Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Just popping in to say that blog updates are going to be pretty sporadic for the next two weeks. I'm on a marathon tour, doing a reading every day. It;s fun, and exciting, but also doesn't leave much time for blogging. So I'll report back when all is said and done, with an update here and there. In other words, same as usual. Cheers.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Chapter 108: In Which I Discuss Fruitvale Station

I love New England. I love the burgundy in the brick. I love the smell of the trees, the wind off the ocean. I love the occasional visit to Cape Cod or Provincetown. Philly is my current location, where I am gearing up for tour.


It's a tight schedule. New York one day, Quebec the next. Boston one day, Ithaca the next. Here's the schedule:


Saturday, August 10th--Brooklyn, NY--Molasses Books

w/Pol Doble, Eric Nelson, and Lisa Marie Basile

Tuesday, August 13th--Pittsburgh, PA--East End Book Exchange

w/Dan Parme and Jess Simms

Wednesday, August 14th--Philadelphia, PA--A Space

w/Shevaun Brannigan

Thursday, August 15th--Worcester, MA--Collective A Go Go

Dinner at 6:00pm, show at 7:00pm
w/Insurgent Theatre

Friday, August 16th--Brattleboro, VT--People's Bookshop


Saturday, August 17th--Boston, MA--The Lilypad

w/Militza Jean-Felix, Zach Buscher, and Shira Lipkin
$5 cover

Sunday, August 18th--Ithaca, NY--Buffalo Street Books


Monday, August 19th--Montreal, QC--Argo Bookshop


Tuesday, August 20th--Ottawa, ON--The Daily Grind


Wednesday, August 21--Toronto, ON--The 460

w/Kelly Rose Pflug-Back and Leah Bobet

Friday, August 23--Chicago, IL--Quimby's Bookstore

w/Patty Templeton

Saturday, August 24--Cincinnati, OH

Details TBD

Twelve dates, and this is after two cancellations. Other than not being able to do the obvious route of Philly, followed by NYC, I was successful getting every date I wanted. In comparison to previous tours, it was pretty easy. Finding crash space was also easy. I think is part of the goodwill and trust I've created from touring so often in the past.

I won't be touring next year. Hard Times Blues 2013 is my fifth tour in three years, and I'm tired. Writing, performance, and tour management are all separate arts, and to focus on one means neglecting the others. I don't make money from touring, so it's always been about exposure, which I feel I've gotten. It's a fun pasttime, and I will continue to read wherever people will have me. In fact, I'm putting together a list of sporadic readings for the fall. But I won't be doing readings to the extent that I've been doing them. After I come home, I'm refocusing my energies on writing, and like the Invisible Man will emerge from underground once I have something to show.

Fruitvale Station

I saw the Oscar Grant movie. It was amazing. Don't know if I ever want to see it again. The main emotion I got from it was anger, and I don't know if I need a movie to remind me I should be angry. As I was leaving the theater with a friend, we saw some motorcycle cops. She said their very presence disgusted her. I told her that was a legit response.

What struck me about the movie was its authenticity. Not exactly to a life, but to a culture, a way of life, an experience. There is a part where Oscar and his crew are coming up the escalator at the Montgomery station. I have done that many a time. Taking that long ride, never knowing what San Francisco will bring you. That they could capture that moment shows a director who understands, and loves, the Bay. Even down to the small details, like the dance party on the BART, which surely happens on New Years in Oakland. For an hour and a half, I saw my experience as an Oaklander replicated onscreen.

Therein lies the movie's power. It moves with the rhythms, the language of a world that on the surface is black, but on deeper inspection is the melting pot America always advertised. Oscar's extended family is black and Hispanic, his friend is Asian, they're all heavily influenced by black culture, yet live in a white supremacist world. It all feels so incredibly natural, which works for what the film is trying to accomplish: humanizing an everyday man who experiences an, unfortunately, everyday tragedy.

I'm in Oakland, watching Oakland actors, Oakland locations, telling an Oakland story about how the cops get away with killing us. There is no joy to be taken, because the tragedy of the black experience permeates every frame. I'm glad I didn't see it opening weekend, as hearing the Zimmerman verdict right on the heels of that would have been too much of a gut punch.

With the ending established right from the start, the movie goes into horror movie mode with a series of What If's. What if Oscar took the car? What if he hadn't been pulled off the train? This is also one of the few films to truly address the influence of high speed communication on our culture. Cellphones are ubiquitous, used even in mundane interactions like helping the woman out at the grocery. This was a brilliant detail on the filmmakers' part. It was phones that caught Oscar's execution, and spawned the anger.

Another interesting choice they made was that it was the blond guy, not the bald screaming asshole, who ended up being Mesehrle. The dude who killed Oscar worked the fact that he never got adequate weapons training into his defense.  That means, at best, he was a real life Prezbo from The Wire. But he had military grade weapons and the power over life and death. One of the biggest surprises to me was learning that the chief of BART police stepped down after firing the other cops responsible. You mean people were actually held accountable for killing a black man? BART's cooperation with the film feels like penance to me. Like they hope they can somehow make it right.

Part of the tragedy of racism is that, since black youth are considered dangerous, you cannot grieve for them. We never see black mothers grieving onscreen, though they lose their babies more commonly than anybody at Sandy Hook. Fruitvale Station delivers that in its powerful, and absolutely necessary, final ten minutes. To suggest that black life matters is, in the context of this country, a revolutionary act. 

I read an interesting blog post recently about how even black entertainment is depressing, simply because black life is depressing. Which makes me think why a film like Fruitvale Station feels utterly authentic, while a buppie-fest like The Best Man feels like a bunch of people trying to avoid reality. I think the tragic parts are the parts that keep resurfacing no matter your economic position as a black person. The hatred and fear of black people has done as much to elevate us in the public conscious as our music, fashion, and style. The film addresses this, albeit subtly. Oscar is aware that his dark skin makes him a target, and I think this partly informs his anger. Police don't even show up for most of the movie, but when they do, it's like the rage Oscar feels has been there all along.

What a sad, sad movie. But, there is happiness to be taken in the fact that Wallace from The Wire has grown into a fine actor, and that a young black director with such skill got to make this movie. And that there's one of a small cadre of films out there that treat black life with respect.

Thug Shaming

Can this be a term? 'Cause it should be.

Since the name Oscar Grant is back in the news, people are taking the opportunity to dig up his corpse and beat it with a shovel. I'm talking specifically about the review from Forbes Magazine, which I won't link to, because fuck that guy. But he brings up Oscar's criminal past and, while repeatedly saying he didn't deserve to get executed, goes onto say just that in a trademark case of "I'm not racist, but..." nonsense. It's the same reasoning they used to convict Trayvon of his own murder. They were mad dogs who needed to be put down. Yes, Oscar went to jail for drug dealing. That apparently is justification for his death. George W. Bush got into trouble with the law when he was a kid, and the same people who cheer on Oscar's death feel Bush was qualified to be president of the United States.

Let me break it down. Oscar was arrested for drug dealing. Drugs should not be illegal. It should be the individual's business if they want to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, shoot dope. The presence of drugs in black communities is itself a crime against black people that the CIA has basically admitted culpability in. It's a scam to destroy and incarcerate blacks. The fact that Oscar, like so many black men, fell for it does not make him deserving of death.

Oscar was convicted of weapons possession. So what? What idiot deals drugs and doesn't keep a piece on him? So far, I see no serious crimes being committed. Those who are anti-black would have you believe Fruitvale Station is a whitewashing of an "established criminal." Part of what makes the movie great is that it is not a whitewashing. They show him in prison. They show him dealing drugs. They show him losing his job and threatening his boss. They could have made him a saint in the movie, but they chose a more nuanced portrayal. 

What has certain critics up in arms is the notion that he was trying to get his life together. I don't know how it's so hard to believe that a former convict who worked at a grocery store and was raising a child would want to go straight. But that interferes with the narrative that he was a mad dog. Was Oscar as thoughtful and sincere in real life as he was in the movie? I don't know. All I know is Steven Spielberg made an Oscar-winning movie based on the patent falsehood that Abraham Lincoln cared about freeing slaves. Spielberg gets rewarded. Start suggesting that black men are multidimensional, and you get called out for historical accuracy.

Only a person of extreme privilege thinks youthful indiscretions make someone a demon. Growing up black in America is basically being born into a warzone. Of course people in a warzone act like soldiers. But it does not make them deserving of death.

The media also thug shamed Lovelle Mixon, by the way. He was the Oaklander who, not long after Oscar's execution, was pulled over by some cops and killed a few before getting away. The modern-day Robert Charles. After he shot those cops, the media immediately labelled him a rapist. He was never convicted of raping anyone. But they had to resort to the Jim Crow-era stereotype of the "beast." 

Killing the cops sealed his fate, of course. He still managed to take down two more before the SWAT team killed him. Then again, maybe his fate was sealed the moment he was pulled over. Nobody ever addressed the protocol of the police. For a young black man, being pulled over by cops is the equivalent of being trapped in the woods, surrounded by a pack of starving wolves. For all we know, he was given the choice of being shot in the back like Oscar Grant, and took the option of getting shot in the chest. The man had a criminal past, sure. This was used to justify his summary execution by a SWAT team that had no intention of taking him in for trial. Thankfully, he died immediately, unlike getting burned to death like Charles Dormer.

If being a thug makes someone deserving of death, then Mitt Romney deserves death for the homophobic bullying he did in college. Or maybe, just maybe, everyone deserves the compassion and understanding that was afforded him. Maybe we should start putting things in perspective. Maybe we could rank lying to start wars and polluting the Gulf coast as crimes equal to, or even greater than, execution-worthy crimes like battery and drug dealing.

Just a thought.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Tour poster!

Courtesy of Asa Jones, a wonderful artist who also designed my 2011 tour poster.