Principles and Practices of a Bobby Browned Childhood
Jay Connor: Once upon a time I was Black. And young. And unkempt. Many a comb ascended to the afterlife after futile attempts to tame the matted crown of chaos atop my head were met with categorical failure. There were no coffins, no eulogies. Simply a rallying cry of “For Sparta!” as King Leonidas led his valiant band of plastic teeth to their imminent doom. But this tragedy isn’t my own, it’s a shared shame. A plight indigenous to households with swollen Kool-Aid pitchers. Where the likes of Otis Williams and Patti Labelle are exalted as deities. Where Momma’s wig (and makeup) serve as refuge from the struggles of adolescence. Where the Mayan calendar endowed you with a longer lifespan than “Wait till your Father finds out…” Where picking a switch from the yard made any Choose Your Own Adventure book pale in comparison. This is the environment of which I’m a product of. This is Black life. This is Black childhood.
Alex Hardy: I, too, in the words of Black Dynamite, used to be a children. Twas a simpler time. Then, the heftiest decision was whether I would use cheat codes for Golden Eye (or Donkey Kong Country, or Super Mario Kart) or go the honest route. Now, I can look back on that era with a smile, but I took my juvenile manipulation, kickball tournaments, and covert defiance quite fucking seriously. I never went up against a comb or pick, but I did have many a meeting with Mama’s “wide leather belt” thanks to my propensity for firing back surly responses, sucking my teeth, rolling my eyes, and muttering smack-worthy bullshit all before considering the hot fire that would surely be slapped from my mouth. I learned to toe the line, dancing on that boundary between encouraged freethinking and “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” My Black Childhood: omnipresent Kool-Aid and miniature Negroidian figurines in every room. And rice. Lots of rice. Twas the best of times (except when I was getting whipped).
JC: As a child I was naive enough to think we were rich. I mean sure, we lived on the same haggard block as everyone else, but do you not see those matching Chrysler New Yorkers in our driveway? Extravagant vases and crystal chandeliers would eavesdrop on Martin and Gina’s scripted quarrels. I mean shit, we even had a maid for a minute. And a big ass sculpture of some creepy White guy (No, not Lance Bass) in our living room. And a pool. And a trampoline big enough to be mistaken for Gabourey Sidibe. But as I got older, and I upgraded from crushing on Idalis to wifing Rachel from Caribbean Rhythms, I learned the difference between gold and gold spray paint. Moms went through more aerosol than the 80’s trying to resuscitate her pride and keep the facade alive. We were royalty as long as the cameras were on, but nobody ever rummages through the behind the scenes footage.
AH: Was your maid sassy and witty and Black? A trampoline? Y’all must have thought you were the Huxtables. Wait. Those kids never drank Kool-Aid on camera, so The Blacks decided that they weren’t realistic enough. Haters. We didn’t have much fancy Black flashiness going on in my home. My grandmother’s house was essentially the Gaudy AfroPanamanian Museum of White Sofas and Gold things, Neither of Which Your Black Ass Can Touch, Bitch. A fountain. A Grandfather clock. Gold candlestick holders, flatware, and mirrors. A stuffed armadillo and a stiff monkey immortalized with look of horror upon its face. Must have seen the hammer coming. And food. So. Much. Food. It was there at my grandmother’s dining room table in front of a heaping bowl of arroz con pollo, in The Age of You Better Empty That Bowl or You’ll Sleep Right There, that I honed my skills as lifelong overeater and plate cleaner. Good things do happen in Virginia.
JC: At least you ate good. I guess The Clipse said it best: “I’m from Virginia, where ain’t shit to do but cook”. Sure, they were extolling the virtues of cocaine, but I’d much rather indulge in a heaping bowl of Lamar Odom’s credit card residue than the spoonfuls of dreck and strife Moms heaped on my plate. I drudged through a Negroidian adolescence in which my breakfast routinely squawked and cawed at me. My primary food group was There Is No God. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service even declared my taste buds an endangered species. But when your Mother can’t cook for shit, you take a step back and learn to appreciate the finer things in life. Like Zoloft.
|Thanksgiving dinner at Jay's|
AH: You know, I’m always fascinated by people who made it to adulthood with a mother whose idea of nice breakfast is fish sticks, and toaster strudels. And Fanta. Can you fully be trusted? Are you comfortable eating on actual plates? Do you know how to wash dishes? My childhood best friend was raised on boxed cereal, microwaved hot dogs, and wheat bread. And Sunny Delight. No, he wasn’t a boxcar kid. They were a military family and his mother apparently prioritized maintaining her flattop over feeding her offspring as if she wanted him to live to adulthood. His mother never encountered a piece of okra she didn’t batter and toss in the Fry Daddy to be served with either French fries or mushy rice and liver. The devil went down to Georgia [and taught this woman to cook], indeed. But you seem pretty unscathed. Do you live off of chicken nuggets and applesauce? What’s your fucking life about?
JC: It’s a new day. Much like waning temperatures on a brisk summer morning, I make
dew do. Though my
culinary expertise is limited to the likes of baked tilapia and frozen
vegetables, it’s a much healthier alternative than the troughs I foraged
through in my youth. However, food and I will always have a contentious
relationship. Post Traumatic Stomach Disorder will do that to a person. I’m
assuming the copious amounts of culinary divinity that permeated your childhood
are why you eat like a pregnant shrew?
AH: I am single and am eating my feelings. Or, I’m eating for all the sex I’m not having. Or, I have no self-control and am unable to stop eating when “full” because delicious food is the greatest invention next to ejaculation. Or, I’m paying homage to my inner Terio, my Spirit
Animal Glutton. Or, E: all of the above.
Blame the fact that my sister, cousins, and I occasionally fell asleep with our
head in bowls of motherfucking fried rice or arroz con pollo because Grandma
didn’t believe in throwing food away and required that we make every. single.
grain. of. rice. disappear…and I am genetically opposed to turning down food.
JC: Or, “it’s a Black thing, you wouldn’t understand”? But who needed sustenance when I had toys? Much like a steady diet of snark and acerbic wit keeps me spry and vibrant today, toys (and Negro spirituals) imbued my broken spirit with hope for a brighter tomorrow. Where a generous portion of Asshole Casserole wouldn’t entail the risk of radiation poisoning. Those toys were my reprieve, my salvation. I was a proponent of the usual suspects: Legos, water guns, remote control Dodge Neons. But there were two realms that nobody on the block could see me in: video games and G.I. Joes. I had helicopters, carrying cases, motorcycles. Beach cruisers, minesweepers. I had the motherfucking Rolling Thunder AND the Defiant Space Shuttle. Does this look like a fucking game to you? I was about that life for real. Kids on the block used to clique up, bring their little piddling army over to the crib, and get laughed out my house. My Storm Shadow alone caught more bodies than a seat belt. Are these problems you really want, nigga? Don’t fuck around, don’t fuck around, don’t fuck around and get smoked. Word to Lil’ Mouse.
AH: Look, famlay. I was the Original Lego Don,
The Rooter and the Tooter
The Alpha And The Omega, from about 1992 until 1996. You didn’t want any
motherfucking problems with me or my homeslice Shaun, my very first friend in
those days when I told time according to the shadow cast by a box of Star Crunches and grilled cheese sammiches
were a form of currency. We built Lego (capital L as a sign of motherfucking
respect, broham) communities. Our Lego people had roles, names, and
backstories. We would occasionally cross storylines by having other toy
characters (Spiderman, Batman, etc.) make cameos, disrupting—momentarily—the
order of things. There were romances and story arcs. And main players who, with
the swapping of a hat, went from policeman to spaceship captain. It was deep.
But once I crossed over into the Jungle of Mongrel Children From Unsavory
Backgrounds (sixth grade), my extracurricular activity of choice shifted to
video games. Well, that, and masturbation. Donkey Kong, Killer Instinct, Super
Mario World, anything. Neighborhood kids would come over and we’d spend hours,
afternoons, weekends trying to outdo one another. If you found a secret door, a
bonus level, or a hidden character, you were The Man on the block. That was
usually me, probably because I had the best eyelashes that everyone else’s Mama
routinely asked to “borrow.” Being exceptional, intellectually and video
gamingly, came at a price: I earned my first enemy after this ditch-mouthed
swampdonkey from two houses down unpaused Goldeneye while I was in the bathroom
and killed me when we were in two-player battle mode. The motherfucking nerve.
I reckon this dearth of character is why one eye was right-aligned while the
other was centered. I suppose it all worked out in the end.
AH: Wait. Remote control Dodge Neons?! I officially feel cheated in life. Carry on.
JC: Since when did Legos have romances and story arcs? Stop perpetuating stereotypes. Jason Collins has carried enough crosses this year. Had we been neighbors, General Hawk would’ve sent the goons over and turned your precious little soap operas into a Rambo prequel. But thankfully, video games are the ties that bind. Before eventually upgrading to Ultimate Electronics, Pops held shit down lovely at this retail chain called Silo. When he wasn’t slangin’ dishwashers and vibrators, he was smuggling home Nintendo cartridges from the J.O. weeks before their release date. Napster ain’t have shit on my Pops. Anytime that nigga came home with a nervous twitch, an elevated disdain for White people and a black plastic bag, I already knew what time it was. Yes, Virginia. There IS a Santa Claus. Pops had that work early and often. Who you think put niggas up on Double Dribble? Who had the Sega Genesis Six Button Arcade Stick with the programmable buttons before that shit even left the factory? My video game library had more titles than the fucking Wu-Tang Clan. Ask Eddie and Shabba, I was a KING.
|[Tolerate] thy sister.|
AH: I didn’t have that luxury. I grew my collection the traditional way: convincing kids with doper games that a few handfuls of toys I was tired of was a great exchange for a handful of their video games. It worked surprisingly well. Video games were important for my sister and I graduating from sworn enemies to People Who Don’t Want to Smother One Another. As a miniature Black person, I would decapitate my sister’s Barbies and find new, inventive ways to basically fuck up all of her shit. FUN. But when I waltzed into her room and saw Lil Mario jump off those bricks and land at the top of that flagpole at the end of the first level of Super Mario Brother?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!! Instant Besties.
JC: See, that’s heartwarming. Really. However, “sister” is far too endearing a term for the woolly mongrel my parents brought home that ill-fated morning oh so long ago. With my despotic reign imperiled by her conception, I channeled my inner Lupe Fiasco and kick pushed her black ass off the bed while my parents were off dousing their jheri curls. Subsequent attempts on her life were thwarted by budget constraints and Darkwing Duck, but we’ve set aside our differences and her leg even grew back. But onto more pressing matters, like MC Hammer. Don’t let revisionist history sell you fruit cake and falsehoods. Hammer was that nigga fifteen times over, yo. That “2 Legit 2 Quit” video was as seminal as skinny Luther’s debut. Complete game changer. I got on that school bus the next morning and every time somebody brought it up they’d start speaking in tongues then fall out from the Holy Ghost.
AH: Ah. Yes. Hammer was unmatched. I used to wonder what type of drug kept him on 234 million percent at all times. Lines of Lawry’s before videos shoots? There was a brief moment in elementary school where not being able to execute the 2 Legit 2 Quit hand jive was social suicide. It was equal to wearing “LA Knights,” aka fake ass LA Lights that had no lights, which were briefly worn by a classmate who later majored in Creative Arrest Techniques with a minor in Life Squandering. On top of wearing those shoes and being ridiculed daily for it, he was unable to do the 2 Legit 2 Quit hand jive which I’m sure was the cause for his parents’ divorce when we were in third grade. Anyhow, watching Hammer in 2014 is like seeing what came of one of the kids who found a home in Rhythm Nation's outreach program for chilluns with ADD who were encouraged to channel their angst into high-energy, militaristic dance routines featuring every Black person they had ever met...AFTER they had all joined the Fruit of Islam.
JC: So yes. All these wondrous moments combined forces and
Captain Planet made me the bourgeois bastion of Bugle Boy Jeans I am today.
Long live French rolls and stone wash, nigga.
AH: If I had to summarize my childhood: rice, Electric Slide, and pushing the boundaries of surliness while avoiding Mom’s judo chop. And grits. Thank the gods of mystery meat that I can see past your years living in a food desert and focus on your less repugnant side.
Read Episode 02: "Posture and Promiscuity"
Read Episode 01: "Fundamentals of Separation Anxiety"
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