Monday, April 21, 2014

ATA #7: Nick Cannon Presents: The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective Negroes

WARNING: Across the Aisle features a weekly helping of extraordinary, yet exploratory, writing, gratuitous pop culture abuse, and complimentary Funyons. Due to our conscious decision to explore familiar themes in an inimitable, though inherently divisive, manner, such brilliance is solely intended for mature reading audiences. This is Hive Mind 101. That glorious moment when Wonder Twin powers activate. Jay Connor. Alex Hardy. The triumphant return of Voltron. These ain’t no studio tricks. Enjoy.

Episode 06

Nick Cannon Presents: The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective Negroes

Jay Connor: In 1964, pre-Jackée Harry, post-Uncle Remus, America had an epiphany. “Holy shit!” said America. “All this exploitation is exhausting, and this whole Tuskegee syphilis experiment is gonna make us look like some real assholes in those history books that will never see the light of day. Can’t we just hug it out, bro? We’ll even throw in some new water fountains!” And voilà! Congress spread its legs and an illegitimate, Civil Rights Act baby came out to play. Hell, Lyndon B. Johnson was even kind enough to clip the umbilical cord, because who didn’t enjoy group projects in high school? “Fuck yes!” said America, thrusting an exuberant fist into the atmosphere. “How come nobody told us racism was that easy to get rid of? You guys missed out on some great keggers in the 1700’s!” Then Reality strolled out the bathroom without washing its hands and plopped down onto the couch. Black people were still being harassed, discriminated against, and terrorized, while their White counterparts remained vigilant in their quest to remain off beat. “Okay, so maybe this whole desegregation thing isn’t as easy as we thought,” said America. “Fuck, should we just buy BET? Would that help? Macklemore is awesome!” Then Nick Cannon, the Fresh Prince of Post-Racial America, Mr. Mariah himself, ascended from the pages of Peggy McIntosh’s magnum opus with a glint in his eye and a severe dearth in redeeming value, and calmly asserted to his brighter brethren: “Come with me if you want to live.
Alex Hardy: ...and they followed him to a place where Flo Rida is godlike and Eminem’s music instability manifestos still inform and direct the privileged angst of underwhelming and scrappy gents unburdened by minisculities like rhythm and reality: Santa Barbara, California Florida. In 2014. And once there, this merry band of fist-pumping mistfits and Mileyites led by Sir Spousal Support commenced to laugh at the unfunny, clap and bop in opposition to and in spite of beats and take their shoes off in public places. Good times were had by all, but mostly by Sir Spousal Support, whose bank account continues to flourish unimaginably while we stand on the sideline, Black and Not Married to Mariah, roasting his flamboyant wackness.
JC: Blame Nickelodeon. Blame Harriet Beecher Stowe. Blame uncomfortably decorous enunciation. Blame Jenny McCarthy’s valiant crusade against child vaccinations. The levees of talent and tolerance have been breached, Western Civilization has been compromised, and Connor Smallnut reigns supreme with a blanched fist. But just how did Plymouth Rock land on us? Too many “Drumline” syndications? Is his ascension to entertainment ubiquity a byproduct of Tia and Tamera sending the wrong irritant on their merry way? How exactly does he keep happening?
AH: Blame White People and/or Mariah. It’s the same subset of humanity that ensures that Will.i.Am keeps showing up in my dumps after being shoved down my throat at social outings here in Panama. The very same scat-loving subhumans.
JC: No, no, no. His melanined co-conspirators must indulge in equivalent blame. After all, try as he may on his own, Cory Gunz’s career didn’t have the internal fortitude to kill itself. His humorless saboteur has mastered the art of cultural malleability. For every insipid spiel on “America’s Got Talent”, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. And how many Kids Choice Awards does it take to defile Don Cornelius’ legacy? If all those binders full of women didn’t catapult Obama into office, San Diego’s finest just might be the preeminent King of Niggas. Thankfully, the United States government has a long, storied history of vanquishing tyrannical water cannon fodder, so He of Tacky Headphones will be a Black history project in no time.
AH: Nah. I’m not convinced that Mr. Carey is campaigning to earn the ire and bullets of the US government. Have you actually seen America’s Got Talent? Each week, Weird Allen Ja-Cornball Yankovic jokes, smiles, and has heart-to-hearts with old ladies, two-headed sword throwers who rap in Canadian, and drill teams from Baltimore. And he smiles a lot. It’s a fucking Feelingspocolypse. He’s IN. He comes in at about a 9.6 on the Wayne Brady Scale of Negroidian Nonthreateningness. He’s only kept from a perfect 10 because he raps rather than performing show tunes like Uncle Baby Hair. He poses as much threat to The Establishment as Mr. Perry to the dismantling of the the Horrible Movie Industrial Complex: zero.
JC: But how exactly has he managed to maintain his pigmented prominence salience relevance annoyance? His misfires far outweigh his triumphs, and yet he’s the unscathed roach who sips tea and nibbles on crumpets in the midst of a nuclear holocaust. How has this man managed to transform public displays of incompetence into such a lucrative venture? Who would’ve known sacrificing Christina Milian to the Illuminati would reap such rewards?
AH: Look. Nick is one of these people who does things you are familiar with, but didn't know he was involved. Cory Gunz. New Boyz. And did you know this man was the Chairman of Nick Jr?! All that unfettered access to defenseless children and their right to be taken seriously. Damn. As for his appeal? Look to the example of Flo Rida. He, like Nicolas Cannon, provides a suitable degree of Unintimidating Blackness to the masses. Raps and is therefore "cool." Has melanin and wins by default. The Office of Carey Husbandship has great perks.
JC: So basically he’s like an artificial sweetener.  A sapid, innocuous presence that purports to make the little things in life better, but impregnates you with cancer instead. Carrier of the same heebie jeebies frontin’ niggas gave Lauryn Hill.
AH: Any redeeming qualities that offset his flamboyant wackness? Does he get bonus points for making dem babies with Our Lady of Perpetual Teenagehood?
JC: You just can’t eclipse banality that efficacious, but nearly impeccable fashion sense aside, I have the utmost respect for him as a business entity. In a market saturated with mimicry, exploitation of stereotypical paradigms, and serial hashtag binges, he’s somehow developed a flourishing brand centered around a wholesome, harmless mirage. Additionally, he’s begot a treasure trove of lucrative opportunities for comedians, actors, twodels, and Internet personalities, which, in doing so, has transformed the art of “playing it forward” into a brilliant business model. Invest in fresh, up and coming talent, create a mutually beneficial platform for them to thrive in in a restricted Negroidian market, and in turn earn their allegiance until their relevance wanes. Case in point, how many household names have high-stepped out of the Wild ‘N Out combine? And once they’ve ditched the training wheels and made their own dent in the industry, they’ve always been more than happy to return the favor. Keenan did it with “In Living Color”, Russell forever changed the game with “Def Comedy Jam”, the criminally unheralded “Comic View” carried the torch for a minute, and then the great St. Nick studied the baton and ran with it. Basically, he’s Diddy minus the obnoxious gums and gaudy Kool-Aid pitchers. It’s the exact same infrastructure. He might give me hives, but his business acumen is rivaled only by his taste in women. Maybe one day he’ll even grasp this whole shutting the fuck up thing. What say you?
AH: Yeah. I do respect Mr. Carey’s hustle. When he’s not within sight of a recording studio, he’s makes some pretty major moves. Like crack rocks to our favorite rappers, he has paved the way for many comedians who are household names today. I get it. He’s likeable. He’s safe. I respect anyone who handles their business, gets paid handsomely and provides opportunities for their peers to thrive and fund addictions in any way that doesn’t involve signing to Bad Boy. I’m allowed to dig his intentions while abhorring his music output, yes? I think it was the late, great Elizabeth Taylor who said, “What the entire airborne fuck is this shit?” You know that feeling where you can’t stand to see someone embarrass themselves and feel compelled to both look away and continue watching report them to Homeland Security as Dick Lint? That’s what I experienced while watching his recent performance on Arsenio Hall’s painful Famous Friends And Old Guests Humor Me By Pretending to Remember Our Past Encounters Show. Ten seconds at a time. Watching. Pausing. Sobbing. Watching. Stabbing myself with lead pencils. Repeat. Am I supposed to feel an urge to vomit? Am I a bad person for at once pitying, reviling, and fearing him? Hell, a person who’ll leave dignity in a jar in his wife’s palatial shoe closet to push such a product with a smile is far more treacherous than the most daring Catfish. It’s probably best not to leave your neck or discarded jokes exposed.
JC: See, I think Mariah’s baby momma’s fatal flaw is that the same audacity and that has imbued him with the confidence to succeed, translates into a grotesquely unnatural desire to substantiate his status. He’s not satisfied being the obscenely rich Token Negro with both Black and White Hollywood at his disposal, he yearns to be just as adroit as his peers. Slight problem: he’s not. He’s the trust fund baby who buys an NBA team just so he can hurl air balls with elite athletes during warm ups. He’s the parent who embarrasses his daughter during sleepovers by spouting Justin Bieber lyrics from atop Mt. Coffee Table. He’s the pimp who can’t just wait in the car with a baseball bat while his “merchandise” rapes and pillages every hotel patron in sight, he has to drop his pants and auction off his own asshole too. So who needs drugs when we can Just Say No to Nick? How do you prevail when your coach wants to run the ball into the end zone himself?  
AH: Wow. Totally forgot about those early videos. The early 2000s were such a tacky time for rappity rap dudes. And. So, White People Dance Music is now a whole different thing unrelated to Flo Rida’s catalog. What are we to do with this new album from He Who Allows Mariah To Believe That Life Is One Big Prom? Where do we, as a civilization that rewards pestilence and celebrates the hideous, go from here?
JC: I think checks and balances need to be put in place so that history will stop regurgitating on itself. We can’t all be Jay-Z. How soon we forget that capitalism is a requisite evil. Sure, some of us can stack our bread and get our Dame Dash petulance on. Some of us can even cherish the limelight and be J. Cole’s unibrow when we grow up. But gotdammit, dog shit doesn’t pick itself up, and that’s where the Memphis Bleeks, the D-12’s, and the women who kiss Flavor Flav in the mouth come in. You gotta respect your boundaries, play your position, and know your role. Men can’t give birth, Lil Terrio is impervious to fruits and vegetables, and Nick Cannon is terminally lame. It is what it is. We hold these truths to be self-evident and shit. But the million dollar question is, if he hit you with a business proposal that made many more dollars than sense, would you compromise those pesky morals of yours and fraternize with the enemy? Inquiring minds with baited breath wait anxiously to assail you with shade.  
AH: As long as footage of me getting my Mimi and Nikko on doesn’t hit these eStreets, I’ll sling these syllables and sentences for a Mariah-backed check in the blink of a Lumidee career. You bet your favorite damn Lugz boots I would. Would I prefer that my nieces listen to Nick Cannon over Yung Himbo? No. I trust their discernment and the trickle-down effect of my Unclehood. But he aight, I reckon. Just, not exactly my cup of sangria favorite celebriDarkie. Respectful indifference: You cool or whatever. Get your coins. But don’t rap at or make eye contact with me.

Read Episode 06: "Rituals of Tribal Dance"
Read Episode 02: "Posture and Promiscuity"
A million thanks to my partner in crime:

Jay Connor is a prized pupil of the esteemed Professor Xavier and a Los Angeles based freelance writer. When he’s not preoccupied with accruing overdraft fees while chasing the dream, he can be found disseminating terrorist threats on Twitter and Facebook. Direct all business inquiries, sexual innuendo and Nigerian email scams to

Follow me on Twitter: @chrisalexander_
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nine Years Alive, Part One: 2005

While you likely spent the Age of Twenty fucking and forging your own way in this R. Kelly-loving world, I spent most of Twenty trying not to addition to forging. And fighting. Not much fucking that year.

Next week, I will celebrate nine years of living, thriving, learning, falling, and growing since my lupus diagnosis. Almost a decade removed from that day in April 2005, I have amassed a Metrick Fucktonne of revelations, realizations, and reasons to rejoice that I lived long enough to watch Michelle take a tumble on 106 and Porch. Life is truly beautiful.

As April 25 approaches, I will reflect on each of the years separating me from that day.

2005: The Year of Looking Terrible
That year, 2005, specifically the second half of it, was jam-damn-packed with learning. Growth. Tears. I learned that it was alright to be my own loudest advocate when dealing with doctors. I learned that psychosis is real. I learned that chemotherapy, while effective in my case, is the most savage thing that I hope to ever experience, including that time I stumbled upon a Mary J Blige live a capella.

The horror.

That year, similar to my arrival in Panama, I learned 100 things each day about myself, the boundless love of my family, and the importance of LIVING. After being discharged, after later being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, I had weeks upon weeks of solo time to sit alone with my thoughts. Well, my thoughts and the orgy of side effects of coreg, hydralazine, cytoxan and prednisone.

Greatest hits:

  • Night sweats (worst. thing. ever.)
  • a monstrous appetite AND decrease of bladder and bowel control
  • raging acne
  • moonface (prednisone)
  • depression
  • major weight loss
  • hair loss (chemo)
  • nausea
  • delusion and paranoia (prednisone)

...and many more!

What a fabulous time it was:

While trapped in the house, I would have friends bring me Taco Bell late at night. We would eat somberly and pretend like everything, despite my new disabilities and disfigured appearance, was normal. It was humiliating.

My monstrous appetite meant I could eat a bisonly man's portion of food and would be painfully hungry an hour later. Despite consuming more than twice my normal intake, I continued to lose weight daily. It was maddening.

After being granted permission to drive, because I had seemed to misplace my beloved bladder control,  I had to either carry a plastic urinal with me or remain within sight of bathroom at all times. When I realized I needed to piss, it was most likely already too late to escape the situation with my dignity unscathed. Once, I felt that familiar, frightening bladder pressure while pulling up to 7-Eleven, I almost crashed into a gas pump while trying to simultaneously park the car, reach for my plastic pisser and unbuckle my pants. Most of the piss went into my lap and down my leg while I struggled to prop myself up and to the side, seething and crying, in the driver's seat. That day, I wished for a swift and painless death. It was mortifying.
lost hair and hospital bracelets

At a friend's college graduation shindig, where homies and classmates I'd grown up with and known since middle school gathered to celebrate, my walker and I made our social debut. I had graduated three years prior and hadn't seen many of these folks since we walked across that commencement stage and down our respective paths. I looked terrible. I saw the poorly hidden wide-eyed gasp from the girl I met back in Mr. Hawkins' US Government class. That clank when I lifted and placed my walker inside the door's threshold and refused a helping hand to step into the house? Painful. Chatter ceased for an eternity as curious glances volleyed to and fro. I inched from the front door to the living room sofa a few feet away, where I remained seated for the duration of the event. I sipped sparingly, convinced that overindulging meant I would urinate on myself in front of everyone and melt in a puddle of piss and despair. They all smiled, wished me well, and offered to fix plates and drinks for me. "So, I heard you almost died?" a guy from our track team said. It was humbling.

My first time out with my best friends post-coma was to dinner at Uno's Chicago Grill, the same chain I worked in when I fell ill months prior. There at the table, amidst the awkward silence and forced chuckles, in that fog of uncertainty and politeness, I realized along with everyone else that I was now drowning in my clothes. (A friend would later burst into tears, while laughing, when telling me I looked like a little boy that day.) By then I was the smallest I had been as an adult--down to a paltry 155 pounds from my normal, brawny 175--and covered with acne. Now, with a cane at my side. Plus, due to the life-ruining and life-saving steroid prednisone, my face was round and misshaped. There was a moment when I checked out while peering at the bones jutting from my arms. I had never paid attention to these sharp alien elbows and the newly visible distinction between meat and bone in my forearms. I looked up and met my friend Lee's eyes for half a second as he studied the same pointy bones and sharp knuckles. Sadness from him. Shame from me. I looked away, wanting to implode. It was depressing.

And so on. Short version: I finished chemo. These dancer's legs made weak by weeks of inactivity were strengthened again by physical therapy and lots of falling and standing. Bruises healed. Prescriptions finished. Lives were demolished and rebuilt, better than ever.

I survived.

Catching a whiff of death does wonders for the soul.

Tomorrow: 2006.


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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Year of (Occasionally) Well Packaged Chaos.

I left Panama one year ago today to pull it together in New Orleans. Here is my attempt to put that time into words.

One of the last, best things I did in New Orleans. Great day.

Sometimes you have to crash. Sometimes that’s the only way you can assess what’s happening or not happening around you. Sometimes you can’t see the murky sludge of sustained chaos surrounding, suspending, and supporting you until you crash at the bottom and roll over, filthy and undone, to see all the fucked up shit you coasted and crashed into on the way down.

Not you directly. I mean, I don’t know your struggles. Apologies. I mean you, person who saw the paintings on the wall shake and watched your world tremor, crumble, and pulverize in slow motion but didn’t fully understand just what was happening in the moment, and are on the other side of something ugly and trying to make sense of it. Or, maybe I should just speak for myself.

I spent the end of twenty twelve and the great majority of the days between January 1 and April 8 in two thousand thirteen chained to a never-ending to-do list in a self-designed hell of romanticized self employment and unconvincing alrightness. Let me back up.


I moved to Panama to teach English, learn Spanish, teach dance and learn about my family’s Panamanian and Jamaican ancestry. ¡Bumbaclot! “…and to, youknow, try something different!” I would say, beaming. Llegó el día en que I realized that I did not move to Los Angeles from New York, farther from home and mom’s macaroni and cheese in Virginia to be a stellar waiter who enjoys getting hit on by customers, who dances and writes, who, honestly, won’t be on any tours any time soon without the offering of peen, handjobs, and letting ‘em call me peaches in exchange for gigs and acknowledgment. And so: a one-way ticket to Panama.

Long story kind of short, I:

  • Parlayed a love of English, past journalism experience and brilliant yet infrequent blogging into teaching English to Spanish speakers. Independently. 
  • Did very well. 
  • Learned Spanish. 
  • Became comfortable with Spanish by teaching CardioDance and Zumba-adjacent classes in Spanish. 
  • Was the only Black person in that whole bitch. 
  • Got more English clients. 
  • Wore “nice” clothes and was still detained, eyed vigilantly and questioned “at random” by police. 
  • Had an amazing, pero an amaaaazing body. 
  • Popped bottles in the la discoteca with my PanaNiggas and the Fly Mamis in ambitious tops with daring eyebrows worn only by Those with the absolute most fucking nerve. 
  • Hired some white people.

  • Fell for someone who was always “busy.” 
  • Went from being told “I’m tired. Come anyway,” in Spanish mind you, to “I’m tired. Talk tomorrow?” 
  • Consumed a hundred Black stereotypes’ worth of soul-caressing fried chicken from the gas station across the street. 
  • Was unable to not work because “if I don’t work there is no money for chicken,” I would say, proud of being busy
  • Never got ahead because of good months and BAD months. And poor planning. 
  • Tried longer than I should have to make it work with Mr. Busy. 
  • Was always “fine.” 
My old view.

  • Bid farewell to a roommate (one who broke a bunch of shit in that rented apartment). 
  • Rented the room to a traveling White Guy who did programming and made a nice bisonly gal heave and heehaw on my rented furniture in the heat of the humid Panamanian night. With the air conditioning on 24/7 despite my beseeching his ass to not do that shit. 
  • Made some money. Got lazy. 
  • Grew to resent Panama and its brand of deep-fried dysfunction. '
  • Took poor customer service personally. 
  • Got angrier. Forgot to breathe. 
  • Grew to resent Panamanians. 
  • Became a citizen after a valiant yearlong battle against incompetence and newly empowered idiocy. 
  • Lied about being “fine.” 
  • Picked a date, and
  • Gave away all my books and clients and fled from Panama in a huff

Then, I DID New Orleans. Ate well and fucked a good amount in Virginia. Moved back to Panama. Taught more. Had a moment. Wrote some nice things. Had a valley. And another, deeper valley. And am here writing to you today. Hi.

Before this past spring in New Orleans, I had never taken a walk.

The act of simply leaving the house without a predetermined destination, turning corners on a whim, enchanted randomly, easily. Looking into shops. Wandering. Being led by my surroundings was a pleasure unknown to me. This was something reserved for carefree white women whose kids had strategically considered social calendars and weren’t to be bothered with checking the prices of the organic groceries they dropped into their carts in the aisles of Whole Foods Paycheck.

I never made time for such frivolous pastimes. Simply waaaaalking as opposed to walking to…was not part of the plan. There had to be a where. And for what was a mandatory part of the equation.

My New York life as a young dancer was one of sniping for extra work-study hours, timing train rides from Brooklyn to allow ample time to secure a nice spot in classes at Broadway Dance Center where I stretched, struggled, and strived for attention (and affection), gliding gracefully around tables as a waiter, occasionally closing down the restaurant to return hours later to open it, drifting to ballet and modern from hip hop, being a great then horrible boyfriend, hurting and being hurt, afterhours sinning, scheduled heart-to-hearts with friends, and the rare stroll from class in Times Square to meet a friend in Union Square.

In New York, if I was walking, it was most likely to the train.

My Los Angeles life was one of sniping for work-study hours, awkwardly hovering on the outskirts of dancer/choreographer social circles, being a good-but-not-great dancer, heavy partying (not “partying” in the Los Angeles sense), again setting hip hop down to pick up ballet, afterhours sinning, and gliding (with authority and an extra dollar per hour this time) around tables as a waiter, occasionally closing down the restaurant only to return hours later to open it.

There, if I was walking, it was to or from my car.

There was a countdown until "Getting the Fuck Out."
My Panama 1.0 life was different. Having decided against working for anyone else, I figured it was time to run the damn show. I committed myself to the hustle, and thus, an existence ruled by an ever-expanding To-Do list: Hip hop dance classes. CardioDance. English clients, private and small groups. Spanish classes. Calorie consumption. And an ongoing study known as “Cross-Cultural Mutual Sexual Behavior Observation” in which I accepted the challenge of planting my seed all over Panama. It was a lot.

All of that + trying to “establish a system.” One that was at least a half step above tally marks in a notebook with a name beside it and a series of brown envelopes: some in a red rubber band with client names, dates, and prices and another stack in a blue rubber band with more tally marks, payment stubs and teachers’ names scribbled in my lunatic’s penmanship. “I need something scalable,” I would say, struggling. I had a language “company.” English clients. With deep pockets. Two Spanish teachers teaching for me. Four nice, marketable, nonthreatening White teachers giving classes on my behalf. And not one scalable system that doesn’t induce anxiety in sight. This was before my Panamanian citizenship and a bank account and ease of life.

I would make a To-Do list of things I wanted to accomplish at some point in the future, some short-term, some long.

I would then chain myself to this to-do list, be it on a legal pad, note card, or dry erase board. Coordinating payments with clients, following up with prospective clients, translating my site into Spanish, and hiring teachers, and dressing nice when entering offices, training teachers, providing teaching materials, making copies, masturbating. Everything.

I would then agonize, at the end of the day, over the four things out of 15 that I didn't get to that day. I found it hard to celebrate being a Black boy running a business (abroad) and holding the upper hand with these White people because of these things I had not done today. I beat myself up for not doing more things better, faster, more efficiently and then slid those four things over to the next day. They piled up. Every day. I had a handful of moments there in my apartment looking at that list.

No waaaalking at all.
On Learning As You Go
I dropped out of college in my first semester at Virginia Commonwealth University to dance in the fall of 2002.

Long story.

I have been a million things in a million places since then. Lacking a degree has fostered tenacity and used to foster the occasional questioning of suitability. Creativity and seasonal fearlessness. And tenacity. And disbelief that people think you need a degree to do banal customer service work.

Knowing the people you and I both know should prove that a degree means as much for guaranteed intelligence as Black producers and directors mean for a modicum of graciousness, humanity and fairness in the crafting and portrayal of Black characters in the Age of The Perry Plague and “a check is a check”: not fucking much.

I’ve done things that my degreed friends wish they could do. Surviving lupus and escaping Virginia’s fire pits and overabundance of buffet options has granted me the gifts of resilience and resourcefulness. I can make some shit happen, but not without some struggle. Not due to lacking something bestowed upon college niggas, but mere inexperience. But my willingness to plan, leap and build my parachute on the way down has gotten me farther than a handful of degrees will get the next dummy bitch.

Sure, packing your grits, jock straps and books into a body bag and taking a fantastic voyage to The Platano Belt sounds like it would make a great John Singleton-helmed flick. With all due respect, though, it’s dizzying and terrifying to be tasked task yourself with making your Black ass family proud, looking respectable yet humpable, being masculine yet vulnerable and clockable when necessary and learning how to run a business as you go and at once executing decently as the livelihoods of a handful of White people and two adorable Panamanian ladies depend on you keeping it the entire fuck together. And sangria. So these lessons you’re learning are expensive lessons. People will be proud of you, though.

Bonus round: You’re prone to anxiety attacks.

It’s a lot.
So, here in Panama, I walked, sweatily, to class. To eat. To “sin.” From buses to the intense classes with weights and steppers and the quasi-appropriative Zumba-adjacent ones. And to and from taxis through seedy areas and nice, unColored areas. 

That first time in Panama, if I was walking, it was to or from teaching. Never just waaaaalking


I waaaaalked in New Orleans.

When I left Panama, I had planned to transition from face-to-face English classes to Skype-based classes. I had built an impressive Wordpress site one plugin and shortcode at a time. It was going to be glorious and “I will be completely, yaknow, location independent,” I would say, optimistic. I did a lot of sighing, but kept pushing forward. That lasted about one month in Louisiana.

And so, the seams burst one day. And I cried. A lot. Got very high very often and slept a lot. If I were an artist preparing to release an album perhaps called The Velvet Rope, I would say I wrote my way out of it. And I did. I then learned to be kind to myself.

I danced and ate and fucked and ate and loved and laughed and wrote my way out of it. I allowed myself to set aside any business ambitions and be a regular nigga. I bought some stylish skid-proof sneakers and worked in a restaurant with highly interesting white people who offered coke as if it were gum. My first payday: “Soooo we were thinking of going in on an eight ball. You want in?”

I declined. But I had a great time working there. I walked everywhere and nowhere. I was kind to myself and I went to daiquiri shops in the middle of the day and bought a bike and ate sushi and burritos. I whiled breezy mornings away making fish and yellow grits with creole seasoning and sharp cheddar and avocado with cheddar bay biscuits and mimosas for my sisterfriends. I rode and wrote and danced in the street with soulful whitepersons.

And saw the first five months of this beautiful girl’s life. All but her debut and the first hour or so because I was at getting a chicken sandwich combo from the Rally’s around the corner with a boy, but I was there in spirit. You understand.

I LIVED in New Orlean. I learned to enjoy small pleasures and was kind to myself. For that moment in time, I wasn't hard on myself. It was lovely.

I self-medicated. And I sat and looked in journals for the patterns in my life that ended in moments like this. What typically precedes the crack in the foundation? What am I not being honest with myself about? Who am I trying to impress? Why am I doing this for? What would make me happiest? And so on…
...while in New Orleans:

The sky cracked open and a cleansing deluge overtook me. Surrounded me—us, rather—the sky’s peace offering for the engulfing moist heat that covered each of the day’s tasks with a thick film of arduousness since waking that morning.

Crossing the bayou and creeping to a halt at the end of Esplanade, the golden glow shining through the windshield vanished and returned as an enveloping bloodshot blaze. Knowing and judging and final, this intrusive glare, the only immediately discernible element in my now blurred surroundings. A wisp of smoke tumbled from my nostrils, unfurling in the space before me to dance on the dashboard and rebound off the window before spreading throughout the truck’s interior.

I stared out the window, not into the nearing crosswalk of South Carrollton Avenue, but into an unending void of nothingness. Into blackness. Smoke tumbled toward the dashboard. Me: tensely gripping the seatbelt strap, then flattening my palm with pressure against my chest, the coronary drumbeat doom-ba-dooming with a troubling quickness. Then gripping the strap. Then pressing both hands against my chest to prevent an explosion, apparently.

Saphira eased on the brakes as we approached Orleans Avenue. She looked my way with her usual calming half smile, the whites of her sleek half moons as red as I assumed my sleepy ovalines were. The golden glow again retreating as the arresting red light, like the rain, washed over us—me, rather, as we rolled to a stop.

I closed and flipped and opened my hands, studying the joints and haphazardly strewn deep pink life lines that stretch across my pale pink palm in amazement as if noticing them for the first time. Sweaty palms and splayed fingers anxiously shearing my thighs. Gripped hands wringing fitfully amidst more unfurling clouds. The only certain thing in the universe in that moment was that I was, officially, having a panic attack.

Am I dying?

“Breathe,” she exhaled.

Smoke danced.

I inhaled deeply and exhaled. Inhaled and exhaled and inhaled and exhaled and sheared my thighs and took in and blew out more smoke. Ascending in a hot air balloon to elude the wave of hysteria sent to take me under. 

This moment of pressurized bewilderment, like the others, commenced with the sensation of a girthy rump sitting my chest. 

Then, historically, comes worry about whether this was an attack of panic or an attack of the heart sure to result in me being one of those people you read about who has an attack of the heart in their late twenties, moonwalking into the afterlife just as they were transitioning from General Fuckup to Person With Promise. Such a shame. 

Then the indecision about if this is actual pain or invented pain. Before long, I become aware of my quickened heartbeat and begin to panic about the chest pressure and the hasty heartbeat and about the panic itself. 

I’m at once terrified and angry with myself, knowing this self-manifested crisis is avoidable with one easy fix:

Life Rule Number 24
Don’t be a lunatic.

This time was no different.

There in the truck, turning from South Carrollton onto Cleveland Avenue, things didn’t play out as they normally would. Normally: I would know to sit and breath and cry and work through this and avoid balconies. The usual helplessness was there. This time, figuring I could outrun the wave of hysteria by ascending via the unfurling smoke, something else became clear: I was now high.

So two things were certain…

What I’ve gleaned from The Year of (Occasionally) Well Packaged Chaos is this:

one. I’m willing to bet that most of us have someone or a rowboat full of someones who has offered us a couch or a bed or a shoulder or a lovingly prepared—free—meal that we were too proud to accept. Perhaps I was “Okay, but thank you anyway.” Maybe you were going through it and Aunt Shirley kindly demanded that you come stay with her to rest Rest and Recharge your soul. Maybe you were too proud to say, “Yes, of course,” as you wanted to.

Look. Most of us know someone who knows us and has, in other, more diplomatic words, offered to love on us and help soothe the wounds that you don’t know they can see. Not in a jones-in-my-bones-to-get-boned-by-you, Creepy McCreepington kind of way. Rather, a wholehearted, there­ for you like a bowl of perfectly seasoned grits with just the right amount of pepper jack cheese and butter for a real dairy-loving lightly lactose intolerant thug such as myself when the world is straight trippin’ kind of way. LET THEM. Say yes. Allow yourself to be loved on. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. Even Meteor Man let himself be hugged, ya heard?
My grandmother blessing me with that to-go plate.

two. I’ve done a lot. You’ve done a lot. We’re proud of these things that we’ve done, you and I. Sometimes we downplay these things that we’ve done, but we’re glad to have done them just the same. Inside.

When you do new nice things, you tend to move away from your old nice things, and that’s a normal part of progress. Natural. But: When you’re ready to discard (and/or dismantle or downplay) that old thing you worked and once cared deeply for, remember that there’s someone scratching, praying, degrading+kowtowing for that very thing. So appreciate every thing. It doesn’t make you corny. It makes you human. Even Janet appreciates The Jermaine Era after upgrading to Wissam.

three. Have you ever been tired? No. Not drowsy in your cubicle after a phat ass night of Straw-ber-Ritas and unphotographable failures. I mean ***TIRED. Spiritually. When it hurts to think about thinking? That was me, last year as I packed all my shit up and fled from Panama on that afternoon a year ago when my celebration over getting a row to myself was thrwarted by that bisonly, talktative young chap and his apparent love of onionlotion and his ignorance of the Universal I Don’t Give A Shit About Anything You Could Even Dare To Think About Thinking Sign: my headphones. And: soooo much talking. Despite my bursting with angst+anxiety+tasting freedom and my headphones. But, yeah. I was tired of being tired of being tired. And so: a one-way ticket to New Orleans.

four. It’s okay to not be okay.

five. It’s okay to not know.

six. It’s the principle of pleasure.

seven. It’s okay to not do anything.

eight. Nobody will be disappointed in you if you step down or pull back or say "No" more often when you get in over your head. Most likely, you're easing off of something they admire you for doing. Those who matter will understand. Nobody will be less proud of you.

nine. Check in on your people. No. Not the people who you keep on your Facebook feed because they have great faces, an insatiable need for public validation due to them being a swamp donkey up until they hit the gym a few years in the not too distant past and, it just so happens, a beautiful body. Not them. Your homies. The ones who’ve seen you at your post-Kevin Federline Britney Spears and loved and walked beside you in public when you were at your lowest Lauryn Hill Unplugged. You never know how badly that person needs the right person to go beyond cordiality and ask, “No, I mean, how are you really doing?” I uncorked and spilled everything to my two closest friends last week, and I felt freed.

There’s freedom in talking your shit out, rambling, to someone, to anyone. If you were typing your thoughts out and hit a tangent or stray thought, you would likely delete it or cut it short rather than rambling and letting that thought go where it needs to go until you stumble upon your aha moment. So go past, “I’m fine” when it counts. You may save a life.

ten. It's okay to ask for help.


Have you ever wanted to unplug from the matrix any and every thing and person who wasn’t delivering food and retreat to your bat cave or mama’s couch to sulk and simmer, hygiene be damned? Guess what? It’s fine.

The good news is that we’re all a little fucked up and, plot twist: that’s okay.

(A gong sounds in the distance.)

We all have our moments and leave the house unshined from time to time. Well, at least we did before The Age of Instaggrandizing Narcissistic Selfie Promulgation and forgiving photo filters. Through a system of checks and balances of collective shortcomings, in which the world continues to turn and my lackings lean against yours and someone else’s and Mariah Carey inexplicably continues to release music post-The Emancipation of a Misbegotten Charmbracelet-Wearing Geisha Named Mimi, everything somehow works out. Except.

The truth is: underneath the nose-contouring, jawline-softening sorcery and Junot Diaz-level wordplay and bundles upon bundles of some fucking nerve with this job title invention in these social media bios…underneath all that, lies a being for whom cocaine will eventually lose either its effect or its necessary nostril human who needs affection and chicken, loves and wants to be loved, gets spiritually tired on occasion. 

That’s you, me, everyone. Even. Except. And when you’re spiritually tired, you can either sit the fuck down or have life sit you the fuck down. You’re no use to anyone if you’re dead. That “They sleep, we grind” shit ain’t cute once you’re 29 with a hard living, leather-skinned 59-year-old’s face. Sit down. Or that at least that is what I did. It didn't make me weak. It made me a better human. 

 -alexander hardy

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