Monthly Archives: May 2014

A little story

She stood six feet tall you know, so even leaning on her cane she loomed over us on the stage. The three of us– myself, and the only two kids in the shelter who cared who she was, sat up in the center balcony which she was quick to refer to as the colored section in the theaters of old.  To see anything, a janitor sweeping the floor, or dust motes swirling in the spotlight, is a treasure at Ruby Diamond Auditorium on the Florida State Campus.  My sister worked there for a time and I remember her saying she watched Ray Charles from the rafters, but maybe I made that up?

It is a vaulted theater with red carpeted stairs and and I don’t care who you are- it has to feel special to take that stage.

The kids I brought, a 13 year-old boy and a 14 year-old girl, both black, bright, and abandoned at the time, made such a ruckus when she came to center stage that she put her hand over her eyes and peered up at us and said, “It’s good to hear the children up there.  Children need to be heard more.” So before she even started she had accomplished what she was known for, shining a light on the overlooked, and finding joy out there in a miserly world.

After that, we settled in and listened to her, the whole audience so in love, so seduced by her words and her low, bawdy chuckle when she spoke of the sexy sway of a woman’s back.  We sat there in the dark, blushing, or at least I know I did.  I remember thinking to myself, so overly self aware, that getting my shit together to bring these two kids to see her might likely be the pinnacle of my professional life, if not more.

After the show, the kids dragged me around to the back door to wait for her exit to a waiting limousine.  There was a knotted crowd, enthusiastic hard-cores who couldn’t get enough of whatever poured off of her.  There was a corridor taped off, to keep the crowd at a respectful distance.  While people were snapping pictures, and telling her they loved her, she waved and smiled that broad grin with a mouth full of big teeth.  She turned her back to the car and squatted her aging lanky frame behind the tinted window and there was one of the kids– the girl, right in the car with her, hugging her neck! Being a kid raised in a nightmare of public systems she understood the power of forgiveness over permission.  They shared a word, just the two of them, before the mortified security team gently hustled my charge back to me.  I just shrugged at the officer, like, “What do you expect me to do? Kids man!”

So that is my Maya Angelou story, and I’m just so sad she’s gone.




HomeboyIndLogosI went to a conference in San Diego last week, and the weirdest thing happened.  I got motivated by a motivational speaker.  I’m serious.  This guy had me whipped into a froth.  He took me down to Chinatown, brought me to Jesus, and carried me home.  He is a Jesuit, which based on what I saw, means he is a practitioner of his preaching.  He said a lot of things, many of them not easily forgotten, but one on my mind this morning is, “God is the person standing in front of you.”  He relayed that message second-hand from some centenarian theologian and for me that question is now closed.

I tried to put it into practice yesterday, when a young woman jumped out of a car at an intersection as I was walking by.  She was crying, truly sobbing, and as this thought was on my mind I thought, “Oh look, here comes God.”  I asked her if she was okay and it startled her, but she stopped and looked at me back, perhaps seeing God also, or just a tired, bald white man.

“Do you want to talk about it?”  I asked.  “No.” She said, “I just want to go home.”  “Okay, I can call for a cab if you like, and we can get you home.”

“I’m from Jacksonville.” She said, which is about a $450 cab ride from Tallahassee.  “Oh, I don’t think I can get you to Jacksonville.” I said, in a new, close-hearted voice.  The thought that this was a scam, and I was the mark, fleeted through my mind.

“Oh, I can’t get you to Jacksonville.” I told her.  Sometimes God asks too much you know?  And just that quick it was over.

“I have money.” She said defensively, “I just don’t feel like being in this town anymore.” She wasn’t stupid. She caught my little judgmental tone.

And just like that I ceased to be God standing in front of her and became my own flawed self.  Being God is tough!

The heart is after all, just a muscle, and it needs to be exercised.


(Click the Homeboy Industries logo to hear from Father Boyle.)

New York, New York


I liked the sharp pop of the tap shoes, and the rhythm that sounded like it came from a room full of drums and not a single pair of shoes.  Practice was boring though, and once I was signed up and committed, I didn’t know how to quit.  I was only 10.  Things got out of hand, beyond the control of a kid, and by the time I understood that I was to perform at a recital, solo, dressed as a hobo, with charcoal smudges on my cheeks and a paperboy cap it was far too late to back out.

All I remember now is the curtain parting and seeing all of those people out there.  The music started, New York New York, Frank Sinatra and just that quick I was hopelessly lost. You only get one chance to come in on cue.

The prickly heat of shame and a clumsy buffalo shuffle.  My shoes didn’t sound like they did when I was wearing them at home, dancing like a maniac in the empty kitchen.  When the song ended I don’t know if I bowed, or stood there, humiliated.

Now I can be fairly sure that the audience of parents and siblings did not give a rip if I was faithful to my choreography.  One hobo kid shuffling on a stage was the same as another.  To this day I can’t bear to hear that wretched song.  As a grown-up, anonymous in a hotel lobby, those first ba-bum-bump notes make my cheeks flush.

Saturday night was different.  I did it as a favor for a good friend, the kind of friend you don’t say no to for anything.  Will you be in my show? He asked.  You don’t have to do anything, but you are the only one who can do this for me. Like so many commitments in our lives, I just said yes, confident I would survive whatever consequences.

So, dressed as a walking nightmare- the horrible poisonous thing that grows like black mold in relationships- I followed him out on cue to the melancholy melody on a Wurlitzer, and crawled into bed on stage.  Underneath my mask I felt safe, belligerent, and dangerous.  I could see faces looking at me, mouths turned down, eyes blank- afraid to make contact with my monster.

When it was time to get up I missed my cue.  The final heavy note hung in the room, all of us now infected by the dark mood.  Hold tight to your dear ones, for they are safest up close, or far away.

My friend slapped my arm.  Get up. Confused still, I looked in his eyes, searching for direction.  That frightened kid hobo missing another cue.  Get up! His angry eyes said this, and the bum’s rush was coming.

I swung my feet to the floor and stood, imposing and fearsome. In my ugly swagger I straightened my collar and slowly swept the room, searching for cowardly eyes before I took my leisurely exit.



A soft low whistle

I know this man in Birmingham with a voice you would not believe.  When I say to him I am walking with my girl he responds in a hum that is warm and so full of fundamental regard that his response, Is she on your arm? is a last sweet lingering taste of caramel.

He is not a preacher, although born to it, and yet is the only grown man other than my father from whom I can remember requesting a prayer.  It came out of the blue, from my own mouth with me more surprised than anyone. Well certainly we can, he said, as though I was chilled and in need of a borrowed sweater.  We bowed our heads I can’t say where, but it was a place where love was forsaken, shattered, then reassembled until every shard was accounted for and logged in the blood.

He prayed in thanks for the day, like he was recounting a delicious meal yet to be eaten, and then we said amen and we tucked into it.