobe” and being an asshole are not mutually exclusive.  You can be both.  More often than not, however, people are just assholes.  Calling them so is just as rewarding as calling them an “-ist” or a “-phobe” and it may have the added benefit of sparking a behavior-altering conversation.  If not, don’t fret…they’re an asshole.

Step 7: Don’t be an A*hole

Seems self-explanatory.

Step 8: Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water

It’s okay to demonize an act or behavior; it’s even okay to vilify the person(s) who committed the offending act.  It is not okay, however, to characterize an entire race, gender, ethnic group, etc., based on the actions of a few.  It’s also not okay to attribute the offending action(s) of a given person(s) to the fact that they belong to a certain group.  Again, pretty simple.

Step 9: Check Yourself, Fool…and Others

When watching the news or reading a news story, if you see that someone committed an offensive act, be cognizant of using words / phrases such as “I knew it”, “typical”, or “there they go again”.  If you hear others use it, call them on it.  This is especially important if children are around, because they pick up behaviors from those around them.  Could this cause some discomfort? Yes.  Do it anyway.

This also applies to people who live in gated communities.  I recognize that there are valid reasons for living in a gated community.  However, when you have children, whether they live with you or visit, you need to explain the reasons more explicitly than saying “safety”.  Oftentimes, gated communities are comprised of people of the same socio-economic class or race.  So, if you tell children that the gated community is “safe”, and all they see are people like them, they may associate people who are not like those they see in the gated community as “unsafe”.  Again, not saying don’t live in a gated community.  I’m just saying you will have to work extra to ensure those associations are not drawn.

The elderly.  Part of the incentive for living a long life is the fact that you can get away with saying or doing darn near anything, and people just dismiss it as “old people crazy talk”. The issue is that these crazy people are often asked to babysit.  While it’s important to have your children respect their elders, you also need to make sure your children understand that sometimes gramps has mental lapses that are not to be admired or emulated.

Step 10: Images (God Made)

God made Man in His own image…not yours.  In other words, get over yourself.  Too often, people ask that others take things into consideration that they are not willing to do themselves.  Let’s take people who complain about others who drive in the left lane as an example.  The complaint usually goes as such: “You’re not the police…It’s not your job to make me slow down…How do you know I’m not rushing to get to the hospital to visit a friend or family member who’s dying…blah, blah, wah!”  First of all, why do you think it’s about you?  The person in the other car could be in his / her own head and not even notice or be thinking about you.  How do you know the person in the other car didn’t just leave the hospital to see a friend of family member for the last time?  The point is, why should someone consider things from your point of view when you aren’t willing to consider things from theirs?

Step 11: Don’t Demonize Desirable Behavior

Somehow, we’ve reached a place in this country where desirable traits are maligned.  Let’s take “political correctness” as one example.  Yes, the pendulum may have swung too far in some cases.  People, however, talk about political correctness as if it’s the worst thing ever conceived.  If you stop to think about what the concept is trying to teach, however, it is simply that we should treat people with respect even if it poses an inconvenience.  Truth is, everybody has something that they find offensive.  Just, because what another person finds offensive isn’t offensive to you doesn’t mean you should belittle them.  Odds are, there are some things that offend you that others would find ridiculous.

Another behavior that has been denigrated is so-called “flip-flopping”.  This term used to mean changing your mind on a given issue multiple times in a short period, seemingly to gain votes.  Now, the term is used for changing your mind at all.  You believed one thing 12 years ago, but “suddenly” you no longer believe that. It’s as though once you go on record as believing something, you are not allowed to change your mind about it…ever. Even if new evidence comes to light.  Politicians feed on this truth, and voters eat it up.  If no one is ever allowed to change their position on something without being perceived as weak, how are we ever supposed to evolve as a people and a society?

Step 12: Do the Math

Finally, and this step encompasses all the others, “do the math”.  As bullying, suicide, domestic violence, and misogyny have received more and more attention, “Know Your Worth” has become an oft-repeated mantra.  I agree with that whole-heartedly.  People should know their worth.  They should never let anyone treat them as less than.  So, by all means, sit down and figure out exactly how much you’re worth.  But when you finally arrive at that number, keep in mind that the cashier at the grocery store arrived at that same number…as did the waitress who brought you your lunch, the security guard at the front desk who won’t let you in without the proper credentials even though you’re running late to a meeting, the bathroom attendant who hands you a towel, the janitor who makes sure you have a clean place to come to work every morning, the bartender who listens to all your problems and kindly dismisses your advances while working herself through school, the police officer trying to keep your community safe, the homeless man looking for a break, and so on and so on.  You have worth, but it is no greater than anyone else’s.  Once we can all get to that realization, everything else will fall into place. 

As I said at the beginning, I hold out hope that we’ll get there, because We the People.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Dear Diary: Whistle While Eww Work!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Dear Diary:
Sometimes I scream
Scream in my sleep
Look at the clock and then I start to weep
One thing’s fo’ sho’
Don’t want to go
To work
I hate go-in’ to work

The day began like any other, which is to say to the sounds of someone yelling at me over the phone as I lay in bed with one ear in to the receiver and the other in a pool of Cheetos-tinted drool.  Who was yelling at me this time?  None other than my sister.  What was the triggering event for this latest tirade?  Did Florida State lose yet another football game?  Did someone take the last piece of bread?  Did someone not keep her name “out dey mouf”?  While all of those things are quite possible, none of them had sparked this particular rant; a rant that had begun some 18 hours prior via text.  I had made the [regrettable] decision to inform my siblings that I had recently hung out with a woman who had broken my heart two years prior.  My brother didn’t approve, but took it in stride, whereas my sister…went full sister. 

Sister: “…and the nerve of that %#$%#@!”
Me: “You’re still yelling???  That explains the dream I had about being attacked by a large gopher [Editor’s Note: True story.]  Doesn’t, however, explain why I was being pushed around in a stroller. [Ed’s Note: Also true.]
Sis: “Seriously?”
Me: “You’d think I’d just get out of the stroller…”
Sis: “Are you done?”
Me: “She asks the same question.”
Sis: “Muthaf%#$, did you just compare her to me?”
Me: “How are you still yelling? Have you taken a breath, yet?”
Sister: “I breathe through my eyes!”
Me: “That explains some things.”
Sister: “You think you’re funny?  I oughta punch you in your nut sack, but she ground those into a fresh powder, which she probably drizzles over her pancakes every morning!”
Me: “Actually, she’s on a low-carb di—“
Sis: “Well, in that case, perhaps she’s mixing them into her daily smoothie!  Muthaf%###, I will stab you!”
Me: “Guess I shouldn’t invite her to –“
Sis: “Don’t you muthf%#$#^ dare finish that muthaf%#@^# sentence, Muthaf%#$!!!  I will punch you in the nutsack!  You’re lucky I gotta go to work!”  My sister has a lot of anger.  None of which is pent up.  Fortunately, no matter how mad you get, you can’t slam a smartphone.
“Well, that went well,” I thought to myself. “Good thing I didn’t mention how long I’d been in touch with her.” [Ed’s Note: Sister can read.]

Despite the lack of enthusiasm hinted at by the prose at the beginning of this diary entry, I was actually optimistic about the prospects of the workday. What led to this optimistic outlook?  The ability to find a silver lining in even the darkest of clouds? No.  My naturally “sunny” disposition?  Have you met me?  Then what pray tell?  What???  None other than the belief that no good deed goes unrewarded coupled with the Law of Averages.

For you see, the previous night, after leaving that den of culinary delight known as Hooters of Fredericksburg, I had stopped for gas at the local fill ‘er up and overheard a distressed damsel frantically relaying to her boyfriend that she was extremely low on gas and had left her debit and credit cards at home.  To make matters worse, it was after midnight, and the gas station owner had locked the doors to balance the receipts.  (For the time being, let’s gloss over the fact that, at no point during the conversation, did the “gentleman” on the other end of the phone offer to provide her with gas, money, or a ride.  That’ll be covered in my next webinar entitled, “Seriously, Nigga: The Death of Chivalry in the Age of Emojis”.)  Having many friends of the female persuasion, and a sister, I carefully approached the young lady.  Why carefully? After midnight + large, black man + tiny, attractive, white woman + concealed carry state = nothing good.

Me: “Excuse me. I couldn’t help but overhear. [Ed’s Note: It’s a lot easier to overhear when you’re staring intently at someone’s mouth] Do you need gas?”
Lady: “Yes, I have four dollars I can give you.  If you can just give me four dollars’ worth of gas--”
Me: “—Don’t worry about it.  I have a sister [who has children] your age. I’d hate for you to end up in the same position further down the road at this time of night,” I said as we walked over to the pump.
Lady: “Thank you. ‘This nice guy is helping me out’,” she told her boyfriend.

I got the pump started, told her she could fill up her car, and walked away…slowly (i.e. giving her ample opportunity to extend an “invitation” and / or provide a phone number).  I even paused at the trash can to throw away some non-existent trash.  Nothing.

“Could it be that-- as with nurses, female prisons, roommates, twins, female cops, female UPS drivers, pizza delivery women, flight attendants, the DMV, and college coeds selling glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts in front of Target-- porn had, once again, let me down?” I thought to myself.  It would seem so.  “Et tu, Penthouse Forum???”

My Life had been filled with moments such as these; acts of chivalry leading to naught.  I was due.  Wasn’t I?  Spoiler Alert: No.

Now that that’s over, I shall continue my tale of woe.

After getting dressed, preparing my morning smoothie, and putting not one, but two Samsung phones in my pants pockets (That’s right ladies; I fear not Death.), I hopped in my car and headed for work (a.k.a. uuuggghhhh….)

One thing I’ve learned in my many years of traveling to and fro the office, is that rush hour traffic is, by and large, a myth.  How do I know this?  How many times have you been sitting in excruciatingly slow-moving traffic only to find that you could park an aircraft carrier in the space between the vehicle in front of you, the one that has been going 15 mph under the speed limit for the past three miles, and the one in front of it?  Why would people do this?  Simple, because no one actually wants to get to work on time, but everyone wants to get credit for trying.  What’s more, since the concept of punching a clock has, for all intents and purposes, gone by the wayside, people no longer start counting hours worked when they arrive at their desk, but rather when they get into their cars and head to work.  (Why does there seem to be so much traffic on the way home, because, once they’ve escaped, no one’s in a hurry to face what awaits them at home (i.e. a whole different set of responsibilities…and family).

After parking in my usual spot --one less thing to remember – I headed across campus to my assigned seat.  I rarely sat in that seat, but I liked people to know I was still alive every now and again.  Once there, I fired up the laptop and awaited instructions for the day: what did I need to do, where did I need to be, with whom did I need to meet, and who did I need to hide from, track down, or yell at?  

When you work in Corporate America long enough, you learn the appetite for better, more pervasive technology can have unintended, negative side-effects.  Let’s take videoconferencing, for example.  One of the selling points of videoconferencing is that people in different locations can use facial cues to gauge reactions to / understanding of their ideas better than you could over email or even conference call.  What the proponents of this technology fail to understand, however, is that people’s inability to accurately gauge my reactions to their ideas, has played a large part in keeping me employed; gainfully or otherwise.  If I wanted you to see my face, I wouldn’t have scheduled a conference call.

After getting what I needed to do for the day firmly ingrained, the next step was to determine how to make my “To Do List” smaller at the end of the day than it was at the beginning without having done any actual work.  To put it in casino terms, you don’t want the House to win, but you want the House to believe it did.  It’s a “soft skill”.  As hard as it is to master this skill under normal conditions, it’s even harder to do so when you have no direct reports who could use a “growth opportunity” or need “increased visibility with senior management”.  At that point, it’s more genius than skill.  While thinking of a master plan, I noticed a co-worker at the edge of my periphery.  I assumed that this “drive-by” was related to the IM that he had sent two minutes ago, which was in reference to the email he had sent one minute before that.  Seriously, what is the point of setting your Status to “Busy” if people just blatantly ignore it?

IM Statuses are supposed to translate to the following:
  • ·        Available = I don’t want to talk to you, but we have a Performance Management Framework that takes into account helping others, and I needs my bonus
  • ·        Busy = I really can’t talk right now, because I’m doing some really important shit (i.e. playing a timed version of Solitaire.)
  • ·        Do Not Disturb = I don’t trust you to not understand what “Busy” means.
  • ·        Appear Away = My desire to not speak to you outweighs my fear that you will think I have fallen into the toilet, set myself on fire in one of the designated smoking areas, or been kidnapped.
  • ·        Appear Offline = Seriously, I will cut you…and, if you sit near me, don’t look up

It’s obvious that the makers of Instant Messaging software for businesses were well aware that, by and large, people viewed the Statuses as they did speed limit (i.e. as mere suggestions to be ignored).  How else do you explain the need for both a “Do Not Disturb” status and an “Appear Offline” status?  People are impatient a*holes, that’s how.  Granted, there are a handful of people who you want to ignore the status, but those people often are the only people considerate enough to be extra mindful of the status.

As I mentioned before, there are benefits to technology.  The piece of technology that has gone the farthest in protecting personal space is the headset / headphone with built-in microphone.  When an undesirable stops by unannounced, all you have to do is cover the mic with one hand, raise your eyebrows inquisitively, and wince.  This relays the following message: “I acknowledge you; I’m interested in what you have to say; I’d love to help you; but I’m on an important call that may or may not appear on my calendar.”  They don’t need to know you’re just listening to Stone Temple Pilots or Johnny Mathis, or whomever it is the kids are listening to these days.  (The kids are still listening to Stone Temple Pilots, right?  STP?  Sure, they are.  Those guys were dope.  Word, Yo!)  Crisis averted.
Soon after the unwelcome “drive-by”, I was approached by another gentleman caller…in my groin…it was Mother Nature. (Who, I guess, is technically not a ‘gentleman’ caller.  But who knows these days?  It’s a different time.  A different, very confusing time.)  On my way to the bathroom, I was stopped by another coworker.

CW (that’s short for “coworker”…though, not anymore): “Hey, you got a second?”
Me (a name I call myself): [sigh] “What’s up?” I said thinking this would be a quick response without me really having to break stride on my way to the facilities.
CW: “Can I talk to you in private for a second?”
Me: [larger sigh] “Sure,” I said knowing that this was not what I, nor my bladder, had signed up for.
CW: “I just wanted to make sure you’re not mad at me.”
Me: “[Oh, for the Love of Christ!] No.”
CW: “It’s just that you seemed upset about that email that I sent.  I was just asking out of curiosity…I didn’t mean to….I just really hope it didn’t upset you.”
Me: “[I really oughta pee right on your shoes] No, not upset.  I’m curious about things. Just want you to stay focused on what I asked you to provide [80,000 muthaf’n times], because it’s a critical component to the project.”
CW: “So, we’re good?”
Me: “[I swear to God and everything Holy!] Yep.”
CW: “Thank you.”
Me: “No problem.”  If I didn’t already have to go to the bathroom to “make water”, after that conversation, I would have to go to the bathroom to throw up. 

[Fast-forward to two weeks later.]
Me: “What’s the ETA on that information I requested?” I asked a week after the due date.
CW: “Here’s some information. I still need my manager to approve.”
Me: “So, this is your recommendation?  You know that ___ and ___, right?”
CW: “Really?”
Me: “Yeah.”
CW: “But to get what you’re asking for, I’d have to meet with the other people on my team.”
Me: “Yeah…That’s why I gave you ‘til November 4th to get it done…We started this effort in July.”
CW: “My team has a lot of work to do right now.”
Me: “That’s crazy, because I’ve just been sitting here jerking off for the past four months…Remember when you asked before if I was mad at you?”
CW: “Yes.”
Me: “Would you like to answer that question again?”
CW: “No.”
Me: “Go away.”

[Back to present day]
The bathroom, both at home and in the workplace, is supposed to be a place to get away.  Take a break.  Relieve yourself of the worries that had built up to that point in the day and flush them.  Some people, however, do not respect the sanctity of the bathroom.  They bring in additional stresses.  I’m not referring to the people who want to have a conversation with you while you’re trying to “hold your own”, which is bad enough.  I’m talking about the people who have conversation on their cellphones.  These people do not want people to know they’re in the bathroom.  So, they try to be as quiet as possible, and they fully expect you to participate in the lie.  Which puts pressure on an activity that is designed to relieve pressure.  It’s an affront to Nature; to the natural order of things.  Well, I had had just about enough.  I would NOT be complicit in the lie.  I would NOT allow this person to take my fleeting moment of peace.  NO MORE!  This is my body!  It is filled with fluids and gasses, and sometimes it makes noises, especially when it is expelling some of those fluids or gasses…or both! [Ed’s Note: Also, whenever he stands up or makes sudden movements.]  I’m not trying to control the chaos.  That’s how you pull a muscle or herniate a disk.

“You will NOT steal my joy!” I screamed as a stream of clear fluid [drink your water] crashed into the water below with whoosh reminiscent of the last Space Shuttle launch.  I then walked by each of the self-flushing urinals to make sure the person(s) on the other end of the phone had no doubt where from where the call was originating.  Enjoy the mental image ya poor sons (and daughters?) a’ bitches!

After washing my hands, which, sadly, is still not a given in this day and age (We can build a self-driving car, but we still can’t get people to wash their freaking hands after “handling with care”.) I headed back into the fray.  Next up? A meeting.  A face-to-face meeting…with someone whom I had never met…At least it was with a woman…and we were discussing contracts.  I happen to like women…and contracts.  So, perhaps, this would be one of those meetings you hear about in Corporate Mythology where you neither wanted to kill yourself or anyone in the room and actually get something done.  Those are called “productive meetings”.  They don’t happen often, but just enough to perpetuate the cycle.  I arrived early to the meeting room, it was occupied.  The woman I was supposed to meet with arrived shortly, thereafter.  Right on time.  We introduced ourselves.  The previous meeting was still going on with no signs of wrapping up. 

The problem with meetings running over is not that it’s a waste of your time.  You get credit for being in a meeting (i.e. working collaboratively) whether you actually get anything done or no, and it beats sitting at your desk doing actual work.  (Calendars don’t lie.)  It’s also not the small talk you’re expected to make with the other participants.  If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve learned to feign in your fellow man.  It’s not even that one or more people from the previous meeting may be heavily perfumed, and the room doesn’t have a chance to “air out” before you must seal it up again.  You go “nose blind” eventually.  The “veterans” learn to invoke it at will.  No, the problem with meetings running over can be summed up in two words: “residual heat”.  Not the type of heat generated via electric coils or tubes filled with heated water.  This heat was generated by another human.  Sitting in a chair still warm from the heat generated by another’s posterior is…unsettling.  It’s like pressing your butt against the butt of another.  Unintentionally…and without a safe word.

Being in one of the renovated buildings, the occupants could see that we were waiting.  I politely poked my head in the door in case they thought we were just hanging outside the room by happenstance.  Nothing.  I’m less feared than I used to be.  (Thanks, Obama.)  While we were waiting outside, we engaged in small talk, because I genuinely care about the lives of my fellow man…especially when that man’s a woman…and cute.  One of the corporate caterers rolled by with a cart full of food for a lunch meeting in a nearby room.  When she moved to avoid the cart, she inadvertently backed into me.

CW (short for “cute-worker”): “Oh…”
Me: “Sorry, that’s my Nutsrageous.”
CW: “Excuse me?”
Me: “I have two Nutrageous bars in my pocket.”
CW: “I gathered that.  I was referring to your pluralization.”
Me: “Nutsrageous? Did you think it was ‘Nutrageouses’?  Nutragi?  Nutrageum?  Nutrage?”
CW: “Could you please stop saying ‘nut rage’?”
Me: “Just didn’t want you to think I was happy to see you.  Not that I’m not happy to see you.  I just met you.  I’m sure after a few more meetings –“
CW: “Please stop talking.”
Me: “Mmmkay.”

Thankfully, the conference room door opened, and the occupants exited.  I held the door open (gentleman) and gave her first dibs on seating.  All the while hoping against hope that the seats would cool.  I took the seat across from hers.  Uggghhhh.  Warm.  So much for Hope.  (Thanks, Obama.)  We preceded to talk about the contracts that needed to be renewed, the changes we wanted to make, and concerns regarding pricing.

Me: “What if we [confidential, but I assure you it was genius]?”
CW: “That’s a bit off the beaten path, don’t you think?”
Me: “Sometimes, the path needs to be beaten off…I heard how that sounded in my head—“
CW: “—and yet you still said it?”
Me: “Thought it would sound better.”
CW: “And now?”
Me: “Not so much.  There’s no chance you’d have dinner with me is there?”
CW: “Not unless it was court-ordered.”
Me: “Actual court or Court of Public Opinion?  Because I think I can get someone to make a ruling in mah favor.”
CW: “You’re stupid.”
Me: “Made you smile.”
CW: “It’s gas.”
Me: “I’ll take it.”

After the meeting was over, my assessment was that it had been successful…on both a personal and professional level.  Professionally, because we made good progress on the contracts; personally, because I spent 30 minutes alone with a woman I didn’t know and was neither tazed nor maced. [Ed’s Note: He has a low bar for successful interactions with women.]  Icing on the cake?  It was lunchtime.

In order to keep my food down, and avoid the Compost Police (Hey, lady, I just figured out recycling; and throwing liquids in the garbage, that’s just weird.) I made it a point to always have lunch off-campus.  I decided to try a new place.  Perhaps, one with cloth napkins.  [Ed’s Note: Damion McCloud was entering high society.]  …and crayons [Baby steps.]  I walked over to a friend’s desk for suggestions.

“Do you have any suggestions for a new place to grab some lunch?”
“Jesus,” she said, “I didn’t hear you walk up.  You’re so freaking quiet!”
“I’m like a ninja…or a cheetah…or a ninjah, which sounds like ‘ninja’, but is spelled differently.  Any ideas?”
“There’s a new place up on Parham. They only use humanely kept, hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken and beef.”
“But they still kill and serve them to be eaten for profit, correct?”
“I assume so.”
“Seems rude…like you’re lying to them.  Telling them everything’s going to be alright.  Then…BLAM!  Chicken Caprese!”
“Is that a thing?”
“I’m not sure.  Sounds like a thing.  How much is a typical meal at this place?”
“Around this much.”
“Really???  Perhaps, I should open a humane restaurant, but in mine, not only would the animals be treated with kid gloves (Literally, if I could get past the child labor laws.) but each entrée would come with a note absolving the patron of any guilt that may arise from eating it. The note would be signed by, get this, the very animal being consumed.”
“Wow!  That is the dumbest idea you’ve ever had.”
“Dumber than dressing up for Halloween like a mammography machine in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month?”
“Do you just run screaming towards Hell?”
“More like luge…but it would seem so.”
I ended up going to Chick-fil-A.  I like my self-righteousness reasonably priced…and deliciously seasoned…with a side of waffle fries…or a fruit cup.

Lunch was followed by three more meetings, 30 new email chains, and several annoying IMs.  (QQ?  Really?  Don’t say it’s a quick question when you know darn well it’s not a quick question.  That’s just common courtesy.)

Once the workday was over, I headed home.  While driving through my neighborhood, I noticed five deer in a neighbor’s yard.  Four were standing, while one was sitting in the middle.  It looked like The Nativity Scene (The Deer-tivity?)  I thought they were fake; until I saw them move.  As I passed, their heads followed me as though to say, “Keep it moving”.  They then walked off in different directions…except for the “Baby Jesus”.  Not wanting to break the truce I had reached with the deer community, I heeded their advice while staying alert.


New cute-worker, Chick-fil-A, and a non-encounter with deer.  Today was a good day.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Dear Diary: Why Y’all Can?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Dear Diary:

For the most part, my blog is intended to provide a moment of levity in an otherwise stressful world.  Every now and again, however, I like to tackle America’s burning questions.  The other day, a woman asked me a question I have been asked many times before.  No, not “Why do you have some many $1s?” (Editor’s Note: Although…) but rather, “Why is it okay for black people to use the ‘N-word’?”  I could’ve flippantly dismissed the question by asking, “Why?  Do you want to use it?”  That, however, wouldn’t have furthered understanding, and, as anyone who knows me will tell you, Damion McCloud is all about furthering understanding.

As a McCloud, I use the “N-Word” as many times as Samuel L. Jackson uses “motherfucker”.  [Ed’s Note: McClouds also use the word “motherfucker” as much as Samuel L. Jackson uses the word “motherfucker”.]  So, in an effort to explain what many people wonder aloud, and even more wonder in silence, I will share what I told her and expound upon those thoughts.

To answer the question effectively, one must understand the question and why the question is being asked.  I will tackle the latter first.  Why do people ask that question?  In my experience, there are three reasons people ask that question:

  1. They’re racist, and they want to be able to say the word with all its original intent without being held accountable.  (That’s a relatively small contingent as racist usually don’t care what other people think.)
  2.  They’re not racist, but they’re upset that they can be fired or made into a social pariah for using a word that others are allowed to use freely without the same risk.
  3.  They believe it’s a horrible word, and that no one should be able to use it. Ever.

Now, for the question itself.  Although, there are several variants, the question is essentially, “If the ‘N-word’ is so bad, then why is it okay for black people to use it?”

Swear words can be directed at anyone and have the same meaning regardless of who is using it or to whom it is directed.  Hate speech, on the other hand, is used by one group with the intent of telling / reminding another group that they are less than.  The “N-word” was created by white people in times of slavery to remind black people that they were property.  When blacks gained their freedom, it was used to remind them that, although they were no longer slaves, they should remember their place.  It was not just the use of the word, sticks and stones and all that, but the actions that accompanied the word (i.e. beatings, hangings, refusal of service) that gave the word extra power.  When those actions became illegal, it was used to remind us that, no matter how far we have come, we are still not equal.

As people became more enlightened, more accepting of those different than themselves, the word became more taboo.  Unacceptable in civilized society.  I can remember a fourth grade classmate, while reading aloud from a text book, refusing to say the name of the country Niger, because he confused it with that most hateful of words.

One day, not sure when it first happened or how it spread [Ed’s Note: He knows; he just can’t tell you.], the people who made “bad” mean “good”, took control of the “N-word”.  With a slight modification, we turned it into a term of endearment; a greeting whose use acknowledged a shared experience.  That being said, we also use the word to express anger, disappointment, sadness, disbelief, joy, caring, to see if an intruder is in the house, etc.  It is truly a versatile word in both meaning and pronunciation.  It is one of the most versatile words in existence; second only to “motherfucker”.

“So,” you may be asking, “if the ‘N-word’ has lost its bite, why can only black people use it?”  There are three main reasons.  First of all, as I mentioned, our use of that word, in part, acknowledges a shared experience.  No matter how many black friends you have, how much hip-hop you know by heart, how many classes you’ve taken, how many marches you’ve been in, how many documentaries you’ve seen, how many books you’ve read, how many times you voted for Obama, or how enlightened you may be, unless you are black, you will never have that experience.

Secondly, as much as we like to say the “N-word” doesn’t have power, hearing it from the wrong people still triggers an emotional (sometimes physical) response.  As with many things, it is not only what is being wielded, but who is doing the wielding.  Like I mentioned before, the “N-word” was created by white people to belittle and subjugate black people.  So, white people asking black people why they can’t use the “N-word” when black people can use it is like a serial killer asking a chef why he is not permitted to use knives when the chef is free to do so at his leisure.  Because you have shown that you cannot be trusted with it!  No matter how far we have come, and we (the greater “we”; blacks and whites) have come an extremely long way – most of us—we have not achieved the post-racial society that some would have us believe.  I was raised by school teachers, went to an Ivy League school (The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania), work for a large bank, and own two Jaguars, and I have been called the “N-word” in its true sense more times than I care to remember.

Finally, the use of the “N-word” has gone from being widely accepted to taboo to something whose use can turn someone into a social pariah or even get them fired.  That fact has given the word newfound power.  This time, however, the power is not over those to whom the word was originally directed, but rather over those who did the directing.  Allowing those who are not black to use it, or condemning its use by black people, would remove that power…and we aren’t ready for that to happen just yet.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dear Diary: Hallowed Be Thy ‘Ween

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dear Diary:

The day began like too many others, which is to say the morning prior.  I had not slept since awakening Friday morning with a glimmer of hope in my eye and a Hall & Oates tune haunting my thoughts.  (“Private Eyes”.  It was the song “Private Eyes”.)  Per usual Hall & Oates provided a welcome respite from the fog I had been in since learning I wasn’t adopted.  Did this mean that I was stuck with these people?  That I was their “keeper”?  That I may, one day, have to “keeper” one or more of them?  Are there no prisons?!?  Are there no work houses?!?  Relax, Damion.  That’s what “retirement communities” are for.

It was going to be a busy weekend, but worth it.  Not only was it Halloween; it was the 1st Annual McCloud Cousins Reunion.  If there’s anything more difficult than getting McClouds to agree on getting together at a certain date and location, it was getting them to follow through on that commitment.  (McClouds: We Would, But...)  What would we doing?  Who knew?  Who would be in attendance?  Couldn’t tell you.  When would the festivities kick-off?  Your guess is as good as mine.  For you see, the only thing more unpredictable than Colored People Time is McCloud Time.  (McCloud Time: It’ll Be There When We Get There.) 

But more importantly, it was Halloween, which is my Christmas.  (That makes Christmas my Martin Luther King, Jr Day, and Martin Luther King, Jr Day my Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  Man deserves two days.  Suck it, Arizona!  Suck it.)  Since I was staying at a hotel – I had spent the previous weekend at my sister’s house, and, honestly, there is a thing as too much family time. – I had packed several cans of Coke Zero and bottled water in a cooler, because Damion McCloud doesn’t pay hotel prices for refreshments.  (I also packed tights, make-up, a wig, a studded choker, and my Halloween costume.)

I stopped off at a Rest Area to rest my areas and open the pressure valve on my bladder.  As I headed to my car after successfully “venting my frustrations”, I noticed a young man rapidly approaching me.  This unnatural (and undesired) behavior made me uneasy.  Turns out, his battery had died and he needed a jump.  After unsuccessfully trying to use my portable charger (I really need to read the instructions), I got him up and running using the traditional car-to-car method.  I didn’t even have to move my car, because “Steph’s” battery is in the trunk.  I called my sister to let her know I would be arriving later than expected.

Me: “I gave someone a jump at the rest stop.  So, I will be a bit delayed.”

Sis: “What did she look like?”

Me: “Like she was a he.”

Sis: “What did the girl in the car look like?”

Me: “There was no one else in the car.”

Sis: “What did the woman in the vicinity that you were trying to impress look like?”

Me: “There were no cute girls in the vicinity.  It’s a little thing I like to call ‘The Golden Rule’.”

Sis: “I’m impressed.  Wait, what ‘Golden Rule’?”

Me: “You don’t know what ‘The Golden Rule’ is?”

Sis: “Oh, I know what it is.  Just wondering what YOU think it is.”

Me: “Everyone has at least one hot friend.”

Sis: “Ummm…No.  How ‘bout ‘Do unto others’?”

Me: “Yeah…’Do unto others, because everyone has at least one hot friend who, one day, may be looking for a long-term relationship, or who just got out of a relationship and is looking for revenge sex and / or a weekend of drunken regrets.’ –Galatians 12:32.”

Sis: “Why do you think everything’s in Galatians?”

Me: “Leviticus?

Sis: “Nope.”

Me: “Well, I know it isn’t Ezekiel…Is it Ezekiel?...It’s Ezekiel isn’t it?...Yeah, it’s Ezekiel…”

Sis: “When are you getting here?”

Me: “I don’t know. I’m not there, yet.”

I then placed a call to my brother.

Bruh: “Hello.”

Me: “Gonna be a bit late.  Helped a dude at a rest area get his car started.”

Bruh: “Golden Rule?”

Me: “Yep.”

Bruh: “Whelp, everyone has one.  Gotta love Isaiah.

Me: “Isaiah!”

I made it to the hotel without incident or further acts of kindness.  When I arrived at the hotel, I parked in the pay-to-park lot next to the hotel.  Did the hotel not offer parking services?  As was the case with most bourq-tique hotels, yes, it did.  However, as is also the case with most hotels of this nature, it only offered valet parking.  Anyone who knows me knows there to be two self-evident truths:  First of all, I’m pretty in the face (aka “face-pretty”); secondly, I don’t valet.  (I’ll pay for a valet-only spot and have the attendant tell me which spot to pull into, but I don’t valet.)
I made it up to the room, “made light my burden”, caught up with my brother, headed to my sister’s place to catch up with family; after which, I headed back to the hotel to get ready, because…Christmas.  (I’d write more about the Cousins Reunion, but this is about me…and Halloween.  The siblings made a cameo.  Not by name, but…you get it.)

I made it back to the hotel, “fired in the hole”, lit a match, and started getting ready for the weekend I, and numerous others, had worked for.  As I was putting the final touches on my makeup, I received a text from an acquaintance informing me that there was a costume contest in Charlotte.  I already made plans to attend the “Beer and Fear Bash” at Castle McCulloch an hour or so away in Greensboro, but made note of the event and headed out.  I freaked a couple of people out in the elevator (guess they weren’t expecting to see a guy in Gene Simmons KISS makeup when the doors opened) and the parking lot before going to make the rounds. 

Before heading to Castle McCulloch, I headed to Twin Peaks to fill my belly with sustenance and my face with cleavage.  (Twin Peaks, because who doesn’t like to peek at twins?)  After getting dressed in the parking lot, something I had done numerous times for Halloween, for Comic-Cons, and for…kicks; I was approached by several Asian women wanting to take pictures.  LOTS of pictures.  I happily obliged, because ‘twas the season.  Besides, how can I say “No” to a group of cute, Asian women? [Editor’s Note: Or a group of cute women of ANY ethnic group?  …or a cute individual woman?  …or a guy whose cute girlfriend is taking the picture?  …or a guy within eyeshot of a poster of a cute woman?  Sorry, hadn’t commented to this point and didn’t know when I’d get another chance.]  After fulfilling my noblesse oblige, I made my way to the entrance.  As I grabbed for the handle, the door swung open, and a young woman screamed.

“Jesus Christ!” she screamed.

“Not quite,” I responded. (Yes, I know that was a quote befitting one of my other costumes [Pinhead], but it seemed to fit the occasion.)

“You scared the hell outta me!  Can I get a picture?”  A sentiment that would be expressed numerous times throughout the night.

“Of course.  Can I get a picture, as well?”

“Hellz yeah!”

She asked if she could see the picture taken with my phone.

“I like that better.  Can you send it to me?”

“I don’t have your number.”

(Grabs my phone) “Here ya go.”  Never got her name, because she looked about 19 on a good day, and I needed plausible deniability for the judge and / or “48 Hours” special.

After taking pictures with the other two hostesses and several customers, I placed a To-Go order.  Posing for pics had taken more time than I estimated, and it was getting late, especially if I was going to make it to Greensboro and back in time for the costume contest.  (Not that I knew what time it started.)  I headed to the bar to await my order.  The problem with waiting at a bar is…drunks.  The problem with waiting at a bar on Halloween is…really drunks, especially when Halloween falls on a weekend.  They got nowhere to be in the morning.  Following is part of a conversation I had with one of them (This is all true):

Drunk: “Jeezus, man!  You’re a big dude!  Great costume!”

Me: “Thanks.”

Drunk: “What size shoes you wear, man?”

Me: “14.”

Drunk: “14!  Damn, man.  Like a baby’s arm down there.  Am I right?” He says while gripping his elbow and swinging his forearm.

Me: {smiled politely?  I ask, because I never know if I’m smiling.}

Drunk: “I’m a size 10.  I’m okay, but…DAMN!  14?!?” He appeared much more comfortable talking about my penis than I was about having him talk about it.  “Have you taken a picture with [name withheld to protect the innocent…and, because it escapes me at the moment]?  She’s hot!”

Me: “Yeah?”

Drunk: “Man, she’s so hot, I’d [I’m gonna leave that part out, because it’s worse than anything you’re imagining at the moment.  Well, most of you.  Some of you have a…’gift’?  You know what?  I’m gunna finish.  We’re all adults here…God, I hope we’re all adults here…else. Where was I?  Oh, yeah…] I’d lick her asshole after letting her take a dump on my chest.”  [Now that I see it, I should’ve gone with my initial instinct. Whelp!  Hindsight…Am I right?]  “My man,” he says hitting his buddy on the shoulder. “You get me, right?”

Drunk adjacent: “Don’t pull me into your sickness.”

Drunk: “Hey,” he says motioning to one of the waitresses. “this guy wears a size 14!” (…and we’re back to my penis.)

Waitress (looks me up and down): “Yeah?  I can see that.”

Drunk: “Like a baby’s arm…” Again, with the elbow.

Waitress: “Just how big are the babies you hang out with?!?” she asked pointing out that any baby with an arm the length of a grown man’s forearm from elbow to fingertips, would be a very large baby.

Me: “He won’t stop talking about my penis.”

Waitress: “Don’t mind him.  Love your costume, by the way.  Do you have the rest of the group with you, or are you alone?”

Me: “It’s just me.”

Waitress: “Well, it works.  Some guys came in earlier trying to be Mötley Crüe.  Totally didn’t work.  Yours works.”

Me: “Thank you.  I like your outfit, as well." I tried to say that in the least lecherous way possible (i.e. while trying to not look down her top, which was not easy at this height.)

When my food came out, one of the bartenders, who was all of 5-feet tall (in heels) and dressed as a sexy cop, asked if she could take a picture with me.  Again, nobility knows no end.

Cop: “Can I take pic with me handcuffing you?”

Me (looking away to no one in particular and, yet, to everyone): “Here or…?”

Cop: “Here.”

Me: “Sure(?)”

Cop: “I’m so short compared to you!”

Me: “Well, I AM wearing 3-inch heels.  So…”

Cop: “But, you’re taller than me even when I’m standing on this stool!”

Me: “Well, you’re a lot cuter than I am.”

Cop: {death stare.}

It was at that moment that I realized grown women (grown in age, not height, because…you get it) don’t really like being called “cute”.

Me: “Prettier?  Should I have said ‘prettier’?  I should’ve said ‘prettier’ shouldn’t I?  Yep.  Well, you are…prettier, that is.”  Whelp, there would be no number from this particular woman…nor further use of those handcuffs.

I paid for my order, took a few more pictures with customers and waitresses, and headed to Castle McCulloch.  I had planned to make a stop down the road to Hooters, but time was of the essence.  The drive to Greensboro was uneventful.  Until I arrived at the turn off, that is.  I was looking forward to a night of grown-up fun.  I learned about the “Beer and Fear Bash” the prior year when my Halloween plans had fallen through at the last minute.  I was unaware that there was a castle in Greensboro, much less a Halloween party.  This was not a party for drunken teenagers to act a fool and ruin everyone’s night.  This was for the grown and sexy.  You had to be at least 21 to attend, tickets were $50 a piece, and that only covered admission.  It did not cover food or drink.  There were fire performers, live bands, DJs, blood wrestlers, artists doing body painting, exotic dancers, and women dressed in outfits that still bring me comfort on sleepless nights.  They even had a tent for spankings.  (“Oh, you’d better believe that’s a paddlin’!)  Last year, I was in sensory overload and remained in the shadows.  This year, I was ready to take more than just a peek behind the curtain.  I had my freak flag ironed (presentation is everything), and it was ready to fly.  You only live once.  Unless, of course, zombies.

When I got to the exit, I turned off my navigation system (1st mistake) and followed the line of cars (2nd mistake).  After awhile, I began to wonder if I was in the correct line.  Things did not look familiar. 

“You have only been here once, and you drove in broad daylight.  They said they made changes to parking based on feedback.  You’re fine,” I said in an attempt to reassure myself.  “Besides, what are the odds that there’s another large event in the same area?”

Turns out, the odds were great, but more about that later.  The line was moving incredibly slow.  Doubt kept creeping in my head.  “Doesn’t seem right.”  Then, I’d see something that calmed me: people (men and women) getting out of their cars to pee in the woods, people (again, both sexes) getting out of their cars to pee in someone’s yard, etc.  I began to get frustrated with how long it was taking to get to the parking lot, but I couldn’t turn around.  Not only was I driving ‘Steph” whose length made turning around impossible, but I was also on a trail in the woods praying that “Steph” would not get stuck.  After being in line for 45 minutes, I started to calculate the odds of me  being able to do both this event and the costume contest.  Remember, Charlotte was an hour away.  By the time I arrived at the gate, I had been in my car for an hour.  Still waiting to park.  I rolled my window down and received a warm reception from the officer.

“KISS!  Yes!!!  Favorite costume I’ve seen all night!” the officer exclaimed.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Hey, man, is your tongue as long as his?”

“I don’t think so.”

“C’mon, man, let me see it.  Show me your tongue.”

First, some guy talks about my penis.  Then, an officer insists on seeing my tongue.  Not wanting to be detained, or shot, I obliged.

“Nope. His is longer,” he says turning to his buddies.  “The guy from KISS has like a 9-inch tongue.  You should see that thing!”  If this were the only time I was asked to show my tongue tonight, I would be disappointed.  However, my hope was that the next such request would be made by a woman.

Finally, I was able to park and start getting dressed.  My confidence that the line to get in was strong, but not as strong as my sense of denial.  (A sense aided by the fact that I still hadn’t slept since Friday morning before work.)  There were multiple signs that I was in the wrong place.  I was approached for pictures several times before getting in line.  One time, a girl who looked to be 12 asked for a pic. 

“This is supposed to be a 21 and up event,” the voice in my head stated. “Why is she here?”

“Midget,” I told myself.

When I was in line with what appeared to be a man with his granddaughters, doubt crept in again.  That doubt went away when I saw a plume of fire in the near distance followed by an even larger plume.  “Fire dancers!” I thought to myself. “Right place.”  It wasn’t until I was almost at the front of the line and saw prices for zip lines and hay rides, as well as prices for children versus adults.  It was settled, I was in the wrong place.  Now, how to get out of here without looking like a complete idiot.  I grabbed the cellphone from my pocket and acted as though I was receiving a call.  That got me out of line.  Seeing how I was dressed and from where I was coming, the ticket takers let me in without asking to see a ticket.  They simply asked for a picture, told me not to scare the children too badly, and let me in.

The more I walked around, the more I realized the depth of my mistake.  There were fun house mirrors, crafts, hay rides, and cheesy Halloween scare tactics.  How did this happen?  The area had been broken into two main parts: One was an adults-only den of debauchery and shame; the other, Nickelodeon, and I was about to be slimed…and not in way I had hoped.

“Why do you hate me, Jesus?”

“I can’t take credit for this,” a voice said from on high. “Too bad, because this…is…EPIC!  Can’t wait to tell the others.”

Just as I was about to cry myself into a sinkhole, a little girl tapped me on the leg, showed me her guitar, and asked if I would take a picture with her.  Behind her, a line had formed.  They all wanted pictures and thought I had been hired by the proprietors.  They were willing to pay.  I, strangely, was not willing to charge.  (At $5 a pic, I could’ve cleaned up.)  Parents told me stories about how much they loved KISS; kids told me about going to concerts with their parent(s); and kids who were initially hesitant had big smiles.  This was why I loved Halloween.  This was why I put so much time into making costumes.  Not to win money or get phone numbers.  This was the reason for the season.

“Thanks, God,” I said while looking to the sky.  “I needed that.”

I walked back to my car, got undressed, and set the nav system to Charlotte.  Upon leaving the parking lot, I saw a sign that read “Beer and Fear Bash”.  I had a decision to make: debauchery or costume contest.  There was no way to do both.  It was already after 11:00 and there would undoubtedly be another line for both parking and entrance.  I decided on Charlotte.  I might not get there in time to enter the competition, but maybe, I’d get there in time to see it.

I was in Charlotte and dressed by midnight.  The contest wasn’t starting until 12:30.  The costume was well received from the outset.  I took a lot of pictures and made promises to several waitresses and bartenders that I would take more after the contest.  But all was not unicorns and rainbows.  There was a troll in our midst.  This dude came up to me, started talking, and would not leave me alone for the entire night.  He was one of those people who you wanted to tell off, but also didn’t want to engage.  So, I was politely rude.  While he was talking to me, several women came up, complimented me on my costume, and asked for a pic.

“You know why all these women are coming up to you instead of me don’t you?” he asked.

“Why?”

“C’mon, you know.  You seem like a smart guy…It’s, because you’re big.”

“Really?”

“Look, I’m sure you’re an okay looking guy under that makeup, but look at me.  I’m a great-looking guy.  If I had your height…”

“Yeah?”

“They also know you’re black.  You’re big and black.  Probably have a big penis.  Me, not so much.”  This made the second guy who made reference to my penis, and two guys talking about my penis is 40 guys too many.

I was saved, albeit briefly, by the contest…which I lost.  After the Best Costume: Female was over (winner: Poison Ivy; real name: April) the DJ asked me to come back onstage, and announced that I was getting $100, because there was a large sentiment that I should’ve won the $500 for Best Costume: Male.

Tiny Tim continued his monologue.  “Look, I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I’m the smartest guy in the room.  Not supposed to say it, but it’s true.  I know people.“ 

“Don’t engage,” I kept telling myself.  Fortunately, our “conversation” was interrupted by April who had come to speak with me.

“I’m glad to hear you got some money.  You deserved to win.”

“Thank you.  Judging by audience applause is always sketchy.  Money isn’t important.  Just glad people seem to enjoy the costume.”

“Did you make it yourself?”

“I designed it and put it together,” I said before telling her how I did everything.

“I like creative guys.  Can I get a picture?”

“Sure.”

When she asked my shadow to take it, his response was infuriating, “I don’t know if I want to take it.  Hey, man, you want me to take this picture?”

“That’s the reason women talk to me and not you.  Not, because I’m big, but, because you’re an asshat.  You’d know that if you were as smart as you think you are.  Now, take the friggin’ picture and go back to the Shire!” Is what I desperately wanted to say, but that kind of talk is wasted on arrogant douchebags, especially intoxicated ones.  So, instead, I simply said, “Yes.”

Thankfully, my little buddy decided it was time to head home lest goats cross his bridge unimpeded.  
That’s when I saw her.  Her name was Lindsey.  She was gorgeous -- long legs, strawberry blonde hair, yellow cat eyes (contacts) – and smelled like buttermilk and hope.  [Ed’s Note: That’s right on the border of paying a compliment and serial-killery.]  She also had a long neck, which, though had a pronounced slit from which blood flowed into her cleavage, was still enchanting.  [Just crossed the border.]

“Who did your makeup?”

“I did.”

“I like a guy who can do his own makeup.  What’s your name?”

“Real or stage?”

“Both”

“Damion, but I also go by ‘Black Silk’.”

“I like it.”

“Can I get your number?”

“And how many numbers have you gotten with that costume tonight?”
I hesitated, because I didn’t know if the number I had gotten earlier that night counted since I didn’t ask for it…and I can’t lie to women.  Fortunately, she continued before I could answer.

“No matter, I don’t give my number out on the first date.”

“How do I get a second date?”

“That’s for you to figure out…’Black Silk’,” she smiled then walked away.

“I love that woman…”

Another woman approached me.

“Please tell me you have a job that allows you to use your creativity,” she said.

“I work for a bank.”

“That’s a shame.  By the way, she didn’t want me to tell you, but April is the one who gave you the $100.  She gave it out of her winnings, because she thought you deserved something.  Just thought you should know.”

“Thanks.”

I walked around for a bit taking pics with bartenders and waitresses.  Another woman came up to me.

“Hi, it’s your friend from earlier.  I changed out of my costume,” April said.

“Hey.  Congratulations again.”

“Thanks.  Can I buy you breakfast?”

“Depends.  What’s on the menu?”

“Eggs.”

“Yeah?  You want some cheese on those eggs?  Some cheese and sausage?”

“I’d definitely like some cheese on these eggs?  And I LOVE sausage!”

“I love eggs…The eggs in your Fallopians…Got milk?”

“Oh, I gots milk…Take me!”

Obviously, everything following her offer to buy me breakfast was made up.  Sometimes, breakfast is just breakfast…idiots.  Having been up since Friday morning and in makeup for over 8hrs --not to mention the fact that I had just asked out one of her co-workers, a co-worker who was mad at her, because she had been told that employees could not enter the costume contest-- I politely declined and headed back to the hotel.

Once I arrived, I headed upstairs, "let slip the dogs of war", took off my makeup (those poor hotel washcloths), lied down on the sofa, and settled in for a brief Autumn’s nap.


“Pri-i-vate eyes are watching you…”