So I’m ringing in 2013 by finishing up “B’Side Man”. It’s been a labor of love and more. You never know what you’ll uncover when you’re writing about your life. I ended up writing about Charles (and his passing) and I was surprised that I took that turn. But, the play is the detailed journey of an artistic and boy-to-man experience. Or, perhaps it’s more “man-to-boy”. I’m trying to document, or chronicle if you will, how I developed as a Playwright from Vermont till present day. But with emotional stops along the way. Awhile ago I included an excerpt. Here’s another:
“So there I was, back in Baltimore. Back to the basement. Still waiting on the world to come my way.
One day I followed this girl home, she was outta-bounds, but so was I. And there you go. I got involved with a neighborhood girl, 20 some years younger. We had a child. I didn’t want a child. I wanted some playwriting swag. I was 35, baby-free, marry-free—-couldn’t tell me nuthin. I’d been out on the road. ENJOYING MYSELF. ENJOYING. MYSELF. I got some praise, some compliments, sex— “this is the rightful order”. I’d spent too much time pouring over pages, pouring over scripts—-sitting alone in the dark too long not to make merry. This was my moment, I EARNED ME THIS MA-FUCKA! But no. I hadda became a father. Zap-Diggity, I became a Daddy. Did the same backpedal most unmarried men take—
“Sheeeee, I got a life TAH lead, plays TAH write, awards TAH win and fame TAH GET—-betta get on way from me with that baby mess.
I had a son. Thought Playwriting was over. Suddenly baby/momma drama was my whole world. You never know how much STRUCTURE you got till CHAOS comes a calling. She was living at home, I WAS LIVING AT HOME—-get on way from me with that BABYSITTING mess—can’t you see I’m a roadrunner. Yeahhhhhhhhhh, I was a Raw Dog. Fate would have it, I landed a college teaching job. Taught in African-American Studies. This was when African-American Studies still had that………..smarty-smart CACHET. So I’m making bucks but I got a son with serious ADHD or something everybody thought was ADHD and a mother acting like she got the same. Had a play being done in Los Angeles, and a TV producer thought I had one-liner potential. She thought my east coast funny would transfer to west coast HAHA. Offered me a job on a top-10 TV show. Hollywood needed me. REGULAR LIFE? I was now an escapee from regular life. I was a Shawshank Redemptee from regular life! I was crawling through human waste, and landing in elysian fields. REGULAR LIFE?! “HAHA! SEEYA! And don’t let the door hit’ja! And Oh-by-the-way everybody can KISS—-MY—-BLACK—-ASS”
(Turns ‘serious’ & now speaks in hushed tones)
I didn’t last a whole season in Hollywood. I was 35. A dinosaur. I didn’t smooze. Didn’t talk funny. Self-Reflection ain’t got no goddamn business in Hollywood. I didn’t have that bend-over-and-spread-‘em attitude you need to work in TV. Folks in the business don’t even need lube. I was let go. I was back to Baltimore………
(Turns more serious)
And then……….that’s when life all started to hurt. It all caught up with me. My two worlds life came to a stop. Somewhere along the line, Gravity waylaid my ass. You know the deal. We stay the same person, we just gain 100 pounds of “shit happens”. Maybe we earn it, maybe we don’t. That 100 pounds changes appearance, alters personality—and before you know it, that 100 pounds is wrapped round your ankles like mob-boss cement. That 100 pounds is a meteor so wide you can’t peek round the corner to see where it ends. You can’t skip out the way. You can’t duck out the way. You can’t catch it—that 100 pounds done caught and passed you! I was now my little man’s Daddy, and suddenly half my conversation was fulla references to ANIMATED CHARACTERS. The Wonderful World of DISNEY had corralled, and put a Ranch Brand on my ass. I even started eyeballing “The Little Mermaid” in a wrongful manner. Half of me drove around town looking for something naughty, while the other half had a backseat fulla McDonald’s Kiddie Cups from “Aladdin” listening to Celine and Peebo sing “Beauty and the Beast,”—-tears raining down my cheeks.
There was no way round it, despite my best efforts I was now the fuckin ADULT IN CHARGE. I could see it in my mother and father’s eyes. They’d gone as far as they could—-if you’ve seen your mom and pop try to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for the umpteenth time, and struggle with food prep—you know it’s time to seize the day. See, truth is—your family don’t care how REMOVED you been, cause now YOU the one seems to be AROUND. YOU became the go-to-guy cause chances are nobody else stepped up! Everybody else got gone. People in your family will die and it’s YOU who gotta get ‘em in the ground. You used to meet women and arrange rendezvous’s. Now—-You need a sitter, a grandparent, a fixed time, a return time, you need a PARENTAL HALL PASS is what you need. You can holla “When my regular life comin back?!” till you blue in the face, but that train done choo-choo’d. Your hang-dog-ass is doing loops inna pity-pot crop circle. And no matter how many times your little man with the inside voice screams “I’m better than this”—-a bigger man with an outside voice says “no you ain’t!”
And the Parent day just won’t quit. No matter how late, no matter how much you done, how much you played Daddy—-the day sticks to you and won’t let go. If you’re a man in your 30’s or 40’s and haven’t carved out enough big victories—-victories big enough to show some woman how much of a conquering hero you is, then the day and the failure follow you and won’t let go. You don’t sleep alone. You sleep with everything that didn’t go your way. Everything you couldn’t make right. That’s what an extra 100 pounds of adulthood bring to your 3:00 pm nighty-night. And that’s where I was. Playwriting? That was just some LARK I used to do. What could I show off? A few reviews? Some grants. How could I respond to “so what are you working on now,” when my life had turned into a mental health nightmare, and it wasn’t even MY OWN mental health. My little Junior required lots of AGENCY involvement. I was LIVING in child therapy, talking to social workers, child psych’s, psychologist’s, behavioralists, meeting with education and health care professionals DAWN TO DUSK. His mind was on fire and nobody had a drop of water. I took it all as punishment. Yeah, true dat. I took it as the Great Man Above taking me to task. For too many years living detached. Too much time spent in my own navel. I was 35 years old and most of my quality time had all been spent on me. I loved people, sure. Loved my mother, my father—-I’d had love affairs. Had all kinds of affairs, but what real emotional “leg work” had I done. I wasn’t selfish, just oblivious. And mad. Mad at my son for being—-freakin impaired. For not responding. For being belligerent. Aggressive. Manipulative. Ungrateful. Childish. Immature. Disrespectful—-and for having no capacity whatsoever to appreciate his father……..”
“B-Side Man” AIN’T always pretty, but it IS always me. I’m putting this picture up because it looks so damn good. I probably used it before. I couldn’t help myself from using it again. If I died tomorrow, this is the picture I want someone to remember me by. This was a breezy evening at the American Visionary Arts Museum on Key Highway, downtown Baltimore. It was an event for the Maryland State Arts Council grants winners to receive their citations. Nicole caught me outside and that’s the way I always want to feel about Playwriting. About being an artist. When it works, it gives you the ultimate footloose and fancy free euphoria. It’s not at all related to Kanye’s “N***** in Paris,” but there’s a certain continental flair about being in that moment. You’re not having to explain what you do, or how you do it—you just bask in the glow.