Saturday, July 31, 2010

Get On The Bus!

There is something about riding through time zones on a Greyhound bus that has the air of an adventure. I'm not saying I need to have my bullwhip and fedora like Dr. Henry Jones, but making a long trip by bus really should qualify a rider to have his own theme music piped through the speaker system.

I think about the red line on the map visual that Speilberg and Lucas use to show what countries Indy is flying through. And Indy charters flights and always take the most direct routes. If Indiana Jones had to complete his excursions via Greyhound, he'd still be stuck on his first picture, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Getting from South America to Tibet and then to Southwest Asia (the Middle East) would have required stops in Johansburg, Calcutta, Singapore, and a mandatory disembark and bus cleaning in Helsinki. Forget about getting back to the U.S.A. in time to teach classes on archeology to cute co-eds this semester, let alone beating the Germans to the Ark of the Covenant. The Nazis would have had to melt their faces without any help from Indiana Jones; Indy would still be waiting in Port Arthur, Texas for his luggage to turn up from somewhere under the bus, since Greyhounds seem to eat bags the way the clothes dryer eats socks.

Rule #1: You cannot travel by bus if you are in a hurry.

I had a friend on Facebook say that you knew you were ghetto if you were riding on a Greyhound. I'll guiltily admit that I did joke that Greyhound was like limo service for broke people, a group that I freely include myself in until the publishing of my long awaited--and unwritten--first novel.

Yeah, the high price of airline tickets and the full-body cavity searches at the airport can combine to make flying a turn-off--I resent having a woman airport security guard be able to ask me to take off my shoes and belt and not be able to expect her to put a five or a ten in my underwear, cause times are tight and we all have to make a living. And the price of gas makes driving long distance more expensive than a second car note--high-ass fuel prices are part of the gift of eight years of Bushtocracy that keeps on giving. But really, I think the concept of time, or lack there of, really speaks to people of color. Travel the world on CP Time, without having to ride with live chickens. There are no clocks fixed inside the walls of the bus--kind of like a casino. There a few, if any, ways to reference time as a passenger on a Greyhound. The height of the bus makes road signs and city markers hard to read. Unless you're a botanist, trees all look alike and fall into two categories: with extra kudzu vines or without. You get on the bus when the driver tells you too, and you get to your final destination...eventually.

And don't rush the driver or piss him off, because he will leave you on the side of the highway and drive off with all your shit.

Rule #2: You will have to share your seat with multiple people with multiple odors.

The seats on a Greyhound are one part speed dating and one part musical chairs. You will eventually have to share your seat with a stranger. If you're lucky, that stranger might be small enough not to crowd you and cute enough to make you want to start a conversation. But in an hour, the bus will stop for routine cleaning, the seat assignments will shuffle, and either Fat Albert or Uncle Ruckus will be your neighbor and will definiely share the odor of the five to ten chilli dogs they ate at the terminal resturant before boarding. Nature of the beast. If you ride long enough, you will be squeezed, crowded, slept on, drooled on, stepped over, stepped on, and sweated on. You and your neighbor will be sharing DNA.

Rule #3: You gotta let that hygene thing slide a little.

I've learned that most truck drivers keep an empty Gatorade bottle with them in the cab of the truck. Kind of a boy scout's way of being prepared in case of really bad construction traffic or the sudden, urgent need to do something with all 64 ounces of coffee that have been consumed since the last truck stop (Note: never accept lemon Gatorade, Mountain Dew, or Country Time from a trucker if it is served a room temperature).

I think truckers borrowed the Gatorade Porta-Potty from regular Greyhound riders. The bathroom on a Greyhound gives me the feeling of camping, minus the leaves you might use to wipe your ass with. There is a closet at the back of the bus with a big metal hole in it. The hole is filled with blue green water (Glacier Ice Gatorade?). And the sloshing water flows back and forth in a way that's quite hypnotic. Entrancing really. I keep expecting someone to climb out of the hole, maybe Ewan McGregor from Trainspotting or Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings or Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, shouting that the U.S. Patroit Act gives the Bush Administration the authority to inspect my urine and large floaties for Weapons of Mass Destruction, as intelligence assests have hinted that I might have had contact with Yellow Cake. Maybe the hole at the back of the Greyhound is like a Tardis, and the British adventurer Doctor Who will climb out, slightly damp, to enlist my help in saving this time line from being conquered by the Daaleks or the Cybermen.

See, I could find find a Scottish heroin junky, or an ocassionaly invisible Hobbit, or a devious and cranky neo-Conservative, or even a serialized British Time Lord hanging about in the bathroom of a Greyhound bus. What I could not find is a sink with which to wash my hands. Those vain extravagances have been left out of the design. So men, aim carefully and try not to pee on your fingers like you normally do. No dripping on your leg either. And women...well, you all will just have to figure something out, because that whole female plumbing design thing just isn't made for using the Greyhound Water Closet. Can you just hold it until we get to Memphis?

Morning breath, Helmet Hair, Night Sweats, Nocturnal Emissions (depending on your time zone), Morning Wood, the Smell of Fresh Skid Marks in the Morning, persperation, salivation, spontaneous and involuntary ejaculation. Stay on the bus long enough and we all receive wonderful parting gifts. I did mention that DNA would be transfered, right?

But, in the true spirit of the democratic foreskin of our Founding Fathers, everyone gets a turn to get nasty. To be greasy. To be stinky. To be sweaty. To fight to hold in gas after twelve hours of riding, only to have it seep out and then be forced to pretend that the sound and the smell really did come from the seat behind you. To know your breath smells worse than a male prostitute's--just guessing here--but your tooth brush is stuck beneath the bus, so all you can do is try to mask your Dragon breath with a second bag of Dorritos. To know you need to stop in Huntsville, Alabama and take a sink bath, but--no lie--the crooked handwritten sign next to the empty soap dispenser says PLEASE KEEP THE BATHROOM CLEAN. MNGR and someone has written below it "Why? Obviously you don't."

After a full day of bus travel, the Greyhound is a parlimentary of human perfumes, a meritocracy of mustiness. And, to paraphrase the villian Syndrome from the Incredibles, when all of us smell like ass, then none of us smell like ass.

And if your spouse or honey bunny meets you at your home terminal and still hugs and kisses you, then your sweetie has just passed the love and monogamy test and you don't have to check the bed and bathroom for foreign hairs when you get home.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Part-time Schedule for a Full-time Dad

I bought a bright, red Elmo t-shirt today. I plan to wear it with a big Muppet grin of my own. In truth, I’m more of an Ernie man, but I have a two year old who is a nut for Sesame Street’s number one red, furry monster. Seeing Daddy in the shirt will make his eyes go big and all his baby teeth show. I’m selfish. Seeing him smile will make me smile too.

And I’ve been picking out his clothes for the last two years. It’s about time I let him pick out my clothes for a change.

If I worked for Ronald McDonalds and was on fries, I’d be wearing a paper hat. The U.S. Postal Service would have me going house to house in blue shorts, a fisherman’s hat, and a can of dog repellant. Those are five days a week gigs. Hamilton County has decided that I only get to see my youngest boy on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and alternating weekends. I’d like it if I could get more hours on the schedule each week. I keep hearing about a shortage of fathers, but maybe that’s just an urban legend.

But I love the hours I do get on the clock as Daddy. I love my little two year old co-worker. And I’ve even learned to get excited about the red-faced monster that’s on my new uniform. The t-shirt tells the world that either I’m mentally disturbed or I have a small child at home; I like to declare my Dad status. I try not to worry about the misplaced orders of a less than just system that wants to shrink my time with my son. I can’t always be around my little boy, but I feel like I carry him with me, especially when his favorite monster is on my on my shirt.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Beware the Ides of March

I suppose there should be something worrisome about being asked to appear in family court on March 15th. Shakespeare wrote that Julius Caesar was reportedly stabbed to death in a government building. Most U.S. citizens above the age of eighteen are more worried about having their wallets and their bank accounts stabbed to death by the I.R.S. on April 15th, so maybe the whole 31 day period between March 15 and April 15 could be considered a time of bad juju.

But I can only say, without pride or ego, that on that particular March 15th, I weren't scurred.

It wasn't that I was convinced of the righteousness of my cause and knew that I was protected by the shield of justice and the armor of truth. It wasn't because I was prayed up and had an army of warrior archangels going into court with me that morning. I couldn't even claim that I'd filled up on green beer over the weekend and had Lucky Charms for breakfast and had some pre-St. Paddy's Day Luck of the Irish shinning off me that had me looking like I was a refugee from Emerald City and "just had to be seen green".

My lack of fear in family court had to do with the difference between hope and resilience.

When you wear white clothes to that rib joint and pray that you can make it through the meal without spilling barbeque on yourself, that's engaging in hope. But when you not only know that you will leave the rib joint splattered in so much barbeque sauce that your shirt will look like it has polka dots, but you made sure to bring a red and white tie to match, then that is resilience.

For fathers in family court, hope is a reckless thing. Hope will bring disappointment, anger, outrage, tears, and self doubt. Hope leads to scars and those scars scab up, and, if you're lucky, those scabs eventually lead to resilience. We fathers come to know that each court appearance means the legal punches and kicks will be coming, and that's okay, because there aren't any new or suprising places left to kick us anymore.

Those scars and bruises are badges of fatherhood. The family court system may make our skin seem leathery and tough, but we save our soft, caring inner selves for our children that we love and for who we endure.

And as our children age and mature, they are the only judges whose opinions really matter.

This article appeared in the March 22, 2010 edition of the online Cincinnati Defender.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fairness Day

I was sitting on benches along the wall, as the Sequel, her sister, and her lawyer sat in the chairs in the middle of the room. I met eyes with the sister and smiled. The sister looked away quickly.

I thought that it was odd that folks I once had holiday meals with would now be “the opposing party”. From in-laws to outlaws.

“You know, it’s odd that people I once had holiday dinners with…”

My lawyer cut me off, as she did quite often.

“You’re not getting philosophical are you?”

“Yeah, I guess I am.”

“Court isn’t the place for being philosophical.”

I wondered if courts had no room for philosophy, and by implication no room for emotion, then was there really room for fairness or justice or honesty.

The U.S. has plenty of Christmas Christians, who pray and give and consider others on the 25th of December, while hording and hating the other 364 days of the year (Yes, there’s hate on Easter. Let Kid A swipe an Easter egg that clearly belonged to Kid B, and watch Kid B’s parents not only get upset, but begin thinking about a brand new crucifixion.)

Do courts have a Philosophy Day? Or a Fairness Week? And if so, is there any way I could have my court appearance scheduled during those holidays?

Maybe there’s a waiting list that could be provided.

I guess the perk was that this was a local appearance. I drove eight minutes downtown instead of driving the usual eight hours back and forth across state lines. I thought maybe I’d be getting good news close to home, or at least a local ass-kicking.

Hope springs eternal for those outside of family court. It takes some time for dads in family court to break the habit.

I once told my friends on Facebook that all 133 of them were the family court equivalent of Chicago Cubs fans. Loyal. Colorful. Doomed to lose every season, usually in ways both tragic and painful. Longtime Cubs fans have the mental and physical scars. Bartman’s 2004 leaning from the stands catch of an in-play ball cost the Cubs a trip to the World Series and likely cost many households broken tv sets, broken toes from kicking furniture, and damaged knuckles and plaster from punching walls.

The halls of injustice should come with padded walls, especially in the men’s room. Disenfranchised dads should have something soft to punch and beat on. Once child support and legal fees are added, re-added, and squared, medical bills for daddy’s broken hand would really be an unaffordable, and therefore irresponsible, expense.

When Separate Is More Than Equal

I miss my boys. I like watching them laugh and giggle. I like it when my older son hugs me and calls me daddy. There were times when my own dad was gone a lot, either for community service or research. I thought I would be the dad who was always available. Instead, I became the dad who lives in different cities.

I didn’t mean for my children to become like timeshares, children that I send in payments for year round but only see during set calendar weeks. But I haven’t been able to sustain my marriages, my employment, or my educational endeavors. I don’t know which of the previous failings gets to be called cause and which others effect. I just know my kids love me and my babies’ mommas loathe me.

And sometimes I loathe myself.

I think that if I did better then my boys would have better. I used to define better as daddy and mommy living together. My cousin Marc and my first wife taught me better. Before Marc was a wise beyond his years barrister, he was a wise beyond his years high school student. Marc suggested that when dad and mom fight all the time, a child defines better as just about anything that gets the fighting to stop. When love sneaks off and hate storms in, then distance is the only armistice that stops the verbal shock and awe. Better for a kid to enjoy his parents separately then to enjoy neither of them while those parents are together.

My cousin Marc has always been a smart and pragmatic brother.

What my ex-wife lacks in smarts and pragmatism she has always made up for with persistence and perniciousness. At times, she’s kept me from my oldest son, defied court orders, denied scheduled visitation, all because she was “doing what was best for our son”. More pit bull than parent, she seems bred for odor and meanness, biting necks and marking her turf by shitting and pissing on everything. Through two bouts of divorce court, the feral first wife taught me the difference between reconciliation and jailhouse recidivism, confirming what Marc Esquire had tried to pull my coat to back in high school. Sometimes separate is better.

When my oldest son talks with me on the phone, he often asks when will he get to see daddy. Sometimes I get to count down the time with him in days or weeks. Sometimes I have to use months instead.

I like to watch my sons at night, while they sleep. I feel parental when I shake my oldest son’s foot until he wakes up and starts his day—my youngest son has his own routine in which he instead wakes me, at 1 am and again at 8 am. I know these almost-rituals feel profound and moving because I love my boys, and that is why my chest feels tight. I wonder if these moments have added meaning and make my eyes water because they are all too infrequent.

And when I start to recite in my head how evil mothers can be, how bias and sort-sighted family court judges can be, and how disappointing weekend fatherhood can be, I try to remind myself that my boys are able to dream deeply with closed eyes and calm faces because no one is waking them up with high-pitched profanity and ultimatums .

My sons’ days of alternating parents might not be idyllic, but hopefully their dreams are.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Blues Line

This is the Inaugural blog and the Arrogant Black Bastard is feeling uncomfortably humble. Death and taxes are supposed to be the safe career fields, right alongside the recession-proof vices of alcohol, cigarettes, politics, preaching, and prostitution. GM may go bankrupt, teachers in Detroit and L.A. may get pink slipped by the thousands, but Anheuser Busch, Phillip Morris, Karl Rove, Rev. Creflo Dollar, and Jody Rotten-Crotch will still be clocking big dollars.
And the United States Internal Revenue Service is supposed to have lay-offs right around the same time Hell closes its doors and the dead are forced to walk the earth, putting funeral homes world-wide on permanent hiatus.

But damn if the Arrogant Black Bastard wasn’t laid off today. Unemployment sounds better when the British refer to it as “being made redundant”, but a furlough by any other name still smells like piss and vinegar. So the Arrogant Black Bastard made the drive to the unemployment office today and joined a line long enough to make it look like he had gotten lost and ended up at an NFL game instead.

If one wants to experience true multi-racial democracy in the United States of America, the unemployment line is the place to really get ones “We The People” on. Old, young, Black, white, Arrogant and humble, all standing together with empty pockets and open hands. E. Pluribus Unum, indeed.

And of course the unemployment office was understaffed. The idea of a three-hour long line of unemployed workers being served by three office workers behind the counter might seem inefficient. Then again, everyone on the business side of the counter had no place to rush off to, being that we were currently jobless, so maybe keeping office personnel trim, lean, and almost absent made good sense from a human resource perspective. Beggars not only can’t be choosers, but they aren’t allowed to be pushy either--at least not outside of New York City.

The Arrogant Black Bastard is a literate beggar and brought a book to read for the three hour wait. Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit was about to get cracked open, when a blonde female veteran of the unemployed recognized the Arrogant Black Bastard as a new comer to the public dole and welcomed him to what she called “The Blues Line”. And she began to share some of her hard-earned, low earnings, broke folk wisdom.

Had this been a Xmas line at Toys R Us, we would have been adversaries, ready to push each other down and step on throats to grab the last Tickle Me Elmo or Nintendo Wii system to drag home and shove under the fake tree. Had it been November of an even numbered year, she and I might have quarreled over which grinning porcelain politician deserved our brief attention and whose political gang color was more righteous.

But in the unemployment line, the blonde and the Bastard were comrades in arms. It’s been argued that white folks can’t really know the blues, that they lack the soul, empathy, melanin, and sense of struggle to feel blues music. On that day, in that room, there were more than one hundred people who were recently unemployed. We were peers in near-poverty and we were all John Lee Hookers and Bessie Smiths, moaning our songs in The Blues Line.