These non-fiction stories are written to document
specific experiences relevant to my work.
A Mello Night | August 2014 | James Island, SC
It’s about 6:30pm as I veer onto a narrow stretch of road lined with low country charm: aged homes, mammoth live Oak trees, and unleashed dogs. I can barely see the road as the sunset pierces through my windshield but I continue deeper into the island, propelling a trail of dust behind me.
I received news earlier in the day that Mello Deas was having an outdoor performance at Mosquito Beach and a good friend Black Diamond was singing back-up. During my high-school years Mosquito Beach was infamous for frequent shoot-outs and football-team sized brawls. It’s also known to have "only one way in and one way out”; a dicey hallmark one needed to know during those trigger-happy weekends. But, because it’s Sunday I’ll pray there will be more God-fearing island folk than there are gun-toting gangsters.
With a few miles behind me I roll up to the legendary hangout. As I turn into the grassy and partially paved cove I’m greeted by a boundless marsh and quickly realize that Mosquito Beach is no beach at all. It’s merely a hidden glade no bigger than a gas station parking lot resting on the edge of James Island. To my left sits an old wood-sided house with a red roof. It’s being consumed by overgrown trees and untamed grass. An old dog lies peacefully on the porch. Directly in front of me sits the huge expanse of salt marsh and snaking inner coastal waterway that shimmers bright oranges and pinks from the setting sun. It’s receding tide exposes rich pluff mud and small fiddler crabs scurrying over it’s sticky surface. And to my right the party is in full swing. I quickly claim an eroded area of grass, park my car, and make my way toward the crowd.
I’m gathering my barrings and identifying any quick and unconventional exits if the occasion requires. The old wooden club that once posted a small sign stating “Gun & I.D. Check” is closed at the moment. There’s just a few guys sitting on the porch and cracking a few beers. I approach the official entrance to the performance and I’m greeted by an older gentlemen standing behind a blue saw horse. It’s probably a barricade left from the last police raid. He says, “Hey how’s it going tonight. There’s a five dollar cover.” I came without cash. I wave Black Diamond over and ask for a few bucks that I promise to pay back in the form of liquor we’ll probably chug at Voodoo Bar back in the city. She then signals to the star of the show, Mello Deas, who reaches in his pocket for a few bucks. “This is a clear way to support your friends; attend their show and ask them to pay for your entry.” I say to Mello. But all is well and I’m granted access to the main stage.
On the edge of the marsh, under a white fluorescent street lamp and towering oak trees sits the five piece band warming up the crowd before the singers step out. They’re playing some old school crowd pleasers on a stage barely large enough to hold them all. The bass player sits on a small black stool with his red and white Nikes propped on it’s metal frame. He’s plucking the stiff strings of the guitar as if they’re too hot to touch, jerking his body back and forth, and tightening his face as if the sourness of the marsh encroached his nose. The percussionist and drummer are rocking out behind him. The drummer’s dreads whip wildly as he twirls his sticks in the air and slams them back down into the drums. The band segues into Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On. A group of ladies sitting in front of the stage begin rolling their shoulders in sync to the commanding sound of the whining electric guitar. One lady rises out of her old pink and white lawn chair; rolls her hips and twirls her hands around her taut afro-puff. Her girlfriends encourage her to make it sexy, “Woo girl! Go head now. Ugh. That’s right.” These ladies are Super Fly. Outstanding.
There are funkadelics all over tonight. Many are sitting in the old bar to my right groovin’ to a spinning vinyl of Freddie’s Dead. I need to see whats happening in the old shack. As I walk toward the bar I pass a gentlemen sitting is his Cadillac with a diamond in the back, sunroof top; he’s diggin the scene with a gansta lean. His tires are shining as bright as his gold chains and gold rings. I weave through the crowd and onto the wraparound porch. I give a few nods to the ole playas and give a few genteel smiles to the fine foxes dressed in their finest patent leather pumps. The screened door to the bar swings open and I exchange places with a man exiting. The bar is very dim with the only light coming from an old television mounted in a corner and a few amber lights glowing from behind the cascading bottles of liquor. “Whats up man? How can I help you?”, the bartender asks me. I reply “Do you accept card?” “Cash only in here playa. Cash only.” “All good. No worries” I reply. I make my way back outside and down the steps of the porch. Even more people have gathered around the stage since I stepped away.
I walk over to some friends who are waiting for the performance to begin. They’re passing around the last remaining cloth of mosquito repellent. I jump in the rotation and begin wiping my arms and neck hoping the cloth isn’t diminished before I’m sufficiently covered.
Soon after, Mello Deas steps from behind the stage and under the flickering street lamp to greet the crowd, “How’s everyone doing tonight? Are y’all ready to have a good time! We’re about to get started with the show.” The ladies in the front row get out of their lawn chairs as if they’re about to throw their panties at the soul singer but they just let out a few approving shrieks. The crowd on the porch also responds with a communal cheer.
“Who’s been experiencing some of this Summer Rain!”, he asks the crowd. Cheering confirms the their familiarity with his first hit single released earlier in the summer. Mello Deas directs the crowd with the first verse, “Snap your fingers like this eh. Listen.” The keyboardist chimes in and the show begins. For the next thirty or so minutes Mr. Romantic has the crowd Satisfied and Spell Bound and it’s clear by the looks of the gaunt gentlemen dancing haphazardly next to the stage. I’m not the only person who notices his bizarre yet creative dance moves. The the street lamp is shining directly on him. Mello Deas’ upbeat sound and the the man’s shimmering silver flask full of clear spirits has transformed his world. “Get it now.”, my friend shouts. The man flails his arms to the beat of the drums for a few seconds then dives into a shimmy with the keyboard; then he pops back up and steps forward in one direction and back in another. His moves are briefly suspended as he throws his head back for another swig of vodka and after burning his esophagus quickly jumps back into a woozy two-step. Another gentlemen decides to “turn it up”. “Come here woman,” He shouts. While clenching his bent knees he shakes his tail feathers all over the woman. He performs his censored strip tease for a few minutes before being playfully pushed away by her girlfriends.
I’m scanning the rest of the crowd, which has grown to a couple hundred, looking for further talent and see my friend Monty approaching me. “Yo what’s up Monty?” He replies, “Man I’ve never been out here. I was scared to get out of my car man. Them boy might rob me man. I parked by the entrance. I’m not gettin’ stuck back here.” I’m laughing only because I had a similar feeling for a few seconds when I first pulled into my patch of grass. “Boy this is some countryness. Where are the drinks? Do you want a drink? Yeah, let’s get a drink.” We make our way back into the bar. I’m not sure what kind of drink to get so we order an easy fix. “Can I have two cranberry and vodkas?”, Monty asks the bartender. Once out of the dim bar we can see that our drinks are more vodka than cranberry. I usually don’t complain but there was no cranberry at all. I turn to Monty, “This is the stuff that has the guy in the corner dancing like a few of those fiddler crabs crawled into his pants.”
Mello Deas takes a quick pause to ask the crowd how they’re feeling on this beautiful summer night. His loyal front runners deliver another approving scream.
New characters continue to walk in. Don Cornelius would be exalted by all the retro sixties fashion gracing Mosquito Beach this evening. Closer to the bar stands a woman wearing a one-piece neon green jumper-suit and sequin heals. Her afro roams free. There’s an abundance of square-toed crocodile skinned dress shoes clawing the pavement and a enough wide-legged dress pants to build a mosquito free gazebo.
Monty taps me on the shoulder, “Do you see what this guy is wearing?” I look over my shoulder and behind us stands a man wearing a long sleeved leopard print shirt covered in frills. “Yes I see it. But do I believe it?” Mello Deas breaks into a cover of Timberlake. “I can’t wait to get you on the floor good lookin’!” Out of nowhere appears a short and slightly corpulent women smiling and stepping forward in full stride. She bends over and shakes it fast. I’m amused and slightly uncomfortable. She’s jabbers something as she dances but the absence of front teeth muddles her speech. “Y’all ain ready. I’ma-tur-th-thin out.” The crowd cheers. She’s trampling all over the place laughing and grinning letting her pearly gums glow. She bends over again throws her loose brown-faded shirt high upon her back so it’s certain that everyone sees her money maker. The band breaks into Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke and Mello Deas shouts, “What rhymes with hug me? Hey Hey Hey.” She responds with a thrust of her pelvis and throws her large unsupported breast around at full speed. Once they stop they nearly scrape the pavement. Monty has his hands over his mouth in disbelief. My appetite for the free barbecue is being devoured by her lip-smacking moves. She’s moving in and out of the crowd, stopping every few feet to show us her signature rump shaker. Luckily the Wobble Dance is taking shape and pushing her toward the marsh where she can join the fella flailing his arms under the street lamp.
The line for the free barbecued chicken, potato salad, and hamburgers has formed and Mello Deas announces the last song of the night. The snare begins tapping and the back up singers belt the hook, “Rock You. Til’ the morning time.” Mello chimes in, “Don’t stop the clock. Let’s keep in goin’ baby.”
With my fingers covered in barbecue sauce Monty asks what everyone is doing after the performance. After wiping barbecue sauce off of my face I respond, “We’re going to Voodoo. Do you want to come? Yeah. Are you leaving now? Yeah. Right after this song. Where’d you park Monty asks. After explaining that I parked in a similar area next to the entrance he requests that I walk with him to his car. “They might rob me man.” I laugh at his comedic yet serious request to escort him to his car. He’s clearly aware of the beach’s lawless reputation.
The back up singers belt one last harmony and the band increases the noise for the grand finale. The crowd begins cheering as Mello Deas thanks the audience for rockin’ with him on this beautiful summer evening. Monty and I make our way toward the cars under a protective umbrella and steel toed boots in fear of encountering dripping Jerry Curls and squared-toe gators. As we veer back onto the two lane stretch I realize the only gangsta we faced tonight possessed nothing but a diamond in the back and a sunroof top, and the biggest threat we faced were some flailing arms and a toothless fly girl.
It was a Mello night.
Off the Hook | August 2013 | Brooklyn, NY
I was stepping onto the subway platform when the bell sounded and the doors of the car sealed shut. I rested my forehead on the door in defeat as the train slowly disappeared into the dark tunnel. Not more than a second later my attention was diverted by a tall slender man to my left. “Jesus!” he yelled repeatedly. It was just the usual derailed individual shouting obnoxiously throughout the subway tunnel. I wasn’t sure why. No one usually knows why. You just increase the volume on your headphones and wait for the next speck of light to emerge from the sunless tunnel.
He abruptly shouted again, “Can anyone tell me if there is a pay phone anywhere along this track!” Again, no one responded, at least not verbally. Commuters were giving him looks of repulsion and irritation. In defense of my fellow commuters, loud-mouthed requests from flustered strangers are enough to contest anyone’s altruistic nature. It certainly tested mine.
The man shouted again, “So no one wants to help me out?” It there no one who wants to help me out? No one helps anyone anymore. People don’t help people anymore.”
Again, no one responded to his requests. His confident strut began to slow and wilt.. He continued walking down the subway platform.
“I just want to call my girlfriend. I need to call my girlfriend! Can anyonetell me if there is a pay phone anywhere in this facility I can use? Back in the seventies pay phones used to be ten cents. Now they’re fifty cents and if you do find one it might not even work,’’ he ranted.” I can’t call anyone unless I have an iPhone. An iPhone. Everybody has an iPhone.”
Those with an iPhone slowly turned their head away hoping to evade eye-contact while others discreetly slid their iPhone into their pocket. It seemed that the only hope for this man was a group of MTA employees dressed in their navy blue uniforms, also waiting for the next Manhattan bound train. As soon as he spotted the them his intoxicated strut reblossomed. He bopped down the platform, his ravaged red leather jacket and lanky arms swinging in tandem, his short manicured afro securely atop his head. I’ve never seen someone so cool and so aggravated at the same damn time.
He interrupted the MTA’s conversation, “Excuse me gentlemen. Is there a pay phone in this facility I can use to call muh girl man? No one else seems to know or give uh damn.. “Look. There’s got to be something somewhere in the place.’’
The three men looked at him in bewilderment. The short chubby employee looked through his safety glasses, securing his tool bag
on his shoulder.,
“Uhhhh. Shhhh,’’ he said gingerly.”There may be one outside. Shhh. I don’t man.”
“Come on!’’ the man yelled“ You mean to tell me there ain’t a phone around here? See y’all know what. Damn man.”
He walked away from the MTA employees flailing his arms and yelling for the fences. “A pay phone people!”
He ran into a young man carrying his book bag and almost knocked it off of his shoulders. The man turned around in disbelief, looking for some kind of apology or acknowledgement but old slim kept on struttin’. He didn’t look back for a second. I was wondering when the train would arrive. And luckily enough, deep into the tunnel shined a speck of light. The train pulled up to the platform and came to a screeching halt. I walked into the car and grabbed a seat. As I waited for the train to pull out, I saw a few people racing frantically down the stairs But sure enough as soon as their feet touched the platform the bell rang and the train doors closed in their faces. I could see their defeated expressions as they waited in the cold. There was nothing I could do. I relaxed in my
seat and pulled out my headphones and iPhone. The train began moving down the track and before it disappeared into the dark tunnel, I got one last glimpse of the old man flailing his arms and yelling at stranded commuters. , “Does anyone know if there’s a pay phone anywhere in this facility!”
Friday Best | October 2012 | North Charleston, SC
Poised on the back wall, my arms folded and my face cold, I watch
over a crowd of several hundred teenagers droppin’ it low and
throwing their hands high to THE best of Southern Rap.
Every Friday, the National Guard Armory at Cross County Road
in Charleston, SC host Teen Night. This party brings out Charleston’s
youngest and most opulent. Brightly colored weaves, shiny gold
chains and gold grills stack the entry line and candy painted Crown
Victorias and sparkling rims flood the parking lot. There is nothing
more grand happening anywhere else in the city.
So there I stand, soaking up the decadence. During the party,
l always wait for that one song that will set the already raging
crowd ablaze. And midway through the night, it strikes. A sharp
tapping snare, piercing synth and heavy bass shoots from the
speakers. It’s Gold Grill by the legendary UGK. Everyone
wearing a gold grill, one tooth or all thirty-two, follows Pimp C’s
command “Show ya golds if ya bold” - brows begin to converge
and lips uncouple, revealing diamond cuts and opened faces.
As all the gold grills glisten in the dark warehouse I wonder
who is actually “bold”, bold enough to set it off. But before I can
wrestle with the thought, boldness strikes and the invariable
brawl brakes out. The music comes to a halt and the crowd is
directed into the parking lot where chaos continues.
In the parking lot, girls and guys are swinging for the fences.
Shiny gold chains that rested placidly on the chest of all the revelers
just an hour before now fly aimlessly through the air. Purple and
green weaves are being uprooted from scalps and shirts ripped
from bodies. But as soon as Five-O rolls into the parking lot
with their sirens belting and their lights flashing the crowd scatters.
I hop in my car and head home unsure of how to digest all that
just happened. I don’t know whether to celebrate the splendor
or criticize the buffoonery.
Signed Sealed and Agitated | February 2013 | Brooklyn, NY
It’s midday in the post office. I didn’t expect there to be this many
people waiting in line. I forgot that its one o’clock. But I’m in Crown Heights
and I assumed it wouldn’t be as busy as a Manhattan location. This is a
small post office. There are only five windows. Two agents are manning
this operation; understaffed as usual. The manager keeps walking in and
out of his office to check on the activity stirring up. If I didn’t wait until the
last minute and didn’t need to ship my rent check “next day” I could have
avoided this place. But I guess I’ll just chill out, fold my arms, and watch
the entertainment unfold. “Mannn this lady been talkin for hours, just talkin.”
the short woman in front of me blurts out. She’s talking about the old
black woman at window number five. She’s down there leaning comfortably
on the counter. She isn’t that fly to have everyone waiting in line. Her
leopard printed hat and matching vest awards her ten additional minutes
not sixty. But she lost those ten minutes when I got down to the brown
valor pants and those turned-over all black air max. Who knows what she’s
jabbering about? There were about seven people in line when I arrived and
now it has grown to about fifteen people. I don’t think she’s even looked
over here once. Those auto transition glasses she has on are still dark.
Maybe that’s the problem. She can’t see clearly. But I know she hears the
comments from this unforgiving Apollo crowd in the line.
My attention shifts quickly to window number 1. “Excuse me mam! Excuse me!”
I don’t know what happened to tick this lady off but she’s letting the agent
behind that thick glass have it. “You need to learn to address people a little
more better’er!” Real feelings know no grammar. I love when conversations
escalate as if no one else is in the room. Shameless. Her neck is bobbing
and her wrists are whippin’. In a soft but direct tone, the agent responds,
“You have a blessed day.” What a nice way to diffuse the situation. But the
woman isn’t having that. Now she looks like the asshole. So she responds,
“You too! YUH NEED IT!” She whips her stroller around and peels out the
door with her kid. “She’s a frickin idiot”, she says before exiting. But back
over at window five the cheetah girl is still chattin’ it up. She isn’t doing
anything else but gossiping about someone’s grandbaby or someone’s aliment.
“Youknow Marcus, Marcus Willow. Yeah he had uh stroke few days back.”
Hurry your ass up. I’m thinking this but not saying it. I can only speak for
myself though. The woman behind me is restless and very vocal. “Man it’s
lunch time too. Y’all got tuh come on man.” I want to laugh but I can’t.
My grin is huge and my head is down. Homeboy with the navy blue
Rocawear sweat suit and black Air Force 1’s, about three people behind her,
isn’t happy either. He says aloud, “See that’s people damn problem. They
comin’ up in here with these stories. This ain’t no damn psychiatrist.
Y’all comin’ up in here and wanna talk about all yuh problems. Shhheee.
Boooyy yall got tuh come on.”
The woman to directly behind me throws in another one of her comments,
“Man It’s gettin’ hot up in here too.” The guy in the Rocawear starts
again, “Man see yall could do some of this on yuh own.” He also seems
to be aware of the challenges the USPS faces and let’s everyone know.
“You don’t see the mail carriers like yuh used to. This operation bout
to be shut down for real. You used to get all kinds of stuff in the mail.
No more Sears catalogue. I used to get that every week. That big book.
You used to always get that. See everybody usin’ the Internet. Ain’t nobody
writin’ letters. People got in-uh-net. You wanna contact somebody, write an
email. Wanna pay yuh bill? In-uh-net” I gave up on concealing my laughter at
this point. But I’m not the only one laughing so it’s ok. It’s safe. I’m still
waiting. The person in front of me is at window three. The manager comes
out again and the woman at window five apparently asks for additional help.
“Maruice...” I only make this conclusion based upon Rocawear’s uninvited
response to the conversation. He addresses the manager behind the glass
by his name like they know each other. He says, “Yeah. Yeah you need
help Maurice, too slow in here.” The manager looks at him and rolls his eyes.
The bell rings again. “Ding Dong.” Finally, it’s my turn. Rocawear responds,
“AMEN.” I’m handling my business and behind me I can hear Rocawear
directing people to the right window as the bell rings. “Ding Dong” “Yup,
yeah you, window two. Right over there.” Maybe he should be working here.
I’m signed and sealed. I’m leaving but the business continues at the post office.
I take one last look through the glass facade as I turn the corner.
Home girl is still complaining about the heat, Rocawear is till directing traffic,
and Lady in Leopard is still talking about the fifty pills she takes for her
bad right leg.
Blondie | April 2012 | New York City
I guess I’ll just stand up and lean against this rail. I usually take any
opportunity to sit down on the train, but I’m only a few stops away from
home. I can bear it. There are few people on this Crown Heights bound
train. One woman is sitting on the bench to my left, another woman
sitting on the bench to my right, and a couple sitting at the opposite
end of the car. And there is one girl standing in the middle. She’s facing
the subway door and checking her self out in the reflection. Her head
tilts back and forth every few seconds. Her lips pucker occasionally.
Her eyebrows rise as if surprised. One brow stays lifted while the
others falls back into place. They do this dance for a few seconds.
She’s wearing shin high rain boots. They’re dark blue with a matte finish.
Inside the boots sit her shear white leggings that start at her hidden toes
and ascend into her light pink skirt. The skirt is ruffled and delicate.
It bounces wildly even at the slightest jerk of the subway car. Her ballerina
skirt is met at her waist by an army green jacket and a white t-shirt.
The sleeves on the jacket are rolled up just above her wrist. It’s stylish
and I’m sure the rolled sleeves make checking the time on her
leather-banded watch just a little quicker. The other passengers keep
staring at this young girl. Is it her rosy cheeks? Is it her blue eyes?
Is it her pink lips? The young GI Jane, prep’d for her first recital on the front
line, takes a step back from the car door. She lets go of the railing.
While balancing her weight on the shaky train she tilts her head back to
let her hair dangle and unravel. It’s long, blonde and smooth. I could run
my fingers through it and not get trapped in one knot. Not even the ends
show damage. She shakes it out with a few neck whips. After separating
each strand of hair, she cups the sides of her head positing her thumbs
on her ears and her index fingers at her peak. The remaining fingers follow
suit as she runs her hands back pulling her hair taut. Both hands meet at
the back of her head but she quickly releases them. She’s unsatisfied with
the results. She throws her head back once more and whips it until her hair
becomes untangled. It’s just hanging there. The passengers are fixed on
the long blonde hair that dangles before them. They stare and look away.
They glance and look away. They look up and look back down. The young
girl repositions her hands and this time successfully pulls her blonde
hair into a perfectly positioned ponytail. It sits atop her round head and
extends to the bottom of her army green jacket. While continuing to hold
herself steady, she separates the ponytail into two parts and pulls it a
little tighter. She’s suddenly jerked by a sudden increase in the train’s
speed and some sharp turns on the track. She reaches for the rail and
regains her balance. Her reflection continues to seduce her.
Her spectators look on with expressions I can’t quite describe. They aren’t
mesmerized. They’re neither captivated nor disdainful. Maybe it’s pure
curiosity. Confusion? The other women have do’s just as nice but unlike
the young blonde whose hair blossoms from the root, their do’s are glued
on, sewn in, and stitched up.