Friday, December 15, 2017

A Black Panther, two bricks and a trunk full of cash

"Someone is here to see you."

Someone's here to see me? 

It's late morning on Christmas Eve, 1988.   I have just driven 375 miles to Berkeley from Los Angeles for a quick trip to see my mom and my brother, Kenji.  I am glad to be home, but I'm eager to get back to my new job at the St Mark's supper club in Venice.  The other hostesses have told me that we will really clean up on New Year's Eve.  One of them said she made $500 last year.

I really need that kind of NYE money.  I'm already a month behind on my rent, my car payment is due next week and there are these dope, brown, over-the-knee Charles David boots that I REALLY want.


My mother's voice is tight with concern.  I search her eyes for an explanation as I rise from her time-worn, paisley bedspread-covered sofa, where I'd been napping after my drive.

"What Mom?  Who is it?"

She is silent and barely moves to the side as I get up and approach the doorway where she stands. I tilt my head slightly as I scoot past her, pushing opening the rickety screen door.  I look back at her one more time before I step outside with a questioning look.

Who knows I'm here?  And why is she so upset?

I hear Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" blasting from the street as soon as I open the door.  I shade my eyes from the bright sunlight as I survey what lies beyond my mother's wide sitting-porch.  All at once, I see that an older, grey, Chevrolet Malibu has missed her driveway completely and is parked at an angle across her lawn.  The car is still running.  The melancholy stink of exhaust fumes fill the air.

Oh my God! There's a car in the yard!  That's why she's upset.  But who's that White guy behind the wheel?

After taking a step forward, I can see that Greg, Huey's best friend is in the driver's seat.  Even at that distance I'm able to make out the sweat glistening on his forehead.  It looks as though his blue eyes are too wide as he waves apologetically and turns the music down.  The passenger seat is empty and the door is open.

Oh no...

All at once, Huey's walks out of the shadows with cartoonish chuckle. He's been standing to the side of the porch.

"Hey, hey," he says with his arms up in a mock surrender.  "I come in peace."

He is standing at a tilt on the grass-broken cracks in her walkway.  He smiles and starts up the porch with a decidedly uneven gait.

Oh Shi* - is he drunk? What are they even doing here?  How did they know I'd be here?

"Huey?" I say quietly, not wanting my mom to hear the alarm in my voice.

My mother bursts out of the house.  Her posture is menacing, a warning.  Huey slows down at once and stops on the third step, looking frantically from me to her.  He sniffs loudly and gives his nose a generous wipe with his leather coat sleeve.  I am temporarily mesmerized by the slimy streak it leaves behind, like a snail trail.

Should I tell her that this is actually Dr. Huey P. Newton?  The co-founder of and former Minister of Defense for the Black Panthers? The man who studied our gun laws furiously until he found a loophole in the second amendment that guaranteed his right to bear arms and patrol neighborhoods, protecting Black people from the police? The man who coined the term "Revolutionary Humanism?"  The man who took it upon himself to implement hot breakfast and after school programs in the inner city neighborhoods of Oakland and Chicago?   The man whose arrest sparked protests across the nation in 1967 ? Remember the "Free Huey" signs? 
"You can jail a revolutionary but you can't jail a revolution." 

"I just need to show you something," Huey stammers.  His smile has disappeared and his voice is higher than normal, almost whiny.  My intuition shoots a wall between us, I take a step back toward my mom's protective energy.

"Show me what?"

Huey looks up and grins again, seemingly emboldened by my question.  He dashes up the last two stairs and grabs my hand with surprising speed.  His fingers feel incredibly soft and sweaty, like five over-sized bait worms.  I want to wrench my hand away, but I don't want to give my mother any more cause for concern.

Okay, no.  Don't tell her who he is.  Just get rid of him.

"It's okay Mom," I say as casually as I can.  "These guys are my friends.  I'm just going to walk him back to the car."

My mother folds her arms and keeps her post on the porch.  She cranes her neck a little as she watches Huey leading me across our lawn.

Greg gets out as we approach the driver's side door.

"Hey Greg," my voice is full of prickly irritation.  "What are you guys doing here?"

"We just had to show you something, Laura.  Can you take a ride with us?"

I look back at my mother.  She's on the top step now, her eyes tracking Huey's increasingly erratic movements as scurries backward to open the trunk of the car.  Once open, Greg steps out and motions me closer, leaving the driver's side door open too.

"You're going to want to come with us after you see what's in this trunk!" Huey says as he leaps forward. He grabs my right arm and ushers me to the back of the car.

"How did you guys know I was in town?" I hiss under my breath as we exit my mother's line of sight behind the open trunk.

"We called Kelly and she told us where you were."


I knit my brows and narrow my eyes, making a mental note to "check" our mutual friend Kelly next speak I with her.

What is she thinking sending these drunk mutha fu@@a's to my mother's house?!?

But my angry expression fades into one of disbelief as soon as I look into the trunk.  At first I think that the sun is messing with my eyes.  I look from Greg's face to Huey's and back to the contents of the trunk.  Huey starts laughing manically and hopping up and down.

"You're gonna take that ride with us now, aren't you?"

Holy sh*t.

The trunk is large.  Large enough so that three or four people could fit inside easily.  There are a couple of brown and charcoal colored blankets (or mats) that have been folded back from the middle, like you would if you were going to change a tire.


There are hundreds and hundreds of hundreds. The money is not stacked and banded like in the movies, but loose, like someone has casually dumped a few trash barrels of Benjamin's into the trunk.

"This has got to be like a hundred grand," I whisper to myself.

I hear the haze in my voice.  The money has put me into a trance.

"You ready for this?" asks Greg excitedly.  "It's no 100K, Laura -  this is two point one million dollars!"

Two twenty-somethings with bulging Jansport backpacks are walking past my mom's house now.  One has long black hair and Birkenstocks, the other is skinny with a shaggy, Peter Frampton haircut. They have stopped talking to each other and are now watching us with intense curiosity.  I shoot them a "mind your business" look as I put my hands on Huey's shoulders and reposition him so that he is blocking their view of the trunk.

"Lower your voices," I say to them though gritted teeth after they pass us.

I should walk back in the house right now.  Someone is definitely looking for this money.

But for some reason, I just stand there, my right hand hovering above a particularly large mound of cash that is piled in a ring around the spare tire well.

How deep does this money go? One foot down?  Two feet down?

I put my right hand in the trunk, moving as much of the cash as I can to one side.  It's almost elbow deep.  The cash feels cool, crisp and smooth against my skin.

These are new bills...  

That's when I saw it. The spare was gone and there was something else in its place.

How the hell did miss that?!?

There, right in front of my eyes are two, pure white, overly full, sack-of-flour-sized packages, swaddled in several layers of plastic wrap.

Are those what I think they are?!?

Huey sniffs again.  The sound startles me back to reality.  I look back and forth in astonishment from Greg's dilated pupils to Huey's fidgety stance.

Oh my God, Oh my God...

I peek around the open trunk to see if my mom is still standing there. I can't see her on the porch anymore.

"Take a ride," Huey sing-songs enticingly.  "A quick ride, we'll have you back before noon."

I shake my head slowly as I back away from the trunk.

"Where did all of this come from?  Did you guys rob some drug dealer or something?"

Greg laughs too loudly and Huey joins him in the hysterics after a few seconds.  I look around in a panic until they stop, terrified that they're going to attract more attention.

"Nothing like that," says Greg finally.

"Let's just say," says Huey.  "That someone made a rather generous donation to the cause."

Greg spins me around so that I'm facing him and grabs my hands in his.  Unlike his face, his hands are bone dry, almost leathery.

"Come on, Laura.  We'll give you some of it.  As much as you can put in your purse.  We just want you to drive with us for a little while."

As much as I can put in my purse?  Sheee-aaat!   That's a year's rent! Those boots I want and maybe my car payments too!!

"Just get in," pleads Huey.  He's walked back to the passenger door now and is holding it open for me.

Greg takes my stunned silence for a yes and "yippee's" with a little fist pump as he hops into the driver's side, closing the door after him. The door slam brings my mother back out onto the porch.

All at once, my mom's house looks especially shabby.  All I can see is the gray and white peeling paint, the torn screen door and the "lawn" that is as much dirt (and weeds) as it grass.

Maybe I could give her some of this money.  She could use it to fix this place up!

My mom mouths "Are you okay?" to me.  I gulp and nod at her with a what I hope is a comforting gesture.

Take the ride, Laura.  Take that money...

"Laura?" calls my mom.  "What's going on?"

I nod slowly and hold up the palm of my hand toward her to indicate that I need a minute.  I feel my shoulders drop as I walk toward Huey.  I shake my head "no" as I get close to the door that he's still holding open for me.

"I, I can't go."  I can barely believe the words that are coming out of my mouth.

Huey follows my gaze and looks up at my mom. His eyes soften with understanding and  disappointment.

"Hey, I get it," he says dejectedly.  "Do you want some anyway?  You could just grab little.  I'll open the trunk again."

My Mom is down on the bottom step now.  My heart starts banging a hole in my chest.  I hug Huey quickly.  The smell of the Aramis cologne he wears is so strong that I can actually taste it in my mouth as I pull away.

"I can't, Huey.  But thank you anyway."

My heart sinks when I flash on those beautiful, buttery, brown leather boots.

"Where are you guys going to go," I say softly?

"I'm not sure," says Huey.  He smiles as if to cheer me up.   "But I'll call you when we get there."

My brother Kenji and I on Christmas morning

*  *  *

Huey Newton was a great guy -- a genius in my opinion.  And despite this rather unflattering depiction of him in this outrageously bazaar, but completely true story,  Huey was a hero, a role model, a leader and my friend.  When I first moved to LA in 1988, it was Huey who got on the phone and introduced me to people who could help me get a job in the entertainment industry.

"Bert, yeah, it's Huey.  Looky here! I need you to meet this young gal that's just moved to LA, she wants to direct commercials.  She's a friend of mine.  Take good care of her, okay?"

But some of our best conversations were those in which he would take time to break down his role in the war that he spent his life waging against the status quo.

"I am a doomed man," he would say dramatically between sips of Hennessy.   "But all revolutionaries are --  so it's not death that I am afraid of --  but it is a death without meaning that scares me."

That producer he called on my behalf was Bert Schneider (The Monkees, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Hearts and Minds).  Bert took me out to dinner at Dan Tanas shortly after my Christmas trip home that year.  We laughed and talked non stop — mainly about Huey.  I found out that Bert had been a generous, long time supporter of The Black Panther Party for Self Defense.

"But I think Huey may be losing it," Burt says to me in confidential tone over our coffee and cheesecake.  "He called me a couple of months ago begging me to have someone come and pick up some two million dollar car..."

My fork slips out of my hand and drops off the side of the table.  Suddenly the cacophony of dinner conversations around us are locked out -- like a bank vault door has just been slammed shut.


"Yeah," he smiled.  "You wouldn't believe it!  He was all hyper and paranoid about some "mysterious" car with two million dollars in the trunk. Talk about delusional!  Oh yeah! I forgot -- he said there were also two or three bricks of coke in the trunk! Yeah, right!"

"Two," I whisper.

"Huh?" Bert looks up at me innocently as he wipes his chin with his napkin.

"I know about that car, Bert."  I clear my throat.  "He came by..."

"Oh, he told you too?  Did he tell you the bit about how he and Greg were both so loaded that they  stopped by someone's house to ask them to stash it for them?  Isn't that a riot?!?  Get this!  They didn't trust themselves to remember where'd they parked it.  It was like they wanted a real live treasure map."

A treasure map!  That's all?? Damn!! I should have taken that ride!!!

"Oh my God, Bert!" My voice is thick with emotion.  "That was me!  They came to my mother's house on Christmas Eve! I saw that car!"

This time Bert drops his fork.

"What do you mean?  You were the treasure map?  You saw the money"???

"Totally true.  I saw all of it.  It was too much money to count.  I saw the packages too, all sealed up. They wanted me to go with them.  They seemed pretty desperate, but it felt too shady.  Plus my mom was right there on the porch watching us.  They offered me cash, but I didn't take any. They wouldn't say why they wanted me to get in the car with them."

"And you didn't just take a little cash?!?" He laughs, picking up his fork again.  "You know you could have given some to your mom."

"What happened to it?" I lower my voice to a whisper, suddenly conscious of other diner's eyes on us.  "Did he say what they did with it? The car, the money?"

"That's just it," Bert is visibly agitated now, clearly replaying his conversation with Huey in his head.  "They parked it in some lot in Emeryville and now they can't find it!  They've been looking for it since Christmas."

*  *  *

Bert sent various private investigators to the bay area to look for that car for six months after I confirmed Huey's story to him.  It wasn't until Huey was assassinated in August of 1989 that a heartbroken Bert gave up his search.  We were both greatly saddened and angered by Huey's death (which had all of the earmarks of a cover up, but that's another story).

My friendship with Bert is just one of the many things for which I am deeply indebted to Huey.

And as far as I know, that car may still be out there somewhere...

Friday, December 1, 2017

Why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are giving me LIFE right now! #princessofcolor #changereaction #thenewnormal

Lily, Nora, Justin and I with Scottie on his birthday this year

My friend Victoria, (who happens to be White) won't engage in politics because she doesn't believe in "these limited barriers that people use to separate themselves."

"Skin, hair, where you are born, who you love, what language you speak, how and what and if you worship --  these things don't really matter.  We are all souls confined in these vessels for a finite period of time.  Why are we fighting over the vessels?"

My first thought was, Really? Wanna trade vessels and see if you still feel the same way?

But the truth is, that the more I think about her words, the more I feel like she might have the right idea.

Scottie and I do an annual road trip every summer with our kids and my mom.  And in certain states, at certain times, when we all walk into a restaurant for a reservation (that I've usually had to have made months in advance) we get -- looks.   Sometimes our big, blended, multi-skin-toned family is greeted with genuine smiles and other times, well -- we aren't.  Because depending where we are and who we meet, all that some people can see (and pre-judge) are the vessels in which we are all contained.  They don't or can't see the strength of our connectedness, the love we have for each other or feel the sheer joy that emanates from each of us because we are all together.

There are thousands of people who are making a daily effort to clear away the thick climate of racial hatred that looms low over our country right now.  But as hard as all those people may be trying to "move the needle" by protesting, lobbying or campaigning, the discouragingly difficult-to-look-at truth is that needle hasn't moved very far (and frankly isn't moving very fast).

According to an editorial in the Sunday New York Times last month, there are three main pathways by which social movements gain power; Cultural, Disruptive and Organizational.

But Scottie thinks that there may be one additional way of effecting real change that the Times' columnist may not have considered: Love

In 2009, Scottie flew me out to Richmond, Virginia to meet his dying father, Harry, who had a major stroke and couldn't move or speak.  Little did Scottie know, that by taking this one simple action, he inadvertently started a "change-reaction" that permeated and affected his whole family.

Harry was an admitted racist.  Scottie's mother Nancy, was a gentle, Southern woman who had lived in Richmond her entire life.  She was kind to everyone, but all of her friends had always been White.  Scottie's daughters, Lily and Nora, grew up in the very homogenous, Park City, Utah, before moving to the even more homogenous, Stowe, Vermont.  But yet, when Scottie fell in love with me, everything changed for the Slaughter family.

There was no questioning or bargaining.  Scottie was with me.  He loved me. He wasn't letting me go anywhere and he wasn't going anywhere without me.

So Harry and Nancy did what any loving parents would do, they made an effort to see me through Scottie's eyes.  One by one, they both abandoned their old, limited ideas of what it meant to be Black.

Nine months after meeting Scottie, I found myself pacing back and forth outside of an ICU hospital room. Inside the room, Nancy and Scottie were preparing Harry to meet Scott's first Black girlfriend (me).   When they motioned me in, the stern-faced, balding, small-framed, White man who lay under a thin, pastel colored hospital blanket literally took the breath out of my body.

"Hi," I exhaled.  "It's so nice to finally meet you."

My heart beat was noticeable under my black, cashmere crew necked sweater.  I scrambled around the foot of the bed and hurried over to his right side (Scottie had said that it was his good side).  Harry's thin, pale arms lay motionless on either side of him until I got near his face.  Unable to move his head, his eyes followed me, as I set my purse down on his nightstand with a thud.

Without warning,  Harry's right arm sprang into action and scurried across the blanket. I startled at how quickly his hand found my fingers, grabbing and clutching them with impressive strength.  Before I knew what was happening,  I felt his thin, soft lips on the back of my hand.  Scant tears appeared in the corners of his tender, Cornwall blue eyes.

"Beautiful," he mouthed to Scottie.  "She's beautiful."

Shortly after his death, Nancy and my mom, Linda became instant, close friends (they were hilarious, goofy, secret-sharing buddies from the gate)! And eight years later, before quietly passing away from ovarian cancer, Nancy, cupped my face with her hands, kissed me tenderly on the cheek and thanked me for loving her son so fiercely.

"You do too much," she smiled.  "But I am so grateful..."

Lily and Nora have basically only known a family that included a Black stepmother (me) and Black brothers (Miles and Justin) and a Black grandmother, grandfather and uncles (my parents and my brothers).  Their instinct to pre-judge ANYONE has been tempered by the love that they've experienced.  But a real change of perception needs a generation or two to take hold.  You see, Harry and Nancy didn't really release all of their old ideas about Black people when Scottie brought me into their lives, but they did learn to love and accept my family and I.  But it is with Lily, Nora, Miles and Justin that the real change is occurring.  It's not that our kids don't see color, but they just don't see color as a barrier.

Love did that.

Harry Slaughter would have probably never responded favorably to a protest march or some impassioned civil rights speech on television (what in God's name are they complaining about now)??  But his heart turned to butter when his son brought me into the ICU that day to meet him.  He saw beyond my vessel and held my hand, whispering to Scottie that I was beautiful.

Doria Radian and her daughter, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (insert)

I've tried to imagine what that first conversation between Prince Harry and his Grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, must have sounded like.  I picture him walking into her chambers (or maybe a sitting room?):

"Thank you for taking time out of your day, Grandmother.  I need to speak with you about the girl that I've been seeing."

"Is this the brunette that you've been gadding about with?"

"Yes, that's the one. But we're hardly gadding about.  It's very serious."

"I see."

"I'm in love with her, Grandmother.  I want to marry her."

"Marry her?"

"And if it would please you, she would like to be baptized and confirmed in The Church of England."

"I see.  But am I to understand that she is divorced?"

"Yes, Grandmother, she is.  But the union didn't result in any children."

"I'm told that she's an actress."

"Yes, Grandmother.  Her name is Meghan Markle."

"Very well.  I take it that Ms. Markle is not of the same (ahem) lineage as the other girls that you've dated before, is that correct?"

"That's correct.  She is American."

"I'm well aware of that.  But I was referring to her ethnicity not her nationality."

"Um yes, of course.  Her father is Caucasian, but her mother, as I'm sure you know, isn't..."

"Isn't what?"


"Grandmother, she's um, well that is to say, her mother is Black."

The media is in a frenzy comparing Ms. Markle to Grace Kelly.  True, this is a fair comparison as Ms. Kelly was a beautiful, American actress who married into a royal family.  But of course, Ms. Kelly was blond and White.  Ms. Markle's impending trip across the pond is more historically significant because of the simple fact that Ms. Markle is Black (I know, I know -- in the UK they're calling her "mixed-race," as her father is White.)  But let's be real, there really isn't a "mixed-race" category here in the good ol' "Make America Great Again" United States is there?!  Think about it - Halle Berry?  Black.  Tracy Ellis Ross?  Black(ish).  Former (beloved)! President, Barack Obama?  He's Black too.

Ergo, Ms. Markle is a Sistah.

I saw an interview on Monday night where Prince Harry and Ms. Markle both said that they were dismayed by the "racial overtones" of the media coverage of their courtship and engagement.  But I for one am overjoyed by those overtones.  I don't want people to deliberately overlook the fact that she's bi-racial.  I think that now more than ever, race needs to be part of the discussion.  She's not just going to be any princess (with all of the inherent duties, titles and privileges), she's going to be Great Britain's very first princess of color! Prince Harry, British Royalty, fifth in line to the throne has fallen hopelessly in love with a soul contained in the vessel of a beautiful, slightly older-than-him, mixed-race, divorced, American actress.  And if Scottie loving me  could cause such a major "change-reaction" in his small, Virginian-based family, then what are the possibilities with regard to this royal engagement and marriage?

And while its true that Meghan Markle's upcoming journey to Buckingham palace is very appealing at a tabloid level (it has sent Black Twitter into another stratosphere)!  What I really find to be exciting is the possibility that Ms. Markle's presence at Harry's side could finally mark the nexus between mere hope for a blind-hatred-free future and real, lasting change for all types of blended families.   When Meghan and Harry say their "I do's,"it will become harder to hate people indiscriminately who are of a different race, sexual or gender orientation, religion or nationality.  For how can one justify an unfounded distain for an entire group of people, when someone so posh, so royal and so well regarded, absolutely refuses to do so?  If Harry loves Meghan, then perhaps it becomes a little bit more normal for a family to look like theirs, like mine (or like Noel's Norma's, Désireé's, Christina's, Nicole's, Amy's, Barbara's, Leah's, Troy's, Michael and Tony's, Victoria's, Derek and Rick's, Lilah's, Rochelle's, Rehani's, Jennifer's, Ling's -- and so many other of my friend's families).   And maybe one day (long after I'm gone) all we'll really care about are those bright souls that shine within each of our vessels. But for now, I hope that people keep bringing home (to their respective families) whoever it is that they love and plant that seed of change.  It may be America's best shot at real growth; one family at a time, one love at a time, one generation at a time.

#loveislove #whenharrymetmeghan #eraseblindhate

"The fact that I feel in love with Meghan so quickly was confirmation for me that all of the starts were aligned."

Friday, November 17, 2017

Here's why I always had to drink my way through the holiday season #tipsdown2017

I was on top of the mountain, ski's pointed straight out in front of me so that the tips hovered out like a ledge over the steep face.  My instructor, Jim, put his hand on my shoulder and said in a deep, booming voice (so deep and booming that I feared it might cause an avalanche), "Okay Champ, chest forward, poles back, tips down, bend your knees and stay away from the trees." I chuckled thinly at his glib rhyme, but remained motionless (or frozen, as it were).  Then, suddenly afraid that he might push me, I closed my eyes and forced myself to lean forward. My skis automatically pointed downhill until the bottoms were flush with the slick, powdery white stuff  All at once the wind was whistling past my ears and my breath steamed up my goggles.  I heard my heart beating in my head as the bracing air whipped across my cheeks like ice cold fingers. The mountain top had become the jumping off point and no matter how scared I was, there was no going back.

That's kind of what Halloween is like for me every year.  It's the jumping off point to the holiday season trifecta: Thanksgiving, Christmas (and the like) and New Year's Eve.  On October 31st, I'm always filled with a vague, panicky feeling, followed by a strong desire to flee and hide until January 2nd.  Because from November 1st on --  it's tips down.

The holidays -- they're baaa-aackkk...

I'm not sure of the best way to convey how I really feel about the holidays.  Some of my friends think that I hate them.  That's not exactly true.  There are many aspects of Thanksgiving and Christmas that I truly love and enjoy.  But I really have an issue with the obligatory parts, the spending money I don't have on people I don't really know and the Paperless Posts holiday party-invites, especially the ones with the hidden guest lists, (Really! How am I supposed to know if I want to go, unless I know who else will be there??).  Once upon a time, those holiday "social obligations" were just good excuses to drink unabashedly.  Now, at age 53 and nine-plus years into my sobriety, a holiday cocktail party invitation feels like some sort of moral imperative, rather than something that I look forward to doing.   So here's where I am - I have a huge life with a man that I love.  I have wonderful, authentic relationships with my family and friends.  I wake up excited for the day ahead and snuggle next to Scottie into bed at night, sleeping soundly until morning.  I love my life.  But every time I am confronted with the holiday season I feel a distinct sense of dis-ease.  This feeling is magnified by the fact that very often at dinners and holiday gatherings, Scottie and I are almost always the only ones in the room not drinking (yeah I know, there's sparkling water and Diet Coke.  But even sparking water and cranberry juice seems kind of "meh" when everybody else's faces are flushed with fragrant, red wine).  So even though I don't want to drink, year after year, I just can't seem to shake the thick feeling of intense discomfort that comes when I'm facing the holiday trifecta. During the rest of the year, I don't even think about whether people are drinking or not.  But in November and December, there are just so many parties, dinners and gatherings clumped into a short period of time -- and drinking is always the main event.  Take the first holiday for instance:


Thanksgiving is a food-centered, family holiday (based on how the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims to become acclimated to this new place they called "America" (of course, the Pilgrims later made servants out of the Native Americans and stole their land, but that's another story).  But gnarly beginnings aside, Thanksgiving is probably my favorite meal of the year.  I love mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and sweet potato pie.  I love gravy-drenched turkey.  I love the green beans and collard greens. I love, love, love buttered biscuits and Parker House rolls.


 Thanksgiving is also a drinking holiday.  Look at any Thanksgiving ad.  You think that turkey is the star of the show?  Uh-uh, the real spotlight is on the cocktails that are served before, during and after the turkey.  On Thanksgiving, wine is poured and consumed in the kitchen all day and night during the cooking and preparation.  Bourbon and whiskey are cradled lovingly in short glasses (neat or maybe on the rocks).  Bottles and cans of beer are opened with that comforting POP sound and swigged in front of the TV.  The more interesting part (for Scottie and I) comes after the other guests are a few drinks in and people start getting confidential and argumentative.  But as an observer, even the spiciest of family drama gets dull when too many drinks are imbibed and people start getting sleepy or belligerent.  That's when I start checking my watch to see if its time Scottie and  I to say our goodbyes and head for the movies.


I'm sure I'm missing a December holiday, but my point is that these holidays all appear to be about family, friends, togetherness, brotherly love (and of course) presents.  And to some extent that is absolutely true.  Hanukkah and Kwanza illustrate and celebrate miracles, journeys and principles.  Christmas is midnight mass, a thoughtfully decorated tree, presents and a beautifully planned dinner.  "Season's Greetings" and "Are you going away for the holidays?" become common salutations in December.  The December holiday season is a collection of festive, warm, colorful, generous days, all strung together like cranberries and popcorn.

Christmas and Hanukah promote family togetherness and goodwill, but for many of us, all of that enforced connectedness can (rather ironically) create feelings of loneliness and inadequacy.  Drinking is the number one, society-prescribed, go-to solution for treating any undesirable feeling (and some desirable ones too)!  But when you're an alcoholic, without warning, this society-approved solution to holiday angst, this invisible liquid barrier and mood enhancer, can quickly become the problem.  And even though there are holi-days when I would be grateful for anything that would help make all of the small talk more bearable, for me, that something isn't booze (anymore).   And yet, during all twelve days of Christmas, I find myself surrounded by well-meaning people who are constantly offering me drinks as a salutation ("Hi! What'll you have?").  And why not?  Every Christmas commercial shows  people with champagne or wine glasses embracing each other and tossing their heads back with laughter.  Budweiser and Jim Beam ads give the viewer permission to do something "nice" for themselves this holiday season (aka drink).  Of course!  You deserve it! (a drink that is).   And here's the subtext to all of that text.  Most people really can't fathom the idea of being around their families for more than a few hours without some liquid courage (i.e., a drink) in their hands.  Yeah, sorry jingle bell-laden, Clydesdale horses, but no — that ice cold BUD is definitely not for me.

New Year's Eve:

Okay, I'm sure even non-alcoholics can admit that this is at the ultimate drinking holiday (and as Frank Sinatra once famously said: "New Year's Eve is for amateurs").  I completely agree.  I've never cared for New Year's Eve, it was the ultimate set-up and let down.  Midnight toast?  Dude!  I started drinking at 4:00pm and always overshot the mark well before midnight.  In fact, midnight was usually a hazy, forehead-smacking-embarrassing memory that hit me the next morning as I peeled my face off of my pillowcase.

But nowadays, everyone "pre-games" on New Year's Eve (for you people my age and up — that's when you get drunk at home BEFORE the party).  So by the time people jump into their Ubers, most of them are already pretty tossed. And by the time we might see them at the dinner party, instead of talking to them,  we're talking to at least 4 gin and tonics and a glass of champagne.

So, no thanks — we'll pass. Scottie and I stay home every New Year's Eve and invite friends over for tamales and sparkling apple cider.  We usually have upwards a couple dozen people who just want to be around other like-minded celebrators and not have to dodge drinks or drunks all night.  It may sound boring to some people (I mean yes, we are always in bed by 12:30.  I know that sounds boring). But I'll be a boring b*tch for an obligation-less NYE party and a hangover-less New Year's Day.

And just so you know, every year, that October 31st "tips down" gets a little easier.  More and more, friends of mine are considerately conscious of making sure to have mock-tails available for us and not making a huge fuss when we politely excuse ourselves after dinner.  That comes with my being better at setting boundaries and making sanity-preserving exit plans ahead of time.  Now we can show up for our wonderful friends who graciously want to include Scottie and I in their respective holiday celebrations, but we can still head home before the all of the other guests get too drunkity-drunk.

Friday, November 3, 2017

You'll never guess why I'm not the "right kind" of Black

“Prospective members must be sponsored by a current member in good standing of the chapter in which they are seeking membership…”

I stop reading and look down at my feet. 

Oh boy, she's asking me to join some kind of club.

I pick up the pamphlet again and stare at the caramel-skinned, sleek haired woman on the cover.  She's wearing a silk, fuchsia top under a grey, power suit with a string of pearls.

“We are an organization of mothers dedicated to nurturing future African American leaders by supporting children through...”

Oh  -- and it’s a Black club. 

I try to remember to smile, but Jessica has caught me off guard.  I normally like to be braced for these "right kind of Black" encounters ahead of time.  You see, my parents were Bob Marley singing, no-white-flour using, dashiki and sandal wearing, natural hair having, hippies.  So I really missed out on the stereotypical Black experience while growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  We were poor, but never lived in the hood and money was always scraped together for private school. Back then, I would have describe both of my parents as "agnostically inclined,"so I never even entered a church until I was in my early twenties (and that was for a wedding).  The Black people I grew up around were more about individualism, art and politics than church, community and Sunday dinner. And for that matter, I have just never been a "joiner" (as it were).   So I knew that I was an enigma to someone like Jessica, who seemed to like me a lot, but was confused by how best to categorize me.

“So what do you think?” She says.

Jessica is shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand.  She’s about a foot shorter than me with shiny, straight hair extensions that hit the middle of her back and smooth, cocoa brown skin. 

Yeah, I'm about to disappoint her again…

I had already disappointed Jessica once at the beginning of the school year when I told her I didn't go to church.

Jessica: Really?  (Her voice scales up with thinly veiled indignation) May I ask why?

Me: (thinking) Why don't I go to church?  Isn't that a personal question?  I would never ask you why you go to church!

Me: (Out loud) Actually I never really... (I stop myself mid sentence when I remember that I have the perfect excuse).  I mean to say, that well, my husband is Jewish.

Jessica: Your husband is Jewish!? (she looks at me with a stung expression).  I just assumed he was Black.

Me: (thinking) Okay...

Jessica: You know (she pouts) your boys really don’t look mixed. I would never have known.

Me: (thinking) Sorry.  It wasn’t like I was trying to fool you.

But now apparently she’s gotten over the shock of my Jewish husband and mixed kids, because she wants to sponsor my membership into this very sadiddy-looking Black mom’s club.

“Thanks so much, Jessica,” I say indicating my messy ponytail, jeans and grape jelly stained t-shirt.  “But I don't see myself as the 'club' type.  I mean it looks lovely and I appreciate you thinking of me, but I don't think that I can join something where people look so --  proper and put together."

Plus they would see though me in a minute.  It would be like that scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers when the zombies all point and scream at the imposter.

*  *  *

"Did you hear about Donna?" Karen is whispering to me and Savannah, who is sitting between us.

The three of us are bored with the woman at the podium at our Parent's Association meeting.  I leaned in closer so I can hear the gossip, I have to move Savannah's long, blond hair to one side like a curtain in order to see Karen's face.

"What happened?" I say excitedly.

"They finally asked her step down!"

"Thank God!" shouts Savannah with a fist pump.

"SHHHHHHHHHH!" says the woman in front of us.

The three of us get up and move a few rows back and resume our conversation in whispers.  Never a fan of Donna's, I'm happy to hear that she's no longer in charge and I'm eager to find out why.

"Well, it was getting so that you couldn't even say ANYTHING without her getting offended.  She had that nasty chip on her shoulder when it came to anything racial!  So I think they just had enough.  She was just always so angry!"


"That's why they asked her to step down?" My voice sounds like it's coming from far away.  I feel like I suddenly have a hot light shining down one me.  A swirl of confusion has started to churn in my stomach.

"It was always just too much with her," says Karen, grimacing as though it pained her to even discuss it.


"But you're mixed, right?" Savannah suddenly pivots toward me.   "I mean you're not all Black are you?"


My smile drops slightly as I steel my insides against whatever is coming next.

"Yes! You're so pretty," says Karen, pressing her face closer to mine and lowering her glasses.   "I'm just looking at your features.  Is one of your parents White?"

She looks around and lowers her voice when she says, "White" as if it's a dirty word.

Are you saying that I can't "just" be Black if I'm pretty?  That I've got to be mixed?  

"I'm just Black," I say loudly, looking them both in the eyes.  "Both of my parents are Black."

Karen's face freezes into a smile.  Underneath her glasses, her eyes are an extraordinary popsicle blue.  Her short red hair is sprayed within an inch of its life, moving all in one piece like a helmut.  I catch a whiff of the minty gum she is chewing.

I can tell I've disappointed her.

She's wondering now, if I have a nasty chip on my shoulder too.  She's confused because she thought I was that right kind of Black.

Savannah is looking around now as though she doesn't want anyone else to hear what's going on.

"It doesn't matter Laura," she stage whispers.  "What are we even talking about!?   I really don't see color, you know?  When I look at you I see a beautiful, obviously intelligent woman, that's all.  I know you understand what I'm saying, right?"

I take a deep breath and force the corners of my mouth to turn up slightly.  I know that Karen and Savannah don't know that it is an insult to a Black person, a PERSON OF COLOR, to say that you don't see color (as it means that you don't see us).  I know that Savannah really believes that she's giving me a compliment.

I put my hand on her shoulder and smile warmly.

"Don't worry, Savannah.  I know exactly what you're saying."

*  *  *

"That's your man?"

I follow his line of sight over to where Scottie is standing.  Scottie is wearing cargo shorts and a light blue t-shirt. He has a styrofoam coffee cup in one hand and his skateboard in the other.  He's smiling and talking to our friend Lee.

"Yeah, that's Scottie.  I thought you'd met him before."

"Yeah I met him before," he says flatly.  "Just didn't know that was your man."

Alfred is tall and brown and close to my age.  He and I always have nice, cordial "Blackcentric" conversations, being that often times we are the only two Black people in the room.

"Well, he is!" I say brightly.  "For the past nine years."

"So... you go for White guys, huh?"

What is that on his face?  Distain? Disappointment?

I snap my lips close before I answer.

And why is he throwing shade all of the sudden?  

"No, I don't GO FOR anyone.  I just love who I love." I put my hand on my hip and take a step back.

"But your baby daddy is White too, right?" He steps forward toward me, closing the gap I'd created between us.

Baby Daddy?  Who actually says that?

"Yes, my ex-husband is White.  But I'm not sure what your point is."

Alfred smiles and puts his arms out to the side, as if to hug me.

"Ain't no thing, girl, I'm just messing with you.  It's just there aren't too many fine Black women left on our team, you know."

I'm momentarily distracted by how white his teeth are.

Sometimes I feel like I'm seen as a traitor when I'm walking down the street with Scott.  I've heard the  fuc*ed up comments my people make about other mixed couples.  I'd like to say that it never bothers me, but sometimes it does.  I want to shout out at all of them:  "My White man doesn't make me any less Black!"

"I just hate to lose another one to the other side," continues Alfred, as though he were reading my thoughts.

"Well, you never had me, anyway Al," I say turning around with a smile.  "So there was nothing to lose."

*  *  * 



Black people see me and they wonder “Are you the right kind of Black?”

Do you check all of the boxes that a White person may lack?

They do not ask if I believe.  Instead they simply want to know…

Why I don’t choose to wear a weave and to which church my family goes.

When they see my blue-eyed boyfriend, they talk smack behind my back.

No church, no weave, no brown-skinned man.  She’s NOT the right kind of Black!

White people see me and wonder, “Are you the right kind of Black?”

You’re not too dark and you speak like us!  You’re a keeper, that’s a fact!

These people are relieved, when they see me enter rooms. 

Sit down, let’s talk!  Stay here with us! You are our Ace Boon Coon!  

You’re so pretty!  You must be mixed.  I’ll bet your mother’s White.

See with you, we can say these things.  Other Blacks might want to fight!

We don’t like those angry Blacks.  We’re glad you seem so calm.

You people are so sensitive when racial talk goes on.

You know we’ve got your back, Laura. With you we can relax.

Because we know for sure now, that you are the right kind of Black!

Okay, real talk?  -- I’m sick of it.  I don’t want to be “the right kind.”

I don’t want White people to tell me, that with me they’re colorblind.

I don’t want to make them comfortable.  I don’t want to be preferred.

I’m a woman, I’m a mother, but I’m Black first — and I’m not looking for a “cure”.

I’d like for my Black brothers and sisters, to see me with new eyes.

I don’t go to church, I don’t straighten my hair and my man’s that surfer guy.

So, what?  Am I not Black enough?  Did I fail your paper bag test?

Do Sunday services and Jack and Jill prove my “Blackness“ best?

I’d prefer if you didn’t need to know.  To me, it’s all just fronting.

In fact, I don’t like them apples at all — a nod to Good Will Hunting.

It would be nice -- to be myself, without inviting an attack.

When you look my way, can you just see me?  And not what kind of Black?