Homeplant

I bought it because of the name, Jade.  When I was in the 6th grade I had a teacher named Ms. Jade.  I had an obvious crush on her for most of that year.  Ms. Jade was always kind and unusually passionate about the topics she taught, especially English.  “These words are immortal” she used to say.  “Every time we read from these pages we are bringing them back to life.”  Everybody loved Ms. Jade and to this day I treat my books with reverence.

 

It was one of those thick grey north pacific afternoons.  Spring had technically arrived but someone forgot to tell mother-nature.  I was fresh out of college and fortunate enough to be living in a studio apartment on my own.  The plant nursery was right around the corner from my place but I had never been inside so I decided to take a peek.  A pale yellow sign that read “Crassula ovata” was the first thing that caught my eye.  I leaned over the pots to examine the symmetrical leaves in further detail when a soft voice said “Jade…it’s a Jade plant.”  My eyes shot towards the sound but my body continued to hover over the pots.  The voice came from a pleasantly, weathered older gentlemen wearing garden gloves and a smile.  “Jades are easy to get along with” he continued.  I smiled back at him and scooped up one of the small clay pots containing a fresh looking specimen.  I chose this particular Jade because it had a slight lean to it that I thought gave it some character.  As I brought the plant to the counter to pay I kept hearing the man’s words in my head.  “Jades are easy to get along with.”

 

I took the plant back to my studio and found a spot for her by the window in the kitchen facing the street.  She remained there for the next two years.  Her leaves developed a slight reddish tinge to their edges but she grew fast and strong.  Over the next 15 years she remained a loyal and constant friend.  She came with me to the east coast where I followed my first real love and a few years later she followed me back to the west when I returned with a heavy heart.  I left her with a trusted friend during my two years abroad but she continued to grow, holding onto that ever so slight lean.

 

I used the cover of her foliage to propose to my girlfriend.  We had been dating for almost two years and she knew how important my Jade was to me.  We had been living together for the past six months and I asked her to “water Jade for me.”  She had done this many times before and she knew to be careful when lifting the thick, overflowing leaves that lay at the base.  Except this time, nesting safely under the branches, a silver ring etched with black details waited to be discovered.

 

We just returned from the hospital with our first child.  I hope we are good parents.  I hope I can be half the father that my wife will be as a mother.  Our house is filled with toys that are too complex for a baby and clothes that are way too large for a 7.5lb angel.  I take comfort knowing that my child will learn to play with those toys and grow to fit into those clothes.  As I hold this little person in my arms, gently rocking back and forth in the soft light of the nursery, I take comfort in the Jade Plant that stands tall in the corner, leaning ever so slightly towards my child’s crib.

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City of Bridges

I walked into the rustic themed bar scanning the room for familiar faces.  The place was filled with your typical Portland crowd; lots of beards and eyeglasses, a collection of vintage clothes covering crowded tattoos and skinny jeans worn by androgynous hipsters discussing the best places to eat this or to do that.  I found the faces I was looking for patiently staring at me waiting for recognition on my part.  This is what usually happens when I venture out in Portlandia.  I walk into an establishment to meet up with friends and they always seem to see me before I see them.  I can only imagine what it must be like to be White in a city like Portland, Oregon….oh the anonymity one must feel; the freedom.

I, however, am not White.  My great-grandfather was a Scotsman but my dad was born and raised in Detroit and my mom grew up in Mississippi.  I’m a Black man living in a city that wants to keep itself “weird” but I’ve never been able to figure out exactly what that means.  If everybody is weird then doesn’t weird become the norm and cease to be weird?  Perhaps that’s a question for another time.  What I do know is that spending the past decade in a city full of roses and White people has been quite the experience for me.  I’m not just a Black man living in Portland I’m a Black man who was born and raised in another state and region of the country.  There aren’t that many of us in this town.  Transplants will come, but few tend to stay.

As a Black man relocating from another state, I think feeling like I don’t quite fit in is a common sensation. Not a day goes by inside this oasis of progression and liberalism where I am not firmly reminded of my overarching otherness.  I find myself wading through a pool of micro-aggression’s and I fear that someday the undertow might sink me.  I have very few friends of color in this town let alone Black friends.  My White friends are wonderful and caring people but the isolation I feel at times can’t be denied.  Even the most well-meaning and compassionate of them has said or done something to me that was racially offensive and hurtful. Racism and prejudices run deep, even in a town where you can find organic produce inside of a 7-Eleven and where the police block the streets so hoards of adults can ride their bikes in the nude.

I think it’s more difficult and painful for progressive and conscientious people to look inward at that which they know to be wrong.  As a man, regardless of my race, there is profound Sexism inside of me.  It doesn’t matter that most of my friends are women, it doesn’t matter that I have a nine-year-old niece who I love dearly, and it doesn’t matter that a strong woman helped to raise me.  I am a man living in a society that was constructed to benefit men over women.  I am aware of this and I do my best to combat the Sexism inside me and in other people, but Sexism lives inside of me nonetheless.  To deny that truth would be counter productive to the role I want to have in fighting Sexism.  As a man, I need to remind myself that I can be with my girlfriend or a female friend and we can talk to the same people, walk through the same environment, listen to the same song, read the same book or watch the same movie but we are not having the same experience.  It’s important to distinguish that we are not having the same experience in the way we wouldn’t just because we are two different human beings but we are also not having the same experience because of Sexism.

This idea can be applied to the resistance that some white people have when it comes to recognizing the role race plays in life and in death in this country.  It doesn’t matter how many friends of color you have, it doesn’t matter that you live in a diverse area of town or that you work primarily with people of color.  Racism lives inside of you and influences numerous pieces of the life you lead.  You can choose to be “color-blind”, which is one of the definitive signs of White privilege or you can see the forest for the trees.

Acknowledging that a person’s race effect’s their experiences negatively and positively, particularly in a city like Portland “where young people go to retire” and where White people make up the super majority, would help ease the isolation that people like me experience.   It’s strange to feel disconnected when you live in a town with so many bridges; even in a crowded bar with exposed wooden beams and walls painted in comforting earth tones.

Chews Wisely…

I was listening to a podcast recently in which one of the guests told a story about almost getting into a car accident.  According to him, had he actually been in the car crash he would have certainly been killed.  He then shares that the only thought which was going through his mind at the “moment of expected impact” was about the gum he had been chewing and how it had lost its flavor too quickly.  He jokingly reflects with the host about the absurdity of having “gum” be his last thought before death.

As some of you may know, I have a somewhat tortured relationship with death and dying so his statement has been slowly carving its way around my mind since I first heard it.  Some people, if given a choice, say that they either want to die in their sleep or die so quickly that they never would see it coming.  I think it’s the latter choice that doesn’t sit right with my personality type.

Perhaps it’s because I would want to have the time to say goodbye or let certain folks know how much they mean to me or just have the time for one last great thought before I pass on from this world to the next.  I don’t want to be chewing on a piece of tasteless gum, wondering how it is that we can send people to the moon but can’t create gum that holds onto it’s flavor longer than 90 seconds when death comes calling.

I’m sure this plays right into the cliche that people should live every day like it’s their last because tomorrow is guaranteed to no one blah, blah, blah…I get it and I agree with it for the most part, but some days I don’t wanna do shit.  Some days, I’m so tired and beat down that all I want to do is stay under the warmth of my covers and dream of zero-calorie, zero-fat cheesecakes and tropical islands filled with my favorite people.

If you’re like me and your life has been touched by death(s) then you know how serious and surreal those moments are.  Everybody has their own unique relationship with the idea of death and dying.  I don’t believe that there is a correct or incorrect way to deal with it.  It’s one of those facts that is so simple and yet so deep that if people devoted too much of their everyday energy to it their heads might explode.  I write that as someone who is constantly picking pieces of his own brain off the walls after a long death contemplation.

In all honesty, the main reason I would choose the “see death coming” option instead of the “chewing my gum” option isn’t really that deep or philosophical in the end.  Essentially, my brain is filled with so much useless, pop-culture information that at any given point in time I could be wondering how in the hell “Flavor of Love” ever made it past the initial pitch phase and that would just suck to have Flavor Flav be the last thing I was thinking about upon my death!

Purgatory below the equator…

I’ve taken to eavesdropping on people’s conversations.  It’s a harmless activity and it helps me perfect my spy skills.  Basically I’m a story thief, I steal people’s stories without them realizing it.  Most of the time when I’m eavesdropping the yield is weak, but sometimes…sometimes I make quite the haul.  I consider today’s thievery to be a great one.

I was walking through Fred Meyer (a local grocery store chain in Portland, Oregon) looking for some Bok Choy when I walked by two twenty-something men talking about sex.  Spy skills intact, I decided to linger and started molesting the carrots and cabbages in order to stall my departure from the juicy conversation taking place behind me.

Chad, who was the taller of the two, had coal black hair fashioned into the very trendy Euro-Hawk.  The only reason I know Chad’s name is because the other guy, whose name I never learned, did most of the talking and called Chad by his name several times.  While I was listening to this conversation the only words that came out of Chad’s mouth were responses like “really?” or “seriously?”.  The nameless blond barely took the time to breath during his confession.  He stood by the melons while Chad, somewhat awkwardly, slouched near the bags of sad looking green grapes.  Holding onto a bunch of carrots, I took a step back and silently glided across the linoleum in their direction for a listen.

Here’s a summary of what I heard:

Blond Dude: “…don’t get me wrong bro, I know how to fuck but lately my dick has been stuck in purgatory.”

Chad: “What?”

Blond Dude: “My cock, my fucking cock Chad, it’s fucking with me.”

Chad: (picks up a bag of grapes with one hand)  “How so?”

Blond Dude: “I was having sex last night and my dick never got fully hard.  It’s been like that for a couple weeks now man…not soft, not hard, just trapped in the middle…Purgatory!”

Chad: (looking uncomfortable, puts the grapes down and starts looking toward the wine section)  “That’s messed up.”

Blond Dude: “How do you think my dick feels…I mean, I wish it would make up its mind…you know?  I mean…it would almost be better if it just didn’t work at all…”

Chad: “Really?”

Blond Dude: “Sometimes.  I think the girl from the bar last night thought I had a small dick.  (laughs)  Seriously though, it gets just hard enough to have sex but not hard enough to fuck, you know?”

Chad: “That sucks man…let’s go get some milk.”

Blond Dude: Yeah it does!  Fucking dick purgatory…(long sigh)  Let’s get some bread first.”

I was raised as a Roman Catholic and I went to Catholic school for five years.  I can honestly say I have never heard a more perfect use of the term purgatory in my life.