On The Run

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Bucket lists are for people who think they can fulfill life’s desires in a finite amount of time. I prefer to call it my lifelong journey. This sounds cliche but at 48 years old I don’t just feel like a man half my age I lead a life of a man half my age in every sense. True, eating right and regular exersize as well as taking time for self play a large role but you also have to rage against society’s enduring factor of ageism.

For the first time in my life I’m at a stage where once people find out my age they look past my youthful looks and treat me like I’m ready to kill over next week–At first glance what I just said sounds vain but you have to understand I’ve dealt with the antithesis of IMG_0190traditional ageism for the majority of my adult life. Being mistaken for a teenager or at the very least being challenged by someone at a grocery store, restaurant or gas station when I ask for a glass of wine or buy a bottle of spirits.

“Oh, I don’t believe you,” until I point at the date on my driver’s license. Strangely it’s cute yet insulting at the same time because what follows, particularly with older people is “Oh you look just like a baby!” That’s neither cute nor flattering.

The point of this blogpost: Strapping down luggage to the back of a motorcycle and trekking aimlessly for thousands of miles to the lowest point of the United States of UnknownAmerica is picking up where I left off previously in my life, not a bucket list item. As my Doctoral instructor once said: “Life happens.”

I had my first motorcycle back in high school. An 18-year-old kid with motorcycle capable of hitting 130mph is not a good combination. I never could resist getting on the interstate after school to race up and down central Alabama at speeds that had my helmet bobbling in the wind and turned automobiles into large metallic blurs. Ironically, I had my first accident while puttering around at a mere 30mph. An elderly man, who shouldn’t have been driving in the first place, executed a left turn in his cab.

30 years later, after aquiring an undergrad, masters degree, marriage, a long career in education, enlistment in the Army National Guard, a subsequent divorce, and experiencing the death of my mom and dad I decided it was time–Time to live for myself again. It’s time to not be concerned with what s81zxiYQAhkLomeone else feels or thinks I should do.

Cruising on a motorcycle is all those things other motorcyclists have bragged about. It’s therapeutic and addictive. It’s freedom. In only a month of ownership I’ve already traveled over 6000 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Key West, Florida and all points in between. 3000 of those miles was spent circling the state of Florida.

Nothing really appealed to me musically until I selected All Out 70’s on Spotify. While gazing at the countryside The Beetles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John and countless others elevated me to another dimension as the miles rolled by. I’m on the run.

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No Honor Among Thieves (Part I)

Image result for shopping mall christmasChristmas shoppers are scattered about the main floor of Rich’s department store like a herd of cats, carrying a multitude of  shopping bags of all sizes, clad with glossy graphics and bold logos from Rich’s and neighboring stores throughout the mall. Red and green ornaments the size of industrial wrecking balls hang from the ceiling throughout the store. Larger than life nutcracker soldiers guard entrance ways and stacks of boxes wrapped like presents accent every corner of the store. In the center of the main floor between the escalators stands a majestic Christmas tree reminiscent of the famous Rockefeller Plaza tree bulging with with presents, toys, ornaments, candy canes and angels. Dean Martin’s “Let it Snow” softly croons from the P.A. system on every level.  

At the fragrance counter stands a blonde socialite wearing a double breasted leather coat, burgundy blouse, designer jeans and black equestrian boots sampling a swab of Casmir. A fragrance specialist dressed in a white lab coat, green turtleneck and black slacks anxiously lines up more perfumes on the glass countertop before her glamorous customer.  A gorgeous, curvaceous, caramel complexioned sister in her 30’s with thick, curly black hair meticulously inspects her royal purple Donna Karan dress as she poses in front of a 3-way mirror in the Young Misses Apparel.

On the ground floor a frail, liver spot-encrusted guy dressed like a country club mainstay test drives a king-sized mattress in the bedding department, and a Fine China sales associate shows off her finest crystal to a young buppie couple in housewares. In Men’s Apparel the tailor, a debonaire brother, tugs at the inseam and sleeve length of a his customer’s new suit while standing in front of a full length mirror.

As a plain clothes, loss prevention detective one can’t simply walk a beat like a uniformed mall security guard or you’ll stick out like a sore thumb to thieves who are watching you just as closely as you’re scanning for them. Dressing like an off duty cop or a military veteran on leave is also an easy giveaway as tactical fashion gear gives the hint that you’re five-o. My choice of what I like to call retail camouflage is my favorite beat up brown leather jacket, brown hiking boots, ripped, faded jeans and a black t-shirt. Nothing says shopper like a dude with a retro 80’s look.

Surfing through Emporio Armani dress shirts, and Canali suits that will never be anywhere near on sale provides a perfect cover me to hide in plain site from any would-Image result for rich's department store shopping bagsbe unsuspecting shoplifters, but down here on this middle class-crushing world called the United States, making mental pictures of these ridiculously priced threads only serves to help me find similar, more affordable brands at TJ Max on pay day. “Trone, call on line one.” Vicki, one of the seasonal sales associates manning a nearby point of sale inconspicuously motions me over to her register with the phone receiver. Being called to the phone while on the floor is never a good sign. “Keep an eye out, my man,” Kimetria says over the phone. “Frank just called from the Galleria location. The Nautica chicks just hit them.” 

Kimetria is my eyes in the sky that works behind the scenes from a remote spot we 192692_873036924845_432197_45954435_1167892_oaffectionately call The Bat Cave—-A small office hidden deep in the bowels of the store. She spins strategically placed 360 degree zoom lens cameras mounted behind smoked glass, and globe-shaped domes located all over the store. The Bat Cave is a small, DEFCON 1 kind of space dimly lit in an amber hue as not to create a glare on the monitors. The walls are clad with a series of monitors of all shapes and sizes that reveal dozens of different angles and viewpoints throughout the store. Two of the largest monitors serve as the main feed where fraudulent transactions and shoplifters are recorded in the act of carrying out the crimes they’ll incessantly deny until the tape shows otherwise. 

January-2014Kimetria, better known as “Trinie Trie” is my ride or die chick——A streetwise, comical, pragmatic kind of sister with a personality that’s a cross between Stony from “Set it Off” and Josie from “Love Jones.” She’s easy on the eyes but we’ve been cool since college when we were art majors burning the midnight oil in the studio knocking out graphic design projects.

“Yeah, I kinda suspected they would be going on another spree before the Christmas rush cleans out anything worth buying.” I said to her.“These chicks ain’t no joke,” Kimetria says. “Frank said he had eyes on them the whole time but they were so quick they grabbed an armful of baby clothes, ran out the door into a blue Impala, and got halfway out the parking lot before he could get to them.” This is what happens when we’re spread too thin yet a store detective is still expected to handle over 2 million square feet of property single-handedly. 

With stores having easy access points that are hard to cover and working double shifts, and constantly being at the ready to work random hits makes this job damn near impossible. Still, it’s more exciting and fulfilling than wearing a mall cop uniform and mindlessly patrolling around with no real authority. At least here we have the power to apprehend shoplifters, charge them, and interact with law enforcement.

This gig will be a distant memory, though, when I finally get to move down to Palm Beach and start teaching in the fall. A perfect opportunity to reinvent myself and start a new life instead of living under the shadow of the Bender family name in this small town environment that is Birmingham, Alabama where the national pastime is live a vacuous existence in the same tired, simple-minded, capricious social circles.  

“I’ll be back up in the office in a minute to relieve you.” I tell Kimetria before hanging up. “Yeah that’s cool,” she says. “I need to check the ladies fitting rooms anyway to make sure there aren’t any stashes waiting to be picked up.” She says. 

One of many shoplifter’s favorite moves is to stash merchandise in strategic spots out of camera view, so they can double back later when they think the coast is clear. Some are even bold enough to walk in a dressing room with an armful of clothes and walk out empty handed. Either the clothes are in the dressing room or they’re wearing the merchandise on under their own clothes.

Time to slide by Belinda’s register up in women’s formal wear. Her smile, with those luscious, thick lips that she keeps glossed are like a hot, glazed Krispie Kreme doughnut. Those lips alone will put steam in any man’s  stride. Just a week ago, I strategically positioned myself right outside of the orientation room and introduced myself to her as she walked out with a crowd of newly hired sales associates. Now we’re taking our lunch breaks together in the food court like a couple, which is weird since I’ve never bothered to engage her beyond the mall. But tonight that is all about to change.

Something about chicks like her, though. So beautiful and flawless they look out of Sexy-Gym-Outfits-For-Black-Women-21place like an in a crowd of average females. Women like her could be anywhere like on the cover of Vogue, a magazine ad or a T.V. commercial but they’re mixed up right amongst the plain Janes working mundane retail and fast food jobs. Something intriguing yet simplistic about them. Is she just a pretty face or is she quietly working a plan to become a budding actress or an R&B singer? 

Walking up beside her I can get a wonderful unobstructed view of her Player’s club body from behind the counter. An olympic goddess hairdo with porcelain smooth, caramel skin, hazel eyes, thick eyebrows, dimples like a 1 month old baby, perfect softball-sized breasts, a tiny, almost cartoonish waist, and a booty shaped like a Harley Davidson gas tank, finished off with muscular 100 meter dash, track star thighs and tiny feet. All of this delectable perfection accentuated by a 100% cotton, form-fitting brown with tan stripes, two piece tracksuit. Just as she finishes bagging up her customer’s purchase she flashes a smile that could melt a stick of butter straight from the refrigerator.

She notices me out of her peripheral as her customer leaves. “Hey Trone, what’s up?” She says as we make eye contact. All is right with the world, a warm sensation takes over my body as I close in to take in her intoxicating perfume. “Hey man, how’s the detective life going?” Traci, Belinda’s co-worker and confidante bounds up to the counter with an arm-full of unfolded clothes. She’s an attractive, happy-go-lucky sister with a cool disposition. She’s actually down with our union instead of being one of those bitter, tag-a-long, third wheel types that like to get in between a good thing out of spite.

“Sup, Traci, how’s it going?” I say. All the while Belinda maintains eye contact glancing at Traci for a moment to look at her mountain of clothes. “Nothing much brother. Just getting ready to fold these clothes so, I can clock out on time for once.” Traci glances at Belinda and gives her a smile. “So, where are you two going tonight?” Traci says.

“Gurl where do you think you’re going?” Belinda says with a cute little smirk. “You know we’re starting another one of them everything must go sales tonight.” Traci’s jaw drops as she completely forgot the store is having a three day weekend sale to get rid of the extra inventory they built up for the Christmas holidays. “Awww damn! That’s right!” She says with total shock.

“You know Club H2O will be jamming tonight,” I wittingly hinted. It would be the perfect scene for us to get away from shop talk and actually get into deeper conversation. “Your man is picking you up from work isn’t he? We could all go together.” I suggested to Traci, hinting at the idea that we could double date and have the time of our lives. “Yeah! That would be cool!” Traci says. 

I glanced back at Belinda to read her reaction. “What do you think? You down?” I asked her with the most charming smile I could bestow. “Oh yeah, I haven’t been to H2O yet,” she said with an agreeing smile. “I heard their buffet is the bomb!” She says. Traci breaks out in a little jig dance to celebrate the coming get down. Belinda gives a sexy little chuckle as she looks at me to see my reaction to Traci’s celebratory jam. “You so crazy!” says through her sexy little chuckle.

“Back to the grind. I’ll see you ladies later.” I said as I walked away back toward the Bat-Cave. They both chimed in with an “Okay,” and started folding shirts and pants. As I walked down the center isle I spotted a shady dude out of my peripheral on the other end of women’s apparel with a dress wrapped over his shoulder. I quickly cut a right turn into a sea of dresses pretending not to notice him. As soon as I’m out of his sight I slipped around the opposing isle and zigzagged  through the handbags where I could position myself to be standing just out of his view to his left. 

My heart is racing as maintained a laser lock on this dude to check him out. He’s a 2017-04-0512.35.15wiry, light-skinned dude in his late teens, early 20’s dressed like a small-time, wannbe rapper in a baggy Fubu gear and tan Timberline work boots. This does not look like the kind of guy that would be out shopping for his girl let alone date a chick that would wear the kind of clothes he’s holding.

Grace in the Wilderness.

Grace In The Wilderness by Scott Riley, Hasha Riley & Libra RileyGrace in the Wilderness is a memoir written by Scott Riley and co-authored by his daughters Hasha and Libra Riley, and  has been defined as a spectrum of  raw emotions that explores the gritty yet heartwarming peaks and valleys in the 30-year long endeavor of Scott Riley as he fights his way through the landscape of Vietnam in the U.S. Army, the relationship he developed with his estranged daughters, and his fight to overcome drug addiction: “A family’s story of love, loss and redemption.”

Scott Riley’s vivid, colorful, striking, dark and gritty narrative transports you back  to the 1960’s in the jungles of Vietnam where you’re pinned down with his fire team during the monsoon season fighting to the last man as the enemy closed in.  An African American soldier in the U.S. Army, Riley goes AWOL and etches out a life with his Asian wife, Ba in the streets of the coastal city of Qui Nho’n  while being hunted by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (C.I.D.), local Vietnamese law enforcement and rival criminals, which evokes the allegorical, surreal spirit of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic film Apocolypse Now.

The tumultuous ride of Scott’s marriage, drowning in an addiction to Opium, engaging the criminal elements of Vietnam alone in a diminished capacity, being captured and locked up by C.I.D. in a dark, decrepit box and being subjected to subhuman standards compells one  to periodically perform a gutt check and ask:  Could this have actually happened?  To say that the narrative arc of Riley’s time in Vietnam is certainly a fantastic read is a bold understatement to say the least, and worthy of being adapted into an independent film.

With that being said, one is also forced to ask another question: What the hell is so different about Scott Riley’s wartime narrative that hasn’t already been explored in the plethora of war films that preceded his story? The difference is most if not all previous wartime films  have always had a central character, the protagonist, who was a white, well seasoned, high-ranking, highly decorated officer or NCO hailing from Special Forces or Rangers that is comfortable operating independently behind enemy lines. Scott Riley, better known as “Scotty” was simply a young infantry soldier that enlisted in the U.S. Army and descended into the dark jungles of Vietnam where he was transformed from an artistic, introverted teenager from the suburbs of New York to a cold, calculating, heartless killing machine.

Riley faced insurmountable odds armed with nothing but raw instinct, and a stolen 45 caliber pistol as he operated with a level of sophistication more indicative of a highly trained CIA Image result for scott riley hasha rileyagent or British Secret Service operative rather than an Army private who regretted his decision to enlist and wanted to escape by any means necessary. The crowning jewel: This is a true story.

That isn’t to say that his endeavor to fight his addiction to drugs and develop a relationship with his then estranged daughters Hasha and Libra isn’t movie worthy. Their story as well as the story of his family is definitely one that needed to be told. I could easily relate to the pain of abandonment Hasha and Libra experienced yet strived to hold on to the hope that they could one day live a life of happiness as a family with their father, Scott.

In a day and age where prevailing black films seem to be limited to slap stick comedies and inner city drama the possibility of  an adaptation of Grace in the Wilderness will take black cinema in an entirely different direction.

 

International Lover

Sonny 1Fall semester 1992 — “I don’t just love you, I’m in love with you.” Avanti said with resolute tenderness and vulnerability as she held my calloused hand like a frail baby bird, softly kissing my fingertips one at a time, her eyes hidden behind her long, Obsidian mane. The atmosphere around us in the common area of her co-ed dorm room momentarily ceased as if we were trapped in suspended animation. 

Shai quietly crooned If I Ever Fall In Love on 92.9 WTUG’s Quiet Storm from the clock radio atop the bookcase. I was helplessly drowning in a fuchsia haze of warmth and fuzziness, suddenly inhaling the selfless act of this enchanted princess laying her soul on the line and confessing her love. The overwhelming complexity of emotions flooding every synaptic nerve in my brain threatened to shut down all thought as I fought in my mind to reach the surface of the haze. I’m instantaneously falling in love with no notion of how to process the moment.  

I was raised in a strict, traditional, two parent, southern household where love was more so expressed through acts of being protected and provided for rather than the physical expression of it all. By the time I reached my High School years my family was in such turmoil with the divorce that school was more of an escape than a place to prepare for my future. 

In hindsight, Of the 25 years they were married I experienced the last 13 of those years witnessing the dysfunctional behavior of the gross lack of the expression of love and affection and other healthy interactions that would help a growing adolescent develop more meaningful relationships with people outside of a home setting. 

My two older sisters, Jenna and Janelle, having witnessed the the greater part of the descent of mom and dad’s marriage added insult to injury with the violent, adversarial behavior they displayed whenever they came home from college to visit for the holidays.

With that being said, the fear of dating as a teen and experiencing the same pain myShai parents endured was too much to bare. Class clowning compounded with fighting and needless risk-taking with cars and motorcycles throughout public school was my coping mechanism. Now, here I am at 21 and faced with trying figure out how to make up for a nonexistent experience with the opposite sex in 5 minutes.

Avanti’s hair draped down the sides of her face, down her body to her waist like the train of Maleficent’s dress. A bright sheen danced around her hair as she moved her head. Her smooth, mocha legs begin where tattered and torn jean shorts end. Her tiny feet with snow white socks are pressed close to each other and perched on the coffee table. A honey and cucumber fragrance intermingled perfectly with her natural scent creating an intoxicating effect that taunted and tantalized my senses. 

“I’m in love with you too.” I replied as if my lips were on automatic pilot. Where did that come from? I thought to myself. Do I actually feel that way or is this just a nervous reaction that occurred out of the fear of hurting her feelings? No—This feels right. I’m actually in love this girl.

She pulled her hair out of her face and gazed those mystical black pearls at me with stern conviction revealed everything that needed to be said to my reciprocation of her love. Her boundless black pearls locked on my dilated pupils for what seemed like a moment yet my heart melted like homemade ice-cream at a picnic on a hot summer day. 

I could almost feel the oozing flesh and blood of my heart slowly streaming down my internal organs all the way down to my feet when she perked her lips, and leaned into me, her black pearls disappearing behind her eyelids. I met her lips with mine and we created the deepest connection I have ever experienced in my life. 

Instantaneously, my heart solidifies and pumps with a purpose like taking a group run before Rugby practice. Her lips felt like clouds of cotton candy that seemed to dissolve to the touch. Her tongue danced around in my mouth like an angry serpent attacking an unsuspecting prey. I responded with my own serpentine fire and dueled with her for what seemed like an eternity. I glided my hand down her leg, grappled my hand behind her knees and carried her legs over my quadriceps. She released a soothing whimper as I slid my hand slowly up her thigh, and under her tattered jean shorts. 

She slowly caressed my chest in an infinity pattern sliding her fingertips along the contour of my firm pectorals. Just as quickly as we began kissing she pressed her hand against my chest signaling to stop. She gently pushed away with a sigh and struggles to regain her composure as if she were trying to fight off the effects of a potent elixir. 

I was relieved as I could no longer hide the bulge in my jeans. The urge was there but this is the wrong time and the wrong place to go any further. As our flow subsided we sat there on the couch still intertwined and entranced in each other’s energy. 

The front door swung open noisily, rustling grocery bags and voices bursting our semipermeable bubble causing time  to march forward again. “Gurl we need to find a better way to carry all these bags up here.” Said Kimetria as she struggled through the door with an arm full of Food Giant bags. 

“I know, gurl,” Kimetria’s other roommate, Sonja responded as she is smaller and struggled a step behind Kim with greater effort to control her bags. “We need to get one of them wire carts like what big mama had when she——“ 

Both Kim and Sonja froze mid-step while still in the doorway like they had both been tapped to play a game of Simon says. For a split second a look of surprise overcomes them like in an episode of I Love Lucy where Ethel and Lucy are caught in one of their slap stick comedy schemes. 

“Oooooooooh! what y’all doin?” Sonja coyly says maintaining her comical look of surprise. “Wooooweeee, gurl!” Kimetria says in unison with Sonja as she also maintains her comical expression. “Gurl stop,” Avanti quickly quips with her own comical sistergirl flow. “We just chillin’.” She said with her still-fresh-off-the-boat Singhalese accent.

Kimetria and Sonja snapped out of their comedy act and scurried to the kitchen to drop their bags.“Oh yeah, Kimetria did you bring that flyer you was talking about?” I asked as my mind landed back in the land of reality. “Oh yeah it’s on my nightstand.” She says. She goes to her bedroom and returns with a flyer for the Statewide Jam, a block party-like event that caters to the black student population. 

A number of up and coming local rappers and other musical talent are slated to perform as opening acts on campus in the quad with someone called Biggie Smalls as the headliner. 

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“Okay, so, like we was talking about earlier, I need you to utilize your expertise to jazz up this flyer,” Kim stated as she gestured with her hands how she wanted the flyer to look. “We need some kind of logo that would capture the attention of black students as well as promote the different kinds of activities that will be going on.” The wheels turn in my head even as she describes what she thinks the flyer should look.

“Got it,” I replied. “I already have an idea of what it’s going to look like.” By now it’s getting late. I have a project I have to finish for my graphic design class and a paper for my British lit class due tomorrow and it’s already 9:30. As she hands me the flyer I stand signaling my leave. 

“Well, sister, looks like I’m going to have to pull another all-nighter at the art department.” Avanti walks over to the door to see me out. “Well, boi, you know I understand, I understand,” Kim says in her homegirl tone. “I got some work to knock out myself. See you next week at the International Student Association meeting?” Pass up an opportunity to meet people from around the world in one place? Not going to miss it for the world. “Sure, I’ll be there.” I reply as I walk toward the front door. 

 

“See you later, Trone!” Sonja yells from her bedroom. “Later!” I tell her. Kim senses it’s time for an abrupt exit from the room as Avanti gives her that girl-to-girl glare. “Well, my biology paper ain’t going to write itself! I’ll see you in class Thursday boi!” Kim says as she retreats to her bedroom. 

Avanti embraced me like there was no tomorrow, resting her head on my chest to feel my heartbeat. I returned her embrace, kissing her on her forehead. “What are you doing Friday?” I whispered to her. 

She looked up at me like I was the only human being on earth. “My Geology class is over at 4:00.” She steps up on my hiking boots like a 5-year-old, and I started grinning ear to ear. I began a little father daughter like dance, and she playfully road along with the cutest little smile. 

“My Ceramics class is over at 2:30. Would you like to come over?” I asked her. “We could rent some movies from Blockbuster and pop popcorn the old fashioned way over the stove.” I tell her while massaging her back. “Sure.” She says without looking up, still feeling the pulse of my heart.

Two figures move from around the corner in my peripheral. As I turned to see the movement Avanti felt me turning and turns her head in the same direction. “Ooooooooooh hee, hee, hee, hee!!!” Sonja and Kimetria duck out of sight giggling and cackling like two middle school girls at a sleep over.

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“They are so silly.” Avanti whispered as she lays her head back on my chest. She opened the door and I slipped into the hallway. I turned to face her to see that she has closed the door to just a crack wide enough to see the somber look on her face. “Bye Trone.” she said in the sweetest, softest tone. I walked back up to the door to kiss her through the slightly cracked door one last time. 

“See you Friday.” I said, feeling a slight heartache even at the slightest notion of our separation. As I walked down the hallway toward the elevator I took one last look back at the door to see it still cracked open, only darkened by her silhouette. Just as I approached the elevator it opens right on cue, coeds exit caught up in conversation. I backed into the the elevator looking to see her door still open as the elevator closed shut.