Thursday, March 24, 2016


These blog entries are fueled by the agonies of racial tension that became something I was compelled to write about in 2014 when Trayvon was murdered; like AIDS became something I was compelled to write about when the vicious disease began ravaging my generation in 1988. I’ve submerged myself in over a quarter of a century of material: uncommon, inexplicable, and inducing unstoppable response. 

Race was frequently explored in my work, beginning with Big Red, a mother and a whore whose monologue confronted the disease without sentimentality, with humor, without self-pity, with raucous candor. In the early Nineties, I created Myron (based on the classic Cyrano de Bergerac) a play in which the black leading man, bedbound but defiantly romantic, dictates letters to his handsome cousin to be delivered to his equally comely nurse, signed by the dying man.

I was primed for the mergence of the personal and the political. Like any revolution worth fighting—the adoption of a five-month old black infant by a single, HIV-positive white man—was daunting. My daughter, Katherine, a thriving twenty-one year old artist, has become many things in life; among them, being my teacher.

During the past few years which included the birthing a movement on the streets of St. Louis where I grew up (Michael Brown attended the same high school that I did), I’ve experienced the embodiment of why black lives matter in the impassioned words, the imprinted sorrows, the profound teachings of my daughter.

I return to the monologue, a form that seems to best suit the depiction of my myriad subjects and their implicit theatricality. Meet Huey.

Never seen my father in a suit. Never once gone to see a movie together. Never able to comfort me at night when I was a little boy, crying out. I’m not able to comfort him at night, now, when he’s an old man, crying out. Pops went to prison in 1986, the victim of a former movie star’s political agenda and a political party’s outright racism. His third strike struck me as bullshit—not enough ganja to get a buzz. His public defender slept—didn’t shut his eyes, take a nap, grab a few motherfuckin’ winks—he slept. Like snoring slept. Didn’t matter because they’d already decided to lock Pops up for Life With the Possibility of Parole. It is the word “possibility” that’s a bit confusing. Like there’s a possibility I will turn white if I watch enough Tom Hanks movies; like there’s a possibility I will turn white if I listen to Barry Manilow sing love songs. My daddy has had a handful of parole hearings, all jerking with justice. So while there is a possibility my dad and I will go on a fishing trip in the next decade, there is also the distinct motherfucking possibility that he will die in that jail because he had less than a thimble full of marijuana—which is legal now, dig?—in his 

car where his fuckin’ gloves shoulda been. Have you ever seen a pair of gloves in a glove compartment? I’ve seen pill bottles, used condoms, unfixable sunglasses, year-old French fries; but I ain’t ever seen any gloves. My pops is seventy-six years old—walks with a cane, blind in one eye, bad heart; the only reason they keep dudes like my daddy alive is to keep bringing beaucoup bucks into America’s whorehouse for prisoners. You don’t have to be alive like The Rock is alive; you just have to be breathin’, like Sylvester Stallone is breathin’. My dad used to be pretty buff—that’s when there was a place in the joint to exercise. Gone. He also used to read some half-decent books (sometimes we’d read the same book together, like a book club for two). No more books. He even took some classes—gourmet cooking classes, I (naw, I’m fuckin’ with you)—but he did take some solid classes. Not anymore. In fact, they have made prisons a place for prisoners to do nothing but commit crimes. They provide all the shit from the outside—drugs, sex, violence. Sometimes all three at once. He has resisted all of those; he is, in fact, a model prisoner. There is no way he will get out and offend again—unless you can imagine a half-blind mothefucker in his seventies with a cane and a bad tinker robbin’ a Seven-Eleven. That said, this is perverse way to deal with old men who are fuckin’ dryin’ up in prison cells—alone, consumed by guilt and fear in spite of exemplary behavior for more than half o’ their lives—let ‘em rot rather than release them. But in spite of unspeakable obstacles, primarily the depression that darkens his every day, he and I have (especially in the past few years) forged a father-son bond. And I’m not suggesting this is “Father Knows Best”—feels more like “Done Dad Walking.” We have struggled, confronted, argued, accused, hated, forgiven, accepted, understood and then repeated the whole routine over again. And again. The most valuable stuff my dad has taught me really didn’t take place until the last coupla years. I mean, sure, I knew he was black. And I kinda knew I was. But I didn’t know what he’d been through. Especially his experiences in Vietnam. He went to Nam in the late Sixties, to keep out of trouble. He had already dealt with my sister’s death and my mother’s increasing instability. He was almost 
We have struggled, confronted, argued, accused, hated, forgiven, accepted, understood and then repeated the whole routine over again. 
thirty (and not a complete stranger to the police department) in 1967:  the year before the shit hit the fan in America: Martin Luther King shot dead, Bobby Kennedy shot dead. And here’s somethin’ I didn’t know much about: The Black Panthers. I knew I was named after Huey Newton, not Baby Huey.  But I didn’t know that some of the Panthers went to Vietnam to recruit; they fuckin’ knew that most black men didn’t want to be servin’ a country that didn’t fuckin’ serve them. But why did they name me Huey and not Bobby (after Bobby Seale) or Stokely after (Stokely Carmichael)?

* * * 

In the midst of the recent Superbowl halftime entertainment, my dad—watchin’ from a maximum state prison—could smell controversy like a hound dog. There I was on TV, positioned in a way he’d never seen me before and his tolerance turned to pride. Pops had long since gotten over the embarrassment part (his sissy son bein’ a dancer)—especially as I got more successful—but I sensed that it was still uncomfortable for him. It wasn’t until the halftime show that my dancing reignited something in him: the demand for social justice. There I am, one of Bruno’s dancers, simultaneously taunting and flirting with the camera, in a dance caught fire with Beyonce that would be praised (and damned) as an acknowledgement of the Panthers’ fifty year anniversary. I visited him a few weeks after the Super Bowl—for reasons I was unable to immediately explain—because he was so excited about me dancin’, dancin’ with “precise  political purpose,” he said. He was fuckin’ 

lit, on a roll, pushing more energy than I’d seen in years; it was the first time I heard that my daddy had actually thought—truly entertained the idea—of becoming a Panther. He spelled out some of the detailed demands of the Panthers, from memory:  “We want freedom for all black and oppressed people now held in U.S. federal, state, county, city and military prisons and jails we want trials by a jury of peers for all persons charged with so-called crimes under the laws of this country.” The news I came to tell my daddy might sweep this rush of paternal pride off balance, reminding him that I was not really the thuggish dude on TV—I was, in real life, still his imperfect boy. Years ago, I had told him that I was gay (or maybe my mama had told him) but talkin’ about my relationship was not in his comfort zone even though I had to talk to him about it that day; the day he was so riled up over his political background that he couldn’t even hit “pause” during his monologue.

 * * *

I had to talk to him about Max that day, not I had to talk to him about “it.” He has a name. Max—I thought I shouldn’t bring Max up—especially if it would douse this rare moment of ecstasy he seemed to be experiencing. Max. Shame on me. His name is Max. Motherfuckin’ shame; I still can’t wriggle out of that shame costume: impossible to shed, relentless snake shame. Max. Max was my first dance teacher, while I was still in high school. Can you imagine the flak my mama musta received from relatives, neighbors, busybodies? A young black kid choosing to be a dancer rather than a basketball player, not even a singer? Listen, being a rapper would be easier to admit to than “my son wants to be a dancer.” Might as well have said, “My son wants to wrap himself in a rainbow flag and listen to Lena Horne albums.” Max did introduce me to Lena Horne. Even though I wasn’t interested in singing, it was Miss Lena’s “precision” that he dug. And, after a couple of years of getting closer and closer to Max, I introduced my teacher to my mama who knew he was white but had no idea he was that white: white-white, white of the red, white and blue, white of the cotton on Southern plantations. You feel me? But when she looked into the whites of his eyes, she knew he loved me. This was before he ever laid a hand on me except to position a flailing leg akimbo into a strong or gently pressing down on my shoulders when I had a tendency to use my rounded shoulders as armor, makin’ me look like a punk-ass turtle.  When my dad went in the joint, when I was still in diapers, mama knew I needed a male role model. A black male role model. But they weren’t hangin’ out on our street corner, sippiin’ green tea, wearin’ t-shirts that said, “Cool Hip Black Role Model Here.” So I—subconsciously—sought out father figures. Max was one of the first. I guess my mama’s job, the way she saw it, was to keep me out of the joint; to keep me from becoming a drug addict; to keep me from gettin’ AIDS. Shortly after I got out of diapers, she started teachin’ me to put on condoms. So I knew how to protect myself Down There. And I think she sensed the gay thing back when I was a little kid, more intent on tappin’ than rappin’. At least tap dancing had some inherent negro in it but when I chose ballet, it was like sayin’ goodbye to bein’ a superstud. A young black man in ballet shoes implied things my mother had never even considered. Her life with my father was spent in virtually all-black neighborhoods where the homies who weren’t career criminals were nine-to-fiven’ in their blue color jobs. These dudes weren’t sittin’ around reading Maya Angelou and listenin’ to Miles Davis. My mama lived in a hyper masculine black man’s world. I was a good street dancer—I could pass, y’know, a kinda tough guy—tougher than Tatum Channing, anyway. Oh, yah, I coulda stripped for cash but I wanted to be all kinds of a dancer, not shaking my black ass in front 
But they weren’t hangin’ out on our street corner, sippiin’ green tea, wearin’ t-shirts that said, “Cool Hip Black Role Model Here.”
of some white ass broads who would tip me with their kids’ lunch money. I wanted to be a real dancer. I looked up Dancing School in the Yellow Pages; mama’s eyes nearly rolled outta her head. A school where a white man taught young boys to be ballet dancers sounded like a Dateline episode. Yet she knew it would keep me off the streets. She already lost one kid to drugs. The sister I never saw, never hugged; never had a chance to be her brother. For this kid without a father to call in the night, for this kid without a sister to hug, Max was not hard to love. For this fifteen year old to fall in love with. When we met, he was thirty, fifteen times two. Max was also attentive, handsome as all get out, a seductive mixture of both what we’ve come to label as “masculine” and “feminine.”  It was a combo that appealed to me even though I had no clue that those characteristics would tour jete into our private lives, even into the bedroom. I seduced Max first. After taking class from him for nearly three years, feeling his electric currents as he moved by me, as my sweat sometimes flew in his direction, landing on his bare shoulder or leaving a fleeting mark on his t-shirt (he wore crisp white t-shirts). I just fuckin’ couldn’t wait another minute. I had to feel myself submerged, under his body, every square inch of it. And then feel my strength melting into his submission. Our first date was when I asked him which show (playin’ in town) he’d rather take me to [Black Brat Negotiates White Privilege]:  a revival of Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk or a newly conceived rendering of Romeo and Juliet.  We both knew that the opera’s subtext would speak to what was happening between us, reasons the lovers were star-crossed could fit into many scenarios: race, class, age. I parked my car in front of Max’s and we drove in his to the thea-tuh. (Didn’t want to be seen drivin’ up to the fancy theater in my hoooptie.) I’d fantasized this plot repeatedly. After the performance, I’d come in for a drink and we’d talk about the ballet’s intensity, especially as it applied to today’s racist world. We spoke about the details of the dance parts; what we liked, what we didn’t.  We had another drink. This was the year that Denzel Washington won the Best Actor Oscar and Halle Berry won for Best Actress. Max loved the movies and actually spoke about the racism and what a big deal it was that those two darkies won. After our third, I convinced Max that I should not drive home. A black teenager behind the wheel is reason enough to get arrested; forget it if you slightly veered one way or the other. Speaking of veering—even though Max was fiddlin’ around with sheets—white-white sheets, almost blinding-to put on the living room couch—I veered him into his bedroom and into his bed where I made it clear I wanted him to fiddle with me. I’d messed around with other dudes before but Max was a man: the feel of his soft skin sliding up and down against mine; the feel of his soft tongue wordlessly speaking to mine; the feel of his tough cock virtually wrestling with mine. The taste of his sweat in my mouth; the taste of my tears. This was, for me, new—as new as morning. And morning was when I would leave; different than I was before. I was a man—well, more of a man—who made love to a man: mixing our colors and smells, conversing with our senses not our words. However, my mother insisted on words. Crisp words, heated, right out of her oven of a mouth afire: “Where did you sleep?” A beat. “Where do you think?” I answered.`` And that was that. Over. Never to be an issue between us; her acceptance—maybe it was relief?—could be seen on every contour, and every flaw of her beautiful face.” We both know about life’s numbing imperfections, don’t we? Don’t we, mama?” I said. I don’t remember when I told her that Max was HIV-positive. It really was a non-issue; we were “safe” as could be; he was as healthy as a stallion. My white stallion.

* * *

I was dripping wet when I came offstage which wasn’t like coming off stage as much as it was like going onto another stage. There were flashes still poppin’ in our faces, only up-close now, cameras up our asses. And reporters. “How did it feel…?” “Was it as powerful for you…?” I just wanted to get to my phone because I had some feeling in my gut; that feeling when you just know. In my dressing room. First message: “Huey honey, we were watchin’ you on the huge TV screen and Max was sweatin’, a fairly natural reaction all 
You wanna talk straight outta Compton? I get pulled over, one of those pig cocksuckers gets one look at me?  Bang, Bang. 
things considered, but then he really started sweatin’, like it was pourin’ off of him, like he was a fuckin’ fountain or somethin’. We’re taking him to the hospital—Gene and David and Zoey and me.” Beep. The hospital, I think to myself. What the fuck? What hospital, for fuck’s sake? I’m not even gonna change. I just stuff my pedestrian clothes in my Valentino bag. Message Two: “Cedars, by the way. You are probably still on stage. We got him here and they’ve attached him to all kinds of machines and shit. He keeps saying your name, over and over. One of the fuckin’ doctors keeps asking why he’s saying, ‘You me, you me. ‘It’s his lover, for Chrissake. His name is Huey. He wants him; Huey; he wants his lover.’  ‘Are they married?’ the doctor asks.” Beep. I am speeding through traffic, drenched in sweat. Hold the tears. Message Three: “He’s in a room but they won’t let anyone in. I don’t wanna freak you out but it’s an emergency situation and only a spouse can get anywhere near him at this point.”  Beep. Why the fuck didn’t we get married? They will let me in. I’ll rip that motherfucking doctor to shreds. Why the fuck is this happening? What is happening? Tears. North on La Brea, feels like about ninety miles an hour. Niggers have been killed for less than wearin’ shit like these. You wanna talk straight outta Compton? I get pulled over, one of those pig cocksuckers gets one look at me?  Bang, Bang. Message Four: “We are close enough proximity that we can still hear him screaming your name, over and over and over. ‘Huey, Huey, Hueeeeeeey. I know you’re goin’ nuts if you’re listenin’ to these messages but can you let us know you’re on your way?’ Beep. I don’t remember tears bein’ this hot in my mouth. Or is it sweat? The mixture?  Of tears and sweat? My eyes are blurry, so blurry; you can never see where to park at these fuckin’ hospitals—even when you’re not cryin’. I’m just gonna pull up, park, and find him. Message Five: “Huey, he’s in a room near the ER. Honey, we love you so much.” Beep. We love you so much? The parking attendant was running after me. Probably thought I was a mass murderer. “We love you so much.” I knew. 

* * *

My dad finally calmed down long enough for me to tell him. He face began an almost eerie transformation from one of those theatrical masks—comedy, tragedy—into the other. Suddenly, silence. He’d run out of words. By the time it was my turn to speak, in-the-moment, it was not a time to censor myself. So I told him; I told my Pops how I stormed into the hospital room, still in thug drag, into the hospital room where Max had just died, just died, minutes before I got there. I got into the bed with him. His body was still warm or maybe he just felt warm against the sweat soaked up by my body. As I spoke, I gauged every response from my father—he didn’t flinch. I swear I saw tears in his eyes. “I’m so sorry, son, that this is the first time you have been so open with me; the first time you’ve 

Huey Newton

been able to say these things I needed to hear.” I had obviously made assumptions about my dad: straight black man, guilty-as-charged with homophobia. I was hiding from him. Hiding from my dad by “charging him with crimes” that were not true. No more. No more hiding. I told him that I stayed in the bed with Max until he—his body—started to get cold. The body that I knew how to heat up. And apparently still did since his body—ravishing in its imperfection—was refusing to turn cold. They have no idea why he had a stroke. There do seem to be a number of men with HIV in their late fifties, early sixties, who are moving through life—almost as if we could believe, for a moment, that he wasn’t carrying that vicious virus. And no one knows about these strokes and sudden heart attacks. It’s a theory, mostly a street theory. Max finally began to chill. Then my dad answered the question that I’ve been asking for thirty years. Well, almost. On the hundred or so occasions I asked my mother, she always said—with the same tone of anger and resentment—“Ask you father.” Finally, I did ask my father, looking him in the eye, “Why was I named after Huey Newton?” It was “the other woman,” my dad sheepishly admitted. How the fuck did the other woman have anything to do with me being named after 
Finally, I did ask my father, looking him in the eye, “Why was I named after Huey Newton?” 
Newton? Turns out that she introduced my dad to the Black Panthers by taking him to a rally where Huey Newton was speaking on women’s rights. (Did anyone mention that the girlfriend was betraying her own gender by fucking with my dad while he was still married? Oh, the imperfections.) So the surprise in store was that Newton also had gay rights on his agenda. Way fuckin’ ahead of his time. The Black Panthers identified “the homosexuals and women as oppressed groups.” This was a very big deal and one that is rarely addressed today, a half a century later. Newton said that it didn’t matter what your fears were predicated on (and this my father proclaimed from memory): “We should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion.” What better way than to name your kid Huey? My mother went along with it, happy to be painted cool and a bit militant. More irony is that I was named after Huey Newton but did not, until these many years later, realize I needed to hear his message, his fifty year old message: “We must gain security in ourselves and therefore have respect and feelings for all oppressed people.” That’s why my dad was so mellow about Max—from the beginning. And I misinterpreted that quiet respect and those unspoken feelings as being shut down. In his own way, my dad was uniting with his son in a revolutionary fashion. Certainly revolutionary, all things considered. Now I need to catch up with him and join the revolution.